Wendell Berry and Pastoral Ministry

Wendell Berry has made his home in Henry County, Kentucky, for more than a half-century. From this place and his affection for it, he has written approximately 50 books of poetry, fiction, and essays. Berry offers an alternative voice we can learn from, especially where his writings mirror biblical teachings better than religious books featuring baptized secular industrial models.

Pastors seeking to revitalize churches will do well to revitalize their minds along lines Berry suggests.

He asks us to choose nurturing over exploiting as a way of life. Exploiters look at people, land, and communities as raw materials to be mined for one’s own career and retirement portfolio. Exploiters inevitably look at churches the same way. Nurturers, by contrast, seek to conserve, preserve, enhance, and heal while living with people in community in particular places. The nurturer seeks wise practices that build for the long term. As Berry writes in The Unsettling of America (1977), perhaps his best-known volume:

The exploiter typically serves an institution or organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, “hard facts”; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind. . . . The first casualties of the exploitive revolution are character and community. . . . Once the revolution of exploitation is underway, statesmanship and craftsmanship are gradually replaced by salesmanship.

Read the complete article by Paul House at The Gospel Coalition.


"Eating as Discipleship"

Wendell Berry's famous statement that "eating is an agricultural act" has motivated many to reconsider the agricultural systems our eating habits promote. Yet Berry's writings also contend that eating is a spiritual act; when we eat, we enact our relationship with the rest of creation and with the Creator. Unfortunately, the social architecture of the developed world encourages us to imagine food as a fuel that we consume. We're trained to treat food as a commodity whose sole purpose is to satisfy our desires and give us energy. 

Lisa Graham McMinn's To the Table: A Spirituality of Food, Farming, and Community joins a chorus of other books that call Christians to resist this consumerist view of food. McMinn's book begins with Leslie Leyland Fields's proclamation that "food is nothing less than Sacrament." In defending this view, McMinn—a sociologist and co-owner of a CSA—adds her voice to the growing number of books and blogs celebrating farmers' markets, gardening, and home cooking.

Read all of "Eating as Discipleship" by Jeffrey Bilbro at Comment.


On Wendell Berry, Farming, and Churches

In his book Remembering, Wendell Berry tells the story of two farmers. The first has acquired 2,000 acres through a patient buying out of his neighbors’ farms. He converted all 2,000 acres to corn fields, because corn produces the most cash. In order to farm all of those acres, he went into debt so as to have the necessary machinery and so as to buy all of the necessary chemicals, and “farms” from his plush office while the stress of his vocation slowly eats away at his body in the form of an ulcer.

The other farmer is Amish, and farms his 80 acres with plough horses. This farm is diversified, and is an economy unto itself, for the fertilizer comes from the animals, and the work is no more or less than can be accomplished by the farmer, his wife, and their children and neighbors. This farmer does not have an easy life, but has an ease born of the freedom of a right-sized agricultural enterprise.

(Somewhere, I’m told, Eugene Peterson has written that when Wendell Berry speaks of farming we are to think of the church. No matter if Eugene ever really said this, as my friend Andy Nagel has encouraged the same correlation, and his advice is more important to me than that of North America’s favorite grumpy pastoral theologian. No matter, too, if Berry himself would approve of the correlation. My hunch is that he wouldn’t, and would rant and rave–and who can rant and rave like Berry?–that he was talking about farming, da_ _’t! We are impervious to this rant because of that handy tool of postmodernity, the intentional fallacy.)

Read the complete article by Jeff Hoffmeyer HERE


On Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow and Donald Trump

Jayber Crow must answer the question “How does one keep faith when a place is killed by urbanization and industrialism?” Many of us are faced with a different and possibly more difficult question: “How does one keep faith when a place succeeds according to the terms of urbanization and industrialism?” To keep faith with Port William, Jayber must simply go on living as he always has in the town, honoring its life and caring for its dwindling number of members. And when Jayber departs from the world, so will much of the memory of Port William save what lives on in the work and life of the Branch family who are, in most ways, the sole modern heirs of Port William in Berry’s fictional universe.

But most of us have not been tied to places like Port William. We are not members of the small towns, neighborhood churches, and small local organizations that have been driven into extinction by the cruel forces of capitalism unhinged from anything save greed and ambition. Rather, we are tied to the sorts of places and communities that have often grown and become more successful (in a manner of speaking) thanks to those things.

Read the whole, thoughtful piece by Jake Meadow at Mere Christianity


Three Questions for Wendell Berry

Blogger Erin Doom has written to Wendell Berry to ask three questions: "How would you define a sacrament?", "How is the world a gift?" and "If you had three minutes to say anything you wanted about our symposium theme [Soil and Sacrament: The World as Gift”], what would you say?"

To read Mr. Berry's very brief responses, please read Erin's post, "A Letter from Wendell Berry" at Eighth Day Institute.


On Wendell Berry and The Holy

“We are holy creatures living among other holy creatures in a world that is holy.
Some people know this, and some do not.” – Wendell Berry

This is a central theme in everything the great Kentucky poet/farmer/essayist/novelist Wendell Berry has ever written. In the quote above, from his essay on “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” Berry uses the word “holy.” That’s a religious word — a sectarian word Berry employs in that essay, which is addressed to, and an indictment of, a sectarian audience.

