Can two cans of wrong make a right?

FYB-shirt-menOne of my favorite beer shirts reads “Fizzy Yellow Beer is for Wussies.”   I often wear it with pride.  When I put it on earlier this summer little did I know that I would later suffer the ignominy of being photographed in that same shirt whilst holding a Miller Lite.

Before you reach for the unsubscribe button, allow me the chance to mitigate my shame by explaining how I wound up in such a predicament.  I had gone to the Spiral Bookcase (a wonderful independent bookshop) to listen to my friend Brian Biggs play guitar and read from his latest book.

As they always do for their “Salon” evenings the good folks had set out some wine and cheese.  While another author was reading, I ventured to the back room for some refreshment.  There I ran into another friend, engaged in conversation with a man who was sitting on the floor.  After our mutual friend introduced us, Fred promptly offered me a beer.

Now, please pay attention because these details are important.  First, Fred did not have a beer in hand at the time so I had no idea what he was offering.  Second, I assumed that since this was a more sophisticated gathering that the worst that I would be handed was a Lager (for those of you not from Philly that is shorthand for the ubiquitous Yuengling Lager that dominates the market here).  Third, and most importantly, I did not want to seem rude by asking what kind of beer it was. And so I answered, “Yes, please.”

Miller-Lite-6-Pack-CanTo my horror, Fred pressed a can of Miller Lite into my outstretched hand.

Now I can’t be sure if he actually read my shirt and was trying to stick it to me or if in fact he was just being generous and hospitable.  In truth I think it was definitely the latter and so, trying to keep a smile on my face I cracked it open and took a swig.  Suffice it to say, it did nothing to change my lowly opinion of that wretched beer, previously expressed here.

As time passed and the beer got warmer, the beer actually took on a distinctly soapy character.  Brian and his wife Sacha we so tickled at the irony of the picture of me in that shirt with a Miller Lite in my hand that they snapped this excellent picture, before I could hide.  It is, as they say, worth a thousand words. Kirk miller lite

Little did I know that my unwilling journey into bizarro beer world was not yet over.  By the time I finished I actually needed something to wash it down and so I ventured back into the back room in the hope that a little wine might help.  Fred was still sitting on the floor and upon seeing my empty hand, he said, “Oh, are you finished?  Here, have another!”  He immediately reached into his brown bag, pulled out another can and held it out to me.

This time I objected, “Oh no, I’m fine, thanks.”  But Fred persisted.  “No really, please, I want you to have it.”  I continued to object and he continued to offer until finally, with a great sense of resignation, I acquiesced, thanked him, and took the second can.

It took a while for my friends to stop laughing when they saw my renewed predicament.  I did not finish the second can and made sure to avoid Fred like the plague for the rest of the evening.  Thankfully, about 30 minutes later several Deschutes’ Black Butte Porters helped to heal my psyche and palate.

But the real point of this story is neither the humor nor the irony.  I could have refused the beer either or both times it was offered.  Indeed, I knew from the outset that I was not going to like drinking it.  And yet I accepted anyway.  It was not just that I wished to avoid being rude.  But more importantly, hospitality and graciousness are central virtues that need to be honored, even if it means eating, drinking or enduring something I don’t really like.

Of course there is no absolute limit to be placed when it comes to how far you will go in compromising your own sense of taste and comfort.  Everyone has to figure out their own limits.  But in that situation, I took the beer because in Fred’s offer I saw someone who was genuinely trying to offer kindness to a stranger and in so doing establish some sense of connection and mutuality.  That kind of hospitality is rare enough and too valuable to dismiss simply because I am a beer snob.  So perhaps, those two cans of Miller Lite held far greater value than their fizzy yellow contents because in this disconnected and self centered culture they helped to remind me of the importance of hospitality and of generously welcoming the stranger.

So this Priest Walks into a Sukkah

DSC_1313As I referenced last week, our parish beer club has been working on expanding our interfaith horizons by brewing with the beer club from Congregation Rodeph Shalom.



Our brewing efforts resulted in a beer we dubbed, “Ecclesiastes 3:1- To Everything There’s a Saison.”  We debut it earlier this week as part of Rodeph Shalom’s Sukkot celebrations.

