04/11/17

Love Your Enemies

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Some people mistakenly think that the proverbial saying, “God helps those who help themselves” is some where in the Bible. Well it’s not. Actually, it came from one of Aesop’s fables, Hercules and the Waggoneer. A waggoneer driving a heavily loaded wagon became stuck in a muddy road. The more the horses pulled, the deeper the wheels sank in the mud. So he prayed to Hercules for help, who then replied that the wagoneer should get up off his knees and put his shoulder to the wheel. The moral of the fable was: “The gods help them that help themselves.”

In a similar way, Jesus corrected in Matthew 5:43-48 what had become a misapplication of the commandment to love your neighbor in Leviticus 19:18. In preceding passages of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus introduced teachings from Scripture with the phrase that begins 5:43: “You have heard it said” (Matthew 5:21, 5:27, 5:33, 5:38). But here “what was said” was not from Scripture. Instead of the command to Love your neighbor as yourself,” it seems that what was being taught was “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Nowhere in the Old Testament does it say, “Hate your enemy.”

There were passages that called for the destruction of Israel’s enemies (Deuteronomy 7:2) or counseled to keep your distance from non-Israelites (Exodus 34:12). Yet you were to feed your enemy (Proverbs 25:21-22) and help them when they were in need (Exodus 23:4-5). The Old Testament teaching on how you were to treat your enemies was complex, according to Leon Morris. In his commentary on Matthew, he said:

All this means that those who summed up Old Testament teaching as calling for love for neighbors and hatred for enemies were oversimplifying. The call for hatred is certainly the kind of addition to the command that many have put into practice.

Again, instead of lowering the bar to the common social standard he quoted in 5:43, Jesus said his followers were to love their enemies and pray for them!

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus named two groups who were widely seen as enemies by the ordinary Jew—tax collectors and Gentiles (non-Jews). Don’t they take care of their own; don’t they love one another? So if you love only those who love you; if you only greet others like you (your brothers), how are you different from the tax collectors and the Gentiles?

While tax collectors are never popular in any culture (think of the Internal Revenue Service in the U.S.), in first-century Palestine they were particularly unpopular. Not only would they collect taxes for the Romans, they would also be sure to get some extra for themselves. Leon Morris commented, “In the eyes of Jesus’ audience there were no more wicked people than tax collectors as a class.” That’s the point of the encounter Jesus had with Zacchaeus, who was a tax collector (Luke 19:1-10).  They were the last ones you would expect to show love to others. The implied question is shouldn’t your love for others be greater?

The verse about greeting your brother is deeper in meaning than most people realize. When first-century Jews greeted one another, they would say “Peace,” which was in fact like saying a prayer; something like this: “May the peace of the Lord be upon you.” In our culture we say “good-bye” without remembering we are actually saying a shortened form of: “God by with you.” So making a sincere greeting meant you expressed goodwill and welcome to your brother. Shouldn’t your wishes and greetings to others be more sincere than the Gentiles?

The final command in verse 48, “to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” seems to set an unreachable standard—be as perfect as God the Father.  But that’s not what it means. The sense of the Greek word for “perfect” here pertains to you being fully developed in a moral sense. Look, your Father in heaven lets the sun rise and the rain fall upon both the evil and the good; the just and the unjust. Shouldn’t you do the same? The command to love your neighbor as yourself includes loving your enemies.  Isn’t that the same message as in the parable of the Good Samaritan?

There is an interesting grammatical structure in verse 5:45b called a chiasm, named after the Greek letter chi, which looks like an “X.” The verse reads: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” The crossing/chiasm is between the “evil” and “unjust” as well as the “good” and the “just.” The crossing pattern is accomplished by taking the first pair of contrasting words, evil and good, and then reversing the position in the second pair of contrasting words: just and unjust. So the chiasm looks like this:

The chiastic structure helps to reinforce the point of the passage. It gives a visual warning to the followers of Jesus: they are not to follow the contrasting advice of loving their neighbor and hating their enemy. Rather, just as their heavenly Father sends sun upon the evil and the good, and rain upon both the just and the unjust, they are to love and not hate their enemies. This action of God’s is known as the principle of common grace, where the good things of the world like sun and rain fall equally upon the evil and the good; the just and the unjust. God does not withhold the gifts of rain and sunshine from people who are evil or unjust. So followers of Christ should withhold love from their enemies.

In an active addiction, addicts and alcoholics make a lot of enemies. The hostility in these relationships can be either a one-way or a two-way street. You resent one another in mutual hostility. But you resent what someone did—or they resent what you did—in one-way hostility. The remedy for this in recovery is stated in Matthew 5:44: love and pray for your enemies. In order to do so, you have to let go of your resentment.

When discussing the Fourth Step in the “How It Works” chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. said: “Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” It leads to various forms of spiritual disease—“a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness.” If the alcoholic is to live, they have to be free of anger. Realize that the people who wronged you were perhaps spiritually sick as well. “We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend.”

This is part of a series of reflections dedicated to the memory of Audrey Conn, whose questions reminded me of my intention to look at the various ways the Sermon on the Mount applies to Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery. If you’re interested in more, look under the category link “Sermon on the Mount.”

03/10/17

Let Your Yes Be Yes

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While some oath-breaking leads to serious consequences, oaths just don’t seem to have the same significance in the modern person’s life as they did in biblical times. Most people know oaths occur in legal proceedings, where witnesses swear to tell the truth before giving testimony. Willfully give false testimony in this context is considered to be the crime of perjury. But outside of this sphere, taking an oath in modern times is largely reserved for times of ritual or ceremony.

In American culture, we see a newly appointed or elected government official swear an oath before taking office. Immigrants take an oath of citizenship when they become naturalized citizens of a country. When reciting the American Pledge of Allegiance, citizens pledge or swear loyalty to their country. Doctors and medical personnel take the Hippocratic oath, swearing to practice medicine honestly. So how are we to apply what Jesus says about oaths in the Sermon on the Mount?