He’s using their word because he is, after all, one of them. But still he’s not using their word in quite the way they’re used to using it. As such, one could argue that he’s using it incorrectly. Or, alternatively, one could argue that they are.

Read more at Slacktivist


Pastoral Growth via Wendell Berry

I discovered late last year that the community in which I pastor is a real-life counterpart to Wendell Berry’s fictional town of Port William, Kentucky. Though I’ve pastored here for nearly seven years, I only discovered the affinity between Henry County, Virginia, and Berry’s Port William when I was introduced to—and subsequently binge-read my way through—his Port William novels.

Our community shares much in common with Port William. My congregants recall with affection their days planting and harvesting tobacco, flue-curing it in barns, and selling it in auction houses. They remember the transition from mule-drawn plows to tractors. Like the citizens of Port William, the people of Henry and neighboring Franklin counties recall with wry smiles the days when home-brewed corn whiskey was almost as common as peach preserves.

These similarities and others make Berry’s novels particularly fascinating and refreshing to me. Reading his accounts of Port William has enabled me to see my own community with new eyes and begin ministering more effectively within it.

Read more at The Gospel Coalition


Christians Can Learn from Wendell Berry

How can Christians conduct their lives in a way that brings honor and glory to God in a culture increasingly hostile to Jesus Christ and his teachings? Christians should listen to the words of the author Wendell Berry when seeking to answer this question. Becoming familiar with the mind of Berry that emerges from his varied work in fiction, nonfiction and poetry would equip Christians to better understand how to live in today’s culture.

In particular, Berry writes about three topics that Christians should seek to understand: love for the earth, love for work and love for community. Christians are oftentimes inoculated by beliefs our culture holds on these matters, which rob us of the fullness of life. Our culture believes the lies that the earth exists primarily for our benefit, work is a means to the ends of prosperity and comfort, and individualism, not community, is the chief good. Berry proclaims that life is much more full when we are connected to the care of the earth, when we see work as purpose-filled and life-giving, and when we remember, as Berry puts it, “the health of self-forgetfulness” and immerse ourselves in community.

Read more by Joel Pinckney at The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention 


Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow and Pastoral Stewardship

There was between Athey and his son-in-law a fundamental difference in how they viewed the vocation of farming. Berry says, “Athey was not exactly, or not only, what is called a ‘landowner.’ He was the farm’s farmer, but also its creature and belonging. He lived its life, and it lived his; he knew that, of the two lives, his was meant to be the smaller and the shorter.”

Troy did not share this view. Berry writes:

“Troy went into debt and bought his new equipment because he didn’t want to be held back by demanding circumstances. He was young and strong and ambitious. He wanted to be a star. The tractor greatly increased the power and speed of work. With it he could work more land. He could work longer. Because it had electric lights and did not get tired, he could work at night…. And so the farm came under the influence of a new pattern, and this was the pattern of a fundamental disagreement such as it had never seen before. It was a disagreement about time and money and the use of the world. The tractor seemed to have emanated directly from Troy’s own mind, his need to go headlong, day or night, and perform heroic feats.”

What Athey—the older and wiser of the two—seemed to understand, which his son-in-law did not, was that it is a sin to dis- respect the rhythms of nature and God’s created order. Troy’s deep disrespect of his elders was eclipsed only by his disrespect of the land, which had now become a means to his own ends. Once you make that trade, you place yourself on a collision course with reality as God has created it. And reality will always win, eventually. The earth will lie fallow one way or another until the rhythms of nature and life and humanity are once again respected. What Athey understood was that farming was never meant to be about production, but about stewardship.

What Berry writes about the farm is true of the church. What he writes about the land is true of the parish, because tending a farm and tending a church are similar enterprises. After all, they are both the necessary work of the people who have been asked to care for this world.

Read more at Paperback Theology


Reflection on Wendell Berry and Pope Francis

Francis and Berry both preach against an individualism that trumps community and compassion; note the Creator’s love for his creation regardless of its utility to humanity; and affirm a special status for people but rebuff a theology that equates our “dominion” with an unfettered domination. They decry what Francis calls the “rapidification” of culture and the over-specialization of knowledge; reject a hyper-dualism that completely severs body and soul, the spiritual and the earthly; and are even similarly wary of our relational reliance on electronic screens. Berry famously described “eating” as “an agricultural act.” Francis, quoting his predecessor Benedict XVI, makes a similar, if broader, point: “Purchasing is always a moral—and not simply economic—act.”

The two also offer extended criticism of what the Pope calls a “deified market” and Berry deems “an opposing religion, assigning to technological progress and ‘the market’ the same omnipotence, omniscience, unquestionability, even the same beneficence that the Christian teachings assign to God.” Moving on from the shared renunciations, they each praise the actions often taken by small landowners and local peoples and affirm the value of physical work and artistic beauty. In short, both men refuse to swallow the myth of progress or, conversely, diagnose humanity as a planetary cancer.

Read more at First Things