A Stirring Program, An Unsettling Struggle

Today I attended a workshop designed to draw together faith based organizations and churches in the effort to help our community better deal with addictions and mental health issues. The Faith Partnership Initiative was held at the Walking in the Word Family Church in Monroe (wonderful hospitality). The day started with an eye-opening challenge from Executive Director of Northeast Delta Human Services Authority, Dr. Montiec Sizer. 

The resource speaker for today was Drew Brooks, Executive Director of Faith Partners, a non-profit organization that provides leadership, training, and consultation for a congregational addiction team ministry model.  Mr. Brooks has over 35 years of working in the prevention, treatment, and public health fields with Hazelden, Johnson Institute, and other organizations. He made his presentations with enthusiasm and the voice of experience.  Although the program ran from 9-2, it felt like a week’s worth of material and information encouraging churches to interlink in their efforts to deal with addiction. Emphasis was also placed on referring to organizations already operating in the field. This workshop was “Readiness Training”. There will be follow up meetings and I encourage every pastor/minister in NELA to be present, and also any interested individuals. All during the event I kept thinking of people I wish were there with me. I just didn’t know what it was all going to be about.

Since there was so much to take in, and I’m still processing it, I will only offer a few notes I took and also mention some of the people I met. 

REFLECTIONS AND NOTES FROM THE DAY

Key among the principles talked about was the fact that spirituality plays a significant role in addiction recovery, thus people of faith are called to play vital roles in reaching out to those in recovery.

The first person I met was the pastor of New St. James Baptist Church, Vance Price. Though we soon were placed into separate discussion groups I enjoyed getting to meet him.

“We are wounded healers – there are those who are unhealed wounders.”

Adverse Childhood Experiences can influence adult trajectory. 

Addiction impacts every person. Some, more than others. One quote I wrote down:

Book Recommendations:

*Addiction and Grace by Gerald G. May

*Thirst: God and the Alcoholic Experience by James B. Nelson

94% of clergy surveyed consider substance abuse to be an important issue. 38% find alcohol abuse involved in half or more of family problems. 12% of clergy report having had any education on substance abuse in their seminary training.

Stable alcoholism recovery is not reached until 4-5 years of sustained remission, longer for other drugs. 

Another person I met was Denise Breard, who works with Well-Ahead, a statewide initiative of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. We had a good conversation about how churches can be resources of information on wellness. 

In breakout groups we discussed whether or not the faith community as a whole has communicated a clear, consistent message regarding the use and nonuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. I was surprised by the conversation because my initial reaction was that we have a strong message about these. Upon further reflection I noted that sermons on tobacco addiction have been absent from my experience. 

I had a good conversation with Gail Durbin, a Compulsive Gambling Treatment Provider leading our area in helping those gambling addictions find recovery. (Gambling Helpline: 1-877-770-STOP). We talked about how the problem with gambling is that it remains secret. According to her material:

For help you can text “nonet” to 66746 or have a live chat at www.helpforgambling.org

As today’s News Star has a story about introducing a bill to allow casino gambling in Monroe, the opioid crisis is growing (along with reinvigoration of heroin and crack cocaine addiction), alcohol and tobacco addictions continue to pose issues for our country, this event was very timely.

I look forward to the next event and moving further toward preparedness, availability to help, and searching for ways for faith based organizations and churches to work together to make Ouachita Parish a safer, healthier, and more productive place to live. I love our parish and I want to do all I can to help make it a better place. 

My thanks to all who made today’s workshop possible. 

 

Betting Louisiana

We are not alone, but Louisiana has a problem. We are not exactly the richest state in the nation, but there seems to be a surplus of expendable income. In the past year while our nation has felt an economic earthquake, our state has actually spent more money at racetrack casinos than we did the previous year. How much? $6.40 billion dollars were wagered at the track. That’s a lot of cash…or credit.

More than a fourth of the U. S. adult population visited a casino last year. That’s 61.7 million people. Only the lottery was a more popular form of gambling.

There are 833,000 gaming machines (video poker, slot machines, etc.) spread out across 38 states. Louisiana has 42,910 gambling machines.

Although gambling used to be considered a vice, in a recent survey 81% said they find it acceptable for themselfes or others.

In our state we have 13 riverboat casinos, 1 land based casino, 4 race tracks, 3 tribal casinos. With all of our economic woes, unemployment, and pervasive poverty, consumers in Louisiana gambled $2.456 billion in 2009. We know that the vast majority did not go home with any extra money in their pocket. Take a look at the majestic and beautiful towering hotels and resorts associate with casinos. Wh0m do you think paid for all of this? Every brick was paid for by reaching into the pocket of a gambler. By the losses of the hopeful, these halls were constructed.

