Merry Christmas to all, even to….

Yes, even to you the the Jew, the Hindu, or the atheist. Even to you the sinner, the hypocrite, the outcast. To the proud and powerful, Merry Christmas. To the meek, the poor, and hungry, Merry Christmas.

And to my brother Christians, may you have a special Merry Christmas filled with grace and peace – and perhaps a little spiritual reckoning for a new chapter in your journey.

A nagging thought sometimes intrudes when I am reading theological works of the church fathers (like Augustine) or recent theologians like John Henry Newman. So much teaching is on “qualifying” Jesus Christ as the messiah and Christianity as the way to live a holy and spiritual life that what gets lost is what does it mean for us today, 2000 years later.

What is qualifying? In Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the pivotal signs of an alcoholic’s ability to benefit from the program or to benefit others is to “qualify” themselves by sharing their lived experience. By qualifying that they have lived the life of an alcoholic, they can then give their experience, strength, and hope to others on how to live a sober life founded on spiritual principles. In essence, they must have experienced the deprivation of being alcoholic before their message can be heard by alcoholics.

So to it was with Christ. He became man and suffered the things man suffers in the extreme so that man could accept his message on how to live a holy life. He self-qualified himself for all to see by being crucified on the cross. This qualification along with his actions during the three years of his ministry provided believers with a road map for how to treat others and live a holy life no matter how bad your suffering.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, and other 12 step groups, they don’t spend time qualifying a “higher power.” They qualify themselves as being alcoholic (flawed), they are themselves not a higher power, and that a higher power can restore them. And more importantly, the program works for many that give it their all (https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/03/alcoholics-anonymous-most-effective-path-to-alcohol-abstinence.html). They don’t fight about defining God, though many have religious affiliations. How they live a spiritual program is the key to sobriety and happiness.

So, if we got past “qualifying” Christ and all the theological evidentiary arguments, what would be left other than have faith and believe in Jesus Christ the Messiah?

An Op Ed in the NYT today by Peter Wehner entitled “The Forgotten Radicalism of Jesus Christ” will challenge Christians and non-Christians to seriously reevaluate our moral framework. The article makes the case that we water down the radical life of Christ today. It calls us, as does A.A. for the alcoholic, to live radically different lives. This can be inconvenient and even immensely challenging at first. It is radical.

The article for me is a call to practice radical compassion and empathy in all aspects of my life. This is not just a Christian ideal to be pursued only by Christians, but a human ideal imprinted in our spiritual souls and genetic DNA.

When we ignore it, we suffer individually and collectively. The bling of materialist acquisition or individual grandeur is no substitute for a substantive spiritual life. A substantive spiritual life, although perhaps guided by “qualified” religious faiths, is measured by what we do.

The article along with quoting President Lincoln, demonstrates Jesus modeled practicing inclusion for everyone.

Have a Radical 2021. It is time to be different!

Morning Dews – #5

Where was I again since I last wrote, someplace in Genesis with Abraham and his descendants making a mess of things and their covenants with God and with each other.  Yes, that is right, I said you were dammed.  Unfortunately, your fate has not changed since then; we are all still heading for a date with death.  Our human flesh and our earthly existence have no defined time.

images (36)This fatalistic reality only further illuminates the valuable time we have this moment.  It is of great value whether we are “joyous, happy and free” or suffering, miserable, and confined physically or mentally by some variation of human tormentors, real or imagined.  Our state of being is always moving in one direction or another, always temporal.

But where is our compass to direct our purpose and mission in life?  Our human state of affairs reasonably and appropriately must command our due respect.  To disregard care for ourselves or others is easily seen by even the simplest minded among us to be pure folly.  And then there are those among us that with very bright thinking, run with this hedonismmotto to the extreme, pursuing every greater emotional bliss regardless of how these emotions are obtained.  Who could blame them running hard and fiercely to avoid at all cost any taste of suffering, miserable mood, pain, or some other human calamity?   This activity, although important, is rubbish and meaningless if not grounded in a higher transcendent meaning.  Perhaps seeking Nirvana is the answer?

Inner-Peace-Help-Me-God (1)The great mystics of history invariable point out the only unchangeable is the absolute, unknowable one, the one we call God. Today we don’t see stodgy bearded men out in the wilderness or working with the poor in the streets.  We are more likely to see mega-church preachers or self-help books with covers like the above.  I dare you to go find a rock like that and sit on it for 30 minutes the way that lady is sitting.   I have a feeling you will not be the picture of Nirvana at the end of the prayer session.   That being said, she may indeed have developed a sesne of prayer and stillness that it matters little where she sits, in nature or in the middle of a highway.

Read the great religions and prophets, and they will, as did the old testament, describe man’s search for God and his graces.  The languages and literary devices may vary, but at the end of the day, man (and woman) is found seeking God and most often found wanting.  Amid this yearning, he is most unfairly plagued by human calamity even when blessed with great fortune.  Nothing is ever enough.  Seeking God is admirable, but if you are seeking God for spiritual gluttony you will probably be searching in the dark or fall prey to profit driven preachers.

The Gospel of Matthew (chapters 6-9) has some of the answers to these riddles for me.

  • Do good to please God (no other, expect no reward here on earth)
  • A form of prayer, converse with God, and the provision of the Lord’s prayer
  • Lay up your treasures in heaven
  • Do not worry about your life
  • Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened for you
  • Build your house on a rock

Matthew repeated these words of Jesus and many more in rapid-fire succession in three pages.  No back and forth or interpretation.   A grave warning to those who choose not to listen that Jesus will declare, “I never knew you” when it is their time.

Today in the public sphere, our eyes roll at the mere mention of any theoretical framework like existential philosophy, transcendent morality, or cross-societal ethical considerations.  Most of the time, if someone is raising this, it is because they are trying to cleverly tell us why we can’t or shouldn’t do something.  We would probably not listen if not for the rule of law that has developed over the centuries to codify what little humanitarian gains we have made over the centuries.

tinaI can see the eyes rolling now if a man without credentials or status told us the things Jesus told the crowds.  They had perhaps an advantage over us.  God knew their hearts were hardened, so he gave them signs again in rapid-fire from Matthew’s account, a leper was cleansed, a servant healed, and Jesus even saved Peter’s Mother in Law.  I am unsure if Peter appreciated the last miracle.  Other miracles would follow as Jesus marches towards his suffering and crucifixion.

These miracles and the written scripture handed down to us have meaning and value to guide what little time we have left on this earth.  Despite this, the disciples still panicked even with Jesus present when the “great tempest arose on the sea,” threatening to capsize the boat.  Jesus awoke with disappointment, “Why are you fearful, o you of little faith.”

Jesuit Paul McCarren describes the disciples being as puzzled by Jesus Christ’s indifference to the storm as Jesus was disappointed by their fear and lack of faith.

In four pages of scripture, I am presented with a guide to prayer, evidence of the credentials of the prophet being able to perform miracles, validation that faith is not easy as even the disciples who saw with their own eyes struggled, and Jesus Christ response when they shoe their weakness.

desicplesDid this “great tempest arise on the sea.” It is highly possible given the geographical area and the routes that Jesus and the disciples traveled.   However, more importantly, most of us don’t make our living on the seas.  Very few of us have life-threatening events flash before our eyes while having a spiritual prophet at our side.  What does it mean?

