Monday, September 26, 2011

Light of the World – Bar Rescue

I recently switched my schedule at work, which allows for consecutive days off for the first time in over three years! That's a positive in more ways than just allowing for the extra rest because I also have more time and energy to devote to writing. It also allows me to get my routine established for the week, and I'm pretty big on routine! My routine goes a little something like this: take the dog out, exercise, pray morning prayer and read the daily Mass readings, eat breakfast while watching SportsCenter/channel surfing, do chores and write/study/prepare lessons for Catechism.

The other morning, while channel surfing, I saw a show called “Bar Rescue” on Spike. Being a fan of restaurant based reality shows and bars, I settled for the remainder of the episode. The basic premise is that bar expert Jon Taffer has five days to turn a failing bar into a successful operation. Read more at: I was hooked on the show after that episode, and set my DVR to record the series. My wife and I watched them together and decided that we should start patronizing our local watering hole more frequently than our once a quarter visit.

Without getting into shameless plugging, Aces & Ales ( ) is by far the best place in Las Vegas to enjoy a craft beer! In fact, I make fun of people who drink national brands there, because microbrews are so much better. Of course, I could be biased since I am a hobbyist in the home brewing segment.

At any rate, my wife and I spent a couple of hours trying new beers and drinks, making new acquaintances, and watching whatever college football game was on that night. The atmosphere is what you would expect from a neighborhood bar with a mostly regular clientele: lots of joking with the bartender, each other, and some sports talk too. At one point during the evening, a regular engaged us in conversation across the bar. After she decided shouting wasn't as easy as walking over and talking, she came over and introduced herself to us and we got to know each other a little bit. Aside from learning what each others' favorite football teams are, how long we've been in Hell (I mean Las Vegas!), and other basic biographical information, we joked about whose team was better and why, and even shared pictures of our dogs (because we don't have kids).

After about 20 minutes or so of conversation, she asked if we were married and how long we'd been married. We told her we've been together for six years, and that we've known each other for almost 20. Like most people, she was impressed at the testament of our friendship and love to be together having known each other so long. Then, she told us that she was single and looking for someone. She said it was hard for her to find someone though, because she is a lesbian. I thought she was going to start crying while she was telling us about her loneliness. I thought I was going to cry. She told us she felt like she could be candid with us and that we wouldn't judge her. We had only met 20 minutes ago! I told her that of course she could be herself around us, because “if you can't be yourself, who can you be?”

The conversation continued for almost 20 minutes more, and then she excused herself to use the restroom, and we needed to get home because we had to work the next day. We discussed our visit on the way home, and I can honestly say I have never felt more Christlike than I did that night. “WHAT?!!!” I'm sure a lot (or maybe all) of you just scratched your head and thought, “did he really just say he felt Christlike after hanging out in a bar?!” Before you lambaste me with harsh comments, let me explain my position:

Jesus calls all of us to follow Him. His example of love extended to everyone He encountered. He was in the ultimate place of authority to render judgment on everyone He came in contact with, and yet almost always offered a non-judgmental attitude of forgiveness for the “worst” sinners. The Pharisees hated Jesus because he ate, with tax collectors and sinners” (cf. Matt. 9:11). Jesus' response was, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matt. 9:12-13).

Jesus chose to meet the “sinners” where they were. He didn't force them to come seek Him out, He sought them out. He also didn't preach to them, He ate with them and enjoyed their company. Surely many of the people who ate with Jesus ended up following Him as disciples. Just as surely, some chose not to be disciples. Jesus knew that preaching a great exegetical sermon based on Hosea was not a way to win over the adulterous and prostitutes. Instead, He simply shared a meal with them and showed them that in spite of their apparent lack of worthiness that He loved them as they were.

During the Mass, the priest sometimes prays the following words:

So great was Your love that You gave us Your Son as our redeemer.
You sent Him as One like ourselves, though free from sin,
that You might see and love in us what You see and love in Christ.
-Preface VII for Sundays in Ordinary Time
That pretty much sums up the whole of Christ's mission of redemption. Christ came so that we could be free from the oppression of sin. He came to rescue us where we were. He came to bars and synagogues alike. Jesus was free from sin, but that didn't keep Him from being near sinners. In the same way, we as Christians are freed from sin at Baptism, and are called to live in the sinful world as examples of holiness. What better way to set our example than to meet people where they are and love them as they are without participating in sin? I know more than a few will debate whether drinking alcohol is a sin, and that is not my point. I believe that drinking to excess is sinful. I also believe that drinking can lead to other sins because of its ability to lower our level of self control. But, we can drink responsibly and as long as we exercise self control there is nothing wrong with that choice. So, if I can go to the bar, enjoy a couple of beers, engage in conversation, and not fall off my stool, I am exercising responsibility without a shallow display of piety.

How much more off-putting would it be to say, “I don't drink because it's a sin.” Making that statement distances us from people and closes them off to anything else we may have to say. Even if you think drinking is a sin, a better way to inform those around you is to say, “I choose not to drink.” That wording opens a door for dialogue instead of closing the door by condemning those who do drink as “sinners.”

The woman who approached us at the bar was obviously hurting inside. She felt alone, she felt ostracized, she undoubtedly felt depressed. The last thing she needed was for me to start quoting Scriptures about how sinful her homosexuality is. The last thing she needed was for me to tell her she was awful and hell bound for drinking. I am sure she sometimes drinks to cover her pain. If I'm honest, I sometimes drink to cover pain (mainly physical, but sometimes emotional). The last thing that woman needed was judgment. She needed love and respect. So, I did what I think Jesus would do- I gave her a hug and bought her a shot. I'll probably see her again next time I go to the bar. We'll sit next to each other and share stories and drinks. I'll love her the way Christ loves her- just the way she is. My goal isn't to proselytize. My goal is to do what St. Francis of Assisi taught, “preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, us words.”

What is the summation of the Gospel? Love. Jesus taught us to love God and to love our neighbor. In his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Benedict XVI offers a lengthy and stirring call for Christians to love in the way Christ loved, and to understand what that love entails. In the second part, he discusses charity as the supreme act of Christian love, and cautions against using love as a means to proselytize, “A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak. He knows that God is love (cf. 1 Jn. 4:8) and that God's presence is felt at the very time when the only thing we do is to love.” (DCE 31, c).

When the new translation of the Mass comes into use this November, one of the dismissals will be, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” To which we will reply, “Thanks be to God.” Are we thankful for the Gospel? Do we show that thanks in the way we live?

“Bar Rescue” unwittingly led me closer to Jesus by getting me to patronize my local bar. Does that make it a televangelism show?!

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