Thomas Kinkade and the Reality of Addiction”

I don’t know Thomas Kinkade’s art well, and it does not especially appeal to my tastes, but I do know that he was a big deal in certain Christian circles.  And since since his death last week–apparently at least partly related to an alcohol relapse–I have been struck at how the secular news reports and those from Christian sources each try to separate out what was apparently inseparable in Kinkade: the fact that he was both a man of Christian faith and at the same time deeply broken and addicted. The secular media, such as the LA Times, seem to point to Kinkade’s inner struggles to suggest that there was something missing in, even hypocritical about, his life as a Christian, while the Christian reports take the attitude that he just must not have been trusting Jesus enough.

Both approaches badly misunderstand both the nature of faith, and the nature of addiction.  As I have tried to elaborate in this blog, there are two things that are wholly true about the intersection of faith and addiction:  first, addiction is a powerful disease, fatal if unchecked, and no amount of willpower–as that idea is traditionally understood–can cure it, even when that willpower is brought by a Christian; and, second, Christians, even more than other people, should never be surprised when one of our brothers or sisters gets snared by the hooks of alcoholism or other addiction, relapses, or otherwise struggles in these areas. After all, one of the things we know most centrally about ourselves is that we are drawn to Christ because of a sense of brokenness, emptiness or incompleteness in our lives. Who more, then, than the addicted might better understand the need for God in the healing person of Christ?

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, said our Lord.  Yet how often we forget this in our shallow, non-biblical fantasies about what the “good life” in Christ is supposed to look like. The hard fact is that Thomas Kinkade apparently carried within himself the brokenness of addiction, and it killed him.  Sad as that may be, it reminds us that addiction, untreated and unchecked, is a fatal disease.   That is as true for talented and famous Christians as it is for skid-row drifters.


About Kelly Clark

I am a convinced, if not very virtuous, Christian, recovering from alcohol abuse and many other addictions, and have been working a program of recovery consistently for over nineteen years-- since I blew my life up with chaos and crimes and hurt many people I loved. I am active in 12 Step Fellowships, sponsoring several men and attending several meetings each week. I expect to finish a Masters of Divinity in the Fall of 2011, and soon will begin a discernment process in my church about possible ordained ministry. In my day job, I am a trial attorney, representing adult victims of childhood sexual abuse.
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5 Responses to Thomas Kinkade and the Reality of Addiction”

  1. Castimonia says:

    I was telling a sponsee this past weekend that our addiction is a disease, an uncureable disease. Fortunately, God has given us a steady dose of medication (meetings, 12-steps, phone calls, etc…) that will prolong our life and allow us to remain “healthy.”

    The saying used to be, “Once an addict, always and addict.” Now I say, “Once an addict, always vulnerable.”

  2. Kelly Clark says:

    Thanks for this. Vulnerable, indeed. But as a friend of mine in recovery says, once we acknowledge that we are addicts, powerless, we no longer have any excuses for dangerous or destructive behavior, because now we know where the answers are.

    I hope my blog can be helpful to you or your network. Thanks again for writing. KC

  3. Thank you for this article. My wife and I work with a network of churches in Russia which have a primary ministry of evangelization to the addicted. They use a “Teen Challenge style – get saved and get set free” style of rehabilitation. This works for some but others continue to struggle. I am wondering if you are familiar with the “Celebrate Recovery” program and if you have any thoughts about it. We are looking for an overtly Christian alternative to 12 steps to use in Russia.

    • diospsytrek says:

      michael, i’m somewhat familiar with both teen challenge (TC) & celebrate recovery (CR) – i’ve been attending a CR program for the past two years and last summer a group from our program went to live for 10 days in a drug rehab (sunnybrae) in scotland run by TC. Our focus was teaching them the CR model. We may be going back again this summer to work on establishing an aftercare network in some of the local churches. What TC seemed to lack was aftercare. My impression was that they didnt particularly believe in 12-step AA type programs as they are not exclusively Christ-centered. The problem with local churches providing aftercare is that many churches do not welcome addicts.
      CR was founded 20 yrs ago at saddleback church in so california–that’s rick warren’s church. Every august they have an international 3-day summit at saddleback and i highly recommend that as a place to learn everything you ever wanted to know about about CR.
      I started attending CR out of curiosity. I’m a professional counselor, but I found the fellowship & worship there infectious. Most CR meetings beat the heck out of an institutional church service. There is considerably more sharing & real fellowship than one finds in most churches. In a sense, everybody there is broken and admits it, whereas in most institutional churches honesty & real emotional intimacy is often discouraged. The teachings in TC were good I thought but the program lacked small group sharing. It seems to me that the programs could work together and complement each other. carl

  4. David B says:

    Thanks Kelly, for me this highlights the difference between who we are and what we create. Whatever we are, we are often suffering, because that is the nature of things. As alcoholics, we wish to suffer in private, thinking alcohol will be the balm to make us happy in public. The secret to healing, is being willing to suffer in the open when suffering occurs. And to feel both the blessing of support from those who gather, the the pain of loss from those who scatter.

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