A priest, a bar, beer and God

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Father Bill Miller, standing in front of the doors at St. Michael and All Angel’s Episcopal Church in Lihue, holds a copy of his book, “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God.”

Bill Miller’s friend has a saying: His favorite beer is the one that’s free and cold.

“I would subscribe to that,” Miller said, laughing.

Miller is a man who enjoys a cold one while sitting on the lanai of his home. He also happens to own a watering hole named “Padre’s” in Marfa, Texas. Oh, and Bill Miller also happens to be a priest on Kauai, and the title of his new book happens to be, “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God: The Whole and Holy Truth About Lager, Loving and Living.”

So, wait a minute. This is a man of God who, not only drinks beer, but owns a bar and just wrote a book that has the quote, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” by Benjamin Franklin on the cover?

Yes to all of the above.

“It’s unusual, but I don’t think it’s in any way in conflict with my faith,” said Miller, who leads St. Michael and All Angel’s Episcopal Church in Lihue. “But it’s not your typical religious book.”

Miller is not a typical priest, either.

A worldly traveler, “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God” is a collection of Miller’s journeys. There are three parts in the book under the headings of Wine, Women and Song.

Stories have amusing titles like “Hail Mary,” “Call Me Intemperate or It’s Nine O’Clock Somewhere,” “WWJD: What Would Jesus Drink?” and “This Priest Walks into a Bar.”

They are the places, the happenings and the people that Bill Miller has crossed paths from big, bustling cities to small, quirky towns.

“I’ve met people being used by God everywhere I’ve gone. It’s really opened my heart,” he said.

Perhaps before we go deeper into the story, we should make it clear Miller isn’t calling on friends and family to drink more. He isn’t saying hang out at bars — not even his. He is saying this is a book that uses metaphors, and beer is one of them.

And yes, it’s a book meant to bring a smile to your face, maybe even cause a chuckle or two. Because Miller believes firmly this is a world that could definitely use a little more laughter.

“We have lost our sense of humor,” he said. “Think about religious books you have read that are funny. You could hold them in one hand. God gave us this sense of humor and life is funny. Life is to be enjoyed, celebrated and laughed at.”

“There is such extraordinary healing in laughter and humor.”

Thus, “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God” is a book, he said, for the common man, the common woman. The kind of person you’d like to go have a beer with and get to know. And maybe even talk about God.

“My hope is people who would not normally read spiritual books, might actually open this up and read it and find something that would be helpful to them on their spiritual journey.”

Hanging out

Miller is relaxed and engaged as he sits in his office, joined by his two dogs, his longtime companion, Nawiliwili Nelson, and Sinbad, another rescue dog that joined the Miller home on Good Friday.

He’s the author of “The Gospel According to Sam: Animal Stories for the Soul,” which has sold well. But he believes this one will find an even wider audience.

“Although people do love dogs, I think they love beer even more,” he said, smiling.

Miller is a friendly, welcoming soul, the kind of guy who enjoys hanging out with people. He likes to hear their stories and he likes to share his. Jesus, he notes, spent time with people from every segment of society, so Miller figures he’s in pretty good company.

Having a bar in West Texas, he said, has introduced him to a colorful assortment of characters. His travels have taken him to amazing, inspiring places, such as the cathedrals of Dublin. And along the way, he’s developed a fine sense of appreciation for God’s gifts.

“My life has been so blessed and so enriched,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot. God has really blessed me with those opportunities.”

While Miller said it’s a little unusual for a pastor to write about beer, he notes, with a grin, he is an Episcopalian, and shares a little joke about his denomination: “There’s a saying, where two or three are gathered, there’s always a fifth.”

Kidding aside, Miller notes there are biblical stories involving alcohol. Jesus turned water into wine for the wedding party. And the Apostle Paul told the young disciple Timothy that when church people were wearing him out, getting on his nerves, he should drink a little wine.

“There’s a very rich tradition of this actually being a metaphor in the Christian tradition,” he said.

A priest and a bar?

There will be people who won’t buy it and will ask, how is it possible that a priest also owns a bar?

Miller is ready with an answer.

People like to go where there is support, where they belong, where they feel accepted, where their hunger and thirst can be met, not just physically, but spiritually.

And all of us, Miller said, face trials in life. Every hero of Scripture was a human being with struggles, flaws and failures.

“I would say the occupations in the world that are called up to do the most pastoral care, other than minister, would be bartender,” he said.

He warns against abusing too much of a good thing. Beer, just like food, can become a vice.

“It’s like any gift that God has given us. We can abuse it, we can become addicted to it.”

Another reason for writing his book, he said, is perhaps it will encourage people to venture out, to explore, to meet others. And of course, to smile and laugh, and get to know God, too.

Miller said while spirituality is for many a solo pursuit, he needs a community, such as one might find in churches, and yes, even bars. One such bar, Miller’s Padre’s, will be celebrating its fifth anniversary on Memorial Day weekend with a Sunday gospel show and gospel singers.

And yes, he plans to be there. Wouldn’t miss it.

“I need people sitting a the bar with me, telling their stories and listening to mine. I need people gathering around the altar with me to break bread and to drink wine and understand we’re all in this together. I need people to tell me the truth, to admonish me when I’m misguided, to lift me up when I fall, laugh with me when there is something to be celebrated, weep with me when I’m burdened.

“Those are the things that permeate the message of the book.”

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