I am reading the New Testament. I had read—or been told—these stories for years, but now I want to know more. So I am also reading theology and criticism and history: Who was Jesus and who were these guys? The ones he hung around with and the ones who wrote about it later. Yeah, different guys. That’s the first eye opener --even after years of Protestant Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and years of church shopping in AA as part of working an 11th step. The Gospel writers are not the apostles. Maybe that’s a duh for you , but I swear no one told me that important fact in many years of my Methodist upbringing. So that’s part of the learning and the fun in this reading I’m doing.
This week I’m reading about Paul. Now Paul is a good story for recovering alcoholics. First he’s Saul, a Christian-murdering, self-righteous prick, and then Wham!, on the road to Damascus he is struck. He sees God and hears God, is temporarily blinded and he is then a changed man who goes on to the be the first major missionary. He gives up his good life: his status and safety and possessions. You can easily find recovery metaphors in Paul’s story of being struck, a spiritual awakening and surrendering and having a new life. We get that.
Now, a lot of that I knew. The “Used to be Saul, But now I’m Paul” story is interesting when you are a kid. But I didn’t know more about the man or what he thought about the things that happened to him. Now I’m reading Richard Rohr (a theologian and a priest who writes about addiction…check out his tapes called How To Breath Under Water which are about the gospels and addiction) and Rohr points out that God comes to Paul where he was and as he was. God saved a murdering prick like Saul, and God didn’t make Paul come to him. Translation (and this should sound familiar): we don’t have to get good enough for God, and he doesn’t need us to come to him. That’s the grace part: he takes us where and as we are. We don’t merit it or earn it, just receive it. Amazing grace, huh?
But then also this: Paul’s deal was then to organize and yes, proselytize. He’s a community organizer, he’s speaking and preaching and traveling to build the church and—Rohr points out: this church is the body. Christianity IS community. We “practice” our faith with others not alone, hence community. That’s when I began to hear the bells: Community equals fellowship. It’s a “we” program. I don’t get sober, we do. I need you in all your screwed up-ness and you need me and mine (you can read previous entries if you need evidence of the valuable brokenness I bring to the shared table)
I still haven’t found the church I feel natural in, but I am in churches all the time, especially in church basements and Sunday school rooms. We AA’s are in and out of churches all the time. What we are is a fellowship. We are the body of AA.
Here’s another thought I found provocative this week. At my Tuesday meeting a woman said: “AA is a fellowship, not just a meeting, so do you know the person next to you?” You can imagine how everyone looked at the people near them and when we said the closing prayer there were a lot of hands extended and many introductions taking place.