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Through the Red Door

Red Door

In the early days of the Church, when the front door of the parish was painted red it was said to signify sanctuary – that the ground beyond these doors was holy, and anyone who entered through them was safe from harm.

In the lives of many recovering people, it is through these same red doors that sanctuary is found on a daily basis. Initially that sanctuary may not have started in the rooms with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, but in the basements and back rooms of churches where 12-step meetings are held.

This blog was created for recovering people to share the experiences they found walking through those doors of safety, refuge and peace.

 
To submit a entry to the blog, please click here for the details or contact us at info@episcopalrecovery.org.

  • 10/08/2014 3:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As young kids, my sons toted around four-inch tall plastic creatures called action figures. Some of the figures were from comic book series like Masters of the Universe or GI Joe. They appeared in our house after birthday parties and visits to friends’ houses. These characters were often gruesome and scary in appearance. Their skin tones were white, blue, and brown and their bodies were over-muscled from head to toe. Their weapons and outfits proclaimed power and war and a “don’t mess with me” message. Action figures were about just that: action. “Destroy now, think later.”

    I understand the desire of young children to feel strong and safe and even superhuman. As an adult, I have the same desire. I want to fix the brokenness in the world and in my family. Swift and direct action seems, well, the best course of action to correct the errors of the universe.

    A few years ago I was talking to a friend about how my actions and interference often backfire; they cause more trouble than healing. Without considering my own bad behavior and flaws, I try to take the inventory of those around me and tell them how to improve their lives without a clue how to change my own. Not only is my action arrogant but my advice is often wrong. I told my friend I needed to tote around a non-action figure, a reminder for me to stop, think, and mind my own business first.

    A week later, my friend showed up with a gift for me: maybe the first and only non action figure . This wild-haired seven-inch plastic doll reminds me to consider my actions. She says it with words, duct tape, gloves, and footgear. The Step 1 and Step 2 on her feet refer to the first of the Twelve Steps of AA and Al-Anon:

    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.

    For the word “alcohol” in Step 1, I can also substitute just about any other noun. I am powerless over institutions, my children, my spouse, my colleagues, my friends, the government, alcohol… and almost everything in my life except myself. Step 1 and Step 2 remind me that I am not superhuman, that I am not the Master of the Universe; that sometimes I need to surrender my actions to a Power greater than myself.

    Sybil MacBeth is the author of Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God and The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist. She is an Episcopal layperson and lives in Memphis, Tennessee. Action Figures? was first posted on www.prayingincolor.com/blog on September 30, 2014. 

  • 10/01/2014 11:24 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Living transparently sounds like a good idea, until I actually practice it (usually accidentally). A few months ago, on a dreary, rainy Sunday afternoon, I dragged myself from my self-interest and headed down to our local teaching hospital to visit a very sick kid. I don’t do “sick” well. We have countless stories in our family, some bordering on parental abuse, about all the things I, as a mom, cannot handle. I faint at the sight of blood, I can’t clean open wounds, I completely freak out when I accidentally squish a family pet in the garage door. I lost my peripheral vision while carrying my grandmother down a flight of stairs after she falls in our upstairs hallway, much more attenuated to how I felt than what she needed.

    This overall lack of sturdiness is particularly apparent on Sunday afternoons. By Sunday lunch, I’m often filled with shame and regret berating myself over my inadequate message during the morning worship and harangued by my inner critic who continues to ask questions like, “How dare you try to preach God’s word?” Sunday afternoons are best reserved for a good nap, maybe a leisurely walk or reading a novel that was written for a sixth grader.

    But on this Sunday, I embraced my weakness and soon found myself sitting in a pediatric ICU room with a precious young woman who was fighting for her life, and also, by the way, pregnant. Afterwards, I headed home. I was as tired as tired I could be but still found the energy to pick up the phone when my best friend buzzed in on my cell.

