What I believe (in case you’ve been worrying about it!)

barryweber:

An oldie, from October of 2008. And still a valid (for me) Statement of Faith

Originally posted on The First Morning:

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you. 1Peter 3:15

About my faith:

1.God is. I can’t even begin to describe God, let alone define God. Anything I say about God must fit inside my mind, and the one thing I can say with authority and absolute assurance: God is bigger than my mind. (Psalm 139: 7-18)

2.I can’t see God. I can only see where God is passing through. (Exodus 33:23) Thus, I see God’s methodologies and systems much more often than I see God’s direct interventions. Those methodologies include breath-taking scenes like Mt.Ranier, an ocean storm, and a baby’s cooing and laughing. But they also include the chaotic explosions of stars, the ripping apart of a live songbirds by hawks, the chomping down on innocent baby turtles by sharks, and tsunamis. And…

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The Womb of God

Originally posted on The First Morning:

The Womb of God

One of my favorite biblical authors is Abraham Heschel who, in 1962, wrote the definitive book on the prophets, called The Prophets. He described the time period around 400-500 B.C. when some of the great Old Testament prophets had begun to write and speak in alarming, revolutionary, and largely unlistened-to ways (I’m going to paraphrase just a little, because his words can be difficult at times):

Heschel wrote of that time- “Religion had declined not because it had been successfully argued against, but because it had become irrelevant, dull, oppressive, uninteresting. When faith is replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crises of today are ignored because of the remembered splendor of the past; when faith becomes an inherited heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority and rules rather than the voice…

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A House Becomes A Home, And Then It is Not, And Now It Is No More..Part Three

(selah..)

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“If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
But this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
No forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children. “
(from Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Book of Hours, Love Poems to God’)

~~
My memories of the house on Lipply Road are filtered- all of them- through the veils of other persons’ presence in the house, and of childhood. Even on my last visit to the house earlier this month, I stepped lightly, as a trespasser, as a child doing something I shouldn’t be doing. It was a house now, no longer our home. It was vaguely home-shaped, to be sure, but for now, for me what was, was no more. I walked through the kitchen that was, up the stairs that were, but they were not our kitchen, nor our stairs any longer. They belonged to someone else and my great hope as I furtively moved from room to room was that someone soon would begin another fifty year journey of home in love, in life with this house.

(Goodness, how I wanted to dust, sand and polish the floorboards, the door trim, the window sills..jobs I despised once upon a time, though they were a seldom requirement. But that was for someone else to do now. I hoped some other children would be among those having to do so.)

I can only assume, because I must, that this was a visit where I was saying “goodbye” without consciously knowing that I was saying that word. The house was empty now of all which and whom I had loved there. Even without knowing the terrible news which would come in a few weeks, I knew this was an ending of something, something still inexpressible. When I pulled the door shut behind me this time, I didn’t linger.

The People Who Made it a Home

There were the four of us, of course: Dad, Mom, Denny, and myself. Since Dad’s work was on the other side of the driveway, our home extended right into the barn, into the plowed fields, everywhere in the woods, and all around the south shores of Pine lake. The tire-testing circles were our bike-riding tracks, the old horse race track in the woods was our and the neighbors’ perfect and safe place for beginner’s driving lessons.

The men who worked at the test Center were our friends. The earliest ones- Mac, Mr. Raines, Mr. Wise, Arthur, and Leonard- were our mom’s and dad’s cooperative volunteer childcare workers as Denny and I, even as small children, made the whole 90 acres our playground. How many football and baseball games in front of the barn with the baby-boomed abundance of neighbor kids our same age? How many bicycle tires fixed, patched and pumped by Mac, the shop manager, who would stop welding some Firestone-sanctioned job to help us?

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Even the visiting Firestone managers from Akron found the way to our kitchen, with frequency. Don loved Mom’s Ritz Cracker faux apple pie. Bill would eat enormous servings of grilled burgers and home-fries. Dick, and Phil, and the two guys whose names I forget but who guided Firestones racing tire testing would, with others, come hunting with Dad on weekends in the fall, always accompanied by Joker, our beagle/pointer. Afterwards, they would eat- pheasant, rabbit- and sometimes stay for poker and beer and cigars in the barn. Even Raymond Firestone (Harvey’s youngest son, a boyhood friend of dad’s when the Firestone family would summer at their homeplace in Columbiana) would sometimes come to the house to eat Mom’s meals, with Dad and the others. (I remember him asking Mom if she could find him some pants- blue cotton summer pants- like the ones Dad wore. She did.)

Those Firestone-connected men were one wave of the people who made that place a home. Other waves:

Family

Most of Dad’s many brothers and sisters lived within a few miles of Columbiana. Mom’s brother and several sisters lived in the Akron area, too. Those aunts and uncles (33 total!) had a lot of children, and their children did, too. So there was an abundance of aunts, uncles, cousins and second-cousins who would frequently be visiting. I have specific memories of every one of our 45 first cousins being in the house, many frequently and continuing even through the time Mom was there by herself.

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Because the house was big, it was often the place for the Weber’s annual Fourth of July picnic and Christmas night get-togethers. I know I am only one of many cousins who still feel that “pull” on the Fourth or at Christmas. These were reunions which had been happening for decades already and they extended well into the late sixties. Watermelon, homemade ice cream cranked with broken block ice from Corey’s Oil in the summer or Pine Lake ice in the winter, turkey and ham at Christmas, Hamburgs and hotdogs on the Fourth, always Auntie Olive’s so-green pickles, Auntie Alice and Uncle Bill’s kohlrabis, and so much else. At Christmas, Auntie Alice would disappear and a forlorn looking but exciting-for-the kids Swiss Santa would show up to hand out gifts in a dollar-per gift exchange. At Christmas, each Weber woman would bring her “Weber cookies.” These were special and had roots in Switzerland and were made with baker’s ammonia (!) but they signal still for me the Christmas season every bit as powerfully as the singing of “O, Holy Night” by some slightly off-key alto soloist. Denny and I could tell which aunt or cousin had made which cookie by their texture, thickness, and brownness.

Mom’s were perfect.

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The Friendly Class of Grace Church

Virtual Family: Mom and Dad’s Sunday School class at Grace Church. This was the WWII young people’s class, organized  in the 1950s. They were all making their own homes, babies, and lives in Columbiana and there were many of them. When I was at Grace Church for their Bicentennial a couple weeks ago, I compared these men and women to another whole set of aunts and uncles and their many children as friends/almost cousins. Most of the adults are gone now, and many of those my age have long ago scattered, but..for awhile..there was a Grace-begotten Camelot.
These people, too, were at our house a lot, and we at theirs: class gatherings, picnics, hayrides through the woods, Vacation Bible school camps in the woods, after basketball/football game gatherings for ice cream, and Sunday school. Communitas it is referred to in Spanish- it was a community born in the spirit of community. It was not a community formed of membership, obligation, or rank. It was a family of choice, an example of “Friends shaking hands, saying ‘How do you do.’ But what they’re really saying is ‘I love you.’”

