GOD, a verb

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My story is not unique.  Millions have shared it and millions have conquered alcoholism.  A great many of us approached our first AA encounter with extreme trepidation about a spiritual experience.

“What? You going to preach at me some BS about God and religion?”

But, the alternative was a return to the insanity that had consumed our lives and absolutely deprived us of self-respect and intelligent choices.  So, we obligingly sat through the reference to God in the opening ‘Serenity Prayer’ and a few mentions of God by the group and then the closing ‘Lord’s Prayer’.  It wasn’t too bad but, don’t be talking that God stuff laced with theology and thou shalt and thou shalt not.

At my first meeting I learned that the only requirement for membership was a desire to stop drinking.  “I can handle that”.

Subsequently, they talked about a higher power.  They said it could be anything I recognized as a greater power than me.  Well, I already knew alcohol was a greater power than me, so I totally understood that concept.  The older, wiser group members suggested that I use the group as my higher power temporarily until I had some sober time behind me.  That worked just fine.

But, after thousands of meetings and a few years of sobriety, my inner self yearned for a more definitive God picture.  I began the search for deeper meaning and resolution to that initial “God as I understand God”.

My church experience as a young boy indoctrinated me into a theology of an old, bearded, vengeful and wrathful man sitting on his throne somewhere in the heavens just waiting to judge and condemn me for being human.  Indeed, as that God promised, I went to hell.  As I learned from hearing the stories of other recovering alcoholics, that church experience was not unique and equally damning.

During recovery there have been numerous epiphanies but, the most recent and possibly most significant occurred from reading another blogger’s post sharing the concept of God, a verb.  https://cac.org/ .  Amazingly, after several months of studying Fr. Richard’s writings, spirituality for me has returned to my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.

What can be more Godly than a group of bickering, diverse, sober drunks coming together in a unified effort to spread the theology of sobriety to a suffering world?  It’s the Gospel in action.  It’s exactly what Jesus proclaimed to the oppressed and downtrodden.  And miraculously for those of us who have rejected the old, judgmental, heavenly seated man of our youth, this God does not demand a list of thou shalt and thou shalt not.

God, a verb, is not a new or faddish concept.  Buddhist monks, Jesus and his followers understood it.  The mystics of ancient times practiced it.  Bill W. and Dr. Bob resurrected it calling it Alcoholics Anonymous.  This God’s only requirement is a desire to live sober, productive lives, and “practice these principles in all our affairs.”

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TREKKING WITH THE MYSTICS

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Peggy Lee, a popular contemporary vocalist of the 1950s and 60s, recorded a song which reached into the top of the charts in 1969.  “IS THAT ALL THERE IS” expresses  disillusionment and disappointment with a life which should be filled with unique experiences.  She suggests that we “break out the booze and have a ball—if that’s all there is”. Peggy Lee died in 2002.

Sometimes our life’s experiences parallel the lyrics of this song of hopelessness and melancholy.  We strive to achieve, to find acceptance within our communities, to perform according to the edicts of our traditional religion.  We fear the god of vengeance and punishment portrayed by exhortations from the pulpits of our churches while we fervently pray to that same god for forgiveness and redemption.  Yet in the secret recesses of our inner selves we intuitively know that the god of our religions and churches somehow misses the mark of truth, compassion, and relevance which we earnestly desire in our lives.  This inner search drives us to search for another day when we can sincerely say “yes, Lord, I will follow”, when we can finally change the word god to a capitalized God.

“9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Luke 11:9 KJV

That day of transformation from god to God reveals to us an inner trek which fills our lives with the beauty, mystery, awe, and inspiration which God intended for us.  It is not a new realization; rather, it has been practiced for thousands of years by Teachers sometimes called “mystics”.  They and their followers shared the wonderment of God residing within and without, present in all beings and all creation, available to any who would seek.  The Kingdom of God is not reserved for the righteous; it is not a distant, heavenly sphere of religious correctness; it is not the eminent domain of any of the world’s religions.

“21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”  Luke 17:21` KJV

The writings of the New Testament attribute the above verse to Jesus, one of the Teachers who understood the mysteries of the inner search for truth.  When his sayings, as recorded in the Bible, are processed in the realm of spiritual rather than worldly understanding we become keenly aware of the depth of inner communion with a God who becomes intensely real and personal.

Luke 17:21 is the essence of “TREKKING WITH THE MYSTICS” and the basis for a necessary life-changing redirect.  If our “rock and fortress” dwells within then surely hatred, bigotry, intolerance, government agents, worldly oppression shall be powerless in the presence of the great “I AM”.  We are proclaimed to be instruments of and witnesses to that which is Truth and Light.  We are destined to walk the earth fearlessly pursuing for all people equality, social justice, and personal liberty.  Doing so is our birthright and our Supreme duty.

THE HAPPY MYSTIC

Have you ever momentarily experienced in your meditation a time of absolute serenity and peace?  All trains of thought have stopped.  The world around you is non-existent.  It is tranquil and quiet within.  All is well with your soul.

You try to hang on to it as long as possible but, the phone rings, the kids scream, and the dog barks. Poof! It’s gone.  That brief, unearthly respite was a God moment.  For a mere second you and the God within were in communion.  This mysterious indwelling essence became the Lord of your life on the day you made sobriety the top priority of your life.

