In Jayber Crow, Berry's characters show what it is to belong to a community, by which I mean more than the welcome and affirmation typically communicated by the word today. To belong to a community is to be at its disposal, to have given over all you have to be used for whatever your community needs. It is to be implicated substantively, not just sympathetically, in the ups and downs of a place and its people. It is a submission of yourself—your identity, your interests, your ambitions—to the needs of those to whom you're bound.
The book's heroes reject the notion that you make your own identity rather than receive it. They know and embrace who they are through their connection to things larger than themselves: their community, the land, the march of history, the mysterious purposes of God. They find joy, peace, and freedom in accepting their subsidiary status.
Humans were made to work in the garden that God had planted; now they would toil on land with which they were at odds. The wounds of sin are deep.
Wendell Berry wrote a book called The Hidden Wound where he talks about the problem of racism in America. He says that racism is not simply a thought we have or a judgment we make; it is a wound that whites inflicted on blacks, and in doing so they inflicted a wound upon themselves as well.
In the Harry Potter series, when you kill someone, your soul is literally ripped in two. Humans were made to be in relationship, and when we kill or oppress or hurt another person, we harm not only them but also ourselves, though in a different way. Wendell Berry says that the wound of racism has harmed both blacks and white, and those wounds have been passed down through generations.
Berry says that the wound of racism is connected to the brokenness of our relationship with the earth. Somewhere along the line, whites decided that working the land, that hard labor was inferior to lines of work that were emerging with industrialization. So they took a people they considered inferior to themselves and forced them to work the land. Whites put black slaves between themselves and the earth. The wounds of broken relationships among humans were deepened by the horrors of slavery and perpetuated by Jim Crow, and they continue to bleed to this day in our prison system, the drug war, and many other places where barriers of oppression based on race and class separate us from one another.
We’re not scientists, and we certainly don’t have billions of dollars to spend, BUT what John and I are proposing in the Slow Church book is a vision of drawing together ecology and economy that begins in local church communities. As we come to recognize the superabundant economy of creation, and live with gratitude — and not entitlement — within that economy, we begin to live more attentively to the ecology of creation. This is not a grand, unified approach, but surely Mr. Berry can appreciate a grassroots approach that begins in our local neighborhoods, right?
If we want to stop the impoverishment of land and people we ourselves must be prepared to become poorer. If we are to continue to respect ourselves as human beings, we have got to do all we can to slow and then stop the fossil fuel economy. But we must do this, fully realizing that our success if it happens will change our world and our lives more radically than we can now imagine. Without that realization, we cannot hope to succeed.
To succeed we will have to give up the mechanical ways of thought that have dominated the world increasingly over the last 200 years. And we must begin now to make that change in ourselves. For the necessary political changes will be made only in response to changed people. We must understand that fossil-fuel energy must be replaced not just by clean energy but also by less energy.
It didn’t take long for Utah-based composer, Andrew Maxfield, to fall in love with the poetry of Wendell Berry.
However, it did take 6-years to figure out exactly how he could turn those words into a piece of music.
The journey led to him through the roots of Kentucky music and to a collaboration with both Berry and blues musician Eric Bibb.
Mark Steiner with Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light says the group wants to urge a transition to cleaner forms of energy.
“We’ve got some great alternatives out there but they’re not moving forward in Kentucky at very fast of a rate,” he said. “So we’re encouraging that we start to look at solar, wind, hydro and even geothermal as energy sources that can provide jobs and clean energy.”
The march will start on Thursday [20 June] at 6pm at the corner of 3rd and Market, and continue to the Belvedere. Kentucky author, farmer and activist Wendell Berry will speak, along with environmental activist Tim DeChristopher and others.
What I am less and less in sympathy with is the rhetoric and the tone of official indignation. Public officials cry out for justice against the perpetrators. I too wish them caught and punished. But I am unwilling to have my wish spoken for me in a tone of surprise and outraged innocence. The event in Boston is not unique or “rare” or surprising or in any way new. It is only another transaction in the commerce of violence: the unending, the not foreseeably endable, exchange of an eye for an eye, with customary justifications on every side, in which we fully participate; and beyond that, our willingness to destroy anything, any place, or anybody standing between us and whatever we are “manifestly destined” to have.
I have just found in Counterpoint's Fall 2013 catalogue news that This Day: New and Collected Sabbath Poems 1979-2012 will be published in October of this year. The notice reads:
For nearly thirty-five years, Wendell Berry has been at work on a series of poems inspired by his solitary Sunday walks around his farm in Kentucky. From riverfront and meadows to grass fields and woodlots, every inch of this hillside farm lives in these poems, as do the poet’s constant companions in memory and occasion—the family and animals who have helped Berry create his Home Place with love and gratitude.
There are poems of spiritual longing and political extremity, memorials and celebrations, elegies and lyrics that comprise some of the most beautiful domestic poetry in American literature; these appear alongside the occasional rants of the Mad Farmer, pushed to the edge yet again by his compatriots and elected officials.
With the publication of this new complete edition, it is increasingly clear that the Sabbath Poems have become the very heart of Berry’s entire work. And these magnificent poems, taken as a whole, are one of the greatest contributions ever made to American poetry.
Jayber Crow is a book about community and about the secret life of a Kentucky bachelor and about love that is love even when it’s unconsummated. Mr. Berry has an axe to grind in his antipathy for modern farming and agri-business, but he also has a story to tell about the goodness of country life back in the 1930′s and 40′s. And there’s another, deeper theme to this book, about the surprising twists and turns of a life lived for an audience of One, lived before God, even in the times when God seems to be far away.
Schneider was delighted to see that Billy Collins, one of her favorite poets, crafted a poem on three of his cards: “I love card catalogues/but I only wish/my cards were more dogeared!”
Not everyone wanted to participate. Politicians — with the exception of Secretary of State John Kerry, who was then a U.S. senator, and responded — turned down the offer, instead sending the library autographed photos.
And author Wendell Berry wrote back, “I refuse to cooperate in any way in the destruction of the card catalogues, which I think is a mistake, a loss, a sorrow.”