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37)

In his commentary on the gospel of Matthew, Leon Morris noted this passage was peculiar to Matthew, who returned to the theme when He confronted the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:16-22. “Clearly he [Jesus] was interested in the fact that people seemed very ready to swear oaths.” Oaths played a significant role in the life and culture of the Jews. The Mishnah, the first written record of the oral law, contains a complete treatise on oaths. In biblical and ancient times, oaths bound the person to his or her word.

According to the Lexham Bible Dictionary, oaths imposed a great sense of obligation on the individual; and breaking an oath was unthinkable. They were used to confirm the truthfulness of a person’s word, bind individuals in a contract, or confirm God’s intent to act according to His word. “Even rash oaths were binding and required confession of sin and sacrificial compensation if broken” (Leviticus 5:4-6). Yahweh served as the guarantor of a person’s oath, and here it had its greatest power. Breaking an oath was tantamount to breaking faith with Yahweh. Doing so took His name in vain (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 19:12).

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was addressing how a series of quotations from Scripture should be understood. In Matthew 5:33, the Old Testament command to not break an oath (Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2, etc) was paraphrased by Jesus. Then He said his followers should not swear an oath at all! However, sometimes it was necessary—Jesus himself responded when the high priest put him on oath (Matthew 26:63-64). So Jesus is not forbidding Christians from taking an oath, as some individuals apply the restriction today.

Rather, he is saying in the strongest terms possible that his followers must speak the truth. They should never adopt the sense that only when an oath is sworn do they need to be truthful.

The Jews held that unless the name of God was specifically mentioned the oath was not binding; there were lengthy discussions about when an oath is or is not binding, and people would sometimes swear by heaven or earth or a similar oath and later claim that they were not bound by that oath because God was not mentioned. Jesus rejects such casuistry.

This was why Jesus mentioned the forms of oaths used to sidestep telling the truth in Matthew 5:33-37. Remember the Mishnah had an entire treatise on oaths. Heaven, earth, Jerusalem, your head, were all somehow linked to God. You cannot escape the requirement to tell the truth by using these hair-splitting differences.  Keep your pledges without insisting that a certain form of words was necessary to make it binding.  Essentially Jesus is saying: “No oath is necessary for a truthful person.”

The conclusion of the matter is that it is never necessary for Christ’s people to swear an oath before they utter the truth. Their word should always be so reliable that nothing more than a statement is needed from them. God is in all of life, and every statement is made before him.

The importance of honesty in 12 Step Recovery is well known. Self-honesty begins with recognizing whether or not you are an alcoholic. In chapter 3, “More About Alcoholism,” it says A.A. doesn’t like to pronounce anyone as alcoholic. The suggestion is to try some controlled drinking—more than once. “It will not take long for you to decide, if you are honest with yourself about it.”

The manner of life demanded of the person who admits being an alcoholic is even qualified further as rigorous honesty.  In discussing what to do after making a personal inventory (the Fourth Step) in chapter 6, “Into Action,” of the Big Book it says: “We must be entirely honest with somebody if we expect to live long and happily in this world.”

As Bill Sees It, a collection of thoughts by Bill W. on the A.A. way of life, cites a 1966 letter he wrote. Bill said that only God can fully know what absolute honesty is. The best we can do is to strive for a better quality of honesty. Sometimes we have to place love ahead of indiscriminate ‘factual honesty.’ In the name of ‘perfect honesty’ we can cruelly and unnecessarily hurt others. “Always one must ask, ‘What is the best and most loving thing I can do?’”

In an August 1961 article for the AA Grapevine,  “This Matter of Honesty,” Bill W. observed how the problem of honesty touched nearly every aspect of our lives. While his intended audience was other A.A. members, I think what he said applies to everyone. After commenting on the extremes of self-deception and reckless truth-telling, he noted there were countless situations in life where nothing less than utter honest will do, “no matter how sorely we may be tempted by the fear and pride that would reduce us to half-truths or inexcusable denials.” He concluded the article with:

How truth makes us free is something that we AAs can well understand. It cut the shackles that once bound us to alcohol. It continues to release us from conflicts and miseries beyond reckoning; it banishes fear and isolation. The unity of our Fellowship, the love we cherish for each other, the esteem in which the world holds us–all of these are products of such integrity, as under God, we have been privileged to achieve. May we therefore quicken our search for still more genuine honor, and deepen its practice in all our affairs.

This is part of a series of reflections dedicated to the memory of Audrey Conn, whose questions reminded me of my intention to look at the various ways the Sermon on the Mount applies to Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery. If you’re interested in more, look under the category link “Sermon on the Mount.”

02/17/17

The Adultery of Addiction

© Wolfgang Steiner | 123rf.com

In 1948, at the First International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Bob gave his last major talk.  He related for those in attendance his recollections of the beginnings of A.A. He recalled that in the early days they were groping in the dark. The Steps and the Traditions didn’t exist; the A.A. Big Book hadn’t been written yet. But they were convinced the answer to their problems was in the Good Book. And one of the absolutely essential parts of the Bible for them, according to Dr. Bob, was the Sermon on the Mount. But there are two verses in there whose application to 12 Step recovery may seem to be a bit strained.

Matthew 5:31-32, which expresses Jesus’ thoughts on divorce, follows right after he addressed how his followers should understand and apply biblical teaching on adultery and lust. As is typical of his teachings in other areas of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns the Jews understanding of what the Law said about divorce upside down. The passage says:

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Jesus began by referring to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 from the Law of Moses, where if a man wanted to divorce his wife, he was required to give her a formal certificate declaring he was divorcing her. At that time, a man was permitted to divorce his wife, but a wife was not allowed to divorce her husband. She could petition the court, and if her plea was accepted, the court would direct the husband to divorce her. Culturally, to moderns this appears to be an unfair, patriarchal practice. But there was a loose interpretation of that section of the Mosaic Law that made it even more one-sided.

