According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Friday, September 20, 2019

R.E. Slater - A Call to Social Justice




This morning I find myself mulling over this past week's thoughts, decisions and commentaries both written, unwritten and read. The complexity of life perplexes why so little progress is made locally as national and international constructs wash over us like so many destabilizing tidal waves. Many of which are unhealthy while some few are healthy. Issues such as witnessing how many forms of social unrest has taken us to those more poignant moments requiring actionable movement only to see one-and-all floundering in the wake of a strong backwash knocking us over unable to keep our footing to be pulled away from the shorelines of reason and goodwill. Which I think explains why focusing on controllable moments around us by participating in recurring life experiences are the only points of sanity we have left to us or feel empowered by.

The issues are too large, too deep, too complex, as we are discovering, leaving us with the only thing we can do which is to reorganize ourselves into larger, more cohesive regional blocks of social networks to systematically address the tidal washes of change confronting us to large scale world action. We can no longer live in our little bubbles pretending all is well. Rather, we each have obligations to fulfill in resolving societal detractors, destructive earthly practices, and the social injustices around us.

How? By counterbalancing those negatives with the good things the bible urges us to enact amongst each other and into the world beyond. Such Spirit things as peace, love, mercy, forgiveness, and unity. Our natural tendencies bespeak our fragility as a species - if not the weak mindedness bourne our humanity that we stand up to disinformation to create constructive moments of rightful actions. And yet, if we do nothing but sit and judge nothing is done.

Whether enacting better democracies or Spirit-based resolves, each requires a personal and generational duty to the larger society around us to contribute to its health and healing according to the social networks and livelihoods we each have and bear a responsibility to address regarding the weighty issues pressing in on us from all sides. Fear, isolation, and anger are the poorest constructs to build upon. Much better we respect each other, listen to one another, and build a future we might be proud. One that is good, morally strong, and vibrantly cohesive in the face of so many societal and earthly negatives.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
September 20, 2019


Amazon Link


Book Blurb

In 1934, Confessing Christians in Germany declared that support for the Nazi regime violated the basic principles of the Christian faith, thereby creating a status confesionis (confessional situation), requiring a binding doctrinal stance on sociopolitical questions. In this book, the result of a lifetime of engaged religious, philosophical, and critical inquiry, David Ray Griffin declares that with regard to American Empire, the church in America is in a similarly dire situation and must stand up for the integrity of the Gospel. He writes: “Our Christian faith at its best would lead us, both as individual Christians and as churches, to oppose the American Empire in the name of God. As long as the church does not explicitly oppose this empire, it is, by its silence, a de facto supporter.”Chapter by chapter (in some cases, verse by verse) Griffin argues that Christians in America must deal with the darker side of their country, especially its imperialism, racism, and nuclear and climate policies. With clarity and insight, Griffin points out ways in which the American Empire is similar to the Roman Empire—the empire that crucified Jesus—and urges Christians, “publicly and unequivocally” to reject it.To that end, Griffin has written a theology that aims always to keep in mind the meaning of “gospel”—good news. That is, it focuses on the primary doctrines of Christian faith, which are unqualifiedly good news, as distinct from secondary and tertiary doctrines, some of which have delivered bad—sometimes horrible—news. The primary doctrines are rooted in the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Written from the perspective of process theology, the book is “liberal in method and conservative in content.” “Liberal in method” means that all appeals to authority to establish truth are rejected. Theology, like philosophy, can argue for the truth of its doctrines only on the basis of evidence and reason. So although the reality of revelation can be affirmed, theologians cannot make claims for the truth of events or doctrines by claiming that this truth was revealed. It is “conservative in content” by virtue of employing a constructive postmodern worldview, based on the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. Being “conservative in content” does not mean affirming the types of conservative theology that allow secondary and tertiary doctrines to distort the gospel’s primary doctrines. It means reaffirming primary doctrines of the Christian gospel, such as God’s creation of the world, God as actively present in us, and divinely-given life after death. American Christianity is in crisis. In this timely book, David Ray Griffin preaches the Gospel—not interpreted for the convenience of Americans, but to remind Americans of what the Gospel actually says and what it calls us to do.



Thursday, September 19, 2019

R.E. Slater - Ancient Rhythms


Ancient Traditional Japanese Music - Mountain Pass

Image result for ancient japanese
Additional Images



Rivers Flow Within

Hot yellow clouds cry
But cannot see looking down
Earth awaits her death.

Scattered blossoms flow
Along dying streams choked
Living waters unsung.

Seeing, we see not
Not earth, not others, blinded souls
Once ancient, forgot.

Mouldering petals
Like forgotten joys, rotting
Fled creation's memory.

Joyless hearts beating
Sing of lands of summer blooms
Echoing of lament.

Remembering home
Nourishing Edens, now barren
Timeless paths flowing.

Embracing oneness
Fellowships bound land to soul
Divine grace gifts all.


