Monday, May 31, 2010

A.A. and the Church

As I've been posting here recently, I've started to follow a blog written by an organization called "Mockingbird Ministries."

The reasons are several; one is that I've come into strong contact recently with the Reformation idea that "Grace" is the key to the faith life and to "salvation." Another is Mockingbird's explicit drawing from the literature and example of Alcoholics Anonymous. You might notice on the blog that the first link in their "Churches/Sermons/Resources" section is to Calvary/St. George's in New York City - a church where A.A. has deep roots. I think some of the founders of Mockingbird, or writers on the blog, have been connected with Calvary in some way.

Keep in mind that my experience with Christianity has been almost completely experiential; I have had very little contact at all with systematic - or formal in any real way - theology. I've just had a particular experience and have been putting one foot in front of the other ever since, because I felt "called" in some basic way - "obligated" is how I've put it in my more sardonic moments, because I was never really looking for it. And actually, I'm in a number of ways almost totally unwillingly involved in all this.

This is to say that my relation to faith is not intellectual, but emotional, really, I guess. I certainly feel that I'm being swept up into something that I have been completely unfamiliar with - and highly resentful of even at the best of times.

So, anyway: what I'm interested in now - and this has been a theme for me for years, actually - is how religion - Christianity in particular - can create health. Don't forget: I have been intimately involved in that particular experience via A.A. for more than 25 years now - and A.A. is explicitly "spiritual." I know from my own life experience the difference between extreme illness and health - and I owe my life to this difference even now. And almost everybody in A.A. acknowledges - after we get a little better, anyway - that we did absolutely nothing to deserve - or effect - the second chance at life we're getting. We were not in control of our lives or our resurrection from the dead; it was a free gift from God.

And of course, this is the exact definition of "Grace" as taught by Luther and other Reformers.

And the more I read the gospels, the more I realize that "health" is really a central idea there. People come to Jesus for healing - all kinds of people with all kinds of problems. Nothing has worked, as long as they've lived, to solve these problems: the invalid at the Sheep Gate was lame for 38 years, and could never get into the Pool first for its healing effects; the woman had had the hemorrhage for more than 12 years and no doctor had ever been able to help her; the paralytic at Capernaum had been seeking to be healed for a long time, and needed the help of his four friends to get him to see Jesus. These stories are completely familiar to people who get sober in A.A.; many have tried everything - but could never get better until they "surrender" and admit complete defeat, asking God for help. (This is notwithstanding the many anti-A.A. attitudes currently in fashion. Here's an interesting recent example of one; this particular argument claims at once that A.A. keeps people from obtaining necessary care for their desperate problem - and also that alcohol abuse isn't really that serious, but something that most people simply outgrow naturally. Interesting contradiction there, don't you think?)

So, OK. This is a long-winded introduction to my major point, which is that if A.A. can succeed at changing people's lives in such a dramatic way - why can't the church take a few lessons from it? I've talked about this many, many times on this blog - and am finding that this is what Mockingbird argues, too, quite often.

There are definitely distinctions to be drawn; I've been drawing some, as I see them, at their blog lately. (Funny thing is, nobody's responded to me yet, not even when I wish them the best as they move their organization from New York to Virginia! Whenever that happens, I always suspect it's because people have linked to my blog and seen posts I've written on gay-related topics and decided I'm not really that welcome. Who knows if that's really true? But there's no question that they are coming from an Evangelical perspective, and of course we've all written volumes about that whole relationship.) These distinctions are actually quite important, in my view - and need to be drawn in order to understand how to work this problem out for the general (non-addict/alcoholic, that is) population.

More later; this post is growing too long at this point. Do check out, though, their Memorial Day post; it's a stunning and fascinating video of the "Honor Guard Inspection" portion of the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery. Better yet, here's the video itself.

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