Welcome, Namaste, Peace, Shalom

Welcome, Namaste, Peace, Shalom, Benedicite. May the peace of the Lord always be with you.

Annapurna (Goddess of the Harvests) range, Nepal. Machapuchare, Fishtail Mountain, sacred to Shiva and never climbed.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Stay in the Middle of the Boat

Is an expression you hear frequently in the 12 step Rooms.  It’s fairly self explanatory.  Newcomers are advised to stay in the middle of the boat as a tool of recovery.  Oldtimers share that their sobriety has depended and still depends on their staying in the middle of the boat.

This means reading the literature, going to meetings regularly, talking to other members and/or a sponsor regularly, volunteering for a service position, working the steps.

Just like in a herd, being in the middle increases the chances of survival.  Being on the edge or getting detached is a dangerous risky place.  This is the 12 step herd experience.

Thinking about it, the obvious conclusion might be that as in a real lifeboat or herd, not everyone can be in the middle.  Someone has to be on the edge, or even fail to get in the boat at all.  No room in the Inn, no room on the Titanic lifeboats and no room in the 12 step boat.

jshyun on flickr
In most communities, including churches there is an outside and an inside and a finite amount of room in the inner circle.

But in the 12 step Rooms there is room for everyone in the middle.  Only those who choose to be are on the edge.  It is a different form of spiritual spatial reality.  Do what is suggested and you are in the middle of the boat.  No-one is displaced because you have arrived in the middle.  No-one can stop you journeying to the centre.  Everyone is advised to stay in the middle of the boat.  No-one has be on the edge or outside unless they choose to be.

So there is no need to play power games, politics or jockey for position. 

I think the reason for this apparent impossibility is the traditions of AA.  They are designed and work together to ensure the survival of the maximum number.  The traditions ensure that doing service is exactly, service, not a route for the accrual of - Power, Pretension, Presumption, Pomposity, Privilege, Preferment and Patronage -  to quote Maggie Ross  who expresses it all so much more eloquently  than I can.

Service is very important to recovery in AA and Al-Anon.  Service positions are rotated regularly. Hanging onto positions indefinitely is generally discouraged.  Almost the only disqualification for service is not being sober.  Some positions require a minimum length of sobriety as a practical precaution.

Outside of their role a person doing service is just another member of AA or Al-Alon.  There is no separation into different classes of people, clergy, laity, bishops, elders and so on.  No special privileges are attached to the roles.  

All this is found in the Traditions.  

1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.

2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.   Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

8.  Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

This is all taken very seriously in the rooms.  People who probably would never be considered for any sort of 'leadership' role in a church have a very clear understanding of what these mean and why they are so important.  Perhaps this is because most people in the rooms feel that they owe their lives to the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions.  It is quite literally a matter of life and death.

By Andy Wright from Sheffield
But all the talk in churches is of leadership.  A quick glance at  many Christian publishing lists will find many titles all suggesting that the pinnacle of the Christian spiritual life is leadership.  Strange when the pool of potential followers for these leaders to lead seems to be diminishing. 

The point is that Jesus '25  said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. Luke 22:25-27 

And: 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Matthew 23: 5-9

So it seems to me that an organisation or community that really took that seriously would organise itself to reflect those instructions.  Apart from AA and Al-Anon the nearest I have found this to be incarnated is in the Rule of St Benedict.  He makes provision for both a necessary structure and discipline and for a respect for each individual's individuality.  Roles in the monastic community are not a right. They are a privilege but not an entitlement and are allocated in accordance with the Abbots judgement as to what is best for the community.  The position of Abbot is elected and there is provision for their removal if their conduct warrants it.  St Benedict makes provision for the whole community to be involved in important decisions.  With special attention paid to the youngest members, as experience showed that the Holy Spirit often chooses to speak through these.

It is written for laypeople, not for clerics. "The saint's purpose was not to institute an order of clerics with clerical duties and offices, but an organization and a set of rules for the domestic life of such laymen as wished to live as fully as possible the type of life presented in the Gospel.  "My words", he says, "are addressed to thee, whoever thou art, that, renouncing thine own will, dost put on the strong and bright armour of obedience in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true King." (Prol. to Rule.)  Later, the Church imposed the clerical state upon Benedictines", * but this was not the original intention.

Writing in the sixth century for lay people living in community, he has reservations about ordained priests who want to join, devoting a whole chapter (60) to this.  The priest must understand that he is as subject to the Rule as everyone else and cannot make special demands or expect any seniority based on his ordained status.  This suggests that St Benedict experienced problems with ordained people joining the monastic community.

Which also suggests that the problems of today are much the same as yesterday, and the church has not moved on much.  

"The Rule, including its system of prayer and public psalmody, is meant for every class of mind and every degree of learning. It is framed not only for the educated and for souls advanced in perfection, but it organizes and directs a complete life which is adapted for simple folk and for sinners, for the observance of the Commandments and for the beginnings of goodness." *
I think part of the enduring power of the Rule is that is so firmly grounded in human experience. Benedict did not start with a theory of community which he then tried to apply. He applied the lessons he learned leading communities.

And all this is just like the development of the 12 steps and traditions of AA.

For many one of the big attractions of AA is that there are no bosses, no gaffers, no-one can tell you what to do.  You may decide to take the suggestions that are offered by those who have experience......But they are suggestions not instructions.  AA grew out of a Christian tradition, but if AA had been organised like the churches it would never have survived, and neither would many thousands of alcoholics and their families.

It is a matter of life and death for us, and it is a pity that the churches cannot take their responsibility for spiritual lives as seriously as AA takes its responsibility for both the physical and spiritual lives of its members.  AA is a spiritual but not a religious programme.  God doesn't seem to mind and works powerfully in the lives of AA and Al-Anon members.

Is it possible that the spiritual spatial reality of AA where everyone can be in the middle of the boat more closely reflects the kingdom of heaven than the structures of the churches?


  1. Very interesting. I like the concept of staying in the middle of the boat - I can think of other applications for it - helpful.

  2. Hey just wanted to say thanks for your very thoughtful and helpful comments on my blog recently. I do really appreciate them. I like how you think and analyse and share, thanks. I think I'm going to take your advice and concentrate on listening (a gift, as you say) but not necessarily always needing to advise. I don't want to stop being there for other people but certainly don't feel like I have all the answers. Once again thanks and take care xxx

  3. Thank you Mrs D. Your comment is much appreciated.

    And thank you too Ember.


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