Posted on December 16, 2016
Copyright © 2017 · All Rights Reserved · Liam Byrnes
Posted on December 16, 2016
In part one, I looked at wine through scripture and it’s particular relationship to us remembering Jesus. This week, I’m reflecting on how wine operates in our society and how it relates to our Christian life.
In our modern lives, we are very disconnected from agricultural life. Our food and wine are not fruits of our own labours in the direct way that most people throughout history. We are deaf to the agricultural parables strewn throughout scripture. Indeed the powerful and important images of vineyards and vines are central metaphors for our belonging to God as a new testament people. When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he is always referencing agriculture.
Protestantism particularly has attempted to distance itself from what has been called, natural theology, which broadly speaking is, the revelation of God in the natural world. As protestants have rightly sought to assert that we know God in and through Christ, we have created an either/or dichotomy that holds us back from enjoying God’s gifts and enjoying God in his gift of the created world. Often we are looking for signs of God’s activity and His presence to us, and primarily we are looking for what we understand to be supernatural and therefore immaterial signs and presences instead of the natural graces and signposts placed all around us in creation. Could we be cutting ourselves off from a sense of God’s nearness and sustaining hope because we cannot perceive it in the created order that surrounds us?
Wine production also becomes an allegory for our lives as Christians as John’s gospel reveals; The nature of the fruitful Christian life;
Considering the place of wine in certain cultures is fascinating. Some cultures have a shared cultural memory, a cultural significance and even a cultural wisdom as it relates to wine. Other cultures have had much less exposure to wine, and are in fact marked by exposure to other alcoholic drinks. But there is a significance to wine, it is spoken about literally and symbolically throughout scripture and it was common place in the ancient cultures in which the bible is written. That is why it is important to pay attention to wine and how it operates both in scripture and how that contrasts with how our own cultures understand it.
Recently I heard a short history of alcohol in the U.S. which led me to create a broad brush theory as it relates to alcohol consumption and emotional wholeness. Before the theory though, here is a whistle stop tour of the history which I heard;
The first pilgrims who moved to the states attempted to plant vines of the east coast, due to the climate, the vines did not take. So they began to import wine, which made it a drink for the elite, and ensured there was not a common wisdom that could emerge as it related to alcohol on a societal level. Then as an outcome of the industrial revolution, people for the first time in history were able to mass produce hard liqour. In the early 19th Century, hundreds of distilleries appeared and made hard liqour the primary alcoholic beverage of the american people. When wars happened, particularly the civil war, people began to self-medicate for pain and trauma by using hard liqour. Then especially women, married to these traumatised alcoholic soldiers who threw their money at taverns, argued for prohibition and created an all or nothing tee-totalism that arose from very particular circumstances. So in short hard liqour is used to anethetise pain.
In contrast, nations well known for wine production, such as italy and france are known for their strong familial and open emotional postures 1. Wine has an entirely different character to hard liqour. You tend to drink it in community, often with food, and rather than producing forgetfulness, in small quantities it creates, a relaxed safety that produces vulnerability which in turn creates relational connection.
As I considered my own experiences within nations that have what would be considered national drinking cultures, I though of scotland and scandanavia, both who gravitate to hard liqour or spirits and neither who are known for the emotional availability or fluency. In contrast to the many historical wine producing regions which often have strong communitarian and familial bonds.
So, my theory and question is, does wine create community and liquor destroy it? Does wine in moderation create an emotional vulnerability where excessive alcohol creates an emotional shut downess?
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