Let’s put it all together as to why I think these chapters in Matthew give you the solution to being damned to suffering and death.

First, the Bible (old testament and new), lets sets the framework that you and I are not very special in the sense of the challenges and tribulations we will face.  Our ancestors before us have seen it all.     The wisest among them were ready for when their time came.  If you have ever known someone truly ready when that time comes, you are truly blessed.

Now, Matthew first lays out how to pray and communicate with God.  In essence, he focused our attention simultaneously on the eternal and how to live a holy life now.  The words of Jesus Christ, as captured by Matthew, lay down straightforward guidance on how to develop a relationship to permanence no matter what our temporal state of affairs is today.

  • Act now: Do what Christ says above, and no matter what storm comes your way, you will be okay.  He did not promise storms will not come.  As we know from the Bible, a series of storms came that could not have been imagined by any of the disciples.
  • Prepare now: Prepare for storms by living rightly today.  Sadly, I have known human beings to say things like, as long as you follow the policy and blah, blah, I will support you.  You have all probably had a time when someone said something like that, and when the going got tough, all of a sudden, you were alone.  The lesson for me is trust in God as the only permanent trust one can have.  That is not as sad as it sounds.  I trust in many people today.  I love many of those same people.  Some of them will, at some point, disappoint me.  I will be hurt to the degree that I trusted them.  My feelings, though, will subside as I reconcile that I gave them trust for good reason, and I see they’re coming up short is just what it is a sad and disappointing outcome.  This is perhaps the most common type of storm when people do not do what we expect them to do!
  • Living rightly: What does that mean?   In my view, it means pursuing doing the next right thing now with the right intentions all the time and having an on-going dialogue with the God of my understanding to discern those intentions for what they are.  Find a way to still live and ground it in unchanging principles that transcend you.
  • Professional Help: Authors note, not all human conditions and suffering can be handled by prayer and good intentions and behaviors alone, some of us need a little help from professionals in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, psychiatric crisis, economic wisdom, or spiritual guidance.  Nor reason why anyone has to go through human toil alone (keeping in mind social distancing).  Self-help groups can be very beneficial, like Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12 step groups.
  • Compassion: No matter where you are on the journey, have compassion for yourself and others without putting yourself in harm’s way unless necessary. Let’s face it; we are not all called to be martyrs or saints.  Most of us have other callings.  It is improbable. I hope that we will be asked to deny God or be executed, go on a starvation protest, or say take my life in place of the child!  Seek to do the most good without treating yourself poorly.  We can have compassion for an addicted gambler without giving him a loan.  We can forgive a person who violated our trust or hurt us without inviting them back in to do the same again.  Letting that happen again not only hurts us but hurts the gambler or the one who cannot responsibly manage trust given to them.

Jesus saw a great need for compassion and love.  This was not reserved for those who were perfect.  It was for all of us.

These steps match the steps for any profession.  Find the manual and start working (act now).  Prepare for setbacks, you can never have enough knowledge and will learn by trial and error (Prepare for storms).   Do the best you can with the tools you have now and keep adding tools (live rightly).  Know when a project is over your head and get help fast, be humble (Professional help).  Have compassion for everyone you meet, including yourself.

There is so much in these few pages and this post.  How can you translate this into anything worthwhile?  Build on what you have now (strengths).  Develop a routine (schedule) and stick to specific times for prayer and reflection.  Throw in extra time when needed.  Journal, read, and be curious.  Let others in that will support you.

images (37)On the surface, it looks all pretty straight forward and easy.  I remember my brother Jimmy out in front of the house with a unicycle.   About the only joy that bike bought us was  watching him crash.  The Bible (and many surface teachings) can look deceptively easy until you have to take the “things” out of the box and start building the damn thing.  Trying to live a holy life can meet the same end and people will also enjoy watching you crash.  Seeking God requires great humility internally and externally.

Everyone wants a cheat sheet.  The bible does not lend itself to be a cheat sheet.  Centuries after its formation it is still be deciphered and argued about by theologians and historians.  If you wait for them you will probably miss out on the most famous book ever written.  Sometimes you can only be helped to get on the bicycle and get a good shove.  The rest is up to you.   I don’t recommend a unicycle!

The answers are not only in the bible.  Fifteen percent of our population is 65 years or older.  A good number of them, certainly not all, carry wisdom and solemnity in their final years.  They not only have six decades of lived experience, but they also have what was passed onto them from their ancestors sifted through and weighed against current times.

My chariot is built on the teaching of Jesus Christ.   His followers are far from being free of error.  There are many examples of “living right” that I can model from around my current day and in history.  I am not limited to models from Christianity as well.  Buddhist monks and meditation practices examine and handle the red hot embers suffering and impermanence by literally being able to walk barefoot over them.  They are not free from error either.  At the end of the day, we are all too human, imperfect vessels, seeking transcendence.

I have not mentioned 25% of the world who are followers of Allah.  The Muslim faith’s true essence alludes me in the chaos of the middle east.  Subsumed in that chaos is also orthodox Jewish traditions as well and the state of Israel.

Whatever faith we find to guide our lives, we become living testaments to an ideal higher authority.   Our faith and our religious affiliations will be judged in real-time by our actions.  Writing a blog on how to pray and seek a sanctified life is useless if after I close the browser I leave my house and treat people with ill-will or are driven by selfish motivations.  Any great religion is judged by the actions and lives of its followers.

You can have glimpses of transcendence every day if you look for it.  It is all around you in nature, in the acts of other people, and hopefully present in most of your actions and thoughts.  This has been a hard post to finish.  My prayer life is up against needless human suffering and death compounded by an unforgiving political and economic system that thrives on uninterrupted growth.   Sometimes my prayers leave me feeling empty and drained rather than consoled and restored.  I am not a mystic or a priest.  Just a working family man trying to make sense of tragedy and suffering.

Regardless of the external turbulence, you can be a beacon of calm, humility, love, compassion, strength, and peace to others, if within your heart you are building on a solid rock that is greater than our temporal desires.   Your faith or religious identity may provide you a vehicle for life’s journey, but at the end of the day, it is your responsibility to learn to ride it.  No religious leader, sermon, or homily can define you.   They too can make errors.

To what end is this post.  It is written for all of you who everyday strive to be responsible, work hard, and are in general morally upright people.  You toil and work hard for your self and your loved ones.  You have faced constant changes and pivoted and acclimated to changing times.  Although not perfect or faultless, you count yourself as generally a good person, like Job from the Old Testament.  And now, tragedy strikes beyond your control even though you practiced spiritual and ethical decision making daily.

If your eye is set on the absolute and the infinite God, all troubles and joys will be minute in comparison.  If your faith is made strong by your commitment, actions, and God’s grace, any storm that envelops you will be faced with calm and strength regardless of the outcomes.   You will posses a new reality to be able to sit with uncertainty and mystery while still working to do what you can in the face of exterm adversity, upto and including death.    Sure, you may have moments of trepidation and angst, but like the disciples, you will find your way back to your core.

covid deathToday, three thousand people will perish from COVID.  An estimated 50 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty.  Upright hard working people just like me and you.  Political and economic forces beyond our control will lessen or amplify the pain and suffering we have already experienced.

