This is the season of death and new life. It is my birthday season. The death to my disease of addiction and birth to a new way of living. From darkness and despair to hope and renewal. It's Good Friday today and although this is not the actual day I hit bottom (as the date of Good Friday changes from year to year), it is the day I remember my bottom.
Leading the Good Friday sacred service stoned. That's what I did two years ago. That was when my heart groaned with my deepest prayer of surrender. That was when I finally completely truly let go of any illusion of control. Good Friday will never ever be the same for me again. Each year, as I lead this solemn sacred service where we turn our attention to the deepest death, darkness, and despair that humans can face, I will remember my own death, my own darkness, and my own despair. I will forever more be able to make the connection from my deepest pain to Jesus' deepest pain. I will forever remember that in that darkness, the Light never left. In my despair, Christ comforted. In my hopelessness, Jesus sat with me.
Holy Week will never ever be the same for me. Because now I know that Easter always always always follows Good Friday.
It’s been about a month since the United Methodist’s 2019 Special General Conference. I don’t know if you know, maybe you do, maybe not, but my beloved denomination that I purposefully joined because its central theme is GRACE, voted to be as UN-GRACE-FILLED as it gets. General Conference ruled that the United Methodist Church believes that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” (BULLSHIT). The church chooses to not ordain people from the LGBTQIA family. The church chooses to BRING TO TRIAL, those bishops, district superintendents and clergy who do not abide by the rules. That means we are forbidden to preside over same-sex marriage.
When this happened, the rug was pulled out from under me. It was worse than when Trump won, and Hillary lost. Except when I woke up from a good night’s sleep knowing that we were going to have our first female president (IT’S ABOUT TIME), on November 5th, and found out we voted for a misogynistic, racist fool, I fell into an abyss and stayed drunk and high for the next six months. This time, I had to endure my pain, disappointment, anger and distress without anything to remove me from that reality. The name I have identified with (United Methodist) is no longer the name I want for myself. A piece of me died.
Now I have shame. Shame of being a part of a mean-spirited institution and I’ve been pondering leaving. But I’m also seeing clergy and laity from all over the globe rising up and defying what happened at General Conference. The middle finger is being lifted high by thousands (maybe millions?) of United Methodists throughout the world.
This gives me hope. And I didn’t drink. That also gives me hope!
Yesterday I witnessed and experienced a kind of trauma. My beloved denomination is at an impasse. For the last 4 days delegates from all over the world convened in St. Louis to decide the position of the United Methodist Church concerning human sexuality. 55% of the delegates voted to exclude those in the LGBTQ community and 45% voted to include all God’s children unconditionally into our church.
As someone who sides with the minority, I experience great grief at how United Methodist’s define themselves and their beliefs. I am ashamed to call myself a United Methodist. That causes me great grief because I feel like I’ve lost a piece of my identity.
This blow is the most difficult thing I’ve had to face in my 22 months of sobriety. Goodness gracious how I wish I could join my colleagues and commiserate over a few bottles of wine. How I wish I could smoke a bowl and let the stress and anxiety fall away and give me some respite. But alas, I’m living a new life now and that is not how I respond to life on life’s terms.
So, the past few days have been filled with calls to my sponsor, an appointment with my spiritual director and meetings. Last night I entered a room filled with old-farts and the smell of bad coffee and I listened to what these men had to say about faith. Little did they know the hurt and heartache I brought in, little did they know that I was experiencing a crisis of faith, little did they know how much I needed to be reminded about the healing power of faith.
And I realized once again, this is church. Just like those old-farts were waiting for me to come and share bad coffee along with our deepest desire to stay sober, my local church waits for anyone to come in share some not so bad coffee and our deepest desire to know love and share love.
Once again, I’m reminded AA is church and church is AA.
People in recovery talk a lot about ego. We recognize that our ego's are our downfall. I heard the greatest acronym for ego. E - edging. G- God. O - out. When our ego is in play, we are edging God out of our lives. We are not letting go and letting God, but rather we are clinging to our own wants and pushing God out of the picture all together. It's important for me to remember that when my ego is running the show, God isn't, and that always leads to problems.
