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Friday, February 28, 2014

Don't Worry, Getting High on Meth is Perfectly Safe

For all of you out there in the streets who need a laugh, here's one:

Yes, meth is not that bad for you.  Never mind that prisons are loaded with meth users, and cops are scared of what it does.  I saw it first-hand when I worked a side-job at a probation department handling thousands of files of offenders who were pushed by their addictions into criminal conduct.

Dr. Carl Hart's study tries to downplay the real issues.  Sure, some things about the meth epidemic are overstated, but one only needs to go to a city like Stockton or out in the desert of San Bernardino County here in California to see the havoc it is wreaking.  The tell-tale sign that there is a problem here is the fact that he also downplays the crack epidemic of the 1980s.  I lived in downtown LA during that time.

It was a zombie wasteland for years.

Eventually, the addicts died off and people learned to stay away from it for the most part.  But, the damage was done.

Hart says that only 15% of those who are exposed to meth become addicts.  OK, so now here's the big question: what is the exposure/contraction ratio for tuberculosis?  Lower than that... and we quarantine TB patients.

It seems like a low number, up until you realize that this largely a theoretical number... that strangely overshoots the addiction rates for alcoholism (~10%) by 50%.  We control alcohol for lower numbers, but somehow we are 'overreacting' to meth?

Sure, plenty of people try it once and get scared.  There are others who can 'take it or leave it.'  I don't think any rational person would say there is a drug out there that 'creates' addiction.  Addiction requires a number of factors to be in place.  But, one of the keys is supply: you can't get addicted to something you can't get.

If you do have an 'addictive personality' or predisposition, which would you rather try to recover from: meth or alcohol?  I think the general consensus is alcohol.

Yes, meth can be used in small doses to treat ADD and ADHD... the key here is small doses.  Cocaine in Coca-Cola and cocaine in crack are different.  Same with opium and heroin.  Refining and concentrating can make all the difference in the world.

So, who sponsored this study?  These folks:

Yes, the philanthropist George Soros, who set up this foundation to help Soviet countries come out of Communism and embrace, er, well, I guess the same kind of capitalism that Soros uses to make lots of money.  So, why would they have an interest in drug policy in the US?

Soros has long advocated legalization.  Again, the question is why legalization is good for his style of aggressive, international corporate-capitalism.

But, don't worry.  Everything will be OK.  Just do what you are told.  Keep taking your drugs.  You will be taken care of.  Someone will always care for you and have your best interests at heart.  </sarcasm>

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Praying With Others

Here's another reader's comment from one of the pages.

Greetings, Fr George. As an Orthodox Christian, should I feel strange about saying the "Our Father" at meetings with non-Orthodox? Do the Church canons prohibit the practice of praying with the non-Orthodox? Also, as a layman, I'm not sure how I feel about having a sponsee perform the 5th step (Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs) with me - this is essentially confession without the absolution, is it not? Should I be hearing someone's confession as a layman? Lastly, I see you've already tackled the subject of "God as we understood Him" - I am grateful for this, though unsure if I should advocate this approach to sponsees. At the very least, I'd be inclined to advise a sponsee to approach God as God Is, rather than approaching God with our own preconceived ideas, which may or may not fall short and hinder a genuine connection from being established. I'd appreciate any feedback you have to offer.

So, he raises several points-

1) Can I pray with non-Orthodox, especially at meetings?
2)  Can an Orthodox Christian hear a Fifth Step?
3) God as He is.

Starting with the last first, I do think that all addicts need to approach God without preconceived notions, but also understand that the Program does specify what attributes God has revealed to them, which are also necessary for recovery.  The fact that the group has a common experience of God to share with the new addict is not a 'preconceived notion,' since the addict is not the origin of the description.

Now, as for the first point, here are three canons from the Pedalion, which is the book containing the canons of the Church-
Apostolic Canon XLV (45)
Let any Bishop, or Priest, or Deacon that only joins in prayer with heretics be suspended, but if he has permitted them to perform any service as clergy let him be deposed.

Apostolic Canon XLVI (46)
We order any Bishop or Priest, that has accepted any heretic’s baptism or sacrifice be deposed; for “what consonance has Christ with Belial? Or what part has the believer with an unbeliever?”

Apostolic Canon LXV (65)
If any Clergyman, or Layman, enter a synagogue of Jews or of heretics to pray, let him be both deposed and excommunicated.

The 'prayer' mentioned in the canons has to do with services.  The canons specify that Orthodox Christians should not attend non-Orthodox worship services, and that clergy are subject to deposition for confusing Orthodox and non-Orthodox worship and sacraments.

This canon has never been used against Christians who, let's say, go to a friend's wedding.  But, they are used when a Christian goes through such a rite himself.
Saying the Lord's Prayer in an AA meeting may be awkward (to be honest, I hate holding hands in a circle, since it just feels weird as one who grew up thinking that people who held hands in a circle with their eyes closed were either dangerously sentimental or trying a New Age experiment), but it is not sinful.  The person you are praying with needs God as you have come to know Him through the Church, so praying with this person is an appeal to our God which we hope will lead to His revelation to those we pray with.

A 12 Step meeting is not a worship service, and nobody confuses it with going to church (except for those who may use it as a replacement).  Praying with others, inside and outside a meeting is OK.

Does it occasionally get uncomfortable?  Yes, it does.  Sometimes people say some strange things in prayer, and so we can ask God (silently) to have patience with our friend.

If you have have someone who appears to be pushing an agenda in prayer (usually punctuated with lots of emotive sounds and the word 'just'), it is OK to push back a little.  I had this one time with an evangelical who decided that his prayer was going to be a restatement of the 'once-saved-always-saved' doctrine, and so I countered with an appeal to the Virgin Mary to protect and guide him.  Needless to say, he was not pleased, but he got the point.  