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And so many others..

The Pine Lake Secret Sisters, the Card Club, the Bowling teams- all would meet in the downstairs rooms for talk, and talk, and laughter and cards and chip-chop bbq beef sandwiches, and whatever else was made and brought (never bought and brought, never). Upstairs (sometimes) Denny and I would listen from our bedroom to what was happening below us through the air vent between the floors. I think we stopped for good when we once heard Tommie Keck say, “I can hear them giggling again.”

We (the young ones) would sometimes put on shows for our parents using the built-in stage of the sliding doors which enabled the one great room to be divided into a dining room and sitting room. Reash, Candel, and Weber kids used those doors in ways they were never intended to be used, but boy were they fun (and how easily I can hear and feel those doors, right now).

The ancient downstairs “second” kitchen (with a hand pump in the sink) became a playroom for little kids and then a family TV room as little kids grew up. It’s where cousins Kenny and Gail Miller, and our moms and dads watched the Beatles debut on Ed Sullivan, yeah yeah yeah, just several months after  I had sat in that same room watching the weekend of November 22 to 25 with the rest of America.

For years before Denny and I left home and for many years after, Mom made about a million cookies, ten thousand cakes, and twenty thousand pies for customers who kept coming back and as donations or gifts to whoever had caught her eye and heart that week. (I exaggerate the numbers, but not by much!) For every Street Fair she would make 30+ pies to be sold at Grace Church’s food area. And she did that for almost forty years. Later, Dad would help her cater meals around town for various groups, and frequently for the men working in the barn, and that’s to say nothing of the food Mom prepared for Grace’s once a month “Come whoever wants to and pay whatever you want” lunches which she “engineered” for years. Here’s a picture of one page (of 20 pages) of pictures she took in the 1970s of wedding cakes she made! And ALL of this cooking was done in that single kitchen of the house! All that food is part of the reason the whole town is connected to this house!

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~~

~~
Just as I tip-toed through the house earlier this month, I tip-toe now a little ways back from immediate rush of memories of the house, the home. Five days before the fire, we had to say goodbye to our Golden Retriever, beloved Salem, who for fifteen years had loved us as we loved him, with a love that is too complicated, too big for words. Sometimes words detract from reality because they must, by their very nature of being “only words” be less than what we are trying to describe through them. But we have to try, and that’s what I’ve been doing, and now I have to be quiet for a bit. At least about these two, the dog and the house, which are no more.

Physically, Salem and the house are gone. Emotionally and spiritually, though, they are wildly alive in my heart. I knew that was true of Salem, of course. All who knew him have mourned. But it has been healing to see and hear of the love expressed for this 134 year house, too, by so very many people. I lived there, it was home, but it was not “mine” any more than Salem was “mine.” The really best things, the true things in life are those that we share outside the boundaries of “ownership.” The best things belong to us all. Our perspectives may differ, the intensity of our feelings may vary. But the best things, the very best things in life are..

Ours.
~~
“Father of all, we pray to you for all that we love, but see no longer. Grant all of that which is loved, your peace; let light perpetual shine upon all of it; and in your loving wisdom and almighty power work through our memories of that which we loved the good purpose of your perfect will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. .

We commit now, what we have loved to the ground, ashes to ashes, dust to dust..”

Amen
(adapted from The Proposed Book of Common Prayer, Church of England)

A House Becomes A Home, And Then It is Not, And Now It Is No More..Part 2

(raise up a child..)

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“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.”
(‘Ways of Seeing’, John Berger, 1973, p.7)

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The Front Porch (there were five porches, and I could make a list like this about each of them, but..this one, now)

This porch was the one we crossed over every morning, then across the lawn, and down to the driveway from kindergarten through 10th grade to meet Columbiana Independent School District Bus #4. Mr. Oesch was the first driver I remember. Dave Kimbel, Jackie Wise, and I would sit together, three across in the same seat, and we would talk on the way to school about Davy Crockett and Peter Pan. Later on the route, we would pick up Harry Dean and Mr. Oesch would make us laugh every single day with the same repeated sing-song: “Harry Dean the washing machine, combed his hair with the leg of a chair and called his mother a grizzly bear.”

This porch was one where a young tired-looking blond woman came one cold Saturday afternoon in about 1960 and asked for a drink of water. My mom told her to come in and sit down and I drifted into another room because the woman did sit down and began crying and I remember nothing else about that incident except that mom seemed to know what to do.

This porch was the one where I sat on the step after school in February 1964 and read and re-read a note from my mom written on a piece of tablet paper. My sons  it said on one side. Below that, she had written Dave and Denny. On the other side there were no crossed out words and I remember the note word for word: “Dearest boys, Grandpa [her dad] went  to be with Jesus this morning. I’m going home with Aunt Betty now. Dad will tell you more. Love, Mom.”

This porch was the one from where Robbie and I entered the house carrying Joshua, three months old, at Christmas in 1974 and it was this porch where Robbie and I and Joshua, Darcy, and Sarah stood and sang “Jingle Bells” to announce our late night arrival for Christmas in 1981.

This porch was the one where Denny and I sat with cousins in November 1999, remembering when we had all years earlier played ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Cops and Robbers’ upstairs while our parents visited downstairs. It was the day of Dad’s funeral.

And..this porch was the one where, while I was on a visit home in the Spring of 2004,  I knew for certain what I didn’t want to know for certain when Mom went outside to look for Dad to call to supper. Later that Spring was when Denny and I buried our mementoes when saying goodbye to the house. We buried them in a now-forgotten distance south then east, from this porch.

~~

I keep thinking, imagining places in the house I would like to run my hands over one last time. It has become an almost obsessive thought. One would be the stairway bannister (18 steps up, hover over the heat register at the top, continue). Another would be the window in the bay by the bed where I slept. It opened to the east and looked out over the green then golden then bare then green again gingko (second largest gingko in Ohio!). And the top of the fireplace in the dining room- the fireplace in which thousands of hot dogs were roasted, hundreds of marshmallows were burned to a crisp, and where innumerable pennies were thrown into the hot coals to turn fiery red. And the porch, that porch. Just one more time.

A House Becomes A Home, And Then It is Not, And Then It Is No More

(when I run out of words, I write)

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“That night I dream of my fathers out of Bohemia
filling the blue fields of fresh and generous Ohio
with leaves and vines and orchards.”

