to whom shall we go?

According to John in chapter 6, Peter and a number of his brothers had just heard Jesus speak from Capernaum to the synagogue crowds saying, “I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” v. 35.

But then Jesus continued, ” Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you……He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. v. 53,56

Many in the crowd murmured at these words and argued amongst themselves about the meaning. Even disciples of Jesus were disturbed by this teaching and many chose to abandon his ministry. Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?” v. 67

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” v. 68

Lord, to whom shall I go? I have followed you from the depths of my alcoholism through the valley of darkness and death, to the top of the mountain and back down to the hell of earth’s reality. I have rejoiced with you, cried with you, pleaded with you, and loved you as you have wrapped me in your fatherly arms to comfort me. If not you, to whom shall I go?

I understand Simon Peter. He had abandoned his family and livelihood to chase after this charismatic “savior” baptized by John at Jordan. Peter suffered the slurs and innuendo of friends and neighbors who did not understand. Surely, they may have said, Peter, a successful fisherman and loving father, has gone bonkers to chase after a homeless charlatan who preaches about eternal life while feeding off the charity and goodwill of the people. And now this Jesus talks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood to attain eternal life in heaven with His Father.

To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.

But, we, Simon Peter and I, can explain our behavior. “And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” v. 69

who’s your Daddy?

Who or what is the god of our lives? What do we hold closest to our hearts? Where do we turn in troubling times of the soul?

Of course the answers matter. Troubling times for humanity are not just a 21st century happening. History tells us that, as a species, we have encountered hardships, heartbreak, devastation, genocide, world war, political unrest and plague throughout each generation of mankind. So, let’s not think that we are unfairly oppressed by the inhumanity of the world or the wrath of a vengeful God.

I often refer to my grandpappy, a wise and thoughtful man, in my assessment of life. One of the most profound and profane summaries of his world was shared in these words: “Shit happens.”

My faith, still immature, says that I have no control over most of the events in my life. A simple prayer learned in the rooms of AA says:

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

That prayer poses questions to be answered: 1) what can I not change? Most obviously, I cannot change other people. I cannot change my past. 2) What should I change? That is easy….I made a mess of my life in drunkenness. I need to change myself and thus my future.

In a nutshell, that philosophy guides us to a successful recovery from addiction and a serene path through life. The ‘Serenity Prayer’ is a life-changer for millions of alcoholics. Most of our challenges (call them failures, if you must) were the result of our attempts to play God. When we recognized that the higher power directing and controlling our lives was a substance such as alcohol/drugs or a behavioral addiction, we then searched for a replacement, an entity worthy to be our Higher Power.

“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Step 2, Alcoholics Anonymous

Knowing a higher power was nothing new to us – it had been alcohol and drugs. Finding a sane alternative was the challenge we faced.

From Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions we read:

“Therefore, Step Two is the rallying point for all of us. Whether agnostic, atheist, or former believer, we can stand together on this Step. True humility and an open mind can lead us to faith, and every A.A. meeting is an assurance that God will restore us to sanity if we rightly relate ourselves to Him.”

Will I relate myself “rightly”, who’s my daddy going to be? Where is my heart’s treasure? With whom do I share the depths of my heart, the concerns and fears, the joy and love?

Like grandpappy always said, life happens regardless of what we think it should be. But, with a commitment to sober-living, life can be a stroll through serenity, or under the ravages of addiction, a trip through hell. It’s our choice.

Now what?

Probably most of the Christian world has whispered a hushed ‘phewww’ now that the pace of the season is over. Time to kick back, watch some football on TV and run to WalMart to exchange those unwanted gifts.

But, what shall we do with Jesus, the greatest gift of all? We could put him on the fireplace mantel until next year, pack him away with the rest of the Christmas decororations, or shove him into the closet with the other unwanted gifts.

What will I do with Jesus? Several years ago, a renown comedian referred to Jesus as our imaginary friend. Amidst his profanity, the tasteless attempts at comedy, his crude sexual referrals, this one comment offended my senses more than any.

But, it caused me to contemplate. Is this just a product of my imagination? Have I been bamboozled by opportunistic theologians? Am I searching fruitlessly for answers in an unknown realm of belief?

The truth is that I don’t know. What I perceive is a belief in something unknown and unproven in our physical world. Some would define this as faith and for me faith is good enough to call Jesus real – as real as anything I can see, hear or touch.

I do know as factual the functioning body with which I have been blessed, the beautiful Creation in which I live, the wondrous unfolding amazement of a friend’s love, the purring cat lying beside me. My recovery and redemption from a life of alcoholic addiction is certainly proof of an intervention by an unseen and unproven God.

