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Review of Pub Theology: Where Potato Wedges and a Beer are a Eucharistic Experience

Tuesday, 30 March 2021  | Robert Ireland




Pub Theology: Where Potato Wedges and a Beer are a Eucharistic Experience

Edited by Irene Alexander and Charles Ringma

(Manchester, UK: Piquant Editions, 2021)

 

It’s true that theology and pub don’t normally go together, yet the Australian pub is a place where lives are changed and futures decided. It is a place where many narratives find a home, are told and are shared to make sense of life. This volume records twenty-two chapters of narrative theology, where ‘lay people’ wrestle with their personal journeys hand-in-hand with sources of the Spirit they see as authoritative. As the editors point out, such theology is ‘grassroots and bottom up’, ‘free-flowing’ and ‘more dialectical’. As the Afterword says, this is not a theology from the pulpit or the lectern. Sadly, such voices are seldom heard within faith communities. They are, however, in the very place where the faith community and the work-a-day world meet; a liminal space that always begs for new questions, new reflections and new journeying. No wonder it is ‘messy’ rather than ‘neat’ theology. It is where theology meets spirituality, and where spirituality is revealed as dynamic and questful, reflective and intellectual. It is by ‘ordinary persons of faith’ making sense of their lives ‘in the light of their religious values’.

Grouped together in four parts, the narrations and theological reflections cover the themes of longing and belonging, reflections on being human, vocation and mission and community – all deeply personal and existential. Each narration opens the door to each individual quest for meaning, where it is evident that human desire, the very thing within us that drives us – mind, feelings and actions – is shaped and transformed into various configurations of human worship. That’s what makes these accounts theology. In most chapters, life, relationships and society are seen through the lens of scripture and, of course, significant others who were there to incite questions, pose answers and affirm choices. The book is diverse, with topics ranging from the deeply personal insights and feelings of lostness, guilt and failure, to the affirmations of faith, value, self-giving service of others, solidarity with causes and peoples, humour and passionate affirmations of justice.

Some accounts seem more insightful than others in the quest for theological/spiritual meaning and in their ability to access authoritative sources such as scripture. Some accounts give the impression of a more surface interface with scripture, and while others indirectly reflect what may be called more formal theology, the question might be raised as to whether there could have been more recourse in some accounts to the trio of Scripture-tradition-reason – critical instruments and sources of both conceptual and of spiritual theology. And yet starting from the ‘bottom up’ may be the only place to gain certain insights into scripture, tradition and reason, insights that can be lived.

Perhaps a surprising feature of the book is the lack of a warm, critical and whole-hearted reference to the influence of the church, with its lecterns, pulpits and sacramental tables. Doesn’t the prime theology of the liturgy or so-called worship service lead to a shaping, not only of church theology and doctrine, but also of each reflective individual? This reviewer wondered if the church has failed to lead us in our narrative reflections on life. Perhaps, too, it has failed to include these so-called ‘lay’ theologies in the fullness of its life. There’s a challenge for the church to make sure that such stories are told and shared, not only in the pub, but also in the seminary, the church meeting, the church media and in each personal connection where possible. Hence, this publication provides a more than valuable service on this account.

At the same time, while not every ‘lay’ Christian can or should search the tomes of critical or practical church theology, some, indeed, many, could benefit from doing so. Conceptual theology is not the mere plaything of academics but the vital life-blood and anatomy of the spiritual life. When read with the faithful heart of the wayfarer, it is never negatively abstract, but always spiritual and liveable. It is never useless, even to someone searching his or her own heart – indeed, theology has changed lives!

So, the challenge for the contemporary church is to see contemporary culture, society, government, the economy, education and healthcare through the lens of scripture, tradition and reason, as well as through testimonial theology. But also, where the voice of ‘lay’ people is increasingly heard, the voice of the prophet needs to sound forth too. Publications such as Pub Theology are crucial in setting a standard of theological discourse for our world today. It is important that preachers, academic theologians, church leaders, lay-ministers and clergy hear the lay voice.

Anyone who finds the pub a place of energy, where there is a strong dose of informal therapy and insight given from one’s mates, would benefit from this book. May the connection be from the church to the pub … and vice versa.

 

Robert Ireland is an Anglican Priest who has served in over a dozen parishes in Australia. He has a PhD in theology from the Australian Catholic University and is exploring further research on the meaning and role of the Eucharist in the faith community.


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