Dr. Kurt Senske, CEO of Lutheran Social Services for almost 20 years, is the author of four books, including his latest, Wine and the Word: Savor & Serve, available June 1, 2014. In recent months, Dr. Senske has traveled to numerous speaking engagements to promote his new book – [important note: all profits go to LSS*] – and audiences seem to raise the same questions wherever he goes. “Why are you writing about wine?” and, because his other books are about what it means to live a Christian life, “Is this a book about wine or religion?” For answers to these and other relevant questions, an interview with Dr. Senske is in order.
Dr. Senske is the proud father of Sydney Senske, a student at Concordia University Texas. Sydney interviewed her father earlier this year for the student news site, the Austin Concorde, and she agreed to conduct a follow-up interview about his new book.
Sydney Senske (SS): First things first … why are you writing about wine?
Kurt Senske (KS): For the past decade I have been consumed – maybe obsessively so – with three topics and how they relate to each other: wine, the Bible, and what it means to live a well-lived life. For me, the complexity and artistic challenge of tending the vineyard, the miracle of the cycles of the seasons, the craft of the winemaker in fulfilling her sacred vocation, provides each of us with clues to rediscover and invigorate our own lives.
SS: What is the main message of Wine and the Word?
KS: The main message is to remind us how to fully savor God’s blessings and serve others with great joy. The art of making wine, as well as the imagery of wine and the vineyard as portrayed in the Bible, provides us with a road map to live such a life.
SS: How often do wine references appear in the Bible?
KS: Amazingly, vine, the vineyard or wine is mentioned 521 times in the Bible. It is used as imagery, symbolism, metaphor to describe the entire gamut of life – birth, health, vocation, romance, hope, despair, Heaven, damnation, and the resurrection.
SS: Which is your favorite scripture about wine?
KS: I love how the preacher man in Song of Solomon links wine and vineyards to courtship and marriage, “Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, there I will give you my love.”
SS: You talk a lot about “varietal character.” How does that apply to living a Christian life?
KS: One way to judge a wine is by its distinct varietal character. When a wine that has been made from a single variety of grape – a cabernet for example – presents its inherent grape aromas in a straightforward, clear and focused way – it is said to have varietal character.
I love how wine enthusiasts describe a wine’s varietal character. For example, a cabernet might be described as licorice, coconut, chocolate, leather, a cigar box, or a dash of espresso. Not all wine is good, right? Bad wines have been described as having the nose of a wet dog, or old running shoes.
As we live out our own lives I think it is important to ask, “What is our varietal character? How might our spouse, child, co-worker or neighbor describe us using such terminology? Would our descriptors include a whiff of self-centeredness or the unpleasant aroma of a short temper? Or perhaps, there is an overwhelming smell of material pursuit, while only a faint detection of concern for others.
The question becomes, what actions can we incorporate in order to enhance our varietal character? Will our neighbors note the pleasing aroma of faith in action as we deliver dinner down the street to a family who recently suffered a loss? Does a co-worker notice anything different about our words or our behavior because we call ourselves Christian?
Because of sin we will never enjoy a perfect varietal character. However, because we are forgiven, every day is an opportunity to improve and be of service to others. Because we are forgiven, our varietal character can be clothed with the fruits of the Spirit – love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
SS: What is your favorite wine and why?
KS: That’s like asking who is my favorite child! If I would have to pick, I would say maybe a Bordeaux or a wine from the Piedmont region of Italy. I am an “Old World” wine guy at heart. When I taste a wine from France or Italy, I literally feel like I become part of its history, geography, and culture. As the French would say, I can experience its “terrior.”
SS: Are you encouraging everyone to drink more wine?
KS: Absolutely not. Wine is only healthy in moderation. I have high expectations of both the reader and myself. However, I am encouraging the reader to view their own lives through the artistic and Biblical lens of the vineyard as it may encourage them in ways to live their lives more fully. It is my experience however, that we derive health benefits from slowing the pace of our hectic lives as we enjoy a glass of wine.
*All profits from the sale Wine and the Word and/or speaking engagements will be used to support the programs of Lutheran Social Services of the South. Wine and the Word is now available on Amazon. For more information or if you would like to donate, go to www.lsss.org.