I was raised by a pastor-father who was fond of the verse “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) The verse is a catchall for those who condemn what the Bible doesn’t specifically oppose.
In my father’s case, it was alcohol. No surprise given the fact that our church covenant asked members “to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks.” The only problem we found was in teaching Jesus’ water-into-wine miracle. The wine was purportedly “the most excellent grape juice.”
My dad was so obsessed about appearance that our cars were banned from the local liquor store that also doubled as our small town convenience store. After all, he reasoned, a bag filled with milk and bread might be imagined by the town gossip as restocking our secret liquor cabinet.
To make matters worse, a Catholic family in town owned a van identical to our uniquely two-toned Dodge. When people asked my dad how our van came to be seen at the local bar and, of all things, Saturday night Mass, he humorously, but adamantly, claimed a case of mistaken identity. These inquisitors must have missed the line in our church covenant urging members to “avoid all gossip, backbiting and excessive anger.”
Still the questions continued right up to the day my dad backed into another car while exiting his parking space. Fortunately sobriety bought a divine inspiration. He took the van to a body shop where it came out in three new tones — a true reversal of colors.
His teachings were well ingrained in me when I was hired by Thrifty Drug as a clerk in my hometown’s first strip mall. When I told the manager that I couldn’t sell alcohol from my checkout stand, he apprized me that prohibition hadn’t been regionally reinstated. No sale, no job.
As few parents would be, my parents were proud of my new unemployment. So, when the new Safeway opened next door to Thrifty Drug, our family went on a shopping spree. Overwhelmed by variety, each of us packed the cart with our choice of cereals, but when my dad tried to write a check for the whopping $100 total, the checker directed him to the manager standing behind the liquor counter for check approval.
Inspired by my Thrifty stand, my father announced that he’d not be seen at the liquor counter, while the manager kept his post in front of a wall of brown bottles. It was a contest of the wills and the loser was the poor clerk who had to restock our groceries while my father marched his empty-handed family from the store.
Given this upbringing, I was 19 before my Baylor roommate dared me to guzzle a beer. I hated the taste of it … both coming, and a few seconds later, going. Ten years later I joined the Air Force reserves, where my priest colleagues taught me to enjoy a good wine.
I have few complaints that my father steered his children from alcohol. However, I suppose if I find some sadness around religious teaching, it’s when it becomes too focused on what we are supposed to abstain from, rather than what we are supposed to be drawn toward.
Over the years I’ve found more value in verses that teach positive action, like Psalm 34:14: “do good; seek peace and pursue it.” I suppose that means if you’re looking for good, you don’t have time for evil.
Now, 30 years later, I must say I still hate beer. However, I will drink wine — but only in a darkened tavern with priests or poets.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author. Call him at 321-549-2500, email him at norris@thechaplain. net or write him at P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA., 95759.