Sunday, November 26, 2006

have a drink? yeah right!

Help me out here. This is a serious question.

"What is one single redeeming feature of alcohol consumption?"

Here is how I see it...
The downsides of alcohol consumption are understated. Just scratch the bad stories in the newspaper and the neighborhood a little. Again and again and again the worst evils in our society have been facilitated by alcohol. If alcohol was not present they would not have happened. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear... it is staggering just how often alcohol abuse is the lubricant for the worst of evils.

The upsides of alcohol consumption are overstated. Just as it is associated with so much that it is evil it is also associated with so much that is shallow. When it is impossible to have a good time with your mates without alcohol there is a problem with imagination. When it is impossible to be funny without alluding to (or drinking) alcohol - and sex - there is a problem with imagination. If alcohol-enabled Happy Hour is as deep as we can reach with relationships then we have a problem.

Now I am not so stupid as to say that alcohol consumption is inherently wrong. Nor am I going to be so silly as to say that a follower of Jesus shouldn't drink alcohol.

But while on the subject of Jesus-following let me remind you that Jesus calls such people to live in the salt:light tension. Mixing-in but also being distinctive. We are in an era of Christian life where people are pigging out on being salt. They mix in well. In fact study after study shows that there is no discernible difference between the life of those who follow Jesus and those who do not. That is a scandal. We live at a time when there is a failure of courage in the lives of Jesus-followers. They prefer to blend rather than stand apart. We have lost sight of what being counter-cultural looks like.

Now I know being counter-cultural can occur in many ways. But for me... Because the downsides of alcohol consumption are left so understated and because the upsides are left so overstated and because we are called to be distinctive and 'to live as children of light', I have made a calculated decision with my own Jesus-following. I won't drink alcohol. I'll stop short of saying others should do the same - but it does surprise me just how few people come to this same conclusion.

Go on - convince me otherwise!

nice chatting

Paul

26 comments:

onscreen said...

Isn't a little Red Wine supposed to be good for the heart? Or is that just an overstated urban legend?

Anonymous said...

I'm not really sure anyone should need to convince you otherwise.

I guess for me the only redeeming feature of alcoholic beverages is the taste. A cold beer on a hot day (especially if the day has involved hard physical labour of some type) is pretty hard to beat.

That being said, as the partaker of the odd beer or glass of wine with a meal I decided to just substitute water for a few weeks in any circumstances in which I might normally have had a drink - just to see if it would make any difference. The answer: it made no difference. Water is probably better for you as well I'm guessing.....not as many calories.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul, not sure if you remember me, i'm Elliot from AUTCF, met you a coupla times at the TSCF conference in july and at the Party to Remember at Carey. Found the link to your blog, hope you don't mind.

My thoughts on the subject: Coming from an Asian background, beer drinking really is quite alien to both my culture and tastebuds. However, over the past 2 years, i've made an effort to actually drink the stuff and appreciate it because its one of the few things that's common ground between myself and your normal AUT student/ army dude(did my national service before coming here). I've found it hard over the past year at uni to make the connection with my uni mates (especially being foreign and christian!) - and sometimes i'm thankful to be able to say to someone "let's go to the bar for a drink" - otherwise there wouldn't be that opportunity to build bridges for the Gospel. Getting drunk, fortunately, hasn't been a problem as i don't like the stuff enough to drink too much of it. :)

May God be glorified in our decisions! :)

Lawz said...

I completely agree with all that you have said Paul.

Isn't it hard enough battling against the desires of this world and all its temptations when we are fully capacitated? With alcohol affecting our ability to think, make decisions - how easy is it to let our guard down and fall into the trap?

Maybe this is an extreme point of view, but I know for myself I need to stay well clear from this slippery slope, and don't drink alcohol full stop.

(Disclaimer: I do not have anything against those who do decide to drink alcohol!)

Paul Windsor said...

Let me jump in with a few responses (people tell me I am too slow to do this - but it is because I like giving others a chance to engage...)

I think Red Wine is meant to be good for the stomach - but then only ever adminstered externally with a little massage, rather than internally as a drink. (that is a joke, by the way!)

