catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 24 :: 2006.12.29 — 2007.01.12


Holy drinking

In the face of a culture of death
a world of killing fields
a world of the walking dead
Christ is at the head of the resurrection parade
transforming our tears of betrayal into tears of joy
giving us dancing shoes for the resurrection party

(from a targam based on Colossians 1: 15-20 in Colossians Remixed by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat)

We moved to the neighborhood in which my parents still live just before my sixth birthday—it's an oddly-shaped lot on a curved section of block in a cluster of homes that epitomizes the Midwest.  Ranches and cape cods sprout at even intervals along well-maintained yards, showing friendly and tasteful, but not extravagant, faces to one another across tree-lined streets.  I imagine there's quite a broad range of visceral responses to such a scene.

This is not the gated community with labyrinthine streets so loathed by New Urbanists, this generation's protest kids and others who perceive the destructive qualities of individualistic community development.  Rather, this is an artifact of the post-WWII housing boom that extended into the 50s and 60s.  Streets are carefully laid out in a grid, with aberrations only where waterways or the ghosts of railroads past forced plans to shift.  In a broad sense, the homes are affordable—not open floor plan McMansions, but still significantly more comfortable than the bare necessity.  There are no association rules against hanging your clothes out to dry or having a basketball hoop in the driveway.  But one of the major risks of clustered single-family dwellings is still the same: no matter how modest the home, the spaces between can become poisoned with silence.  The need for one's neighbors can become a sign of financial or emotional weakness.  Estimation of character can become based on what kinds of cars they drive, how well they keep their yards, how much their dog annoys you with its incessant barking.  On a block with twenty other households, anyone can feel utterly alone within the walls of the house and within the understood boundaries of the yard.  Contrary to well-behaved appearances, such pleasant neighborhoods can become part of the culture of death, a world of the walking dead.

Fortunately for my growing up experience, life and camaraderie have come to fill the spaces between dwellings in my parents' neighborhood, thanks in no small part to my dad.  At some point—I can't identify just when—he started employing the help of my siblings and I to create "invitations" for late-afternoon beer breaks and to distribute them to all of the neighbors on our street.  A skeptic might conclude that this was just his way of keeping us busy on a pleasant Saturday so he could get some work done in the yard, but I prefer to see it as his shy way of helping all of our neighbors remember how to ask, "Can you come out and play?"  And at 5pm, a cluster of people would form in front of our house, seeking refreshment in the form of a cold beverage and a warm conversation.

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to associate these afternoons, when neighbors would shut down their mowers and put down their hedge clippers to gather in our driveway, with the sacrament of communion, even if the body and blood were being represented by beer and pretzels.  We have standards and expectations for the solemn celebration of the sacrament, and this is fitting so that our remembrance doesn't become lost in routine, but can we not glean from the accounts of the first Lord's Supper that every time we break the bread and share the cup is an occasion to remember who Christ is?  I believe Christ, the reconciler of all people to God, would be glad to be counted among the company in my dad's driveway, sitting in a folding lawn chair around the cooler.  And if the beer ran out at such a resurrection party?  God knows there are at least six water hoses within easy reach.

These afternoons taught me profound lessons about being a neighbor in the Kingdom of God, but they also were part of an informal curriculum that has taught me about drinking alcohol in the Kingdom of God.  Beer was not the beverage you grabbed to hastily quench your thirst in the middle of mowing the lawn, but part of an intentional reward for a hard day's work, enjoyed in community with others.  And in the sense the use of this beverage was separate from soda and water and juice and lemonade, it was somehow holy and therefore treated with a kind of reverence.  Acknowledged or not, there is an awe for the ordinary elements of hops and barley and grapes made extraordinary (even by those who cheapen the awe with routine overindulgence).  Likewise, at the wedding at Cana, there seemed to be an understanding that wine—good wine—is the appropriate beverage for a celebration of life and commitment and community. Turning water into wine as the inauguration of Christ's ministry reveals so much about the reality of the God of all things.  Asceticism and celebration, ordinary and extraordinary, water and wine: all that is good in everything flows from the Source in unimaginable abundance.

Last weekend, we celebrated my mom's fiftieth birthday in the neighborhood where my parents have lived for over 21 years now.  It was a lively and rich celebration, with symbolic gifts, plentiful food and drink and enough laughter to go around.  And at midnight, when many of the guests had gone home, who was left but the neighbors, sharing stories about their kids, talking about their jobs and businesses and defying the deadly silence that waits to enfold them when they stop believing in miracles.  May the new year bring many more opportunities for remembrance of a Messiah who appears where least expected and invites us all into a party that even death cannot stop.

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