my first A.A. meeting, I was delighted.
Friendliness, laughter, concern,
suggestions. All came pouring toward
me at the "Wednesday Night
What Itís Like Now" meeting_later
to become my Home Group. At my second
meeting, I made a speech about needing
help with a pending court appearance.
And a non_attorney offered to come
with me; he said he had studied
law in Brazil. By my third meeting,
I was beginning to detox heavily.
Yet I didnít know what detoxing
was, what was happening, or that
I was becoming really sick. They
told me to use orange juice and
honey. I searched high and low for
honey, bought a bag of oranges,
put them in the microwave, and never
saw them again. But I made another
speech. This time, I stood at the
door of the "Friday Nite Beginnersí
Meeting," announced that I
had been very frightened, said I
had seen "God as we understood
Him" on the wall, had prayed
to God as I did understand Him,
and had really found peace, for
that night at least. Unquestionably,
however, I was a little crazy_as
only A.A. newcomers can be. A few
days later, I had three grand mal
seizures at an A.A. meeting. I was
trundled off in an ambulance to
the Emergency Room and then Intensive
Care. In a day or two, I checked
in to a treatment center. But thatís
another story. The point here is
that I stuck, and have stuck, with
A.A. I believed I could and would
receive help because A.A. had seemed
to recommend entrusting my life
to the care of God as I understood
Him. Iíve since found out that thousands
have done the same thing in the
more than sixty_five years since
A.A.ís founding. They, like myself,
have received help. Some are simply
from "untreated alcoholism."
Some say they are "in recovery."
Some of us say we have "recovered,"
Some of us, just as Bill Wilson,
Dr. Bob, and A.A. Number Three (Bill
Dotson) said, say we have been "cured."
Some of us, who are believers, are
very clear that we have been delivered
Was A.A. about God "as we understood
didnít take very long for me to
get an answer to that question.
Of course it wasnít! And how did
I find out. Well, Iíve already covered
the myriad of "higher power"
and "power greater than ourselves"
phrases that were floating around
the rooms and in recent Twelve Step
literature. No rational person could
say these have anything whatever
to do with our Creator. These "powers"
seemed to mean just about anything
to the confused crowd with which
I hung out. Whether my new_found
A.A. friends had been lawyers like
myself, painters like my first sponsor,
warehousemen like his sponsor, teachers
like my room mate, or "consultants"
(a handy A.A. word for unemployed,
devastated, newcomers), all had
different ideas about this "power
greater than themselves."
first sponsor did occasionally talk
about God. His sponsor talked about
a "higher power." My roommate
talked about witchcraft. Others
talked about a "rock,"
a "Big Dipper," and a
"Group of Drunks" as their
higher powers. Some even offered
to "loan" out their own
"higher power" until the
newer person could find his own_which,
they said, could be anything greater
than himself. One authoritative
sounding fellow assured those present
at almost any and every Friday Nite
Beginnersí Meeting, that his "higher
power" was Ralph. Somehow,
I was able to resist buying in to
that one. However, his name for
a god still rings loudly in my ear.
as my increasing period of sobriety
droned forward, and my continued
need for Godís help multiplied by
leaps and bounds, I determined that
there was no common agreement in
the A.A. rooms where I was going
daily. There clearly was no consensus
as to "who" or "what"
this so_called higher power was.
In fact, many an older member has
simply said in my presence that
he couldnít and didnít need to understand
"it." Rather, that he
just needed to keep his "program"
very very simple. All you had to
keep in mind, these members proclaimed,
was:: "Just donít drink. And
go to meetings." I have had
no trouble following that advice
for years. But as one writer said,
"Drinkingís not the problem."
And I realized these keep_it_simple
guys had rarely advanced to any
understanding of God. Certainly
not that they would admit to. Almost
all had not read the Bible, gone
to any church, or developed any
interest whatever in "religion."
They bragged about A.A.ís being
"spiritual, but not religious"
even though few had the slightest
idea what that meant.
Did This Phrase Originate?
wonít quote or cite the circulating
accounts about where this "as
we understood Him" phrase came
from. Many are wrong. Most are conflicting.
