I’m taking an early Spring Break this week and will be running a guest blogger series featuring some of my favorite writers. Today meet educator, author and home-brewer Anderson Campbell.
In 2011, I was fired from a church because of differences with the senior leadership. Being fired from any job is a trying experience. Being fired from a paid role in a faith community carries a different kind of baggage, though. I felt like I was fired from my faith.
My education and my experience were all geared toward a career in church-based ministry. In the wake of getting let go, I flailed around looking for something solid I could hold onto. Faith no longer seemed solid. I was angry with God, angry with the church, angry with myself. I went through a year-long period of intense spiritual isolation akin to what St. John of the Cross calls a “dark night of the soul.”
I found God again in an unlikely place: beer.
I started home brewing beer in 2005 with my friend Scott. Our entry into the craft was motivated by a love of good beer and a curiosity about whether or not we could make beer worth drinking. Our first attempt was nearly a failure, but we were hooked.
Nearly six years later, after the church let me go and I moved my family across the country to take a new job, I set up my home brewery and resumed brewing, as I have done after every move since 2005. This time, it was different. The only time I felt at peace was when I was brewing. It seemed to be the only thing that would take the edge off the anger and the sadness I was experiencing.
Brewing was one of the few things that was the same about my life after I was fired. Everything else was different. I had a different job in a different city in a different field. There was some comfort in the sameness of brewing, but the resonance I felt went deeper than just familiarity with the routine. There was something soul-satisfying about making beer. During a time in which I was highly suspicious of church, angry at God, and jaded with most other Christians, brewing served as my spiritual teacher. It seemed that every time I brewed, I gained some new insights into my own spirituality.
For example, from the water used in brewing, I was reminded that we all have unique stories. Water carries its story in its chemical makeup. As it flows down from mountaintop snowfields, through streams and rivers and aquifers, water picks up minerals and compounds that affect its flavor. No two regions have the same water. It is shaped and changed by the journey it takes.
As a home brewer, I must decide what to do with the story the water tells. I can highlight it or mask it. I can honor the story of the water and choose to brew ales that are well-suited to the water profile for my region, or I can chemically alter the water by adding things to it or removing things from it.
The same is true for my story, for my journey. I can honor my story, even the painful parts, by telling it honestly and leaning into my unique experiences, or I can mask those things about which I feel shame or pain and present a different story, an altered story to the outside world.
As I reflect on my story, which I have plenty of time to do while watching a kettle full of boiling wort, I’m slowly coming to grips with the notion that perhaps my story is a gift, not a liability. I wouldn’t be who I am right now without the experiences I’ve had, good and bad.
God has always been a part of my story, so has my faith in God. Even during times in which I perceived them as adversaries, they were players in my narrative. Now, every time I brew, every time I crack open a beer, I’m reminded of the unique qualities the water’s journey imparts to the beer, and that my own life has unique qualities imparted by my journey.
Anderson Campbell works at George Fox Seminary and brews at his home in Portland, Oregon. He blogs at thecrookedmouth.com and is in the midst of writing on a book on brewing and spirituality. You can find him on Twitter: @andycampbell