Episode 97: Many Paths Secular AA Group In Urbana IL

Transcript

00:00 John S: This is AA Beyond Belief the podcast, Episode 97.

[music]

00:24 John S: Can the 12 traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous be enforced? Can AA groups or AA members be punished for not conforming? Can special-purpose groups within Alcoholics Anonymous affiliate with each other and build websites to list their meetings? Join me as I talk with Ben S., the General Service Representative of the Many Paths Group in Urbana, Illinois, and Joe C. from Rebellion Dogs Radio. Joe and Ben, how you doing?

00:55 Joe C: Greetings, by way from Victoriaville, Quebec. I’m at the Eastern Canada Regional Forum with Martin of the International Secular AA Conference Committee from Kingston. It’s a bilingual conference and we’re speaking secular. [chuckle]

01:17 John S: Oh, awesome. Fantastic. And Ben, of course, is from Urbana. How are you doing, Ben?

01:23 Ben S: I’m doing good, it’s raining a little bit, but that just cools it off because it’s been very hot.

01:28 John S: I was just in Urbana not that long ago, I guess it was towards the end of June, and I got to meet you and other people from your group. That was a lot of fun.

01:35 Ben S: Yeah, thank you so much for coming out. It helped and it felt good just to feel like we had some outside support.

01:40 John S: [chuckle] Well, I’ve been a good friend of Doris’ for a long time and we kind of visit each other, so, it just happened that your District meeting was going on at the time. That was really interesting.

So, we’re here today to talk about your group and a controversy that recently developed with your District, which I found interesting, because usually these controversies happen with Intergroups and not necessarily with a District. I found that kind of interesting. Why don’t we start by introducing your group, Many Paths? I think it started in 2015, about a year after we started our group in KC, is that right?

02:20 Ben S: Yeah, we started in February 2015, and I’ve been part of it for most of that time. It’s a nice little free-thinker, atheist-agnostic flavored group, but you don’t have to be atheist to be there. Urbana is a college town, it’s pretty liberal, so I think there was a need for that sort of group, and we’ve grown a good amount. We now have two meetings a week.

02:45 John S: Yeah, and you’ve always been pretty connected with your District, I believe. I think Doris was a GSR at one time, you’re the GSR now, and Cope was the GSR prior to you. Is that right? Have you guys always been pretty active with your District?

03:05 Ben S: Yeah, pretty active. I think some of it was more earlier like just sitting and listening and bringing information back to the group. It wasn’t until more recently, I think last winter, when we were letting people more know. Especially when we started our second meeting.

03:22 John S: Yeah.

03:22 Ben S: So that was about a year ago. Like, “Hey, we’re growing,” starting the second meeting.

03:26 John S: Uh-huh.

03:27 Ben S: I think that created a little more like, “Oh, yeah. Many Paths exist.” I think that’s actually something we still struggle with, and maybe one of the reasons that we had our little snafu with district. Maybe do feel like a separate entity from the rest of this recovery community in town. I’d like to work to fix that. I want it to be like there’s more crossover between the members of Many Paths and the rest of the AA groups in town, and to not feel like this separate thing.

03:58 John S: How does it feel to be separate? Why do you feel like you’re somehow separate?

04:01 Ben S: Well, I think maybe one of the reasons is when I realized not a lot of people even knew what Many Paths was.

04:07 John S: Oh, yeah.

04:08 Ben S: I think when people started to learn about it, it came in this way… I should give some backstory, that basically there was a little bit of confusion about what Many Paths was, and then it came down to we were on the online meeting list for secularaa.org. That was the main point of contention. It was like, “Can you be on this website’s meeting list, and is that an outside affiliation?” So, we were removed from our District’s meeting list for a couple months while that was all figured out. The end result was we took ourselves off the Secular AA meeting list. But I think that doesn’t quite paint the whole picture and more of it was like, “Wait, who is this group?”, and some confusion about, like, “Really, they’ve been here for three years?”, and “Oh, they’re an AA group in town.”

04:57 John S: Mm-hmm.

05:00 Ben S: I think maybe one of the things that I learned was that it was because of this separation feeling, so it wasn’t even just me who felt separate.

05:07 John S: Right.

