On Death, Red Lipstick, And My Affection For Communion Wine, Part III

Originally, this post and the two that precede it were supposed to be one post. I forgot that I am, in fact, very long winded and thus the three parts to this post are split over three different posts. For the previous posts, you can go here and here.

Part Three: Tony Jones wrote a blog post about Evangelicals and their disapproval of alcohol. Like most things Tony writes, it made me think.

Just a side note: Tony and I go to the same church, and I still haven’t gotten up the courage to introduce myself to him. He’s just so…awesome, and one of my superheroes, and I can’t just walk up and say “Hi, I’m Denika. I think you’re awesome and you’re one of my superheroes.” So, if you ever go to Solomon’s Porch, I’ll be the one hyperventilating and freaking out because one of my superheroes is right. freaking. there.

Tony, if you’re reading this (which I sincerely doubt), I’m sorry if that’s creepy.

Anyway.

I grew up Lutheran, and my church used kosher wine for Holy Communion. My pastors often went out for drinks with one another–one of them was even a bartender. The concept of Christians drinking was not at all foreign to me. The only restriction that was given was that all things were to be enjoyed in moderation.

That seemed simple enough, and it didn’t contradict what I read in the Bible.

Now, when I went to school (at a Baptist university), I was informed that alcohol is wrong and we should never let a drop of it touch our lips. This went so far that the school covenant, which, if you wanted to go to that school, you had to sign whether you agreed with it or not, banned students–even those over 21–from consuming or even possessing alcohol during the school year. One of my friends actually got written up because she had an unopened bottle of Bailey’s in the trunk of her car, which was a gift for her 21st birthday.

And for a while, I believed this. I decided that I would never drink, not even once I was old enough, because it was somehow wrong. I didn’t have solid theological or even moral backing for this. There was no concept of “drinking in moderation” or just having the occasional drink every once in a while. You either abstained from drinking and were therefore holy, or you were a drunkard and were going to Hell.

When my now-husband and I got engaged (at my ripe old age of seventeen), my mind began to change. We were discussing our wedding and whether or not we wanted to have  alcohol at it, and we got into an argument about alcohol as a whole. I stated that I didn’t even want to have it in our home, and even less at our wedding. I still find this funny because he’s the one who grew up Baptist, and I was Lutheran. He wanted to know what was so wrong about alcohol.

I really didn’t have a good answer.

He’s so much smarter than me. Bastard.

(Love you honey (: )

So he began to change my mind. When we decided to do Communion at our wedding, things got more interesting. See, my tradition uses kosher wine and unleavened bread for Communion. This is important to me, for no other reason than it is a sacrament, and thus a ritual, which makes the elements significant, and get off my back, I like my one tradition. When we informed his parents that we would be doing communion in this way, they, being good Baptists, decided they simply wouldn’t take Communion.

Awesome.

(Don’t worry, we ended up having a chalice of white grape juice too.)

At that point, I became an all-out advocate for Christians drinking. I wanted to break down the so-called “piety” that my school held so tightly because it simply seemed nonsensical to me. I had conversations with fellow students and with professors about this, and we all agreed that it was pointless.

The thing that got me, though, is that I no longer felt comfortable partaking in communion at my school. They would do it occasionally in chapel with grape juice and white bread. I just couldn’t reconcile that with the need I felt to hold to my tradition and my ritual, to keep Communion a sacrament. I felt like an outsider because my tradition was not only seen as invalid, but sinful.

Both I and my university had decided that the other side was wrong. This isn’t how we should do things.

Fast forward to a few months ago. My husband and I started going to Solomon’s Porch. That community is great for many reasons, but perhaps the best being that they form the practices and the beliefs of the community around its members. Instead of telling you what they believe and saying that, to be a part of that community, you have to agree, they ask what you believe and work to incorporate your unique theology into the community as a whole. One way this gets fleshed out is in their Communion. They have multiple stations throughout the gathering area, some with grape juice, others with wine, even one station with a common cup. They make it possible for all believers–however they celebrate this ritual–to do it as they wish, as a community.

It’s a beautiful thing. And it’s something we all need to start doing.

If you have friends who don’t drink because of their beliefs, ask them why. Make sure they know the reasons behind their decision. If you have friends who drink, ask the same questions. Try to understand their beliefs. And make sure to understand yours, too. We don’t need to wage wars for or against alcohol use in the Church–we just need to understand each other.

Now, if I can just get the Porch to start offering matzoh and temple wine…

Advertisements

Unrelenting Lutheran Lent

I am a non-denom-er.

I don’t ascribe to any specific denominational doctrine.

I pick and choose. There are elements of just about every (major) Christian denomination that I like. I don’t think we need to fully fit within one.

I also don’t put much emphasis on tradition. I find that my beliefs often contradict what tradition says, and while I’m willing to engage that debate, I rarely end up siding with tradition.

But it’s Lent. And that changes things for me.

