A Big Book Seminar
What It Did and What It Still Can Do
Copyright 2012 Anonymous. All rights reserved
My Joe and Charlie Sacramento Beginning
There was a guy named Tony who showed up at all the Beginner’s Meetings on Friday in Larkspur. He was one of the first to hand me his card and phone number when I came in. He sponsored a number of my newcomer friends, and he always had them sitting in the front row with Big Books open throughout the meeting. They were serious. They were sober. And they stayed sober and began sponsoring others. One of those great examples I had at the beginning.
But then there was the matter of the Big Book:
Tony always had his sponsees come to his home on Sunday and read the Big Book with him. Neither my sponsor nor his sponsor ever even offered to do that. Tony knew how to take people through the Twelve Steps, and you could tell it from the relevant points they shared. My sponsor and his sponsor never explained to me once how to take the Steps. And I went to Big Book study after Big Book study meeting, and Step meeting after Step meeting, and—with my fuzzy brain and confused thinking, I was a poor example of how the learn and apply the solution of A.A.
One evening, Tony came to the Beginner’s Meeting. He announced that there was a Big Book Seminar in Sacramento; and he said this seminar was a “must” for those who wanted to learn the program of recovery. I went. I sat in front. My book was open. I heard Frank Mauser, archivist from General Services in New York give an hour talk on A.A. history. And then I followed Joe McQuany and Charlie Parmley line by line through the Big Book. And the light went on.
In fact, as the years rolled on, I insisted that each of my sponsees go to Sacramento in September and attend the Big Book Seminar. Usually there were about 800 in attendance. As I did with every function involving my sponsees and meetings, I was always there, and they were staying in a motel with me throughout the sessions. The same was true for Tony and his ever-flowing tide of eager newcomers.
What Came of It?
I learned what to look for in the “problem,” in the “solution,” and in the “practical program of action” that in all made up the program of recovery through the Steps. So did the men I sponsored. And they passed on to their newcomers the same information. I might add that neither my own sponsor nor his sponsor ever attended these events.
I became a good friend of the GSO archivist Frank Mauser. He introduced me to Joe and Charlie. I became good friends with all three and actually met with Joe in Little Rock twice and at Founders Day once where we discussed the history, the Big Book, the Steps, God, the Bible, prayer, and recovery. Later, Frank said he could no longer do the history segment and suggested that I take over his slot at the seminars—something that never happened because the “voice” of the Seminar” decided he wanted the task. However, I was hot on the history trail by then. Frank invited me to stay in his apartment while I was meeting Nell Wing, researching at World Services headquarters, and going up to Bedford Hills to research at Stepping Stones. Frank facilitated it all. Nell Wing was very helpful. And Frank even put me in touch with Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, with whom I met. And he suggested T. Willard Hunter as a speaker and as a friend of A.A. thoroughly knowledgeable of A.A.’s Oxford Group roots.
What’s The Important Lesson?
At this point, my four friends are dead. I believe Frank died first. Then Nell. Then Joe. And finally Charlie. But in my own life, all four had sown the seeds that produced a deep conviction that there were at least three deep holes in A.A. as I inherited its benefactions on April 23, 1986.
The first hole was the need for those who were not merely serious about permanent sobriety, but also realized that the Big Book suggested much more: (a) The need to “find” God. (b) The need to establish a relationship with God. (c) The need to see what Bill and Bob saw in the book they authorized in 1939—the need for a “spiritual experience” that would enable permanent cure and a live of service to God and those about us. This could not be done without a good teacher or teachers with clear minds who—like Joe and Charlie—had thoroughly studied the Big Book, achieved long term sobriety, and had the clarity of mind to teach others with laughter, sincerity, and effectiveness.
The second hole was one that both Joe and Charlie—as well as Frank Mauser and Nell Wing—urged me to pursue and encouraged me by their help and suggestions. That hole was the huge gap in the history of A.A. and the sources and application of its biblical roots.
