Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2010 / 5 Kislev, 5771
Bars into Churches
By Paul Greenberg
Some people are alone because they want to be. This we call solitude, and how sweet it is. Others are alone but don't want to be. So they cluster. Where do all the lonely people go to be together? If they have laptops, to
So why not combine them? Why aren't bartenders more spiritual, preachers less preachy? What would be a better place for a bar than a church, making due allowances for those hardshell denominations -- Baptist and Muslim -- who frown on the use of spirits. My respects to both, if not agreement. For the connection between spirits and the spiritual is more than linguistic. Both can intoxicate, lead to communion and let us be reconciled with one another.
Wine may be a mocker, and strong drink raging, but doesn't the Good Book also advise a sip as a digestif? And there was that wedding in Cana where the water was turned into wine with the Lord's blessing. In the end, we are left to follow the wisdom of the Greeks: moderation in all things, perhaps even in moderation.
The omnibibulous H.L. Mencken was all in favor of drinking, but not without observing certain rules. For example: "First, never drink if you've got any work to do. Never. If I've got a job of work to do at 10 o'clock at night, I wouldn't take a drink up to that time. Secondly, never drink alone. That's the way to become a drunkard. And thirdly, even if you haven't got any work to do, never drink while the sun is shining. Wait until it's dark. By that time you're near enough to bed to recover quickly."
As the old boy said after reading that day's installment of Little Orphan Annie, I don't know if I believe half of that.
Not drink if you've got work to do? That all depends on the work. Some of us treasure a story about the late great
It isn't drink that has ruined many a newspaperman, but an immoderate sobriety that reduces their copy to safe, sober, soporific solemnity. With maybe a few moralistic platitudes thrown in as an additional sin. Respectability has ruined more columnists than rum has.
I'd add a few rules that my father taught me about drinking, including: Never drink without eating. Much like Mr. Mencken, he was against drinking alone. And he was dead set against trying to drown your sorrows -- on the ground that drink only intensified them. His rule was to drink only on happy occasions, preferably those with some religious significance. What kind of sabbath would it be without the blessings over the bread and wine? It would be like communion without the wafers and wine.
On the other hand, my grandfather, the drinker of the family, never considered supper properly started without his glass of schnapps. According to family legend, he couldn't decide whether to have his aperitif before or after the fish course, so he compromised by having it before and after. You never met a sweeter old man. He was also the best behaved of gentlemen. My grandmother saw to that.
Alcohol has its uses, as any good pharmacist can affirm, and is not to be despised. It merits respect. Which is what's wrong with the way so many of us drink -- casually, without ceremony, not even a toast. The family dinner table should be a kind of altar.
The itinerant preacher from Nazareth associated with gluttons and winebibbers, much as he was criticized for it. Just as many might not understand, let alone approve, the idea of installing a bar in church. Or, for that matter, a church in a bar. But what good is a religion if it doesn't scandalize? There's something almost oxymoronic about respectable religion; it takes the spirit -- and spirits -- out of it.
Why not invite ministers with the call to take their place behind the bar at the neighborhood pub Tuesdays and Thursdays? Perhaps some associate pastor or youth minister, one not yet given to talking more than listening.
Or just ordain the bartender. Naturally he would be required to know his bible as well as he does his Bartender's Guide. As the poet noted, "Malt does more than Milton can/ to justify God's ways to man."
Of course, someone would have to see to it that no one monopolized the conversation around the bar. Bores and boors take the fun out of drinking as surely as they do the wit out of conversation. Not that there's anything wrong with communing in silence, as at a Quaker prayer meeting. As modern music so often reminds us, there is much to be said for silence.
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© 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.