divide & conquer

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“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 for us alcoholics it is poison.”  Bill Wilson, AS BILL SEES IT

When was the last time you screamed at or threw a middle finger to your TV screen?  Last week, yesterday, maybe a few minutes ago?  And did it accomplish anything? Probably not.

Today I understand how fragile my inner ecosystem can be.  My emotions are not like those of normal men and women who view or hear an outrageous story deserving of anger.  They process the news, digest it, and respond in a constructive manner.  I do not, although, I am infinitely better than I once was.  No, I can still be the guy standing in front of his TV screen flailing arms and fingers, hurling profanities at the image which has provoked me.  Do I believe that person heard or saw me?  No, of course not.  But I sure told him a thing or two, did I not?

Anger destroys every inch of peace and contentment that dwells within.  It alters the thought processes which lead to a God-honoring state of mind.  One minute of outrage can develop into 24 hours, or longer, of festering resentment.  Just one moment of anger can do that.  Am I willing, today as a sober man, to sacrifice my serenity for anger?

It’s one of the seven deadly sins according to numerous faith walks.  Let’s call it a character defect.  My inner demons use anger very effectively to divide and conquer.  When my mind is consumed with discord it cannot process the love that awaits in communion with a higher power.  All things spiritual are ushered to a back burner while the negatives boil away at a furious burn. Division conquers.  Calling 911 to God’s help line is the only solution.  Pray, pray, pray.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

I certainly cannot change the doofus on TV who has taken control of my emotional state of mind.  Lord, why would I willingly give a conduit of hatred and division such a presence in my world?  Divide and conquer is not only an inner manifestation that destroys my serenity.  It also works for political figures and world leaders intent on personal power and prestige.  Divide the people, then go in for the kill.

I don’t have to play the game.  Sobriety has opened a world of possibilities for a life apart from the games politicians play.  Religious leaders also sometimes deserve that middle finger of dissent.  Divide and conquer.  “My God is better than yours.  I’m going to heaven, you’re going to hell.  I am unique and special.”

Does that kind of rhetoric meet the standard set by Jesus or any of the messengers of truth which have been shared with us?  Many years ago, a wise old man advised me, a newly sober man searching for a better way, “If your religious affiliation doesn’t teach love and compassion for your fellow-man, then it is not of God.”

Take that advice with a grain of salt – or adhere to it like I did.  It has made the search for truth in theological philosophy mind-blowing and simultaneously comforting.  Consider these words from my foremost first read every morning:

“Buddhism affirms that there is only one of us, and therefore we are each responsible for every link in the web of being. Christianity offers us the unconditional mercy of an incarnational God who permeates the whole of creation with love. Judaism urges us to demonstrate our love for God in the way we treat each other and care for creation. Hinduism kindles the fire of devotion for reunification with the Beloved who is no other than our own true Self. Islam shares the peace that comes with complete submission to the One.”

FATHER RICHARD ROHR   Mirabai Starr in The World Wisdom Bible: A New Testament for a Global Spirituality, Rami Shapiro, ed. (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2017), vii-viii.

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YOU ROCK

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS step 3, pg 59 in How it Works.

When was the last time you read those words or listened to them recited at a meeting of recovering alcoholics?  Do we understand fully the significance of this life-saving concept which gave us the credentials to be a part of God’s family even after years of separation and denial ?

At my 1st AA meeting I was scared, I was sick, I was morally and spiritually bankrupt.  I knew I was going to die either by a black-out car wreck or by suicide.  My personal life was a disaster and my job was in jeopardy.  Most of my friends abandoned me, a few stood by me, but all knew that Larry was a sick puppy.  All except Larry.

You see, Larry had learned to play the game.  I’m talking about that mind game we alcoholics master at some point in our drinking careers.  I had my list of scapegoats lined up to cover every conceivable mishap in my life.  I conned, connived, and lied my way through the car wrecks, the lost jobs, the broken relationships, the days of alcohol-induced sickness.  In the end days of my drinking I truly believed my own cons.  Finally, reaching out to mental health services at the hospital in desperation, the psychologist assigned to me listened to my con for one minute before asking, “How much do you drink?”

