It happened first on the street in New Orleans almost thirty years ago. My now, how time gets away!
The man approached me and said, "I'm not going to lie to you. I need a drink."
Taken back by his total honesty, I congratulated him for his truthfulness and stepped off the street into a bar and bought him a beer. And yes, I was a preacher at the time.
I've always been partial to people who tell me the truth about themselves, no matter where that takes us. So, across the years I've invested time and money in relieving the thirst of more than a few folks who honestly just needed a drink.
Too bad I hadn't discovered earlier the wisdom of Proverbs on this subject. Not that I share this tendency of mine with everyone, at least not until now. But, the wisdom of ancient Israel does help me just here.
When you have time, take a look at Proverbs 31:4-9.
What you'll find is guidance on who should drink and who shouldn't.
To cut to the conclusion: political leaders should avoid alcohol, but the poor should be given a drink from time to time to relieve their misery and help them forget their poverty. I promise that is what the passage says.
You see, rulers, the politicos need clear heads just to remember all the laws they have passed. If they drink, they may forget the good public policy they've crafted while sober. The results of such stupor would not be good for the oppressed and the poor (see verse 5 especially).
The clear implication is that leaders enact laws that protect the weak.
Now there is a novel idea!
In Texas and in Washington far too often our leaders approve legislation designed to crush the poor, or so it seems out here in reality land. Only after passing laws that do nothing to assist the poor and needy do they hit the pubs. Maybe they reverse the order so they won't have to think about what they've actually done!
The poor, on the other hand, should be given "strong drink" (verse 6). This counsel assumes that a drink helps when you are perishing or in distress. If you need insight for interpreting "perishing" or "distress," drive downtown and look around.
Evidently the Jewish wise man who wrote this understood that beer and wine help poor folks forget their poverty and their misery (verse 7).
I guess that's why lots of crushed people with no real options feel the need for a drink. I don't think I'm being unkind when I observe that many religious people don't understand very well the world of the poor.
The wise man of Proverbs wraps up his homily on strong drink with clear, direct words about the work of leaders and, I would assume, people of faith who know the heart of God:
"Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy" (31:8-9).
At the risk of really being written off, let me add, I'll drink to that! [Editor's note: this post first appeared on June 1, 2005.]
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Larry James' Urban Daily
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor." Written and edited by the President & CEO of CitySquare. Please visit CitySquare.
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