On Wendell Berry's new fiction and the Bible

Having grown up with the King James Bible, the first thing I noticed when I began reading Berry’s Port William stories is how interwoven they are with its cadences. His intimate knowledge of this greatest of English Bibles would not have been remarkable when Nathan Coulter was published in 1960; now, one wonders how many readers actually recognize Berry’s references. The concept of “the membership” itself was described by Burley Coulter in Wild Birds this way: “The way we are, we are members of each other. All of us. Everything. The difference ain’t in who is a member and who is not, but in who knows it and who don’t.” Berry took that concept from 1 Corinthians 12: 12: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”

The phraseology of the King James is pervasive throughout the Port William record. Berry refers to “groaning and travailing” (Rom: 8) in A World Lost; he describes Andy’s amputated hand as a “help meet” that he misses like “Adam missed Paradise” in Remembering, and Elton Penn’s wife as a “help meet” in How It Went (Gen: 2); Hannah Coulter describes the membership as “those in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts: 17).

Read all of "Ties that Bind: Wendell Berry, the Bible, and Port William" by Jonathon Van Maren at The European Conservative.


On Wendell Berry and Sin in The Need to Be Whole

There are many reasons why we may be hesitant to use religious language in public debates about racism or other contentious topics, but Berry thinks there is no substitute for naming the sacredness of creation and our obligations to the Creator. In a culture where some people take God’s name in vain by speaking it “with ostentatious piety or blabbingly or too often,” Berry struggles to find the language necessary to speak of God with the reverence due him. Many who invoke God’s name most explicitly blaspheme him most flagrantly. Yet awkward though it may be to rely on theological language in public discourse, Berry sees it as necessary to account for the deep gravity of the wrongs we commit against one another, against creation, and against the Creator.

Read all of "Media-Friendly Sins of Other People" by Jeffrey Bilbro at Plough.


On Wendell Berry and Christian Nationalism

I’d like to talk about two subjects that don’t seem to have much to do with one another: Christian nationalism and Wendell Berry. I think many people were as alarmed and horrified as I was – as pretty much the entire country was, and the entire world, at least momentarily – about the insurrection on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. There were many things to be alarmed about in that moment, but maybe the thing that horrified me the most was seeing a sign that said “Jesus saves” in the same mob that had a noose for the vice president of the United States on a gallows made there. Many people have wondered, as they look at this and other expressions of religion used for cultural or political purposes and sometimes even violent purposes around the world: Where does this come from, and how do we answer it?

Read all of "Faith, Fiction, and Christian Nationalism" by Russell Moore at Plough.


Thinking About Wendell Berry's "Think Little"

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,.


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.


Video Reflection on a Wendell Berry Sabbath Poem

"This video explores my favorite ekphrastic poem -- a 2004 selection from American poet Wendell Berry’s vast collection of spiritual, nature-oriented Sabbath Poems, which in Berry’s words, were written “in silence, in solitude, mainly out of doors.” This poem was inspired by the watercolor painting Jacob’s Dream by the visionary English artist and poet William Blake, which depicts in a unique spiral stairway the famous Biblical story of Jacob’s ladder from Genesis 28."

Visit A Moonlighting English Teacher at YouTube.


"Darker and darker," concerning a Wendell Berry quote

When Advent arrives each year, we find a flurry of folks quoting and re-quoting this fine sentence, "It gets darker and darker, and then Jesus is born." This is often, but not always, attributed to Wendell Berry. And it is sometimes attributed to something Wendell Berry has written. Yet, to my knowledge, he has not actually used it in any of his works.

The source is, in fact, Wendell Berry via Anne Lamott, who used it in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (2006). Here is the relevant page:

From Plan B Further Thoughts on Faith By Anne Lamott 2006


On Wendell Berry, Counterfeit Meaning, Footwear, Grace, Etc.

Much of Berry’s fiction and essays can sound a bit like a Romans commentary. He writes with a true-to-life low anthropology that perfectly frames the miracle of grace. We see bits of this in a 2019 interview he did with the activist Tim DeChristopher, the transcript of which was recently published by Orion Magazine. In a terrific shot by Guy Mendes, provided with the article, we see the much younger DeChristopher sitting across from Berry in what look to be living room chairs pulled out onto the front porch of the Berrys’ home, a border collie stretched out between them. I think Wendell managed to pull off his bold sartorial choice of black socks and sandals with style. The two don’t waste much time on pleasantries, DeChristopher starting off the conversation with a light hors d’oeuvre of nihilism.
 
    DeChristopher: We’re not just blowing things apart; we’re changing our own DNA in a way that makes human existence meaningless.

    Berry: I don’t think humans have any power over meaning. Meaning is given to us. We can’t make meaning.

    DeChristopher: I don’t agree with that. We make meaning all the time.

    Berry: The ability of humans even to discover meaning is very limited. They counterfeit meaning all the time.

Read all of "Wendell Berry Wants to Shoot a Drone" by Josh Retterer at Mockingbird.


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.