A priest walks into a bar, walks up to the register, counts the till, and turns the open sign on. So what's the punch line? There isn't one. You are at Padre's in Texas, and if Father William Miller is in town you just might find him doing any of the above, including pouring and toasting stouts with his compadres.
What? A priest that owns a bar? Oh yes, but Episcopalian priest Father William Miller's heavenly spirit-(insert cloud opening revelation music here) and earthly spirits-filled life is so much more. We shall conclude that the bar was a logical business venture that stemmed from his calling to test the spirits of goodness. And we will call his transparent book, The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God, a blessing that naturally ensued. His name is not just a signature on the joint venture, it is part of his life's pursuit to experience true holiness.
I told Father Bill that I spit wine onto my computer screen while belly laughing when I received the request from Charleston Grit to do his book review. He quickly assured me in a priestly tone, "Spitting onto your computer screen is a waste of good wine." We were off, it was an incredible interview with a man who clearly loves life, the afterlife, laughter, and a good aperitif.
I asked if he had the WWJD (What Would Jesus Drink?) bracelets in his Marfa, Texas bar, aptly named Padre's. He laughed and said, "No, but that is a good idea."
He's the real deal alright, no mail-order ministry here. His bio states "Father William 'Bill' Miller studied at Abilene Christian University, McCormick Seminary in Chicago, the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. He has been awarded numerous academic honors. He has served congregations in Austin, Houston, and Hawaii and his churches have experienced exponential growth and become centers for the intersection of the arts, spirituality, and creativity. He is the author of two popular, engaging, and critically-acclaimed books: The Beer Drinker's Guide to God: The Whole and Holy Truth About Lager, Loving, and Living and The Gospel According to Sam: Animal Stories for the Soul. He loves music and has founded three jazz festivals and collaborated with musicians on various creative projects. He is the priest at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church on the island of Kauai, where he lives with his dog, Nawiliwili Nelson.
The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God is the insightful written journey of Father Miller's quest for lightening up and enjoying the blessings of his creator. I have laughed out loud, gasped, contemplated, questioned, researched, underscored, and highlighted this book!
One thing is quite clear, Father Bill has a sense of humor and evidently God does too. I asked, "Father Bill, tell me one of your "God has a sense of humor" moments.
"Ok, It's Easter Sunday and I'm pastoring a church in Austin, Texas. There is a big Easter egg hunt scheduled after the service. We have hired character entertainment, a costumed Easter Bunny to surprise the kids and walk out behind me at the closing of the service and into the church yard where the children hunt for Easter eggs. I'm closing the service and nervously looking about for the furry mascot rabbit. He's nowhere to be found. I couldn't prolong the service any longer and closed. Heading down the aisle past the apprehensive faces of the parishioners and anxious children I prayed silently, Lord, please let the Easter bunny show up. I realized the absurdity of this request but continued on. As I continued down the aisle, I noticed the congregation was wide eyed, staring at something behind me. I just knew I would turn to see the furry costumed Easter Bunny, I didn’t. But— beyond the large bay windows looking out into the churchyard, there was a perfect white rabbit standing on it's hind legs and looking into the church window! The costume bunny eventually showed up, but it wasn't nearly as good as the God-winked Easter bunny in the window.” He finished with a laugh.
Father Bill’s laughter made me think of a paragraph from the preface of The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God.
“Rarely does a contemporary religious work reveal anything funny about God. We are much too serious in our attempts to understand a God who is far more playful than those who claim to speak on his behalf. The trust is that serial solemnity and spiritual awareness have nothing in common. God is funny. God is the originator of irony, the progenitor of the punch line.”
Finally I asked, “Overall, what do you think the Christian community’s response is to a priest with a growler in hand?”
Father Bill answered, “Far and wide the message seems to be well received. I have talked to every denomination in every location that you can imagine, including conversing Buddhism with Trappist monks in Tibet, and theology with Oxford scholars at a bar. A good stout is universal. It opens up the lines of communication between us.”
The Beer Drinkers Guide to God is chock-full of personal stories and adventures in Father William Miller's quest for the good grapes or mead. Come out and meet Father Bill at Blue Bicycle Books next week to buy the book, and chat with him on Monday, August 18 at 5 p.m.