The Original 17 Step Journey: Step 11

With the Rev. Dr. Mel White
"The Journey Gets Dangerous…"

An athletic young woman jogged on a path beside a deep, rushing river. In the stillness she heard a faint cry for help. A young boy was caught in the current and if not rescued, would surely die. The young woman dove into the river, grasped the boy’s shoulders, and pulled him to the shore. She dried him, gave him a drink of water from her Evian bottle and a Power Bar from her fanny pack. A camper who witnessed the rescue built a fire to help warm the shivering child.

Suddenly, our Sheroe heard another cry for help. This time, a young woman was being swept away. To save her, the athlete dove into the icy waters once again. Moments after saving a second victim from the rapids, she heard another cry for help and then another. Fortunately, other hikers and campers had heard the cries and came running. Some joined in the rescue. Others shared their food and water, built fires, or wrapped victims in their own warm coats and blankets.

The river provided endless victims. Before long dozens of brave rescuers were in the water while the river bank was crowded with volunteers building fires, sharing food and blankets, reviving and restoring those who had nearly drowned.

The Journey to Justice Begins…
Gandhi and King insist that "doing justice" happens in two stages (simultaneously):
I. We begin doing justice by helping those who suffer injustice.
II. We continue doing justice by cutting off the suffering at its source.

The story above (at least this first half) illustrates the first Soulforce priority. Picture it. A river filled with people in distress and volunteers at work rescuing, reviving, and renewing the almost drowned. Sound familiar? That’s where ‘doing justice’ begins.

Gandhi says that before we march off to confront our adversary we must help our adversaries’ victims: "…through quiet, solid, substantial work in direct personal service of the victims of injustice, suffering for them, organizing them, educating them in the ways of nonviolence and thus bringing about a peaceful atmosphere of solemn determination.." (1)

I believe that you wouldn’t be on this journey if you weren’t already involved in healing the wounded of our community. I am certain that you are among the most generous donors of time, money, and energy to the "constructive programs" that provide "direct personal service to those who suffer." Here’s a little quiz to help you remember why you’re so tired and broke.

A Quiz for Volunteers*
1. Underline the programs you support.
2. Cross out the programs you don’t support.
3. Estimate your monthly financial donations.
4. Estimate your monthly volunteer hours.

*[Those of us who are concerned about the liberation of sexual minorities must also remember that members of other persecuted and neglected minorities need justice, too. We also help our cause when we volunteer to send money to help the Kosovar refugees, or tutor a child from the ghetto, or paint out swastikas on a vandalized Jewish synagogue, or build a home with Habitat for Humanity, or serve in a soup kitchen, or change bed pans in a hospice, or teach English as a second language, or manage a teen hotline. Wherever you serve, include it on the list below.]

A Constructive Program You Support Mthly Donations Mthly Volunteer Hrs
HIV/AIDS Research & Services    
Breast Cancer Research & Services    
Community Center    
Food or Clothing Bank    
Legal and Financial Aid    
Tutoring and Job Training    
Housing and Emergency Shelter    
Hospice Care    
Hot Line or Counseling Center    
Church, Synagogue, or other Faith Group    
AA or other 12 Step Program    
PFLAG or other Parent/Family/Friend Organization    
Project Ten or other Teen or Youth Based Program    
Other: (Write in a program that you support)    

[NOTE: I’m not including our national, state, and local activist organizations in this list. We’ll remember them in File #12.]

Once Upon A Time (Another Version)
An athletic young woman jogged on a path beside a deep, rushing river. In the stillness she heard a faint cry for help. A young boy was caught in the current and if not rescued, would surely die. The young jogger rushed home, wrote a tax-deductible check to SDS (Save Drowning Boys), and hurried off to brunch.

In the first version, the young woman dives into the water and swims against the current to save others. What has she risked personally? But what has she gained in the process? In this shorter version, the young woman writes a check and hurries off to brunch. What has she risked? What has she lost in the process?


