Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous or A.A. is the name of a group of men and women who acknowledge that addiction to alcohol is ruining their lives. Their purpose in coming together is to give it up and help others do the same. They realize they can’t pull this off by themselves. They believe they need each other, and they believe they need God. The ones who aren’t so sure about God speak instead of their Higher Power.

When they first start talking at a meeting, they introduce themselves by saying, “I am John. I am an alcoholic,” “I am Mary. I am an alcoholic,” to which the rest of the group answers each time in unison, “His, John,” “Hi, Mary.” They are apt to end with the Lord’s Prayer (q.v.) or the Serenity Prayer. Apart from that they have no ritual. They have no hierarchy. They have no dues or budget. They do not advertise or proselytize. Having no buildings of their own, they meet wherever they can.

Nobody lectures them, and they do not lecture each other. They simply tell their own stories with the candor that anonymity makes possible. They tell where they went wrong and how day by day they are trying to go right. They tell where they find the strength and understanding and hope to keep trying. Sometimes one of them will take special responsibility for another—to be available at any hour of day or night if the need arises. There’s not much more to it than that, and it seems to be enough. Healing happens. Miracles are made.

You can’t help thinking that something like this is what the Church is meant to be and maybe once was before it got to be Big Business. Sinners Anonymous. “I can will what is right but I cannot do it,” is the way Saint Paul put it, speaking for all of us. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19).

“I am me. I am a sinner.”

“Hi, you.”

Hi, every Sadie and Sal. Hi, every Tom, Dick, and Harry. It is the forgiveness of sins, of course. It is what the Church is all about.

No matter what far place alcoholics end up in, either in this country or virtually anywhere else, they know that there will be A.A. meeting nearby to go to and that at that meeting they will find strangers who are not strangers to help and to heal, to listen to the truth and to tell it. That is what the Body of Christ is all about.

Would it ever occur to Christians in a far place to turn to a Church nearby in hope of finding the same? Would they find it? If not, you wonder what is so Big about the Church’s Business.

Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark pg. 4-5

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2 responses to “Alcoholics Anonymous

  1. I was a part of N.A. and A.A. for two years prior and shortly after conversion, and was the president at a particular meeting. I can assure you, there is only idolatry in that place and in their teaching. The so-called spiritual language of God is understood in pluralistic ways. They do have a budget, and honestly, there is always an informal hierarchy that may not be discerned from the outside. Just like most human societies, there are clicks, factions, people who like each other and people who hate each other. The “sharing” that takes place in a meeting too is about 80-90% airing dirty laundry and moaning about problems, with the only solution at the end of the day being “not to use,” since the God one worships is a “God of my own understanding,” and not the God who divinely reveals himself.

    I want to clarify that I understand where Buechner is trying to come from, and what he is attempting to say, but I would just simply state that A.A. would be the last comparison to make. In the words of a member of A.A. who has just finished sharing in a meeting, “Thanks for letting me share.” 😉

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