We are careful never to show intolerance or hatred of drinking as an institution. Experience shows that such an attitude is not helpful to anyone. Every new alcoholic looks for this spirit among us and is immensely relieved when he finds we are not witch burners. A spirit of intolerance might repel alcoholics whose lives could have been saved, had it not been for such stupidity. We would not even do the cause of temperate drinking any good, for not one drinker in a thousand likes to be told anything about alcohol by one who hates it.
Some day we hope that Alcoholics Anonymous will help the public to a better realization of the gravity of the alcoholic problem, but we shall be of little use if our attitude is one of bitterness or hostility. Drinkers will not stand for it.
After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol. Besides, we have stopped fighting anybody or anything. We have to!
—The ‘Big Book’ of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 103
The chief priests accused Jesus of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
This is Holy Week, the annual Christian celebration of someone who never got into a fight.
You might disagree. Jesus cleansed the temple. He called the Pharisees hypocrites. He threw some shade at the Syrohoenician woman, who managed to get Jesus to expand his own understanding of his ministry (!). He got pretty mad at Peter when Peter balked at the idea that Jesus would have to be killed.
But these weren’t fights. The temple cleansing was a political move, a symbolic action. He was sometimes sharp with the Pharisees, but he didn’t get into brawls with them, verbal or otherwise, and he raised no objection, no word in his own defense, when they took him to the Roman authorities on false charges. When the Syrophoenician woman challenged him, he quickly saw her point, and praised her. His anger at Peter was more akin to anticipatory anxiety. Peter, like Satan in the wilderness, was unwittingly tempting Jesus to shrink back from his calling, to duck his own destiny.
I have reflected recently on fighting, the behavior, the relationship pattern, the way humans sometimes resolve differences. Fighting is sometimes praised, and perhaps rightly so. Politicians promise to fight for our rights, or our wealth, or our safety. In church we are often challenged to fight for justice, or (paradoxically enough) fight for peace. In the last couple of years, hundreds of thousands of people have marched through the streets to protest one thing or another, and it’s not entirely wrong to look at this behavior as a kind of fight, even though these protests have been nonviolent, and no one was injured.
I am an alcoholic, and page 103 of the Big Book has always been, if not my favorite page, the most relevant page for me. In my first couple years of sobriety, I felt resentful of people around me who were able to drink, and I was quick to notice the problematic role of alcohol in various social settings. As an Episcopalian, I watched with keen interest as a bishop in our church stood trial for taking the life of a cyclist in a drunk-driving tragedy. It seemed to me, when I honestly reflected on my motives, that I wanted the Episcopal Church, like the city of Nineveh, to sit in sackcloth and ashes, repenting our communal sin of celebrating the frequent use of alcohol in our social gatherings, and the central role of alcohol in our church culture.
I did not help anyone when I nurtured those resentments. It did not help my own sobriety, either. I haven’t taken a drink of alcohol for almost five years now, but that achievement is the work of my higher power, in spite of my small resentments, and my human impulse to fight. Sometimes I want to fight others, to win a competition for the wisest person, or be recognized as the better debater. Sometimes I dream of revenge: I want others to feel the way I sometimes let them make me feel. But indulging those impulses only brings me closer to my next drink.
If fighting works for you, even as a metaphor, then by all means use it, do it, join the battle, particularly if someone will be helped by your courage, strength, and grit. But for me, I have to seek justice differently, not because I am like Jesus, but because I’m not: in my hands, fighting leads to separation, destruction, and anguish.
May you find blessing, peace, strength, and new life this Holy Week.