May 19, 2018 | Duluth GA
By: Matthew Kunz
In the world of artistry, many things get overlooked, but singer/songwriter Allen Odell (24. Duluth, Ga) is taking strides to bring one seemingly unconventional artform to the fore.
Music is well known to be an art, as is writing, dancing, and, well, art. But what about breadmaking? Few realize it, but breadmaking may in fact be one the very oldest arts there is.
The third chapter of Genesis reveals God’s curse against mankind for breaking His one rule. Part of that curse, as God speaks to Adam, is that “by the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.” And thus, we learn from the earliest pages of the Bible that agriculture, cultivation of crops, and even the construction of complex food items were already present at (or at least immediately after) the Fall. But we also see art. Because, truly, breadmaking is a beautiful thing.
Finding “Real Bread”: In 2016, Odell discovered the art of breadmaking in a Netflix documentary (Cooked, 2016). “I watched a documentary, and I thought about how some people can’t eat bread, and I was like, ‘What the heck? That just sucks! Why? This can’t be.’ And it didn’t make sense historically, because this is just something that everyone everywhere ate all the time. So, why is it all of the sudden people are getting sick?”
This question began Odell down a road that transformed his life, as well as the lives of many people around him. “I decided to try and create a culture of bacteria, yeast, flour, and water. And it didn’t work at first, and then it did work, and it was pretty exciting!” This first “sourdough starter” began Odell’s growing bakery business, Sojourner’s Bread. Made with the most basic and minimal ingredients, Sojourner’s is what insiders call “real bread.” It lacks all the artificial ingredients and “fortifying” extras of commercially produced bread and is made the same basic way bread has been made for thousands of years.
This old-fashioned process makes the bread very healthy, because virtually no nutrition is lost from the wheat during the milling process. It further contains more nutrition because of the extended fermentation process the bread goes through. During fermentation, whole proteins in the bread (gluten among them) breakdown, releasing their constituent amino acids and simpler proteins. This makes them easier for our bodies to absorb and gain benefit. In fact, many people who are gluten-sensitive and gluten-intolerant can eat Odell’s “real” bread. As a result, these people’s lives are being transformed in little ways each day, through the simple blessing of edible bread.
About the name of his enterprise, Sojourner’s Bread, Odell says, “I wanted it to portray a deeper meaning to life, and to motivate me to remember the truth behind it, which is that the Bible talks about us being exiles, aliens, sojourners, and we’re awaiting a new heavens and earth, and new bodies; and it’s not a passive thing, we’re not just sitting around waiting for it, we’re actually walking in the good works which God has planned for us, joyfully; remembering that it’s hard, but it’s also rewarding. So that’s the meaning of it.”
[ Check out this article from The Guardian for more info on the sourdough breadmaking process and its link to Celiac disease: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/mar/23/sourdough-bread-gluten-intolerance-food-health-celiac-disease ]
Finding Music: While Odell’s hope is to one day start his own brick and mortar bakery and cafe, his passions aren’t limited to baked-goods—he also is a musician and songwriter. Beginning with hip-hop beats and rap songs in high school, Odell puts his heart and soul into his music. Describing his early stuff as “stoner rap,” Odell describes his dream for his life as a young man, “riding around in a car with my friends, hot boxing.” A thought which he now, poignantly describes as “pathetic.”
As the Lord has grown Odell spiritually, his songwriting has also grown. “I really got into Metal when I first became a Christian,” says Odell. “I really got into bands like Blindside and POD, specifically. Those two bands, from the time I was like 8 years old. Then I got into the stoner rap stuff. Then I started exploring more and discovered bands from like ten years before that time (2013), heavy stuff, because I just felt like ‘Man, I just hate the devil!’ and I wanted to feel that in the music. I don’t really listen to that stuff anymore.“ Odell says he likes the rhythms and the heaviness of Metal music, because it has a feeling of power and victory and warriorhood. He says that while it has its roots in rage and hatred and other bad stuff, it is amazing to see how some Christian artists have taken that and turned it to hatred against sin, and using the music to show the struggle and clash of spirit and flesh.
When Odell began to write his own songs, he had a desire to sing worship songs. He taught himself guitar through YouTube tutorials, and built upon an already trained ear—from a young age he fiddled around on his dad’s guitar and figured out the things that he thought sounded good. He describes his style as singer/songwriter, but somehow less accessible. He likes to mix genres together.
The first song he really wrote (as he puts it), was an ambient sort of sound, and reflected the work of a Gungor song—synths, ambient guitar work, that sort of thing. While largely holding to that sound, there is a fair amount of other genres he introduces around that framework, including heavy rock, screamo-vocals, and hip-hop beats.
