Today Was A Bad Day

For the next four weeks, I will be re-sharing some of my most read blog posts. This one seems to be especially appropriate for many of my friends who are just having a rough time today. May God bless us all.

A Second Time Paul

Some days, I just want it to stop.

I don’t want to have to keep putting in so much effort.

Life is hard and I don’t always think I am up to the challenge.

Some mornings, it is such an effort to get out of bed because I know I am just going to have the face the same challenges I faced yesterday. If I have already worked so hard, why do I have to keep working? If I have put so much effort into this already, why can’t I see a payoff?

And I don’t always feel like I can tell anyone.

Because, after all, I’m the guy with sobriety time. I’m the guy who leads recovery groups. I’m the guy who’s almost 40, married 17 years with 3 kids. I’m the guy who helps teach people how to discover their talents and abilities and find work. I’m the…

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My Name Is Paul And I Am An Alcoholic, Step 7

One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. This month is Step 7. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle with what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!

“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings” (Step 7).

“My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 76).

“For thousands of years we have been demanding more than our share of security, prestige, and romance. When we seemed to be succeeding, we drank to dream still greater dreams. When we were frustrated, even in part, we drank for oblivion. Never was there enough of what we thought we wanted. In all these strivings, so many of them well-intentioned, our crippling handicap had been our lack of humility. We had lacked the perspective to see that character-building and spiritual values had to come first, and that material satisfactions were not the purpose of living” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 71).

The 12 Step process is exactly that: a process. In Step 6, the recovering alcoholic becomes willing. Nothing can happen without willingness. Once the alcoholic is willing, they turn to their God. We do so humbly.

Humility is a difficult concept for most humans. Bill Wilson suggests that most people hate the word and the concept. But for addicts, there seems to be an increased struggle with the idea. Everything about addiction screams selfishness and pride: “I want what I want when I want it and I deserve it. Now.”

It is the lack of humility that drives the force of the drinking. When things are good, we celebrate as much as we can because we have earned it. When things are bad, we drown our sorrows as much as we can because no one has ever experienced the depths of the despair that we have. Because of our pride we drink.

This is often difficult to grasp: the drug is not the issue for the addict. The issue is the lack of humility that exists in the addict. Removing the drug or the drink is a vitally important step in the process.

But it is far from the final one.

Closely linked with our lack of humility is fear. As Wilson says, “The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear—primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded. Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration.”

Again, this is not directly linked to the alcohol. It is linked to the pride. If I am to give up control of my life, if I am to truly ask humbly to have my shortcomings taken away, I will likely not get my way. And if I don’t get my way, I have no idea what might happen.

And that fear drives us to think we must be in complete control of everything at all times, and that control leads us to drink to dream higher dreams or to drink to oblivion to forget everything around us.

The alcohol is such a small part of our disease. The lack of humility and presence of fear are much more damaging. And in Step 7, after we have become willing, we humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings. We have put down the substance of our addiction. We now move on to removing those things that fed the addiction.

So what role can non-addicts play in supporting those who are in recovery at this stage in the process?

First, remember that you cannot force another person into humility. Forcing others to practice humility is just another form of humiliation. And if you gain nothing else from all of these posts on the 12 Steps, please get this: every addict and alcoholic has suffered more than their fair share of humiliation; it is the last thing they need.

This is based purely on my experience and anecdotal evidence, it is not scientifically proven: I believe the worst thing churches and families have done to people in recovery is brand them with a new kind of scarlet A. Churches and families believe the recovering addict needs to jump through humiliating hoops in order to prove their worthiness. As if breaking the cycle of addiction, dealing with all the consequences of their addicted lives, and adjusting to life without the drug is not enough, now others want to make people prove they are good enough?

In church communities and in families recovering addicts are often singled out. Maybe this is because the results of being drunk or being high are often obvious and public. Maybe it is because relapse rates are high and there is always a question if someone will maintain their sobriety.

But a recovering alcoholic should have to do nothing no other member of a faith community has to do to prove his or her worth. All of us are unworthy. All of us are in need of grace. Alcoholics/Addicts don’t need more. Treating like they do does not increase their opportunities for humility; it only humiliates them.