Sukkot is the Jewish harvest festival and closes out the High Holy Days.  The holiday, DSC_1311also known as the Festival of Booths, has its origins in Israel’s agricultural past.  At harvest time people would have to leave their cities and live in the fields in order to bring in the crop.   This experience is recreated through creating a sukkah (a tent/booth) outside the synagogue.

Anyway, about ten people from our parish/beer club, headed over to RS’s parking lot where we joined about 30 folks from the congregation for a festive dinner and of course, our beer.

Before we sat down to eat Rabbi Eli Freedman and president of the synagogue invited me to join them at the front of the sukkah as they explained the history and importance of the holiday and lead us all in prayers of thanksgiving and a DSC_1323blessing over the beer.

By nature I love learning about other people and their traditions.  As a Christian I find it doubly meaningful to learn about the faith and practices that inspired Jesus.

It was a great pleasure to share these traditions as well as some excellent food and fellowship.  It all made for a night that I will not soon forget.  And to think that it all began over a brew kettle.DSC_1341

Our sincere thanks to Rabbi Eli, Matthew, Lee and the rest of Congregation Rodeph Shalom for their hospitality!

Interfaith Brewing

Brewing, like most creative acts, can be an enormously satisfying experience.  Moreover, brewing, like playing music, gets a lot more fun when you are not doing it alone.  Many times I have whiled away an afternoon hanging out with friends from our parish beer club, shooting the breeze, catching up on news, listening to the game on the radio and reveling in the wonderful aroma of malt tea and hops.

Then in August we decided to deepen this already meaningful experience when we did a collaboration brew with our friends from Congregation Rodeph Shalom Synagogue.  Rabbi Eli Freedman and I have known each other for about a year and a half and have been working together since we started doing our “A Rabbi, a Priest and a Minister Walk Into a Bar” events.

We were first brought together by Nancy and George Hummel of Homesweet Homebrew who knew that we both had beer clubs at our congregations.  Getting our respective clubs together was a logical next step.  And so with a little planning a nice respective cross section of each of our groups gathered in my church basement where we have a big industrial kitchen.

563907_10102877526091463_1342757636_nWe left the actual work of brewing and monitoring temperature and time to our more experienced lead brewers.  In the meantime we spent our time mingling with the people (we are clergy after all) and getting to know the members of the other group.

To me the highlight of the day was taking the members from Rodeph Shalom on a tour of our church.  It is always a unique and enjoyable experience to explain symbolism and structure to folks from another faith.  It was even better when Eli and his people were able to seize onto common symbols and explain how they had their origins in Judaism.

By the time we wrapped up the tour the brew crew in the kitchen was already chilling 971419_10102877526510623_1615339646_nthe wort.  As to the beer itself, we brewed a Saison (Belgian farmhouse) style beer.  The day wrapped up with us collectively trying to figure out a name that would have some significance for both of our faiths.  We settled on “Ecclesiastes 3:1 (To everything there’s a Saison).”  This is of course terrible pun but we couldn’t help ourselves.

We look forward to serving the beer for the first time at one of Rodeph Shalom’s Sukkot celebrations at a festival dinner for both of our clubs out under their big sukkah (tent).  FYI, Sukkot is the Jewish harvest festival and to honor its agricultural origins, traditionally takes place out under a big tent.

So while making this beer was a lot of fun, its real value will not be in drinking it, but in the bonds it help to forge between a group of people from different faiths.  In the end we discovered we have much more in common than just the love of great beer and that is something always worthy of celebration.1097988_505662682847969_1255332954_n

I look forward to sharing details and pictures from the event with you soon.

Beer and Hymns

It’s nice to be honestly and pleasantly surprised by something.  My trip to the Wild
Goose Festival
, in Hot Springs, NC in August held a whole lot of surprises for me.  I had a general idea about what this four day “Emerging” or “Progressive” Christianity conference was going to be all about… a combination of great speakers, live music an impromptu community.  But in truth I really did not exactly what to expect.

To begin with there was the rain, which poured down at least once a day.  More interesting was its inevitable bastard offspring, mud.  Part way through the second day I had given up the thought of having clean feet and just accepted its ever deepening reality as a fact of life.

