When I interviewed Steve Garber for IAM Conversations in 2008, he mentioned his affection for Wendell Berry and I asked him for some advice. “If I only read one Berry novel, which should it be?” I asked. Steve responded that his favorite was Jayber Crow, while his wife’s favorite was Hannah Coulter. Well, I started with Jayber Crow and then, this year, read Hannah Coulter.
Technologies are becoming more powerful and more pervasive in everyday life. What is a healthy attitude toward technology? What is the right use of technology? What technologies can be rightly used? These are perennial questions, but they grow more important all the time. They are also questions that cannot practically be ignored; failure to ask the questions is an answer in itself.
At least one cohesive approach to these questions can be found in the writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Wendell Berry. All three authors address, in both their fiction and non-fiction works, not only attitudes toward technology, but also the philosophies behind these attitudes and the actions—and people—they produce.
The highway would cut across a sparsely populated and still beautiful part of southwest Indiana -- but one that is already heavily engineered. Early farmers ditched wetlands to dry out their fields. Underground and surface coal mines pockmark the land and contaminate groundwater and streams. Close to where I-69 crosses the Patoka National Wildlife Refuge, you can see the remains of the Wabash and Erie Canal. Coal-fired power plants crowd the state's southwest region.
This is just a fragment of the damage done by the industrial world that gave me that smooth ride on a four-lane Kentucky highway and has been building big highways, power plants, factories and landfills ever since. On a recent visit to Bloomington, my fellow Kentuckian Wendell Berry urged us to "open the books" -- study the accounting of our industrial world, examine what we have lost as well as what we have gained. I see what he means.
Wendell Berry: Poet and essayist Wendell Berry has written extensively about human’s relationship with the Earth, publishing works like A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural as early as the 1970s. Berry has a B.A. in English as well as an M.A. from the University of Kentucky but has also worked as a farmer — his father was a lawyer and tobacco farmer in Kentucky. Some of the philosophies he’s known for include local economics, frugality and the interconnectedness of life.
I just completed reading the essay The Body and the Earth in The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry. Berry explains how modern agriculture was designed to remove Americans from the "drugery" of growing and preparing their own food. Factory farms and processed foods have separated us from the earth, Berry says, and not without consequences. Berry explains that our disconnection as humans from the process of food cultivation and preparation has turned food from nourishment to something we consume, removing our direct connection to food as necessary for good health. Berry wrote The Unsettling of America in 1977.
I envy what Wendell Berry and his fellow agrarian contemplatives find in the woods, and although I don’t share their sensibility, I enjoy reading some of them. E.B. White, when he left New York City for a farm in Maine just before the advent of World War II, wrote a number of wonderful essays anthologized in One Man’s Meat. Berry himself writes engagingly about agriculture, although I part company with him on some environmental issues. Walden, for the record, I loathe.
My problem, I think, is that I am soulless. I don’t look for meaning because I don’t believe life has any beyond that with which we endow it with our words and deeds. I think the plants and animals in the woods are interesting, but I don’t find majesty or mystery. My strategy for controlling anxiety is distraction, not contemplation, and sitting quietly with nothing to do doesn’t clear my head. How can your head be clear when the bathtub needs scrubbing? Are the property taxes due? What on earth am I going to make for dinner? Is that a deer tick?
Berry is a poet and farmer. In many ways, the topics he writes about speak to me more of the craft of pastoring than anything in the best-selling books about growing churches
He sketched the writer Wendell Berry for the back inside flap of his book “Openings” (published in 1968), which includes a poem “In Memory: Stuart Egnal.” Berry also included the poem in his 1987 book “The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982.”
Oprah is part of a system to which we can all contribute – a cult of celebrity that seeks to build a kind of community. There is a good intention here to fulfil a deep yearning for community and for good models to look up to. But are we doing it in the wrong place?
The American author and farmer, Wendell Berry, argues that in the place of community we now have proxies, like media and food companies, that provide what was previously made and shared in local communities. Berry discusses how activities like sharing food and entertainment are important for building local community. One of the most important modern proxies is television. Oprah personifies the proxy system. This is not to question her moral standing or good deeds, but it is to try to recognise the significance of her visit because events that draw the attention of the nation show something about us.