I understand where Tim and Elliot are coming from. I'll be slow to be critical ... although with Elliot (and I do remember you very well!), can I push back a bit?
I'd still like to know why alcohol-consumption cannot be an area of living differently WITHOUT the loss of 'connection'.
I think of my friend Carl. In his rugby-playing days he'd always go down to the pub for the 'after-match' with his mates. But he always had a raspberry instead of a beer. And his testimony is that such a decision increased the opportunities for meaningful engagement with his friends. The intrigue provoked their response. I think he was living the classic salt-light tension. Involved and participating (oh yes - he is down at the pub - being SALT), but he is doing it in a distinctive and different way (being LIGHT). I find his little story inspiring - and courageous.
I always find it awkward being the only one not drinking. But I'd like to think the awkwardness is strengthening my character as I am prepared to go against-the-flow in this small way... maybe it help me go against-the-flow in some bigger way one day.

Matt said...

I have recently encountered this debate as my organisation has enforced an alcohol ban for staff functions on the premises.
As this was debated it became clear that within this Christian community there were drinkers and non-drinkers and each was comfortable with their decision to either drink or not drink from a Christian perspective.

What surprised me was the reaction of a few who were offended that, in their words, "the organisation did not trust them to drink responsibly" and this was the reason for its enforcement of the ban.

When challenged about how other members of the organisation would be equally offended if the ban was lifted these people, I believe, showed blatant dissregard for the following verse where we are called to look out for our fellow believers even if it means we have to make some personal sacrifice.

Rom 14:1-5 (NIV) "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.... Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind."

I think the key here is "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." As a teenager I refused to drink because I was salt in a youth culture of drinking. Now though, I find myself less salty so find that I can have the odd beer without it effecting my witness or distinctiveness to/in the world. I will adjust my consumption of alcohol to meet my environment but in reverse of the norm.

In summary I would say that rather than a blanket "don't drink" policy, I think that it should be "each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" and everything that fully convinced - standing before God, should entail.

Anonymous said...

That's cool - thanks for that Paul. I appreciate what you're saying, and i find what Matt is saying helpful. What's your take on that?

Do you think we might have a tendency to be legalistic about the alcohol thing? If Christians can be responsible drinkers, then perhaps to be overly pious about not drinking might be unhelpful to non-Christians, who find Christianity quite inaccessible as it is. More often than not, i get the "SURELY you DON'T DRINK" along with the stupendous look when i have a pint.. and i find that allows people to allow themselves to consider Christianity, and that our faith in Jesus isn't all about abstention. And people then start asking questions.

I totally respect your decision for abstention towards character building, and your mate Carl too - that's a real encouragement. Personally, there's such a barrier between myself and locals as it is, i find that drinking makes things abit easier and people don't think of me as too "out there".

But definitely food for thought. :)

Anonymous said...

And i guess the biggest determining factor is that i'm not making any compromise on my godliness... but correct me if i'm wrong. :)

BJ said...

Hey Paul - the question is a good one - or should I say the topic is a good one - I agree with Tim that your view doesn't need to be challenged. I very much line up with Matt on this one - he reinforces your argument that this is a very worthy topic to be thinking about, albeit that he holds a different view...

One of the potential overstatements in the kind of discussion is the sometimes unstated assumption that any alcohol use leads to an impairment of faculties (I hear that in lawz' comment). I am as discerning in my drinking of alcohol as I am in my drinking of coffee (addictive, anxiety-provoking), Diet Coke (carcinogenic additives), Fanta (mood altering food colouring, sugar dense), milk (fat and nasal congestion) and water (too much water can affect the necessary salt balance in my metabolism)...

My point and I think your point is that responsible living is important. There are few issues though that are completely "value-free" or hold universal good. The tendency of the church is to villify a few "vices" at the expense of the others. And that's often how these issues end up getting defined. I'm just not sure the rubric: "if its not good, then its no good" offers us the answer as we weigh these things.

Course we could preach against binge drinking AND obesity!

Dave said...

This is a good question and some good points have been made on both sides.

From my experience I have had times when I have drunk alcohol and other time when I haven't....for spiritual reasons and just because. Currently I don't drink as I have just gone off it.

One thing that springs to mind right now is that the excess use of alcohol causes major problems as we all know. Just go and visit an accident/emergency room on a Friday or Saturday night. About 80% of the injuries are caused by too much drink. The same goes for major road crashes/deaths.

Ultimately I think it comes down to a personal decision. If you have been an alcoholic or can't stop at a a few - don't drink. If you enjoy a nice beer or wine at the end of the day - go for it.

Jacob said...

Hi Paul (and others),

Thanks for your well considered post. Here are a couple of my thoughts prompted by yours:

In fact study after study shows that there is no discernible difference between the life of those who follow Jesus and those who do not. That is a scandal. We live at a time when there is a failure of courage in the lives of Jesus-followers. They prefer to blend rather than stand apart. We have lost sight of what being counter-cultural looks like.

