If everyone is recovering from something--from some hurt, trauma, compulsive behavior, or dysfunctional thinking that is causing us to make destructive choices that compromise our relationships and ability to enjoy our moments or even to function in life--then the twelve steps of alcoholics anonymous may have something to say to each one of us. In this tour of the twelve steps, each step is considered not from the viewpoint of alcohol and substance abuse recovery, but from its most open and spiritual application--one that applies to each of us.
We've done the step series twice now--one in 2009 and now in 2014. The versions are similar, but the 2014 version takes advantage of another 5 years of experience working in the field. Talk a look...
seeing the truth
dave brisbin | 7.27.14
Step One of AA: Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageale. We begin a series on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, taking one step each Sunday. Before you tune out because you’re not an alcoholic, please stop and consider something of which we’ve become painfully aware: We are all recovering from something. To the extent that we still have unfinished business in our lives: past hurts, traumas, character defects, unforgiveness, deep emotional triggers, we are experiencing the dysfunction of patterns of choice and attitude that hurt our relationships and keep us outside Jesus’ Kingdom. Whether we use drugs, alcohol, or patterned behavior to ease our pain, the way through is always the same—the Way of Jesus back to the Father. The 12 Steps are a process and a structured way of living Jesus’ Way, and apply to us all. This First Step, that we admitted we were powerless over our drug of choice and that our lives had become unmanageable, is the ground zero of all the steps. Until we can see the truth of our powerlessness and the simultaneous truth of our victimlessness—that we still retain a choice—we go no further along the Way.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 42:25, size: 7.5mb
a greater power
dave brisbin | 8.03.14
Step Two of AA: Came to believe a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Often in Christian circles, the 12 Steps are disregarded as a sort of denial of God’s power—that the true Way is not a process at all, but an event. That recovery or transformation is not a 12 step process, but a one step process: give yourself to Jesus and become a new creature in Christ. But if you really analyze the Way of Jesus described in the New Testament, you see that it’s both event and process, and each would not exist without the other. The 12 Steps wisely break down the process into bite-able sizes, and here, the second step is really dealing with two issues: belief in God and the nature of God. Coming to the realization of our powerlessness in step one is only liberating if the one choice remaining to us is to believe not only in a power greater than ourselves, but a power that actually has the power to know us as ourselves, restore our lives to sanity, and cares to do so.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 48:27, size: 8.5mb
dave brisbin | 8.10.14
Step Three of AA: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. The steps in general, but the first three in particular represent a serial surrender of who we think we are in favor of who we really are in God’s care. Something as big as our imagined identity can’t be surrendered all at once. It takes time and surrender comes in layers, and these three steps represent the process. When have we really turned our will and lives over, when has that event actually occurred? As before, it’s more of a process, but one with discernable events along the way. The first two steps prepare us for the third by marking the awareness of our essential powerlessness and the opportunity to hitch our wagon to the only power that really exists. It’s like a man hanging for dear life to the end of a rope over a cliff, only to find when he finally lets go, the drop is only eighteen inches; he was almost there, and there was really no risk at all. God is like that, but we have to find out for ourselves lessening our fear with each step along the Way.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 42:43, size: 7.5mb
dave brisbin | 8.24.14
Step Four of AA: Made a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves. The danger of the 12 Steps or any program of spiritual formation is that the process remains external, something we do but fail to become—a list to check off as if to get approval from someone else, against some standard in the sky. Spiritual formation and any process of true transformation is really a serial surrender, a taking off layer after layer of what we think we are and what we think is so in favor of what really is right in front of us. To make a fearless inward search of our moral failings is only useful if it doesn’t stop there, but moves into a fearless facing of ourselves, of the things we really fear. To identify our real fears, to begin to actually know ourselves is the first step away from the victimhood of unawareness. To be unaware of our fears and the dysfunctional behavior they drive, is to live them over and over every day.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40:28, size: 7.1mb
part of the herd
dave brisbin | 8.31.14
