alcohol - again

I am in the midst of another period of real distress about the prominence which alcohol and its abuse has in our society. The son of close friends had his drink spiked on the weekend. Very scary with complete memory loss for some hours! My son in high-school tells me that a group of his close friends 'got wasted and hooked-up' over a recent weekend. My daughter, starting medical school, goes off for a weekend's orientation and the time just drowns in alcohol.

I am sick of it.

Then there is all the stuff in the news. How many of the saddest stories have the abuse of alcohol as a common denominator? I wrote about this some years ago with mixed results! The blessings of alcohol are grossly overstated just as the curses of alcohol are greatly understated.

Let me start with a story...

I know a young adult who recently went on a weeklong University field trip. It was a typically pathetic and unimaginative group of students who only knew one way to have a good time: consuming alcohol. They got drunk every single night. This young adult chooses not to drink. Oh, the mocking and the scorn that is heaped on! Oh, the sheer disbelief in their faces! "What?! - you don't drink?"

But as the week went on, two things occurred. One was that the mocking gradually turned to intrigue in the face of the person's quiet stedfastness. "Wow - you really don't drink, do you? Why is that?" This person told me that a dozen different conversations opened-up through the course of the week which naturally led to deeper discussions about life and vocation and choices ... and Jesus.

The second thing that happened was that those Christians on the field trip - so committed as they were to being relevant that their opportunity to witness disappeared into the drinking sessions - started emerging to whisper that they were Christians too. They seemed strangely emboldened by this person's stance. Gradually these conversations flowed as well and some real solidarity and community developed that strengthened each other to be distinctive under pressure.

So, what do we have here? Think about it. One person's willingness to have the courage to be distinctive opens up conversations leading both to witness (with those who are not-yet believers) as well as to community (with those who are believers). WOW! I like it, I really like it. Salt and light in exquisite tension and being lived right at a point in our culture that matters.

What am I not saying?
I am not saying that it is impossible to consume alcohol and be effective in mission. No! I am not that stupid. God bless you if this is your conviction. Nor am I even saying that it is some-how 'un-Christian' to consume alcohol (although if you talk to me about water-into-wine again I'll probably go "blah, blah, blah" which is a strange response to make to a gospel text!).

What am I saying?
I remain genuinely surprised that more Christians do not make the same choices as this young person - for the sake of the gospel. I am convinced that part of the reason is a simple failure of courage to stand-out from the crowd as different. I heard an Anglican bishop on BBC's Hard Talk recently state that the church was originally meant to be counter-cultural. Now it is merely ... cultural! We are more concerned about relevance than we are about endurance. I doubt whether the word 'relevance' was ever on the lips of New Testament believers. We are being duped to believe that mission is all salt and all incarnation - and it isn't. It is light. It is attraction.

C'mon everyone - let's raise our glasses to living distinctively with distinction.

nice chatting


[PS - not a bad topic for my 200th post, eh?!]


Jade Stanger said…
First of all congrats on your double century :)

I have not really had a good reason to not drink apart from the cost of it and the potential dangers of the effects e.g. to driving or unwanted behavior (maybe those are good enough reasons not to).

I have enjoyed the freedom of being able to drink if I wanted to for the last 8 years since I turned 18. I was bought up in a non-drinking household. My reaction to this was that I wanted to make my own choice about it and to me a fairly even and balanced choice seemed to be that it was okay to drink in moderation as long as you are not causing others to fall, for example if someone had an issue with alcohol, I think it would be irresponsible to drink around them. Also I would prefer not to drink in front of younger impressionable teens. On the other hand I almost made it a point not to hide that I drank alcohol in front of mature Christians to show that I felt that it was okay to drink alcohol. I felt I was in no way sinning.

So I think that not drinking alcohol altogether is a more of an extreme stance, but the more I dwell on it. But it is a stance I took up at the beginning of this year.

