Richard Rohr on 12-Step Spirituality

I’ve been following Rohr’s work on 12-step spirituality and was also inspired by Dallas Willard’s high praise of spiritual transformation via 12-step groups.  Why is it intriguing to me?  What is the draw?  I’m sure I’m an addict in a few different ways.  And I’ve been experiencing pain and “bottoming out” in different areas of my life.  I guess I like the framework and hope it offers.  I no longer have to escape pain.  I can be aware of it and learn from it.

Here’s one quote that stood out to me, mainly because I was raised in a highly religious setting and God has been stripping me of my “use” of Him:  “The highly fortified religious ego is perhaps the most resistant to change of any, because “God” is used to maintain its own security and superiority.”  

Here’s the rest of his post.  If you don’t subscribe to his daily meditation, you might consider it.


The Twelve Step program gave meaning and effectiveness to transformation. “Salvation” is not just something you believe, but something you begin to experience. Both Jesus and Paul were change agents. They were hated by their own groups precisely because they were constantly talking about change. The first thing Jesus said when he started preaching was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The word usually translated as “repent” is the Greek word metanoia; this might be best translated as “turn around your mind” or change. But most of us won’t move toward any new way of thinking or actual change until we’re forced to, which usually means some form of suffering or some disturbance that upsets our habitual path.

Addicts–the majority of us–have an intense resistance to change. We like predictability. That’s one of the reasons addicts find it easier to have a relationship with a process or a substance rather than with people. People are unpredictable. But it feels like this glass of wine or going shopping (or whatever it might be) can change your superficial mood very quickly. Even though the mood shift doesn’t last, it makes you feel like you are in control for a while. You don’t have to change your thinking; you don’t have to change your way of relating to people. Basically, you stop growing at that point. They say you can usually tell when a drug addict began using, because he or she will reflect the emotional maturity of someone at that approximate age.

Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) said it so well: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” The Twelve Step program understands you can’t change people by mere knowledge or willpower, whereas much of organized religion seems to think you can. For example, you don’t become more charitable by saying to yourself, “Be charitable!” You actually become more charitable by noticing when you are not being charitable and “weeping” over it. But none of us want to see our own faults; they usually have to be shoved in our face or we have to fall right into them. At least I do. And even then, many will just deny their mistakes more forcibly. Peter’s three denials come to mind here.

Transformative religion goes against our basic survival instinct which is to live. But darn it, the spiritual teacher is always telling us to die. You can see why the ego resists. The addict puts up a fortified wall against change, against death to self (the false self), and therefore against all real spiritual growth. A.A. understands that it usually takes a bottoming out experience to break that wall against change. The highly fortified religious ego is perhaps the most resistant to change of any, because “God” is used to maintain its own security and superiority.

This is the addictive pattern of thinking that characterizes so much of our religion and politics today. It creates very cognitively rigid, dualistic thinking in service to the ego. This thinking is largely impregnable to either love or logic. Could this be the deepest meaning of sin?


Book Reflections: “The Entitlement Cure” (ch.1)

The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way
by John Townsend

entitlement cure

entitlement cure

Chapter 1: The Disease has a cure

The Entitlement Cure, by Dr. John Townsend, aims at tackling a pervasive issue in our culture that affects families, companies, and communities.  He begins by sharing two stories:  a 25-year old who lives at home, plays video games all day with his friends, quit school, and got let go from every minimum wage job he worked at.  He feels like he has it made at home and why should he leave!  If his parents stop nagging him, then all would be perfect.  Besides, he feels like they owe him because he’s their son.  The parents are hardworking and responsible.  Yet they feel helpless and angry over the situation.

The second story is of a sales manager who is energetic and extroverted.  She gets along with everyone.  But she is not performing and meeting her numbers.  At first, she tries blaming management for not having enough staff or setting clear expectations.  But that’s not the case.  Her relational ability is affirmed but the problem is that she thinks that’s enough.  She thinks it’s enough to be nice and caring without meeting number.  In fact, she feels under-appreciated for how nice she is and feels like she deserves more appreciation for how nice she is.  

Some Definitions Townsend Offers:  Entitlement is…

  • individuals choosing to do life the way they want to without engaging in hard or difficult situations
  • believing that one is exempt from any responsibility; deserving and being owed appreciation with special treatment because, after all, they’re special; they feel like they’re beyond the rules of life; easily blaming others for their own lack of success.
  • the person who has the ability to take care of themselves but refuses to because they feel owed; they expect others to care for them.

