sledhead

 

CANDLELike many young people who follow the path of non-violence and pacifism, I was severely bullied during junior high and high school.  We were targets for the ‘big boys’ who were feeling their developing testosterone; most of us were labeled weak sissies because we were strongly encouraged by our families and church to resist physical and verbal conflict.  Today I look back on those challenges with a sense of gratitude for having been blessed as a young man with a sense of civility.  But unfortunately, back then, I took my seething anger and self-loathing deep inside resulting in a bevy of addictions which controlled my life for many years.

My classmates called me “sledhead”.  It was, to them, an endearing term describing my naivete; to me it was condescending and painful.  My faith in an entity which would allow this pain was severely tested.  Today, some folks, not all of them friends, see my faith as an uneducated devotion to my imaginary friends, God and Jesus.  I’m sure you also in your faith walk have encountered the same.

“So you talk to Jesus, do you?  Have your ever seen God?  Do you really believe Jesus rose from the dead?  And oh yeah, that story about him healing the blind man.  Hmmmmm.”

You can see the wheels churning within their brains.  Nutcase, delusional, hallucinating, foolish…..sledhead.  I don’t, anymore, attempt to explain my faith to them.  I don’t share my experience walking with my Lord unless they initiate an interest.  I don’t expect them to understand, just as the bullies in high school did not understand my commitment to non-violence.  I endured name-calling, shoving, and punching with words like sissy, wimp, momma’s boy, coward.  Sadly, by the time I could call myself a young man, a high school graduate, I agreed with them.

That was 50 years ago.  But, baby, take a look at me now!  Check out what I can do with the power of Jesus and God ahead of me, within me, and behind me!  We have put a hurting on the addictions which controlled my younger years.  We have shown the world of aggression and oppression that there is strength and courage in the words of peace and compassion, the words spoken by Jesus before he was taken by the cowardice and hatred of a bullying, hypocritical, self-serving theocratic society and was nailed to a wooden cross.

Don’t get me wrong.  The negativity of people who try to bully me with their condescending air of superiority, their need to ridicule my “imaginary
friends, and attempts to discredit my truth does sometimes bring doubt into my life.  I am the character of ‘doubting Thomas’, show me the nail holes in the hands and feet, I want to see the pierce scar in the side.  Let me touch you, Lord.

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:27

Recently, I heard a comment on NPR regarding world poverty.  The woman being interviewed stated that the predominant characteristic of humanity was “goodness”, but, it was often quietly unseen and unheard.  The thought that we are predominantly violent and selfish is assumed because that is the loudest voice in our civilization. Therefore, we hear the raucous noise of intolerance, bigotry and injustice over goodness, mercy, and compassion.

Goodness, mercy,  and compassion.  That’s who my friends Jesus and God are. That’s whom I commune with every day.  I see them in people on the street helping other people.  I hear them on the radio when listening to a contemporary Christian artist singing his heart out for the Jesus he loves.  I feel them in a sanctuary with other worshippers praying for the homeless, the poor, the addicted ones, the forgotten, the discarded, the downtrodden.  I can touch them in an AA meeting when at the end of the meeting everyone stands clasping hands and reciting the “Our Father”.

My faith is in the inherent goodness, mercy, and compassion of humanity.  Therein is Jesus, therein  is God, and therein is nothing imaginary.  Real, visible, omnipotent!

Edward Mote, 1797-1874 “My hope is built on nothing less. Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.”

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envy

Does everybody know the seven deadly sins?  They are sometimes called the cardinal sins.  And if you don’t like the connotation of the word sin, let’s call them defects of character.  Ok, here’s the countdown and they are not listed in order of severity.  Each one of them can be deadly if allowed to run rampant.

  • anger
  • greed
  • lazinessembarassed
  • pride
  • lust
  • envy
  • gluttony

I am entertaining envy today.  No, it’s not related to materialism or physicality or status.  I am envious as hell about those folks who can maintain an aloofness from the shenanigans being foisted on us as religion and politics.  Yes, I am dead serious.  If for just one day I could not hear the news, read the newspapers, and view the screens depicting another episode of name-calling in Washington, D.C., another horrible act of violence in Syria, or another Hollywood celebrity enmeshed in a tangle of sexual wantonness, then I might be content.  If I could limit my social media time to nothing but wholesome, heart-warming stories of man’s goodness toward man, then I would be at peace.