In fact, until my research was under
way, I had found no one that even
mentioned the phrase in the same
breath with A.A. The story tellers
had simply ignored the very probable,
real source_the Reverend Samuel
Moor Shoemaker, Jr., Rector of Calvary
Episcopal Church in New York.
had been a vibrant leader of the
Oxford Group in America. He had
long been a friend and supporter
of Oxford Group Founder Frank Buchman.
He even provided housing for the
virtual American headquarters of
the Oxford Group in Calvary House,
next to his Calvary Church. He allowed
Dr. Buchman to live there when he
was in the New York area. And Shoemaker
wrote dozens of Oxford Group books,
pamphlets, and articles until he
split with its founder in 1941.
you can find many words and phrases
in Sam Shoemakerís books that seem
to have been incorporated almost
verbatim in Bill Wilsonís Big Book,
talks, and writings. Bill often
sang the praises of Reverend Shoemaker,
dubbed Sam a "Co_founder"
of A.A., said Sam had been a well_spring
of its ideas, exchanged lots of
correspondence with Sam, and had
him speak at two A.A. International
Conventions. Sam was also invited
to, and did, write several articles
for A.A.ís "house organ,"
the Grapevine. Bill had many a talk
with Sam Shoemaker before he (Bill)
drafted A.A.ís basic text. Bill
submitted a draft manuscript to
Shoemaker for review prior to publication
in 1939. And Bill had asked Sam
Shoemaker to write the Twelve Steps.
However, Shoemaker declined_saying
the Steps should be written by an
alcoholic, namely, Bill.
was the closest thing to a spiritual
mentor that Bill Wilson had, prior
to his completion and publication
of A.A.ís Big Book in the Spring
of 1939. Bill had never belonged
to a church. He had (by his own
acknowledgment) been a "conservative
atheist." Bill has been reported,
by his wife and by A.A.ís first
archivist, to have read practically
no religious literature. Bill himself
said he knew nothing about the Bible
until he moved in with Dr. Bob and
Anne Smith in the summer of 1935_the
period when A.A. was founded and
nightly discussions of its principles
and practices had been conducted
by Bill and Dr. Bob.
foregoing facts about Bill, A.A.,
and Sam Shoemaker can be found specifically
documented in a number of writings.
I have covered them all in my book,
New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam
Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed.
Iíve also covered them in my books
about the Oxford Group and Sam Shoemaker:
The Oxford Group and Alcoholics
Anonymous: A Design for Living That
Works, 2d ed. (http://www.dickb.com/Oxford.shtml)
and Good Morning!: Quiet Time,
Morning Watch, Meditation, and A.A.
Iíve also discussed them in the
Courage to Change (which
I wrote with Bill Pittman) and in
The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics
Anonymous, 2d ed. (http://www.dickb.com/Akron.shtml).
Bill himself discussed most of these
facts. They are recorded, here and
there, in Alcoholics Anonymous
Comes of Age, The Language
of the Heart, Pass It On,
and the Best of the Grapevine
volumes (all being "Conference
Approved"publications of Alcoholics
Anonymous World Services, Inc.).
Examples in Shoemaker Writings of
the "God as we understand Him"
wrote much about the importance
of surrender_surrender to God! Among
his papers at the Episcopal Church
Archives in Austin, Texas, I found
was nothing actually new to be learned
from the experience when related.
"I just gave my life over to
God" or "I surrender to
Christ" (Dick B., New Light
on Alcoholism, 2d ed., p. 92;
Examples of Samís Surrender Language
a man be born again, he cannot see
the kingdom of God. . . . A man
is born again when the control of
his life, its center and its direction
pass from himself to God (Shoemaker,
National Awakening, p. 57).
may say that the whole development
of Christianity in inwardness has
consisted in little more than the
greater and greater emphasis attached
to this crisis of self_surrender
(Shoemaker, Realizing Religion,
is not conversion, we cannot convert
ourselves; but it is the first step
in the process (Shoemaker, Confident
Faith, p. 41).
on the Act of Surrender_a Decision
. . . We must help people to make
an act of self_surrender to Christ,
which renounces all known sins,
accepts Him as Saviour, and begins
Christian life in earnest (Shoemaker,
The Church Alive, p. 41).
went into his room, knelt by his
bed, and gave his life in surrender
to God (Shoemaker, Children of
the Second Birth, p. 175).
surrendered to God her groundless
fears, and with them turned over
her life for His direction (Shoemaker,
Children of the Second Birth,
night I decided to "launch
out into the deep:" and with
the decision to cast my will and
my life on God, there came an indescribable
sense of relief, of burdens dropping
away (Shoemaker, Twice_Born
Ministers, p. 134).