Step Five of AA: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. At our treatment center, we decided to add equine therapy as part of the monthly offerings to our clients. But to be responsible about it, we felt the staff should go and experience a session before sending clients to the stables. A chance to go and play with horses had nothing to do with that decision. We didn’t ride horses, we just walked into their area, let them come and greet us, check us out. The idea was simply to become part of the herd and experience life from the horse’s point of view. Our fears and the dysfunctional behavior they drive in us, our moral failings all isolate us. They take us out of the herd. To make the inventory of Step Four is just the beginning of a process. To admit to another person the exact nature of our wrongs is to risk everything, the realization our greatest fear: that we really are alone. When it is proven to us that relationship still exists after a sharing of the truth about ourselves, we can first begin to see life from the herd’s point of view.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40:02, size: 7.0mb
designed for contentment
dave brisbin | 9.7.14
Step Six of AA: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. How do we know when we’re entirely read to do anything? When I went skydiving, after eight hours of training on the ground learning about the gear and the falling, the pulling and the landing…standing at the open door of the fuselage two miles up in the air, when was I entirely ready to believe that the chute on my back would brake my fall, that everything I’d been taught was sufficient to save my life? When I pushed off and started an irrevocable chain of events that would end at the ground one way or another. We are entirely ready when we act as if something is already true and not a moment before. It sounds as if God is doing all the work in removing our defects, but the truth is God the source of the power that allows us to begin living as if the defects are already gone. We are designed for contentment, for the shalom of good relationship, but we’ll never really know that until we prove to ourselves in the soft landing of actually experiencing the contentment we seek.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 49:10, size: 8.6mb
asking in action
dave brisbin | 9.14.14
Step Seven of AA: Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings. Once again, it sounds as if our part in this removing is completely passive—apart from the humility of our petition. But as with all steps along the Way of transformation, it is in active partnership with God that we really move. To humbly ask is to understand the true nature of humility—a seeing of life from God’s point of view, a realistic and working knowledge of the dynamic of the relationship with God and us. That is, that we are completely dependent, vulnerable, and imperfect and yet at the same time perfectly accepted, loved, and cared for. From that position, true asking becomes suddenly possible. Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock and we will be given, find, and have doors opened to us. In the Aramaic of Jesus’ native language, these are radical and active verbs that carry with them the risk of great failure. It is in marrying radical asking to the blessed assurance of humility that risk is overcome and shortcomings really removed.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 43:22, size: 7.6mb
the end of isolation
dave brisbin | 9.28.14
Step Eight of AA: Made a list of all person we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. Much more than merely making a list of the people who found themselves in our blast zones, the list making creates an awareness of our utter interconnectedness. As John Donne wrote nearly four hundred years ago, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Our obsessive, compulsive, addictive behavior borne out of fear isolates us from each and every person we harm along the way. To create awareness of the intimate connection we share with each other and become willing to make what we can right again is the beginning of the end of our isolation. But as Jesus asks the infirm man laying at the edge of the pool for some thirty-eight years, “Do we wish to get well?” Do we really wish to end our isolation and begin to live in connection with each other? The answer isn’t as obvious as it sounds.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 42:50, size: 7.5mb
clearing the path
dave brisbin | 10.5.14
Step Nine of AA: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. It is sometime difficult for us to separate amends from the notions of forgiveness, restitution, reconciliation, or even the good feelings of reconnection. But the making of amends with someone we’ve hurt doesn’t always yield any of these. So if not, are there still amends being made? What are amends really? For our purposes, beyond the attempt at restitution or apology, they are a gift that a perpetrator gives his or her victim to help clear a path to freedom from resentment and bitterness, a path out of their victimhood. We can never know how a gift will be used or whether it will even be accepted, but if we created a victim, it falls to us to remove as many barriers to forgiveness as we can, which sometime requires us to do nothing at all. Separating our own needs, guilt, and remorse from the pure giving of the gift is the key: our amends are not made for us…always for our victims.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 39.21, size: 6.9mb