    Did I tell you this is my very best friend in the whole wide world? And did I mention that she never ever calls me on Sunday afternoons because she is the one who is often lecturing me about the value of a good nap, a leisurely walk, and a children’s book to cure my common (and not particularly pastoral) bouts of performance anxiety?

    I answered her call because I would never not. When she speaks, I love to listen. And I really do want to be there for my friend. Sure enough, she had a serious need. Her mom had fallen, broken bones, and was in bad shape. The situation was much more complicated than throwing on a cast and dispensing extra strength Tylenol, as my friend’s mom is in an advanced state of Alzheimer’s. In this addled condition, it is almost impossible to adequately care and treat the injuries of one who doesn’t even know they are broken, fragile and in need of medical attention.

    My friend lamented, and I listened. I sincerely, with all my heart, want to care compassionately for my friend. And if she didn’t know me so well, she’d probably think I had done just that while she moaned, and I muttered sympathetic words of concern.

    Once she pulled into her driveway, she ran off to take a restorative nap of her own. Conveniently, my husband was calling me at the exact moment that she was ready to say goodbye. I answered my husband’s call, without knowing that I had accidentally and by some technological miracle I can never replicate managed to put the three of us: husband, boon companion, and myself into a conference call. Here’s where the transparency comes in.

    “Honey, where are you? You still at MCV?” asked my husband, who just woke from his own siesta to realize it was late and I wasn’t home in my jammies as would be my Sunday norm.

    “Nope, on my way. Just got off the phone with Jean. And you know I love her with all my heart but…” and I began to, yes, I did this…complain. I lamented about her interpretation of her mother’s condition (time has proven her assessment was grim AND spot on). I know I sounded tired and cranky and completely without compassion. And she heard every word.

    Horrible? Embarrassing? Absolutely. If I had known what I actually did! But I did not, so I went blithely along with my daily life, believing that my friend could still trust me, and that I would always have her back.

    Weeks passed.

    One Monday morning, super early, Jean showed up at church and took a seat in my office. She went on to tell me to the last detail the nature of my offense against her. She did so with grace, compassion, and patience. Every illusion of myself was stripped away, and the true nature of my petty, judging, small and hard-hearted self was laid open for Jean and I to stare at in horrified communion.

    I felt a kinship with Eustace, the boy in The Chronicles of Narnia “whose pride and greed caused him to inconveniently become a dragon.” Like Eustace, I ache with the consequences of my ways. Despite his best efforts, Eustace cannot extricate himself from his false Dragon self.  In the end, the Lion tells Eustace, “You will have to let me undress you.” If you are so inclined and care to read (or reread) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader(New York: Macmillan, 1952), pp. 88-91, C. S. Lewis describes in gruesome allegorical fashion the work of the Lion in freeing Eustace from a bondage of his own making.

    That early morning encounter with myself left me feeling as vulnerable and naked as little Eustace, after his extrication from the dragon’s coat. I felt raw and tender. I fell apart in abject misery into my friend’s lap, to ask for absolution for my sin. Her tears of compassion and mine of shame mingled in love.

    I could go on and on about the gift of her love, and the healing power of forgiveness and relationship restoration. But what I need to say, I think, is that living transparently sometimes is less a choice and more an encounter. At the moment when Jean served as a modern day Nathan, I wasn’t capable of living transparently how could I? I was spiritually asleep. But, by the grace of God, when presented with the opportunity to accept the reality of my own nakedness, it was my friend’s honesty, and her long history of faithful loving friendship that allowed me to stay in the moment of truth. It hurt. It still hurts as I write this account today, but this is what living transparently looks like for me. And I appreciate the opportunity to share how awesome and privileged I am to have Jean for a friend. 

  • 09/23/2014 11:59 PM | Anonymous member

    I had preached on grace that morning, as usual. Really, it's hard to avoid preaching on grace, because God's grace is so much bigger than our preoccupations with failure and sin and "being good." At the door a well-dressed woman whom I didn't know said hello.    

