Grace and Addiction
I have been a fan of the various authors on this site, most notably Dr. Rosenbladt, without whose sermons and general influence I would certainly not ever send something like this to be posted on a website. And certainly never a ‘Christian’ website.
I have a few confessions to make. I realize some of these might put me outside the general ranks of my friends in the historic Lutheran faith. Some of these might paint me as an ‘other’ from the general reader.
However, I hope that maybe I can give you an insight into what might be a small group of people you know that have either suffered silently, or left your circles altogether. Maybe, you find yourself resonating with some of this.
I am an alcoholic. And without getting into all the cliché storytelling (which many of us tend to stay away from) I can write that I am not exactly a ‘garden variety’ alcoholic. I am not the alcoholic that people in the local church of “friendly families and uplifting messages” paint as one (you know, James, who once had a few too many Coors and was slurring his words at the end of the night, or Dale, who has a beer or few every night). I am the blackout drunk. I am the drunk who loses his family, ends up in jail and rehab. I am the drunk that drinks the first hour just to quit the shakes and racing heartbeat (and then the next hours drinking until nothing can penetrate the wall of insecurity and doubt until I blackout and start the process the next day). So you get the idea. Not the “oh, poor guy” kind of drunk, but the “holy crap, he’s gonna die” kind of drunk.
And while I use the tense “I am a drunk”, I am happy to say that I recently took my five year anniversary off the sauce. I don’t currently have a drinking problem, but I could certainly get it back fast.
I am a sober drunk today because I found a place where people understood the depth of sin. Where there wasn’t a whiff of judgment. No one harassed me into joining a ‘new members’ group. No one spoke about how great life was going to be, but rather, how we live in a constant struggle as simultaneously saint and sinner.
But the theology there kind of sucks. And we meet in a charismatic church. And it’s not a church at all. It’s Alcoholics Anonymous. And trust me, the church could learn a lot from the way AA has been operating for the three quarters of a century.
I know, we pray a generic prayer to the "god of our understanding". I know, there is no formal absolution. But I’ll be damned if they don’t get the fallen nature of humanity better than anyone else. And really get it.
I know various Christian ‘alternatives’ to AA exist. Rick Warren and Saddleback church have “celebrate recovery”. Celebrate? I would have suggested it be called “endure recovery”. But that wouldn’t fit in with its American bent on pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and getting better every day. You can admit your drunkenness, but that’s always “before”. It’s much like the ‘testimonies’ you hear at some churches: the worse the better. So long as it is before (and never again) it’s ok to share.
Slip up once or twice, and you find yourself in ‘accountability meetings’ and if you can’t shape up, you’re out.
AA, the generally deistic and theologically barren group of degenerates, gets the depth of sin. And from there, I can hit up church on Sunday for some absolution. In fact, it’s really the only part of church I like. I need to hear that “in the stead and by the command” I am forgiven. The shed blood covers me. And that’s enough.
I stick through the service (and by all objective standards, it’s a good historic Lutheran church that delivers Christ’s forgiveness in Word and Sacrament every Sunday). My attention span sucks, though. And a lot of the guys I know are really into theology. And I can’t quite get into it all. I dig that they are into it. And I think I get why it’s important, I’m just not wired to talk theology all day. I usually hide out after service and get to my car as fast as I can.
I think the doctrine of “simultaneously saint and sinner” is something any alcoholic can dig. Most alcoholics (of the standard AA variety) tend to believe in something. I think the “God of their understanding” might be a really loving and forgiving god. I just think they made him up.
The historic Christian church has the opposite of the “god of my understanding”. I don’t get that guy at all. I thought he wanted me to join a committee and “get involved”. Maybe the “god of my understanding” as transmitted through a bunch of smiling pastors in Hawaiian shirts wanted me to “fellowship” and be “really committed”.
It seems the God of the historic Christian church is the opposite of the "god of my understanding". He forgives the alcoholic. He tells me I am forgiven and owe him no ‘pledge of faith’. I don’t tithe or join groups. Frankly, on its best day, my church is like an AA meeting, but with absolution.
Maybe the church can learn something from AA. At those meetings the people are generally happy to just see you show up and sit in the back. They have the same disease I have, and are glad to see that there are others (from successful businessmen to homeless men and women on the dole). They get the real problem of our brokenness, and know that we only show up because it’s a place where we can talk (only if we want) and listen to how others muddle through (no victorious living here!).
I think the church is for drunks like me. I wish more churches would borrow a trick or two from AA. And maybe with that, more of us (drunks, or those addicted to any other shameful or destructive behavior) might darken the door of the church more often.
Chances are, you know an alcoholic (maybe you are married to one, are related or friends with one). Skip all the stuff that promises anything more than the righteousness of Christ as your only hope. Send them "The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church". Send an email through 1517 and I’d love to talk.
I’ll remain anonymous for now. I know I’m just as broken as any. And the stigma of a drinking problem might be less than it was years ago. And I’m sure that many of the readers of this would welcome me to any church function at a church that gets that Christ’s blood is our only refuge. But, as the church is still filled with the ‘victorious’ and ‘truly sanctified’ that would gossip and (masking it as Christian ‘concern’), I’ll continue to slip in the back, hear the words ‘for you’, believe them and continue to muddle through with my only hope being a God, not of my understanding, but of the manger and the cross.