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 May 28, 2009

 

 

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A.A. Tributes

The Rev. Sam Shoemaker
and sharing experience: news, not views.


        Bill Wilson obtained lots of A.A. ideas directly from Sam Shoemaker. Some he got indirectly. But there was one message which came to Bill loud and clear and which he repeated in one way or another in every edition of the Big Book.

        (a). On pages 20-21 of the First Edition of the Big Book, Bill was speaking of the visit to him by his old friend, Ebby Thacher. Ebby had said to Bill: "I've got religion." Bill was musing about his own beliefs, about Christians, and about the futility of the religions of manking. Then he commented: "But my friend [Ebby Thacher] sat before me, and he made the point blank declaration that God had done for him what he could not do for himself."

        A few sentences later, Bill said: "That floored me. It began looking as though religious people were right after all."

        Then Bill went to the Calvary Church Rescue Mission. He made his decision for Christ. He staggered into Towns Hospital drunk. And the rest is history, "hot flash" and all. Bill then went on to establish a close relationship with The Reverend Sam Shoemaker, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church. And Bill began to hear what Ebby had heard.

        (b). In 1932, as exemplified in The Conversion of The Church, Shoemaker had written and was teaching:

". . . the great service, the service which exceeds all other services, is the impartation of transforming spiritual experience" (p. 23).

"What really gets people at the outset? Only one thing--experience told with humour and enthusiasm. The ordinary process of friendship must build sufficient confidence first, but the first gun to fire is a piece of news. It will probably be the story of your own experience of Christ as you feel guided to tell it, adapted all the while to the sort of person you are talking to. It might be the story of someone else whose situation is more nearly parallel than your own. The Gospel was originally "news, not views" (p. 73; See also DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 55).

        (c) In National Awakening, Shoemaker repeated an old theme: "One argument in religion is about as good as another; but an experience beats any argument. Men run from your arguments about God, they will not listen to your elaborate explanations; but when you tell them what life was without God, then tell them what it is with Him, their hearts, as John Wesley said, are "strangely warmed," and their minds also are strangely persuaded"(p. 28).

"Then Jesus gave them His answer to John [the Baptist, who was asking who Jesus was]. He [Jesus] mentioned no passport from Beyond, quoted no word of Scripture about the Messiah, and pointed no finger at John's uncertainty, for it was sincere. He just gathered up in a cascade of living words the living deeds He and they had been seeing, and said:

        Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them (Matthew 11:4-5]

It [said Shoemaker] was proof by evidence. They had seen these people for themselves (pp. 28-29).

        (d). New to the Shoemaker circle though he was, Ebby had learned his lesson well. He didn't preach to Bill. He showed up sober. Bill was drunk and miserable. Ebby showed himself, said "I've got religion," presented no rebuttal to Bill's arguments, and conlcuded with "God has done for me what I could not do for myself."

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