The Bar and the Church
The neighborhood bar is possible the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give his church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they don’t usually tell others or even want to.
The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.
With all my heart I believe that Christ wants his church to be unshockable, democratic, permissive- a fellowship where people can come in and say, “I’m sunk!” “I’m beat!” “I’ve had it!” Alcoholics Anonymous has this quality. Our churches often miss it.
Christian Culture Concerning Alcohol
In the excellent book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Brandon J. O’Brien shares a helpful illustration of how different churches deal with alcohol very differently:
When I (Brandon) was growing up, pastors in our Christian tradition preached often on the evils of alcohol. We were frequently reminded—from Scripture—that “wine is a mocker and beer a brawler (Prov 20:1). Thus, we learn, “Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper” (Prov 23:31-32). It seemed clear enough to me.
So when I visited the house of a friend, a Christian of a different denomination who had recently moved to town from another state, I was shocked to discover that his parents had a wine chiller engraved with a different Bible reference: “Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake” (1 Tim 5:23 kjv)! I began to suspect that my tradition’s view of alcohol consumption was at least as cultural as it was biblical when I spent a semester in Edinburgh, Scotland, where I attended a church of my own denomination. My first week in town, I was invited to a deacon’s house for dinner. He offered me a drink when I arrived.
“What do you have?” I asked.
“Anything you want,” he answered. “We have lagers, ales, stouts, pilsners, sherry, whisky, port…”
Taken from Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien Copyright (c) 2012 by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
The Clever Husband
The drunk husband snuck up the stairs quietly. He looked in the bathroom mirror and bandaged the bumps and bruises he’d received in a fight earlier that night. He then proceeded to climb into bed, smiling at the thought that he’d pulled one over on his wife.
When morning came, he opened his eyes and there stood his wife. “You were drunk last night weren’t you!”
“No, honey.” “Well, if you weren’t, then who put all the band-aids on the bathroom mirror?”
Fearing to Want
In her thought-provoking book, Teach us to Want, Jen Pollock Michel describes the tension in listening to our deepest desires: some of them these desires are integral to our identity, but they also can easily be marred by sin:
Brennan Manning was a man ordained into the Franciscan priesthood who struggled with a lifelong addiction to alcohol. He writes in The Ragamuffin Gospel, “Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.” Like Manning, every human is drunk on the wine of paradox and riddled with fear. We each have great capacity for evil and terrific incapacity for good.
These fears can obstruct our will to want. How can we allow ourselves to want, especially when we’re so infinitely adept at sin? How do we ever decide that our desires are anything other than sin-sick expression of our inner corruption? Can we trust our desires if we ourselves can be so untrustworthy?
Taken from Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel Copyright (c) 2014 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Housing the Fullness of God
One of my favorite stories is of John of Kronstadt. He was the Nineteenth Century Russian Orthodox priest at the time when alcohol abuse was rampant. None of the priests ventured out of their churches to help the people. They waited for people to come to them. John, compelled by love, went out into the streets. People said he would lift the hungover, foul-smelling people from the gutter, cradle them in his arms and say to them, “this is beneath your dignity. You were meant to house the fullness of God.”
A Life Changed by a Stolen Gideon Bible
Steve May tells the story of “Dee,” who grew up in east Tennessee in an affluent, but unchurched home. Dee’s time at college involved as much wild living as it did studying, and soon her life became a never ending search for a party.
One weekend, Dee and her friends rented some rooms at a local motel, and set about the usual activities involving drugs and alcohol. On this weekend, the group also devised a contest to see who could steal the most from the room. One of the things Dee stole was the Gideon Bible.
Since they all thought it was funny, Dee won the contest.
Several weeks later, Dee’s life began to fall apart. She discovered she was pregnant. Abortion seemed the only solution, and it was a solution she had used in the past. Her boyfriend left her, and Dee found herself all alone.
One night, in the midst of her fear and uncertainty, in the midst of her crisis, she picked up the Bible she had stolen and began to read.
She flipped the book open to 1 Samuel, and found the story of Hannah, who desperately wanted a child. It was the first time Dee had ever read the Bible, and the words seemed to have a life of their own. In a short time, as she read more of the Bible, and as she found Christians ready to help her, Dee accepted Christ. As the years went by, Dee grew deeper in her walk with Christ, and by the time her child was a teen-ager, both mother and daughter were telling their story to groups all around their community.
It was crisis that brought Dee to a point of searching for answers, and it was the Bible that took her to the only place where she’d find true wisdom. And immediately, that wisdom changed the way Dee lived.
The Perfect Soil for Winemaking
My first call to ministry was in Eastern Washington state. It turned out to be one of the most prolific winemaking regions in the country. One of the things I learned from a local winery was really quite fascinating. But let me back up for just a moment. When it comes to soil for growing things, whether it be flowers or vegetables, trees or shrubs, generally speaking you want a rich, fertile soil. Lots of organic material like compost or manure provide the nutrients necessary for the plants to grow in abundance.
But apparently, with wine it is quite different, if not the opposite, from other plants ideal growing conditions.
The perfect soil for winemaking is actually quite low in nutrients. In our area, there was a vinicultural heritage site, in other words, a place set apart as an ideal location for growing wine. Interestingly enough, it was almost entirely made up of sand, which as any gardener will tell you, is devoid of the kinds of nutrients we would expect to create the perfect grape for wine.
