From Bethany

In the fall of 2009, about a year after I began attending Mountainside, I took Craig’s senior seminar on ecclesiology. Each student was asked to write a thesis on a social issue and how a faithful church should respond. I chose meth addiction as my topic, due to my brother’s relapse the prior year. The following is the last two pages of my paper, which I’ve slightly edited.

In the past year, I have watched my brother become consumed by paranoia and depression to the point of attempted suicides. Whether in late night emergency room visits or in his room during the aftermath of an attempted suicide, I have heard my brother’s paranoid stories that echo the plots of detective novels. Sometimes these encounters have left me shaken while others have left me with surprising composure. The vast majority of it has left me hurt and fearful, wondering if my brother will wind up dead because of a stopped heart or completed suicide, leaving behind three children and an unborn daughter. I find the possibility of losing a brother to be devastating, but the most unbearable thought is that my nieces and nephews could grow up fatherless. In light of all this, writing this thesis was not easy. This work was more than an academic and soon-to-be-graded enterprise for me. It was my life, my family’s life. It was hoping every day that my brother’s life wouldn’t be lost.

I went to church last Sunday, as I do most weekends. This paper was already a week overdue, and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to church. I couldn’t make it through more than a few of these pages without curling into a ball on my bed while weeping, wondering why I was stupid enough to spend even more of my time thinking about meth addiction.

Toward the end of the service, I hesitated before approaching the Eucharist table. I was in the midst of writing a paper on the Eucharist, meth addiction, and the church. I asked myself: Where is this faithful church I’m supposed to be writing about and if it exists, will my brother ever be a part of it? Why isn’t my brother any better? Will he ever be? And even if he were here sitting beside me, how the hell does partaking in the Eucharist change anything? I was quite certain that I had been entertaining foolish hopes that would never be realized. But I thought of the words spoken to Jesus: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” In that same spirit, I approached the Eucharistic table and prayed, “God, I go in doubt, but I go.”

Jan and Warren were serving the Eucharist that day. Jan was probably the first person to speak with me when I came to the church for the first time last year. Within the first month or two of being in the church, my sister-in-law, Destiny, had been diagnosed with cancer and my brother, Josh, had relapsed. Jan remembered their names, frequently asked how they were doing, and told me she was praying for them. Months had passed and my sister-in-law’s cancer had left, but my brother’s addiction remained. Jan still asks about my brother most Sundays.

I first approached Warren to take the bread. “The body of Christ, broken for you,” he said. I proceeded to dip the bread into the cup of juice in Jan’s hands.

“The blood of Christ, shed for you,” she whispered.

“Thanks be to God,” I replied.

“ . . . and for Josh and his family,” she continued.

The blood of Christ, shed for you—and for Josh and his family. I was struck. While Jan frequently asked about my brother and had served me the Eucharist on other occasions, she had never said those words while serving me, and I had never approached the Eucharist table thinking more about my brother. For the first time in months, I let myself hope again. Jan’s words gave me the courage to believe that my brother was not forgotten, that he was not alone, that maybe he would live and not die, and that maybe his life wouldn’t feel so much like death.

The next day, I had coffee with our pastor, Josh. When I asked him his thoughts on the connection between the Eucharist, church, and addiction, he said:

“I don’t think there’s anything magical about it . . . lot of times you don’t believe this stuff, but you’re doing this with a body and they believe for you. An individualistic spirituality is not gonna get an addict far, it seems to me. But a communal spirituality is able to say ‘I don’t believe this crap,’ [and] ‘I know, but I do, and I believe this for you.’”

He later said, “And that’s what Jan did. She believed for you when you didn’t.” In this liturgy, people believe for one another in the midst of profound doubt and become corporately what they had not been as individuals—a knitted body witnessing to the love of Christ that gathers with all of us addicts. This gathering occurs in the depths of suffering and in the proclamation of hope.