The last Sunday before Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) is called the Sunday of Christ the King. On this Sunday the Bible reading has Jesus standing in the synagogue addressing the crowd. The Chief Priests and the Rabbis are at the back. Looking straight at those august leaders Jesus addresses them directly. “You are basically a pack of poseurs” he says. “You dress up in all your robes, you pride yourselves on knowing all the rules and laws and you are all so quick to tell everyone else how to live”. “But, you hide yourselves!” he says. “You hide behind all those rules and regulations and you never come out and be yourself”.
“Because being yourself is scary”, he says.
That passage has played on my mind ever since because I realise I hide behind being a Reverend. That is, it is a nice feeling hiding behind rules and regulations and having people call you “Reverend Bill” because you never have to come out and expose yourself for who you really are.
“Come out, Bill” I hear Jesus saying “Stop hiding behind anything”.
It’s scary, really scary but it is how to live when you are truly alive. Only then can you say you are truly alive.
So, in my own vulnerable faltering way I have been attempting to do that and can honestly say being Bill is truly liberating.
At precisely the same time I have been more closely involved than ever with people, young and old who are part of the Recovery movement. That is people attempting to overcome their addiction to alcohol, heroin, crystal meths, you name it and within them and amongst them I have found a home. In fact, last Tuesday I met with over a hundred of them as we chartered a new future in our relationship. I showed the film “The Anonymous People” which offers hope and encouragement that a new way of life is possible.
Now the worst addiction I have is to food, I have never tried any of those drugs and only once or twice in my life had a drink of alcohol, as I am allergic to it. But there is something in that 12 Step program that resonates very strongly with my inner most feelings.
If you look it up the 12 Step program is basically a skeleton on which you can grow the flesh of life. I remember over twenty five years ago there was a knock on my front door. Standing in the light was a woman, Barbara. “Bill”, she said, “I am doing the 12 Step program. Step 4 is a fearless moral inventory. I have decided you are the one I want to share my fearless moral inventory with”.
Barbara had been a really wild young girl and for the next three hours she told me her full life story. I remember thinking, “How incredibly brave you are to have the moral strength to share all that with me”.
But if you think about it that is beginning of liberation, isn’t it? To be able to stand naked in the wind means nothing can harm you anymore. It has all been said by you and accepted by you so nothing anyone can ever say can harm you anymore because it is all out there in the open for everyone to see.
From these things I have learned it is so much easier and safer and healthier to keep your life an open book. It also helps other people too because your dealings with other human beings is straighter and there is no reason to hide in there.
I have been mulling this over all this Easter. As you know I had the Washing of the Feet in our Loaves & Fishes Free Restaurant last Thursday. As I washed my guests feet I heard again all the stories of heartache, madness and loss and addiction. Broken dreams, lost opportunities, failed relationships, the list went on and on, yet there for all to see on public display was the real beauty inside all the owners of all these feelings.
I spent Easter Saturday night at the Exodus Food Van at the bottom of Yurong Parkway in Woolloomooloo. There we feed the real homeless denizens of the inner city. One intoxicated individual attempted to give me a hard time. “Your food is always out of date” he shouted so everyone could hear. (It wasn’t). “You never help anybody, you just want publicity”. “You always help Fish (a friend of mine who is always attempting to give up his addictions) but you never help me. What have you got to say to that?”
Before I could answer, his friend a young alcoholic and drug addicted guy I like, but who has also in the past given me a hard time, intervened. “Mate, I want to help you. I’ll help you. You stop talking like that, you know I care, I know you’ll listen to me because you know I care about you. Stop what you are doing!”
The two toddled off into the darkness. I had never seen this young person help anyone before and the caring he displayed was palpable. I really didn’t have to say anything but found myself saying “You are a really good person John, I always knew it”.
Now going back to the meetings I have held with many of the 12 Step people, I saw the caring, people who society considers to be on the outside, actually have for each other and it has left me pondering.
What I have learned this Easter is if you are looking for new life, go and look for it amongst the dead and the dying. If you need something, ask someone who has nothing because they will give you everything and if you are looking for love, you find it easily displayed amongst and between loveless.
Why? Because they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. As Jesus said you can hide behind rules and regulations and all the trappings of modern polite society but if you truly come out and be yourself, it may be scary, but you will really learn how to live.