(from “The Black Walnut Tree” by Mary Oliver)

Black Walnut stands were still plentiful, thick and tall in the still-to-be-cleared forests of 19th Century eastern Ohio. As farms were established and as the country settled into a time of renewed movement westward, the Walnut trees were felled, milled, and shaped into the realized dreams of those seeking place, community, and permanence.

The Walnut planks- deep chocolate brown become golden- were wrapped around the interior junctures of ceilings and walls, walls and floors. Grooved and rounded, the crafted wood became the frames of windows and doorways. Lathed, they became the bannisters and rails of stairways. Steps, cupboards, thresholds: all were the finishing grammar, the Walnut-brown punctuation of a well-built, well-founded, well-appointed home.
~~
When our family arrived in the Lower/Firestone home, it had been five years empty. Seventy-three years from its being cut and carpentered from the surrounding woods, the grand old house had been abandoned by the elders for the convenience of living in town on Elm Street, and by the young for the seeking of fortune in California. Filled with the ephemera and left-behind effects of a once-vibrant, socially active and commercially successful family, and in preparation for our family’s moving in, piles of papers were boxed and discarded, the house was mopped and dusted, the walls were painted (sky blue downstairs, yellow kitchen, beige upstairs), five of the six fireplaces were closed off, and the hulking  half century-old coal furnace was cleaned.

The night we moved into the house, in the fall of ’53, I wore red socks to bed. The room was very big- the ceilings were high, there were a lot of windows, so much dark wood, a fireplace on the other side of the room, and I was on the second floor. And there were sounds. Later, I would come to know the wall-creaking and roof-scampering sounds as the friendly noises of an old friend. But on that first night they were the stuff of a child’s terror, and I opened my mouth and cried out for..Mommy, Mommy!

I remember that first night; I was four. I would remember much much else in this place in the ensuing fifty years. The house is always a character, a participant in those memories. The house became a standard established in childhood by which I’ve measured every place I’ve lived since then, and there have been many places, and perhaps that is why. I left that home in 1971 but visited often, with one, two, then three kids. And then, in 1999, Dad was gone. We packed up and moved Mom out in 2004. The next day, the home we had there was a home no more. Denny and I buried mementos of ourselves and of Mom and Dad in the front yard the night before we closed and locked the back door for a final time. It was for both of us an act not of worship, but of inexpressible thanksgiving. Which may, as I think about it now, be the substance of worship.
The mementoes are still there, buried deeply in a metal Chock-Full-of-Nuts coffee can which had served for decades as the back porch house key hiding place. They are worthless; they are invaluable. If anyone ever finds them, may they have some inkling how this place was loved.
~~
Because of what I do in my profession, I must often lead people into, be with them, and stay with them through times of grieving. What follows is how I am dealing with my own grief over the death of this dear friend. I write about times and memories which transcend specific experiences and which have been (for me) transformative. If people read over my shoulder as I write these things, that’s OK, but it’s not why I write them. I write things like those that follow to stay sane, to keep from being emotionally crushed by my own grief as it has been added to empathetically by the grieving of others.

These then are some memories (true things but shaped by my own synaptic responses) of the Lower/Firestone house on Lipply Road, Columbiana, Ohio, during the last half of the 20th Century. I will be dreaming (out loud, not in a particular order) “of my fathers out of Bohemia filling the blue fields of fresh and generous Ohio with leaves and vines and orchards.”
~~
(more to come)

Merry Xmas

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John 13:34-35   “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
This command was made by Jesus on the night before his arrest, the day before his trial and crucifixion. His disciples were gathered with him in the Upper Room. A bit earlier he had demonstrated to them the radical notion that Love was not only a noun, but a verb. He did that by washing their feet- the lowest task that could be imagined by anyone at the time.
Now, he had begun to tell them specifically about what would be happening in the coming hours. He knew the game was on. He knew there was a conspirator in their midst. He knew the end was soon coming.

These are last hour instructions, the summation of everything the disciples have heard Jesus say during the last 2-3 years. “Remember me” he has said over and over as he served them their Last Supper together. Remember what you have seen and what you have heard; go and do likewise.

“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

“If you love one another..everyone will know you are my disciples.”

The Way behind Jesus, the path upon which he invited, and invites, his disciples to follow him, is simple: Love God, and love your neighbor.

It is so simple, but it is also dangerous. It takes a great deal of self-denial and humility. It takes a willingness to give time, give resources, and give that which seems most elusive at times- hope. It takes courage.

That “substance” of being disciple has been redefined by those who, and I will say it straight out: The substance of being a disciple has been replaced, redefined, and reworked by those who want to be disciples but do not have the courage.

They do not have the courage to wash feet- to do the dirty, humiliating, hands-on work that Jesus demonstrated was necessary again and again.

They do not have the courage to see the person in need, pick him up from the ditch, pay for his care, then offer the caretaker more when he returns nor stand between a woman in trouble and hypocritical bullies ready to throw rocks.

And we are about to see what has become a yearly onslaught by those tip-toeing, fearful wannabe disciples, as the Xmas season begins. We are about to see the difficult substance of being a follower of Jesus denigrated,  as the form of Being Christian- the words about being a Christian- are lifted up as

The. Most. Important. Thing.

Form over Substance.

An easy, outward and very visible example: The use of the X in the word “Xmas.”  I remember my aunts fussing about this one Xmas decades ago, and it was something which I then took on as a personal crusade, even as a kid. It seemed dishonoring of Christ, to replace him with an X.

But then, years later, I learned that following Christ was not about words, or form, it was about doing, and being, and following. Here’s what else I learned:
X is the Greek letter Chi. It is the first letter of the word “Christ.” It began to be used early on by those hundreds of stenographers who laboriously copied the manuscripts of Matthew, Mark, Luke John, Paul, and many others of the early church fathers.

X was also rumored to mark the meeting places in the Roman catacombs where believers and followers of The Way would gather. These were largely illiterate folks, remember. With every X they scratched on the wall of a catacomb they were honoring their Savior, as they were when they would trace Xs in the dirt with their feet when meeting others along Roman roads. Oddly, every time I write the Chi- the X- I feel like I am in a tiny way honoring those many, many illiterate peasants and others, who moved Christ through those first centuries with their stories, their presence, their deeds, and their gatherings together in times which demanded real and raw courage.

X was such a commonly used name for Christ that Constantine, in the year 325, the year he proclaimed the Roman Empire to be the Holy Roman Empire, took the Chi, added a Rho- C,R- and made it into a symbol on his soldier’s shields and flags. An unfortunate day in Christian history, perhaps, but not one which meant to dishonor the Christ at all! Later, in the 1500s, X enjoyed something of a revival when movable type began to be used- the Gutenberg and other presses, you know? Since every single letter of a document or page had to be carved out of wood or fashioned from rock or metal, it became desirable for printers, whenever possible, to shorten words, a kind of printed shorthand. There are many instances, for instance of the The Lord’s prayer and other familiar texts being printed without vowels to save tremendous labor.

