Together we can
by Joe C.
Now what? August 13th and 17th AA Agnostica had a heart-felt discussion about the new pamphlet “Many Paths to Spirituality.” Now that we’ve had our say, what to do? For those among us who would like to be the change we want to see in AA, there is a lot that can be done — in our meetings, in the local AA community and by becoming part of the AA service structure that will decide — among other things — our next pamphlet.
“Together we can” isn’t a campaign slogan in AA. Our sobriety is an example of this.
So you demand to talk to the boss! Step right up to the microphone. During the week of discussion here on AA Agnostica, I was at the Eastern Canada AA Regional Forum (August 15 – 17). In the USA and Canada, GSO trustees and staff put these on in 10 regions that get visited every two years (5 regions per year). Both Class A and Class B trustees (non-alcoholic and AA member trustees) were in attendance. Phyllis, our GSO General Manager, who is speaking at out conference in Santa Monica was in Verdun (near Montreal) for the weekend. She says she looks forward to seeing us in November. Staff and Trustees come to these Forums to hear concerns, ideas, complaints and other input from rank and file AA members. A lot of delegates and GSRs go, but it’s available to everyone in AA. It’s free — paid for by our 7th Tradition.
Anyway, I brought up “Many Paths”. It was one of many things I had questions and input about.
In a general sharing session with about 700 in attendance, I told Terry Bedient (Chairman of the General Service Board) and everyone in attendance that it was nice for the atheist/agnostic community to be mentioned in “Many Paths to Spirituality” but that we still feel that the longstanding requests for atheist and agnostics AA stories of alcoholism and recovery — by nonbelievers and for nonbelievers ought to be satisfied.
I said to one and all:
Just as we have young people, visible minorities, the LGBTQ community pamphlets etc., nonbelievers feel that we haven’t been accommodated. I am sure a woman’s pamphlet was controversial in the day; I know the gay and lesbian pamphlet was a trying process. Atheism in AA is neither contagious nor a shortcoming and we see no reason not to have our stories told in our own words. Atheists were quoted in Many Paths yet a quote isn’t an AA story. A story has a beginning, middle and end. That’s what we want to see added to AA literature.
Mr. Bedient referred me up the (inverted triangle) service structure to one of the Class B Trustees on the Literature Conference Committee who said we ought to write to the Literature Committee; they will read our letters and emails. So, I am passing that invitation on; write to AA if you like via the Literature Committee and tell them why AA of the future would be better served with such a pamphlet. If you think your experience strength and hope would help newcomers find sobriety in AA, tell them you’re prepared to share your story.
Or write a letter that will be replied to and be added to AA’s archive for historical purposes.
Attention: Literature Conference Committee
A.A. World Services, Inc.
P.O. Box 459,
Grand Central Station
New York, NY 10163
I hope many of you attend your own Regional Forum. Find the schedule at AA.org. One of the benefits of engaging with AA as a whole this way is we get to know them, they get to know us, we roll up our sleeves together and discuss a number of issues. I am no one-trick pony; I had questions about AA’s unfunded liabilities during the Treasurer’s report. I had something to say about eBooks, Grapevine and Public Information. There were workshops moderated by delegates, past-delegates and GSO staff where we discussed what “singleness of purpose” means at our groups, “how to keep groups safe” and other relevant topics.
As requested of all of us, every time I came up to the microphone, I stated with “My name’s Joe, I’m an alcoholic and a member of Beyond Belief Agnostics and Freethinkers Group in Toronto Canada.” Not surprisingly, AA members, Trustees and staff all came up to me through the weekend to ask about our group. Many wanted to know how to find out more about agnostic groups.
How else can we have our voice heard? Ed M., Grapevine Director & Ami B., Executive Editor/Publisher said they would like to hear from more agnostic or atheist AA members; they can only choose stories from those submitted. They invite us to get involved with AA’s meeting in print. Write your story for consideration:
475 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10115
Then send your story to the Grapevine.
Or read your story aloud (new this January): Grapevine Audio Project.
Grapevine is looking for stories for February 2015, now. Upcoming topics are Sponsorship, Step Two, Letting go of Resentments, Technology and Anonymity. If you think you can give a secular spin on these topics, write away. Every month of Grapevine includes: Newcomers /Old-timers /What’s On Your Mind contributions. The last story of “Many Paths” is the story of an atheist sponsor who enjoys working with other men in recovery. Do you have stories about eye-ball to eye-ball AA that others might find eye-opening? Here’s your chance.
I will never under-estimate the value of forums like AA Agnostica but to some extent, we are talking into an echo chamber. We aren’t even all of the atheist/agnostic community in AA. Let’s share our experience, strength and hope with others outside our circle.
