Read an Excerpt
EXPLORING BLUE LIKE JAZZ
By dixon kinser donald miller
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Donald Miller
All right reserved.
I vividly remember the day turned sixteen years old, because I was finally able to go to the DMV to get my driver's license. I was excited and nervous. What if my training in Driver's Ed wasn't sufficient? What if I couldn't remember how to execute the three-point turn? What if I forgot the answers to the written test?
Despite my hand wringing, I passed (not with flying colors, but passed) and later that afternoon sat behind the wheel of a car for the first time by myself. Instead of feeling elated at the possibility 'freedom, I panicked. Oh my goodness! I remember thinking. Can I really do this? I could kill somebody in this thing. Are they sure I'm capable o f this? Because I'm not sure that I am. It took me about ten minutes to calm down enough to start the car and actually get on the road. I'm not sure the perspective I had in that moment always stayed with me as a teenage driver, but I've thought back to that afternoon many times over the years. It was a rare moment (and I've had a few of them since) when I was aware of the seriousness 'the situation I was in just before I entered it. I knew that the fact that I could now drive was a big deal and, at the risk of sounding sanctimonious, the responsibility to handle it well was uniquely my own.
I wonder if our relationship to alcohol works the same way. There is a responsibility to handle drinking well that belongs to each of us, individually. We learn lots of things about drinking from multiple sources (parents, teachers, preachers, TV shows, and movies, to name a few), and we form our opinions by integrating those individual messages into our own unique belief. However, the actual choices we make about alcohol belong to us alone. So, the question is, "How do I make good choices?" What do you think healthy and life-giving choices in regard to alcohol look like? How can you tell the difference between alcohol use that is helpful and that which is hurtful? And, most importantly, do we drink to the glory of God? These are some of the questions this chapter attempts to answer.
So, as we get going, remember that picture of a sixteen- year-old sitting behind the wheel of his parents' car. Like driving, drinking is something we should respect because, if we're careless, things can go really wrong. However, with a little training and a few boundaries, they don't have to. Moderation is not something that is self-evident. It takes some forethought and intentionality. So allow me to put some things on the table that will keep us "on the road" as it were, so that when (and if) we drink alcohol, we can do it in the name of Jesus.
Our Take ... Alcohol Doesn't Make Bad Decisions. People Do.
I was on vacation last summer and a car passed me on the highway with a bumper sticker that said "Guns don't kill people. I do." As terrifying a notion this is, the point seems to be that it's not the guns that are dangerous, but instead the people who use them. This is actually a helpful distinction when applied to our choices about alcohol.
Alcohol is not something that is inherently bad or evil on its own. Sometimes Christians react to alcohol's misuse by decreeing that all alcohol should be off limits. But this turns it into some sort of cursed talisman that corrupts the user (like Frodo and the One Ring), which I think is a little extreme. The responsibility for alcohol's misuse needs to go where it actually belongs, and that is with the drinker. This is why the Scriptures don't condemn drinking alcohol. In the Bible, alcohol is part of the life of God's people and is even included in one of Judaism's most sacred rituals. What the Scriptures do condemn, however, is drunkenness. Getting drunk is not part of God's right-side-up world. It's not part of the kingdom. However, just because alcohol can be misused doesn't mean the drink itself is bad. Alcohol doesn't make bad decisions ... people do.
I don't want to minimize the reality that when alcohol is overused things can go extremely wrong. Drunkenness and high-risk behavior seem to go hand in hand. There are tragic statistics about its role in sexual assault among emerging adults. One in four women will be sexually assaulted during their four years on a college campus. One in four! And in 95 percent of the cases, it will be by someone the victim knows. About half of these reported sexual-assault cases involved alcohol usage by the perpetrator, the victim, or both.
But it doesn't stop there. Even though drunk driving is known to be dangerous, a 2000 CDC study found that almost 40 percent of college-aged participants' admitted to riding with a drunk driver within one month of the study. Even though the danger is obvious, these emerging adults did it anyway. This kind of high-risk behavior may be why alcohol-related fatalities continue to rise among emerging adults, up 3 percent since 2003. All told, alcohol misuse contributes to 1,825 student deaths, 599,000 injuries, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year.
