American Episcopal Priest at Calvary Episcopal Church and Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous
Sam Shoemaker, fully Samuel "Sam" Moor Shoemaker, III
American Episcopal Priest at Calvary Episcopal Church and Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous
Don't pray to escape trouble. Don't pray to be comfortable in your emotions. Pray to do the will of God in every situation. Nothing else is worth praying for.
Eternal life does not begin with death; it begins with faith.
Happiness is the sense that one matters. Happiness is an abiding enthusiasm. Happiness is single-mindedness. Happiness is whole-heartedness. Happiness is a by-product. Happiness is faith.
Is your Christianity ancient history--or current events?
Prayer may not change things for you, but it for sure changes you for things.
The rise of statism in our time is the natural result of the longing of godless, unchurched people for some kind of protection. When we lose to God we turn to what looks like the next most powerful thing, which is the state. How bad a choice that is, let Germany and Russia in recent years testify.
The situation in which we find ourselves in this world seems to be a condition of estrangement from God, with little feeling of contact with Him, yet a curious nostalgic feeling that somewhere He exists and that our life would be much more complete if we were in relationship with Him. The deep, seemingly indestructible awareness of something like homesickness for God is the natural basis for believing in some kind of fall -- we seem to remember something better and to be possessed to recapture it. There appears to be a gap, a chasm, between God and us which must be crossed if we are to be in relationship with him. We know that our own wrongdoing can widen the chasm: we are not so sure what will close it. Yet our first great need is not for a set of rules about how to be good: it is for something to bridge that yawning canyon between us and the God we dimly seem to remember, but cannot entirely forget.
The surest mark of a Christian is not faith, or even love, but joy.
The surest symbol of a heart not yet fully subdued to God and His will is going to be found in the areas of money, sex, and power: in wanting these things for ourselves. The surest symbol of spiritual earnestness will be the checkbook, the affections, and the ego-drive surrendered to Him. A disciple must have discipline. He must not be afraid of being asked by God for some of the time, the money, and the pleasure he has been in the habit of calling his own. This does not mean that there will not be time for the family, and time for some healthy diversion. But it does mean that we are never -- on vacation, or wherever we may be -- exempt from our primary commitment to Him.
There are, I should say, four elements in a redemptive community. It is personal, with things happening between people as well as to and in them individually; it is compassionate, always eager to help, observant but non-judgmental toward others, breathing out hope and concern; it is creative, with imagination about each one in the group and its work as a whole, watching for authentic new vision coming from any of them; and it is expectant, always seeking to offer to God open and believing hearts and minds through which He can work out His will, either in the sometimes startling miracles He gives or in steady purpose through long stretches where there is no special opening. It may fairly be said that unless one enmeshes himself in this redemptive fellowship of the church, he lessens his chances of steady growth and effectiveness.
True spiritual power is the child of two parents: the truth as it is revealed in Jesus and our own experience resulting upon our acceptance of Him and His truth. The objective factor is that whole set of facts and truths, of historic events, and of interpretation of them, which is held by the church and set forth in the Bible. The subjective factor is what happens in the crucible of your life and mine when we accept the set of facts and truths and interpretations, and it begins to work in us.
Anybody with any maturity knows that an experienced Christian is more eager to have God use him than he is to use God for his own ends; but this does not mean that God is absent from the processes of business and livelihood, nor unconcerned about them, nor unable to reveal Himself through them. When we begin to look upon work, business, money, as potential sacraments through which God can work, we shall make better use of them.
Shoemaker and our Twelve Steps -
Step One: Shoemaker spoke of the gap between man and God which man is powerless to bridge, man having lost the power to deal with sin for himself. As to the unmanageable life, Sam referred to the prayer in the Oxford Group so often described in “Victor’s Story” and quoted by Anne Smith in her journal: “God manage me, because I can’t manage myself.”
Step Two: Sam spelled out the need for a “Power greater than ourselves.” He quoted Hebrews 11:6 for the proposition that God is. He declared: God is God, and self is not God; and that man must so believe. Sam urged seeking God first, from Matthew 6:33. He espoused the “experiment of faith” by which man believes that God is; seeks God first in his actions, and then knows God by doing God’s will, and seeing that God provides the needed power. For this idea, Sam frequently cited John 7:17.
Step Three: Sam taught about the crisis of self-surrender as the turning point for a religious life, quoting William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience. Sam said it involved being born again; and declared that man must make a decision to renounce sins, accept Jesus Christ as Saviour; and begin Christian life in earnest. Sam illustrated the surrender using language similar to that in A.A.: namely, a “decision to cast my will and my life on God.” Many times, Sam said one need only surrender as much of himself as he understands to as much of God as he understands. A clear precursor of A.A.’s “God as we understood Him”–which has unfortunately been misunderstood and has been attributed to other sources.
