Show me the way to the next whiskey bar (or not)

 

Well, here we are, one week into Lent.  For the past several years my Lenten fast has been alcohol related. I have alternatively abstained from beer and from alcohol altogether.  As I considered my options I started taking stock of my life.  What habits were starting to trouble me?  What might God be calling me to change?

The answer didn’t take long.  Whiskey (usually bourbon or rye) had become a nightly ritual.  Just a few years ago it was a very occasional indulgence.  Beer was my undisputed drink of choice.  But since our trip down the Bourbon Trail in 2015 that after-dinner whiskey cemented its place in my nightly routine.

Unfortunately, along with that habit came a gradual increase in my consumption of alcohol. Especially when the whiskey isn’t getting measured out by the bartender it became all too easy to pour a double. Add high-proof varieties into the mix (one of my favorites, Old Weller Antique clocks in at 107 proof on up into barrel-strength whiskeys which tip the scales in the 130’s), and suddenly that “one” glass has the alcohol equivalent of one and half all the way up to three regular 80 proof drinks.

Just to keep things simple, I extended the fast to include all hard liquor, otherwise I’d be tempted to start substituting G&T’s or Armagnac which would defeat the whole purpose.

One week into Lent, I pleased to report that I’m doing OK. It’s been interesting to notice that when I am heading into the living room after cleaning up from dinner, my eyes are drawn inexorably upwards towards the liquor cabinet. While I miss it, the absence of whiskey isn’t causing me any existential crisis. And, as I hoped, it has cut down on my alcohol consumption. While I might choose to have a nice quad or Imperial Stout after dinner, I am certainly not temped to go back for seconds.

Of course I still have five more weeks to go and a lot can happen in that time. But I’m not losing any sleep over it. What will be really interesting is how I re-integrate whiskey back into my life once Christ is Risen. But for now, that’s a question for another day and another post.

What about you?  Do you fast for Lent?  If so, what do you give up?  Have you ever fasted from alcohol?  How did it go for you?

#boycottthedecemberists???

Yes we can!

       Yes we did!

Yes we can!

       Yes we did!

So went the chant lead by Colin Meloy of the Decemberists and the packed house at the Electric Factory.  It was only a few days after the election of Barrack Obama in 2008 and Meloy (along with most of the crowd) were still abuzz with excitement.  However, as the chant went on I couldn’t help but notice that here and there a few fans turned around and left the show.

I must confess that at the time it didn’t really bother me.  But ever since the fervor that arose in the wake of Mike Pence’s visit to see Hamilton this past weekend, I have been thinking about the exodus of those fans eight years ago.

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Let me be clear.  My wife and I are theatre people.  We both performed from middle school through college and she has worked in professional theatre as a fundraiser ever since.  Thus it should come as no surprise that we fundamentally sympathetic to the actors.

The issue for me is not what the cast said (remember, the boos came from the audience, not the actors). Their words were both eloquent and respectful.  Indeed, vice president elect Pence has stated that he had no problem with them.   Moreover, contrary to what the president elect and others have claimed, the role of theatre (or any art) is not to create a “safe space” or to make people happy.  Indeed, it is patently absurd that some of those who previously criticized the idea of “safe space” for overly-sensitive liberal types are now demanding it for themselves.  But that’s beside the point.   Because this issue is not about the first amendment or being offended, it is about the sacred space between performer and audience.

This space has nothing to do with politics.  The piece can be political.  When not on stage the actors can be political.  But, once that relationship between actor and audience is established, things change.  The actor is no longer expressing their personal views but the voice of the character they inhabit.  Any politics come from the piece, not the person.

This inherent distance between performer and audience is known as the Fourth Wall.  And while a few artists (and Deadpool) make a career out of breaking it, the Fourth Wall is generally respected by both artist and audience alike.  And so when it is broken it naturally raises questions.

 

 

To be fair, while the performers never broke character to address Mr. Pence, they did use the stage to make a personal statement.  And that brings us at last to the real issue… should the stage be turned into the performer’s personal pulpit?

That’s a sticky issue because while we all have the right to free speech and free expression, those of us who perform or preach are called to willingly suspend them for the sake of our vocation.  And speaking of pulpits, if Mr. Pence or Mr. Trump were to walk into my church I can’t promise I would be able to resist the opportunity to somehow tailor what I had to say in order to speak directly to them.  Indeed, some would argue that if I didn’t I would be negligent in my prophet and moral duty to speak truth to power.

