God’s Not Dead

I spent a few hours last evening watching the movie GOD’S NOT DEAD.  Music from the NEWSBOYS  enhanced the script which detailed a challenge in the life  of Joshua, a pre-law student at the university who is a faithful follower of Jesus enrolled in a philosophy course taught by a strident, self-proclaimed atheist.  CANDLE

Supporting roles include Josh’s girl friend, a young woman who values worldly pursuit over spiritual values, a student reporter who is diagnosed with terminal cancer, an oriental student presumably from China who comes to believe in the Christian God much to the dismay of his father, a Muslim student who is disowned by her father upon his learning that she has become a Christian, a Christian pastor who becomes involved with lead characters in a salvific role, and the professor’s lover, a student who has denied her Christian faith to be “unequally yoked” with an atheist.

The heart of the movie is a challenge presented by Professor Radisson to Joshua to prove to his philosophy class that God is real and God is alive.  It is great wholesome entertainment and a somber reminder that our world does not love us nor respect us for carrying the Christian faith or any God centered philosophy.  Ridicule, condescension, and persecution of our ideals and beliefs have become commonplace in social media and secular entertainment.  And yes, it is often well-placed, deserved derision and mockery based on the religious hypocrisy which has overtaken an element of Christianity.  But, that hypocritical element is a notable minority which unfortunately has garnered significant attention in American society and has overshadowed the goodness and compassion of the overwhelming balance of the Christian world.

In the movie, Professor Radisson ultimately has to admit that contrary to his atheist stance he does believe that there is a God but, decided to hate God because at age 12 God allowed his mother to die of cancer.  He was a denier rather than an atheist.  I also hated God for many years for allowing me to wallow in alcoholism, for not saving the world from famine, for allowing wars to destroy and maim.  I proclaimed myself an atheist but reclaimed my inheritance when, as a recovering alcoholic, I realized that I was a disillusioned victim of a misguided theology which claims God controls every nuance of my life.

I have free will, I have choices, I make decisions and these are liberties that have been granted to me living under the grace of a loving God who is not Santa Claus.  He does not grant nor deny my desires.  Yes, I discuss those needs and wants with my Higher Power and that sovereign entity simply gives me the guidance and discernment to make good or sometimes bad choices.  He gives me the strength and courage to face life on earth on earth’s terms.

I respect the right of every man/woman to walk their chosen path.  But please, if you define yourself as atheist, be sure you are not a believer who is in God denial.  Your eternity is not some future occurrence.  It is happening now and it can be awesome or it can be drudgery.  Your choice.smiley 3

the critic

Marianne Williamson

 

Dear Lord, please lift me up and heal me.

Cast out of my mind all thoughts that are not of You.

Cast out of me all harsh and critical nature.

Cast out of me all violence and anger.

Cast out of me all demons from my past,

for I would be made new.

Amen

CANDLEMarianne Williamson’s work has been a part of my inspirational readings for many years.  Like me, she grew up in the turbulent decades of “drugs, sex, rock and roll.”  She also caved to the demons of her times.  ILLUMINATA  The above excerpt from a prayer for healing reminds me everyday that my “harsh and critical nature” is not totally resolved within me.  It is one of the major character defects which can turn my daily interactions into completely chaotic fiascos.  Just one word from my quick, unthinking tongue can erase tireless efforts to be the man whom I believe my HP wants me to be.  A biting comment, an insult, an unwanted opinion in the morning has the power to shadow me for the entire day.  Today, I am aware of my defects and at least now I have the tools to prevent the unkind thoughts and words from ever escaping out of my mouth….most of the time.

We don’t claim spiritual perfection, just progress.  Thank God for this disclaimer.  Without it I would be eternally lost in the seas of self-loathing and despair believing that I am the least worthy and most despicable of God’s creation.  But, my HP delivers to me each new day the strength and resolve to become a better version of the old drunk, to become a vessel carrying his word to a suffering and distraught fellowship of other drunks, and to become a recovering voice in the darkness of addiction.  And because he says I am a work in progress, I need not do this perfectly.  I merely need the willingness to try.

That same harsh and critical nature is frequently turned inward.  I am undoubtedly my own worst critic.  If I truly believe that God’s saving grace has covered me with unmerited and undeserved mercy then how dare I dispute the work he has done in my life and the plan he has for me?  How dare I criticize the miracle working within me?  It is not up to me to judge others or myself.  The indwelling Spirit allows me to be the observer of life, allows thoughts to enter and depart without passing judgement on them, allows others to travel this path alongside me without passing judgement on them, and allows me to be nothing more…or less…than a simple messenger.smiley 3

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

 

 

powerless?