How is X-M-A-S pronounced? It has always been pronounced “Christmas.” “Christmas” itself is a slightly shortened version of “Christ’s Mass”- Mass, a worship service.

X is not dishonoring. It is traditional. It does not make Christ any less holy than do the letters C H R I S T, which are also merely symbols that are used to communicate the person and office of Jesus the Christ.

But this is only one tiny however obvious element of faith that those who celebrate form over substance will quibble with. Words- the proper use of words seems to reign supreme in the religion of many. It is, after all, so much easier to talk about words, than it is to allow oneself to be transformed by the Word made flesh, and lying in a feed trough in a stable. It is so much easier to talk about how much you love Jesus than it is to do something, anything, sacrificially to help a neighbor in need.

 “The War on Christmas” is another headline and argument that is evidence of the superficiality of the religion of many. “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” becomes the significant theological and spiritual benchmark as people seek to measure the “Christianity” of others.

Two years ago, a major Dallas Church established the Grinchalert. com website where people could tattle on various businesses that weren’t using the right words, the right holy-sounding words in the conduct of their business. Consumers could write into the site and express their outrage or pleasure over how they had been spoken to or how they felt while doing business. They could label their experiences as “Naughty” or “nice.”

 I quote from the Dallas Morning News: “The comments come from not only Texas but nationwide. A resident in Tulsa commented that the city voted to change the name of its Christmas parade to Holiday Parade of Lights. So Tulsa’s on the naughty list.

So are Sears and K-Mart in Grand Junction, Colo., because employees say “Happy Holidays” and not “Merry Christmas” when selling Christmas trees.
Target made both the naughty and nice lists. One shopper disliked the lack of items with religious references to Christmas. [Naughty] But another shopper from Appleton, Wis., commented that Target displayed large “Merry Christmas” signs above the checkout lines.” [Nice]
Unquote. Oh my.

“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

One might ask, “Where’s the love?” in such a website, such an outward, silly, potentially unfair, and distracting endeavor? And it’s a good question. My answer is that there is no love at all to be found, except for the veneer thin love of right-sounding words.

OK, so what  is the substance of Xmas, then? If substance is far far far more important than form, what is the meaning, the substance, of Xmas?
The substance of Xmas is the same substance that should fill every day- Thanksgiving, The fourth of July, Labor Day, the first, second, and 83rd days of summer, Election Day, and our birthdays- all of them. The substance is the human manifestation of the divine, a manifestation which Jesus revealed, then went on to further reveal could be manifested in each person who followed him. 

He was born a baby, not an angel. He grew up as a child, a child who had some inkling of his Father’s business, as he said, but as a child who played, laughed, depended on his parents, became an adult, and learned. Just like the rest of us. He had a job, observed all the outward forms of his Jewish faith- Bar Mitzvah, Sabbath prayers, Passover- and then, one day, after hearing the preaching of his cousin John the Baptist, woke up.

He awakened to his Christ-ness, his role, his full humanity and his full divinity. He fought that role in the wilderness, but overcame the very real opportunity he had to retreat into the easy and popular choices available to him. Instead, he moved into the world, for the world.

As the Apostle Paul would later write, day by day he took on the form of a servant, eventually becoming that highest form of a servant- one who washes feet- one who puts all others ahead of himself, one who would go so far as to serve a meal to his betrayers. And then beyond.
Beyond.

He called others to follow him, and frustrating as it must have been, he allowed them- his disciples- to keep following him even as they continually fell back into their own cultural biases of pride seeking, judgment, discrimination, and jealousy.
He reached through his own barriers of prejudice toward those who were unwanted, unlovable, and unknown to all but his father. He said, “Love God” and then showed those disciples how to do that by loving your neighbor in the same breath.
He scorned those who were obsessed with form: “You whitewashed tombs,”  he called them, “so beautiful on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones on the inside.” But he loved them anyway, even the ones who would try him, condemn him, nail him, stab him, taunt him, and be glad when he was finally dead so they could go home.

He died in perfect and ultimate servanthood.

That’s the substance.

X marks the spot. X is the mark on each of his disciples, imperfect though they and we are. X is our call to celebrate, not denigrate. X is our call to include, not separate. X is our reason for being, all the time. Not just for this season or any season.

So, Happy Holidays! And..

Merry Xmas.

 

David Weber, November 26, 2012

Sermon Series- The Twelve Steps. Step Three

David B. Weber, June 23, 2013

Step 3: “We Made a Decision to Turn Our Will and Our Lives Over to The Care of God, As We Understood God”

To briefly review where have been and where we are:

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over our dependencies – that our lives had become unmanageable.

That’s the most difficult step. That’s the step where we have to lay aside our pride which has gotten us nowhere, our self-lies which have blown up in our face, and our illusions of being able fix ourselves by trying harder. This is the time, the moment of surrender.

Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

One of my favorite biblical scenes is in John 4, where Jesus meets the outcast, lonely woman at the well. He talks to her, with respect, with insight, and, maybe for the first time in her life, love. Inside of an hour, she is running back to town to tell her fellow villagers about who she has met- “Could he be the Messiah?” she proclaims to everyone who will listen. All she knows about the stranger at the well is that he listened, he told about herself, and about himself. He called himself the Living Water. But what she heard was enough. She had come to believe there was someone, someone with a Power greater than hers who could restore her to sanity- could give her life meaning.

She was ready to follow a Messiah, even without know where he might be going. She was ready, in effect, for what we call Step 3:

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives
over to the care of God as we understood God.

 

These are important words as they were developed and refined by Bill W. and Dr. Bob. They are words which bother many people in evangelical churches who know the power of the Twelve Step program but who also believe a person in need must understand God exactly as they understand God. So they define God as, in their various 12 Step programs, as Jesus Christ.

It may surprise and disappoint, but I don’t go along with this. The woman at the well had met a man, who claimed to be the Messiah. More importantly, though, she had met a man who listened, in love, without hitting on her, judging her, or comparing her. She had met a man who accepted her as she was.

I’ve told you before about our friend many years ago in South Dakota. Etta was 64-65 at the time we first knew her. Her leathery brown face was deeply etched in the lines of a difficult life, a life lived at a time in the 20th century when Indian children were taken from their parents, and sent to boarding school where various church organizations would try to turn them into white children. A process which never worked, by the way, but did succeed in turning tens of thousands of young Native Americans into sad, lonely, frustrated adults who found their solace in alcohol. That was Etta’s story, too, and she lived for years in Chicago, drinking heavily, having children, until she returned to the reservation and met an older Indian man.

