repentance & new beginnings

I’ve never had a problem with the concept of ‘repentance’.¬† I remember repenting many times at the altar of the toilet.¬† “Oh, Lord, get me through this night and I promise to never drink again.”

Years later, I followed the exhortations of my Christian brothers who recited the verses in the Gospel’s plan of salvation, I knelt at the sanctuary altar, and I called myself ‘born again’.¬† That was simple.¬† I immediately knew that I would spend eternity with them in heaven sitting atCANDLE the feet of Jesus. Or, at least, I hoped so. ¬† Unfortunately, it was a brain job, not a heart job.¬† My character defects were still there, my old self was still there, my heart remained stone cold despite being born again.¬† The promise of a new beginning was not the miracle which I expected that would change me in an instant, in a heartbeat, in a brilliant flash of divine renewal.

After many years of stumbling within my own self-will and pretending to understand¬† renewal, regeneration, and rebirth, I once again found myself at the altar begging my Higher Power, Jesus, to clean up the mess I brought with me to kneel at his feet.¬† “Just as I am, Lord, take me and fix me.”

There were no bursting fireworks, no hallelujahs, no light shows to welcome me; instead there was a simple peace, a knowing that this time I was sincere in my plea and I now had the work of engaging in a new beginning.  I had to do the leg work, I had to do the soul-searching, I had to do the inventory of character defects, I had to make the amends necessary to cleaning up my mess.  I was finally serious about that decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood God.  But, I found great comfort knowing without question that God would walk with me every step of the way.

“17¬†In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:17¬†

This verse from the author of James in the New Testament is often quoted in recovery programs to teach us that our sobriety is dependent upon working the 12 steps and extending ourselves to encourage other drunks like us to attain sustained sobriety.  Faith is fine and absolutely necessary, but, for a recovering alcoholic, works are equally important.

The same is true when I apply this inwardly to my own soul.¬† I believe that I have always had faith; however, I was never able to follow through with a plan of self-renewal.¬† I was weak and unwilling to give up my favorite character defects.¬† I prayed, bowed, meditated and then prayed some more, but never developed a sustained plan of action.¬† Oh yes, the New Year’s resolutions were always written on paper and the desire to live by them was there on January 1st, but the action to follow through was missing.

Today, I do my best to live by my Higher Power’s plan.¬† As a result life is more than I everchristmas emoji 3 expected, better than I deserve.¬† I am an unworthy Jesus freak who knows that each day is a new beginning underscored by a mindset of repentance.

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

parables

I’ve known the parables attributed to Jesus ever since my boyhood days in Sunday School class and vacation Bible School.¬† To me they were nothing more than neat stories which had no application in contemporary society.¬† Not until I was ready for God to illuminate my darkness, did I read these parables in a spiritual context.¬† They then began to pop off the pages with amazing truth and wisdom.CANDLE

The story of the prodigal son is my favorite because I lived that story through alcoholism and recovery.¬† The verses continue to humble me today even after many years of sober-living.¬† I knew of a God as a child, I turned my back and traveled to the “far country” to find my fortune and pleasure, I suffered financially and morally, I finally came home to Father who was waiting excitedly for me with open arms.¬† It was probably the most profound home-coming I shall ever experience.

One of today’s inspirational readings cites the parable of the talents.¬† “For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling to a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.” Matthew 25:14

In the times of Jesus a talent was worth more than $5000.¬† To one servant he gave 5 talents, to anther he gave 2, and to another he gave 1 talent.¬† The first two servants invested the money wisely and when the man returned from his travels his money had increased.¬† The third servant had buried the talent in the ground for fear of losing it and thereby bearing his master’s wrath upon returning.¬† The servant did indeed suffer his master’s anger because of his timidity in using the talent wisely.

Jesus is the travelling man who showered humanity with unfathomable wealth in wisdom and truth before he was crucified.¬† He entrusted his disciples with the “talents” of eternity instructing them to invest that which he had taught them and to increase God’s wealth throughout the world.¬† That’s his simple directive yesterday, today, and forever.

I am basically an easy-going man.¬† Don’t get excited about too many things and don’t rely on worldly wealth for validation or fulfilment.¬† There is a part of me that could be labeled “lazy”.¬† Yep, guilty as charged.¬† Sloth is one of my favorite character defects and it has been a reliable¬† bed mate¬† of depression for most of my life.¬† Two more of sloth’s definitions in the Merriam Webster are “inertia” and “apathy”.¬† If I am inert it is probably because I am also depressed.¬† If I am depressed it is probably because I am inert.¬† Both scenarios lead to apathy.¬† Therefore, it is in my best interest and the health of my sobriety to stay active, stay involved with other recovering addicts, and stay protected by the wisdom of AA literature and scriptures.¬† That is my best defense against sloth, apathy, depression, and inertia.

