Tuesday, May 10, 2016


While trying to find something else -- which I did not find, BTW -- I ran across this old post from another blog I kept over a decade ago. I deleted the blog itself when I decided that it had run its course, but I kept a few of the posts that I liked. This is one of them. I thought I might share it again.


Among the many blessings in my life has been the presence of people in recovery programs. My father was never in one himself, but he taught my brother and me the Serenity Prayer when we were quite young. He said it came from Alcoholics Anonymous, but ours was not a drinking family, so that didn't register much. But other important people have been in The Program. Starting back when I was a seminarian with a spiritual director and a confessor who were recovering alcoholics to today when I have friends who are in recovery from addictions to drugs, spending, pornography, overeating, gambling and sex. Some of my students were in recovery, and I learned far more from them about life than I think I ever taught them.

Not all of them participated in one of the gazillion Twelve-Step Programs based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. One of the things I learned is that AA doesn't claim to be the only solution to alcoholism. It just says it has worked for its members, and it makes available what they have learned to anyone who is interested in hearing about it. They have an absolute aversion to taking money for it, too. [That alone makes me wonder when I read that Twelve-Step Spirituality is a truly American spiritual tradition.] One cynic said that the proof to him that AA is not a religion is that you aren't required to pay.

Most of us have heard of the Twelve Steps, even if we don't know what they are. There are also organizational rules (if you can call anything about AA and parallel groups a rule, or even call it an organization itself) that are called the Twelve Traditions. The word tradition is intentional. Not Twelve Commandments or Twelve Ordinances or Twelve Laws or Twelve Decrees. Twelve traditions -- that is, the way things have been done and handed down. Not from God, just from previous generations. A big part of the study of the Traditions is an explanation of why each one exists. Often this consists of a story about a really good idea that proved to be not so great. So the Tradition arose to keep that lesson alive. One friend told me that the Steps -- how the person in recovery lives life -- keep alcoholics from killing themselves. The Traditions -- how the group operates -- keep alcoholics from killing one another.

If you don't already know, take a moment and look at this list. What do you think the one requirement for AA membership is?

1) To stop drinking one day at a time
2) To attend meetings regularly
3) To practice the Twelve Steps under the guidance of a sponsor
4) To admit you are an alcoholic
5) To accept the basic principles of recovery as set out in the official literature

Well, which one? If you know much about recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, you know that they make a big deal of doing it one day at a time, of the need to attend meetings, of the role of an experienced person in helping you make the Steps, of the fundamental need to admit you have a problem, that the basic literature is very important.

So what is the sole requirement?

Tradition Three: "The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking."
That's it. A desire to stop drinking. [Or stop using drugs, or stop overeating or stop whatever the addictive behavior may be.]

Amazing! No promise to believe the Book, much less buy it. No promise to show up at least once a week. No promise to do what the Book says to do. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop whatever is killing you. And the only other thing you hear that might sound like a demand, but is really just an invitation, is "Keep coming back."

Oh, there's a lot more to recovery than that. But that's the only requirement for membership. The way you do the rest is up to you and God (or in recovery-speak, your Higher Power.)

I guess that sounds a lot like my vision of God right now. A God who reaches out and says the only requirement is a desire to stop killing ourselves. And the invitation to keep coming back.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8
I'd be happier if I could just do that.


Ur-spo said...

these are very good rules indeed. and the serenity prayer is a lovely succinct summary of how to get through anything.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for re-posting. You are very encouraging.