Deuteronomy 24:1 said a man could write his wife a certificate of divorce if she fell out of favor in his eyes “because he found some indecency in her.” The word for “indecency” in Hebrew can have a sexual connotation, but here it referred vaguely to some failing or sin. By the time period in which Jesus lived, the grounds for divorce could be a failing as trivial as a wife burning the food she cooked for her husband. We could almost say this was an ancient sense of a husband-centered “no fault divorce.” This was the interpretation of the followers of Hillel, a rabbi and teacher during the time of Herod the Great. The school of Shammai, a conservative Pharisee from around the same time period, limited the sense of the Hebrew word for “indecency” to its sexual sense and only permitted divorce for adultery.

Regardless of how an individual understood divorce, it was an accepted practice in Judaism for a man to divorce his wife. However, her husband could not put her outside of his home on a whim; he had to formally release her from her marriage vows. The certificate of divorce was a protection for the woman, indicating she could legally marry someone else. Remarriage for a widowed or divorced woman provided security in the culture of her time. Leon Morris observed: “In first-century Jewish society how else could she live?”

But, Jesus said divorce should not be granted at the whim of the husband; it’s not simply the right or privilege of a man to dispose of his wife whenever he tires of her. Such capriciousness was sin. Jesus said not only does this kind of husband force his wife to commit adultery by her remarriage, but also the man she marries. In God’s eyes the indecency to justify a divorce had to be serious to break the covenant bond of marriage. Apathy towards the wife of your youth or the desire for a younger, prettier “trophy wife” were not acceptable reasons for divorce.

Clearly Jesus saw marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman. Addiction can destroy that bond as effectively as adultery. In fact to a spouse, drug and alcohol addiction often feels like the addict or alcoholic is in an adulterous relationship—even when there isn’t another human being involved. There are frequent promises to their partner they are finished with alcohol … cocaine … heroin. Then the partner discovers those were promises without teeth. The addict didn’t follow through with a permanent breakup with their drug/lover.

Farther on in the Sermon on the Mount, in the midst of discussing treasures on earth or in heaven, Jesus tells his audience that whatever they treasure has their heart. Since no one can serve two masters (or lovers), they will be devoted to one or the other, but not both (Matthew 6:19-24). Being with an addict can feel like that. Your partner is in a relationship with something else; and you can’t compete.

In the A.A. Big Book, chapter 8 is “To Wives.” Counter-intuitively, that chapter was written by Bill W.; not his wife, Lois. In Pass It On, Lois said she was hurt Bill insisted on writing it himself. His given reason, so that it would be in the same style as the rest of the book, seems a bit weak. There was, in fact, a section included in the A.A. Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, that was written by another hand. “The Doctor’s Opinion” was written by Dr. Silkworth, the doctor who treated Bill at the end of his drinking. I think it is fair to say Bill W. had a strain of chauvinism in him and it showed up here.

Another way to apply Matthew 5:31-32 to recovery is to reflect on how adultery and divorce were frequently used as metaphors to describe idolatry or unfaithfulness to God in the Old Testament prophetic literature. Here, the adultery would be spiritual adultery; a violation of the individual’s relationship with God.

Ezekiel 16:15-35 frames the unfaithfulness of Jerusalem to God as adultery. Jeremiah 3:1-10 similarly describes how Israel polluted the land with her lovers. Israel and Jerusalem are the unfaithful wives. In Malachi, the priests are described as being faithless to the wife of their youth. Adultery, whether it was literal or a metaphor for spiritual unfaithfulness, violated the individual’s covenant before God.

The Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (Malachi 2:14-16)

This is part of a series of reflections dedicated to the memory of Audrey Conn, whose questions reminded me of my intention to look at the various ways the Sermon on the Mount applies to Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery. If you’re interested in more, look under the category link “Sermon on the Mount.”

11/20/15

Powerless Over Lust

© flairmicro | 123rf.com

© flairmicro | 123rf.com

Francis Hartigan, a biographer of Bill W., described him as seemingly being unable to control himself sexually. Despite knowing how his philandering was a potential threat to A.A., Bill couldn’t/wouldn’t stop. At times his despair and self loathing over this issue left him feeling unworthy to lead A.A. There was a “Founder’s Watch” committee of friends who would keep track of Bill during the socializing that took place at A.A. functions. When they saw “a certain gleam in his eye,” they would steer Bill off in one direction and the young woman he had been talking to in the other. “Sexual fidelity does not seem to be something Bill was capable of.”

Matthew 5:27-32 in the Sermon on the Mount addresses the issue of adultery. The passage begins rather clearly: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus begins with a repetition of the Seventh Commandment’s restriction against adultery to his largely Jewish audience. The understanding to his audience and to other men in the ancient world was that the commandment forbade having sexual intercourse with a married woman. Leon Morris’s comment on this matter was that: “A married man could have sexual adventures as long as they did not involve a married woman.”

But as was typical of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, he challenges the restricted interpretations of Old Testament commandments given to God’s people. “But I say to you,” even looking lustfully at a woman means you have already committed adultery with her in your heart. Even the great rabbis stopped short of making such an important declaration about the importance of fidelity in marriage. In effect, Jesus was doing away with the old “double standard.” Men and women were equally required to be faithful in their marriages.

Note that Jesus includes matters of the heart—the thoughts, emotions and desires—as equal to overtly sinful behavior. Craig Blomberg said: “Christians must recognize those thoughts and actions which, long before any overt sexual sin, make the possibility of giving in to temptation more likely, and they must take dramatic action to avoid them.” Elaborating on this point, Jesus pointed to two of the primary bodily offenders in sexual sin outside of adultery—eyes and hands. With figurative and hyperbolic language, he said it was better to lose an eye or a hand, “one of your members,” than to end up in hell as a consequence of your sin. The message is to do whatever it takes “to control natural passions that tend to flare out of control.”