From my perspective this is the bigger, more challenging issue raised in your post. However, the ways of “standing apart” or “being counter-cultural” that come to mind for me are more about our broader consumption and life choices.

You talk about alcohol facilitating the “worst evils in our society” whereas I would argue that greed and selfishness take pride of place there; a sphere which often fails to register with portions of the church. The lifestyles that we have are, to a significant degree, built on the poverty of the 2/3 world. I would say our broader consumption choices are a more important area, in terms of being counter-cultural. Do I care about where my clothes, coffee, cosmetics come from? In what ways are my consumption choices affecting the environment I live in? What about my country’s foreign policy decisions? Should I care?

Another facet that strikes me is major life direction decisions. Most of the church seems to be on autopilot to follow our societal norms of:

Go to school, maybe uni or the like --> Get a ‘good’ job --> Buy a house --> Get married & have a family -- and be involved in church alongside these things.

I don’t think that these bad aspirations, but I do think that we should challenge them. Maybe we would think about putting less money into our homes, less time into paid work and more into family, friends, or voluntary projects. Maybe some people would put more time into their paid work?! Maybe there would be more people single by choice? I don’t know. The point is, to engage with God in the process of finding out rather than just assuming that ‘this’ (the above) is the way the world works and just blindly follow along.

To me, this is counter-cultural thinking and I have been trying to process these thoughts somewhat in my own life and church community. It is easy for the church to get 'all het up' about things like drinking or smoking but steer clear of these other, more complicated issues. Not that alcohol or smoking etc shouldn’t be discussed, but as examples of counter-cultural living I think they pale in significance.

Cheers,
Jacob.

Paul Windsor said...

I was a bit reluctant to post something on this subject - but now I am glad I did. This has been very interesting. Thanks for jumping in.
I guess I'd like to come back to where I started. Given the serious evil with which alcohol is so often associated I am surprised that there are not more followers of Jesus who choose to abstain. Not out of legalism - but out of a calculated rational decision to draw a line. It reminds me (a bit!) of my lawyer friend pleading with Christians-who-smack to concede their position for the sake of the heaps of social settings where smacking becomes child abuse and it is out of control.
I do appreciate that this is a personal decision to be made as we face God. However I'd like to be reassured that followers of Jesus - as they face the world - are making awkward counter-cultural decisions that leave them feeling uncomfortable at points in their lives. Where exactly is our behaviour noticeably different from others? How do we stand out as intriguingly distinctive? Or have we bought the lie that creates an idol out of relevance (ie minimising the differences so that we easily fit in) and then sees being relevant as the key to mission? If so, count me out...

Paul Windsor said...

Jacob's contribution was posted as I was doing writing my previous one ... I agree wholeheartedly with the comments about greed. But that is another topic, isn't it? Greed is a deeper and more pervasive issue than alcohol. In fact when it comes to being counter-cultural in today's world is there a deeper issue to confront than greed? I doubt it. It gets in everywhere. Maybe I'll return to that one another time?!

servant said...

My father was an alcoholic. He hit my mother once. My father left my mother and I when I was a baby.

I met my father when I was 15, he was still an alcoholic. I watched him verbally and emotionally abuse the lady he was with and the children he had every time he got drunk. On one occasion I had to stop a fight between him and his best friend because they were drunk and got heated over the smallest thing simply because they were drunk.

The last time I saw my dad a few years ago he was drunk and told me I was an idiot because I didn't believe in visitations and abductions from aliens.

That night I chose to stop the relationship I had with my father because I didn't want my future family (the family I have now) to have to deal with that.

My father died a month or so ago. I never had a relationship with him because of his addiction to alcohol and who that turned him into. My 3 month old daughter will never have that relationship either.

Because of the alcohol he never got to see his son get married to the most beautiful woman, get licensed as a Pastor, listen to me on my nationwide afternoon radio show, see his beautiful grand-daughter or attend her dedication.

Alcohol was one of the major contributors to that relationship never being there... me never having that father in my life.

I enjoy a beer and I enjoy wine. For me it was a huge step to be able to get to a point in my life where I could bring myself to enjoy these in a responsible, healthy manner. For me, to enjoy alcohol responsibly and positively has been a counter-cultural point in my life.

