What the Lapsed Episcopalian Knew All Along


This is a re-post from last year. The holidays bring family get-togethers. And since my family can break down along lines of a drinking culture on one side and a dry culture on another, it makes things interesting. Unfortunately for me, the lapsed Episcopalian and mom will be staying in Florida this year, leaving me with the dry side. Looks like Welch’s sparkling cocktails and soda pop for me. That’s okay, I have a brutal sweet tooth.

A rearing in secular unbelief, first converting into broad evangelicalism and then converting again into Reformed confessionalism is nothing if not packed with all sorts of interesting changes. In the first conversion, I met up with a rather clear if unstated expectation that certain social, political and cultural mores were to be quickly adopted. Not only was it obvious that one must get cozy with a certain narrow band of activist politics and cheer on fairly bleary-eyed rightist rants about a damnable media, one also had to understand that the consumption of certain substances was obviously not for the truly pious. World-flight not only meant that attempts at worldly involvement were about throwing rocks from inside the cave (read: “culture war”), but also that certain things ought never be touched. Having been reared by a pair that included the man in the picture (circa 1975), that was all a bit much for this newbie to swallow. But for various reasons, one of which was that I wanted to be truly pious, I did my level best to keep certain balloons under water. Being male, I’ve always been pretty good at silent desperation.

The second conversion to the Reformation did a lot to release a whole host of balloons. Fully affirming the material world, it was quite a relief to find out that the world in which I had always lived and enjoyed really wasn’t so fundamentally evil and retreat was actually more impious than pious. Yet, as I have gone on in certain circles that share with me the second conversion from broad legalistic-evangelicalism into Reformed libertarian-confessionalism, I keep finding that the capped man sitting by the pool has known a few things all along without missing a beat. He may not yet be aligned with me on many theological and confessional specifics, but he gets what I think many in both my conversions still don’t grasp very well. Contra my first conversion, he always knew the material world was “very good” and there was absolutely no reason to fear it and every reason to pursue it. Contra my second conversion, he knew there was absolutely no reason to have to prove any of that to anybody.

Weaving in and out of my conversions, I have found it crowded with more or less two types: ascetic legalists and sophomoric libertarians who used to be ascetic legalists. I find myself more and more pulling up a seat next to the bearded man as they both do silent battle. It’s a fun show. Here is what I observe:

The legalists are mostly the kinder and gentler variety anymore. Soft legalism is a good term, I think. The brute moralism of their forebears has morphed into user-friendly advice which still “cannot be refused.” Since ordinary is anathema to the therapeutic age, they seem to justify their austerity by appealing to the fashionable and extra-ordinary trinity of “happy, healthy and whole.” It is a sort of silent legalism, one a lot like silent theocracy. Just as some may talk a good game about “the separation of church and state” yet really believe that the gospel has a direct bearing on and obvious implication for the ordering of society, the unspoken rule in silent legalism is that true piety can indeed be measured by abstinence even as charity is feigned.

Then there is the liberty camp. Blowing smoke into the faces of their past, these find true piety to be measured by relative consumption. There seems always something to prove to some phantom somewhere in the individual or collective self, real or imagined. The way an adolescent speaks a bit higher on the phone so her parents know she is fraternizing with the neighborhood bad boy, certain libertarians want the details of their consumption known to their phantoms. It is sometimes to the point of absurdity: I recall reading an account of one Reformed pastor proud of the fact that his fourteen-year-old son had taken up smoking, making some lame anti-Prohibition argument. But for any who still care about the category of authority and the sovereignty of God in the left-hand kingdom and all that, such behavior is against the law. And for those with any common sense left, it is not a little asinine for a parent to actually encourage a child to smoke. Many Reformed seem to think legalism is only about substance use. Many seem unable to recognize that, since legalism is based upon general principles, it can come in various forms. But try advocating for public education or suggesting problems in the pro-life culture and one will get a crash course in the equal-opportunities of Reformed political correctness.