There's a meeting at noon everyday in Vancouver called "Miracles." It is always an amazing meeting filled with a ton of old-timers (that's people who have decades of sobriety). The thing that always amazes me about these old-timers is that when they share, they always share a little bit about what it was like before they got sober. In some cases, these stories are over 30, 40, even 50 years old! What astounds me is how they remember those stories. I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast this morning, I can't imagine how I'm going to remember my drunk days thirty years from now. And yet, I think that the reason these old-timers have time is because they don't forget. They make an effort to remember. Going to meetings helps us remember.
I think that folks who end up losing their sobriety do so because they choose to forget. Who wants to remember all this embarrassing shameful horrible times? Not me. If I had it my way, I'd want to wipe those memories from my mind all together and pretend they never happened. And yet, if I forget, don't I run the risk of repeating history?
As much as I don't like it, I think I do need to remember those dark days. Doing so will keep me living day to day in the light.
As a “progressive Christian” I find myself qualifying my faith to those outside my church so that I can be clear that when I say I’m a Christian I’m NOT saying that I’m a right wing, conservative Christian who supports policy that is not in line with Jesus’ teachings. I know some of my clergy colleagues don’t say they’re Christian at all; instead they call themselves “Jesus followers” because the name “Christian” is so often misinterpreted by the un-churched world.
I’ve run into that same problem in my AA circles. My sponsor is not a Christian, but she knows God as Love, just like me. She’s liberal, just like me. She has 17 years sobriety, not like me. She helped me a great deal in my first 18 months of sobriety, but I found myself holding back when I talked to her about my Higher Power. For the same reason I hold back when I talk to the un-churched about my faith, being careful about my language, not using words that are loaded and misunderstood, I found myself being too careful with how I communicated how my Higher Power is working in my life. That’s not good. It’s not honest.
I know that I need to be untethered, free to speak, encouraged to work out how my recovery, faith and call are all intertwined. So, I lovingly (I pray) told my sponsor, who helped me in ways I can’t even explain, that it’s time I move on. It was so difficult for me to advocate for myself because quite frankly, one of my character defects is to please people, even if it’s at my own expense.
So, now I’m looking for another sponsor. I recognize how crucial it is to have someone who is farther along on the path than I am to help me navigate life on life’s terms. But I also want to be very intentional about who I ask and seek someone who can really hear the meaning of how my tradition’s stories and theologies shape my understanding of how my Higher Power is at work in my life and the life of the world. I don’t need, nor necessarily want, a sponsor who shares my belief system. But I also don’t want to have to qualify these stories or these concepts with the person I’m supposed to be most honest with. I feel like I have to do that everywhere else in the world outside church and it’s exhausting.
An article/ad I submitted to our local paper called The Reflector.
My name is Pastor Susan Boegli and I am in recovery from alcoholism. I wanted to share my thoughts regarding the process of my recovery and the journey toward God. For me, they’re one in the same. The word “repent” has a bad wrap. What comes to mind for many of us is the image of a street-corner evangelists warning those passing by that the world is doomed. For me, the word “repent” simply means “to change one’s thinking.” In recovery, I’ve had to change my thinking about a lot of things. For example, I’ve changed my thinking about alcoholism being a disease rather than a choice. I’ve changed my thinking that I can only have fun when I’m drinking. I’ve changed my thinking that it’s possible for me to become sober, with the help of God.
My recovery requires self-refection, righting where I have wronged others, study of those also in recovery, and a lot of prayer. My spiritual journey requires an effort to “know thyself,” confession, diving into Scripture and readings from spiritual gurus across the world and throughout time, and of course, a whole lot of prayer. Sharing my recovery and spiritual journey, and listening to and pondering the journey of others, is what I call “church.”
You are invited to join us on this sacred journey to a “new way of thinking,” because I believe that how we think effects how we live. We at Battle Ground Community United Methodist Church strive to have the same mind as Christ Jesus and live in the manner he lived – simply by loving God and loving ALL our neighbors, no exceptions.
