Monthly Archives: May 2015

Mea maxima culpa: how I lost sight of my goal

I just read two replies to comments I posted on chritiannews.net and suddenly realized how I had lost sight of my goal of joining Evangelicals and Catholics in harmonious action to defend the Christian faith against the evil of the world.

I started up this blog to further the efforts initiated by Charles Colson and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus delineated in “First Things” in 1994, an article that began my journey to the Catholic faith. I can’t do much about the Evangelicals who see the Catholic Church as the work of the devil. When they are being polite they try to win me back the their faith. And when they are not I am given both barrels of every anti-Catholic misconception in vitriolic and personal fashion. It has been this experience that precipitated my descent into anger and unforgiveness.

But there are a few that take the time and effort to respond to me in a thorough and civil fashion. I have invited a few of them to join me on this blog and I sincerely hope some do. I have become a little discouraged by my inability to draw some of these folks here to have real discussions away from the heat of comment threads.

If you have responded to my invitation, my sincere welcome. Please post comments. Tell me if you think this joint effort can succeed. If the Lord chooses to use this venue to advance the cause then my joy in being in the His service knows no bounds. If not, then I rejoice as well that I am needed elsewhere.

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Big Book worship and the fallibility of texts

My wife, God bless her, bought me a beautiful “coffee table” book entitled “The Book That Started It All” which includes the complete marked-up manuscript of the Big Book (the one that went to the printers) as well as a great deal of the history behind it. This is not the multilith copy that many of have. This is what happened to it during the final editing process. I won’t get into a lot of detail here because I am still studying it.

Here’s an image of Chapter Five:

Chapter Five markup

Marked-up page from the printer’s manuscript.

As you can see, the final edit involved a great deal of fine tuning. You can see how the words we now know so well were actually the result of a deliberate and often chaotic process.

I make this point because we tend to think that the Big Book was “written” in the way you write a letter. In fact it is more like a snapshot of the group’s consensus at that time.

I spend a lot of time (too much) commenting in a fundamentalist Christian web site where the Bible is taken literally, and I mean very, very literally. And the one thing I find time and again is that no one who reads the Bible that way has the least interest in discovering how it came into being. Their perception of the book is unable stand up to its historical context because, quite frankly, it doesn’t jibe with their reading.

Guess what? A lot of AAs read the Big Book that way. Since so much of our survival depends on the reliability of that text, we are somewhat loath to see it as something that might have been very different. Here’s an exercise that might put that in perspective.

If you keep a diary or journal or save old letters, try reading something you wrote ten or twenty years ago. Even if it reflected you best thinking at the time, chances are you wouldn’t want to live your life based on that earlier understanding. It’s the same way with our text. If Bill and the original one hundred contributors were still around today, it’s pretty likely that their understanding of the program would be very different from it was when they first tried putting it on paper. Consider that Bill had about four and a half years of sobriety at that point and the rest of the alcoholic contributors had even less.

Does that mean we should disregard the text since it was a product of a particular time and place? Of course not. The truth it contains has stood the test of considerable time, and we would be fools to ignore it. But we mustn’t be drawn into the error of thinking that it’s infallible. In fact, some chapters have not stood up well at all (To Wives, To Employers) because these were not written to show how they had recovered, but rather they were written to instruct others as to how they should deal with alcoholics. I think these chapters are weaker because they got off-topic.

I see the Big Book as a marvel of God’s providence. Those early members wrote an astounding book that ultimately would change the world. But they were not trying to write a book the would endure through decades, they were just trying to solve an immediate problem, namely how to respond to the flood of inquiries coming in. If they had even an inkling of the impact they were going to have I doubt that it would ever have been finished. Good thing for us they didn’t.

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Nugget heard at a meeting

My brain is like two companies: one manufactures BS and the other one buys it.

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In response to a tedious calumny

So once again on christiannews.net we are reminded that Catholics believe that salvation comes through good works. This is, of course, a tired and easily refuted accusation, but here’s an analogy that may make clearer what Catholics actually believe.