Step Four: Sam wrote of a self-examination to find where one’s life fell short of the Four Absolute Standards of Jesus: honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love. One was to write down exactly where he had “fallen short.” There was a “moral obligation” to face these facts, recognize these as blocks to God, and be “ruthlessly, realistically honest.”
Step Five: Shoemaker taught of honesty with self and honesty with God, quoted James 5:16 for the importance of confession to others, and stressed the need for detailed sharing of secrets.
Step Six: Though the fact of Bill’s borrowing of this “conviction” step from the Oxford Group 5 C’s seems to have been overlooked, Shoemaker taught often about the need for man’s conviction that he is suffering from spiritual misery, has (by his sins) become estranged from God, and needs to come back to God in honest penitence. Sam urged willingness to ask God exactly where one is failing and then to admit that sin.
Step Seven: Sam clarified this as the “conversion” step of the 5 C’s. It meant a new birth, he said. It meant humility. It meant, for Shoemaker, the assumption upon ourselves of God’s will for us and the opening of ourselves to receiving the “grace of God which alone converts.” It meant “drawing near and putting ourselves in position to be converted. . . utter dedication to the will of God.” Shoemaker often defined “sin” as that which blocks us from God and from others.” So, originally, did Big Book language. And each of the foregoing life-changing steps hangs on early A.A.’s definition of sin and the “removal” process of examining for sin, confessing sin, becoming convicted of sin, and becoming converted through surrendering it. The conversion experience, according to Shoemaker and early A.A., established or enabled rediscovery of a “relationship with God” and initiated the new life that developed from the relationship with God which conversion opened. Since both the Sixth and Seventh Steps were new to A.A. thinking and added something to the original “surrenders” to Jesus Christ, these Steps cannot easily be understood at all without seeing them in terms of the complete surrender, the new relationship, the new birth, and giving the sins to God, as Shoemaker saw the process and as Bill attempted to write it into the recovery path.
Step Eight: Wilson added this step to the Oxford Group’s “restitution” idea. Bill also incorporated the Shoemaker talk of “willingness” to ask God’s help in removing the blocks, being convicted of the need for restitution, and then being sent “to someone with restoration and apology.”
Step Nine: Sam said the last stand of self is pride. There can be no talk of humility, he said, until pride licks the dust, and one then acts to make full restoration and restitution for wrongs done. As AAs in Akron did, Sam also quoted from the sermon on the mount those verses enjoining the bringing of a gift to the altar without first being reconciled to one’s brother (Matthew 5:22-24). Restitution was not merely a good deed to be done. It was a command of God from the Bible that wrongs be righted as part of the practicing the principle of love. If one understands Shoemaker, one can understand the absurdity of some present-day AAs’ guilt-ridden suggestions about writing a letter to a dead person or volunteering help for the down-trodden or making a substitutionary gift to some worthy cause. Sam taught that the required amends were not about works. They were not about guilt. They were about love!
Step Ten: This step concerned daily surrender and the Oxford Group idea of “continuance.” Sam taught it was necessary to continue self-examination, confession, conviction, the seeking of God’s help, and the prompt making of amends. This continued action was to follow the new relationship with God and others that resulted from removal of the sin problem in the earlier steps.
Step Eleven: Sam wrote eloquently about Quiet Time, Bible study, prayer, and “meditation” (listening for God’s guidance). Sam urged daily contact with God for guidance, forgiveness, strength, and spiritual growth. So does A.A.’s Big Book. Quiet Time was a “must” in early A.A. And Shoemaker defined every aspect of Quiet Time from the necessity for a new birth to a new willingness to study, pray, listen, and read rather than to speak first and lead with the chin.
Step Twelve: This step comprehends: (1) A spiritual awakening, the exact meaning of which Shoemaker spelled out in his books and in his talks to AAs. He said it required conversion, prayer, fellowship, and witness. (2) A message about what God has accomplished for us, a phrase which Shoemaker himself used, saying, in several ways: “You have to give Christianity away to keep it.”(3) Practicing the new way of living in harmony with God’s will and in love toward others, an idea easily recognized from Sam’s teachings that a spiritual awakening comes from conversion. And that the gospel message concerns God’s grace and power. And that the principles to be practiced are defined in the Bible. Accordingly, our Twelfth Step language, without input from Sam’s own writings, has become ill-defined and illusory. For A.A. Big Book students know that none of the three 12 Step ideas is set forth or explained in the chapter of the Big Book dealing with the Twelfth Step. To be frank, A.A. left Christianity in the dust. In so doing, AAs lost an understanding of what Sam Shoemaker taught and Dr. Bob emphasized: That conversion, the gospel message, and love and service were defined in the Book of Acts, the Four Absolutes, 1 Corinthians 13, Jesus’ sermon on the mount, the Book of James, and other specific parts of the Bible.
Prayer may not change things for you, but it sure changes you for things.