There are a lot of reasons why I am active in service. I might go to more committee meetings and service assemblies than I do AA meetings and conferences. For one thing, people in service are a good influence on me. There are a few empire-building megalomaniacs but most of who I rub shoulders with are empathic members freely giving back what they have received. If you don’t like the God-thing, the Traditions mention God once and the Concepts are 100% secular. I don’t hear any turning it over talk in Public Information, archives, or district meetings. It’s a matter of who is going to do what and we “pray on our feet” so to speak. In our Area members who would close their home-groups with a prayer, close committee meetings with the Responsibility Declaration.
It is fine to be an armchair-quarterback but you can also get in the game; there’s no line up, practices or trials. You want in? You’re in. Blog-posts and chat rooms are like sports or political call-in shows. We share a passion, there are some intelligent criticisms and suggestions. But the problem is that no one is listening. People who call into a political call-in show will not be soon dining with heads of state to go over their plan for Middle East peace. I don’t know that arm-chair major league fans, even the most astute and articulate, were called into the GM’s office at the trade deadline to be asked what moves ought to be made to firm up the roster.
AA is different. Our upside-down triangle isn’t sales talk. At last weekend’s Regional Forum no one asked people who came up to the microphone how long they’d been sober or if they worked the Twelve Steps exactly as written. Every concern, idea, grievance or outpouring of gratitude was equally received. The Chairman of our Board does want to hear from you and me and he welcomes being told frankly what we want from our General Service Board and office.
Also, the more atheists and agnostics that are active in General Service or Intergroup, the less fearful and intolerant others are. I know some of you serve at your group or in General Service, Intergroup or an Alano Club, now. Here’s why this matters: In surveys done in the USA by Pew Research, people who knew atheists had a better opinion of us than people who didn’t know anyone who was atheist. People who knew Muslims were less racist than those who didn’t associate with anyone who was Muslim.
AA (member) trustees are no different than any AA member. They line up pretty quickly on one side or the other of every issue. They don’t all agree. We heard in AA Agnostica August 17th of one trustee that is fearful of atheist AA “agendas.” Well that’s about normal. I guess he doesn’t work side by side with outed atheist members and I would further guess that if he did, he wouldn’t feel we were any threat to AA’s future.
Issues that divide AA members get my blood pumping, too. I don’t drink or do drugs, I watch what I eat these days but I do enjoy a little righteous indignation from time to time. It may be my current favorite sober bender. But when I am done ranting about “How could they; how dare they?” if I want to be the difference I demand in AA, I can do it at my home group. If I am campaigning to make the newcomer feel welcome regardless of her or his beliefs, I can do that where it matters most — by getting to the meeting early and greeting people who arrive. I can do the same at local AA and the hospitals and institutions where AA is invited to meet. Thinking globally but acting locally indulges my need for immediate gratification.
AA isn’t autocratic. We are 2.1 million members dancing to the beat of our own drum. While we share Twelve Traditions, Alcoholics Anonymous is 115,000 autonomous meetings. I get lazy and make gross generalizations about AA while I have only been to 1% of our meetings.
I hope I am not coming across as finger-pointing. I only want to tell you how I deal with my role in our recovery community. The final thing I want to say is something about passion — it’s value and its limits. Robb W., former Area 86 delegate, said at the end of a session he was moderating at the Regional Forum, “You all love AA and want what’s best — even though you disagree. It’s nice to see this kind of passion.”
Is passion a virtue? I think it’s an impulse that ought to be managed carefully. As in romance, passion is accompanied with obsessive thoughts, impulsive actions and being invested — alone, or as a group — to improbable, illogical outcomes. While we don’t want to discourage A.A. members from passion, love is a more mature or more spiritual quality.
To borrow from the Corinthians from the Christian Bible:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
Passion can be arrogant and rude. Passion pushes an agenda and fears the alternative; love is never afraid of convergent ideas or threatened by any course of action.
In Buddhism we find a similar tenet. While love is good, without wisdom one becomes a good-hearted fool. The key to enlightenment in Buddhism is compassion and wisdom. What the Buddhists call enlightenment, in A.A.-speak, we call, “spiritual experience.”
Co-founder Bob S. may have been channeling this timeless wisdom when he very simply broke AA down to a code of love and tolerance. A tolerant AA doesn’t fear opposing worldviews, experimentation, adaptation nor accommodation. Bill W. called this unity. I am not saying other AAs ought to be more loving and tolerant. I am saying I will be. I have passion that must be honored but not impulsively acted on. I can be more loving and mature and resist shaking my fist and saying, “You damn fools, you’re ruining a beautiful thing!” I will try to offer less resistance and be more of a good example. Resistance begets more resistance.
I heard it said that the world is like a mirror, If I wait for the reflection to smile first, I will be waiting a long time. If I smile, the world has no choice but to smile back.