John was an older man much like the man at the well, who listened and loved and gave her the hope of a greater power. A greater power who Etta would come to know as Jesus, yes. But John’s Jesus was a very different  Jesus than the one she had learned about as a child who wanted her to have short hair, speak only in English, separated her from her brothers, and made her wear hard shoes.

A quick editorial: The Church as an institution often seems to be preoccupied with self-promoting itself and defending its own particular sets of centuries- old doctrinal statements. Contrast them with Jesus’ preoccupation: in almost everything he did, or said, and modeled Jesus was about “healing the sick.” He went to those who were physically sick, spiritually sick, emotionally sick, or culturally sick, and said, in so many ways, “Get up, pick up your mat, and follow me.”

As the writer and thinker Richard Rohr says, religion too often seems more concerned about the container than the contents! It was that way then and is too often that way now. Jesus’ metaphor for his approach to religion, perhaps ironically, was an alcoholic one, Mark 2:22: “New wine needs a new wineskin.”

Twelve Step programs are about God’s healing of the sick, not with old wineskins, but with new wine of true transformation. The new wine of Jesus has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with hard shoes, short hair, judgment, threats of hell, English only, or religion that separates. It is about renewal, respect, acceptance, and love. It is about transformation. And that transformation can begin to happen even before you know the agent of transformation’s name.

Etta didn’t preach, she never preached.  She acted. Constantly, daily, wherever she was. One incident came to symbolize for me everything I loved about Etta, and- coincidentally- much of what I know now about Jesus. Again, I repeat myself, but it’s a worthwhile image and it’s kind of gross but if you take this sstory home and remember it, it’s a true gospel of Jesus story and I’ll consider this message to have been successful.

I was at her house and her daughter, also alcoholic daughter was there. Annie answered the phoned and said words I can’t say here and handed the phone to her mother. Etta listened, and said “I’ll be there,” then said to me, “Let’s go.”

We got in the car and she told me that her nephew had been found unconscious, drunk in a ditch, but nobody’s car was running to take him to the Indian hospital, so could she come get him. When we got to him, about five snow-covered miles away, we found him lying along a long, snow-covered driveway, and with some women who were there wrestled him into her car. Ten minutes later, halfway to town, he began throwing up in the back seat. “Make sure he’s on his side,”  Etta told me, then also told me to light a cigarette so it wouldn’t stink in the car so badly.

We got him to the hospital, unloaded him, and went back to her house where my car was, and I helped her clean up the mess. How did I come to love Etta in all of this and learn something about Jesus before I even knew I was learning about Jesus? Etta never said a single cross word about Tommy, her nephew, and she had done this for him before, a number of times. She never griped, cursed, fussed, or complained. She hadn’t looked for excuses, and she didn’t speak a syllable of  judgment. She respected, loved, and concerned herself only with acts of “healing the sick.”

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives
over to the care of God as we understood God.

 

That’s why those words are so important. In a time in history when Jesus has been so terribly misrepresented by politicians who claim to have him on their consulting staff, and when TV preachers give their private jets biblical names, it is not hard, not hard at all to understand why so many people hesitate to call upon the name above all names.

How many little boys have heard the words of a preacher,  “Bad, bad, bad!” so often and grow up deciding they really have been tattooed in their soul with the words they now proudly display on their knuckles, “Born to raise hell.”

How many little girls have had their learned trust in God violated by a “man of God” and later learn to dull the ever-present nightmare with chemicals, or live half-lives of incessantly remembered but unexpressed pain and shame.

Nobody makes a decision to turn their will or their life over to the care of a God who they know is getting ready to tar and feather them and ride them out of town on a rail. That’s impossible. That would, in fact, be stupid.

Twelve Step programs are not about the moral worthiness game or mere heroic willpower. They are about hope. Hope reached for, hope grabbed after, hope sought in places where there is only a glimmer of it present.

None of us are ready when we have hit the bottom of whatever bottom we hit. But there does come a time when the God within, the Kingdom of God already in us, as Jesus called it, enables us to reach out, however tentatively, because we are out of anything else to do.

Isaiah 55:1

55 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.

The prophets, like Isaiah, had begun to proclaim the reality of God in a way that Jesus then was able to bring into full clarity. God was not a God that had to be bartered with; this was not a quid pro quo God- you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Come to this God, Isaiah was saying, and you can have all God has to give without any money!  All you have to is accept it!

Jesus said it was this basic (Matthew 7:7) : “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

You might be the nephew in the back seat of your Aunt’s car. It’s free!

You might be sitting on the hard bed at the County Jail for the first time in your life. It’s free! Just ask!

You might be at your wit’s end with a job search and at the bottom of your checking account. It’s free! Search..you’ll find it. It was never hidden.

You might be lost, confused, ready to give up.  Knock! Knock until your hand hurts and then come to realize the door was never locked in the first place.

You might be overwhelmed with shame, afraid to say anything to anyone. Or doing an inventory of bottles hidden there and there and there. You might have those hurtful, foul old words echoing inside of you that tell how bad you are, how fallen you are, how unworthy, behind, low, or incapable you are.

Or you may know somebody like that..we all do. I’m going to tell you something- something else- that might sound blasphemous. Don’t feel compelled to tell them about Jesus. Not yet. Tell them about the kindness of your aunt, or your friend, or a teacher you had in high school. Tell them the hope you discovered when you read a particular novel- Grapes of Wrath is a good one, or To Kill a Mockingbird. (Classics are called classics for a reason.)

Or tell them about Etta. Etta doesn’t belong to me, or Robbie.. she belongs, as do all people like her, to the world, to the kingdom of God. The story of Etta is still alive even though she no longer is. The gospel of Jesus is also the gospel of Etta!

The point is to make a decision ourselves, or help others to make a decision, to turn our lives over to the God of hope, however we might know the God of hope at the moment we ask, seek, or knock.

I believe that Way, that path leads to Jesus, no matter how we begin.  But I also want Jesus to be personal to you. I want you and others to know Jesus, and not merely to know about Jesus as I know Jesus.

When we finally throw in the towel of our pride and self-delusion- hope, real hope formed in the foundational love of God and the shared love of others- that hope can be glimpsed, then reached for, when we discover this hope that has been waiting for us all along.

 

God, Father, Abba..

There may be somebody here today, this day now, who has glimpsed and begun to reach. Help that person to feel us celebrate with her or him. Or some of us may have others in our hearts and minds who we care for, even as it seems they no longer care for themselves. We celebrate with those persons, too, the love that is waiting for them- your love. May they say ‘Yes’ to you God, as they know you. May we, in our actions toward them, be affirming of that love which awaits them.

