returning thanks today for fr. martin...

Once upon a time there was a brilliant and wonderfully helpful AA counselor by the name of Fr. Martin. Like all the best teachers, he knew from which he spoke - of both heaven and hell - God's grace and the agony of addiction. After becoming clean and sober, and learning from friends and AA folk, he attended Rutgers Summer School for Alcohol Studies before creating his "chalk talks" on a variety of issues related to addiction. He made educational films for the US Navy, worked for the State of Maryland and became a prized helper throughout the world before his death in 2009. Fr. Martin was 84 years old.

I was turned on to him by two addict friends in Cleveland - and I've been grateful ever since. One of the straight shooting things he said about those seeking sobriety and stability was simple: "If you come to me and ask my advice, I will share everything I know to be true with you. But here's the deal  you have to FOLLOW my advice. If you think you are smarter than me about addiction or ways to get sorted out in the head, you are free to follow your own lead. But I won't let you waste my time any more. So either you follow my advice or you move on. I will still love you and pray for you but life is too short to waste with those not willing to do their own work." MAN is that every the truth on so many fronts!!!

Now some think Fr. Martin is being arrogant. Bullshit - addicts are users who work any angle possible to avoid and deny their brokenness. I know. I've played that game on an off for decades - and you can't bullshit a bullshitter. Fr. Martin just refuses to put whipped cream ON the bullshit. Follow my advice on the subject of getting clean or move on.  He doesn't pretend to be a genius about everything. He doesn't shame or force you into submission either because, as a wounded healer himself, he knows that shame is violence and he loves God's gift of life and grace too much to add insult to injury. No, he simply asks you to respect his hard won wisdom and not waste any one's time - especially his (but really yours, too!)

I cannot tell you how valuable this little snippet of practical pastoral advice has been over the years - and continues to be so even now.  It has given me direction and clarity whenever hurting people want to share their pain with me but aren't really interested in moving on to peace and joy. I listen - for a few hours. But if they consistently subvert the proven ways of getting healthy, if they keep bullshitting me and making excuses for themselves....? Well, as Jesus told his own disciples, you have to shake the dust off your feet and move on.  Don't waste my time - or your own!

One of the stories told about St. Francis picks up on this noting that whenever Francis entered a town, he and his brothers would sing. Then he would gather in the town square and offer blessings and healing prayers. In time, the tale goes, when the beggars and lame who did NOT want to become well heard his songs, they fled and hid. I use this story to help me evaluate how my work at church is going from time to time:  if the word doesn't get out that I refuse to put whipped cream on bullshit, some thing's wrong. If people are still hanging around or showing up and asking me for appoints but aren't willing to do their own work, somethings wrong. Don't misunderstand:  I grieve for their pain - and often continue to lift them in prayer. But until they are willing to trust a love greater than themselves and accept/surrender/fall upward or whatever you want to call it, serenity will elude them and I won't conspire with the bullshit.

Once I was interviewed by a class of seminarians who were about to graduate. They asked me for some practical advice that I had never heard in seminary. So I told them: don't put bullshit on whipped cream. Don't let the users waste your time. You must still love them - and never ever denigrate them - but don't be seduced by them either. And after 35 years, nothing has changed. Young clergy will be eaten up and devoured by broken people who have not yet hit bottom hard enough to want a reprieve. Older clergy have often worn themselves out aching to be useful and loved only to wake up one morning totally burned out.  I've been there and done that one, too.

You may find Fr. Martin's insights useful - whether you are an alcoholic or not. 


Popular Posts