Strange Gods Book Study Week 2: Chapters 2 & 3

My day took a little bit of a winding path. I was planning on filming and editing video. Then the storms popped up and they are predicted to last on/off through the rest of the evening so I am writing now rather than tomorrow. As the storms popped up, shifting the course of my day I was reminded of being little and my parents telling me that these storms are like the angels bowling. At the beginning of the storm I unplugged the machines and computer and went to my kitchen to think through a class outline and what supplies are needed. Here in Texas there is the added expectation of tornadoes so I wanted to be prepared to go into the closet if necessary. Which is kind of hilarious as several weeks ago when we were getting phone calls and texts we sat in the living room watching the news to find out what was going on.

Chapter Two – God after us: The Idol of I

While it’s all very nice to ponder and prose on about keeping those lines cleared, the thing is much easier said than done. This is especially true when the overwhelming evidence before us – from Eden until now – suggests that making strange gods for and of ourselves is something that comes to human beings as naturally and easily as taking a breath, expelling it, and taking another. And the most painful truth is that the first and most difficult idol to dislodge is the idol of oneself. GK Chesterton wrote that while we might understand the cosmos, “The self is more distant than any star.” God is a mystery, but we, at least, have a few clues about him. He is all love, for one thing, which is why we – who are often messed up in our understanding of love – find him so incomprehensible that we focus back on oursleves, only to be further mystified. pp 27 and 28

I could keep quoting here particularly when Elizabeth writes not only about our restless heart, and “Hey, God’s all very nice, but what about me and what I want and what makes me happy?” And then, “We are by far our favorite and most fascinating subjects.”

I’ve been pondering what to write in this space, wondering how to explain the overwhelming urge to share bits and pieces of my own story to make the point of how *I* can become/be an idol, that which stands in the space between God and myself. There are so many ways in which this is true, as this chapter peeled back a few layers offering the opportunity to examine attitudes, behaviors and habits, picking up each one asking the Father and the Spirit for some insight. There’s the whole process of prayer too wherein I want God to give me what I want, and I want it now and I don’t wait for Him, or offer Him the opportunity to answer. When I don’t take the time to pray offering God the First Fruits of my Day, it can be a form of idolatry. When I have conversations in my head over and over again, not quite willing to listen to what might be underneath, that can be a form of idolatry, putting myself before God. To say there is a need for healing, for accepting the healing God this gracious Father has given, to accept with Gratitude how he has answered the longings of my heart would be an attempt, movement toward putting God First. The beauty about this relationship with God is that there are more opportunities to put Him first, more opportunities to dip into his grace, to let go and be loved by the one who is Love.

The surrender of our passions gentles us, which attracts us to what is good, rather than what should repel.
Our mourning becomes less self-indulgent and informed by a consoling hope.
Our thirst for righteousness is emptied of our own self-indulgent wrath, which we entrust to God’s judgment, so that the work of quenching that thirst may be pure.
Our mercy means we are not clinging to murderous ideas, and by letting go of them, we create room for God’s own mercy in us.
Our purity of heart means we look upon God, undistracted, and thus we see him.
As peacemakers, we renounce our interests in the spoils of victory and take no pleasure in anyone’s defeat—like Christ himself.
And if we are persecuted for all of this, it will be a validation that we are no longer belonging to the world but are fully God’s own.
Page 36 Strange Gods Elizabeth Scalia

Chapter 3 – The Idol of the Idea.

The question and answer in the first paragraph first touched me deeply. Elizabeth’s friend asked how she would define herself (and here is where I clearly identify with her) she replied, “short, fat, and graying” as I’m a “short, fat, quilter.” I’m presuming at this moment that not all readers would know both the backstory behind this descriptor so I’m going to pause here for a moment and share a bit. A long time ago I worked at a shop that sold everything from sewing machines and fashion fabric to home dec and quilting, with all the accompanying notions and two different brands of sewing machines. I started saying that I’m a short, fat, quilter to one of the other teacher/employees, receiving a little bit of a frustrated response in return. She finally asked me one day why I say this about myself, put myself down like that. *I am good at that for other reasons*. Often when someone is speaking we feel the commas as they take a breath or pause as they speak. As I said I’m a short, fat, quilter what she would hear is that I’m a short fat quilter. What was a statement of three truths about myself that I am short, five foot and one-quarter of an inch (lost a quarter boo hoo!), I am fat, it’s true I might as well own it, right? And I’m a quilter. Because I frequently said these truths quickly without a verbal pause it was heard as though, well, you get it right? Driven home clearly in that conversation was that how we hear things, how we receive them is important too.

