The following is a partial excerpt of the introductory remarks I gave at a men’s 12 Step Recovery retreat in 2009. It is my hope that Christians and other people of goodwill might be able to identify with many of the ideas in these comments: about being broken, being rescued by a wise and all-knowing General, becoming part of a fellowship of the broken.
My old dad used to say that there are two kinds of people in the world… It didn’t matter what the occasion or situation, he had a “two kinds of people” story for it. “There’re two kinds of people in the world—guys who can hit a curve ball and guys who can’t…” or “Two kinds of people in the world: people who are sure they are going to heaven, and people who ain’t sure…”… Or my personal favorite: “There are two kinds of people in the world,” he’d say with a twinkle in his eye—“folks who think there’s two kinds of people in the world, and folks who don’t…”
Not to be outdone, my mother would often say: “No, there’re three kinds of people in the world: people who can count, and people who can’t…”
The theme of the weekend is “The Spirituality of Brokenness,” and so I want to start by saying that there are two kinds of people in the world: people who know that they are broken, and people who don’t know that.
Everything I have to say—this weekend and otherwise— I have to say to the first kind, the group who know they are broken. I understand them and they understand me.
To the second group I have really nothing to say, those who do not see their own brokenness, who would have us believe that they have it all together, that their stuff doesn’t stink, or even more, that they don’t have any stuff… I just have nothing to say to these folks. I don’t understand them, and they sure don’t understand me.
These are the people who seem not to believe in forgiveness, or redemption, or second chances. These, by the way, are the same folks who, when guys like us screw up or blow up, don’t seem to be able ever to forgive us, no matter how much we try to accept responsibility for what we have done, who cannot let it go, and for some reason need to find every opportunity to rub our noses in it.
We know these people: some of them have been our friends, bosses, mothers, fathers or wives.
I’m not here to judge them— they, too, are doing the best they can. But I don’t have to hang out with them.
But we are part of a fellowship of the broken. It is a fellowship for those for whom life has not gone according to plan, for those of us who have had to accept, to acknowledge, to admit that we are broken, wounded, alcoholic, addicted, powerless.
And I am so grateful for this fellowship. For I am a man who is imperfect, broken, distracted, asleep. I am, in the old words that Christians use, “a sinner,” someone who has missed the mark, fallen short of the goal.
Now, before anyone gets his shorts in a wad because I have used phrases like “broken,” or “sinner” let me talk to you right up front about that, because I use these phrases all the time and you have to know what I am and am not saying.
I am not saying “bad” or “evil” or anything like that. I am describing, not judging.
For “broken” is not only a good description for me, it’s the only one that is true: for the fact is, there are parts of me that don’t work the way they should. As our friend Frank often says, I lack perception and I can’t think straight. But I’m not bad…at least not all the time. Truth is, I’m neither mostly virtuous nor mostly wicked; I’m kind of a complicated mix.
You remember the story of the Sunday School teacher who asked the children, “if white meant that you were good, and red meant that you were bad, what color would you be?” One by one, the children each dutifully responded that they would be white. Then it came to Sally. She was the most honest girl in the class, and so she was much slower to answer the question. She thought about it for a long time, brow furrowed. Then, suddenly, her face lit up, and she exclaimed, “I know–I’d be streaky!”
Yeah, well that’s us. We are honest enough to say we’d be streaky– and that’s a description, not a value judgment.
A bicycle can be broken in some key way that affects its performance and usefulness, and yet still be a really fine bike; it just needs a re-fitting. A golden eagle with a broken wing is a creature with two equally powerful truths: she is queenly and beautiful bird, for one; but, two, she cannot fly unless her wing is healed, and both things are true. But there is no moral question about her as an eagle; she just has a broken wing.
We all know about brilliant scholars, artists, writers who suffer from some form of mental brokenness—bipolar, schizophrenia, depression. Think John Forbes Nash; remember him? He was the Nobel winning schizophrenic economist played by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. Or Nathaniel Ayers—the virtuoso cellist played by Jamie Fox, living on the streets with mental illness in the current movie Soloist.
Did anyone say these were bad men, or immoral? No, they just needed to be healed of their demons.
So did we; so do we, and it is certainly no moral judgment to say so—and in fact, perhaps the only immoral act is in our continuing to deny what we know to be true… that we are broken and need to be healed, and that it is going to take a lifetime of work to get it done.
Those of you who say that you are “grateful to be an alcoholic” know what I mean. Without having been driven to our knees by alcohol, we never would have been open to looking at our fundamental shortcomings and imperfections, never would have asked for help from a Higher Power in learning how to live, never would have known the incredible gifts of this Program, never would have learned how to ask for help from other broken men.
So we are part of a fellowship of men and women, a whole bloody army of folks, who have admitted brokenness.
Those of us in this army recall all too well that, not that long ago, we were surrounded by superior forces, strong divisions that had us totally boxed in. After a long time of holding out and fighting, fighting, fighting… we were forced to the realization that we had been broken, we were beaten. We had to give up, to let go, to raise the white flag, to surrender…
No terms, no negotiations.
No hopes, expectations or entitlements to bargain with or for.
Total unmitigated unconditional surrender…beaten, battered, broken.
Then, just at the last minute, when we were prepared to accept anything except going on fighting that which we could not beat, as the enemy began to round us up and we expected to be marched out and shot, a strange and wondrous thing happened…
We heard some good news—some great news. We heard the Gospel of Bill. We were scheduled to be part of some vast prisoner exchange—that someone, something, some Higher Authority—had arranged for us to be transferred to his jurisdiction for further disposition… and while we did not know what “disposition” meant exactly, it sounded terrifically different than “execution…”
We learned that we had been saved, totally without regard to merit or demerit, based only on our willingness to surrender and stop fighting…we were given over to a just and wise and kind new General, who, we learned, had been looking out for us the whole time, who was just waiting for us to stop fighting long enough that He could work out the prisoner exchange.
We eventually learned that this new guy, this new General, is totally trustworthy and wants us to be happy, joyous and free,
We were told by those who were in the front of the line that we would be given a very clear topographical map of our new territory, marked with twelve clearly described shelters along the way.
That all we had to do was to follow the guy in front of us, arm on shoulder, one step at a time, one day at a time, shelter to shelter.
That at each shelter we could rest a bit, read the next part of the map, and then go on ahead towards the next shelter.
And if we did all that, we were told by those further up, and if we kept passing the word back to the guy behind us… “Third Shelter Ahead, pass it on…Sixth Shelter Ahead, pass it on”…
then we would be okay.
we would get home.
So, welcome home.
Welcome to the army of the broken…
like some Dirty Dozen, sitting in a dark and foul prison cell, suddenly reclaimed, redeemed, retrained,transferred and transformed into a new army, a new fellowship, a new brotherhood of the broken.
So welcome Home. Welcome to the fellowship of the broken.