My niece Joy married a British guy named Leon a couple of weeks ago. Leon puts on the light shows for stars like Paul McCartney and the Spice Girls. I know, the Spice Girls broke up, but my point is he travels all over the world for stars I would never want to see. Everybody was hoping Paul or Posh and David would show up, but fortunately they didn’t and Joy got to be the star.
Joy met Leon when she was working at San Antonio’s ATT Center, which hosts the San Antonio Spurs. Every night, her parents, Bill and Liza prayed she wouldn’t date a basketball player. It never dawned on them that she would meet a musician, which is even worse. And Leon isn’t just a musician, he’s a musicians roadie.
Imagine their horror.
This was going to be the opening of my toast at the reception, but I discovered Bill and Liza sat me as far from the bride’s table as possible. I asked Carol if that meant they didn’t want me to toast Joy. I couldn’t imagine the possibility. After all, I’m a hell of an emcee and improvisational comic.
She told me to sit at the table and keep my mouth shut.
But that didn’t stop me from making an improvisational toast. That’s why they supply glasses and spoons at receptions. Clink on the glass and you have everyone’s attention.
Bill and Liza supplied the guests with plastic glasses and spoons. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get the crowd’s attention.
I don’t know why they were concerned. Leon’s actually a hell of guy, but parents still sweat through nightmares over the worst boyfriend their daughter could meet. Just because I’m a loud drunk doesn’t mean I would say anything embarrassing.
The wedding did get me to thinking about the Wedding at Cana in the Gospel of John. If you don’t know the story, the father of the bride ran out of wine at the reception and panicked because there was no more. I don’t know why, because I wasn’t there to embarrass him with a toast to his daughter.
Jesus kept his cool and told the stewards to bring jugs filled with water. He proceeded to turn the water into wine. Not any wine, mind you, but wine that was better than what the guests had been sloshing down before. The host was grateful because usually the guests get the cheap wine last when they’re too drunk to know any better.
This passage presented a problem to the faithful when I was a kid. A serious problem. As many of you know, I was raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) and if there was one thing BPKs knew it was that wine was bad. In fact, drinking was about the worse sin you could commit (slightly better than smoking and almost as bad as dancing and sex).
In this story Jesus seems to approve of drinking. Not just drinking, but lots of it. In fact the entire wedding party has cleaned out the wine completely and now Jesus makes even more. How could we possibly account for that?
There was one explanation. Jesus told his followers that sin is sin and you couldn’t sin “worse.” For instance, once you thought about sex you had sinned just as badly as though you had sex. (Look it up). So the wedding party was already drunk, a little more wine wouldn’t make them bigger sinners.
You can probably see the problem with this approach. Trotting this passage out to horny young teenagers like me was likely to fuel the fire. I was already thinking about sex all the time. I thought about sex with every girl in my high school. By this thinking, I had already done the deed, so I might as well go ahead and sleep with them1 since I couldn’t get in even more trouble.
Baptist mentors came up with a better approach. Jesus didn’t make wine, he made Welchade. I still remember evangelists and Sunday School teachers quoting the Gospels, “New wine such as this I have never tasted.” The wedding guests were used to wine tainted with fermentation. They had never tasted pristine grape juice before.
Unfortunately, I would later realize when I actually started reading the Bible, the oft-quoted phrase, “New wine such as this I have never tasted,” didn’t make it into the final draft of the Bible. It’s an easy mistake to make, Jesus talked about new wine quite often, but that particular verse didn’t make the cut.
Even with my ignorance of the verses that made it into the Bible, I wasn’t completely sold, however. I went to high school. I spent time with those kids who broke into their parents’ liquor cabinets. I drank a few belts when they passed me the bottle.2 I knew that if Jesus started passing out grape juice to a room full of drunks, they would not have been praising Jesus. They would have been complaining, “This wine sucks.”
Here’s the spin I might have tried, “Yes, Jesus made grape juice, but it was the power of God that made them think they were getting even more drunk.” I wouldn’t have been convinced by that either (if God doesn’t want believers to be drunk, why would he make them feel drunk), but I’m sure it would have been good enough for most.
Wouldn’t it have been easier to just say, maybe Jesus was concerned about more important things than drinking? I’m not one to promote drunkenness, in spite of my earlier jokes. Too many people abuse their families, spend their families into the poorhouse, get into cars and kill someone, or do all three. I understand why some Christians might want to express concern about drunkenness.
Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t condemn drinking or alcohol. It teaches moderation. To extend that concern to a blanket ban on drinking ignores that fact. The problem is that in our attempts to make scripture conform to our expectations of God (and, more importantly, other people), we create any number of fairy tales to allow us to keep those beliefs and still believe we take the scripture at face value.
I can forgive twisting the passage on the wedding at Cana. Sobriety can be a virtue. Nothing in the Bible condemns sobriety. During the upcoming election campaign, however, we will hear quite a few more fairy tales about what Jesus wants from Americans.
We will hear that Jesus believes the rich earned their wealth in the service of God, that the love of money is as important as the love of God, that we should do nothing for others unless they do for us first, and that we should never have to render unto Caesar.
We will be told that Jesus wants to keep government out of our lives unless we don’t believe in God. Then government should remind us that we’re wrong by making us pray. We will be told that Gays and Lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to marry, but that corporations should be able to squeeze every last dollar from the economy no matter how much damage they do in the process.
We will be told that God may care about those who are poor and in need, but the government shouldn’t give them a second thought.
The irony is the Tea Party and religious right don’t even feel the need to appeal to scripture any more. They believe that God has given them authority to speak for Him. They have anointed themselves authority on both scripture and Constitution. This is the biggest fairy tale of all.