Overheard at the Goose

June 23, 2012 — 4 Comments

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Just a quick update after a full day of Wild Goose action… I’ll wait until sometime next week to post more thorough reflections on the experience…

The theme for Wild Goose 2012 is Exile and Return. From what I’ve observed and heard, both parts of that theme are present in nearly every conversation. There are plenty of people who are hurting, sad, angry, or cynical about “organized religion,” in general, and “institutional Christianity,” in particular. This is spirit was present last year as well. 

However, there is a counterpoint to Exile: Return. From microphones and over microbrews I heard folks share their story of pain and frustration, but with an emphasis on a refusal to give up, a refusal to leave Christianity altogether. Often this came after a time of isolation and was a “coming home,” of sorts.

Frank Schaeffer (above), the once heir apparent of Francis Schaeffer, shared how his granddaughter, Lucy, shows him the face of Christ daily. He credits her with bringing him back to faith in God. Similarly, Ian Cron shared about how a painful transition in his life led him through a desert of cynicism and out into a garden of resurrection..

The Return motif is also present in the lyrics of the performers. Aimee Wilson (below) lilts:
“So long you go down a path
Led by the hold of my hand”
(from ‘Thin Shoes‘ off her new album Unto Us the Sun

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In the same way, Agents of Future cry out:
“Some things are worth the fight
So I won’t walk away
I won’t walk away this time”
(from ‘Peace On Its Feet‘ off of Sneak Peeks at Magic Moments)

Biggest disappointment so far was the session titled “Theology of Beer.” It was actually the story of Fullsteam Brewery, a microbrewery in nearby Durham, with founder Sean Wilson and local pastor Jimmy Chalmers.

The session opened with Chalmers in full preacher voice, giving what appeared to be a sermonette on the goodness of all God created. Somehow this ended up on the goodness of grain and then, “though the magic of science,” we have beer. Wilson’s contributions lacked luster as well. His three big reasons for starting a brewery were to connect with the local agriculture, provide a place for community, and demonstrate love through the redemption of beer’s image in the South. 

None of the things had much to do with beer, per se. Nothing even approaching a theology of beer. As it turns out, Wilson’s never brewed a batch of beer in his life. He’s an idea guy with self-described “shiny object syndrome.” He thought a brewpub would be a cool thing and he made it happen. Props to him for that. But there’s no reason that he couldn’t have met all his objectives with a bakery, a fine resturaunt, or a CSA. Brewing seems like a fun delivery mechanism and little more.

The good news, for me at least, is that my work on brewing and Christian spirituality is still very much needed! So, I press on…

Anderson Campbell

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  • Sheila Bartlett

    I am so happy to be able to read just a bit of your experience so far.

  • fullsteam

    Hi Anderson – I appreciate your comments and am sorry you thought the presentation was lackluster. It seems it was disappointing to you that I’m not a brewer, but I don’t see how that undermines or mitigates our work to foster community and local agricultural connections. We all have our gifts — as I mentioned in the discussion, mine isn’t brewing beer. My head brewer is the one who wakes up every day at 5:30am to start the brew day; he’s pretty exhausted by 4pm. When his work is done, Chris generally has a beer and goes home to see his family.I’m the front-of-the-house equation: selling beer, marketing/design, budgeting and raising capital, cleaning toilets, creating and managing events, managing a staff, being at Wild Goose late night. Our division of labor keeps the business afloat and, frankly, has us much more involved in the community than if I were tasked with being a brewer.Perhaps my “shiny object syndrome” came across as a flippant “Oh I should own a brewery.” My apologies if this was the impression. My intent was to provide a stark contrast to Chris’ methodological mind to my creative, entrepreneurial brain. Fullsteam is the culmination of ten years of my life preaching the gospel of craft beer, starting with the Pop the Cap lobbying effort. With God’s blessing, it’s the job I’ll retire from decades from now. I disagree that I could meet my spiritual objectives operating a “bakery, fine restaurant, or a CSA.” As you mention, my mission is to redeem the image of beer in the South. Donuts don’t need to be redeemed. Beer does, particularly in the South.I do agree that the work on brewing and Christian spirituality is much needed. Do we not just have different paths and gifts in our mission to share God’s grace?Lastly, it seemed that you had a different expectation for the topic of “Theology of Beer.” What was it? What would you have done differently? I ask 100% snark-free. I’m very curious to get your thoughts on how to present beer and theology to an audience like last night’s. I suspect I would enjoy listening to it.

  • Anderson Campbell

    Hey, full steam, thanks for finding your way here.What I was hoping to hear or be a part of was a discussion on what beer and the brewing process can reveal to us about God. That is what I took “Theology of Beer” to be. It seems to me that you have a great operation going, one that is making quality beer and providing an important space for the community. I don’t dispute any of that. I wouldn’t say I’m “disappointed” that you’re not a brewer. I think it’s admirable that you chose to hire a homebrewer as your brewmaster. From what I tasted, he’s turning out some great beer. The Spring IPA was fantastic. I loved the use of kumquat in it.And I’ll stipulate to your point that “donuts don’t need to be redeemed” in the South, but that beer does. But how does that make what you’re doing a “theology of beer”? You’ve hit on one important redemptive aspect of the beer culture: the community that is created over and around beer. There is something unique about having a beer with someone. There is a different spirit at play when two people share a beer than when they share coffee or tea or lunch. You get that, and it sounds like your community gets that as well. But, I think there is so much more that can be mined in exploring the ingredients in, and the process of brewing, beer. Do you have any thoughts on that? Beer and Christianity have a great long history–it’s only the 20th century during which the relationship soured (and not in the good, Belgian kind of way). Some of the best beers in the world are (still) made by monastic communities. Why did they choose beer as their craft? I think there is something beyond the utility of providing a safe beverage during a time when water quality was poor, or because they needed something to fund their monastery. Those reasons might hold together if there wasn’t such a rich diversity to the range of styles that come out of monastic traditions. No, there is art and craft present in that history as well.So, beyond redeeming beer’s image, what else does brewing and beer show you about God?

  • Jesse Pals

    A misnomer perhaps? A “Theology of Beer”, I assume, would seek to explicate the historical relationship between brewing and theological formation? The monastic tradition is an integral chapter in the story. Furthermore, investigating ‘beyond the utility of providing a safe beverage’, what socio-spiritual quality contributed to brewing a rich array of beer as almost sacred ritual? Now that would be an exciting query! That makes sense to me. What are you working on, Anderson, that explores this? Is this your dissertation? Kumquat huh… That sounds good!