Right now I’m on vacation with my wife in Italy. I call it our second second honeymoon. When we got married we agreed we would take a big vacation trip every five years. For the past year we have been planning and saving for this.
Vacations can be a lot of things. Adventure. Discovery. Insight. Rest. I think a good vacation has all of those things. So far it’s been all of that and more for us. Especially our time in the Cinque Terre. Travel guide Rick Steve’s calls the Cinque Terre (CHINK-weh TAY-reh), “a remote chunk of the Italian Riviera, a traffic-free, lowbrow, underappreciated alternative to the French Riviera. There’s not a museum in sight—just sun, sea, sand (well, pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy.”
We stayed in a place called Luna de Marza, high on the hill overlooking the village of Manarola, in a village called Valostra. The views were spectacular. It was quiet and peaceful. A great beginning to our second second honeymoon.
And I also learned something about the people of the Cinque Terre that gives me hope.
You see, the first inhabitants of the Cinque Terre we’re looking for a place where they could live in peace, absent of the war and violence that existed a thousand years ago. The steep cliffs and rugged terrain protected them from invaders, pirates and bandits.
The downside was the terrain made it really difficult to make a home.
They realized it was through cooperation and sharing that they could make it there. This realization is what makes the Cinque Terre unique. You see, the Cinque Terre is a huge wine region in Italy. The vineyards grow on acres and acres of terraced land that stretches up the steep hillsides.
The terraces are held in place by rock walls of dry stone, that is walls that have no grout. Consisting solely of rock and dirt, these walls provide irrigation not only for the individual farmer, but allow drainage to the other farms below as well as help create a biodiverse ecosystem.
What makes this unique is the whole system of terraces was not built by slave labor, but by the cooperative effort of the people living there. A system that has lasted for a thousand years.
And, by the way, the wine is exceptional!
I’m talking about walls. Not the kind of walls that divide and exclude, but walls that give life. Walls not built out of fear, but walls that provided a way out from fear. Walls are not the problem. It’s how we use them that can be the problem.
Two thousand years ago a teacher, a rabbi taught that when people place value in things people suffer. But when people put value in sharing and cooperation everyone benefits. He gave an important example of this when his disciples, thinking they were doing the proper thing, warned him to send the thousands that had gathered to hear him teach away so they could get food before it became dark and the markets closed.
He said in response, “You feed them.” You feed them. They were stunned. How could they ever feed so many. They only had five loaves of bread and two fish between them. So the rabbi took what they had, blessed it, broke it and gave it back for them to share. And all were fed that day. And there were leftovers. But it turns out the world in general keeps saying “no” to the ways of this rabbi. Even many who claim to follow him.
But, because of the people of Cinque Terre I have hope for the world. And because of the people of the Imperial Valley I have hope for the world.
The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.