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What do Wii really need?

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, February 13, 2008

During what seemed like the 27th snow day of 2008 this past Monday, I found myself very tempted to invite my children to write this column for me. Stuck inside (again), unwilling to brave the -17 degree wind chill when there wasn’t even enough snow to play in, we engaged in a recurring conversation throughout the day about why they really need – excuse me, NEED – to have a Wii. “Please write 650 words, plus or minus, on what it means to NEED something,” I could have said. Of course, they would have immediately responded, “If we do it, can we get a Wii?”

To their credit, they are remarkably tolerant of their parents’ reluctance to even attempt to keep up with what they see as the basic NEEDS of any 21st century family (although our seventh grader is already hinting that when he gets to high school and will receive a cell phone he’d at least like “a decent one” – read, “not like yours and Dad’s”).

Smack in the middle of this first week of Lent, I have been thinking about both the gospel we heard last Sunday as well as the one we will hear this coming Sunday. They couldn’t be more different: Last week, a hungry and vulnerable Jesus sparred in the desert with the devil, hurling scripture passages at him until he seemingly gave up and left. This Sunday we will find a dazzling, transfigured Jesus on a mountain with Elijah, Moses, and the completely awestruck Peter, James and John. These two readings together quite fittingly kick off the season of Lent each year, and if, rather than simply reading them passively, we engage ourselves in how they speak to our lives and hearts, they ask us two critical questions for Lent: “Who am I?” and, “What do I need?”

“Who am I?” I suppose, is an evolving question – perhaps it’s better to ask ourselves, “Who am I becoming?” Either way, however, we can always at least begin to answer by going back to question No. 2, “What do I need?” Peter, James and John certainly would have asked themselves, “Who IS this Jesus?” after experiencing the Transfiguration, leading them naturally to wonder, “So then, now who am I? If I’ve given up everything else in my life to follow him, what do I need now?” Jesus himself challenges us to ask ourselves, “What do I need?” as we watch him deflect all the “needs” the devil dangles before him.

We would do well to hold both these readings in our hearts as we move through Lent (and beyond!). The devil told Jesus, “Just say the word and you’ll have bread from these stones,” but Jesus could see the reality behind the “needs” the devil wanted to convince him to grab. They would lead him not to fullness of life with God, but to death. We also must examine if what we think we need leads us toward, not away from, our waiting, inviting Lord. The promise of easy results, allure, power, or status entice us toward illusions, like those shimmering pools which continuously elude the grasp of the parched desert traveler, that remain nothing but false gods.

Peter, James and John thought they knew Jesus, but in the moment of the Transfiguration they saw him more fully revealed. How could this event do anything else but turn upside down not only what they thought of him, but also their understandings of themselves? The question, “Who am I becoming?” would have taken on a whole new light. And they, like us, would find the answer to that question in the choices that made up their (and our) daily lives. What does it take to follow Jesus, the more and more fully we understand him? As we become the people we are meant to be, what do we need? The apostles seemed to find – as we might, too – that as they discovered who they were becoming, and the more closely they followed and imitated the person of Jesus Christ, the less urgent and numerous their other needs became.

So do my children really NEED a Wii? No, no one does. But for countless complicated reasons, ranging from the plain old fun of it through to the ways millions of marketing dollars can make us feel like our Wii-less lives are incomplete and inadequate, on some days they do believe they need one. The tricky part, as they figure out their own answers to “Who am I?” and “What do I need?” is to help them recognize how inseparable these two questions are, one from the other, and the impact they have on our lives of faith. Maybe we get a chance to return to Lent every year so that we can continue to ask them of ourselves.

Kate Barrett is the director of resources and special projects for Campus Ministry and can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.