Alcoholics Anonymous, the A.A. Big Book, spent a good bit of time talking about sex. Given that Bill wrote the “How It Works” where that the section on sex appears, we may get some insight into his views on his problems with sexual fidelity and why he struggled with depression and self-loathing over his inability to control this compulsion.

Bill began by saying: “Now about sex. Many of us needed an overhauling there.” He then noted the extremes of human opinion between a view of sex being “a lust of our lower nature” and the voices who cry for sex and more sex; those who “bewail the institution of marriage.” And those who see most of human troubles traceable to sexual causes. He said A.A. didn’t want to be the arbiter of anyone’s sexual conduct. “We all have sex problems.” It’s part of being human. But what can we do about it?

The answer begins with an inventory of your sexual conduct. Where were you selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Who have you hurt? Where did you unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? Where were you at fault and what should you have done differently? “We got this all down on paper and looked at it.” The test of each relationship was whether or not it was selfish. “We asked God to mold our ideals and help us live up to them. We remembered always that our sex powers were God-given and therefore good, neither to be used lightly or selfishly not to be despised and loathed.”

Whatever your ideal was, you should be willing to grow toward it. Be willing to make amends, provided that doesn’t bring about more harm than good. God alone can judge your sexual situation. Counsel with others, but avoid hysterical thinking or advice. Suppose you fall short of the chosen ideal and “stumble.” Does that mean you are going to get drunk? Some people say that will happen, but it is only a half-truth. It depends on our motives.

If we are sorry for what we have done, and have the honest desire to let God take us to better things, we believe we will be forgiven and have learned our lesson. If we are not sorry, and our conduct continues to harm others, we are quite sure to drink. We are not theorizing. These are facts out of our experiences.

To sum up about sex: We earnestly pray for the right ideal, for guidance in each questionable situation, for sanity, and for the strength to do the right thing. If sex is very troublesome, we throw ourselves the harder into helping others. We think of their needs and work for them. This takes us out of ourselves. It quiets the imperious urge, when to yield would mean heartache.

Hartigan said a close friend and confidant of Bill’s thought that his guilt over his infidelities was a large part of his struggle with depression. Bill would always agree with the friend that he needed to stop. But just when the friend thought they were getting somewhere, Bill would say he can’t give it up and start rationalizing. “Bill’s behavior caused some of his most ardent admirers to break with him.”

Bill seems to have kept himself on the razor’s edge of not drinking over his sexual conduct. He didn’t drink, but he suffered from depression for a number of years. He also didn’t seem to have true sorrow or repentance for his actions and an honest desire to let God take him to better things sexually. Returning to the Matthew passage, I wonder if Bill never really accepted that he needed to stop lusting after women in his heart (Matthew 5:28). While he practiced and wrote about doing whatever it took to not drink, he failed to apply that principle to his sex life. We could even say, perhaps, he never truly applied the First Step to his sexual conduct.

This is part of a series of reflections dedicated to the memory of Audrey Conn, whose questions reminded me of my intention to look at the various ways the Sermon on the Mount applies to Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery. If you’re interested in more, look under the category link “Sermon on the Mount.”

05/8/15

The Deep Desire of True Ambition

© Balefire9 | stockfresh.com

© Balefire9 | stockfresh.com

Recently I watched the 1947 movie, Gentleman’s Agreement for the first time. Starring Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire, it told the story of a reporter, Phil Green (Gregory Peck), who poses as a Jew to uncover anti-Semitism in post World War II America. In a climatic scene, Phil’s fiancée, Kathy (Dorothy McGuire), realizes it’s not enough to privately abhor prejudice; you have to do something about it. In the context of Matthew 5:13-16, you have to be salt and light.

Further developing what he’d been teaching his disciples, Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world.”  In verses 5:3-10, he described the blessings available to those who were his disciples. He warned them in 5:11-12 of the persecution they would face simply because they wanted to live righteous lives on his account. Here he said you can’t fly under the radar and avoid persecution. Theirs was not to be a life of quietism and retreat from the world. Rather, as Craig Blomberg said, they “must permeate society as agents of redemption.”

The first metaphor was a statement of fact—you are salt of the earth. In our time we think of salt as something that adds flavor—as a supplement—to what we eat. But up until the invention of refrigeration, salt was an essential preservative. That is the meaning of the salt metaphor here. Jesus is saying his disciples are to be a preserving influence on earth. According to Sinclair Ferguson in The Sermon on the Mount, “Christians whose lives exhibit the qualities of the ‘blessed’ will have a preserving impact” upon society.

Salt losing its taste is another saying that makes no sense to moderns, who get pure granulated salt from a Morton’s salt container at the grocery. But the salt used in first-century Palestine was most likely taken from the Dead Sea, where it would have been mixed with other minerals. If the sodium chloride somehow dissolved out of the mixture, it would leave “salt” that had lost its “saltiness” (sodium chloride).  Good for nothing, it was tossed into the street, which was the garbage can of ancient cities.

Once again in Matthew 5:14 Jesus directly addresses the disciples, now saying they are (factually) the light of the world. It’s the same message as in the previous verse, but with a different image. In each case the target is broadly described—the earth and the world. It’s like saying, if you didn’t get it the first time, I’ll tell you again another way: “you are the light of the world.” You can’t hide; and you shouldn’t hide.

© Suzanne Tucker | 123RF.com

© Suzanne Tucker | 123RF.com

We lose some of the power of the metaphor today as we live with electricity in huge cities, where darkness is typically an annoyance or inconvenience, not something that stops human work and activity until the sun comes up the next day. Rural living or wilderness vacations get moderns closer to an understanding of the image. Until the widespread use of electricity, nightfall was DARK. A city on a hill, with its cooking fires and torches would have been an incredible contrast to the surrounding darkness. You could not hide it.

Conversely, it makes no sense to light an oil lamp and then put a basket over it. You put it on a lamp stand where it can illuminate the entire room. Now the light from an oil lamp doesn’t compete well with that from even a forty-watt light bulb. But recall how grateful you were to get that one candle lit when your electricity went out and the batteries in your flashlight were dead.