Entitlement Examples

  • the person whose poor job performance is poor but feels that the company owes her a great paycheck without doing the hard work
  • the young man living at home, not contributing to the household, playing video games all day long
  • the employee who blames everyone else for their lack of performance when, in fact, management has given them all the tools they need
  • the spouse who blames their partner for his lack of happiness, although she is working hard at the marriage
  • the manager who expects results from his team without investing time and energy developing them

Entitlement Characteristics

  • an attitude of being special or of exceptional value above others
  • an attitude of feeling owed or deserving without any true merit
  • a refusal to accept responsibility
  • a denial of their impact on others – they don’t believe their (in)actions affect their employer, family, or spouse

“People’s life experience may influence them toward entitlement.  But they don’t create entitlement.”  p.22

“At some point in life, people choose entitlement.  They direct themselves toward an entitled viewpoint…because it’s the easy way.” p.22

Most people who have “entitlers” in their lives experience the following three emotions (p.24):

  1. alienation:  the entitled person’s attitude and behavior push everyone away.  As a result, a parent will feel alienated and disconnected from the entitled son/daughter.
  2. Anger:  people feel angry because of the way the entitled person behaves.  There is a lack of regard for others by the entitler.  
  3. helplessness:  a parent might speak to their son/daughter about responsibility only to hit a dead end.  The parent begins to feel helpless, like there’s nothing that they can do.

Pocket Entitlement:  All of us struggle with some form of entitlement.  It’s part of the human condition.  We must look at our own deficiencies and inner struggles for being owed or deserving.

The Solution to Entitlement

  • Townsend calls it the “Hard Way:  The habit of doing what is best, rather than what is comfortable, to achieve a worthwhile outcome” (p.26)
  • “This habit focuses on doing whatever is best to reach the good goal, even if it is difficult, uncomfortable, takes longer, and requires more energy.” p.26
  • Hard work pays off
  • “God originated the Hard Way, and he lives it.  All through the Bible, he does the best thing, even if it is a difficult thing.  He never avoids it.  The best example of this is Jesus, who suffered and died for no other reason than his love for a world that didn’t want him (see Is. 50:7)…Ultimately, the Hard Way is simply God’s Way.  It is how he runs the world, expresses his own values, and makes choices that affect us.”  p.27

Personal Reflections

  • How did our culture create such a deep-rooted entitlement attitude/behavior?  Any factors that contributed to this?
  • Theologically, what does this say about submitting to the Lordship of Christ?  Has the church too contributed to a lack of hard “spiritual work ethic” so that everything is by “grace”?  
  • How can companies implement a “hard work” ethic culture and develop this virtue traits?

The hope is that we become people who take responsibility for our own lives and model it through hard work and commitment.  I simply can’t get away from what one executive told me one day:  “Everyone must grapple with the theme of submission”.  I think our culture doesn’t like to submit to anyone or anything.  And yet it is what Jesus modeled as He submits to the Father (and the cross).

A Relational View of God’s Sovereignty (by Roger Olson)

A Relational View of God’s Sovereignty as opposed to the following three (God allows himself to be acted up…VULNERABLE)…

*divine determinism: God micromanages history and individuals’ lives. Nothing surprises God. Nothing can happen that is contrary to God’s will (even evil/suffering)

*relational theism: creatures can and do actually affect God. The relationship between creatures, especially human persons, and God is two-way.

*mediating views: These are views that attempt to combine, usually with some appeal to paradox, divine determinism with relational theism…The plan of God is predetermined, but the way in which He realizes it is dependent partly on the free cooperation of His subjects.
“…a relational view of God’s sovereignty is one that regards God’s will as settled in terms of the intentions of his character but open and flexible in terms of the ways in which he acts because he allows himself to be acted upon. Only such a view of God’s sovereignty does justice to the whole of the biblical drama, to God as personal, to human persons as responsible actors and potential partners with God in God’s mission.”

This view gives the space for God to mourn and grieve with us as we lament loss, suffering, and pain.  But it also gives us the freedom to cry out and plead for mercy, transformation, and change.  What does it mean when it seems like God doesn’t intervene?  I’m not entirely sure but I lean in on the fact that God loves and cares.  He’s not a punitive, distant, unloving God.  These might not be “robust-theological-musings” but the theodrama of the scriptures point to a God that is concerned for creation and humanity, chasing and hounding us to turn to Him.

Life cycle of a pastor :: some resources

Glacier Rafting

Glacier Rafting

I’ve recently been struggling through questions of calling, effectiveness, and “next steps” (even though I feel fully affirmed by the employees I serve–and its leaders–as well as other pastoral leaders in my life).  I’m in the boat, paddling, but it seems like the waters ain’t “cute” anymore.  They’re getting faster and more complicated.