It’s been 500 days since I’ve had a drink or smoked a joint. 500 days of being on this twelve step journey toward dependence on God and living a life that is joyful, peaceful, fulfilling, creative, empowering, and more…. I told my sponsor last week and those at my meeting yesterday that I don’t feel any longer that I HAVE TO go to meetings. I’ve shifted into the grateful feeling of I GET TO go to meetings.
I have come to realize and experience that this journey of recovery is pulling me deeper and deeper into a spiritual health that I knew existed but didn’t ever believe I would have the good fortune of experiencing. Last night I shared in a meeting that I truly wish everyone was an alcoholic so they too could embark on a program like this one. I wasn’t serious about everyone being an alcoholic of course, but I am serious about the blessing that this journey is and how I deeply wish everyone had 12 simple (but super hard) steps to growing closer and closer to their Higher Power as they understand Him/Her.
Often people will refer to others or situations as a gift, or maybe a blessing. Most often those gifts or blessings are things that we want, things that make us feel good. But I was reflecting on the book "The Book of Joy" which is a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama mentioned "difficult gifts." The idea of a gift being difficult made me reflect on the definition of "gift."
What I've come to believe is that a gift is any person or situation that brings us closer to the heart of God. That means a gift can be a wonderful thing like the birth of a beloved and long awaited child. But "gift" can also be a tragedy. Tragedies and hardships often lead us to the place of calling out to God. In fact, we more often call out to God in the mist of the darkness than we do when all is well. I hear quite frequently in my AA groups that people are "grateful alcoholics." I now too am a grateful alcoholic because my disease, as awful as it is, has led me deeper and deeper into my holy walk.
Therefore, I no longer attribute "gift" to warm-fuzzies. Rather "gift" is anything, either good or bad, that pulls my soul into the Beloved One. May each and every one of you find your daily gifts wherever you are.
I've been reading, hearing, witnessing, etc... a seemingly Divine Truth these past weeks, so I'm assuming this is God drumming a message into my little brain. Perspective, perspective, perspective? When Jesus says "inherit the earth," I really had no idea whatsoever what he meant. "Inherit the earth?" huh? Well, it came to me through my reading, hearing and witnessing, that "earth" really means "world." Not as in the big round blue ball floating in space, but in the way we say things like, "Her world is pretty chaotic," Or "His world is full of blessings." And what we mean by that is our personal experience and our perspective on our own individual lives.
Emmet Fox talks about "inheriting the earth" meaning we gain control over how we perceive our reality. And that brings us to our topic today... How we think.
How we think shapes our reality. If we think we don't have any friends, then we will make little effort to make friends and then our thinking will be our reality. If we think we can't stop drinking, then that will be our reality. If we think we're not worthy of love, then we probably won't experience a lot of love in our lives.
Lately in my recovery meetings, I'm hearing over and over again from some folks who have a lot of time living sober, that the transformation that occurred in their lives began with how they thought about things. As they slowly changed their thinking, their behavior changed. For me, two months ago I decided "I'm a non-smoker." I didn't say to myself "I'm going to try to stop smoking" because whenever I try to do something I tend to fail at it. Making the decision and choosing to think differently about cigarettes has helped me stay off them for two months now. I believe that if I maintain my thinking that "I'm a non-smoker," that will continue to be my reality.
Now regarding food. I've gained 15 pounds since treatment and I'm thinking that if I change my thoughts about food, the 15 pounds will come flying off. But here's the thing, if I'm really and I mean rrreeeaaalllyyy honest with myself, I don't want to change my thoughts about food. I don't want to give up my chocolate every night. I am not ready to make that a reality because I enjoy food so much. The work ahead of me now is to move into a place where being a comfortable weight outweighs my love for food. So I begin with prayer, asking God to help me have a desire to be healthy. That's how prayer works, it's the beginning of changing our thoughts, thus changing our reality, hence "inheriting the earth."
I just realized, I never wrote a post about my one year birthday (April 24). Well, it came and went. I now have an additional tattoo that represents one year of freedom from drugs and alcohol. I plan on getting a new butterfly tattooed up my arm and all over my back, so that when I'm 85 years old I will have a flock of freedom.
