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God, Wine, and the South

My early formative years were outside of the South--Colorado, Washington, D.C., Connecticut--and I didn't get to the "real" South until undergrad in South Carolina. Needless to say, both the state, and where I went to college, epitomized the "buckle of the Bible belt." Grad school in Dallas was different, but still in many ways similar. Dallas is a very modern, yet Southern city, that has more than its fair share of religion. But Texas seems to offer a different and more pragmatic and hospitable version of the South than elsewhere, which is something I recently had a chance to contemplate.

Reading a year-old issue of a magazine named Good Grit (I'm way behind), I ran across an article about God, Wine, and the South. And it got me thinking about exactly what God thinks of wine. Growing up, we were always taught that God hated wine. According to every authority figure from my youth, the following were irrefutable truths: wine undoubtedly got Noah into trouble; Paul refrained from it to set a good example; and even Jesus' first miracle didn't produce Bordeaux-quality tipple, but instead only created a weak infusion meant to kill the natural bacteria present in that day's untreated water. That was the story growing up, and there was no wavering. There was some semblance of truth to these interpretations, of course, but clearly they weren't exactly accurate depictions of what the Good Word had to say on the matter.

So, the question remained--what is the true nature of, and interplay between, wine and spirituality? The article in Good Grit, written by Kristopher Broadhead, and quoting Dr. Gisela Kreglinger (a professor of theology at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama), recognized, but contradicted the narrative I'd been taught during my formative years. Their narrative--more than the one I grew up with--seemed to ring true as an explanation of why God would have created such a luscious beverage that has been enjoyed since the dawn of recorded existence.

The article started out by encouraging the faithful to "Read your Bible. Say your prayers. Drink your wine." It recognized that the last phrase may be jolting to some in the South, who might even consider it "damn near heresy." It recognized that "prohibition and fundamentalism [often] ran one rail across from the other below the Mason-Dixon Line," and that "many churches and church leaders have found continued relevance in asking the question, 'Can anything good come out of fermentation?'" But, it disagreed with the premise, within the bounds of responsibility.

Dr. Kreglinger recognized the fact that while "Southerners love their food," at many fundamentalist gatherings "there was very little dialogue directly connecting the Giver, whom was often given thanks, to the gifts on the table." Wanting to reconnect her spiritual community to "the Lutheran tradition she had experienced at the winery in Franconia" Germany where she was raised, "where faith and winemaking flowed seamlessly together," she began an informal dinner series that eventually evolved into regular wine tasting sessions for those in her spiritual community.

When conducting a wine tasting, Dr. Kreglinger notes that "one of the first things we say is 'to drink is to pray, and to binge drink is to sin.'" That seems quite in line with Ephesians 5, which states "be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit." For Dr. Kreglinger, "responsibly navigating the difference between drinking and drunkenness is not aimed at accommodating a more permissive lifestyle, but rather, at faithfully depicting the goodness of God as revealed in Scripture." Focusing on the fact that the Psalmist states wine was given to "make glad the hearts of men," she states that wine has been given "to deepen our sense of joy and gratitude."

Indeed, the article profoundly discusses creation itself--and its unfathomable beauty and complexity. It focuses the reader on how wine, which is the miraculous turning of water, soil, and sunlight into a complex beverage cherished by many, is only a weak metaphor for God's miraculous work turning soil, sheer will, divine favor, and the spoken word into the human race. Along with all of the rest of creation, which continues to propagate itself improbably in this "warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances" of the rest of the universe.

Admittedly, I'd never thought of wine as a metaphor of God's gift of life to us, but it certainly makes sense. And, just as growing and making a complex wine takes careful tending, patience, love, and the ability to endure perhaps years of frustration, so too does God's slow shaping of us into his own image.

Martin Luther once said that beer was proof that God loved us. And that may be so. But wine may be the physical and spiritual embodiment of that love. Alas, Scripture doesn't tell us that Jesus ever brewed beer.

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