In my view, we only have one answer.  Still the storm and take refuge in prayer.  Take stock in your circumstances.  Find acceptance for what is today.  Ask God for what you think you need and ask him for the strength to handle whatever he gives you!  They maybe two different things.  Pray a little more to sit with the suffering of others.  Pray for them.  Contemplate what you can do now, today or tomorrow, to do God’s work in whatever is your calling in life.  Leave your refuge of prayer and carry it with you as you go back into the storm to face whatever life has instore for you.

6138-reading-bible-nathan-dumlao-unsplash

 

 

 

 

Wealth, Debt, Giving and You

“Give enough that it feels risky — if you feel comfortable, you’re probably not stretching enough. If you feel destabilized, it might be too much.”

Let’s get uncomfortable together.  How much pride and security do we get from the size of our paychecks, savings, and the things we own? It would be easy for me here to attack the one percent that have an outsized influence on global poverty and income inequality.  I cannot affix blame on them uniquely as we support an economic system that legally sanctions and supports income inequality.  Let me dial this back closer too home.

I am by my own spiritual measure, failing in the area of desiring more wealth and security.  I aspire to productive principles of economy that are supported biblically to apply my trade honestly, work hard, and not be slothful.   These are admirable and desirable traits that not only serve me and my family but serve society.  This is not my sin or point of spiritual failure.

My lack of perfection is driven by my desire for financial security, my pride in what little wealth I may have, and my stinginess driven by fear of economic collapse.  Again, to a degree, none of this is necessarily sinful as prudence and avoiding gluttony or wasteful behaviors is admirable as well.

financial-stresses

It takes a negative turn though when my own financial security becomes more important than, well, what it should be!  How much is enough?  How much do I trust in God’s grace, God’s guidance, and God’s providence when it comes to money and material goods?

I fear economic failure.  I am in my 50’s and have been provided for all throughout my life despite living below the poverty line in my youth – I was never left wanting.  I have always had viable employment and never had any break in employment history – not even a week. And yet I am fearful of letting my family down or at not having provided my family enough.  This fear is driven by the history of my own youth, insecurity, love, pride, and selfishness.  The latter is not wanting to lose what I have or being covetous of what I do not have relative to others. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I have made my peace with material wealth and desire – but I am still not immune from fear and worry.  The latter can influence my politics, my career choices, my charitable dollars, and my behavior for good or bad.

100-dollar-bill-and-gold-bricks

There is an exclusionary group that I cannot join called Resource Generation[i].  I am too old and too poor to join!  I do not have the problems they have to face today.  They are Millennials born to wealth that are uncomfortable with class privilege and committed to giving back wealth.  The Washington Post[ii] reviewed this non-profit group that’s helping young rich people give away their money today.  This article takes a cleaver to philanthropy and may challenge you to consider your affection for wealth.  A line that caught my eye from Resource Generation guidance on giving:

“Give enough that it feels risky — if you feel comfortable, you’re probably not stretching enough. If you feel destabilized, it might be too much.”

If any of you have ever gambled with any seriousness you may recognize this philosophy.   Professional gamblers that are successful play at stakes where they can temper a losing streak without going bust but not too low a stake that they cannot make enough profits to value their time and skill.

Problem gamblers will edge towards and past the point of betting that can “destabilize” their economic life.  Both the professional gambler and the problem gambler use both prudence (hard numbers) and feelings (situational awareness and enjoying gambling).  However, the problem gambler will put more emphasis on feelings and sensation than on hard numbers and prudence.   If you feel your gambling is destabilizing your life consider calling the National Gambling hotline[iii] for education and support.

Should not our charitable dollar principle follow the same path?  I don’t think I have ever walked into a church ready to lose 300 dollars as I have walking into some casinos or horse racing venues.  Come to think of it, should I ever be wagering an entertainment dollar on a poker hand or a horse when that same dollar can be directed at a better cause than my own gambling sensation or my desire to increase my wealth (the latter is unlikely!).

How much is too much?  I mentioned one-percenter earlier.  In the United States, you need an individual income of about 328,000 dollars or a family income of 475000 dollars to be in the top one percent.  However, must of us live in the top one percent globally, at least income-wise according to investopedia[iv], which by the way can sell you a course on how to invest to reach the worldwide 1%!

  • An income of $32,400 per year would allow someone to be among the top 1% of income earners in the world.
  • To reach the top 1% worldwide in terms of wealth—not just income but all you own—you’d have to possess $770,000 in net worth.
  • The bar to enter the top 1% wouldn’t be this low were it not for the extreme poverty that so much of the globe endures.

Considering wealth and society is a moral and ethical responsibility for every society regardless of spirituality even without spiritual or religious affiliation attached.

My nation (United States) boasts a strong moral high ground of which 70% of our nation proclaims a Christian orientation with another 6% having affiliation with other religious traditions.  That is 3 in 4 Americans hold religiously oriented values.

Christianity, Wealth, and America

President Jefferson[v] made his own bible by cutting out and pasting the words of Jesus Christ.  I raise this as the Red Letters in the bible apply to all Christian denominations.  There is no doubt that Christianity plays a major role in United States elections and policy formation.  We all see politicians including the current Commander in Chief seeking the Christian base.  Do our politicians, our policies, our economic system, and our Christian base support Christ’s teachings?

Today a group in Philadelphia called the Red Letter Christians[vi]  focuses on Jesus Christ’s message and what it implies.  Here is an excerpt from one of their articles on wealth by Shane Claiborne:

“In the radical economics of the early Christian church, it was said that God doesn’t look at how much you give, but how much you have left. They went so far as to say that if a Christian keeps more than they need while their neighbor has less than they need, the Christian is a thief.  If we have two coats, we’ve stolen one.  Or, as the apostle James put it in the New Testament, “True religion is caring for the widow and the orphan and keeping ourselves from being corrupted by the world.”

I don’t expect you to listen to Shane.  The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) reviewed Mark’s Gospel passage and the Beatitudes (Blessed are the Poor)[vii].

“Mark tells us [that] just as Jesus was setting out on a journey again, a man ran up to him, knelt before him, and asked, “Good master, what must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? Nobody’s good, but God alone. But you know the commandments: Do not kill; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not cheat; honor your father and mother,” and the man replied, “I have obeyed all these commandments since my childhood.”

Then Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, “For you, one thing is lacking: Go, sell what you have, give the money to the poor, then come and follow me.” On hearing these words, [the man’s] face fell, and he went away sorrowful, for he was a man of great wealth.”

The NCR article explains this passage and Blessed are the Poor passage in depth.  The article in my judgment seems to support we need not give away everything to be holy, but we do need to change our outlook on wealth and on the poor if we are to hold ourselves up to be Christian.  Could we be more like Zacchaeus:    

“When Zacchaeus the tax collector encountered Jesus, he immediately repented, pledging to give half his money to the poor. And, if he had defrauded anyone, he would pay him back fourfold. (See Luke 19:1-10.)  Another author noted that Jesus rejoiced in this act, recognizing the reality of Zacchaeus’s conversion. He did not say, “That’s not good enough! You need to give away all your wealth!”

