Friday, January 13, 2012


This is a new feature, which I will be assigning the unimaginitive title "JOSH TATE'S OPINIONS." I have decided to expand on my BFZ SEX TALKS to include open letters to my children on a number of different topics. Just in case I die unexpectedly and they never get to know me as well as I would have liked.

I'm sorry it's soooooooooooooo long!

Dear Kids,

Your Dad is a teetotaler, which is to say I don't drink. In fact, I have never knowingly drank alcohol in my life. Once, as a wee lad, I accepted a drink of "super apple juice" from your Great Grandpa McCuen, which I am pretty sure was beer, but otherwise I have remained virginal all these years. Some wag their heads and pity me for all the delights I've denied myself. Others look at me with an expression which seems to wonder, "Are you amish or something?" Others state that they wish they could say the same and then launch into an account of the miseries alcohol have visited on them or somebody they know. As I have grown older I have become increasingly reluctant to share with others that I am teetotaler. It's usually awkward, weird and uncomfortable to do so. They wonder if I'm making a preachy point by telling them this or perhaps bragging about how amazingly righteous I am. No and no. I suspect that most drinkers suspect that I privately judge them. Typically when drinkers learn that I am a teetotaler they feel judged to some extent, and sometimes to ease the ensuing awkwardness and unease I crack jokes about drinking which perversely reinforces their suspicion that I am privately judging them. I'm learning to just avoid the topic entirely. 

I don't want to avoid the topic with you however because you are my kids, the very fruit of my loins! I want you to know and understand me. I feel that I owe that to you. That's why I am writing this.

I'll allow that as a  boy I naively assumed drinking to be sinful, but as I grew older and was confronted by sincere believers who were also known to occasionally imbibe I ran to the scriptures thinking I would find arguments against them, but found instead an abundance of evidence to the contrary. Remember, the scriptures ought to be our sole authority for faith and practice. If you can't make an argument from scripture you should think twice about making it at all. Allow scripture to shape you, and, as much as possible, try not to impose your prejudices and perspective on scripture. My views necessarily evolved to concede that there is nothing sinful whatsoever in the drinking of alcohol. Drunkenness is undoubtedly the stuff of sin, scripture is clear on that point, but declaring all drink sinful is likewise sin... the sin of legalism. Not everything that we hold as a private conviction can be imposed on another's conscience. In fact, in many cases we shouldn't.

Nevertheless a teetotaler I remain. Why?

I have to answer the question of why I don't drink in three parts.

1. My decision to become a committed teetotaler occurred on a sunny afternoon in the spring of 2001. I had been working at the St Albans City Police Department for a few months and as part of my new job I was experiencing prolonged and daily interactions with individuals who were 10-56 (or "drunks" as you civilians call them). Drunks, drunks, drunks and more drunks- some days it felt like I didn't meet a sober person all day. One day I pointed out to a fellow officer that I thought it was kinda ironic that I dealt with so many drunks but had never personally experienced alcohol in my life. He counseled me to drink a beer, or better yet a bunch of beers. His theory was that if I got a little 10-56ed myself I might gain some perspective and insight into the mind of the drunks I was dealing with. At the time it sounded like good advice. So as I was buying some groceries one day I slipped a six pack of budweiser into the shopping cart. (All my friends who drink say that budweiser was a horrible choice, by the way.)

I recall that the 6-pack sat in my refrigerator for weeks and weeks. I just couldn't bring myself to drink it. Everytime I contemplated drinking that six pack I became flooded with an emotion that I find difficult to describe. Maybe we haven't words for what I experienced. I think there are many things we don't have words for. Let's make a word to fit my experience- how about "FLUG." Yes, that's it, every time I thought about drinking that beer I felt FLUG in my heart. I'm tempted to ascribe supernatural origins to the feeling, but others might just as accurately say that I had not stepped out entirely from the norms of the home I was raised in. Your Grandpa and Grandma Tate were likewise teetotalers. The Tate house I grew up in was a dry house. Also my old alma mater, Houghton College, maintained a dry campus. In fact, Houghton went so far as to buy all of the town's liquor licenses so that no no one in town could sell alcohol. (Three miles down the road in Fillmore, NY they were all to happy to profit from the college's stand.) So, perhaps, to some extent I felt like drinking the beer would be a horrible betrayal of some important formative influences in my life- my parents and to a lesser extent my college.

