“Recovery in the Rural Church”

A few years ago I was asked to share a poem at a Rural Faith Communities as Anchor Institutions (RFCAI) event in Asheboro. I wrote “The Rural is my Parish,” which has become one of my favorite of my own poems. Again, I’m filled with gratitude to the organizers for asking me to share another piece of poetry for the 5/11 event.

Before I share it, I want to share a couple thoughts:

First, on my creative process. Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic (Can we never get away from talking about it?) I crafted a short workshop on how to do Spoken Word poetry. Here are my notes from that, if you want to explore a little bit about the creative process. Ultimately for me, poetry is a means of survival (See Gregory Orr’s book, that helped me think about it like this).
To me, one of the biggest roadblocks to being creative is the reality of loss. A couple years ago, around my 30th birthday, I started thinking about the fact that there would come a time when every word I’ve ever written would be lost to time. Even the best works of humanity will ultimately be lost to time. Part of me thought about how some Christians claim there will be a magnificent library in Heaven with all of our works, and so they won’t have been in vain. But often, I think about the author of Ecclesiastes saying, “All is vanity, like chasing after the wind.” Sometimes, this thought evolves into thinking, “Why labor for and give birth to a creative work, if nobody will like it or hear it? What if I share something and it’s wasted?” This past year a friend posed to me this thought,
“You can’t ration creativity. You can’t save it up to use it for a specific thing, like money in a bank account. Use it or lose it, like God’s manna in the wilderness. However, the more you use of it, the more you’ll have of it. Don’t guard your creative works, as if they’re the best thing ever. Sometimes, what you think is brilliant, is only brilliant 1.0. If you’re willing to give it and lose it, or have it rejected, you may yet find something even better awaiting the light of day within yourself.” Or something like that.

Second, a thought on this poem itself. Talking about “recovery,” I’m drawing from the wisdom of “The 12 Steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous, which have helped countless people across the world, in many languages and countries, for almost 100 years. The wisdom of AA, as enshrined in the Big Book, has made its way to many other recovery traditions, reminding us that “you can’t keep it unless you give it away.” I came to live The 12 Steps and practice them for my own “hurts, hang-ups, and (addictive) habits” through “Celebrate Recovery,” a Christian-based recovery program (which has brought me and many other people closer to spiritual freedom, but which has also received some flak for mixing together people’s recovery needs as looking all the same, when in reality, someone addicted to alcohol has different needs from someone addicted to shopping on Amazon).
I’m grateful to the AA program and for Celebrate Recovery. Even in my gratitude, I realize that some people might be offended by my use of The 12 Steps, seeing them as at best, applied too broadly and decontextualized, and at worst, bastardized from their original context. If I offend anyone in this way, please understand that I am only seeking to appreciate the beauty and power of this recovery framework.
One other thought on the poem, in regards to the Rural Church. I am a United Methodist, feeling called into the Rural areas of Eastern, North Carolina, by God’s grace and love. I am starting to see my calling right now, and my service to the Lord Jesus Christ and humanity, as similar to the funeral service, which in the UMC we call “A Service of Death and Resurrection.” In rural areas, we have been affected by polarization, siloing of selves/isolation, economic disparity, brain drain, population loss, racism, and many other ills. The way to the other side of these things is through them. My efforts at talking about our challenges in the Rural Church are not pointing fingers “y’all”, but naming challenges that we all have to overcome, together! Also, this is not something that I would share on Sunday morning, on which I try to balance grief and hope, together. If I did share this on Sunday, I would try to offer some more concrete ways that we find life through living these steps in all that we do. In AA, naming of oneself as an addict is a prerequisite to growth and healing. I hope that we can, as the Apostle Paul says, “boast in our weakness, so that the power of Christ can rest on us.”

