Whimsical Theology: Bread, beer, and “Everybody”

By Allan Roy Andrews

An anonymous 20th-century devotional writer, reflecting on Jesus’ proclamation in the gospel of John that He is the “bread of life” (John 6:35), casually asserts that bread is “the most basic food there is.”

Without challenging the historical and liturgical implications of Christianity’s prayer for our daily bread or the cultural significance of bread as a fundamental and necessary sustenance of life (as in prisoners, the hungry, and the fasting staying alive on bread and water alone), I wonder about putting bread in this exalted position.

After all, aren’t the basic ingredients of bread the same as, or at least similar to, those that go into the making of beer?
What would it do to our theology—especially our view of the Incarnation—if Jesus had proclaimed, “I am the beer of life!”?

Many, from Martin Luther to Brennan Manning, would rejoice at such a seeming earthy assertion. This notion implies we might meet the savior as easily in a local pub as in a church sanctuary: What a drinking buddy we have in Jesus!

Sure the notion is a bit whimsical, but not, I think, without merit. Our attempts to understand how God could become a man (pitching his bodily tent among us) must allow that being fully human might mean drinking beer as well as eating bread with us (and would allow us to give thanks for our daily grains in all their forms).

Such thoughts form what I like to think of as whimsical theology, and one of my favorite proponents of this thinking is the singer and songwriter John Prine. Consider Prine’s encounter with Jesus in the lyrics of his song, “Everybody.”

While out sailing on the ocean;
While out sailing on the sea;
I bumped into the Savior,
And He said, “Pardon me.”
I said, “Jesus, you look tired.”
He said, “Jesus, so do you;
Oh, sit down son
‘Cause I got some fat to chew.”

Chorus:

Well, he spoke to me of morality,
Starvation, pain, and sin.
Matter of fact, the whole dang time
I only got a few words in.
But I won`t squawk–
Let `im talk–Hell, it`s been a long, long time,
And any friend that`s been turned down
Is bound to be a friend of mine.

Chorus:

Now we sat there for an hour or two
Just eatin’ that gospel pie,
When around the bend come a terrible wind,
And lightning lit the sky.
He said, “So long, Son, I gotta run;
I appreciate you listenin’ to me.”
And I believe I heard him sing these words
As he skipped out across the sea.

Chorus:
See, everybody needs somebody that they can talk to,
Someone to open up their ears
And let that trouble through.
Now you don`t have to sympathize
Or care what they may do,
But everybody needs somebody that they can talk to.

Everybody needs somebody that they can talk to.

Lyrics ©1972 John Prine

I’ll drink to that! Just remember: One cannot live by beer alone.

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Hear John Prine sing his whimsical theology:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LV3xva9ThUo

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