What I Learned While Sitting in Irish Pubs

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Recently, I went on vacation to Ireland. My knowledge of the country was very limited. I knew of some things because of films, books, or vague memories of Social Studies in Junior High. Overall, however, I went in without much of an idea as to what I was going to do and see.

To some people, this freaks them out. They need a plan that tells them minute by minute what they are going to do and see. To me, however, I don’t view that as a vacation. When I go on vacation, I want the locals to tell me where to go and what to see. It’s how I found out that the view from the Rockefeller in NYC was a far superior view than the Empire State Building. It is how I found little hole in the wall restaurants on a strip filled with KFCs, Taco Bells, and McDonalds. I have always believed that for the best vacations, one needs to find out where the locals gather.

In Ireland, that was in pubs.IMG_3168

Pubs are much different than American bars. Bars are filled with overly loud electronic dance music. Pubs are filled with conversations, laughter, and whatever music they feel like playing. Bars are filled with overpriced cocktails, pubs keep drinks simple and relatively inexpensive. Bars are where people go to get drunk to forget their problems, pubs are where people go to drink (and yes, sometimes they get drunk) and converse about their problems.

In pubs, I learned that we, as Americans, have little knowledge about our history. It seemed like everyone in Ireland spoke about their history as a nation. And in their speech, there wasn’t a tone of entitlement, but a tone of appreciation and pride. Not only did they know about their country, they knew about my country, as well.

In pubs, I learned that storytelling is the best remedy for anything. People love to tell stories there. They will tell you about stories of the country, stories of their lives, stories of famous people, stories of Guinness, and stories of the town. As I sat and listened to these stories, I lost track of time and for a moment, I forgot about worries and troubles in my own life.

In pubs, I learned that they take pride in what they produce. Every single pint of Guinness was poured the exact same way. They would grab a Guinness pint glass, tilt it at a 45 degree angle, pull the tap handle until the Guinness reached a certain level, straighten out the pint glass and continue pouring until the Guinness reached a certain level, let the Guinness settle for about 109 seconds, push the tap handle and top off the Guinness, and serve. Every single pint was poured the same way. They took pride in their product. They knew that good things come to those who wait.

In pubs, I learned that no one is a stranger. People were excited to get to know you. Once they heard my American accent, they asked from where I came and then proceeded to try and make a connection with me to make me feel welcome (everyone there kept saying, “you are very welcome here”). They wanted to know what I thought of their beautiful country. People truly listened to you because you weren’t a stranger in a strange land there.

IMG_3200Ultimately, I learned that God is present in pubs. I had the chance to attend Evensong at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. It was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. The music, the architecture, the carefully crafted liturgies, the eloquent reading of the Scripture, it all came together to show a piece of the Kingdom. But that wasn’t the first time I experienced a piece of the Kingdom in Ireland.

Shockingly enough, I experienced a piece of the Kingdom in the pub. There were musicians in the corner playing songs everyone knew. People were lifting up their pints of Guinness and singing along. Strangers were becoming friends over a pint or over a cigarette outside. Stories were being shared, laughter could be heard, and embraces could be seen. In pubs, like churches, people might come in pretending to be someone else. But after a few drinks, they tear away the facade they created. People walk into churches all the time pretending to be someone else. After a while, though, they hopefully drop the facade.

God is as much present in the local pubs as He is in the cathedrals. The Kingdom could be experienced through a pint and through the Eucharist. Worship was in the Gaelic tunes and in the hymns. Truth was told in conversations and in the reading of the Scripture.

There are a lot of similarities between pubs and churches. And I think there is a need for both. Pubs remind us that the Kingdom is messy because we are messy. We are drunks stumbling outside trying to remember where we live. But churches remind us to try and create beauty. We are called to create beautiful liturgies, gardens, parks, and art. Both the pub and the church collide to create a picture of the Kingdom that is sloppy and beautiful. But isn’t that what Jesus talked about? The world being in labor pains. It is messy and ugly, but something beautiful is coming.