The same goes for us: we do not, in praying with others, use our prayers an excuse to push an agenda.  Keep them simple, and remember that the person you are praying with might not be ready for everything all at once.  Be gentle and patient, just like your Heavenly Father.

As for the question about hearing the Fifth Step of another person, let's look at what the Big Book says (pp. 73-75)-

We must be entirely honest with somebody if we expect to live long or happily in this world. Rightly and naturally, we think well before we choose the person or persons with whom to take this intimate and confidential step. Those of us belonging to a religious denomination which requires confession must, and of course, will want to go to the properly appointed authority whose duty it is to receive it. Though we have no religious connection, we may still do well to talk with someone ordained by an established religion. We often find such a person quick to see and understand our problem. Of course, we sometimes encounter people who do not understand alcoholics.

If we cannot or would rather not do this, we search our acquaintance for a close-mouthed, understanding friend. Perhaps our doctor or psychologist will be the person. It may be one of our own family, but we cannot disclose anything to our wives or our parents which will hurt them and make them unhappy. We have no right to save our own skin at another person's expense. Such parts of our story we tell to someone who will understand, yet be unaffected. The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others.

Notwithstanding the great necessity for discussing ourselves with someone, it may be one is so situated that there is no suitable person available. If that is so, this step may be postponed, only, however, if we hold ourselves in complete readiness to go through with it at the first opportunity. We say this because we are very anxious that we talk to the right person. It is important that he be able to keep a confidence; that he fully understand and approve what we are driving at;  that he will not try to change our plan. But we must not use this as a mere excuse to postpone.

I've highlighted the most important point: Orthodox Christians should do their Fifth Step with their father-confessors.  However, there is no mention here of absolution.  Why?  AA cannot speak of that because AA is not the Church.  It dares not to.

A Fifth Step can be done without absolution.  In the case of non-Orthodox, we trust that God squares them away without the absolution prayers we Orthodox benefit from.

As for hearing a Fifth Step, reread the passage.  Again, if the person who comes to you comes from a church with absolution (I think that is pretty much us and the Roman Catholics, but these days you never know), then it would be best for you to gently tell your friend to go back to his church and do it there.  Do not interfere in this person's sacramental life.  You may annoy God with such presumption.

However, if this person has no other route to God, then by all means offer yourself to God and your friend as his connection to the Creator.  After all, this is your calling: are you not supposed to be a lamp to the world?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

AA Without God?

We live in a age where people often believe they don't have time to think, then go about not thinking.  There are others still who believe that they think, when in fact they are like everyone else and go about not thinking, but do so with flair.

An example of not thinking can be found in those who try to work the 12 Steps without actually following what the 12 Steps say.  Here's an example-

Now, the problems are many, but let's go to the most obvious: religion and spirituality are different.  What these folks are doing is not about removing 'religion' from AA as they are removing its spirituality.  Spirituality is about union with the Divine, and religion is about how one gets there.

AA and other 12 Step groups are not religious, because they do not proclaim the name of God or provide the cosmological context of man the way religious groups or the Church does.  The fact that these folks, as well-meaning as they are, can't see that means something else is afoot.

What is going on here is something more than 'agnosticism.'  A true agnostic is someone who does not know.  That's the root of the word.  Now, here's the rub: if you don't know whether God exists or not, would you go about changing the whole AA program to exclude Him?

The human survival instinct and common sense dictate that you would probably hold onto something until you could determine whether it is useful or not.  These folks are not really agnostic.  They have a certainty that they do not believe in God.  At least, their actions do.  They are willing to act as if God does not exist.

So, what does a 'humanist' AA group look like?  Well, here's pull-quote from the article-

In its “fellowship of concerned, loving people,” he said, he found a secular version of the “Higher Power” to which A.A. literature refers. Humanist A.A. groups also have drafted their own nontheistic versions of the 12 steps. Instead of needing divine assistance for recovery, for example, one step states that “we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.”

Hmmmm... I wonder where these come from?  Is this merely some kind of ancient wisdom?

How exactly is this any different from any other type of self-help talk-therapy?  Surely you can get the exact same therapeutic approaches going to a counseling center, complete with support groups and a  step-by-step psychoanalysis, all without having to butcher AA?

OK, perhaps 'butcher' is a strong word.  let's look at what they did with the 12 Steps-

'Agnostic' AA 12 Steps
  1.     We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2.     Came to believe and to accept that we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.
  3.     Made a decision to entrust our will and our lives to the care of the collective wisdom and resources of those who have searched before us.
  4.     Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5.     Admitted to ourselves without reservation, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6.     Were ready to accept help in letting go of all our defects of character.
  7.     With humility and openness sought to eliminate our shortcomings.
  8.     Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9.     Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10.     Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11.     Sought through meditation to improve our spiritual awareness and our understanding of the AA way of life and to discover the power to carry out that way of life.
  12.     Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
From their Step 3, we can see that the cure for the alcoholic's problem lies in 'knowledge' or 'wisdom' passed down from other alcoholics in recovery.  That's no different than going to a counselor or a psychologist and getting 'knowledge' or 'wisdom' at an hourly rate.

In Step 7, we see that that alcoholics must change themselves.  This is a self-will-powered program.  Here's the problem: can a broken will fix itself?  If your will is so distorted that you cannot stop drinking, how then can it turn around and stop by its own determination?

The supposition here is that working the previous steps is enough to change the will to stop craving alcohol.  However, looking at the step as they are laid out here, this falls in the middle of the process.  

How can you seek to eliminate your defects when you have not yet been made entirely aware of them?  Don't forget that the biggest battle an addict faces is not forgiveness, but asking forgiveness.  You want to find out how humble you are, trying saying sorrow for all of what you've done in an honest way.

The reason this step is in its place in Traditional AA is because  God's work is necessary in order for the addict to proceed through the rest of the steps.  The addict needs to change and be changed in order to complete the steps, something he cannot really do on his own before completing the steps.