R.E. Slater
September 18, 2019

*A traditional Japanese haiku is a three-line poem with seventeen syllables,
written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. Often focusing on images from nature, haiku
emphasizes simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression with no rhyming


@copyright R.E. Slater Publications
all rights reserved


Notes to Haiku

Having come across a foreign concert segment on the Internet I became curious as to why it was so moving to the well dressed audience gasping and swooning during its emotional performance. It seems that the song being sung by the young lady in white was lamenting the losses of childhood and of that of the ancient Japanese culture having forgotten its meaning and identity when absorbing Western practices, capitalism, and consequentially separation from the cradling arms of the earth (sic, earth spirits of nature) in its mimicry. The song, like the film it originated from, layers its hopes upon a succeeding generations which might remember the old ways in finding a way back to what once was treasured in its ancient traditions - cultural vitality, fellowship, earth care, and the social identity which came from these traditions. Themes universal to the ancient human breast itself.

Modern Western critics like Wendell Berry, Aldo Leopold, and a host of others ranging from poets to theologs have echoed these same sentiments in observing how industrialized Western progress has created great loss to humanity's inherent cardinal values imaged upon our souls by the divine granting the life-giving qualities of identity and meaning when in fellowship with the earth and one another. Specifically, both concert, song, and film, recall the primal longing of creation as an ancient longing we have too easily dismissed as an insignificant thing when pompously disrupting or destroying both our own past as well as the pasts of other native American cultures, aboriginal cultures, and non-European civilizations by Westernizing standards having become deaf-and-blind to the accumulated wisdoms of the ancients over the centuries in succeeding echoes of enforced religious and doctrinnaire superiority.

Consequently, in this present day we must now repair the renewing cycles of divine life by listening to, and learning from, one another as from the earth and Spirit themselves, each once heard in the sublime symphonies of our distant souls now lost within the graves we have wantonly dug as memorials to our sins, greed, and follies. This loss of divine rhythm must somehow be recovered from what was carelessly destroyed and now deemed worthless in our pride and short-sightedness. Soul qualities we are only now realising granting life, hope, purpose, and fellowship with the earth and with one another. And it is in this  divine revelatory light we must hear again those ancient lyrics to restore, renew, steward, and cultivate earth's primal Edens which had once nurtured both creation and the human spirit in practices of wisdom, selflessness, silence, love, and community.

R.E. Slater
September 16, 2019


Related image
Westward Expansion into California
(Early California Exploration, Colonization, and Immigration Gallery)


Joe Hisaishi 2011.jpg

Joe Hisaishi in Budokan was a concert commemorating
both the Japanese theatrical premiere of Ponyo and the 25 years
of musical collaboration between composer Joe Hisaishi and film
maker Hayao Miyazaki.



Lyrics: The Name of Life

The whiteness of the clouds left behind by a plane
Draw a line across the blue sky
Always, no matter to where, always continuing
As if it knew tomorrow.

In my chest I breathed in a shallow breath
I remember the breeze that blew on my hot cheek.

The hands and feet which are bound before the future
Are freed by a quiet voice
So nostalgic that I want to scream out, is
One life, the midsummer light
At your shoulder, swaying, the sunbeams streaming through the leaves.

The white ball at rest
The petals which have been scattered by the wind
The invisible river which carries both
Singing while flowing on.

Secrets and lies and joy
Are the children of the gods who created this universe.

The heart which is bound before the future
Someday, will remember its name
So loved that I want to scream out, is
One life, the place to return to
At my fingertips, the summer day which doesn't disappear.



Inochi no Namae (The Name of Life)
Joe Hisaishi in Budokan - Studio Ghibli 25 Years Concert



Futatabi [Reprise] (Spirited Away)
Joe Hisaishi in Budokan - Studio Ghibli 25 Years Concert




Spirited Away


Spirited Away (Japanese: 千と千尋の神隠し Hepburn: Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, "Sen and Chihiro's Spiriting Away") is a 2001 Japanese animated coming-of-age fantasy film. It was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, animated by Studio Ghibli for Tokuma Shoten, Nippon Television Network, Dentsu, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Tohokushinsha Film and Mitsubishi and distributed by Toho. The film stars Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tsunehiko Kamijō, Takehiko Ono, and Bunta Sugawara. Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro Ogino (Hiiragi), a moody 10-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighbourhood, enters the world of Kami (spirits) of Japanese Shinto folklore. After her parents are mutated into pigs by the witch Yubaba (Natsuki), Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba's bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world.

Miyazaki wrote the script after he decided the film would be based on the 10-year-old daughter of his friend, associate producer Seiji Okuda, who came to visit his house each summer. At the time, Miyazaki was developing two personal projects, but they were rejected. With a budget of 19 million US dollars, production of Spirited Away began in 2000. Pixar director John Lasseter, who is a fan and friend of Miyazaki, convinced Walt Disney Pictures to buy the film's North American distribution rights, and served as the executive producer of its English-dubbed version Lasseter hired Kirk Wise as director and Donald W. Ernst as producer of the adaptation. Screenwriters Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt wrote the English-language dialogue to match the characters' original Japanese-language lip movements.

