Recently I found myself having drinks with several friends, one of whom was coming off a rough six month period. I ordered my usual dark porter but he surprised the table by going for a scotch. In talking about his new penchant for scotch, he made the following comment:
“I don’t think there are any scotch drinkers who aren’t broken sad people, we all have some deep brokenness which has brought us to scotch.”
We laughed and continued discussing the past six months, but that statement has haunted me throughout the holiday season. Perhaps because it seemed like a riff I have always used for Christianity and Christians. Steve Taylor, the 80s Christian pop-star, perhaps said it best,
“Jesus is for losers /
all those broken at the foot of the cross.”
Standing at the door greeting participants at the New Year’s Day service I was struck by this same sentiment. Perhaps it was as I welcomed in a member from our staff that is recuperating from surgery on a brain tumor. Or perhaps as I watched a women with a broken foot and sprained ankle slide by. Or even as I attempted to get high fives from 2 boys recently adopted fromAfrica. All of us turning up that morning had stories, some happy, some sad, but stories we had. Happiness and grief, acceptance and loss walked hand in hand through our doors. As I stood sentinel watching over such a motley flock, it dawned on me that this is why I love this church, this is why I come out Sunday after Sunday. It is the stories, being a part of all these stories. Watching and participating in all this grief while also standing by and sharing in all these minute victories over this surgery or that recovery, this job loss or that promotion.
I think this is one reason that taking communion is a lot like drinking scotch. To be a participant in the action is to enter into a community of the damned, a community of people broken and battered by life. We all stand or sit at the bar exchanging knowing glances. “I may not know you but I know why you are here,” we say with our creased eyes.
On the little-seen TV Series My Boys, there was a great episode revolving around a recent rating of the titled boys favorite bar. It seems that the little dive the boys gathered at in every episode was listed in a tour guide as the primo place to have beers with the locals. Suddenly there are no tables, no good brews, too much noise, and no place to laugh and drink. In short what was great place to drink and enjoy one another’s company became a great place to be seen, but a lousy place to well drink or talk. This in a nutshell is what seems to have happened with American Christianity (particularly the Evangelical brand). We sought out fame and publicity and mainstream acceptance, and we have gotten ourselves written into many a guidebook as the places to be seen and experienced, the places that everybody that is anybody attends. In doing so we have brought in dynamic crowds of excitable people just happy to be there; yet, in doing so we have alienated our main clientele, those we really want and need us. We are too crowded, too noisy, too banal, and too preoccupied with all the new money, and power to see the former best customers kicked out of their favorite booth and groaning all the pretty but overpriced liquors.
I once heard Carol Wimber, the wife of John Wimber who was the driving force behind the establishment of the Vineyard Community of Churches, say that they left their first church plant (a successful Quaker church plant with some 500 members) because they realized, “we had built a church for winners, but deep down we knew we were really just two losers.” I wonder how many others have created churches for winners, churches which major on success and prosperity when in reality no one there, pastors included, are really winning. Like Charlie Sheen we send out our tweets promoting our successes while the watching world collectively shakes their heads and mutters obscenities about what comes from the backside of bulls. Perhaps it’s time we stop with all the Pollyanna stuff, and fess up to being the losers that we really are (deep down inside). Perhaps it time we admit that all this Jesus is really a crutch and yes, we do really need one, think you very much. Should we do this we may lose some congregants, we may become laughingstocks, we may become the butt of some jokes; but maybe we this would be for the best. After all once we get all the happy, no worries mate, beer drinkers out of the place, we might get back to our scotch, our troubles, and our quiet conversations.
There was one last thing I learned that evening at the bar: how to properly drink a scotch. It seems that one cannot down a scotch the way one pounds shots or beers. The way to unlock the full flavor is to take in the liquid, hold it in one’s mouth, and wait for the burn. It is that burn that unleashes the full flavor of the drink. Skeptically we all tried this drinking tactic, and surprisingly enough our problematic professor was correct. The wait and the burn do unlock the bouquet, and that is one last way in which drinking scotch is like being a Christian.
One of my professors once gave this answer to a student wanting to know how to handle a broken-heart and the ensuing doubts about the faith,
“Go to church, participate in the worship, take the sacraments, and repeat as necessary.”
Like a good scotch, the communion of the saints is best held onto until it burns. It is the burn that unlocks the full flavor of communion with God. It is holding onto the hope of the faith even when everything tells you that nothing is happening. It is hobbling through the door Sunday after Sunday. It is the long hours crying out into the darkness,
The burn comes sooner or later, the flavor hits, and you join the community of those who truly know about scotch (or Christianity as the case may be).