I’d like to share some thoughts about cheap beer. Bud Dry, to be specific.
Now, to be fair I don’t think I can be called to task for encouraging you to drink this particular brand, because as you may know its production was discontinued in 2010. So, today you can’t even try Bud Dry if you wanted to.
My sermon preparation research might look a bit different than some others, but you’ll be pleased to know I stumbled upon a 1989 Wall Street Journal article that asked if the flood of dry beers entering the market was just a marketing fad, or if they had lasting power. 30 years later, I think we have our answer.
There’s probably a reason that today we’re more likely to remember the advertising slogan of the Bud Dry than its light lager flavor or Anheuser-Busch's then-innovative “DryBrew” process.
The reason I bring up this brief episode in American beer sales is my fascination that Anheuser-Busch actually built a successful advertising campaign around convincing consumers to not overthink choosing to drink their terrible product.
“Just Do It,” as another company might suggest.
So, what are we to make of this slogan, “Why ask why?”
I’m not going to suggest to you that Bud Dry is the Antichrist – it’s no longer on sale so that ship has sailed – but I would like to suggest that this fundamental question – “why?” is actually central to the entire Biblical tradition and its particular interpretation among Friends.
To instruct others to jettison the “why” is counter to the very foundations of Christian faith. This might seem odd, placing why as an element of faith, but I think it holds.
“Why do you say that?,” you might ask. What a great question!
So, I may bring a particular bias to this question, having been trained in and now working for a graduate theological school. One of the traditional definitions of theology, going back to Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century, is “faith seeking understanding.”
From Adam and Eve to the Job to the prophets to Jesus and the disciples, to Paul and the early Christian communities we see over and over in the scriptural account of God a being that desires dialogue, that engages with humanity in ways that invite and honor our whys.
Let’s take a moment and consider the ministry of Jesus along these lines, for instance.
When we look at the record of Jesus’s parables, actions, and pronouncements, I don’t think it is a stretch to see why at the root of almost all of these.
Why do you treat some people better than others if we are all made in the image of God?
Why do you consider yourself as worthy of casting blame on your neighbor?
Why do you interpret God’s law in ways that establish false hierarchies?
Why do you play at love of God and love of neighbor while your heart and your actions suggest otherwise?
Why do you put your trust in the kingdoms of this world when the Kingdom of God is at hand?
I think these whys continue forward in the Christian tradition.
Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church door in 1517 that were essentially 95 whys directed at the Catholic Church. These whys set off the Reformation and the birth of Protestantism.
In 17th Century England Quakers refused to take oaths, take up arms, or remove their hats before those defined as their social superiors. Their actions, their writings, and their lives presented powerful whys to the Church of their day.
Quakerism, and Christianity, rightly understood, should always be presenting religion and the broader culture with why after why after why.
That means this work is ours today as it always has been.
I see this as genuine faith – a faith to not merely accept things as they are or have always been but instead to submit to the divine leading to ask the question whether God might help us find a better way, a greater understanding of God’s desires for each of our lives and our lives together.
What happens when we stop asking why?
I think this is just the kind of hard-heartedness that baffled Jesus, and unfortunately it seems to take place as much or more so in the very institutions meant to foster relationship with God.
When we stop asking why we can drive by the car accident to make it to church on time. But it doesn’t stop there. It leads to turning our backs on the widow, the orphan, the outcast, the foreigner.
Ultimately neglecting the why leads to the torture room, the distant drone strike, children separated from their parents at the border, the labor camp, the gas chamber.
We can rationalize all their suffering away while we go about our lives without concern or question.
The why is always in tension with our desire for righteousness and certainty.
When we know our cause is right and we know we have attained superior knowledge and understanding then we have nothing left to learn from the other and they become just so much less valuable.
But recall that theology is faith seeking understanding. It is an ever-present call on our hearts to know more of God and to know more of that of God in the infinitely God-valued person before me.
I think we are all theologians.
We’re all called to the fundamentally theological task of seeking understanding and asking why things are the way they are.
Ironically, then, it is the why that requires faith and the lack of why that signals complacence, a stifling or silencing of that divine seed early Friends spoke of within each of us.
What is it in your life that leads you to Why today?