The film was originally released in Japan on 20 July 2001 by distributor Toho. It became the most successful film in Japanese history, grossing over $361 million worldwide.[a] The film overtook Titanic (the top-grossing film worldwide at the time) in the Japanese box office to become the highest-grossing film in Japanese history with a total of ¥30.8 billion. Spirited Away received universal acclaim and is frequently ranked among the greatest animated films ever made. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, making it the first (and so far only) hand-drawn and non-English-language animated film to win that award. It was the co-recipient of the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival (shared with Bloody Sunday) and is in the top 10 on the British Film Institute's list of "Top 50 films for children up to the age of 14".

In 2016, it was voted the fourth-best film of the 21st century as picked by 177 film critics from around the world, making it the highest-ranking animated film on the list. It was also named the second "Best Film of the 21st Century So Far" in 2017 by the New York Times.


Spirited Away Trailer



Plot

Ten-year-old Chihiro Ogino and her parents are traveling to their new home when her father takes a shortcut, leading them to what appears to be an abandoned amusement park that Chihiro's father insists on exploring. They find a seemingly empty restaurant stall stocked with food, which Chihiro's parents immediately begin to eat. While exploring further, Chihiro finds an exquisite bathhouse and meets a boy named Haku, who warns her to return across the riverbed before sunset. However, Chihiro discovers too late that her parents have metamorphosed into pigs, and she is unable to cross the now-flooded river.

Haku finds Chihiro and has her ask for a job from the bathhouse's boiler-man, Kamaji, a yōkai commanding the susuwatari. Kamaji refuses to hire her and asks worker Lin to send Chihiro to Yubaba, the witch who runs the bathhouse. Yubaba tries to frighten Chihiro away, but she persists, so Yubaba gives Chihiro a contract to work for her. Yubaba takes away her name and renames her Sen (千). While visiting her parents' pigpen, Haku gives Sen a goodbye card she had with her, and Sen realizes that she had already forgotten her real name. Haku warns her that Yubaba controls people by taking their names, and that if she forgets hers like he has forgotten his, she will not be able to leave the spirit world.

Sen faces discrimination from the other workers because she is still a human and not a spirit; only Haku and Lin show sympathy for her. While working, she invites a silent creature named No-Face inside, believing him to be a customer. A "stink spirit" arrives as Sen's first customer, and she discovers he is the spirit of a polluted river. In gratitude for cleaning him, he gives Sen a magic emetic dumpling. Meanwhile, No-Face imitates the gold left behind by the stink spirit and tempts a worker with gold, then swallows him. He demands food and begins tipping extensively. He swallows two more workers when they interfere with his conversation with Sen.

Sen sees paper Shikigami attacking a Japanese dragon and recognizes the dragon as Haku metamorphosed. When a grievously injured Haku crashes into Yubaba's penthouse, Sen follows him upstairs. A shikigami that stowed away on her back shapeshifts into Zeniba, Yubaba's twin sister. She mutates Yubaba's son, Boh, into a mouse, creates a decoy Boh, and mutates Yubaba's harpy into a tiny, flylike bird. Zeniba tells Sen that Haku has stolen a magic golden seal from her, and warns Sen that it carries a deadly curse. Haku attacks the shikigami, which eliminates Zeniba's hologram. He falls into the boiler room with Sen, Boh, and the harpy on his back, where Sen feeds him part of the dumpling she had intended to give her parents, causing him to vomit both the seal and a black slug, which Sen crushes with her foot.

With Haku unconscious, Sen resolves to return the seal and apologize to Zeniba. Sen confronts No-Face, who is now massive, and feeds him the rest of the dumpling. No-Face follows Sen out of the bathhouse, steadily regurgitating everything he has eaten. Sen, No-Face, Boh, and the harpy travel to see Zeniba with train tickets given to her by Kamaji. Yubaba orders that Sen's parents be slaughtered, but Haku reveals that Boh is missing and offers to retrieve him if Yubaba releases Sen and her parents. Yubaba agrees, but only if Sen can pass a final test.

Sen, No-Face, Boh, and the harpy meet with Zeniba, who reveals that Sen's love for Haku broke her curse and that Yubaba used the black slug to control Haku. Haku appears at Zeniba's home in his dragon form and flies Sen, Boh, and the harpy to the bathhouse. No-Face decides to stay behind and become Zeniba's spinner. In mid-flight, Sen recalls falling years ago into the Kohaku River and being washed safely ashore, correctly guessing Haku's real identity as the spirit of the Kohaku River. When they arrive at the bathhouse, Yubaba forces Sen to identify her parents from among a group of pigs in order to break their curse. After Sen answers correctly that none of the pigs are her parents, her contract combusts and she is given back her real name. Haku takes her to the now-dry riverbed and vows to meet her again. Chihiro crosses the riverbed to her restored parents, who do not remember anything after eating at the restaurant stall. They walk back to their car, which is now covered in dust and leaves. Before getting in, Chihiro is shown to still be wearing the hairband No-Face spun for her at Zeniba's home.


