Sunday, October 25, 2015

2015.10.25 Addiction. The Body of Christ. The Paschal Mystery.

What? Who? is/are the body of Christ? There may be as many takes on that spiritual question as there are Christians, or antichrists. I don’t know. I just know that when a tragedy happens I need my Christian faith. I need it because at its center is a human person who suffered great injustice and stayed faithful to the God of compassion he preached. We Christians name this pattern of life the Paschal Mystery: the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Myself, I would have betrayed God and saved my precious hide if I were as alone as Jesus. But I am not alone, I am part of the mystical body of Christ and the gathered community of Christ on earth. It holds me and saves me and by it I can endure my own paschal mysteries when they come.  

Back in June, 2015, a newly installed Episcopal bishop in Maryland, while driving intoxicated, struck and killed a bicyclist. Then she left the scene of the accident and fled to her home before she returned to the scene where she was arrested.

Publicly in church, I prayed well-established community prayers for the dead, for the suffering and for healing. Personally, I prayed that divine mercy would embrace the grieving family and the disgraced bishop and the whole church reeling from the impact.

Deep down privately, my prayer went something like this: Damn, this bishop is a woman! This could set back the cause of women in the Church and make religion look like a sham to the outside secular world. Damn!  Also help Heather get sober and keep some dignity and faith as she adjusts to her utterly altered life. Get her a merciful judge. And, for Christ’s sake, wallop the General Church with large doses of addiction awareness. Please!

Addiction is a life-threatening, soul-demolishing disease. When left untreated it destroys families, society, and faith. Treatment for it is life-altering, inevitably transformative—and demanding a “greater jihad” which means a very strenuous spiritual effort, mostly internal against temptations too fierce to manage without the help of others and the grace of a good God.   

It struck me, as I’ve prayed about Heather Cook, and the whole tragedy, that the basic ingredients of the Paschal Mystery were present in this situation, and further, that the basic ingredients of this mystery keep on happening over and over— in my life and yours.  
    -sacrificial death accompanied by excruciating suffering: actually two, one biological (cyclist, Tom Palermo, 41, father of two) and the other spiritual (Heather Cook, now deposed from her church office and facing manslaughter charges in the hit-and-run killing of Palermo.) 
    -context of inevitable sacrifice: a system crippled by ignorance, fear, and rigidity, both religious and cultural, in Jesus’ day as in our own. No wonder Jesus talked about the unconditional love of God, and no wonder Pontius Pilate wondered what truth was, and no wonder we today continue to misappropriate both truth and love. 
    -theological distortions: blaming one victim and finding the other innocent, and/or projecting “blame” onto God, who, in Jesus and in each one of us, did die—not for but because of our sins. Is not the whole body of Christ injured and responsible?  The Church betrayed its own body.
    -resurrection: the final ingredient of the paschal mystery offers a glimmer of hope and grace, because it is an act of God no human can imagine or accomplish. In resurrection theology, Heather has a chance to emerge from addictions treatment and imprisonment (sentence of maximum 20 years and minimum 10 years) sober and in her right mind, physically and emotionally.  And the Christian Church has an opportunity to educate itself deeply and, for God’s sake seriously, about the disease of addiction and its partner, co-addiction.

It’s telling, and ironic, that the Bishop retired of Maine, Chilton Knudsen, a recovering alcoholic, has been appointed to be an assisting bishop in Maryland. This is not just to do business as usual but to speak in this diocese, and beyond, about addiction and codependency and the dependency dynamic in the Church. The diocesan bishop of Maryland has already hosted  for all clergy in the diocese a mandatory day of conversation with Bishopn Knudsen.
She began the conference with these words: “The sin of the Episcopal Church is codependency.”
Codependency, defined experientially, is loss of self. It happens when people who are affected by the behavior of active addicts do NOT understand a thing about this disease and consider it a moral choice rather than a treatable disease. Like any disease, treatment requires an addict’s cooperation. Out of well-meaning ignorance and yes, love, codependent people become diseased themselves, exhausted by trying to get the addict to stop drinking or drugging and failing by all means of persuasion or threat. Toxic feelings such as guilt, rage, helplessness, despair, fear, and worst of all, impotent love, consume them. Sometimes they resort to substance abuse to numb painful feelings. They cannot control the addict any more than the addict can control the substance that possesses him or her. (N.B.: The job absenteeism rate for spouses of alcoholics is higher than it is for the addict.)

I lived all these things. I did all these things. I tried all these ways. It took years for me to realize that I was worth saving, and that I wasn’t pathological just because I tried to save. AlAnon was a group where I heard my story with variations—over and over. I felt accompanied. I came away not feeling crazy or alone. There I learned how to detach with love (hardest ethic ever in the world!) and how to take care of myself. Working in an alcohol and drug rehabilitation hospital I learned to listen with compassion to the stories of addicts themselves. I learned as well how to intervene, with love, yes, and with conditions that were not empty threats. I had to discern in myself just what I would live with and what I would not, and what trade-offs I could make. I had to get sober myself. I lived my own paschal mystery.

The Mystery behind the paschal mystery is one of tension: all the ingredients pull against each other; they fight each other, yet all of them are necessary and inevitable for recovery. I tried to have it all without the dying or too much sacrifice. But if all the ingredients are not held in tension, including the hope of resurrection you can’t see, the stability of the whole system (marital, individual, bodily, faith, soul) will implode and die anyway.

Everything is connected and works together for the good. No accident. A grace unearned.

What spiritual/theological issues come to mind for you about addiction, the Body of Christ, the Paschal Mystery?