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What if a Wine Critic Could Review Jesus’ Wine from the Wedding in Cana?

I don’t know where I got this idea, but it seemed too much fun to pass up. Here follows a review of the wine from Jesus’ first miracle by a fictitious wine reviewer (no I did not go to Hawaii for my honeymoon, and yes my father is alive and well.)


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Red Wine (unknown type), From Palestine, around 30 CE

A Review

You have heard the story. And now I have tasted the wine.

Jesus, at the wedding in Cana, got the bridegroom in trouble. You see you were supposed to serve the best wine first and when they ran out, and under his mother’s direction, Jesus took six jars of water and turned them into wine so good that the bridegroom was scolded for saving the best for last. Was it really that good?

In reviewing such an historic wine, I feel strongly compelled to show my hand a bit as a wine reviewer, to pull back the curtain. While we reviewers all have different tastes and preferences, what we value above all is that perfect mixture of complexity and cohesion of flavors. Another way I’ve described this ideal to friends is “decipherable complexity.” We want our wine to be complex, but no so complex that we cannot pinpoint the flavors.

By those standards, this wine is a bit of a disaster. In place of decipherable complexity I am overwhelmed, even in just the nose, by a bewildering complexity. Whatever palette I’ve developed after reviewing over 3,000 wines is feels somewhat useless here. I want to describe the flavors in easy ways for you to understand: black cherry, nutmeg, almond essence… what have you.

But when it comes to this miraculous wine. I am at a loss. At first taste the bewildering complexity is exhilarating, as though you’re on the climb of an ancient roller coaster that you’ve never ridden before and with each *clink-clank* you’re imagining the loops and turns ahead. But then as you cross the apex and dive into the taste, this wine frustrates because I simply cannot put my finger on what I am tasting. It assaults my palette unlike anything I’ve had before. It offends my developed sensibilities.

I feel like a classical art critic, accustomed to Raphael and Rembrandt, trying to review Picasso’s Guernica, or like a colorblind reviewer trying to describe the beauty of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The vocabulary of this wine is simply written in a different language. And no matter how much I study its diction and sentence structure, it is always one step ahead of me.

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Picasso’s Guernica, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night, to a person with color blindness.

So you will have to indulge me as I try to describe some of its flavors.

At one moment one of the notes smelled just like my grandmother’s closet. It was like a small hall that led from her bedroom to her bathroom. It was lined on either side with flowing floral dresses, less-than-elegant leather working shoes, and sheer scarves and shawls that would move with the slightest breeze and seemed to reach out for me as I passed. She kept the tiny window open in any season except the coldest part of winter and so the aroma of pollen and freshly cut hay would come and go.

At another moment the texture took me to the couch in the funeral parlor during the visitation for my father. I was supposed to stand and shake everyone’s hand and be cordial, but I just couldn’t. So I parked myself on their couch, an out-of-fashion but sturdy piece, and fiddled my anxiety away by rubbing my fingers back and forth on the arm. Rather than a mere print, it had actual clothe grooves, made to look something like intertwined ropes.

And finally, in the taste I was transported to a cup of coffee I enjoyed standing on the balcony of our bed and breakfast near Huelo Maui during our Honeymoon. It was probably just a normal cup of coffee. But it was my first cup of coffee as a husband and sipping it while smelling the salty breeze made it taste like something completely new. It was an adventure asking to be had, not in any way disguising its struggles and pitfalls. But as I stood there drinking that cup of coffee I knew that if I didn’t embark on this journey with my wife, neither of us would ever feel like we had really lived.

I hesitate even to attempt to articulate these flavors, not because I’m revealing too much about myself, but because much like quantum physics, the act of trying to document this wine’s exact location on a taste profile defeats the purpose. Even now as I write this, I’m thinking: “I remember those notes, but that’s not even close to describing the taste.”

If you are interested in a traditional wine, I could not discourage you enough from tasting this bottle. You will be forever ruined. But if you can think back to your first drink ever, perhaps at a romantic dinner, perhaps sneaking into your friend’s attic where she had hid some beanbag chairs and the last quarter of her dad’s bottle, and remember the exhilaration that came from tasting the unknown, then perhaps this wine would be for you.

Let us imagine that there is enough from this bottle for everyone. It demands a decision from you. Do you favor the known quantity that is sweet and satisfying and never gets old? Or do you heed the call to jump blissfully ignorant into a red sea of mystery, in which you will never know the full story, but you will know that you are known and that there is always more waiting for you ahead?

 

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7 Things Christians Like More than the Bible Does – Part 1: Tithing

As a Pastor the question is always in my head: what are we missing that God really wants us to see? But the opposite question is probably more urgent: What are we focusing on so much that is distracting us from what God really cares about?

So here are 7 things that I see the Church (in the U.S.) focusing on disproportionately more than the Bible actually discusses. For Part 1, I’m going to tell you why we don’t need to worry so much about tithing. Got your interest? Good.

Tithing

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You would think tithing is the eleventh commandment or is Jesus’ third great commandment after loving God and loving our neighbors. But the truth is that in the Bible the principle of specifically tithing 10% comes down to:

  1. A shadowy priest/king in Abraham’s time (we’re not even technically sure who gave the tithe, who received it or why),
  2. Mandates from the Torah that applied to agricultural produce and really served more as a tax (which allows us to introduce Christians’ favorite thing to do with Mosaic law: beat others over the head with laws that serve their purposes and blissfully ignore all the challenging/weird stuff), and
  3. A total misreading of Jesus’ words to the Pharisees.

