Backyard Barbecues, Beer, and Bad Jokes about Protestant Preachers

 

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Day 21 of my 30-day writing challenge

Yesterday, as is usual for most warm-weather holidays, we invited a horde of people to our backyard for a barbecue, a combination of church folks, neighbors, students, and friends. The kids played on the tire swing, bounced in the hammock, rolled in and out of the pup tent we’d pitched for the day, and walked around in Pigpen-worthy clouds of dirt.

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The adults contented themselves with cheese-stuffed, bacon-and-jalepeno-wrapped hot dogs, babyback ribs, and many other delights from the meat kingdom. Not to mention – because our crowds are always international – kimchi, turkish delight, homemade guacamole, and cevapi (a Serbian skinless sausage). There may also have been a teeny bit of alcohol on the premises, although nothing stronger than hard cider and fruit-flavored hefeweizen, which my beer snob husband surprisingly did not object to.

I grew up in a church that did not allow alcohol, although everyone freely admitted (contrary to other churches I knew of) that when Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, it was actually wine, and not grape juice that had been mistranslated as wine by some non-believing Bible scholar who was already up to his tweed collar in hellfire and damnation. There were people who felt it was okay to have a glass of wine discreetly, in their own homes, but I never saw anyone drink in public and certainly not at a church event.

So it was a huge culture shift for me when I started attending a different denomination as a graduate student and found that not only was drinking allowed, but my church leaders regularly hunkered down in a bar not too far from the church office. My husband (then boyfriend) was an employee of the church, and he and the other pastoral interns and younger staff members would go out after work to The Ginger Man, a gleaming, wood-paneled bar in midtown Manhattan that boasts 70 beers on tap, in addition to whatever comes in cans, bottles, and kegs.

(Their website claims that Michael Jackson has called it “one of the finest beer bars in the world.” If that endorsement does not cause you to moonwalk immediately to their location, I cannot imagine anything that would persuade you.)

When my husband became an elder at the same church, he and the other the newly ordained boys went out for a celebratory pint or few. I warned them not to drink too much, or they might wake up in the morning with no memory of the evening and the complete text of  “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” tattooed on their chests.

Jonathan Edwards jokes are soooo funny, guys. You should try telling one at your next party.

Seriously, though, I think you’d need more than a chest to fit the whole text of that sermon. It’s a long one.

Fun fact (gleaned from Susan Stinson’s literary biography of Edwards, Spider in a Tree): George Whitfield, a contemporary of Edwards, and a key figure in the Great Awakening, was a preacher of such spiritual power and sublimated erotic energy that women fainted during his sermons.

Here’s George:

The senior pastor of my church (who did not hang out at The Ginger Man with the baby pastors) was kind and professorial, radiating intelligence, trustworthiness, and gentle humor. I admired him greatly, but never once felt like fainting in his presence. He reminded me of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker’s friend on the Muppet Show.

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* * * *

Including the gorgefest that was our barbecue, yesterday was not overly burdened by high-class or healthy cuisine. Everyone including Grandma and Grandpa had biscuits with sausage gravy for lunch, and I think the kids had instant ramen at some point in the morning. The whole day was the food equivalent of blunt force trauma.

My five-year old loved it. She rarely likes to say her bedtime prayers, preferring to let me do it, but last night she couldn’t wait to offer this up:

Dear God: Thank you for our friends and family and thank you that we had biscuits and gravy and noodles and a barbecue today. Amen.

It just goes to show: the Spirit moves people in different ways. Some eat, some drink, some pass out on the floor. However God might have showed up in your life today, I hope you, too, found something to be thankful for.

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