Once Upon A Time (A Version Closer Home)
A closeted gay man feels lonely and afraid. Desperate for support, he sneaks into a UFMCC or a "Welcoming" congregation or a PFLAG chapter or an AA meeting or a Community Center discussion group. He gets help and stays long enough to feel a lot better about himself. He finds a new circle of supportive gay friends. He may even find a partner. Then, he returns to another kind of closet in the suburbs where he and his partner live "happily ever after" reading Architectural Digest, buying antiques, taking cruises, and every 3-4 years joining the March on Washington. At the end of each year, he makes a tax-deductible donation to the "constructive program" of his choice. Occasionally he wonders why he doesn’t feel satisfied. Now and then he even asks himself, "Isn’t life more than this?"

The organizations that rescue, revive, and renew our wounded are desperate for donations and for volunteers. If you are already giving time and money to the cause, how has it benefited your life? If you aren’t giving time and money, ask yourself why?

Forward and Discuss with Your Partner


Gandhi and King have convinced me that our own wounds cannot heal, that we have not realized our own human potential, that we will not be truly liberated until we give our lives (at least in part) to helping others.

In this case "suffering for others" (as Gandhi says) is not an obligation, something we should do out of guilt or gratitude. "Suffering for others" is the path to our own liberation. Giving time, money, and creative energy to the cause, "helping those who suffer" is not an obligation. It is the final step to healing ourselves.

Gandhi suggests these two reasons why we never get around to helping others.
1. Instead of controlling our "passions", we are controlled by them.
2. Instead of limiting our possessions, we "need" more and more and more for ourselves with little left to share with others.

In short, to help those who suffer (and at the same time, to liberate ourselves) Gandhi calls us to these two disciplines:

First, he suggests we learn to control our "passions."
Second, he suggests we learn to limit our possessions.

A personal note…
I don’t pretend to understand, let alone exemplify, these next two disciplines. Gandhi himself was seen as a "fanatic" in his rather puritanical views about sex. Dr. King had struggles of his own. But in the following two Soulforce Credos, Gandhi points us to truths we need to consider seriously. And the more I learn about Gandhi and King from those who knew them best, the more I am convinced that controlling our passions and limiting our possessions are disciplines that lead to our own liberation and to the renewal of society.


  1. I believe that my life itself is a gift from my Creator.
  2. I believe that my Creator means for me to live my life fully.
  3. I believe that I cannot live life fully if I am dominated by my appetite for food, or sex, or alcohol, or drugs, or entertainment, or travel, or position, or power.
  4. I believe that I will live life fully only if I control my passions and allow my best self to be set free to join with my Creator in helping those who suffer.

Share with your Partner on this Journey


  1. I believe that every thing I possess is a gift from my Creator.
  2. I believe that I will find new freedom if I limit my possessions to those things I really need to survive.
  3. I believe that I am just a trustee over all my other possessions.
  4. I believe that my life will be enriched and empowered if I use my other possessions to help those who suffer.

Forward and Discuss with your Partner

Wherever you are on your own journey to soulforce, I am NOT asking you to sign these two powerful credos. But will you join me in considering them…daily? You might even print them and keep them around to help you remember.
Love to you all,

(1) Gandhi in "Harijan," May 18, 1940, p 129 quoted in The Political Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, by Gopinath Dhawan, Navajivan Publishing House, 1946, p 191.

Have you rented the video ROMERO yet? This true story of the life and death of the Archbishop of El Salvador is a MUST SEE.If you can’t find ROMERO, rent or borrow THE MISSION (with Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons)! These are both dramatic explorations of Soulforce at work. Viewing them will inspire and inform your own personal journey.Remember, call you Public Library before renting either video. You might find them there.

NEXT: Step 12

Mel White and Gary Nixon, Partners in Soulforce, Inc.
P.O. Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA. 92652.
Fax: (949) 455-0959