As an aside here, the recovery communities like Alcoholics Anonymous practice amends both materially and spiritually while recognizing limitations as well.  They practice spiritual pursuit, not spiritual perfection.  Financial matters are a serious component of recovery and spiritual happiness.   The same applies to Gamblers Anonymous and other self-help groups.  You do not need to be in recovery or have an active addiction though to be chained by financial gluttony and materialistic driven gluttony.  You can still borrow from the recovery communities, practice spiritual pursuit, not spiritual perfection.

The questions still for me is heavy.  How much of my excess earnings should go to my emergency fund, to my savings, to my children, to my debt reduction versus to my church, to the homeless, to poverty, to social justice causes, or other common good causes?

As long as I have any debt, and I have sufficient obligation, I am not comfortable with giving enough that feels risky even if it will not destabilize my economy!  My debt does not stop me from giving to my church or causes, but it does limit my giving.  What is your risk tolerance?

debtLet’s talk about debt.  Our nation is a debtor nation.  Under our current Commander in Chief, our deficit ballooned to nearly $1 trillion in 2019.  Our individual debt is bad as well.  See where you standard relative to your peers at debt.org (link below).  Do you know what your DTI is today?  The median household income hit $61,372 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s almost $20,000 more than it was in 2000. But the typical American household now carries an average debt of $137,063. That is not spoken about at parties.  Americans do not honestly discuss financial struggles.  They do vote out of fear though on messages of economic hope.

While most Americans have idealistic views on fairness and equality, at the end of the day most are struggling to make ends meet behind the white picket fences and cars with kids college stickers affixed.  Throw in a layoff or medical scare and many families are thrust into financial crisis.   Present a platform that raises taxes and speaks to other people’s needs and their vote might not be Christian-centric.

Am I willing to vote for politicians or support policies that will hurt me financially but help the common good locally or internationally?  I have voted this way, and it is never a clean slate as no candidate meets the Jesus Christ standard, but sometimes I do have reservations.

Selfishly – why should up and coming kids get free college education when others still have college loans?  Will raising minimum wage deflate my earnings by dollar inflation, making my purchasing powerless?  Seen from a selfish perspective, there are many local and international policies that I would not support – but from a humanitarian and spiritual perspective, I should be advocating for actively.  Are any of our leaders today champions for the common man or for the oppressed?  Do people even recognize these figures today?

mandela-thoreau-mlkThe current second choice for the Democrat nomination is a Jewish candidate whose policies mirror the Beatitudes of caring for the poor and addressing economic inequality.  The Christian base is apt to call him socialist and radical as Jesus was labeled in his time.  The front runner Christian Democrat has more centrist policies shying away from “risk” and “stretching” policies to change toward a more humane nation but nationally and internationally.  The Commander in Chief’s economic policies are in direct opposition to the Beatitudes as are many of his other policies. Three choices, all fallible, none nowhere near perfection.   The debate also includes how much can our nation give and stretch without jeopardizing our “destabilization” risk to our country? Americans are worried and are driven by fear economics.

Let me give you a little secret if you have read this far – you deserve it.   Every time in life I have weighed giving money that was risky for me (not in my budget or a loan that I would probably never get back) and still gave it I was always repaid in ways I would never have foreseen but financially and spiritually.

If I give only what is comfortable is it really giving or only feeding my own sense of moral righteousness?  What portion of my check should go to taxes that make America a greater place for everybody?  How should America support and lead the world on issues of world poverty and income inequality?  These are Christ-centric questions.  It is easy to answer the ten commandments and thou shalt not kill.      After that – things get interesting.

You and I are the 1 percent by world wealth standards or by proxy as we support income inequality worldwide.  Standing up to this will and is risky and a stretch.  In the meantime, we have the opportunity to give our time and money to good causes.  Before you do that though, balance your own books as well! In the end everything is connected.

cleverness

[i] https://resourcegeneration.org/

[ii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2020/03/02/their-families-built-fortunes-these-millennials-are-trying-figure-out-how-undo-their-class-privilege/

[iii] https://www.ncpgambling.org/help-treatment/national-helpline-1-800-522-4700/

[iv] https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/050615/are-you-top-one-percent-world.asp

[v] https://uuhouston.org/files/The_Jefferson_Bible.pdf

[vi] https://www.redletterchristians.org/mission-values/

[vii] https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/peace-pulpit/blessed-are-poor-what-does-mean

VIII https://www.debt.org/faqs/americans-in-debt/demographics/

 

 

The Confrontation with an Atheist

They are as sure of the absence of God as you are in God’s existence. In rare cases, the passionate atheist and fervent believer can meet the eye to eye and wrestle, often to a stalemate, thru the evidence for and against the existence of God — and part after thorough and exhausting discussion, being better human beings.

Religious affiliation is of no consequence here except as evidence for the Atheist that no religious organization has established the primacy of owning the eternal truths that they purport to possess within their separate faiths.

The confrontation can be unnerving and unsettling for both parties. Both have world views that have far-reaching consequences. However, at the core of it all, what is missing is an underlying mutual understanding of the limits of our certainty regarding humanity in general and acceptance of the subjective experiences that allow for or disavow faith.

A Jesuit writer, today on the feast of the epiphany, wrote that a friend of his is an atheist, and his atheism he presumed was primarily grounded in a belief in the primacy of reason. His friend presented a different reason. He shared that he was aware that many believers in God experienced what we Christians would describe as the desire for God “written in the human heart.” “I’ve never experienced that,” he said. “If there is a God, that seems terribly unfair and perhaps even cruel.”  Powerful question. From a Catholic perspective, we acknowledge faith is a grace given to us, not something we can create through our own merit and actions. We believe it is there for the taking for anyone who seeks a relationship with God. On an individual level, how can we explain to a morally upstanding human being, a friend perhaps, why they have not had that spiritual consolation of grace? Many atheists have, by human measures, pursued a relationship with God with persistent, genuine, and sincere efforts and come up empty. Answering them with Divine Providence or God’s mysterious ways, explanations feel insufficient. Judging our friend’s effort and character also seems wrong or Jobian.

My atheist friends, I cannot answer for the absence of a spiritual spark within your heart any more than I answer why a fervent believer can have years of spiritual aridity. I cannot answer the questions regarding human suffering and misery in any manner that will comfort the non-believer.

I can say believers struggle with some of the very same ideological and practical concerns that atheist has about our faith or our religious institution.  I can further say I do not judge your disbelief or assign you any hierarchical position on the spiritual ladder of life. I have been in the Atheist camp as have many believers.  I can say I am willing to be present with you in good times and bad facing life’s graces and suffering. Yes, even graces can be a challenge.

Our joint actions together, no matter how inconsequential our work may seem, can serve humanity in as much as we both ensure our efforts are not evilly intentioned.

