Definition of idolatry
1: the worship of a physical object as a god
2: immoderate attachment or devotion to something
Definition of ideology
1: visionary theorizing
2a: a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture
b: a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture
c: the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program
It’s been awhile and I have a story to tell, but struggled with a way to tell it…so I stepped outside of myself and, in third person, found a way to tell it and still remain in tact afterwards.
This is a picture of me in my third year of work in ministry…this post is for her, ready to bring her talents to fruition. She was burgeoning with ideas, energy, enthusiasm and hope. She had already contended with losing a job because she was female, (she received a job offer that was rescinded after a man submitted a late application, and was told a man after all was suited better to be in a leadership position). She had already realized that a man who worked as partner to her at her first job was paid substantially more because he was the bread winner of the family. At that same job, a visiting parish ministry team advised her to “get the hell out” because her boss was gunning for her” that boss would be later listed by the Archdiocese as a sexual offender. The moment she decided to move on was when she came upon a priest at a romantic restaurant, whom she thought was a kindred spirit, on a date with another man. While she longed to tell him of the deep sympathy she felt with him, the vitriol she faced from him in desperation to keep his secret eroded any future friendship, regardless of a promise of non-judgment and silence on her part. While naivete did play a part in her willingness to continue to work in the “industry” of church ministry, in reading those early journals, her bitterness was tempered by the deep devotion she felt toward Christ, spreading the Gospel and to the amazing young people she was honored to work with…I can’t believe the pages she wrote about the talent and potential of specific individuals…and that included some staff.
As I continued to read those journals throughout her career, I saw the slow decay of that energy and enthusiasm wane. To name a few, there was more than one incident of a priest or colleague asking for a dinner to discuss a particular program, or share a bottle of wine and discuss the future, only to find out clearly there was a different motivation altogether. I mean face it…she was a pretty attractive female. One priest (who used to sun bathe in a speedo in front of the rectory) told her that she was “quite a package”. She had become more savvy at that point and learned to carefully extricate herself from each uncomfortable instance. She believed that she was invulnerable to the messy side of ministry…she just had to remain a woman of integrity and all would be well. Until one man she really wanted to date told her that she was too asexual. He could not understand the pressure she was under working not only for the church but with so many vulnerable young people. Work came first, and she knew if there was any question of impropriety, the fault would always lie on her shoulders. Needless to say, it never worked out. Looking back, I see how damaged she had become. Her second job ended when a new associate who believed that he was the “youth” priest cut every program that was popular with flimsy reasoning, because, as she believed but would never say out loud, she was more popular than he was, examples were: a retreat during Easter week to North Padre deemed inappropriate during Holy week even though students would wait in line to be one if the forty picked to go and both parents and students alike praised it for five years, a spectacular rock mass put her in hot water because they were liturgically wrong even though Polka masses happened all the time and it even made it on the evening news. Programs that grappled with issues that affected youth like the music, the media, sexuality (cut from the get go). So she left…again.
Then she began to teach. She loved everything about it. She relaxed a bit. The environment was so stimulating that she was bubbling with new ideas. She even tried to date. But it didn’t work out (She would say without true objectivity that he was just too stupid for her, Oh and also that his relationships with certain girl students could be seen as inappropriate…she didn’t have filters back then either). He told some football players that she did a strip tease in front of him, which of course wasn’t true. She didn’t find out about it for months, even though she intuited that something was wrong until one guilty student finally asked her to her face if it really was true, she replied that it was not and was surprised at his sigh of relief because according to her, there was no contest, she had always acted within the highest standards, so it wasn’t even a question of who was more credible(she did put too much faith in propriety). How could anyone have ever entertained the thought? Well, she soon realized, a lot of people had. So she followed protocol and met with the department head and set a meeting with the principal, the “teacher” and herself. Although he admitted to everything and she was exonerated, she was told by the principal that perhaps if she had dressed differently these things wouldn’t have happened. She retorted snip-ply that perhaps if she was paid a living wage she wouldn’t have to borrow clothing from her sisters to wear, which wasn’t true but I’m still proud of her for the great come back. But she was hurt beyond measure. She told her father, and he told her to walk with her head held high and people would see, truly see her eventually. She stayed and did many great things there always with help and direction from really awesome people, but grew tired of being talked about by other teachers…one even asked her to define a big word used, because he really didn’t think she knew what it meant, and being silenced by too much oppressive dogma. Yet she tried to keep focused on bearing her fruit as an instrument of God…until she couldn’t do it any more.
Back to first person. In truth, I know I am a force to contend with. I know I’m not perfect and have many flaws and have made many mistakes throughout my career, I was taught to always own up to those and learn from them. I fought as hard and logically as I could at the time against sexism in my work place. I was alone much of the time, with little support from others. I never saw myself as a victim, ever, but I am definitely damaged. What plagues me, though, is as enthusiastic as I was in the beginning of my career to share my talent, my fruits as it were, with the world, it is what actually broke me in the end. It was the very structure that was supposed to assist me in bringing about the Kingdom of God, that was my demise. I suppose that I fell privy to the second part of the definition of idolatry: the immoderate attachment or devotion to something. Because it was the church, priests, and whatever that had the power to stand in my way, and I let them, even when I believed they were wrong to do so. The really sad part is that I still uphold many of the ideologies that I studied in school but it has became glaringly apparent that the institution has stopped representing them for me. While my faith has never waned, my faith in “The Church” definitely has.
So, why the definitions of idolatry and ideology? It is because when we should be focused on the latter, it is the former that draws our attention away from things that really matter. Idolatry kills the ideology it is supposed to only be a symbol of. Example: a party status is idolized over what it is supposed to represent, so any amount of lies and distortion are allowed to keep it in tact. Example: A Flag means more than the principles it embodies rendering the idolatry of it as a means to dismantle what it stands for, which in our case is liberty and justice for all. Example: Association to a religious symbol is worshiped over living according to its tenets. Example: Power itself is idolized over the execution of its influence to do good within to further civilization. We idolize way too much, we are guided by principle and ideology way too little. Maybe the good that has come from all that I have faced in my lifetime is that I don’t idolize anything of human construction anymore. But these are the ideologies I choose to live and be guided by.
1: The teachings of Christ, and all He commanded (and the only thing I truly worship), and many of the tenets of Catholicism.
2: The Constitution of this great country…and
3: Love, love, love and always and evermore love.