    "Do you meet with people?" she asked. There were tears in her eyes. I told her "yes" and asked her to call the office. She didn't, but she turned up the next Sunday. I preached on grace again, perhaps not using that term but (I hope) always getting the same point across: God loves you. At the door, she fell into my arms, sobbing.
       
    The next week, she did come to see me. Addiction had brought her low and nearly destroyed her family. She had come to the turning point of admitting her powerlessness, but chaos was still swirling around her. Over the years, I have learned this is a very tender time of enormous opportunity and enormous danger. I did what I could to support her and her family, and the congregation extended its usual warm welcome.
       
    Some time later, after much work on this woman's part (faithful 12-Step attendance, therapy, and more), our Bishop's visitation took place. The woman asked to talk with the Bishop about what she had been through and where she was now. She told him her story in outline form because time was limited, but she emphasized the role of the church in aiding her recovery.
         
    The Bishop prayed with her and gave her a special blessing. As she left my office, he turned to me and said, "I love it when the church IS the church."  
       
    The red doors many Episcopalians enter each Sunday (and in between Sundays too) can be, and in my view must be, doors of refuge for people dealing with addiction. I'm thrilled that a 12-Step group has met in our parish hall for many years, but my dream is to have the same kind of dedicated spiritual fellowship among the worshippers in the pews. I don't know if that's possible, honestly, because we're so good at keeping our guard up in church. But it remains my dream that the authentic spiritual fellowship of the 12-Step movement be fully embodied in our little branch of Christian community.
       
    Because, like the Bishop, I too love it when the Church IS the Church. 
     
    The Rev. Connie Clark is Vicar of Buck Mountain Episcopal Church, Earlysville, Virginia. 
  • 09/17/2014 12:01 PM | Anonymous member

    “God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

    Change: it’s been said change is the only constant in life.  Why do we alcoholics fight it so much?  Sure, we would like to change other people, our environment, or whatever is annoying us at the moment.  But when a change is “inflicted” upon us, with no solicitation on our part, we seem to assume the worst and immediately expect its catastrophic impact on our life.

    The priest at my church has been preaching a series about change, as he is about to embark on a new adventure at another parish.  He founded our church, one of the fastest-growing parishes in the country, 12 years ago, and many of us have known him longer than that.  Like so many others I am deeply saddened to see him go, and can’t imagine anyone preaching like he does on Sunday mornings.  Yet, as I was reminded by him on Sunday, isn’t God’s plan always better than my own plan?  And doesn’t God’s plan always happen, regardless of what I think about it?

    Take, for example, my sobriety.  When I was defeated by alcohol and completely hopeless, I had to change my actions.  I had to go to a 12-step meeting.  I had to open up and share how I was feeling.  I had to ask for help.  Eventually, I had to start working the steps.  All of these changes were extremely difficult and sometimes painful, and I thought my “life” was over at the ripe old age of 22.  Yet the resulting freedom and new life that I’ve been given are beyond comparison to my old life of active alcoholism. 

    Then I look at the changes that have come about in my sobriety:  meeting my husband at a meeting, having children, giving up my career, getting transferred to another state (and back), changing sponsors, sponsees coming and going, having money, not having money; many of these changes were not conscious choices that I made, but rather seem to have been God’s will.  What I’ve learned over and over and over is that I don’t always know what’s best for me, what will make me happy, joyous, and free.  But God does, and if I am consistently seeking His will, I believe I can have those things.

    There is a Chinese proverb that I love:

    A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

    A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

    Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

    A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

    The proverb reminds me that I am not in a position to judge a situation, that only God can.  The future is as clear to God as the past is to me.  What I can control is my attitude toward change.  I can catch myself when I’m in “stinking thinking” and remember all the amazing things that have come to me when I put my life in God’s hands.   I can actively seek His will and do the next right thing.  And when I’m convinced that the sky is falling I can remember, “Maybe so, maybe not.  We’ll see.”

    Debbie L.  - Plano, TX

  • 09/11/2014 10:31 AM | Anonymous member

     

     If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.  We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.  We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace…. 

