Saturday, 27 March 2010

An idiot's guide to current agnosticism

Up against a brick wall for the thousandth time? Painted into a corner? Feel like a fly banging pointlessly up against a closed window? Know you're snookered but cannot see a way out? Are you several days, weeks, months, or years sober but royally screwed in some other area of your life? Is ruin finally upon you? Are you facing the problem—the mother of them all—which will bring your downfall?

Is God not big, strong, clever, resourceful, creative, or caring enough to help you with this one, even though he appears to have sorted out the drink problem?

Have no fear! Quite literally!

The purpose of this exercise is to take me from Step One (powerlessness and unmanageability) to Step Three (the decision to turn my will and my life over to God) and the consequent action on ANY problem in my life.

The pages references are to 'Alcoholics Anonymous' (the Big Book).

Do I believe that the problem I am suffering from can be conquered only by a spiritual experience? (44:1)

Can I face the fact that I must find a spiritual basis for solving this problem or else? (44:3)

Or else what? (44:3)

Instruction: "But cheer up ... our experience shows that you need not be disconcerted." (44:3)

Can a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life solve my problem? (44:4)

When I wish to be moral or philosophically comforted, and will these things will all my might, do I find that the needed power is not there? (45:0)

Are my human resources, as marshalled by the will, insufficient—have they failed utterly? (45:0)

Do I believe that lack of power is my dilemma—that I need to find a power by which I could live? (45:1)

Is it obvious that that power must be greater than me? (45:1)

Do I have doubt and prejudice [an opinion on an experience I have not had] about God and his ability to solve my problem? What are those doubts and prejudices? (45:2, 45:3)

Prayer: "God, please lay aside for me doubt and prejudice and give me willingness to believe that you, God, can solve this problem, too, the way you have solved other problems." (46:1)

Promise: "We discovered we did not need to consider another's conception of God. Our own conception, however in adequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with him." (p. 46:2)

Instruction: If blocked by conceptions of God that you disagree with or are uncomfortable with, disregard such conceptions!

Promise: "We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all-inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men." (46:2)

Prayer: "God, please lay aside for me any prejudice I may have against spiritual terms so I can honestly ask myself what they mean to me." (47:1)

Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself? (47:2) (NB: this does not read 'believe in a Power greater than myself'; the question is merely whether there is such a power.)

Promise: "As soon as a man can say that he does believe, or is willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that he is on his way." (47:2)

Prayer: "God, I can be blocked in my approach to you to solve my problem by obstinacy, sensitiveness, unreasoning prejudice, and touchiness, and I can bristle with antagonism. Please have me abandon this sort of thinking, and cast aside for me such feelings, so that I may approach you. Have me become as open-minded on spiritual matters as I try to be on other questions, so that I can have a new experience with you, God." (48:1)

Do I know people of faith who have a logical idea of what life is all about? Do they demonstrate stability, happiness and usefulness? (49:2)

Is this what I want to seek? (49:2)

Do I know people who, since they have come to believe in a Power greater than themselves, taken a certain attitude toward that Power, and done certain simple things, have had a revolutionary change in their way of living and thinking and have found a new power, peace, happiness, and sense of direction? (50:4)

Is this what I want to seek? (50:4)

Am I, by contrast, baffled by the seeming futility of existence? (51:0)

Am I making heavy going of life? (51:0)

Leaving aside the drink question, is living unsatisfactory? (51:0)

Am I having trouble with personal relationships? (52:2)

Is my emotional nature controlling me? (52:2)

Am I a prey to misery and depression? (52:2)

Am I having troubling making a living? Am I existing rather than living? (52:2)

Do I have a feeling of uselessness? (52:2)

Am I full of fear? (52:2)

Am I unhappy? (52:2)

Do I seem unable to be of real help to other people? (52:2)

Is the solution to these bedevilments more important than any material/practical/external concern of mine? (52:2)

Can I see others solve their problems by a simple reliance upon the Spirit of the Universe? (52:3)

Can I stop doubting the power of God? (52:3)

Am I convinced that my ideas—the ideas that have got me to this point—cannot get me any further, on their own? (52:3)

Am I convinced that the God idea will work? (52:3)

Am I crushed by a self-imposed crisis I cannot postpone or evade? (53:2)

Can I fearless face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing, that God either is, or he isn't? (53:2)

What is my choice to be? (53:2)

[If belief is the understanding in my MIND, prior to the experience, that God exists and can solve my problem, and knowing is the understanding in my HEART, after the experience, that God exists and can solve my problem, faith is the courage to leap into action so that I can have the experience to take this understanding from my mind to my heart.]

