Don’t know about you, but the hardest truth for me to confess about my own life is usually not the juicy, shocking one, which only comes around every once in a while. More often, it’s that little guilty pleasure, which isn’t any terrible moral failing. It just doesn’t align with the image of myself that I’d prefer to project out into the world. It’s that fact of my existence which isn’t, let’s say, SMR: social media ready. I might Instagram my dinner at the fancy seasonal restaurant but not necessarily my lunch at Taco Bell. I want my dinner party guests to know that I’m reading a Pulitzer prize winning novel, not necessarily that I’m reading it in between Buzzfeeds. And atop this inglorious heap of guilty pleasures is my, apparently, lifelong love of looting post-apocalyptic shipping warehouses.
You could probably guess that my wife, who spent the same day, kid you not, meditating, reading a challenging book, making a healthy lunch, doing yoga, ordering lesson books for the piano, and meditating again, was slightly less entertained but infinitely more fulfilled when all was said and done. Is there a reason for that?
It’s possible that the whole concept of free time, let alone choices for how we would like to spend it, is something of a new invention of the modern world. And as with all freedoms, there is a subtle bait and switch that happens. The more detached we are from the burdensome necessity of spending our time a certain way, say, gathering firewood and hunting mastodons (yeah, I don’t really know what sorts of things old timey people did with their time, just that they weren’t playing Fallout IV), the more the existential burden is on us to make our time matter. Think about that. Until very recently, on an anthropological scale, humans probably didn’t think much about what makes their lives matter?
And the trend seems to be that the more preparation, motivation, and focus that a certain pastime takes, the more it will enrich our lives; the more unintentional, inert, and unfocused, the less it will have had a lasting impact. Practicing scales on the saxophone isn’t necessarily as “fun” as playing “Plants vs. Zombies” on the iPad, but the payoff, in terms of our new self-concept and our newfound skill, is infinitely higher. Watching a Ken Burns documentary takes more mental focus than watching The Bachelor, but afterwards, we don’t feel like we’ve squandered precious time on this Earth without growing as a human being.
I think this goes a long way to explaining why homebrewing and craft beer in general are such a powerful counter-cultural force right now. When you think about it, this phenomenon doesn’t snugly fit into a culture that is built around easy entertainment and mindless convenience.
When my Castle Church partner, Aaron, posted a video on the process of cleaning our pilot system brewhouse, you can see just a couple minutes of what was actually an hours long process. And that’s just keeping things sanitary, not even the fun part: a few hours to brew, several weeks to ferment, let alone souring or bottle aging, if that’s your thing: all activities that would make for about the most boring video game ever. And yet, all across the culture people are choosing to participate in and support this laborious process on their free time over just picking up a cheaply made six pack at the grocery store.
Why? Because it does something for our souls to create and enjoy something that is truly a labor of love over a convenience product driven by the “bottom line.” Deciding what hop aroma you’re going for, chewing on some grain to see if its right for the flavor profile, praying like a medieval monk for everything to go right, because textbook chemistry formulas don’t really make the fermentation process seem any less magical at the end of the day: these are all practices that connect us with the earth, with our humanity, and with each other in a way that insta-tainment ever will.
Grace and Peace,
Jared Witt is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.