A city pastor finds common ground with Wendell Berry

While it may seem that a city lover and return to rural advocate have little in common, Berry has many themes that apply across many locations. A central theme for Berry is commitment to place and specifically commitment to places the modern economy says are not worth much. For Berry himself this is rural Kentucky. So, whether it be in poetry, essay, or short story form Berry is a tireless advocate for the place of the small farm in rural lands. The rural family farm is not only worth something, but in a strange way capable of providing a better life than the one our modern economy offers.

Read all of "Wendell Berry and a City Pastor" by David Kamphuis at The Fire Escape.


On Reading Wendell Berry's Fiction

The characters in Port William know each other and know each other’s stories. Sometimes this takes the form of town gossip, but more often than not it exists because the people genuinely know and care about each other. They speak of each other’s families, burdens, and businesses. This knowledge generates a community of mutual respect and concern as well as helping each other see potential areas where they can trip up. For example, Jayber Crow watches with horror as Troy Chatham mishandles his father-in-law’s farm and life’s work. Nathan and Hannah Coulter spot the deficiencies in their daughter’s marriage from a distance before disaster strikes in the form of her husband’s infidelity.

Read all of "What I Learned from Reading Wendell Berry" by Scott Slayton at One Degree to Another.


Thoughts on Wendell Berry's The Memory of Old Jack

At the book's opening, it is September, 1952, and Jack Beechum -- Old Jack -- is 92 years old and has begun to worry his loved ones. He lives at the hotel turned nursing home in town, forced to give up his beloved farm when it became clear he could not manage it on his own. He still rises before the sun, spending the bulk of his day lost in his own memories. So, too, do we. The shifting tenses of that opening paragraph are not a mistake, not evidence of sloppy editing. They are part of the story; they are the story.

Though the book is relatively short, it takes its time. Not at all unlike an elderly family member navigating the journey from the living room to the bedroom, the narrative moves carefully, thoughtfully, and with no unnecessary haste. Through Jack's memory, we trace with him the changes over the years: in farm and town, culture and family. We learn of his pride and ambition and failings; we learn of his heartbreaks and passions and devotion to the land. We see him through the eyes of the loved ones in the present; we learn from his mentors in the past. And we begin to understand what Berry was doing in the opening paragraph.

Read all of "On Invitation and Wendell Berry's The Memory of Old Jack" by Sarah Beth West.


Poetic Response to Wendell Berry's Mad Farmer

Jason Rodenbeck has begun a challenge to readers to compose poems as responses to Mr. Berry's "Mad Farmer." His poem begins like this:

I saw the Mad Farmer
outside the city
standing defiant
at the treeline;
I heard his voice
crying out for the wilderness

from the false security
of my sanitized room
I witnessed his
lonesome prophecy
and I felt myself then
for the first time hollow
as I always had been
chasing dreams of
greatness and
manufactured purpose,
empty distractions and
greedy comforts

I heard his voice calling me,
“Forget those! Know your smallness!
Inhabit your incompleteness!
Embrace your partiality, your
connections to this earth and
your neighbor!”

Read all of "for the Mad Farmer" by Jason Rodenbeck at his blog,  Thinking Peacefully.


On the psychology of Wendell Berry

I want to consider the psychology of Wendell Berry—not analyze Berry the author but rather probe the way that he sees the world. Berry has made his living as a thinker and writer but also as a farmer, and his unique connection to land and rootedness has much to offer those of us who feel unmoored.

Berry writes about the history of his Kentucky home in “A Native Hill.” He traces his family’s roots there to his maternal great-great-grandfather and his paternal great-grandfather, although the fog of time makes the details hazy. Berry grew to know the place intimately during his childhood, a connection forged more intensely due to the absence of mechanical means with which to farm the earth. When Berry left a comfortable teaching position at New York University to return, it was the first time that he chose the place, and his return made all the difference. Berry knows when his family began to live on the same acres which he occupies, but he is not naive about the fact that others lived there long before. According to Berry, “I am forever being crept up on and newly startled by the realization that my people established themselves here by killing or driving out the original possessors, by the awareness that people were once bought and sold here by my people, by the sense of the violence they have done to their own kind and to each other and to the earth, by the evidence of their persistent failure to serve either the place or their own community in it.”

Read all of "The Past is Our Definition" by Jonathan Foiles at Psychology Today.


Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow, Bookstore Closings, Grief

Jayber Crow broke my heart in exactly the way I needed it to be broken, allowing my changing-times sadness and confusion to flow.

