One of the great recent joys of my life has been a thing called "Beer and Bible," which happens every other Tuesday night at a small neighborhood pub in Memphis called, appropriately enough, Kudzu's. Kudzu, our bar's namesake, is the South's most ubiquitous form of plant life. It vines its way over almost everything else in sight, giving a vitality and lushness to landscapes that by this time of year would otherwise be sere and faded in our extreme southern heat. Kudzu's, the pub, is a lot like kudzu the plant. It gives vitality and cool to a lot of landscapes that might otherwise have wilted from the heat or just from life in general.
I had heard of Kudzu's over the years, but because it is in Memphis and Sam and I are not, we had never frequented it. But then last May, a call came. There was a group of regulars at Kudzu's who had been kicking around some God-talk for a while. They'd begun to call the thing "Beer and Bible," though most of them were drinking whiskey or wine, but would I be at all interested in just stopping by one late afternoon during happy hour to let us all talk together about some things that interested them?
You've got to be kidding. Would I be interested? Interested doesn't even begin to touch what I would be and was and, these three months later, still am. We've kicked around everything from hell to salvation, Christianity to Zoroastrianism, the relative validity of experiential truth to that of empirical truth, etc., etc.
There are usually eight or nine of us regulars around the table at Kudzu's on Beer and Bible Tuesdays. Sometimes there are more of us than that, of course, and sometimes we are joined by an in-house "visitor" or two who hear our racket, leave their barstools to eavesdrop, and -- inevitably -- join us. We've had a preacher or two come by to try to figure out what we're up to, and even a trained theologian or two. But by and large, we are just finding our way toward a form of being together that has no pre-existing aims and certainly no set pattern to follow or expectations to fulfill. I can say, however, that in all my years as a professional religionist, I have never heard theology more earnestly or more intelligently talked than it is at Kudzu's.
I spend a lot of my professional time studying and lecturing about 21st century Christianity -- how it got where it is, what in fact it is, where it's going. And one of the things that people are most troubled about as I go around the country speaking is the patent decline in church membership per se as well as in church attendance. It would irreparably offend most of those distressed people if I were to say to them, face-to-face, that the church is not necessarily in churches anymore. In fact, church is increasingly more active and fully present in places other than sacred buildings than it is in them. But I can say so here.
I can say here what I know to be true: Christianity has never been more alive and vigorous than it is right here and right now. And Kudzu's is but one of thousands of vibrant proofs that that is so. The kingdom of God comes in many forms and many places these days, and what I really want to say is, "Thanks be to God!"
Phyllis Tickle (www.phyllistickle.com) is the founding editor of the religion department of Publishers Weekly and author of The Words of Jesus: A Gospel of the Sayings of Our Lord and the forthcoming fall release, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why.