The Gentlemen's Whiskey Club

Social Isolation Symposium: Stories of hope and of heartbreak


July 3 rd 2018

It’s a Friday night in January and it’s bitter cold outside. My friend Ben says, “So let our shared drinks this day be joined to those sure victories secured by Christ, let it be to us now a delight, and a glad foretaste of his eternal kingdom.” Everyone responds with a merry clinking of our whiskey glasses. Someone grabs an old Christmas tree and places it into the now roaring fire, which goes up in flames upwards of twenty feet high, sending all fifteen of us running from the large flames with laughter and cheer like children playing tag. This is Epiphany, which we commemorate yearly by bringing our old Christmas trees to be burned. This is community, vulnerability, and practicing the art of storytelling. This is our monthly Gentlemen’s Whiskey Club, where we join together for fire, conversation, and of course, craft whiskey. And this is what saved me from loneliness.

It probably all started about thirteen years ago when I quit my job to work for myself. I was young and excited to start my own business. And in an effort to save money I decided to work from home. I spent most of my twenties working on my laptop either at home or at a local coffee shop in relative isolation. I returned home daily in a near depression due to the compounding alone time and from the absence of potential friends and peers. Because I was (and still am) self-employed, the ways in which most people cultivate and continue in friendships were increasingly foreign to me as I spent most of my days alone. In an effort to become more connected, I threw myself into every social-media platform imaginable. But I eventually realized they were a counterfeit, a gnostic replacement to true embodied presence. Eventually, the compounding isolation led to depression and burnout. I realized I needed to do something embodied and offline that helped me develop some consistency in forging friendships. I realized I needed to learn again not only to be around friends, but also to converse and share in meaningful ways.

And that’s when I founded the Gentleman’s Whiskey Club. The men I gathered were not at random, but men in a similar life stage and who would be edifying to me personally. So over the past three years, we have gathered for several hours once a month, always around fire, whiskey, and stories. We talk long into the night and share five-minute stories based on a randomly selected theme. In the GWC, not only are we gathered around a common interest, but we’re also teaching ourselves the fading art of storytelling by recalling the past. Not only has remembering a story been a mandate to God’s people throughout redemptive history, but remembering our personal stories also helps us better recall the ultimate story that we are all wrapped up in. These memories, our very identities, remind us that we are ultimately not alone and our very lives are shaped by and with others.

As life’s complexities have grown with our age, we’ve learned that isolation is a default for most of us. We’ve learned that the more connected we’ve become technologically, the more seemingly alone we are bound to be. We’ve learned that as we regularly lean into the fire for warmth, we are leaning away from isolation. And on this cold January night, the bright flames of the burning trees remind us that Christ’s light is now among us as we are gathered together. Ben finishes our whiskey liturgy, and all respond saying, “All will be well! Take up the cry! All will be well!” Tonight’s story theme is “Middle School.” There’s laughter of such magnitude that my stomach will be sore for days. And indeed, all is now well.

Read more stories of hope and heartbreak in the Summer 2018 symposium on social isolation here.

 

Joseph Elliott Schlabs is a photographer, video producer, and a graduate student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. His photography work has been published online with places like CNN and Rolling Stone. He grew-up on the flatlands of Texas on a farm.

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