Shamrocks and Crankypants

17 March 2019

Is it appropriate for a minister [in our tradition] to wear green in the pulpit on St. Patrick’s Day?

The question came up in a theology discussion group I happen to be part of, and quickly became a fairly sharp discussion. Of course there were cranky fundamentalists denouncing the whole affair as nothing more than an excuse to get drunk and start fights. (Presumably a minister should either preach against that, or just move on with whatever series he’s preaching at the moment.)

Other, more historically informed, folks made the usual observations about green being the Roman Catholic color, and orange being the Protestant color (which is historically true). Then the usual counter-observations were made that the orange-wearing (English invader) principals to the conflict in Ireland aren’t the sort of people we’d want to identify with, so we oughtn’t to wear orange, either.

It sounds like there’s a pretty good case for abstaining, if you’re in Northern Ireland. Wearing one color or the other might be a bit like choosing to wear red (or blue) in Compton. Maybe. I’ve never been to Northern Ireland; couldn’t say for sure.

But perhaps we’re missing the point. We’re not in Northern Ireland, and whatever the historical links between that culture and ours, the question that confronts us is not what either color meant there, then.

The question is what the culture means in our context, now.

Here and now, St. Patrick’s at its best is a celebration of a Christian missionary notable for both his effectiveness and his (deeply Pauline) methodology. A man who had been kidnapped and enslaved, escaped, and freely chose to obey God’s call to return as a missionary to the people that enslaved him. He obeyed God’s call at tremendous personal cost; a thoroughly admirable man.

At its worst–as already noted by the cranky fundies– St. Patrick’s is an excuse for amateurs to drink too much as a prelude to bad decisions about fighting, fornication, and karaoke.

But we are Christians. So as a pastor, I celebrate the best—whatsoever things are pure, true, noble, and all that. Of course I wear green and talk about the life of St. Patrick. (And not just on St. Paddy’s, actually. Good history never goes out of season.)

I’d encourage the crankypants among us to actually read the extant writings of St. Patrick. He was quite a follower of Jesus, and I look forward to meeting him one day.

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A Thumbnail Theology of Alcohol

1 February 2019

Introduction

Too often, the Christian take on alcoholic beverages is simply, “don’t.” The reasoning is usually presented thus: there’s no real upside to drinking, and there’s a huge downside. You might get drunk yourself, or cause someone else to stumble, and for what? Drinking is optional anyway, so why not just steer clear of the whole thing?

To hell with that cramped and lifeless pseudo-theology! Let it scurry back to the Pit whence it came. In its place, I offer you a look at the goodness and fruitfulness of God’s good alcoholic gifts, thus:

Part 1

Psalm 104 says that God gave wine to make man’s heart glad. Proverbs 31 endorses its use to help a grieving man forget his troubles. Jesus made wine — and He made the good stuff, too.

Thesis #1: If we write off alcohol as potentially harmful, with no upside — then our viewpoint is not biblical, however “wise” we think it. Alcoholic beverages are one of God’s good gifts.

Part 2

Ephesians 5 says not to get drunk. (For those who want a definition of drunk…really? But ok: If someone wants to praise or censure you for what you did last night, and the first thing that comes to mind is, “Well, I’d had a lot to drink…” — that. Don’t do that. Read Ephesians 5. If it was the liquor talking instead of the work of the Spirit, you’re doing it wrong.)

Thesis #2: If you get drunk, you’re in sin. 

Part 3

Romans 14 forbids causing our brother to stumble, and also forbids holding our brother in contempt.

Thesis #3: We may neither look down on someone for what they do (or don’t) drink, nor tempt someone down a path that leads to drunkenness.

Part 4

Colossians 2 says no one should judge you regarding what you drink (or don’t). There’s nothing wrong with taking good counsel, but ignore condemnations. If you don’t drink, there’s always someone who will tell you that you’re missing out. If you do, there’s always someone that will tell you it’s “just wiser not to.”

Thesis #4: Ignore other people’s condemnations about what you drink. Be fully convinced before God, and stick to your guns.