restoration

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me

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Came to believe a power greater than ourselves
could restore us.
Restore our sanity, our destiny, our dignity.
Return us to community, to family, to God.
We became willing to choose freedom over addiction.
The light of victory became an indwelling spirit whose
beacon defeated alcohol’s darkness.

 

 

 

 

humble

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”orange tree

Much of my early adult life was spent believing that I, LarryPaulBrown, marched to the beat of a different drummer.  I continually envisioned myself as a step ahead of the crowd, a few watts brighter than most, a loner totally comfortable with only me as my fan club.  I read all the newest self-help books and listened to only PBS or BBC.  I knew the latest diet fads, drank only spring water, and avoided fried foods like the plague.  My favorite beverage was scotch and water chased by a beer, usually many beers.  Life was a self-contained, self-directed, self-driven existence which everyone could see as a fiasco except me.

Finally at age 34 with the admission that I was an alcoholic, a number of my fondest assessments of myself got knocked down a few notches.  With continued fellowshipping amongst other sober people and with my first 4th step inventory, I became acutely aware that “me, me, me” was not the center of the universe, that actually the universe did not need me at all.  That in itself was a sobering revelation.  Thank God my fellow AAers just smiled and said, “Welcome to the real world.”

Recognizing that I was one of the most insecure, immature, and directionless men I had ever met, the task of rebuilding a wrecked life seemed monumental.  I struggled with anxiety, depression, and sober panic attacks while sitting at the tables with my newly discovered sober friends believing they could not see what was going on inside my head.  Later, I realized that they did indeed know because they, at one point in their early sobriety, suffered the same craziness.  I gave up the thought that marching to a different drummer was cool.  The other fantasies I had about myself slowly disappeared as my own sober time grew.  And the craziness also mellowed to a controllable, occasional period of melancholy.

Life is good today.  It is manageable.  It is uncomplicated.  It is unfettered by emotional highs and lows.  It is no longer a roller-coaster thrill ride.  Humility has been the cornerstone of my recovery.  Humility is defined by Bill W. as….“consisting of a state of complete freedom from myself, freedom from all the claims that my defects of character now lay so heavily upon me.  Perfect humility would be a full willingness, in all times and places, to find and to do the will of God.”  AS BILL SEES IT, pg. 106

Like most newly sober drunks, the last thing I wanted to hear was a lecture about the virtue of humility.  I had been humiliated, degraded, brought to my knees, and defeated by our common enemy of alcoholism. That to me was humility.  I did not need to feel any more inferior to my fellow-man.  But, as stated in his definition, Bill W.’s correction of my misconception about humility established a new playing field.   Self-esteem and self-respect developed.  I learned that I loved myself more fully when I gave myself away; I discovered how a life free of myself was a bold step into a liberation never realized before.  Freed of the restrictions and defects which had previously defined me, I stepped into a world of self-sacrifice previously unpracticed.

Another definition of humility by Bill W. is…..“a clear recognition of what and who we are, followed by a sincere attempt to become who we could be.”  TWELVE STEPS AND TWELVE TRADITIONS, pg. 58

Life is still a work in progress never expecting that there will ever be perfect humility.  Familiar words from the Big Book state, “We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”  But, the horizon encountered soberly always offers  a better understanding of my Higher Power with which I hope to become a man who is less addicted to self and more interested in others.  I don’t do anything perfectly, least of all practicing humility.  But, I’m getting better and I know I am at my best when self-will-run-riot takes a back seat to “Thy will be done”.

 

salvation-noun or verb?

smiley-face-2Just another traveler on life’s highway, hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet, it’s peaceful; beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

 

Sometimes we get caught up in Christianity’s preponderance with salvation.  This basic tenet says to us, in contemporary Christianity, that the goal of our faith walk should be salvation thus guaranteeing a place in God’s eternity.  Take the New Testament walk through the verses of salvation, become saved and born again, and miraculously a seat is reserved beside Jesus at the throne of Almighy God.  Unfortunately, for mankind, that viewpoint of salvation allows us to escape the primary command to live our lives humbly with graciousness, compassion, honor, respect, and love for the Creation.  We did the salvation thing and life can now continue as before because we’ve been “saved”.

