what's in a label?

Cough_medicine_smallI have a confession to make.

And in this day and age it’s a big one.

I don’t drink wine.  There….I said it. Admitted it.  Publicly.

Thanks for listening, I feel better already.

Everybody drinks wine these days, especially red.  It’s the thing to do.

I don’t.  It’s not a moral objection, its simply a taste thing.  To me, every different wine I’ve ever tried tastes the same.  I can’t pick the different flavours, or grapes. I don’t get the slightly nutty palate with the long twisted lemon finish.  I can’t tell if it’s been aged in a barrel of oak, or a used plastic milk bottle.  To me, all wine tastes like cough medicine.  And I don’t particularly enjoy drinking cough medicine with my dinner, so I opt for water instead.

One of the by products of this sad taste-less existence of mine is that I don’t know much about wine, which vineyards produce good wine or what the different versions of wine are.

I don’t know about grape varieties, or finishes, palates or flavours.  I don’t know why some wines are long on some things and short on others.  It’s all a complete mystery.  I sort of know about red and white, that’s about it.

Still I reasonably often find myself at the bottle shop to grab a bottle of wine for dinner with friends….and then the trouble starts.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and presumably the same is true with wine. But when you know nothing about the contents….what else is there?

So I stand, a bewildering variety of choices in front of me, and have two things in mind.  Firstly, what is my budget, and secondly, whose wine bottle label captures my attention on this particular occasion?  The winner of both categories goes home to my place.

And so visitors to our house get to drink all sorts of wine, but always with interesting labels.  Fortunately I’m yet to poison anybody.

And surprisingly, so those who drink what I buy tell me, the interesting labels often (but not always) have interesting wine within. Sometimes, it seems, you can judge a wine by its label.

Classic wine often has classic labels.  Young cheeky winemakers opt for labels that reflect their personality, and the quirky tasting wine they produce.  Labels revealing something of the region or terrain in which the grapes are grown are often matched by the regional flavours of the brew.  Or so I gather.  To me….cough medicine.

Even though we all know that important lesson about not judging books by their cover, so much of our society is built on the assumption that we will do exactly what we know we should not.  We know we should always look deeper, but the truth is, often we don’t.

Advertising is about making first impressions.

Magazines sell by what’s on the cover (or who, or how photo-shopped they are).

Record companies work hard to ensure the CD label catches your attention.

Whole industries are dedicated to selling based on first impressions.

Websites are constantly redesigned to ensure an eye-catching presentation, a fresh look.

Winemakers, who knew, put labels on their product (or use interestingly shaped bottles) designed to capture the eye, to make a statement, to sell the product.  Even if the contents taste like cough medicine.

In the church, it seems to me, we face a stack of challenges.  We face the challenge of perceived irrelevance, meaning much of our society barely notices our existence at all.  We face the challenge of our own addictions to money, clergy and Sunday mornings.  And we face the inherent difficulty of the containers in which we live.

Church buildings make a statement to our community.  Every church that has a building makes a statement.  Whether they like it or not. Whether they know it or not. Whether they understand it or not.  Buildings make statements.

My church’s building makes a statement.  Its slab sided walls, plain landscaping, small hidden doorways, and lack of windows say to those who walk past:  “We are staid, plain, cold and indifferent, and a little old-fashioned.  We don’t welcome newcomers. What goes on in here is secret from you.  There is no safe way for you to come in.”

Some church buildings make other statements. Scrawled handwritten notes sticky-taped to the front door announcing the next service time…..make a statement.  Locked gates, barbed wire fences make statements.  Faded signs make statements.  Traditionally shaped buildings, all sandstone, steeples and stained glass make statements.  Contemporary buildings, all angles, aluminium and architecture make statements.

Sometimes those statements don’t reflect the nature of the church community that calls those buildings home.  And sometimes they do.

Nonetheless, the statements are made whether we like it or not.  First impressions are created.  Labels are presented and seen.  Decisions are made based on those messages and labels.

We ought to give a great deal of attention to what goes on inside, to the nature of our communities, to our commitment to being mission shaped, to our willingness to serve in our communities as we proclaim the gospel.  This is what really matters.

But once in a while we need to look around the outside, and ask about the message that our buildings, noticeboards, newspaper advertisements are sending to those in the community around us.

Inside might be the most flavoursome wine of all, but if the label is faded and hard to read, or says “cough medicine”, then I’ll be leaving it on the shelf.

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2 thoughts on “what's in a label?

  1. A well-written and insightful analysis – and I don’t really mind if you choose not to drink wine (and secretly, most of us wine drinkers don’t really know, or care too much about what we’re drinking).

    My only comment would be that most people out there aren’t really using the church building as their labels when they think about God (though there’s surel an elemt of that). The more important labels that others see are those people who go into the building.

  2. thanks murray.

    i agree, it’s mostly the people that are the visible outward labels of the church. Makes our behaviour toward each other, and our commitment to our community all the more important. It reminds me of that old saying from Ralph Waldo Emerson…..”Who you are thunders so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying”.

    That said, I reckon our buildings thunder pretty loudly at times as well, and they’re worth a look with an outsiders eyes.

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