My editor calls on a Wednesday to talk about my drinking.
I’m sitting in the cafe off the corner of the museum I used to walk through midsummer, the one with the Rothko canvases that tower in silence. There’s flatbread on the table, covered in diced figs and gorgonzola, a glass of merlot as bodied as the pink-tinged clouds overhead. The notebook beside holds a half-scribbeled thought, a post that may or may not be about the fierceness of grace and the quietness of God in the work.
“We’re concerned about the dry martini.” My editor.
He is referring to the first page of my memoir, where I make mention of sitting at a table with a friend years ago; it was the sort of night where you do things like drink dry martinis. It sets the tone, gives you perspective — like that cafe near the museum, that flatbread, that merlot, that notebook.
“We’re concerned it’s a big stumbling block for our readers. We’re concerned that mentions of hard alcohol mean major Christian book distributors won’t want to carry your book.”
I pause for a moment, purse my lips, drain the glass of merlot.
I have become a single-issue Christian on everything but the lordship of Jesus.
Alcohol, abortion, gay marriage, intercession of saints, what does or does not happen in the Eucharist, baptism of the Holy Spirit, bishops, women in ministry, capital punishment, euthanasia, evolution, pacifism, the Virgin Mary, separation of church and state, welfare, biblical inerrancy, gun control, literal hell, the authority of the Pope, healthcare, feminism, climate change, taxes, sexual ethics, and myriad other issues have formed the litany of our requirements for orthodoxy.
If someone disagrees with me about alcohol, then they are unenlightened. If they disagree with me about pacifism, they are unloving. If they disagree with me about baptism, then they are perhaps not truly saved.
There. Right there. That is the point on which all this turns.
I have done it.
I do it.
I do not post it, I do not comment it, I do not speak it aloud. But in the quietness of my heart where the chaos of sin still lurks, it is whispered like that snake in that mythical garden that I can disregard them because they aren’t in with God.
Or, a deductive argument:
- To be a Christian, to be saved, one must “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31)
- Upon belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit enters a believer (Ephesians 1:13)
- All Christians share the same Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13)
Therefore, it follows that if someone is in Christ, they have the Holy Spirit within them and speak and act in the power of that Spirit.
Like it or not.
I do not hold the monopoly on the Spirit of God. I am not the gatekeeper for the work of God in the world.
If I hold too fiercely to my notion of what faithfulness must look like, I’ll miss Jesus when He passes by as the beggar or the whore or the CEO or the cripple or the Muslim or the other. The other. The other that is the one I do not wish to look upon that nonetheless my God would come to me as to teach me what it means to receive mercy from the least of these.
There is but one thing that truly matters, and it is the person of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work for the cosmos.
If we agree on this but disagree on all else, so what?
God is not threatened by our disagreement, by a dry martini or a stance on abortion or gay marriage or the word bullshit or the length of a skirt or anything else we like to point to as the hill worth dying on.
There is but one hill to die on and upon it the One has already died so that we might live.
I do not want to suggest that we do not critique, question, debate.
But I want to stay my hand from going too far and presuming that they are not a Christian, that I have nothing to learn from them, that the Spirit of God does not and cannot speak in and through them.
Because where would that leave my dry martini and me?
A parenthetical, but a necessary one.
I anticipate someone will have something to say about causing others to stumble.
This is where we endanger ourselves with a kind of haphazard legalism. We make blanket statements. We draw lines in the stand.
What about the alcoholics? What if someone reads your words and upon seeing martini they immediately go on a drunken bender, fall off the wagon altogether?
I am friends with alcoholics. I am friends with the sorts of alcoholics that don’t bat an eye when you take a drink in front of them and the sorts that casually mention it’s easier on them if you don’t. I let them be my barometer, my guide, because the question of causing someone else to stumble is ultimately a question of hospitality. Is it hospitable for me to drink or not drink in front of this person?
There is physicality to that question, though. It is not a question that so easily translates into text on a page or digital etching on the Internet wall. My words here are not the same as you watching me drink. There is difference of time and space and presence. The written word does not create the same space as the opened door of my house.
Hospitality exists here, too, in a species of the word, but not in a way that perfectly translates as we would seem to want it to. I’m not exactly sure what it means per se, but I do believe it has something to do with listening. Listening for that common language of Jesus is Lord.
This cuts both sides.
This cuts out everything but Jesus.
This cuts out the presumptions that you need to believe X and do Y in Z manner in order to get to Jesus.
This strips the catechism of its demands. This shuns the one who says unless you believe _______ about ______ you’re not really a Christian.
This leaves Jesus. This dares to believe God speaks everywhere and through everything.
I have been at ease in my counterfeit Zion too long.
I have forgotten the God crucified outside the city gates.
When you read the first page of my memoir, you will not read dry martini. You will read drinks.
I made the decision that it was more important for me to get the message of the book out — Jesus made known to us in the Eucharist, in the stillness, in the wideness of belief — than to quibble over a particular detail of an event.
Some will think I sold out because of that. Maybe I did.
What I hope I did was choose the more important point over the details of the point. What I hope is there will come a day when I don’t have to, a day when the nebulous and petulant market will be listening for the common language that Jesus is Lord, that this confession will be enough for us all.
But not yet.
Photo by y wickenden, Creative Commons via Flickr.