was idling in a long line of airline passengers several weeks ago when a conversation erupted 24 inches away that was impossible not to overhear.
“Boy, were you drunk last night,” said one 19-year old to his friend. “You were really acting crazy at the party, at least until you passed out.”
“I was?” mused his equally underage traveling partner.
“I don’t remember very much about what happened.”
“Well, there was that whole episode where you were up on the tables, yelling and singing in your underwear before you got really, really sick.”
“Really?” asked the other. “I mean, was I truly out of it?”
“Absolutely!” his friend chortled. “You were really hitting on this one girl, too. She seemed to figure out that you weren’t really in your right mind, though. Hey look,” he continued as inspiration struck him, “I’ve got pictures.”
For the next five minutes, I was treated to sneers, snorts, and giggles as the two of them peered at the tiny cell phone screen to glimpse images of the previous night’s debauchery. This was followed by a reflective pause.
“That must be it,” the wild partier finally concluded. “That must be how I chipped my front tooth—you know, falling off the desk just before I passed out. Does it look really bad?”
Several minutes of visual inspection by his friend and a close-up image of the damaged tooth snapped on the cell phone camera confirmed the fractured incisor.
“What am I going to tell my dad when I get home today?” the sobering teen asked his friend. “He’s going to be really mad if he finds out that I chipped my tooth while I was drunk at a party.”
“Why should he find out?” asked the clever one. “You don’t have to use his insurance. go to the campus health center and tell them you chipped it playing soccer. They’ll probably buy that story and treat you for free.”
Another seven minutes passed as I listened to the lie grow from simple deception to an elaborate tale they felt the need to keep refining. Lie added upon lie, layer by layer, not unlike, I concluded, the emergency dentist was going to have to add “tooth material” to fill in the sizeable chipped area. . . .
All of which reminded this middle-aged father of two teenage boys that alcohol use—and abuse—has an inescapably moral dimension to it about which our faith community has grown dangerously silent in recent years.
I’ve taken note for years of the “drug and alcohol education” programs now routinely part of school programs in North America, including in most Adventist schools. D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), and S.A.D.D. (Students Against Driving Drunk) programs proliferate, and collectively create the impression for many parents that their children and teens must have absorbed the essentials of Adventism’s historic “abstaining” policy toward all recreational drugs, especially including alcohol.
Even a quick glance at the organizing principles of these and other such groups, however, illustrates a fundamentally different approach to alcohol than that offered by Adventist principles. The official D.A.R.E. Web site page for elementary curriculum now concedes that “There is a recognition of the need to help students at this level develop an awareness that alcohol and tobacco are also drugs”—but there is no suggestion that students consider a lifetime of abstaining from them. M.A.D.D. and S.A.D.D. programs actively—and even graphically—warn against alcohol abuse, but the bottom-line message could just as easily be that of the ubiquitous beer company ads: “Drink responsibly.”
Our biblical faith calls us to remember that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), that even our eating and drinking must be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), and that there is a decidedly moral reason for not numbing what reasoning powers we may have been blessed with. The sad pathway that leads from alcohol use to a host of personal, social, and spiritual calamities clearly needs charting for a new generation.
Though we’ve covered this ground before, I have another conversation with my sons about alcohol slated for this weekend.
Maybe there is some child or teen in your world who needs to hear from you even before next Saturday night.
Bill Knott is the editor of Adventist Review.