A Speakeasy Theology Blog

I value direct, uninhibited conversation about ideas. Thus, I’ve tried to make this blog a place where people can voice their theological ideas freely. I’ve done this mainly by working under the rubric of “experimental,” signaling a place where an idea can be floated as a trial balloon. Being right or wrong is less important than the on-going conversation among curious people of good will.

Next week I’m starting a new class at my church. The title is Theologia. Here’s the description:

Theologia, a new discussion-based class begins on Wednesday, May 2 in Room 206.* The group will focus on contemporary issues in theology, ethics, philosophy and the sciences. Open-minded believers and non-believers are welcome.

*At the Highland Church of Christ

I want this class to have the same conversational and exploratory openness as this blog. Also, thinking as a college professor, I’d also like my classes to function in this manner.

My question has been, how do I succinctly and interestingly describe the intellectual and conversational climate I’m aiming for?

I had been pondering this “How to describe?” question for some time. Then, last week I heard an NPR spot about Mr. Chill’s barbershop in New Orleans. Mr. Chill lost his shop in Katrina. In the weeks and months that followed he set up shop in an abandoned Shell station. This impromptu barbershop became a local gathering spot where Katrina victims could gather and visit. Mr. Chill’s became a haven for much needed community and support.

As he described the year in the Shell station, Mr. Chill stated that the barbershop had a “speakeasy” environment, where people could relax and share their lives freely.

I was struck by the use of the word “speakeasy” as an adjective for a kind of environment, an environment unconnected with alcohol or illegality. As a noun we know what a speakeasy was, a place where one could buy alcohol during Prohibition. The name came from bartenders asking patrons to “speakeasy” (i.e., quietly) as they made their orders so that surrounding patrons could not overhear. Due to this history, “speakeasy” took on illicit and rebellious connotations. But Mr. Chill used it to describe something else. He used it to describe the kind of environment I had been trying to describe.

Specifically, if I could unpack what Mr. Chill meant by his description of his barbershop being “speakeasy” in nature, my guess is that he meant the following:

1. A hospitable place, where community and friendship can be found.

2. A natural place, where people could relax and laugh and speak their mind.

3. An egalitarian place, where people take off their ties and titles and encounter each other as equals.

4. A gritty place, where the topics of conversation aren’t trumped by issues of propriety or Victorian sensibilities.

5. An open-minded place, where people can express their opinions freely and get a fair hearing.

6. A non-judgmental place, where community, love, and respect are the highest virtues.

There it was, the word I needed. A space operating with “speakeasy” conventions would be hospitable, natural, egalitarian, gritty, open-minded, and non-judgmental. That is, in this blog and in my classrooms (at church and at ACU) I want a speakeasy environment. I don’t want people to be careful or pompous or fearful. The opinions of saints and sinners are welcome. The orthodox and the heterodox can mix it up. Making mistakes is okay. Creativity, originality, and improvisation are prized. And just say what you think and talk like you normally talk.

This can be an odd blog. I reflect, theologically, on things like, well, look at the sidebar. Why? Because, as I would now like to claim, this is a speakeasy theological blog. Everything is up for conversation and for theological consideration. If more “proper” readers find that odd, well, this space is too speakeasy for you. More elevated conversations can be found at other blog establishments down the street. Further, like a speakeasy, the conversations here will be more theologically illicit and rebellious. On this blog, theological improvisation is highly prized. So innovate here. (And many of you do!)

So here is what I’m doing and suggesting. You have probably seen those little icons that people post on their blogs like “Friends of Emergent” or “One: The Campaign to Make Poverty History.” I think we need a little icon that signals speakeasy theology/religion blogs. Blogs that are a little more gritty, a little more improvisational, and a little more heterodox. If you have the talent to make such an icon I’d love to post in on my blog. Until then I’ll work out a temporary thing on my sidebar.

So, welcome to Experimental Theology! This is a speakeasy theological establishment.

On my sidebar you'll see the picture of a jukebox with "A Speakeasy Theology Blog" as my nod to Mr. Chill's barbershop and the speakeasy environment. My suggestion if you want to join the speakeasy theology blog craze (a craze of exactly one) I'd recommend the following:

1. Until someone invents a globally standard icon, pick a picture that signals a speakeasy motif. I went with a jukebox but toyed with a picture of neon "Open" sign.

2. Add a Speakeasy Approved caption/title. Examples include:

A Speakeasy Blog
A Speakeasy Theology Blog
A Speakeasy Approved Blog
A Speakeasy Establishment
A Mr. Chill's Approved Speakeasy Theology Blog
(which I think I'm going to eventually use as this is so long and awkward as to border on cool)
Mr. Chill's Approved
A Mr. Chill's Establishment

Or some variant of the above.

If you actually do this, see me for therapy...

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8 thoughts on “A Speakeasy Theology Blog”

  1. Richard,

    A quick thought: in advertizing and setting up your class, your reputation, your Gestalt, will precede you. Thus, my guess is that you'll not have many stodgy, rigid, traditionalist types in attendance. So, an introductory topic might center around the importance of tradition and why it is needed, even for creative, gritty, edgy folk--you know a kind of surprise, a wedgie for those who think their comfort zone is wide as all creation.


    George C.

  2. This is a great concept for a class, Richard. I'm looking forward to being part of it.

  3. This is a great concept for a class, Richard. I'm looking forward to being part of it.
    - Matt

  4. Have you ever thought about moving to Dallas and teaching these types of classes? :) It doesn't seem fair that Highland gets to experience such openness while the rest of us can only dream (or drive to Abilene). Great idea on making blogs part of the speakeasy subculture. We need more safe havens for questions instead of museums for orthodox truths.

  5. @george:
    "you know a kind of surprise, a wedgie for those who think their comfort zone is wide as all creation."

    That made me laugh. A lot.


    I'm thinking the badge ought to signal the theological liberalism of the blogger ... so maybe a cocktail glass, or some people dancing, or a RIP GOD tombstone, or a burning bible, or something. =)

  6. Krister,

    As I am in the Dallas area, I have suggestions about classes and conversational groups you might find stimulating, on Sunday or otherwise.

    Richard, Matthew,

    Maybe a picture of Richard wearing a beanie and a racoon coat and holding a flask in one hand and knocking with the other on a spotlighted red door in a dark alley. A soundbite of a bluesy sax tune would complete the ambience of a speakeasyblog.

    George C.

  7. Krister,
    Well, we'll see how it actually goes. I have hopes for the class. Reality is a different thing...

    George and Matthew,
    I think this BECAME a speakeasy blog because of you two, not because of me:)
    Best to you both. Speakeasy my friends.
    Mr. Chill (with a nod to ron)

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