Let’s suppose my wife gives me a wonderful book as a gift. I am so grateful to have received it that I tell everyone about it. I praise my wife for caring about me so much that she was willing to make a personal sacrifice to obtain it for me. But I never actually read it. It sits unopened on the shelf in a place of honor. So ask yourself this: did I actually receive the gift she gave me?

It’s much the same way with salvation. We don’t do good works to obtain salvation. We actively participate in our salvation by living the Gospel in our lives. We have three choices: do evil, do nothing, or do good. Which do you suppose the Lord would have us do?

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Three Meditations on Humility

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We are all three people:

  1. the person we want other people to think we are
  2. the person we think we are
  3. the person we really are

Humility is keeping the three as close as possible.

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Humility is not a condition. It is the absence of conditions. Therefore you  can never “be” humble. You can only be yourself.

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Losing yourself in others is only one part of humility. Allowing other to lose themselves in you is the other, more difficult part.

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Who is BVM?

Luke 1:48: From now on all generations will call me blessed.

Do you call her “blessed?”

Isaiah 7:14: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Mary is “the virgin” not “a virgin.”

Her name was Mary.

Do you call her the Blessed Virgin Mary?  If not, why do you claim to be scriptural?

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Nugget

Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.

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The missing preparation

I’m moving past “We Agnostics” for now and would like to move into chapter Five. 

It has been pointed out to me more than once (let’s just say a lot more than once) that I tend to over-think the Program. I thought about that a lot. But at the risk of confirming what everyone already (rightly) believes, I would like to share something.

It occurred to me pretty early on that there was a definite structure to the Steps, something that may have been unconscious to the writers but jumped right out at me. Here’s a chart that I would like to use as the basis for this post.

Honesty (fact-finding)
Open-mindedness (preparation)
Willingness (action)
   Step 1 (admitted)
   Step 2 (came to believe)
   Step 3 (made a decision)
   Step 4,5 (made an inventory, admitted)
   Step 6 (became willing)
   Step 7 (asked)
   Step 8a (made a list)
   Step 8b (became willing)
   Step 9 (made amends)


The first nine Steps have a recurring set of actions that line up almost perfectly with the three essentials, Honesty, Open-mindedness and Willingness. Let me start by explaining each of the columns:

  • Honesty: These are Steps which are all about fact finding, soul searching, reflection, etc. They are inward processes that are necessary in order to move forward at each stage of the Program. In Step One, we “admitted” that we were powerless over alcohol. Or as it is stated elsewhere, “We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics.” This is our first attempt at self-searching. We later extended this in Steps Four and Five to an examination of all our defects with an admission of them to God, ourselves, and another person. Then in the first half of Step Eight, we again took stock of the harm we had done others. In fact, the Big Book says we already had this list, that we had made it in the Fourth Step.
  • Open-mindedness: These Steps are all about changing our way of thinking in light of what we have just discovered. They all describe an inward process of preparation for the action to come. Step Two is about changing our thinking about whether or not AA can actually work for us, if a Higher Power can in fact restore us to sanity. In Step Six, we take the information we have learned about our defects and shortcomings and seriously consider if we are ready to give them up, to be changed in ways we can’t predict. The second half of Step Eight confronts us with the very difficult task of forgiving others who have harmed us and receiving forgiveness for the harms we have done them.
  • Willingness: Finally, we are called to take specific actions. We “make a decision,” we “humbly ask,”we make amends.” These are actions that we are now fully prepared to take, without reservation, knowing that we are doing the will of our Higher Power.

It has been my experience that people get hung up by trying to go from Honesty to Action and neglect the very essential process of preparation that comes between. I believe “Easy Does It” is an admonition to focus on the middle process, the preparation needed to really take the right action. And it is the process that is at once the most beneficial and the least practiced aspect of the program.

Tell me what you think by commenting or emailing me at sclarkaz@gmail.com.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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