We alcoholics are not unique in this discovery.  Many before us, many who are not addicted to any behavior or substance have also known the God within and have fully experienced the pure joy and peace of inner communion.  Buddha and his followers, Jesus and his followers, Muhammad and his followers all exercised the mysticism of an inner experience of meditation and contemplation.  The Kabbalist Jew in his esoteric practice also embraces mysticism.

This has nothing to do with his God, her God, the church’s God.  This is your very own, very personal Higher Power which has no need to be translated by religionists or theologians.  You don’t need dogma or faith creeds or a list of “thou shalt and thou shalt not”  because it is within the deepest recesses of your soul’s being that the God of your understanding can be found.

Faith in this inner God experience of the mystics does not negate or diminish the presence of spirituality that is enjoyed by worshipping with others corporately in the church, the mosque or the synagogue.  This time of singing, prayer, and teaching only enhances that which we know within.  However, we can experience an exhilarating freedom when we understand how and where to find a personal God of our understanding.  Scriptures which we have learned and known for a lifetime come alive with new and deeper meaning.  Our journey is no longer hindered by questions concerning the right pew in the right church with the right congregation worshipping on the right day of the week preaching the right gospel with the right Bible, Torah or Koran in hand.  That spiritual experience which is deep within is always right.

“To thine own self be true.”

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JOHN LENNON

“I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind.”

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OK, so the Beatles were not the poster boys for sober living.  But, unlike many of their contemporaries, they did survive the drugging and drinking and left us with numerous memorable lyrics.  Lennon, the peacenik, the rebel, the political activist who found himself on the FBI’s “watch list” for subversive activity wrote “IMAGINE”, the lyrics of which could be a blueprint for world peace.

Ironically, Lennon’s  life ended prematurely in 1980 when an assassin gunned him down in front of his apartment building.  A man dedicated to compassion, love, and peace was taken from us by a gun-wielding madman.  Today, 50 years after the Beatles and 37 years after Lennon’s death, the music and the words continue to remind us that there is a better way to live this life which our HP has given us.

“I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind”  resonates with the comfort and good will which has always been intended to be God’s gift to us.  For a man of immense wealth and talent to write those words offering everything he’s got for a little peace of mind should reveal to us that what is important in life is not riches nor fame.

Peace of mind is especially difficult to capture in today’s violent, unstable world.  We will not find it in church, religion, or philosophy.  It will not suddenly appear through the right ritual or prayer.  It is an inside job which only our connection with a higher power can accomplish.  When we realize and accept that nothing of this worldly existence is greater or more important than the God connection, then we will know the beginnings of “peace of mind”.

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HIS GIFT TO US, not in a manger

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Before a committee of well-intentioned religionists come to my front door with blazing torches and wood to stoke the fires around my stake, let me take the above statement to the next  level.

I also love the comfort of scriptures whether they be writings of Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism.  I celebrate the holy days of Christianity because that is my tradition.  I pray earnestly to the God of my understanding for guidance and instruction.  There is no need to incinerate me with your holier-than-thou rhetoric.  I get it.  If you are one of the torch bearers, then you are obviously incensed by a challenge to your belief system.

And that is a good thing.  THINK!  Your God (mine too) gave you at birth an essence which is intended as a spiritual guidance system, logic and reason.  Ok, call it the Holy Spirit if you must.  I’m fine with that.  However, everything we have accumulated in religious baggage since that moment is man-made and fallible.  Again, before you stick that torch to the wood, recognize that I am not calling that accumulation wrong or unreal.

Religion, when it upholds the value of all peoples everywhere in peaceful coexistence, is a wonderful thing.  Theology, when  it guides adherents to tolerance and acceptance of other beliefs, is  a desirable undertaking.  But, mankind somehow takes religion and theology into another universe with ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots’, with dogma, with creeds and opinions.

I know y’all hate it when a person who is heretical and faithless quotes your scriptures, but, I’ll do it anyway:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

 Maybe Jesus was referring to the innocence of babes in their spirituality before religion and theology had an opportunity to corrupt them.  Oh, what do I know?  I’m just an old, uneducated codger who believes the world could be a spectacular place for everyone if religionists would focus on compassion and “peace on earth”.

Merry Christmas…….y’all

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FREE AT LAST

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Having based my recovery from alcoholism on the principle of “God as I understand Him”, later into my sobriety time I returned to the Evangelical Christian theology of my familial tradition.  It was familiar and it was comforting.
This election campaigning has become much greater than Republican or Democrat.  It has become deeply personal as I learn that friends and family members with whom I have walked for many years through life’s journey, who also describe themselves as Evangelical Christian, within the realm of their Christian ethics somehow can justify  supporting a man who displays none of the values I hold dear.
Am I not Christian?  Are they not Christian?  Are we all playing a game here trying to score points with God by talking the Bible, by going to church, by professing Jesus out one side of the mouth and then revealing out the other side what is truly on our hearts in the political arena?
I find myself wanting to retreat to early sobriety philosophy, “God as I understand Him.”  This may be the wisest and most God-honoring choice I have made in many years.  And it frees me to embrace and celebrate without retribution from church and family the great diversity of our world’s cultures: Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, white, black, gay, straight.
Maybe that’s what Martin Luther King was talking about,  “Free at last.”