"The Theology of Zombies? Lady Gaga and Judas? If you had told me five years ago that I would be giving a series of talks with titles like that, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed."
The Theology of Zombies? Lady Gaga and Judas? All About Monk Stuff? If you had told me five years ago that I would be giving a series of talks with titles like that, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed. I was a monk and a librarian, and that was that.
Then Abbot Neal sent me to seminary to study for ordination. At seminary I heard about “Theology on Tap,” a movement in the Catholic Church driven by the concept of “bringing the faith to where the people are.” Specifically, “Theology on Tap” goes to where young adults naturally congregate — in bars and pubs. During these gatherings, a priest or layperson talks about some beliefs or points of theology in a lighthearted manner. The participants then discuss the topic among themselves over a beer. The goal is to get young adults asking theological questions and to prompt them to recognize why and how faith and religion play an important role in their lives.
“Theology on Tap” sounded wonderful. I began to imagine myself doing something similar once I returned to Saint Martin’s after ordination. But, the challenges were clear. Perhaps the most significant challenge: Many of our students are too young to go to bars. So, I considered ways we could modify the idea to make it work.
I developed a list of three basic principles for translating this program to a Saint Martin’s setting: 1) it had to be interesting to students; 2) it had to be convenient for students; and 3) it had to have real theological content.
First, if students have just spent their entire day in the classroom, they do not want another lecture in the evening. The topics would have to be compelling, based on something the students are already talking about in their residence halls, in the dining hall and in the rec center.
Second, once the students have eaten dinner, they are unlikely to want to head back “up the hill” to the academic buildings. (This is why I celebrate weekday student Mass and offer the sacrament of Reconciliation down in the residence halls.) Likewise, the talks would need to occur where the students gather at the end of the day — in the residence halls.
And third, the focus of the presentations had to be theology. If the talks simply centered around pop culture, what would distinguish them from other conversations taking place on campus? Everyone, it seems, has theological questions and everyone wants to discuss them, but cultural taboos often make people uncomfortable about initiating faith-focused discussions. My goal would be to move students past those taboos into comfortable religious discourse.
When I returned to Saint Martin’s, I pitched the idea to the campus ministers, who responded positively. At the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, I told students about my planned lecture series, tentatively named “Theology in the Dorms.” They came up with a new title — “Papa Pete ‘n Popcorn.” “Papa Pete” seems to have stuck as nickname for me with the students. That’s not so bad; I can live with it!
“Papa Pete n’ Popcorn” took off during the fall semester, attracting about 25 attendees per session. This past spring, as I continued the program with the students, the lectures explored theological themes in popular movies, including Star Wars, Twilight and Lord of the Rings. It has been challenging to constantly generate new topics to engage the students, but this pressure has forced me — and the students — to be creative.
So what’s on tap for Saint Martin’s version of “Theology on Tap”? Stay tuned for this fall’s schedule — and feel free to join us.