To Drink Or Not To Drink

I very recently read a post in which the writer stated his case that a Christian should not drink alcohol.  The writer grudgingly allowed that a Christian could do so, but that because of a host of reasons he or she should not.  I do not subscribe to that point of view, and that has prompted me to write a reply.  It is of course not fair for me to produce my reply without also offering a link to the post which inspired this rebuttal, a post which was very well written even though I disagree with it, but that would require a competency with computers that I simply do not enjoy.  Therefore I am going to present my opinion and my opinion alone.  Reader, please take that into consideration.

Can a Christian drink alcohol?  Of course a Christian can drink alcohol.  I can drink alcohol; this I know, ’cause the Bible tells me so.  Psalm 104 focuses on the things, good things, which God has provided for man’s happiness, which include among many other blessings “…wine which makes man’s heart glad.”  The wedding in Cana was where Jesus produced his first miracle, turning up to 160 gallons of water into wine.  I would love to have been at that party!  On the last night of our Lord’s pre-resurrection life on Earth He shared a meal with His disciples of bread and…wine!  So we can put to rest the idea that a Christian can’t drink alcohol.  We should also put to rest the idea that a Christian who desires to drink alcohol should not at any time do so.

There is no argument that drinking alcohol involves risk.  People who are inclined to drink must weigh the possible negative effects if he or she should abuse alcohol.  But how many other things fall into that category?  I would like to suggest that there are many things that represent a risk to the Christian and his stumbling brother and should be practiced with caution or not at all.  My personal favorite is consumerism, and I want to make it clear before I go on that I am fabulously rich and am not throwing stones which don’t deserve to land on me as well.

A great many Christians like myself live in a good deal more space than we need.  I grew up in a family of four which inhabited a house of less than 1,000 square feet.  I now live in a house of just under 1,500 square feet with only my wife, my children having grown up and moved away.  I have two automobiles, one three years old and one sixteen.  I have all I want to eat and, yes, drink.  I own books, clothes, a computer and many other luxuries.  This I do while the great majority of people on Earth, including Christian brothers and sisters, struggle to stay alive from day to day.  Matthew 19:24 says it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.  I should read that and tremble.  Alcohol presents a risk to the body while consumerism presents a risk to the soul.  Christian, if you are reading this on your personal computer or smart phone you are rich.  Think about that.

And then there is this whole business about causing my brother or sister to stumble.  How many common practices of most American Christians could be described as causing that to happen?  Most Christians eat a lot of sugar and refined and processed food products, and even give them to their friends.  And I mean a lot.  How much obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular disease and blown out knees and other joints is a result of that?  Surely those effects are every bit as deadly as is the abuse – not the use – of alcohol.  The Bible does not say that we cannot eat junk, but Jesus never changed a dinner of cage-free chicken with grilled asparagus and a peach for desert into a plate of chicken nuggets with french fries and a donut.  What the Bible DOES say is that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit so by the ‘Christians shouldn’t drink alcohol’ logic, any Christian who eats the standard American diet and shares that diet with another is causing himself and many brothers and sisters to stumble.

Perhaps a model we should be pursuing of a Christian life is one in which we live simply in a small space, eat simple food such as rice and beans and vegetables, many of which can be grown in our own back yard or in a community garden, with a little animal protein (which I might point out  makes my vegan friends ‘stumble’), travel mostly by public transportation and yet fully pursue our careers so that the excess income can be given away to bless our less fortunate neighbors, Christian or otherwise.  A Christian who engages sacrificially with his or her neighbors and refuses to live a rich man’s life as compared with them is going to present a much sweeter and more winsome representation of Christ to the world than a person living in their 2,000 square foot mansion with all of the material luxuries and goodies and toys, and who refrains from drinking alcohol, but also refrains from getting dirty by mixing with ‘those sort of people’.

In conclusion, I would want to suggest one sure-fire practice which will cause our neighbors, Christian and otherwise, to stumble every time, and that is the practice of creating man-made rules and passing them off as biblically ordained.  We Christians have a long and rich history of engaging with that sin.  European and American missionaries who believed that inhabitants of the rest of the world had to become like Europeans and Americans before they could become Christians is one glaring example of this, and boarding schools for Native American children that were run by Christian denominations were an abomination which only the unbounded grace and mercy of God will cover and make right in the end.  The effort of first century Jewish Christians to make gentiles Jewish before they could become Christian comes immediately to mind, and you know what Paul thought of that.

A skeptical public is not going to be attracted to the church of Jesus Christ in the world by a list of extra biblical man-made rules.  Only a sincere model of a man or woman following in the footsteps of Jesus, rubbing shoulders with the sick and poor and marginalized on Earth and sharing with their want and pain and joy is going to get that job done.  And that, I believe, IS in the Bible.


Who’s holiday is Christmas?

