Q: I am Catholic, but I read your column every week. Why don't you do a column on how 12-step programs, particularly Alcoholics Anonymous, have benefited both Christians and Jews? — From C
A: I admire and respect 12-step programs as the most effective rehabilitation programs for substance abuse (and gambling addiction). I think one of their secrets is creating communities of healing and personal sponsors for healing. Most of our big problems cannot be solved alone.
I also use 12-step programs as one of my favorite proofs for the existence of God. Alcoholics Anonymous, the oldest of the 12-step programs, was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, one a stockbroker and the other a surgeon. Neither was clergy nor professionally religious, but both recognized the therapeutic value of faith. If those seeking healing turned to God not just because God is real but mainly because faith in God works, we can see why every culture is built on some form of religious belief.
These are the 12 steps of AA:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
11. 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.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Q: What is dying like? — Anonymous
A: We must begin by unpacking the clue planted in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 34:5, we read, "So Moses, the servant of the Eternal, died there, in the land of Moab, at the command of the Eternal." In Hebrew this reads, al pi adonai, "by the mouth of God." From this clue legends arose that "by the mouth of God" meant that, as I wrote it, "God kissed Moses on the lips and took his breath away."
That is what I think dying is like. So this is your homework, dear readers. Write to me and tell me what you think dying is like.
Here is another one of my favorite images of what dying is like. It is the poem "Gone From My Sight," by Henry Van Dyke.
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, 'There, she is gone'
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, 'There, she is gone,'
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, 'Here she comes!'
And that is dying …
Question about Tom Hartman
A question from a reader that I submit near the third anniversary of the Rev. Tom Hartman's death on Feb. 16, 2016. May he rest in peace:
Q: In a recent column you wrote about what would be the hardest thing for you and Tommy to accept if each was converted. You talked about your thinking, but didn't say what would be hardest for Tommy. — From B in Pennsylvania
A: Tuna fish! Tommy once told me, "I could never convert to Judaism because Jews eat a lot of tuna fish and I hate tuna fish." Not all of Tommy's observations about life were this profound.