Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Habit Forming

I'm on vacation with Kim, Ruby & Brooke, and I'm happy to say I've not been on the internet much at all!

But the steps are still helping me . . . and I figured I'd post an observation or two while they're fresh. I've noticed that the steps are really habits, specifically, they're habits that facilitate progressive humility, trust in God, and general improvement of character. Just look through the steps, and it's not hard to realize that these are not things that someone just does, never to repeat, normal ebbs and flows notwithstanding. If you do them even once sincerely, they give you benefits that are hard to walk away from. That seems only fair play for AA's to fight fire with fire. The Big Book says something to the effect of alcohol abuse being only the symptom: it is merely the vehicle that alcoholics use to run away from the pressures of life. The steps are the solution because they teach a person how to successfully deal with life: by humbly taking our place with God, taking advantage of his many benefits. "Taste and see that the Lord is good." Similar to alcohol, one experience of God can lead to another.

It's hard for me to say enough how much God is ready and willing to recreate a willing human being (even one that is extremely screwed up) into someone akin to Jesus. The issue isn't God's power or willingness on this point, it's ours, which the original AA's were desperate and fortunate enough to discover.

As for my current step 'location', I have made some of my amends of step 9, and still have work to do. In fact, I've got my biggest 'amends' yet to schedule once vacation is over. I pray it goes well. And I find myself doing steps 10, 11 and 12 as well already, though without any prompting.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Two birds, one post

The below is a comment I left on Scot McKnight's blog, on the first post of what should be an excellent study on the word/concept of "gospel" in the bible. His post today focused on the Old Testament 'gospel', I think it's also strongly related to my experience with Step 2 of the 12: "We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity":

Alright! The mother of all series! Very much looking forward to this one, Scot. Just to be explicit about something that is implied in all of your points: God’s great power or abilities (which he uses for good), especially relative to others. Especially the Isaiah passage (who says to Zion, “Your God reigns”, emphasis mine) says to me that the chief power in the world is their God. I realize this is implied, but given people’s general tendency to trust other power sources (money, governments, persuasive people, etc.), I think it’s worth being explicit: No one, no thing has more power on the earth than God (specifically Jesus). The fact that saying it might be controversial even among Christians proves the point. It also happens that in many, many circumstances, one’s conclusions about who the most powerful person in the room is will dominate one’s course of action. If the earth is a ‘room’ where God has little power, our ethics will show it.

Even the Exodus speaks loudly about this ‘power’ issue to the whole world, to the extent pharoah and Egypt were perceived as the world’s greatest power. Foundational to trusting God instead of other things is believing he is able to help, more able than other things we could trust. (BTW, I’m looking forward to the book Salvation Belongs to Our God, for this reason)

My point being that God's power, and specifically Jesus' power, to help people on the earth is part of the gospel itself, and a critical part at that. If he did not have power to help, we would not bother coming to him; we'd go to someone or something else. We just don't--and shouldn't--trust things or people that can't deliver. Even people we hate, if we think they have power to do something, we are inclined to listen to what they say, perhaps do their will. Trusting God's gospel about Jesus is, in substantial part, coming to believe that he has the ability to come through in the ways we need. We need to know he has power on the earth to help.

For me, knowing Jesus has power, saying to myself "Jesus is Lord" puts my soul at ease. So many "what ifs" become quieted within me. More on that to come.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Observation 1: If your goal is transformation . . .

As I've been working the steps (slightly modified), and talking to various friends and church folks about them, I've noticed a common reaction, typically non-verbal, which I guess can best be summarized as 'perplexed'. After I confirm I don't even like alcohol and don't have any 'bad' addictions, the question on their faces seems to be: "Why would a Christian without an overt addiction problem do the steps?"
Obviously, some of these questions stem from an ignorance about the steps and what they're really designed to do--but that's for another post. Another reason for the perplexity is a general idea of what we think God is hoping to accomplish in the world through Jesus, and we don't see how the steps figure into that. In a nutshell, if Christianity is--at its core--about 'getting saved (from hell)', why go through the steps absent a typical-kind of addiction problem? And from that standpoint, I'd have to agree; the steps would be tangential at best to Christianity, though extremely practical for living well.

But what if God's goal and hope in sending Jesus is not just to save us from the ultimate consequences of our sin, but from "our sin" itself? What if his goal is to get his way on earth more like he does in heaven; to make human rebels into happily cooperative family; to overthrow the functional leadership of self, money and all that causes evil? What if re-creating people into the character of Jesus is the goal, and honest, maybe even desperate, communities of people are the best raw materials? What if a gospel 'response' is about saying 'yes' to God's leadership through Christ, then learning how to actually live that 'yes' out with God and other folks on the same Path?

I want to throw out the thought that to the extent that one becomes gripped by a gospel of the latter kind, by the thought that how we learn to live is the only kind of worship that matters, the AA program in general will start looking like one of the most logical ways an individual and group could respond to what God has in mind and what he offers. (For me, becoming really centered on the latter instead of the former was a process that took several years.) Ironically, in this effort of transformation, one becomes especially thankful for God's amazing forgiveness for falling short, because that forgiveness is put into a dynamic context and pursuit of a very high goal, issuing from the very heart of God: re-creation in the likeness of his Son, letting God reign on earth, through Jesus, just like he does in heaven.

More on why the steps are so appropriate and functional as a response to the gospel, and on my own experience with them, later.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

(Another) Long Time, No post

Well, for anyone that still visits here on occasion, I am alive. And silence has not meant inactivity.

To continue where I left off, I started working the 12 steps with my friend John as a 'workout' towards transformation, towards Christlikeness, towards functionally entering God's reign through Jesus. (A hint re: future posts: the steps aren't really about drinking.) I'm not done with them yet (or, better, they're not done with me); and I don't know if that will ever happen, though I'm excited to go through the 12th step soon, which I'll talk about more later. As many who have worked the steps know, they're not a checklist to be 'completed' and left for the next thing; they become a way of living with different goals, different motivations and different means of handling each day.

I really can't adequately say how grateful I am to God and his people for this little program of transformation and healing, though I hope my life will show it for years to come. The next several posts will be attempts to share some of my own experience with the steps, and also some larger reasons why the wider Church might want to listen to these humble "suggestions" offered and practiced by broken people around the world who wanted real change for themselves, and often found that and so much more. For those interested in the so-called 'new monasticism' dawning in the evangelical church, don't forget to listen to the wisdom of the enormous fellowship of 'drunk' monks, quietly and anonymously working around the world, among and as some of our society's most broken people.