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God In The Pub

"We need God in our schools again" is a phrase seemingly ubiquitous on the tongues of pundits and the bumper stickers of religious-minded citizens who all appear to believe that God should be involved in some way with our American culture, and who am I to quibble with such good intentions and overt attempts at influencing my world for God? Recently, however, I have started to think that maybe a better question than "How can we get God in our schools?" might be "How can we get God back in our bars?"

Church history has a rich tradition of heroes of faith influencing their immediate communities through immediate involvement in their immediate pubs. Wesley "borrowed" bar tunes for a musical foundation to his glorious lyrics to give us the hymnody with which we worship our God, and C.S. Lewis surely drafted the Chronicles of Narnia with his fellow Oxford dons at The Bird and the Baby (their favorite pub). Most significantly, Martin Luther is rumored to have been very proud of the fact he could drink a beer and recite the Lord’s Prayer simultaneously. One can only wonder why and how God has been removed from our bars without so much as a Supreme Court decision banning His entrance.

I would have continued to be oblivious to the atrocity of godless pubs if I had not been invited to a local counter-culture event cutely entitled "Theology on Tap," an event which could tersely be described as the Catholic clergy’s attempts to reunite Christ and culture. Each of the four Wednesdays in January, a different local clergyman expounded on a topic ranging from the Church’s role in society to experiencing God in everyday life. Regrettably, I was only privileged enough to attend the last three weeks, which were more than necessary to leave an impression on me.

There is something strange—almost mystical—about a crowded bar (one week had standing room only) of people listening to a minister whose speech is saturated with the non-swearing use of “Jesus Christ.” Here was God’s messenger using Tina Turner lyrics to speak about Christ’s love and joking that the reason he did not wear high heels for his vocalizing effort was the Church had received enough "bad press" lately. Here was a man, possessed of the sacrament of ordination, swallowing mouthfuls of Corona while describing "living" faith in Jesus and casually swearing about the condition of the clerical situation today. Perhaps hearing the priest was more strange to me than mystical, but I cannot bring myself to forget about the faces of the crowd those evenings. Rapt with attention, the audience was slowly becoming inebriated by the words about God. Looking amongst the crowd I saw all age and socio-economic demographics represented. (The college-age presence could not be dismissed as inconsequential either. It was, in any case, a bar.) I found myself wishing I could command the focus of such a large group when I mumble through a sermon or devotion; "Is a beer all that separates my ministry from something as fresh and dynamic as this?"

The epiphany came during the drive home, the mystery solved itself easily and tidily; the numinous quality came not from the priest but from the setting. In other words, I realized that this "Theology on Tap" might have been the most real expression of Christianity I have experienced or read about outside of the Bible. I am convinced that were Jesus around today, He’d spend less time in the "temples built by hands" we have erected for Him and more time in pubs with the “least of these.” He would talk to this Pharisaical author less and have a pint with the modern day "tax collectors and sinners." Do we need God in public school? Perhaps, but if Christianity really wants to make the societal changes it craves, we need God in our bars again.

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[Jeff Conkin is a student at Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas, studying to become a professor of theology.]

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