Salvation by Beer

This post was also published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on June 22, 2008.

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.

13 thoughts on “Salvation by Beer

  1. Pingback: Pages tagged "ministry"

  2. Ben,

    I agree with you whole heartedly! It is essential that Presbyterians, Americans, residents of this tiny blue dot in space, learn to disagree without being disagreeable, without seeing ourselves as separate from those with whom we differ, without dismissing the humanity of those who are different from us. I fear this is becoming a lost art as name calling, ad hominum attacks, slander and libel seem to be driving American civil discourse, and violence so often flows from our very human differences everywhere. We must be called to explore our shared nature. I sincerely believe we must learn to follow the advice of Benjamin Franklin, “We must all hang together… …else, we shall most assuredly hang separately”

    This also reminds me that I can not visit this commentary without citing my favorite Benjamin Franklin Quote, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”



  3. Well said Ben.
    If I remember rightly it was over a beer (I better not write how many) that I came into your aquaintance. That 8 hour ferry journey to Barra on Scotland’s west coast. I got off the ferry only to realise I had forgotten how to hold a drum stick never mind play the drums and you, well you were on the wrong Island altogether 😉

    Here I am 8 years later planning my wedding and you conducting the ceremony, who would have thought it?

    So yes! lets hear it for beer and the healing power of Ibuprofen

  4. Dear Ben, I’ll drink to that! Randy, thanks for a great quote that will be posted on the fridge.

    I believe what happens with Presbyterians is we get set in our ways of thinking and the grooves in our grey manner go deeper. We don’t like change. Seeing George and Emily married in our chancels is assuring and affirming to our way of life. Witnessing George and Jose say their “I do’s” in our chancels makes us insecure and nervous. How will they have babies? For us, anatomy rules in marital relations. The sad part is that George and Jose are often the children of our Church families. We have in the past, cast them out to find other communities of faith, because we read our Bibles in a way that doesn’t allow them to love each other. They are doomed and destined to live outside the influence of John Calvin’s descendents. But thanks be to God, there are churches opening their minds and doors to George and Jose, and all other couples of marriageable age, who are hellbent on taking the marital plunge that throws 50% of us on the rugged rocks of divorce, bleeding and doctrinally confused.

    “Dear Jesus, help us to love one another, and to do it in a way that strengthens both parties to the Marital Covenant, and the Church, and our Society. Strengthen us with the fruits of the Spirit that enable us to be the kind of people that make marriages last. Deliver us from failure in intimacy, domesticity, and service to our communities. This we ask, believing you will answer. Amen”

    Incidently, I was baptized at Highland Park Presbyterian Church and later worked there in Youth Ministries. The Session sent Dotti and I on to Austin Seminary to get “Presbyterized” after graduating from Fuller Seminary. During the days of William Elliott, the church was more ecumenical, centered and full of Missionary zeal at home and abroad. We even hosted the General Assemble of the Southern Church while I was there. On the staff in the 60’s were five pastors who reflected a wide range of theological thinking. I am thankful for my baptism; it evidently worked! Perhaps Calvin would be desturbed by that statement. Forgive me, J.C.!

  5. A book you might find interesting:

    God Laughs and Plays: Calvin’s sermons in response to the preachments of the Fundamentalist Right by David james duncan

  6. Thank you friends! Amen, and while I’m currently drinking coffee, in spirit it is beer with you.

    Craig, it was a wonderful journey to Barra! Lots of grace born of barley and hops!


  7. Pingback: » Salvation by Beer All Saints: What The World Is Saying About All Saints

  8. Ben: it was a privilege to be in fellowship with you and enjoy good libations. I look forward to more conversations. God be with you!

    – Michael

  9. Ben, What a wonderful post. You invoke your neighborhood so beautifully, and I do think you’re right about how if we could all just sit down together in our daily lives, we’d come to understand each other better, even if we don’t always agree. Best, Lily

  10. Thank you Lily. It is a good neighborhood. We too much graffiti and we have gangs, but on a typical Saturday we hear both mariachis serenading quinceñeras at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and the dinging of bells from the Cambodian Buddhist monastery where, at times, you can see the monks playing bocce ball in their saffron gowns.

    I’ve yet to see the guitarrón player from a mariachi band drink beer with a Buddhist monk, but when it happens, I want to be there.


  11. Pingback: All About Eve » Blog Archive » Salvation by Beer

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