A FRIEND OF MINE in my Bible study group is an alcoholic.
In class this past Sunday she said that for a nice long time she had no desire for alcohol. After the initial struggle, the powerful pull left her.
But suddenly one day, something flipped a switch. The pull came back in force.
To save herself, she said she rushed off to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
That triggered a memory, which I told her about.
I don’t usually remember much of what preachers say in sermons. But I remember the closing line of a sermon I heard a couple of weeks ago by a retired United Methodist bishop, Will Willimon.
He said he asked an alcoholic in his church what his biggest challenge was…what was the hardest part?
The man said the worst part about AA was being forced to go to a bunch of drunks and losers and say, “Would you save my life?”
The bishop ended his sermon.
“Let us pray.”
Clearly, he wanted to leave us thinking.
A bit like Jesus did with his parables.
In fact, the bishop’s sermon was about a parable: the Good Samaritan, in which a Jew gets saved by a Samaritan. Jews hated Samaritans as much as some Israelis today hate Palestinians. Samaritans were losers. Yet one of them saved an injured Jew.
I tried to think of losers who have rescued me in years past.
I couldn’t remember any crisis events that fit.
But I remember everyday life.
I grew up in a middle class family that was closer to poor than rich. If not a poor family closer to middle class than poverty.
Dad was a former coal miner working in a factory. Mom stayed home to raise the five kids. Granny lived with us because Grandpap died without retirement savings; Granny had Social Security.
I think by society’s standards, I may have been surrounded by losers.
If so, they were my losers.
- Granny encouraging me and telling me I could do anything in life that I wanted to do.
- Dad working to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.
- Mom teaching her kids lessons in life: stand up to the bullies, do your homework, and pray together as a family every night.
I still remember kneeling by the couch and hearing my baby sister take her turn. She prayed for Dad to stop smoking: “Peas help Daddy top pokin’ dem cigo lets.”
Dad did stop. Cold turkey. Long before nicotine patches.
Never poked another cigo let.
Where would I be without those losers loving me through life?
It occurred to me that there’s another loser who saved me.
The loser. By many social standards of his day.
- Lived off donations (Judas, treasurer)
- Convicted criminal
- Executed in a manner reserved for the worst offenders
- Buried in a tomb given as charity
That makes him worse than drunks in an AA meeting, doesn’t it?
Yet I go to the likes of him and ask him to save me?
Why not? I’ve been saved by other losers.
I keep that in mind when I get to feeling uppity.
I remember when I was a few weeks into my sobriety, and while I did not crave alcohol at that particular time, I suddenly did not have my numbing agent that prevented me from feeling intense anxiety, fear and sorrow that had been present since I was a child. I got sober at what most of my AA colleagues in my town would call the one place in town where there are serious “low-bottom drunks”; it is frequented by the homeless, the mentally ill, and people who have seen the darkest and most degrading consequences of alcohol and drug use. Here I was, fairly well-spoken/well-read/educated young woman, not bad looking, good personal hygiene, all of my teeth…and I went to this particular meeting place every day for the next 90 days, and after that, an average of 5 days a week for the next year. There were people there who looked like the walking dead, some of whom could barely get a thought out for lack of the mental clarity that had disentegrated after years of hard-core drug abuse. Yet…they spoke my language. They knew about fear and desperation and loss. They knew about growing up in the generation of “children should be seen and not heard”. They knew about being driven and tossed by every wave of addiction and being completely powerless as you watch yourself, once again, do the very thing that you know is killing you. Their rock-bottom was more extreme than mine; some had lost children and spouses, done serious prison time, or relapsed multiple times. Some of them smelled, literally, like the alley behind the building we would meet in. Some of them would scrounge around in the ashtrays out back to find half-smoked cigarette butts they could stash. But..they spoke my language and as I described to my family about a month into sobriety: they ministered to me like angels. I would not be sober today if not for that particular meeting and those people. Want to know what is so crazy? This place is a block from my house. For years, I would walk downtown and see this joint and the “losers” hanging out in front of it…and I was disgusted. I would not even walk on the same side of the street. In my mind, I seriously called them losers! Drunks! Homeless bums! Nutjobs! HA! I love those losers, and I am one of them today.