“Alcoholics Anonymous” (Frederick Buechner)

Once again I turn to the great and grateful words of my hero, Frederick Buechner.  I am a recovering alcoholic & addict.  I love A.A., but I do not speak for A.A.  I love Narcotics Anonymous too.  Heck, I love all 12 Step fellowships because the 12 Steps and those who seek to live and practice them are some of the most loving, kind, real people you will ever meet; they are God’s ragamuffins.  Someone once told me God has a special love for fools, children and drunks.  I meet two of the criteria.

I’m posting this because it is a beautiful essay on A.A. from a non-alcoholics’ perspective.

And I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Enjoy Rev. Buechner’s words.

Alcoholics Anonymous

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS or A.A. is the name of a group of men and women who acknowledge that addiction to alcohol is ruining their lives. Their purpose in coming together is to give it up and help others do the same. They realize they can’t pull this off by themselves. They believe they need each other, and they believe they need God. The ones who aren’t so sure about God speak instead of their Higher Power.

When they first start talking at a meeting, they introduce themselves by saying, “I am John. I am an alcoholic,” “I am Mary. I am an alcoholic,” to which the rest of the group answers each time in unison, “Hi, John,” “Hi, Mary.” They are apt to end with the Lord’s Prayer or the Serenity Prayer. Apart from that they have no ritual. They have no hierarchy. They have no dues or budget. They do not advertise or proselytize. Having no buildings of their own, they meet wherever they can.

Nobody lectures them, and they do not lecture each other. They simply tell their own stories with the candor that anonymity makes possible. They tell where they went wrong and how day by day they are trying to go right. They tell where they find the strength and understanding and hope to keep trying. Sometimes one of them will take special responsibility for another—to be available at any hour of day or night if the need arises. There’s not much more to it than that, and it seems to be enough. Healing happens. Miracles are made.

You can’t help thinking that something like this is what the Church is meant to be and maybe once was before it got to be Big Business. Sinners Anonymous. “I can will what is right but I cannot do it,” is the way Saint Paul put it, speaking for all of us. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19).

“I am me. I am a sinner.”

“Hi, you.”

Hi, every Sadie and Sal. Hi, every Tom, Dick, and Harry. It is the forgiveness of sins, of course. It is what the Church is all about.

No matter what far place alcoholics end up in, either in this country or virtually anywhere else, they know that there will be an A.A. meeting nearby to go to and that at that meeting they will find strangers who are not strangers to help and to heal, to listen to the truth and to tell it. That is what the Body of Christ is all about.

Would it ever occur to Christians in a far place to turn to a church nearby in hope of finding the same? Would they find it? If not, you wonder what is so Big about the Church’s Business.

– Originally published in Whistling in the Dark

Advertisements

Short Musings: Surrender or Resignation?

Surrender.

Resignation.

One of them is giving up and one of them is giving in?  One of them is active; one passive. Is there really a difference?  And if so, would I even know what that difference is?

As I ask these questions I am merely speaking to myself, not to anyone else.  At this point in my journey of recovery, and my journey with God, I’m not sure where I stand: am I at a place of Surrender or Resignation.  It could be one, the other or both.

I truly do not know.

The good news is that God does and when it comes to giving up or giving in, faith and fear become guides that in some ways ‘will’ me forward.  The question is which one will I choose to be my guide: fear or faith?

Surrender involves faith; faith in a Loving God.  Resignation is about fear; fear that is a poisonous and ruinous drug.

Surrender is about journeying towards something while resignation is about running away from something (or Some One).

If truth be told, I have much and little of both.  But the choice is mine.

So which one will it be?  Faith or fear?

The answer will change the world.

 

Wounded & Loved

 

“In each one of us there is such a deep wound, such an urgent cry to be held, appreciated and seen as unique and valuable. The heart of each one is broken and bleeding… An experience of being loved and accepted in community, which has become a safe place for us, allows us gradually to accept ourselves as we are, with our wounds and all the monsters. We are broken, but we are loved.”