Then, Surrender As Much of Yourself
As You Can
As Much of God As You Understand
they prayed together, opening their
minds to as much of God as he understood.
. . (Shoemaker, Children of the
Second Birth, p. 47, italics
he said that he would "surrender
as much of himself as he could,
to as much of Christ as he understood"
(Shoemaker, Children of the Second
Birth, p. 25, italics added.
See also, and compare "In Memoriam"
Princeton, The Graduate Council,
June 10, 1956, pp. 2_3; and Shoemaker,
How to Become a Christian,
finding of God, moreover, is a progressive
discovery; and there is so much
more for all of us to learn about
him. (Shoemaker, How to Find
God, p. 1).
honestly where you are. Horace Bushnell
once said, "Pray to the dim
God, confessing the dimness for
honestyís sake." I was with
a man who prayed his first real
prayer in these words: "O God,
if there be a God, help me now because
I need it." God sent him help.
He found faith. He found God. .
. God will come through to you and
make Himself known (Shoemaker, How
to Find God, p. 6. See and compare:
Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed., p.
37: "But He has come to all
who have honestly sought Him. When
we drew near to Him. He disclosed
Himself to us!" See also the
Bible book so popular with the pioneers_James:
"Draw nigh to God, and he will
draw nigh to you," James 4:8).
honest person can begin the spiritual
experiment by surrendering "as
much of himself as he can, to as
much of Christ as he understands"
(Shoemaker, Extraordinary Living
for Ordinary Men, p. 76, italics
was no talk at all about surrendering
to as much of Ralph or to as much
of a lightbulb or to as much of
a tree as you understand! A.A.ís
Big Book implored: May you find
God_not just some A.A. group! Groups
are found in meeting schedules,
not the Bible.
Sam in substance: You simply start
where you are in your understanding.
You surrender as much of yourself
as you can. To as much of God as
you understand. Then, added Sam,
God will come through to you, make
Himself known, and enable you to
understand more. You will come to
believe. You will find God, said
Sam. God will make Himself known.
God will not be making known a tree,
a coke bottle, or a radiator. He
will make known Himself_God, our
Ideas and Words in Other Oxford
Foot was one of the most popular
Oxford Group writers of the early
1930's. Foot used a slightly different
form of expression. It presented
the same idea of initial, limited
understanding. It spoke instead
of initial, limited knowledge of
God (surrendering all that you know
of self to all that you know of
God). Footís language was also used
by Dr. Bobís wife Anne Smith in
her journal, and by long_time Oxford
Group activist James D. Newton in
his biographical Uncommon Friends
title. These stalwart Oxford Group
admirers were also readers of, and
thoroughly acquainted with, the
works of Rev. Sam Shoemaker. Respectively,
began for me with a surrender of
all that I know of self to all that
I knew of God (Foot, Life Began
Yesterday, pp. 12_13, italics
added. See also James D. Newton,
Uncommon Friends, p. 154).
you prepared to do his will, let
the cost be what it may? That is
surrender of all one knows of self
to all one knows of God (Foot, Life
Began Yesterday, p. 175, italics
her journal, Dr. Bobís wife Anne
Smith twice wrote the following
idea:] Try to bring a person to
a decision to "surrender as
much of himself as he knows to as
much of God as he knows." Stay
with him until he makes a decision
and says it aloud (Dick B., Anne
Smithís Journal, 3rd ed, pp.