Jayber’s growth of soul as he narrates his life from 1914 to 1986 (being Port William’s barber for 32 of those years) grew on me.

If you’ve been grieving the losses that have come with a modernized, technologically driven age, Wendell Berry can’t get the gifts of the past back for you, but he can help you honor them with an unsentimental grief.

He can help your soul to grow through facing those losses with an honest remembering and gratitude. He can help you consider what changes you might make in order live at least a little closer to what you believe.

Berry can even help you see your need to forgive yourself along with everyone else who, in greater or lesser degrees, allowed the lessening of localism and the desecration of the land to happen.

Read all of  "Becoming Rememberers: How Wendell Berry Helps Us Grieve Our Time’s Tragic Tradeoffs" by Peggy Haslar at Sparrowfare.


On Violence, Wendell Berry, and Doctor Who

Writer Wendell Berry would argue that violence is the norm, so to suggest that there are other options on the table stretches beyond Western Civilization’s imagination.

In his writing, he wouldn’t limit violence to just the military or crimes committed by individuals, but ecological violence (such as coal mining that destroys mountains, forests, rivers, and animal life).

In his essay “The Commerce of Violence”, Berry paints a picture of the tit for tat of violence, “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, it is our willingness to destroy anything, any place, or anybody standing between us and whatever we are “manifestly destined” to have.”

According to Berry, violence can soak into how we farm, how we trade, how we see the Earth, and how we see problems/solutions.

Read all of  "He Never Would: Doctor Who Reads Wendell Berry" by Eric J. Kregel at his blog.


Applying some Wendell Berry insights to church practice

Berry believes that those who know the land best (i.e. those who farm it) will be most equipped to overcome its unique challenges. He believes the land should be “seen and known with an attentiveness that is schooled and skilled,” ultimately calling for “local knowledge and local love in individual people—people able to see, know, think, feel, and act coherently and well without the modern instinct of deference to the ‘outside expert’” (p. 117).

It’s a fantastic essay for many reasons—not the least of which is its quality of composition. But my interest in Berry’s essay isn’t agricultural as much as it is theological. Truth be told, I know next to nothing about farming, so I’d be foolish to weigh in one way or another. But “An Argument for Diversity” strikes me as being remarkably relevant to something I hope to be a bit more informed about: the mission of the church. What Berry has to say about local knowledge and local solutions needs to be heeded by God’s people.

Read all of "Listen Up!" by D. T. Humphrey at his blog.


Reflections on Wendell Berry's latest

People like Sir Thomas Howard, Aldo Leopold, and J.I. Rodale were among those sounding the alarm that things weren’t quite right with the increasingly chemically dependent agriculture of their times. Their alarms have continued into today through people like Wendell Berry. After 60 years of writing about such things, his recent collection of essays, The Art of Loading Brush, subtitled, New Agrarian Writings, released in 2017, is proof Mr. Berry has much more to say. The book is an argument for agrarianism as a model for restoring not only nature’s health by caring for it, but in turn, through that same process, restoring the health of rural communities. Care of land requires co-operation, not only with nature, but with each other. In the essay, The Thought of Limits in a Prodigal Age, he makes that argument like this:

As long as the diverse economy of our small farms lasted, our communities were filled with people who needed one another and knew that they did. They needed one another’s help in their work, and from that they needed one another’s companionship. Most essentially, the grownups and elders needed the help of the children, who thus learned the family’s and the community’s work and the entailed duties, pleasures, and loyalties. When that work disappears, when the parents leave farm and household for town jobs, when the upbringing of the young is left largely to the schools, then the children, like their parents, live as individuals, particles, loved perhaps, but not needed for any usefulness they may have or any help they might give. As the local influences weaken, outside influences grow stronger.

Read the whole piece by Josh Retterer at Mockingbird


Reading Wendell Berry's "A Place on Earth"

The only book I loved this year was A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry. Although I’d been meaning to read his fiction for years, I started this book (according to my Goodreads activity) the day after my sister’s diagnosis. I had some idea that reading about a small farming community in Kentucky, written by the octogenarian poet-farmer-essayist-novelist Berry, would be comforting. I had no idea how deeply I’d identify with the character of a 60-year-old tobacco farmer.

All of Berry’s fiction—a smattering of novels, novellas, and short stories—take place in the same fictional town of Port William, Ky., which is based on Berry’s own hometown. It’s a small town, and each work focuses on a different family or generation or set of friends, so that reading them as a whole brings the entire interconnected community to life.

Read the complete article by Janet Potter at The Millions.