One of my favorites is this:
“After many years of labor an inventor discovered the art of making fire. He took his tools to the snow-clad northern regions and initiated a tribe into the art—and the advantages—of making fire. The people became so absorbed in this novelty that it did not occur to them to thank the inventor, who one day quietly slipped away. Being one of those rare human beings…he had no desire to be remembered or revered; all he sought was the satisfaction of knowing that someone had benefited from his discovery.
The next tribe he went to was just as eager to learn as the first. But the local priests, jealous of the stranger’s hold on the people, had him assassinated. To allay any suspicion of the crime, they had a portrait of the Great Inventor enthroned upon the main altar of the temple, and a liturgy designed so that his name would be revered and his memory kept alive. The greatest care was taken that not a single rubric of the liturgy was altered or omitted. The tools for making fire were enshrined within a casket and were said to bring healing to all who laid their hands on them with faith.
The High Priest himself undertook the task of compiling a Life of the Inventor. This became the Holy Book in which the Inventor’s loving-kindness was offered as an example for all to emulate, his glorious deeds were eulogized, his superhuman nature made an article of faith. The priests saw to it that the Book was handed down to future generations, while they authoritatively interpreted the meaning of his words and the significance of his holy life and death. And they ruthlessly punished with death or excommunication anyone who deviated from their doctrine. Caught up as they were in these religious tasks, the people completely forgot the art of making fire.”
This, I believe is why people are drawn to this vision to which we’ve devoted three years of our lives, which is now finally becoming materially visible to us as we meet on the construction site Sunday after Sunday.
What could seem more arbitrary than a brewery church? Why not a kickball church? Why not a Barnum & Bailey’s Three Ring church? one could ask. And these are perfectly reasonable questions.
…To which our growing community of spiritual spark seekers might respond, “Yes. Why Not?”
Because they get it. Or rather, we’re getting it more and more, gradually, each week as we break (and ferment) bread together.
The point was never the stained glass, or the Council nominations, or the Altar Guilds. For that matter, the point was never even the creeds, the Bible, the liturgy or that box we’re sometimes forced to check on certain census questionnaires: “Christian-Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc.”
The point is, was, will always be the fire.
If these things—Bible, creeds, etc.—serve well, they serve the fire.
You can’t convince us otherwise. We’ve caught a glimpse of it. We’re enlivened by it. Animated by it. Drawn to it.
We’ve been baptized by it and now we can’t escape it, whether in a brewery, a barnyard or a city bus.
We’re not iconoclasts. We drink deeply from two thousand years worth of chalices. We groan, we cry, we rejoice, we bless over two thousand years worth of candles.
Notice how de Mello's variation on a story we know well somehow makes us think through that story more closely than we otherwise would. By messing with the traditional facts he's actually highlighted the truth.
Actually, in a crazy but surprisingly tangible sort of way, the perfect arbitrariness of our surroundings has caused us to embrace those two thousand years of traditions and rituals in a deeper and more intentional way than we would were we to bind ourselves too tightly to our Methodist prayer book published in 17suchandsuch, our Lutheran hymn translated in 18soandso, our doctrines ratified in 19someodd.
There’s a strange paradox we observe that, when people get too dogmatic about how "traditional" they are, they usually end up dispensing with most of the tradition. And we actually like the tradition. We don’t want to toss out 99% of the pieties and prayers that preceded us because of a neurotic or nostalgic affinity to a few of them.
And so, for now, maybe not in another thirty years but for now, a brewery seems as good a setting as any. It’s a very traditional a setting, a traditional setting for this ever-evolving tradition—one that finds itself as at home in a Roman villa as a Russian Cathedral, a Russian Cathedral as a Roanoke Rotary.
It’s actually quite impossible to be arbitrary or untraditional so long as one gets around to actually making the fire.
Cheers and Peace,