Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Same Old Song

The world usually follows this little motto:
before it ever gets better, the deal will always get worse

This time: no deal at all.

Loyal readers of these pages (all three, including the author) may remember the events that ultimately lead to the ending of my last church job. Father Fiasco had done his level best to dismantle the music program and terminate my employment. Why? Because he has a long history of being the master of disaster (well documented by his brethren) and was siphoning off money for himself. Yes, you read that right. So, I was filled with great curiosity when the new priest called me and said he wanted to meet with me.

Could this be a golden opportunity? Would I slide right back into those comfortable shoes?
For being as old as I am, I am so naive. I trust, I believe. Then ugly reality comes up to shock me back into sanity.


First, a lovely and sincere apology from the new pastor regarding the behavior of the previous and aforementioned priest of pandemonium. Then I recounted the whole tale of horror in full detail. After the tale ended, he began asking me about what I was doing.

He wondered where I was attending mass.

"I'm a vagabond."

This is mostly true. I don't go anywhere.

Stated with true concern. "I am concerned that this experience may have turned you off to the church."

Indeed it has. I felt the church betrayed me. Something that had given me safe harbor, a place to find quiet and meditation and even fellowship had turned sour for me. I simply don't go. I mistrust organized religion on some level now and even feel suspicious of clergy. The church turned its back on me and so I return in kind.

When he explained that he had called me in just to meet me and to offer an olive branch, I felt as if an anvil had fallen on my head.
Gee, no offer of a job?
Though not one person has spoken of me with disdain and he had heard only glowing comments about my time as music minister, there wasn't even the offer of a job on the table. He wanted me to attend the services and join the church. Then, he might use me, but only in "an advisory capacity." Oh, I get it: do it for free. Ah, no thanks. I even heard: "It would feel wrong to hire you back." What? Putting my ego aside for a moment, this is about money, plain and simple.

In short: the old Catholic mentality of volunteerism is still in play. The "because you love God and the church, you should work like a dog for nothing" mode of thinking still lingers from the '60's. Those times are as relevant as antiquity. The whole world has changed and the church with Vatican II was a reaction to try to bring the church into the 20th century; yet this preposterously outdated attitude has remained. Women have come further in the Catholic church than musicians. That's not an exaggeration.

But I am not an part-time musician. I have given my life to it. It is my passion, my soul and my closest friend. Pros like me deserved to be paid for their experience, education and sense of liturgy. I will not accept anything less. It's bullshit. Right now, my sources tell me that the folks involved with the music program are all volunteers. Some say only one gets a stipend for his work.

I had the sense that he wanted to meet the man who had been so inextricably "linked to the parish's history." I also, God forgive me for saying this, felt that bringing me back might bring a little bit more attention to the music than he wanted. He is the new king, the bright one, the worldly traveler, brought to this humble church filled with Appalachian folks whom he sees as being insular and provincial. The mountains and valleys being a barrier to the outside world - a world he has seen. This church, seen by his superiors, as a "penal colony." In his words: "send them down there. They can't do any harm."

He's been sent to clean up the mess. Sounds like everything is hunky-dory. That's great, so why bother me?
Before I go further, I have to say I liked the new guy. There's a touch of arrogance there. Two arrogant men can't really bond - they are always too impressed with themselves to be impressed with others. Still, I think we felt comfortable.
And I can't say I was shy about my opinions. I think my bitterness swelled up inside me and was let out my mouth too fast before I could catch it. "Tacky churchy gay" is how I described how the previous priest decorated the church. He looked a little stunned as he repeated it. Sorry, Padre. I almost never reveal my true thoughts about people. That stuff stays hidden, but this time one got out.
I have consulted two friends, both female - one still going and one who left because of the disastrous way my employment was ended. Here's what I have found out about my female friends: they are far more willing to tell it like it is than men are. When I told one about the apology, she said, "If that's all he wanted, why not just send a postcard?" She has been hurt as well and has stopped doing endless volunteer work because of it. Good for her.

We can learn a lot from the hurt the world blithely tosses our way. Believe me: any hopes, dreams or ambitions of one day returning to that church as a music minister have been dashed.
They are gone.
Thanks for reminding me.


The Only Mister Ed said...

I feel your pain, bro. I left the Catholic church during our days at SMA. That story will show up in one of the chapters on my own blog. I was a believer, mostly because it was a place of sanctuary and song. But hypocrisy among the devout finally wore too thin. I still believe in the basic goodness of the world, whatever the source.

Anonymous said...

“Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.” Lenny Bruce

(makes more sense every time I hear that quote)

Sharon said...

Thank you, anonymous. When I read the quote you referenced about people straying from the church and going back to rang true.

I do volunteer work with animals and people, not for money or recognition, but just because it makes me feel good. And no, I haven't seen the inside of a church in a long time...

primalscreamx said...

Of course, there's always Buddhism, my brand. The music isn't great, but you can sleep in Sundays.

The Only Mister Ed said...

Oh, primalscreamx, you make me giddy! The music comes from within. Get it? Namaste.