For the life of me, I can't figure out what kind of spiritual awakening one can have without God as they describe Step 11.  What are you awakening to?  This is where it gets tricky.

You see, once you cut AA's mooring lines to a particular yet anonymous God, then you begin to run into a problem for true atheists versus polytheists or New Age believers.  A true atheist says there is nothing outside the material, so there is no spiritual awakening to be had.  Spirituality to the atheist is just as crazy a proposition coming from Jerry Falwell or Joel Osteen as it is coming from Shirley McClaine or Dionne Warwick.

Of course, the problem with severing the connections to the original is that you would end up with countless sub-groups, which would necessarily become more 'religious' as they sought to describe what exactly they believe.  So, you end up with Shirley McClaine and Christopher Hitchens sitting next to one another in a room saying, "Wow, I'm so glad we have these meetings to ourselves!"  Strange bedfellows if you ask me.

Why would they share a room?  Because they have a common enemy: the Monotheist and his beliefs.  Let's not forget that the AA God is not described as Trinitarian, and so even a Mormon or a Jew or a Muslim could find room in AA.  there's a lot of room in this definition.

The agnostic does not believe, but neither does he not not believe.  He does not know.  He must then choose: try to believe, or get sober on your own.  By creating their own program and cutting off the spiritual source that AA finds in God, the humanists are making a choice to not believe.  It is, in essence, no longer agnosticism and has become something else.

The question then remains: do they get sober?  I don't know.  I do know that it would not have worked for many of us.  And, I have also seen a lot of white-knuckle abstinent drunks in my experience, both in meetings and outside of them.

Only time will tell.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Obsession and Addiction

From some of the earliest days of man, the behavior we now call 'obsession' has been with us.  In fact, it has been around much longer than the recent idea of 'addiction.'

While there may be more ancient examples of obsession, none is so striking is that of Narcissus.  In this story from Greek mythology, a spell is placed on him so that he fell in love with his own reflection, and eventually perishes from starvation.

Modern psychology has variously described this phenomenon of obsession with terms like monomania and idée fixe.  All involve a single idea that the mind concentrates on, to the exclusion of others and without a reasonable connection to reality.

Addiction is often described as an 'obsession.'  It certainly bears all the earmarks.  But, there is a critical difference, one that is hard distinguish at times as the suffer transitions from obsession to addiction.

In the case of Narcissus, the spell caused him to lose control.  Obsessions often represent losses of control.  People who are obsessed will often find themselves doing embarrassing things because they simply cannot see themselves being embarrassed.  They suffer from 'tunnel vision' which leaves them unable to make rational decisions.

However. whereas an obsession can be about any idea, an addiction is a type of obsession involving the usage of a substance or engagement in a behavior that causes a 'high.'  Not all obsessions are that way.

Sure, many obsessions can have a reward component, but most obsessions are just anxiety-riddled experiences with little in the way of benefit.  They are a form of mental illness which have no up-sides.

Addiction is tricky: it offers an 'upper,' the brain chemical cocktail that the anxiety sufferer desires as a momentary escape.  It is an obsession with a 'benefit.'

This is why most obsessed people can break the obsession through a therapeutic process (unless we are talking about organic mental illness, and even there therapy can help relieve some symptoms), whereas therapy has had little effect on addiction.  The reward mechanism is powerful enough to short out the rational process necessary for talk-therapy to really work.

Making something that feels good to not feel good is impossible.

This is often why addicts will report a point when their addiction 'stopped working,' and soon after they found the path of recovery.  The powerful bond of the reward to the obsession was broken.

If this bond is not broken, the addict cannot use his rational, upper-brain intellect to overrule his lower, animal-brain experience of the high.  Yes, addiction is a lower-brain experience, which is why it is so powerful and so hard to overcome.

Obsession is an upper-brain problem for the most part.  It confuses and tangles the lower-brain functions, but it is still largely a problem of faulty logic.  Addiction, however, comes about when the lower-brain hijacks the upper-brain with its desires and impulses, leaving the mind to race with excuses for its lurching into short-sighted and foolish decisions based on cravings for rewards.

Religion can be an obsession for sure, but aspects of it can become addictive once those rewards click in.  Take the priest who gets a 'rush' when he instructs someone to do something and they do it.  He can become 'addicted' to his own power.

I think many of us have seen that type of obsession/addiction.  It is a manifestation of lust addiction, probably the most powerful of all the behavioral addictions.  Religious organizations can be a place of temptation for those who come into power in them.

As we approach Great Lent, it is a good time to examine ourselves and see if we are indulging in these 'highs.'  We ought to search ourselves diligently, lest we overlook the one thing that might bring us down... like Narcissus.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Marijuana: the Gateway Drug to Cookie Addiction?

OK, I am joking a bit here.  Please don't take this too seriously.  But, when I saw this story about the Girl Scout cookies being sold outside a San Francisco marijuana dispensary, it clicked with much of what I have been learning about addiction:

Of course, we all know the stories about pot smoking and getting the 'munchies.'

But then, it sinks in: a Girl Scout outside a drug dealership?  When was the last time you saw a Girl Scout selling cookies outside a bar or a liquor store?

What was the mother thinking?

Danielle's mother Carol takes her two daughters to different places around San Francisco to sell cookies so that "they can learn about different environments," Mashable reported.

Ah, yes, sell cookies outside an upscale SF dispensary to learn about the world of pot smokers.  I get it now.  It is less about the cookies and more about 'teaching.'  We have some honesty here.

Well, not really.  You don't learn much about the effect from alcohol on people just by standing outside a liquor store... unless you are in the part of town where a good mother would not take her Girl Scout.  She will get to see the functional, safe, and relatively clean side of the matter.  She will likely see the 'nice' side of regular marijuana users (occasional users don't go to the trouble of paying for a prescription and joining a pot co-op, but usually get there pot from someone else who does, like bumming a puff off of someone at a party).