At the end of the day I don’t care that people were offended. They don’t have to listen to Hamilton or The Decemberists ever again.  But I do think that those of us who perform need to remember that it is not about us, it is about the art.  And that is what we must protect… not people’s feelings, not our ticket sales or attendance, but the sacred space between us and our audience, because without it, our art wouldn’t exist in the first place.

Beer Week, The Brew Off and other Successful Shenanigans

The last six weeks have been exceptionally busy.  I’m pleased to report that all our endeavors were successful both in terms of fun and funds raised.

All Teams

All the brewers and brewsters at the end of the night

The 3rd installment of the Biblical Brew Off saw our biggest crowd yet.  There is no doubt that the women of Team Eve helped to bring many of their own fans which swelled the crowd.  Those present got to sample the seven brews, dine on BBQ and bid on the silent auction while team of judges (Theresa Conroy, Danya Henninger, George Hummel and special guest Jay Brooks) ranked the offerings.

Team Jesus took back the crown but Team Eve took the People’s Choice with their Saison d’Eve.  But the real winners were the charities who split an all-time high of over $2700.

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IMAG01386Beer Week was just as fruitful.  Sarah Weissiger joined Rabbi Eli and myself at Fergie’s for the latest iteration of A Priest, a Minister and a Rabbi Walk into a Bar.  Sarah’s knowledge and humor blended perfectly.  Together we shared our thoughts and mused theological.  The crowd was wonderful and posed heartfelt questions.

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A few days later I took my first turn working behind the bar at the Old Eagle Tavern.  Lew Bryson and I poured beers for a big crowd some of whom were regulars but many of whom came out to support us and the good work of North Light Community Center.

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Note which side of the bar Lew Bryson is on and which side I was on. Thanks Nancy Rigberg for the pic!

I have to say that it’s a lot harder than it looks.  Thankfully Ryan (the regular barkeep) was a good teacher and the patrons were patient (although I was occasionally heckled for being too slow).  Between keeping orders straight in my head and dealing with foamy taps, I was ready for a beer myself by the time it was all over.  All told we raised $275 in tips and Erin kicked in another $200 from the house’s take which meant that North Light Community Center got $475!

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I know- I on the wrong side of the bar yet again but trust me I really did work hard and pour a lot of beers.

The money we raised for charity is great but what is even more important about these events is that they bring people, who otherwise might never meet, together in a way that fosters conversation and helps build common bonds.  There is real power in coming together over a beer and I am truly grateful to have friends that help me harness that power in new and creative ways.

Help Wanted

So a priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar….

It’s the start of many jokes and for the last three years has also been the title of our informal symposium on beer and faith.  We had every intention of bringing it back to Philly Beer Week this year but then we found  out that our compatriot and the minister in the equation, Bryan Berghoef, will be away on a pilgrimage to Iona.

Once Rabbi Eli Freedman and I got done calling him names behind his back, we set our minds to trying to find another person to take his place.  For a while it looked like we had someone lined up but unfortunately they will be away for Beer Week.

And so we turn to you, our friends and kindred spirits.  We’d love for one of you to join us this year at Fergie’s Pub as we wax poetic about beer, God and faith and the ways in which they all tie together.

Of course we have some standards.

To make sure we don’t wind up like the Mystery Men, here is what we are looking for.

The ideal candidate will:

#1 Be a person of faith

#2 Have extensive knowledge about their faith and its history

#3 Be comfortable talking to a crowd and taking questions

#4 Have a sense of humor

#5 Live in the Philly Metro area

#6 Be free on the afternoon of Sunday, June 5th

#7 Love beer (duh)

In order to broaden our perspectives special consideration will be shown to those outside the Judeo-Christian tradition and to women.

If you’re interested in exploring this further please contact me through the blog or Facebook.  We hope to hear from you!

 

The Biblical Brew Off is Back!

Team Moses and Team Jesus are back and facing off once again to see which congregation’s beer reigns supreme.  But this year they also have to reckon with the women of the newly formed Team Eve. As before, each entry will be blindly evaluated by qualified judges according to BJCP standards. The team with the highest average score will be declared the winner.  There will also be a people’s choice- each person in attendance will get to vote for their one favorite beer.

