On Being Curious

“Curiouser and curiouser,” Alice of Alice In Wonderland exclaimed.

Well, me too, though my curiosity had less to do with Lewis Carroll’s literary Wonderland and more with . . . wine tasting.

For a number of years my wife and I and several friends have traveled in the autumn to a nearby wine country. A little over two hours of driving transports us to a variation of “wonderland.” Paso Robles is a place of winding roads, oak-dappled hills, cool mornings, and warm afternoons. There are hundreds of large and small, new and well-established wineries in the region.

A tasting we shall go!

The trip provides opportunities to talk and share and rest. Good friends. Good times. On a prior adventure, I told one friend—he was my roommate in college way back in the day—that he was a snoopy kind of fellow. Not snoopy like Charlie Brown’s beloved beagle, but snoopy as in “snooping around,” or inquisitive, or even curious.

He denied it, demanding examples. I immediately provided one. With a harrump sound, he gave a half-hearted excuse as a way of undermining my brilliant example, continued to deny his snoopy-ness, and then tried to turn the tables and accuse me of being the snoopiest of all.

I wouldn’t deny that label for a moment!

I am a curious guy. (And so is he; we are both curiouser and curiouser as far as I’m concerned.)

Curiosity comes in many forms.

On our annual wine tasting treks, I never tire of asking questions. One of the great things about the Paso Robles area is that it’s still low-key enough so the person pouring the wine may be the winemaker. I enjoy listening to passionate people talk about their passion. Through questions I learn about the peculiarities of grapes, new restaurants, emerging wineries, and a host of other “insider” information. For me, curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it kept the feline feisty and alive!

Paso Robles is a place of winding roads, oak-dappled hills, cool mornings, and warm afternoons.

Curiosity has its downsides. The Bible’s second story of creation revealed the cost of curiosity. Our mythic Mom and Pop—the lovely, soft-spoken Eve and Adam, he of the rugged good looks rivaling any Eddie Bauer catalog model—paid a dear price for snooping about Eden. Everyone knows the sad middle of the story that sets us the bad ending, to paradise lost. All they had to do was avoid snacking on the fruit of one tree. Gorge yourself elsewhere. Make as much guacamole from the avocado tree as you want. Cavort with the unicorns in the weed-free meadows of God’s glorious garden.

Just please, the Almighty politely requested, avoid the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Curious, eh?

The avocados to unicorns weren’t enough? Knowledge is tasty, but costly. Myths can be fearfully, frightfully true.

But don’t let Mom Eve and Pop Adam’s curiosity get you down too much. I recall the Gospels’ Mary, of Mary and Martha, listening intently to Jesus (Luke 10:38-42). Wondering. Pondering. Curious. I think of Paul, who I think gets more credit than he deserves, but still, what a gift his curiosity was. I don’t doubt for a moment, faithfully and anatomically speaking, that Christianity gained strength when Paul mused about whether or not followers of Jesus should be circumcised. Is faith revealed by outward physical cuts or inward spiritual commitment? (See Galatians 5:6.)

Whoever wrote the Gospel of Thomas, that long-hidden Gnostic text, I am thankful for the mysterious saying (Thomas 77:2-3) attributed to Jesus:

Split a piece of wood, I am there.

Lift up a stone, and you will find me there.

Enigmatic? Did Jesus really say it? Who knows? And yet I am thankful it’s part—even if a distant part—of my Christian tradition. Creation is forever, unfolding before us, within us, and beyond us. Split the wood and keep your eyes open to glory. Lift the stone and discover the holy. Barbara Brown Taylor* wrote, “Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”

There are those that don’t seem curious. One of the traits I bemoan about our current president is a lack of curiosity. President Trump is “never” wrong. If someone disagrees with him, he immediately pushes back. His stark view of the world is defined by an “us” and a “them.” Conflict has greater value to him than collaboration. The current leader of the American empire shuns open-ended questions. Answers only, please. (And only answers that please him.)

And yet how many wrong answers are given because no questions were ever asked, no dialog was ever attempted? The U.S. Constitution was designed with checks and balances. The Founders believed that decisions for the benefit of “all” would rightly consume time, be messy, and require vigorous debate.

But emperors are always right. Empires always fall.

Who is the snoopier: my dear friend or me?

My vote would be that we spend the rest of our friendship debating it. That we spend the rest of our lives in wonderland, questioning and searching and growing.

Though it’s oft-quoted, let me drag Paul back onto the stage. There in Romans 12:2 the old Pharisee said it well: “Don’t be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds . . .”

Curiouser and curiouser. Alleluia!


*From Taylor’s An Altar in the World: a Geography of Faith

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  1. Oh, so many, many places to go with a reply. I always read your blog first just because I’m curious. What is that SO CALLED “retiree” going to say this week? I still think he belongs in the pulpit. He can’t be as old as Nancy Pelosi and she’s going strong.

    But the wine…Oh Larry…you must put NY wineries on your bucket list. There is one small winery in the Finger Lakes that was owned by a woman before women did that. There also is a wine named after her and if I lived close to you, I’d share my stash. It’s called ALTA B.

    But then you mentioned Trump and I really needed wine
    “But emperors are always right. Empires always fall.” I’d like to add something from Anderson’s Fairy Tales – “the emperor has no clothes!”

    Wonderful what you say about curiosity. I’m one of those people and maybe that’s why my secret addiction is reading mystery and detective novels. I would cover them with brown paper and take them to chapel when we were supposed to be learning about meditation in Divinity School. I think i was the only one still awake when our time was up. Happy Thanksgiving dear retiree? May you continue to be curious.

    1. Thanks Pat!

      A mystery novel hidden by a brown paper bag in chapel? Sacrilege!

      Hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving also!

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