Am I a tuba or a piccolo?

Lord, let me be your instrument

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.” ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS – STEP ELEVEN

The chapter, STEP ELEVEN in “Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions” published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., uses as its theme prayer the popular Prayer of St. Francis.  The last stanza teaches:

“For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying to self that we are born
to eternal life.”

That last line of the prayer of St. Francis – it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life – creates a sense of timeless, never-ending spaces filled with nothingness.  Eternity is, after all, a long, long time.  I spent an eternity waiting for you at the grocery store.  That boring movie lasted an eternity.  The pastor’s homily seemed like an eternity.  I suppose my point is this: who wants a life of endless moments of boring eternity?  Eternity presents itself as action-less, a void filled with forever.  What happens should we substitute everlasting for eternal?  Everlasting life.

“Larry,” you are asking, “what’s the difference?”

I like to think that everlasting applies to values, to a faith that sustains, to a relationship with that Higher Power referenced in Step 11 of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program.  Everlasting has survived religious philosophies, social fads, and worldly obsessions.  Everlasting will continue to the ‘other side’ of this life via the memories of us in those we leave behind and perhaps as a basis for our after-life continuance.  Yes, it is eternal, but it is vibrant and exhilarating to behold.

Along with other faith-based Scriptures we often turn to the wisdom writers of Christianity’s Bible for inspiration.  Galatians 5:22-23 names these everlasting gifts:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”

Against such things there is no ending.  They endure. They are everlasting.  Hallelujah, we can choose our eternity filling it with good fruit.  Why would anyone want to fill life with hatred, unforgiveness, doubt, despair, darkness and misery when the everlasting gifts are freely available?

Make me an instrument of peace
where there is hatred, let me sow love
where injury, pardon
where doubt, faith
where despair, hope
where darkness, light
where sadness, joy
from the PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS

Again turning to Christianity’s wisdom literature, Matthew 19:16-24 relates the story of a wealthy, young man who encounters Jesus and asks,

“What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments, sell his possessions and give to the poor.

“Then come and follow me.”

The man went away saddened because he had great wealth.  We are not told what the man  chased – eternal joy or worldly comfort.  Where is my wealth stored?  Is it comprised of internal values that sustain or is it a temporal storehouse filled with stuff that will rust and rot?  Lord, let me be an instrument – a tuba, loud and thundering with your peace and kindness.  What would you be?speaking truth2

 

RELEASE

I give it to you,
the pain,
the sorrow,
the disappointment.
Too long it has
lived here,
too long.

I now release
the sadness and grief.
I release the anger,
I release the bitterness
and unforgiveness.
Take it,
burn it.

I beg of you
to let us continue,
to embrace
that which is good,
wholesome,
worthy,
glorious.

Release the resentments,
the vile thoughts,
that which hinders,
that which betrays,
that which condemns.
Bring us peace,
Bring us compassion.

In your power
hold us,
comfort,
console,
guide,
resurrect,
transform.

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my creed, your creed, whose creed?

Recently, friends, those who know of my Christian tradition, question how we Christians can justify our faith considering the rhetoric and actions of a minority of evangelical leaders who glaringly contradict everything the Scriptures teach according to the words attributed to the one whom they claim as Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Fr. Richard Rohr CAC.ORG addresses this issue with the following post from his daily meditation blog.

Quaker pastor Philip Gulley superbly summarizes how we must rebuild spirituality from the bottom up in his book, If the Church Were Christian. [3] Here I take the liberty of using my own words to restate his message, which offers a rather excellent description of what is emerging in Christianity today:

  1. Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.
  2. Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
  3. The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.
  4. Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.
  5. Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
  6. Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.
  7. Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
  8. Peacemaking is more important than power.
  9. We should care more about love and less about sex.
  10. Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (Eternity is God’s work anyway).

If this makes sense to you, you are already participating in evolving Christianity. Do read it several times. It only makes more and more sense.

Fr. Richard Rohr @ CAC.org

I thank Richard Rohr and Philip Gulley for simplifying in 10 salient points our creed and how it should manifest in Christianity.  Our tradition has within it the power to create righteous leaders walking aside other faiths of the world advocating social justice and peace rather than bullying and fear-mongering.

LOVE

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what do you see?

Where do you go for comfort, reassurance, consolation?  In our past lives many of us found our fix sitting on a honky-tonk barstool listening to jukebox favorites as we watered down our drinks with tears while sharing sad stories with the unwitting stranger sitting next to us.  We always had misery and heartbreak riding on our shoulders and, unfailingly, it was never our fault, was it?

