Individuals who visit my house might pick up on a theme if they look in the pantry, the fridge, or the living room display cabinet. I have two Apps on my phone to track, suggest, and rate items included in this theme. I have T-shirts. Paraphernalia. And I have a circle of friends with whom I can discuss in detail the nuances, intricacies, and complexities surrounding this theme.
Nope. Not Doctor Who. Although that's usually a safe guess.
I'm referring to craft beer.
My name is Sonny Lemmons, and I am a Christian who likes - make that loves - beer.
Many who read the confession above may think to themselves "And...?" After all, a sizable number of Christians today drink socially (while an equally large number probably drink secretly in their own homes). Some may have even grown up in a social environment where a Christian drinking wine, beer, or liquor wasn't taboo or frowned upon, so making such a statement might seem a bit odd. And above all else, since the legal drinking age is 21, as an adult I should be free to drink whatever I want. Right?
But for those of us who grew up in a small town or rural setting, who attended and - admittedly - were even once a part of a church environment that chastised or even judged those who drank, regardless of age or quantity, getting to the point where in the best Monty Python-esque voice that can be mustered you feel the freedom and courage to sheepishly smile while saying "I got better?" It's tough.
It's equally as tough to not be open and honest about an aspect of your life, motivated out of fear - not humility or respect - of others. Add in handling faith expectations grounded in Western social mores not even a century old and things get complicated. Quickly.
A Lesson in Beer Taxonomy
Most of the time when the word "beer" is mentioned, images of fizzy yellow drinks poured from cans (and often into plastic red Solo cups) springs immediately to mind. Sold in cases of 12 or 18, typically costing less than the price of a dinner at an average restaurant. Marked with the words "Ice" or "Lite" scrawled in an unmistakable font across the front. The boxes and bottles are decorated with gradated colors of red, white and blue, subconsciously reminding the consumer that their product is "Mer'can." Induces window-rattling belches.
The drink described above can best be quantified as the Americanized version of German lager, produced in mass quantities, in mild variations of the same style, often with an alcohol by volume (ABV) in the 3%-5% range. This is what is typically seen for sale in gas stations and grocery stores, or is found in most every fraternity house and hidden in many residence hall rooms throughout the country. It is normally purchased and consumed with a single purpose in mind: getting a buzz.
What I'm referring to is a drink crafted in comparatively small batches, overseen and guided by someone who shepherds the brewing process. It comes in a large number of varieties (strong ale, farmhouse, sours, and so on). It has an ABV in the 4%-11% range, reaching as high as 18% at times. It can be poured into specially designed glasses made to enhance the aroma, taste, and texture while drinking it. And it is normally purchased and consumed with a single purpose in mind: enjoying the experience.
I do not consume beer from large American breweries. I don't have to. For the remainder of my life, if I stop and concentrate for just a minute or two, I can remember the taste of it. The smell of it. And this isn't a memory that stems from my college days, but rather from my childhood.
I remember how my dad would use beer to cook with. I also remember the metallic taste of the can against my lips. The sensation in my chest as the carbonation bubbled and caused me to belch. My mom tells the story of how before my dad became a Christian, he would give me beer to drink. Beginning when I was approximately 18 months old.
This isn't an indictment against him. I hold no anger, bitterness, or resentment - so neither should you after reading this. Nor do I harbor an innate drive for alcohol, an addictive nature, or desire to get drunk because of this. My dad purged the house of all alcohol and turned his life around 180 degrees before my life was measured in double digits.
But because as a child he offered me a scorpion, as I emerged into adulthood I was already well acquainted with the sting it yields. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I am a self-avowed "beer snob." Maybe it explains why I genuinely don't like lagers. Maybe it also adds to why I don't drink to excess.
Understanding the Difference
The freedom I feel to drink does not mean it should translate into arrogance in my assumptions or actions. To do so means I am not acting out of love, and that runs counter to the faith I extol.
Just because something is clean for me does not mean that everyone recognizes it as such.
It's not as if when I am out socially or host friends at home, I automatically order whatever is on tap or go to open a growler out of my fridge. Some...many...know the ill effects of addiction to alcohol, either through family members or personal experience. If someone I know has an issue with drinking, I make the conscious choice to not drink while in their presence. If I'm out with someone I am just starting to get to know, I tend to let them order first, to set the tone. If we spend time over coffee or coffee stout, the same result comes at the end: we have spent time together.
Unfortunately, the opposite is not always true. Because I experience the freedom to drink a particular beverage, some feel the need or imperative to correct me. To tell me of the error of my ways. And sadly, speaking in love is not their preferred manner of communication.
To me, inviting a friend - a trusted friend - to go out for a drink is a time for us to share communion with one another. It's an experience, rooted in joy, that affords us a chance to share life, to DO life, with one another. And each time I discover a new style, brewery, offering from a brewery, I am reminded that I am free of the self-imposed restrictions of church doctrine that hammered home actions (or inactions) over grace. I celebrate this freedom that comes with a price: my deliberate choice to not abuse my priviledge. I celebrate by role modeling appropriate actions. I rejoice with my beer.
And I raise a mug inviting those who want to join in the celebration with me.