I knew that this day would come. I went to the liquor store in my collar. Oklahoma has a complicated history with alcohol and some of the strictest liquor laws in the country. Liquor stores are prohibited from selling anything but wine, beer, and spirits. No corkscrews, bottle openers, koozies, lemons, limes, or ice, paraphernalia that would be marketable and profitable. Any alcoholic beverage containing more than 3.2% alcohol by weight or 4% alcohol by volume can only be sold at room temperature in state-licensed liquor stores. That means grocery stores in Oklahoma cannot also be liquor stores. We force manufacturers to create a special 3.2% (or less) beer and malt beverage to be sold in our grocery and convenience stores, a beverage that barely fits the criteria for consumable but can be sold chilled for those in a hurry. This room-temperature law is also why an Oklahoman who even occasionally consumes beer or wine can likely tell you the fastest way to chill said beverages from 75 to 35 degrees. The liquor stores are closed in Oklahoma on holidays, election days, and Sundays. That means, of course, that I have no option to refill my wine stock on my only plain-clothed days.
I am a wine drinker. I lived in Belgium as an exchange student when I was 16 and had my palette sophisticated by the all men’s Rotary Club who hosted me. They took turns inviting me to their homes and offering me incredible wines from their personal wine cellars, fearful that I would return to the United States never having experienced the luxury of good European wines. In Oklahoma, that kind of generosity to a minor, if convicted, could be punishable by a fine and up to 5 years in prison.
All this makes me a bit of a closet wine snob. It has taken me a long time to find a wine I can both afford and that I really love. Now that I have, I want to buy it by the case!
But in my 8 years of ministry, this was the first time I had been in a liquor store in my collar. I went around 4 pm on a Monday, my Sabbath. The store is in a strip mall, and the parking lot was busy. When I got out of the car, I felt the most self-conscious I have ever felt in my collar. I silently explained to all those I feared were judging me all the way from the car to the door. “I drink responsibly.” “I am fortunate that I do not have an addiction.” The store had folks loitering around the door who quickly moved away and would not make eye contact with me. As I entered the store, a man exiting came out with a paper bag under his arm and looked down at the floor as he passed me. I was a walking billboard for guilt. The culture of our state regarding alcohol was crafted from a parental relationship to liquor. And those parents were likely to have gone to fundamentalist Christian churches.
I took a deep breath and told myself I had nothing to be ashamed of. I went to the counter and asked whether they carried my wine. They did and only had one bottle left. I asked if they could sell it to me by the case. The tattooed manager of my same age told me we would have to order it. So we did. There was a feeling that I was getting away with something. Like if my parents knew what I was doing I would be in TRUH-BLE. There was no reason for me to feel this way. My congregation and my association know I drink. So why would it not be ok for me to be identified as a minister when I buy wine?
I believe that people want it both ways with clergy, and I even feel this tension in myself. I am a human being and relate to people as a human being. Jesus was among the people in his ministry (and drank wine BTW). I am not comparing myself to Jesus, but I do try to learn from his ministry. It seems that today we both want our ministers to be perfect and holy AND approachable and human. When I feel this tension, I try to lean into bringing the ministry role into my humanity and my humanity into my ministry.
Religion at its best asks us to bring our whole selves to the church. When we compartmentalize instead of integrate, we shut out the complexity of what it means to be human. We can oversimplify in ministry, in religion, to the point of irrelevance. I believe the spirit of the law suggests God can handle all of us.