Dear Hope Nation,
Church sanctuaries held wisdom for me as a boy. It may have been wisdom I didn’t understand, and certainly couldn’t apply to my life, but when I went into the sanctuary of the Durham Community Church, I assumed the Reverend Novotny had a pathway to God and therefore some genuine wisdom. I assumed the baptismal font also flowed with insight into the universe.
As I grew older, became a Baptist lay person and then a Baptist minister, I found the sanctuary to be more a stage and less a knowledge. In the words of the non-King Martin Luther, “Sola scriptura” was my watchword—it’s all in the Book, Buddy. The Bible held the wisdom.
Later, I left the church, and while I still like the Gospels and the Minor Prophets, the wisdom I find in the Bible is in Ecclesiastes. Short, pithy thoughts that help me understand the human predicament. Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short, as Hobbes would have it, and that brief essay by Solomon as an old man sums it up pretty well. It does a great job of diagnosing our condition; not so much for treating it.
For the past 13 years, up until the pandemic, I’ve more time in churches than I did as a boy or as a minister, although now I’m in church basements more than sanctuaries. Finally, in those small basement rooms I’ve found the wisdom I’d suspected the building held. No, I don’t hang out with discarded crucifixes, portraits of Protestant bigwigs from long ago or aged Torah scrolls. Instead, like the Christians in the catacombs, I gather with other fallen people who are trying to recover their lives. Luckily, these fellow sufferers are carriers of wisdom, always pithy and sometimes funny. Over the years, I’ve collected some of that wisdom, and would like to offer it now. I don’t remember who said what when or why, but below is some true wisdom, at least as this drunk sees it:
The means aren’t justified by the ends. The means are the ends.
The idea is always to narrow the gap between what we believe and the way we live.
We can rise above our past and make a difference, or we can allow ourselves to be controlled by the past and make excuses.
Yes, you can change the world. The way you do it is by changing yourself.
If you want to change who you are, change what you do.
If you want to quit drinking, you are going to have to quit drinking.
When I was new, I didn’t think I had any obsessions until I started thinking about it. Then it was all I could think about.
All we ask is that you completely change your attitude as soon as possible.
Quitting was easy. Staying quit was impossible.
I thought you were normal until I got to know you.
Nobody comes here on a winning streak.
Alcohol was my anti-me solution.
If I could drink like a normal person, I’d be drunk all the time.
My basic problem is me.
I’m not responsible for my disease, but I am responsible for my behavior.
I run from those who want me and I pursue the rejecters.
No longer can we be content with “good enough.”
What other people think of me is none of my business.
I am one drink away from never being sober again.
Most of my life was a reaction to a reaction.
When things go wrong, I don’t have to go with them.
I’m just another Bozo on the bus.
I’m not here because I drank a lot. I’m here because I drank too much.
I kept on “starting over” but I never changed a thing.
When I’m drunk and things go my way, I throw a tantrum.
I violated my standards faster than I could lower them.
You matter. I matter. We matter.