Rural Church Recovery (Doesn’t Mean to Recover What You Lost)”

(I Had a Vision)I looked and behold I was old but not dead and enfolded with semi-woke necrotic bliss in a group called “Rural Church Folk Anonymous.”In this group of recovery sat us folk prideful enough to say that we were from THE country, a tapestry we see as filled with gallantry and pageantry, with family and majesty.Nobody wanted to come to RCFA, but we had experienced personally the same damned division of the nuclear family breaking down through fission, and we’d started to go psycho as the walls closed in on our individualized silo. Before knowing we needed recovery we didn’t feel the gravity of the tragedy that unfurled, unfolding before us like a shelf-full of pristine shirts getting knocked into muddy water on the floor. We saw the old, South Rural church like a Kincaid-esque bold mural perched proudly, laid out and immortalized, trying to look glamorized but really just decayed.Our addiction to the story we delved into of ourselves killed some of us, but those of us who were to live on to a new version of Ministry, moving beyond our bigotry, would need to go into intentional recovery.Here’s the 12 steps of how we are doing it:

1. We admitted we were powerless over the wine of the world we drank, pretending it was the Blood of Christ, and that our lives had become unmanageable, that if something was gonna be salvageable, we would need to divert and divest from the centuries-long memories that marked others with treachery. And we would need to realize that nothing good lived in we, unless we saw “we” as more than a glorified “me.”

“Hi my name’s the rural church, and I’m an addict.”

2. We Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity, and do so by abhorring our vanity, and moving past apathy for others to fill with neighbors the vacuous cavity of our private space. We came to believe that we need to take a step of faith, necessitating we moved past the atheism of absolute certainty that outsiders call “Churchaholism” or “Churchiness”. 

“Hi my name’s the rural church, and I’m an addict.”

3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Her, realizing that in doing so we don’t get to parse out our Maker’s pronouns any more than we can control the wind who brings unknown folk to our towns. 

“Hi my name’s the rural church, and I’m an addict.”

4. We Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, realizing that if we are going to evangelize young folk these days, we need to realize that the Holy Spirit moved out onto the streets when she left the Church house, and that we’re trying to reach a people who are more moral than we are.

“Hi my name’s the rural church, and I’m an addict.”

5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to people outside the Church the exact nature of our wrongs, how we came in throngs to see unjust justice carried out against our enemies, and how we wrote songs that belonged more to us than to God, in effort to prolong our prolapsed praises that raised more ruckus than they raised the dead, that protruded dead spiritual tissue into our rendezvous with the world. We admitted it and were brave to believe that we could have a future better than it. 

“Hi my name’s the rural church, and I’m an addict.”

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character, being brave to name that the projects of our progenitors and mothers and fathers were defects of the words of messengers whose love came from below when it should’a been from above. 

“Hi my name’s the rural church, and I’m an addict.”

7. We humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings. Like when we exploit and we’re called to give offerings, when we pretend it’s ok, and we’re really suffering. We humbly asked God to help us remember how to humbly be, even as our humiliation from becoming impoverished makes us want to numb by drinking in pride. 

“Hi my name’s the rural church, and I’m an addict.”

8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Even while we think of the cities that extract our resources and youth and our government that has outsourced our work and the corporations that have molested our shops, we made a list of whom we harmed, and we disarmed ourselves. We farmed our fears and found the bigotry that lives deep within and followed the roots to see where we might weed it out by our confessions.

“Hi my name’s the rural church, and I’m an addict.”

9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. We looked at the generations of separations and our reservations to address segregation. We decided that “reparations” was not being taken advantage of, because God called us to give advantage to the ones who had been ravaged—wounds not our fault but which we were called to bandage. 

“Hi my name’s the rural church, and I’m an addict.”

10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it, knowing we’re acquitted by God’s Grace, but still required to act out of the humility we’ve acquired, even when the state of the world has us tired!

“Hi my name’s the rural church, and I’m an addict.”

11. We sought through prayer and meditation, giving up our communal care for our layers of reputation, to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of Her will for us and the power to carry that out, doing so even when the state of our institutions leaves us in doubt, even when our historic delusions have been burst and thrown out.

“Hi my name’s the rural church, and I’m an addict.”

12. Having had a spiritual re-awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to other churchaholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs, seeing the One upstairs in our midst and wanting to wake up from this storm and starting to shake up the norms. We decided that we will break the stagnance of our arid arrogance, because it hasn’t saved us from this famine that’s been rough, and doing what has become normal was never enough.

“Hi my name’s the rural church, and I’m an addict…but at least I’m in recovery.”


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