Brew to Bikes: with thoughts on how churches fit in an artisan economy

The book’s title, Brew to Bikes, caught my eye, but its subtitle, Portland’s Artisan Economy, and conversation with principal author Charles Heying persuaded me to buy it. Simply put, this book devotes nearly 200 pages to descriptions of small, entrepreneurial businesses in Portland, Oregon—craft brewing, coffee roasting, clothing design, handcrafting bicycles, and others on a list too long to post here. The book also takes nearly 100 pages to propose that “Portland’s artisan economy is a particular and local response to the larger economic forces that are changing our world” (23).

The contributors contrast “the Fordist system” characterized by “standardization of component parts and assembly line manufacturing,” and “post-Fordism,” a new set of economic and institutional relationships marked by decentralization, networked forms of organization, the knowledge and service sectors, flexible specialization, and other features.

Heying proposes that Portland’s version of the artisan economy is based on making things. It is developing a soft infrastructure, engages workers in humane ways, and values social wealth so much that people are willing to live with less because their lives are so richly satisfying.

How does this artisan economy fit in the larger picture of economic systems in the world today? The authors are properly modest in their claims. “The current economic arrangement,” they suggest, has not served us well. The artisan economy is “a path of resistance in a globalizing world, a path that is immediately accessible to individuals and communities who are looking for alternative futures.” They offer “suggestions of how cities and citizens can support the move to an artisan economy” (300).

My reflections upon this book naturally move in two directions. As aggressive cyclist, I rejoice that my passionate avocation is one of the signature models of artisanship in the community of my childhood and old age. The book makes me even more interested than before in handcrafted bicycles, components, gear, and clothing. Because of Heying and his colleagues, I can more easily justify buying a Portland designed Wabi Woolen winter jersey. And if there is a new bicycle in my future, it will have to be handcrafted, perhaps from one of the builders mentioned in the book.

As religious historian, I am interested in exploring ways that churches and the artisan economy intersect. Here are my first thoughts.

1.     Churches can develop bicycle-friendly facilities (beginning with bike racks), plan biker-friendly activities (including worship), and cultivate bicycle-centered alliances (with the Community Cycling Center, for example).

2.     Churches can encourage the use of local, artisan-made products in church activities and in the homes of congregants. Examples include birthday cakes by a local, in-town bakery rather than from an edge of the city discount chain, locally or home-baked artisan bread for communion on Sundays, and art by local artists.

3.    Churches can focus on the creation of social wealth, which is important to a city’s artisans, and on developing sustaining communities of people who know and care about one another. Pre-wedding guidance, family nurture, youth activities, and caring ministries for people of all ages are examples.

4.     Churches can seek out ways for worship to be an artisan craft, encouraging local musicians (composers and artists) to use their art in worship, developing liturgies that are consistent with classic principles and adapted to the special qualities of the immediate community.

5.     Churches can develop a theology that supports personal life in communities that are nurturing and sustainable. One of the classic creeds begins with the statement that “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” In his recent exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, which also begins by addressing God as “our Father,” John Dominic Crossan explains that in this context “Father” is to be understood as “Householder.” This God could be thought as “artisan par excellence,” the one whose purpose is that all people of the world have what they need in order to thrive.

When I purchased my copy of Brew to Bikes, the author told me that one of the downtown churches had purchased multiple copies for use in study groups and as a stimulus for program planning. Of course, he as the author would like the idea. As reviewer, aggressive cyclist, and religious historian, I do too.

4 Responses to Brew to Bikes: with thoughts on how churches fit in an artisan economy

  1. i was directed to your website TWICE in a google search i did based on “social history of the bicycle” …
    i thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and skimming a few others. i’m currently an entrepreneur and artisan who has started a public farmers market bike delivery service in Montreal. now i’m looking to buy this book because i relate to these principles.

    • Your enterprise in Montreal is to be commended. There are some organizations in Portland, Oregon, which is the city I’m in all of the time, that are using bicycles for serious public service and transport. I’m sure that the movement will grow. Keith

  2. Thanks for reviewing my book. Your reading was thoughtful and nuanced. I was especially interested in your making the connection between religion and building social wealth. It is something I will be thinking about as I continue doing research about artisan enterprises.

    • Your book helps me think about life in Portland and the distinctive culture that has emerged in our city. We met at the book fair at the Oregon Historical Society. Keith

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