I remember one day as I was sitting in my apartment thinking about how my parents would have to come and clean out my place if I died. (I have always been the sort who thought through the effect of my death on others as this very letter indicates.) I thought how weird it would be for them to find a 6-pack of budweiser in the fridge. I imagined my Mom making the discovery and muttering to herself, "I never knew him." With that thought I walked over to the fridge, pulled out the beer and proceeded to pour all six cans down the sink. Then I tossed the empties into the recycling bin behind my apartment. I instantly felt relieved. The FLUG was lifted and I decided in a firm sort of way never to revisit the issue personally. For me, the decision not to drink is one of the ways that I have decided to honor my parents. Although I have never talked to Grandma and Grandpa Tate as a grown man about drinking I suspect that it would be troubling to them on some level if I took up drinking. Why would I do that to them? That would be kinda shabby of me. Besides, the very thought of drinking fills me with that mysterious FLUG. Enduring FLUG is not worth it, whatever it is.

2. My second reason for embracing teetotalism was also born out of my brief tenure as a police officer. Being a police officer has turned more men to the bottle than away from it, but I am one of those few who came away from the experience with a deep and abiding wariness of the stuff. I've seen what alcohol can do when it takes over, and I decided not to even flirt with it myself. Homes, lives, careers, health, and relationships are being torn apart with frightening regularity in every community because of alcohol abuse. You would only have to go to a few alcohol-fueled domestics, bar fights or car wrecks before you would see where I am coming from.

Your Great Grandpa Tate struggled with alcohol before coming to know the Lord, and I think that the history of Tate teeetotalism (Say that five times fast!!!) can be traced to him. I am personally convicted that I have benefited from that legacy, and I desire to continue it. Some of my close friends who are responsible Christian drinkers have counseled me over the years that I am perhaps doing a dangerous thing by not modeling for you responsible drinking. By totally abstaining, they argue, I'm setting you guys up for trouble down the road. I hope I am not doing you guys a disserivice. I would never knowingly harm you. Their argument is possibly not without some merit, but I have decided on a different course. My goal as your Father is to raise you for the Lord, and to equip you with the tools you'll need to make good decisions in life. My own personal conviction regarding alcohol is that not everything that is permissible is also profitable. Sure, I couold drink without sinning, but what would I have gained? As I said earlier, other Christians will make their own judgments regarding alcohol, and I do not judge them for that that. They do not sin in making a different decision than me. When it comes to alcohol you are likewise free to make your own decisions once you're old enough, but as your Father who loves you very much I feel duty bound to warn you that alcohol can be a dangerous thing. My job, at least at present, is to protect you while you're fragile so you can grow into a strong and flourishing person who, in turn can be a blessing and a help to others. You will make your own decisions, but I want you to know my thoughts on the subject.

3. My last reason for being a teetotaler is brief but not unimportant. Read the admonition in 1 Corinthians 8 against being a stumbling block to a weaker brother or sister. I think alcohol has the potential to be such a stumbling block and so I have chosen to refrain from it.

I love you kids, and I am praying for you. May you grow to be sturdy and sincere followers of Jesus, eager to do what is good.

Your Loving Father,



Maxon said...

I agree entirely.

What is your source, though, for saying Houghton bought the town liquor licenses? My understanding always was that the town of Caneadea was just a dry one by statute.


I heard that, but I'm not sure why. Get on it, ombudsman, I want answers.

Maxon said...

As of 2007, Caneadea was one of ten dry towns in the state.

al'xae said...

Josh,there are many lovely alcohols to enjoy in the world but it's odd that people would be all weird about your decision to abstain. It makes me wonder about the "Are you Amish?" types' relationship with the sauce.

(Also; had you imbibed the swill that is Budweiser I think you would have been even more firm in your objections-- ick)


I've been told that about Budweiser by those in the know. Nevertheless, I chose budweiser because that seemed to be the most common beer I was encountering as a police officer. If it's so awful why is it so popular?