05:07 Ben S: I think it was more like the rest of the AA community here that I think… The way at least I brought it up, I noticed that sometimes I’d frame Many Paths as like, “People feel excluded from other meetings so they come to us.” I’ve decided I need to stop framing it that way because all that does is make this more of a divide. You don’t have to choose that you’re going to this Many Paths meeting that doesn’t have a prayer, or go to other meetings. It shouldn’t be like that. A lot of people remind me that I’m someone who only joined the AA community through Many Paths. That really got me into it, to be like, “Oh, this meeting looks good.” I probably wasn’t about to go into a church, until I went to a Many Paths and then I started going to other meetings. I think that’s true of a lot of people, so I think I’d rather focus on that aspect instead of the aspect, like, “Oh, someone couldn’t stand the other meeting so they went here.”

06:00 John S: Right.

06:01 Ben S: Even if there’s some truth to that, that sounds more like we’re stealing away members, or we’re trying to promote some agenda. I think there was some feeling within our district, not by everyone, but by some people, that Many Paths have a very specific agenda that they were promoting, and it was different than whatever AA’s agenda was, which is… Really, our agendas are the same, it’s to not to take a drink.

06:28 John S: Yeah. Well, there was a time not that long ago when it was difficult for a gay person to go to a meeting and be able to share his or her experience as a gay person in AA. So, they formed groups with other people like them, and there was a reason for it and there was a need for it because of the lack of acceptance, I guess you might want to say, within the broader society for gays and lesbians. So, they had their own special-purpose groups and I think that there was a reason for that and a need for it, and there could be a similar need now for people who prefer to not have to pray at an AA meeting, [chuckle] who prefer a secular worldview. I think that the gay groups served a purpose and brought more people into the Fellowship, and I think our groups are doing the same.

07:33 Ben S: Yeah, oh, my goodness. I got to have a lot of conversations with people and a lot of times, the conversation degraded into, “Is Secular AA part of AA?” That became the main voting point. That’s why we were removed from the list. I also found a lot of people, they were just like, “Well, I don’t even think ICSYPAA should… ” I was like… People really weren’t sure, I guess, where the special-interest groups lied in the AA organization.

08:06 John S: Joe? Can you talk about that a little bit? Where do special-interest groups have their place? Here was one issue I saw when I was at the district meeting of Ben’s group. They thought that Secular AA was an outside entity and that the Many Paths group was associated with an outside entity, but we feel like, “No, we’re just a special-purpose group within AA.”

08:26 Joe C: Yeah, that is definitely a distortion of the traditions. I can tell you something that was discussed today in a panel discussion about inclusion. They were talking about La Vina, which is the Spanish-speaking Grapevine. There are Spanish-speaking groups all over America and certainly all over Central America and South America. It’s a very macho culture and the women’s groups are being told, “Women’s groups aren’t AA, you’re not AA. You can’t have a Spanish-speaking women’s group.” Again, there is nothing to support that. Someone described the AA Service Manual, which includes the Concepts and the Traditions, as being mistaken as being prescriptive. But it’s descriptive, not prescriptive, right? “This is our experience. This isn’t telling a group what to do. This isn’t telling AA in other countries how they have to run their business; this is just how we’ve done it, this is what we’ve learned.” It’s suggestions. Even the traditions are suggestions.

09:43 John S: Yeah. You can break a tradition if you want to and there’s no punishment for it, right? 

09:49 Joe C: Well, as a matter of fact, I wrote about this recently, just depending on the timing of who’s listening when or who is reading when, but in 1953, when the traditions were fairly new, Bill Wilson said to the General Service Conference… Well, let me just read just a little short segment. “So the 12 steps themselves were a tremendous variation, not in principle, but in the manner of stating them,” Because he was talking about groups in Sweden that had seven steps, not 12 steps. Sailors who use six steps instead of 12 steps, right? The Buddhist groups, all these variations. He said, “These pioneering stories are now being re-enacted in distant lands. In one country, the steps were altered in phrasing, but not in principle. And so the question is, should we say, ‘You can’t belong to Alcoholics Anonymous unless you use the 12 steps exactly as we have?’ No. These groups are merely going through the old pioneering process that we had to go through ourselves.” He says, “We have a tradition that says you can ignore the traditions.”

[chuckle]

11:13 Joe C: So you can’t use the traditions as a way to police groups.

11:18 John S: Right.

