Stir your faith
What: Theology on Tap
When: 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Thursdays
Where: Henry’s, 11 E. Eighth St.
Contact: Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt., 843-3220.
It’s a Thursday in January. The wind is icy, and the sun has long since sunk into the horizon. Upstairs in a dimly lit room, a dense cluster of Christians clog the stools and tables of Henry’s, 11 E. Eighth St.
They’re members of Lawrence Theology on Tap, and they share a love for Scripture and alcohol. Beer bottles, martini glasses and mixed drinks crowd the table tops. Jazz music pours from the speakers. And expletives color the conversations.
Swirling a cocktail around in a glass, co-founder Josh Longbottom, associate pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt., stabs an olive with a plastic martini fork and jumps into the discussion.
“You don’t have to be a crazy evangelical to share the good word,” he says.
Tonight the group is talking about Bible verse Mark 16:15: “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’”
Everyone has a different opinion about the Scripture. Kristin Colahan-Sederstrom, a tax clerk with Douglas County, says it’s awkward to be asked if she’s been preaching the word of God. Preaching isn’t her profession, she says. And, anyway, the word alone is packed with ominous undertones.
“‘Preaching’ sounds very forceful to me,” Colahan-Sederstrom says. “In my mind, preaching pulls up a negative connotation, but sharing the good word, telling people that I’m a Christian, that doesn’t turn me off.”
Across the room Valerie Miller-Coleman, another co-founder of Theology on Tap, clutches a mug and waits for the conversation to lull before edging in her view.
“But if we all choose to share our faith quietly through action, what is the world hearing about Christianity?” she asks.
To punctuate her question, she drinks the last of her Honker’s Ale and plops her empty glass onto the table beside her.
Miller-Coleman is a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School. Since she finished college a few years ago, she has yearned to talk about theology.
So, as a member of Plymouth Congregational Church, Miller-Coleman worked with Longbottom to start a Bible study. And because Miller-Coleman also enjoys pushing back a couple of beers after work, she picked a secular venue to hold the sessions.
Theology on Tap meets on from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays at Henry’s. The group has been active since October, with anywhere from two to 15 people showing up.
But sessions sound more like a Socratic dialogue than a Bible study. To demonstrate, here’s a snatch of dialogue from one discussion:
“To me, I ultimately believe in the Bible because it’s the objective truth,” someone says.
“What do you mean by that — objective truth?”
“I guess I haven’t really thought that through.”
With dialogue its main goal, the group is laid-back and accepting, says Miller-Coleman. And it’s open to people of all faiths — or people of no faith. In fact, Miller-Coleman hopes atheists and agnostics could comfortably ease into the meetings without feeling alienated.
Some members don’t attend church regularly, or at all. Colahan-Sederstrom is a Christian, but she works Sundays and rarely has the chance to hear a sermon. So Thursdays fill her hunger for religious service, though Theology on Tap is a bit more casual than church. At Henry’s Bar, the feet under the tables and stools are adorned with spiky high heels, muddy winter boots or tattered tennis shoes. Jeans and T-shirts are the norm. And at one point, a quote from “Rocky” snakes its way into the meeting.
“You know Rocky better than you know the Bible,” someone quips.
There is no lecture or sermon at Theology on Tap. At each meeting, one person picks a Bible passage, and the group freely talks about it. At this night’s meeting, John Wilson picked Mark 16:15 — the good word passage. And the Scripture sparked an animated dialogue, sprinkled with laugher and high-fives.
Most members of Theology on Tap argue against extreme evangelicalism, saying that type of faith — the type that uses the threat of hell to intimidate nonbelievers — gives their flavor of Christianity a bad name.
Still, most members do want to spread their faith to others. And Wilson is one of them.
“I love Pachamama’s hamburgers, and I’m going to tell everyone I know about them because it brings joy in my life, and I want to share that,” Wilson says. “I’m going to do the same thing with Christianity.”
But conversion isn’t the group’s main motive, says Miller-Coleman. Sure, she would be happy if Theology on Tap tugged someone toward Christianity, but that’s not the group’s intention.
“Sure, we want this to be a gateway for folks — a gateway to deeper conversation,” Miller-Coleman says.