By Eric C.
At the one We Agnostics meeting of AA anywhere within a three-hour drive of Traverse City, Michigan, we’re lucky if we have a dozen people in attendance on any given Friday at 7 p.m.
That’s why I thought it would be a good idea for me to sign up as a speaker at the weekly AA “open speaker meeting” in the conference room of the regional medical center serving our community. With about 200 people in the room every Saturday at 8 p.m., it’s the largest single gathering of drunks any night of the week in our part of the state – fertile ground for spreading the word about our We Agnostics meeting and possibly bolstering attendance.
Many of those attending the hospital meeting are drug and alcohol rehab patients. Some are bused in from local halfway houses and treatment centers. A high percentage is there to get their court slips signed.
Interspersed among all the newcomers, of course, are the usual cadre of middle-aged mostly Christian white people with years of sobriety. A subset of those, I knew, feel responsible for protecting AA from the evil influence of those who don’t believe in “real” AA – whatever that is.
So, I had them in mind, too, when I began to brainstorm exactly what I would say in my talk weeks before I was scheduled to appear on March 14, 2015. I was grateful for some extra time to think it through.
The last time I’d been the featured speaker at a meeting a little closer to home was on the occasion of my 30th anniversary of sobriety in AA. I took that occasion to announce to my local AA community that I had decided finally to “come out” as someone who explicitly does not believe in God – an atheist.
In retrospect, I know I could and should have done a better job of preparing for that 2013 talk. I’d decided that having a general outline of what I wanted to say in the form of notes in front of me at the meeting would suffice – just as it had on many other occasions when I’d related my “drunk-a-log”.
But I’d hoped to accomplish more at that meeting than just relate the usual anecdotes about what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. I wanted to explain to my fellows in AA how I’d managed to stay sober for three decades without believing in God or buying in to all the religious nonsense in AA.
My off-the-cuff explanation failed miserably however. In fact, it still embarrasses me to listen to a crummy recording someone made for me of that 2013 talk. Some in my tiny, rural community were scandalized by what I said and haven’t treated me the same since.
Around the same time, I made a commitment to help keep a young and floundering We Agnostics meeting alive in Traverse City, about 20 miles from where I actually live, and make it my new “home group.”
In the two years since then, I have given much more thought to the question of how you convince people in “mainstream” AA – whatever that is – to not only be more tolerant but actually show some support for AA’s burgeoning We Agnostics movement.
That’s why I did not use a loose outline to deliver my talk on March 14, 2015. I wrote out a full, word-for-word script that I would deliver. I measured my words very carefully. This, after all, was not an occasion for me simply to tell a few anecdotes about my life as an alcoholic. I was trying to persuade people to begin thinking in a different way about AA – and at the same time recruit people who might be interested in attending our We Agnostic meeting.
If you care to, you can view the entire script I used by clicking here: Our We Agnostics Meeting – PDF.
And if you’d rather hear all 39 minutes of my talk – recorded live at the meeting itself – you can click here: Our We Agnostics Meeting – MP3.
What’s not apparent from either my written script or the audio file is a sense of how the whole thing actually ended up. There wasn’t really time for a Q&A at the end as I had hoped. But what really surprised me was how the meeting did end.
After I was done speaking, the guy who opens and closes the meeting suggested they close the meeting with a recitation of the AA Responsibility Declaration instead of “in the usual manner” with the Lord’s Prayer. That was pretty gratifying.
We’ll see if any new people start showing up at our We Agnostics meeting.