11:19 Ben S: Yeah. Probably the second thing that was causing contention, was like, “Do you follow the 12 steps?” I think there was a motion that was made last month that got struck out actually this month, that was very vague and it was like, “District won’t financially support any group that doesn’t follow the 12 steps.” They decided to nix that because of a technicality. Like, “Oh, it wasn’t on new business,” but I think it was more like…

[chuckle]

11:44 Ben S: They weren’t really sure what that motion meant. We weren’t sure, either, and we brought it up. If it had happened to have gone through, I was going to read that. I think less about motions and more about how people feel about our group. There was just, I think, a lot of worry that we had an alternative list of steps that we read from, and the reality is we just don’t read the 12 steps at the beginning…

12:05 John S: Right.

12:05 Ben S: This is not part of our opening little ceremony. There was a moment where we had a 12-step study where we would read the original step, and then in someone’s sharing their experience, strength, and hope, they would probably go through their interpretations and pull from some resources like The Little Book. There are a lot of really good resources that are re-wordings, re-imaginings, ways to think about them. I view them like having the ability to read a blog post about each step.

12:35 John S: [chuckle] Right.

12:36 Ben S: That’s not any different than alternative wordings, but the people, when they heard about Many Paths, they felt like, “Oh, they are rewriting the stuff that’s been working since the ’30s,” so…

[chuckle]

12:48 Ben S: We tried to bring that up, that providing examples of alternative versions of the steps was just a way to help reach people. I think that helps people understand, but I think just even the phrasing, “alternative steps” is a great way to grind people’s gears.

13:10 John S: Uh-huh.

13:11 Ben S: The other thing I’ve learned from someone’s share at district was that it felt to them that we’re constantly billing ourselves as “more tolerant,” they were feeling like we were throwing flak at other groups for being not tolerant. I actually thought that was an interesting point. Maybe I do feel like we’re more tolerant, but maybe I need to be careful about how I use that word, because I think, to them, at least it felt like we were coming in, barging in, being like, “We’re more tolerant, and also we’re changing all these things.” That doesn’t feel tolerant to them. Funny enough, I think it felt like we were somehow making a statement on how they ran their groups.

13:53 John S: Oh.

13:53 Joe C: Right. It’s like saying secular groups are the non-religious AA groups.

[chuckle]

14:00 Ben S: Yeah, I think you’re right, it’s like, “But AA isn’t religious,” so…

14:02 Joe C: Yeah.

14:03 Ben S: So, people were like, “Why do you feel like you have to do that?”, and it ends up with this bad taste in their mouth. That was one of the things I’ve learned, was that I just need to be careful with how I explain what the group is. It was just trickier than I thought, to be really open about how our group works, because I think that’s where most of this started, was with just confusion and some misinformation, and it ended up with hurt feelings and a lot more pain that we didn’t really have to go through. I think we’ve learned. I think everyone in district learned from it, and it’s basically resolved, we’re not on the Secular AA meeting list, which is something that we kind of  feel, “Hmm,” like, we don’t see a problem with being on it, but…

14:55 John S: Yeah.

14:56 Ben S: But at the very least…

14:56 Joe C: There isn’t a problem with being on that, because even if there was a tradition that AA meetings can’t be on… Some churches list the AA meetings in their building…

15:09 Ben S: That’s right.

15:09 Joe C: On their monthly newsletter, right? [chuckle]

15:12 Ben S: Yeah.

15:13 Joe C: That’s a personal choice for an AA group to do or not do. The traditions are not rules. They are just the wisdom of the ages, and you can use them or sort of acknowledge them and ignore them. You can break your anonymity and you’re still an AA member the next day.

[chuckle]

15:34 Joe C: There’s consequences for that, but their expulsion isn’t one of them.

[chuckle]

15:39 Ben S: Yeah. Another thing I learned from this is… Because a lot of times, I tried to be like, “Well, here is something Bill W. said that supports us.” And I realized sometimes the way I read those sort of things was like, “Well, I’m right.”

[chuckle]

15:54 Ben S: That, “Therefore, you should vote us back on the list.” I realized that doesn’t actually convince people, just because I think I’m right or… It might even have to do with the tone. I think multiple times, people thought I was sort of lawyering with them.

