While I may be loathing in constraining my thinking within a Christianity context, I find that in a secular context, people are loathe to think of the human life as something richer than animal life. My sense is that such an attitude is hoped to engender a more humble human presence- one that doesn't imperialize every thing in its path. Of course I laud this desire for humility. Still, if we, through this means of humility, blind ourselves to authentic human life, I don't know that such humility will in the end serve us.
So this is what I'm wondering, "what if our problem of this imperialistic consuming, in actuality, stems from our actions of compensating for not experiencing authentic human life? And what if we don't experience authentic human life, because in reality, we have a hard time seeing it? How would we go about looking for it then?
One way I can think of is through the process of comparing and contrasting.
Now, I didn't grow up with church, nor did I grow up with wine. And yet, here I am: a man who has a love affair with God and wine; and my relationships to both lack their respective conventional approaches. Something I feel very fortunate for. Here, let me trace some of the history to my love affair with wine.
When I got into wine back in the late eighties, around the age of 29, I was introduced and educated through a group in Minneapolis called the Bacchus Wine Society. Every month or so, they'd rent a hotel banquet room filled with tables set for ten, with each table bearing a big center tray of cheese and crackers, a couple of spit buckets (usually empty KFC chicken pails) and most importantly, two wine glasses per person. Well, maybe more important were the eight bottles of wine; still, the two glasses were as important here, because we would take turns serving wine to each other, two bottles at a time; it was having two glasses each, which enabled us to compare and contrast between two different wines at the same time. Do you want to know what tannins are and how they affect a wine's taste? Pour one glass with a wine that has them, and the other with a wine that doesn't. Here is where tasting speaks more than even pictures can, and just how good comparing and contrasting works.
I feel blessed for those wine tasting evenings way back then. For one reason, the seating was random. Each event I attended, I could have been sat with wine snobs- the ones who relate to wine more as status than experience, and love to wear their wine drinking like a badge. The people I was lucky enough to sit with, the ones who were real lovers, cared about the experience- for themselves as well for me. And while I learned to swirl a glass and get my nose into one as well as any snob, (I got my nose wet a couple of times while starting out) when it came to sharing our personal experience of each of the wine's unique set of elements, I was always in an environment where I felt free to use any words in my vocabulary; there was never a pressure to pull words from some proper wine lexicon.
Out of all those terrific events, there’s this one night I remember most...one that provided a particular moment of learning about wine; this moment I remember today with absolute fondness. It came about when Mary, a woman about fifteen years older, and with that much more wine experience than me, said something with this gracious gentle exuberance for all things alive, and just tossed out, "I taste eucalyptus..." So I rushed and took another taste of the same wine--it was my left side glass--and there it was! I tasted eucalyptus! It was amazing! How does something that's fruit, make eucalyptus?!
I learned some things that evening, which I keep in my heart today. Not only did Mary teach me to look for eucalyptus, somehow--that moment of learning that eucalyptus was present--made me aware of the nature of ignorance and how we learn of it. Most notable are these thoughts:
-Compared to other animal species, I would cite as a salient difference this fact: we are the ones who can know of our ignorance. And it is this power that gives rise to one of our abilities which is even more powerful: we can form questions.
-Like the man who learned to fish, I do more than look for eucalyptus, I look for other things that I may not be accustomed to look for. This insight, transcends wine and translates across the board.
-Even though I was drinking the same wine as Mary, when I didn’t have the concept of eucalyptus apart from a cough drop, I wasn’t able to taste it in the wine. We need more than our eyes to see, we need our ideas. (Where do we ideas?)
-I learned something more about wine tasting, and when I did, wine’s mystery of alchemy only became more mysterious. (Btw, when something really is a Mystery, and not a puzzle, the more you know of it, the more—not less—mysterious it becomes.
-And finally, when you want to learn wine, comparing and contrasting between two bottles at a time proves very productive--even seductive. It’s in this spirit that I sometimes compare and contrast our human life with other kinds of animal life. I’m not out to determine and define—that is make some version of a “wine snob lexicon”—when I engage in such comparing and contrasting. Rather, I’m trying to create a means to explore our human life with the same kind of grace I experienced with people like Mary and the others, who loved wine, and relished taking turns at pouring new bottles into awaiting glasses.
Maybe, through this kind of tasting of our human life, we will begin to taste things we didn't realize were there. And as we find that there’s so much more to taste in the human life than consuming, we'll no longer feel such a dire need to acquire things the same way an addict gets locked in by his drug.
Maybe we'll displace our imperialistic compensating, by deeply enjoying a new love affair with our very Human-ness.