Are you a compulsive gambler? How would you know if you have gone beyond recreational gambling and now has a problem? The National Council on Problem Gambling proposes you ask yourself 10 Questions about your Gambling Behavior:

1. Have you often gambled longer than you had planned?
2. Have you often gambled until your last dollar was gone?
3. Have thoughts of gambling have caused you to lose sleep?
4. Have you used your income or savings to gamble while letting bills go    unpaid?
5. Have you made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling?
6. Have you broken the law or considered breaking the law to finance your gambling?
7. Have you borrowed money to finance your gambling?
8. Have you felt depressed or suicidal because of your gambling losses?
9. Have you been remorseful after gambling?
10. Have you gambled to get money to meet your financial obligations?

If you or someone you know answers “Yes” to any of these questions, consider seeking assistance from a professional regarding this gambling behavior.

I wonder how many Christians are among this large number of gamblers? I wonder how many great works could be funded with that same money? I’m betting Louisiana could experience quite the revival if enough opportunities were created with the funds now directed into the hands of casino organizations.

Resources:
Gamblers Anonymous

Thanks for reading,

john

Making Amends

I had a recent correspondence with someone I have never met. I did, however, know her ex-husband. Their marriage was destroyed years ago by drug and alcohol abuse. Because of this, their children grew up not knowing their dad. In his passing, he left undone the very thing that would have released them to forgiveness and moving on in life: making amends.

There are many issues involved with making amends. In the Twelve Steps, it is step #8 … a long way into the process of healing and getting your life back together. Acknowledging that there is much more to say on the subject than this post allows, here is my friend’s ex-wife’s thoughts about making amends. They are worth some contemplation.

Making amends begins with saying you’re sorry.  But truly making amends is so much more than just saying you’re sorry!

When you make amends, you should live your amends by doing your best to do the right thing from that point forward. You can live your amends by being there for the people that you hurt when they need you, not when just it is convenient to you.  Making amends sometimes means that you have to reach out and touch those that you hurt, because they won’t want to talk to you anymore.  It doesn’t mean forcing yourself on them, but gently giving them the message that you are truly sorry.  This doesn’t mean that this person will ever want you to be a part of their life again, but it doesn’t matter what they think, it’s not about you…it’s about them.  You can still make yourself available to them, and check on them once in a while provided they haven’t told you to get lost.  Sending a yearly Christmas card or a birthday card or some type of nice gesture can be a way to show them that you still care.  You can also pray for that person and continue to pray for them daily…this will help you to forgive yourself.

Making amends is being truly sorry from your heart for the things that you did, and showing that to the people that you hurt by being a part of their lives in a positive way. Making amends is about loving people even when you feel unlovable, after all, it’s not all about you!  This will help you start the process of healing yourself!

Helping others is a good thing, but you can’t make amends to those that you hurt by helping others–you need to make a direct amends to those that you hurt.  They need to hear it, and you need to say it.  This doesn’t discount what you do to help others…but helping others doesn’t take away the effect and the impact that you had on those that you hurt.  You need to make direct amends to them!

Making amends means that you don’t let another day slip by without making those amends…do it today!  You might not have tomorrow!

And it’s true that my friend did not have ‘tomorrow’. Making amends isn’t only for addicts. It is for all of us. It allows healing to begin where there is pain. Is there someone you have hurt that needs to know that you are sorry? Is there an unresolved issue that remains on your heart that could be relieved with some sincere words? This is a tough step in recovery. Aren’t we all recovering from life’s mistakes and regrets?

Thank you, Mary Ellen, for giving me permission to share this. I think it is worth some contemplation.

Thanks For Reading,

John

Convergence

It all started with a desperate phone call from a hotel room. He was drunk and barely conscious. A Gulf War veteran running away from his demons, forced into a corner, and unsure of what to do. I choose to believe that it was God’s mercy that led him to remember his childhood association with a Church of Christ. So from a bed of shame and humility he pulled the phonebook out of the drawer of his nightstand and called the church. He talked to David Kilbern on the phone. David went to Scott’s room and thus began a rocky relationship that was to overcome broken trust, forgotten promises, and a bond that went beyond brotherhood.

Over the next year and a half Scott was in and out of rehab facilities. He would at times be out of touch … and then would come the phone call that was so reminiscent of that first one. There were times when it seemed there was no way to help this broken man who had lost everything he owned in Katrina. He was overseas at the time. Scott saw things that only veterans understand while at war. He came home to nothing. For a while he thought alcohol was his only friend. Even when we thought he was doing well, he wasn’t. A few times we tried to give up on him, but our love for this lost soul overcame our frustration at his failures.