[chuckle]

16:08 John S: And everybody can pull out their own Bill W quote. They can pull out their 1935 Bill W., [chuckle] or their 1967 Bill W.

[chuckle]

16:16 Ben S: Yeah, I just learned that wasn’t going to get me what I wanted.

16:21 John S: Yeah.

16:22 Ben S: That was an interesting experience. The other thing I wanted to bring up, this is another thing that came up, was we have a Facebook page. It’s not a Facebook group. You can search for “Many Paths AA” and it literally just has our date and our time and our location. I know that right now, even the greater AA organization isn’t sure how social media fits into this radio, news-in-print tradition. I don’t think they’ve really made a comment on it, but a lot of people were mad at us for having a Facebook page. If you go to Facebook, there’s lots of AA groups that have Facebook pages, we’re the only one in our district that has a Facebook page, so we sort of felt like, “Well, they can make a Facebook page if they want.” That just kinda got dropped, because the truth of the matter is everyone was really tired. This was a four-month-long thing, so everyone was really tired of the district meetings only being about this.

17:14 John S: Right.

17:14 Ben S: I think that’s what finally made it be, like, “Let’s put Many Paths back on the district meeting list.” You know, “Seems like they care.” [chuckle] So, maybe we should just do that, but that was never really resolved, the Facebook page thing. I’m kind of interested in what you both think about Facebook and AA, like, where does it fit in?

17:35 John S: I’ll let Joe answer that.

17:37 Joe C: Well, you discovered something that I learned, and that is that you can’t reason a person out of a position they’ve come to emotionally. It is an emotional feeling, that, “Is Secular AA going to somehow water down AA or corrupt our core message? It’s unfamiliar to me, so I am resistant to it and I feel threatened,” but nobody talks like that. They say, “Well, you’re doing this, and I haven’t seen that before, so it must be against the rules.” So there’s what people say and what people are saying.

My experience has been the only way to sort of win them over is to go to the district meeting, get on the committees, work in CPC, go into the institutions, help out with whatever, local Info AA Day, or be the registrar for the district, or volunteer to… And when you’re working side-by-side with helping other alcoholics find AA, you forget about what the other person believes or what meeting they go to or any of that stuff, and everyone becomes us. There’s no more us and them. You know, just keep going to the district, just keep being active.

There are no rules to be broken because AA has no rules. AA membership and a group’s right to be a group is not granted by the General Service Conference; it’s an inalienable right. You’re a group if you say you’re a group.

19:21 Ben S: Yeah. I think that brings me back to the first thing I realized, which was that Many Paths, to other people, felt like a separate thing, and that was where this all came from. Hopefully, we can just do more things, and I think going to district is one of those. I went to the Area Assembly for the first time.

19:39 John S: Oh, good.

19:39 Ben S: That was very good. I hope to continue doing that. At the very least, from this whole thing, more people do know about us in this town now.

19:51 John S: Yeah.

19:52 Ben S: So, that could help in this thing where I’m realizing we need to exist more in the community. Hopefully, we can exist in the community in a way that isn’t so drama-filled, [chuckle] and so, some more chill ways like, “Oh, we show up to Soberfest, an event that is in October,” As GSR, I should hype up those sort of events.

20:16 John S: Yeah. Something I would say about the Facebook page and also about having your group’s own website is at one time, I remember you could go to the white pages in the phone book and you could look up all the different AA groups in the phone book. 

20:30 Ben S: Oh.

20:31 John S: A lot of  AA groups in Kansas City, they had their phone numbers and addresses in the phone book.  We had the Central Office phone number but each group would have its own phone number listed in the phone book, and you could call the group from the phone book. Well, people don’t use the phone book anymore; they use the Internet to find things. So, our group has a website and we have a Facebook page. It helps us because if someone is looking for a meeting that is targeted to secular people, atheist or agnostics, they’re going to search for “atheist AA” or “agnostic and AA,” and they’re going to do it through Google, and they’re going to find us either on our own website or they’re going to search us on Facebook. That’s how they find us. They’re not going to find us from our district meeting directory and they’re not going to find us from our Central Office directory because the Central Office and the District, they don’t have designations to list us as a secular group, and so they’re not going to find us that way. That’s one reason that we do that and it works really well for us. I think other groups, just like they used to be in the phone book, they can now be on Facebook or whatever.