It is my choice what I do with this gift that renews every Christmas. I can receive everlasting love, peace and comfort or I can set it aside for another year to collect dust.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Him ye creatures here below; praise Him above ye heavenly Host; praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

the promises of AA

OK. It is official. Immanuel (God with us) has arrived into a world filled with heartache, hatred, poverty, fear and, oh yes-don’t forget the pandemic. Welcome, Jesus. Sorry, I could not clean up our mess for you.

Lord, sometimes it is just too much to process. That’s why we have you. Our Father gave you to us to set the standard, to show us how we are supposed to live in a loving humanity of brothers and sisters. Guide us in your ways. AMEN

We are blessed every day with breath, with heartbeat, with functioning bodies. We awaken each morning to the glorious beauty of Your creation. For those of us saved from the ravages of alcoholism and associated addictions, we remember what we did last night, where we were, whom we slept with and where we parked our truck when we came home. We awaken unashamed of last night’s activity and sure that our coming day will be filled with continuing peace and understanding. And we look forward to another day basking in the light of Jesus.

We anticipate fulfilment of the promises we have read in our recovery literature. The truth of sobriety is synonymous with the commitment to sober-living. It’s not only about “not drinking and using”. It’s about changing who we are, how we think, what we do and how we relate to the world. No longer are we individually the center of our universes. No longer do we fear social situations or financial difficulties. Sober-living leads us to an understanding which was impossible for us as drunks and addicts.

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to realize a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret our past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic adversity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, pgs 83-84

Are these extravagant promises? Absolutely not! Millions of recovering alcoholics living successfully and productively will testify to the results. Those results will always materialize if we work for them.

Living sober is not about the ‘right’ God or the ‘right’ theology. I choose the God of my youth, my religious tradition, to guide me through a world that assaults and profanes my innate sense of moral compass. Jesus is the North Star of that compass. Celebrating the birth renews and revitalizes a life-long faith tradition. But, each of us must find the “God of our understanding.”

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” STEP 3, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN

A well-remembered adage flowing freely around the tables of Alcoholics Anonymous was this:

“You have got to give it away to keep it.”

Sobriety, the clean and serene, the return of sanity, the restoration of family and community was a gift of a Higher Power whom we trusted and revered. It was freely given through the grace of a loving, magnanimous God. Many of us, needing definition to this God, rely on the Christian concept of Jesus, the Christ. I have to give Him away to keep Him.

Celebrating the birth is part of this Jesus story that has given meaning to life as well as understanding to death. A boyhood verse learned in Sunday School said, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

Alcoholism kidnapped my relationship with Jesus and set me in the darkness of the deep valleys. My story is found in the New Testament book of Luke, chapter 15, the parable of the prodigal son. Through Jesus, my Father and I have claimed victory over alcoholism and spiritual death.

Yes, yes, yes, I will go tell it on the mountain, in the valley, on the streets and wherever anyone will listen. Tonight I celebrate the birth of the Son who saved me from insanity or jail or death. Tonight is all about God’s gift to humanity. This little light of mine – I’m gonna let it shine.

amazing grace

“MY CHAINS ARE GONE – I’VE BEEN SET FREE”

Many of us in recovery from addiction tearfully and prayerfully remember our brothers and sisters who have died or are still suffering and we quietly say, “But, for the grace of God, there go I.”

We believe it was grace, not luck nor will power, that brought us to our knees in humility seeking a better way, a return to sanity, a reason to continue on our journeys as participants in life. It was grace that set us free from the hell of alcoholism and drug addiction. It is still today that amazing grace which keeps us clean and serene. We praise the power whom we address as Lord and Savior as we thankfully remember the many others along the way who have knelt with us, cried with us and prayed with us.

“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

John 8:36

undying love

Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus shows what it means to have one person hold fast to us in our hour of need, despite the apparent hopelessness of it all. cac.org – RICHARD ROHR

This magnificent woman of the Jesus story has been horribly maligned over the centuries since the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries.  The male dominated Church chose to depict her as a sinner suffering seven demons within, healed by Jesus, then becoming a follower of the Jesus and the Way.

In 591 Pope Gregory I delivered a series of Easter messages blending Mary Magdalene with the “sinful woman” of Bethel who anoints the feet of Jesus with precious oil and then wipes his feet with her long hair.  This led to the theory that Mary, the apostle, was a repentant prostitute.

Even more interesting is the theory that Mary was in reality the wife of Jesus as popularized in the book and movie the Da Vinci Code and that they possibly had a child.  And why not?  Considering how the Roman Church had bastardized the teachings of Jesus, why can’t we believe that a healthy, devout Jewish man in his early 30s would  have a wife and family.

I’ll answer my own question – that would negate the basic foundation of the priesthood of the Roman Church – chastity and celibacy.  It would also question the Church’s premise that men were superior to women in spiritual affairs thereby justifying that women should be relegated to submissive roles in family life.