Hidden Meaning in Spirited Away (Miyazaki)
– Earthling Cinema



Themes

The themes of the film are heavily influenced by Japanese Shinto-Buddhist folklore. The central location of the film is a Japanese bathhouse where a great variety of Japanese folklore creatures, including kami, come to bathe. Miyazaki cites the solstice rituals when villagers call forth their local kami and invite them into their baths.

Chihiro also encounters kami of animals and plants. Miyazaki says of this:

"In my grandparents' time, it was believed that kami existed everywhere – in trees, rivers, insects, wells, anything. My generation does not believe this, but I like the idea that we should all treasure everything because spirits might exist there, and we should treasure everything because there is a kind of life to everything."

The film has been compared to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as the stories have some elements in common such as being set in a fantasy world, the plots including a disturbance in logic and stability, and there being motifs such as food having metamorphic qualities; though developments and themes are not shared. Among other stories compared to Spirited Away, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is seen to be more closely linked thematically.

The major themes of Spirited Away center on the protagonist Chihiro and her liminal journey through the realm of spirits. The archetypal entrance into another world demarcates Chihiro's status as one somewhere between child and adult. Chihiro also stands outside societal boundaries in the supernatural setting. The use of the word kamikakushi (literally "hidden by gods") within the Japanese title, and its associated folklore, reinforces this liminal passage:

"Kamikakushi is a verdict of 'social death' in this world, and coming back to this world from Kamikakushi meant 'social resurrection.'"

Yubaba has many similarities to The Coachman from Pinocchio, in the sense that she mutates humans into pigs in a similar way that the boys of Pleasure Island were mutated into donkeys. Upon gaining employment at the bathhouse, Yubaba's seizure of Chihiro's true name symbolically kills the child, who must then assume adulthood. She then undergoes a rite of passage according to the monomyth format; to recover continuity with her past, Chihiro must create a new identity.

Along with its function within the ostensible coming of age theme, Yubaba's act of taking Chihiro's name and replacing it with Sen (an alternate reading of "chi", the first character in Chihiro's name – lit. "one thousand"), is symbolic of capitalism's single-minded concern with value, reflecting the film's exploration of capitalism and its effect on traditional Japanese culture.

Yubaba is stylistically unique within the bathhouse, wearing a Western dress and living among European décor and furnishings, in contrast with the minimalist Japanese style of her employee's quarters, representing the Western capitalist influence over Japan in its Meiji period and beyond. The Meiji design of the abandoned theme park is the setting for Chihiro's parents' metamorphosis - the family arrives in an imported Audi car and the father wears a European-styled polo shirt, reassuring Chihiro that he has "credit cards and cash", before their morphing into literal consumerist pigs.

Spirited Away contains critical commentary on modern Japanese society concerning generational conflicts and environmental issues. Chihiro has been seen as a representation of the shōjo, whose roles and ideology had changed dramatically since post-war Japan.

Miyazaki has stated:

Chihiro’s parents turning into pigs symbolizes how some humans become greedy. At the very moment Chihiro says there is something odd about this town, her parents turn into pigs. There were people that "turned into pigs" during Japan’s bubble economy (consumer society) of the 1980s, and these people still haven’t realized they’ve become pigs. Once someone becomes a pig, they don’t return to being human but instead gradually start to have the "body and soul of a pig". These people are the ones saying, "We are in a recession and don’t have enough to eat." This doesn’t just apply to the fantasy world. Perhaps this isn’t a coincidence and the food is actually (an analogy for) "a trap to catch lost humans."

Just as Chihiro seeks her past identity, Japan, in its anxiety over the economic downturn occurring during the release of the film in 2001, sought to reconnect to past values. In an interview, Miyazaki has commented on this nostalgic element for an old Japan.

However, the bathhouse of the spirits cannot be seen as a place free of ambiguity and darkness. Many of the employees are rude to Chihiro because she is human, and corruption is ever-present; it is a place of excess and greed, as depicted in the initial appearance of the No-Face. In stark contrast to the simplicity of Chihiro's journey and transformation is the constantly chaotic carnival in the background.

There are two major instances of allusions to environmental issues within the movie. The first is seen when Chihiro is dealing with the "stink spirit." The stink spirit was actually a river spirit, but it was so corrupted with filth that one couldn't tell what it was at first glance. It only became clean again when Chihiro pulled out a huge amount of trash, including car tires, garbage, and a bicycle. This alludes to human pollution of the environment, and how people can carelessly toss away things without thinking of the consequences and of where the trash will go. The second allusion is seen in Haku himself. Haku does not remember his name and lost his past, which is why he is stuck at the bathhouse. Eventually, Chihiro remembers that he used to be the spirit of the Kohaku River, which was destroyed and replaced with apartments. Because of humans' need for development, they destroyed a part of nature, causing Haku to lose his home and identity. This can be compared to deforestation and desertification; humans tear down nature, cause imbalance in the ecosystem, and demolish animals' homes to satisfy their want for more space (housing, malls, stores, etc.) but don't think about how it can affect other living things.

