Do I get loud like that too? Other observations from the fast.

I’m now most of the way through Lent.  By and large I’m doing fine.  Many nights I don’t miss alcohol, or lately, even think about it.  Even so, there continue to be moments of insight and occasionally, of struggle.  Here they are in no particular order:

  • Weeknights are generally fine, except as noted last time, if it has been a long and stressful day.
  • It is becoming clearer to me that another facet of why I drink is that it is simply something to keep me occupied- or for lack of a more eloquent way of putting it, it is simply something to do. Therefore, not being able to do it leaves me feeling itchy from time to time.  It’s not because I crave the alcohol but because I have to find something else to do with my down time.
  • Friday and Saturday nights are still difficult. I suspect this is because this is when the habit is still most ingrained… to kick back and relax at the end of the week.  But this is also combined with the fact that this is when my wife will also tend to have a drink or two and, it is nice to join her in that.
  • Being sober when others are drinking is still a fairly novel experience. I’ve done it before, even going so far as to attend a beer tasting at which I didn’t drink.  One recent Friday night I went out with friends.  While it was somewhat tempting to give in to the inky lusciousness of Celebrator on tap, I managed to do just fine with my seltzer and lime.  My companions indulged in tasty offerings from Greenman and Victory as well as a Bluecoat and tonic. As our conversation continued into the 2nd round I couldn’t help but notice that they became a little more animated and excited.  Volumes rose accordingly and occasionally folks would even talk over one another.  Of course, it was all perfectly enjoyable not to mention in keeping with a bar on Friday night.  But as someone who is prone to being loud and animated anyway, it makes me wonder just how much more pronounced that must be when I get two drinks into a conversation?

I am glad to be in the final week and look forward to sharing some final observations with you next week

Keep those prayers coming

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Half Time Report!

Thursday the 28th marked the halfway point of Lent so I thought I would bring you a report from the sidelines as to how the alcohol fast is going.

1) Most of the time my desire for a drink is more because it’s a habit than a craving. For example, after dinner I would do the dishes and clean the kitchen and, on my way back to the living room, would head to the bar for a bourbon to wind down the evening. For the first couple of weeks of Lent when heading out of the kitchen I often caught myself turning left into the dining room rather than right towards the living room.

2) When I have found myself wishing I could have drink it is at the end of a long and stressful day. Thankfully I have found that if I just push on, the craving passes.

3) The first two Sundays (which are not part of Lent and so offer a break from the fast) I drank more than I should have. In reflecting on this, I realized it stemmed not from a desire to get drunk but from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

I have struggled with FOMO in all areas of my life… food, buying stuff, figuring out exactly the right thing to order on the menu, etc and usually winding up overindulging because I was afraid I would miss something. It seems to be rooted two misbegotten ideas.  First, that such things can bring me spiritual fulfillment and second, that if I choose the best ones then the fulfillment will be even greater

At its best it’s an annoyance. At its worst, it can become compulsive. Knowing my family members and systems my best guess is it’s a manifestation of the OCD/anxiety disorder that plagued my mother and grandmother.

Getting back to those Sundays, I used this one day a week break to justify having more because I was afraid if I didn’t squeeze it in, I would miss out. Last week I took this experience to heart and kept things in moderation.

4) The longer I go the less pronounced the desire and even the interest in having a drink becomes. The challenge will be if I can take the insights that distance has allowed me and apply it back to life when I no longer have the prohibition of Lent to make the choice for me.

So, there you have it… nothing as dramatic as a torn ACL or concussion protocol but just taking the time to reflect and put it all in writing for you is rather helpful for me.
Thanks for reading, please keep me in your prayers and stay tuned for the next update!

40 days and 40 nights….

First of all you may have noticed that I haven’t posted in almost a year.  For more on that and where this blog is heading in the future you can read about it here.

Lent is upon us.  For those who may not know, Lent is a 40 day long season of the Church during which many Christians traditionally “fast” from things like meat, sweets or other things that are pleasurable.  In recent years some have chosen to fast from Facebook or from destructive habits or even to a positive discipline.  Please note that those 40 days do not include Sundays.