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We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.  Really?  I had heard my well-meaning friends who told me to practice controlled drinking just on weekends, I had promised to do better when all in my family said I owed it to them to live soberly, I feared for my job when my boss told me to straighten up or get out. Indeed, I plotted and planned on how to extricate myself from the mess that I called life.  I had the gumption to do it by myself.  Self-help books, jogging, new diet regimen would all be a part of the new Larry.  And now the first thing I hear when I walk into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is that I am powerless.  Really?

Then they continued by saying that my life was unmanageable.  Powerless and unmanageable!  Never!  But, I stayed in the room to hear more from those people, we read from their “Big Book”, we listened to the reading of the 12 steps, and then, listening to their stories of how it was, what happened and how it is now, I finally admitted that just maybe my life was a wee bit unmanageable, but I was not going to admit that I was powerless.

I didn’t trust them.  In my world the people who did not drink were fringe losers.  They were religious fanatics, goody-two-shoes folks who believed themselves better than me.  They stood on the street corner handing out tracts or knocked on my door wanting to save my soul from hell and damnation.  They went to church on Sundays and Wednesday evening prayer services.  They were always clean-shaven, dressed well and mannerly.  Gaaawd, who wants to be like that?

But, these AAers were different.  They sported beards, ragged blue jeans, long hair, ratty sneakers and they looked at me with an intensity that made me uncomfortable because I knew they could see deep into the ravaged soul that tormented me so badly.  They knew all about me and I had just met them.  I wanted to run.

And they did not drink.  Or at least that is what they told me.  I was sure that probably after the  AA meeting they all got together at the local pub to celebrate sobriety.  In my little world everybody drank.  It was unnatural not to partake of alcohol.  But then they talked about the typical alcoholic.  Do you drink alone?  Do you sneak a drink at work?  Do you spend your family’s grocery money on booze?  Do you do things when drunk that you are ashamed of doing?  Do you have blackouts?  Do you think about suicide?  Does your money never stretch far enough to cover your monthly bills?

Yes, yes, yes……but doesn’t everyone have those same problems?  The smiles on their faces collectively said “no, there is a better way.  But first you must admit that you are powerless over alcohol.”

Me, powerless?  I could admit that possibly my life was somewhat unmanageable.  But I control my destiny, I run the show, I am in charge.  They responded,  “and how are you doing with that?”

“Ouch.  Nailed me.  Maybe I’m not doing such a great job.  Ok, I’ll come back tomorrow night and hear some more of your sobriety talk.”

Then they gave me a list of their phone numbers and invited me to go down with them to the local coffee-house for coffee and donuts.  “Who are these people?” I thought, “Why are they so nice to me?”

That is a brief synopsis of my first contact with Alcoholics Anonymous nearly 37 years ago.  It has been, as a lady confided last night at a meeting, one helluva ride.  Just because I quit drinking does not mean I immediately got fixed.  I am still broken in many areas of my life and I continue to look for healing.  But, I find comfort in knowing that there is a Power that will cover me with understanding and compassion, that there is a Power in presence at the tables of my AA meeting, and today I am perfectly content knowing that “I AM POWERLESS”.smiley 3

 

surveys

CANDLEBill W. in AS BILL SEES IT urges me to “survey the past”.  Step 4 is an integral part of my recovery program which then guides me in subsequent steps to release those deep transgressions, which have darkened my soul, to the Higher Power of my understanding and to another human being.  It is a fundamental process which leads to clearing the past that exists in my mind as a monumental impediment to a joyful and fulfilling future.  This release enables my Higher Power to then use me in the work of recovery and discovery of my divine purpose.

However, it is not a ‘one and done’ deal.  Step 10 then urges me to continue this inventory-taking and promptly clear the slate of any further hindering thoughts, words, and deeds.  It is also means that I should continue surveying my past for those things which had been forgotten or deeply buried within my soul.  This soul-searching is an ongoing endeavor which enhances a “joyful” recovery and frees me of self-loathing and doubt.

What also needs to be realized is that quite often those transgressions, which can be catastrophic in my mind, are usually a mere blip on the screens of victims of my selfishness.  If I were to ask one of them, “Do you remember….”, they would probably reply in the negative or they would have processed that happening and moved onward with life.  Rarely has my indiscretion devastated his/her life.  Even if I have caused extreme hardship or harm to another and their forgiveness is not offered, I have a merciful, steadfast Higher Power which has the amazing capacity to forgive and restore.