Not only during this special observance time of giving thanks, but always, my recovery from alcoholism needs a daily dose of gratitude, a fix of appreciation for the multitude of blessings received, unmerited and undeserved, from a power greater than myself, a Higher Power whom I call God.  It is my fix for the brokenness which I call Larry.

“This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine”.¬† Childhood Sunday School simplicity nails the heart of Matthew 25: 14-28, the parable of the talents.¬† God did not save me from the pits of hell lived in alcoholic stupor to rise up into the salvation of sobriety without stipulations.¬† Jesus has told me that merely being sober is not enough.¬† The wealth, the talents, he has bestowed are not meant to be buried or hidden under a bushel basket.¬† They are to be shared unselfishly with the broken masses.¬† They are meant to be invested in the still suffering addict, the depressed man who has no source of consolation, and ultimately returned to Jesus himself as payment with interest for his grace shed upon me.¬† It’s not complicated and with an attitude of gratitude, it is entirely possible for even a man like me, a wretched and lost soul, to return and bask in the light of God.namaste rainbow

 

“do something”

“To repeat, if God operates as me, God operates as thee too, and the playing field is utterly leveled forever. Like Jesus, Francis, Clare, and many other humble mystics, we then rush down instead of up. In the act of letting go and choosing to become servants, community can at last be possible. The illusory state of privilege just gets in the way of neighboring and basic human friendship.” CAC.ORGCANDLE

Father Richard, in this daily meditation, begins by discussing his upbringing within the community of white privilege, the favoritism shown to whites, the status of higher education, numerous challenges which whites do not endure and which non-whites face on a daily basis.  It is truly a different world for those of us who walk the earth in this life as Caucasian.

When I realized and accepted within my heart the truth of “Namaste, I bow to the divine in you,” the Spirit within would no longer cover my inbred white privilege.¬† It refused to entertain all the excuses I held for my bias and prejudices.¬† It forced me to look upon my brothers and sisters whom God created in various shades and hues as beings loved just as much by the Creator as me.¬† I no longer had an excuse to trivialize the plight of people of color.¬† Our “white” world via politics and extremist religions has demeaned, ostracized, brutalized, and oppressed those children of God and it is my challenge as a white man to make restitution.

In order to do so, Father Richard exhorts me to take the route of ancient mystics who, rather than aspiring to rise toward a perceived heavenly God, focused  downward and joined the suffering and oppressed masses living on the edge of survival in an ungodly world.  That is where true obedience will be found, where salvation shall be experienced, and ultimately where the living Jesus dwells.

Most of my life has been spent anticipating the great white mansions in the far reaches of the Universe where God and Jesus sit side by side on their thrones waiting for me to arrive for my final judgement.¬† (Incidentally, both of them in my past have been “white boys”.)¬† I no longer wait for that occurrence because the truth as revealed to me, the GOD OF MY UNDERSTANDING, is right here, right now living in the hearts of all humanity regardless of race, religion, nationality or creed.¬† I must now choose on a daily basis whether to commune with God and his indwelling truth or return to a denial of that truth.¬† It’s very simple theology; it is awe-inspiring and breath-taking.

The path which I walk has been tortuous and twisted.¬† I have endured the full spectrum of faith experiences from belief in a God who was vindictive and vengeful, to a God who was aloof and unapproachable, to an errant acceptance of atheism, to the revealing grace experienced in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.¬† Even during my period of strident atheism, I came to realize that my denial of God’s existence only¬† fortified that his existence was real; otherwise, why would I expend so much energy denying him.¬† If God is dead, then I should probably take up knitting or crocheting doilies instead of rallying with the oppressed masses or with a suffering alcoholic in forging a better world.¬† If God is dead, then I would need to depend on the “goodness” of mankind to save us from physical and spiritual destruction.¬† I can’t do that because goodness is not inherent, it is derived from a Source.

