Wendell Berry and Lay communities around Catholic universities
15 October 2022
The choices of Nate, Hannah, and our community expose a tension for the Church’s lay university teachers between the necessity of remaining faithful to local culture and the need to follow the call of Catholic higher education. On the one hand, many (myself included) empathize with Berry’s point. Local communities in America are dying out, a process accelerated by two years of societal isolation. We have a responsibility to the places that formed us; we cannot simply leave them behind, or abandon the first community in which we participated, our parents’ families. Similarly, it seems impractical to suggest that you need to work at a Catholic university to find a good Catholic community and naïve to rely on a community centered around something as volatile as religious higher education.
On the other hand, if we take John Paul II’s argument in Ex Corde seriously that the “future of Catholic Universities depends to a great extent on the competent and dedicated service of lay Catholics,” it is almost impossible to remain in the community you were born in and pursue a life of service in Catholic higher education unless you grew up in a university town and are lucky enough to get a job there after graduate school. Which local culture, then, takes higher priority? The one that you were born into or the one that you find yourself in?
Read all of "The Work of a Catholic University in Local Culture" by John-Paul Heil at Dappled Things.
Thinking About Wendell Berry's "Think Little"
06 February 2022
In 1969 the agrarian writer, poet, and Kentuckian, Wendell Berry, published Think Little, a short essay dealing primarily with environmentalism and the principle of subsidiarity. I found it to be a well written and compelling piece. While it is brief, Berry’s essay contains striking observations that continue to be relevant in our own day.
As I began reading it, my immediate thought was how little has changed. This short essay could easily have been written yesterday. “First there was Civil Rights, and then there was the War, and now it is the Environment. The first two of this sequence of causes have already risen to the top of the nation’s consciousness and declined somewhat in a remarkably short time.” While the Civil Rights Movement itself has passed, the issue of race has again come to the forefront of the national and global stage. In 2020 the Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests and riots dominated headlines, while in 2021 Critical Race Theory surfaced as a major point of contention. Then, though Berry speaks of Vietnam, one could easily replace that with the war in Afghanistan or even just the broader War on Terror. As for the Environment, there has hardly been a more prevalent and constant issue than Climate Change. The push for expanding renewable energy sources, building more electric cars, changing people’s diets, and reducing carbon emissions has been in the national and global discourse for decades now. Yet, as Berry points out, both Civil Rights (race) and the War (of your choice) have been short-lived in their prominence in the public sphere. This is not to say that racial issues have disappeared necessarily, but neither the protests of 2020 nor Critical Race Theory have actually lasted very long in terms of how important they are perceived as being and how much they dominate the political sphere. The protests came and went, and the Critical Race Theory debate has mostly given way to debates surrounding COVID-19 regulations and mandates (at least for now). Afghanistan is a similar story. While it took over headlines for a month or two, it has practically disappeared from the news and from public discourse. I doubt many people are actively thinking about our withdrawal and defeat at all, and likely will not remember it until it appears in midterm election advertisements.
Read all of "Wendell Berry’s “Think Little” Remains Relevant Today" by John Thomas at The New Utopian,.
Listening to Wendell Berry scholar, Jeffrey Bilbro
01 July 2021
Over the past few years, Jeffrey Bilbro, Associate Professor of English at Grove City College, has become one of the most lucid and prolific proponents of Wendell Berry's thought. He thinks and writes from an explicitly Christian perspective, helping Christians and others to find and develop more healthful relationships to our home, the earth.
He has lately discussed his work on several internet platforms.
Liberal Arts and Agricultural Arts
"Jeff talks with Leah Bayens, the dean of the Wendell Berry Farming Program. They talk about the program she directs and the challenges and opportunities of uniting liberal arts education with agricultural education."
Faith and Imagination: Virtues of Renewal
"Jeff discusses how Berry’s thinking stands in stark contrast to many of the norms and habits of modern society and how greater mindfulness of some key virtues may help us find moral, spiritual, and social renewal."
