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Ode-ing Wendell Berry

As the title of this entry would suggest, there is an inspiration of sorts. This past year, four of the eight courses I took at the College of Wooster were exclusively on the environment, farming, society, etc. It was in one of these classes, Rural Society & the Environment, that I experienced a transformation in my perception of myself as well as the world around me. I was also introduced to my newfound idol: Wendell Berry.

Now, having finished reading Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry I find I have drunk the Kool-Aid. Berry possesses the ability to make poetry of the every day rustic while providing a deeper analysis of society at large. Beyond that, his words are laced with a wisdom that is applicable to all parts of life. And so, each section of this post will be entitled with a quote of his, from the book or otherwise.

“Eating is an agricultural act.” – The Pleasure of Eating (1989)

I say I found myself in Paris, but the truth is I found myself in Montefalco. Working on a winery sounds glamorous and I’m sure my Instagram posts about freshly cut wheels of pecorino cheese and world-renowned awards have not helped change that perception. In truth, I live on a farm. A winery after all is a farm where they specialize in a singular product: grapes.

Read more at Crina Babina

Meeting Wendell Berry

Our meeting was around the kitchen table of a very humble farm-house on the banks of the Kentucky River. Humble to say the least. He still has his 1970’s GE stove. and that is… The rest of the story…. and a hint to why i mention Upton Sinclair’s Book of Life. Mr Berry and Tanya are a package deal. My wife talked with Tanya like the women do. They talked about kids and education and how the kids are being treated like crap… My wife is serious about her no media policy with our son. We have not had a T.V since we married nineteen years ago. Much of what Wendell writes about includes a serious conversation on work, community and marriage. Family. My son got the autograph, and listened to his Father talk railroading. Wendell told some hilarious stories about the railroad not far from his house. The same railroad that I trained on to become a railroad engineer.

Read more by John Paul Wright at Railroad Music

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

Five Things about Wendell Berry

1. Now entering his 80s, Berry still engages in nonviolent civil disobedience, protests, and sit-ins as part of his commitment to environmental activism. His causes include sustainable agriculture and renewable energy. One of his most recent actions involved camping out for a weekend at the Kentucky Governor’s office to protest mountaintop mining.

2. His stories often take place in Port William, Kentucky, a fictional rural town inspired by his hometown of Port Royal. Since 1960, Berry has chronicled small town life and the experiences of everyday people through his Port William series. The latest installment, A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership, was published in 2012.

Read more at AASLH

Wendell Berry will speak at September conference

In September Mr. Berry will be joining in discussion with Dr. James C. Klotter, state historian of Kentucky.

The occasion will be the annual conference of the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) to be he'd in Louisville, KY, September 16-19, 2015. Mr. Berry and Dr. Klotter will present the conference's keynote on Friday, September 18.

For more information see the conference brochure (pdf) HERE.


Wendell Berry Film-in-Progress Changes Title

As so often happens, the act of working on a creative project prompts reflections.  As our film came into metaphoric focus, we realized that the original title FORTY PANES did not perfectly capture just what it was that we sought to convey.  We consciously have eschewed the typical biopic conventions in the hopes that our film will leave viewers not with a picture of a man but rather with a glimpse of what he sees

In this spirit, we renamed our film "THE SEER" and subtitled it "A Conversation with Wendell Berry".  When working with such an accomplished wordsmith, it's hard not to labor (agonize!) over word choice.  But we sincerely hope once viewers see the film that they see it could be called nothing else.

From The Seer (formerly Forty Panes)

Film behind Wendell Berry film is now available in HD

It was the making of The Unforeseen that in fact that prompted Laura to want to make a film about Wendell Berry [ed: Forty Panes].  True story.  If you've seen the film, you know that Wendell Berry's voice comes and goes reading his poem "Santa Clara Valley".  But it wasn't always that way. During a rough cut screening, [executive producer] Terry Malick observed how powerful it would be if we could get Wendell Berry himself reading his own words.  In Terry's words  "[Berry's] voice would be like an oblique angle piercing the film."

Read more at Forty Panes 

How to contribute to the Forty Panes project HERE

Wendell Berry Alerts: A Random Sample

On a slow summer day I take a look at the various email alerts that arrive concerning “Wendell Berry.” There’s nothing too noteworthy or profound. But just to acknowledge a fairly steady level of WB mentions online, I offer these four bits of text.

The first is by Tom Louderback via Leo Weekly:

Wb-7115-tom louderback

I’m confused by this because Mr. Berry’s difficulty with UK concerned not Ayn Rand but Kentucky coal interests and the naming of a student residence Wildcat Coal Lodge. And it was "necessary," since Mr. Berry did remove his papers from UK, and he eventually presented them to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort, KY.

The next clipping is from Joanne Mallon:


And this is a straight-forward note about an upcoming reading group's focus on Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community. This could be a pretty strenuous text for a group, but then a communal reading might provide an excellent range of alternate responses to Mr. Berry's ideas. Always a good thing.

The third alert led me to an article by Win Bassett


I recommend this piece for its appreciation of a father's commitment to an idea of local community that can be understood as the best form of patriotism. Many of our fathers (and certainly mothers) have modeled just such a local focus for their children's eventual enlightenment. I know mine did.

And finally, here's a snippet from Wobbly Cart Farm:


Mr. Berry is most widely scattered across the internet by a multitude of "quotable bits." He doesn't write (or think) in "bumper stickers" or soundbites, but rich aphorisms lurk in almost every essay and many poems. This thought on soil is perfectly paired with the contents of a CSA box. And the farmers note

We certainly farm in a manner that is respectful to our soil by not tilling and plowing when the soil is too wet or too dry, cover cropping with rye, vetch and clover in winter and buckwheat in summer where ever there is barren ground, and then incorporating those cover crops back into the soil to add nutrients and organic matter that we may remove by growing crops.

Such are the messages that come to me daily via email alerts. It does strike me that they (these notes and mentions and uses of Mr. Berry's ideas) have increased dramatically since I began this online project many years ago. And that is a good thing.

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