Magazine article Anglican Journal

Twelve-Step Mantra a Product of Its Times

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Twelve-Step Mantra a Product of Its Times

Article excerpt

THE SERENITY PRAYER by Elisabeth Sifton W.W. Norton & Co. 367 pages, $37.50

FROM THE beginning there has been a tension the Christian family between those who struggle with the dynamics of applying their faith within the rigorous exigencies of daily life and those who would seem to ghettoize their faith in spiritual fantasies to escape the struggle. The bottom line here is that the realities of daily life, in times of war or peace, are complex and difficult, and probably never was this more evident than during the 20th century. It was a period when individuals and whole societies were called to engage in horrors that challenged both individual Christian conscience and everything that Christianity as a religion stands for.

That is why Elisabeth Sifton has done a great service in The Serenity Prayer by publishing a memoir of growing up in the family of her father Reinhold Niebuhr, a leading North American liberal theologian in a tumultuous century. In 1943 during the Second World War he wrote what has become known as The Serenity Prayer. Ms. Sifton's purpose is to tell the story behind the prayer and to counteract the many fictions about its source that have been contrived over the years.

Simply written and with a depth of meaning, it is not difficult to understand its wide appeal: "God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other." First published in a book of prayers used by U.S. Army chaplains it became known as The Serenity Prayer when it was adopted as a mantra of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Reinhold Niebuhr was born into a German-American family in Missouri, son of a pastor in the Evangelical Synod, in which he also became a pastor. After serving congregations for 15 years in Illinois and Michigan, embracing what he saw as the social imperatives of the gospel, he took up a post at Union Theological Seminary in New York where he influenced more than a generation of students to engage realistically in the world's affairs in their witness to the gospel.

He was a champion for all those who suffered from the effects of racism, anti-Semitism and unfair labour laws and he argued and worked for principled and transparent involvements in international affairs. …

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