Better late than never: This past week I came across a remarkable (and remarkably witty) article by Helen Rittelmeyer Andrews, published last January, on the subject of “AA Envy” that seems almost ripped from the pages of Grace in Addiction. Andrews explores why Alcoholics Anonymous gets a free pass in contemporary society when pretty much every other organization/movement that talks openly about “moral failure” and abstention from traditional vices inspires ridicule, contempt or indifference–at least in elite metropolitan circles. Indeed, if NY Times articles like this one are to be trusted, then the inventories and amend-making and low-as-you-can-go anthropology (and monergistic…
A friend of mine who is working the 12 Steps recently said, “one of the most important things I do every morning is make the bed after I get up”. He went on to say that this simple discipline sets a tone for the day. This seemingly mundane task says, “I care about my life, I care about the people around me, and what I do matters”.
I thought about my friend’s comment this week when I listened to a podcast conversation between comedian Marc Maron (on a Dec 2014 episode of his WTF weekly podcast, h/t B.I.C.) and his longtime…
Another Week Ends: More PC, Orthorexia, Perfect Ripostes, Grace in Addiction in Asheville, SBTB Redivivus, and Implausible Pop-Country Songs
1. One subject that’s been on our minds lately is political correctness, the orthodoxy of speech by which the progressives are divided from the bigots. It’s a division almost as absolute as that between righteous and sinners, and the press and universities – places supposed to be bastions of the liberal ideal of open speech – have instead been on the forefront of the new censorship. Fredrick deBoer, a leftist activist and grad student at Purdue, weighs in:
I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 19 year old white woman — smart, well-meaning, passionate — literally run crying from a classroom…
[Mild spoilers follow.] As a writer, I’ve found, you’re always searching for material. A friend’s talking to you about a bad breakup, years of religious doubt and self-recrimination for doubting, a car wreck, DUI, or lost job. Suddenly, once an insight seems to hit you – or even a situation with a certain intellectual appeal – the ideas become all, and their textures, contexts, and the unfortunate people living in them become pared back, leaving you with what feels like the beginnings of a great article, essay, even poem. The real world fades away, and all you’re left with, all you…
Another Week Ends: Misplaced Fear, Further Reflections on an Epidemic, Recovery and the Ego’s Death, Dave Eggers, Marilynne Robinson, and Clickhole
1. It’s a little too easy, but Barry Ritholtz over at Bloomberg helpfully reminds us that Ebola is no threat to the personal health of 99.99% of Americans, which goes into a broader point:
We fear the awesome predatory perfection of the great white shark, and have made the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” “the longest-running cable television programming event in history.” This seems somewhat disproportionate, given that 10 people a year die from shark attacks — out of more than 7 billion people. If you want to fear a living creature, than logic suggests it’s the mosquito — they kill more human…
This comes to us from Thomas Deatsch.
“Continual loss” defines my feeling every baseball season. It’s my fault. I choose to follow the Chicago Cubs. No one forces me at gunpoint to root for these loveable losers. Every fall, when the season is waning, the Cubbies not only fail to reach the World Series, but more often than not, they do not even make the playoffs. I now believe it is a “merciful impasse.” The phrases “continual loss” and “merciful impasse” not only help me understand baseball, but how life, with its many cul-de-sacs and dead-ends, can have hope and meaning.
LOUISVILLE, KY—According to reports, local woman Janelle Tompkins’ arrival to work an hour late and severely hungover Tuesday morning was precisely the 30th wake-up call she needed to turn her life around. “Wow, my habit of staying out and drinking all night has clearly gotten out of control. I’ve got to make some major changes ASAP,” said Tompkins, using the exact phrasing she uttered during her five previous wake-up calls this year, which have included two shattered relationships and blacking out at a friend’s bridal shower. “I suppose something had to give eventually, and now I’ve gotten the message: It’s time to make a fresh start and think about my future for once.” At press time, Tompkins had invited several close friends to celebrate her new lease on life by meeting at their local bar’s Oktoberfest celebration.
Someways into the Frenchman’s third volume, his masterful forays into the life of the mind sound a distinctly practical, as well as Lutheran, note. The sentence structure takes some getting used to (occurrence of the word ‘which’ in English language, a probably corollary of overwrought syntax, has almost halved since the time of Moncrieff’s translation, though not without a promising recent resurgence), but the sentiment is timeless. The narrator recalls trying to write more and for other good habits, but his desired behavior eluded him still-more when he tried to exercise self-control:
If only I had been able to start writing! But…
“Addiction” might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates contemporary society. Our addictions make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in “the distant country,” leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father’s home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in “a distant country.” It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up.
“The only person lacking desperation is the one who does not know herself very well. Usually a few examples of typical, universal human difficulty are enough to ‘raise the bottom’ to the point where the idea of powerlessness will connect with any layperson. Let’s explore some of these…
Like Swiss cheese, people are full of holes. The Twelve Step approach is quick to draw attention to those holes, rather than try to dodge, cover, or counterbalance them. So which weaknesses tend to be present universally? The Big Book provides its own list:
“We had to ask ourselves why we shouldn’t apply to our human problems this same readiness to change our point of view. We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people…” (52)
I have yet to meet the person who cannot identify with a least one of the items on that list. Who, for example, is a stranger to fear? Jesus offered a similar list in his famous Sermon on the Mount, but his list also included anger, lust, and anxiety. These are the “classics”, and they account for much of the content of the day-to-day experience of being human.
Using similar logic, AA would liken sin to sickness. R. C. Sproul voiced this sentiment when he wrote, “We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.” We would happily extrapolate along those same lines: “we are not alcoholics because we drink uncontrollably; we drink uncontrollably because we are alcoholics.” Have you ever thought of misdoing as a kind of illness? Like an allergy or a virus, self-centeredness cannot easily be mastered or controlled. The good news is that our negative attributes can become a bedrock upon which effective spirituality can be built. Without them, there is no hope for spiritual rejuvenation; in the place of health, there is apparently no need for recovery.
The realization of our own weakness is so counterintuitive to human nature that the revelation can be rightly ascribed to the divine. A Christian would ascribe this work to the Holy Spirit. The old-fashioned word for it is repentance.
And so it is with the entire progression of AA’s Twelve Steps. As the ego is deflated and self-confidence is discouraged at every turn, something called “faith”, or “God-confidence” miraculously begins to take its place – although it doesn’t appear that way to the subject at first. In Step 12, AA refers to the fruit of this faith as “a spiritual awakening.”
We close this section on Step 1 with an incisive quote from the sixteenth-century English theologian Richard Hooker:
My eager protestations, made in the glory of my ghostly strength, I am ashamed of; but those crystal tears, wherewith my sin and weakness was bewailed, have procured my endless joy; my strength hath been my ruin, and my fall my stay.