Eternity happens later and there is no reason to become concerned with it in this life because we have achieved salvation.  There is no dire need to transform or evolve into the present Kingdom surrounding us and residing within us.

That transformation and evolution would require change of heart and change of mind, would it not?  It would require reworking the internal me.  Yes, I too followed that train wreck of modern evangelical Christianity until I realized, “Hey, if I’m born again, if I’m saved, why has nothing in my life changed?”  The answer came to me through the fellowship which led me into sobriety.  One of the primary observances of AA was a verse found in the book of James:

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  James 2:26

Faith without works is a dead faith because the lack of works reveals an unchanged life or a spiritually dead heart.  That verse in James revealed to me that I could not rest on my laurels just because I claimed salvation.  The profession of being “born again” was just the start of a new way of living my life following the example of Jesus, the Christ.  I could not continue being the man I was before my proclamation.

I found it insightful to rethink the word salvation.  One of the definitions in the dictionary is 1) deliverance from sin and damnation, but another is simply 2) redemption.  Redeeming has less of a moral conviction, it denotes recovery and that is what I, a man who had followed the wrong trail in life, had to do after realizing my life needed to change.  My relationship with the ever-present Higher Power needed to be reclaimed.  An admission of the failure of my self-directed life was a starting point, I claimed rebirth, but that certainly could not be the end of the story.

My story is not appreciated by many Christians.  My story shakes their preconceived, theology-controlled concepts of the meaning of the Gospel and salvation.  Yet, upon study and research my story walks along the paths of Jesus and the Buddha.  Jesus and “the Way”, Buddha and “the Path” give me indisputable guidance in negotiating the Christian volumes of “thou shalt and thou shalt not” which have evolved from a very simple message which taught, not preached, how to become a part of Creation, not apart from Creation.”  Jack Wintz, Will I See My Dog in Heaven? (Paraclete Press: 2009), 29.

CANDLE

 

go and proclaim

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”namaste rainbow

Not going into the world and proclaiming is not an option.  It does not matter that the world doesn’t want to hear.  Recovery is a life and a story.  What has been graciously given as a free gift is a message which needs to be shouted from the rooftops.

Recovery – not just an event, but a lifestyle that needs to be practiced 24/7

 

praying rightly

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”

namaste rainbowSeveral years ago at my recovery meeting the topic of discussion turned to prayer.  It’s a hot button issue to people who are willing to start a minor skirmish over God and the definition thereof.  I had opted to not share but then the meeting chair called on me to speak.  Oh no!

Briefly, I tried not to get into specifics by citing only the need for prayer in our programs. However, I made the mistake of saying that I do not make requests for God to fulfill my wants or desires.  Immediately, I sensed the intensity of the man sitting next to me, a person I had never seen before.  Sure enough, when I had finished, he jumped my frame.

“When I pray, if I want a new car, I ask for it.  If I want a girlfriend, I ask for it.  If I need money, I ask for it …..blah, blah, blah.”

The man was angry and turning red.  Looking around the room I noticed other people smirking and shaking their heads.  I then realized again why I don’t discuss at meetings the actual phrasing of prayer, only the need to pray and the confirmation that a Higher Power will  indeed respond.

What do you pray for?  No, I’m not digging into the privacy  of your prayer life.  Let me share a story.  For years as a teen-aged boy growing up and as a young man caught up in alcoholism, my prayers centered around me.  And they always ended with, “Hear my prayers, give me what I ask and I will live a better life for you.”  I was trying to bribe God and I always ended, as I was taught, with the words “in Jesus name.”

It was an egocentric trip to the candy store where I expected the proprietor to dispense forgiveness, mercy, and heavenly favors and then put the bill on the tab of a man called Jesus, someone I scarcely remembered from Sunday School, someone whose name I used more often in fits of rage than in worship.  But I prayed heartily.

Today we joke about the bowl prayer:  “Oh Lord get me through this night and I will never drink again,” as we hang our drunken heads over the toilet bowl.  But it was a nightly occurrence years ago.  I must remember those nights lest I convince myself that it wasn’t really that bad.  Again, my prayer was a communication with God which invoked a promise that I never intended to keep.

