My Brother, My Brother's Faith, and Me
Last night, for the first time in 15 months, I attended church. My brother, who is in Seminary, invited us.The last time I attended was my brother’s wedding, where he had a religious ceremony, complete with a sermon, communion, and the works. What I remember the most was the pastor. Hailing from New Zealand, the pastor was an animated and jovial character. During the rehearsal, I jokingly asked him how his All Blacks, the New Zealand National Rugby Team, were doing. He pivoted to me and rattled off a precise and intense recount of their latest loss. Considering that most of my Rugby education came from an Amazon docu-series narrated by Taika Waititi, it surprised me how quick he was to break from holy matrimony to discuss his Nation’s pastime.
Before my brother’s wedding, I would have to go back at least a year to find the last time I stepped foot on holy ground. I am not much of a religious person, to say the least. I grew up in the South. My hometown had a church on every corner instead of a Starbucks, and they were of any denomination. Looking back, I’m amazed at how diverse a small town in Tennessee could be. I did my fair share of mission trips, and I’m even confirmed in the Episcopal Church. But around the time I turned 15, my life was completely uprooted.
My family and I moved to St. Thomas, USVI while my brother left for college. I was all of a sudden confronted with a new environment and culture, coupled with anger and a resistance to change. I did what any logical 15-year-old boy would do -- I became a raging atheist (alcohol, a tropical island, and teenage angst didn’t help either)! Now, my brother, who is a frequent reader of this blog, never enjoyed my rebellion of religion. He had come to find God while I had renounced him (or her).
But my addiction grew, and I crossed those invisible lines where I was beyond the help of human aid. By the time I was ready to put the drink down, my atheism had turned into apathy of any religion or spirituality. It was difficult to see any sort of future. In the end, I think I had heard enough voices that I was able to accept that the feeling of a God or higher power was possible. By the time I got sober, I was pretty much willing to do anything. I was more than willing enough to believe that there was something larger than me. But I struggled when I found myself in churches and hearing sermons. It always made me feel uncomfortable. This usually led to me talking shit about organized religion to anyone who would listen. And that left me nowhere but feeling bitter and resentful. And that simply isn’t a luxury I can afford.
If I’m being honest, I was always jealous of my brother’s unwavering faith. In the years that I was lost, he always had something healthy to lean into. I just kept slipping away. For example, when our father passed away in December of 2007, my brother only seemed to grow closer to God. I instead found alcohol and discovered that self-sabotaging was a seductive road. We each had our own separate grief, but it appeared that his faith was never put into question.* That fact was something I never understood, and I couldn’t help but be simultaneously in awe and angry. So the last thing I wanted to do for many years was talk religion.
As I have mentioned before, I am not a doctor. That 12-step mantra has helped deflate my ego on many occasions. In that same vein, I am also not a religious scholar or leader. The Big Book states “Be quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they have to offer.” Now, I am nowhere close to renouncing my way of life and joining the church. I don’t believe that is my destiny. But that short passage reminds me that the 12-steps are not the only solution. Bill W. and Dr. Bob did not invent spirituality or develop brand new spiritual principles by which to live. They simply tapped into something greater than themselves, and used it to help other alcoholics and addicts.
So back to last night. I got to partake in a Zoom church service in Vancouver, Canada where my brother and sister-in-law live. As I listened to the sermon, I dwelled on my relationship with religion and my relationship with my brother. It had become evident that my entire reason for becoming an atheist was anger. And as I have learned in sobriety, anger is a secondary emotion to fear. I was afraid I would never be accepted in our new town when we moved. I was afraid I wasn’t going to know how to be a man after my father passed. And most importantly, I was afraid I would never be good enough. Most of my anger towards religion, my brother’s faith, and anything else was just a reflection of my own suffering. And that suffering happened to include sitting in a spiritual building where I may happen to hear the word “Jesus.” So today, the 12-steps remind me, “who am I to judge?” My brother has a strong faith. It took me a while to find a faith of my own understanding. So last night, I sat and listened and didn’t feel uncomfortable. Again, I am not a religious man. But I do attempt to live my life by spiritual principles. One of which is being honest. And if I’m being honest with myself, I can step outside of a 12-step meeting, listen to a sermon, and hear a common solution.
*I would like to note I could be completely wrong. My brother and I were not living together.
This article was written by Jack Shain, CADC - II and founder of Keep Left Recovery