It is not a selfish undertaking to view the damage I heaped upon myself physically and emotionally as the ultimate, most important target of my inventories, self-assessment and amends.  Making amends to others is, of course, significant.  However, I am the brokenness that needs to be fixed.  As an alcoholic, I suffered a deep hatred of myself.  It colored every day of my life and every relationship in which I participated.  As a recovering alcoholic, I must see myself as deserving of a loving and compassionate God.  When that happens I can get on with the work of serving in a meaningful way the humanity to which I belong.rainbow-solidarity

 

as “BILL SEES IT”, pg 111

toil and trouble

Staying out of trouble does not come naturally for me.  Advancing age eliminates most of the physical temptations but, my mind still functions at full throttle and sometimes I get in over my head with the ego employing many of my character defects in very unspiritual ways.  I can’t help it; the devil makes me do it. CANDLE

Truthfully, there is no one to blame except myself.  I have experienced the mercy and grace of a loving and forgiving Father who stood with me in the depths of my personal hell of alcoholism and then led me miraculously to a life of recovery.  That Father traveled with me to the “far country” or, perhaps, he led me there to change the incorrigible reprobate which I had become into a man willing to heed the wisdom of a higher power’s truth.

Staying out of trouble nowadays means keeping my mind on the important things in life, observing the troubling events of life, sorting the two like dirty laundry and putting whites in this pile for a bleach wash and heavily soiled colors in the other pile.  Wash and tumble dry.  It’s a simple household chore that can become a wardrobe fiasco if I don’t pay attention to the need to separate the two.  Just as bleach will change my favorite blue jeans, issues beyond my control will color my attitude if allowed to fester.

So it is with serenity and peace of mind.  Simple attention to the essentials of clearing the trash and sprucing up the pretty things will keep my spiritual house in good order.  When there’s a thought to launch a verbal assault on someone’s opposing opinion, I must observe that thought, process it in a bath of compassion, and then let it go.  No, Larry does not always do that and the results are predictable.  I feel initially victorious, then questioning, then angry with myself for not walking that mile in the other person’s shoes to gain insight into his/her mindset.

I have yet to master the art of ego denial, the need to be right, the desire to have the last word.  My Father tells me that it is unnecessary to come out on top and often I will argue, “But you don’t understand, this is very important, I must retaliate to validate who I am.”

“Really?  Larry, are you saying that My validation is not enough for you, that My mercy and grace will not suffice?”

The need to jump into the fires of political turmoil, the need to feel I am the last champion of a pressing social dilemma, the need to correct an errant theology all become festering soul sores if I don’t run them through the laundry first.  Let God do the sorting and I can then start the washing machine.

When all things are viewed first through the eyes of a Higher Power, my life can be serene and peaceful.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 smiley 3

 

 

 

Bingo!

The airways, the newspapers, and our very own blogosphere are filled with chatter about 1st Amendment rights especially the freedom of speech and expression.  Yes, it is an important issue to all sides of the conversation from left to centrist to right.  But, should it be stirring up such controversy and baiting?cropped-patriots1.png

We have always had this right since the inception of our Bill of Rights.  It has been there regardless of whether the interpretations have been handed out by the Supreme Court of the United States or Joe Blow from Yakima. The Preamble states that these inalienable rights have been granted by the Creator under the heading of LIFE, LIBERTY & PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.  Take notice!  The “C” in Creator is capitalized.  That means this Creator is not just any creator but, THE CREATOR.  That makes the reference special.  It does not matter if you believe in my version of a creator, Tom Jefferson’s version or your very own personal version which could be that amoeba from way back in the primordial slime eons ago.  Freedom of speech and expression has always been ours, yours and mine,  since its creative inauguration.  Accordingly, it is our, yours and mine, responsibility to grab onto it, cherish and protect it .

Problem is that some folks believe theirs should take priority over ours.  Theirs is better, more godly.  Maybe theirs has usurped passages from scriptures or maybe theirs is founded on outdated traditions, or maybe theirs is simply some cockamamie interpretation of what grandpappy preached as truth.  It matters not because, as much as we would like to deny this, theirs is as valid as ours.  What has heretofore saved our civilization from annihilation is that we collectively employ  a conscience as a navigation system to pick through the varying ideas regarding freedom and for the most part have used that guidance judiciously.

Here comes the glitch.  My conscience guidelines could be light years away from the conscience of another.  So what do we do?  Well, we could all pull out our placards, put on our marching shoes, exercise our shouting voices and stand face to face to those with whom we disagree.  That’s not a bad thing, actually it is a good thing when we also cover our hearts with another characteristic which is not inherent, it needs to be nurtured and practiced.  That trait is civility.