Even in early sobriety, my prayers were centered around me and my needs.  But, I did learn to start with a gratitude list and then a sincere thank you.  Changing habits takes time and work.  Changing prayer habits usually takes a kick in the butt by God interceding on my behalf through the words of another brother/sister in brokenness.  As my friend was praying aloud with me, he emphasized the  words, “….and Thy will be done,” looking directly and intensely into my eyes.

Why was this such a profound revelation to me?   And why was the timing right?  I haven’t a clue.  All my life the words, “thy will be done” were included in my prayers.  But, on this particular day I finally understood that we were not talking about my will, but rather God’s will for my life.  My petitions would be filtered through God’s will.  And that’s how I learned not to pray for specific things, not for specific actions, not for specific favors.  Why?  Because God knows every one of my needs even before I do.  They will be fulfilled, or not, according to the wisdom of a Higher Power.

Today, the reason for my prayer life is to specifically list the things for which I am grateful, list the things which I have done in error, beg for forgiveness, and intercede for other people.  And then, “thy will be done.”

But, that’s not the end.  There is a price to pay.  Self-sacrifice.  Theology says God’s grace is free but the book of James 2:20 says, “faith without works is dead.”  Those works are the things I must pursue in service to my fellow-man.  I am in no way trying to tell anyone how, when or where to pray.  I know better than to go down that thorny trail.  But, I can testify to the miracles that happened for me when I turned my prayer life from one of “me, me, me” to one which implores, “thy will be done.”

“We had not prayed rightly.  We had always said, ‘grant me my wishes,’  instead of ‘Thy will be done.’  The love of God and man we understood not at all.  Therefore we remained self-deceived, and so incapable of receiving enough grace to restore us to sanity.”  Bill W., AS BILL SEES IT, pg 295


 

Step 1

“Admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

This is our first hurdle when entering the fellowship of AA.  Some of us put up arguments but, the AAers were quick to squash any notion that controlling drinking was a viable option.  A few of us opted for the ‘controlled drinking’ theory, did more field research and returned defeated and humiliated.  We finally made the admission and went forward with step 1 accomplished.

Much of AA wisdom is based on ancient tenets of the world’s faith walks.  Bill W. and Dr. Bob knew that preaching religion would get them nowhere in recruiting drunks to their newly formed recovery program.  Instead they called God a Higher Power and incorporated many precepts of Christianity and Buddhism into the 12 step program we have today as a way to recovery.  Obviously it worked.  Millions who would never darken the doors of churches are victoriously sober.

The first of the Beatitudes in Christian scripture says, “Blessed (or happy) are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

When we come to AA we are humbled by the demon alcohol.  We have been emptied of all self-respect.  We are begging for relief from our addictions.  We have nothing left of ourselves to contribute to life.  We are like children, beginners searching for a way to live sober lives.  We have tried cures, religion, medication, hospitalization, therapy to no avail.  We are empty, we are beggars, we are nobodies.  Then at our first meeting the old-timers tell us we have to admit powerlessness and unmanageability.  Unthinkable!

“Well,” they say, “Go back out there and try some more drinking.”

“Poor in spirit” is the powerlessness referred to in Alcoholics Anonymous 1st step.  The writer in the book of Matthew 5:3 uses the Greek word ptochoi, for poor which literally means, “the very empty ones, those who are crouching.”  That is an accurate description of us at our first meeting, is it not? cac.org

This first step of AA and this first Beatitude of the teachings of Jesus both lead us to a way of living which emphasizes giving up ourselves in service to others.  And the irony is that just as Jesus did not say the kingdom of heaven will be theirs, rather, the kingdom is theirs, the program of AA does not say its benefits will be realized in another life.  We are not applying for life-time memberships in the eternity club.  No, we will know serenity and peace in this life.  We will realize the “promises” of AA as we empty ourselves of selfishness, arrogance,  and self-preoccupation. AA PROMISES

When I lose myself in service work with other alcoholics, I become free.  Jesus on the Mount was saying, “Happy are you (blessed are the poor in spirit), you’re the freest of all (the kingdom of heaven is yours)”.