grateful and amazed
dave brisbin | 10.12.14
Step Ten of AA: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. Abraham Heschel wrote that his greatest talent was his ability to be surprised. G.K. Chesterton wrote that we see things fairly when we see them first. Both quotes point toward a need to continually see life and ourselves as if for the first time. The tenth step is the practice of waking up in our waking lives to see ourselves in each day as if for the first time, be surprised again, see things fairly--not simply cataloging character defects and making amends for daily injuries, but maintaining an awareness of daily miracles as well. Seeing the miraculous in the commonplace, the gifts and presence of God that only seem insignificant because they are familiar. The opposite of taking something for granted, of not seeing it for sheer familiarity is to be surprised again, to be grateful for each day’s details. The tenth step is our chance to maintain an internal attitude toward life that always includes being grateful and amazed.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 36.23, size: 6.4mb
praying in circles
dave brisbin | 10.19.14
Step Eleven of AA: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out. A friend commented recently that we really don’t do the 11th Step of AA—not in the sense of a task that has a beginning, middle and end. Prayer is something we can and should do always and not so much as a “step.” That’s completely true, but just as if you want to preach to a starving man, you must feed him first so he can even begin to concentrate mentally, the first 10 steps “feed” us in such a way that we can begin to really practice the presence of true prayer. The nature of the 12 Steps is circular—a neverending series of cycles, and the prayer within the 11th Step can be viewed as a series of circle too. Three circles of prayer that take us deeper and deeper into conscious contact with God: spoken prayer, wordless meditative prayer, and the unceasing prayer that we don’t say as much as it says us, assimilated into every thought and action of our daily lives.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 45:31, size: 8.0mb
the joy of living
dave brisbin | 11.2.14
SStep Twelve of AA: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. Coming to the end of the Twelve Steps, we see again the cyclical nature of these steps as a human journey of spiritual self-discovery. The twelfth step only leads back to the first step, but though the steps remain the same, we are changed for having traveled them. Arriving at the first step the first time—admitting our powerlessness—was a frightening, devastating, and humiliating admission. But coming back to it again through the twelfth step, having now experienced a joy of living in powerlessness, a full acceptance of our human condition, and the real dynamics of our relationship with God, we can see it now as the ultimate liberation we had always sought through our own efforts. To mask our vulnerability and imperfection while seeking power over our circumstances was the very action that kept us from the truth of Jesus’ Kingdom. Kingdom, recovery, transformation, rebirth in spirit is and has always been a free gift that we have no power to obtain, but which takes all the effort we can muster to be ready to receive.
audio [ mp3] | duration: 40:21, size: 7.1mb
the truth about power
dave brisbin | 01.11.09
Realizing that no one gets out of childhood unscathed, that we are all recovering from something, we begin a series through the Twelve Steps of AA as an expression of our need to take concrete steps toward mental, emotional, and spiritual wholeness. The Twelve Steps were created out of the teachings of Jesus, and opening them up to a general audience and linking them back to the New Testament opens a new understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In this first step, each of us must confront our need for power and control--to identify what strategies/addictions we have put in place to give us a sense of control, and to begin to admit that any such power we think we have is illusion. No one gives up power willingly, but we can give up our illusions once we realize the only power we really have is to choose to align ourselves with the true power God freely offers us.
audio [mp3] | duration: 33:30, size: 5.9 mb
a friendly universe
dave brisbin | 01.18.09
Continuing our series through the 12 Steps as a process of spiritual recovery, we come to the second step. After coming to grips with our powerlessness over the compulsive behavior that keeps our lives in chaos in Step One, in Step Two we come to believe in a power greater than ourselves that can restore us. What does it really mean to say we believe in God? Is what we believe really true or just what we believe? And if what we believe is not changing anything about our lives and choices, then how is it true--or how is it that we really believe. Unexplored belief is fragile, second hand, and ultimately impotent. If we've never doubted God's existence, then we haven't taken our journey seriously enough. To really explore our beliefs is to come into direct contact with God, which not only makes our belief real, but shows us that this God not only exists but cares about us and will restore us...that at its core, the universe around us is friendly.
