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Wendell Berry quoted on Community

We live in a world that runs on incessant communication. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, chatting, FaceTime spill together an endless pooling of words, pictures, audio clips, videos. The Economist reported Thursday that people ages 16 to 24 use their smartphones for nearly four hours a day. But the incessant nature of our communication does not necessarily turn dialogue into community rapport. Something more is required to build a real community. Wendell Berry, in a recent interview, told me this:

… Community is not made just by communication. It is a practical circumstance. It is composed of people who have a place in common. But it is made by people’s willingness to be neighbors, good and faithful servants, to one another. It survives by its members’ recognition of their need for one another, if only to keep the small children from getting lost or run over, or to keep their trash out of the streams and roads. My guess is that a healthy community would be indivisible from its own, its local, economy.

Read more by Gracy Olmstead at The American Conservative

Blogger names Wendell Berry's "Unsettling" as Book of the Week

Every generation has its own prophet. He wanders the wilderness, preaching to all who will listen. Many skirt by him, avoiding his penetrating gaze. Others will walk with him, wondering at this crazy man who wears camel skin and eats locusts. But hopefully, his words create a spark that will set the world on fire.

Wendell Berry, American novelist, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer, is one such prophet. The Unsettling of America, one of his better-known works, resonates deeply in me for its commentary on capitalist culture and the erosion of agriculture. If nothing else, it shows how little anything has changed since 1977 — and calls for us to stand up and make a change.

Read more by Renee Pflughaupt at Brave Little Nib

Wendell Berry cited on "elite circles"

But it’s not just what football means to us that fuels the passion we have for it. It’s that football opens up doors for explaining ourselves to other Americans and, perhaps more important, being recognized by them as equals. We believe our way of life is beautiful and we want others to agree with us. Unfortunately, the rest of the nation seldom recognizes these traits in us, choosing rather to focus on the social conservatism that still marks my state as well as the perceived backwardness of our culture. Ask a Nebraskan who spends much time on either coast and they’ve likely heard some variation of the “do you guys have electricity?” joke. If we show up in popular culture at all, it’s more likely to be in a Saul Goodman joke on Breaking Bad or as the butt end of a crack about “fly over country.” Mother Jones had a great time mocking one small town that allowed students to have guns in their senior pictures, showing a disappointing but not at all surprising ignorance of midwestern life in the process. And when we show up in bigger periodicals like the New York Times, it’s invariably in something like Mary Pipher’s condescending op ed about how Nebraskans need progressives like her to save us from all those barbaric conservatives and their aforementioned guns. As Wendell Berry noted over twenty years ago, the operative rhetorical principle in social elite circles seems to be that if you are polite in your comments about preferred social minorities you have license to say anything you want about poor people, country people, farmers, uneducated people, and so on. It’s hard to separate that basic insight from the sneering coverage of my home in places like Mother Jones and the New York Times.

Read more by Jake Meador at Fare Forward

On Wendell Berry on Boomers and Stickers

Berry draws the important distinction between two different kinds of people, boomers and stickers. Boomers are mobile, always willing to leave if a better opportunity arises. Stickers tend to be more stationary, desiring to grow roots in a community and meet needs there. According to Berry, the goal is to move from a boomer attitude, which inhabits much of the American psyche, to a sticker attitude. What if we stopped asking primarily, “What do I want?” and started asking a community, “What do you need?” However, people are not simple enough to categorize purely in one category or the other. It is possible to be in a transient, mobile phase of life and have a sticker attitude. According to Dr. Bilbro and Dr. Baker, it all turns on our affections and attitudes.

Read more at Made to Adore and Obey

Wendell Berry cited as Garden Inspiration

All in all, including the Earthworm castings, I spent about $130 on the soil for a 10′ x 6′ bed. That’s expensive but I know the soil quality is important. Admittedly though I’m not completely satisfied with my approach. I read portions of Wendell Berry’s essays which helped inspire me to begin a sort of urban farm. However, he makes a point that a good farm should be able to use the native material. That bringing in too much soil from outside, even if it is good, is still not organic because it did not come from the local place itself. The ultimate farm in my area would not be a farm but more of a dessert [sic]. My land would contain things like cactus and mesquite trees and we would learn to live off of nopales and mesquite flower. But I’m not that hardcore yet though the idea of that ultimate vision is in my head to see if the future will offer opportunities to bring us closer to that ideal.

Read more at Esta Casa Que Hemos Hecho

A Review Of Bahnson's & Wirzba's "Making Peace with the Land"

This review was originally published in The Sword: A Journal of Historical, Spiritual and Contemporary Carmelite Issues (Volume 72, Number 1, 2013).