21:41 John S: But Ben and Joe, here’s something that I found really, really interesting when I was at Ben’s district meeting. At that time, they were off the meeting list, okay? Actually, they weren’t on the meeting list but they were put back on when Many Paths said that they’d take themselves off the Secular AA website. But what happened was they were put back on without the district voting on it again, so everybody was really upset about that. The main bone of contention was that Secular AA is separate from AA itself and that the group was affiliated with an outside enterprise. So, people from the district called GSO to ask, “Hey, is Secular AA affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous?” And of course, GSO said no, right? [chuckle] 

22:35 Ben S: Well, That’s what the people said, but I think… I don’t know if there’s a little bit of telephone going on… Actually Telephone, the game, because they also said things like Secular AA is a non-profit and therefore, it’s… If you have a bank account as an AA group, you’re probably listed as a non-profit, like…

22:58 John S: Right.

23:00 Ben S: So, I don’t know if GSO really said that. Maybe a… But I don’t know, what do you think?

23:05 John S: Well, I think what they do, Ben, is they don’t make any sort of commitment. They did the same thing in Toronto, like when someone called… They won’t give their… They don’t want to get involved in any controversy, so they say, “Oh, we don’t really affiliate with anybody.” So it’s like if you could call and ask “Hey, is GaL-AA affiliated with you, do you recognize GaL-AA as an AA entity?”, and  they wouldn’t really commit or say anything about it.

Now, I think that that’s a shortcoming, because it’s possible for a district to discriminate against a group because they are agnostic, right, and you can’t discriminate against people in AA or anywhere else. It’s against their civil rights. But GSO, by not sharing their actual experience, they’re setting themselves up for trouble because what they should have done, in my opinion, they should have said, “Oh, yeah. It’s perfectly fine for them to be on that website. Other groups are listed there. Our experience is that agnostic groups have been around since 1975. The secularaa.org website has a group number, they contribute to GSO,” blah, blah, blah.  I don’t know why GSO doesn’t just give their straight experience. Joe, do you have any opinion why they don’t do that? I think it’s wrong, I think that’s setting them up for trouble.

24:19 Joe C: Well, it depends who you’re talking to. Especially when they’re getting, “I called them, they said this,” “Well, what else did they say?” without hearing the whole story…

[chuckle]

24:31 Joe C: Because of course, AA doesn’t grant Secular AA the right to identify, right, because they don’t have to. They aren’t affiliated with it in any way because they don’t have to. But if you look in Box 459, which is the General Service Office News and Notes, every quarter, they advertise in the calendar the International Conference of Secular AA, just like any other AA conference, Gay and Lesbian, Young People’s, or Regional Forum, or… All of those things are all in the calendar.

25:05 Ben S: I did notice, though, at the bottom of the calendar, there’s a footnote that says, “All of these events are listed as a service and a resource and not necessarily an endorsement,” so they have a little loophole for themselves, which I can understand. They would rather have the event there so people know about it than get into an argument, so let’s just put the footnote. So it’s interesting, I do think that you’re right. They just really want to not step on people’s toes, and I’m glad that they listed it.

25:35 Joe C: It’s like a… Because General Service doesn’t govern groups or members; it serves them. So when we want their opinion, we give it to them.

[chuckle]

25:47 Joe C: It isn’t the other way around. No matter what happens at the General Service Conference, they spend a whole week doing AA’s business, and they might add a pamphlet, they might change the wording in some of the literature, but there’s nothing they do there that imposes any obligation on the groups or the members to follow their lead.

26:09 John S: You know, many people don’t get that. Maybe I don’t get that. If I call GSO and ask them, “Hey, can a group do this or that?”, I guess they’re going to say, “The group tells us what to do,” basically.

26:22 Joe C: Yeah, [chuckle] that’s right.

26:23 Ben S: Well, one thing I’ve learned…

26:24 John S: [chuckle] So, GSO doesn’t give their blessings on anything.

26:28 Ben S: When we were off the meeting list, someone from the district over was like, “Did you know that the districts aren’t necessarily by geography, so you could be in our district. In our district, not just on our meeting list. If you really want to, you could join our district.”

26:41 John S: Really?

26:41 Ben S: The neighboring district. I was like, “Really?”, and they were like, “Yep. You can do that.”

