Lent is almost upon us. Now Lent is a 40 day long season during which many Christians give up pleasurable things like junk food or sweets. I usually observe Lent in this way too often by giving up something like deep fried food. Two years ago, I pushed myself and gave up alcohol.
After reflecting on all the questions raised about clergy and addiction raised by the Heather Cook/Tom Palermo tragedy, I have again decided to take a break from booze. Starting Wednesday its no booze till Easter. Thankfully, I will get a break on Sundays which are not counted as part of Lent. Even so, I know it won’t always be easy.
As you probably have guessed by now, I love beer. It’s a regular part of my life. By giving it up I want to make sure the role it plays is not unhealthy or out of balance. This is important because although I do not believe I have a problem with alcohol I do realize that I am more likely to want a drink in times of stress. By going without it, I hope to gain insight into this drive and at the same time, develop other and healthier methods of coping that don’t require a bottle opener.
Now those of you who know their Bible might be wondering if I am acting like those religious leaders that Jesus condemned in Matthew 6:1 when he said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” It’s a legitimate question. Believe me when I say that I am not sharing this so you will think I am holy. Just ask my wife, I’m anything but.
Instead, I am sharing this with you so that Christians, and in particular, Episcopalians, will keep talking about the role alcohol plays in our lives and in our church. This is especially important for the clergy. Our vocation is not easy. And all too often we wind up choosing unhealthy ways of coping with the stress. Yet because we feel pressure to live up to the impossible standards that are set for us (or that set for ourselves), we usually try to hide our inevitable failures. The result is that far too many deacons, priests and bishops don’t actually know the freedom in Jesus that we proclaim to others but instead live as prisoners of our addictions and denial. This is incredibly destructive not only for our own lives and families but for our parishes and for the Church as a whole.
And so now as we continue to sift through the very public and heartbreakingly tragic consequences of one such failure, I want to share the next forty days of questions and challenge with you. It may not make much difference to anyone but me. But maybe, just maybe, if we commit to sharing honestly with one another about the place alcohol plays in our lives we might be able to prevent the next tragedy from happening.
More than ever I welcome your questions, experiences and support.