Matthew West in a very powerful song questioned a God who would allow all the suffering endured by mankind, “God, why don’t you do something?”¬† The reply from his Lord was, “I did, I created you.”¬† I was created to do something, but it all happens through and by the grace and direction of a Higher Power.smiley 3

 

walk by faith

I had an opportunity to visit with my pastor yesterday morning.¬† The conversation was casual, centering on a number of concerns regarding theology.¬† I refer to myself as the “doubting Thomas” syndrome.¬† If I can’t see the nail holes and the wound in the side, I tend not to believe.¬† Maybe that’s why people sometimes see me as cynical and wishy-washy.¬† I need proof before I get off the fence to make a commitment.¬† In some areas of secular life this is a good thing, but in my faith walk it is not always the best path. ¬†CANDLE

I invariably reach a point when the way forward is a confident step into the world of faith in that which is mysterious and unknown.  Given the evidence which life has accumulated for me proving that God exists and that Jesus loves me, that step should not be as difficult as it sometimes is.   My miraculous ongoing recovery from alcoholism is one such piece of the evidence that a Higher Power has the answers to all questions and the grace to lead me to green pastures and still waters.

The PROMISES of the Alcoholics Anonymous program are no longer extravagant dreams; they are happening in my life and in the lives of others in the fellowship.¬† I am in dire financial straits according to the norms of society, yet I don’t fear the future.¬† I am an introvert by nature yet find myself comfortable in a room full of people even to the point of speaking to the group.¬† Today I follow a God who is doing for me what I could not do for myself.¬† In the beginning these were indeed nothing more than extravagant promises which required an enormous amount of faith in what was unknown.¬† But, they were proven occurrences in my fellow AAers; I walked with them holding a faith that I also was worthy of these promises.

So it should be with my church affiliation.  The promise that goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, that when I seek then I shall also find, that when I knock then the door shall be opened, that the Lord will give rest to my weary and burdened soul is a promise which I embrace with faith.  With faith as small as a mustard seed mountains can be moved.

“If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” Matthew 17:20

It’s not rocket science, doesn’t require an impressive intelligence to realize that walking by faith in that which is a mystery, that loving a God which is unseen, that following a Jesus who was crucified cannot be measured by the world’s standards.¬† The things of this world repeatedly have disappointed and caused pain and will continue to do so.¬† Therefore, why follow the world when a mustard seed of faith will deliver unfathomable joy and peace?¬† It’s one of the best investments I could possibly make.

In the end, if I have been wrong, if my faith is erroneously placed, if eternity with Jesus is not awaiting, if my final breath is indeed the last of me….no one will know the difference, least of all me.¬† But, I will have spent this life living joyously in peace and absolute awe of a power greater than myself.smiley 3 Namaste.

 

self-will run riot

When all the arguments are vented, when all the opinions are expressed, when all the chatter is expended, then is when I look at myself questioningly wondering what all that hullabaloo was about.¬† Why was so much energy necessary attempting to prove that my version of all things holy is more accurate than yours?¬† God needs my defense.¬† I have more insight than you do.¬† I am more level-headed, more sincere, more open-minded, more knowledgable,¬† more socially aware than you.¬† I, I, I,….me, me, me.¬† It’s like a broken record from the golden oldies.¬† Only difference today is that the old me does not control my life.¬† It merely stops by to visit sometimes like a recurring bad dream.

The old me shone brilliantly in the delusions of self-importance relating to religion, politics, society, and philosophy.¬† The old me sat high atop that bar stool explaining to whomever was unfortunately sitting nearby the theories of a drunk man trying to make himself feel like he truly mattered in the worldly realm.¬† The old me convinced himself that all the personal problems, the brokenness, the failed relationships, the financial chaos, the self-loathing were the results of friends and family who did not understand me or appreciate me.¬† The old me drank alcoholically because he was a weary and broken vessel in need of a spiritual fix.¬† The old me was ‘self-will run riot’.¬† Then, by the grace of a loving and compassionate Higher Power, the old me found the humility to surrender to a better way, a new way of living.

“Made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood God.”¬† Alcoholics Anonymous – step 3CANDLE

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.”¬† John 3:3

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”¬† Matthew 11:28

Jesus went to his cross a broken and weary man having surrendered to the will of his Father.¬† The ultimate reality of his sacrifice is that I also must sacrifice, have the willingness to be crucified to the ways of this world in order to realize¬† a new existence resting in the truth of the One who assumed my weariness and my burdens.¬† My life today is not measured by worldly victories.¬† I don’t need to win the arguments anymore because I know that I am a simple messenger carrying the greatest, most important message to mankind.smiley 3

 

 

the angry tongue

CANDLEWorking with a new guy in the fellowship is a privilege never to be taken lightly.  I have been blessed many times with this challenge sometimes successfully, other times not so successfully.  Having pulled back in recent years from a rigorous association with Alcoholics Anonymous and focusing on a church affiliation, I was somewhat cautious about once again extending myself to a young, homeless man who chose me to help him.  In retrospect I know that it was God leading this broken man to me.  In all the times of reaching out to another alcoholic, it was I who received the blessing and it was I who stayed sober regardless of what my newbie did.

