My “Friendly” Beer and a Bible Interview

As you probably know, over the past few months we’ve had a couple of media outlets feature Beer and a Bible (USA Today and the News and Observer). Well, Thursday night there was another opportunity.

I was contacted Wednesday by an online radio station to be interviewed live and on air about Beer and a Bible. The broadcast is called The Virtual Bible Study and is a live, internet only, call in show that airs on Thursday nights at 9pm out of Tennessee.

At first I was very excited to talk to them, as I am with any media outlet willing to let me talk about Beer and a Bible. But, after visiting their website and watching a couple of the past interviews I then became very hesitant to agree to the interview. From what I saw on their website and from what I assumed is their base demographic I wasn’t sure it would be beneficial. Only because the crowd in which we are focused on for Beer and a Bible is not really within the church. We do have christians that come, but our intention is not to create a cool christian hang out, but a place where people who are not a part of a church or have been disenfranchised from the church can come and engage in spiritual conversations. They see the value in Jesus and that he is worth learning about, but at this point in their lives they probably wouldn’t step foot in a church.

They still wanted to do the interview and assured me that they would  keep the discussion friendly and laid back.

I was sure that we would have different views on what we do and was sure that their views were much more conservative than mine. But, again…I was assured with this, “While we’ll likely differ on some of your views, we’d like to have a cordial discussion in which your view point can be heard.”

The show is about an hour long, but here’s the 20 minute portion where I was interviewed. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did 🙂

BeerandaBibleInterview from A.J. Viola on Vimeo.

I did enjoy being able to share about Beer and a Bible. Any chance I get to share about the good that is happening through that I’ll always take. I do wish, however, that the interview had been a little more cordial conversation and a little less debate, but hey…we can’t always have what we want, can we?


Thoughts from Beer and a Bible (Community)

Tuesday night’s Beer and a Bible was another night of great conversation and great beer. In case you missed my first post, Beer and a Bible is a group for people who want to openly discuss life, faith and the bible while enjoying a good brew. It’s a group full of spiritually diverse people who are open and interested in having spiritual conversations in a different setting.

It’s always incredible how a randomly chosen topic speaks to people when you least expect it. Tuesday night’s topic was another instance of that.

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The passage up for discussion came from Mark 2:1-12 (click on the link for the passage), which is where 4 men dug a hole through the roof of a house where Jesus was teaching to lower a paralyzed man in to get him close to Jesus. They had to go through the roof because the crowd was so large that there was no way they were going to get close to him, much less while carrying a paralyzed man.

There are all kinds of topics that come from this short story, some I could spend many hours talking about, but during our conversations the other night one in particular really stood out to me. It was the 4 men carrying this paralyzed man that really spoke to me for some reason.

I’m a big fan of community. I fully believe that we all are communal creatures by nature and that the need and desire for some sort of community and relationship are within all of us. That’s why my wife and I have lived in community, with roommates and other families, over the past 4 years. Over half of our marriage has been spent living with others because we believe community is so vital to who we are.

What I see with this paralyzed man is that he has surrounded himself with a community. Maybe these 4 guys are the only community he has, but they serve as a community that cares enough about him to carry him up on a roof, tear a hole through said roof, then lower him down through that hole. All without a crane or modern-day technology.

The question that ran through my mind over and over during our discussions and has continued to do so since I left is, “What kind of community do you surround yourself with?”

It’s a question that we all must ask ourselves at some point. This guy had some pretty serious needs, physically and spiritual, as shown by Jesus addressing his spiritual needs first, but he surrounded himself with a community that was helping point him and carry him in the direction he needed to go.

I imagine that being healed was high on his priority list. It was something that I’m sure he dreamed about and thought about a lot. So much so that the community he surrounded himself with, these 4 guys, knew how much it meant to him. They knew what direction he wanted to go with this life. They knew his priorities. And when they saw an opportunity for their friend to take a huge step in the right direction of achieving that goal, that dream, all of a sudden his priorities became their priorities. They were obviously strong enough to pull this guy up on a roof and tear a hole through it. Being healed probably wasn’t something they thought about much, but they knew their friend. They knew what his dreams were. They were willing to drop what they were doing to bring their friend to the only one who could really help him.

That’s the kind of community I not only want to be in, but want to be for others. I want to know that I have people around me who I am close enough with that I can share my dreams, my goals and my passions and who I know would drop anything they were doing in order to help me achieve those. I want people to know me as a person who cares deeply for them. I want them to know me as someone who will help shoulder their burdens and who will help them accomplish their goals, dreams and passions.

That requires vulnerability, honesty, and a whole bunch of other virtues that usually don’t come natural to us, but it’s really the only way to live. It allows us to share each other’s burdens. To celebrate each other’s wins.

That’s what community should look like. Equally beneficial relationships. People who care enough for each other that they are willing to do seemingly crazy things for each other in order to help each other when it matters most.