These statistics are nothing to take lightly, because they are realities you will likely encounter. Alcohol is a player in some of the worst violence and sexual degradation that happens between emerging adults, but it still doesn't make alcohol itself bad. You can start to change things by making good choices. Christians interested in being part of the solution to all this, rather than part of the problem, need to make a game plan for how, when, why, and with whom they are going to drink. Ad hoc choices involving alcohol are not good enough. Drinking in a way that loves both God and neighbor needs some careful preparation, and it is to this task we now turn.
Planning on Drinking?
Have you ever seen those bumpers they put up on the lanes in the bowling alley? The bumpers help kids learn to bowl by giving their ball some boundaries to bounce off of while it travels down the lane toward the pins. The bumpers don't control the path of the ball; they just keep it out of the gutter. Below are four guidelines meant to serve as bumpers on the bowling alley of your choices with alcohol. They are not here to control you; rather they represent the collection of accumulated wisdom that will help you be part of the solution with your drinking, and not part of the problem.
1. If You're Underage, Don't Drink.
This may go without saying, but if you are not of legal age, please do not drink alcohol. As I mention in the chapter on partying, I do not disagree with the fact that it may be unfair that you can vote, fight in a war, and drive a car before you can have a drink in the United States. However, your right to have a glass of wine before you are twenty-one is not a justice issue. While there are indeed places Christians are called to break the law for the sake of the gospel, this is not one of them. If you're not yet of age, just hang back and don't drink. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. You can handle this.
2. Don't Get Drunk.
If no one has ever said this to you, then let me be the first. Don't get drunk. It is simply not good for our bodies and doesn't tend to bring about goodness in either the life of the drinker or those around them. This is not a Christian-fascist attempt to control your life but a sober (pardon the pun) admission that, as the statistics imply, bad things can happen when people drink too much. Choosing moderation keeps you and everyone around you safe while you're drinking. I'm pretty sure most people involved in criminal and violent behavior while under the influence don't set out to assault someone before they have their first cocktail. However, the perception of right and wrong can change as people start to lose control. Drinking alcohol is fine, but doing it to get drunk is not.
Strategically, this just means knowing both your limits and your family history. How many drinks can you have and not get drunk? Ever tested it out? Try keeping a drinking journal for a month. Use it to chart how many drinks you have, what kind of drinks you have, and how often you drink every week. A journal like this can give you a good idea of when to say when. If you have no idea where to start, try this: Most men are recommended to have no more than two drinks a day and fourteen per week. For women (and men over the age of sixty-five) it drops to one drink a day and seven per week. Shoot for these boundaries and see how you fare. Figuring out your limits is the first step toward healthy alcohol use.
However, your limits should be influenced by your family's history with alcohol. While there are no definitive studies that prove alcoholism is passed down from parent to child, children of alcoholic parents can be at a greater risk of alcohol dependency than others. This may be genetic or simply come from a distorted perspective of alcohol use. Fither way, if you have alcoholism in your family, seek the counsel of a therapist or mentor before you begin drinking. This will minimize your risk and help you develop healthy limits.
3. Drink with People You Know in Familiar Places
With the aforementioned statistics on sexual assault in mind, if you're going to drink, know with whom you are drinking. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can make you prone to poor decisions. So, even if he's really cute and very charming at the party or she's really sweet and funny at the bar, going to an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar person after you've been drinking is a bad idea. It can put both of you at risk, especially if one of you has had too much to drink. If you don't know someone well and you're going to meet them for a drink, get together in public and stay within your limits. If you want to go somewhere private with that person, consider not drinking beforehand. It's easy to have fun without alcohol and if the person you're hanging out with can't respect your choice not to drink, they may not be worth hanging around with after all.
Similar to knowing who you are drinking with, you should also know where you are drinking. Drinking in an unfamiliar place can be super risky when it comes time to leave. My friends who work on university campuses recommend not drinking anywhere you can't walk home from in thirty minutes. Would that work for you? Where are the places within thirty minutes of your home that you could meet others for a drink? Who can you walk with in order to stay safe? What parameters would you need to have in place if you want to drink in a place that is unfamiliar? Make a plan ahead of time and you'll have no problem making healthy decisions that keep you, and others, out of harm's way.
