“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you…..odd.” Flannery O’Connor
God works in mysterious ways. I’m free, but it’s freedom from a different sort of prison. It’s been a place where I’ve been held captive to a system that has gone off the rails. And, no, it’s not the church I’m referring to; in fact the church has been instrumental in me getting to a point where I can draw a line and say, “no more.” The last year and a half was supposed to be spent helping manage and shore up a unique business in this mountain village of Northern California. Instead too much time has been spent dealing with the worst form of demonic possession you find today, addiction. I had hoped that my family member who owned the business had managed to shake off the demon before we came out here, but the possession is as strong as ever, and the demon has enlisted the support of friends and family to “help” in ways that will allow the possession to continue. We call people who drink too much alcohol, “alcoholics.” In my experience, however, encountering an alcoholic isn’t much different than dealing with someone who is demonically possessed. Yes, the person trapped in alcoholism is a wonderful person, and is talented, smart, thoughtful and caring. But the demon is not. The demon wants to possess and control, to manipulate and to denigrate those around him. The demon is clever and cruel, always stubborn and often arrogant. The demon seeks to enlist those around the alcoholic to “help” out of compassion and out of love. These powerful forces are twisted and bent to suit the ongoing possession, and sadly the people who offer such “help” sometimes get bent and twisted themselves.
When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ 26After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’ Mark 9:25-29
I’ve run into nothing but difficulty since we got here about a year and a half ago, and most of the difficulty has come from the one possessed. He has rarely been cooperative in the few projects I’ve managed to come up with, and has resisted all attempts at healthy change. In the midst of this frustration, the church has helped me keep my own head screwed on straight. I’ve been encouraged and valued by a wonderful community of faith, and it has helped me continue the slog at the family business, where I’ve been increasingly denigrated and minimized, mostly because I’ve seen the possession, have spoken truth about it, and have soldiered on because there just didn’t seem to be much alternative.
The church has reminded me that long before I ever answered the call to come help with the family business, God called me to be a pastor, and equipped me to serve and lead ; I’m called to be with people who walk by faith and whose strength comes from the living grace they receive and then offer in Jesus Christ.
For weeks now, the alcoholic has been pouring down more and more of the stuff, shot after shot, beer after beer. I’ve seen this lead to a crash-and-burn with him and each time it’s been more extreme and is now exceeding the flame-outs I’ve seen with the other alcoholics I’ve known. This one was especially horrible. We’re talking being run over by one’s own truck. We’re talking about a DT seizure. We’re talking about a steadfast stubborness that refuses to acknowledge much is wrong. The demon is a crafty one. It knows it can control the people around him as much as it controls him. The rescue team was called up, yet again, to rescue the poor man. Once again, lots and lots of $$$$ are being poured into his situation. Once again, those closest to him endure the nastiest experiences and have their nerves pushed to the breaking point. Once again, responsible behavior and accountability are set aside. and the alcoholic is coddled, almost as he was when he was a darling little boy. Rehab is off the table. He refuses to go to AA, and his chief co-dependent enabler is not likely to force such an action. He’s been taken out of the environment here, with the hope that this will help. A lifelong member of AA has told me that the location changes rarely work by themselves. The possession will continue, whatever geographic change is made. The demon is crafty enough to know that now is the time to lay low for a while and give everyone the impression that the guy is on the path to being “fixed.” But the downward spiral will continue. I’ve told people that I hoped he would have a “pigpen moment,” which refers to the point in the Prodigal Son story when the son “comes to himself” while slopping the hogs. Whether he does or not remains to be seen. The good news in all this is that I have had my own “pigpen moment” and have come to myself and realized it’s time to get out of this situation and back into what God called me to do some years ago: pastoral ministry. I don’t know what that looks like yet, or where that will lead, but the journey has begun. I’ve officially severed my ties with the business. Perhaps there is a nearby church that will want to talk with me soon, but I’m thinking the path will lead me in a different direction. We’ll see.
“So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!’”