Mom won't take her daughter down into the seedier places in San Francisco.  At least, let's hope not.  She won't see what happens when you let your craving for intoxication take you too far.

She also won't take her daughter outside a Weight Watchers office or an Overeaters Anonymous meeting.  That would be 'insensitive,' right?  But, how in the world is she going to learn about those people?

I'm not dumping on cookies... we've had a life-long relationship.  There a point here: first, if you really want to learn about people, you have to be ready to go all the way.  You have to be ready to see both the good and the bad, otherwise you build up false ideas about them that can carry on well into adulthood.

But, the other point I wanted to make is about abuse mechanisms.  Many people in addiction these days will move from drugs to food.  This is a point raised in one of my latest reading self-assignments:

I'm not quite done with it, and though I don't agree with his assessment of AA (being against religion and the Divine is all the fad in the UK these days, isn't it?), he does have a lot of excellent points our predispositions to losing control.  The physical reaction to sugar, and how this has been amplified with the advent of processed sugar in common foods, has created a whole new struggle for humanity.

Cookies can be just as powerful of an intoxicant as pot in terms of addiction, just as a heroin addicts will tell you that kicking cigarettes was harder than quitting opiates.  Besides, when you get 'high' off of food, you can be totally abstemious.  You have to eat.

Underneath all of this is that we have come to a place where our lives seem unlivable without what Mr. Thompson characterizes as a 'fix.'  We are so full of stress that we need a relaxation response even when most of our stresses are ongoing and not resolvable.

The industrial age has taken away from us the 'season.'  Sure, we have snow and sunshine, but that effects us less and less when it comes to labor and food and lifestyle.  Unlike the farmer, we don't have the seasonal 'down-times' between sowing and harvest.

So, we smoke pot because we 'need' to get high for a momentary break, and when that does not work, we can easily turn to high-sugar food.  If that does not work, then there is sex and porn.  Or, heroin.  Or, alcohol.  Or, shopping.

The 'gateway' is not so much the substance as the impulse to get high.  Marijuana is a 'gateway drug' because you only use it to get high, and yet it seems so natural and gentle.  It is not like cocaine or heroin, with their hard edges.  Marijuana can be 'romanced' in a way that hard drugs can't.

So can cookies.

 But, at least people can enjoy eating cookies.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Marijuana Legalization Fallacies and Other Stuff

Now, this is a 'political' video in actuality, but it does bring up important facts about marijuana effects:

At the end, he is open to discussing legalization, but only so long as all the facts regarding its harmful effects on the human body and present social statistics are taken into account.  many of us do not buy the 'it is harmless' mantra, nor do we believe that many of the social problems associated with marijuana (and, for that matter, most intoxicants) will go away with a flick of the pen.

Here's a rule of thumb: the stronger the intoxicating effect of a substance, the more it will lead to abuse.  Marijuana's potency has tripled since the 1970s.

It is funny that many of the same people who see no problem with getting baked on marijuana DO see a problem with tobacco and sugar.  Now that I am starting to fight my own battle with sugar, I do see how someone could think that banning Twinkies would be a good idea.  But, wouldn't it just be more of the same?

Supply is a problem, but the bigger problem is how we live.  I know I eat sugary treats because a) I eat when I am stressed, and b) my wife bakes cookies to relieve her stress.  No, I am not kidding: she bakes to deal with her problems, but won't eat the darn things.  I do, and it shows.

Perhaps I should not inject my own struggles into this post, but I think I would probably not have gotten so far into the sugar problem I have now if I had really seen the consequences... and done a better job of managing my own stress levels.

These are two things we don't do these days.  We do not teach one another to live lower-stress lives, and we are almost pathologically terrorized by reasonable exchanges of ideas.  Totalitarianism is all the rage right now, making it virtually impossible to discuss important issues.

But, we need to talk these things through.  We need to look at even the unpleasant facts, and stop insulting people we don't agree with even if we think we have every right to... because, in fact, we don't.  calling someone a 'bigot' or a 'fascist' or a 'commie' does nothing for the conversation except shut it off.

Getting back to stress: what we are taught these days is to dope up when we feel stressed.  We are not taught to stop doing what is stressing us out, and we certainly don't get a complete picture of what self-control really is.

So, we get a one-sided representation.  One group will say you can't control your sexual impulses, but you can control your thoughts about race.  Another group says you can control your sexual impulses, but you can't control your judgment of others.

In each case, there are demands for self-control, yet there are also losses of self-control which are excused.  It is high time that we get honest and look at these matters in a reasonable way.  we must stop looking at our fellow man as the enemy.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Response to a Comment: The Generosity of God

OK, so now a response to the third part of the earlier comment:

3) Then further confusion comes in because I know people 20 years in sobriety whom God has not "revealed Himself" to them as anything other than the God of the 12 Steps, and I know a Jew who had visitations and spiritual revelations almost identical as a Christian in AA - It is confusing to me why God would give this consolation to a Jew without really letting her know it was Himself: Jesus Christ. I then wonder if it is God at all! 

Well, I am not going to be the judge here, but I will say this: if it is not God Himself that is keeping her sober, then is it just a trick of the mind?  Perhaps is the mere fervent belief in God sufficient?

My take on this comes largely from the second post in response.  Here, I have cited that even the Scriptures themselves bear witness to the presence of God in what would otherwise be considered 'pagan' practices (I did not get into 2 Ki 3:27, since it is outside the scope here and is a bit more complicated).

The Three Wise Men (Mt 2) come to worship Christ ... and God manifested Himself to them even though nothing indicates that they left being anything more than Babylonian astrologers.  It does not say they became Jews, since they did not return to the Temple to offer sacrifices.