26:44 Joe C: That’s so nice.

26:46 Ben S: Well, yeah. It was a really nice thing, to reach out.

26:50 John S: You can do that? I didn’t know that. I thought they were like congressional districts or something, but you can just be in whatever district you want?

26:56 Ben S: This is just what one person told me, but I thought it was a novel idea. That was the other thing, even though we weren’t on the meeting list, we’d still be part of the district. So, we’d be coming to the meetings and voting. My area doesn’t have an Intergroup; it’s just all done by the district. There’s no one group doing the meeting list and one group doing financial stuff.

27:16 John S: That’s what really surprised me, too, that it did come from a District. I can see Intergroups doing things that are kind of wrong, wen they’re not thinking, but I was surprised that a District that’s part of the General Service structure would do something like that. That’s just not my experience. 

27:35 Ben S: Yeah, and I’m from this liberal college town, but surrounding it is more rural and more traditional, and so the District includes all of that. I think that even though perhaps my little town in Urbana was used to Many Paths, it was kind of a surprise to some of the other groups. I think the end result is positive, so I’m really glad that I can get on this podcast and not feel bitter or not feel like something’s hanging in the air still. I think it was a learning experience.

28:06 John S: Yeah, and you did such a good job, too, you and Doris both. I was really proud of both of you and how you were just so calm and how you were accommodating, nd you were just saying, “Hey, we want to be part of the District,” and I thought you guys were just the perfect diplomats and the perfect representatives for our community. I think you did a really good job. I also agree with Joe, it’s been my experience, too, that when you go and you start working with these people, you go to Area Assembly and so forth, then you get to make friends with these people. There’s a little bit more trust and acceptance for you, and they won’t feel threatened. Probably they do see you as something new and different. That’s how they saw me and my group when we first started going to Area and District. They thought we were a little bit different and there was some concern about us. But now, we’re all happy. They’re happy to see us and we’re just friends and we do things together. 

29:00 Ben S: Yeah, I learned that it was just as easy for me to take this personally and get my nose bent out of shape as it was for, I think, everyone else. So perhaps it was good that maybe it was a little drawn out [chuckle] and that I had a month break between each of the District meetings to think about it. At first, really, it was kind of a surprise to me and I felt disconnected from my own community, where I was like, “Wait, I thought AA was my community,” and I had to go through a little bit of… At first, just being like, “Well, it’s Many Paths that is my community.” I’m a little more now excited about things now. I need to reach out to the rest of the AA community. That’s maybe what I’ve realized, is if I don’t feel quite like it’s my community, it’s my job to bridge that gap.

29:51 John S: Yeah, yeah, it’s good. You’re helping enlighten people about what the experiences is in Alcoholics Anonymous today, what’s going on, because there’s a lot of our groups out and about. You just happen to be in Urbana, but there are secular AA groups all over the world now. 

30:10 Ben S: Yes, and we eventually want to get back on that Secular AA website. We’re going to give it some time. so everyone in our District, and ourselves, will have some time to just breathe.

30:19 John S: Yeah. That’s probably smart.

30:22 Ben S: Because we’re really tired of it. It’s like been the meeting topic at my meeting for a little while, so we’re ready to focus on staying sober. 

30:33 Joe C: Yes. Get out of the politics; get into the recovery.

30:37 Ben S: Yeah. That’s it exactly, and not just me; I think my group, too. It’s been interesting being GSR  because it hasn’t been boring. [chuckle] You know, when we had the Facebook page up, I was like, “Let’s take it down. I don’t like Facebook. I don’t like Facebook groups.” All these people that have secret groups on Facebook with AA, and I’m like, “That’s not really a secret. Facebook knows that.” But then I realized that my home group, they weren’t on the district meeting list, they weren’t on the Secular AA meeting list. Facebook was like the only thing they have left.

31:11 John S: Right.

31:11 Ben S: So they were really adamant. They were like, “No.” It’s like, “Okay, if that’s what my group thinks, then I’m convinced.”

31:16 John S: So Joe, what are you doing at the Regional Forum? What’s going on over there?

