By Albert Hung
I’ve never really been a drinking man. My parents didn’t keep alcohol in the home, except for a few bottles of whiskey – gifts from visiting relatives – which are probably still gathering dust in the back of some cabinet. My dad would drink a beer at Christmas (just one), get really red in the face, laugh hysterically at his own jokes for about an hour, and then wouldn’t touch another drop for another twelve months. At my 13th birthday party, a friend smuggled in a bottle of vodka he’d stolen from his uncle, and he and a few of the other boys each took a tiny sip under the ping-pong table in our basement. I was too scared to have any. In high school, booze started making a regular appearance at parties (though never at our house after that first incident).
And then came college. Six-packs were replaced by kegs, beer funnels, and Jell-O shooters. I was always the sober one. The prude. The designated driver. Not because I was a Christian – because I wasn’t, not back then. But because I was afraid of what might happen if I got drunk. What if I lost control? What if I ended up puking my guts out, slumped over a dirty toilet seat, like so many of my friends? I guess I lost any remaining interest in alcohol when this girl I thought was cute threw up on me. She wasn’t so cute after that.
As a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene, I’m supposed to abstain from all alcohol. Not because we think it’s a sin to drink or that alcohol is inherently evil (after all, Jesus drank wine and even provided a few barrels at a wedding party). Nazarenes refrain from alcohol because of the damage that can be done through its abuse, both to our bodies and our relationships. In fact, one of the initial reasons for our stance was to display our support for women who were being beaten by their drunk husbands. Our current position reads:
“In light of the Holy Scriptures and human experience concerning the ruinous consequences of the use of alcohol as a beverage, and in light of the findings of medical science regarding the detrimental effect of both alcohol and tobacco to the body and mind, as a community of faith committed to the pursuit of a holy life, our position and practice is abstinence rather than moderation. Holy Scripture teaches that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. With loving regard for ourselves and others, we call our people to total abstinence from all intoxicants.” (Manual of the Church of the Nazarene, Article 34.5).
I have a confession to make. I’m not a very good Nazarene. I’ve had a drink on occasion. I’ll have a beer with my dad at Christmas. A glass of wine on a wedding anniversary date with my wife. But I’ll tell you a secret: deep down, I still get a bit nervous when I drink. Not because I think God disapproves. Not because of any potential backlash from my denominational superiors, or because my congregation would judge me (they wouldn’t). But because I worry that I might accidentally get drunk. That I might lose control. Perhaps say or do something that I’d be embarrassed about later.
I tell you all this because last week, I came across this mind-blowing statement by Frederick Buechner regarding the use of grape juice versus wine for Communion. And it really got me thinking. He writes:
“Unfermented grape juice is a bland and pleasant drink, especially on a warm afternoon mixed half-and-half with ginger ale. It is a ghastly symbol of the life blood of Jesus Christ, especially when served in individual antiseptic, thimble-sized glasses.
Wine is booze, which means it is dangerous and drunk making. It makes the timid brave and the reserved amorous. It loosens the tongue and breaks the ice especially when served in a loving cup. It kills germs. As symbols go, it is a rather splendid one.”
I think it’s high time Christians started getting drunk more often. I’m not referring to getting plastered on the weekend (bad idea). I’m actually not talking about alcohol at all. I don’t plan to change my habits in that regard. I’m not going to start bringing beer to the church potluck. And I’m not going to spike the Communion juice next week.
What I mean is this: life with Jesus should feel a little more like being a wee bit drunk. We ought to live love a little more recklessly, laugh more easily, be the types to walk up to total strangers and start a conversation, talk a little more loudly and excitedly and even foolishly. Shouldn’t the fact that we have a relationship with the living God embolden us? Shouldn’t a life of faith be exhilarating and dangerous? Our God is fierce. Passionate. And… dare I say it? FUN. Heck, when we’re in step with the Holy Spirit, we may just wake up one morning and wonder, “What in the world happened last night? It’s all a bit of a blur.” I mean, come on – weird things happen when people are willing to get a little crazy with God. On the “opening day” of the church, the first Christians acted so strangely that people assumed they were drunk. King David danced in the streets in his underpants, for heaven’s sake.
You know what I think? I think we’re afraid of losing control. Why else would so many Christians live so timidly? Why do I? Do we not trust the Spirit of God to keep us from going over the edge? I’ll tell you something. Maybe it’s just the Spirit talking, but I think I need to get drunk with Jesus, and soon. I need to loosen up. Take more risks. Hang out with the wrong people. Jesus was accused of doing that all the time. I think my fear of losing control has actually impaired my faith. I’m realizing that fear is not just unhealthy, it’s totally unnecessary. If there’s one Person I can trust, it’s God. So here’s to reckless love. Let’s get this party started.