In the brave new world of blogging, there is an emerging breed of friendship, one in which a person writes an entry on her or his blog, a complete stranger leaves a response, and, after some cyber chat, the two people meet in person, bringing the conversation out of the internet’s ether and into real life.
This happened to me last Thursday.
Earlier in the week I had published a column in which I quoted a sermon by John Calvin as a way of supporting the notion that Presbyterians ought not break fellowship with one another over our divergent views on human sexuality. The column was (by my standards) well-read and it generated a lot of comments on my website.
One of the responders—who wrote a thoughtful dissent—gave his full name and mentioned that he was planning to be in my hometown of San Jose for the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly, the mammoth biennial meeting of the denomination’s highest governing body. I invited him for coffee but we went out for a beer instead, and so it was that I found myself tipping a pint with Michael Walker, an historian who specializes in Calvin’s early ministry, the Theologian In Residence at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas (a Texas-sized congregation with a reputation for being on the vanguard of the Presbyterian Right), the past director of Presbyterians for Renewal (an Evangelical Presbyterian activist organization), and a really nice man.
Michael and I disagree on matters of human sexuality, and I suspect that the two of us will continue to work on opposite sides of issues such as same sex marriage and the ordination of gays and lesbians to positions of leadership in the church; I’m glad that people like Michael are standing across the aisle, because even if we disagree on what surely is the most divisive issue in our Church today, we both love Jesus, we both are committed to and energized by the Bible, we share a fondness for John Calvin (no, really, follow that link), and we discovered a mutual affinity for the writing of Wendell Berry.
Michael and I spent an hour or so together on a warm afternoon in Silicon Valley. Afterward, I rode the bus home, enjoying the dissipation of a one-beer-buzz, and thinking “if more Presbyterians got together like this, we’d be OK.”
Call it salvation by beer. It’s not quite salvation by grace, but on the plus side, salvation by beer is not encumbered with questions of predestination. It’s a choice we all can make.
Beer can be salvific outside of the Church as well. The following day, mid-summer’s eve descended on San Jose with a heatwave. I spent much of the day downtown working the information booth at the meeting of the Presbyterian General Assembly, and when I returned to the barrio I call home, I found some of my neighbors outside in front of our townhouses, drinking Tecate and lime, watching the kids ride bikes and squirt one another with super soakers. My wife cut up some strawberries from the Farmers’ Market, and my family went out to join the gathered community.
By some standards it was an uncommon group that sat out together that night. Our neighbors are Mexican immigrants; our family is a blend of California-born Caucasians and immigrants from China and Myanmar. We and our neighbors speak different languages in our homes. Between us and them there are great differences of education, experience, and background, but we have a lot in common too. We live in the same community, our kids play well together, and we even share a fondness for obscure and eccentric Mexican saints. And then there was the beer we drank together as we sat out in the sultry twilight on midsummer’s eve, watching the kids play, wishing we still had that kind of energy but also kind of happy to relax and let the children be in charge of the running and the shouting and the squirt guns.
If, in our society, more people would get together with neighbors to watch the kids play and to share moments of commonality across barriers of language, race, education, and class, we’d be OK.
In June it stops being too late to make New Year’s resolutions and instead starts being too early; it’s a half-way marker, a time to make mid-course corrections. And here’s a good one for this June: may all of us, wherever we are, find ways to reach out to those with whom we may not otherwise make connections. We may learn a bit, we may make new friends, and we just may experience salvation by beer.