In which I attempt to piss off just about everyone I know…
Back in school, I was one of those “gifted” students. My brain was a sponge, especially when it came to math. I did long division for fun and still make a point of using algebra in my daily life, opting to keep my calculator stowed away so that I can set up complex word problems and solve for multiple variables. My sophomore year math teacher, Mr. S., totally hated me because I would sit in the back of the room completely ignoring his instruction except to point out when he made mistakes… and, bless his heart, I still remember seeing him standing before the board countless times, totally confused, trying to find where he went wrong. I suppose I probably owe the man an amends for as many times as I made him look like a total fool in both of the classes I had with him.
Freshman and sophomore year were difficult for me because my little high school didn’t offer a GT program like I had known in elementary and junior high, nor did it offer advanced classes like I would be exposed to at the Academy my junior and senior year. I got myself into a bit of trouble because I felt I was smarter than a lot of my teachers. Since I was not challenged with classwork, I did not respect my teachers and sought other means to stand out. Needless to say, I sort of lost my status as teacher’s pet and grew accustomed to a whole new way of life in those two years. My dad once tried to blame the Academy for my change, but I went bad long before I ever saw the place.
I don’t want you to think I’m complaining or bragging or anything, because that is not my intent. I only wish to provide background information so you know where I’m coming from when I bring up “The Restless Church.” I was introduced to this series of videos yesterday through a friend and watched them all, one after another, wishing there were more once I finished. They are really great videos that are surely pissing off a lot of people in the church nowadays because they are kind of saying that today’s church is doing it all wrong. They equate your average, every Sunday church service to math class, saying that preachers are trying to teach kids of all ages that 1+1=2 and wondering why the older kids aren’t excited about it the way the kindergarteners are. Just like me, my sophomore year, converted Christians are sitting in the back of the room saying, “Yeah, I got that, but what now?”
There were a lot of kids in my classes who didn’t catch on as quickly as I did. Mr. S. would give us time to go through our work in class and he would come around and help those who were struggling. Though I’m sure it annoyed him, he allowed me also to help out some of my classmates. By doing so, we were able to reach a larger number of people who needed one-on-one instruction on the more basic concepts. This also allowed me to become more secure in my own understanding of the subject matter and to develop instructional skills which I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up. I learned to enjoy math class again, not because the learning was exciting, but because the teaching was.
Because I’m a “big picture” kind of person and I look for correlations in all areas of life (one of these days, I’m gonna be able to tie the whole thing up in a big bow), my mind immediately looked for applications of this “Restless Church” idea in other areas of my life. Where all am I allowing myself to be bored, going over the same old stuff instead of reaching for the next level of instruction? Where have I lost passion for things I once loved because I’ve fallen into a rut?
I, for one, am glad that not everyone subscribes to the whole, “The newcomer is the most important person in the room, so we need to have a 1st step meeting for the newcomer” idea. Yes, it’s good to have meetings over step 1, and it’s good to welcome the newcomer. However, why do we build up this brand new individual at his first meeting only to tell him ever after, “Stop being so self-centered. It’s not all about you”? And what about the old timer in the corner saying the same tired old thing day in and day out? We’re in the business of making miracles here! Why are we all busy checking our Facebook and making plans for dinner after the meeting? The Big Book warns of getting stagnant – of resting on our laurels and falling into ruts. How many times does it tell us that self-knowledge avails us nothing? Instead, it propels us to “action and more action.”
“The Restless Church” stresses the importance of making disciples. Within AA, too, we MUST work with others in order to continue our path of recovery. “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics” (pg. 89). As we work within the framework of “attraction, rather than promotion,” though, we can’t just go out and evangelize the world. The book very specifically cautions against this, stating that we will turn away those who most need to hear the message if we try preaching at them. Who is likely to ask someone with barely a year sober to sponsor them, though? And who are those who most need to challenge what they’ve learned than those who have recently gone through the steps? Sponsorship is great, so far as it goes, but we can’t count on that to be the end all, beat all answer to all our problems today.
Early in sobriety, I pissed off some very Christian friends of mine by commenting that alcoholics in recovery seem to live the most Christian lives. I was sternly reminded that many of my friends in recovery weren’t Christian at all, but were atheists or agnostic. Still, folks in recovery have a better understanding of what Christ taught because they have to learn to constantly enlarge their spiritual lives or face failure and death. Few people understand the harsh realities of Hell like those who have put themselves through it in search of some ever-elusive high. Whether or not they call Jesus their savior, these people often live as Christians more consistently than those who have pews conformed to the shapes of their butts. Through allowing for a “God as we understand Him” instead of a specifically defined, limited God, we have moved the focus from dogma to salvation. In that way, alcoholics are able to continue the work of Jesus, healing the sick and returning the lepers to normal society. And now, dogmatic Christians everywhere are shouting John 14:6 at me. I respond with Matthew 16:24.
In much the same way, many alcoholics get through the first few steps, or even all the way through, and decide that once the compulsion to drink has left them, they’re golden. They continue on through life being a general jackass to everyone they know, but because they haven’t had a drop to drink in forever, they are revered among Big Book thumpers as demigods and newbies are taught to sit at their feet and ask, “Grandpa, tell me stories about that one time you worked the steps back in 1952.” The AA equivalent of “The Restless Church” is when every meeting is a first step meeting and the ultimate goal is to simply stop drinking. Why bother with a whole 12 steps if we’re only going to focus on one? Being recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body is great, but is it enough to make a life?
If we are to do what we are asked in AA; in Christianity; in math; in life overall, we must continually humble ourselves and admit that we do not have all the answers. If I sit in math class and stubbornly cling to 1+1, believing that 2 is the only answer I will ever need to know, I will struggle with more complex problems and be completely lost when I get to algebra or calculus. Likewise, I can’t say the answer to every problem in life is “just don’t drink.” This will work at the beginning, but at some point this becomes completely boring and I will question why I am here at all. No, it is not enough to run through the steps, then sit in the corner proudly clutching my coin with all its roman numerals. I must wean myself from mother’s milk and seek more substantial spiritual substance so as to continually engage my mind, my life and my passion toward that which has given me a life worth living.
No, I don’t have to run myself ragged, pushing ever harder toward some unattainable perfection. That sort of behavior only feeds the ego and runs completely contrary to what we are trying to do here. However, I can’t just pretend that the little bit I can understand upon my first introduction to a new lifestyle will be enough to sustain me ever after. I have to seek and seek further. I have to engage in action and more action. I must practice, practice, practice these principles in all my affairs. I must continue to peel the layers off these onions to see what else I can find. And the only way I know how to do this is the same way I know how to do anything – Honesty, Open-Mindedness, and Willingness. I must listen and look for growth opportunities wherever I can find them. I need to get involved somewhere – find a need and learn how to fill it. Service opportunities always help me to learn more about my character defects and give me opportunities to practice a new way of living.
More than anything, I must remember that I don’t know everything. When I stop learning, I stop living and I become a shell of the woman I could be. And I remember what life is like when I am nothing but an empty shell… I begin filling it with all sorts of nonsense and next thing I know, I’m in a very ugly place once more. We don’t have to be the best at everything, but we should constantly seek to be better at those things that truly matter. Let us rejoice in our restlessness and feed it complex spiritual food.