This is not a post about drinking, although that is where I will start.
In 1995 I had a heart attack, after which a friend of mine brought me a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon saying, “Now you have to drink this.” It was a health regimen that he also followed because of his father’s death to heart disease.In the course of my new health discipline I learned some things. The first was that my fear that my influence would be damaged if anyone saw me having a glass of wine was ill-founded. In point of fact, only my legalistic, religious friends cared. No one, outside of church folk, questioned my allegiance to Jesus or my character.
The second thing I learned was that it lowered the defenses of my friends who either thought that Christians were judgmental and harsh or that following Jesus meant eliminating joy and pleasure. Though I am not saying one should take up drinking to lower the defenses of friends, I am impressed that my friends often expect me to behave in a certain way only because of what they know of the stereotypes of my clan. The stereotypes are not good.
I was confronted with this a year ago when, at a graduation event for a leadership program I had completed, I was introduced by a fellow cohort member in this way. “This is Bruce, he’s a pastor, and he drinks with us.” It was meant in entirely the warmest and most inclusive way. I was given official membership in a group of people who were, in many respects, far different than I.
I know that the New Testament says, “in the world but not of it.” However, that must also be reconciled with a Jesus who ate with tax collectors and sinners and was accused of being a wine bibber and a glutton. Two ideas are being described here, and they are not equivalent.
Jesus was fully “in the world.” He did not allow himself to be isolated from the people he loved. In fact, he saw the people who created religious monasteries for themselves as a distortion of what he proposed and lived.
Yet, Jesus was not “of the world” in the sense that he did not allow his core values to be compromised. The interesting thing is that the compromise can occur both “in the world” and in the religious monastery. Jesus recognized that and kept an appropriate distance from both.
In a recent conversation with another cohort member we were talking about stereotypes that we use with people, and I mentioned the stereotypes that people hold in regard to pastors. She also said, “I heard other cohort members mentioning that you drank with us.” Again, she meant it in the warmest and most welcoming way.
I am convinced that if we want to be influential in the world in the way that salt is in food, then we must abandon the idea that the world is a nasty place we must avoid at all cost. The people we would like to have relationships with are generally welcoming, but we have to be willing to engage the world rather than retreat from it.
A glass of wine, in this case, is metaphorical for compassion, generosity, and love. A pretty good way to approach a world we want to engage.