Yes, I am powerless today.  I am powerless over alcohol and I am powerless over the turmoil in this world.  I am a beggar, a loser, a misfit, and a runaway in the eyes of “successful” America.  But, I no longer need to compete in worldly games.  Competitors are preoccupied with winning.  My Higher Power has already won my  race for me.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  Janis Joplin – ME AND BOBBY MCGEE

 

 

 

it’s my party

I’ve been recovering from the effects of the flu which has been running rampant in my neighborhood.  Yes, I dutifully get my flu shots every fall, wipe down the grocery cart with a towelette at the grocery store, and stay arm’s length from any sniffling, sneezing life forms.  Even as I suffer flu symptoms, I remember the days of yore when Larry was too healthy to get flu shots and then Larry became a poster boy for death warmed over.  The bug got me and put me down for a two to three-week bed-ridden vacation.

I now get flu shots religiously and if I do get sick, there are just a few mild symptoms.  More bothersome is the weakness and lethargy.  Old guys like me know time is becoming a more valuable commodity and we don’t like running at less than 100%.  Well, OK, even 80% is pretty darned good.  So much hell to raise and just not enough time to do it.

Alright, alright.  So, there ain’t much hell raising anymore, but a guy can dream, can’t he?  Looking back on the antics of me, the 20 to 30 year-old drunk, makes me realize how much of a nightmare I was for the people who loved me.  Family, lovers, friends…..they all suffered through my disease with me.  They went to hell with me and by God’s grace they came back a long time before that grace brought me back.  Tonight I celebrate 37 years of continuous sobriety and nothing, absolutely nothing, in my life takes precedence over sobriety and the relationship I have enjoyed with my Higher Power.  Money, prestige, power, fancy cars, big house, designer clothes, community social status…..nothing can compare to the status I have found as a child of God, as a man committed to sober-living.

Even when the mind says, “go, go, go” but the body says, “no, no, no,”  I have an enormous gratitude list that seems to grow every day.  I appreciate the days when even 80% is all I can muster.  The slowdown gives me time to read, time to just talk on the phone with a friend, time to sit on the porch and entertain the cardinals stopping by for a visit, and time to yell at the top of my lungs, “Thank you Jesus.”

It’s been one helluva ride and I can’t wait to see what the next couple decades will bring.  Naw, don’t have time for worrying and fretting over politics, over the economy, over North Korea’s Kim, nor over America’s Trump.  Those problems will be resolved according to God’s timing, not mine.  Of course, if the big fella upstairs wants some advice, I’ve got a few ideas.

Stay sober, my friends.  One day at a time.  If you don’t drink that first one, you won’t get drunk.  One is too many and ten is not enough.  Keep it simple, stupid, and remember  g.o.d. – good, orderly direction.

If you’re sober today, give your Higher Power a hand.clapping

 

g.o.d.

orange treeThose of you in a recovery program will recognize this acronym and some of you who read me know that I have referenced it before in my writing.  It represents a concept which many of us newly sober men and women grasped gratefully because we refused to acknowledge an entity which had been so miserably projected unto us by religionists.  It stands for “good orderly direction”.

It kept me returning to the meeting rooms and undoubtedly led me to a serene sobriety.  Ultimately my Higher Power did soften my strident anti-God attitude and introduced me to the miracles found in all the scriptures and wisdom sayings of numerous religions.  For me to profess a God of any understanding is in itself one of the most profound miracles in my entire life.  To finally realize the love of a Higher Power and to name that power God was unimaginable even after several years of sobriety.

So, you can understand my aroused interest upon reading another man’s viewpoint that God is not truly a noun, an entity to be beheld, but a verb, a word of action.  Actually this is not merely a point of view, it is a legitimate interpretation by a recognized researcher and scholar of Jewish scriptures.

“COMMENTARY ON THE TORAH” by Richard Elliott Friedman discusses the passage in Exodus 3:14-15 in which Moses is speaking to God who has just informed him that he, Moses, would lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage.  Moses’ response was, “Well, who are you, what shall I call you?”

Thus we have the familiar words, “I am who I am”, YHWH, which is translated into Anglican texts as Yahweh.  Christian interpretation is, at best, confusing and unclear.  But in his commentary, the author explains to us that the imperfect verb used is not limited to present tense; it can also be future tense, thereby also rendering the words as “I shall be who I shall be.”  Furthermore, in this passage the name of God is now revealed for the first time to the Israelites.

