A minister, an atheist, and a few other people walk into a bar… The minister says, “Drinking is against God’s will for your life.” The atheist responds: “He forgot to tell that to Jesus.” The others say, “This sounds like a great conversation – can we join?” And so it begins…
Inspired by a church in London, pastor, writer, and pub theologian Bryan Berghoef began facilitating Pub Theology sessions at a local microbrewery in Traverse City, Michigan four years ago.
Those conversations, between people of varying faiths and some of no faith, have now culminated into Berghoef’s first book: Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God.
Bryan was asked recently: “What makes beer and religion a good pairing?”
He responded, between sips, “Beer and religion have a long history–monasteries served as brewing centers, Martin Luther could brew up a good pint, and so on. A good beer is flavorful and complex, and leaves a lasting impression. It’s the same with a good spiritual practice.”
Asked in a recent interview about what God would think of the book, Berghoef laughed and replied: “He’d probably say, ‘It’s about time.’”
Below is the first of three excerpts from Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God.
An excerpt from Chapter 4: A Story of Two Tables
Arriving at the pub on a discussion night always brings with it a sense of anticipation. Who will show up tonight? Will it go well? Will people talk? Will they like it? I usually arrive, target a couple of open tables, set down the sheets of questions for the night, and grab a pint. On a particular night some months into our project, I returned to my seat with a delicious brew called ‘Ethel the Frog ESB’ (that’s Extra Special Bitter for you non-beer drinkers). I saw some new faces and realized the tables were filling up quickly. It was going to be a good night.
When the crowd reaches a certain size, over a dozen or so, it is not unusual for us to split into a couple of groups, so that everyone can participate in the conversation. This was one of those evenings. So we split up the tables, and people found their way into one group or another. The people at my table were engaging in some light conversation and introducing themselves to each other. In the middle of this I noticed someone join the other group. A heavier-set fellow, hair a bit disheveled and peering out of thick glasses, lumbered over to the other group. Interestingly I noticed he had his hands full. But instead of holding a beer, he was holding several large books, and some papers on top of that. I didn’t give it much more thought, and turned my attention to our own group.
We had great conversation on such topics as: ‘Do you prefer to think about faith as mainly about facts or about mystery?’ and ‘Is it more important to believe the right things or to do the right things?’ and ‘How do you know that you actually exist?’ You laugh — but this can generate very interesting discussion (particularly after a couple of pints!). Most people at the table indicated that faith seems somewhat mysterious to them, and that limiting it to facts seems to take the hope or life out of it. A person with Buddhist leanings noted that it is all ultimately mystery, and that facts are a matter of perception when it comes to issues of faith. A Christian at the table challenged that view, noting that Christianity is a historical religion, unlike Buddhism, and has its roots in actual historical events, i.e. facts. I sat back, enjoying my extra special bitter ale and listening to the discussion going on around me. I thought, this is what it’s all about: people of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and religious perspectives all sitting at the same table, having a rich, meaningful, and respectful conversation, even as differences of opinions are voiced. It is a good night.
I glanced over at the other table, and noticed that the larger fellow was talking somewhat heatedly, and had begun handing out some pieces of paper. I returned my attention to our group. The question before us asked: “Is it more important to do the right things, or believe the right things?”
Bryan Berghoef is a pastor, writer, and pub theologian (meaning his best thoughts occur with pint in hand, or his best pints occur with thought in mind – or something like that). His interests are found at the intersection of theology with history, language, literature, culture, the arts, politics, and music – though he admits his greatest passion is studying the original context of the ancient text of the Bible. You can read more of Bryan’s writings at pubtheologian.com.