In AA, to be sober, they tell you that you must choose to go to ANY LENGTHS to stay sober. For me, ANY LENGTHS meant going public with my disease and tattooing myself for all eternity (at least until I die). Those lengths have made the choice to pick up a drink or not pick up a drink fairly easy most of the time.
I've said before, but I don't mind repeating myself, my AA meetings are Church for me. I continue to be inspired by the spiritual practices and journeys of my fellow recovering peers. Their testimonies of having a life with serenity and connection to their Higher Power challenge me to work more diligently on my own connection. The rawness of someone's share where they vulnerably cry out in anger and despair continually reminds me that the same despair is waiting for me after that first drink.
It's this inspiration that I want to bring back to my congregation. I'm using Emmet Fox's book "Sermon on the Mount," which influenced the founders of AA and much of the creation of the 12 steps. I'll be preaching a summer sermon series where we are diving head into the sermon of one of the most famous spiritual guru's that ever existed - Jesus of Nazereth. My sense is that if I can move my congregation away from religious doctrine (what to believe about God) and toward spiritual practices that nourishes the soul, we will become a vibrant community of people who take their journey with God seriously. As Emmet Fox writes, the whole point of Jesus' teachings was to "wean our hearts away from relying upon outer things, whether they be for pleasurable gratification or even for spiritual salvation," he wanted us to separate ourselves from these external ways and drum into us a whole new attitude of mind all together.
My prayer is that I will continue to develop this whole new attitude of mind and find the kind of Joy, Love, Peace and Hope that only God offers. And then... pass it on.
For ten and a half months I have smoked an average of a half a pack of cigarettes a day. As of Saturday, when I embarked on another 5 day Academy for Spiritual Formation, I decided I would no longer be a smoker. I'm not going to try to quit. I'm simply going to be a non-smoker.
After treatment, as I faced life without my drugs of choice, I picked up an addiction that simply replaced another addiction. Clearly I have an addictive personality so my new addiction is Tootsie-Pops! If you see me constantly sucking on a lollipop, remember that it's because I'm sober and a non-smoker. To be honest, the cigarettes served me well this past year, but my one year sobriety birthday is a week from today and they no longer fill a need.
I owe whatever strength I've found in this journey to God and God alone. My spiritual life has become key to recovery and I find myself more in tune with God than I ever have before. The 12 steps are simply Christian practices, not doctrine, but practices, and as I work the program I find myself becoming more and more Christian as my doctrines that I've clung to give way to my heart.
When I was in treatment, a very wise spiritual director who was a recovering UCC pastor and alcoholic said to me, "Susan, you went to seminary for your head. Imagine this place to be seminary for your heart." A heart theology has been my inspiration this past year and it is a heart theology that heals the broken and leads to transformation. I am a work in progress.
Although I don't have a year of sobriety yet, it was Good Friday where I felt Jesus speak. In the opening liturgy to the service I put together, the congregation responded to each call with "What is the Truth?" "What is the Truth," Jesus asked me and I knew. I knew Christ knew and I knew the truth deep in my soul. I am an alcoholic and addict. I am broken. I am a hypocrite. I am full of shame.
What is the Truth?
On that fateful evening, I was graced with a strength that did not come from me. I knew that I had to tell my truth if Jesus was going to save me from my brokenness. I had to confess to myself, my family, my church and my D.S. I knew that confessing out loud to another human being (especially my church) my life would never be the same, but I could no longer live with the woman I had become. And so I gave Jesus my disease, and He took it to the grave.
What is the Truth?
I have a new Truth. I celebrate the Truth that I have new life. I celebrate the Truth that I offer myself to God each and every day to live the life that I've been called into. I celebrate the Truth that without my God and without my support system, I would fall back quickly into the place of dry bones.
What is the Truth?
The Truth is we are all imperfect. The Truth is that we are all loved. The Truth is God's saving Grace is offered every day, every moment of our lives. The Truth is we are never alone. And for me, this is how I understand the idea that "Jesus died for my sins." Symbolically we remember the day Jesus died and offer Him our brokenness to take with him to the grave. Give God your secrets, Give God your distress. Give God your darkness, your shame, your anger, your hatred, and your addictions. Give to God what you want brought to the grave.
For me, the Truth is God Loves even me.