    (Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 83-84)

    The opening lines of the paragraph affectionately known as the 9th Step Promises in the Big Book, have always been a great expression of hope for me; a simple formula for complicated me, “if I go through the pain, then I’ll get these results”.  In my experience with the steps, this has proven to be true.  When I honestly work my steps and practice these principals in all my affairs, I do experience a new freedom and a new happiness, I have fewer regrets of my past, and I know serenity and peace.  It’s a wonderful life! 

    This year for the first time I attended the RMEC Gathering which was held in Buffalo, NY.  Being a New York resident, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get out of New York City and take a road trip to Upstate New York.  So I shuffled off to Buffalo, with the company of a dear friend in recovery, talking and sharing stories all the way, making the 7 hour trip fly by. 

    Along the way, at about the half-way point, we drove by Binghamton, NY.  Now Binghamton is where I went to college back in the 80s, and where I mastered the art of alcoholic drinking.  My school drinking stories are just garden variety, no different than many of the stories I have heard in the rooms.  I shared them with my friend for the remainder of the trip, which led me to start thinking of my last roommate.  My roommate and I shared an apartment for 3 years, attended classes and studied together, and she supported me through some very low points in my life.  But with the progression of my disease, drinking and self-centeredness, we unfortunately had a falling out and lost touch.  I knew she lived in Buffalo but I had never reached out to contact her and I wasn’t intending on doing so on this trip either, in my mind it was a long time ago and it wouldn’t matter. 

    Attending the Gathering was a great experience.  I enjoyed everything about it – Trinity Church and their wonderful hospitality, the people, speakers, the recovery service, our trip to Niagara Falls and our visit to the Hope Center.  I left Buffalo feeling very spiritually refreshed and recharged.  Having planned a stop to visit another friend on my way home, I drove back to NYC alone.  By the time I reached Binghamton again, I was feeling pretty lousy and all the wonderful feelings from the weekend were gone.  Stuck in the confines of my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking of my past, my roommate or my college years; and soon the feeling of deep regret had set in.  Taking a moment to pray to ask God to help me with these feelings, I realized that I needed to clean my side of the street and thus get rid of these regrets once and for all. 

    The spiritual life is not a theory.  We have to live it.

     (Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 83)

    When I stopped for lunch, I wrote a letter to my roommate and sent it out to her as soon as I got home.  It was my amends to her for all the drama that I had exposed her to and involved her in.  I included my contact information and turned it over to God.  To my pleasant surprise, I received a text from her right away and we talked on the phone for hours.  It ended up not being about my apology for the things that I mentioned in my letter, but of a reconciliation of long lost friends.   All the regrets that I had been carrying, both real and imagined, were for naught.

    I now realize that the negative feelings I had about myself on my drive back from Buffalo were just the manifestation of fear and regrets taking away my serenity and peace.   When I opened the door to the past and faced the fear, I was soon rid of the regrets that blocked me from God, myself and my old friend.   I am once again feeling blessed that I’ve been able to recover one more person that this disease had taken away from me, no matter how long ago it was (and yes, it does matter). 

    Sandy B.
    Trinity Church Wall Street
    Diocese of New York City

  • 09/03/2014 4:05 PM | Anonymous member

    Who Has What You Want?

    In early recovery I heard this advice over and over: “Look for someone who has what you want, and ask them how they got it.” That was, I was told, also how to pick a sponsor. It’s funny looking back. I mean how does a really new newcomer know what someone has? Yes, you can hear a sense of humor or see who bathes regularly. But when I look around the rooms today it’s not always the shiny stars or fine talkers of AA who have what I want.

    I’ve been thinking about this because this week I was trying to explain to a sponsee why she should do more step work. “I don’t drink and I don’t want to drink, and I’m really happy about that,” she told me. And I get that, but I tried to tell her that I want so much more than that from AA, and from of my life.

    I want so much more than abstinence from alcohol. And I even want so much more than no more “jackpots”. I want the whole enchilada that I believe is possible: peace, serenity and joy (not daily happiness but real joy.) I also want great relationships: with husband, friends and colleagues. And a great relationship with my Higher Power and with myself.