Twenty-two years ago when I moved into this house in which I now live my next door neighbor was a saintly woman who had lived many years in the far country and, by the grace of her God, returned to marry a good man and raise a brood of decent kids.  They were all skinny because she was a strict dietician, and they were all cheerful and kind-hearted.  The woman read her Bible every day.

During an extremely active hurricane summer, we spoke to her about the imminence of an approaching hurricane.  She knew nothing of it.  “Oh no,” she chortled, “we don’t have a TV in the house and we only listen to Christian music on the radio and we don’t receive a newspaper.”

I’m sure she recognized the horror on our faces.  Sweet lady, you are so out of touch.  Don’t you realize the danger that could be approaching?  Don’t you care about the world around you?  What in the world will you do when calamity strikes?

Smiling sweetly, she responded to our unvoiced questions,  “Jesus will take care of us.”

OMG! What faith!.  She had been in the world, she knew the inherent dangers, she had lived life on the edge, and now she firmly believed that her Lord and Savior would protect her and her family.  It did not matter if she was living in a fantasy existence because in her world she found contentment and peace.  And maybe, just maybe, her fantasy reality is the truth we all envy and desire.

Yep, I am harboring envy today, but I know the fix.  I often use an analogy of sobriety to make a point.  There is a fine line between me, a committed sober-living man, and my brother, a man caught up in his alcoholism.  One step across that line into his world and I have a slip, a relapse; one step across that line into my world and he has a recovery, a miracle.

Both our worlds are a reality, but that fine line which I call Jesus makes it a living hell or a blessed journey.  Nah, there’s no place for envy on this journey.  Now, if I could just get a handle on gluttony!smiley 3“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”Psalms 51:10

 

 

abundance

CANDLE

I can sometimes convince myself that the spiritual life is as peaceful as an afternoon respite sitting on a moss-covered bank by a slowly moving stream through a dark, cool forest.  The only sounds are the chirps of the birds in the trees and the occasional rustle of dry leaves as the squirrels scamper off with their latest discovery of a hickory nut which had been buried earlier in the year.

It can be that way….sometimes.  More often the spiritual path has been a roomful of noisy, recovering alcoholics, reeking of the cigarette they just burned while standing outside.  Or it could be spending a few hours with a friend reeling from his latest battle with the demon alcohol not understanding how he could have fallen into the depths of a relapse.

Both scenarios are  spiritual.  The first is a passive opportunity to reconnect with the Higher Power of my life and replenish the bank account which keeps me fully funded in Spirit.  For me it is just as important as the fellowship of recovering alcoholics itself. Often I have attempted to go without the daily reading, private time of communion, devotion to inner reflection only to become less enthusiastic in other aspects of my recovery program.  Neglecting time alone with the Higher Power invariably leads to confusion and burn-out.

Years ago I led a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.  At the time I was sponsoring 3 or 4 pigeons and was on the verge of isolation and burn-out from phone calls at 2:30 AM or knocking on my door when I was just getting ready to sit down with a book I’d been wanting to read.

I chose the topic “burn-out” for discussion.  To my dismay nobody wanted to participate with this subject….too negative, they said.  Perhaps they were right, but, that topic is precisely why many of us fold our cards and dropout in this game called life.  Unless I demand of myself time to replenish my soul’s needs, I will be absolutely worthless to others and ultimately to myself.  The God of my understanding cannot use me for the work God has planned for me if I am emotionally and physically drained.

And it’s a result of ego telling me that I am indispensable, the world will stop if I don’t contribute, people will die if I am not there to save them.  The inner truth tells me, “Yes, people are going to die, but, life is not dependent on your contribution.  The world will go on.”

That’s a tough pill to swallow for me.  In one of my first AA meetings, an elderly lady sitting next to me defined the alcoholic as one who, in this production called life, “wants to be the producer, the director, the prop man, the set man and the star actor.”  Yep, that was me.