Our struggle is to see God as being truly generous.  We feel comforted somehow knowing that what we are doing is right, and this is reinforced when we see punishment poured out on those who do wrong.  

But, here is what Jesus said:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.  When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.  When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.  And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’  They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’  When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’  When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.  Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’  But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?  Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Mt 20:1-14)

God has the right to do what He wants with people in recovery, period.  Whether He manifests Himself to them directly or not, that is up to Him.  For the rest of us, it is simply none of our business because we ought to know what it is we ourselves have experienced in the Church.

Or, do we?  How often do we forget about the miracles and signs that accompanied our own lives, and begin to wonder whether we are being tricked.  Sure, there are plenty of folks that can talk themselves out of the Church just as they talked themselves in to begin with.

I watched a classmate from seminary who went from Super-Duper-Orthodox to panning the Church and rejecting all religion in less than a decade.  I still care for him, and I think he has made a big mistake, but it is his decision to make and it does not affect my own Faith.

There are others who abuse the Faith, using it to beat down other people and condemn, even though our Lord Himself said He did not come to condemn the world, but to save it.  The world and the people in it judge and condemn themselves, so we don't really need to pile up more on them.  It is important to speak the truth and point out falsehood, but not to assume there is no hope.

I think that we ought to be glad when someone finds God, even if only in a small way.  Why?  Because, perhaps it is all they can handle.  Why put more on them than they can bear?  God says there are some who are 'greatest' in the Kingdom of Heaven, and some who are 'least.'  What is more important: getting in, or being first?

Perhaps God will allow for this smallest of revelations to suffice, just as we believe that those who have never heard the Gospel are not automatically condemned.  

Or, perhaps God will hold us accountable for not being better examples to others so that they might see Him in us, in which case the real problem is not with those who have only a partial revelation of God but those of us who have received a greater portion but hidden it under a bushel.

I don't pretend to speak for God on this matter.  I do know that no one comes to the Father except through the Son.  I also know that many we think should be last will be first, because only God knows and judges.

But, I also know that Christ made a way through hades by His own death and resurrection, and I know that the Church prays for everyone to pass through to the Son.  My belief, based on the prayers and teachings of the Church, is that some people go through their conversion in the death process itself.  Nothing is final until the Last Judgment, and if those who are dead in this life can turn and accept life, then I do not see how the dead cannot also.  When Christ finally returns, then there is no more 'wiggle room.'

The more I contemplate the mercy and love of God, the more I see His compassion for the lost.  When I was new to the Faith, I had a very black-and-white approach to God.  Now, I realize that the Scriptures are far more subtle and profound, at once condemning the sin of man and yet seeking his salvation and conversion.

When it comes to AA and other 12 Step groups, we will see and hear many strange things.  The question is not whether God loves these people or not.  he does.  The real matter is whether we can love them as well.  This is our own challenge.

The other struggle is to keep working for what we were hired for and to not resent God for being generous with those who have not worked as much as we have.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Response to a Comment: Are we talking about the same God?

OK, here is Part 2 of my response that began yesterday.  This is what our fellow reader wrote:

2) I also struggle with God in AA being the same God of the bible and the same God of the Koran and the same God of the Hindu, and the same God/dess of the New Ager, or the same God of the Great Spirit of Native Americans, etc.

It is hard for me to pretend that the God of the bible is the same as the others. I don't know how to react to people in AA when they tell me that "oh, it's all the same!" I practiced many religtions before converting to Christianity in 2007. I can emphatically and authoritatively state that It's NOT the same. Yet, I know that God will keep them sober nevertheless.

I realize AA says "principles before personalities" - does that mean God is also putting principles before His own personality? That He has humbled Himself to the point of stripping off religion in the same way equality with God was not something He grasped at? (He has lowered Himself in order that He might raise us up past alcoholism?) To paraphrase Mel Webber: "God is even anonymous in AA".

Well, the answer here is more nuanced.

People, generally speaking, will never admit that they are out to find a 'fake god.'  Of course, in the Age of Post-Modernism where everyone gets to make up the 'truth' regardless of the fact that the reality of getting punched in the face is something you cannot decide is not the truth and still not end up with loose teeth and a black eye, there are some folks who think that they can make up their own truths.  In the end, where there is no one truth, then there is no truth at all.  You just end up with opinions and, ultimately, nihilism.

You'd be surprised that at least one Orthodox seminary subscribes to this concept.  The Dean is rather fervent about it, though he's smart enough not to utter such nonsense around bishops.  However, there are plenty of clergy who get there seminary formation with this kind of encoding.

What I am saying is that post-modernism is a problem not just in AA, but also in the Church.  You have to be careful with clergy: some are reactionaries, and others are post-modernists.  Neither are really Traditional (despite their protests otherwise), because the Church is neither ossified to conditions of centuries past, nor is it a make-it-up-as-you-go-along adventure for the hyper-intellectual.

So, getting back on track, God is God as He is.  He is best described in the Church in which He dwells.

Now, just as God used Balaam (Nu 22) and the Witch of Endor (1Sa 28), God can use other religions to reach people in need and to execute His purposes.  God is not an egomaniac who must have everything perfect in order to initiate His will.  You will see God working even in non-Orthodox environments precisely because these are all His people.

All of humanity belong to Him.

And, we can say that all of humanity truly hungers for Him.  Sure, someone may be burning incense to the image of a demon, but deep within all men is the Light of Christ, and each person ultimately seeks out union with the Creator.  Some get bad information, and so you end up with thousands of religions.

The person entering AA is NOT free to pick any god he desires.  The Big Book is pretty specific.  The fact that plenty of people in AA don't quite get that is perfectly understandable: the 12 Step community walks a tight-rope over a pit full of alligators.  It must balance the distinctly Christian origins of AA with the concept of an Anonymous God.