That last one deserves some attention because it is the launching point for some Christians to make tithing a New Testament practice.

It boggles my mind that people use this verse to defend tithing, but here goes, Luke 11:42: ““Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”

See, See, Jesus directly mentions tithing, so there you have it, give our church 10% of all you make.

Wait, but isn’t Jesus telling them that without justice and truly loving God, giving is pointless?

Shhh, don’t read that part. Just give me your money. See? That’s why you need me, to interpret the scriptures for you…

What the Arc of Scripture Actually Emphasizes

  • God wants devotion and mercy more than material sacrifice (Hosea 6:6),
  • If money has a hold on you, it would be better to give it all to the poor and follow Jesus (Mark 10:21),
  • Following Jesus means giving up my whole life, control, decisions, time, material, but is worth it (Matthew 16:24-26)
  • 10%? That’s child’s play. If you only give 50% instead of 100% and then lie about it, you might die on the spot (Acts 5:1-11),
  • When Abraham apparently gave 10% to Melchizedek, that was a beautiful act of faith, but because we have a perfect priest and king in Jesus, our reward is no longer on the line (Hebrews 7-9)

My Personal Conviction

It would be easy and comfortable enough for me to cast a disapproving glare on Christians for missing the mark so widely on what the Bible so obviously wants us to focus on. But the truth is, on each of these 7 points, I miss the mark terribly in my own practice of faith. So here is my personal conviction.

Giving money is an essential discipline of Christian faith. If we take anything away from Jesus’ teaching, 10% is actually pretty weak. I need to give more. I need to give with joy and empathy. I need to stop giving as a personal barometer of holiness. I need to give in the hopes of directly alleviating injustices that shackle others and the greed that stifles my own spirit. I need to have a giving spirit in every part of my life: how I give my time, how I give my mercy, how I use my talents and skills, how I give my care and concern.

There is no formula for this, there is no set requirement other than giving all I have. There is no quid pro quo, I do this and receive that from God, except that if I give out of love my heart will become like God’s. I suppose that’s what I’m most afraid of, what we’re all most afraid of, is that if we actually do what God says, we will start to see the world the way God sees it, and then we’ll be totally, beautifully ruined.

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Never Forget – What do we do with the memory of 9/11?

Today on the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the words keep coming to me: Never Forget. It is a national obligation: we honor the lives lost by remembering them. And while it’s easy to memorialize on nice round years (like the 10th anniversary), forcing ourselves to relive such horror is more of a challenge every year. So this year I am trying not to forget.

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The question remains: once I have honored those in the past, what is the purpose of these memories for the present and future?

In 2003, Darryl Worley asked the question in his song: “Have You Forgotten?” It was clear to him how this memory was supposed to move us. To those who had any questions about the war and our need to fight, that’s all he said: have you forgotten? If you remember the unspoken tragedies of that day, how could you not be so incensed that you would fight to the death?

What is the purpose of these memories?

12 years later, when I remember the fire and the smoke and the people covered in ash and others unseen who were much less fortunate, should I continue to seek out any enemies to receive my anger? What am I supposed to do?

Our memories are so powerful. We all know how important it is to remember. It’s a given. But it’s not so clear how we should use them. Memories of hurts can cripple you with fear. Memories of failure can paralyze you from trying again. Memories of pain can drive you into unbridled anger.

Or they can help you to grow.

Turns out Christians are very well versed in memory. As a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I’ve taken communion every Sunday I’ve been to church for 20 years. I’m sure I’ve broken bread in a couple dozen different churches with I’m sure thousands of brothers and sisters. I’ve been in massive, breathtaking cathedral-sized spaces, I’ve shared it on the banks of a lake at dusk at church camp with 60 junior high schoolers, I’ve prayed over the bread and cup in small sanctuaries on a cold winter’s day where the faithful 20 members showed up. I’ve seen communion tables made of wood, plastic, metal and stone. Most of them have been etched with some form of the phrase, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

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When we remember at the table, we are not reliving the horrific death of Jesus in order to be pushed to anger or hatred or vengeance. The thought is almost silly. We remember that on the cross Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” The words move us to compassion for any enemies of Jesus, and they move us to humility for our own failures.

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This memory of an unthinkable, violent, tragic event moves us to fall on our knees without any option but to accept God’s forgiveness. And when we do we are empowered beyond human capability to spread that love and forgiveness to others. That is why we remember.

So perhaps for an event like 9/11, that’s where our memories should send us first: to our knees. We fall down not out of any guilt, but out of the unspeakable sorrow to see such precious lives so violently destroyed. Then comes the crucial decision: will our memory move us to more destruction or to creation? Will our memory move us to fear or to hope? Will we be moved to hatred or to love? Will our memories take us to vengeance or forgiveness? From my knees, in the shadow of the cup and the bread, the unthinkable decision suddenly seems obvious.

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

Let us never, ever forget.

 

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Another blog?

Why would the world possibly need another blog? Especially one dealing with Christianity and faith…

Well, in a word, it doesn’t. But maybe I do. I’ve wanted to write (in fact I have written, just never very intentionally) regularly on matters of faith and media for a long time. So here’s my online notepad. Perhaps having something public will give me some accountability.

I am a minister in the Christian Church  (Disciples of Christ), in my early thirties, in the Bible belt… all of which might lead you to stereotypes that are not true. Or maybe you’ll have me pegged perfectly. Who knows.

To get things going, I’m going to post a few older pieces that I still like. Hopefully, by the time I’ve really committed to writing regularly, these will all seem amateurish and naive. For now, enjoy them.

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