25, 97, italics added; <http://www.dickb.com/annesm.shtml)>.
at What Bill Wilson Said before
the "Atheism" Compromise
he scratched out "God"
in favor of his "as we understood
Him" compromise language, Bill
was telling the story far more differently,
far more accurately, and far more
consistently in terms of what he
had learned from his sponsor Ebby
Thacher, from Anne Smith and her
journal, and from Shoemaker and
Oxford Group writings and talks.
is what my friend [Ebby Thacher]
suggested I do: Turn my face to
God as I understand Him [italics
added] and say to Him with earnestness_complete
honesty and abandon_that I henceforth
place my life at His disposal and
Direction forever (Bill Wilsonís
Original Story, a thirty_four
page document I found at Billís
home at Stepping Stones, p. 30,
Thacher said to Bill:] So, call
on God as you understand God. Try
prayer (W.W., "The Fellowship
of Alcoholics Anonymous,"
Quarterly Journal of Studies on
Alcohol. Yale University, 1945,
p. 463, italics added).
in A.A.ís own basic text, precisely
how he had followed Ebby Thacherís
instructions, Bill wrote:] There
I humbly offered myself to God,
as I then understood Him, to do
with me as He would. I placed myself
unreservedly under His care and
direction (Alcoholics Anonymous,
3rd ed., p. 13, italics added).
did not turn his face to, or call
on, or humbly offer himself to,
a radiator, a tree, a lightbulb,
a Group of Drunks, or any other
blatantly idolatrous symbol. He
turned to God as he (Bill Wilson)
did then and there understand God.
That is a piece of ignored A.A.
history that should be blazoned
on the desk of everyone who tries
to sell snake oil to an unwary A.A.
language very similar to that used
by Sam Shoemaker in his book Confident
Faith, Bill wrote quite eloquently:
we became alcoholics crushed by
a self_imposed crisis we could not
postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly
face the proposition that either
God is everything or else He is
nothing. God either is, or He isnít.
What was our choice to be? (Alcoholics
Anonymous, 3rd ed., p. 53).
See Hebrews 11:6 (. . . for he that
cometh to God must believe that
he is, and that he is a rewarder
of them that diligently seek Him);
and Shoemaker, Confident Faith,
pp. 20_21 (God is, or He isnít.
You leap one way or the other.).
did not assert that a radiator either
is or it isnít. He did not claim
that a lightbulb either is or it
isnít. He didnít declare that Santa
Claus either is or he isnít. Consistent
with the words of Hebrews 11:6 in
the Bible, and the reasoning of
his friend Sam Shoemaker, Bill Wilson
made the very simple and rational
statement that God either is, or
He isnít. Then, following the instructions
of the Oxford Group, Shoemaker,
and his friend Ebby Thacher, Bill
Wilson "surrendered as much
of himself as he understood to as
much of God as he (Bill) then understood."
Start with Shoemaker, the Oxford
Group, and Dr. Bobís Wife
it, folks. The story of how the
"God as we understood Him"
phrase came to be inserted in the
Big Book and Twelve Steps seems
to have been much distorted by the
claim of an A.A. old_timer Jim B.
that he (Jim) was responsible for
this phrase "as we understood
Him." We thoroughly explored
that claim, just as far as we were
able; and we found that Bill Wilson
had never acknowledged Jimís claim.
As we researched Shoemakerís writings,
Oxford Group books, and Anne Smithís
journal, we saw a far different
history that suggested a far different
origin of the phrase. For one thing,
we saw that Jim B. had not been
sober until long after Stephen Foot,
Sam Shoemaker, Jim Newton, and Anne
Smith had tendered the commonly
used expression that you surrender
to as much of God as you understand!
(See Dick B., Turning Point,
Anne Smithís Journal, 3rd
ed., p.26, n.10
You donít start with an avowed atheist
(Jim B.) who apparently was neither
sober nor present when the phrase
"as we understood Him"
was suggested and substituted in
Step Three and Step Eleven. You
start with the Bible students (Sam
Shoemaker and Anne Smith_Dr. Bobís
wife) who were close to Bill Wilson
in the pre_publication years and
who had been expressing, for beginners,
this idea five to ten years before
A.A.ís Big Book was first published.
They had an understanding of God.
They felt others could gain an understanding
and knowledge by starting with whatever
understanding they had at the time
of their "surrender" to
God. Quite clearly, Bill and his
friends were talking about God,
our Creator, Yahweh!