All religions seek to find God, and so we can honor and respect those people who are genuine seekers like us.  Perhaps we can even show them some compassion, since finding Him through their own religions is almost an impossibility.

I do believe that God acts through AA and the 12 Steps even when the addict is not Orthodox because God loves the non-Orthodox as much as He loves the Orthodox.  He blesses both in His generosity.  When it comes to morality, God certainly does not condemn those outside the Church:

When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. (Ro 2:14-16)

The reason for an anonymous God in AA is because so many people have given Him false attributes: anger, resentment, hostility, judgment, aloofness... etc.  The recovering addict must learn about God not through labels but through experience.  

God becomes anonymous not to avoid the truth about Him, but the falsehoods we project on Him.  Through the Steps, we must trust Him not because of the words about Him, but that we simply have no other choice.  He must save us, because there is no other solution to the problem of fear.

Falsehood always seeks to limit the love of God.  Heresy is about the human limits places on the infinite.  God's love cannot be bound, though it certainly can be rejected.  False religions reject some aspect of God's love.

Some Orthodox, in spite of the contrary within our Faith, seek to do the same thing and create a home for heterodox opinions in the Church. We must be careful.  Not everything in a cassock and black hat is Orthodox.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Response to a Comment: 'Negativity' of Orthodox Prayers

 Since a reader asked me to respond via the public comments, I thought I would make a new post for others who may have the same issue(s).  Just remember that most of us here have all the same struggles (in fact, I have yet to get an inquiry from anyone that I have not heard before from someone else.  If you want to scandalize me, please try a lot harder.  ;) ), and so the solution to your issue may help many more who are fighting in silence.

That being said, here's the pertinent excerpt:

1) I am convert to Orthodoxy in 2012. I become affected negatively with many of the Orthodox prayers - they seem to lack real hope for me - they focus so much on my own unworthiness in the guise of humility that they almost talk me out of even approaching God! Whereas in AA, there is encouragement and absolutes: God would and could if He were sought. Perhaps this is part of the problem in religion which you spoke about? (granted I have a lot of baggage: I as an unwanted and invisible child, so, I need God to be approachable and loving and wanting to help!)

2) I also struggle with God in AA being the same God of the bible and the same God of the Koran and the same God of the Hindu, and the same God/dess of the New Ager, or the same God of the Great Spirit of Native Americans, etc.

It is hard for me to pretend that the God of the bible is the same as the others. I don't know how to react to people in AA when they tell me that "oh, it's all the same!" I practiced many religtions before converting to Christianity in 2007. I can emphatically and authoritatively state that It's NOT the same. Yet, I know that God will keep them sober nevertheless.

I realize AA says "principles before personalities" - does that mean God is also putting principles before His own personality? That He has humbled Himself to the point of stripping off religion in the same way equality with God was not something He grasped at? (He has lowered Himself in order that He might raise us up past alcoholism?) To paraphrase Mel Webber: "God is even anonymous in AA".

3) Then further confusion comes in because I know people 20 years in sobriety whom God has not "revealed Himself" to them as anything other than the God of the 12 Steps, and I know a Jew who had visitations and spiritual revelations almost identical as a Christian in AA - It is confusing to me why God would give this consolation to a Jew without really letting her know it was Himself: Jesus Christ. I then wonder if it is God at all! 

I'm going to take on Point #1 in this post, and then follow up with the next two in the coming days.  That will keep this post from getting too long.

So, let's think about Orthodox prayers.  Who are they written for?  The answer is 'everyone.'  They are, by design, rather 'difficult' in the sense that the toughest battle most people have is getting really repentant.

The sad fact of the matter is that most of us are adept at shutting off our consciences.  We minimize our problem, even when the problem is death and destruction.  Unlike the Prodigal Son, we try to make the pigpen work for us.  We redecorate it.

These prayers are intended to remind us that we are in a real mess, and that only God can get us out.  They bring us back to the realization of the pigpen, and help us return to ourselves.  We are all sinners in need of salvation.

Our callous hearts need to be 'softened' through the constant reminder of our sins and broken condition.We must see the pigpen, and us in it, as it really is and as we really are.  Only then will we come out, and soon we will find the father rushing to us.

The other side of this has to do with ego and the over-inflated sense of self that we can also develop.  This is the ego response that says, "My problems are so bad, I must be hopeless!"  This ego response develops when someone has problems and no God to turn to.

The prayers of the Church only make sense if one really believes that God can do anything, and that He really wants to save us.  So long as we have doubts about God's goodness or ability, then the prayers make us feel hopeless.

That sense of hopelessness comes from our lack of trust in God.  We are constantly demanding that God prove that He is kind and generous and powerful, because we harbor doubts.

We are left with a choice: dump these false beliefs and embrace God as He truly is, or continue to ask for signs and assurances.  Sure, in the beginning these assurances are important, but for how long should we hang on to our doubts?

A good father confessor knows when to offer assurances and when to 'push' us out from under the doubts.  An experienced sponsor can do the same.  There are times when we offer gentle words, and other times when we challenge and cajole.

The prayers of the Church assume two things: a) I am a complete, helpless mess, and b) God can and will save me if I admit it.

Christ Himself said, "Your faith has made you well."  What did He mean?  Did people cure themselves?  No.  Because they overcame their doubts and asked, He healed them.  If you don't first believe He will, then you will never ask.

When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.”  (Matthew 9:28)

Why does Christ ask?  Why is it important?

Spiritual healing requires us to believe.  If we do not believe, we cannot expect God to somehow overcome our will.  He will not force Himself on us.

So, the struggle to not despair when reading the prayers is in itself one of their benefits.  They push us to believe by stretching us into a place that is painful without God.  We must either retreat, or believe.