Jean Vanier, taken from Community and Growth

I remember listening to one of my favorite shows on the radio the other night  – Krista Tippett’s “On Being and the host was interviewing one of my favorite Christian Irascible, the Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. She was speaking at the Wild Goose festival and the topic happened upon her depression and how she dealt with it, and here is how she described it: rather than succumbing to not only the pain of depression but also the stigma of depression (compound that with Bolz-Weber’s history with alcoholism and long-term sobriety), she gave her depression a name!

She named her depression Francis.  How brilliant.  How utterly deviously and brilliant – name the pain and befriend it!  I was struck by the hilarity and compassion that naming her depression afforded her. When asked a direct question about does she preach and teach about her depression she smacked it out of the park and left my mouth agape. Nadia said, “I try and preach from my scars and not my wounds.”

How raw and authentic, how utterly insightful, and how true for those of us in recovery…”I try to preach from my scars, not my wounds.”

She essentially sums up Jean Vanier’s quote, the essential message of what it means to be a human being seeking God; the journey from our own wounds to others wounds and the healing experience of scars.

I love my scars, almost perversely so. Some of them are physical, on my arms, some covered up with kanji tattoos of sacred text, and some have been rendered almost invisible due to the aging process. And some, well, they are invisible and only show themselves in holy moments of intimacy, prayer, and community

I am wounded, no doubt. But I am loved. The point is do I spend more time focusing on the truth that I am wounded or on the amazing truth that I am loved, beyond words, by a God Whose loved is infinitely faithful and present?  The answer to that question reveals a great deal about where I am spiritually.

Our scars are the perfect reminders of this creative tension in which we must live – that of being between the “already and the not yet.”   I am whole, but not yet. I am perfectly human but not perfect. I am superfluous yet divinely unique. I am loved by God, but I sometimes I loathe myself.  I am a shining example of God’s love taking place but I am broken and wounded and wound others as a result sometimes.

But the great truth in all of this, a truth I learn and live every day of my sobriety, is this – I am not my wounds, but I am my scars.

My scars are reminders of the place where God entered my wounds, entered my life. And each scar I have is a blessed reminder that God is right now, and always has been, with me. Our scars are reminders that God is with us in the pain and the healing, in the suffering darkness and the tender light. God comes and sits down on the floor with us in our darkness and reaches out to touch us and to simply BE with us.

Our scars remind us that even though God may not have delivered the trial or tribulation from us, God did indeed come in Love and be with us in the darkness. I have experienced this Truth many times: when my father died; when my son died; when my mother and brother died; when all hope seemed lost and I thought the only obvious answer was death God came.

Our scars are God’s calling cards, reminders of his faithful Presence, enduring love, patient tenderness, and infinite wisdom and power.

So the next time we glance down at our physical scars or feel the pang and tug of the unseen scars, whisper a prayer of Gratitude in remembrance that you may be wounded, but you are loved.

 

Simply…Love (repost)

A few days ago I posted a blog about Love and God’s love.  In that version, I edited it down and parred out some of the things I thought people might not want to read.  Well, my conscious got the better of me – I try and never edit out my truths as I see and experience them in order to make people feel comfy.  One of the mottoes of my life is “If I can’t inform, then I will inflame.”

So, below is the original essay I wrote entitled “Simply…Love”.

Simply…Love

It seems so simple, so obvious; this life of faith we are called to live. But in light of the heinous actions we have seen in the media and in our world lately – killing of black Christians by a racist zealot, religious hatred and bigotry, choosing nationalism over biblical mandates, Christians standing with doctrines of hate and fear – that it appears to be far from simple.

What is so simple is this: God is Love; and if we love God then we must love AS God loves – unconditionally.

God is not white. God is not black. God is not a human, neither man nor woman. God is not Catholic or Protestant. In fact, I don’t even think God is religious, although God may be just a tad bit Zen.

The fact of the matter is, it really is plain and simple – this Love thing – it’s just not easy. And there is a huge difference between something being simple and being easy (just ask anyone who is a part of any 12 Step fellowship, they’ll explain it).

