Jared Witt l September 8, 2016
Sociologists are kind of a dry group. But if that's your thing, there is a fun chicken or egg debate going on right now about how the political “culture war” in our society got started. Did we build politically segregated institutions because we were divided, or did we divide because we built segregated institutions?
In other words, do liberals grow urban gardens or do urban gardens grow liberals? Do conservatives build suburban megachurches or do suburban megachurches build conservatives?
Whether the chicken came first or the egg, I think few would disagree that, one way or the other, we are now stuck and have to deal with a bunch of institutions that reinforce and amplify our human tendency to divide against each other. And for many of us, it’s not at all clear whether it’s the backwardness of the people on the other side of the chasm or the chasm itself that is the biggest threat to our society. This suspicion is maybe best communicated by my friend Jaimie’s t-shirt, which declares her a proud member of the “pizza party.”
But there are other types of institutions in the world that are built around a different goal than simply being with “our kind of people.” In the Irish pub, the French café, the German biergarten, and new to the scene, the American craft brewery, your sense of belonging doesn’t come from your proof of the right ideological credentials but your enjoyment of something that is totally indifferent to them.
The worst way to learn about someone's deepest held beliefs is to ask them, "What are your deepest held beliefs." If, by the most stripped down definition, a discussion involves an exchange of ideas, then it’s a strange paradox that whenever I begin a conversation with someone about my beliefs, we usually end up discussing almost nothing at all. One of three things happens instead: either (1) they already agree with me, and we just end up patting each other on the back for a half hour, (2) they don’t agree with me, and we immediately shut down to what the other is saying, only thinking of our own retort, or my personal favorite, (3) we think we agree but aren’t quite sure, so we each keep repeating the same stance louder and louder over each other. I've witnessed two people nearly come to tears in a political argument only to discover that they were on the same side.
I’m not trying to make the tired and superficial argument that our political beliefs aren’t important. It’s because of deeply held political beliefs that we ended child labor, legal domestic abuse, and slavery, among other things. But in none of those three scenarios above were any ideas actually exchanged. No discussion was had.
Crazily enough, though, whenever I begin a conversation by cracking open a beer with someone, and we start by talking about hops and barrel-aging methods, the conversation almost inevitably drifts into deeply held beliefs. But the tone of the conversation is different at that point than it would have been otherwise, because we’ve already shared something much more fundamentally human than beliefs. We’ve both taken into our bodies something that came from the water and grain of the earth, which was then transformed by some very tiny but dedicated alchemists into a drink with magical warming and calming properties. Miracles do happen, after all. So it gets very difficult to sustain any suspicion that those who believe something different than myself are the anti-Christs when we're sitting across the same table sharing something so basic.
More often than not, we even find that what divides us is only the outer crust of the much deeper fears, hopes, and needs which we have in common. We all basically want our lives to have purpose and meaning. We all want freedom from anxiety. We all want to know that our kids are safe and have a future. It’s not that we’re pushing aside our deepest held beliefs in the taproom. It’s that we’re revealing them for the first time, there beneath the superficial divisions of party and class.
There must be a reason why Jesus, shortly before his death, didn’t command his disciples to remember his life by voting for Herod Agrippa I. Instead he told them to regularly gather around a table to eat and drink together.
So, everybody, just calm down for a second and have a beer.
Peace and Cheers,
Jared Witt is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.
How Castle Church is stirring up a new spirit in the church from a brewery in Orlando, FL.