This will not be a war story, there are millions just like mine; rather, it’s a testimony of personal victory gained through the power of Alcoholics Anonymous, the dedicated people sitting around the tables of a recovery meeting, and the grace of a God as I understood God.  Trust me, in those early days, understanding God was a challenging proposal because in 1981 at my first AA meeting, a more strident atheist than I could not be found.  “Don’t talk to me about God, don’t expect me to pray, don’t give me any God literature.  All I want out of this group is to learn how not to drink or, even better, to learn how to drink socially like my buddies.”

The first 90 days were a long and tedious journey through numerous nail-biting nights of sheer terror fearing the old demons would reclaim me.  But also, bringing me back to the tables day after day and night after night (yes, I was one of those freaks who did at least 2 meetings daily) was the promise from others in the rooms and from the Big Book that I too could get better, that even for me there was hope.

One of those AA guys with a no-nonsense demeanor which I admired took me aside one night and suggested that I use g.o.d. as my higher power until I became ready and willing to consider a sober-minded understanding of God.  Good Orderly Direction served me well for the time necessary to clear the alcoholic fog from my brain and explore the joys and promises of a developing spirituality.

The time from then to now is my story, a fantasy trip surpassing any drunk or any high I ever experienced prior to sobriety.  It has been filled with absolute joy and unbearable sorrow, heights of fulfillment and lows of abject despair, moments of awe and days of drudgery.  Guess what?  That’s life.  It is the same as it always was – suffering sprinkled with joy and peace. But, today I don’t have to sit on a barstool crying in my beer.  I am changed.  Me, a few good friends, and g.o.d. can handle anything that comes along.

Not surprisingly, comfort and strength can be found visiting with an old friend.  I find sustaining reassurance through many of the foundational hymns and verses learned as a young boy, but rejected later in life as lies and deceit.  Today, I am an integral part of the stories and songs I remember.  I am the prodigal son, I am the doubting Thomas, I am the denying Peter, I suffer with Jesus on his cross.  These are my friends from years ago who have taken new meaning in a spiritual awakening.

Sobriety does not force us to find religion, to profess creeds, to do weekly confessional.  Sobriety does, however, expect that we will surrender to a Higher Power and pursue changed perspectives.   An aspect of those changed perspectives is our approach to worldly things.  Especially in today’s tumultuous social and political atmosphere, the words of Helen Lemmel, a writer and hymnist who lived 1863 to 1961, urges us to turn our eyes upon Jesus (an old friend), look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.  

Don’t need to worship, don’t need to adhere to any particular faith walk, don’t need to bow to any deity – just know the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his life and work, his compassion.  Then look upon that as a path to living life soberly in spiritual comfort and reassurance.  Perspectives will change when the things of earth grow strangely dim.

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Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow him there

Helen Howarth Lemmel

let’s dance, shall we?

“…..you then realize that you don’t live your life, but life lives you.  Life is the dancer, you are the dance.”  A NEW EARTH – Eckhart Tolle

How many of us believe that we are the dancers, that we put the action into life? Do-si-do your partner – EEEEEHAW!

Think about this for just a moment.  Realizing that little old me never was the one in charge of this life which I claim as mine can be somewhat diminishing if not outright devastating.  It relegates the ego to a minor role in life’s theatrical production.  In the book which many alcoholics refer to as the BIG BOOK, Bill W. tells us:

“Most people try to live by self-propulsion.  Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way.  If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great.” Bill W. ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, pg. 60

Lights, camera, action!  Let the dance begin.  I am that which is being danced, life provides the script, the scenery, the other actors.  Maybe asking God to do the do-si-do will result in a spectacular production?

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HAMLET – neither good nor bad

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” 
HAMLET – William Shakespeare39

My grandmother was a wise yet simple farm woman.  She knew how to gather any vegetable from the garden or berry from the woods and cook it into a delicious casserole or jam.  The storage shelves in the cellar were filled each year with mason jars of wonderfully colorful canned vegetables and preserves.  And in her spare time she crafted from scraps of dresses and coats gorgeous quilts or blankets.

I learned from her that a man “is what he eats.”  The foods which a person consumes will ultimately determine the health status of his/her body.  Unfortunately, I strayed from Grandma’s wisdom regarding foods and nutrition as a young adult resulting in various difficulties with the Western culture health epidemics plaguing us today.