4. Get Relational about Your Drinking
I was talking to a friend about drinking recently, and he admitted to me that when he drinks too much it's because he wants the alcohol to help him get closer to people. He told me, "When I wanted to feel close to the people I was around, I drank with them. The more I drank, the closer I felt to those around me. As it turns out, just the opposite was true. The more I drank, the more my behavior damaged the relationships I was trying to build. I had to start evaluating my drinking based on how it affected my relationships. That's when things started to make sense."
What my friend was picking up on is that drinking right, like most of the choices Christians make in life, involves more than just following rules. Good choices can best be made when they are evaluated through the lens of how they affect our relationships. This is what I mean ...
In the beginning when God creates the heavens and the earth, all of the relationships in the creation are whole, healthy, and integrated. The two human beings are naked and feel no shame (their relationship to self is intact), they compliment and need each other (their relationship to others is whole), they live in the garden (their relationship to the creation is undamaged), and they both work with God to cultivate it (their relationship with God is unbroken).
But you know what happens next.
The human beings rebel, sin and death enter the creation, and everything that God made right-side up is turned upside down. Their relationship with God is broken (when God shows up, they hide"). The relationship they have to themselves is broken (they are ashamed of their nakedness). Their relationship to one another is broken (when God asks what happened, they blame each other). And finally, their relationship to the creation itself is broken (they have to leave the garden). However, God doesn't give up. He mounts a rescue mission to put everything that was broken back together, to heal the fractured creation and make things as they were meant to be. Jesus accomplishes this act in His death and resurrection, and people like you and I are left to implement it. We do this good work anytime we bring to restoration one or more of the four broken relationships.
Are you still with me?
All of this gives us a framework to help us evaluate our moral choices, beyond just rules. Paying attention to these four vital relationships can help us make healthy and responsible choices regarding alcohol. Jesus' gospel is not about the imposition of new rules for His followers anyway. It is about a life of freedom and hope that embodies the fact that God is actually putting everything back together. So, when you approach alcohol, begin by asking, 'Are my choices moving toward some kind of healing and wholeness in each of these four relationships or not? Am I moving toward restoration with this choice or back toward brokenness?" Then think about who you can ask to help you figure out if you are doing it right. Evaluating our choices in this way makes space for us to enjoy one of God's good gifts: alcohol.
This Is My Blood ...
One last thought to close things out.
My son started talking communion at our church when he was about seven years old. Because we use very sweet wine in my parish (a port to be precise) and he is into anything with sugar in it, it wasn't long before the wine was his favorite part of worship. One night during our family dinner, my wife and I were having wine. My son turned to me and said, "Can I have a sip of that?" "No," I responded, "we're not in worship, we're at dinner. Drinking wine here is different than during Communion." ("Besides this is a Cabernet and you wouldn't like it anyway.") In thinking about my gut response, I have to wonder if perhaps I was wrong. Not about a seven-year-old drinking table wine, but that drinking alcohol in worship is somehow different than drinking alcohol everywhere else.
For thousands of years, many Christians have celebrated the Lord's Supper with alcohol. It's one of the central symbols in the rite. The cup of wine in the Christian Eucharist actually comes from the three of four cups of wine consumed during the Jewish Passover meal. Each of those cups of wine has a special, symbolic significance relating to God's promises of freedom to His people." The one that Jesus made "His blood" that night is called the cup of Redemption; it is preceded by the cup of Sanctification and Deliverance and then followed by the cup of Praise.
Sanctification, redemption, deliverance, and praise are all remembered and enacted by the drinking of a cup of wine.
Christians take up the symbolism of the four cups in their Eucharistic celebrations. But what if that's not the only place we are meant to take them up? What if every time we drink alcohol, it is an opportunity to remember and enact the promises of the four cups? What if God's promises of freedom could be on display every time Christians drank alcohol? What if that's how it's supposed to be? Would that give us new eyes to see how, when, where, and why we are drinking? Would it help us see how God might be inviting us to join His healing of the world? And might it also challenge us to drink alcohol in a way that looks forward to that great moment when we drink the last cup with Jesus in the Messianic kingdom?
Excerpted from EXPLORING BLUE LIKE JAZZ by dixon kinser donald miller Copyright © 2012 by Donald Miller. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.