Why I am taking up Beer for Lent? Part 1- Matthew 4:1-11

I’ll be honest. My first thought behind ‘Take up Beer for Lent’ was for some blokes I know who I thought might show up at a bible study if it also included beer.  Then I was really honest with myself. I knew that the ‘some blokes’ really meant ‘myself’.

I am very interested in male rights of passage, identity and the place of men in church culture in particular. I came to realize however that my constant thinking about ‘blokes and beer’ in this instance was excluding lots of women I know who also enjoy beer, and the bible, as much as me.

Years ago as part of the Common Rule, a Christian discipleship group, a few of us decided to meet and try and deepen our understanding of housing and the real estate industry.  It was a daunting time for me as I was considering housing options with the pressure of starting a family and prices were soaring in a complex, ever-changing, real estate market bubble.

The simple task of meeting with a group and asking questions that each would then go away and work on about the present situation and how it related to both the past and the future was significant. Even with a modest amount of research, comparing notes and learning together proved empowering and helped me greatly in clarifying my values and my next decisions in relation to my faith and the dominant economy in which I had previously felt rather powerless.

The emphasis of Christian Lenten practice is often seen to be about ‘giving up’ things. Over previous years under the Seeds banner we have sought not just to give things up for the sake of personal piety but instead to embrace the discipline of ‘taking things up’ as a group, as we did with the housing issue.   In subsequent years we took up Chocolate and Water for Lent.  Not just in our consumption or fasting from such, but in our prayerful consciousness and through practical, shared work.

Both the Chocolate and Water for Lent series proved to be important and did much to prepare me for understanding the subsequent, and at times dramatic changes that were to take place in the global economy of both chocolate and water.  In an inter-connected world, committing to understanding the deeper truth about one issue can take you anywhere and everywhere…history, culture, economics politics, spirituality…etc.

At these events I found that coming back to the traditional Lenten Bible readings of the Christian Church, provided an interesting frame with which to consider an issue.  Likewise the contemporary issue we chose often helped to frame the way we approached or found meaning in the ancient text.

With that in mind I wanted to consider the reading for the first week of Lent.   The Matthew 4:1-11 passage where, immediately after his baptism, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness before the outset of his ministry.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Beer and Temptation

If something is clearly bad or evil there is little temptation.   It’s not a temptation if it isn’t perceived as a desirable thing or at least more ‘good’ than ‘bad’. The Greek word for ‘the devil’ in this passage is ‘diabolos’, from where we get English translations and meanings like ‘confusion’. A temptation is usually something of inherent good that has been distorted or misappropriated in some way.

“Ah beer, the cause of and solution to all life’s problems.”

Perhaps the great beer drinker, Homer Simpson is archetypal of a certain cultural confusion when it comes to the truth about alcohol.

Homer speaks a part truth in the same way that the devil speaks truth to Jesus. The bible points to Jesus as being a provider of bread, a protected wonder worker and a king, all the things the ‘confuser’ asks Jesus to do or be, and, which later in his ministry Jesus embraces.  The ‘confuser’ speaks biblical truth, God’s truth to Jesus at his time of vulnerability. And yet as Sarah Dylan Breuer (nice surname) points out…

“For Jesus, it’s not just about God’s truth; it’s also about God’s time, God’s call, and most of all about God’s love.”

Homer Simpsons simplistic extreme’s are reflected in the contest over alcohol in Christian tradition. Alcohol can be either “Proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” (Benjamin Franklin on wine) or “demon drink”. From pioneering brew techniques to ushering in temperance and prohibition, individual Christian’s and Christian traditions have contributed powerfully across the extremes.

In our first ‘Beer for Lent’ meeting this last week a number of people shared that they had experiences of ancestors who were alcoholics who had become teetotal because of the redemptive power of religion.   Others told stories of forebears whose response to repressive religion was to hit the bottle and literally piss their families’ inheritance on the back fence.  The nature of temptation involves power, truth and how we deal with it for good or for ill.

Like Homer, in my own experience love and I hate beer and religion.  I can connect them with some of my most powerful bondingmoments  (the word religio means ‘to bind’) as well as with some of my lowest and most shameful experiences of being human. The goodness of each has a power that both enables but when distorted, destroys much that is good in our culture.

I want to ‘Take up Beer for Lent’ because as a beer loving bloke I want to explore this power within me and within our culture.

If Lent is a time for self examination and reflection I want to learn more about its power.  How it is made, its history, its economics. To taste and know it better and value it more so that, like my experience with real estate, chocolate, water and the bible, I may be em-powered and not a victim to its destructive distortions.

Sarah Dylan Breuer says

Like Jesus we are called to wait, and watch, and listen deeply, so that we can enter as fully as we can into the story before us in these forty days, and in the dramatic week coming after that.

This is the nature of the gospel and the Easter event. The good news that enables us to understand more about power, what is true and how to balance such with the demands of love for our own time and place.

Why I’am taking up Beer for Lent – Part 2: On Temptation, Beer, Wilderness, Homer Simpson etc…


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