And don’t get me wrong…sometimes it can feel very one sided. Can you imagine how one sided the relationship with this paralyzed man felt? For what could have been years these 4 guys carried him around, helping him with the day to day of life, maybe even carried him on other roofs in hopes of healing. Sometimes we have to sacrifice for others, but that’s part of being committed to a community.

I encourage you to ask yourself that question. What kind of community do you surround yourself with? Is it a mutually beneficial community? Is it one that is going to help you accomplish your goals and dreams in life, as well as where you can help others accomplish their goals and dreams?

Have you ever experienced community like that?

What does community mean to you?

It’s the little things.

Yesterday I had the cool opportunity to do some coffee roasting with a friend of mine. It’s a really cool process to see coffee go from the green bean to the delicious light to dark brown color. Hearing the bean crack like popcorn is a really cool sound and is a great reminder of how through heat and fire are brought beautiful things.

I’ve had some great coffee in my day, but I’ve also had some really bad coffee and while there are a lot of different factors that go into making a cup of coffee enjoyable I’m always amazed at how little, subtle changes go into making such a big difference.

A few months ago I had a cup of coffee that tasted like burnt marshmallows. And while I love smores, I was pretty sure this wasn’t the flavor that the roaster was going for. Come to find out that the coffee was indeed over roasted and almost burnt. I figured that while the coffee was roasting he had walked away or started working on something else and let it roast for far too long on accident. I asked this roaster how long he let the beans roast over the ideal time and he responded with “15 seconds.”

15 seconds! Can you imagine only having 15 seconds to get something right? There are times where I just stare off into nothingness for more than 15 seconds!

While my friend and I were roasting yesterday we had some time to kill. After all, part of roasting coffee is just waiting for the roaster to be done. So, we figured, why not pull some espresso shots? So it began. The first shot turned out ok. The water went too quick through the grounds so it was a little watery. So we tried adjusting the grind. We made it a little finer so it would hold the water better. Apparently, we went too fine because it took about 20 seconds before the water even started to drip through. On our third try we made the grind a little coarser to cut the difference, but it still didn’t turn out right. After a couple more tries and checking to see if there was enough water in the espresso machine (there was) and some really shaky hands we stopped pulling shots and got back to roasting.


I did notice something during our experiments though. Even though we were using the same coffee, the same water and the same methods, each shot had a different, distinct flavor. The very little changes we made to the grind size of each shot pulled out different flavors and characteristics of the coffee.

The same goes with the 15 second over roasted coffee I drank. I don’t know about you, but I would call letting something cook for 15 seconds too long is a very little thing.

The same goes for life, doesn’t it? It’s the little things that make a difference.

Sometimes we think that we have to make these huge adjustments to our lives or these really big life changes in order for us to achieve what we want or be where we want to be. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the time if we will make better little decisions the overall trajectory of our lives will be altered in the direction in which we want to go.

Focusing on the little, day to day decisions in life is also good training for when we have the opportunity to make a big change and big decisions. Think about it. If you continually make small decisions that go against the goals you have or go against the direction you want to be headed, what kind of decision do you think you’ll make when you’re presented with a much larger opportunity. You’re going to choose in the same manner in which you’ve already been choosing.

I’m reminded of a great quote from the movie For Love of the Game: “A lot of little bottles make a big bottle.”

Your seemingly small and insignificant decisions carry with them more weight than you probably know. Give them more attention. Because when it comes time to make the big decisions you’ll already know what to do because you’ve been working towards the direction you want go each and every day.

Get Away (find your mountain top)

Sometimes you’ve just got to get away. Sometimes you’ve just got to take some time to be alone. To do some self-reflection. To ask the hard questions of yourself and answer those questions truthfully. And it doesn’t have to take a long time to do it.

For me it took about 45 seconds of staring at this to have that moment:


(please click on that picture to make it bigger and see how pretty it is)

We went skiing this past weekend and we couldn’t have picked a better couple of days for it. It snowed the whole time we skied Sunday night, and looked like this the next morning. Just perfect.

This picture came from a moment where I had a chance to head to the top of the mountain by myself for a few runs. I rode that lift on the left side of the picture to the top as I have since I was a kid and was caught up in the beauty of what surrounded me.

Skiing has always been an escape for me. Whether it’s been racing through slalom and GS gates as fast as I can, shredding up the snow with a bunch of friends, crashing hard on a jump I tried while trying to impress someone, or just making those long slow carves that makes the S shape on the snow. Some of the most peaceful moments I’ve ever had in my life were in this exact spot. On top of Beech Mountain right after they opened the lifts with hardly anyone else on the slopes. Just me, the snow and God’s creation.

I wouldn’t say I’m the most environmentally focused person ever to exist…I honestly enjoy the city more than the mountains, but there is just something about looking over this view that helps me refocus and think clearly.