Notice also the contrast between the light of a city on a hill that can’t be hidden and that of an oil lamp that could be hidden. The disparity of the two images suggests that, whether your “light” is big or small, you shouldn’t try to hide it. It makes no sense and ultimately can’t be done. Rather, let it shine so others can see it.

The “light” is the light of righteousness in verse 5:10 that is ultimately from Jesus Christ. He is the great light who has dawned upon those dwelling in darkness (Matthew 4:16). He is the light of the world (John 8:12). His disciples, those who have been brought out of the kingdom of darkness into his kingdom of light (Colossians 1:12-13), are to now live as children of the light (Ephesians 5:8). Again turning to Sinclair Ferguson:

Jesus is underlining the challenge, which is stated so clearly in his Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20): the whole world is to be our sphere of influence. To reduce it to anything less would be tantamount to restricting the power, authority, and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is not a Christianized “jihad,” calling for forced conversion or subjection. The light of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount is seen in his disciples as they are poor in spirit, mourning for sin, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers in their daily lives with other “earth” people living in this world. “In the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mathew 5:16).

Parallel to the followers of Jesus living out the beatitudes as they are salt and light to the world, members of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) put their program into action as well. Bill W. said repeatedly that “A.A. is more than a set of principles; it is a Society of alcoholics in action. We must carry the message, else we ourselves can wither and those who haven’t been given the truth will die.” You can find this statement in The Language of the Heart (p. 160), Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (p. 139), and the pamphlet, A.A.’s Legacy of Service.

In A.A. Comes of Age, Bill added that action was the magic word. “Action to carry A.A.’s message is therefore the heart of our Third Legacy of Service.” He defined A.A.  service as “anything whatever that helps us to reach a fellow sufferer—ranging from the Twelfth Step itself to a ten-cent phone call and a cup of coffee. . . .  The sum total of all these services is our Third Legacy of Service.” The Twelfth Step reads: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our affairs.” The linked pamphlet, A.A.’s Legacy of Service, goes on to tell some of the early history of A.A. More detail of that history, focusing on the Three Legacies, can be found in The Language of the Heart and Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age.

The life of service and recovery within A.A. is not identical to that described by Jesus within the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples. But I suspect they would all agree with this statement from Bill W.’s “Step Twelve” essay in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: “True ambition in not what we thought it was. True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God.”

This is part of a series of reflections dedicated to the memory of Audrey Conn, whose questions reminded me of my intention to look at the various ways the Sermon on the Mount applies to Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery. If you’re interested in more, look under the category link “Sermon on the Mount.”

03/27/15

Present and Future Blessings

© Bruce Rolff | 123RF.com

© Bruce Rolff | 123RF.com

The Beatitudes are named and structured after the Greek word makarios, meaning someone who is the privileged recipient of divine favor. It is also a literary form found in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, the book of Psalms opens with a beatitude: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” The greatest concentration of beatitudes in the Old Testament is within the Psalms and the Wisdom literature. Robert Guelich indicated there were 44 examples of beatitudes in the New Testament, primarily in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Jesus begins his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount by underlining the various ways his disciples have and will receive divine favor. Both the poor in spirit (5:3) and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (5:10) receive the kingdom of heaven now, in this present time. The others—in between—have a future promise of fulfillment. Beginning and ending with the same expression is a stylistic device called an inclusion, according to D.A. Carson. So then the present and future blessings are all part of the same theme—the kingdom of heaven. Craig Blomberg said: “Complete fulfillment of Jesus’ promises often requires waiting for the age to come.”

Implied in the Greek word for blessing, is having a right relationship with God and enjoying fellowship with Him. Instead of focusing on what we are to do, the Beatitudes describe the blessings. The obligations or expectations in this relationship come later on in the Sermon on the Mount. Sinclair Ferguson commented that the blessings also weren’t new teaching or revelation. Jesus took some of the themes from the Psalms and Isaiah and applying them to the disciples. “He was pointing out what God’s word tells us is the blessed life.”

Several commentators have noted where Matthew has eight beatitudes, Luke’s Sermon on the Plain only has four (Luke 6:20-22). Another difference is how Matthew’s blessings are all in the third person (5:3-10), where Luke’s are in the second person. Biblical scholars have given a variety of explanations, but it seems to me the best is to see the two sermons not as edited versions of the same one, but as two occasions where Jesus used the “beatitude” approach. So those who receive divine favor are poor in spirit, mourners, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted.

The poor in spirit are those who recognize their spiritual bondage. They are conscious of their sin debt, which separates them from God. All they can do is “cry for mercy, and depend upon the Lord.” D.A. Carson said poverty of spirit was: “The personal acknowledgement of spiritual bankruptcy. . . . The conscious confession of unworth before God.” Note how Carson’s thoughts reflect the process of coming to believe in the first two Steps.

Poverty of spirit becomes a general confession of a man’s need for God, a humble admission of impotence without him. Poverty of spirit may end in a Gideon vanquishing the enemy hosts; but it begins with a Gideon who first affirms he is incapable of the task [powerless], and who insists that if the Lord does not go with him he would very much prefer to stay home and thresh grain.

The mourners grieve the evil and sin they see in themselves and the world around them. The meek are “humble, gentle and not aggressive.” These are not typical qualities of the movers and shakers of this age. But in the age to come, they will lead the meek to come into the possession of what the movers and shakers sought to possess in this age—the earth.

Meekness as humility is throughout the A.A. Big Book. Bill W. said that when making a Third Step with an understanding person, if it was “honestly and humbly made,” it could sometimes have a very great effect at once. Working the Steps meant relying upon God rather than ourselves. “To the extent that we do as we think He would have us, and humbly relay on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity.” The process of the first three Steps is one of admitting spiritual bondage to alcohol and turning it over to God. The Third Step prayer in the Big Book reads:

God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!