Normally I observe Lent by giving up something like deep fried food.  It’s a bummer because I love fries and tortilla chips but if I’m honest, it’s not all that challenging.  This year I am stepping up the game and giving up alcohol.  I’ve done this twice before in the past 7 years but for a while now I’ve been feeling like I need to take a step back from drinking.  While I’m not an alcoholic, it has become a habit and something I use as a coping mechanize when dealing with stress and anxiety.  Therefore, I want to take the opportunity to examine the role it plays in my life, gain insight into myself and hopefully develop other, healthier ways of coping.

Now those of you who know their Bible might be wondering if I am acting like those religious leaders that Jesus condemned in Matthew 6:1 when he said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”  It’s a legitimate question but please believe me when I say that I’m not doing this for praise.

Sharing this with you is part of my own commitment to maintain the discipline.  If I am publicly accountable then it helps me to keep pushing forward.  It also forces me to be conscious and reflecting on what the experience is like and how it affects me both emotionally and spiritually.

My prayer is that this may also be of help to you. If you are questioning the role that alcohol plays in your life or if you are affected negatively by someone else’s drinking, then I hope this may lead to seek for answers or get help if you need it.

Finally, I am sharing this so that Christians will keep talking about the role alcohol plays in our lives and in our church.  This is especially important for the clergy.  Our vocation is not easy.  As I know from personal experience, all too often we wind up choosing unhealthy ways of coping with the stress.  Yet because we feel pressure to live up to the impossible standards set for us (or that set for ourselves), we often try to hide our inevitable failures and shortcomings.  The result is that many clergy don’t get to experience the freedom in Jesus that we proclaim to others but instead live as prisoners of addiction and denial.  This is incredibly destructive not only for our own lives and families but for our parishes and for the Church as a whole.

I don’t know how many people will read this.  But if it encourages even one more person to be honest about the ways in which alcohol affects them personally and the ways in which it impacts our churches, then it is a step in the right direction.

More so than ever I welcome your questions, experiences, prayers and support.

Of Irish Pint Glasses

As evening draws near on this Saint Patrick’s Day, I find myself missing my second home. It makes me sad that the appropriate way to celebrate that wonderful country and people is what I witnessed downtown already- namely scores of young adults, wearing green and staggering drunk by 1 pm. But this is not a rant…. there are plenty of people who have already spoken eloquently about the mis-appropriation of this day and mis-characterizations of the Irish. So instead let me share a memory from my the first time I travelled to Eire. Slainte!

So This Priest Walks Into a Bar...

I have been fortunate enough to travel several to the beautiful country of Ireland and,  God willing, plan to go many times more.  I have gone both out of religious interest and for  family vacation.  One of the truly unique and glorious features of Ireland is it pubs.  While rightly famed for their beer (although this distinction is sadly slipping away with the proliferation of mass produced American beer and the adjustment of serving temperature from the warmer traditional  temps to the near freezing American norms- but more on that in a future post) they are even better known for their atmosphere and their gregarious company.  As mentioned in my previous post on hospitality, what I loved about them is that you can just walk in sit down and, with the most minimal effort, strike up a conversation which leads quickly to the purchasing of rounds for one another and…

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“Hey Padre, gimme some of them ashes”

 

I just finished offering ashes as part of the “Ashes to Go” ministry and it got me to thinking about one of my all time favorite encounters on an Ash Wednesday.  It’s been a few years since I shared it so I hope you enjoy reading it.

A blessed Ash Wednesday and Happy Valentine’s Day to you all.