I suppose it is all in a day’s experience within certain quarters of American religion. But when it comes to the rather negligible issue of substance use, I’d rather take my cue from the lapsed Episcopalian who has long since decided tobacco isn’t his cup of meat anymore and prefers only a nightly shot of Chardonnay, sometimes more on the weekends and holidays.

Cheers, Dad…or not…evidently it doesn’t really matter either way.

This entry was posted in Humor, Reformed Confessionalism. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to What the Lapsed Episcopalian Knew All Along

  1. heldveld says:


    FYI for some reason I am given access to the CO dashboard after I log into my blog and then visit the CO. I have visited other WP blogs and this is the only one.

    You may want to check your settings or maybe its a bug in WordPress. I was able to add a ? to this entry, which I then deleted.

    Today was the first day I noticed this. I will not use this power for evil. 🙂

  2. RubeRad says:

    Thx for letting us know, held. I checked the dashboard for the list of users, and you are not on it! I’m not sure how exactly to submit a problem report to WordPress.com. Do you see dashboards for other blogs you don’t think you should?

  3. heldveld says:

    It’s gone today. This was the only blog it was doing it for.

    When I visited yesterday I noticed ‘Edit’ buttons on all the comments at CO, strange, but I didn’t really think much about it. Then later I was at my dashboard and saw a bunch of CO stuff in the ‘Your Stuff’ section and saw that CO was available under ‘My Dashboards’. I logged out and back in, and it was gone, but after visiting your site it came back again.

    Strange…. I would guess WordPress bug, but why was it only the CO? I had visited a few other WP blogs yesterday. Did your dashboard log the edits I made to this post? (add then remove a ?)

    http://support.wordpress.com/contact/ if you want to submit the issue.

  4. R'na says:

    funny b/c we left one Christian college with the Christian school requirement for another Christian Uni that requires we sign a housing contract agreeing NOT to bring any alcoholic or tobacco substance onto the property.

    we could move out of the uni owned home and the limitation would be lifted, so not that bad imo. in the meantime no Lambrusco.

  5. Zrim says:


    Does your husband have need to bring booze to work? Sheesh, even the LE knows how to keep appropriate happy hours.


  6. R'na says:

    the hubs drinks like a baptist, cuz ya know he is Dutch and it would kill him to spend that kind of money on a beverage.

    so not a problem.

  7. Very entertaining post. Isn’t there another category for an born-again Christian who chooses not to drink alcohol because of the “weaker brother” principle, i.e. laying down something that is my right in order to protect my weaker brother?

    Anyway, good writing. You have a way with words.

  8. Zrim says:

    Hi Al,

    Thanks. Words are fun.

    Re the “weaker brother,” here are some of my thoughts from a previous post. Maybe I’ll re-post as a complement to the this one. Thanks for reminding me.


    (FWIW, my in-laws are Bible church funda-evangelicals. The soft legalism was always passed off under a plethora of “weaker brother” arguments; the hard stuff predictably showed up when their pastor refused to marry my wife and me unless it was promised there would be no drinking or dancing. The lapsed Episcy was forced to have a beer tent in his back yard for all the WASPs and RCs after the strategically scheduled noon reception. It had an ice sculpture and everything.)

  9. RubeRad says:

    chooses not to drink alcohol because of the “weaker brother” principle

    Since the “weaker brother” principle gives us grape juice instead of wine in communion, why does it not extend to removing the bread, in case somebody with an eating disorder “gets a taste” and goes on a gluttonous binge? Maybe to avoid jump-starting those carb cravings, we could substitute celery sticks — or better yet, beef jerky (flesh)!

    drinks like a baptist

    You know why you should always bring two Baptists out fishing with you, right? If you only bring one, he’ll drink all your beer!

  10. R'na says:

    i knew at some point the fishing jokes re baptists were gonna make a debut.

  11. sean says:

    Oh goody. Lutheran, catholic, baptist and a methodist are in a liquor store, how do you know which two are either the lutheran or the catholic? They’re the two talking to each other.

  12. Pingback: Federer Is Cool, Nadal Is Not (Nor Is Sunday, Billy, That Is) « The Confessional Outhouse

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