In my brief time so far here at Cornerstone, I’ve learned a lot from the other residents. It doesn’t take long to realize the completely different backgrounds and worldviews we have. I, a 23 year old white college educated male with no history of substance abuse, and they, middle aged African American men with a combination of jail time, substance abuse/addiction, and homelessness, have very little in common on the surface. Some might look at our differing life circumstances and say that I’ve been lucky, blessed, or “privileged” economically and because I haven’t had the trauma of some of their life events. On the one hand that’s true. I wouldn’t wish some of the horrors of their pasts on anyone and I have been blessed beyond my knowing to grow up in a loving, nurturing, and economically stable environment.
The great thinkers on prayer (and Jesus himself) recognize that there are roughly two types of people who easily recognize their complete dependence on God: the true mystics and the great sinners. Of the first category, there are very few people. The mystics are the sort of holy fools for Christ, who are gifted with an awareness of God, and with that awareness comes a deep recognition of weakness and how God alone provides.
The other group, the great sinners, are gifted with the same awareness as the mystics but it comes about through trial and shame and guilt and sin. Those affected by alcoholism and drug addiction especially have buried their souls deep in lies of their sin and trusted these tools of death to provide for their needs. Yet at a certain point, and I think this is the hinge point for 12 step programs, the addict reaches the bottom and the equivalent to a mystical experience occurs that makes the addict aware of just how in need of God he or she is. It’s amazing to me that even in the midst of the evil of addiction, God provides a special grace to those who recognize their great sin.
41“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,
and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the
debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon replied, “I suppose the
one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. (Luke 7: 41-43)
This passage doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t make sense that people who have done bad things should somehow receive a greater revelation of God. And that’s what I love about it. It’s beautiful, unfair, absurd, but completely true; I think it is a sign of the coming kingdom of God because evil has already been defeated and we can even see that in the seemingly hopeless and dark life of the addict. You can read the above passage from Luke and find ways to say that Jesus is really saying that we all have a great debt and it’s a matter of recognizing it in order to receive from God, and that’s true. But “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more,” rings true especially in the lives of those who have experienced great sin. Yes, I am the greatest of all sinners and in need of God’s love and mercy, but I know that my housemates have experienced great sin in a way that I probably never will and therefore have experienced God in a profound way that, again, I probably never will. That is not to say that my experience of God is less valid or even less at all, but my capacity to recognize even my righteousness as but filthy rags is limited by the more or less ease of my life. I haven’t known the “bottom” in the same way my housemates have and therefore can’t realize how deep the hole I’m in actually is. I’m not afraid to admit that despite all my learning, praying, well-formed thoughts and attempts to know God experientially, more than likely some of my housemates have a better intimate knowledge of who God is and that humbles me daily. God just isn’t fair and that’s why I keep going back for more, because “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
I think one of the things they teach you in addiction recovery is that you are an addict and will always be in recovery. You don’t stop being an addict. When I hear that, my instinct is to rebel and say, no of course an addict can be totally healed, because to me it sounds so hopeless that for the rest of your life this thing will not completely leave you. I would find that so depressing, so permanent, so futile. But yet there’s this part of me that knows the power such an awareness can have in bringing people into humble submission to God, this daily reminder that God is the only Source. Addiction recovery groups exist in part to remind people of their utter dependence on God and how that will never go away.
That’s what I like about the Church of the Savior. Gordon Cosby (founding pastor) said that church ought to be more like an AA recovery group, something that exists to bring us into a fuller realization of our addictions and our total need for God, without whom we are nothing. Church has the potential to be a place where we can share burdens, take responsibility for our sin (what has been called confession), and be brought over and over to the cross, the place where Christ gave himself over to the addiction of humanity to violence and a certain view of power.
We end our house meeting each week the following way:
One: “Who woke you up this morning?”
All: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.