audio [mp3] | duration: 40:14, size: 7 mb
dave brisbin | 01.25.09
At Step Three, turning our will and lives over to the care of God, we begin to see the pattern of recovery. That recovery is much more than just giving up compulsive behavior. We can't live our lives as a negative--thou shalt not--simply giving up or running from the things we don't want. To really live, at some point we have to turn and embrace the positive things that we do want. There is a difference between giving up and surrender. Giving up may be the end of resistance, but surrender is the beginning of submission, and submission is where living life as an embrace becomes possible. True surrender, really turning our will and lives over to God's care doesn't happen all at once, it's a process. When we follow the steps--all of them--we experience a serial surrender in which little by little and more and more we become the little children of Kingdom: open and vulnerable but also resilient and content.
audio [mp3] | duration: 40:29, size: 7.1 mb
leaving the ghetto
dave brisbin | 02.01.09
Covering the 4th Step of AA from the perspective of general recovery and spiritual growth took us to some unexpected places: the Warsaw Ghetto and the mind of C.S. Lewis during wartime Britain. Much more than just listing our defects of character in a moral inventory of ourselves, the 4th Step involves another huge piece of the serial surrender of our spiritual journeys: the surrender of our victimhood. Although many if not most of our defects are the result of woundings and betrayals at the hands of others, to hang on to our status as victims is to excuse ourselves from both the responsibility and possibility of change. Even in the face of our misery, victimhood can be a warm blanket of absolution from the hard work of transformation. Taking examples from The writings of Rabbi Shapira and C.S. Lewis, we can begin to see how even as victims of circumstance, we can choose another way--a way that includes beauty, purpose, meaning, and the presence of God in every moment.
audio [mp3] | duration: 42:51, size: 7.5 mb
dave brisbin | 02.08.09
The 5th Step of AA has us admitting to ourselves, God, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Confession? Is all this really necessary? Did Jesus have to go through the indignity of a process of purging the compulsive behavior that all of us as humans endure? The evidence from Scripture may be surprising, but shouldn't be... Jesus is the consummate model and wayshower for us, and his time in the wilderness corresponds nicely to our own. How can we ever really understand the true nature of forgiveness until we test the water with the admission of all we believe disqualifies us from the very forgiveness we seek? If another human being can accept us in our weakness, how much more can and will God? Perhaps this hardest, most humbling step can be seen as the fulcrum of the 12 Steps--the point at which the whole process starts to become real.
audio [mp3] | duration: 33:48, size: 5.9 mb
dave brisbin | 02.15.09
The 6th Step of AA is to become entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character. But if the 7th Step is to humbly ask God to remove these defects, doesn't that make the 6th Step sort of redundant? Or maybe we've missed what it really means to be entirely ready. When looked at honestly, becoming entirely ready is a lifelong process, because what are we really being asked to be ready to do is not just stop "bad" behavior--we can do that on our own. But even though certain behaviors may cease, the defects that caused those behaviors in the first place remain until we are entirely ready to look at life from a different point of view--God's point of view. Through Jesus, God is telling us that he is much more childlike than we are entirely ready to entertain; that we are his playmates in life, if we'll just surrender everything we're clinging to and come join the dance. Our destructive behaviors are manifestations of our defects and our defects are manifestations of the basic fear that infects all of us as human beings--until we have become entirely ready to surrender to a love that is perfectly complete and can take the fear out of our fear.
audio [mp3] | duration: 33:48, size: 5.9 mb
dave brisbin | 02.22.09
The 7th step of AA: "Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings." What shortcomings? The ones we identified in Step 4, admitted to God and another human in Step 5, and became entirely ready to have God remove in Step 6. But humanly, as we look at this step and see its two component parts, the part we naturally focus on is the "God removing" part--the part that allows us to be passive recipients of God's action. But this is neither the focus of Step 7 nor the focus of Jesus' leading us into Kingdom. Far from a passive waiting for God to act, we're being shown that the "humbly asking"part is the key--an active step toward a partnership with God that removes our inability to see the truth that makes us free. Humility is not humiliation which seeks to lower our position, nor is it aggrandizement, which seeks to raise it. True humility is simply seeing ourselves and our circumstances and our God as they really are--seeing the relationships between them and us as they are. Humbly asking from such a place of truth is a definition of answered prayer.
