‘Hi. I’m John and I’m an alcoholic.”

The people sitting in the Poplar Park Community Church pews last Sunday who hadn’t read the church newsletter were a little startled to hear the opening line of the guest speaker’s sermon.  

“For those of you who are not familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous,” John explained, “it’s our tradition to not use our last names in meetings to maintain the anonymity of those come to the program for help.”

Pastor Walter Mitty had wanted John to bring a message to his flock for ten years, ever since he had done a fifth step with him. The fourth step, Mitty had learned, was “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” and the fifth step was “admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

Mitty had been that “another human being” and had been blown away by John’s brutal honesty.  “What a perfect thing to share with my people,” Mitty had thought. “With all that’s going on—the opioid crisis, polarization, fake news, sexual abuse, a coming climate apocalypse. . . .My God, if we ever needed to do a searching and fearless inventory, now was the time.

But Pastor Walt was disappointed during the coffee hour after the service when he heard his parishioners talk about what they were giving up for Lent. The most popular “sacrifice” of course was chocolate. Then there was alcohol, Twitter, Facebook and meat on Fridays.

After half an hour of listening to the chit chat, he couldn’t contain himself. “But those are all so trivial,” he found himself blurting out.

“What was that, Pastor?” said Troy Williams, looking up from the Apple iPhone 6 on which he’d been focused since he walked into church an hour and a half earlier.

Mitty just shook his head. “Nothing, Troy. Nothing.”

After he was sure Troy was engrossed again in texting or playing a game or who knows what, Pastor Walt turned to members sitting around the table and said, “I was hoping that you all would be more serious about Lent. I mean, giving up chocolate. That’s not a result of a searching and fearless moral inventory.”

After maybe 10 seconds of silence at the table, Dominique spoke up. “Pastor, John’s talk was interesting, but I at least couldn’t relate to his talk about being powerless over alcohol and his life becoming unmanageable.”

Just then Dominique’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He checked out who was calling and quickly retreated outside the social hall to take the call.

“See?” protested Pastor Walt. “We’re enslaved to our stupid phones. If that’s not an addiction, I don’t know what it is. And if not our phones, it’s sugar or gossip or not listening to each other or you fill in the blanks for your own life.”

“I hear you,” said Asch after he was sure his pastor was finished, “but I think you are trying too hard to apply John’s experience to the rest of us. None of us are perfect, but neither are any of us sitting around this table addicted to anything. Maybe Doninique could have waited till later to take the call and Troy over there should probably cut down on his phone usage, but isn’t a stretch to say we’re powerless?”

“And besides,” added Eric Anderson, “every Sunday what we’re doing when we come here is trying to turn our lives over to a power greater than ourselves, just like John talked about in the sermon.”

Mitty got quiet and that ended the discussion, so the talk around the table turned to how nice the weather had been.

But the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church couldn’t shake the feeling that his parishioners were missing the fact that something was terribly wrong. Hadn’t they been watching the news?  What about the opioid crisis, polarization, fake news, sexual abuse, denial of climate change. . . .it just felt to him like society was falling apart.

But then again, maybe Dominique was right. Maybe he was simply too negative.  

But as he went around checking to make sure all the doors were locked before going home, a thought came to him. Maybe his focus on individuals needing to repent was misplaced. Maybe Eric and Dominique and Troy didn’t need to change their ways this lent as much as our society as a whole needed to do a searching and fearless moral inventory.

He decided to ask his neighbor Michael what he thought about that when he would see him the next morning.