6733ae34-574d-46e4-ad2f-6607affc0d56-1998-000002555b4f069aPerhaps my faith in action for the “the greater glory of God” and your work for the greater good of humanity can ignite elevating a shared vision of human social responsibil08c86120-d1ed-42e1-8d18-d430e69e0abf-1998-0000025633cd5576ity.  The litmus test will be frequent and furious. Let us face each divide with genuine compassion, action, and, when appropriate, laughter at our human folly and gross inadequacies.

On my end, I pray today for spiritual grace for anyone who requires this consolation.  I also hope that no one closes the door entirely on the possibility of a higher power and remains open to possibilities.  People often speak about God closing a door for us and opening up another.  I am not talking about that door, I am talking about doors that we close to spirituality.

doorOn what grounds or merit do I write to you on this request.  I have had personal experience opening and closing that dam door.  I have set up shop behind it and barricaded myself inside with science, literature, competition, human relationships, philosophy, sports, and other not so worldly vices.  It took me a bit of time to realize that while most of these comforts hold great value, my life is better after I unbarricaded the door and was open to a relationship with God.  Sometimes I still let the door briefly swing shut on the winds of carelessness and inattention.  It isn’t long before life reminds me how important for me, at least, is an inner spiritual life guiding my mortal days.

For some dramong us, closing that door can be life-threatening and do unbearable harm.  Ask people in recovery about the spiritual aspects of 12 step programs – they are free of religious affiliation but very dependent on an ambiguously defined higher power.    Those open to genuinely following the spiritual elements of the 12 step programs tend to have more success in both recovery and happiness overall.  You can visually see their peace and serenity as you might see and feel when visiting a Trappist monastery.    

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What might your higher power look like if you began to search again and were open to the possibility of God’s existence?   Maybe nothingness, but the journey will be rewarding even if you don’t achieve a mystical experience.    

  • For the Atheist out there, perhaps in deeds and actions, we can find a little spark of spirituality.
  • For those who are looking into religious organizations, my bias is the Jesuits and the Catholic Faith.
  • For those in recovery – the journey is yours to define a higher power, define one quickly and be open to change.

At the end of the day, a discussion with an Atheist, Agnostic, or person in recovery about God is not a confrontation.  It is an opportunity for people of faith to exchange experiences and beliefs that we hold dearly and an opportunity to get to know one another more intimately regardless of challenging questions and probing accusations about our beliefs.   We need not be grand apologetic orators or defensive about inquiry – for if we cannot answer a few questions, how strong is our faith anyway?   And somethings we will never be able to answer – as a relationship and belief in anything mystical will defy our imagination and ability to achieve concurrence among mankind probably beyond my lifetime.

 

Happy New Year and Best Self Wishes

Happy New Year!

For many, an avalanche of expectation is pending ringing in the New Year.  On Wednesday evening, we will ring in a new decade together (like it or not) thanks to social media and a truly integrated global economy.  What are you anticipating for New Year’s Eve? For 2020?  Are your New Year’s Eve plans set?  Have you jotted down a few goals (resolutions) for 2020?  Take a moment and jot down the top goal for ringing in 2020 and the top three resolutions for the new year.  What might get in the way of your goals?

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New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken as Mark Twain’s quote alludes above.  The great author was himself a social drinker whose alcohol usage was sometimes criticized and historically aggrandized. He did not have the resolution to quit alcohol and nor would I recommend he have the resolution to do so!  Any resolution we make should be intimately connected to our identities of who we are and what we want to be today and all the tomorrows we have left.  What about you?

Now, with your list in hand, I am going to ask you to examine two very personal relationships in your life:

  • Take a moment to reconsider your relationship with alcohol (or other mood-altering habits).
  • Take a moment to reconsider your relationship with your “best-self,” your ultimate potentiality, your sense of being in harmony with your nature, with your innermost sense of living a significant and meaningful life.

How does Alcohol fit into your New Year’s Eve plans?  How significant is it for you personally on New Year’s Eve?  How much thought have you put into what you will drink on Wednesday evening?

None of us fit the criteria for being diagnosed as an Alcoholic.  I am sure of it.  Why?  I say this because there are no diagnostic criteria for being an alcoholic[i] in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM).   There are many definitions in the manual for alcohol use disorders ranging from mild to severe that you can reference or, better yet, see a professional if you have enough evidence in your life to indicate alcohol use may be harming you.

This relationship with alcohol is, first and foremost, very personal to you.  You are probably not one of the estimated 6.2% of the population that has evidence of an alcohol use disorder today.  Hopefully, you are not on the road to joining that group either!  It is really about what does alcohol truly means to you and how does it hurt or improve your mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual life?   If you are like most people, alcohol does not play a big role in your life and is not necessarily needed to have a good time or enjoy friends and holidays.  But what if you are not like most people – but you also don’t fit the stereotype fictional alcoholic diagnosis?  You may have a job, friends, and all the trappings of being a successful adult and yet, have a little voice or nudging bothering you about alcohol?

The reality is alcohol use has an outsized role in our society to deliver what is already available to us without its use.  People who do not have an alcohol use disorder or any history of negative events choose every day to not drink without any difficulty or pressure to do so.  They naturally enjoy life and the people around them without alcohol.  People with alcohol use disorders diagnosed or people self-defined as alcoholics who have achieved true recovery are also able to choose every day not to drink and enjoy life without alcohol, albeit it with a certain sense of added responsibility and weight that comes with a negative history from previous experiences.

Alcohol is a choice.  Do I want you to not drink on New Year’s Eve?  No, my wishes for you on New Year’s Eve is that your relationship with alcohol on New Year’s Eve and in 2020 is right-sized – that it does not take away from your overall well-being or those around you.  If alcohol is not harming you or anyone else and you are fun to be with after partaking in drinking – I will buy the first round metaphorically speaking!

Too often, consumption of alcohol becomes the desired end rather than the consumption of alcohol being a means to add to the desired experience or social engagement.    New Year’s Eve or any eve becomes an opportunity to drink rather than an opportunity to enjoy relationships with other people and life in general.  Drinking becomes the means to get to a certain state of emotional sensation (euphoria, social ease, unguarded, numb, unconsciousness, uncontrolled, silly, dangerous, heightened adrenaline, humorous) that provides escapism from the self.  Hopefully, this is not you.

I hope to spend New Year’s Eve with friends and family that enjoy each other for who they are with or without alcohol.  I hope and wish for everyone, including you, to ring in the New Year, aligned with your relationship with your “best self.” Alcohol may not require your attention – insert in here any other goals that will help you be your best self today and tomorrow.

What is your “best-self” for New Year’s eve and 2020?  You cannot become today what you are meant to be in ten years, but you must start today to be what you are meant to be today to achieve what is expected of you down the line.  Wherever you are on your journey, in the valley or at a peak, beauty is present. Every day on the mountainside

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climbing up is the opportunity to be your best self.  The mountain tops will come and go with beautiful scenery to be cherished and remembered – but the journey is where the meaning of life is held, even the descents when we unexpectedly fall off the desired trail.