31:21 Joe C: Well, you know the General Service Office puts these on every two years. There are five regions in the US and two regions in Canada. AA isn’t run in an ivory tower. They go to these regional forums, it’s free for anyone to attend. It’s largely GSRs and Delegates and Area Committees and all that, but any member of AA is welcome. And they’re discussing, “Well, here’s what’s going on in AA right now. Here’s where our money things are and here’s what our money problems are, and here’s what we’re thinking of doing. And what do you think? And what are your local problems and how are you dealing with it?” So they’re getting a feel for the room. I think it’s very important, as we were talking about here, for Secular AA groups to be part of the larger AA conversation—and we just also happen to have our International Conference of Secular AA t-shirts on.

[chuckle]

32:26 Joe C: Also happened to have some postcards and buttons along, so, it’s a little outreach.

32:32 John S: Is there any talk about the last General Service Conference at the forum?

32:36 Joe C: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. It just got started and there’s going to be more talk of that. Yeah, so it’s a…

32:43 John S: That’ll be interesting to hear more about that.

32:44 Joe C: Yeah. Pretty cool, yeah.

32:46 John S: Well, Ben, I’m glad that things have worked out for you and your group. It’s a wonderful group, by the way. I loved my visit out there. 

32:54 Ben S: Oh, it was great to have you.

32:54 John S: Oh, yeah.

32:54 Ben S: Thank you for having me on the podcast.

32:56 John S: Oh, yeah. We’ll have you back again some time.

33:00 Joe C: Yeah. Ben, are you coming to Toronto?

33:02 Ben S: I don’t think I can. I’m playing a gig at a music festival, which is exciting because I’ve never done that before.

33:09 Joe C: Oh, nice, yeah. Business first, for sure. John and I are going to do our best to broadcast some of the conference on Facebook or something, and get the recordings up as fast as we can so we can share what’s going on in Toronto with people very quickly.

33:29 Ben S: Cool. That’s exciting. We are trying to send Doris there. So I think she’ll be there to report on Many Paths. 

33:36 Joe C: Well, tell her I said she has to go.

33:39 Ben S: Okay. [chuckle]

33:39 John S: She’s got to be there, it’s part of her job.

33:40 Joe C: You can explain that to her family and her job and her other commitments. [chuckle]

33:44 John S: Okay, guys. Well, thank you very much.

33:46 Ben S: No problem.

33:47 John S: Thanks again.

33:48 Ben S: You, too.

33:48 Joe C: Great talking to you both.

[music]

34:13 John S: And that concludes this episode of AA Beyond Belief the podcast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll be back again real soon.


Links

Many Paths AA Group

Rebellion Dogs Radio

Eastern Canada Regional Forum

The Little Book

International Conference of Secular AA

AA Grapevine 

La Vina

Secular AA Website

AA Service Manual

Eastern Central Illinois District 12 Meeting List

Secular AA Meeting List

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  1. PJ July 29, 2018 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    Thank you all for posting this item and giving insight into the machinations of district AA. I have never become involved as a group rep or attended local Area Committee meetings, instead my focus has remained at a group level. Your podcast has been quite an education and I am impressed at your tenacity and persistence.

    We have not experienced any similar delisting threats (so far) to our two Sydney groups but we are still very new and I guess that most AA’s are unaware of our existence. We are listed by AA and secular AA but fly below the radar with interested secular AA’s finding us from their online searches. Sometimes an AA person will wander in to our meeting by chance and so far, they seem happy enough with what they find. As we expand and grow in number it will be interesting to see if we have a similar experience as you have had. As we are in Sydney and Australia is a secular country this problem may not materialise but if it does then this podcast is a great reference to have handy.

    We are listed as a secular AA group which I feel is necessary for differentiation from the rest, but this is unfortunate. I would much rather that secular AA was simply AA, the no frills standard. Theistic AA or traditional AA is AA with religion/god/some sort of belief added for comfort but not necessity. That being said, this is the reality of the situation as I see it and it is not going to change soon.  

    Joe, I had one query about your reference to Bill Wilson comments in 1953.
    (These groups are merely going through the old pioneering process that we had to go through ourselves.”) 

    I sense a suggested inference by Bill that people will try different approaches for a while before they eventually tow-the line so to speak and adopt the steps and traditions as written. A bit similar to the way the chapter We Agnostics tells atheists that they will eventually come to believe in god. Have you any insights to add?