Is my life distinctly counter-cultural to the wider world in which I exist in a manner that draws peoples attention to Christ? I'm certainly working on it.

I openly stand up for fair trade and poverty issues. My wife, baby and I live with another couple to create community, the term 'Pastor' appears before my name... that in itself is counter cultural in a secular world.... to be able to have a drink with people with that title before ones name and while working in conservative Christian media is counter to the cultures perception of who I should be.

Being able to enjoy alcohol for me speaks volumes about Christ's work in my life.... for me, it is entirely counter-cultural and it makes a huge statement.

Matt said...

Servant, yours is a very personal account and I value your openness but someone who has the same experience as you could decide that they shouldn't drink and refer to the grace of God as the foundation for their abstinence. They could also conclude that their decision is counter cultural and we could not disagree with their conclusion, as I do not disagree with yours.

You refer broadly to the cultures perception of who you should be but the individuals who make up this 'cultures perception' have to actually know your background before they can understand how you might be distinctive. To be distinctive you have to act differently to the cultural norm.

It occurs to me that your decision to drink responsibly is not based on being distinctive in a cutlure of drinking but on something that is very personal to you and your past.

Paul Windsor said...

Thanks Matt
I find the posting by servant to be very provocative - so much so that I have not been sure how to respond.

I guess I am still lingering in the 'surprise' stage of trying to figure out how someone who has experienced/seen so much alcohol abuse can ever be positive about it.

But clearly that is the case here and I need to hear that and, as Matt says, respect that ... even if I struggle to understand it.

Thanks to both of you

servant said...

Thanks for that.

Good thoughts Matt and you're right. I would have no issue whatsoever with someone who came to a totally different stand-point from the same or similar circumstances.

My position with alcohol is a very personal thing and I can understand why people might not understand it.

In terms of the wider culture, I feel no need to be distinctive in this area, but I can completely understand why people would choose to.

Many other areas of my life are distinctly counter-cultural and often raise questions... often after the ice is broken over a nice cold beer....

servant said...

Paul, to use another issue to shed some light on abuse to positivity.... would it be right and healthy for someone who has suffered sexual abuse to abhor it for the rest of their life? Totally different scales.... but I've had to deal with that one as well....

servant said...

... and is there a space for us to teach our country how to use alcohol responsibly by modelling it, rather than simply not going there?

Paul Windsor said...

I find people often make the jump from alcohol-related issues to sex-related ones. For example, in this area of abuse and responding to it. I am not quite so quick to do so. In the way God has designed the world and the humans who live in it, I think they are a long way away from each other. Having said that I think I understand what you are advocating: there are ways to nurture health where there has been abuse that involve something other than abstinence. Is that right? I think what you have said helps me see this more clearly.
As to modelling a responsible use of alcohol? Yes, there needs to be a place for that - but no more so in my mind than modelling a case for abstinence as well. Maybe you can be in the former and I can be in the latter :)

servant said...

Great thoughts Paul. You're certainly right about the gap between how we're created and the two issues... I was a little cautious about bringing it up for that very reason. But for me the two issues have been a journey that have similarities, so you hit it when you mentioned nurturing health in a way that does not involve abstinence. For me, abstinence in the area od alcohol may have allowed me to continue to foster bitterness.... not that this would be the case for all.

And you're right, I think there is definitely a place for both responsible drinking and abstinence to help our country address its burdening and destructive attitude towards alcohol.

servant said...

... and to keep this honest, I did go through a period of healthy abstinence in my late teens early twenties. It was part of addressing the attitude I had picked up towards alcohol that saw me taking on board what I believe was a spiritual heritage (not that I like to over-spiritualise these things) of an unhealthy use of alcohol. This taught me that I had the strength to not give into it and when I came back to it, I was able to do so from a stand-point where I controlled it, rather than it control me. That aspect of my family heritage lost it's grip because God took me through a space where it had absolutely no space in my life. Abstinence certainly has a very powerful place.

Paul Windsor said...

You are a good chap 'servant' (good name, by the way!) and added a great deal to the interest in this post. Thanx!

Nigel Foster said...

There are a lot of excellent comments on this post , and it is good that Paul has decided to throw in a social issue that is very relevant for discussion .

Most of my non christian friends who enjoy imbibing in some alcohol on an occasional basis have been preached by someone that God/Jesus consider alcohol a sin , and think that christians are all killjoys .

