Recovering: call to connection can foster a ‘beatitude community’

Aaron White *** ***

Aaron White has spent much of his adult life living and working in the Downtown Eastside. And now he has drawn on his experiences for his brand new book, Recovering: From Brokenness and Addiction to Blessedness and Community (Brazos Press).

He sent me an email which gives a sense of the book’s purpose:

It is an aphorism within recovery communities that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection. In a time of global isolation and pandemic this becomes an even more profound and urgent truth.

And in Vancouver, where we are breaking records for overdose calls and fentanyl deaths, if the church is to respond with love, compassion and truth for our neighbours, it is urgent that we understand this call to connection.

Jesus invites us into the blessing of union with God, and into the blessing of unity with one another, in and through his own life. We were made for this beatitude life, this beatitude community.

What’s more, our neighbours need this kind of community from us as well. This book is an attempt to help the church hear Jesus’ invitation and commission into this blessed way of community and mission.

White is already using profits from the book to help his own community. This Saturday morning (October 17, 10 am – 1 pm) he will take part in a Progressive Book Launch to chat, drink coffee and sell some books. All proceeds will go to the host, Jacob’s Well, a Christian community in the DTES which “seeks mutually transformative friendship with those on the margins of society and equips others to do the same in their own context.”

For years White pastored 604 Community, a Salvation Army church in the Downtown Eastside. Now he is national director of 24-7 Prayer Canada, but still lives in the same community.

The Baker Publishing Group website features some very positive comments about Recovering, including from a couple of local leaders:

Aaron White and his lovely family have been in ministry for many years. I first met them as colleagues in ministry on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. They have lived the contents of this book and continue to do so. Their lives are grace filled, freedom filled, and Spirit filled. As is this book.

Cheryl Bear, Nadleh Whut’en First Nation [she is also an associate professor at Regent College and just joined First United as director of community ministry]

I finished reading Aaron White’s book in the middle of the pandemic of 2020, as the whole world was grappling with a stark expression of how broken our beautiful world is. Recovering gives us a foundation on which to move toward rebuilding our lives.

From his experience living and serving in one of the most desperate neighborhoods in the world, White helps us realize that the root of our addictive and destructive behavior is pain. The only way forward is acknowledging the pain, and the only way to do that is by living in a new kind of community – one that embraces the pain and brings it to the Great Healer.

That new community, White compellingly argues, is the Beatitude Community formed by Jesus’s words of blessing in the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. What an inviting picture of that community White paints! He can paint it because he lives it. I will be rereading this book for a long time – until I finally live it too.”

Darrell Johnson, author of Discipleship on the Edge, Experiencing the Trinity and The Beatitudes: Living in Sync with the Reign of God

Craig O’Brien, pastor of Origin Church at UBC wrote on his blog:

. . . Many of us have been praying through the pandemic, “God I hope we are ok.” In staff meeting a few weeks ago, we explored the observation, “When we get to the other side of the pandemic we may discover that more of us have addictions to something.” The merger between pain and loss, soothing and using, body and soul, exclusion and embrace makes any discussion of addiction seem complicated and at times bewildering.

Aaron’s White’s book Recovering: From Brokenness and Addiction to Blessedness and Community is a timely call to pastors and church members to meet Jesus honestly. We need honesty about ourselves; we need honesty about brokenness and our ragged hallelujahs.

The book is filled with painful realities but always with hope. That’s how the beatitudes work. Jesus’s vision of life in His Kingdom holds together the realities of our brokenness and draws us into His promise of life and wholeness.

Aaron’s book is less a “how-to” and more of an invitation for movement toward each other with Jesus. I will let him summarize, “We are moving either in the direction of addiction and alienation or in the direction of connection with God and community. Relationship is heaven’s answer to the dislocation of addiction, both now and forever.”

I hope you will get a copy and read it with friends.

Jason Byassee

There is one more link to Vancouver. Recovering is part of a series being published by Baker Academic, and the series is being overseen by Vancouver School of Theology professor (and prolific author himself) Jason Byassee.

He wrote in the series preface:

We don’t pastor only during intense times. No one can live at that decibel level all the time. We pastor in the ordinary, the mundane, the beautiful (or depressing!) day-by-day most of the time.

Yet it is striking how often during those everyday moments our talk turns to the transitions of birth, death, illness and the beginning and end of vocation.

Pastors sometimes joke, or lament, that we are only ever called when people want to be ‘hatched, matched or dispatched’ – born or baptized, married or eulogized. But those are moments we share with all humanity, and they are good moments in which to do gospel work. . .

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