My cat, Max, is approaching senior status in feline years.  This amazing companion has taught me more than some of the greatest spiritual leaders I have read or motivational speakers to whom I have listened.  First, I have learned from Max, unconditional devotion to another creature.  Unfortunately, that is easier to practice with a pet than with people, but, the concept is there.  Secondly, Max uses his energy wisely.  He still loves the same activities as always such as grooming, chasing the leaf blowing across the front porch, stalking a lizard, and eating.  Truthfully, he still devotes as much time as ever to eating.  But, Max snoozes more now that he is eleven years old.  He has his favorite outposts in the house and more often than not can be found stretched out cutting zzzzzzzzs.  Amazingly, when Max is awake he is a purr machine.

I have learned a lot from my cat.  I don’t yet purr ( well actually I do simulate a human purr when I’m petting him) but, I do sense a calmness and peace when he invites me into his world.

God has provided for us a wonderful world filled with natural beauty and marvelous creatures.  Nature teaches us the cycles of life; birth, youth, maturity and death.  But, all to often, we ignore the other subtleties of this Creation which, I believe, can teach us how to live life abundantly.

A passage in the book of John speaks to us of the thief which comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  It is written in the context of a shepherd and his flock; however, as with all of scriptures when I view them in a spiritual sense, the meaning becomes so extremely apropos for today’s world if I understand that the thief is the busyness, the chaos, the wars, the violence, the famines, the hate, and injustice which dominates contempory world culture.  The life available through my time of spiritual devotion defends me from this thief.  Those moments of communion will not change the world, rather, they will change me.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10

namaste rainbow

 

Dhammapada 1: the twin

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Even if the thoughtless can recite many of the scriptures,
if they do not act accordingly,
they are not living the holy life,
but are like a cowherd counting the cows of others.

Even if the faithful can recite
only a few of the scriptures,
if they act accordingly,
having given up passion, hate, and folly,
being possessed of true knowledge and serenity of mind,
craving nothing in this world or the next,
they are living the holy life.

Doesn’t get any simpler than that, does it?  I believe in American culture we would say, “Talk the talk and then walk the walk.”  It’s all about the journey which we walk and not the scriptures we have read.  Some of my friends are well versed in Christian scriptures and they do indeed live by the principles.  Surely they will be blessed.

But, we increasingly witness the preachers of the “talk” who haven’t a clue nor a desire to live the “path” of the Buddha nor the “way” of Jesus of Nazareth.  Their talk is big while their performance is dismal.

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD.  Jeremiah 23:1

To my friends in recovery programs, this is not religious stuff; this is the essence of the program we have learned around the tables at our meetings.  Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson did not pull their life-saving principles out of thin air.  No, they took the wisdom established centuries earlier and transitioned it to fit contemporary society.

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relevance

CANDLE

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

Does anyone else remember that verse from childhood days in Sunday school class or perhaps vacation Bible school?  Yes, we would all stand up in front of our families, friends, and neighbors gesturing in unison our hands uncovering a candle being held.  The parents, the teachers and the preacher smiled in appreciation for our efforts.

Several weeks ago after church service I shared with a friend that I was feeling extremely irrelevant in today’s world, that a majority of my neighbors followed the beat of a different drummer socially and politically, and alas, even within our congregation there was division and discord.  We talked at length about the political climate, the lack of congenial discourse, the increase of violence.  From previous conversations I knew she was on the same page as I regarding tolerance of and inclusion for differing walks in life.

We talked awhile consoling each other when she twinkled an eye and began singing softly, “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

Yes, that is what we do as messengers of a Higher Power which embraces things not born of this worldly system, but extremely relevant to our journey.  We shine forth with what we know as truth.  In our AA literature humility is defined as “a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become who we could be.”

All too often we view this “humility” thing as a negative, we see it as needing to release pride and self pursuit.  But, if we recognize the greatness which God has empowered within each of us, if we realize the inherent spiritual connection, then we can begin to feel and believe that we do indeed have something to share with the world in which we live.  We are relevant to today’s worldly problems when we understand through genuine humility who we truly are and what our purpose is.

