A.A. Sketches on Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. (Cofounder of A.A.)
This year (2010) is a year to learn about Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York, a personal friend of Bill Wilson, a well-spring of A.A. ideas, and a cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Shoemaker has been honored in the Episcopal Church itself; and two events are planned or have already been conducted, at the two major churches where Sam was the rector—Calvary Episcopal Church in New York, and Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh.
And now, what about Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr.? Where did his A.A. role begin? What did his activity do to further the role that God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible played in the origins, founding, program, Big Book and Twelve Steps, and A.A. fellowship itself?
We will take these Shoemaker items—piece by piece. And you can find specific documentation in my book New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., Pittsburgh ed. (www.dickb.com/newligh.shtml); in Sam’s many books and articles; and in my own extensive articles on the web that deal with Sam.
An Outline of Some Major Shoemaker/A.A. Facts
We start with Shoemaker’s first significant book, Realizing Religion, published in 1923:
Some chapter snippets: (1) The spiritual malady—Separation from God; The solution—You need to find God, You need a vital religious experience. You need Jesus Christ. (2) The Fact of Sin—“not a monster to be mused on, but a weakness to be gotten rid of.” It has “binding power, blinding power, multiplying power, deadening power.” “Repentance is to leave. The sin we loved before. And show that we in earnest grieve. By doing it no more.” “To realize the meaning of sin in feeling and in thought is not the mark of a sick soul, but rather the sign of return to spiritual health.” (3) Conversion—“a breach, a breaking off, a turning, a change?” “Now the ability to change people is the unique possession of religion.” “We must want it with all our hearts and put ourselves in the way of it. God on His part has longed to win us for years. It is we who have been unwilling. We must open ourselves to Him, and be prepared to accept all that it will mean to be a child of God.” “Best expressed in the old idea of self-surrender to God.” “Self-surrender has always been and always must be regarded as the vital turning point of the religious life.” “You and God are reconciled the moment you surrender. You know it. The shackles fall away. Self recedes, God looms up. Self-will seems the blackest sin of all, rebellion against God the only hell.” “The impartation of Himself to us is God’s part in conversion.” “Our part is to ask, to seek, to knock. His part is to answer, to come, to open.” “I realized suddenly that I might be a disciple, as really as the Twelve had been; even now that Christ as the Master, the Spirit of His mastership, still lives on earth, and Him I can follow today and here!”
Other chapters: (4) The Way Jesus Christ helps—“The Cross is the outcome of His deepest mind, of His prayer life. It is more like Him than anything else He ever did. It has in it more of Him. Whatever He was, whoever He is, whatever our Christology, one fact stands out. It was His love of men and women and His faith in God that took Him there.” (5) What Religion ought to do for us—“So if, after a conversion, your religion drives you to do something out of the ordinary, different from the usual run of Christians, take it as an earnest that something real has happened.” “The great achievement of Christ is that henceforth religion by itself is imperfect. Its end is the blessing and the redemption-- moral, social, and physical—of humanity. It is this which makes the Christian religion and new and at the same time a unique religion.” “Oh for a few more to take the Gospel literally! Must Christianity, as Jesus lived it, remain forever revolutionary and a dream? Must it always be that a man who takes it seriously and follows it be called a fanatic?” (6) Driving Power for the New Life—“We have had altogether too much indefinite exhortation to pray and read our Bibles, and too little definite information as to how to do either.” “The Church is the family of God’s children. Here, under the leadership of men trained for this service, we are led in our devotions, and instructed in our practice of the spiritual life.” (7) Wanted—Witnesses—“People do not so much listen to sermons: they listen to men, and a man on the level with them has a better chance than one in the pulpit.” “Christianity is running at second speed when it is not a positive evangelizing force, in a land or in a life.” “There is no more delicate business in the world than relating human lives to God.” “This word needs preparation. And the first thing is this: “Create in me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right sp;irit within me. . . . Then will I teach transgressors thy ways and sinners shall be converted unto thee.” “And how do you do it? It may help to keep our object in view if we choose five words which will cover the usual stages of development: Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, Conservation.
The second stage follows this quite naturally. . . . I have found a way to draw confession from others. It is to confess first myself.” “By ‘conviction’ two things are meant: conviction first of sin, and then a growing assurance that Christ can meet the need.” “Lastly, they want means to live this life of grace. Too much stress cannot be laid on private prayer and Bible study, and public uniting with the church. And there is no more empowering habit in the lives of those who seek to live the Christ-life than this “fishing for men,” as Jesus called it.”
If you are wondering what Bill Wilson and his friend Ebby Thacher heard or learned from Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., stay tuned for more. And you will soon see why Bill Wilson asked Sam to write the Twelve Steps, and why he declared years later that the substance of Steps Three through Twelve came directly from the teachings of Reverend Sam Shoemaker. Also that Sam was the well-spring from which all the ideas flowed.
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