The first church I went to was Lutheran. It’s also the church I have attended longest. So it’s had a pretty significant impact on my theology.

Do I think everything within Lutheran doctrine is correct? By no means. I actually disagree with much of their doctrine.

But, Lord, I love the way they do church.

I love the adherence to the church calendar. I love the church seasons and the colors that we associate with them. I love the liturgy and the lectionary texts. I love the hymns and the LBW. And I love love love the Sacraments.

Part of it is the dependability, the regularity, the consistency of it. Part of it is the unity that comes from knowing that everyone in the building is making the same statements and prayers together, that everyone (both within the individual churches and within the denomination itself) is meditating on the same text, and that so many from years past have sung the same hymns. Part of it is the beautiful meaning of the Sacraments and how deep they cut into the human soul. There are a myriad of reasons why the way Lutherans do church resonates so deeply within me.

I’m okay, most of the time, with not having this in my life. I go to a Baptist school and a non-denom church. I’ve seen plenty of adult immersion baptisms and I’ve done communion with Welch’s and Wonderbread more times than I can count. I sing 90’s worship songs at church on Sundays and listen to a forty-five-minute-long sermon. My husband (who you can now find here) grew up Baptist-Covenant, so he’s not big on anything that has to do with liturgical churches, and I’m okay sacrificing that for him. I can deal without Lutheranism for forty-five weeks out of the year.

But…Lent is different.

I’ve learned that many non-liturgical churches (and their members) don’t really do Lent, or they do it in a very different (and almost unrecognizable to me) way than liturgical churches do. It’s this thing in March or so that starts by getting some ashes smudged on your face and you give something up for forty (or forty-six, because many don’t realize that you’re supposed to break your fast on Sundays) days. Then you go to Easter service and everything’s good and not weird again. Which is fine, I’m not bashing that. There is nothing in the Bible that says you have to celebrate Lent.

But it’s not fine for me.

Christmas, Easter, they’ve been taken over by capitalism and pop culture. I know Jews who celebrate Christmas because, why the hell not, everyone else does. Lent is different. It’s still ours. It’s precious. It’s beautiful. It is mournful and solemn but it pushes towards the joy we know is coming. It moves us to rethink ourselves and our actions and commit ourselves yet again to Jesus, to prepare ourselves for this coming joy. It requires us to walk in the steps of his pain, but it also sets us free to rejoice with him on Easter morn. It is the most stunning example of how we ought to live as followers of Christ that I’ve ever found in the Church.

And we do this every year. For six and a half weeks. Beautiful.

Two days ago, I (and my husband, reluctantly) went to Ash Wednesday service at a Lutheran church in our neighborhood. We sang hymns out of the LBW. We listened to the (classic twelve-minute-long) sermon. We took communion of kosher wine and unleavened bread. We prayed the confession. We received the ashes. It was wonderful.

I recall, as the pastor was reciting the Words of Institution (for Holy Communion, for all you non-liturgical types), I was mouthing along with her. I watched as every person spoke the Lord’s Prayer together. I saw everyone bow their heads and offer their empty hands up to receive the elements. And, for the first time in far too long, I received Holy Communion. And it meant something.

Lent, at that moment, renewed its grasp on my heart.

Because I was reminded that this Communion was not simply something done to unite my brothers and sisters and I. I was reminded that I am being invited to a table, not only with all these people, but with Christ. I, who am not worthy, was offered an outstretched hand and the simple invitation of “Come, the table is prepared, all are welcome.” I was reminded that this bread and wine is not just bread and wine, it is the manifestation of the body broken for me and the blood shed for me on the Cross that we are walking towards in this season.

Broken. Unworthy. Sinful. Invited anyway.

But first, we must walk. Forty (forty-six) days in the valley of the shadow of death. My sins. Seeing every ugly detail thrust out into the open like that. Still, we must walk. At the end of this valley lies a hill with a Cross atop it. We must make it that far. The further we go, the more I look back. I want to return. I want to stop walking. I begin to limp. Soon, my legs give out. I can’t do this anymore. No matter. I will be carried there if by no other means. Laid at the foot of the Cross. You who carried me here are now nailed to it. Your body is broken before me and your blood runs over me. I lift up my hands to give something, anything, to stop your pain. Hush, child. Now is not your time to give. You must receive. I don’t understand, I am the wrongdoer. Before you can explain, your last breath escapes. I cry out in mourning. If it is all I can do for you now, I lay you in your grave. I weep. I come back two days later to find your grave opened. I don’t understand, I don’t know why. I ask the first person I see, the gardener, if he knows what happened. He turns and his face is yours. I don’t understand. Joy fills my heart and I am ready to dismiss the last six weeks as a dream. You tell me no, I can’t. I must always remember that journey. Without it, we would not be here. This joy is a product of that pain. But rejoice, child, for the pain is now over; the journey is complete.

Come. The table is prepared, all are welcome.