We all have a spot like this. A certain bench in a park. A section of a bike ride. A view of a cityscape. A specific seat at a coffee shop. A trail through a national park. Whatever it is there are times where we just need to get away. To focus.

Maybe you haven’t found your spot. Maybe you haven’t had a moment like this in a long time. Maybe life has just gotten too busy for you to actually find time to stop. To slow down. To evaluate if the things you’re doing are actually what you want to be doing.

I would encourage you to find your spot. Maybe it takes a day trip. Go. Schedule it. Make time for it. If you can’t then cancel something so that you can. You probably didn’t need to do it anyway.

If you don’t take time to refocus and to get away you’ll never be able to catch up.

You’ll run out of gas.

On the drive home from this trip I kept the car in cruise control as much as I could. It just makes the trip easier. One of the things I’ve noticed about cruise control is that it takes into account the ups and downs of the road. When you start going uphill and the car starts to slow down it gives the car a little punch to make up for the lost speed. When you’re going downhill and gravity kicks in and the car starts moving faster it’ll slow the car down a bit so you will keep going the speed you selected.

We have to do that for our lives as well. Life keeps trying to throw us downhill and increase the speed of everything around us. If we don’t apply the brakes to our lives we’ll end up going faster than we want to and when you go faster than you’re supposed to that’s when you get in trouble.

Slow down. Get away. Be intentional and take the time you need to apply the brakes to your life so you can actually enjoy the ride.

Find your mountain top.

Thoughts from Beer and a Bible (Darkness into Light)

Another night of Beer and a Bible down and another morning of still being excited about the conversations that we had.

If you missed my first post about Beer and a Bible be sure to check out and my last post on it.

Before I get to last night’s thought that really stood out to me I wanted to reiterate one of my favorite things about Beer and a Bible. Last night we had 5 people there for the first time and I’m always worried when people come for the first time because I really want to make sure they feel welcome and feel comfortable in the environment. Obviously, we’re in a bar, so it’s not hard to feel comfortable there, but when it comes to engaging in spiritual conversations it’s easy for people to feel a little reserved.

But, when people come for the first time and they are welcomed right away and they start forming relationships almost immediately after they walk in the door it just makes my day. To see people engage in these spiritual, real life conversations right away is really cool.

We need more spaces like that. We need more spaces where people can come in for the first time, feel like they have a place right away, as well as feel like they have a voice and are able to contribute to the conversation.

Ok…on to last night’s insight.

The text we read from last night was John 9 (click on the link for some context). The super abbreviated version of this text is that Jesus heals a blind man by putting mud on his eyes, then gets in trouble by the religious leaders of his day for doing it on the Sabbath, the traditional day of rest, then he and the formerly blind man both lay into them for caring more about rules as opposed to compassion.

An insight that really stood out to me last night came from verses 6-7, “After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”

Think about this. Instead of just waving his hands or snapping his fingers or pulling out his magic wand and curing this man’s blindness, he uses spit and dirt to make mud, then puts that mud on his face and then he washes the mud off and he can see. Spit. And dirt. On his face.

If Jesus is God, then why didn’t he just do a little incantation and make this guy be able to see? Here’s what I think. Over and over again throughout his life we see Jesus using things and people that are dirty, unclean, not the cream of the crop and the unexpected to bring about life change and beauty.

Over and over again Jesus takes mud, dirt and darkness turns it into light, into beauty.

This is Jesus’ M.O., it’s what he does. He specializes in taking our junk, our dirtiness, our darkness and turning it into light.

So, here’s the hope. Whatever your thoughts on Jesus, who he was, is or what he’s about, I encourage and challenge you to think of Jesus in these terms: Jesus is all about turning your darkness into light.

No matter what you’re going through, what you’ve done, where you are or where you’ve been…Jesus wants to take your dirt, your mud and turn it into light. He wants to open your eyes to a new way of life. A life filled with light and beauty and color and compassion.

Something Shiny!!!

I love my younger brother, Tony. He’s the baby of the family so my sister and I pick on him a lot, but it’s only because we really love him. If I had to choose a phrase to describe my brother it would probably be, “something shiny.”

You see, Tony has ADD, and probably ADHD ;), and while that’s nothing to joke about because it can be serious and a real struggle for people, it’s been pretty hilarious at times watching Tony trying to focus. He literally gets distracted by shiny things…and it makes me smile. (I asked him if I could share this by the way.)

But then I got to thinking. Tony and I aren’t that different when it comes to attention spans. We both get distracted by shiny things. While he may get distracted by actual shiny things, I get easily distracted by shiny, new opportunities.

Have you ever had those “something shiny” moments? Those moments where you’re really focused on something, you’re really into a conversation or something and then all of a sudden, out of the corner of your eye (or your brain) you see something shiny? It becomes almost impossible to continue focusing on what you were so into and it takes every muscle in your retina to keep you from turning your attention to whatever that shiny thing is. Maybe it’s just me, but I have those moments a lot.