Based on the readings, it seems very natural and part of the life cycle of a pastor. I found the articles to be spot on with regards to my own questions, tensions, and desires.  If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s not to run from pain but to see what it might have to teach me.

For me, the articles are pointing to a reality that I’ve been wrestling with:

  • what are my strengths and weaknesses
  • what is my effectiveness and how do I measure it (being cautious of do quality ministry over quantity)
  • how do I sustain myself long term
  • who are the people in my boat that can help me navigate these waters (I have a few…you know who you are!)
  • as a marketplace minister, what unique challenges do I have

The following articles are proving to be helpful and I hope they are beneficial to other pastors who are going through the process as well.  This is only a preliminary reach of understanding the life cycle as a means to deepen the pastoral call and work.  May God grant us wisdom and strength as we seek to live faithfully and fruitfully in Him.

Taking Responsibility for Our Actions in Relationships

It’s taken me a while to learn that we teach people how to treat us.  If someone is being hurtful purposely or unintentionally (i.e. “I didn’t mean to”), it’s my job to kindly address their behavior and how it’s affecting our relationship connection.  My responses were to isolate or withdraw myself.  Even worse, I’d internalize the problem and think it was somehow my fault.  It was too much of an emotional cost not to be truthful about my emotions.  My previous actions would also perpetuate the other person’s ill-behavior, which was damaging the relationship-connection.  Once I began to value the relationship (and myself), it was easier to share how I really felt.

The Boundaries folks do a good job of explaining this pattern in the article below:

The re-imaging of God and the importance of it

We must create spaces for us (and others) to kill our versions of God that are not coherent with life and scripture. In some ways, we must become atheists in order to confront ill-images of God. The Israelites did it through protest and lament (see the Exodus story and the Psalms). The hope is that once we can kill these images of God, we can find courage to see God’s redemptive goodness and have new operative images of God that convey healing and hope.

My client arrived at her conclusion that perhaps God was not who she had always thought God was only after a period in which I helped create space for her to “destroy” God with her complaints, groans and protests. And believe me, she had lots of legitimate reasons to be angry! When God didn’t strike her dead, or abandon her, and I didn’t leave or shame her (beliefs she had internalized from her faith community and her interactions with parents), there was space for her to begin to “find” God in new and different ways. Maybe God had not rescued her from a life of trauma, maybe God had not delivered her from the consequences of that evil, but maybe, just maybe, God was still at work and maybe she could get to know this new God without throwing him away or living with a false self and false God.

Music Integration Journey


Here’s an interview with Vinnie Colaiuta by Modern Drummer.  I’ve been researching articles on drummers, session work, and becoming an integrated musician because I’m being asked to play in the studio.  It is proving to be a challenge.  For one, it is exposing my lack of practicing and technique.  It is also exposing my musical soul.

I love to play and usually do it from the hip.  I shoot from the hip a lot in life; whether it be music, pastoring, or recreation (i.e. “let’s go the movies” last minute).  My hope is that “my-shooting-from-the-hip” is shaped and formed by all the stuff I’m pouring into myself-personal reflection, perspectives from others, disciplines of studying/practicing.  So it’s a “hip-shot” but my hope is that it has some depth to it.

One of my biggest passions in playing came from feeling like it was a transcendent experience.  It felt like when I played, I was closer to God and Him to me.  This is not about using or conjuring religious jargon.  It was about space and time slowing down, and feeling like something special was happening.

Here’s a quote from the interview.  Vinnie is not just a drummer.  He’s a lover of life:

Beyond skill and talent, what are the keys to being a success in the music business?

Other than skill and talent and the personality to maneuver through all of that, the rest of it is a blessing and you have to do it all to glorify God. If I say this to people, they’ll interpret it in a religious, dogmatic way. But I am talking spiritually. I’m not trying to represent myself as some bastion of spiritual goodness. It takes a level of humility and recognition of what your source is and who your source is. You have to recognize where the source came from and be grateful for it. That then filters into the personaltiy needed to maneuver in the music business. Just being genuine and true to yourself – those are all things that are immutable. Getting along with people and being as true as you can be to the music and to yourself is what it’s about.

I avoid using certain words that will conjure up any kind of association of inferior versus superior. That’s why when I say “be the best you can be” I don’t use any connotation of what the word “best” means because I don’t want to suggest the idea of competition or some high skill level you have to achieve to be some gargantuan Olympian sports type. But if you can find another way to conceptualize that, you’ll understand what I’m thinking or trying to say.