My surrender was immediate because I was sick of being sick.  I replied, “A few beers once in a while,” but I knew then in the psychologist’s office that the only person I had been conning all this time was me.

“My name is Larry, and I’m an alcoholic,” I announced at my 1st AA meeting.

There, I had done it.  For the first time in many years I got honest with myself.  And then I listened.  I tried to convince myself that I was not as bad as they were.  But, I found myself relating to what they were saying and agreeing, “Yeah, I did that, too.  That’s me.”

Someone talked about God and I freaked.  “You don’t really believe that stuff, do you? There is no God.  Intelligent people don’t need God.  I sure as hell don’t need God.”

A fellow at the end of the table quietly responded, “And look where that got you.  You’re sitting in a room at a table with a bunch of drunks.”

Again, that moment of surrender.  “OK, OK, you’re right.  Maybe I’m not as smart as I thought I was.  I’ll listen to your stories about God.”

And so it began, my journey in sobriety.  The God of my understanding was nothing like the God of my childhood which had burdened me with guilt and shame for 34 years of my life.  It was a unique feeling, a devotion which I had never before experienced, this God of my understanding.  What an amazing concept!

Today I celebrate that I am no longer excluded from a worshipful relationship with a higher power just because I don’t profess the ‘right’ God according to other people.  I no longer feel unworthy just because I’m a broken man trying to be a better man.  I no longer feel condemned to hell just because I’m not convinced by their idea of heaven.

Are you in love with sobriety?  I am.  Do you remember your first meeting?  I do. Amazing, isn’t it, that we should be loved so much by a God of our understanding?

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Thy will, not mine, be done.”

 

GALATIANS 5

“Let me be clear, the Anointed One has set us free—not partially, but completely and wonderfully free! We must always cherish this truth and stubbornly refuse to go back into the bondage of our past.”  GALATIANS 5:1

The heading for this passage from the Book of Galatians attributed to Paul is A LIFE OF FREEDOM. He continues to tell his followers that living by the laws and rites of Judaism will be of no benefit for one who is received into the saving grace of a Higher Power.  This is not a condemning judgement of Judaism or any other profession of faith, but rather a statement of the freeing power available by simple acceptance of a higher power without the accompanying laws and rites.   Those traditions could surely enhance one’s faith but the nugget of freedom is in the one who frees, aka love. “All that matters now is living in the faith that is activated and brought to perfection by love.”  verse 6

So how does Paul define freedom?  “Freedom means that we become so completely free of self-indulgence that we become servants of one another, expressing love in all we do.” verse 13

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  I have, in my recovery programs, the identical concepts as expressed in this verse.  Initially service is to my fellow alcoholics transcending to the same attitude of self-less interaction with my community and the world.  Step 12 has told me that a spiritual awakening will occur and that I will practice these principles (of self-lessness) in all my affairs.  “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps….”  is not a maybe-if situation.  Step 12 says it will happen.

What am I giving up from my ‘self-life’ in order to have this awakening?

“The cravings of the self-life are obvious: Sexual immorality, lustful thoughts, pornography, 20 chasing after things instead of God,[h] manipulating others,[i] hatred of those who get in your way, senseless arguments, resentment when others are favored, temper tantrums, angry quarrels, only thinking of yourself, being in love with your own opinions, 21 being envious of the blessings of others, murder, uncontrolled addictions,[j] wild parties, and all other similar behavior.” verse 19-21 

And what should I expect to gain from my recovery efforts?