Additional themes are expressed through the No-Face, who reflects the characters which surround him, learning by example and taking the traits of whomever he consumes. This nature results in No-Face's monstrous rampage through the bathhouse. After Chihiro saves No-Face with the emetic dumpling, he becomes timid once more. At the end of the film, Zeniba decides to take care of No-Face so he can develop without the negative influence of the bathhouse.


The Films of Studio Ghibli Trailer



Joe Hisaishi
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Joe Hisaishi
Joe Hisaishi 2011.jpg
Hisaishi in Paris in 2011
Background information
Native name
久石 譲
Birth nameMamoru Fujisawa
BornDecember 6, 1950 (age 68)
Nakano, Nagano, Japan
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Composer
  • conductor
  • arranger
Instruments
Years active1974–present


Mamoru Fujisawa (藤澤 守 Fujisawa Mamoru, born December 6, 1950), known professionally as Joe Hisaishi (久石 譲 Hisaishi Jō), is a Japanese composer and musical director known for over 100 film scores and solo albums dating back to 1981. Hisaishi is also known for his piano scores.

While possessing a stylistically distinct sound, Hisaishi's music has been known to explore and incorporate different genres, including minimalist, experimental electronic, European classical, and Japanese classical. Lesser known are the other musical roles he plays; he is also a typesetter, author, arranger, and conductor.

He has been associated with animator Hayao Miyazaki since 1984, having composed scores for all but one of his films. He is also recognized for the soundtracks he has provided for filmmaker 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano, including A Scene at the Sea (1991), Sonatine (1993), Kids Return (1996), Hana-bi (1997), Kikujiro (1999), and Dolls (2002), as well for the video game series Ni no Kuni. He was a student of legendary anime composer Takeo Watanabe.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Shared Place: Wendell Berry’s Lifelong Dissent


I've been reading through Wendell Berry's early collection of writings on land, work, life, and memory of all things broken, humorous, mended, or sad. Throughout his compositions lie the interwoven threads of redemption picking up the pieces of people's lives, humble as they are. Below is an introduction to Berry who I am only now realizing his voice as that of many other voices dissenting to their present economy of living disparate from nature, each other, and the world at large. For those of us who struggle with our own broken societies and the residual economies they produce let us take heart that we are not alone.

R.E. Slater
September 17, 2019


Illustration by Joe Ciardiello

The Nation

At a time when political conflict runs deep and erects high walls, the Kentucky essayist, novelist, and poet Wendell Berry maintains an arresting mix of admirers. Barack Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal in 2011. The following year, the socialist-feminist writer and editor Sarah Leonard published a friendly interview with him in Dissent. Yet he also gets respectful attention in the pages of The American Conservative and First Things, a right-leaning, traditionalist Christian journal.

More recently, The New Yorker ran an introduction to Berry’s thought distilled from a series of conversations, stretching over several years, with the critic Amanda Petrusich. In these conversations, Berry patiently explains why he doesn’t call himself a socialist or a conservative and recounts the mostly unchanged creed underlying his nearly six decades of writing and activism. Over the years, he has called himself an agrarian, a pacifist, and a Christian—albeit of an eccentric kind. He has written against all forms of violence and destruction—of land, communities, and human beings—and argued that the modern American way of life is a skein of violence. He is an anti-capitalist moralist and a writer of praise for what he admires: the quiet, mostly uncelebrated labor and affection that keep the world whole and might still redeem it. He is also an acerbic critic of what he dislikes, particularly modern individualism, and his emphasis on family and marriage and his ambivalence toward abortion mark him as an outsider to the left.

Berry’s writing is hard to imagine separated from his life as a farmer in a determinedly traditional style, who works the land where his family has lived for many generations using draft horses and hand labor instead of tractors and mechanical harvesters. But the life, like the ideas, crisscrosses worlds without belonging neatly to any of them. Born in 1934 in Henry County, Kentucky, Berry was but the son of a prominent local lawyer and farmer. He spent much of his childhood in the company of people from an older generation who worked the soil: his grandfather, a landowner, and the laborers who worked the family land. His early adulthood was relatively cosmopolitan. After graduating from the University of Kentucky with literary ambitions, he went to Stanford to study under the novelist Wallace Stegner at a time when Ken Kesey, Robert Stone, and Larry McMurtry were also students there. Berry went to Italy and France on a Guggenheim fellowship, then lived in New York, teaching at NYU’s Bronx campus. As he entered his 30s, he returned to Kentucky, setting up a farm in 1965 at Lane’s Landing on the Kentucky River. Although he was a member of the University of Kentucky’s faculty for nearly 20 years over two stints, ending in 1993, his identity has been indelibly that of a writer-farmer dug into his place, someone who has become nationally famous for being local, and developed the image of a timeless sage while joining, sometimes fiercely, in fights against the Vietnam War and the coal industry’s domination of his region.