For future reference please know that Croc flip flops are TERRIBLE in terms of traction and twice I found that my feet had flown out from under me in spectacular fashion.  I am grateful to my Aikido training to teaching me how to land on my butt without injuring anything other than my pride.

Moving on (this is supposed to be a blog about beer after all), one of the other great surprises I found was Beer and Hymns.  This occurred twice during the conference.  Once, as a scheduled afternoon session and once as an impromptu movement of the Spirit on the last night of the Festival.

Beer and Hymns is pretty much just that.  A bunch of folks singing traditional hymns at the top of their lungs.  The only difference from what you might find in any church is that most of the group is also clutching a beer (or two or three) whilst they sing praise to God.

As someone who likes to push to the envelope, I thought I had already discovered all the ways in which one could combine love of God and love of beer.  I am so glad to be proven wrong.  It was an absolute hoot.  It all took place outside the beer tent of course so that we could keep our vocal chords well hydrated.Wild Goose 2013_381

We were lead by an eclectic bunch of instrumentalists under the direction of a guy who looked like he might be Wavy Gravy’s long lost brother.

The selection was very accessible and largely Protestant in nature.  By the time we got to the evening session a couple days later, I decided that we needed a break from the good ole shoutin’ Baptist style hymns and commandeered the group into singing a four part round of Dona Nobis Pacem.    Just imagine, over a hundred sisters and brothers gathered under the stars, singing our thanks and praise to God while creating the bonds of fellowship.

Wild Goose 2013_400When paired with a good Porter, I can’t think of many things that are more satisfying.  Indeed, this experience was as genuinely spiritual, uplifting and holy as the many more traditional experiences of worship and prayer I have had.

Although it was new to me, Beers and Hymns has been going for a while in many different incarnations.  More information can be found here and here.  You may just want to give it a try.

Where haven’t I been?

For those of you who are still bothering to read my blog, let me first offer a word of thanks.  As of today, I will be returning to my usual weekly posts.

20130709_184837By way of explanation this summer has been a whirlwind of travel closely followed by frantic bouts of trying to catch up with work.  I realize that the “I’ve been too busy” excuse is about as credible as telling your teacher that the dog ate your homework.  We’re all busy.

In any case, as I did in my last post, I will be detailing many of these adventures in beer, travel and hospitality in the weeks to come.  But just to give you a thumbnail here are some of the highlights.

My parish celebrated fourth of July with amazing pulled pork from Tom Bera of Blind Pig and washed it down with 2 different sixtels of homebrew.Albania 2013 (24.3)

I ate roast lamb (including a lamb based gelatinous dessert that tasted like lamb, honey, cinnamon and soap)  in Albania washed down with a beer called Stela (meant to be confused with but definitely not Stella Artois).

Amid the glory of Rome I sampled an amazing variety of beers, made friends with an Irish ex-pat who runs one of the best bottle shop in the whole country and ran into friend and fellow beer lover Fergus Carey.

I made my first pilgrimage to Hill Farmstead in northern Vermont for a special limited edition bottle release of The Genealogy of Mortals and Phenomenology of Spirit (two awesomely named beers).  I also filled three growlers with some of the best IPA’s I have ever tasted.

From there it revisiting our collaboration with Rabbi Eli Freedman as his congregation joined with mine to brew a very special interfaith Saison we are calling “Ecclesiastes 3:1.  To everything there’s a Saison.” But building the bonds of fellowship over a brew kettle is just the beginning.  We plan to deepen those bonds of common faith when we debut this beer at Congregation Rodeph Shalom’s Sukkot celebration later this month.

Later in August I shared beer with fellow pub theologians Bryan Bergheoff and Michael Camp while standing in ankle deep mud at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC.

No sooner did I return from that trip then it was off to DC where I got the band back together with Bryan and Rabbi Eli to reprise our “A Rabbi, a Priest and a Minster walk into a bar” gig at a sold out Dr. Granville Moore’s.

I wrapped up my summer travel with a trip to Adamstown, PA for flea marketing and a visit to Stoudt’s Brewery.  Carol and Ed Stoudt not only turn out excellent beers but also offer a top notch restaurant and world class hospitality.

So that is how the dog ate my homework, I mean, why I haven’t been blogging much this summer.  I promise to do better and maybe even squeeze in an extra credit assignment or two.