Well, no, not officially, but I had a little fun on Twitter this weekend, when several friends mentioned Pope Francis’ latest tweet at @Pontifex:
It just slips in so very well with the whole topic of my book, Strange Gods; Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life, which will be hitting bookstores soon. In the introduction I write:
Do we stop to think of what it means to have something “before God”? It means to put something “first”, yes, but more fundamentally, it means to put something “in front” of God, as one might put a screen in front of a fireplace and therefore, “before” the fire. What is before God, then, is also before us; it stands between God and us; it separates us from him. Just as a covenant of marriage cannot grow in closeness and oneness — cannot become one flesh — if something is put between a couple, the covenant between God and humanity cannot grow and survive if our strange, self-reflective idols are placed between ourselves and him.
Strange Gods is all about those “hidden idols” Pope Francis tweets about; it’s about how to recognize them and hopefully clear them out of the path, so our relationship to God and his love is unimpeded. They’re all around us, you know:
We dismiss the golden calf story and its lessons at our peril. It’s true that we are no longer literally flinging our precious metals into a crucible and buffing stolid beasts of burden to worship. In some ways, matters are worse, for we do not know the idols we bow down to. Our present-day idols are much less obvious, but they are also less distant and more ingrained within us. Idols begin with ideas. From there, we shape them in the psyche, grow them in the ego, and then engage with them intimately, throughout our lives, in our families, our culture, our entertainments, and our political discourse. We create idols out of our norms of behavior, our material possessions, and social status. We even create them out of our faith.
I haven’t allowed myself, yet, to become excited about the book’s publication. I already made enough of an idol of it, when I was writing it. In fact, I do believe I have been having anxiety dreams about Strange Gods. I dream that I am due to be somewhere and the elevator won’t come; that I am trying to make a bed, but can’t get the sheets and blankets to lay properly. I suppose that’s all rooted in the whole “who am I to do this” number so many of us so easily play on ourselves. But it’s a legitimate question, which I also address in the intro:
My expertise is grounded in experience, for I am a great idolator and have been, all my life. Like an ex-drunk who is the only one who can understand where you have been, where you are now, and how you can escape from a perpetual alcoholic haze, I wish to share what I know in order to assist in clearing out all the cluttering self-created deities that stand before God and before us — between us and the satisfaction of our deepest longing, which is ecstatic union with our Creator.
It is no small undertaking — because we can barely clear out an old idol before we erect a brand-spanking new one in its place — but neither is it a dreary one.
Notice, I don’t actually refer to myself as an “ex-idolator” because, yeah, I still create them all the time. The book is not a pedantic or scholarly treatise on idolatry but a kind of confessional — part experiential, part observational — because I’m as busy creating idols as anyone. But I have come to learn that by recognizing when and how we create them goes a long way toward sweeping our idols out of the way, so that we may once more, as Pope Francis says, “place God at the center of our lives.”
The life of faith is a daily conversion, a daily “turning to.” Part of that turn should include a stiff-arming of our idols, too. Every day.
Annnnnd, right on time, look what just got delivered to my door!
Deacon Greg notes that just yesterday, the Holy Father spoke in a similar way about idols and idolatry:
We have to empty ourselves of the many small or great idols that we have…They are idols that we sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the centre, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others. This evening I would like a question to resound in the heart of each one of you, and I would like you to answer it honestly: Have I considered which idol lies hidden in my life that prevents me from worshipping the Lord? Worshipping is stripping ourselves of our idols, even the most hidden ones, and choosing the Lord as the centre, as the highway of our lives.
Heh. A crazy co-incidence, but Deacon Greg takes an opportunity to school His Holiness on branding and product placement! It’s pretty funny so check it out!