Amen

 

 

 

Sermon Series, The Twelve Steps. Step Two

“Step Two: Came to Believe that a power Greater than Ourselves could restore us to sanity”

Too often, the gospel of Jesus Christ is presented in the colors and textures of pure emotion. We are moved by a story told by a professional story-teller and by the music- “Just as I am”- wrapping itself around our hearts like a golden rope and pulling us toward an altar. Or we are skillfully, predictably made afraid by those who understand the terrific motivator that Fear can be. Eternal Fires and roaring lions seeking whom they may destroy are shouted about and we are made afraid to do anything but obey the preacher shaming us to walk the aisle, and trust Jesus. Trust Jesus or burn in hell.

One of the many lessons I’ve learned from prisoners is how temporary those kinds of emotional and fear-based reactions often are. Some guys have walked the aisle 5 times, 10 times, 20 times hoping that salvation will somehow stick this time. But then the emotions of the words get tramped under the realities of daily life, and the burden of being afraid of Jesus, rather than in love with him, become too overwhelming.

Some have called the Twelve Steps America’s greatest contribution to the gospel message. It is described that way because the Steps are indeed pragmatic, like so much of American culture. You know- build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. Americans have traditionally seen a need, and endeavored to find a solution to satisfy that need. A good thing. What the Twelve Step program does for many people is make the Gospel believable, relevant, practical, and workable.

When Bill W. and Dr. Bob began talking together about their shared drinking problems in the early 1930s, in Akron, they discovered they were able to do together what they had not been able to do by themselves: make it through one more day without drinking, make it through another day without succumbing to their dependencies, their sin.  So they kept talking, and others began to join in the conversation. Some of those who were part of those early meetings could not overcome their dependency and dropped out. But some stayed, became clean and sober, and took the message beyond Akron and into the world.

Dr. Bob and Bill W., and millions of persons since, discovered the freedom of saying those important first words out loud, “I am powerless over alcohol.” They admitted it to each other, “We are powerless over those things we have come to be sinfully dependent upon, and our lives have become unmanageable.”

That was Step One.

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over our dependencies – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Saying those words is so countercultural, so difficult in a culture that says we must pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, or simply “think positive” and everything will magically be better.

Saying those words- “I am powerless”- leads automatically to a second set of words almost as difficult to say: “I need help.” It’s as if a door- a door in heaven?- opens when we finally step out of the way.

It’s also like the prodigal son in Luke 15. The young, arrogant, know-it-all, temporarily wealthy, full-of-himself son, ran out of himself. Standing in pig slop, hungry, willing to eat even what the pigs were eating, he..

17 …came to himself [and] he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father.”

The insanity of his self-perceptions had led him to a life that was completely out of control- unmanageable! He’d come to step one.

And now: Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The son knew that of himself, he’d blown it, badly. But a shimmering, vague but real next step had just become possible for him. “So he went off to his father..” When he came to himself, when he realized his insanity, a door opened- a door of hope.

He had no intentions of going to his father with the same false attitude with which he had left his father. He wanted to return as a hired hand, a sinner who had amends to make, forgiveness to beg.

It can be, especially in retrospect, the most exciting, enlightening, but terribly difficult times of one’s life.

C.S. Lewis said that we were all born with a God-shaped vacuum in our souls. He said that we are all prone to try to fill that emptiness with all kinds of..stuff, in an effort to calm the empty echos rising from it. In order to try to calm the rumblings of living outside of God’s love, God’s community with God and others, we are prone, almost helpless in our arrogance to avoid, or to stop cramming all kinds of self-medications into that raw and bleeding hole.

Some choose the gauze of drugs or alcohol. My own objects of choice were Jim and Budweiser 16 ouncers. Others choose to eat themselves into love, or even then void themselves when that false love becomes guilt, or be promiscuous in the also false love of eroticism, or to buy a sick semblance of love with power and money, or enter into some apartness from God that affirms “I can do it myself!” or “I don’t need you!” or “I didn’t ask to be born!” or “Life’s not fair!” ..

Yadda, yadda, yadda..

The self-affirmations and self lies are as old as the Garden of Eden when everybody tried to blame everybody else for their own failure.

The terrible problem is that those things that we once chose to partake in, indulge in, soon stop being choices. They become compulsions, ways of life, addictions. In our retreat from God, we are overwhelmed by new gods. And we become slaves to them.

But then, one day we find ourselves standing in the mud of a pigpen- whatever our personal pigpen might be. And it is there, at the bottom, at the place where there is no place lower to go- there in the stink, the wasted money, the broken promises, the put-aside vows, the severed relationships, the hurt and the heartache..there, in the middle of all that.. something wonderful and mysterious can begin to happen.  Something causes us, for a moment, to “come back to ourselves”- in the language of the prodigal son.

In the words of a favorite rabbi of mine, Rabbi Steinsaltz: “At a certain point we make decisions not only about what we are going to do but about what we are going to desire.”[i]

We make a new decision, a decision born of hanging on to the end of a frazzled rope, yes, a decision that that initially might involve only the tiniest seed- a mustard seed- of understanding and belief: We come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.”

We begin to move- a single tiny and tentative step, onto a path of yearning. In the pigpen, the prodigal son knew there was something better, and he yearned for it.

Yearning is the song of that god-shaped vacuum inside of us all. We long for the love that will complete us, the forgiveness that will restore us. Yearning, longing for, crying out for something greater than ourselves- that yearning is not merely an invitation to God; that yearning is God.

That longing for God, that longing which comes even before we are able toname God as that for which we long, is so difficult to capture in words. But perhaps, we can hear it in a story..

It is near dusk as the Sabbath ebbed away in the small Russian village of Berdichev. The disciples were gathered. The rabbi Levi Isaac  - holiest teacher – rises to speak. He wants to explain to his disciples not the wonder of creation, or the mystery of the Creation, but merely that God is the inside of the inside, the  life force of the universe, and that therefore each one of our lives matters.
He begins his talk with an elegant teaching from the Talmud demonstrating the reality of God.
“Do you understand?” he asks.
“No,” they answer…heads hanging, looking embarrassingly at the floor.


He then takes them on a dance of light, intricately weaving the mysteries of theTorah , which illuminate God’s presence in the world.
“Do you understand?” he asks again.
“No,” they answer…heads low.


In desperation he begins to tell stories, tales revealing great mysteries.
“Now do you understand?” he asks once more?
“No,” they answer, heads still hanging.


So he becomes very quiet and begins to sing a melody of yearning, of longing, of pining. For a few moments he sings alone, then one, then another joins in, till they become one voice.