Defining your best-self involves an ideal to pursue balanced with an everyday actuality to practice today and every day.  New Year’s Eve and any resolution is simply an artificial calendar day to provide us all the time to reflect on the mountainsides, unexpected falls, and mountain tops of yesteryear with gratitude and refining our relationships with life for the next ascent.

My best self is by definition unattainable as it is defined by desiring to be one with my God and be limited to striving to lead a holy life while fulfilling the everyday mundane human responsibilities.  I am on one mountainside climbing with the tools that have been provided to me.  I know not what the mountaintop brings, whether it will be my final mountain or many more to come.  I can only climb the distance meant for me today.

Today, I have been charged with writing to you to ask that you reflect on your relmoutnainationship with alcohol and your relationship with your best self.  If you find it “wanting” in any way, make New Year’s eve a demarcation point and involve others in altering your climb up the ascent.  Involving others is a great way to strengthen relationships that have significance and meaning.  Mountain climbing should not be a solo sport.  Choose wisely!   

There is a movement afoot in society today that is exciting.  It is people choosing a lifestyle change before a lifestyle change is forced upon them.  Check out this article on Holly Whitaker:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/meet-the-woman-who-wants-to-make-sobriety-cool-in-an-alcohol-obsessed-culture/2019/12/18/38602da6-0fd4-11ea-b0fc-62cc38411ebb_story.html.

This post is aimed at people who are open to exploring their relationship with alcohol and have perhaps not had the issues associated with clinical alcohol use disorders or layman’s alcoholism definitions.  I would be remiss to not include the Alcoholics Anonymous website where many have found a solution and where they also recommend people seek professional help as well if needed.  If you are in that situation or have a friend who is in that situation you can always attend an open A.A. meeting.  They will know the resources in your community inside and outside of A.A.  You can also go to the SAMHSA website below as well.

https://www.aa.org/

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Wishing-You-a-Wonderful-New-Year

[i] For advanced drinkers who have already delved into your personal relationship with alcohol and self-defined yourself as “Alcoholic” this post does not challenge your definition or your solution.   This writer encourages people to explore Alcoholics Anonymous open meetings if you are unsure about where your relationship with alcohol fits on the continuum of normal drinking to desperate drinking and learn about a potential solution to myriad of life’s challenges for people who have committed themselves to abstinence.

 

The Rabbit Hole

A recent article sent me down the Rabbit hole of the intersection of politics, psychiatry, and spirituality.  It has laid bare for me the difficulty of how to share the spiritual path in a secular society as well as how to live the spiritual path oneself.  Here is the journey:

The Martial Personality (MP) archetype was recently explored in the Psychiatric Times by Ronald W. Pies, MD.[i]  Ronald’s opening statement may resonate with our shared readers:

“The great challenge of our moment is the crisis of isolation and fragmentation, the need to rebind the fabric of a society that has been torn by selfishness, cynicism, distrust, and autonomy. At some point there will have to be a new vocabulary and a restored anthropology, emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity, and neighborliness that pushes people toward connection rather than distrust.”1

Dr. Pies estimates this is a causal factor of societal disintegration in the US has only worsened in the past three years. He sees the MP archetype’s growing prominence—and, in some circles, acceptance as a significant driver.  He even provides us a mythical creature for reference:  the “Aresian Personality”—named for Ares, the Greek god of war!

Ares

 

Ares aside, Psychiatric diagnosis and clinical presentations often cut across several diagnostic categories that can muddy the waters of MP:  “Despite substantial overlap with several conditions or disorders, I believe that a distinguishing feature of the MP is the individual’s sheer delight in causing harm, discomfort, or chaos: something akin to schadenfreude (from the German, Schaden (“damage, misfortune”) + Freude (“joy”). Though this term is usually defined as “malicious joy in the misfortunes of others,” psychologists Shensheng Wang, Scott O. Lilienfeld and Philippe Rochat have argued that “The process of dehumanization may lie at the core of Schadenfreude.”9 Indeed, I would argue that schadenfreude turns one’s fellow human beings into objects whose sole purpose is to feed one’s twisted need for pleasure, power, and control. Think, “School yard bully meets Machiavelli.” This is not a bad conceptualization of Ares, and of the MP.”

These are powerful words that loom large in both our historical consciousness and current day threats to world peace and individual suffering.  Who can you identify today in your social circles, workplace, or the political stage today that exhibits these Machiavellian behaviors?  Whatever we call this personality type it is definitely antithetically opposed to a healthy social contract or a spiritually lived life.

Dr. Pies wrote this article from his field of expertise and was very careful to insert language into his piece to say this is not an attack piece on Donald Trump – but a societal issue.  This logic follows as we see this behavior increasing in every sphere, and its acceptance by people allows it to flourish.  What this means is it does not let Donald Trump, Republicans, Democrats, you or I off the hook for supporting people who dehumanize life.

Dr. Pies though turns to Anthropology though for answers.  The field of anthropology itself has a strong propensity to be hostile to religion and spirituality in all its forms despite many of its experts being “Christians hiding in plain sight.” The article does not mention spirituality’s demise and modernism’s rise at all as a potential key to an Anthropological solution despite calling for “emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity, and neighborliness.” 

As a biased Catholic I here Pope Francis (modern day) and biblical references providing us the solution to today’s inhumanity to man:

  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…” Galatians 5:22
  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34
  • “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
  • “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ [] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:36 to 40

In the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science had an article called “The Crisis On Modern Day Spirituality” from a Muslim perspective:

“Humans would be more humane if spirituality is always included in intact personality, they do not separate between the world and hereafter, the material and spiritual, and the existence of equilibrium so humans could bring this world into a civilization that is humanizing a man.”[iii]

The modern-day atheist or secularist will invariably point out that both Christianity and Muslim religions are responsible for the world’s greatest divisions.  At their extremes, they become vehicles of hate and persecution of non-believers.    There is ample evidence to support this assertion if you do a little digging.

Let me make a distinction here that I believe anthropologist will support as well.  Belief in a spiritual reality existential to our human understanding can be vastly beneficial for individuals and society.   Religion run riot can definitively be a harmful tool when in the wrong human hands and distinctly non-spiritual.   The test of one’s true ownership of spirituality (and organized religion) is in the thoughts and action of the believer judged against discerned and authentic higher spiritual principles.

Alcoholics Anonymous comes to mind as a small-scale test of this idea.  Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) uses the phrase “Self-Will Run Riot” to describe the mindset of an alcoholic that his needs dictate everything without consideration for others.  This could easily fit into the Martial Personality!  A.A. is a grounded example of a spiritual program that is a self-help group grounded in spiritual steps.  They go to great lengths to use the phrase like God of your understanding, Higher Power, or Power Greater than ourselves to ensure the program is free of religious affiliation and available to all who are suffering from alcoholism.  And yet their program is distinctly a spiritual program.  The members that truly take the deep dive into the 12 steps in thought and action are most likely to recover and lead happier, and richer lives filled with purpose and meaning.