The apostle John, also known as John the Beloved, said it best when he spoke of two of the eternal truths about God – namely that “God is light” and “God is love.” The latter is the focus of this blog. This concept, this truth (Truth) is so simple, yet profound and almost unutterable. The truth of God’s being is so simple children get it and yet this truth – that God is love – is also so profoundly frightening that we adults are threatened by it so much so we create dogma, doctrines, denominations and diatribes to control the very essence and definition of God’s love. But God forever remains Love.  Any and all expressions of love, whether pure or perverted, have their origination in and from Divine Love; all loves are mere shadows and reflections of God’s Perfect Love.

And since God is love, we too are called to both BE love and DO Love. We can spend all sorts of time, money, and energy arguing about this Love or we can spend all of our time, energy, money and efforts Being and Doing Love – and leave the rest to God.

God will forever and infinitely BE love, it is we who are born, live and die. Love, and the God Who is Love, abides forever.

God’s love is so awe-inspiring and eternal that we are given free will to choice to do as we wish to this Love. We are free to qualify it; we are free to quantify it.  We are free to try and control it through restrictions, definitions, exegesis, rules, regulations, stipulation and the like. We are free to commodify God’s love. We are even free to try and mete out, control and block God’s love for that is how much God loves us – to allow us to do some pretty heinous and asinine things and still BE LOVED.

But it is still simple. Love. Jesus said it, preached it, lived and died it. Love. Love. Love. In truth, if you break down all that is required of us it is simply love: love God with all your being and love your neighbor (everyone!) as yourself.

But God’s love is unconditional, unlimited, unbridled…and that truth scares the shit out of me.  We – I – do not know what to “do” with a Love like that, so I do what most people do to love – I end up killing it with rules, reg’s, and restrictions. I tame love. I make it safe for me, and you if you jump through the proper hoops and channels.

We humans are so afraid of the utter brilliance and intensity of divine Love that we have to limit God’s love in order to understand it; we have to control it in order to receive it. At the end of the day, we cannot truly believe God’s love is indeed unconditional, as in absolutely unconditional, that we need to establish temporal conditions to that which is Eternally Unconditional. Religious laws are/were constructed because people are not to be trusted with the unlimited, unfathomable, unchanging, unbearable, all inclusive and all embracing love of God.

What would happen though if we simplified it, really simplified it, down to what it is: LOVE? What would happen if all who love, seek, pine for and “speak for” God simply sought to give, be and do Love? What if all other dogma, doctrine and denomination burnt away as the dross that it is, and only God’s unconditional love reigned supreme in all of our hearts?

What would happen?

Would the walls drop away? Would all the excuses we have for separating ourselves into neat little, safe categories melt away? Would we stop being white, black, red, yellow, rich, poor, red state, blue state, pro-life, pro-choice, anti-gay, queer friendly? What would truly happen? My sense is the greatest revolution of our existence would happen: a revolution of the heart (to paraphrase Dorothy Day).

God’s Love is not a doctrine, or a sect, or a rule; God’s love is an ever Present Reality. Love is God’s very Being – the very essence of who God Is. When God said that his name was Yahweh (YHWH), what was being said was “I AM Who I Am and Who I AM is Love.”

The late Teilhard de Chardin urged us onward and inward, to discover the “energy of Love” – which he considered to be the energy of God’s Being. Teilhard told us, “Someday, after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energy of love; and for the second time in the history of the world, [humanity] will have discovered fire.

Divine Love is just that, divine.  And no human language or doctrine or dogma should ever try and tame the perfect wildness, the wondrous Fire that is the Love of God.

(Scripture references: see 1 John 3:11, 18; 1 John 4:7-21)

 

On Vocation – By Frederick Buechner

I absolutely love Frederick Buechner; his life, his writing, his pastoral words and shepherds’ heart always feed and move me.  I have never had the chance to meet him in person, but I have met him many times over in his writings and sermons, and I am honored to re-post his words, great words.

This post of his words is you for if you are striving to know what and where God is calling you.  If you feel a tug and sway at your heart to do this or do that and it doesn’t necessarily make any sense, then may these words from Frederick Buechner feed you – may God speak to you directly through them!

[The word Vocation] comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God.