Now the essays and polemics in which Berry has made his arguments clearest over the last five decades are gathered in two volumes from the Library of America, totaling 1,700 tightly set pages. Seeing his arc in one place highlights both his complexity and his consistency: The voice and preoccupations really do not change, even as the world around him does. But he is also the product of a specific historical moment, the triple disenchantment of liberal white Americans in the 1960s over the country’s racism, militarism, and ecological devastation. In the 50 years since, Berry has sifted and resifted his memory and attachment to the land, looking for resources to support an alternative America—”to affirm,” as he wrote in 1981, “my own life as a thing decent in possibility.” He has concluded that this self-affirmation is not possible in isolation or even on the scale of one’s lifetime, and he has therefore made his writing a vehicle for a reckoning with history and an ethics of social and ecological interdependence.

Berry defined his themes in the years when environmentalism grew into a mass mobilization of dissent, the civil rights movement confronted white Americans afresh with the country’s racial hierarchy and violence, and the Vietnam War joined uncritical patriotism to technocratic destruction—and stirred an anti-war movement against both. He was part of a generation in which many people confronted, as young adults, the ways that comfort and seeming safety in one place could be linked, by a thousand threads and currents, to harm elsewhere—the warm glow of electric lights to strip mining, the deed of a family farm to colonial expropriation and enslavement, the familiar sight of the Stars and Stripes to white supremacy and empire.

Such destructive interconnections became the master theme in his criticism, which portrays American life as a network of violence and exploitation, sometimes openly celebrated but more often concealed. For Berry, as for Thoreau, the work of the critic is to locate where the poisons are dumped and then turn back on oneself and ask: What is my place in all this? Is it possible to live life differently? And if so, how can I begin?


Berry’s most enduring work of nonfiction is The Unsettling of America, published in 1977. There he puts farming at the center of his critique of American life. If you want to ask how people live, he proposes, you should ask how they get their food. This is at once the most ordinary ecological exchange and the most important. It shapes everything from the land to our bodies. It is the place where the land becomes our bodies, and the other way around. And by this measure, Berry continues, American agriculture has proved a disaster. A good farm should renew its soil with diverse cropping and manure, providing fertility for the future. Instead, American farming has become a hybrid of factory production and mining. It strips the soil of its organic fertility and replaces it with synthetic fertilizers, either literally mined (phosphorus) or produced with considerable amounts of fossil fuels (nitrogen). Its waste becomes a pollutant—the manure from industrial-scale animal operations and the fertilizer runoff from corn and soybean monocrops, which poison waterways and aquifers. When farms are turned into dirt-based factories, they lose their power to absorb and store carbon and begin to contribute, like other factories, to climate change.

What does this disaster say about the people who create it? For Berry, American agriculture showed the country’s devotion to a mistaken standard of economic efficiency, which in practice tended to mean corporate profit. Both the market and the federal government confronted farmers with a stark choice: “Get big or get out,” in the words of Earl Butz, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford’s secretary of agriculture and a villain in The Unsettling of America. Success meant squeezing more and more out of the bottom line, no matter how it affected farming communities or the land. It also meant embracing a new scale and pace, with mechanical harvesters, industrial barns, and synthetic chemicals greatly reducing the need for human labor. In 1870, nearly half of American workers were farmers; in 1920, 27 percent were; today, it’s less than 1 percent. Not so long ago, working the land was the major form of life in many communities. Today, it is mostly a branch of industrial management for landowners and a grueling form of labor for seasonal and migrant workers. Far from economic progress, Berry concludes, the unsettling of America produced a cultural and ecological catastrophe. Whole forms of life, whole swaths of ecological diversity, are disappearing.

He goes even further in The Unsettling of America. The destructive transformation of land, culture, and commerce is nothing new; it is merely the latest chapter in the American story—the exploitation and elimination of settled forms of life to make room for new kinds of profit-making. Looking back to the first soldiers and colonists who drove out Native Americans, Berry writes, “These conquerors have fragmented and demolished traditional communities…. They have always said that what they destroyed was outdated, provincial, and contemptible.” The conquest never ended, only changed its targets. It has always maintained a doubly exploitative attitude, toward land as a thing to be seized and mined for profit and toward human labor as a thing to be used up and discarded.

Reviewing The Unsettling of America in The New York Times, the poet Donald Hall called Berry “a prophet of our healing, a utopian poet-legislator like William Blake.” But the poetic utopia was fading fast, and the healing had come too late. Soon Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan would establish themselves as the poet-legislators of the age. Thatcher’s claim that “there is no such thing as society” and Reagan’s praise of “an America in which people can still get rich” were the antithesis of Berry’s thought. In those decades, back-to-the-landers who followed his example in the early 1970s were giving up and returning to city jobs or slipping into a weird rural libertarianism or becoming entrepreneurs who converted agrarian counterculture into the kinds of lifestyle goods and status symbols that end up on display at Whole Foods. The environmental movement was beaten back in Appalachia in the 1970s when the coal industry defeated a campaign to end strip mining, which Berry had thrown himself into wholeheartedly. The defeat set the stage for the destruction of much of the region by mountaintop-removal mining in the decades that followed while inequality grew, young people continued to flee rural counties, and the American economy financialized and globalized on archcapitalist terms.


