“Of Mice and Men”…and Addictions and Community

A recurring theme in my life and ministry through the years is the ways that community can be and is a “means of Grace” – a channel of the Divine’s saving me.  

Coming along to confirm – if not amend and expand – this notion was a TED Talk which Rev. Jennifer Webber introduced me to a few weeks ago.  (Jennifer is Lead Pastor of the Bryan Community Church, a United Methodist new church start, here in Bryan, Texas.) 

In “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong,” British author and journalist, Johann Hari, shares some rather startling research and realities related to the transformative power of genuine community.

To engage the full [15-minute] video, click on the image, above.
To engage/download a fuller detailing of Hari’s presentation, click here.

In a nutshell, Hari’s “argument” is this: experiments – with both rats and humans – demonstrate that meaningful connection in community trumps the bio-chemical “hooks” to which we usually assign so much power in discussions of dependency and addiction.

    • In one set of laboratory experiments, rats where observed and tracked in two settings: solitary confinement versus communal confinement.  (Both settings provided equal access to clean water and drug-laced water.) Overdose rates dropped from almost 100 percent [in solitary conditions] to zero percent in the “happy and connected” environments.
    • In a social experiment that has played out in Portugal over the last 15 years (where all drugs have been decriminalized and freed up resources have been diverted to rehab, counseling, employment initiatives, and efforts to reintegrate the addicted into community), the results are striking:

injecting drug use is down by 50 percent,

overdoses are massively down,

HIV is massively down among addicts, and

addiction in every study is significantly down.

“One of the ways you know it’s worked so well,” Hari notes, “is that almost nobody in Portugal wants  to go back to the old system.”

To be sure, I have my reservations.  A few studies do not make for a radical dismantling of the system.  Moreover, there are deep seated impressions I hold about addiction.  Having read on the topic and having visited with addicts across the years, I still believe in a hereditary basis – physiological predispositions — to addictive behaviors.  At this point, the last thing I want to suggest is anything that approaches (or might even have an air of suggesting) that “it’s okay to eat, drink, and be merry” – so long as we do it in community or with a sense of purpose!

Still, Hari’s presentation is most provocative and compelling: that authentic community  – connecting in genuine and meaningful ways (and here, he will point out that social media and texting does not count!) – is a clear channel of healing and salvation.  Community is a means of Grace!  

It certainly screams for a fuller hearing, further investigation, and deeper consideration.

In some ways, in fact, it argues against some of the things that I’ve taught and preached through the years.  In the past, you see, I have clarified that “my being in community is not a condition for our salvation as much as it is an expression of that salvation.”  (Here, I admit, my Protestant stripes shine though: “Salvation is by faith alone… in Christ alone!”)

But, here, now, on this side of engaging Hari’s talk, I have to wonder.  Maybe community is more than just a place where I express my salvation.  Maybe there’s a way that community connects me — connects us — with the Christ of salvation.  For who would deny that there — in the place where I discover and embrace real love and acceptance in life…  That, there, in that place, I am encountering and accepting Christ into my life.

And here, I will give Johann the last word:

I think the core of that message — you’re not alone, we love you — has to be at every level of how we respond to addicts,  socially, politically and individually. For 100 years now, we’ve been singing war songs about addicts when, all along, we should have been singing love songs to them. [Why?] Because the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.

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