Monday, December 13, 2004

Another year, one day at a time

"My whole life has conspired to bring me to this place, and I can't despise my whole life..." (Joe Pitt, in the HBO DVD, Angels in America: Perestroika)

December 12, 1990. About 8:29 PM, I slunk into the Chapter V Club on Airport Highway in Toledo, Ohio for my very first AA meeting. I tried looking inconspicuous - but one guy got a look at my eyes, came right over to me and said, "You're new here, aren't you?" He led me to the coffee-pot, made sure I got a seat, and then left me blessedly alone for a bit. I don't remember much of the gist of that first meeting - I'm sure they talked about the 12-step program of recovery, and I'm sure there was some God-talk that made me more than a little nervous. I remember thinking that the Lord's Prayer, said at the end of the meeting, was the single most comprehensible thing I'd heard the whole meeting.

But at the end of the meeting, two promises were delivered to me that changed my life forever. A Ford tool-&-die worker, just shy of 30 years sober, came up to me, looked me in the eyes, and said, "Steve, you never have to feel the way you feel tonight - ever again - if you don't want to." And another man said to me, "You're welcome here, son - and you never have to be alone again, if you don't want to be."

So far as I can tell, they both were absolutely right...for which I give much thanks.

Recently, as I've been visiting churches and talking theology with friends and fellow bloggers, I've been asking myself this question: "What if the primary mission of the church was to make those two promises from my first AA meeting a reality for our church members and visitors, rather than either focusing on getting new members, or simply saving them from some future eternal punishment? What if we stopped trying to save people from Hell in the afterlife, and worked to save them from the various hells they are in right now?"

What if the Christian church, in all its forms and places, stopped the "We've got Jesus, yes we do/we've got Jesus, how 'bout YOU?" chanting, and simply said, "Welcome. Come on in. You don't have to admit, or profess, or decide anything're welcome here. Regardless of where you are, where you're from, what you're wearing, what you've been or done, or what you believe, trust this: this is a place of peace and safety for you." Can you even imagine it?....

At 8:30 p.m. tonight, I was sharing a delightful dinner with two other AA guys up in Evanston - one with nearly 30 years of sobriety, and one with about 30 days. We laughed about some of the tragic situations in each other's lives, sighed as we talked about the character defects that still raise their ugly heads on a daily basis, and chatted about subjects far and wide. And we each left the restaurant, grateful for the meal, grateful for the fellowship, and thanking God (as we each misunderstood God) for the incredible blessing of continuous sobriety.

Fourteen years. It's a long time between drinks. For people who aren't alcoholic, they often wonder, "What's the big deal?" But I am grateful that almost everyone I know today has never seen me drunk, or naked in public, or known the shameful behavior that brought me to my "bottom" all those years ago.

This last year has been one of the hardest in my sobriety, from a number of standpoints. I have to admit that there has been a time or two when what one man called "a sabbatical from sobriety" sounded like a really good idea...but I'm grateful that I didn't have to choose that road. And there have been a number of other times in the last 13 months that I have desperately wished that my life could have been different, somehow...that I could have chosen differently, a time or two, so those choices would not have led up to the place where I find myself today - in my career, in my calling, in my finances and romances, you name it. But as Joe Pitt says, I am the product of my entire life - and while I can wish it was different, I can't despise it...because every bit of it makes up who and what I am today.

Whenever I get the chance, I share parts of my past with folks, both inside and outside the AA fellowship. I do it for two reasons: first, to remind myself of where I came from (and where I can easily go back to). But I also share the truth of my past with others so that they know that transformation and restoration is possible - not just for "guys like me," but for folks like them as well. "Our God is an awesome God," indeed...

One thing I do know: my sobriety is not my own doing. There are no congratulations due to me...because left to my own devices, I would be drunk tonight. This precious, precious gift of continuous sobriety is entirely a gift of grace - my only part in it has been the honesty to know that I needed it, the open-mindedness to accept direction (occasionally) from God, and his willing servants in recovery and in faith, and the willingness to accept the gift as it is offered to me on a daily basis. That, my friends, is h.o.w. it works - and I give thanks to God today for the stockbroker, the doctor, and the sister who made it all possible.
Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny. May God bless you and keep you - until then. (From Alcoholics Anonymous, page 164)


Poor Mad Peter said...

Steve: What if the Christian church... simply said, "Welcome. Come on in. You don't have to admit, or profess, or decide anything're welcome here. Regardless of where you are, where you're from, what you're wearing, what you've been or done, or what you believe, trust this: this is a place of peace and safety for you.
Peter: The church I attend is very much like this, and given that i am theologically out of step with most people in it, this sums up the reason i stay, draw from, contribute to.

In fact, they go a step further: people are invited (or more acurately, allowed, if they wish) to step forward and tell how they got there, share their theological journey. Sometimes, we all go on quite a trip...

I think that individual congregations live this idea of yours, Steve, very well. I haven't seen it at least in our church on a regional or national scale, but the congregational presence is reassuring.

Anonymous said...

"Welcome. Come on in. You don't have to admit, or profess, or decide anything're welcome here. Regardless of where you are, where you're from, what you're wearing, what you've been or done, or what you believe, trust this: this is a place of peace and safety for you."

I always thought that it would get more mileage if the chruch borrowed a bit from the AA handbook. Whoever heard of a club started to care for the broken AS LONG AS you never admit you're broken? I think that's my pickin' bone...any sign of weakness and the gossip hounds pounce.

That has been my history. I'm in a new church now and while I don't know it thoroughly, I don't thing it's a pouncing crew.


steph said...

Steve - thank you for sharing this part of your journey and you are so courageous to walk daily into wholeness.

Your comments about church and the invitation are powerful. Jesus offered hope, healing and fellowship. I too wonder how we got so far away from the way Jesus lived. Attending church yesterday I again wondered why I go - it isn't a place of safety and honesty but one of masks and posturing. Jesus saw through all that - still does. Your post gives me courage to continue to see who Jesus is, how He lived and keep searching to find it with like minded people, and to let it be appealing to the outside world. The outside world is still where I find the most authenticity in conversation. It is an upside down world to say the least.

Rick said...


As always, thanks for reminding me to keep it real. Geez, I thank God for these blogs. It is like the "church" has found itself in the lives of one another on these blogs. I remember discovering you back in August (I think) and telling my wife that I had found a new friend.

Keep it real!

bobbie said...

it works if you work it - thanks for sharing your e/s/h rick - it's encouraged me today!