Making Peace with the Land: God's Call to Reconcile with Creation
Written by Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba

IVP Books, 2012
Paperback, 178 pages

 Reviewed by Br. Tom Murphy, O. Carm.

The reconciliation of only human souls with each other, however commendable and beautiful, would be an impoverished reconciliation if such souls were consigned to bodies that must eat, drink and breathe their way through a poisoned and degraded creation. Norman Wirzba

Our aim, then, is to point our attention back to the land, to say what a faithful life on it might look like, and to show that the land–indeed, the entire cosmos–is inextricably bound up in God's salvation through Jesus Christ. Fred Bahnson

When I get hungry, I look for something to eat—and it's almost always there. When I need light, my computer, or some pleasant entertainment, the power switch almost always works. When I need gas for my car, I know where to find it. In fact, in my world these things work so dependably that I am able to consume food and power without considering what those simple acts really involve. A soft inattention, a blissful mindlessness, settles down around my actions. I take the most astonishing things for granted.

And this taking for granted is symptom and cause, part of a cycle of disconnection or disaffection that infects our relationship to the earth. We move farther away from an awareness of our God-given dependence upon the earth beneath our feet, and we suffer a wide range of consequences for our personal, communal and global health. As one title in the Intervarsity Press series called "Resources for Reconciliation," Making Peace with the Land holds out a clear vision of our present dysfunction, acknowledges it as a radically spiritual problem within our cultures, and offers some direction toward healing and away from further disintegration.

As writers such as Wendell Berry have done elsewhere, Bahnson and Wirzba assert here that this abstracted, inattentive relationship with our earth corresponds too well with the marketing plans of Industrial Agriculture and Big Energy. We risk becoming docile consumers, self-contained bundles of desire for the apparently endless products of these vast corporations—products which can only come to us through a toxic exploitation of the created earth. Bahnson calls this unsustainable process "the abundant mirage," in contrast to "the abundant kingdom" of God-created nature. This book explores the moral and spiritual implications of how, over just the past two centuries, we have become perhaps fatally dependent on the burning of fossil fuel to meet our needs and fulfill out desires. The authors demonstrate how theological reflection can help us to climb out from under these cultural and agricultural delusions.

This brief yet rich book moves forward in a kind of dialogue, alternating chapters between the two authors. Wirzba's exceptionally readable contributions are thought-provoking reflections on the themes of reconciliation with the Land (in Sabbath), through Christ (as Divine Incarnation), and through Eating (in Eucharist). Bahnson complements these with well-grounded chapters on recovering our cultural sight, exploring models of agriculture that honor the earth, and educating for growing food in difficult places.

In the face of such immense problems as the approaching end of "cheap" fossil fuels, climate change, the ongoing disregard of Big Agriculture for the created complexity and mystery of soil, and so on, Wirzba and Bahnson describe several organizations that are engaged in preparing a hopeful future for food. One of these is The Land Institute of Salina, Kansas, where perennial polyculture is seen as the necessary response to the violent use of land found in Big Ag's chemical-based annual monoculture. Founded in 1976, the institute aims to develop economically feasible and ecologically responsible alternatives to industrial agriculture. 

As if to make the point that the authors' concern for agriculture is not simply an offshoot of currently trending "foodie" fascination, the book ends with Bahnson's report on a visit to ECHO Global Farm in Fort Myers, Florida, where creative methods of sustainable farming are developed for poor farmers in challenging growing conditions such as tropical highlands and urban rooftops. Bahnson quotes ECHO founder Martin Price on his hope, "I'd like to see small rural farms become so productive that people leave the slums and return to the countryside. Eliminating hunger and malnutrition is just the first step. There is just so much more to life than not being hungry."

Ultimately Bahnson and Wirzba affirm our need to reconnect with earth and the land beneath our feet on both an individual and a communal scale. Our present and future problems with Food and Energy are not, at their core, technological or political; they are spiritual, flowing from some deep misunderstandings of who we are in relation to the created world. A spiritual problem requires a spiritual solution that Wirzba finds in the Christology of St. Paul,

To be in Christ means that we can no longer look at any creature in terms of political maneuvering, economic profitability or self-enhancement. If everything has become new because we now behold and engage it through him, then literally everything is wrapped within God’s creating, healing, feeding and reconciling ways.

And Bahnson sees a need to revisit our liturgical practices, "Our table fellowship needs to be extended to include the fields and how our food is grown, and it needs to be extended to include those who hunger." 