Second, practice and share humility in community.  Step 7 is when recovering addicts and alcoholics pray to have God take every bad thing away. The prayer asks for every defect of character, everything that stands in the way of our usefulness, to be taken away. Alcoholics, indeed any type of addict, deal with much more than just the substance of the addiction. There is pride, fear, greed, shame, dishonesty, and so much more that drives the addiction.

In recovery, we ask for all of those things to be taken away. Just like any Christian should. AA has thrived for over 75 years because they have grasped the meaning and importance of community. One alcoholic helping another alcoholic. The model has sprouted at least 50+ groups (12step.com has a list of them).

But in churches, we often miss both the meaning and importance of community. There is nothing unique to the alcoholic’s experience in recovery. The addict reconnects with God, spends time in personal reflection, makes necessary personal changes, and then works to reconcile with others (the next 2 steps). These are all things every Christian should be doing.

So let’s do this together. I need my brothers and sisters who are not recovering addicts to walk alongside me. Allow me to see that you struggle in ways that I may not. Learn from me and my story of addiction. Let’s tell each other our stories. Let’s pray for each other. Let’s learn what humility truly is together. Let’s walk hand in hand so that we can overcome our fears together.

This is a process. It is a process that demands community.

Knowledge, Love, and Shutting Up

“…we know that all of us have knowledge, but knowledge can be risky. Knowledge promotes overconfidence and worse arrogance, but charity of the heart (love, that is) looks to build up others. Just because a person presumes to have some bit of knowledge, that person doesn’t necessarily have the right kind of knowledge. But if someone loves God, it is certain that God has already known that one” (I Corinthians 8:1-3, The Voice).

_________________________

I received a message last week. “Paul, can we meet soon and talk?”

Those kinds of messages scare me. Especially when they seemingly come out of the blue. There’s a paranoia part of me that thinks, “What did I do wrong?” There’s an AA sponsor part of me that thinks, “Are they struggling with addiction?” Although not as prevalent anymore, there is a part of me that shudders to think, “Amway?”

But, as usual, none of these parts was correct. This friend wanted to address something from my facebook activity. (Imagine that: ME with facebook activity! How rare! #sarcasm)

It was not something I wrote. It was not even something I shared. It was something I liked or commented on that another facebook friend had shared. And there were some issues with the article that neither I nor any of the commenters brought up in our online discussion.

And this friend was concerned. Not because they thought I was wrong. Not because they thought my soul was in danger of eternal damnation. Not because they thought my liking this post would usher in the end of Western civilization. But simply because the article in question left no room for disagreement; no room for dialogue. It was another in a long line of: “I am right, if you disagree you are wrong” articles.

Normally, I hate those. I really do. But I read a ton of them. And I share a lot them, too.

And so many times, I do not even realize I am doing it. It is as if sharing close-mindedness has become as much a part of my enlightened, westernized thinking as always standing up when sometimes says, “728b.” (#oldchurchofchristjoke)

_________________________

I have always assumed that eating meat was one of the most difficult issues the apostle Paul dealt with. I think this because he addresses it multiple times. He also seems to call each side of the meat-eating debate weak and strong. In one city, meat-eaters are the strong; in another they are weak. Go figure.

Maybe it’s because Paul was addressing something that went deeper than the act of eating. Maybe Paul was addressing something deeper than the hot-button issue of the day. Maybe Paul was dealing with something that could not be parsed so easily into ideological sides. Maybe Paul knew something we need to learn:

Knowledge often makes us arrogant jerks. Love often makes us kind enough to put relationship over ideal.

_________________________

When I first began my journey in sobriety, I often heard the question: “Which is more important—to be right or to be sober?” The lesson was I could push so hard to prove I was right that I would end up driving myself to drink because of the stress of showing everyone I was right. Sometimes, I needed to say that it did not matter if I was right or wrong. What mattered was that I did things to promote sobriety.

_________________________

When an issue becomes more important to me than a person, I have lost my focus. My friend reached out to me because I was perpetuating a cycle that said, “If you do not agree with me, you cannot be right; you cannot be a Christian; you cannot be a good person; you cannot be my friend.”

If you ever hear me saying that, please tell me to shut up. Telling me kindly is preferable, but maybe I deserve it bluntly.

