Thursday, July 25, 2013

Revisiting Alcoholism and the Episco-Baptist Tradition

In May of 2012, I attended a workshop in the Diocese of West Texas on the impact of alcohol on families, churches, and clergy life. Shortly after attending that conference, I wrote a post called "Alcoholism and the Episco-Baptist Tradition." In that post, while affirming the goodness of creation and defending the Episcopal teaching of "all things in moderation," I observed that, in and of itself, drinking "is probably a dangerous reason to prefer one denomination to another."

One of the statistics presented at that workshop was that 75% of us in the Church experience the disease of alcoholism and its effects, whether personally or through a close friend or family member. A year and a half later, that number - 75% - still staggers me. 

Today, I came across an equally staggering statistic (from 1995) in Willimon and Naylor's The Abandoned Generation: Rethinking Higher Education: "More than 300,000 of today's 12 million undergraduates will ultimately die from alcohol-related causes - more than the number who will earn MAs and PhDs combined."

More than the number who will earn MAs and PhDs combined?? 

Heart-breaking.

Since transitioning to campus ministry, I have both 1) been keenly tuned in to the role of alcohol on campus, and 2) sometimes struggled to know how to talk about it. This past Pentecost, I preached about alcohol for the first time. I observed in the context of the homily that Scripture gives us theological resources for talking about alcohol as Christians, and that these resources have found physical expression in the appearance of our tradition's chief shepherds, our bishops:
The story of [Pentecost] and [Peter's] sermon is remembered in the physical appearance of our bishops. Our bishops wear purple shirts, rings with purple stones, and other purple things. The color is a particular shade of purple derived from the amethyst stone. Amethyst, from the Greek, meaning “not drunk.” Not drunk being a witness to the Church’s self-understanding: we may look goofy, sure, but it’s not what you think; the Spirit in our lives proclaiming Christ, and him crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles... 
...the not-drunk/amethyst tradition gives Christians something other than old-fashioned moralism to consider in our relationship with alcohol. It’s a theological issue. At stake is the credibility of the Church’s mission and witness, especially when living the life of Christ leaves us, in the eyes of the world, looking foolish. If we are drunk, we lose the opportunity to account for our upside-down lives by proclaiming Christ crucified.
To the extent that alcohol abuse especially afflicts those who "feel they have no incentive to delay gratification because they place so little faith in an uncertain future that has no meaning for them" (Willimon and Naylor, 13), the simple preaching of a meaningful Gospel is a meaningful response to the Gospel. Indeed, a positive articulation of the compelling Gospel we've been given is foundational and essential.

But.

And.

We must connect the dots.

We cannot assume that the meaning of the Gospel obviously speaks on its own to the meaninglessness alcoholism seeks to mask. As a Church, we must risk making this connection explicitly. We've gotta talk about it. On a regular basis. The statistics should encourage us in this regard - what other affliction - short of sin and death, generally - can you talk about on Sunday with complete assurance of its relevance for 75% of the hearers?

More than the number who will earn MAs and PhDs combined?? 

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