We are invited to learn of (and begin turning away from) the land abuses of industrial farming and literally to take the earth back into our own hands—not unlike God's own action in Genesis 2. It's a primal act that has served humanity well for maybe 10,000 years. The book calls us outside—to pick up our shovels, rakes and seed; plant gardens (or support those who do); recognize our dependence upon this earth and each other; and thank God by reviving grace at meals. 

Key issues are kept front and center. In an almost seamless fashion, the book blends the theological and practical aspects of our challenging relationships with Creation. It shows that the distance from reflection to action is not so great as we may have thought. The style of both writers is welcoming to the common reader, clearly expressed ideas in language that is a pleasure to read—even when the subject under discussion is troubling.

If you don't yet see how your food and energy needs are implicated in your Christian faith, then this book will have much to say to you. If you are a person of faith who is concerned about these matters—if you are troubled by Industrial Agriculture's grip on food production and by Big Energy's willingness to destroy whole ecosystems in order to feed our endless appetite for power—you will want to explore in more detail how it all relates to the scriptural traditions of our faith and how it might play out in our worship and spirituality. Making Peace with the Land is an excellent starting point.

The book ends with a guide to further reading, including such key resources as a collection of essays by Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace, and Ellen Davis' fertile study, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. There is also a study guide with questions that could provide excellent focus for a group reading of the book.

What could it mean to be "reconciled with the land"? What would that look like in action in your life or mine?

It could mean that each of our understandings, decisions and actions will be grounded in a deep awareness of and affection for the created world. We are all part of it, members of this Creation. And this knowledge carries with it a certain responsibility to cherish the land from which all good things flow and to discover or re-discover ways to live well from it without exploiting or wounding it beyond repair.


Article shares Wendell Berry Commencement Address from 1989

In 1989 Mr. Berry spoke at the commencement ceremony for The College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. Here is some of it, with thanks to Terry Heick :

The old problem remains: How do you get intelligence out of an institution or an organization? The question that must be addressed, therefore, is not how to care for the planet but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious way different from all the others.

Our understandable wish to preserve the planet must somehow be reduced to the scale of our competence – that is, to the wish to preserve all of its humble households and neighborhoods.

The religion and the environmentalism of the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something that they do not really wish to destroy. We all live by robbing nature, but our standard of living demands that the robbery shall continue. We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and each other.

It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependent upon what is wrong. But that is the addict’s excuse, and we know that it will not do. I am trying not to mislead you, or myself, about our situation. I think that we have hardly begun to realize the gravity of the mess we are in.

For all of it, read Terry Heick's post at Teach Thought


Lenten Reflection: Wendell Berry Laments Modern Christianity

My concern about modern Christianity? I don’t know when, why, or how it happened, but at some time the mainstream denominations put themselves in charge of the Sunday job of accrediting people for admission to Heaven, turning the workdays, the human economy, and the material creation over to the materialists. And so it became possible for people to commit their souls to God while participating in an economy dedicated to the swiftest possible extraction and consumption of everything it values in God’s world, with unlimited collateral damage to all creatures, humans included, that it does not value.

Read more at Internet Monk

Wendell Berry cited on Rootless Ministers

I’m a minister, and we all know what Wendell Berry thinks of people in my vocation. We’re careerists, careening from church to church. We just don’t care enough about the places we’re called to. I suppose he’s right, to a degree. But it begs the question.  Yes, many of us blindly take our cues from mega-church pastors a thousand miles away, but the ladies in our churches often take their cues from a pastor who’s been dead for thirty years. And when a congregation turns on you, your best hope is to get out of Dodge as fast as you can. This can discourage the putting down of roots.

What does it mean to put down roots anyway? Does it mean buying a house? Shopping at farmers’ markets?   Scolding yourself when you feel the urge to run?

After thinking about it a while I’ve concluded it means what the metaphor implies: it means drawing nourishment from the place where you’re planted.

Read more at Front Porch Republic

Wendell Berry-inspired film among finalists

The San Francisco Film Society today announces the 11 finalists for the 2015 SFFS Documentary Film Fund awards totaling more than $75,000, which support feature-length docs in postproduction. Finalists were culled from more than 300 applications, and winners will be announced in early April. 

Forty Panes is a cinematic portrait of the changing landscapes and shifting values of rural America in the era of industrial agriculture, as seen through the mind’s eye of farmer and novelist Wendell Berry. The film revolves around the divergent stories of several residents of Henry County, Kentucky, each of whom face difficult choices that will dramatically reshape their relationship with the land and their community. (For more information visit 

See more at Indiewire