“Two months ago I was homeless and living in my car behind the Recovery House downtown,” said a guy in a meeting I was at recently, “and my life has turned around so quickly it is unbelievable.” He went on to explain that, since he stopped practicing his addiction and started doing what was suggested by others in recovery, he had managed to get a job, find a place to live in sober housing, and—best of all, he said—start sleeping through the night. “This morning when I awoke, it was light outside, not dark, and I cannot tell you how long it has been since that happened.” He concluded his comments with this: “I am so grateful to be an addict, since I now know where I belong, and that is here, with you guys, where I can find friendship and fellowship and unconditional love.”
Grateful to be an addict? Really? Yeah, really. Most of us are, for we understand that without having been brought to our knees through utter and complete defeat and incomprehensible demoralization, we never would have asked for help, never would have been able to change our lives, and, most of all, never would have found a fellowship where we belonged, where we were loved unconditionally and accepted without qualification. After all, the traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous say that, as to qualifications for joining AA, “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.” So anyone who wants to do things differently is welcome, and that is true for any Twelve Step fellowship.
Now, it is this idea that we addicts found our home in the rooms of recovery that I want to consider here, for in it are profound lessons for Christians of all stripes.
Any practicing addict, at least during those rare moments when she or he can be candid about the power of the addiction, will tell you that the most despairing thing about our condition is that we have burned all bridges, we have alienated those we love, and that, at the deepest level, we feel as if we don’t really fit in with the rest of society. For me, it always felt like, when they were handing out Instruction Manuals on How to Live Life, I didn’t get one. In short, we addicts feel like total misfits. So it is that we experience relief and joy beyond description once we finally stumble upon the Island of Misfit Toys—better known, of course, as AA or NA or any of the other Twelve Step fellowships. We finally belong somewhere, we have a home and a spiritual family, and it is only by watching and imitating our new brothers and sisters that we can become sane and sound and functioning members of society, learning to love and serve and be content in the everyday.
I suggest that Christians have lost this sense of wonder and joy at being unconditionally loved and accepted in a spiritual family, and that the reason for this is because we have lost the sense of brokenness and emptiness and because we no longer feel deeply the need for God. Now, I am the last to want to go back to the days where churches were places of guilt and shame and abusive systems of coercion, but, of course, those places were never really churches at all, at least not in the New Testament sense.
Once I wrote an academic paper on a passage from Philippians, and in studying the early church at Philippi, I was struck by how isolated they felt from the Roman society in which they lived, how deeply they understood that they were different from their fellow Roman citizens. When everyone else was greeting one another by saying, “Caesar is Lord,” the Christians would respond, “no, Jesus is Lord.” Now while this may have been a sound and strong theological response, it could not have done much for one’s sense of belonging. But they knew that they had a true home, and that it was in the rooms of gathering, the church rooms, where they were welcomed and belonged. They knew that they had stumbled upon Jesus’ Island of Misfit Toys.
So it is that in this society of ours, our society of narcissism and materialism and secularism, where to acknowledge brokenness or sin or a deep need for God is considered bad form at best and at worst is taken as instability, where to speak out in the name of Christ will get you labeled as a danger to the regime, we Christians have a home, a place where we belong, and a place where—like our friends the addicts—we can be transformed one day at a time, to go out and love and serve the world in joy and peace.