Since The Unsettling of America appeared, Berry has been straightforwardly and unyieldingly anti-capitalist. He shares a mood with Romantic English socialists like William Morris, who did not assume that all growth is good and who aspired to build an egalitarian future that in some ways looked back to a precapitalist past. These affinities bring many of Berry’s ideas within shouting distance of nostalgia—which, in the American South, has always been a mistake at best and more often a crime.

But the core of his work—both writing and activism—has always been after something else: a reckoning with the wrongs of history and identity. He does not want to celebrate an earlier age; instead, like Morris and his peers, Berry wants to come to terms with it in the service of a clear-eyed present and a changed future. “I am forced, against all my hopes and inclinations,” he writes in “A Native Hill,” a 1969 essay, “to regard the history of my people here as the progress of the doom of what I value most in the world: the life and health of the earth, the peacefulness of human communities and households.” Centered on a walk across a slope where Berry’s ancestors and others like them drove out the original inhabitants, the essay confronts how his people worked the land, sometimes with enslaved labor, and left behind a denuded hillside that has shed topsoil into the Kentucky and Ohio rivers. “And so here, in the place I love more than any other,” he observes, “and where I have chosen among all other places to live my life, I am more painfully divided within myself than I could be in any other place.”

From the beginning, Berry has written the land’s history alongside the history of those who have worked it or been worked on it. When he returned to Kentucky in the mid-1960s, he was already reflecting on how much of the region’s—and his family’s—history was entangled with racial domination. In 1970, he concluded that “the crisis of racial awareness” that had broken into his consciousness was “fated to be the continuing crisis of my life” and that “the reflexes of racism…are embedded in my mind as deeply at least as the language I speak.” Berry argues that the mind could not be changed by will alone but only in relation to the world whose wrongs had distorted it. A writer must respond by engaging with “the destructive forces in his history,” by admitting and addressing the fact that “my people’s errors have become the features of my country.”


Even as Berry made himself a student of the flaws of local life, he sought to refashion its patterns of community and culture into something that might repair them. For him, narrowing the horizons of one’s life is the only responsible way of living, since it is how we might actually heal old wounds, clean up our own mess, and give an honest account of ourselves. Throughout his essays, he makes this case for ecological reasons but also for moral ones. Farming on a local scale, he argues, can respond to the nuances of soil and landscape and can rebuild the fertility cycle of dirt to plant to manure to dirt. Ethics also has its limits of scale. “We are trustworthy only so far as we can see,” he insists. The patterns of care that give ethics life also require a specific space. To hold ourselves accountable, we need a palpable sense of what is sustaining us and what good or harm we are doing in return. Community depends on the sympathy and moral imagination that “thrives on contact, on tangible connection.”

Berry’s judgment that localism is an ecological and moral value links his life and activism with his thought, but over the years his localism has also fostered an anti-political streak in his thinking that recasts global and collective problems as matters of community judgment and personal ethics. He laces his writings with asides dismissing “national schemes of medical aid” and “empty laws” for environmental protection. But local activity can do only so much to stop mountaintop-removal mining or industrial-scale farming. A student of material interdependence cannot ignore that the systems driving these forms of ecological devastation are just as real as the topsoil that Berry lays down on his farm at Lane’s Landing and just as powerful as the floodwaters from the Kentucky River. Politics and collective action—often through local and federal laws—are necessary, however alienating he finds them.

Some of Berry’s wariness of politics comes from his temperament. He is chiefly a moralist and a storyteller. Although he cares intensely about the effects of the economic and political orders that he criticizes, they are not the home ground of his mind in the way a local farm and community are. His wariness regarding politics also reflects something that is easily missed on account of his agrarian persona and perennially untimely style: his debt to the New Left radicalism of the late 1960s. His writing from that time reflects the New Left idea that participatory democracy is the only real democracy. “The time is past when it was enough merely to elect our officials,” he argued in 1972 concerning the fight against strip mining. “We will have to elect them and then go and watch them and keep our hands on them, the way the coal companies do.”

Horror at the Vietnam War shaped his localism as well. In 1969, he wrote of walking on a hillside watching Air Force jets screech into the valley “perfecting deadliness” and concluded, “They do not represent anything I understand as my own or that I identify with…. I am afraid that nothing I value can withstand them. I am unable to believe that what I most hope for can be served by them.”

Berry’s emphasis on place and individual responsibility can become part of the problem in the wrong hands. Back-to-the-land ethics in the 1990s and since have often sagged into a conscious consumerism that forgets participatory politics, inflates individual choices, and offers local knowledge as a status symbol and a commodity rather than a set of traditions worth preserving to prevent even further devastation. By now, calls for individual responsibility—from one’s choice of light bulbs to the search for happiness and meaningful work—are pretty clearly distractions from the lack of political programs to provide living-wage jobs and ecological restoration. A contrarian is least essential when his dogged dissent becomes an era’s lazy common sense; Berry risks becoming, willy-nilly, the philosopher of the Whole Foods meat counter.

