Three months after retiring from a long career, I started seminary as a full-time student. I was required to attend first-year student orientation. Frankly, I really did not want to participate in orientation. I was in my mid-fifties and had not been inside a university classroom in almost thirty years. The thought of introducing myself to other students, playing bonding games, and listening to boring orientation lectures filled me with dread. I felt too old for this nonsense. I just wanted to attend class, learn, and complete the academic requirements to graduate.
For most of the orientation week, my feelings of dread towards orientation were confirmed. I did have to introduce myself to the other 37 seminary students, but there were a few older students, so I wasn’t the oldest. We did play silly bonding games and there were lectures, such as how to use the library, that would put most individuals to sleep. We spent the final orientation day in the Texas Hill Country and played some outside games in August. Luckily, we did it in the morning when the temperature was below 100F. Perhaps a swimming pool party would have been a better idea?
However, there was one activity that was transformational. All students lined up shoulder-to-shoulder in a row. A question was asked. Then, three answers were given with instructions to take ‘x’ number of steps forward or backward for the answer that applied to you. For example: how many books did your family have at home when you were growing up? Two steps forward if your family had 25 or more books. One step backward if your family had between 10 and 24 books. Two steps backward if your family had less than 10 books at home.
After a series of these questions, I was situated in front of most students. When I turned around, I saw the distance between my position and many students. I had assumed that all my fellow seminarians came from similar socio-economic backgrounds, but this was not the case. We were all college graduates who were accepted into seminary, but our upbringings varied considerably.
I learned a new word recently: ‘nepotism baby’ or shortened to ‘nepo baby.’ The term does not mean being related to someone in the same industry as you which conjures up thoughts of improper practices. It means someone who is an insider and likely benefited from their parent’s fame or connections when they launched their career. For example, Chelsea Clinton has benefited from her father’s and mother’s political connections. On a smaller scale, you could be a budding athlete having a father who coaches football with a well-established network of coaches to assist you.
In my case, both my parents were college educated and worked in professional jobs. This was a tremendous advantage compared to most of my fellow students. My parents advised me on choosing the high school courses that best prepared me for college. One Christmas when I attended elementary school, my parents purchased a set of encyclopedias as a family gift. Having access to these informational volumes opened the world to me and gave me advantages over many students who had no access to quality books.
I recently watched the Netflix series Harry & Meghan, a documentary about the courtship and married life of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It was evident that the Netflix series was their project rather than an independent production. I came away with mixed reactions. I had compassion for their life in public and having to deal with unscrupulous people who gave them no privacy. On the other hand, their celebrity gave them access to wealth and connections which greatly benefited them. At a young age without ‘normal’ jobs, they live in a beautiful Santa Barbara home with all the associated benefits. The finest part of the film was their love for each other and their children. They obviously cared deeply about their family and tried to be good parents. Their heartfelt family love will give them the best family advantage.
Lent began yesterday and an ash cross was drawn on my forehead. It is the day of repenting and believing in the Gospel. It is the day to “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” No matter whose family we are born into, we will all die someday. Lent starts by remembering that we are mortal humans living a short earthly life. Whatever human family we were raised within, we are all part of God’s eternal family. This common bond is shared by all. It doesn’t matter whether you are born a prince, princess, or shepherd surrounded by farm animals. What matters most is that we are all called to faith and obedience to something far greater than ourselves. This is truly a family advantage that we all share in common.