I spent the vast majority of my life in the Bay Area, and it’s fair to say that for most of my life I lived in a bubble. When I first went to Houston, I remember being surprised by random things. Rain in the summer! Humidity! True megachurches! Lots of really overweight people! It expanded my worldview, especially in challenging things I previously took for granted as being universal since I had no reason to think otherwise. That’s one thing I love about travelling – being challenged to reconsider what’s normal.
One of my main hopes in living in a different place for a while was to experience more of that, especially in regards to faith, to distinguish what’s truly universal about Christianity and what’s cultural. And I think that’s happened somewhat. I find myself being surprised by little things, and sometimes surprised that I’m surprised, if that makes any sense.
One thing I’ve realised is that my Southern Baptist roots run deep when it comes to drinking. As you may or may not know, drinking (and dancing) is pretty much verboten for Southern Baptists. I didn’t have a touch of alcohol before I turned 21 (save for a handful of communions at Catholic Masses) and even afterwards, very rarely drank as it felt vaguely wrong. Over the years I’ve changed quite a bit and now appreciate a good drink, and I’d hardly consider myself a Southern Baptist anymore, but that influence is apparently still there, because I was shocked when I came here. The attitudes toward drink are completely different from my Southern Baptist upbringing.
I think where I’d arrived in my own mentality is that drinking is fine but still in some sense “secular” and shouldn’t be mixed with Christian activity. They don’t have that hangup here – drinking is fully integrated with church activity. I had read before about C.S. Lewis’s favourite pub but I don’t think I ever really internalised what that means: they drank while talking about (at least part of the time) Christian things. That’s how it is here. At church, they’ll advertise get togethers at pubs. At church events, there’s alcohol. At a recent church leaders’ retreat, there was wine and scotch. Maybe that’s not shocking for some, but it was for me, which again, made me realise my Southern Baptistness.
One thing that blew my mind: we went to this retreat over the summer for the the Holy Trinity Brompton church network called FOCUS. Good worship, good teaching. Got a prophetic word prayed for me that I’ll write about some other time. But every night starting at 10, they have this thing called Out Of Focus, which is basically like a club, with alcohol and dancing. This is at a Christian retreat! Southern Baptists would have a heart attack. I never quite figured out if Out Of Focus is an indirect reference to beer goggles. I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t be surprised. But yeah, alcohol is simply no big deal here.
Because it’s so ingrained in the church culture here, my attitude and behaviour toward drinking has changed as well. Even Jieun is drinking more now than she ever has. Neither of us to excess; quite moderately, actually. But the attitude has changed a lot.