audio [mp3] | duration: 40:29, size: 7.1 mb
dave brisbin | 03.01.09
The Eighth Step of AA states that we "made a list of all the persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all." Like raindrops falling on the glass-like surface of a pool or pond, the ripples from each drop extend, intersect, and overlap each other until the entire surface is simply vibrating with all that energy. Each choice we make, each behavior we act out, creates ripples that affect those nearest us. We live in each other's blast zones--or comfort zones, if that is what we emanate. In this step, the purpose is not really the amends--restitution, or even reconciliation...such things may be outside our control or even the realm of possibility. What this step is really asking us to do is to recognize the effect of ourselves on those around us and to begin the process of restoration. To restore ourselves to what God intended us to be is prerequisite to restoring relationships broken in the past. And even if those can't be restored, we are restored, forgiven, liberated from their effects and can begin building strong relationships right herenow.
audio [mp3] | duration: 34:38, size: 6 mb
victims and perpetrators
dave brisbin | 03.08.09
The Ninth Step of AA states that we "made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others." There is a relationship, a bond between victims and perpetrators that we often don't acknowledge. It's a dysfunctional bond, but it exists nonetheless. And the deeper the hurt and trauma of the betraying act, the deeper the bond between them. The 9th Step is not really about making amends--it's not about restitution or even reconciliation, as those may be completely out of our control. When Jesus asks the infirm man in John 5 if he "wishes to be healed," he is asking all of us at the same time: right now, at this point in our lives, is it our deepest purpose and desire to be healed, whole, complete, forgiven, delivered, saved? The gift of making amends is to remove as many of the roadblocks to healing as possible--to take the force out of a victim's anger, bitterness, hurt, and resentment. And in the process of trying to help a victim heal, the perpetrator begins to heal as well, so that when Jesus asks that crucial question, "Do you wish to be healed?" Both victim and perpetrator can shout an unequivocal "Yes!"
audio [mp3] | duration: 39:13, size: 6.8 mb
again for the first time
dave brisbin | 03.15.09
The Tenth Step of AA states that we "continued to make personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it." This step is unique among the 12 Steps in that is contains no new information and may at first glance look like a maintenance step, but in actuality, it is anything but. The first 9 steps and our spiritual journeys so far have both put new tools in our hands and have stoked the desire to take real action in restoring damaged relationships. We now have the capability of seeing ourselves, our lives, and our relationships--both physical and spiritual--again as if for the first time. It's this way of living life--of taking fresh, ongoing inventory; of all things being made continually new, fresh, recreated, restored; of seeing again with new eyes and living with meaning and purpose--that is Kingdom, transformation, being born again--it's salvation itself as Jesus and his first followers understood that term--not eventual admission to heaven, but the freedom to live life again for the first time here and now.
audio [mp3] | duration: 40:10, size: 7 mb
present to Presence
dave brisbin | 03.22.09
The Eleventh Step of AA states that we "sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out." A friend tells me that his father went to his death never having said the words "Good job, son." And now he's asking me, "What have I got to do to be approved by God?" I know that he's gotten his two fathers confused, but knowing our Father in heaven is much trickier than knowing our earthly fathers because the rules of heaven's love are unlike anything we experience here on earth. Knowing God, knowing what that even means is a function of the prayer and meditation that can improve our conscious contact--but what does prayer and meditation mean? Shedding our popular concepts and misconceptions, stripping prayer down to its most basic components, learning to speak God's native language, and seamlessly integrating all this into our daily moments is the difference between knowing about God and really knowing him.
audio [mp3] | duration: 38:47, size: 6.8 mb
dave brisbin | 03.29.09
The Twelfth Step of AA states that "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs." And so at this last step, we come full circle--from accepting our powerlessness and seeking God's help to having the spiritual awakening that allows us to carry the message to others. But what is this message? Is it a verbal message? The details of the process of our journey? To really understand what a spiritual awakening is, to know if we've had one or are having one, to be aware of this awakening in our lives, is to begin to answer the question of the message we carry. Because when we begin to understand that we ourselves are the message--that the message is not spoken but lived--we begin to really carry that message to others and to practice that message in all our affairs...not as an end product but as a new beginning toward greater awakening that always brings us back full circle.
audio [mp3] | duration: 38:11, size: 6.5 mb