Let us return here though to the macro problem faced in our westernized secular society today.  Most Americans recognize a decline in basic human values and in anger are pointing rage at others for societies major issues.  A neighbor of mine from Cuba, in accented English, once lamented they need to build a church on every corner, not for me, not for me, but for these kids these days!  He may have had a few expletives as well.  In other words, his lament was kids these days lack a moral compass.  Nowhere in our conversation was our moral failings or what our spiritual response should have been to the miscreants who spray painted my fence twenty years ago!  At that time, I was in a good spiritual place and had l kept a can of paint in case of repeat and was calmly painting the fence.  I believe this calm response angered my neighbor even more!  We were entitled to our rage and retribution!

A spray-painted fence is unimportant.  Job security, access to health care, slander, violence, hatred, meanness, greed, and countless other vices (think seven deadly sins) grip our families and society today despite or perhaps even contributed by our nation’s wealth of resources and desire to maintain or add to our perceived elevated status globally.

Our current president thrives on “Make American Great Again” with a form of nationalism that is fueled by hate, fear, and division.  Many of his followers staunchly support his views with a religiosity that leaves no room for objective discussion.  It is difficult to engage healing the rift as most Americans are so entrenched in their political identity (red or blue) that genuine reflection and authentic soul searching is beyond their grasp – top threatening their very existence.   Our nation has been at war with some nation or nations 93% of the time that our nation has been in existence.

There must come the point where we have to reconcile as a nation our spiritual fabric versus our internal and external relations.   How can we as a nation support “emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity, and neighborliness” to each other and to the world community?  How can we use our leadership position in the world to change the way the world is supporting dehumanization today?   

If we have Martial Personalities in power, it is because we support what that means as a nation.  We must face the hypocrisy of our nations dialectical positions when they are presented to us and demand realignment both domestically and internationally.

An article on societal disintegration that omits any reference to spirituality is a glaring sign of how far we are from spirituality as a society.  Our original monetary proclamation “Out of Many One” and its successor “In God We trust” affirms our nation was born a spiritual nation.  moneyEisenhower said the slogan on the dollar affirms “the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”

Our society needs spiritual warriors now more than ever.  Not the preaching type with the megaphone.  No, spiritual warriors in every stratum of society that live and model spiritual principles in every walk of life – educators, janitors, senators, lawyers, plumbers, artisans, nurses, bus drivers, sportsmen, clergy, accountants, bankers, policymakers, media, farmers, traders, retailers, CEOs, and all the other fields of labor.  Pontification is not the answer.  Living and seeking spiritual perfection is our ultimate calling as individuals and as a nation.

The rubber hits the road when sacrifices are called for to address global issues of poverty, global warming, immigration, violence, and growing scarcity of resources.  Our nation’s elite and our people, in general, do not want to cede the economic advantages that we hold today globally.  We fear our high moral road will place us at a severe disadvantage to other world powers that will not follow the same spiritual path.

Our politicians are acutely aware that voters support ideas but not necessarily sacrifices to achieve these ideas.  They need to see that in their communities, in their inbox, and at the ballot box to give them the courage to promote real change.   As long as we are debtwedded to money (and what it buys) and political ideology before principles, we will be adrift in misery and turmoil.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”  Matthew 6:24

Oddly many readers and friends will agree with me on these spiritual points and the meaning of life.  Actualizing and living up to these standards is a daunting task moment to moment.  Who is your master today?  What motivates your behavior every day?  Are you on autopilot or do you consciously consider your thoughts and actions as they relate to a higher spiritual principle than your self-gratification?

For example, would I pay 3.99 for a coffee from a brand that only pays living wages throughout its distribution chain including the labors on the front line or chooses the 2.99-dollar coffee brand whose profit margin is driven by cheap labor and exploitation of children and underdeveloped nations?  Can I even afford to buy fair labor products if I supported only fair wage products?  Probably not.  I would probably have to purchase less and pay more if I truly support fair wages and truly do not support child exploitation and world poverty.   At least in the short term.  In the long term if everyone shopped this way supply and demand chains would force policymakers and corporations to adjust their economic models that put profit over people.

Our products and markets count on lack of transparency.  If you knew the shirt you were buying for $27 was capitalizing on child labor or paying its workers below poverty wages would you still support that brand?  I am afraid we do this every day.  In fact, in our business circles, there is great pride in widening the profit margin by deflating wages, increasing working hours, suppressing benefits, and even increasing risk of negative outcomes (think health and safety in health care, environmental contamination, or food chain safety).

Unless we demand products and services that are built on and produced by ethical companies that support human dignity, we are individually and collectively partly responsible for dehumanizing conditions all over the world including in our very own backyard. Here are some examples of initiatives to support this idea:

https://www.livingwagenetwork.org/get-certified

https://borgenproject.org/5-clothing-brands-that-pay-a-living-wage/

https://actonlivingwages.com/

Imagine trying to sell these points in a political campaign – the masses eyes will glaze, and your opponents will marginalize your ideas as socialist, naively idealistic, and perhaps even anti-American and evil.  And rightly so.  It is not a message that can be sold – it must be lived by many through devotion and practice of genuine spiritual principles on an individual level to inform macro level economics and political ideologies.  What is your 401 K had a fund that invested in only labor-friendly stocks and provided a return of 9% but a sister fund making the same widgets returned 12% without fair labor practices – which fund would you pick?   Do you even know what your investments support worldwide?

What do you choose today: “to feed one’s twisted need for pleasure, power, and control” or to feed a society based on “emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity, and neighborliness?” 

I argue we do not have a Trump problem or even a Martial Personality Disorder problem – but a societal problem of spiritual poverty (not necessarily religious orientation). This poverty makes us vulnerable to permit passively behaviors and actions that we would not be able to stand for if we were intimately connected with our innate spiritual cores known by many different names.   Anthropologically, philosophically, psychiatrically or sociologically you do not have to look far to see that our nation is suffering from a deficit of morality and spiritual groundedness – with the latter including many people with firm religious affiliations.  Religious affiliation does not assure spiritual groundedness.

Spiritual transcendence takes patience, faith, love, and action.  And even then we have not assured anything – and yet I say this is the path to pursue true happiness and peace.  I myself am high maintenance and struggle with this pursuit daily.  I envy those believers who seem to just float on a cloud of belief, at least externally.   Even my envy is counter to my spiritual desire of acceptance of divine providence.

My faith challenges me to accept my own faults and the faults of others while not becoming complacent with what is and to seek what should be individually and collectively with my fellow man within my sphere of influence.  Clearly, most of us cannot individually change our nations political climate, leaders, or worldwide positions.  Nor can we individually change other people’s actions, especially those on the MP continuum!  We can however collectively moment by moment change our immediate environments and relationships with everyone we meet – which in turn can cascade into changes that appear outside of our sphere of influence.

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[i] https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/couch-crisis/martial-personality-and-decline-communal-values

 

 

Blasphemy of Alcoholics Anonymous?

Higher Power versus God

Relapse versus Sobriety

Misery versus Happiness

The characters behind the scenes of the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous are numerous both at its inception as well as built on the pain, suffering, and deaths of alcoholics preceding them and to follow them.   That being said Dr. Bob, Bill W., Anne Smith (Dr. Bob’s wife), Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker[i], Frank Buchman and Dr. Silkworth are names people must research and know if they are to understand the foundations of AA today.   I am particularly interested and have not read yet the diaries of Anne Smith[ii], wife of Dr. Bob.

