Are You Drinking With Me, Jesus?: Benedict Options and Recovery Communities

Are You Drinking With Me, Jesus?: Benedict Options and Recovery Communities May 29, 2015

This is part of a series on the “Benedict Option.” Part one, part two, part three.

I mentioned that I was struck by the number of people at Libresco’s “Benedict Option” discussion who were in recovery themselves, or who had some close contact with recovery communities. I don’t want to make too much of this, really–I know more people are in recovery than I realize, and Leah’s thing was pretty much the opposite of a representative sample. But if we’re wildly speculating on what people with some experience of addiction recovery might bring to a conversation about “thickening” Christian communal life, here are three wild speculations!

We know it’s urgent. One of the strongest points of Helen Andrews’s “AA Envy” essay was this:

The source of this attractive equanimity is the knowledge, often from experience, that without the program they will die, so anyone else can think what they like. Technically Christians need their own program just as desperately, but for some reason they’re still more likely to get defensive about it.


My own ongoing recovery from alcoholism is basically spiritual rather than psychological or medical. One thing that means is that I’m pretty intensely aware that my surrender to God is necessary, not optional. Behind my back I can feel the smile of the Sergeant-at-Arms.

This awareness of urgency comes not from our approach to “the culture” but from our understanding of who we are.  One of the guys at Leah’s thing compared some forms of the Benedict Option to inpatient rehab. You go there for a while as a retreat, your time in the desert: to confront your own weakness and encounter God in your brokenness. You go there when you need a refuge, and you may continue to need that refuge regardless of how decadent or how vitally Christian the outside world becomes. The rehab isn’t a place you intend to dwell–it’s not your home–but your sojourn there helps you make a home when you return to the outside world.

This image suggests another possible contribution we can make: We know that different people have different limits and needs. So like, I don’t care if you drink around me. I still basically enjoy hanging out in bars. Lots of people in recovery don’t enjoy that stuff and don’t do it–but they can probably listen to the Mountain Goats whenever they want to, and I have to be really careful about that. Man is a rationalizing animal; you have to listen to yourself and figure out what makes you start rationalizing, justifying, obsessing. You have to know what makes you tick, like a ticking suitcase.

So too, different people will need different “degrees” or genres of Benedict Option.

That preference for diversity (the diversity of needs calls forth the diversity of charisms) may also be the result of our checkered experience with communities of spiritual support and renewal. Helen hints in “AA Envy” that the thing people envy is the AA they see on television, not necessarily the thing people actually experience “in the rooms.” Your experience with actual existing 12-Step recovery will vary a lot based on where you go, and if you spend enough time around people in that form of recovery you’ll hear a lot of stories about overly-rigid, fearful attempts to replace “Take what you need and leave the rest” with “You can do it my way, or you can die.” (This is obviously the flip side of the urgency.) It’s sort of bleakly hilarious that communities explicitly based on personal powerlessness and humility can so easily become rulebound, self-righteous, and unforgiving. I mean, not always, obviously! Just that this does happen; literally anything can become an idol, even humility and surrender to a Higher Power.

You also don’t need to have a bad experience in the rooms to recognize that the meetings themselves are not what you need right now. It is not actually church.

So anyway I think we (people with some experience of recovery communities) possibly have a pretty strong sense that accurate diagnosis of the problem + committed community of support does not always = actual spiritual renewal, or the freedom Christ promised to captives.

But at this point I’m super projecting my own beliefs and issues onto other people, so perhaps I should stop and let Jello Biafra close us out:

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