I have had to tell every one of them that if that is the case , then the Bible should say so explicitly , as it does for any sexual act outside of marriage .
What the Bible warns about is getting DRUNK on alcohol -- and for numerous sensible reasons .
A partaker of the odd beer or glass of wine with a meal ( who can handle their alcohol sensibly ) is not sinning .
It is when the alcohol controls the person that the problems begin .
I do not intend to try and convince anyone that one should say YES to alcohol . I have no qualms about people who handle it sensibly , and yet at the same time , drunken behaviour really disgusts me no end .
For the record -- where do I stand ?
I do not drink straight alcohol -- I have a shandy in lieu of beer , and I mix fruit juice or lemonade with my wine . I probably have about a dozen drinks per annum . And I couldnt care less if alcohol was ever totally banned ( that would probably help alot of people outright )
My system cant handle much straight alcohol , which is the main reason I do what I do . Despite being raised with false christian theology from religious parents !

dale said...

Wow. What a conversation!

salt:light, law:grace, relevance:distinctiveness, etc., etc.

All good perspectives.

My heart beat faster when I read Jacob's post about our wider lifestyle of western consumption. To say I agree would be an understatement.

For me, I see an overlap with the alcohol issue and the lifestyle of consumption issue. But first, my alcohol journey...

Raised (in USA) with strict morals, I 'lashed out' at age 17 and embraced binge-drinking and 'kissing-the-girls' until age 20 when I embraced Christian faith. Not long after this, I went through a phase of strict non-drinking (and selling all my 'non-God-glorifying-music-CD's'!). Afterward, I 'settled' for a '2-3 beers a year' policy (no idea why!).

Moving to NZ, I found that many more Christians embrace the 'moderation' rule of thumb compared with middle-american-buckle-of-the-bible-belt-Christianity.

A year or so ago, I read 'Colossians Remixed' and it opened my eyes to just how much of our lives as westerners are (as the authors put it) idolatrous. It is in this context that I whole-heartedly resonate with Jacob's comments...

This led me to a NEW reason to at the very least LIMIT my alcohol consumption: which is simply the fact that it's freekin' expensive! :)

Perhaps we could simply resolve to be led by the 'law of love' on this? Both drinking and non-drinking have the potential to be un-loving, I suppose. So maybe we have to be led by the Spirit on each circumstance? Won't we know immediately if our drinking is harming someone? (i.e. spending too much on it hurts US, or, being pious about it could hurt non-believers?)

At any rate, I am more passionate about the Gospels challenge to our comfortable, compartmentalised, and luxurious lifestyles. ALL of our life - beverage consumption levels included.

Cheers,

-d-

Craig said...

This is the first time I have heard anyone make this argument about alcohol, but it is exactly the way I feel.

I was raised in a non-drinking Christian home, and never had the desire to drink alcohol. I played competitive football for many years so was exposed to a lot of drinking. My Mum was a bit shocked when she found out that I was going into pubs by the age of 15 for post-game speeches and drinks! But I have never been shunned or made to feel bad about not drinking alcohol (at least, not by non-Christians.) My team mates and work mates have been happy for me to be the designated driver. They didn't mind buying me an OJ. I always felt accepted at the football club just as I was, in many cases more so than I did at church.

When I was in my late teens, I decided that I needed a better reason for not drinking alcohol than that my parents didn't. I decided to describe it as a positive lifestyle choice. When you think about the negative social cost of alcohol (which is barely touched on in the post), there can be no other conclusion - choosing to NOT support the alcohol industry is a positive stand for our society. It's of interest to me that practically none of the comments on this post mention our collective responsibility. Most of them come from a personal perspective. We all know that Christians are allowed to drink alcohol. But what I understand Paul is getting at, and what drives my decision, is that there is a question here about our responsibility as citizens in a society which suffers greatly from the effects of alcohol use. Even though I am entitled to drink, I choose not to support, through my purchases, an industry which causes so much harm.

It's true that materialism, greed and obesity are problems too. Like @BJ, I'm also conscious of how alcohol impairs our faculties. I try to avoid anything that impairs my self-control and yes, I don't drink coffee (not religiously - I have had about 10 cups in my life) because I see how it affects other people's behaviour. But overeating and coffee do not leave a trail of innocent victims in their wake. (Maybe greed and materialism do, but those are separate topics.)

But the big question remains - is there any rational argument in favour of alcohol? What does society gain from having it available? Tax revenue? A happy population? Whatever my personal views or convictions, if we were to have an objective discussion about the benefits of alcohol compared to its cost in our communities, I think there could only be one conclusion.