A farmer plants some grapes. And he has really high hopes for these grapes. Maybe he plans to sell them at market, or perhaps he’s going to make some wine and throw a party. Whatever he plans to do with them, he needs them to be a specific kind of domesticated grapes. But what he learns as they grow is that they are actually wild grapes. And, as we hear in Isaiah, these wild grapes are useless.
Having not grown up in an agricultural community, I don’t know very much about growing food. But one thing I do know is that once you put something in the ground, not matter how good your intentions are, there’s no way to completely control what will grow from the ground. Even if you use the right seeds, and even if your land gets the right amount of water, and even if you’ve planted grapes year after year, there’s no way to guarantee that everything will work out.
What I also assume about growing something, because it applies to so many other aspects of life, is that if I put a lot of work into something that was initially a good idea, and it turned out bad after all of that work, I would be disappointed. Actually, I’d probably have trouble accepting the error.
This farmer in Isaiah has put a lot of work into these grapes, and they are now ruined. While all we hear in this passage is that the grapes that are growing are not the right kind of grapes, I’m curious about something else, something implied but not explicitly present in Isaiah’s writing: when does the farmer decide that his grapes are not longer useful? Surely he’s reluctant to give up on his crop, and surely he will wait until he is absolutely sure that these grapes cannot be save, perhaps even longer. When does he decide this crop is not salvageable? How do you decide when something you’ve put a lot of effort into turns bad?
In act 2 of episode 421, we hear the story of Duke Fightmaster, whose dream in life is to be Conan O’Brien. And so, one day he decides that he is going to start is own late night show. According to the story, he sets up a desk with a couch, invites his friends to be ‘guest,’ and sets up a camera to film. They even get a house band.
The show grows, and becomes something of an internet sensation. And as it grows, Duke continues putting more energy into production. After working out a business plan with a friend, he even quits his job, pouring all of his time and money into this dream.
This story sounds great, in a way. Recently popular culture has produced the term “yolo” (you only live once), a modernized version of carpe diem. If you don’t like your job, then quit and do something you love. Which, in this case, is exactly what Duke Fightmaster does.
Of course, the story ends with Duke having to cancel his show. There was, apparently, a ceiling to it’s success, and wile it grew temporarily, over time that momentum fizzled out. But not, as we learn, before Duke and his family experienced a lot of financial trouble. He had quit his job after all.
There’s a point in this story in which Duke’s idea, to start his own late night show in hopes of replacing Conan O’Brien seems really good. It’s hard not to commend him for trying it out, for putting all of his energy into seizing his day. Even as it fails, and almost costs Duke more than he ever thought it would, when would have been the right time to stop? If this was indeed his dream, we should commend him for following it so fully. But if we also believe that it is always right to put everything into our dreams, do we encourage others to put everything, including the well being of their families, towards these tasks?
LIke the farmer in Isaiah, whose grapes make an unexpected turn, so too does Duke’s grand idea make the transition from good to bad. But where? We can focus only on the beginning, on a daring dream, or we can focus on the end, on the failure of the experiment. But so much more goes on in the middle. The Farmer whose crop has turned has to make the decision that this is no longer worth saving, and so do those who put it all on the line have to decide when there is nothing more to be gained by the adventure.