Do I have the capacity for faith? Have I shown this in other areas, in the past? (54:1)

Do I have the capacity for love or worship? Have I shown these in other areas, in the past? (54:1)

Have calamity [problems], pomp [ego], or worship of other things obscured the fundamental idea of God in me? (55:2)

Can I see that faith in some kind of God is part of my make-up, just as much as the feeling we have for a friend? (55:3)

Can I search for that faith fearlessly? (55:3)

Can I find that Great Reality deep down within me? (55:3)

Prayer: "God, help the testimony of those around me—both inside and outside AA—sweep away prejudice, enable me to think honestly, and encourage me to search diligently within myself. Help me join those people on the Broad Highway. Have me understand that, with this attitude, I cannot fail. Bring to me the consciousness of my belief. As I draw near to you, disclose yourself to me." (55:4, 57:2)


Are these three pertinent ideas clear? (60:4–6)

(a) That I am screwed and cannot manage my own life or this area of my life.
(b) That no human power can solve this problem.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought?

"We had to quit playing God. It didn't work." Am I convinced of this? (60, last paragraph–62:2)

"Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children." (62:3)

Will I now sincerely take this position?

Prayer: "God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!" (63:2)

Promise: "All sorts of remarkable things followed. We had a new Employer. Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well. Established on such a footing, we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow, or the hereafter. We were reborn." (63:1)

"Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning ... Though our decision [Step Three] was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us." (63:4)

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Step 4: the Case of the Mistaken Identity

First of all, a chassidic tale:

"Reb Yitzchak of Vorki had a friend who was a rabbi of repute, but a great antagonist of Reb Yitzchak's rebbe [spiritual leader], Reb Simchah Bunem of Pshischah. The friend always had hard words to say about Reb Simchah, even in the presence of Reb Yitzchak, who never answered a word.
This attitude astonished Reb Yitzchak's followers, who asked him how he found it possible to hear such harsh language about his rebbe, and yet to hold his peace.
"I will tell you about an incident that happened to me," replied Reb Yitzchak, "and then you will understand. I was once travelling in a certain city when a stranger approached me, looked at me for a moment, and exclaimed: 'That's him!' A second man did the same thing soon after, and then a third, and I had not the slightest notion what it was all about. Then I was approached by a deserted woman in need of a bill of divorce, an agunah, who was accompanied by a noisy little group of men, including the three who had approached me earlier. All in a chorus they showered me with curses and abuses, the gist of which was: 'You are the man who all these years has left this poor woman as an agunah!' They were so convinced that they knew who I was, that no amount of explanation on my part could convince them that I was not the irresponsible gentleman they were seeking. In the end I had to go along with them to the local rabbinical court, which accepted my evidence of identity.
"Now while they were busy abusing me I was not in the slightest angry at them, because I knew that it was not at me that they were directing their complaints and their curses. They thought I was her husband, and had they known me better they would not have abused me. In a word, whatever they did, they did to someone else.
"So, too, with this rabbi. When he says unpleasant things about my rebbe, Reb Simchah Bunem, I don't get excited, because I know that he talks this way only because he doesn't know my rebbe. If he knew him, he wouldn't say a thing. In a word, he talks about someone else, not about my rebbe."

When I first approached Step Four, I was frightened of all of the terrible things I would have to write about myself. I was sure Step Four was about finding out "who I really was". Some Step Four methods even anticipate and try to counteract this by suggesting that we write out assets as well as liabilities.

An inventory is different: we are the shop, we are interested in the 'stock-in-trade' (p. 64:1, 'Alcoholics Anonymous'). Is a shop its stock-in-trade? Is the shop so identified with the old stock it cannot sell that it refuses to part with it? No! It may acknowledge its poor judgement in the past for investing in the wrong stock, but it will get rid of it promptly and without regret (p. 64:1). And what if the shop is inherited? It will have even less remorse about the stock that won't shift—after all, this stock was acquired, not chosen.

What I find in Step Four is not me. It is what I've been play-acting, and the thinking and behaviour that has flowed from that play-acting. And all of that was inherited, taught. Get rid of everything I'm not, and who I really am will show up.

Page 68:2 tells me that I am "in the world to play the role He assigns." Let's say I'm assigned the role of sponsor. Let's consider, also, that what has "caused our failure" are the manifestations of self (p. 64:2).

There is nothing wrong with being a sponsor. In fact, it's a great job, a privilege, and a joy. So far, so good. Where things start to go awry is that my ego attaches to the role and decides that 'sponsor' is no longer just a role assigned, like being assigned a role in a play by the director, but my very identity. The ego, of course, is not satisfied with being just any sponsor. I have to be the ne plus ultra of sponsors, the tippest of the top, the apex, the summit, the zenith, the acme. And this is the 'being' I take into the world.

"What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very well." (p. 61:1)

First of all, the sponsee may decide that I'm a terrible sponsor and say, "screw you" (first bullet in the stomach to the stage character—third column: "pride"). I internalise that and conclude I cannot live up to my own job description (second bullet in the stomach—"self-esteem"). He then 'sacks' me (which is not how you treat the ne plus ultra of sponsors—"personal relations"). And what will everyone else think about me if they knew I was sacked by my sponsee, who obviously has very good judgement ("pride")? And who am I if I'm not a sponsor? ("Security"—needing to be 'someone' to be OK). And so it goes on.

