What’s the difference between a church member and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous? Church members value honesty. A.A. members are just plain honest. Tonight I went to my first AA meeting. I’m not an alcoholic, although I do enjoy Leineys Fireside Nut Brown, too much. I went with some friends because they asked me to. They had given my church a shot and so I gave theirs one.
A short time of announcements with a reminder for a service event and an invitation to Perkins sounded much like announcements for a church service. Then came the infamous introductions:
I’m Derek and I’m an alcoholic. Hey, Derek.
I’m Sharon and I’m a shooter. Hey, Sharon.
I’m Laine and I’m a guest. Hey, Laine.
I’m Peter and I’m a professional drunk. Hey, Peter.
And on it went. There were about 60 in the room. Following the introductions, a man read a few pieces of literature and asked what daily things kept everyone from drinking. I was amazed 90 percent of the people said their relationship with a “higher power” was a large part of their being sober. My friends were some who had found spirituality. They hadn’t found it at church, which bothered me for a while, but I can no longer deny that they have found God.
Just as many said every day was a struggle. One said his worst day sober was better than his best day drunk. Everyone agreed. Joys were shared and so were pains—everything was put on the table.
I sat looking around the room and realized people didn’t dress up—they came as they were. This wasn’t an opportunity to show off, but a time for people who struggled to be together. To admit they struggled and to hear back, “So do I.” It’s funny, because the Scriptures tell us we struggle—our salvation is built around it—but I don’t remember the last time I heard someone in church say, “I messed up.” I’m not sure I ever have.
A.A. focuses on alcohol and chemical addictions, the cross had no focus because it covered all. Why then does it seem like people in church are not only exempt from troubles with alcohol and drugs, but they also don’t struggle with pornography, judgment, addictions to technology and harboring hate for neighbors? I picked these because most would agree that church members do struggle with these things, they just don’t admit it.
I wonder what would happen if we did. What if we became active participants in church rather than passive listeners? What if we admitted that our struggles didn’t end on the day of our conversion? In other words, that we hadn’t become Jesus instantly. Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” He didn’t say take up her cross once and follow me. He said daily take up his cross and follow me. Every day presents a struggle and no person is exempt, but all must be honest that they struggle.
In addition to personal confession, we must confess as a unified body. We must admit that we have struggled and sinned together, especially with things such as racism, materialism and consumerism. There are others, but these are the ones I feel passionate about. Find what makes you passionate, and if the universal church or your individual church have faulted in that area, bring it up to your pastors and lay leaders and tell them that real change starts with admitting the wrong.
Finally, as a church we need to respond with love, grace, peace and hope when others bare themselves to us. Whether they are new to the congregation or have been there for years, or if they are new Christian or an old one. Communities that respond well when members confess wrong will become safe places where not only do we confess sins, but we also share each other’s joy. We will become a people with whom righteousness and justice abound.
I’m Laine and I’m a sinner. How will you respond?