Finally Scott admitted his own weakness and entered himself into the VA’s residential program for substance abuse and post traumatic stress disorder. Eight weeks later Scott is sober. He has created an optimistic world for himself, rather than the dark spiral downward that used to characterize his thinking. His weakness has not been removed. It never will be. He has, however, the tools to handle the darkness within. Part of that is his trust in the grace of God. Scott has told me that one thing he learned by being a part of Central was that God loved him deeply and that he could trust God’s grace.

Last night there was a celebration at the VA for Scott and his four classmates that have completed their courses. There were many tears between the classmates and the doctors who taught the classes. I am so proud of Scott’s progress and the man he has become. A few of us went over to celebrate with Scott and to take him to a Mexican restaurant of his choosing for supper. Scott is moving on to a re-entry program that will equip him to use what he now knows in civilian life. Offer a prayer for him when you get a chance. He is well on his way to many celebrations of success.

Scott and David

Convergence. Along with the joy and happiness of Scott’s celebration came another phone call. Another friend who was losing his battle with alcohol was falling into familiar desperation. Phone calls to local rehab facilities brought reports of full beds and long waiting lists. I called an old friend who has been down this path and he told me about a place about an hour away that he had a lot of respect for. So while I was driving to celebrate with one friend who has overcome alcohol, another friend who is overcome by alcohol was being taken to a rehab facility. Pray for his success in defeating this wretched enemy. When I talk with these men who have lost so many years to the bottle, I know that most of these battles are not going to be won.

We need more Christian residential facilities for people escaping substance abuse. There are so many people who need help and there are so few facilities available to offer them the help they need. This is a growing problem. Jesus is the only answer. For every one that is rescued, many more are falling by the minute.

Kilberns, Dobbs, Ingram Celebrating with Scott

________________________

 On a different subject, I’d like to congratulate the Television Meterologists for creating hurricane hysteria by exalting TD 10 into a near-hurricane. Communities are going on red alert. The Governor of Louisiana has declared a state of emergency!!! Evacuations in Jackson County, Mississippi are considered! The USM Coast classes are cancelled tomorrow! Biloxi opens storm shelters! On the other hand, casinos are staying open. Dr. Jeff Masters predicts that this storm, if it even develops further, will only offer 50 mph winds. Not that I want to be out in it … but this can be found in a summer thunderstorm. I do appreciate that we shouldn’t take any threat lightly, but this is overkill. Jim Cantore must be disappointed in Pensacola.

Tornadoes can occur in this type weather, of course, and we should be praying for the folks in Eustus, FL who suffered several losses of homes last night.

In another case of the media making news, the fact that Giuliani answered his wife’s call during a speech to the NRA is being reported everywhere. I love it. This guy is on wife #3 … he finally figured out what his priorities need to be. I suppose with the immorality portrayed in the media and celebrity lifestyles these days this is beyond the comprehension of many. I have instructed Mrs. Dobbs not to call me during a sermon, though.

        Star Simpson

Star Simpson figured out today that wearing a fake bomb in an airport is not really considered art. I would suggest that she consider some other kind of art. Star’s kind of art is a scary kind that makes people dive under tables and run for cover. Kind of like her hair. Did I say that out loud?

Don’t tase me bro! Student Andrew Meyer got a shocking conclusion to his questioning of John Kerry! It might have hurt a bit, but he has now ascended into YouTube fame. Too bad there’s no fortune to go along with it. I wonder if that should become our new catch phrase… Don’t Tase me Bro!

I better go before I get into trouble.

Oh, this week’s CENTRAL BULLETIN is now posted.

Thanks for reading!

John

Ragamuffins Rejoice!

 

Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada who tearfully told me she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the business-man besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergtyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually-abused teen molested by  his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick,’ whispers to the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school; the deathbed convert who for decades had his cake and ate it, broke every law of God and man, wallowed in lust and raped the earth. 

“But how?” we ask. Then the voice says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” 

There they are. There we are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations but through it all clung to the faith. My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.

 The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning pp. 32-33

 Steve Sjogren offers three powerful points on this blogpost. I wonder what you think about his reason why people show up late for church?

Mark Hawk wonders if we are really any different from the world.

Larry James on intentional ministry to the poor.

Matt Dabbs blessed my heart!

Tammy Faye Messner passed away a few days ago. She was an outlandish personality … an icon of televangelism (both the good and the bad). But there was just something about her that kept people interested. The movie about her life, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, was fascinating. Jim and Tammy were on television every day. Even if you didn’t watch it, it was easy to feel that we knew this family. I am not sure why, but I’m saddened that she had such a long and hurtful battle with cancer. Her son Jay is every bit the iconic personality that she is, leading the Revolution church first in Atlanta, then in Manhatten. Terry Rush reflects on her passing. There are several tributes online at YouTube (and probably other places), but I liked this one the best.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liz0rft3Mf0]

Thanks for reading!

john