Over the weekend I (Craig) had the pleasure of attending Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God show at the Ryman Auditorium. The show was, as always, incredibly moving and inspiring. However, the show is not what I want to write about today; instead, I want to write about two comments I heard in the Ryman's foyer before the show. My fiancé and I were in the drink line—which was rather empty—when we heard two people scoff something to the effect of, "They're serving alcohol at a church show." Both of these statements were made in a very condescending and condemning tone.
Being members of a church that not only serves wine at the Eucharist table but also at church functions, I was caught a bit off guard by the fact that good church folk might be offended by the presence of alcohol at a Ryman show—regardless of who might be performing. That said, however, I was raised in a teetotaling church, and memories of my upbringing swirled in my head for the rest of the night, which elicited feelings of guilt for drinking a Jack and Coke while singing "It Is Well With My Soul" in the Union Gospel Tabernacle.
But more helpful than feelings of guilt might be feelings of questioning. In David Dark's very fine book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, he spends time talking about the things that offend us, writing,
"The feeling of offendedness is invigorating. . . . But we must never settle for it. We must not confuse an accelerated pulse rate for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We must interrogate our offendedness, hold it open for question. . . . If we're more opposed, for instance, for what we take to be 'bad language' and nude scenes and films about gay people than we are to people being blown up, starved to death, deprived of life-saving medicine, or tortured, our offendedness is out of whack. We have yet to understand the nature of real perversion. . . . "Feeling offended is a reassuring sensation. It's easier than asking ourselves if the redeeming love of God is evident in the way we communicate with people" (56).
Hopefully it won't seem less than reconciling to observe that the two people I heard condemning the sale of alcohol at the Ryman were doing less than displaying "the redeeming love of God." That I experienced the guilt of my childhood should testify to the lack of redeeming love.
With David's book in my mind, I turned to Sarah, my fiancé, and said, "I wonder if drone attacks over Afganistan cause those people so much offense." Granted, my response might have been no less a witness to the redeeming love of God, but I was trying to express the point that David was getting at in his chapter on offendedness.
What would it look like for good teetotalers to question their offendedness caused by alcohol? On the one hand, I understand the urge to remain sober and avoid alcoholism; my family has been touched in various negative ways by drunkenness. So I get it. But certain historical blinders are required to cast a blanket condemnation over Christians drinking. Wine has been served at the Eucharist table since the very first Christian communities. And today, many Christian communities assume the presence of alcohol in social gatherings of all sorts. Perhaps if nothing else, teetotalers who question their offendedness might be able to make room in hospitality for the sale and consumption of alcohol at an Andrew Peterson concert.
And that might make at least one person avoid feelings of guilt for enjoying a drink with his fiancé at an Advent concert.
Craig D. Katzenmiller is Tokens’ Social Media Editor. Currently, he is pursuing a PhD in Liturgical Theology and Ethics at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg.