The church of Alcoholics Anonymous

A year ago our ministry began partnering with The Healing Place which is a 197 bed homeless shelter for men in recovery.  The program is based on the 12 step recovery process of Alcoholics Anonymous.  It is an intensive program with most men spending six to nine months working through the twelve steps and focusing all their attention on their recovery.  They are not allowed to work and spend all their time in classes and working through an intensive program called “Recovery Dynamics”.  It is a free program and for most their last hope.

We have recently hired six Healing Place graduates and I have been amazed by their faith and deep spirituality.  I had never had any experience with AA or NA and knew nothing about the program.  As I have questioned them about the spiritual component of the program, I became even more intrigued when many of them shared that it was through recovery that they came to know “the God of their understanding”.  One even shared that he belongs to the metaphorical “Church of Alcoholics Anonymous”.  Few of them have strong ties to the local church but instead find fellowship, support and spiritual nourishment from their AA “home group”.  I asked my friend who views AA as his home church why he did not attend church and he said “Maybe if Christians worked on living their faith with as much dedication as the alcoholics of my AA groups worked their recovery, I would be more interested in Church.” 

That was a stunning and challenging statement.  These men attend an average of three AA meetings per week; they read out of the AA “Big book” and quote it more proficiently than we Christians quote the Good Book.  It is a form of religion for those who truly seek healing and freedom from their illness and millions have found the healing they seek through these fellowships and the study of this text.  This is not surprising once one realizes that it was written by a group of Christians who desired to make the healing they had found available to all.  While the use of words like “God of your understanding” can seem foreign and to some un-Christian, there is no denying that these men have been healed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

No, the dedication of those in recovery is not the shocking part; the more shocking part is the lack of dedication exhibited by most professing Christians.  Why is it that Christians do not place the same importance on gathering together, supporting one another, the study of scripture and of doing good works? I was pondering this question with my new friend Jim and he gave me this answer “Perhaps it’s because our very life depends on our participation in the fellowship of AA.” 

What a profound thought.  What if our very life, not the life ever after, but our very life here on this earth depended on being a part of the Christian community.  What if we believed that we could only be the person God created us to be by being connected to a Christian community?  The problem we face as American Christians is that we do not see our own disease.  Our disease is the disease of complacency, of apathy, of contentment with the life we are leading.   There is nothing in our lives that we are powerless over.  There is no need for a God of our understanding our own understanding has become our God.  We have never done battle with the forces of darkness and thus, we do not depend on God’s grace to take us through each day the way my new friends do.

I would not trade places with them for all the world.  I watch as they walk the tight rope of addiction, everyday praying they do not stumble all the time knowing there is no safety net below them.  It is a terrifying way to live, but somehow, those who are doing it well, have a peace that passes understanding.  A peace that escapes me as I continue to lean on my own understanding and my own power, unaware that I am on that same tight rope, simply walking with a blindfold, unaware of my own spiritual battle.

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