I can oppose your viewpoint by letting you know that you are the biggest asshole in the world, call you names which would make my mother ashamed, and raise a fist to your nose hoping to duck any fists you could raise to me.  Lately, that seems to have become the American way.

Or I can exercise my abilities as a statesman and simply say, “Sir/Madam, I hear your point of view, I honor your right to express it, and I respectfully disagree.  Now, please hear my viewpoint.”

I believe that this is how great leaders and statesmen of the past have conducted life and achieved greatness for America.  They did not wear red hats or pump fists.  They did not tweet infantile insults at those who disagreed with them.  No, if responses were necessary to protect their freedom of speech or expression,  it was normally,  “I hear your assessment and I respectfully disagree. Now, hear mine.”

Civility.  It goes a long, long way in resolving issues and conflicts.  I freely admit that I also need a refresher course in civility basics now and then.  I am not immune to the name-calling and drama which has become a normative feature of today’s political discourse.  Ultimately, I want civility in my life because it lays a foundation for my primary objectives of “clean and serene” while trekking through God’s universe.

“Count to 10 before you open your mouth.”  Those words spoken by a very wise old man to me as a rebellious, young know-it-all hold a vast reservoir of  wisdom when practiced out of respect for others as well as myself.

“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.”  Proverbs 10:19

It seems that the disagreement over what is tolerable under free speech and expression is the vehemence, hatred, and violence which some are claiming as protected under 1st Amendment rights.  How can it be?  We can all talk about every issue until the cows come home and agree to disagree, but you threatening me and my family through words or actions with physical aggression or death because I do not think, talk, act, nor smell the same as you cannot possibly be what the Creator nor our founding fathers had in mind when they spoke of our inalienable rights. If so , then mankind is definitely not destined to be the enlightened species capable of unfathomable love and compassion as we have envisioned.

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Bill W.

Bill Wilson in his writings often discussed the periods of depression he suffered long after he claimed sobriety:

“When I was tired and couldn’t concentrate, I used to fall back on an affirmation toward life that took the form of simple walking and deep CANDLEbreathing.  I sometimes told myself that I couldn’t even do this – that I was too weak.  But I learned that this was the point at which I could not give in without becoming still more depressed.” Bill Wilson “AS BILL SEES IT” 

It sometimes seems that those of us who face our alcoholism have  battles with depression that defy the serenity and joy we ought to have as recovering addicts.  Those bouts support one of the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous which says that “the drinking is just a symptom of deeper, underlying illness”.  Treating our character defects with the prescribed 12 step program is one pillar of our recovery, but, addressing the emotional baggage we carried with us into sobriety often requires professional counseling and guidance.

As a younger man, jogging was a huge part of my life.  On the trail in my Nikes the pitfalls of life became secondary to my breathing and the cadence of my footsteps.  I was able to center on the inner journey coinciding with my external activity.  The experience of runner’s euphoria was the carrot on the stick, a reason to get my head out of my butt and do something about the lurking depression just waiting to immobilize me.

Physical limitations have retired my running shoes, but I know today, many years into continued sobriety, that the walking/hiking routine is essential to a happy, contented Larry.  The pace has slowed considerably, but the focus on breathing and the “clop, clop” of stepping still carries me to another world.  It is a world of victory over depression.

Much of the AA program seems akin to the “Path” of Buddhism and also the “Way” of Jesus and his followers.  Meditation is advocated by both.  Meditative walking is a new endeavor for me.  It is also an activity focused on breathing and stepping.  The intent is to empty the head of worldly concerns and replace that circus with the beauty of the inner self, the soul.  Repetitive chanting enhances the exercise.  This is a  much slower, deliberate type of walking very suitable to a much slower, deliberate Larry.

With entry into the “golden years” (whoever coined that phrase was undoubtedly drunk or high) the clutches of depression can increase.  Our bodies fail us, our friends leave us through relocation or death, our family ties become weaker.  We feel lost in the loneliness of retirement and many younger folks see us as burdens which they would sooner ignore.  Financial security is a joke; one uncovered medical emergency will wipe us out and scammers are lurking on every website to relieve us of our monetary resources.

I need my walking to stay balanced emotionally and fit physically.  I need my faith to approach the “final stretch” of this QUEST with confidence and joy.  Scripture, the words attributed to Jesus and the Buddha, feed that faith.  In John 16:33 Jesus tells me:

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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NEWS FROM GABBYGRAYWHISKERS: breaking anonymity

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Friends, I am sitting here with my life-long friend, Gabby Graywhiskers.  Some of you have met him from previous posts.  He is well versed in a wide array of topics and he is not shy about sharing his opinion.  But, did you know he is also a recovering alcoholic?

