Q Los Angeles 2013
Arts + Entertainment
Science + Tech
Napa Valley on Leadership
All too often when I open the Bible I feel a sense of disconnect. The stories were written thousands of years ago in the culture of an agrarian world. Yet I live in modern suburbia filled with stores like Whole Foods and Costco. While I cannot go back in time and experience the ancient ways of life, I can do something about learning more about the agrarian world in which the Bible is written.
For a recent book,
Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, & Wild Honey
, I decided to travel to Oregon to spend time with a shepherd, Nebraska to talk to farmers, Colorado to learn from a beekeeper, and California to hang out with vintners. With each individual, I asked,
How do you read this portion of scripture, not as a theologian, but in light of what you do everyday
? In other words, how does a shepherd read John 10 and Jesus’ description of the Good Shepherd? What do the spiritual principles of reaping and sowing mean to a man whose livelihood is dependent on the land’s annual harvest? How does a beekeeper interpret a land that is described as overflowing with “milk and honey”? And what does Jesus’ command to abide in the vine mean to a vintner?
Their responses shifted the way I read the Bible. I found myself asking the same question over and over:
How did I grow up in the church, become a religion major focusing on New Testament studies, and read the Bible for all these years, yet no one told me these things?
One of the most meaningful parts of my journey was traveling to the Napa Valley to spend time with two vintners. Before I ever boarded the plane, I received two wildly different responses from friends.
Some offered a wider-than-usual smile:
Are you really classifying visiting a vineyard as work?
They tend to over-romanticize my work as explorative play. While I hope the tone of my writing captures both the winsome and the wonderful, most days are filled with long hours and tedious research. Though far less pleasant places than Napa Valley dot the globe, my time in wine country was packed with interviews, note taking, and quiet but thoughtful observation behind a keyboard.
Other friends questioned the journey in an altogether different way:
Do you really need to spend time with vintners to discover a new facet of God or the Scriptures?
Their tendency was to under-romanticize, not necessarily my travels, but the beauty and wonder of God and the Bible.
Yet the more I study the Scripture, the more I discover just how much I have to learn not only about the text but also about God. I am consistently left with these moments where I find myself ooh-ing and aah-ing at the wisdom, the strength, the grace, the power, the attention to detail, and the mindfulness of our God. If spending time with vintners allowed me to grab hold of one more layer of truth or depth about our wondrous God, how could I not go? How could I not share what I learned along the way with everyone I knew?
While I had a hunch I would discover a fresh angle on Scripture and God during my adventures, I never expected to stumble on such incredible lessons about leadership. These lessons shifted my paradigm of how to lead well. I walked away from my time with vintners with a renewed sense of what it takes to be not just a good leader, but a godly one. I was once again reminded of the importance of being aware of where God has planted us and what God has called us to as we lead and shape our churches and culture.
WOVEN THROUGHOUT SCRIPTURES
I prepared for my time with the vintners by scouting nearly three hundred mentions of vines and vineyards in the Bible. Just as the Israelites anticipated the Promised Land to overflow with milk and honey as God promised, they also expected the land to boast plentiful areas to plant vineyards (e.g., Numbers 16:13-14, Deuteronomy 8:7-9). Indeed, two of the spies who traveled to the Promised Land brought back bunches of grapes that were so heavy they had to be carried on a pole between them.
Vines and vineyards provide a backdrop to some of Scripture’s most memorable stories. While in a vineyard, Balaam and his donkey encounter an angel (Numbers 22:23-25), and Elijah’s fiery showdown with the prophets of Baal takes place on top of Mt. Carmel, a place translated “vineyard of God.”
The prophet Isaiah portrays Israel as God’s vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-2), a land and people that he loves and has gone to great lengths to plant, cultivate, and protect. Like the image of God as a shepherd, the description of God as a vintner is one that implies a great investment of time, energy, and care. It also implies the expectation and promise of a fruitful and abundant harvest.
If God’s people are compared to a vineyard, it should come as no surprise that at times the Bible condemns the vineyard for its scarcity of fruit (Isaiah 5:2) and even characterizes its fruit as rotting (Hosea 10:1). The prophet Jeremiah uncovers Israel’s estrangement to God by exposing their choices to pursue worthless idols and vain efforts to support themselves. God asks, “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21, TNIV)
The prophets often draw on this image of a vineyard producing bad grapes in order to paint a portrait of God’s judgment (Jeremiah 5:10, Hosea 2:12, Amos 4:10). Even though the vinedresser did everything possible to grow luscious grapes, if the vine only produces bad fruit, then the vinedresser will have no choice but to destroy it and plant a new vineyard (Isaiah 5:5-7).
ALSO BY MARGARET FEINBERG
A Hidden Mural, A Reminder of God's Resources
Are Christians Too Sheltered?
ALSO IN CHURCH
What Do We Mean by 'The Church?'
by David Chronic
What Do We Mean by "Prophetic"?
by Chris Heuertz and Sarah Kim
What Role Should the Bible Have in Society?
by Tim Keller and Alister McGrath and Brian McLaren
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