Hide the beer

Paysans fribourgeois au bistrot, 1923
 François Louis Jaques (1877–1937)

I have a playlist of songs from my connection on an MP3 drive in my car, and sometimes listen to them. As I was driving home from work just now, the song “Hide The Beer, The Pastor’s Here,” by The Swirling Eddies, popped up.

The Swirling Eddies are sort of an alternate version of my favorite band, Daniel Amos, with some of the same members, and both built around the genius of Terry Scott Taylor. For their first few albums, The Swirling Eddies were billed by nicknames — Terry being “Camarillo Eddy.”

“Hide The Beer, The Pastor’s Here” is from their 1989 album “Outdoor Elvis.”

As I listened, it occurred to me that the song is especially appropriate now, as accusations of sexual harassment come out, including some against religious leaders or other widely-admired figures.

The song’s immediate, literal interpretation is a criticism of Christian colleges, — several of them (including my alma mater) mentioned in the verses, and then a huge list of others shouted out at the end of the song. The criticism is of colleges where rules and regulations punish students severely for things like drinking, while other, harder-to-document sins go unpunished, even when committed by authority figures:

she had a beer as an evening snack 
when the ‘scripture man’ planned a sneak attack 
suspension’s the buzz out at Wheaton 
as she packed her bags and gathered her books 
‘scripture man’ gave her that lustful look 
yes lust is his brew but no one sees through 
his minty fresh breath ain’t reekin’

(Lyrics excerpted from the official Daniel Amos website.)

In this verse, the authority figure who gets the student suspended is guilty of an unseen sin of his own, one that can’t be detected by a Breathalyzer.

The song’s lyrics use a Christian college setting because that’s where things like alcohol use or popular culture (“…put that R-rated movie away”) can be codified and enforced. But that makes a great metaphor for the church in general, where we sometimes are obsessed with superficial or symbolic indicia of piety while overlooking the deeper issues of whether we love God and other people, standards which are much harder to assess objectively.

I don’t mean, and I doubt Terry Scott Taylor meant, to gloss over the serious consequences of alcohol abuse, nor to demean those who believe it is a Christian’s duty to avoid alcohol altogether rather than risk leading others astray. I practice moderation — which, for me, means one glass of wine occasionally with dinner or at a banquet, or the Guinness I buy every St. Patrick’s Day. (I still, a month later, have one can left from this year’s four-pack. And I cooked with one of them.) I had a cup of my cousin Ted’s home-brewed beer this past weekend at his party and enjoyed it, even though I’m no beer expert. But I completely understand those who believe in complete abstinence, and I also understand why a Christian college would need to set rules about such things.

But I think the outing of some modern day “scripture men” for their attitudes towards women makes the deeper point, which is that our love of God, and our love of other people, are the ultimate goal, and should be the ultimate foundation, of all of our other standards and practices. We, like the Pharisees that Jesus so often criticized, become enamored with certain individual and easy-to-score behaviors as a way of judging others and excusing (or, sometimes, berating) ourselves.

I fall way, way short of the standard of loving people. In my more self-aware moments, I realize this, and I hope it keeps me humble in some cases of looking at the shortcomings of my fellow human beings.