There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest.

By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.

Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet [emphasis added].

– Originally published in Wishful Thinking

Musings on Love…

Plain and simply put God is Love. 

And it really is that plain and simple…and profound and unutterable.  God is Love.  That truth is so simple children get it and so insane adults are threatened by it.  We grownups are so threatened by the pure and absolute love of God we have created dogma, doctrines, denominations and diatribes to control the very essence and definition of God’s love.

But God’s love is…and will forever be just that: Love.

We can do as we wish to it.  We can qualify it.  We can quantify it.  We can try and control it through the above mentioned ways. We can try and block it.  We can try and commodify it.

But God’s love is…unconditional.  And that scares the bejesus out of us.

We humans are so afraid of the utter brilliance and intensity of divine Love that we have to both qualify it and then quantify it.  We cannot truly believe God’s love is unconditional, as in absolutely unconditional, that we need to establish temporal conditions to that which is Unconditional.

What would happen if all the God Lovers simply sought love – to give and receive it?  What if all other dogma, doctrine and denomination burnt away as the dross that it is, and only God’s unconditional love reigned supreme in every being created by  this Loving God?

What would happen?

Divine Love is not a doctrine, or a sect, or a rule; far from it.  God’s love is a Reality, a Being, an eternal and infinite Presence that is pure and undefiled in its natural (um, er, divine) state of being.  But truth be told, I cannot handle that Truth so I have to place conditions on divine love.  I have to establish codes for this love…because I am afraid of what will happen to me, my world and my entire being if this Love actually came and consumed everything.

What would happen if we could understand Teilhard de Chardin’s urging to discover divine Love and thereby ‘rediscover’ Fire again and light the world up?

Divine Love is just that, divine.  And no human language or doctrine or dogma should ever try and tame such perfect wildness as the love of God.

“The Healing Power of Meditation” (Written by Richard Rohr)

When religion is not about healing, it really does not have much to offer people in this life. Many have called such disembodied theology “carrot on the stick” theology or, as my friend Brian McLaren says, we made the Gospel largely into “an evacuation plan for heaven.” [1]

If we don’t understand the need and desire for healing now, then salvation (salus = healing) becomes a matter of hoping for some form of delayed gratification. We desperately need healing for groups, institutions, marriage, the wounds of war, abuse, race relations, and the endless social problems in which we are drowning today. But we won’t know how to heal if we never learn the skills at ground zero: the individual human heart.

For much of its history following 313 AD, the Christian church’s job or concern was not healing, but rather maintaining social and church order: doling out graces and indulgences (as if that were possible); granting dispensations, annulments, absolutions, and penalties; keeping people in first marriages at all costs, instead of seeing marriage as an arena for growth, forgiveness, and transformation. In general, we tried to resolve issues of the soul and the Spirit by juridical and “transactional” means, which in my opinion seldom work.

As priests, we felt our job was to absolve sin rather than actually transform people. “Get rid of the contaminating element,” as it were, rather than “Learn what you can about yourself and God because of this conflict.” Those are two very different paths. In the four Gospels, Jesus did two things over and over again: he preached and he healed. We have done a lot of preaching, but not too much healing. We did not know how.

If there isn’t much of a relationship between our religion and our politics, I think it’s because we are not involved in healing ourselves. How can we understand the healing of the world? Only whole people can imagine or call forth a more whole world. Healing depends upon relating with love and compassion. Religion usually focuses on imputing and then forgiving guilt. This is much more about “sin management” than it is about proclaiming a larger-than-life vision for humanity. Remember that the ego contracts around problems. The soul gathers and is drawn by meaning. We too often settle for problem solving. It really is the best way to keep the laity coming back, strangely enough. Carrot on the stick theology keeps us clergy in business. I wish it did not work so well.

Christianity must first teach people how to really pray so they can relate to God as adults. This creates spiritual inter-dependence instead of infantile codependency which people eventually react against. I say this coming from a church that put most of its resources into training children in rote prayers. We can do so much better.

References:

[1] Brian McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World (New York: Jericho Books), 211.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 53-55.