“YHWH” is a verb, third person, singular, and masculine.  Its root meaning is “to be”.  It cannot be limited to past, present or future time.  It is timeless and its nearest translation would be, “He Causes To Be”.  Don’t get hung up on the masculinity attribute as that was the Jewish custom.  Biblical Israel conceived God as male.

Adding this insight to a compendium of prior revelations about the Higher Power whom I name God gives an added layer of meaning to the acronym, g.o.d., in the ongoing process of recovery.  It suggests motion, movement into a life of dedication and service which is essentially what Alcoholics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, and other recovery programs emphasize.  Good, orderly direction is more than a cute phrase hanging in a picture frame on our meeting-room wall.CANDLE

 

closing out 2017

Those of us in recovery are famous for our inventory-taking.  Step 4 of our 12 step program is all about a fearless, thorough inventory intending to clear out the many years of baggage accumulated in our hearts.  Then Step 10 urges us to continue that process ofCANDLE inventorying on a daily basis.  This process is a cornerstone of a content and joyous sober life.

Approaching a New Year is a great time to survey the past year recognizing achievements that stand out as highlights.  It can also be a time to admit responsibility for the lesser moments when our character defects took center stage and attempted to recreate the chaos of our addictions.  The good and the bad, when viewed together, will give us a healthy assessment of our previous year.

“We should make an accurate and really exhaustive survey of our past life as it has affected other people.  In many instances we shall find that, thought the harm done others has not been great, we have nevertheless done ourselves considerable emotional damage.”  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT, pg 111

This passage leads to the realization that what I have done is usually of greater significance to my spiritual stability than that of another.  Many years ago, in making amends, the person to whom I was apologizing profusely for a perceived unforgivable action responded with, “Really?  When was that?  I don’t remember it.”

Yes, the great “me” harbored this indiscretion for many years building it into an earth-shaking occurrence which nobody remembered.  Therein lies a secret to living clean and serene.  My inventorying, my amends, my spiritual program is all about making me more like the Higher Power which governs my life.  In the process I will become a messenger calling out to the world’s darkness.  When my slate is clean, that message happy new year 2018turns into sobriety-driven action.

Happy New Year to all of you.  Thanks for traveling with me in 2017 on this highway called life.

 

Puerto Rico

The news coming from the ruins in Puerto Rico is not encouraging.  Last report which I read says 50 % of the island continues without power, over 200,000 have moved to the mainland.  Hurricane Maria not only devastated the resources of the tropical United States territory, she also brought pain and misery to millions of citizens.  Whether our government’s response has been appropriate and adequate or an abject failure continues to be debated.  However, we do know with certainty that a large segment of humanity, American brothers and sisters, suffer through a long and tedious restoration.

Israel in 722 B.C.E. also suffered a national tragedy with the fall of its Northern Kingdom leading the psalmist to write:

“Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” Psalm 80:3CANDLE

Throughout recorded history the world’s peoples have endured unfathomable misery either from natural disasters or man’s depravity.  The Israelites of King David’s time, whether praying to God for relief or cursing God for his anger, acknowledged that a power greater than themselves had the capacity to restore or punish.  We have that same choice today.  Do I pray to God for deliverance or curse God for hardships?  Do I honor God for mercy and goodness or blame God for pain and misery?

Therefore, when I say, “Restore me, God; let your face shine, that I may be saved,” I have chosen to embrace the power of a restorative, compassionate, saving God instead of a vindictive, harsh, wrathful God.  My choice, my free will, has enabled a power greater than myself to enter Larry’s world and perform the miracles of restoration upon a lost and wretched scrap of humanity rescued from the seas of addiction.  Certainly God was waiting in the wings for the opportunity to take center stage, but, Larry had to raise the curtain.

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” AA, twelve and twelve

It all makes sense.  It is a choice; so, why would anyone choose an angry God over a loving God?   Ultimately, why would anyone choose to live without the comfort and grace of a Father who is readily available to whomever would ask?

“Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7smiley 3