The General Service organization maintains a list of “approved literature” that includes 14 books and other resources (pamphlets, workbooks, conference materials, etc) for general use and carrying the message forward.   This is a good practice.  For the newly recovering Alcoholic the field of recovery books is awash from the excellent to an outright harmful menu of options.   If you are early in your recovery or considering recovery this post is probably not for you right now.  I would direct you to professional help, a self-help group that is well established and related to your addiction, and if you have one, your faith support system.  The evolution of AA and internal and external politics of the organization is simply not helpful to early recovery.

The essence of this post is on the definition of a “higher power of my understanding.”  Dick B’s book “The James Club and The Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials” makes a strong case for AA’s early success being routed in Christianity and specifically the Gospel of James, the 13th chapter of first Corinthians, and the Sermon on the Mount.   It is not an approved history of AA.

Current coinage in “the room” allows for “higher power” to be defined by almost anything from a monotheistic absolute god to an inanimate object like a chair.  Despite this metaphysical abstraction AA maintains it is a “spiritual program.”  And it is a spiritual program.

The primary aim of course is to abstain from alcohol.  That being said, for long-term sobriety and happiness, the spiritual program takes hold and focuses on principles and a way of life that embraces a higher purpose be instilled, developed, and maintained.    It does so by presenting incrementally principles to live by and testimonies to support pursuing such an endeavor without wedding the model to any religious institution, deity (by name), or formal recovery treatment program.  Its independence and separation allows access to all people regardless of religious affiliation or absence of any belief at all.

The white washing and scrubbing of its Christian roots has allowed AA to have a vast casting net to worldwide potential members that are suffering from the disease of alcoholism.  The risk (or downside) is new members may benefit from the recovery tools of meetings, abstinence, fellowship, service and other tangible supports but never quite receive the “spiritual awakening” that so often provides recovering alcoholic’s purpose, happiness, and sustained sobriety.

The conundrum for the addicted is a phrase “half measures will avail you nothing.”   In all likelihood many suffering from addictions only know one speed – all or nothing.  Many will enter the AA room and size up rather quickly the immensity of the change being proposed, and if throwing in a God they have cast aside decades ago as well, may leave and never get the chance to return.

The caveat of using the term “Higher Power of your understanding” allows agnostics, atheist, and non-Christians a chance at using the principles of AA[iii] without the religious affiliation.   The Oxford Group that preceded AA had similar principles like the four absolutes.[iv]  Dick B maps out extensively the comparisons of these principles to the New Testament as well as the life experiences of the early founders of AA.

It is not surprising that the bible is not credited with attributions on A.A. literature despite evident overlay and outright plagiarism.  It is perhaps the most plagiarized book in history.  While the bible is recognized by most as public domain it is still intellectually dishonest to not credit sources if the ideas presented are not your own.  Most authors will credit both the bible and its version when quoting or paraphrasing from the Holy Book.  That being said I am not accusing Dr. Bob or others of any theft of intellectual property.   They have lived experiences that have included quite heavy influences from the holy bible and Christian institutions and leaders.

It is no accident most AA groups find their homes in church basements for a nominal fee.  The evidence of AA history overwhelming points to the original “higher power” used by the early fathers of AA is being Yahweh and the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  However, AA is not a Christian institution.   You do not need to believe in God to benefit from AA.

If you are Christian is it blasphemy to promote “a higher power of your understanding” as potentially being anything as abstract as an empty chair?   Is it disingenuous to do so if you secretly aspire that an unbeliever will find true conversion through the program as spirituality reveals itself overtime?   Probably yes.

However, AA is not an evangelical program even though its Big Book, Steps, Traditions and Fellowship may lead people to a stronger relationship with God.   What is a Christian in Recovery to do?  The answer is so relatively simple.   Both Christian evangelization and Alcoholics Anonymous are programs that work by attraction – not by coercion.

The Recovering Christian Alcoholic need only be transparent and brutally honest.   The newcomer will be attracted to the recovering alcoholic that he/she can identify with in the rooms.  The atheist or agnostic alcoholic will probably not identify with the Holy Roller Jesus Christ preaching enthusiast anyhow – at least not initially.  However they might be attracted to the success of the Promises of AA and is fulfilled and demonstrated by the Recovering Christian Alcoholic’s story and want what they have.

If the Recovering Christian Alcoholic can give away what they have for free from AA and help someone get sober – great weather who they help shares their faith is a believer, agnostic or atheist.   That is the primary purpose of AA.  If the fellowship blossoms over time and that someone express an interest in your “higher power” as you understand him that is something that can be shared but not put on the fellow alcoholic.    AA is not a “sell up” program where you come in wanting a car and they sell you an RV.

AA managed to collect the work of several hundred great people in its early days and create a reference that would provide replicating aspects of what they did for others to do and carry forward the message.  The melding of ideas was truly conflictual and dynamic and the end result looks very different from the truly early days.

However, you cannot replicate the truly early days that were dependent on unique characters, small numbers, shared visions (and in many cases shared religious views), shared homes and meals and much more.   It is a wonder how the program ever managed to survive.

And its survival is a question today.  Is AA effective?  AA self-reports indicate participation improves recovery and sobriety.[v]  American Addiction Center[vi] seems to support AA assertions.   However, it is not as successful (ratio wise) as the original group of founders.

I propose the fragility of the “higher power verbiage,” a less spiritual society, and struggling Christian and Catholic institutions (from self-inflicted wounds and moral decay by leadership and believers) have an impact on alcoholics being able to enter and engage A.A.

On a more positive note improved treatment options (medication and cognitive behavioral treatments) may also draw away some who may have been prime candidates for successful engagement and partnership with AA in supporting people in need of help for alcoholism always have a place to go.

Whatever your view alcoholism and other “isms” have not been defeated in our society.  The self-help community, professional treatment community, religious and governmental planners at all levels (researchers, policy makers, economist, legislators, and the president) would be remiss to not continue to fight and refine our efforts in prevention and treatment of alcoholism and substance abuse disorders.

In the meantime, if you or a loved one has an “ism,” don’t go it alone.   Get professional help.  Call a self-health hotline.  Seek a spiritual transformation.  It can be the difference between relapse and recovery, between misery and happiness, between purposefulness and alienation.

To answer the question, AA is not blasphemous, imperfect yes, blasphemous no.  AA clearly refutes itself from being religious and thus sidesteps the thicket of thorns of defining the absolute, the creator of the universe, or whatever the alcoholic deems to be his/her higher power.  Religion is left for the churches and the theologians.  Sobriety and Spirituality are its calling card for those with the desire to not drink.

serenity

[i] https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/a-biography-of-sam-shoemaker

[ii] http://dickb.com/annesm.shtml

[iii] Honesty, Hope, Faith, Courage, Integrity, Willingness, Humility, Brotherly Love, Discipline, Perseverance, Spirituality and Service

[iv] Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness and Love

[v] https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-48_membershipsurvey.pdf

[vi] https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/12-step/whats-the-success-rate-of-aa/

 

 

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