Yesterday marked 20 years of being clean and sober. It also marked 20 years without passing out drunk, getting in fights, and perhaps most importantly, waking up in my own vomit. Yes – as my friend Maggie reminded me yesterday -for an alcoholic, 20 years is a long time to go without puking through your nose.
Today I am grateful for all those drunks who sit in church basements talking about God and booze. Lutherans aren’t really known for using “personal relationship with God” language, and I cringe at Evangelical-Speak – like calling Jesus your “Personal Lord and Savior” – it can so often feel like Western Individualism run amuck in religion. As though in your contact list Jesus is listed between your Personal Chef and your Personal Trainer. A friend of mine describes this idea of Jesus as “your bearded girlfriend who wants to be your life coach”. All this is to say that using “personal” to describe how I relate to God can feel problematic to me, mainly because it borders a bit closely on religious narcissism. And I, perhaps unfairly, associate this language of personal Lord and Savior with emotionalism and a smug affect of sanctity and I’m suspicious of the whole thing and would prefer to just talk about theology.
But the fact of the matter is this: as much as I love theology, most everything I’ve learned about God and how God works in the world and in my life I didn’t learn in seminary. I learned it from sober drunks. Most of them don’t go to church but I’ve never met a group of people who talk more about God. Not ideas about God. And not feelings about God, but God as a real and solid part of life, not in lofty terms, but in a “if I don’t turn my life and my will over to the care of God, I’m screwed” type of way. It’s amazing what kind of faith comes out of desperation. These folks aren’t choosing God as some kind of self-improvement guru. They know that God can do for them what they cannot do for themselves and it’s rely on God or drink.
I love The Church that meets in the sanctuary on Sunday and preaches the Gospel and gathers around the Eucharist. But I also love the church that meets in the basement on Saturday and talks of God and booze and gathers around the coffee pot. I need both.