I have digressed from the intent of this writing:  one’s undying love for another.  Have you ever loved another person so deeply and unconditionally that even in the greatest times of despair you refused to give in to hopelessness?  In a family unit trying to  navigate the despair and hopelessness of an alcoholic loved one, we hang on to faith and hope, don’t we?  We pray, we plead, we beg, we threaten, we cry, we yell…and then we pray some more.  Why?  Because we still have hope in the face of hopelessness.  That’s what our Higher Power gives us.  The examples of undying love which we see around the tables of AA, the power of another’s comforting words, the personalities we read about in Scriptures all give us reason to go on for yet another day.  We cannot allow despair and hopelessness into our lives.

Mary Magdalene was that kind of person.  She loved her Jesus, stood by his side, wept at his cross, went with him to the tomb, guarded the tomb, and then arrived first at the tomb on the 3rd day to see it empty.  Not quite understanding, even though Jesus had told them in numerous conversations that he would indeed resurrect, Mary thought the body had been taken away.  Perhaps, briefly, at this moment she gave in to despair and hopelessness thinking the recipient of her undying love was forever lost:

“They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him,” was her reply to the angels standing nearby who asked why she was crying.

The resurrection message from John 20:10-18 continues to tell us that her Lord was there all the time even when she did not recognize the presence.  Mary Magdalene stood by her Jesus through the good times and the bad, through the trials of being a rebel, being an outcast from the Jewish hierarchy, being an insurrectionist in the eyes of the Romans, through the humiliation of his crucifixion, and finally through her perceived loss.

My loved ones were my Mary Magdalene through the difficulties, the heartbreaks, the disappointments, the betrayals, the lies, the drunkenness.  Theirs was an undying love.  Today, in sobriety, I hope to be the same to the ‘still suffering alcoholic’ who shares my life.

for my best friend, with lovecropped-cropped-picture40.png

 

So many of us have lived our lives placing unmerited value on the opinions of others while discrediting our personal truth and reality.  Breaking the shackles of people-pleasing requires honest self-appraisal, a healthy dose of self-esteem, and an enormous commitment to self-realization.  

pride8

….as near as the destination may be, it’s still the journey that matters….

not just another day, is it?

So many of us have lived our lives placing unmerited value on the opinions of others while discrediting our personal truth and reality.  Breaking the shackles of people-pleasing requires honest self-appraisal, a healthy dose of self-esteem, and an enormous commitment to self-realization.  

pride8

….as near as the destination may be, it’s still the journey that matters….

Are you having a good day today?  You came home at a decent hour last night or, in this covid-19 environment, you stayed at home with family and enjoyed a movie and quality time with loved ones.  You remember whom you were with, what you did, where your vehicle is this morning, don’t you?

Wasn’t always like that, was it?  The hangover, the nausea, the headache, the self-loathing, the empty wallet on the bedside table, the questioning – “why did I do that again?”

The BIG BOOK shares wisdom about the insanity of our alcoholism – doing the same thing again and again expecting different results.  Addiction does not change.  It is cunning, baffling and powerful.  It wants to see us dead, but will settle for an institution and insanity.

If you are sober today, give yourself and your Higher Power a hand

sober emoji

May our lives be deeply blessed today.  It’s not just another day.

“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”  NUMBERS 6:24-26

FREEDOM

What does freedom mean to you?  Picture6
What price will you pay for it? 
Would you be willing to die so others could enjoy freedom?

I’m not sure what the motives were for my father and three of his brothers.  They all enlisted in the military service of their country during WW2.  But, whatever their reasoning, they are my heroes on this Memorial Day.  Returning to civilian life after the war, they continued to serve their families and communities.  In my eyes they put everything on the line to ensure the freedom of every one of us for generations to come.  That kind of courage and selflessness is rare in today’s America.

Freedom is not free.  It comes at great cost.  I often wonder if I have paid my dues – have I paid the price for the freedoms I enjoy today?  Perhaps that I.O.U will come due sometime in the future.  What do I owe and to whom?  Will I have the courage and selflessness to pay my debt?

The greatest gifting of freedom, aside from the sacrifices of our fallen military heroes, has been the adventure of sobriety given to a helpless, hopeless drunk.  Undeserved and unmerited, this gift of amazing grace has allowed a life of celebration and thankfulness rather than one of dread and misery.  John 8:36 says it all:

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

This is not a freedom with conditional clauses and a litany of ‘thou shalt and shalt not’.  It is not tied to any particular faith walk or theology.  It does not consign me to hell for being bad or promise me heaven for being good.  There are only two requirements for enjoying this freedom forever.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all you mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  JOHN 10:27

Pretty simple stuff.  Freedom can be costly, but need not be difficult.

LOVE