Creation Care - "Wendell Berry and Local Place"
"Bilbro’s work on ecology and theology has been heavily influenced by Wendell Berry, an environmental activist and author best known for his book The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. Bilbro calls his readers to a greater ecological and cultural imagination based in the idea of shalom, a vision of relational and community healing in the context of our environment."
And check out these good books:
Virtues of Renewal: Wendell Berry's Sustainable Forms
Wendell Berry and Higher Education: Cultivating Virtues of Place (written with Jack R. Baker)
Telling the Stories Right: Wendell Berry's Imagination of Port William (edited with Jack R. Baker)
Wendell Berry Farming Program at Sterling College seeks applicants for 2021
14 November 2020
Undergraduate students looking for more ag education can receive it at little to no cost.
Sterling College, located in Craftsbury, Vt., has established a field site in Henry County, Ky. for the Wendell Berry Farming Program.
Aside from some student fees, there is no tuition cost for the program.
Providing ag students with an education so they don’t have to worry about paying off debt helps them invest in their businesses rather than student loan payments, said Dr. Leah Bayens, dean of the Wendell Berry Farming Program.
“We see how difficult it is, especially for new and beginning farmers, to be able to make a livelihood out of farming,” she told Farms.com. “Minimizing student debt would set people up for success and would really allow them to focus more energy on good land stewardship as opposed to paying down thousands of dollars of student loan debt.”
Read all of "Sterling College offering tuition-free ag program" by Diego Flammini at Farms.com.
Wendell Berry files suit to prevent removal of UK mural
06 July 2020
The University of Kentucky should halt the removal of a controversial 1930s-era mural that has been at the center of years of race-related, on-campus debate, a national group against censorship and a contemporary Black artist said in a letter to the university.
The National Coalition Against Censorship and Karyn Olivier — the artist who created a 2018 piece meant to contextualize the mural — say that the university shouldn’t take down the Ann Rice O’Hanlon piece that depicts Black workers, possibly slaves, because the mural’s removal would mute Olivier’s accompanying piece “Witness.”
Additionally, a complaint has been filed by renowned Kentucky poet and novelist Wendell Berry and his wife, Tanya, in Franklin County Circuit Court against the University of Kentucky and UK President Eli Capilouto, according to an attorney in the case. The complaint includes a request for an injunction to halt the removal or damage of the O’Hanlon Mural or the “Witness” installation by Olivier.
Read all of "Wendell Berry lawsuit, Black artist try to protect University of Kentucky mural" by Rick Childress and Morgan Eads at Lexington Herald-Leader.
See also: "Removing an offensive mural from the University of Kentucky isn’t ‘racial justice’" by Karyn Olivier at The Washington Post.
See also: "Removing an offensive mural from the University of Kentucky isn’t ‘racial justice’" by Karyn Olivier at The Washington Post.
See also: "Author Wendell Berry sues University of Kentucky to stop removal of controversial mural" by Associated Press at WDRB.com.
See also: "Students’ Calls to Remove a Mural Were Answered. Now Comes a Lawsuit" by Julia Jacobs at The New York Times.
See also: "Wendell Berry’s defense of mural on UK campus shows ‘Hidden Wound’ was superficial after all" by Bill Turner at The Lexington Herald-Leader.
See also: "Here’s how UK could end the mural debate, stop a costly lawsuit and improve higher education" by Linda Blackford at The Lexington Herald-Leader.
See also: "UK: Famed Kentucky writer must butt out of decision on mural stirring racial conflict" by Morgan Eads at Lexington Herald-Leader.
See also "UK's plan for Memorial Hall mural dishonors honest thought" by Wendell Berry at Lexington Herald Leader (22 December 2022).
