Monday, May 11, 2009

AA and the church

My college friend Stephan Fenton posted some thoughts on Facebook the other day that were rather poignant and spot-on. I asked his permission to reprint his thoughts here and he graciously granted it. Thanks, Stephan.

AA and the Church

One of the shows I occasionally watch is Rescue Me on F/X. It’s a pretty rough show, and often brutally honest. On a recent show one of the characters, who happens to be an alcoholic, went on a drinking binge. He told his friend, “Once I sober up I can go back to AA and start over. No guilt, no lectures, just a new start.” I wondered, “Why can’t the church be like that?” Why can’t the church be a place for people to get a clean start, even if the mess up repeatedly (as we all do)? Why does it always have to be about guilt and lectures? If people have made a mess of things they should look forward to going to church to get help rather than dreading the awkward stares and lectures that will inevitably await them.

At AA you go to hear about other peoples’ struggles, failures and successes. You go to find support. You go to get a boost when you are about to fall off the wagon. You go when you are celebrating staying on the wagon for another day. You go to be brutally honest about yourself to yourself and others. The only way they can support you is if you can admit you have failed and are always one step away from failing again. There can be no judgmental attitudes because everyone is in the same leaky boat.

I imagine a church full of broken people, bound together by their brokenness. They rely on each other for support, help when someone is down and celebrate when things work right. They don’t get down on people when they mess up – they just welcome them in and try to help them be the best they can be. And they do it all with the Grace that Jesus showed to the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners that followed him around. I’m not sure if there are any tax collectors in my church, but I’m pretty sure there are no prostitutes. I wonder what would happen if one showed up on a Sunday morning.

So maybe that’s why the church can’t be like AA. We spend so much time and energy showing how “OK” we are that we don’t have time to be authentic. We’re all “fine.” Just ask any one of us, “How are you?”, and we’ll say, “Fine.” We can’t be honest with others because many of us are not even being honest with ourselves. As much as I hate that I am as guilty of it as anyone else.

I don’t know what to do about it. Does anyone have any ideas?

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