    But here’s where it gets tricky. Some of that good, changed life comes with longevity more time in recovery equals more exposure to new ideas, concepts and layer upon layer of the Steps. But not for everybody. I still have to look around the rooms and ask myself, “Who has what I want?”

    It’s possible to have 35 years of sobriety and be obese, angry, gambling, smoking or using some behavior or  “legal” substance and still be miserable. I see it and hear it. We share the rooms with folks who have been around a very long time and are miserable in marriage or on the job. That’s not the recovery I want for myself.

    In some ways the pool gets smaller the further we go if we are committed to going all the way. What do you think about this? If you have been around a while what kind of recovery are you still working toward? I want deep change as much --or more --than I want long years. In a sense that is where my deep joy comes from knowing there is some crazy character defect I didn’t even know I had two years ago, that I recognized in myself one year ago, and that I see gradually changing this summer. I’m in awe of that, and I can only want more.

    Diane C, from Albany, New York

  • 08/20/2014 10:25 AM | Anonymous member

    Alcohol & Me

    It has come to be remembered as a day like Pearl Harbor Day or the day Jack Kennedy was shot, one permanently engraved in memory in the minutest of detail, the time, the place, the weather, what I was wearing, how I felt……

                It was my day off and my wife, two priests, the senior warden, and a friend in the parish whom I knew to be a recovering alcoholic came to the house and said they wanted to talk to me. Somehow I knew immediately it was an intervention, and on me. I had participated in interventions on others several times so I suppose it would be understandable that I recognize what was happening. Or perhaps it was that uncanny intuitiveness of a suffering alcoholic when  his drinking is threatened. Or maybe it was one of those rare God-given moments when even denial becomes momentarily transparent, and things are seen as they really are, this time my self-destructive use of alcohol had finally been found out. Six hours later I was in a residential treatment center, the first of 47 days of fear and pain and wonder and hope, the staff there called it ‘discovery’.

                How I got to that point in my life is a story that is perhaps a typical one. We were a large clannish family and we all lived within reach of each other and were together often. We were a manageably devout, Protestant, non-drinking family. In fact, abstinence from the use of alcohol was a religious issue, though there were to be sure family secrets that were useful in maintaining that appearance.

                I learned to drink in college, and we seldom drank with much moderation. After college I was introduced by pieces to social drinking, and drinking at home, and hard liquor, and liquor too good to be taken any way but straight, and the importance of being someone who could hold his liquor well, and drinking alone…… I took readily to all of them.

                I also learned the usefulness of alcohol as medication. It put disappointments in a manageable perspective and helped keep pain at bay and turned fear away and justified anger. It took the edge off, and came to be a hiding place. I became a true functional alcoholic, and finally was drinking a full liter of alcohol every day, virtually all of it in the evening. I drank out of 44-ounce soft drink cups and didn’t count the first one or two or the last one or two, so I could say with sincerity that I never drank more than two, rarely three, drinks a day. I seldom had a hangover, was never stopped for driving under the influence, and drank only in careful moderation when with others. I became quite knowledgeable about alcoholism, always someone else’s affliction and never mine of course, and used it to be of assistance to others and as a part of my own denial system as well. I said my prayers every day, even though it often seemed as if there was no one out there listening. I worked and took care of my children and had friends and lived an apparently normal life. I was, though, terribly isolated in that peculiar way of a functional alcoholic, and as long as I kept the secrets intact who could know the truth? Certainly not me.

                Life in recovery really began for me the first evening at the Meadows when the moment inevitably came for me to introduce myself to a roomful of people like me with the traditional words, ‘My name is Tom, and I’m an alcoholic.’ Until that moment I was there reluctantly and because I couldn’t reasonably do otherwise without paying too-high a price. Saying it, though, was the beginning of my coming to understand that I was there for me, and that the problem here was not alcohol or my job or my marriage or whatever, it was me. Saying it brought an unexpected feeling of relief, and of having stepped across a threshold into a difficult but safe place.