If we truly believe, like the oft-quoted Desert Fathers, then we would be reading even harsher prayers, believing that the more we repent, the more God will come and manifest Himself to us.  However, since most of us have a hard time believing like that, we have the relatively 'mild' prayers that occasionally move us to tears.  If you prayed like the Desert Fathers, you end up living on a crust of bread in a cave out in the desert.

Modern psychology goes against this grain.  It has to: there is no God in psychology.  If a psychologist pushes a person beyond the endurance of the will, then the lack of belief will bring a person to utter despair.  Psychology, therefore, must build up the ego to then bear the load of reality, since there is no God to turn to to carry the weight of the world's cares.

Orthodox prayers are not 'ego builders.'  They do not offer self-assurances.  They do not offer self-motivation.  In fact, they offer the opposite.  That is because we need to stop relying on ourselves and our own egos.

If we are not careful, we can end up looking like this:

Orthodox Prayers are not Stuart Smalley approved.

AA and the 12 Steps are also not, fundamentally, self-motivational.  AA literature doesn't have to 'punch as hard' because the assumption is that, if you are reading it, you are already most of the way there when it comes to being honest with how bad things are.  Otherwise, you certainly would not want to go through the hassle of working the Steps.

When most 'normies' I know have tried to work the Steps, they almost invariably drop out because, "It is too hard."  Most of them discover that their annoyances are preferable to the real pain that bubbles up when they wrestle with their consciences.

But, there are also a lot of people who, after many years of sobriety, will tell you that just being in AA and reading 12 Step literature is not enough.  They know they need to grow, but AA is largely designed for dealing with the newcomer.  They want to grow.

For those of us in the Orthodox Church who came from 12 Step backgrounds, that's exactly why we can in.  We saw that the Church pushes us harder than AA or NA or OA, and that's exactly what we were looking for.

We asked for the tough prayers because we are hungry for God, and we understand that we need a lot of help to get out from under the ego-umbrella that we put up to 'shield' us from the world, when in fact we are blocking out the Sunshine of the Spirit.

I apologize this response is long, and there are several other points you raised.  But, I do hope this helps.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Stealing Flowers... and smoking them?

When it comes to stupidity, addiction is a great initiator.  I've heard stories about everything from smoking rope to drinking Sterno to eating shoe polish.  But, this really had me laughing: 

Small problem: cyanide poisoning.  Those flowers get their purplish-blue petals from a toxin. 

You would already have to be stoned to make this sound like a good idea, but we all know what addiction does to one's judgment.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


I saw a message on Facebook this morning about 'dabbing,' and realized that I had probably not written anything on it.  If you are wondering what 'dabbing' is, it is just another fancy way of ingesting THC from cannabis.  It uses a highly concentrated form of 'hashish,' and is also known as 'Butane Hash Oil.' 

If you want to know a little bit more about it, then look no further than this video from our friends at the Vice Channel.

Dabbing is for pot smokers who really want to avoid smoking marijuana as much as possible, going for the maximum high rather than any other potential æsthetic pleasure.  It is like drinking pure grain alcohol rather than a beer because you are seeking a fast high.

If you are addicted to THC (or some other substance you can't get your hands on at the moment and looking for a second) and looking for a buzz to get you through your day, then this is your obvious choice.  Of course, as the documentary will tell you, there are some real dangers.

Aside from the toxicological features of THC abuse, there is the wonderfully dangerous way that BHO is made.  Like meth labs, BHO makers tend to blow themselves up.  After all, they are working with butane, heat, and addled brains.  What could be safer?

Because it is a 'vaporization' process rather than incinerating a whole bunch of plant matter, lots of people like it because you can 'dab' at mom's house and not fill the place with clouds of acrid smoke.  One can be perfectly 'considerate' and bake your brain at the same time.

With legalization set to overtake much of the USA, you can expect to hear more about dabbing BHO along with the more primitive means of ingestion.  However, the dangerous part about dabbing is the immediately high concentration of THC one gets on the first hit.  It is like 'crack' for potheads.

It is not going away.  Even as America ages, the Baby Boom generation largely supports lax drug laws, perhaps now only because it shuts the 'kids' up about their crappy, shallow lives.  We need drugs to make dialectical materialism work.

Like this album cover suggests, marijuana is just another path to hell and death:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I've been running into a lot of this these days.  Particularly among Orthodox, but it is everywhere.  We have no respect for people we disagree with, and feel free to insult them... because we believe our insults to be true.

The Orthodox here in America suffer from two forms: the 'ethnophyletistic' hyper-nationalist variety that exults a particular nationality, and the more convert-borne type emanating from years of inter-Protestant contention with other sects and a big dose of Calvinist predestination.  That's not to say you can't cherry-pick a few humdinger quotes from various Fathers of ages past to prove your point that the 'bad guys' really are super-duper bad, but even the most pugilistic of quotes often come from those who didn't base their entire religious experience on those statements, unlike the modern users do.

The Church is not about its theological strongmen who write the most forceful documents, but rather those who repent and come to experience the glories of God in His merciful healing.  However, there are plenty of people running around who have not really experienced this profound sense of repentance.  That's OK, but don't posit yourself as the great authority.

Perhaps I am being a bit hypocritical in condemning elitism, because this also elevates my own standing over others.  Yes, I am willing to admit that I do struggle with my own pride, and I do engage in being 'judgy.'  One thing I do know: I am not particularly qualified to say much of anything, and I don't hold myself up as an authority on anything.  There are people with years of training and experience on matters of addiction and theology.  When I encounter them, I usually defer.

But, I will not defer when I see someone else being judged or insulted.  Part of why I write here is because there are lots of people who need the healing of the Church, but feel, for whatever reason, like they are looked down upon of shunned because of their problems or temptations.  It is here that I stand on my little soapbox and, perhaps, humiliate myself for speaking 'out of turn.'

