People who know me know that I love beer, that alchemic combination of four simple ingredients–water, malted grain, yeast, and hops–that comes in a bewitching array of flavours and styles. I love its distilled cousin whisky, and I love red wines of all kinds.[ref]Well, maybe not Merlot.[/ref] The right drink in the right context makes life fuller, which means that a life without alcoholic beverages is impoverished.[ref]This does not condone alcoholism, as both it and moralistic teetoalling have forsaken the right ordering of desire.[/ref] One only needs to eat Italian food[ref]The Olive Garden is not Italian food.[/ref] without wine to see that this is so.[ref]Particularly anything with a Marinara sauce. Give me a spicy marinara with a good Shiraz any day of the week.[/ref]
However, I live and serve in an intentional transitional housing community that has a rule of life including no alcohol on the premises. I despise this particular rule, but it is right that we have it in our context. We live in Winnipeg’s North End, the historical dumping ground for our city’s nondesirable people. Currently that means Aboriginal peoples, most of them poor, many of them addicted to alcohol and solvents. The colonial history that has resulted in reserves, residential schools, and the stereotype of the “drunk Indian” is tragic, real, and laden with injustice. It is a story that has caused many of our community members past and present to take refuge in substances that, for a while, numb their misery and hopelessness.
In this context, we want to honour the struggle of our friends to cope without the need for numbing substances, so our living space is dry. This is to be mourned, and to the Christians who will feel that our no-alcohol policy is a morally superior way to live, I say that it is not. It is a small way to limit our own flourishing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have suffered so much more than not being able to have a cold beer on a sunny afternoon. It is a small way for us to say that the world cannot be right for me if it is not right for us.
I mourn that I cannot have a beer on a sunny afternoon. I especially mourn the lost socializing contexts in our community that shared drinks consistently provide. But I welcome this mourning, for it keeps me attentive to the fact that things aren’t right. On the day where the North End is no longer the dumping ground for the people and problems the rest of Winnipeg wants to forget about, I’ll raise a toast.