I remember growing up attending a “Holiness” church, with all that entails. Yes, there were rules about fun stuff that we weren’t supposed to do. But the most memorable thing about church was the music and the “shouting”. Every chance they got, the saints sang each other happy. First of all, the music was outstanding – beginning with the maestro on organ; funky musicians on the drums and bass guitar; and the soulful sounds of a brother (or sister) on rhythm guitar. Before you knew it, someone was dancin’ and shoutin’ while everyone else kept clapping, stomping, and singing. Most of the time several people started shoutin’. As I grew older I recognized that the saints experienced an emotional release in the shout, and with my misguided budding intellectualism I agreed with some bystanders that, “it don’t take all that.” And then I grew up and started “adulting”, as the young people call it now.
As a young black man, I knew that this world didn’t like me. I knew that life would be more difficult for me. And the older I got and the more I learned about life, the more I began to identify with what those saints must have been feeling. Life in this world has a way of testing your emotional strength at every turn. And when I had children of my own, I made it my mission to teach them that you must manage your emotions in order to make it through. You have to manage your anger, disappointment, fear and desires. But HOW? How do you manage your emotions and responses to negative emotions? That’s when I realized the value and wisdom of what the saints did in the Holiness church.
You see, many people don’t really try to manage their emotions, they just go with it. If they’re mad, they let it drive their response – curse somebody out, fight, whatever. If they are disappointed, they may just wallow in it. If they are afraid they withdraw or avoid whatever is causing it. But one of the major ways people try to cope is to use substances (alcohol, drugs) to escape the difficulties. Getting drunk or high will help a person escape the difficulties – for as long as the effect of the substance lasts. That’s not to say that the purpose of drinking alcohol is always to escape reality – even the Bible says that drinking wine makes people merry. (Eccl 10:19). But in my opinion, too often people say they are drinking or doing drugs to “enjoy life”, but they are really trying to escape misery.
This is where I’ve learned that the saints actually learned to apply the Scriptures to manage their emotions. Life was extremely hard for that generation of black people, even more than it is for us today. Open, legal racism was a way of life. When Emmett Till was lynched my father was the same age (14), living in the same part of Mississippi. Managing your emotions was critical. So I think the saints embraced Ephesians 5:18 which says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit”. In verse 19 Paul goes on to explain what that looks like, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father”. So when that sister‘s husband was cheating on her or gambling away his paycheck, she came to church, grabbed a tambourine and sang herself happy. Perhaps, when that deacon who had seen horrifying things down south as a sharecropper made his way up north to work in a treacherous factory and face even angrier racial epithets, he managed his own anger by dancing every Sunday till he sweat through another good suit. Instead of getting high, they got happy!!
In fact, the Holiness church put a great deal of emphasis on “receiving the Holy Ghost”. I’ve come to recognize that this is not only theologically supported, but absolutely necessary. Paul says, be filled with the Holy Spirit instead of being “drunk with wine. And he explains that being drunk is “dissipation”. It is unhealthy and unsafe. Being drunk or high causes a diminishment of a person’s faculties. So yeah, it’s an escape, but it’s an escape because you are losing control of your emotions. That’s why Solomon said in Proverbs 20:1 that “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” By contrast, being filled with (or under the control of) the Holy Spirit produces positive emotions and qualities like “love, joy, peace, patience, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22) So here is the lesson! Life includes lots of difficulties. There is a lot of things in this world that causes us anger, disappointment, and fear. To cope with all of this with some level of success requires us to manage these negative emotions. And God’s prescription for managing our emotions is to give us His Spirit. But just like the insidious alternative of wine and drugs, we must accept and use the prescription. We must surrender to the Holy Spirit and allow His fruit (like joy and peace and self-control) to work in us. The best way to surrender is to worship God – make melodies with your heart to the Lord, speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; and giving thanks for all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, Don’t get high, GET HAPPY!