I don’t need a lighthouse, a beacon on a hill, the bright lights of fame, nor the adoration of the multitudes to walk this path with purpose or relevance.  I’ve been given my own personal little candle to hold and, by the grace of God, I’m gonna let it shine.

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sobriety’s promises

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1. If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.
2. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
3. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
4. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.
5. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
6. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
7. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
8. Self-seeking will slip away.
9. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
10. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
11. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
12. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

Alcoholics Anonymous p83-84
Reprinted from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous with permission of A.A. World Services, Inc.

When a volunteer reader recites the promises of Alcoholics Anonymous and reaches the last sentence, “They will always materialize if we work for them,” the group often responds with, “work, work, work.”

Therein is the secret to a successful recovery: work, work, work.  For us to undertake the work of the AA program with courage, determination, and dedication is  beyond anything we have previously attempted.  It is a life-changing, challenging endeavor which requires total commitment.  “Half measures availed us nothing.”

There are no compromises.  The promises listed above are realized when we are willing to say yes to a Higher Power, when we are willing to listen to long-term sobriety speaking, when we are willing to work our butts off to reach a state of clean and serene.   It works if we work it.  Alcoholics Anonymous is a very simple program to understand, but, for most of us, it is the most difficult  thing we have ever done.

unshackled-2

 

power of friendship

The first few months of sustained sobriety were exciting and exhilarating for those of us recovering from alcoholism.  New ways of thinking, new habits, new friends, and a new spirituality kept us coming back to the rooms and tables of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Day by day we grew stronger in our commitments to live life without the crutch of a potion which we knew was killing us.  Some of us, however, continued to stumble over the name of God in the prayers and in the readings.  Too much God baggage from our addictions made it difficult to sincerely think about the Higher Power in any but the simplest of terms. Those with continuous sober time told us to use the group conscience as our reference point for God.  It worked.  Eventually, having done our inventories and amends, we cast aside the vindictive, judgmental concept we carried for far too many years and we could say and think God with conviction.

Very special friendships developed as we found others with like interests and shared histories.  Many of us began new lives plagued by financial problems carried over from our past lives and we found it necessary to share living expenses and housing.  It was a perfect solution to the loneliness imposed on us by our disease.

Roommates in recovery discovered that living together could be just as problematic as our marriages or relationships had been previously.  We were sober but we were not yet cured of the issues which turned our living arrangements into living hells prior to Alcoholics Anonymous.  We had not arrived at serenity, we were still works in progress.

My first roommate as a sober man was Jackie L.  He had several years sobriety, attended numerous meetings weekly, and was a person of deep, very deep, Catholic convictions.  We spent hours delving into the mysteries of the great writers of religious tradition.  Our commitment to sober living was never questioned and, in retrospect, that commitment kept us from going off the “deep end” with religion.  We had witnessed that happening to some of our friends; they got into some heavy theology and lost their sobriety as a result.

Jackie was described by some friends as a brooding, moody man.  I learned by watching his eye color change from a bright hazel to a deep green when Jackie had something on his mind.  And it was only a matter of minutes before we were in deep discussion about that “something”.  Being the younger in terms of sober time, I was also more explosive with emotions while my roommate maintained a calm composure.  That thoroughly pissed me off as we explored the problem we were having.  He already had the upper hand with his poise and wisdom while I sat there spitting and sputtering trying to argue my point.

Those days of early sobriety were extremely important in developing the interpersonal skills we somehow mismanaged while perched on our favorite bar stool at the local watering hole.  Finally, we had an opportunity to jumpstart our emotional growth which had been at a standstill for so many years.  And  make no mistake about it; this was tough, painstaking work.  We were ill-equipped for behaving like mature men and women.  But somehow we survived.

Jackie and I have lost touch over the many years since 1983.  But, I shall never forget his famous line whenever he was about to take the high road in our numerous arguments as roommates.  He, with those dark brooding eyes, would look at me with a slight curl on his lips and a mocking laugh and then ask,

“Well Larry, now how spiritual was that?”

That has stayed with me for all these years.  When I do or think something which is less than serene and clean, I ask myself, “Well Larry, now how spiritual was that?”

