By Norris Burkes
Feb 19, 2017

There’s a joke that asks “How do you tell difference between Catholics and Baptists in a liquor store?” The answer is “The Catholics are the only ones talking to each other.”

My father, a good Baptist pastor, didn’t like that joke. His strategy toward liquor stores was to avoid them entirely. He was fond of the biblical teaching to “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 Southern Baptist church covenant encouraged members “to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks.” If any member tried reminding my dad, their pastor, that Jesus turned water into wine, they were told that the wine was likely “the most excellent grape juice.”

My dad made his stance clear to all who knew us by banning his family from shopping at the local liquor store for even so much as a carton of milk. After all, he reasoned, a brown bag filled with milk and bread might be mistaken by the town gossip as restocking our secret liquor cabinet.

Prohibiting our car from the liquor store would not be enough to protect his reputation. Unfortunately, a local Catholic family owned a van identical to our two-toned Dodge. They often parked that van at the local tavern on Saturday night and at the Catholic church on Sunday morning. I don’t know which was worse for my Baptist father — being mistaken for a drinker or a Catholic.

Although my dad was always sober, his driving made some think otherwise. One afternoon he was backing out of a parking space when he hit another car. He saw this accident as an opportunity to repaint his van in three new tones — a true reversal of colors. No more mistaken identity.

My father’s battle took a new venue when he brought us to the grand opening of the new Safeway in our small town. Overwhelmed by variety, each of us packed the cart with our choice of cereals, meat, chocolate milk and scooped 3 pounds of candy from the bins.

After we pushed our groceries through the checkout line, my dad wrote a check for the whopping $100 total. The clerk told him he’d need to get manager approval for the check and directed my dad to go to the man standing at the liquor counter.

My father said no. He engaged the clerk in a contest of the wills telling him that he’d not risk his reputation being seen at the liquor counter. No one blinked. The manager kept his post and the clerk kept his. In the end, the loser was the poor clerk who had to restock our groceries while my father marched his empty-handed family from the store.

Honestly, I have few complaints that my father steered his children away from any desire to drink alcohol. However, I do find some sadness around religious teaching that is 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 spend your time looking for good, you won’t have time for evil.

Some years later, I joined the Air Force where I was fortunate enough to meet some Catholic priests who taught me to appreciate a good wine. These days, I still don’t consider myself a drinker, but I will say I can enjoy a nice glass of wine — but usually only in a darkened tavern with priests or poets.

— To see Norris’s latest book, “Thriving Beyond Surviving,” or to contact him about speaking, visit Or write him via P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, Calif., 95759. Twitter @chaplain or call 843-608-9715.