I also strayed from the spiritual/life lessons learned from my farming community as a young boy leading to addiction and behavioral patterns which controlled the years when I should have been maturing into a responsible adult.  Living life soberly has been a prolonged process of ‘catching up’ to others who learned their lessons well and pursued G.O.D. – Good Orderly Direction – rather than waste precious years cavorting as a prodigal son in the far country. (see LUKE 15)

Those of us who share these experiences of addictive exile have a choice to make in our recovery years.  The times were neither good nor bad – they simply were.  What we did, the hell we created for others and ourselves cannot be reversed.  The heartaches and pain inflicted on loved ones including ourselves must be accepted as part of the process leading to sobriety.  Today I know with certainty that I was a royal A-hole back then.  However, today I also know that I don’t have to sit in this chair ten years from now looking back and saying, “Damn, what an asshole I was back on September 18, 2019.”

They say that humility is all about acceptance – accepting and reconciling my past, who I was and what I did, but then recognizing who and what I am destined to be as a sober-minded man living a life that doesn’t really belong to me.  It’s a journey with G.O.D.

So, now you ask, “Larry, what does this have to do with Shakespeare and Hamlet?”

Everything, absolutely everything in life is neutral, neither good nor bad.  It is the thinking which you and I attach to ‘everything’ that makes it good or bad.  We have the choice to create the life we want.  My physical pain suffered today from poor habits of eating and addiction years ago is a good thing because I choose to marvel in the complexity of a body which uses pain to remind me that, yes, I am still alive.  The morning leg and knee pain awaken me to a new day saying a prayer of gratitude,

“Thank you Lord for giving me breath and heartbeat.  My leg hurts, my knee hurts, but they still function and, oh, just look at the glorious sunshine awakening me.”

Am I always successful deferring thinking about everything that crosses my radar screen?  Of course not, I continue to be a member of the human race and therefore frequently offer an opinion, good or bad.  But, another tool learned in my recovery journey is the Serenity Prayer,

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, courage to change the things I should, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

For me, the wisdom is in knowing when my opinion matters and when it does not.  When should I apply thinking to the never-ending parade of drama in today’s life?  As I process this choice I realize more often than not that my opinion truly does not matter.

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the 7 deadlies

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”  C.G. Jung, MEMORIES, DREAMS, REFLECTIONS (1989)

Let’s allow those words to soak into our collective thick skulls.  Consider the person in your world whom you detest, whom you would never entertain in your home, whom you would vehemently argue will go to hell.  Yeah, think about that person for a moment and then let’s do a sincere soul search.  What is it within me, within you, that reflects with such intensity our dislike for that person?

“Well, Larry, I have a sense of values, compassion for fellow humans, a moral compass to guide me.  I am in no way like …….” (insert name here).

Okay, I get it.  You and I are stellar human beings with no quirks, no faults, no skeletons in our closets.  We have been nominated numerous times for sainthood and are just waiting for that moment when we will sit with the old man in the heavens pronouncing judgment upon the lesser of us – those whom we have previously decided will burn in hell.

Really?  Is that who we are?  Nothing more than pawns of runaway egos determined to remind others of the splinters in their eyes while ignoring the logs in our own eyes?  Is that what we are destined to be?  Granted, that is the human way, but aren’t we destined to be more than ego-driven bags of human flesh?  I am remembering a verse from the book of Luke, chapter 6, verse 41 which reminds me that the plank I carry in my own eye is needing my attention more than the speck of sawdust in my brother’s eye.  Matthew 7:3 has the same message.  Are these ancient writers trying to instill a bit of introspection in me to replace my self-serving ego-stroking?

Yeah, guilty as charged.  That neighbor who always rubs me the wrong way, the city councilman who seems more concerned about his image than job performance, the preacher who doesn’t appear to walk the talk, the politician who is obviously lacking a moral compass – they are all a composite of me and my own character defects.  The national leader who seems to always be screaming, “Look at me, look at me, dammit look at me,” is the same small voice within me screaming, “Here I am, pay attention to me.”

The denial wells up within, but maturity, which can be so evasive, tells me that those seven deadlies – the 7 vices which challenge our spiritual journey – are inherent in each of us.  GREED, ANGER, SLOTH, ENVY, GLUTTONY, LUST, PRIDE are at the center of any and all distractions from the universal truth that we are all one humanity, one organism, one Spirit simply trying to navigate the impermanence of this life on earth.

Doing life perfectly is not the goal.  It is impossible.  The ending of this trek is not foreseeable, but we have within us the capacity to alter the journey.  What will it be?  Ego driven or Spirit centered?