By combining hunger and thirst in 5:6, Jesus intensifies the sense of longing after righteousness—the quality of judicial correctness or justice, with a focus on redemptive action. This righteousness is then seen in granting mercy to others; being pure in heart; being a peacemaker.

Mercy is being concerned about other people in their need; being compassionate. Those who show others mercy will be granted mercy. The final judgment comes to mind here: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

In January of 1953, a man in the Huntsville Texas prison reflected in the Grapevine (“From Within These Walls”) on how A.A. helped him and others gain a new conception towards those who were distressed. He said the alcoholic prisoner tended to look upon the world through “a mist of resentments.” The desire for revenge poisoned the life of the person who cherished it. Revenge begets revenge, he said. “While forgiveness melts the stony heart and brings reconciliations.” If anyone were to ask him what was the most inherent and conclusive proof from the Gospels that Jesus understood humanity, he would point to the Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Being pure was to be free from moral guilt. Leon Morris noted this is the only time in the New Testament where purity is predicated of the heart. “To be pure in heart is to be pure throughout.” And in the age to come they will see God, reversing the separation to goes back to the Garden of Eden. The Greek word for peacemaker occurs only here in the New Testament and refers to someone who works to restore peace between people; who seeks reconciliation or amends with others. They will be called sons of God. Craig Blomberg said: “Others will identify them as God’s true ambassadors, as those being conformed to his likeness.”

Becoming a peacemaker is embedded within the Eleventh Step. In Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill W. suggested the St. Francis Peace Prayer as a beginning for meditation and prayer in Step Eleven  (See “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace” for more on the Peace Prayer and A.A.)

There are many other ways that the Beatitudes and 12 Step recovery are associated. If you start your own study, you will discover them. This is part of a series of reflections dedicated to the memory of Audrey Conn, whose questions reminded me of my intention to look at the various ways the Sermon on the Mount applied to Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery. If you’re interested in more, look under the category link “Sermon on the Mount.”

01/16/15

Whatever You Treasure Has Your Heart

“Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough.” (Janwillem van de Wetering)

The following passage contrasts the pursuit of material wealth to that of heavenly riches. Modern wealth or treasure often means possessing “money” or valuables containing precious metals. So many English translations since William Tyndale use “rust” to translate a Greek word which can also mean: “eating” or “consuming.”  Following this sense, the word translated “money” in verse 25 is better understood as more broadly as material wealth.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.  (Matthew 6:19-25)

Wealth to the audience who heard the Sermon on the Mount would have more likely been excess provisions of food and resources like cloth. So vermin or insects that would get into your stored grain and materials could destroy or ruin your treasure. Thieves could also steal it from you. But earthly treasures can also be things that bring an individual power, prestige or wealth. So there is a broad range of things that we can covet or “store” up that would qualify as earthly treasure.

And here lies the first bombshell of the passage: whatever you treasure has your heart.

The next two verses, 6:22-23, can be difficult to understand. The metaphor of the eye being the lamp to our body doesn’t speak clearly to a modern audience. Craig Blomberg, suggests that it is a restatement of the previous paragraph. So the meaning is that the way people handle their finances affects every part of their lives:

Just as the “heart” (v. 21) forms the center of one’s affections and commitments, the “eyes” enable the whole person to see. Good and bad eyes probably parallel a good and bad heart and thus refer, respectively, to storing up treasures in heaven versus storing them up on earth.

I think that Jesus is extending his statement about treasure, rather than just restating it. In his time, as today, it would likely have been understood that extreme examples of greed were ungodly. But there is nothing morally wrong with trying to improve your financial status, is there? So saying: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”, could have been readily affirmed—but not fully understood. His hearers, then and now, could have missed a crucial point.

So Jesus extends and clarifies his statement about treasure by using another metaphor, how the eye is the lamp of the body; the eye lets in light. Here, as Leon Morris observed, there is a spiritual parallel with Jesus speaking of the eye as the source of light to the body. So, if you have “good,” healthy eyes, your body has light. If your eye is not healthy, you will be in darkness. So far Jesus has described the one half of the metaphor that everyone knows—blind people are in darkness. The second half of the metaphor now equates “light” entering a person as spiritual or moral “darkness,” and then declared “how great is the darkness” if the “light” that enters you is “darkness!”

It asks the question, “What do you have your eye on?” If your eye is on some kind of treasure, that is where your heart is. If your eye is on the things of God, then your body is full of the light of God. If your eye is on other things, you have let “darkness” in—and how great is that darkness! So, no one can serve two masters; you cannot serve God and earthly treasure in any form.

Twelve Step recovery is steeped in the knowledge that pursuing earthly treasures leads to destruction. In the “Step Seven” essay in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill W. noted how alcoholics for thousands of years have been demanding more than their share of security, prestige—the things of material achievement or earthly treasure. Success meant dreaming of more; frustration or failure meant drinking for oblivion. “Never was there enough of what we thought we wanted.” Never was there “thought of making honesty, tolerance, and true love of man and God the daily basis of living.”

As long as individuals attempted to live by their own strength and intelligence, a working faith was impossible. “This was true even when we believed that God existed.” Here, the Twelve Stepper and the follower of Christ stand in agreement: “We could actually have earnest religious beliefs which remained barren because we were still trying to play God ourselves.” As long as we place self-reliance first, a genuine reliance on God was impossible. “That basic idea of all humility, a desire to seek and do God’s will, was missing.” Whatever you treasure has your heart.

This series is dedicated to the memory of Audrey Conn, whose questions reminded me of my intention in seminary to look at the various ways the Sermon on the Mount applies to Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery. If you’re interested in more, look under the category link “Sermon on the Mount.”

