Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Qualities of Mercy and the Cost of Addiction

A new study reveals the cost of substance abuse in Canada was $38 billion in 2017, with alcohol and tobacco leading the way.
“Similarly, grace seeks us but will not control us.
Saint Augustine once said that God is always trying to give good things to us,
 but our hands are too full to receive them.
 If our hands are full, they are full of the things to which we are addicted.
And not only our hands, but also our hearts, minds, and attention are clogged with addiction.
Our addictions fill up the spaces within us, spaces where grace might flow.”   

    Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions― Gerald G. May

You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that there is an opioid drug crisis in Canada. We're told that first responders are overwhelmed by the number of calls to which they respond, often heroically and at personal risk at times. Last year more than 4,000 sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, partners, died as a result of opioid overdoses.
I was startled to see yesterday that the financial cost of substance abuse in this country was $38 billion in 2014, or about $1,100 per Canadian, and the stats show that the most significant toll in both human and financial terms was from alcohol and tobacco. Read this from the Canadian Press:
The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction partnered with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research to examine the data and estimate the harms of substance use based on health, justice, lost productivity and other costs...

It found the four substances related to the largest costs are alcohol at $14.6 billion, tobacco at $12 billion, opioids at $3.5 billion and marijuana at $2.8 billion.
“One of the key messages that comes out of this report is that while we do need to pay attention to the opioid crisis, while we do need to think very carefully as we move toward legalizing recreational cannabis, we shouldn’t forget about alcohol because it’s around and it’s costing Canadian society,” said Matthew Young, a senior research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction in Ottawa.

What about the spiritual cost of addiction and our Christian response? I've always felt that churches and pastors, including myself, were woefully unprepared to address the realities of addiction. It was as though Jesus followers wouldn't have to deal with addiction because they were nice middle class people. When I did a chaplaincy internship at Kingston Penitentiary during my seminary training I realized how many of the inmates were there because of addiction related crime.
In congregations addiction was stealthier. I spoke with a public health nurse who visited in a toney retirement community not far from one congregation I served. Many of our members lived there. She wondered if I knew how many of the seniors were dealing with substance abuse issues, often because of loneliness or pain relief gone awry.

Some with addictions sought out solace and strength within the church and I tried my best to respond, but the veneer of respectability in church sanctuaries left most feeling passively unwelcome. The irony is that many church basements are used for Twelve-Step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous but the upstairs and downstairs congregation rarely interact.

All this makes me think of Gerald May's excellent book Addiction and Grace in which he reminds us that we all have addictions, some more evident and overtly destructive than others. One of his chapters is called The Qualities of Mercy and I have to wonder whether we have lost the sense of Christ's grace and mercy and loving acceptance, to our peril.

The Greenwich Observatory is reopening and I write about it today in my Groundling blog
Image result for addiction and grace

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