No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. 1 Timothy 5:23
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise. Proverbs 20:1
Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and all manner of other believers drink alcohol. Of course many choose not to, and some pretend they don’t. But many do. We all know about Jesus turning water into wine.
A couple weeks ago, HH and I went to a Scotch whisky tasting event at one of our favorite restaurants and – seriously – it was as much a cultural event as it was a luncheon with tastes of whisky. I turned to HH at one point and said, “We should lead a clergy trip to the distilleries of Scotland.” #PresbyterianMotherland
I know next to nothing about whisky and had never tasted bourbon until I was elected to an office in the Presbyterian Church USA whose national offices are in Louisville, home of more than ten distilleries. #Kentucky Bourbon
I find these kinds of things (tastings, tours, lectures) about alcohol interesting. One of my favorite books is The History of the World in Six Glasses. And yet, in the back of my head (and not very far back) drinking makes me nervous.
I grew up in a teetotalling nuclear family with a history of alcoholism on every branch of the family tree. I know dozens of clergy who struggle with alcoholism, not to mention devout followers of Christ who self-identify as alcoholics. The majority of congregations seem to have at least one Twelve Step group meeting in their building.
“Problem Drinking” is extremely common.
I saw a tweet recently that said: “In 50 years, drinking will be like smoking is today. We’ll wonder why so many people did it.” And perhaps this comment was made because
- “Excessive drinking (such as binge drinking) increased by 21% during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Scientists) estimated that a one-year increase in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic will result in 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure, and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040″ according to this article by Massachusettes General Hospital (December 2021.)
- 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year.
1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year.
1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.
50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34. Source.
Those of us with mental health challenges can comfort ourselves with either healthy or unhealthy practices. Unhealthy: overdrinking, overusing painkillers, overeating, overworking, overspending. Healthy: Forest bathing, Blue minding, praying, deep breathing, healthy eating, exercising.
Sometimes it’s easier to drink.
One of the trends for the Future Church involves creating authentic community. What’s tricky is that – for generations – we in the institutional Church have considered ourselves friendly and hospitable when the truth is that the Church has historically excluded, shamed, banished, and shunned those who make us uncomfortable. Most people – especially those of no particular faith – do not consider Church to be the place to go for Beloved Community. We can shift that – but only if we see people as God’s children rather than potential members.
We are in a unique position to offer friendship in a world where it’s hard to make friends. We are in a unique position to offer new perspectives for comforting and loving ourselves. But because the world often sees us as judgmental and abusive, it’s going to take some shifts in everything we do and are as Church.
We can start by loving ourselves and others as God loves – with more compassion and less judgment. Not as easy as it sounds. Imagine drinking to remember rather than drinking to forget.