I am not a young man full of energy these days.¬† My afternoon naps are important to me and bedtime seems to crawl upon me earlier in the evening.¬† Habits and routine have made life more manageable.¬† Therefore, adjusting my schedule to meet the needs of someone who believes I can guide him through the craziness of early sobriety does not come easy.¬† I still remember the powerful healing days of early AA fellowship, meeting new friends, giving up old friends, doing 90 meetings in 90 days, and forging a life which before was unimaginable.¬† But then that voice from within said, “Larry, it’s time to refresh yourself in Alcoholics Anonymous, to recommit to the program.¬† Do 90 in 90.”

“Oh no,” was my first response.¬† ” I don’t have the time.”

“Really?¬† I gave your life back to you when you were a basket case.¬† I sat up with you when you spent nights in sheer terror afraid you were going crazy.¬† I brought you through the valley of the shadows.¬† And you don’t have time?”

My Higher Power settled that argument without further dispute.¬† Now, you all need to understand that although patience is a virtue, it is not always readily available.¬† Sometimes, especially for an old man, it is in short supply.¬† My new prot√©g√© is someone I have known for several years who recently suffered reversals in life which, hopefully, brought him to his ‘bottom’.¬† And because we have been friends, the conversation is usually free-flowing and lively.¬† Sometimes it gets out of hand.¬† As most of you know, I am still a broken vessel needing a lot of healing and mending.¬† My mouth still opens before the brain is engaged and, as happened a few days ago, words which were not of a spiritual nature flowed freely.¬† Ouch!

After a few solitary hours in my private attitude adjusting cubicle, I offered a sincere apology, a hug, and a promise to count to 10 before offering my lame – brain diatribes.¬† It is once again “well with my soul” and peaceful in my household.¬† But, that’s the beauty of sober living.¬† We can be honest, we can argue, we can disagree, we can yell and then promptly make amends.

It’s the yelling part that concerns me because that was a strong feature of my active alcoholism.¬† Just flying off the handle over stupid stuff, being irrational and abrasive is not who the sober Larry wants to be.¬† Wisdom gleaned from the literature of AA and Christian scriptures warns me of the consequences of a mouth which spews indiscriminately.¬† I believe during the next few months of readjusting my life to the needs of someone who is reaching out, I will need these readings more often.

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.¬† My brothers, this should not be.¬† Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”¬† James 3:10-12

“He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”¬† Proverbs 13:3

“A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.”¬† Proverbs 18:6 ¬†

“If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.¬† The grouch and the sudden rage were not for us.¬† Anger is the dubious luxury of normal men, but not for us alcoholics.¬† It is poison.”¬† Bill Wilson ¬†AS BILL SEES IT pg 5

embarassed

Atheist & Agnostic

CANDLE

I have many friends in real life and in the blogosphere who follow the path of atheism and agnosticism.¬† I respect their choices and refuse to view my given path in life as “better than” or more spiritual.¬† What I have discovered is that the common thread in these friendships is mutual acceptance of the other person’s ideas.¬† No, a pursuit of evangelism and proselytism is not my cup of tea. ¬†The fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous clearly states that it follows the concept of “attraction rather than promotion”.¬† That works for me.¬† If you like what you see in me and want to know more, than I will fill your ears for hours with the truth which has discovered me in some of the darkest corners of my life.

One of my blogger friends posts daily about his spiritual walk.¬† From the first time I read his writing I felt drawn to what he was saying and wanted to hear more.¬† Mike’s¬†NEW HOPE FOR DRY BONES approach is somewhat different from mine, but his message rings clearly about his faith and love for Jesus.¬† I like that.¬† Recently, I’ve come to realize that the most salient thing about Mike’s stuff is that he never preaches.¬† It is always about his experience, strength, and hope.¬† I trust folks who share themselves rather than preach morality and righteousness.¬† Jesus did not preach. He was accorded the title of teacher, not preacher. According to the scriptures of Christianity, he walked with the common people, he shared their sorrows and joys, he hurt when they hurt, he partied with them, but he also shared the joy, wisdom, and freedom of a spiritual kingdom.¬† He was extraordinarily honest and self-less in the world of hypocrisy followed by the Jewish hierarchy.

I suppose this is why I love recovery programs.  They attract real people with real problems.  I cry with them and I grieve with them.  We console and instruct.  But, we also live joyously a new life with a renewed spirit.  Then, if we choose to do so, we can navigate the waters of spirituality, commune with people of varying understandings, and receive the blessings of a loving and compassionate Higher Power in a colorful array of worship and celebration.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”¬† Psalm 51:10smiley 3