12/12/14

Humility Through Anonymity

Stockfresh image by tashatuvango

Stockfresh image by tashatuvango

“We live in a world where anonymity is the key to keeping yourself.” (Quotes About Anonymity, Dominic Riccitello)

Matthew 6:16 -18 applies the principle of anonymity to fasting, the third and final aspect of personal piety discussed in this passage of the Sermon on the Mount. As with the first two (almsgiving and prayer), fasting was supposed to be done anonymously. But as D. A. Carson pointed out, what began as spiritual self-discipline, was eventually prostituted into pompous self-righteousness. “What was once a sign of humiliation became a sign of self-righteous self-display.” So Jesus is saying here that if you made a public show of your fasting, then you have all the reward you are going to get. It wasn’t a true act of piety.

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

A self-righteous day of fasting at that time meant you would intentionally neglect your appearance. But this was more than just a bad hair day. Your hair wasn’t to be brushed or combed; your face wasn’t to be washed—you get the picture. And by doing this, EVERYONE WOULD KNOW WHAT YOU WERE DOING—without having to say a word. The look on your face and the way you were dressed was enough to let everyone know how “spiritual” you were by fasting that day. This kind of false humility can be found in a wide variety of human activities.

D. A. Carson observed: “Almost anything that is supposed to serve as an outward sign of an inward attitude can be cheapened by this hypocritical piety.” The truth of Carson’s observation has been embodied within the Eleventh Tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.): “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.” Personal anonymity meant that A.A. was saying, “It wished to publicize its principles and its work, but not its individual members.”

Bill W. observed that A.A.’s Eleventh Tradition was much more than a sound public relations policy or an institutional denial of self-seeking. It was “a constant and practical reminder that personal ambition has no place in A.A.” Anonymity is further embedded in A.A. within their Twelfth Tradition: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

Here again is the foundation of what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 6 on anonymity: Do not mix self-promotion with personal piety or spirituality. D. A. Carson voiced a helpful question for individuals who think they may be doing just that:

Who am I trying to please by my religious practices? Honest reflection on that question can produce most disquieting results. If it does, then a large part of the solution is to start practicing piety in the secret intimacy of the Lord’s presence.

Again, Bill W. captured this truth in the opening statement to his essay on the Twelfth Step: “The spiritual substance of anonymity is sacrifice.” Bill went on to describe how A.A. learned that “anonymity is real humility at work.” Moved by the spirit of anonymity, its members try to give up their natural desire for distinction both within A.A. and before the general public. “We are sure that humility, expressed by anonymity, is the greatest safeguard that Alcoholics Anonymous can ever have.”

Humility is a safeguard for the church as well as A.A. Jonathan Edwards said that humility prepares the mind for divine light, clears the eye to look at things as they truly are, and keeps believers out of the devil’s reach. Another Puritan, Thomas Brooks said: “God delights most to dwell with the humble, for they do most prize and best improve his precious presence.” Remember that your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous [and the church of Christ] believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all (the long form of Tradition Twelve).

This series is dedicated to the memory of Audrey Conn, whose questions reminded me of my intention in seminary to look at the various ways the Sermon on the Mount applies to Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery. If you’re interested in more, look under the category link “Sermon on the Mount.”

 

11/21/14

Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace

Back in the 1980s, Come to the Quiet by John Michael Talbot was one of my favorite cassette tapes. And his version of the “Peace Prayer of St. Francis” was one of my favorite songs on the tape. When I decided to write on the connection of the Peace Prayer to Alcoholics Anonymous, I discovered that John Michael Talbot is still around, making music and doing an evangelistic ministry. His look has changed. Now he sports a very long white and grey beard. Think ZZ Top and John the Baptist rolled into one.

The origins of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis are actually in 20th century France, not the writings of Francis of Assisi. In 1912 it appeared anonymously in a small French magazine, La Clochette (The Little Bell), published by a French priest, Father Esther Bouquerl. In 1915, it was sent to Pope Benedict XV and published the following year in the Vatican’s daily newspaper.  Around 1920, it was printed on the back of an image of St. Francis and titled “Prayer for Peace.” It was first attributed to St. Francis in 1927 by a French Protestant movement, The Knights of the Prince of Peace.

The first known English translation was in a 1936 book by Kirby Page titled: Living Courageously. Kirby was a Disciple of Christ minister and the editor of a pacifist magazine called “The World Tomorrow;” not to be confused with the long running radio and television program by Herbert W. Armstrong or the more recent 2012 political talk show hosted by Julian Assange.  Page clearly and specifically attributed the origins of the “Peace Prayer” to St. Francis of Assisi. During World War II and afterwards, it had a wide circulation as the “Prayer of St. Francis” especially through the books of Francis Spellman, who became the archbishop of New York City in 1939, the year the A.A. Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was published. A.A.’s headquarters and Bill W., cofounder of A.A., were both in NYC.

In a December 1952 article for the AA Grapevine, Bill W. presented Francis of Assisi as an example of an individual who was able to practice “the spirit of Christmas” every day of the year. Bill thought that regardless of what an individual may call it, “the spirit of Christmas is in us all.” After describing the life of Francis and the vision Francis had after he “hit bottom” during a long illness, Bill presented the “Peace Prayer of St. Francis” as “the prayer he [Francis] so often spoke.” Bill then concluded his reflections stating that Francis left us a clear example of how to live our lives: “Freely ye have received; Freely give.”

When Bill W. wrote the essay for “Step Eleven” in the A.A. book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, he suggested it as a beginning for those trying to apply the meditation and prayer to recovery that the Eleventh Step encouraged. The Eleventh Step reads: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” Within A.A., the Peace Prayer has become known as “the Eleventh Step Prayer.” In 1958, Bill wrote the “Prayer of St. Francis” in the AA Grapevine and described how he used Peace Prayer to overcome depression. He said:

Of course, I haven’t offered you a really new idea–only a gimmick [the Peace Prayer] that has started to unhook several of my own “hexes” at depth. Nowadays my brain no longer races compulsively in either elation, grandiosity or depression. I have been given a quiet place in bright sunshine.

