I sat down a moment ago to read again an essay by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. First I opened iTunes with the idea of having a piano quartet by Dvorak in the background. I got distracted from Dvorak by Denver — John Denver, that is.
Listening to “Annie’s Song” I could not get out of my mind the oft-repeated PBS special on John Denver. There is a segment in which Annie talks about how much that love song meant both to her and to John. It’s a great love song and Annie seems like a very special person but her comments on her song came in the context of talking about their divorce.
Married in 1968, they divorced in 1982. The Wikepedia article on Denver includes this awful line:
“Denver and Annie Martell divorced in 1982 and the ensuing property settlement caused Denver to become so enraged he nearly choked his ex-wife, then used a chainsaw to cut the marital bed in half.”
I won’t hazard a guess about what sort of path John and Annie must have followed from “Annie’s Song” to near-murder and a chain saw. All I know for sure is that it included problems with alcohol and it must have been a path that became unbearably painful for both of them.
I have nothing against people drinking alcohol but of this I am convinced: There is no possible moral justification for anyone to become drunk at any time. Drinking to the point of impaired judgment and clear thinking is an inexcusable violation of our human dignity, quite aside from the extreme vulnerability that comes from losing one’s reasonable self-control.
Alcoholism is a form of cowardice, an escape from reality. The church in America has tried to combat it with Prohibition, with scorn, and with firm rules against its use. But such measures are meaningless when what is needed is to help the drinker gain courage, find hope, and take small but tangible steps in the right direction. If the alcoholism is too severe, there seems to be a necessary first step: total collapse.
When that collapse comes, we need to be there for the person, believing the best while being very straight-forward about the worst.
Shall we simply throw stones at the one who gets trapped by alcohol? That accomplishes nothing except to give us an illusion of superiority. When we think of someone like John Denver, sharing a love so beautifully expressed in “Annie’s Song” but then ending up choking Annie and attacking their home with a chain saw, surely we must shed a tear of compassion, no?
Would Jesus stone a John Denver? Perhaps so. . .but it would be on the same day he stoned you and me for all our shortcomings. That’s not going to happen. Jesus came for sinners. Can his followers not be drawn to fellow sinners?
Now, back to Dvorak and Bonhoeffer. . .