Summertime means lemonade, tan lines and mosquitoes, plus heat and humidity. Or, as Rev. Patrick Gray of Christ Church would have it, summertime: beer, your skin as God made it, fireflies (one of God’s most wondrous creatures) and Dante’s Inferno. And not just Dante’s Infero but Monty Python, Modern Art and South Park, too.
It’s not clear that Gray - who leads Christ Church in Hamilton - wants us all to attend church. But it is clear that he would like us to think, broaden our knowledge and “bump elbows with someone you don’t know and to get your brain itched a bit.”
To this end Gray and Christ Church collaborators have organized a lively summer series called Ockham’s Kegger.
The name speaks volumes. The meaning of kegger is easily grasped and appreciated. Ockham, on the other hand, might bring on some head scratching. As Gray explains, “it provides a curiosity factor” - at least a curiosity factor for those who sidestepped philosophy class.
Nonetheless, Gray is quick to provide the missing wisdom saying, “William of Ockham was a nomenalist.” In fact he was a thinker who came along after Thomas Aquinas in the 14th century.
“Ockham was a philosopher [so the story goes] who sought to carve away with his razor, all that wasn’t essential to a discussion or intellectual investigation,” continued Gray.
So in piecing together the name Ockham’s Kegger, Gray means to convey that "The Gospel According to…" series of talks are intended to be smart, enlightening, concise and good fun.
“There’s no churchy stuff, no praying, no preaching,” Gray says, describing the climate he strives to achieve. And as to why Monty Python and South Park?
“We like to appeal to different people," Gray said. "People might come out for Python or modern art but not for Dante. We want to appeal to everyone.”
The talks result from equal doses of spontaneity and focused preparation. Inviting Gareth Evans of was straight forward. Evans, a Brit, grew up with Python’s Flying Circus and investigated how laughter and humor work in sacred spaces for his doctorate. And he had already drawn crowds when he spoke about the Gospel According to Monty Python in Boston for the .
“Gareth did such a great job I had him do it again,” Gray said.
Gray found one topic and its speaker one Sunday after conducting a service.
“I was leaving worship one Sunday morning and mentioned that I was going to Italy for the Jerusalem Athens Forum and Rev. Gray said, “Great! How would you like to give a talk on Dante and The Inferno?,” said Ryan Groff, a recent presenter.
“There is 1,700 years or so of scholarship on Dante. I have no Ph.D,” said Groff, insisting that he knew little about the Italian writer and theologian before preparing his talk. But a minute into his presentation last Thursday night there was little doubt he had fully embraced his subject and that his Mennonite background and training serve him well.
At 9 p.m., Groff drew his talk to an end and invited questions from the audience.
“I really thought it was going to be darker, more creepy,” said Abbee Moore of Lynnfield. And with that the conversation was up and running.
Addressing the fact that Dante’s has “all these alive people in Hell,” a man asked, “Is there an aspect of humor here?”
Keeping step with the question, Groff responded that, “[it is possible that The Inferno was written as] a parody of systematic theology, [Dante might be] the Stephen Colbert of the theology world.”