One of the central themes in Terry Theise’s new book Reading Between the Wines is the idea of connectedness. Throughout the book, Theise shows how globalization presents itself in the world of wine and creates disconnect and fragmentations not only in the business of wine, but also in the taste of wine itself.
With pun unavoidable, Theise longs for a rooted-ness in his wine. Practically, this looks like artisan wine makers who know their land, their family, and their role as a steward (not a master) of the vines and barrels.
Theise waxes poetic in his reflections upon the Mosel valley in Germany. Every March Theise travels to Mosel to taste the new vintages that at times have been world class. One wine family in particular, the Selbachs of Zeltingen, is his foil for explaining connectedness.
The Selbachs are a generational wine family, and in the 90’s Hans Selbach died and passed the torch to his son Johannes. Theise, in what proves to be a powerful section of prose, contrasts the death of Hans, and the death of his own father. Hans died in the living room surrounded by family, was wheeled through the house one last time, wheeled through the bottle cellar (with one of Hans’ other sons remarking that “it was as if you could see and hear the bottles stand and applaud papa”), and then buried on family property, in the same soil in which the vines grow. Theise’s father, unnamed, died in a hospital room in Manhatten, and is buried in an enormous cemetery in Queens. Theise doubts that he, “could even find the gravesite.”
Point being here, you can’t separate the Selbachs and the wine they make. There is no substitute. The two are connected in an invisible yet vital way. To disconnect the Selbachs from their land, would be to disconnect them from the world of wine. They could not, and would not, do wine anywhere else. Which is completely contrary to the way the world of wine is going these days, with “fly-around” vintners and transplants trying to make overpriced wine of all kinds.
Given this lay of the land, Theise describes the Selbachs kind of connectedness in wine and in life as one that, “salves a kind of loneliness. Though it isn’t my home, it is at least a home, and the people are particular people, and the wines are particular wines. I spend to much of my life driving among strip malls and their numbing detritus, and so when I descend the final hill over the Eifel and the village of Zeltingen comes into view, sitting peacefully along the Mosel, I have a momentary thrill of arriving. Here is somewhere. I see it, I know it, I will soon embrace people who embody it—and I also get to taste it.”
Too much of the wine world is defined by “international consultants” and wineries that import grapes from somewhere else, hire someone else to mix, and produce wines that taste like someplace else.
This is true in many fields of work today. Globalization has touched the world in an irretraceable way. There is no going back. But how do we go forward?
More important to my interest here, is do we, or how do we, see globalization in the church? How many pastors are trying to produce someone else’s community, and farm out the task of shepherding a particular people in a particular place to homogenous ministries that anyone can buy? To what degree does the church need a rooted-ness?
Given the fact that the Bible calls us pilgrims and exiles in this life, there is a certain degree in which Christians will always feel a longing to arrive. There is a tension between the already and the not yet. Whatever city or town you live in, that is not your ultimate home as a Christian.
This reality then causes me to question, in what sense do we as churches need to be raising up indigenous leaders to plant indigenous churches (churches that somehow “embody” the culture)? Does Theise’s kind of connectedness fly in the ecclesial landscape? Should it fly? How much is an indigenous leader blind to the defects in his culture so that he can prophetically speak the gospel in that soil, and seek to change it? In other words, in so far as a pastor is like a farmer (2 Tim 2:6), isn’t his job to till up the soil, and to produce a community that does not look like the world’s community in a certain place, but to produce a covenant community that is counter-cultural, and that stands out as a light in a dark place?
I can’t help but think of Abraham in this regard. Instead of God keeping him where he was as an indigenous leader, God called him to, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
In the NT we see Paul appointing someone like Titus who was a journeymen with Paul, to be a local pastor in a place different from his birthplace.
I guess I am wondering how much I too long, like Theise, for a connectedness and rootedness in culture, yet at the same time realize that in God’s wisdom, he constantly upsets our idea of “home” in the tender process of having us set our sights on the New Jerusalem that is yet to come.
In short, place can become idolatrous. The city can become idolatrous, a way of hiding our real need to be connected to each other in word and sacrament, rather than with the cultural affiliations of the world.
In a recent conversation I was reminded about Cain’s fear in Genesis 4. His fear was that, “he would be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth,” something too great for him to bear. God then graciously marks him. Then Cain has a son, Enoch (which means “to dedicate”) and he names the first city after his son. His fear was disconnect, his fear was to be a wanderer, to be fragmented from a place and from a people. So he builds a city.
In contrast, look again at Abraham. Hebrews 11 says that, “Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going…living in tents…for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
In a very real way, the response of faith in a fallen world is that of accepting the role of exile, the role of wanderer, the role of fugitive in the world. In contrast, the other response is to cope by yourself, which is the response of Cain. Building a city and building a community dedicated to your own fear of being a sojourner, and thus dedicated to a fleeting city to try and stabilize the soul, is the response of fear and not faith. In contrast to Cain, we are called like Abraham to seek a lasting city yet to come, and let our fearful hearts find stability in the peace of Christ as he comes to us in our weak churches, and in our peculiar communities that the gospel (not the city) creates. Our lack of faith tends to want to build communities around something other than the gospel. We long to find identity in the structures of the world over-against the structures of the Spirit. May God grant us the faith to look at the city and see a phoney alternative, and may God grant us the faith to look at the wasteland and see the way home.
We all have this longing for a place. In the world of wine Theise puts it like this, “I don’t have time to waste on processed wines that taste as if they could have come from anywhere, because in fact they come from nowhere and have no place to take me. We crave spirit of place because of our own need to be located, which reassures us that we belong in the universe. We want our bearings. We want to know where home is. We can deny or ignore this longing, but it will scrape away at us relentlessly while we wonder why we feel so homesick, why we never feel whole.” From Cain to Theise, our great fear is to be a wonderer, consumed by our disconnect. By faith however, we connect to the world to come in word and sacrament, over-against the constant temptation to connect to the city by synchronizing its ways with the way of the gospel.
My, how I feel the tension….