                I returned home with much to fear. I was especially anxious about the parish and whether I would have a viable ministry there after treatment. The parish answered that anxiety with acceptance and support and encouragement. People that I knew in the community and even some I’d never met called to do likewise. My bishop kept in touch with me directly and through others who knew me and was an unexpectedly effective pastor.

                It has not always, however, been so comfortable a condition, this recovering alcoholic as we call it, but then growth is seldom comfortable. I have found much in myself to examine and reexamine and change and give up, a continuing part of the journey. My marriage did not survive sobriety, although it took several more years of struggling for it to finally end. Many parishes are reluctant to consider clergy in recovery but cannot say that so find excuses to not do so, the response commonly, ‘Thank you so much for your interest in our parish but we find that your very considerable skills do not match……’ There are still those who think this is a moral issue that should have been avoided in the first place rather than a treatable disease. I’m surrounded by alcohol and substance abuse, eating disorders, a thriving drug trade, casino gambling, sexual misconduct, physical abuse, all of them broadly seen as separate and unrelated issues, and a continuing need for more resources for recovery to offer those who suffer.

                Mostly, though, recovery has been a blessing. It’s been 28 years now. Much has changed, but the memory of it all remains clear, not least the despairing isolation and aloneness. We do not do this alone. We cannot do this alone.

                Recovery has restored me to a normal place in life with the Lord himself, who it turns out was always there, rather than me and an impaired ego, standing exactly at the center and offering strength and hope and love and wisdom. And for that I am grateful beyond words.

                God bless us all.

    --A former President of RMEC

    July 2014

  • 08/13/2014 6:01 PM | Anonymous member

    …”for the effect”…

    …anonymously submitted

    We often work to help newcomers see that most of us “drank for the effect” that alcohol had on us.  I learned how that had been true in my life after I came into the rooms of Recovery which held the teachings, the hope and the fellowship of the 12 Step Programs.

    Early on in my drinking, alcohol had an effect alright.  I blacked out and had no idea what a blackout was.  I was scared and embarrassed and did not ever want to experience that again.  So, as many of us do, I continued drinking and tried to figure out how I could keep drinking and avoid the experience of a blackout.  It was not successful effort. It took a lot of energy and I spent many years of my life focusing on that objective.

    As those years passed, I drank “for the effect” it had on me when I was scared and alone and sad and overwhelmed.  For a long time it had the effect of diminishing my sense of my own fears and sadness and I got through some difficult years of my life.  When I finally came into Recovery I saw that the effect that alcohol had on my life and relationships had changed.  I realized that I had hurt the people I love the most very deeply.  I had lost a job, spent many years in useless codependence, and made many foolish choices.  Alcohol had an effect on my life for sure.

    So, after I came into the 12 Step Programs, worked through the steps with my sponsors in both AA and Alanon, the meetings, readings and fellowship became a regular part of my new life.  And I discovered something new:  I now go to meetings “for the effect” it has on my life.  I now work the steps “for the effect” they have in my life.  I now choose the have fellowship with people in Recovery “for the effect” they have on my life.  And “the effect” has included growth and healing and many healthy new changes and ways of making decisions.

    Along the way, after coming into Recovery and getting in touch with some healing, I was able to return to church in a way that I could receive the grace and mercy of God.  That grace had never left me but I simply had not been able to receive it.  And another wonderful dimension has become a part of my life: I have discovered that I choose to worship “for the effect” it has on me.  I choose to pray and read scripture within the context of grace “for the effect” they have on my life.  I have discovered that I can make choices from that point of view.  I am very grateful to have found both the 12 Step Recovery Programs and the sanctuary of the Episcopal Church.

    The symbolism of The Red Door is very meaningful to me.  The meetings in the basement of the church and the worship in the sanctuary of the church have truly come together in my life.  I am grateful for Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church and for the weaving together of these truths of change and hope.

