Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr.’s Apologia For His Life
“So I Stand By The Door”
The Poem, Its Form and Titles and an Historical Commentary
The Reverend Samuel Moor Shoemaker, Jr., S.T.D., DD, is known to a few (far too few) members of Alcoholics Anonymous as a “co-founder” of the Society and the well-spring of its ideas.
To the religious community, to Episcopalians, and to many citizens, Sam was known and applauded as one of the 10 greatest preachers in America (along with Billy Graham, Norman Vincent Peale, and others). From 1925 and for many years thereafter, Sam was Rector of the Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church in New York. Later he was called to be Rector of the Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. Sam took a special interest in Alcoholics Anonymous and become a good friend of co-founder Bill Wilson. In fact, Sam taught Bill Wilson most of the spiritual principles that were incorporated into A.A.’s basic text (Alcoholics Anonymous) and in A.A.’s Twelve Steps. Some 200 phrases in A.A. bear the unmistakable footprints of Sam. And, at one point, Wilson asked Shoemaker to write the Twelve Steps, but Sam declined – saying they should be written by Bill. Nonetheless, the Steps (as is the Big Book) are replete with Shoemaker ideas on how to find God, the “turning point,” the Oxford Group life-changing steps (Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, Continuance), Quiet Time, Spiritual Awakening, prayer, fellowship, conversion and witness, and the need to “pass it on”—a phrase known to all AAs. Years after the founding of A.A. in 1935, Wilson according Shoemaker the singular honor of addressing the A.A. International Conventions in 1955 (St. Louis) and 1960 (Long Beach).
Recently, the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Experiment (which Sam founded) opined to me that Shoemaker’s whole dedication was to opening the door and showing people how to find God. Shoemaker several times wrote articles bearing titles like “How To Find God.”
It is not surprising that Shoemaker penned several versions of a poem which most have titled “So I Stand By The Door.” Actually, at Christmas, 1958, Sam had this poem and many others privately printed by Calvary Church in Pittsburgh. The poem has taken several forms and been known by at least two titles. The first title – apparently the one that Sam himself chose – was “So I Stay Near The Door—An Apologia For My Life.” This is the title used in the pamphlet which I found in the Episcopal Church Archives in Austin, Texas. The poem has been used, modified, reprinted, and retitled elsewhere under the better known name of “So I Stand By The Door.”
The Poem: “So I Stay Near The Door”
[I have received so many inquiries about the poem, its title, its wording, and where to find it, that this rendition is made available for your blessing. Further extensive comments on Sam Shoemaker can be found it my title “New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.”
“I stay near the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world—
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside, and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men.
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it . . .
So I stay near the door.
“The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for men to find that door—the door to God.
The most important thing any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands,
And put it on the latch—the latch that only clicks
And opens to the man’s own touch.
Men die outside that door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter—
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live, on the other side of it—live because they have found it.
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him . . .
So I stay near the door.
“Go in, great saints, go all the way in—
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics—
In a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms,
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in,
Sometimes venture a little farther;
But my place seems closer to the opening . . .
So I stay near the door.
“The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving—preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door,
But would like to run away. So for them, too,
I stay near the door.
“I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not even found the door,
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply, and stay in too long,
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him, and know He is there,
But not so far from men as not to hear them,
And remember they are there too.
Where? Outside the door—
Thousands of them, millions of them.
But—more important for me—
One of them, two of them, ten of them,
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch,
So I shall stay by the door and wait
For those who seek it.
‘I had rather be a door-keeper . . .’
So I stay near the door.”
Epilogue by Dick B.
The poem contains many reminders of the A.A. I found – newcomers crying out for help in finding God. Hesitant, frightened, even reluctant newcomers—coming in and out by the thousands each year. Newcomers who seek a guiding hand—only to hear that “god” can be a light bulb, a radiator, a chair, or “Someone.” Newcomers who can’t find Shoemaker’s “door” because there is no one leading or pointing to the right power—Yahweh, the Creator. Newcomers who—amounting to 50% of those who come in the A.A. door—are out of it within the first year. Back to drinking. Back to drugs. Back to misery. Back to sure and certain death by one means or another if they remain “outside” the real door—the door to the power of God.
How valuable it will be for people to see Shoemaker’s poem today. As we take “God” out of our Pledge of Allegiance. As we take “God” out of our courtrooms. And as AAs are adjured to take “God” out of their belief system with a supposed freedom to choose just “anything at all.”
The A.A. I found, almost twenty years ago, included, among other things, these signposts:
(1) “Remember that we deal with alcohol—cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power—that One is God. May you find Him now!” (“Alcoholics Anonymous,” 4th ed., p. 59; and the first chapter of Shoemaker’s first title, “Realizing Religion,” 1923).
(2) “. . . either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be?” (“Alcoholics Anonymous,” 4th ed., p. 53; and Shoemaker’s title which preceded A.A., “Confident Faith”).
(3) “Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were.” (“Alcoholics Anonymous,” 4th ed., p. 55).
(4) “When we drew near to Him, He disclosed Himself to us!” (“Alcoholics Anonymous,” 4th ed ., p. 57).
(5) “We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” (“Alcoholics Anonymous,” 4th ed., p. 59; and many of Shoemaker’s titles, including his first—“Realizing Religion”).
The early A.A. Pioneers in Akron, Ohio, were not trying to find God. They got their information, their belief system, and their instructions from the Bible. They studied the Bible. And they believed that God is (See Hebrews 11:6). So did I.
Devastated by the ravages of excessive drink, like the Pioneers, I sought to rebuild my relationship with God—to establish daily fellowship with Him (1 John 1). And to seek His protection and care at every turn, mindful that obedience to His will was a vital part of the effort. Like early AAs, I was cured of alcoholism and have not had a drink from the first day in A.A. rooms until present.
For doubters, unbelievers, and those like Bill Wilson—who was an atheist and lacked both a relationship and fellowship with God—A.A.’s basic text was written to show newcomers the steps to take to find God. The very thing Rev. Sam Shoemaker was teaching to his friend Bill Wilson in New York. They told “how it worked!”