When elitism drives people away from the Church, it is demonic.  When we insist that only people of a certain kind of ethnicity or politics or background or appearance are welcome in the sanctuary, then we are elitists and thus enemies of God Himself.  When we mock or insult others, calling them names for no other reason than to exult ourselves like the Pharisee, then we are truly 'heterodox' or even heretics.

God calls all of us sinners for good reason.  Even the purest of saints saw himself as one fallen and befouled.  If we really saw our own filth, and experienced the love of God, then we would not write other people off and mock their misery.

Elitism and compassion do not go together.  An elitist can pity someone else, but pity is for those who do not know what it is to be abased.  Only God can really pity man.  The only genuine experience a man can have of someone else's suffering is compassion, knowing his own experience of pain and being able to relate to others through it.

An elitist, then, is not honest about who he is, or who God is.

Be careful when an elitist tries to speak for the Church.  He may mouth some words of truth, but often they are twisted in meaning.  The elitist will say, "I stand for the Tradition of the Church!"  But, upon closer examination, he has an altered view of the real Tradition.  How can you tell?  Because he will quickly condemn all those in the Church around him who are not 'doing it right.'

The Tradition is something we all share.  It is what we have all received, and do are best to carry out and hand down.  The elitist says only a few have it.

Watch out.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Suicide and Pot

Some folks are rolling this out as a 'positive' side of marijuana use:

At first, it sounds like marijuana is the cure for depression and the new miracle drug of the century.  The fact of the matter is that one would expect that, with an increase in drug or alcohol use, there would be a decrease in the suicide rate... at least, the fast kind of suicide.

Addicts certainly do kill themselves the quick way.  But, addiction itself is a slow-motion death.  Drug use is all about escaping the pain or reality, just like suicide.  And, like suicide, it never deals with the real problem.

Drug use and suicide both offer 'numb'... the latter supposedly as a permanent numb.  Most Christians would take issue with that, but that's a story for a different day.

Addiction is a type of death in that it is a move towards desensitization.  Even though addiction offers incredible highs, the highs have their appeal largely in being able to turn off all other inputs.  The high is an escape from the annoyances and suffering of the present.  It is a type of death, a death to the world that is unpleasant and uncomfortable.

When someone turns to marijuana, they are turning to the lesser of two evils.  As I have written before, people do not smoke pot because they enjoy the taste.  They smoke it strictly to get high.  They smoke it to escape.  In essence they are smoking it to die just a little.

Being high is a 'lesser' form of life, because in the high we are tuned out from our real world and lost in the haze of our stoned minds.

Eve was tempted by the serpent, and she ate the 'forbidden fruit' which man had been warned by God not to eat lest he die.  When they ate the fruit, they did not appear to die.  Eve remained alive and gave the fruit to Adam.  Then their eyes were opened, but they seemed very much alive.  Instead, they began to die. 

This gradual death is what drug abuse and other addictions are all about.

So, the moral of this story is that the lowering of suicide rates is deceptive.  We are merely exchanging one kind for another.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Some Thoughts About the 'Disease Model'

I've posted here before on my discomfort with the standard 'disease model' that is commonly used in professional addiction treatment.

Addiction certainly has a disease-like effect, and I think it can be classed as a disease in the way we think of mental illness, which does not differentiate between organic disorders and those that are strictly thought-based.  In the case of addiction, it is clear that both can come into play.

Organically speaking, addiction not only involves the organic process of stress reaction (some people are naturally wired to have higher anxiety levels), while others have an inordinate response to certain substances that is often referred to by the AA characterization of an 'allergy.'  Then, when the brain begins to reroute neural pathways to accommodate addictive behavior, you indeed have some real organic problems.

However, to classify the organic problems on the same level as organic schizophrenia is ludicrous.  Addicts are not passive victims the way most schizophrenics are.  Addicts make choices to start and to continue.  The non-organic side has the ability to reel in the biochemical side of the disease, because we see people do it all the time.

As I have said before, I consider the 'disease' of addiction to be more about the spiritual disease of the Passions.  Addiction is a symptom.  Sure, when someone asks us if we are sick, we can say, "I have a runny nose" and everyone knows what we are talking about.  The runny nose is a symptom that we identify with the disease.

The addict who thinks that having a disease excuses his behavior is dead wrong.  Too often, counselors, when confronting a pitiful and remorseful addict, try to soften the blow by saying, "Yes, but you were in your disease" as if that excuses his conduct.  The AA Big Book certainly makes no claim, and does not differentiate between conduct inside or outside the disease.

If you want to get sober, you have to own up to all of it.  There are no excuses.

Modern thinkers hate this.  That is because they will say, "But, he was sick, so how can you blame him?"  We look at the mentally ill this way, excusing their mis-behaviors because they don't really have a bad intention when they act out.  The only problem here is that addicts are not mentally ill in the strictest sense of the word.  Addict are and will always be 'voluntarily ill.'  They chose to be sick.

By my book, that means they must own all their own garbage, and so they have to pick it up.  Again, working the Steps does not mean categorizing which of your behaviors are really your fault and which are not.  If you did it, you own it... plus you must own your attitude as well.

If you are looking for excuses, you've come to the wrong place.

If anyone tries to use the disease model to avoid responsibility, then they simply don't understand recovery.  Addicts need to take full responsibility for EVERYTHING that they have done.

The funny thing that most of us have experienced is when we own up to something that, when we finally admit our wrongs and become willing to do what is necessary to make them right, they suddenly become far less embarrassing or fearsome than they once were.  Our minds tend to over-emphasize some events either accidentally or because of the influence of pride.

At the same time, we often see our actions which we minimized turn out to be far more catastrophic.  It is not all chocolate and roses when it comes time to make amends.  When we experience these awakenings, the most harmful thing that can be done is any attempt to minimize the sorrow.  We must mourn.  Only then can we begin to heal.

So, disease is an explanation but it is never, ever an excuse.