A Look Back at 2017

What a long, strange year it’s been–
sometimes awful,
frequently beautiful,
always surprising.

Much of the country regraded 2017 with apprehension, and politically and culturally, it’s been a rocky year for the United States. I hesitate to say we’re “more divided”; a more accurate assessment might be that we’re becoming increasingly aware of already-existing divisions.
The white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville,
the restrictions against transgender Americans,
the struggle to help refugees amid political hostility,
the wave of revelations around sexual harassment and assault–
it’s getting harder and harder to claim ignorance of all that’s happening here,
particularly as people continue to be treated so differently based on
how they look, where they were born, what they believe, and who and how they love.

Right in the middle of this tumultuous year, Jessi and I went with several friends up to North Carolina for the Wild Goose Festival, an annual gathering of progressive Christians exploring spirit, justice, art, and music together. Wild Goose provided a lot of hope for this whole Bar Chaplaincy venture (since it turns out many others are passionate about the work), but it also raised a new set of questions about privilege, race, sexuality, and the future of Christianity in America. I met many new friends and allies at the festival, a few of whom have even become partners in ministry. Above all, the takeaway was to keep serving, keep listening, and keep writing.

On that note, bar ministry at the end of 2017 looks very different than it did at the beginning of 2017.
At the beginning of the year, I was an intern at one hospital; now I’m PRN at two.
I used to just attend Beer & Hymns; now I get to help lead it.
I used to bounce between several bars; now Aardwolf is my official office.
I had previously never heard of Brew Theology; now Thomas Garrett and I lead one.
I have to admit I haven’t been doing much cocktail-wise over the past few months. Candidly, I’m just not drinking as often lately, and when I do, it’s usually a beer at one of the breweries or a glass of scotch at home with Jessi. There are still a few cocktail videos in the editing room, and there’s one cocktail series I’ve been tinkering with for a while, but for the most part, I’m focusing more on the listening/writing side than the mixing/muddling side.
Lastly, as an exciting new development, I’ll be teaching again this upcoming year. Steve Painter of San Marco Church (formerly Swaim UMC) has been leading a Sunday night bible study at Aardwolf for over a year and has asked me to teach a 3-month series on Hebrews. The branding writes itself, right? We’re thinking “Brews & Hebrews.”

Of course, personally, it’s been a big year for me and Jessi. We added a little bling to our left ring fingers, having decided to have a quiet legal wedding this side of 2017 and save our larger church ceremony with friends and family for the spring of 2018. Also, The Cow came into our lives and is currently glued to my right leg because of the fireworks outside. I learned I’m going to be an uncle (and not just through the niece and three nephews I picked up through Jessi), so I’m excited to see our family continue to grow. And of course, Jessi is almost finished with nursing school, so we’re continuing to work our multiple jobs as we watch for avenues to continue my training once hers is complete.

Speaking of those jobs, I’ve found unexpected joy in teaching standardized tests this year. I initially began this work as a part-time stopgap during chaplaincy training –a way to put my know-it-all tendencies to good use–, but when one of my students broke down crying one day after class, I started to see the work differently. My LSAT, SAT, and ACT students carry tremendous stress: their futures are in flux, and friends and families often add to the pressure. After that experience after class, I realized it isn’t just my job to train students for the tests; I’m there as a companion and source of support. In the classroom, I get to be as much a chaplain as I am in bars and hospital rooms. Of course, all of this leads to a personal project in the works.

It may take me a long time to write it, but I’m working on something of a how-to guide for ministry of presence in nontraditional settings. I’ve read many books where people share their experiences with this style of ministry, but I haven’t encountered many that give explanations, theory, and technique for people to go and do it themselves. Again, I’m not really sure how long this project will take, but it will be going steadily on the back-burner throughout these other initiatives. Between Brew Theology, Beer & Hymns, Brews & Hebrews, and the general ministry of presence that is Bar Chaplain, there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on. 2017 had its ups and downs, but over all, it was a beautiful year, and 2018 is looking pretty great already.

Peace be with all y’all, and happy new year!

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