I quoted from I Corinthians at the beginning of this post. It is only a few chapters later in the context of worship that Paul says, “If I have all kinds of knowledge, but I do not love people, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” In other words, Paul is saying, “If you cannot be loving, shut up. Your loud knowledge is not helping anybody.”

I welcome disagreement. I welcome dialogue. I always want to be inviting. You may not win me over to your side. I may not win you over to mine. But more often than not, I don’t care. As long as you will stay in relationship with me.

So give me your ideas: how do we break this pattern of: agree with me or be wrong? How do overcome close-mindedness? How can we dialogue respectfully?

The Blessing of Paradox: Book Review of Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God

I have read and listened to material from Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I have also paid attention to different things from people like Bill Maher. And I often come away with the same response:

They are just as close-minded and narrow in their views as the Christian talking heads they rail against.

Something that distresses me is when Jesus followers say things that seemingly go against all that the Bible actually teaches. It hurts me when prominent Christian leaders say hurricanes and school shootings are God’s retributive justice. It pains me when people manipulate the Scriptures to justify their bigotry. Too many prominent people in Christianity use their platform to exclude and divide, rather than to love and to serve.

Yet many of the New Atheists have the same attitude. They behave as if they are right and anyone who would dare disagree with them is mentally deficient.

This is why I really appreciate Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How To Give Love, Create Beauty, And Find Peace by Frank Schaeffer. Schaeffer is the son of Francis Shaeffer, the prominent evangelical theologian of the 70s and 80. Frank Schaeffer is also one of the founding members of the Religious Right.

And that is something he truly regrets.

Schaeffer shares his journey since leaving the fundamental, religious background in which he was raised. Throughout talking about that journey, he shares the blessing of paradox. Schaeffer is able to talk about how he both believes and does not believe in God. How he understands the Bible as myth yet finds meaning and comfort within its pages. How science has expanded our knowledge of life and the universe yet cannot explain the transecendant. His life is one of paradox; paradox that he is comfortable with not completely understanding.

The book starts with a story of a chance encounter on his way home from his mother’s funeral. At the same time, he believes it was a chance encounter and that it was something his recently deceased mother somehow arranged. Chance encounter and divine arrangement cannot both be true, yet both exist.

Early in the book, he writes:

With the acceptance of paradox came a new and blessed uncertainty that began to heal the mental illness called certainty, the kind of certainty that told me that my job was to be head of the home and to order around my wife and children because ‘the Bible says so.’ Embracing paradox helped me discover that religion is a neurological disorder for which faith is the only cure.

Paradox cures certainty. Additionally, asking a new question can cure certainty. Atheism, agnosticism, and theism are all answers to the question, “Does God exist?” Instead, we should ask what our relationship to God is.

Schaeffer’s journey is riveting because it is so honest. He does not presume to have any of the answers. He is not writing a treatise that all people must follow in order to live an enlightened life. His story is how someone who now does not necessary believe that God exists can still participate in the liturgy of a local church. It is the story of someone who has come to learn that we are more than any label.

It is a story that has learned that hope is found in love and not correct theology.

I do not agree with everything Schaeffer says. I believe he is inconsistent in part of his discussion about Scripture (Chapter XX). He is unwilling to embrace that paradox can exist there even though he enjoys the blessing of paradox in other areas of his life.

But his attitude is incredible. He is not close-minded. He comes across as the type of person who would be an awesome conversation partner, unlike Dawkins, Maher, Limbaugh, Robertson, and others who want only people to yell at. He makes me feel comfortable reflecting on my own journey. I think he will make you feel comfortable as you reflect on your own.

I recommend reading this book in the spirit it was written: one person’s narrative.

Prayer On The Fourth

Thank you for freedom.
Thank you for liberty.
Thank you for those who serve.

But I thank you even more that I am not independent.

Thank you for my family.
They keep me from living alone.

Thank you my church community.
They remind me that I do not live for myself.

Thank you for those I work with.
They remind me that it takes partnerships to be successful.

Thank you for those who hold me accountable.
They remind me that I do not always know what it best for myself.

Thank you for those who listen to me.
They remind me that I am not alone.

Thank you for those who encourage me.
They recognize when I am in need.

Thank you for those who laugh with me.
(And more often than not cry with me.)
They remind me that my emotional experience is shared by others.

Thank you for my dependence.

I would not want to live without it.