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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Seen Through A Glass

I noticed this morning at mass that today's New Testament reading was the inspiration for the name of the blog: First Corinthians 13: 1-13. It's probably not all that surprising -- to me, at least, knowing how my brain works -- that I wrote the first post in Seen Through A Glass on January 31, 2007, nine years ago, when the Church's 3-year cycle of readings would have brought the same verses up that week.
The Catholic Church doesn't use the King James Bible, of course, but I'm a writer: I do.'s a bit of explanation about why it's Seen Through A Glass. ("Charity" has also been translated as "love," and I choose to interpret it in this context as "kindness," or perhaps the "loving kindness" of the Quran.)

13: 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

I believe in beer, O Lord; help me in my unbelief!
Why did I subject you to a Bible reading, and what does it have to do with beer, or whiskey? It has more to do with writing about beer and whiskey, more about the intent of the blog. It's an admission that I don't understand or know everything there is to know about these subjects, that I see only parts of them, and those likely imperfectly. It's also an explanation that despite the simple fact that the blog is a marketing tool for my writing and public appearances (surprise!), it's still not really about me, because of "charity."

Drinks writing without charity can be vicious, self-serving angriness, aimed at brewers and distillers, aimed at drinkers, aimed at purveyors and publicists, aimed at other writers. It can be caused by a lack of understanding, by seeing through the glass darkly (a reference to the low-quality mirrors of the day, compared in the verse to seeing clearly, face-to-face), or an overabundance of pride.

I try to practice charity in my drinks writing. I try to see what the brewer or distiller or blender was trying to do, I try to understand it, and I often give them the benefit of the doubt. I don't always succeed, but the intent's there, at least at the beginning. I'd like to see everyone make better beer, better whiskey. I'd like to see better bars, better stores, better restaurants. This is the point of good criticism. It's not to write something snarky just for the personal fun of it. It's to explain what the critic sees as shortcomings as a guide to what may be wrong. At least, it is if it's done with charity.

Charity doesn't mean you don't say what sucks, sucks. Because if it sucks, well, buddy, it sucks. Period. But you try to do it without gratuitous bloodshed. I'm sure you'd be able to find examples of where I've failed to show charity in my writing; I'll admit I'm not perfect. But I try, and I encourage others to try. Give something more than one sampling; give a new brewer a chance to get their act together. Don't prejudge a whiskey just because it has no age statement, or because it's blended, or because you don't like a company's politics. Try to understand a drink in its intended context.

When we exercise charity, when we embrace kindness, we find that people will listen, will try to cooperate, to change. When we try to listen to what a beer has to say instead of yell and boast of our skills and favorites, we learn, about the beer, about other drinkers, about ourselves.

I'm glad that this came along now, as I restart the blog. Good timing. To those of you who wished me well on my health issues; thank you. I'm feeling better, and the tastings will be out on time this week. It's a busy week, too: I'm at a Garrett Oliver panel discussion at City Tap Monday night, Tuesday morning is Groundhog Day at the Grey Lodge Pub (I'll be back after a two year absence, and I'm really looking forward to it!), I've got a ton of writing to do for Whisky Advocate and a collaborative project, and then Saturday I have a private Tasting Whiskey event at St. Andrew's in NYC.

I'll try to do it all with charity.


Sam Komlenic said...

Nice take...thank you! I'll be considering this issue as I peruse other blogs, some of which intentionally throw charity out the window.

Bill said...

My beat-up memory believes that charity in the verses cited was the Latin caritas, which in turn was the Latin rendition of the Greek agape, or "love to all humanity." My meditation practice and certain voluntary associations I belong to put agape forth as an ideal, recognizing that while we often fail to achieve it, nevertheless we should keep trying to achieve it, and consider our words and actions carefully in everything we do. I think your viewing "kindness" as an understanding of "charity" here is quite fitting, and so is your recognition that it doesn't mean not speaking the truth, it means speaking the truth with kindness and understanding. Like Sam K., I've found that reading about beer these days often means reading folks who are simply mean, who are quite open and upfront about their distaste for certain individuals or groups or companies or etc., etc., etc.... and that those who do show self-reflection rarely write anymore. So cheers to you for trying and succeeding and sometimes failing and trying again.