But just as interesting is why wineries prefer soils with such low nutritional value: when this is the case, the majority of the nutrients go, not to the vine, or the leaves, but straight to the grapes. What a great metaphor for our lives.
Sometimes we need to go to desolate places, not the lush, green landscapes of an Eden, but rather, to the wilderness, where there is so little life, where pain and suffering are intrinsic to the experience, in order to really “bear fruit,” if you will allow a little pun. It is often in the wilderness that we learn the most about God, about our own sinfulness and need for repentance.
But it is also out of such a place that the best of us: a newfound humility, a greater capacity for compassion and love. A deeper reliance on the “vine,” that is God’s sustaining us over the comforts of this world can take place. So perhaps, when God plants you in a desert, devoid of most nutrients for healthy production, he is actually doing something spectacular to help you grow a deeper understanding of yourself, and more importantly, a deeper love for Him.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Pushed to the Brink of Destruction
Psychiatrist James Knight describes in graphic detail the experience that members of Alcoholics Anonymous experience:
These persons have had their lives laid bare and pushed to the brink of destruction by alcoholism and its accompanying problems. When these persons arise from the ashes of the hellfire of addictive bondage, they have an understanding, sensitivity, and willingness to enter into and maintain healing encounters with their fellow alcoholics.
In this encounter they cannot and will not permit themselves to forget their brokenness and vulnerability. Their wounds are acknowledged, accepted, and kept visible. Further, their wounds are used to illuminate and stabilize their own lives while they work to bring the healing of sobriety to their alcoholic brothers and sisters, and sometimes to their sons and daughters. The effectiveness of AA’s members in the care and treatment of their fellow alcoholics is one of the great success stories of our time, and graphically illustrates the power of wounds, when used creatively, to lighten the burden of pain and suffering.
A Short History of Alcohol
The use of chemicals to alter thinking and feeling is as old as humanity itself, and alcohol was probably one of the first substances used. Even the earliest historical writings make note of alcohol drinking, and breweries can be traced back some 6,000 years to ancient Egypt and Babylonia. In the Middle Ages, Arab technology introduced distillation—a way to increase the alcohol content in beverages—to Europe. In those times alcohol was believed to remedy practically any disease.
In fact, the Gaelic term whiskey is best translated as “water of life.” These days, beverage alcohol is clearly the drug of choice for much of Western culture, and we need only to look closely at much of the advertising in this country to see that it is still sold as a magic elixir of sorts. We use alcohol to celebrate successes, to mourn failures and losses, and to celebrate holidays of cultural and religious significance. Implicit in these uses are the hope and promise that alcohol will amplify the good times and help us through the bad ones.
The State Trooper with a Sense of Humor
In most of the United States there is a policy of checking on any stalled vehicle on the highway when temperatures drop to single digits or below. About 3 AM one very cold morning, Montana State Trooper Allan Nixon #658 responded to a call there was a car off the shoulder of the road outside Great Falls, Montana.
He located the car, stuck in deep snow and with the engine still running. Pulling in behind the care with his emergency lights on, the trooper walked to the driver’s door to find an older man passed out behind the wheel with a nearly empty vodka bottle on the seat beside him. The driver came awake when the trooper tapped on the window. Seeing the rotating lights in his rearview mirror, and the state trooper standing next to his car, the man panicked. He jerked the gearshift into ‘drive’ and hit the gas.
The car’s speedometer was showing 20-30-40 and then 50 MPH, but it was still stuck in the snow, wheels spinning. Trooper Nixon, having a sense of humor, began running in place next to the speeding (but stationary) car. The driver was totally freaked, thinking the trooper was actually keeping up with him. This goes on for about 30 seconds, then the trooper yelled, “PULL OVER!”
The man nodded, turned his wheel and stopped the engine. Needless to say, the man from North Dakota was arrested and is probably still shaking his head over the state trooper in Montana who could run 50 miles per hour.
Using Alcohol to Cope
As adults, we develop all sorts of coping mechanisms to handle stress. Maybe you like to read a book, meditate, knit, watch TV, or exercise. When I was in New York, I used to go for a long run at the end of the day. Then when I was encouraged to attend all sorts of boozy work events, from happy hours to networking meetings, that healthy habit got replaced by alcohol.
Over time, all my healthy coping mechanisms were replaced with alcohol, and my life was thrown completely out of balance. What I’ve learned is that when we’re tired, stressed out, cranky, or upset, we don’t need alcohol. What we need is to change our emotional state. We need to do something to go from tired to energized, from cranky to happy. And we turn to alcohol.
The World of Wine
The world of wine expertise is a world of its own. The number one wine critic in the world, Robert Parker, insures his nose for $1 million. The world’s biggest auction market for top wines is no longer London or New York City but Hong Kong, where three bottles of wine (1869 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild) recently sold for $230,930, each, and where bottles of Chateau d’Yquem go for $75,000 each. …
Currently the best wine in the world is an 1811 Chateau d’Yquen—a bottle purchased for $120,000 and which the owner claims will be opened and drunk in 2017 (with some foie gras—goose livers—eww!). But the best wine ever made was actually served at a wedding in Cana around 30 CE. And its vintner did not have a great horticultural history.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Alcohol. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!