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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

Wendell Berry Interviewed on BBC Radio 4

Wendell Berry has been described as 'An American Hero' but his work and teaching have inspired and influenced leaders, writers and campaigners around the world. Ella McSweeney had no hesitation in choosing him as her 'Food Hero' and travels to meet him at his farm in Kentucky. She explains why his work affected her so profoundly, even thousands of miles away in Ireland.

As a leading and respected farmer, writer, campaigner, philosopher and poet, he wrote that "Eating is an agricultural act" yet argues we have become disconnected from the land by the industrialisation of the food chain, that the growth of agribusiness has driven many small farms out of business with a loss of their 'moral fibre and wisdom' and is destroying rural communities. He argues we must acknowledge the impact of agriculture to society.

Read more and listen to the program at BBC Radio 4

A Polite Disagreement with Wendell Berry

In the quiet moments with Wendell Berry's farmers and town folk, I imagine myself accepted as one of them. I've known them — in my own family tree, in the contrarian churchgoers my father, a pastor, attracted for most of my childhood, and in the lives of my best friends still sharing family land with several generations of kinfolk.

Other moments I am angry. Mr. Berry's body of work lauds the unadulterated; how does he reconcile glossing over (or at least hiding from view) the ugly dysfunctions that prosper alongside the natural beauty of such villages and pasturelands? I've seen firsthand not only the ornery nature of such characters — wishing to deny, for example, a decent salary to their pastor who does not make a living with his hands — but also the ingrown, incestuous thinking that tends to breed in rural places. Eventually, my paternal great-grandfather brought his family to town, and he drank away the family income. I guess Mr. Berry might argue that moving into town, working for the man across the desk rather than staying close to the family land, they introduced their own demise.

Read more at Art House America

Review of Wendell Berry's "Distant Neighbors"

"I'm not interested in spirituality that is dependent on cheap fossil fuel, soil erosion, and air pollution," writes Wendell Berry in Distant Neighbors, a fascinating collection of letters between the Kentucky farmer-writer and the Zen poet Gary Snyder -- two crucial, if quite different, voices in this perilous ecological age.

"No use talking about getting enlightened or saving your soul if you can't keep the topsoil from washing away," Berry tells Snyder.

Amid the renewed energy generated by Pope Francis' environmental encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for our Common Home," it would be prudent to heed the wisdom of these eco-literary giants, whose poetry, prose and activism over the last several decades have been consistently rooted in their work with and love of the land.

Read more at National Catholic Reporter

Reflecting on Wendell Berry's "Old Jack"

Berry's work is grounded in a love and appreciation of nature and family farming, so it's no wonder than much of the book is a love letter to the land.  Old Jack spends the bulk of his outdoors, so his memories are filled with images of working the land and observing nature in great detail.

The novel also describes the men who farm alongside Old Jack: mentors who taught him how to work, family members, neighbors and hired hands who work in the fields beside him, and neighbors who work their properties in the same county.   Old Jack also describes the women in the town through their work to care for their homes, gardens, children, and family members, in particular their menfolk. 

Even though Old Jack sees people around him in rich and complex ways, Jack himself emerges as an incredibly complex character.  By the end of the novel, the snap judgement I made about Jack softened so that I felt a mixture of respect and sympathy for him.  Over nearly a century, I watched one man's unbridled youthful zeal transform into specific hopes and dreams for loving one woman and working one piece of land.

Read more of this by Karen D. Austin at The Generation Above Me

Mary Berry Reflects on Wendell Berry's 50 Years at Lanes Landing

Summer is flying by. The older I get the faster the seasons go. Lost in the flurry of work at The Berry Center is, to me, an important anniversary. Fifty years ago this summer my parents Tanya and Wendell Berry moved to Lanes Landing Farm in Henry County, Kentucky. They were nice enough to bring my brother Den and me with them. Den was three and I was seven. It was 1965.

By then we had lived in Europe, California, and New York City with stays in Kentucky between moves. It is hard for me to believe now but the intention was to buy the farm as a weekend and summer place. My father says of my mother that she has made his work possible. Anyone knows that when he says that he means that she has made the whole of life at Lanes Landing possible. He has told me that at some point in the spring of ’65 my mother said to him, “You don’t want to spend weekends here, you want to live here and so do I.” 

Read more via The Berry Center August Newsletter (pdf)