(Stone Idol from Moscow, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
1 John 5:21:
Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
The Daily Office reading for Thursday had this single verse as an "optional" verse to read at the end. Now, at first glance, our thoughts probably go "does not apply to me." Most of us don't have anything like this fellow in the picture on our mantel. It's a verse, when taken literally, has been used to throw rocks at Hindus or pagans or even Roman Catholics. Funny how folks are sometimes so quick to throw rocks at what they think someone else is using as an "idol." Probably most of us don't worship Billy Idol. Oh, a few folks might have an obsessive attachment to the TV show American Idol, but I suspect, like all fads, over time, that one will pass.
But it was this little tiny optional verse in the reading that had the most power for me.
You see, I got to thinking about how we define ourselves.
Sometimes we use words that describe our present job--doctor, lawyer, preacher, teacher.
Sometimes we use words that describe our lack of a job--unemployed, disabled, retired, "looking for work."
Sometimes we use words that describe who we are in a family constellation--son, daughter, wife, husband, mother, father.
Sometimes we use words that show that we are separated from what we think others view as a "normal" family constellation--Widowed, never married, divorced, "partnered."
Sometimes we use words that describe our present or former medical condition--diabetes, cancer, stroke, multiple sclerosis.
Sometimes we use words that imply separation or victimization from what we think others view as "normal"--codependent, "in recovery," PTSD sufferer, imprisoned.
But we use all these descriptors that imply what we do for a living, what we do for fun, what our sex lives might be like, and what prevents us from being whole--and these things never really quite tell anyone "who we are." People only learn "who we are" by interacting with us for a long time. We meet people. We have an impression of them. It often molds and changes over time. Our opinion of them waxes and wanes. We fall in and out of love with them based on all these perceptions. Truly knowing people tells us all these nameless things that are based on how we feel in both their presence and absence.
Yet, here we are, defining ourselves in terms of "stuff." Outward stuff and inward stuff, and when I hear the phrase "keep yourselves from idols," it is saying to me, "Keep me from defining myself as the idol made of my projections of me."
I thought about how people see the Blessed Red Truck zooming down Baltimore St. in Kirksville, and say that's "me." Now, I know that's not "me." That's my truck! Yet, as I discussed in a previous post, when the rock hit the windshield of the Blessed Red Truck that Sunday morning,
it might as well have hit me, I was that upset!
Honestly, I can't imagine myself without a red truck, let alone without a leg, my eyesight, or my mind. Oh, I can in one way, but in another, I just can't, unless I was pushed into the actual experience of it. I can wrap my head around it in a theoretical sense but not an experiential one.
Many decades ago, I could not imagine a life without someone I once intended to marry. It was just too painful. But now, I have lived many years in that life I could not even imagine, and it was all for the best, really. I could not imagine never having my grandparents around to hit up for advice, go home to when I had nowhere else to go, and, yes, fight with--vigorously--now and then. But they've been dead for some years now, and my life is progressing onward.
All those things we say we can't do, or can't imagine, are based in "lack of actual experience."
I think about that in my present relationships with people. When I let the "idol" of me be in charge--the one based in all the things I want other people to see in me, and am not vulnerable to letting who I am peek out from behind the projections--I am actively closing people out to "the holy goodness who is me." In the same vein, if I am doing that, other people are doing it too--to me and everyone else.
I have to remember that the iracibilities of others are probably there to shield them from the discomfort of their vulnerabilities. I have to remember who they are is more than what others have told me about them, and more than I am capable of seeing in them--that what I do see at that moment can be colored by my own projections and the projections of others.. I do other people a real injustice if I simply take someone else's crib sheet on them at face value, or see how well they do or don't match my crib sheet.
Oh, there are probably some truths in that crib sheet--but they are projected truths. Idols. They can either be idols of reverence or vilification.
One of the slowest growing edges in my own life is to simply allow people to have a negative impression of me, no matter how absolutely wrong I think they are, and allow them to come to their own conclusions of how that works or doesn't work for them--to not react by trying to prove to them that I am "good," or "giving them the "me" I think they want or need." It dishonors their holiness and my integrity. I am learning they won't quit worshiping their idol of vilification by my sticking an idol of reverence in their face. I can only live up to the authentic "me," and let my life do the talking. Likewise, I am called to do the same, and must do that. We're all called to the same purpose--but I can only control my actions in it, with God's help.
It's kind of like those old movies where someone gets thrown in the mental hospital by mistake when they are sane, or trying to uncover a mystery there. Everything they do, even though they are "normal," the people in power all go, "Uh-huh, that just proves he's crazy."
I am starting to realize this: When we feel people have us "all wrong," we are reacting to their lack of worship of "our idol of ourselves." When I find myself vilifying someone, I am probably reacting to an idol fashioned by many people--including themselves--and that idol can block my view of the person I am called not to "like"--but to love through my Baptismal Covenant.