So just a few comments about it:

If people are going to kick up a fuss about you not drinking alcohol then I would suggest that perhaps they are the ones who have a problem with it. Do they need it to have a good time? Are they judgemental to those who don't partake? If so then I think there is a very good case for why you should be different, what a great opportunity to tackle some of these problems people have with alcohol by showing them an alternative.

Also I think it's a great conversation starter-not just about Jesus-perhaps just about right and wrong (can be a controversial topic), perhaps respect for others, perhaps issues with alcohol.

I also think that people who try to be really relevant are sometimes too afraid to be different. I think they underestimate how much people appreciate people who are comfortable in being a little different.

If a conversation starts up I would recommend people are honest about why they do or don't drink without coming across too strong about what others people should be doing. It is important, like in most conversations I think, to allow others to mature in their own understand of the topic rather than trying to force an opinion onto them.

Paul I think you have been very gracious about this topic. I also really respect that you have been honest about having strong feelings about it without trying to impose.

Me personally: I have decided with the encouragement of a friend that there is a real possibility of doing more good by not drinking than by drinking and that is something that is worth considering for passionate followers of Jesus. Some might even want to call it extreme.
Dale Campbell said…
great topic to be discussing!
i'm a youth pastor - nuff said...

Looking back over the last few decades across continents, the tee-totaling 'hands off' movement probably had negative long-term effects, which I think are being (in repeating waves of different sizes) reacted against... the pendulum swings...

I couldn't agree more that so often 'relevance' is the sole driver in young peoples' choices in this area. Relevance should be for a reason, namely to 'win' people (to the jew i become... to the one under the law... etc.); but relevance as an end in and of itself is just immature?

I personally - not flippantly - have adopted a 'modeling responsible use' approach, with the long-term strategy of letting those whom I influence see me demonstrate what it looks like to drink responsibly. Add to this, of course, the necessity of being prepared to abstain if it would cause extreme offense, etc.

Also, I try to employ Paul's language of 'not being mastered by anything' in as many conversations as I can.

I love the thoughts here, though, and just hope for Christians to be intentional about their own decision to (only two options!) either a) drink responsibly or b) not at all.
Anonymous said…
Amen, Amen, Amen Paul!
Paul said…
Thanks Jade and Dale - I find it interesting to hear your thinking processes on this issue. A few more comments from me in response:

(a) The comment about a pendulum-reaction to the tee-totalling movement of the past is interesting... One thing that annoys me is when people think that it is because I am a Baptist that I don't drink. It might be a small part of my heritage - but not a big part of my current decision-making. Plus there aren't many Baptists who don't drink, are there?

(b) I had a friend who kinda discipled me for awhile who pretty much adopted a drink-alcohol stance as part of a mission strategy. Not sure about that?!

I've always loved the story Carl Pilkinton tells in a video-sermon I used for years in my classes. He is a good Kiwi bloke off to the club rooms with his mates after the rugby game for a beer or two. They sit around those circular tables and the jugs are all there. In the sermon, Carl goes from one to the next and the next: "brown, brown, brown, brown ... pink". (Carl had chosen to have a raspberry!). Then came the question that opens a thousand possibilities: "How come you're not drinking, bro?!" Ah, the intrigue that comes with being different - but you need a bit of courage today to do what Carl did.
Mark Maffey said…
In my late teens and early 20's I was known as the Coca Cola Kid by the team mates in both cricket and soccer teams. I would have a "singular' beer with the lads, and then drink Coca-Cola, needless to say I now have a Coca-Cola belly, Oh for Coke Zero in those days.

I found that despite some derision,that over time respect was gained, and that on end of season trips I would have guys known for their sculling ability (beer not rowing)would want to talk to me about how I was able to stop after a drink.

We face a real peer-pressure culture which affects our Youth in a number of ways whether it be fashion, drinking,drugs, sex, being in the in-crowd. Our youth need role-models and the encouragement to make good choices on a daily basis.

The challenge of being light and salt, of standing out, having a differentiation which people are attracted to is a challenge which the Church continues to wrestle with.

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