It is a couple of days after halloween in America and that means it’s time for Christmas.  I know we still have Thanksgiving to celebrate between now and December 25 but let us be honest; getting together with family and friends to share a meal and be grateful to Yahweh or Allah or the Great Universal Consciousness or Nobody In Particular for the good things that we enjoy has little to do with the next two months.  Christmas, American Style, is the king of holidays, and since Christmas is such a dominating event in our American calendar I think that it is deserving of a great deal of study and discussion.  More astute observers and writers than I will, no doubt, rise to the occasion, but the marketplace of ideas is open for business and I propose to put my wares up for sale on my own table in the corner.

Christmas is first and foremost a religious holiday, but it is not a Christian one.  We have long been told that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth was piggy-backed onto pagan holidays of Greco-Roman and Germanic origin to facilitate the adoption of Christianity by those pagan peoples, and I will not argue one way or the other on that score.  Jesus may or may not have been born on December 25; it really does not matter to me.  Jesus, the twelve disciples, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and every other giant of the Judeo Christian faith could have been born on December 25 and it would still not be a Christian holiday.  To be sure, Christians place great importance on this holiday, and being a Christian myself I greatly enjoy getting together with friends and family and celebrating the Incarnation with food and drink and fellowship and worship, both private and communal.  But again, that has nothing to do with Christmas in America.

Christmas in America is one of the high points of the religion of consumerism.  I call consumerism a religion because it answers some of the same questions that other religions do:  What is wrong with my life?  What must I do to make it right?  What does the restoration of a perfect world look like?  Most other religions are looked at with suspicion in America and excluded, one way or another, from the Great Conversation which takes place in government, academia, the media and elsewhere.  Consumerism however, because it denies its own existence and camouflages its trappings, is given full rein.  But there is a priesthood and a hierarchy, doctrine and dogma, and there is an inquisition to deal with heresy when it rears its ugly head.  I propose to examine briefly that priesthood, its dogma, and the inquisitorial arm of the faith and show how it is in play at Christmastime in America.

The priesthood of Consumerism may be found in every city and town in America where advertising agencies produce commercials for television, radio, newspapers, mailers and even at movie theaters.  The high priesthood however is found on Madison Avenue in New York City.  There, the high priests are concocting the dogma which will sink into the subconscious of the American public and convince many that Mountain Dew is for the edgy and cool, retirement with golf, horses, beautiful homes and eternal sex lives should be the norm, and that all the girls are crazy about a sharp dressed man.  OK, the latter was a ZZ Top song but it fits very neatly with what I am agruing, as anyone who has seen a particular men’s clothing outfitter’s commercials can verify.  Just as a priest, pastor or imam will instruct his or her congregation that certain life and thought patterns and behaviors are the key to happiness and union with the Greater Good, the high priests of consumerism and their lesser acolytes exist to instruct the American consumer that the want of happiness and fulfillment in their lives stems directly from their failure to purchase the right material products in the proper amount.

And that is certainly the dogma of the Church of Consumerism; your life is wanting because you do not possess the latest electronic devices, or highly-processed snack foods, or razor, or whatever.  Highly seductive visual images connect the purchase of these products with the amorous attention of beautiful women and handsome men, or with a group of these almost impossibly perfect people having a wonderful time on a beach or in a bar or on a city street that could be in your own home town.  These priests have pinpointed and magnified our natural feelings of insecurity and inadequacy and tied the correction of these shortcomings to the purchase of the right products, which just happen to be whatever they are selling.  If the priests do their jobs well the consumer will come to identify the act of buying itself with the act of perfecting their lives.  Then, the idols we serve will have a steady stream of worshippers coming to make their sacrificial offerings, and it only will remain for the idols to divide up the pie.

And is there an inquisition?  You can be absolutely certain that there is indeed and inquisition!  Go to a middle or high school and see what the student who is wearing the wrong shoes or clothing can expect from his or her classmates.  Go to the toney Hamptons or to uber hip Portland Oregon, or super cowboy Texas and see how it plays when you don’t live up to expectations.  Or closer to home, go into a living room on Christmas morning and watch the demeanor of the children who did not get the phone, X box, or clothing that would have lifted them out of the relational doldrums in which they find themselves relative to their peers who’s parents clearly love them more.

Christmas is the time when all of these forces which operate all year particularly come together to create a perfect frenzy that would warm the heart of any priest of Cybele.  Conditioned by the priests and their dogma, wives are looking for material proof of the love of their husbands.  Children are looking for their protector to give them the accoutrements that they need to fit into their society, and husbands are looking for a way to navigate this minefield and come out on the other end financially drained but relationally intact.  And all of this is portrayed as fun and something that you can hardly wait to do again next year.

I admit that I have bowed out of this holiday and no longer pay it any mind.  I am comfortable with sharing my life with my family and friends, and I find it vastly more enjoyable to give gifts to people who really need something than it is to give somebody another sweater which will be forgotten by the time the NCAA Championship football game is played.  Finding people who really need gifts is not at all hard to do if one digs a very little.  There are many people in my community who have little, and people in the world who have nearly nothing.  A goat, a few chickens, or a well of clean water means a great deal more to them than a diamond ring would mean to my wife (which is considerably to her credit).  This Christmas, as I have for many Christmases past, I will worship at a church far removed from the Church of the Holy Consumer.