By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Odd guy to be telling teenagers to “get real.”
If Bob Lefensky came to pick up a daughter for a date, many fathers would more likely call the cops than open the door.
Both of his arms are covered in tattoos. So is his neck. Whatever tattoos he might have on his chest and back are covered by the white T-shirt of the hip-hop culture.
Fortunately, his jeans weren’t sagging or bagging.
But Lefensky, known throughout Catholic youth ministry circles by his stage name “Righteous B” has adopted hip-pop and rap music because that is the language of teens today — both in the inner city of Philadelphia where he lives, and also in the suburbs and the rural areas as well.
And the Gospel fits quite nicely into that idiom as well, as he had nearly 400 teens from throughout the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph at the 2014 Kansas City Youth Conference Nov. 22 rocking, and dancing in the aisles to his rap such as:
I may still sin but mark my words,
I will still win I’m built strong within
Trying to make the right decis’in
Trying to work my way up
Trying to get to heaven
So I can see him, my Lord and my Savior
My Redeemer, my Creator, my best friend,
He ain’t no traitor.
He’ll be with me to the very end
And even later.
After leading them through icebreaking games and a rap sound that shook the ballroom of the Crown Center Sheraton Hotel, Righteous B then “got real.”
“With hip-hop, you got to let it all hang out,” he said. “You got to let it go.”
That was the way he chose to communicate the Gospel to inner city youth, as he also found a ready and listening audience outside of urban cores as well.
He even told stories of being a father — to seven children.
“As a parent, you look at your kids and they are a kind of a mirror of you,” said the 36-year-old youth minister.
“I have five boys and two girls, and it’s awesome,” he said. “But it’s like living with professional wrestling. There is action going on all the time.”
Like when he took his family out to dinner and four-year-old Toby snuck away and raided all the tables for the sugar and artificial sweeteners.
So Righteous B the Dad laid a question on his son that would surely make him see the errors of his ways and repent.
“Who do you love more?” the father bellowed. “Sugar or God?”
Toby got as real as a four-year-old can get.
“No. 1? Sugar,” he said. “No. 2? Candy. No. 3? God.”
“I was like, ‘God is No. 3? I didn’t even ask about candy. You’re going to hell,’” Righteous B said.
Then he thought about it some more. Toby was being honest as a four-year-old could be. He was being real.
“Toby didn’t say he hated God. God was No. 3 on his list, right after sugar and candy,” Righteous B told his audience. “There is still time for Toby. You can still pray for him.”
Then he honed in on the theme of the conference from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
You can’t let God in unless you are poor in spirit and admit your need for God. And you can’t admit that unless you get real.
Don’t be afraid of being who you are, Righteous B told the teens. God loves you exactly as you are.
But in a culture that defines the value of people by their accumulated wealth and “expensive stuff,” people often lose sight of who they really are, he said.
“One of the problems we are facing today is that we have lost the ability to become real,” he said.
“There is that part of us that we present to the world. But the reality is, in the process of proving to other people who we are, we have lost the ability to be real with ourselves,” Righteous B said. “In our effort to prove ourselves to be perfect, shining people, we lose reality and put lots of things ahead of God.”
Then Righteous B remembered the first time he got “real” with God.
“I grew up in Philly (Philadelphia) in a Catholic home,” he said. “We were like one of those families where one crucifix in a room wasn’t enough.”
During his eighth grade year, his mother sent him to a weekend retreat for teens, not unlike the Kansas City Youth Conference. God was in his life, he said, but God wasn’t all that important. But since his best friend Brian was going, and it meant a day off school, the young future rapper agreed.
“I’d just thought I’d figure God all out when I got older,” Righteous B said.
“Then this guy gets on stage. He was telling us that God loves us, but it was the way he was telling us,” he said.
“He said, ‘With Jesus, you don’t have to be anything. He loves you just like you are,’” Righteous B remembered.
Then after the session, the speaker sought the young Bob Lesnefsky out. “God wants you to know that if you want what I have, just ask,” Righteous B remembered — verbatim.
That knocked the eighth grader over. He went outside to the New Jersey seashore and, he recalled, for the first time he prayed in his own words.
“If you are real,” the eighth grader prayed, “I want you to show it to me.”
God has been showing it to him ever since, Righteous B said.
“It was the first time I ever said something real to God,” he said.
“I don’t know where you are at,” Righteous B told his audience, by now pin-drop silent.
“But God wants to blow you away. Really, what he wants is the opportunity to see your heart and to show you his heart,” he said.
“It starts with taking yourself to be real,” Righteous B said. “And in your prayer, you can be honest and real with God.” o