How I hear ideas, notions, comments, all of it very much depends on so many things some I can control and some I can’t. Oh gosh that’s hard to say. When I hear that we should end homelessness I wholeheartedly agree. Ending homelessness is more than affordable housing. When I see people bitch about families using government benefits while shopping to get cake and a few things to celebrate something I get so angry, in part because growing up in unwanted, undesired, poverty where shaming the kids was part and parcel of the experience part of what I hear is that I wasn’t worthy of being celebrated. Perhaps this parent is really good with what little she has and there is a celebration and wants to make a big deal over a big achievement. And then there’s the whole, “flour, butter, and sugar are less expensive” yes they can be, however what are the rest of the circumstances, do you know?

The idea of ending homelessness is good and noble and holy it is also wrapped up in physical and psychological abuse, it’s wrapped up in shame, it’s wrapped in mental illness, broken families (sometimes necessarily), in soldiers who see the ravages of war when they close their eyes.

The idea of families not having to rely on government assistance to eat dinner and celebrate life achievements, birthdays, anniversaries, and recovery is good and noble and holy, it is also wrapped up in so, so many things that have some to do with money, and has to do with our spiritual health.

I’m not sure that any words of mine can change hearts and attitudes anyone who is given a free-will. I can only offer the experience growing up in poverty and ministry (and even there I can see so many things that I would love to do differently.)

Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement, says, “Unity is better than a good idea.” I might have a good idea for how to do something, achieve a goal, work on something. I might even be right and it is the path to follow. The thing is there are a couple of things that need to happen 1) I need to feel free to speak the idea and 2) I need to then step back and with continued input listen for how the Spirit is leading. More often than not I’m so in love with my own shiny, reflective, look at this beautiful idea do you see how beautiful I am it is that letting go, letting it become something truly beautiful, transformed by God’s grace and mercy that the Idea is now an idol.

Yesterday I listened to the beginning of the May 14th Episode of Fr. Simon Says where he talks about the choice of Matthias as an Apostle and the process of discernment. What I will say is this, if we let Him, God will speak and show us the direction to go in. We may revisit this a little later in the book as well.

She said yes to her gifts and lived in their truth—which is where God lives, because he is all truth—even though she was unsure where it all would lead. It led to freedom, but first she had to cast aside an idol born of what had seemed, at the time, such a great idea.

The things we perceive as “no” coming from God or religion are simply serious advisements meant to free us from the power of our own propensities to navel-gaze and fixate on our ideas and desires, so that we will be able to receive all God wants to give us.

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you . . . plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me . . . and I will change your lot. (Jer 29:11–14)

Pope Benedict XVI has written, We can understand properly what the kingship of Jesus Christ means only if we trace its origin in the Old Testament, where we immediately discover a surprising fact. It is obvious that God did not intend Israel to have a kingdom. The kingdom was, in fact, a result of Israel’s rebellion against God and against his prophets, a defection from the original will of God. The law was to be Israel’s king, and through the law, God himself. . . . But Israel was jealous of the neighboring peoples with their powerful kings.
. . . Surprisingly, God yielded to Israel’s obstinacy and so devised a new kind of kingship for them. The son of David, the king, is Jesus: in him God entered humanity and espoused it to himself.1

Elizabeth Scalia, Strange Gods Chapter 3

I will offer that having other gods builds a wall between us and our Lord, the One who is LOVE, who LOVES us into being. I have so much room to let go, examine, and grow. God has given us the gift of free-will, and honors that, allowing us to live in the consequences of that. It is up to us, knowing the basic commandments to examine our lives in such a way that we live for him, with him.

God bless,

Teri

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