I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I love new things. I love starting things and I get really excited, really quickly about change and new, shiny ideas and plans. It’s really a struggle for me to finish things. I’m really good at getting things off the ground and getting other people excited about them, but when said thing has started I seem to lose interest pretty quickly and that’s when I start seeing shiny objects.

Those shiny things can come in many forms, but I have a hard time saying no to them. Because I love doing new things and I love starting things, I want to do as many things as possible. This has gotten to the point where I will say yes to things and events where I have already said yes to other things. Then I over book myself and I have to look like an idiot and go back to someone and say sorry and that I made a mistake because I got excited and didn’t actually plan.

I had a really cool opportunity tonight to join in on my first Downtown Living Advocates meeting as a core group member. The DLA’s mission is to be an organized voice for Downtown residents and I’m really excited to be asked to represent my neighborhood. During the meeting tonight they talked about a lot of initiatives going on and coming up for the downtown area and I literally wanted to volunteer for every single one of them. I showed restraint, but it wasn’t easy.

There’s a good chance I’ll probably end up being a part of at least one of those initiatives, but if I don’t allow myself to plan well, then I won’t be able to accomplish any of the things I want to do.

Not sure if there’s a point to this post other than a challenge for myself and maybe a warning for you. If you’re like me, every time you see “something shiny” you want to jump at it, help it get started, take it over and run with it…but it’s usually at the expense of something you’ve already invested in. Something you’ve already given time to. Something you’ve already committed to.

Getting involved in new things and getting excited about change is great…I love it. But, when we do that at the expense of the things we’re already committed to, then we not only do a disservice to the things and people we committed to, we also do a great disservice to our credibility.

A very wise person once said, “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” (Jesus) There’s also this great verse in the book of Proverbs that says “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.”

Let’s finish what we’ve started so we can chase after those shiny things that we get so excited about.


Thoughts from Beer and a Bible

Of all the things that I do with my time Beer and a Bible is probably my favorite. Beer and a Bible is a group for people who want to openly discuss life, faith and the bible while enjoying a good brew. It’s something that we started about 2 years ago and I love it. It’s the perfect mixture of things that I love…beer, Jesus, people and talking about life.

To give you a very brief description of the way it works: we gather in the back room of a local Irish pub in Downtown Raleigh and I’ll read a story or a section of scripture from the Bible and then I’ll say, “Go.” The whole point is conversation, so we just let people go where ever the conversation leads them.

If you’d like to learn more about Beer and a Bible you can click on the link above or feel free to shoot me an email at

One of my favorite parts about Beer and a Bible is simply the conversation. We have new people every week and people come from so many different spiritual backgrounds and life situations, so the conversation is always going to be different.

After another night of great conversation and insights into some stories in the Bible that I had never thought of before I thought, “Man…I should start writing these down!” So, my hope is after every Beer and a Bible (which meets every 2nd and 4th Tuesday) to share one or two of the thoughts or insights shared at the table I was sitting at.

Last night’s insights were great. We read from Luke 24:13-35, which is the story of the diciples walking the road to Emmaus. (Click on the scripture reference to read it for a little context.)

The main insight I took away from the conversation was this: When we do the things Jesus did we start to recognize who Jesus is.

I love this. These guys who were walking with Jesus could have just let him continue on his merry way after he called them foolish and basically just schooled them in biblical history. But, they didn’t. Instead, they strongly urged him to stay with them. Traveling on would have been dangerous. Walking alone along paths then would have made a traveler a prime target for muggers and thieves along the path. So, these guys ask Jesus to stay with them. They bring him in, they feed him and they show him compassion.

It is through that act of compassion that Jesus was revealed to them.

Compassion is a clear character trait of Jesus. Over and over again in the gospels we read how Jesus had compassion on a person or a group of people. Over and over again we read how he showed compassion to people by healing them and forgiving them of their sins.

When these guys treated people the same way Jesus treated people they got to know Jesus more.

What a concept, right?

I really believe, no matter your spiritual affiliation, that when we put the teachings of Jesus into practice that the world will be a better place. We will begin treating people with love and compassion. We will hand out forgiveness in the same way Oprah gives out free stuff!

Just like the two guys had a choice…of whether or not to invite Jesus to stay with them or to let him continue on down the road, we too have a choice. Each and every day we are given opportunities to treat people with compassion. We are given opportunities to let people continue down the path they’re walking, the path that’s usually lonely, the path that could lead them to dangerous places and situations…or we could invite them into our homes, into our lives, to our kitchen tables and share with them the love and compassion that we should have readily available.

We look to the words of Jesus as a reminder, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

When we do the things Jesus did we start to recognize who Jesus is.

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