Monday, January 21, 2013

"How it Works"

A group of recovering alcoholics published the book Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939 as an announcement to the world that they had discovered something new:  a means of achieving sobriety by meeting together, talking about their experiences when drinking (and their lives as they learned to stay sober), and "carrying the message to the alcoholic who still suffers."   They created, in other words, a tract - and they did it the old-fashioned way, via the printed word.  It had to be more, though, than just a pamphlet; it needed to have a clear description and explanation of what had happened to them and to their lives - and it needed to have some of the flavor of an A.A. meeting, since after all that was where recovery actually took place.  As a nod to the latter, it included personal histories of the kind you still hear today at meetings.  And people actually got sober through reading the book, months and years before meetings could be started up in their local area.  That was part of the idea, too (and actually A.A. still has

A.A. members, in other words, believed their program to be of such "great weight and import" that they wrote a detailed book about it so others who were the same kind of trouble they'd been in could find help.   I suggest the Episcopal Church in particular could take a lesson here.

Here's the first part of Chapter 5, titled "How It Works";  this is still very often one of the first things read at A.A. meetings, since new people continue to make their way into A.A. rooms. 
How It Works

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.

Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it--then you are ready to take certain steps.

At some of these we balked; we thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.

Remember that we deal with alcohol--cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power--that One is God. May you find Him now!

Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. we asked His protection and care with complete abandon.

Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-- that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God AS WE UNDERSTOOD HIM.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God AS WE UNDERSTOOD HIM, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Many of us exclaimed, "What an order! I can't go through with it." Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.

Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.

As you can see, this section includes a listing of the 12 Steps; these came of out the practices of the Oxford Group (not the Oxford Movement!),  a religious organization started in England in 1921 (and originally called "A First Century Christian Fellowship" - and doesn't that sound like still another ad fontes movement?) by a kooky American Lutheran pastor who'd had a conversion experience in Keswick, England in 1908.

Lutherans, of course, are still quite aware that people as people need help - and that "probably no human power" can provide it.   Most Evangelicals are very aware of human failings, also; they're quite wrong about certain things, of course, and can be terrifically obnoxious about them - but they do believe they're in the business of helping people to live, because we're faced with lots of difficulties merely because we're  human beings (i.e. "fallen").   Catholics believe this also, and have developed many ways to deal with human problems (Confession being one of the most obvious); so do the Orthodox.

You don't hear much about this in the Episcopal Church, though - and maybe particularly not the current iteration.  Mostly what you hear, in fact, is that the problems are all out there; "Occupying Wall Street" is the focus these days.  This is a general weakness in Anglicanism, I do believe - Confession, for instance, exists, but "All may, none must, and some should" (and so almost none do) - and as long as the focus remains on external issues the Episcopal Church will never attract people who need help themselves - or who will admit they do.  It all creates a closed, self-perpetuating loop - so people will continue to argue, in saecula saeculorum, that "the problems are all out there."  (This isn't true, of course - but it is convenient.)

This, I think, is a legacy issue, too - and perhaps it only happens in the U.S., where the Episcopal Church has been, for generations, the church of the elites.  Notice that when "Occupy Wall Street" arguments are made, it's simply assumed that everybody in the Episcopal Church - except the "1%" -  is perfectly OK as is.   Notice that so many arguments center in the parable of the Rich Young Man - and always come from the point of view of the Rich Young Man!  Notice that it's assumed that everybody in the Episcopal Church has plenty of disposable time and income to "get out in the streets." to .... well, whatever.   (Notice, too, while we're at it, that this approach allows people to avoid ever having to confront any of their own sins!)   The upshot is that nobody seems ever to think that it's crucial to direct energy to helping people in the church - but that's what religion is actually for, at base.  (The outward focus seems, to this outsider, to have come at least in part out of the trauma around the move to the new Prayer Book.   People still seem to be living that out still, 35 years later, and I get the impression that the focus was turned outward in part to head a "rebellion in the pews" off at the pass.  I could be wrong about this, though.)

"Good works" are great, of course, and a natural outgrowth of the Judeo-Christian system and experience.  But if you can't offer hurting people any reason to come to the church to get help for themselves because the basic assumption is that "we're OK - it's everybody else who needs help" - well, why should anybody come?  Who will these hurting people have to talk to?  How will the people who think they're OK ever get anywhere interesting, spiritually?  What will anybody have to offer to people, except money?  How will the focus ever get put on anything other than material things?  It's a big problem, I think, with a serious (perhaps fatal) contradiction built right in.

I posted the section above because I think the Episcopal Church could maybe think about How It Works, and what it offers people that they can't get anywhere else - and what it should do to turn the focus back inward so it can actually offer that help....

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