A final indication of the importance of the Peace Prayer to Bill was that it was recited in a private memorial service when he died. And it was credited in Pass It On to be his favorite prayer. Here it is:

Lord make me an instrument of your peace

Where there is hatred,
Let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, Joy.

O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
As to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

Although Bill saw the Peace Prayer as applying to individuals of any faith background, to do so, the “Lord” and “Divine Master” of the prayer will have to be seen in the generic sense of God as we understood Him. Yet the Christian sense of who was “Lord” in the prayer was never in doubt. Even from its own anonymous beginnings it was referring to Jesus Christ. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)”

Even if we look to the Peace Prayer as a blueprint to how all people should treat one another as Bill W. did, it elaborates the second greatest commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). And when someone who does not confess Jesus as Lord still tries to live out the truth of the Peace Prayer in his or her life, we can say as Jesus did to the scribe in the Mark 12 passage, “You are not far from the kingdom of God. (Mark 12:34)”

10/6/14

As Harmless as Aspirin?

The province of Saskatchewan seems an unlikely place to give birth to “psychedelic psychiatry”  (See Erika Dyck’s article, “Hitting Highs at Rock Bottom” and a review of her book Psychedelic Psychiatry), but it’s true. In October of 1951 a British psychiatrist named Humpry Osmond became the deputy director of a Canadian Mental Hospital in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. He immediately organized a biochemical research program in order to continue the work he had begun with hallucinogens while he was at St. George’s Hospital in London.

Not only did Osmond coin the term psychedelic, he seems to be among the first to hypothesize a chemical imbalance theory for both schizophrenia and alcoholism. Initially interested in the therapeutic properties of mescaline, Osmond noticed that mescaline produced reactions similar to schizophrenia. These findings led him to conjecture that “schizophrenia was caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.” Oh, and he was a pioneer researcher into the psychotherapeutic benefits of mescaline and LSD for alcoholism and various mental health disorders.

Osmond heard of the discovery of lysergic acid (LSD) by Albert Hoffman and tried it himself. He discovered that LSD was more powerful than mescaline and that it produced profound changes in consciousness. By inducing a new level of self-awareness, Osmond theorized LSD could have therapeutic benefits for individuals suffering with schizophrenia. Some of his early volunteers in LSD experiments described this feeling as “a new sense of spirituality.”

According to Osmond’s co-researcher, Abram Hoffer, the idea to try LSD with alcoholics occurred one evening in 1953, when they thought that: “LSD experiences were remarkably similar to descriptions of delirium tremens, or the effects of an alcoholic ‘hitting bottom.’” They wondered if a controlled LSD-produced delirium would help alcoholics stay sober. In 1953, they gave LSD to two alcoholic patients. One person (a female) stopped drinking immediately and the other (a male) stopped six months later. Over the next ten years they tried this procedure on over 700 patients and claimed the results were similar to that first experiment. One of those alcoholics was Bill W., cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Bill’s involvement with LSD came about through his friendships with Gerald Heard, a British philosopher, and Aldous Huxley, author of the classic novel Brave New World. Bill had been a friend of Heard’s since 1944. He met Huxley through Heard. According to Pass It On, the A.A. book about Bill and the origins of Alcoholics Anonymous, it was Huxley who referred to Bill “the greatest social architect of the century.”

Under the supervision of Humphry Osmond, Huxley used mescaline for the first time on May 5, 1953. Huxley’s short book about his experience with mescaline, The Doors of Perception, was published in 1954. Through Heard and Huxley, Bill was introduced to Osmond and Hoffman. At first, when Bill heard about Osmond’s work with LSD, he was “extremely unthrilled.” Bill was “very much against giving alcoholics drugs.” He became interested, though, when he heard Osmond and Hoffman were getting results.

Under the guidance of Gerald Heard, Bill took LSD for the first time on August 29, 1956. He was enthusiastic about his experience. He felt it helped to eliminate barriers that stood in the way of an individual’s direct experience of the cosmos and God. According to Nell Wing, then secretary to A.A., “He had an experience [that] was totally spiritual, [like] his initial spiritual experience.” Among the friends and family whom Bill convinced to try LSD was his wife Lois and his spiritual advisor, Father Ed Dowling. Watch a 1950s video of an LSD session and a discussion of its effects by Gerald Heard here.

In a letter he wrote to Sam Shoemaker in June of 1958, Bill said that he took LSD several times and had collected considerable information about it. He felt that the negative information about its “awful dangers” was far from the truth. He thought the experiments by early LSD researchers like Osmond and Hoffman showed it had no physical risks at all. “The material [LSD] is about as harmless as aspirin.” Presciently he said: “It would certainly be a huge misfortune if it ever got loose in the general public without a careful preparation as to what the drug is and what the meaning of its effects may be.”

Bill was aware of the potential dangers to A.A. that his participation in the LSD experiments could have. “I know that I must not compromise its future and would gladly withdraw from these new activities if ever this became apparent.” By 1959 Bill had withdrawn from the LSD experiments.

Despite Bill’s assertion that LSD is about as harmless as aspirin, evidence now suggests there are several potential problems with LSD. It can temporarily impair your ability to make sensible judgments and understand common dangers. So you are more prone to accidents and injuries. It may cause temporary confusion, give you problems with abstract thinking, memory and attention span.

It can also trigger panic attacks or feelings of extreme anxiety. There have been some cases of LSD induced psychosis in seemingly healthy people. Individuals with schizophrenia and depression can see their symptoms worsen under the influence of LSD. Chronic use of LSD “alters gene expression profiles in the medial prefrontal cortex.” Many of the processes altered by chronic LSD use have also been implicated in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia.

The recreational use of LSD was entirely unexpected to Albert Hoffman, the discoverer of LSD, who said:

I had no inkling that the new substance would also come to be used beyond medical science, as an inebriant in the drug scene. Since my self-experiment had revealed LSD in its terrifying, demonic aspect, the last thing I could have expected was that this substance could ever find application as anything approaching a pleasure drug.