“But the  the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit within you is divine love in all its varied expressions:

joy that overflows,[n]
peace that subdues,
patience[o] that endures,
kindness[p] in action,
a life full of virtue,[q]
faith that prevails,
gentleness of heart, and
strength of spirit.” verse 22-23 

From the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous I am told:

1)We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.  2)We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  3)We will comprehend the word serenity.  4)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)The 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 on life will change.  10)Fear of people and 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!

(Scripture quotes are from the TPT) The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.  Used by permission. All rights reserved. thePassionTranslation.com

psalm 51

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1 Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.  3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Psalms 51: 1-3 The Voice The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.

These verses were sometimes referred to as the “Hangman’s Prayer.”  A sentenced convict was given an opportunity to set things right with the One he/she called Almighty before the noose tightened.  Grace and mercy reigned when that Power was called upon.

In addiction we also receive the sentence of death for our walk into hell.  It is a spiritual death often more onerous than the finality of a hangman’s noose.  Surely, I often prayed for a physical end to my suffering for I could not fathom a life other than that of an alcoholic.  Others were able to drink socially or totally abstain, but not me.  My demons would not allow it and my God, yes I did believe, would never forgive me.

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I am a miracle who walks aside millions of others like me who finally faced the toughest decision of our lives.  Admitted, believed, and made a decision to turn it over.  That “God of my understanding” listened to my confessions, forgave every one of my transgressions, and then transformed a wretched human into something useful, clean and serene.

God, make a fresh start in me,
    shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.  Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me.  Bring me back from gray exile,
    put a fresh wind in my sails!

Psalms 51:10-12 The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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amazing grace

 

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“You are my rock and my fortress – my soul’s sanctuary!  Therefore, for the sake of your reputation, be my leader, my guide, my navigator, my commander.”  PSALM 31:3 VOICE

Many of us, me included, wear our emotions on our sleeves.  I had a great friend in early recovery who could read my eyes and immediately know what was happening within my soul.  It was disconcerting sometimes that a person could look at me and tell me what I was thinking or how I was feeling.  As our friendship deepened, he confided that my eye color was a giveaway.  Dark blue eyes meant trouble and discontent while sky blue eyes indicated a cheerful and peaceful inner being.  I eventually learned to discern the same in his eyes.

In the same way, body language can betray what is happening internally.  Arms crossed in front of me tell others not to approach too closely.  Eye contact indicates whether I am interested in continuing our conversation and fidgeting lets you know that I am uncomfortable with the interaction.  Folded hands and a bowed head extend my respect for your inner essence, “Namaste.”  A beaming smile and genuine bear hug says, “come on in and share my life for awhile.”

But, what else do I wear on my sleeve?  How about my faith?  I lived most of my adult life keeping my faith hidden within.  My church upbringing frowned upon sharing a part of me that could intrude or disagree with another’s beliefs.  Although my church named itself as evangelical, it did not practice evangelism.  Much of that attitude stemmed from cultural issues within my community which was isolated from mainstream America well into the 20th century.  We kept to ourselves because it was a safer way to approach the ridicule of the more popular cultures surrounding us.  We were Germanic people whose forefathers  had immigrated to the British colonies in the early 1700s indenturing themselves to the governor of New York for 7 years in return for land, we spoke a Germanic dialect, and we kept to the old customs.  We were not overly popular during WWII and the years following.

I learned early to keep my faith to myself.  In retrospect, I probably did not have much faith during my active alcoholism because I could not allow an old gray-haired, bearded, eyes-on-fire entity dwelling somewhere in the heavens into my life.  It was far too frightening.   I knew that I was always in His cross-hairs and the fear was overwhelming.  So I drank as much as I could to overcome my fears and inhibitions.  When I was drunk that old man in the sky was powerless over me.

When drinking finally brought me to my knees, I did some praying while I was down there.  The miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous and its concept of a Higher Power pulled me from the insanity which had become my life.  I learned how to hold my head high and I learned to wear my faith on my sleeve for the world to see.  If you want to talk about faith, give me a big smile and a huge bear hug.  We’ll talk.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see

John Newton 1779

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