LOVE

 

ALL WE NEED IS LOVE

“While scientists look desperately for medicines and mechanism to avoid catastrophe, many others are beginning to realize that what is needed is not only externally administered remedies, preventive or curative, but an internal change in the way we behave, a hard second look at the values which have brought us to this dangerous brink.”

-Anuradha Vittachi, Earth Conference Pace e Bene

let go – let God

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In the King James Version of the American Standard Bible there are 400 verses that mention the word “peace”.  The BARNES’ NOTES commentary on a passage from Philippians 4:7,

“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding…..”

writes that “this peace is that which is felt when we have no anxious care about the supply of our needs, and when we go confidently and commit everything into the hands of God.”

“….shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

The commentary goes on to say that ‘shall keep’  was translated from a military term meaning guarded and preserved lending further definition of peace as freedom guarded from the intrusion of anxious fears and alarms.

LET GO – LET GOD

In my first recovery meeting room, those framed words were hanging on the wall in front of me.  “What in the world does that mean?  Let go of what?  How does a man do that?”  Not an easy undertaking for an alcoholic dedicated to self-will run riot for his entire life.  “Absolutely not, I will not surrender anything to something I can’t see, touch or talk to.”

I was urged by the others, sitting at the tables sharing their stories, to embrace steps 1, 2, and 3, the surrender steps of the 12 step program which had graced their lives with sustained sobriety.

1) Admitted we were powerless over  alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable. 2) Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3) Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.

Surrender – once and done?  Not really.  It became a daily practice which for most of us continues even after years of sobriety.  It directly affects the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding.  Without surrender I will not enjoy peace. Without peace, life once again becomes unmanageable and insane.

This way of living, sober-living, is not about religion and Bible passages.  Neither is it about performing the 12 step programs perfectly until completion.  It is the way we approach all of life’s challenges and surprises.  It is an ongoing surrender to the energy which we call Higher Power.

One of my most trusted prayers is the prayer of St. Francis.  It begins:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace…..”

When I reflect on those words, it is not a request to send me out into the world as a peacemaker among friends, peoples or nations.  No, it is directed inwardly to create a space within which is free of worry and anxiety.  The world’s insanity will probably not embrace peace in this day, but I can.  Join me?

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joy or misery – it’s a choice

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Let me repeat that.  In this new day we can choose to be joyful or we can choose to be miserable.  Within each of us is the power to wallow in this world’s drudgery or soar on wings of joy – and it is possible without the use of pharmaceuticals, alcohol, or any mind-altering substances.

“…..we are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness….we will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace…”  from the promises, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

The promises listed are not just fancy ideals written by a successful recovering alcoholic.  They are reality for millions of alcoholics who choose to follow a program of sober-living earnestly and honestly….“are these extravagant promises?  We think not!”  That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of our lifestyle.  Today, we have choices which were dismally not available before.  Joy or misery is one of those choices.

Alcoholism is a disease of the mind, of the body and of the soul.  It is cunning, baffling and powerful.  It wants to see you and I either in a mental institution or in the grave and it will not rest until it destroys us.  But, we have resources available that can conquer our disease.  For some it is Alcoholics Anonymous, for others it is Celebrate Recovery, still others discover sobriety through numerous spiritual programs.  They all present to us a way of changing our lives and living victoriously as new men and women.  They rebuke the power of alcohol in our lives and replace that demon with the power of choice.

The joy of living soberly is directly linked to an attitude of gratitude.  What is on this morning’s gratitude list?  Nothing?  Let’s think again.  Did we sleep in a warm, comfortable bed last night?  Do we remember this morning where we were last night, what we did?  Do we suffer from blackouts?  Are we filled with self-loathing because of what we did last night?  Were we unfaithful to our spouses?  Did we spend the family’s grocery money on booze?  Are we calling the boss and lying about why we will not be at work?  Yeah, we have much about which to be grateful, don’t we?

I suffer varying degrees of arthritis pain on a daily basis.  Many of us endure medical and physical conditions that limit activity.  Are we going to allow these maladies to diminish joyful living?  Absolutely not.  The pain I feel this morning is a reminder that my body is still alive and functioning.  When the day arrives that this body is not responsive to stimuli, good or bad, then I shall likely be dead.  And although that is neither good nor bad, I am not yet ready to be dead.

So let’s make our choices.  Will that choice be a joyful interaction with all that has been restored to us through the grace of recovery or will it be a miserable day of drudgery wallowing in the pit of negative thoughts and behavior?  Which will we choose?

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