Wendell Berry and Zoom
23 May 2020
Coming to terms with the limits of his prosthesis enables Andy [in the novel Remembering (1988)] to be patient with himself and others and to openly acknowledge his dependence on the help of his neighbors and family. Even as his missing hand divides him from his community, it makes him more dependent on their help than ever. A similar dynamic, I think, takes place when our conversations are filtered through the digital ether; we need to be patient with the technical glitches, the loss of meaning, the dog barking in someone’s house. The success of a class is more dependent than ever on the efforts of others to attend and contribute to our discussion.
Even as Andy becomes more adept with his replacement hand, he remains uncomfortable with it. This discomfort reminds him of what is wrong both in his society and in his soul. As the narrator explains, Andy has come to see his various prosthetic devices as symbolizing the “inescapable dependence of the life of the country and his neighborhood upon mechanical devices.”
Read all of "Wendell Berry and Zoom" by Jeffrey Bilbro at Front Porch Republic.
Wendell Berry listed among conservative thinkers
24 April 2020
Gracy Olmstead has composed a brief but evocative essay on key figures in conservative thought. Here she speaks of Wendell Berry:
An additional thought might be added here from Wendell Berry, an invaluable thinker who does not see himself as “conservative” but who avoids the name for reasons I think Kirk would approve of. Berry is too particular and too prudential to give a political label to his thought. The term does not “help him,” he once told me, because it does little to advance or enliven his work—and means very little in his local context.
I have found myself agreeing with Berry more and more over time. I am loath, in fact, to embrace the label “conservative” myself—in part because of the ways most people define it, and in part because I am unsure whether any political label fully defines my beliefs. But it could be that the very impetus to abandon labels, to forsake party and creed to more fully embrace one’s principles and one’s place, might itself be a “conservative” sentiment—at least according to Kirk’s view.
Read all of "How to Identify Today's Conservative Thinkers" at ISI.
North Dakota educator learns with Wendell Berry
17 March 2020
What is clear to me now in a way that was not before I found Wendell Berry is that the placelessness of modern industrial thinking has failed us—culturally and ecologically. And it has failed us educationally. When I began the doctoral program, I thought data analytics and greater efficiency would save higher education. By the time I completed my dissertation, I could see that what my students need is not big data. What they need are small gestures—gestures of kindness and encouragement, gestures of interest and individual care. Placeless, generic education does not serve. Like any human endeavor, education should be something more aligned with agrarianism and less with industrialism.
Moreover, in a time when our political rhetoric has become both divisive and derisive, when our differences are too easily defined and dismissed as a split between urban and rural—a divide of our very places—Berry’s thinking finds the connections through our shared humanity. In his analysis and portrayal of his place, he enables us to understand our own places in a fresh way. Just as each school or each classroom is made up of uniquely individual students, Berry’s writings remind us that even the large places of the world are made up of small places that need to be loved and defended. In this, we can find what connects us.
Read all of "Finding My Place by Finding Wendell Berry" by Jane M. Schreck at On Second Thought Magazine.
Wendell Berry on computers, again
18 April 2019
What made you want to publicly declare your intention to abstain from the computer bandwagon?
It seemed to me that everybody was jumping into this as if it would save the world. And that was really the way it was being advertised. “This is the solution to all our problems. This is going to speed things up.” And so, I made a little dissent. It’s really a tiny little no that I said.
While you were staging that “little dissent” President Ronald Reagan declared the computer revolution “the greatest force for the advancement of human freedom the world has ever seen.”
The idea that you’re free if you buy everything that’s marketed to you is absurd. You’ve become free only when you begin to choose. Take it – or leave it. That’s our freedom, that’s real freedom.
The way the human race practically bought into this computer sales talk was just contemptible. You come on the market with this thing. It’s exactly the way they marketed television. “This is the answer. Everybody’s going to be smarter now. Everybody’s going to be in touch.” Same line. And they don’t anticipate any negative result. Never.
Read all of "Why Wendell Berry is still not going to buy a computer" at The Christian Science Monitor.