WWJD about the epidemic?

Last night I did something I rarely do – I went to church. Normally it takes a wedding or a funeral to get me to do that. This was something even more profound and beautiful.

I attended the Community Interfaith Healing Service at St. John’s. I counted seven different local religious leaders who spoke to the theme, “Responding to our opiate crisis.” I love that they called it “our.” One of the themes for the evening was that we need to get past the idea that it’s “those people”, because it’s all of us.

I was beyond moved by the story of David and Shelly Yankowski, who lost their 25-year-old son to heroin and fentanyl. Their account of seeking help and finding little or none was a wakeup call.

The church was nearly full (I’d guess around 500 or so people). The best thing about the evening for me, was that I didn’t know most of the people there. I know a lot of people in and around local recovery.

The tides only turn when the community responds, but professionals and laypeople alike are all asking, “What do we do?”

There are countless answers to that question, but to those who have a religious and/or spiritual orientation, I say the answers are simple. You WWJD the hell out of it.

I’m sorry (truly) if that sounds blasphemous to you. I mean it quite literally. I do not happen to believe in hell as an afterlife. I believe it is something that exists in this life. Wherever people suffer alone and without hope, there is hell. My favorite people walk through hell to help their brothers and sisters rise up.

At Easter this year, a meme I love got circulated anew on social media:

“Jesus was a radical, nonviolent, revolutionary who hung around with lepers hookers, and crooks…”

Bruce Campbell aptly pointed out in last night’s service, addicts are the lepers of our time.

As I write this, I have Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” playing in my head. “She said, tell me, are you a Christian, child? And I said, ma’am I am tonight.”

I am a nonreligious, spiritual man who sees the life of Jesus as something to be emulated in whatever small ways we can.

So, What Would Jesus Do?

Jesus would love the addict in the hope of inspiring the addict to love her/himself. He would care for the children of addicts and he would task the community with the responsibility of meeting the basic life needs of all who are sick and suffering.

Jesus would make Narcan widely available.

He’d open the church to the homeless and shut down the political rhetoric of addiction. He’d attend Nar-Anon and Al-Anon meetings. He’d gather heathens like me to support the Bangor Area Recovery Network

Jesus would agree with Johan Hari – addiction is largely a product of not being connected – to family, community, and self. He’d say that addiction is both a medical and spiritual disease.

Jesus would teach us to appreciate, follow, and act upon the example set by the Yankowski’s, who seek to inspire hope and change in the midst of loss. I do not know David and Shelly, but it’s clear that they’re working to spare other families from the overwhelming grief that they have known.

Let’s call last night’s service a great start. Let’s consider real solutions like interfaith communities and grassroots movements. Let’s support the development of local addiction recovery community centers. Let’s get trained in recovery coaching. Let’s give folks second chances in employment and housing.

Let’s keep getting together until we get it right.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.