Yearning.
Pining.
Longing.


Levi Isaac did not need to ask. Their heads rose. They understood.

The yearning,  the longing in all of us for community- community with others, with God. It’s a longing, a desire that may lay neglected and dormant for years, covered over by our pride, or buckets of beer, or mountains of food, or syringes full of holy hell. But that yearning, that cry against the horrors of loneliness, the calling out from the vacuum in our lives, that is God. That is God with us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even before we know it.

It is not about an emotional plea from the pulpit that brings us to a true recognition of the power greater than ourselves; it is not about being shamed or frightened into a relationship with the God who can restore us to sanity. It is about God’s presence right now, God’s desire for community with us no matter who/where/or what we are. It is about the yearning.

The yearning you may feel right now- that there has to be something more. The longing you might have for that which you cannot yet name but which you know is there. The emptiness that even here, right here in church, can felt as raw and empty..that yearning, that longing, that emptiness..your perception of it, that’s God.

Psalm 42

1 As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
    the face of God?
3 My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me continually,
    “Where is your God?”

We finish today with a song, I call it the step 2 hymn. It is born of the Psalm I just read. As you hear the words, as we sing the words, feel the God near, beside, within. The God of love and grace, yes, but also the God of sanity..

Page 2025 in The Faith We Sing hymnal, turn there and sing with me..

As the deer pants for the water,
So my soul longs after Thee.
You alone are my heart’s desire,
And I long to worship Thee.

You alone are my strength,
My shield;
To You alone may my spirit yield.
You alone are my heart’s desire,
And I long to worship Thee.

You’re my friend
And You are my brother
Even though You are a King.
I love You more than any other,
So much more than anything.

You alone are my strength,
My shield;
To You alone may my spirit yeild.
You alone are my heart’s desire,
And I long to worship Thee.

 

Let us pray together:

Father, God, Abba.. In our yearning, you are there. In our thirst, you are the Living Waters. In our insanities, you are the Clarifying Light, the holy of holies, the true source of our healing and wholeness.

Give us courage when the steps we take toward you are tiny and tentative. You alone are our strength, our shield, our heart’s desire..

And we long to worship you.

Amen


[i] Adin Steinsaltz, Parabola magazine, Summer 2006 issue, p. 61

Imagining

Imagine..

A time when the biblical red words were believed and
A time when living trumped believing and
A time when faith didn’t need to be spoken of.

Imagine: A place where there were no keys, to lose/forget/or need and
A place where eyes, not hair texture, mattered and
A place where silence not shouting attracted thousands.

Imagine: An idea without boundaries and
An idea without ownership and
An idea, a word (in your flesh) resurrecting.

Sermon series, The 12 Steps: “Step One- Powerless”

Sermon series, The 12 Steps

David B. Weber, 9 June 2013

“Step One: Powerless”

I’m going to be talking about the Twelve Step program this summer because the Twelve Steps are more, so much more than the life-saving vehicle for drunks to get sober. They are that..but they are also the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ in a form you may not  have heard before. The Twelve Steps are a profound way of discovering, following, and learning to live in the peace, the joy, and the freedom- in The Way demonstrated by Jesus the Christ today, even today.

The Church in America is in trouble, yes. But that gives me great hope and I want to tell you why but that will take me all summer to do. Thus, these Twelve Steps- one, sometimes two a week for the next ten weeks. Because in these Steps I know there is liberation. In these Steps I know there is hope even for those who feel that hope is gone and is no more. In these Steps there is a new Church being born because, in them, there’s an always new Creation forming.

I read an observation this week that will serve as an introduction to this series:

Do you remember 15 years ago when there were phone booths or payphones everywhere? On the sides of stores, beside the front doors, on street corners everywhere? Today though, there is none to be found anywhere. Look around today- you just can’t find them!

Now, it would be easy to conclude based on what we see, or don’t see, that people must not care about communicating anymore- no pay phones can only mean one thing, right? People must not have much to say anymore! Of course, we also know that would be a wrong, if not stupid conclusion. In fact, communication between people has increased exponentially- more people than ever are communicating and in more and more ways!

They’re doing it in new ways- cell phones, text, email- we carry those means of communication in our pockets instead going to a wall to use one of those methods.

Maybe if we redecorated the phone booths, people would want to use them again? Maybe if we used pink, green, or yellow phones and only charged a dime, people would come back to the wall at the 7-11 and talk to each other again?[1]

But, of course they wouldn’t. That’s nonsense.  And here’s the analogy: All over America today, there are people, usually over 60- like me, looking around at their half-filled, or quarter-filled churches and remembering when they were youngsters in the 1950s and 60s and mom and dad and all the aunts and uncles and cousins and friends down the street and friends from school were sitting shoulder to shoulder in rooms like this one. We look around and make the too-easy assumption that people must not have questions about God any more, they must not feel that spiritual need any more- they’re not here after all.  They must not need God the way those people in the Sunday suits and patent leather shoes did back in the 50’s!

And that’s nonsense, too. People may not be coming to church the way they used to, but that does not mean they are not looking for the Big Answers, or that they are not feeling the Big Problems, or wondering about the Big Questions. It only means that they’ve found other ways which for the time being seem to be meeting those Big Needs.

Seem to be- there’s the key phrase. Because while a majority of Americans will still say they are Christians, and while a super majority will still say they are spiritual, there’s a lot of disconnect between those assertions and what is happening in the country.

Today, this day, twenty veterans of military service will take their own lives. There are today unprecedented spikes in the suicide rates of people my age- of Baby Boomers, the very ones who sat as youngsters with their parents in those once-upon-a-time crowded churches.

The United States has the largest per capita rate of incarceration of any country in the world- more than China, more than Russia, more than any Middle Eastern country. And almost every prisoner I’ve met over these last almost 20 years has a working Christian vocabulary. They didn’t grow up completely without church.

Divorce rates, rapes, high-school drop-out rates, bullying, hate crimes, open and virulent racism..all of those things point to the fact that despite exponentially increasing ways being available of knowing about God- knowing lots of words about God, there is a stunning lack of transformation happening in church or anywhere else- with a few exceptions.

And many of those darkest statistics emanate in the greatest numbers from the states of the so-called American Bible Belt! More and more people know the right words about God, but fewer and fewer seem to be experiencing the turning inside out, upside down transforming presence of God in their lives.

Churches have failed, far too often, to provide a place that can for certain be found in the dusty, coffee-stained rooms of an old shopping center where there’s a triangle on the door which says to those in the know, “Come in. As you are. We accept you.”