It was Ash Wednesday and it also happened to be my sexton’s birthday.  So after the noonday service he and I walked two blocks down to my favorite local lunch spot, The Henry James Saloon.  Needless to say, I was still in my full clerical garb complete with a big smudge of ash on my own forehead from the service.  So we are sitting there me with my Yuengling Lager (a Philadelphia staple) and him with his Bud (may God forgive him).  Across from us are four women, obviously there on their lunch break as well.  Anyway, there we are, chatting and suddenly one of the women calls out, “Hey Padre… Padre.”  Needless to say I quickly knew she was talking to me (When one is wearing clerics it doesn’t take long to realize that you attract a lot more attention from strangers than if you were in civilian dress).  So I asked how I could be of service.  Her response was classic Philly, “Gimme some of them ashes.”  She explained that by the time she got home from work and picked up her son, took care of supper and homework, she would not have time to get the 7 o’clock service at her home church.  I apologized and told her that sadly, I did not bring my container of ashes (in this case a small metal box) with me so I could not oblige.  Yet she was not to be deterred… she thought for a moment and then pointed and said, “Well gimme some of your ashes then.”  Bold as brass she was and it knocked me for a loop.  I must have looked as confused as I felt because she felt that it was necessary not only to repeat herself, but to point straight at my forehead.  At last I understood, though I was still not exactly sure how I felt about the whole enterprise but I could see no reason to deny her request.  I stood and went over to her and asked her name.  I then licked my thumb, put it to my forehead and with the residue, made the sign of the cross on hers while saying, “Margie, remember that you are dust and to dust to shall return.”  Although the whole enterprise was a bit half-assed in my opinion it was clearly valid enough in hers.  It must have been because two of her three friends asked me to do the same.   Just goes to show that people are always looking for the sacred, even, or perhaps especially, in the alehouse.

Saint Brigid Revisited

Happy belated St Brigit’s day. And she’s still waaaay more venerable a herald of spring than some stupid groundhog!

So This Priest Walks Into a Bar...

One of my most consistently viewed posts concerns a poem attributed to Saint Brigid of Kildare.  In honor of her recently celebrated feast day (February 1) I wanted to revisit this remarkable woman and her famous poem.

Kildare 081 A statue of Brigid at her sacred well in Kildare

Brigid of Kildare (451-525) is second only to Patrick in terms of both reverence and popularity.   In the town of Kildare there are a number of pubs (again to on one’s surprise) which certainly try to emphasize an association with Brigid.

She was famed for her generosity and her caring nature.  There are also several beery miracles attributed to her.  One tells of how she managed to make one blessed barrel of beer last so that it managed to supply the thirsty members of 18 churches from Maundy Thursday all the way through the Easter season (53 days in all).     That’s…

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Every night is Halloween

At some level concerts are also costume parties.  Think about it, even if all you do is put on a t shirt featuring the headliner, you still probably made an effort to change your outfit from what you were wearing earlier in the day.  Depending on the band that costume can get pretty elaborate… from tie-dyed shirt for the Dead to teased-out hair and makeup of glam metal to fans who mimic their idol’s dress from the Material Girl to Katy Perry, to punk rock Mohawks, most people look different when they’re at a show.

But IMHO the most elaborate costumes can be found at either a goth or black metal show.  These tend to include not just elaborate clothing choices but also make up.  As you see the costumes can get quite elaborate

Now, here’s the puzzle… what do you do when your rock and roll costume party takes place on the night of our cultural costume extravaganza, namely Halloween?  Do the goths dress as bankers?  Does the black metal crowd shed their corpse paint for Miss Clairol?  When for you, in the words of Type O Negative, “Every night is Halloween?” how do you dress for the show?

Oddly enough, not much changes.  In 2008 I saw this first hand when I saw the Sisters of Mercy on Halloween night.  The only non-goth piece of clothing present was a Phillies cap sported by guitarist Chris Catalyst as a nod to the Phil’s recent World Series win!

Earlier this week I took my daughter to see Motionless in White on Halloween and saw much of the same… not a shred of black leather had been replaced by sear sucker.  If anything it was an invitation for the audience to go even darker.

 

Corpses, demons and slutty nuns abounded.  A couple of over-sized dinosaurs and the fact that Miss May I were dressed Power Rangers added an element of levity but overall the crowd stayed in its lane.

Miss May I

 

 

Contestants in the costume contest including zombie Jesus, and a murder-suicide bride and groom.

But then Amity Affliction took the stage and I had to laugh.  It looked like Greg Marmalard, Douglas Neidermeyer and the rest of Omega House had formed a metal band.  They were dressed straight out of a J-Crew catalog.

 

Finally, someone in this counter-culture crowd understood that Halloween costumes can be fun precisely because they allow us pretend to be the exact opposite of who we are.

I am not complaining.  Halloween inspires the already theatrically minded rockers to go over the top which means that even if the crowds at goth and metal shows tend to stick to their dark and scary uniform, I’ve found that it’s worth missing out on trick or treating to go to a concert.