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But this is not just about bragging rights.  Each team will be competing for a charity.  Representing my parish of St. Tim’s, Team Jesus will be competing for North Light Community Center.  Team Moses from Rodeph Shalom will be competing for HAIS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). And Team Eve, made up of women from both congregations, will be competing for the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network.  The purse will be split with 50% going to the winner’s charity and 30% to second place and the remaining 20% to third.  That way none of these worthy causes will walk away empty handed.

It all takes place this coming Saturday, May 7th at Rodeph Shalom (615 North Broad Street).  Doors open at 7 pm.  Advance tickets are only $25 and can be purchased here. That gets you unlimited samples of the different beers, BBQ from Deke’s and a commemorative pint glass. We’ll also have custom growlers, t-shirts for each team and amazing baskets filled with beer and other goodies to bid on in a silent auction.

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The only way to win this basket filled with rare beers from Vermont is to come to the Brew Off!

We hope you will join us for what is sure to be memorable evening of friendly competition, food, fellowship and of course beer.  Best of all, every penny we net goes to benefit those who are homeless, hungry and who have had to flee from war and persecution.

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Thanks to Brian Biggs (who draws the logos) and Home Sweet Homebrew for all their support!

Introducing Team Eve!

We’re just two weeks out from the Biblical Brew Off. Team Moses and Team Jesus are all tied up going into this third year of competition. Just when things seemed set for the showdown a wildcard appeared.  Both Rodeph Shalom and St Tim’s count many women among the beer geeks at our congregations.  No longer content to leave the brewing to the guys, they joined forces to form Team Eve.

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In early April, under the expert guidance of Nancy Rigberg, they gathered at St. Tim’s to brew a saison, the name of which is so secret that even yours truly doesn’t know it yet.

TEAM EVE

 

Not only will their presence liven up the competition, it is fully in keeping with the ancient tradition that brewing was solely a feminine art.  Even today among some of the indigenous peoples, it is women along who brew the chicha since it is common knowledge even allowing a man to walk into the brew house will spoil the beer.

A big thank you to Nancy for her expertise and to Brian Biggs for creating the logo.

The only way to taste their beer is to join us at the Brew Off on May 7th at Rodeph Shalom.  Advance tickets are just $25 ($35 at the door).  Click here to get yours now!

SUSAN stirring the wort Removing Flavors NANCY LAUREL combining flavors JESSICA stirring in malt JEANNE cooling

 

Holy Bartenders

I really value and respect a good bartender.  They remember your name.  They remember your drink.  They can keep a dozen orders going all at the same time and the best ones can manage it all with great aplomb.  All of this is in addition to the work they do listening, offering advice and generally caring about the people they serve. It’s not a stretch to say the best bartenders are holy.

No, not like this:

More like this:photo-small

With that in mind here is a condensed version of my most recent sermon.

 

I have a lot of respect for people who change careers and reinvent themselves.  Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I weren’t a priest.  Let’s face it, seminary training doesn’t really prepare you with many other marketable skills.  I can’t fix a car or write a legal brief.  I don’t know how to start an IV or create a comprehensive lessons plan to teach 4th graders about history.  But there is one job that I think could be an easy fit.  I could become a bartender.

Think about it… What skills does a bartender need?  Well, you have to be good with people.  You have to listen to their problems and sometimes offer them advice.  I can do that.  You have to be organized and able to multitask.  I can do that.  You have to be able to diffuse conflict or even settle an argument.  I can do that too.  And when it comes to actually serving drinks, well it just so happens I know a little bit about beer.

All this overlap might explain why so many bartenders feel like they often wind up doing the work of a priest.  They deal with people who are lonely, sad or upset on a daily basis.  Any bartender worth their salt knows how to listen as a patron unburdens themselves after a tough day.  How many times have they had to hear a confession or offer advice on how to try and save a relationship?   I would bet that more than a few have even stopped a person from hurting themselves or someone else.  It’s fair to say that a barkeep has the chance to do some holy work if they are so inclined.