The third hole was the greatest and most overlooked. Nobody seemed to have spent any significant time finding out where the biblical and other Christian ideas so prominent in early A.A. had come from. They never talked about: (1) The great Christian evangelists like Moody, Meyer, Sankey, and Billy Sunday. (2) The important conversions and revivals conducted by lay brethren of the Young Men’s Christian Association. (3) The key elements of the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior by those derelicts and drunks – like Ebby Thacher and Bill Wilson—who had gone to the altar and been born again. (4) The unique exemplary techniques of the early Salvation Army workers in the slums of London and then America. (5) The program of the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor—whose principles and practices became those of the early Akron A.A. program. Nor had anyone devoted time to seeing how the foregoing Christian organizations and people—plus the Christian churches, Sunday schools, parental influences, prayer meetings, Bible studies, daily chapel, and the Young Men’s Christian Association as well as the revivals had impacted on the Christian upbringing of Dr. Bob. Finally nobody seemed to pick up on the fact that the first three AAs—Wilson, Smith, and Bill Dotson—all believed in God, had accepted Christ, had studied the Bible, had turned to God for help, had immediately learned to get busy helping others, and who never, ever drank again. All this before there was a Big Book. Before there were Twelve Steps or Twelve Traditions, Before there were drunkalogs. And before there were meetings of the kind that exist today.
What’s the Future for the Big Book, the History, and the Bible in Recovery?
It is fair to say that every alcoholic or addict (and Bill W. and Dr. Bob were both alcoholics and addicts) needs permanently to quit pursuing and trying to control alcohol and drug use. Forever! With a sane mind restored, why would they want them or the disasters they bring. They don’t need them. They don’t need the misery created for themselves and others through the excessive use of them. And their lives, entrusted to and guided by the power, love, forgiveness and deliverance of God and His Son Jesus Christ, hold promise of an abundant life and an everlasting life. That’s the starting point – going to any lengths to overcome the alcoholism and addiction.
The Big Book is filled with biblical references that most AAs would never recognize. It is filled with language that encourages reliance on God, prayer, study, and helping others. To stand on sound ground, the oldtimers need to learn and teach that language. And the newcomers need to hear it repeated, learn it, and act on it. Without that foundation, the retreat to “acceptance,” “spirituality,” nonsense gods, and even not-god-ness. They just don’t know their own Big Book.
The history? Few realize what a devilish battering ram has been propelled at alcoholics. It is pushed by a wide and diverse group of enemies. Christians who think that A.A. is not of the Lord. Who think you will go to hell if you enter an A.A. meeting. And who condemn any Christian who dares set foot in a room peopled with atheists, unbelievers, those with other religious or no religious beliefs. No matter that this diverse group of suffering people need help and, at the beginning, gladly receive it whether tendered by Christians or former derelicts.
The anti-AA hostility is pushed by those who try to paint the fellowship as ungodly, unchristian, and unworthy because of the sins of its cofounders and others. The anti—AA hostility today is motivated by men and women of science, of proponents of First Amendment prohibitions, of psychiatric and pharmaceutical approaches, and by “rational” recovery—recovery without God.
Then there are the AAs themselves who cry out against the mention of God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and of some denominational belief.
The Bible? People just don’t know the biblical practices that have helped suffering people for centuries, that were employed by Christians in the 1800’s, and that were commonplace in the early A.A. fellowship
The Future and The Hope Can Be Embellished by Big Book Seminars
As stated, Joe and Charlie were teachers. Frank Mauser, the archivist, was both historian and teacher. Joe and Charlie insisted on line by line study. They salted it with humor and sagacity.
They had done their homework and preparation. They had long-term sobriety. And they loved A.A. and its program of recovery. Their talk exuded confidence in the subject matter.
Today, there are a host of Big Book studies, groups, and seminars. I receive their literature, their email notices, and their website materials with great frequency.
Are they valuable?
They, of course, are no better than the wisdom, teaching ability, experience, and attention to detail of those who conduct them. Like A.A. itself, they are becoming more and more available.
And, even if badly organized, presented, or taught, they at least get newcomer and oldtimer alike to put his eyes on the Big Book, use his growing return of mental capacity, and distinguish between the sluggard and the grey beard. If it’s bad, he can vote with his feet. If it’s fair, he can improve it. If it’s good, he can foster attendance at it.
Is there a future? Yes. I needed help in the 1980’s, and I sure got it at the Big Book Seminars conducted by the two drunks from the State of Arkansas. God Bless them. And God bless those who try to emulate their achievements, perhaps even improve on them, today.