The very words Jesus demonstrated wherever he walked, talked, and ministered: “Come in. As you are. We accept you” are words that all churches say and some of them actually live. But they are words that define every single Alcoholics Anonymous meeting room, every Narcotics/ OverEaters/ Eating Disorder/ Gambling/Sexual Addiction Anonymous Meeting Room in the world.

Those triangle marked doorways are all over the place- in Jacksboro, at the First National Bank meeting Room on Tuesday nights, in Graham in the basement of the First Methodist Church and in a converted house on Oak Street. In Wichita Falls just off the Jacksboro Highway, in Fort Worth at the Glass House, in Dallas behind TI near Markville Dr, at Preston Center, and just behind Jupiter Lanes near Garland Rd and Gus Thomasson.

That’s the one I first went into in 1993, the one behind Jupiter Lanes. The history that went before my reaching for that door is secondary to the fact that for years, including the first eight years after I’d said “Yes!” to Jesus, I didn’t know how I could or would or if I could stop drinking. At first, in the 70s, I would blame it on the arthritic pain of my back- I could sleep with the help of Jim Beam. But beer and much more beer had defined every year since high school, and by the late 80s, early 90s it was every single day and I didn’t know how NOT to buy an 8-pack of 16 oz Buds on the way home every evening and begin drinking them almost as soon as they hit the front seat.

And I’m sorry if these words disappoint, but I tell them to you because there is a light. A Light. A capital L, Light of the World Light at the end of that dark, wet tunnel, and at the very beginning of the Way you all now share with me. If you don’t know about the darkness first, then you will not be able to fathom what this Light means to me now.

Step One of Alcoholics Anonymous says this:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—
that our lives had become unmanageable.

It was powerlessness over the alcohol, powerless over the golden brown buzz that softened the regrets I had about my life, the disappointments and depression I would feel about what I was doing with my life, and the never- ending dull but real pain in my back, acute back then, that seemed to limit every thought or dream I would momentarily have.

Powerlessness. Paul wrote of it in his letter to the Romans, chapter 7; 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.

Will- the iron bound determination to change was not possible in and of myself. Day after day I would pledge to myself, “No, not today,” but then there was a Red Coleman’s right over there, or a 7-11, or the Quik-Shop on Lemmon. And once again I would do the very thing I hate. I could will what is right, but I could not do it.

Yes, I know, it sounds absurd in retrospect, but I also know statistically that there are some here who know exactly what I mean.

It was on Emmaus weekend in November of 1993 that I said out loud to God, and to another human being, “I can’t do this. I don’t know how to stop.” Somebody prayed. I don’t know who, and I don’t remember anything they said. But I sat there for awhile after they’d stopped and spiritually and imaginatively handed an 8 pack of Bud Dry to Jesus and said the words- maybe out loud- “Hang on to this for me.”

So, beginning in November of 1993, the new good news in my life became bad news for Red Coleman, 7-11, and the Quik Shop on Lemmon.  Because Jesus is still holding that 8 pack.

I’ve not bought a beer since then. To be honest, I did drink a beer last summer at my son’s wedding. But it was enough to know that I’d better not drink another.

I left Emmaus that weekend and a friend intercepted me and said “You’re going to need help. Go to AA.” He wanted to take me, but I wanted to go by myself and see for myself without someone else telling me what I should see or what he wanted me to see. (Pride!)

So I found that place over on Centerville and it was a dump. It smelled of 20 years of cigarette smoke and ten thousand pots of strong coffee. There were bikers in there, old women with too much makeup, a teenage boy with a KISS t-shirt, and a guy that I knew from ______United Methodist Church who sang in the choir each week. He saw me, and motioned for me to come sit beside him, leaned over and said, “Welcome.” Embarrasing? Yes, because for several weeks I had been this man’s Sunday School teacher.

That was the beginning. I’ve since come to know rooms like that as churches. Sometimes they smell. In the last decade, though, most of them are non-smoking. The people are still- often- a mess. But I know I am not one bit better or worse than any of them, and they know that about me and each other, too.

Acceptance, love, and grace fill those rooms as stories are told, as forgiveness is offered, and as hope is renewed.

But it begins with those words- the hardest words most human beings have to say: “I am powerless. My life is unmanageable. I need help.”

This is the same language, spoken in different words by the prophet Isaiah when it seemed the burden he had to speak prophetically to Israel had become unbearable:

Isaiah 38:12-14

12 My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me
    like a shepherd’s tent;
like a weaver I have rolled up my life;
    he cuts me off from the loom;
from day to night you bring me to an end;[
a
]
13     I cry for help[
b
] until morning;
like a lion he breaks all my bones;
    from day to night you bring me to an end.[
c
]

14 …My eyes are weary with looking upward.
    O Lord, I am oppressed; be my security!

These are the words-“I am powerless”- that each person who seeks the transformed life must speak, in whatever language, in whatever words they can muster. Only when my image of myself- my false image born of pride, tradition, or treasure- only when I can be honest with God and say, “I can’t do this by myself!” only then can the addiction to whatever-it-is begin to be gone.

It is true of the adrenaline seeking meth addict, the sexually out-of-control man or woman, the overeater trying fill the emotional emptiness they feel, the rageaholic, the abusing husband, the abused wife, the shopping addict, the television zombie, the one who lives a life of fear, the one who lives a life of false bravado, the lonely, the broken, the power-monger, the user, and the used.

In short, a transforming relationship with Christ begins for anyone only when they have come to the end of themselves. Only when a person says “I can’t do this alone, “ or “I need help,” or “I’ve come to the end of my rope,” only then can the Light, the true Light, the Light of all humankind begin to shine.

That’s how Jesus sees all of us. All of us: Matthew 9:36

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Harrassed and helpless we reach for the door, and pull it open, and the Light begins- finally- to come in. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Step One can just as truthfully be stated this way, and this is the way we will speak of all the 11 steps to come as well:

We admitted we were powerless over our sin—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Whatever that thing is- that thing that has gotten between your ears and God’s voice; that thing, that habit, that way of thinking that has gotten between God’s heart and your heart, whatever it is that wakes you up at night, or keeps grabbing at your mind all day.. that thing, that sin, that thing over which you may feel powerless and which is earning you compounded daily guilt..that thing..

Well, it’s OK to say “I need help.” That’s the first step. That’s the hardest step. That”s the step that begins to strip away the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves, that”s the step that begins to expose our wounds.

And it is only by exposing those wounds, those hurts, that guilt, that sin, that the Light, the true Light, the capital L Light of the world can begin to shine on them and heal them.

There’s more to say, because already- I know- transformation has begun to happen today.

Next week, we’ll begin to talk more about the Power that is greater than ourselves. Bring a friend. There is hope.

 Love wins.

In the name of God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of our faith. Amen