Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A couple thoughts about God and beer.


While being examined by Pilate in John 19, Christ tells Pilate that he came to demonstrate, or testify to, the truth. Pilate responded, Quid est veritias? (What is truth?).

And then he walked away before Christ could respond. I can't throw stones about that though. When it comes to me and the Christ, I often do all the talking, walking away to chase after the first shiny thing that distracts me.

On my nine hour drive back from Ohio years ago I noticed a couple billboards which seemed to hold an enthusiasm for the truth.

This ad was supposed to communicate an uncompromising experience for beer drinkers. To reinforce brand strength with a fist-pounding bravado: ”This is who we are and that's why you buy our beer!”. The beverage is literally cold, but it's also cold in that it is never going to surrender its position as a market leader and first choice among its pot-bellied patrons. That's just the way it is. End of discussion. Pass the pretzels.

This ad probably wasn't intended to be taken too seriously. It's meant to add to the bolstering of consumer confidence that Busch drinkers are understood and aren't messing around. But by using the word truth, Busch posits itself as an absolute, rather than the subjective experience everyone knows that it is. As though no one could legitimately disagree. Not the dark Lager Irish. Not the hops-hungry IPA fans. Not even scarved hipsters who have top ten lists of micro breweries. No one can argue The Truth.

When it comes to the experience of drinking or in choosing one drink over another, there aren't really any absolutes with beer. (There are some absolutes with Vodka, see because...). We know this. It's an experience. It's not a universal, uncompromising truth at all. It's a preference-based, highly subjective, ever-evolving experience. One that some really enjoy. One that others can't imagine putting near their mouth.The real cold truth is that beers don't deal in any sort of Truth. So we drive by it knowing it’s empty rhetoric disguised as a strong, universal, uncompromising reality.

Then came a second billboard just a few miles away.

It doesn't seem to describe what this truth is. It simply assumes that knowing God comes with knowing what is true. And that not knowing one means not knowing the other. It comes with no further explanation. In defense of the person who made the sign, he or she probably understood we're all driving 80 65 MPH and can't really read more than a few words. But at the same time this is an incredibly huge idea to launch at traffic and leaves us drivers wondering if the truth about beer is like the truth about God.

There was a website at the bottom of the billboard but I didn't catch what it was. So I couldn't investigate exactly what they were trying to say. But as I pondered this, I had two thoughts in succession. 

My first thought was that Christians often get into truth wars, trying to wrestle non-christian (or lesser-christian) people into intellectual headlocks. It's understood by many to be a ministry of the gospel to get people to cry uncle (or Father, as the case may be) using our savvy defense and application of the truth. We use "evidence" and "proofs" and all sorts of other tactics that suggest that we've forgotten we're part of a faith, not an absolute-rooted contest. 

I lived in this world for a long time. I felt that I was always being put on trial by an  evil, aggressive, heathen world. That my faith was always "under fire" and that it was my job to rescue it with my intellectual arsenal. I had the truth, and those that disagreed did not. They didn't know God because they didn't rightly see the cold hard truth all around. My ministry to them was to give the truth to them while simultaneously neutering their idiotic defense. Anything they said that was misaligned with THE truth was to be destroyed. You should have heard my prayers.

Faith is vulnerable. You can feel like a fool being a person of faith among those that claim no faith at all. You can feel naive. A child among adults. And when you're an insecure human being, (which may be redundant) it’s common to feel that trying to grow in faith can't possibly mean "becoming meek and accepting of mystery and unknowns." 

That’s the stuff to grow out of, not into, right?

Who would willingly become weaker? More vulnerable? If this is the preferred trajectory of faith, then whats the point? 

Being strong in the faith must mean becoming more uncompromising, more fist-poundingly assured that I have THE cold truth. I grow in faith as I prove I am NO child. YOU'RE the child. I'm smart because I have The Truth. Mystery is for people incapable of solving puzzles. And humility isn't an option either. Humble armies lose battles. Like humble beer companies can't use slogans like King of Beers.

This is basically how I thought. I believed it was required. And I can see it in the eyes of others.

In this, I walked around saying that I had faith in Christ, but was actually viewing my experience as absolute. It didn't exist in me like a faith at all; but like a set of facts only I had access to and that I was called to defend. 

This, if it hasn't been made abundantly clear, is idolatry. This is the worshiping and defending of ideas rather than God. Fidelity to a position of truth becomes the point. Truth then is no longer really the goal. It’s a battle for market position. Faith in Christ only has value as it’s leveled against other ideas. 

This arguing for the truth we often call sharing the good news. But it's neither good nor new. In reality, it's just more arguing about beer tastes.

My second thought was this: The sign, as far as it reads, is perfect. Know God, Know Truth.

In John 14, four chapters before the exchange with Pilate, Jesus told his disciples, "I am the way and the truth and the life.”

In John 17, Jesus is praying for his disciples and says to the Father, "set them apart by the truth; your word is truth."

That "word" is the totality of the message of God. The remarkable reality of God's Kingdom on earth. That word isn't a list of facts about all this. That word is logos and is, as John says in the very beginning of his letter, Christ himself. Christ is the living, embodied totality of what God wants. Christ is The Truth.

As has been recognized for a long time before I ever said so, Pilate asked the wrong question. He should have asked Quis est veritias? "Who is Truth." The truth isn't a debate-necessitating viewpoint. It's not a way of describing the most successful brand. And it certainly isn't an opinion disguised as an absolute. It's a person. 

The truth is The person. 

Christ invites all mankind to find that he is the one absolute in the universe. Not our doctrine about that. Not our understanding or acceptance or rejection of that. We take this on faith. He is truth. All else is humble faith.

Know God, Know truth. He's one and the same.

When the center becomes our ideas and beliefs about God, it all breaks down. A lack of humility always breaks down. But it holds up when it becomes real faith, the pursuit of the One Absolute who is beyond our interpretations, perceptions, prejudices, traditions and well-worn paths of theological familiarity. Even beyond the limits of our faith. It takes an incredible amount of humility and the total releasing of a desire to be right. But faith isn't trying to be right. It's trying to know Christ beyond the idols we carve and call christ.

We should always remember the most religious people of the first century were well-known for having the truth. And they had all the words and ideas and scriptures and philosophies to back themselves. Yet Jesus walks in and upends it all. All their truths were seen for what they were; narrow, self-serving, God-boxing arrogance. And we read this and celebrate the vastness of Christ up against the narrowness of the religious certainty he spoke into. Wow, he really showed those cocky pharisees! We celebrate the space and freedom and breathing room Jesus creates for people who had for millennia thought God could only be understood within the confines of the cold truth certain religious men presented.

But those cocky pharisees aren't the bad guys or someone else. They are us. We still very easily slide right back into trading the vulnerability of faith and all its hard-to-explain fuzziness with absolute, cold, uncompromising truth. We prefer to rely on our strength, not His. 

Every time we tell someone their view of God, their ideas about reality, their understanding of the sacred is invalid- that it's out of accord with THE truth, we err like those Christ corrected. We turn God into another advertising campaign that confuses our take, our tastes, for the King himself. We turn the beautiful revolution of Christ into one more battle of our own ideas, and Christ is lost in the exchange.

Here’s to remaining sensitive to the voice of the Christ. The incomprehensibility of the Source of Life, who is always inviting us to relinquish the illusion of control and love others on this mysterious, hard beautiful journey we’re all on. 

Here’s to allowing our awakened minds to embrace the beauty of not knowing anything but Love himself, and believing that’s enough.

Think responsibly.

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