  • 07/01/2014 11:57 AM | Anonymous member

    Unfortuantely I was unable to attend the Gathering in Buffalo due to conducting a funeral for one of our beloved parishioners.  I understand it was a tremendous success - thanks are due to The Rev. Stephen Lane and the Diocese of Buffalo Recovery Team for their outstanding work.

    In spite of not being able to attend the conference, on Sunday, June 29 I delivered a sermon in which I somehow tied together the Hebrew Scripture text to the topic of faith and to addiction and recovery.  I post it here for your consideration( it has been amended a bit for this public forum):

    Genesis 22:1-14                                                                                      June 29, 2014
    Psalm 13                                                                          Third Sunday after Pentecost
    Romans 6:12-23                                                                                                Year A
    Matthew 10:40-42                                                                                   Kevin M. Cross

    Loving God, teach us through your words the path of discipleship and help us have faith in you and trust in your faithfulness to us.

    The story of Abraham and Isaac is one of the more well-known passages in Hebrew Scripture.  It is also one of the most terrifying texts in the whole of our Scripture.  What makes it so memorable for me is the almost unfathomable obedience that Abraham shows to God.  This is an obedience that overcame the powerful, positive bonds of familial love and relationship.  I imagine you must wonder, as I do, how could a man even think about sacrificing his son - for any cause.  And even more so how could a just and loving God ask one of his beloved to make such a terrible choice or ask him to commit such a violent act.  The fact that God asks Abraham to commit an act that he, himself, allowed to be carried out with his own son, does not, in the least, make this any easier to accept.   I have to be honest with you and say that I find this reading to be heavy and burdensome.  What kind of God calls for a father to sacrifice his only son?   However, the answer to that question is not any less shocking than that question alone.  The answer is simple it is the kind of God who is willing to give up everything for the salvation of the world – of us.

    What can this text teach us today?  I think if we can get beyond the shock value, we might see that first and foremost this text is about faith.  It is about the faith of Abraham and the strength of his conviction in the faithfulness of God.  It becomes a story of great love that almost leads to heartbreak.  Almost.  However, by the end of the story it becomes a text that proclaims that God will indeed provide for the faithful and uphold his promise.  As text tells us, after the angel of the Lord told Abraham to put down his knife, he saw a ram that the Lord provided to be sacrificed in place of his son.  So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."  (Say slowly) The Lord will provide

                Unshakeable faith in the promise that the Lord will provide, is as surely a sign of discipleship as any I can imagine.  It is the kind of faith that is imbued with the belief that God will ultimately lead us down right pathways.  Surely this story stretches the limits of such faith to an unfathomable level but it drives home the point that faith in God will always in the end lead to redemption and goodness. 

    Faith is a gift but for many it is a struggle to acquire and maintain.  I cannot imagine possessing the amount of faith Abraham was capable of living out in his life.  However, I do know that without any faith I would be lost.  The world cannot provide what God can provide.  This text is a key touchstone in Scripture for all of us who struggle with faith.

    As I began to meditate on faith, I found myself drawn to thinking about the convergence of different contexts in which I witnessed the power of faith this past week. I am sure you are aware that we have currently many parishioners who are ill with very serious medical conditions.  Three of our beloved have began Hospice care in the last two weeks.  One of these beloved passed on this past week.  These friends share in common living through times that surely must test their faith.  Yet each person seems to have become increasingly faith filled in the face of great struggle.  At a time when one might think it would be difficult to hold on to faith, they have become more firmly convicted in their beliefs that God is good and God will provide.  Our friend passed on, firm in his belief that our God is a God of love.

    This past week I was to attend the annual conference of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church, an organization that I have led as President for the past two years.  I would like to talk to you today about what I have learned about faith from my work with addiction and recovery. 