    PJ

    • Scott J July 31, 2018 at 8:12 pm Reply

      I too was interested in Bill W’s 1953 comments to the GSC.  It took a long time for me to find, as I found no webpages with the actual text and just one with a picture of GSC notes.

      “My feeling is that the more we insist on conformity, the more resistance we create.  But if the Traditions and Steps represent accurately what our experience has been, the alcoholic, no matter where in the world he may be, will eventually adopt the principles that will work the best for him.  If our principles are correctly stated, he will adopt them.  If any improvements are to come, who can say where they may come from?”  -Bill W

      I don’t read the same pigheadedness about wording of the Steps and Traditions that he had about God being the only valid source of greater power.

  2. life-j July 25, 2018 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Thanks all, a really stimulating conversation

     
    You bring up a lot of interesting problems. First, I don’t think it is good to back down anywhere, such as delisting yourselves with ICSAA. Is district’s idea that AA meeetings are only allowed to be listed on world service sanctioned venues, but not, for instance be listed in the local newspaper. How would they justify to not have a meeting be “part of AA” based on who – even outside of AA – prints a schedule of AA meetings? Does AA even get to decide who else in the world tells about AA? Maybe we should not be allowed to go to recovery centers, because they’re not part of AA? If the recovery center tells a person to go to AA after they get out of rehab, maybe we should not allow them to come to our meetings because they would insinuate the meeting’s affiliation with the non-AA recovery house that sent them? I mean really – there is no end to the nonsense that could be brought up! We really do need to get hostile with the rest of the world if we want to have any hope of keeping our 1938 message pure …..
     
    I really like what joe says at 17:37: “you can’t reason a person out of a position they’ve come to emotionally” –  I suppose it would need to be supported by a lot of science, but it just seems to ring true, and “Well, you’re doing this, and I haven’t seen that before, so it must be against the rules.” People treated me like that in the beginning. They have finally realized there are no rules. But it has taken what 5 years of constantly being the bad guy, the one people either ridicule or are hostile toward – as in: All truth passes through 3 stages ………
     
     
     
    Other than that – it seems odd to me that district was the one causing trouble. In my own experience district was the most openminded of the various AA entities I had to deal with at a local level, just because it seems to so happen that there are more service minded agnostics than regular religious folks. Here around anyway, or I shouldn’t say “more”, but a greater number than our average share of the general populace, or even AA.
     
     
     
    In fact, district 14 just voted, after my request, to support my trip to toronto with 300$. I confess this is quite remarkable, even though district always seemed open-minded, and the treasurer did threaten (he was personally in favor, and has been a great support for me for a good while throughout his various service capacities, but as a personal support) that we may see some blowback from the groups over the decision. I figure any controversy is good controversy at this point. Only way forward is to stir up shit, and I’m doing it constantly. I regret having to do it, would much rather focus on my recovery, though I also in the interest of full disclosure have to admit it fits in well with the more un-recovered parts of my personality to do so, and it is a shame that everything gets mixed up like that. In other words, I would have liked to be/remain spiritual about all this, but instead often wind up being ornery. Which is not so good for my cause. Thank god I have 30 years sober. Some 40 year sober bleeding deacon who didn’t know me personally started chewing me out openly in a meeting the other day. All I could do was to remark that I’m only sober 30 years, so he is of course way ahead of me (“oh wise one”). I think the irony of it came across. The old guy even went so far as to ask me to never in a meeting where he was present to claim that AA was religious (this was after the July 20 reading of Daily Reflections). But then someone who has otherwise been really critical of my constant criticism of AA jumped in and said to the old guy that we don’t limit what an individual can say in a meeting, so long ad they are being civil about it – so all the goalposts are slowly moving, people are changing, but only constant, constant exposure does it. And I confess, it takes a lot of good recovery energy away on any particular day, but in the long run it does seem to bring back more.
     
    And I agree, we need to be involved with service at all levels, and this also – and importantly – includes keep going to regular meetings and carrying the secular message there, irrespective of the fact that it is often not welcome, at least in the beginning. Here 5 years later it is becoming the new normal.
     
    As for GSO, if we’re listed with them it’s an AA meeting, and – and this was a big selling point with district when it voted the other day: The ICSAA convention is listed on the Box 459 back page calendar. We need to make sure that we get ourselves listed within regular AA channels as much as we can.
     

     

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