The Serrated Edge of Idolatry and its Impact on Ideology

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Definition of idolatry

plural idolatries

1the worship of a physical object as a god
2immoderate attachment or devotion to something
 

Definition of ideology

plural ideologies

1visionary theorizing
2aa systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture
ba manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture
cthe 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 She had already contended with losing a job because she was female, (she received a job offer that was rescinded after a man submitted a late application, and was told a man after all was suited better to be in a leadership position).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.

Taking Umbrage…for and at Women

um·brage

noun \ˈəm-brij\

: a feeling of being offended by what someone has said or done

I started this post several times, wanting to be positive, a bit less controversal, and with propriety.  I couldn’t do it because I did promise a sense of wild abandon, so here goes.  I seem to take umbrage with almost every angle of the state of women in our world today.  I am sickened by movements to censure, mutilate, deny education, control and retract any advances made through history.  And yet, I take as much umbrage with a culture that objectifies, sexualizes, and at the opposite end values a woman based on some prudish matronly definition of goodness.  Seriously people, what in the sam hill is going on?

Jesus set the standard so clearly in his ministry.  Women were of great value to him; especially women who chose his instruction over what culture restricted them to, check out the Mary and Martha story…( I blogged about it here, maryfrancesflood.com/2012/06/18/im-a-mary-and-not-a-martha/.  I think women owe Jesus a great deal for the place that he brought us to…and with that comes responsibility.  We, as women, must take a stand against those who would force us to lose the sacred ground that many fought so hard to attain.  So where the hell do I stand?

While I am plagued with fear when I hear most men speak of rape, whether on a college campus, foreign soil, a military base or from the mouth of a politician, I have to admit that I am plagued with as much fear at the cavalier attitude and sexually charged culture in this country.  While I think we should celebrate our physical bodies, I am tired of how sex inundates our culture.  I don’t want to see young women run around in their underwear, or clothing designed to cradle a man’s package.  While I am not a prude…I say EEEWWWWW!  The pervasiveness of sex in just about everything is a problem for me. Being a good lover by today’s standards is understood by sexual prowess and not in the way the gospel intended.  Getting better at sex will never help us get better at love…PERIOD.  And it won’t help us reclaim our power either.

I have thought long and hard about whether or not my attitude is based on my aging form and diminishing beauty…and then that very thought even pissed me off!  Who defined aging and beauty anyway?  Well, I include myself when I say we all had a hand in that too.  With age, I’ve gained great experience and education and was for a moment ready to hold those accomplishments at a lesser value than my aging appearance…and yet, in all truthfulness I understand why. We live in a culture that worships youth and marginalizes maturity.  Look at the amount of money that goes into physical beauty; the money women spend on achieving some skewed idea of youthful perfection is tragic.  We could save all the starving children in the world many times over, if we allowed ourselves to age naturally and dump our obsession with beauty regimens.

I’m not saying as women, we can’t try to be beautiful and celebrate our sexuality.  But if we aren’t working as hard for the standard the Jesus set, i.e. we are as valuable as any man, and are offered the same gift of grace, with the same expectations for our behavior…then we’ve failed on a massive level.  Let’s be better at loving, starting with ourselves.

I’m a Mary and not a Martha

The story of Mary and Martha is one of my favorites in scripture. When, in response to Martha’s rebuke against her sister for not helping her with her chores, Jesus tells her to stop worrying and affirms Mary for choosing  the better course,  it gave the direction of my soul an authentication and authority straight from the mouth of God. Sure, it may be easy to say that most everyone would choose to listen to the Son of God over doing housework, but for me it was so much more than that. The affinity that I have for education and learning parallels another’s for sports, or music. It is when I’m in the pursuit of new information to broaden my ever-expanding world that I feel the happiest, hopeful and most successful. Had I been Martha’s sister, I wouldn’t have sat smugly listening to Jesus retort to my sister, I would have quickly stuck out my tongue at my nagging sister in an infantile vindication of my chosen path…and sadly, today it  would literally be hanging out all the time. It is sad that in today’s culture I almost feel the need to apologize for all the sheepskin trailing behind me. I readily acknowledge the talents of the men in my house, that their affinity for sports, health or acuity in computers largely remains uncontested. But whenever intelligence or education comes up, I’m just being arrogant or a know-it-all. And that is just unfair. I attended the classes, I did the work, I wrote every paper, attended every class, finished every internship, and I finished and paid for every degree. And like some are just really adept at sports or a host of other talents…my brain may be more adept for knowledge than a lot of other people…it is neither good or bad, it just is.

The greatest irony, though, lies in the fact that once done listening to Jesus…I’m sure Mary was up half the night doing chores because I’m pretty sure not one of the disciples pitched in to cover the slack. Sadly, that is the tenure of the workings of my house as well. Am I suited to the domestic arts because I am a woman? Compared to the men at my house, that would be a yes…but only because they all miss the common sense gene that is necessary to maintain a household. Otherwise, I would never choose the task…but I suck it up and do it anyway because I don’t want to suffer bodily harm because “someone” thought the wood floors would look pretty if they sprayed a whole can of pledge on them making them dangerous to walk on with socks, or being so excited to eat the soup they cooked, they forget to turn off the burner. In my family, support for the men in my house falls to me, because it seems that most obvious and best way we can all be successful and stay alive. Even though the men in my house don’t always appreciate the synergy that my role has created..my big brain does. Most importantly it was and is my choice to do so and not because of some predilection to some inherent role women are supposed to play.  Most days I do feel that I made the right choice pursuing so many different academic roads, even though it may be more difficult to show the success of those degrees financially or when my arms are knee-deep in a toilet or answering phones at our clinic. I do think it makes be better at everything I do. Which brings me to the most important point.

I remember those brave women who have fought for us so that we are availed equal opportunities to utilize our God-given gifts and follow our dreams, whatever they may be. So I fear a  back slide into a past that held us to a propriety that was more a mask of control than anything else. It does make me angry at those men in the world who claim superiority as their God-given right, especially under the auspices of scripture. Why does one line from Paul in his letter to the Ephesians hold greater weight than the words and actions of Jesus? In the Gospels, the conversations he has with women make clear the regard he has for them as people. Mary, learning at Jesus knee was credited for making the greater choice…the operative word being “choice…” something women didn’t have much of in Jesus time, yet  I am continuously befuddled at those who would judge women for making the same choice today. My choice to play a supportive role in my family is a result balancing talents and what works best for us…not because of some preordained role dictated by God. Submitting to any man has never been within my realm of experience…just ask my father, brothers, husband and sons. But I have chosen to stand in support of many men in my life, which I can do while still sharing the vast stores of knowledge in my big brain.  Whether they listen is another story….