Gardens and vineyards are alike in many ways. Exemplary instances of both are well-cared for, orderly, beautiful. But there are also significant differences. Gardens are usually more personal, and though they can be planted and cultivated to serve more utilitarian purposes (like growing food), gardens are often created for purely aesthetic purposes, for their beauty alone. Biblical Paradise was a garden.
By contrast, the vineyard is more public, or, if privately owned, at least large enough to require the labor of many people. And vineyards are almost always cultivated with the intent to provide something to sustain and consume. The vineyard is communal and labor-centric.
In scripture, the vineyard is the metaphor for the House of Israel. Pruning, digging, dunging, laboring together is the (often unglorious, backbreaking, brutal) work of the vineyard. Merely because we do it together, human beings called to do that kind of work, does not make it a utopian dreamscape of communal togetherness. The work of the vineyard is dirty, exhausting, and seemingly never-ending. There is always suffering, as much from one another as from the labor itself, and when God weeps in scripture it is on behalf of the vineyard and its laborers as much as anything else. In fact, God is one of the laborers himself, not merely the overseer of the work, but the one who is most involved in the pruning, digging, dunging, and therefore the one who’s struggle is the mightiest on behalf of the fruit of the vineyard and the labor required to produce it.
Letters from the vineyard, then, are the struggles of being in the middle of all this, yearnings to understand how to labor and how to do so with others, as well as feelings of lamentation and grief on account of my own weaknesses and darknesses, and the often terrifying conditions of the vineyard itself. The world is nothing more or less than that mix of the ineffably beautiful, ineluctably mundane, and unspeakably horrific. Sometimes, then, these letters are cries of impotent rage, sometimes exclamations of wonderment and awe, and almost always insufficiently banal. But hopefully they also sometimes contribute something that helps us (especially me) go on a little longer.
I also include random notes, commentary, and even humorist essays. The last might be considered an odd choice considering the seriousness of my stated themes and subjects, but humor is often the most telling and revealing way to express or describe the conditions of a particular situation or phenomenon. Humor can also be the most vulnerable form of expression because of the risks involved in its deployment; it either works impressively and insightfully or it fails miserably. My (attempted) use of humor, satire, and irony is almost always a commentary of some kind about something I consider to be important.
Note: The illustration in the header on the front page is by the inimitable Galen Dara Smith.