    I came to work in the field of recovery honestly - as the result of growing up with a family which was severely impacted by this disease.   Let me stop for one moment and dwell on that word disease. Let face it addiction is a stigmatized illness.  Too often it is viewed and judged by society and even the church as a moral issue or as a sign of personal weakness or depravity.  As much as society has and continues to view alcoholism and addiction as issues of morality - that kind of thinking is dead wrong.  Addiction is a disease.  Just as we do not blame people with diabetes or heart disease or cancer for their conditions, we should not blame those suffering from addiction.  Addiction is a disease with genetic, biological, psycho-social and spiritual components.  It is, like many of those other health conditions, a disease without a cure.  The one distinction that addiction has as a disease is that in my view it is the most deadly.  You may be surprised to hear me say that.  You may ask: What about cancer? Isn’t that more deadly?”  Let me explain why I say that addiction is more deadly to our health.  It is because, addiction directly attacks the core of who we are, it attacks our essence, our very soul itself.  A disease like cancer initially attacks the body.  It may eventually attack our spirit, but addiction attacks the spirit immediately and directly.  If we could personify this disease we could say that it acts with only one goal in mind and that it to take you over completely!  Addiction attacks the relationships we have with others: friends, family God and even with our selves.  Eventually the only relationship that comes to matter is that of the addiction. The all-consuming relationship with the substance or behavior replaces everything.  Any concept of having a spiritual life, of having a soul is eradicated.  On the journey of addiction, the idea that there could be a Higher Power, a God to whom everything belongs and is part of, becomes inconceivable.    

    If there remains any concept of a God, it is not uncommon that it is of a harsh, unforgiving God.  Often this doesn’t seem to bear any relation to the image of God one grew up with or held during a healthier period of life.   And, this image doesn’t seem to have much to do with prior concepts God.  Instead this new image is a projection of the shame and guilt that one feels about their behavior or state of life and certainly it is a reflection of the shame that society places on the addict.  In the end, given the breakdown that has occurred with relationships (self, others and God), any concept of God ceases to exist except perhaps for the focus of blame.  If addiction does not start out as the consequence of a spiritual disease it quickly becomes one

    This is the reason I strongly believe that restoring a healthy spiritual life is critical to the recovery from the disease.  Bill W. knew this when he put together the AA program.  Fr. Sam Shoemaker, an Episcopal priest worked with Bill W. to put his ideas about recovery in a spiritual framework which has become the basis of all 12 Step Programs.  12 Step spirituality is built on the premise that we all have a spiritual life regardless of specific beliefs or religions.  The spirit is who we really are.  It is our essence, our core, our soul.  It is who God created us to be.  Based on our faith we know three key concepts about spirituality:

    A healthy spiritual life is necessarily relational.  

    Relationships with other, friends, family and God are essential to spiritual life. 

    A healthy spiritual life is essential to a healthy life.

    How does one restore a healthy spiritual life?  I think that faith comes prior to having any specific belief system.  Faith is an experience of God, a higher power that calls for a response of trust and self-surrender.  It is up to those of us who are blessed with a healthy sense of a spiritual life to re-present God, Christ to those who struggle with faith.  In Step Twelve of the program it states that “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.”  Therein is the beauty of AA.  It is all about community and responsibility for self and for service to others.  What better way is there to repay God than with what is truly God’s?

    If we believe that God will provide then we have no option other than to give thanks – part of giving thanks is growing our relationship with God and helping others to do the same.  God is present in every moment of our lives – the good and the not so good.  God will not be shut out because God is in everything.  Even in the face of addiction, God will find a way in.  One of my favorite quotes is by Edwina Gateley, a friend and real modern day saint.  She once said about God that “I am the God of the backdoor. I exist outside the boxes, barriers and walls you put up to separate based on differences.  I look for the holes and cracks to slip through… Our task is not to seek God but to recognize God’s presence is already here The world has already been saved.  Your primary task is relationship with God.”  Let us give thanks for our loving God who has promised “The Lord will provide.”  


  • 03/27/2013 3:43 PM | Anonymous member
    The attached article recently ran in the Wall Street Journal.  This is not a new trend It seems to be increasing in practice.  What are your thoughts?

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