The overlap between priests and bartenders isn’t new.  In fact, in today’s Gospel Reading we find that Jesus himself might have helped blur the line between the two professions when he turned water into wine.  Let me set the scene.   We find Jesus as a guest at a wedding when the unthinkable happens.  The wine runs out.  Now wine was extremely important in Jesus’ time.  Why?  First because drinking water could make you sick.  Wine was a much safer choice, thus an essential part of everyday life.  Of course given what I see from some of your Facebook posts, not much has changed.

But wine was also important for religious purposes.  This was particularly true when it came to weddings.  Not only did it play an important role when it came to enhancing the guests’ enjoyment, wine also had great religious significance.  It was seen as a sign of G-D’s blessing.  To run out of wine then would not simply leave you with disappointed guests… it was a serious faux pas.

It is in such scandalous circumstances that we find Jesus today.  The wedding is in full swing yet the wine has run out.  Yet Jesus barely seems to notice.  Indeed, it is only after some prodding from his mother that he gets involved.  And so it is that rather reluctantly Jesus steps up to the task and enables both the good times and the blessings to continue to flow.

That’s all very nice but what does it mean?  Jesus doesn’t say.  In fact, the only thing that Jesus is clear about is that it is not yet his time to go public in his role as the Messiah.  Indeed, apart from his mother, a few of the servants and later, his disciples, no one seemed to know what occurred.  So apart from the demonstration of Jesus’ miraculous power, what, if anything does it mean for us today?

Let’s start with the fact that Jesus’s first miracle was both largely anonymous and devoid of any overtly religious trappings.  Think about it.  He never makes a show out of what he was doing nor does he appear to take any credit for it.  Moreover, he never invokes the name of G-D nor does he even do so much as bless the water.  So what’s the point?

Perhaps what Jesus is trying to show us is that miracles can happen regardless of whether or not we recognize them.  G-D acts in our lives, not just in obvious ways or through obvious people like priests… G-D also acts through mundane or even the profane circumstances or people.

Unfortunately, when this happens, we, just like the steward in the Gospel, tend to miss the fact that a miracle just occurred.  When Jesus’ wine is brought to him, he tastes just how wonderful it is but has no idea where it has come from. He mistakes it as a sign that the groom has mistakenly kept the best wine until late in the game.  Not once does he even suspect that the wine is a sign of G-D’s presence and blessing.

How often do we miss out on seeing what G-D is doing for us because it comes, not in church or from a priest or from reading the Bible but just in the course of daily life?  Maybe the whole point of this water into wine thing is to help us see that miracles happen all the time. G-D moves among us and intervenes in our lives in the most unexpected ways.  Yet we are too wrapped up in the problems of the moment or in trying to get through the day to even notice.  If we were just more open to that sacred possibility, how many more times might we find that the hand of G-D has touched us… helping us get through a crisis or deal with a problem or perhaps even helping find a respite of joy?

The truth is that G-D works just as much through the caring shown by a cop or a teacher or our dry cleaner as G-D does through the church.  Yet we are far more likely to give thanks to G-D when that blessing comes through our priest as opposed to our bartender.  Maybe the whole point of the Miracle at Cana is that we shouldn’t be so quick to make that judgment.  Jesus takes ordinary water and turns it into wine.   In the same way G-D takes ordinary people and makes them instruments of healing and blessing.  The question is that when these miracles happen, will we take them as a happy coincidence or will we recognize them for what they truly are?

The good news is that either way G-D will continue to reach out and bless your life.  The worst that can happen is that you enjoy that blessing unaware and go on with your day.  Yet how much more meaningful might those blessings be if we saw the hand of G-D at work when they happened?

When the guests drank the wine at Cana, there is no doubt they enjoyed it.  It was the good stuff after all.   But imagine if they knew where it came from?  Imagine if they knew just how truly special it was?  That wine would have done much more than brighten their day… it would have changed their lives because they would have known that G-D was in their midst and was there blessing them.

Now think about your life.  Think about times in which someone, especially someone unexpected, touched your life and blessed you when you needed it most.  That was G-D at work. Yet like the steward at the wedding, you probably didn’t know it.   But what if you did?  What if you saw that act of kindness or compassion for what it truly was- a blessing?  How much more joy and hope might you find if you remembered that G-D is not limited to sacred places or people?   Such preconceptions only limit our lives, but they cannot limit G-D.  And in the end, the blessing we need might come not from our priest but from a nurse, a mechanic, a crossing guard or even from our bartender.

AMEN