“Gabby, thank you for taking time to sit with me today, I would…….”

“Excuse me, Larry.  You just now broke my anonymity to millions of people across the globe and in my hometown.  Nary a one of ’em knew I was a drunk.   ‘Who you see here, what we say here, when you leave here, let it stay here.’  Ever hear that at a meeting, Bucko?  Gaaaawd, what’s my preacher and city mayor gonna think?”

“Gabby, I apologize.  I ‘m sure your drinking was not a big secret.  Besides, I believe my readership is less than 300, so the entire globe is not going to know your secret.”

“No, just them folks who think I’m a decent fella.  Dang it bro, you sure know how to screw up a man’s serenity.  Interview is over.”

“Please stay, Gabby.  Let’s talk about sobriety.  You have been sober for a number of years.  What’s your program?  Do you follow the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step fellowship, or maybe Celebrate Recovery?  How do you do it?”

“Don’t drink.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Good Lord, are you deaf?  I don’t drink and I won’t get drunk.”

“That’s it?  How about the steps and the principles?  Do you read recovery literature every morning?  Do you do 12th Step work?  Who’s your Higher Power?”

“Don’t drink, won’t get drunk; one is too many and 10 is not enough.”

“Gabby, what about all the slogans hanging on the meeting room walls?  Is any one of them especially profound wisdom for you?”

“YessireeBob.”

“Well, tell me about it.”

“KISS.  Hmmmm, ever tell ya ’bout the last interview I did?  The man got really personal with his questions and I just had to tell him to kiss my….”

“Gabby, don’t go there.  This is supposed to be a spiritual conversation.”

“Yeah, well when does the spiritual part start?”

“Okay, let’s go back to KISS. That’s an acronym for Keep It Simple, right?”

“Larry, you forgot the last ‘S’.”

“Which stands for serenely, right?”

“STUPID”

“I beg your pardon, there is no need to be crass, Gabby.”

“The ‘S’ stands for stupid.  Keep it simple stupid.”

“What about church?  Do you attend church services?”

“Dammit man, next you’ll wanna know if I’m circumcised.  That’s really personal information, Bubba.”

“Ok, you’re right, I’m sorry.  Can we talk about your concept of a Higher Power?”

“Sure.”

“Well, do you profess a Higher Power?”

“Yep.”

“And…..?  Can you tell me about it?”

“Nope.”

“Why not, Gabby?”

“Because it’s my Higher Power as I understand.  Ain’t got nothing to do with any preacher flapping his lips in church, or smart asses like you telling me my God ain’t good enough.”

“I’d never do that, Gabby.”

“Well, maybe not, but some folks are like that.  Dang Bible-thumpers.  Got all the answers.”

“Gabby, you and I have been friends a long time.  I love the scriptures because of the wisdom that can be found there.  And maybe sometimes I get over-zealous about the things I read.  But, I’m just trying to share the message that comes off those pages.  Lord knows I’m just another lost soul looking for direction and comfort.”

“Me too, bro.  I know I ain’t got all the answers, but God’s still working on me.  Still a work in progress.”

“Amen to that, Gabby.  You’re a future masterpiece, a Renoir, a Rembrandt, a Picasso.”

“Dammit, Larry, there you go again.  Now y’all is just making fun of me.  I ain’t no hayseed fresh off the turnip truck, nosirreeBob.  Been to the museum and seen Picasso.  That dude was no doubt doing some hellacious kind of drugs to put that stuff on canvas.”

“Okay, we can wrap this up.  Sorry about breaking your anonymity.”

“Aw hell, ain’t no big deal, I guess.  I’m sure they knew my story the night the cops had to rescue my drunken ass.”

“Rescue you?”

“Yeah, got myself hung up on the barbed wire.”

“Barbed wire?  What barbed wire, Gabby?”

“Around the sheep pasture.”

“You were rescued by the police after entangling yourself in the barbed wire fencing in the sheep pasture?  Maybe next time we can talk about that?”

“Hell no, Bubba, we ain’t never sharing that.”

“Fearless moral inventory, step 4, Gabby.”

“Tweren’t nothin fearless nor moral about that night, nosirreeBob.  You ain’t dragging that story outta me.”

“Well, friends, that was my good friend and fellow drunk, Gabby Graywhiskers.  Truly, some of us are sicker than others.”

 

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