And what do I end up? An actor dressed up as Hamlet trotting round London months after the production has closed, still in costume, still in make-up, perhaps a little dishevelled, but desperately clinging on to something he longer is. If I cannot let go of the role when it is attacked or taken from me altogether, I will die with the role.

And this is repeated throughout the whole of my Step Four.

My life up to Step Four was a huge case of mistaken identity!

So, if all of these things I've been doing and being (student, teacher, son, brother, sponsor, sponsee, friend, boyfriend, husband, lover, neighbour) are just roles that I get to play, sometimes well, sometimes badly, and I am not these roles, where does that leave me?

"If what we have learned and felt and seen means anything at all, it means that all of us, whatever our race, creed, or colour, are the children of a living Creator with whom we may form a relationship upon simple and understandable terms." (P. 28:2)

That is who I am: child of God. I do not have to do anything to deserve God's love; I cannot do anything to shed myself of it. I am of infinite value, simply by dint of being. And if this is true for me, this is true for you.

There is no need in Step Four to write about assets: we write about the illusions, and the pure asset that we are will become revealed as these illusions are shed. And this pure asset should not be boxed inside little words ("kind", "nice", "thoughtful"). This is just another set of illusions. We're infinitely more than a list of pleasant qualities, just as God is infinitely more than any words we could use to label Him.

If anyone has a problem with me, they don't really. They have a problem with their image of me, floating like an avatar above my head. That's who they are shooting: they're shooting the role, the picture, the stage costume and make-up—the cloak falls to the ground, and there's nothing there.

Similarly, if I have a problem with someone else, I don't really. I have a problem with my image of them, floating like an avatar above their heads. I am not seeing who they really are; I'm seeing only my image of them. The role I think they should be playing, because, after all, I see myself as the Director, not the actor, and we're back to me playing God, once more.

Someone once said to me, "if the knowledge that we are all children of God could go from your head to your heart, you'd never have a problem with another human being again." Step Four starts that journey.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Disturb your prospect!

Adapted from Oswald Chambers, 'My Utmost for His Highest', 24 March 2010

"If you become a necessity to a soul, you are out of God's order. As a worker, your great responsibility is to be a friend of the Bridegroom. When once you see a soul in sight of the claims of God, you know that your influence has been in the right direction, and instead of putting out a hand to prevent the throes, pray that they grow ten times stronger until there is no power on earth or in hell that can hold that soul away from God. Over and over again, we become amateur providences, we come in and prevent God; and say – 'This and that must not be.' Instead of proving friends of the Bridegroom, we put our sympathy in the way, and the soul will one day say – 'That one was a thief, he stole my affections from God, and I lost my vision of Him.' "

What terrible resonance this has within AA! With regard to working with others:

"Be certain he … is not trying to impose upon you for money, connections, or shelter. Permit that and you only harm him. You will be making it possible for him to be insincere. You may be aiding in his destruction rather than his recovery." (P. 96:3, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')

"Remind the prospect that his recovery is not dependent upon people. It is dependent upon his relationship with God." (P. 99:3)

I have believed, in the past, that my job is to fix the people I work with—to put out fires and to staunch the bleeding.

In doing so, I may be preventing the person from reaching a rock bottom—the realisation that a life run on self-will can hardly be a success. Every time I run in and pick up the emotional pieces, I am effectively encouraging that person to continue along the same path in the sure knowledge that there will be someone running after them with a dustpan and brush, a roll of sticking plaster, or a fire extinguisher.

This not to say that comfort is not given.

I can tell someone, that, if they keep close to God and perform His work well, he will provide all that they need, because He is all powerful. (Cf. p. 63:1)

To me, this is REAL comfort.

But it comes on terms. This promise comes after the condition is met: "When we sincerely took such a position …" The position: God as Director, us as actors, God as the Principal, us as the agents, God as the Father, us as the children, God as the Employer, us as the employee. I add, although it's not in the Book, God as the Potter, us as the clay (a great image from the Hebrew scriptures).

This is the price: the destruction of self-centeredness. To be willing to pay the price, we must be convinced that self-centeredness is a three-legged horse in the Derby of life.

And that conviction, in my case, came through defeat at the hands of my own thinking and actions.

Thank God no one tried to fix me when I was drinking! I was left to my own rock bottom. And, BOOM, I find myself in AA at 21.

So: "and instead of putting out a hand to prevent the throes, pray that they grow ten times stronger until there is no power on earth or in hell that can hold that soul away from God."

Disturb your prospect about the question of alcoholism—drunk or sober. "This is all to the good. The more hopeless he feels, the better. He will be more likely to follow your suggestions." (P. 94:1)

So, I do not prevent the 'throes', but, when a prospect, racked with the torture of untreated alcoholism, finally admits defeat, I need to be on hand with a cup of tea, the Book, and the line, "have a biscuit, dear. Now, let's talk about God."