Today I believe the world and its problems could learn a lesson from Jackie and me if people would simply ask themselves, “How spiritual was that?”

 

labels

As a retired guy trying to get by on social security, I welcome offers from friends to help them occasionally on painting jobs.  My “expertise” accumulated over many years as a painting contractor fits hand-in-glove to their need for experienced casual labor.  Such has been the case over the past few days.
The client on this most recent endeavor is an extremely pleasant woman whose gift for gab is obviously a plus in her customer service business.  Quick to smile, offering us egg rolls for lunch, and helping as much as possible, this lady talks easily about her adventure in life.  Born in Vietnam, lived in Saigon, she remembers the Vietnam War and shows by her attitude her delight in being American.
Yes, she is American, just as I am.  There was a time during the height of the War when I uncharitably would have tacked on more adjectives to my description of this lady.  My HP has changed my thinking and my ways, but even today I catch myself sending out a simple,  “Lord, forgive me for being such a jerk back then.”
My ego has a need to differentiate me from others.  It urges me to attach stereotypes, to use crass descriptions, and to believe I am better than others.  My ego wants me to label everyone I encounter in an effort to separate from their own humanness.  I unwarily fall into ego’s need to control and define who I am.  This temporary drift into “uniqueness” is in direct contradiction of the higher Essence which lords my life.

I know today that ego is not the controller.  All the labels I use to define me, to describe me, to stroke my sense of self are merely attempts by an ego wanting to be back in control, to preserve its identity.  And all the labels I put on others are attempts to put separation between me and fellow humans.

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St Francis, in a well-known prayer, ends with: “…..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 everlasting life.” prayer of St. Francis
Rumi, a 13th century Muslim and Sufi mystic, wrote: “What have I ever lost by dying?”  Rumi
Rumi and St. Francis knew the joy and rebirth realized by death and dying of ego.
“Only after you have fallen into the True Self, will you be able to say with the mystic Rumi, ‘What have I ever lost by dying?’ [2] You have discovered true freedom and liberation. When you are connected to the Whole, you no longer need to protect or defend the part. You are now connected to something inexhaustible.”  Richard Rohr

bends, turns & detours

As with any journey, the destination is not always what we imagined it should be and quickly we discover that there are bends, turns, and detours to negotiate.  Such is the quest for sanity and serenity in sobriety.  When I had accomplished what seemed impossible, one year of continuous sobriety, I thought, “Aha, this is it, I have arrived.”

Yes, in a way, I did arrive.  But, I soon realized I had just touched the surface of what sober living entailed.  Thirty-six years later, I have yet to arrive.  The drinking is no longer the problem.  It’s actually easy now.  Don’t drink and I won’t get drunk; one is too many and ten is not enough; I won’t drink even if my ass falls off.  No, it’s not the alcohol anymore, it’s me and all the baggage stowed away in my head which continues to need an inventory and cleaning.  I suppose all of us are like that and the main difference is that we recovering alcoholics are fortunate enough to have a program geared specifically for us in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Perhaps the most difficult clean-out of the brain is releasing the religious indoctrination of our early years.  Today, as an old man approaching the septuagenarian decade of life, I no longer judge harshly the experiences of a childhood overwhelmed with a theology of condemnation and hell-fire although those experiences were definite contributors to my addiction.  I don’t harbor anger and resentment over injustices done in the name of a vengeful God.

But, I also do not forget.  The quest I am on leads into new and exciting ventures in the realms of spirituality, it leads into exploration of varying faith communities, it leads into appreciation for the ancient religions established long before the advent of Christianity.  And I do this comfortably because my mainstays are  love, compassion, peace, and nonviolence.  If, in the scriptures and writings which I encounter, those four companions of universal Oneness and solidarity don’t jump off the page and fill my brain with a sense of completeness, then I must move on.  I trust that inner spirit today.  Where it leads, I will follow.

And so, I try to walk the path of Buddha, worship corporately with Lutherans, and fellowship with sober people.  It’s a fine mix of all the best things in life when I maintain priorities and always remember that my name is Larry and I am an alcoholic.