I’m part of a community of addicts that meet on Tuesday evenings here in Toronto. This has already been one of the most formative experiences I’ve had and I’m looking forward to (and terrified of) the next 20 weeks or so. The difference between our room and other 12 step rooms is that our room is centred on the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, this week we began step three which is traditionally worded, “[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” In our room we have intentionally changed the wording of step three to, “[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.” We dropped the “as we understood Him” because we’re not just interested in submitting our lives to any old deity. Rather, we’re interested in submitting our lives to the One True God of the Gospel as He has revealed Himself in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. And so, the name of our group is Spiritual Journey. The goal of Spiritual Journey is not sobriety, but rather, to connect with Jesus (sobriety may or may not be another result of this). This is a place where the gospel is planted and takes root.
There are folks in our community that are at all different stages of life. Some have come through their substance addictions and are now professing Christians (although many have mentioned they wouldn’t feel comfortable in a church…Tuesday evenings are church for us). Others are in detox centres right now. However, there is one thing that everyone one of us in there has in common and that is we have all reached the end of our ropes, so to speak. Everyone in our community is there because we are desperate. Some of us have been in an out of treatment centres. Others have been in and out of jail. Some have lost everything. Others have attempted to take their own lives. Many have committed unspeakable acts and have reached the pinnacle of dehumanizing behaviour as slaves to various substances. In fact, this is a theme that has come up over the past number of weeks, that in the insanity of our addictions we become less human.
Perhaps you’re reading this and you wouldn’t identify as an addict. The reality is, we’re all addicts. There are very real things in each of our lives that we have lost control of, that we are powerless to. It may not be crack cocaine or alcohol maybe instead it’s lust (of all sorts) or anger or pride. I’m not trying to trivialize substance addictions here, rather, I’m suggesting that there are real ways in which we are all powerless.
The first step in 12 step is, “we admitted we were powerless over our addictions – that our lives had become unmanageable.” The language that we use in Spiritual Journey is that of sanity. Addictions literally make us insane and unreasonable. “Powerless”. “Unmanageable”. These are things we generally hate to admit. Humans are the sort of folk who would much rather think they have their shit together. One of the reasons why submitting our lives to Christ is so difficult is because we must first admit that we are “powerless” and that our lives are “unmanageable”. We have a hard time with this because most of us live bourgeois lives and like to think we’re really not all that “powerless”. That we sort of do a pretty good job of life. But in reality, each and everyone one of us is corrupted to the core. We engaged in activities each day that are dehumanizing, to ourselves and others. We have no idea what it means to really love another because our ideas of love are so utterly bastardized.
Last night I sat and listened as my friend who is currently in detox shared that just 8 weeks ago he had no idea God had any interest in speaking to him (or having anything to do with his life). But today, 8 weeks later, my friend is truly a different man. He shared how he now realizes that all along God was trying to speak to him in different ways but that he just “never had the ears to hear Him” (his words). Now, he is devouring the scriptures and anything else he can get his hands on. His desire for the knowledge of God is unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time and just 8 weeks ago he was at the end of his rope, checking himself into detox.
Another man who has submitted his life to Christ shared that most of the people he meets in 12 step groups are becoming “born again Christians” (his words). Yet, many of these folks you probably won’t see in your church on Sunday morning singing sentimental songs to Jesus. Rather, these are people who have *actually* realized that they are powerless and insane. Our middle-class Christianity actually works against ever coming to this realization in many ways. I would venture to say that most folks in churches on Sunday morning never come to know each other “as sinners” (Bonhoeffer). Most of us struggle with admitting we’re utterly powerless and helpless (and I’m not talking about the condescending bullshit we spout off that we’re [theoretically] “sinful” and “depraved”. No, I’m talking about coming to the realization of just how utterly messed up we all are). However, until we come to this place we can never truly follow in the way of Jesus. And so truly, the crack addicts and prostitutes, the heroine junkies and the hustlers are entering the kingdom of God ahead of Christians. Why? Because they know the way of righteousness. They have come to the end of themselves.
And so we end with a parable of Jesus (Matthew 21:28-32):
28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.