Born in Maryland. Grew up in a Pentecostal Spanish-speaking church. Family was hurt by some things in the church. Moved to Georgia and went to Victory World Church in Norcross, GA, where he was first really challenged to believe in Jesus. But as middle school and high school came around, he started to care less and less about the things of God. He got involved with the high school drug culture surrounding marijuana, and at one point was even planning to sell pot. Says Odell, “It’s not so much physically addictive, but it is incredibly emotionally addictive. I didn’t want to go to the theaters unless I was high, you know? It takes things that are inherently entertaining and makes them not entertaining anymore. Like Six Flags or something, ‘Gotta get high first!’ or even just school! Like I had French as my first period class, and on Fridays we would have croissants (with Nutella!). So that worked out well… Just a nice combination for a 17-year-old, smoking weed.”
But before Odell could start selling marijuana, his parents discovered his drug paraphernalia. “It was really surreal,” says Odell, “Because my mom just held it and asked me, ‘What is this?’ and looking back it reminds me of God in the Garden of Eden, asking questions of Adam, even though He already knows everything about what’s happening.”
He told his parents everything, and he says it broke their hearts. And as so often happens, one secret led to other secrets being revealed in the family, which led to a great deal of heartache. “My mom and dad felt like failures as parents, and we had to work hard to reassure them that they weren’t.” And Odell says that this incredibly painful ordeal is what God started using to really show him his own sinful heart. Over the period of the next few months, after graduating high school in 2012, Odell attended a local megachurch, where he talked to some other guys and tried to convince himself that he could be a Christian and still use weed recreationally and that it was okay to have “grey areas” in his life. But the Christians he was hanging out with explained that God views things as “black and white; you can’t pick and choose.” And Odell says that this experience, along with some more charismatic friends of the family who prayed over him, really pushed him to take a closer look at the Word of God.
During these years, Odell says the Lord caused him to wrestle with theological things and began instilling a desire in him for expository preaching and study. He began to feel like he didn’t fit in at the mega church. During these same times he started attending a small Bible study at the local community college he had begun attending. It was at this Bible study that he first heard about Providence Church, a small, Reformed Baptist, Scripture expositing church in his own home town of Duluth. At the recommendation of a friend, he began attending the church. “It was really different,“ Odell says, “and the hymns were weird, but it was refreshing. Like, there was no bass booming in your chest, and no lights flashing in your face. And the preaching was like actually learning about the Bible. Also the reverence for the Lord’s Supper, I hadn’t seen that before, or the long description of what it’s all about. I remember at my past churches they would just read a Scripture relating to it and then everybody would get up and do it because they didn’t want to look like they weren’t a Christian. But at Providence they talked about not having grievances with each other, and seeking unity, and having at least the desire to repent or to reconcile any problems you may have in your relationships. And if, in your conscience, you can do that, you can partake. And I was just like, ‘whoa!’, and I think I got choked up that day, because I thought it was really amazing.
Odell has been attending Providence Church in Duluth, GA, for nearly four years now, and serves as a worship leader and teacher in the youth ministries of the church. He says that the Lord has used the teaching of the church and the Body of Christ to help him grow in his understanding of theology and to sanctify him. He was also introduced to the concept of Biblical Counseling (a semi-systematic approach to applying the truths of the Bible to our everyday lives). He also says he has learned a lot about how to truly care for his brothers and sisters in Christ, through watching the Lord work through the church body.
“I think realizing you’re not alone is the biggest part of it. You have to apply truth to your thinking. You’re not abandoned. God cares. The Holy Spirit live in you… Where I have found myself, lyrically, is in a desire to be brief. I want to convey messages, and being metaphorical, using pictures, is a big part of that in writing.”
“The most recent stuff I have been writing but is where I have been in the past few years. I don’t want that to get away from me. My songs aren’t really universal, they are focused on where I am at right now (with God’s timeless truths mixed in of course).”
—How You Can Pray for Allen Odell—
Our Brother in Christ has asked for prayer concerning his career and worrying about the future. He fights thoughts of being a failure, while comparing himself to his classmates and peers and society. He seeks to remember that his identity is not rooted in what he does or where he stands in society, but it is in who Jesus says that he is. But he also asks for prayer that that wouldn’t become a cop-out from dealing with those practical things surrounding him, and not become a “Christian version of a hippie.” His desire is to be biblical in all he does.
“We have to work. And it doesn’t always have to line up with what our dreams are. And that’s okay! Your dreams don’t always have to be fulfilled because you can remember that God truly in the one who is establishing your steps. So, when you start questioning Him, because you haven’t achieved something, that becomes dangerous. You just gotta learn how to rest in Him, and know that (as cheesy as it sounds) it’s not all about you. It’s about wanting to serve people. I like making music, but I’m definitely approaching a point where I’m okay with it being something I do ‘on the side,’ and finding a job somewhere where I can just be a responsible person—not getting caught up in my dreams. Just finding that balance between our dreams and our responsibilities.”
Odell explains that as artists and Christians, we have a responsibility to pursue a heart of service with a hand on our artistic giftings that the Lord has blessed us with.
Allen finishes our interview with prayer: