As far as I know, I was the only bartender who went to Princeton Seminary in the ’90’s. Either no one else had tended bar, or no one else would admit to it. It’s too bad, in either case: my time behind the bar gave me admission to the inner and outer lives of so many people. I have no idea how many secrets they told me – fears, hopes, embarrassments, family troubles, and a handful of come-to-Jesus stories. All these treasures given to me in exchange for a Beefeater, a Bud, a Cabernet, and a tip.
Grandpa Pete drank himself to death, so my parents didn’t have alcohol in the house much – just a glass of wine on Thanksgiving, a New Year’s toast, and a six pack when relatives came over to paint, paper, or repair. My husband and I enjoy wine and beer at home and the occasional mixed drink in a restaurant, but we aren’t exactly heavy hitters. We’ve both seen too many lives ruined by excessive drinking to tip the bottle too often. In moderation, alcohol loosens tongues, encourages self-disclosure, and is a sure sign of hospitality; in excess, alcohol is an excuse for verbal abuse, physical intimidation, and violence – the power of fermentation.
I enjoy having a glass of wine while I make dinner. I treasure the times my husband and I lingered at the table after dinner, splitting the last glass of rioja by candlelight. Wine in hand, I delve deeper into the grace of the moment, and I’m more aware of the wonders of food and companionship. It’s not a necessity, but it’s surely a nicety.
There’s truth in wine (In vino, veritas). Jesus shared wine with his closest friends and his betrayer, and the coming of the Holy Spirit looked to all the world like a bunch of early morning drunks. It’s a marvelous thing to let loose and see the world through more appreciative eyes. It’s a terrible thing to drink away reality and excuse cruelty with a bottle. Hidden compassion and undercover violence are both given out with that drink. Which one do I choose?
Lord, keep watch over me. Amen.