Pubs reminded me that this world is messy and ugly but that something much more beautiful is coming.

My drinking, smoking, divorced, pro-gay marriage, democrat, no hell believing, postmodern, environmentalist, vegan, tongue speaking, Christian brother or sister

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If you are a Christian, is it wrong to eat unhealthy foods?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to be gay?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to drink or smoke?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to laugh at inappropriate jokes?

If you are a Christian, should you watch rated-R films or listen to secular music or read secular books?

If you are a Christian, should you be seen in a bar even if you are not drinking?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong not to attend church every Sunday?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to have more possessions than the poorest person in your community?

If you are a Christian and commit suicide, will you go to hell?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to believe differently than another Christian?

If you were raised in a traditional Christian home, you have probably asked some of these questions. If you have been a Christian in a traditional church for enough time, you have probably asked some of these questions.

I have asked most of these questions. I have been asked most of these questions. My answers have changed dramatically in a 10 year span. Am I now certain about my answers? No. Will I ever be? Probably not.

In the Christian world, we like to put things in 2 categories: wrong and right. This has proven beneficial for many things. For example:

It is wrong to do drugs.
But it is okay to take prescription pain pills as prescribed by a doctor.

Before you call me a heretic, I do believe some things are black and white. One cannot read the Bible and not come to that conclusion. However, there are more things that I wish were black and white.

The Bible is as messy as it is neat. There are moments that God is very clear and then there are other moments that there is uncertainty. There are moments when all of Christendom can unite on a topic and then there are moments that we divide because of different views. I read on Church Relevance that in 2008, there was an estimated 39,000 Christian denominations worldwide. By 2025, it is estimated that there will be 55,000 Christian denominations worldwide. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimated that there was a new Christian denomination formed every 12 hours.

If it is all black and white, why is a new denomination forming every 12 hours? Within the (my estimate) 40,000 denominations that exist today, there are probably still divisions among what to believe about certain issues. And of course, you have the sneaky non-denominational churches that exist under the “non-denominational” branch but each non-denominational church probably believes something different than the other non-denominational church. Christendom is a mess. And we don’t make it better when we write books called “Doctrine” that dictate what you should and should not believe. Instead, we draw another line. We have made finding Christ the most impossible maze.

Many times I pray that God would come down and straighten us all out so we move forward. But sure enough, someone would say, “I think God meant this and if you disagree with me, I’m going to start a different denomination where I can surround myself with people who agree with me because I am insecure about my beliefs and I cannot take someone disagreeing with me because I might be wrong but I’m not going to admit it because that would show weakness.” Okay…so they might not say all of that…but they would probably say most of it.

One thing is certain: we are one screwed up family. Most of us don’t even speak to one another. Many times I think, “What happens if I am wrong? What happens if I am wrong and God is so just that He damns me to hell? What happens if grace doesn’t exist for my beliefs? What happens if I messed up my whole life because I believed something I shouldn’t have believed?” If you haven’t thought those things, you’re better off. There have been many dark days where I have thought those things.

I hope grace works. I hope that it covers what we get wrong. Even more, I hope that grace covers what we thought we got right. Because if it doesn’t, we’re all screwed. Life would be better if we stopped saying “I’m right.” Life would be better if we stopped saying, “God told me this is the way it should be,” or “from my studies, this is what I think we should believe on this issue.” Because what happens if we are wrong? What happens if the person who believes opposite of us is right? Maybe we are the ones that need to be changed and God is trying to use them to change us? Perhaps we are the Babylonians instead of the Israelites. Stop trying to martyr yourself on something that may not be right.

So what do you say to your drinking, smoking, divorced, pro-gay marriage, democrat, no hell believing, postmodern, environmentalist, vegan, tongue speaking, Christian brother or sister? “You may be a crazy uncle, but you’re still family.”