At the same time, Berry has never shied from participating in collective action and organized resistance. He has been arrested for protesting the construction of nuclear power plants and risked arrest protesting surface mining. In 2009, he withdrew his papers from the University of Kentucky after it accepted coal money and has devoted recent years to working with his daughter, Mary Berry, to build a center to train young farmers in local practices that might resist the corporatization of agriculture. Growing up on the edge of Appalachian activist circles, I heard of him as someone who showed up—a good citizen. But it may be that the burden of his thought is a pessimism of the global intellect, married to joy (if not exactly optimism) in local work. In Wendell Berry’s view, we are caught in a powerfully warped world, and nothing of our making is likely to save us. The beauty is the struggle or, in his case, the rhythmic and seasonal labor. Indeed, the joy of work is near the center of his thinking. Our wealth is in our activity, he argues, but it is fatuous to “do what you love.” The point instead should be to make an economy, at whatever scale is possible, whose work deserves the affection of whoever joins in it.


In this respect, his local focus is not narrow but expansive. In the work of a farm and the ties of a region, he finds the materials for a theory of political economy. Like Pope Francis in the ecological tract Laudato Si’, and also like many contemporary socialists, Berry has long argued that the moral and material meaning of an economy must be two parts of the same thing. Our political economy shapes our intimate attachments, and vice versa. The personal is political, and our hearts follow our treasure. This twinned understanding of environment and economy, of personal and public life, is part of why he can appeal both to those who believe that the American ordering of political and economic power needs fundamental reconstruction and to those who believe that the values of individualism, mobility, and self-creation have led to a cultural blind alley.

Berry’s affirmative vision of interdependence finds expression in an ideal of marriage that runs through his thinking. For him, marriage is a chosen limit, a self-bounding, that helps to support and dignify all the other limits he recommends: restraint from violence, from conquest, from unchecked acquisition or the vanity of progress. It is also an expression of an intentional community, of a deliberate bonding of souls, and he describes it as being “as good an example as we can find of the responsible use of energy” and, more fulsomely, “the sexual feast and celebration that joins [the couple] to all living things and to the fertility of the earth.” In The Unsettling of America, the ideal farmscape that Berry imagines is filled with marriages on this model.

This moralizing of the most traditional relationship, along with the emphasis on localism, is part of the reason that Berry’s writing appeals to conservatives as well as progressives. But he does not defend the traditional marriage of the 20th-century nuclear household. His ideal of a union of shared work in a shared place is at once more anachronistic and more radical than that. Repudiating the right’s understanding of marriage, he argued in 2015 that the Constitution and political decency require opening marriage to same-sex couples without qualification. Speaking from his Christian tradition, he warns his coreligionists against “condemnation by category” (which he calls “the lowest form of hatred”) and “the autoerotic pleasure of despising other members” of creation.

His ideal of marriage also extends far beyond two people. It is suggestive of his larger commitment to making things whole, to imagining a good society as a great chain of being that links people and households and the earth into a single pattern. Through this image of wholeness, Berry asks moral and ecological questions in ways that conjoin what is often held apart: What harm am I involved in? What change in life could possibly redress it?

Berry’s visions of wholeness, however, can leave too little room for the thought that not all human and nonhuman goods can come into harmony, that conflict among them can be productive and a reason to prize individuality and strangeness—say, to honor a queer marriage not just because it is a marriage but also because it is queer. His passion for wholeness draws him toward the anachronistic margins of the present—the Amish, for instance, whose self-bounded form of community he admires—and dampens his interest in the radically new versions of ecological and social life that might be emerging on other margins. His wholeness is not the only wholeness, though he sometimes writes as if it were. He is, on the one hand, reconstructing his own Christian, border-state, mainly white history as one basis for “a life decent in possibility” and, on the other hand, trying to describe the general conditions for any others to live a responsible life. When his project is candidly idiosyncratic, then others may find in it some prompting for their own reconstruction, with their own equally particular inherited materials. But when Berry generalizes too hastily from what is particularly his own, his thought, ironically, can become provincial.


When I became a writer, it was probably inevitable that I would take some kind of instruction from Wendell Berry. He was the first writer I ever met, by more than a decade. I was introduced to him at a draft horse auction in Ohio sometime before I learned to read. When I did begin to read him, I found someone who had made a life’s work out of materials I had, at that time, known my whole life. He too came from steep, eroded slopes, farmed wastefully; he too worked in hay fields and barns that left the body scratched, sore, soaked in sweat, delighted; he too admired the knowledge of old people who could make a meal of wild mushrooms, some roadside greens, and a swiftly dispatched chicken. I still carry with me many of the values that Berry praises as essential, but much of what he has evoked as a life decent in possibility is far away. At present, I live in New York City and have not dedicated my life to the fertility of the land I first knew or to any one lifelong community. I love a city of strangers, whose random sociability and surprising acts of helpfulness model a very different picture of interdependence from Berry’s.

This sense of distance from him is particularly acute when it comes to abortion. Several times over the past year, I almost abandoned this essay because of Berry’s view of it. He believes that abortion takes a life; I believe the right to it is essential to women’s autonomy and egalitarian relationships. I see it as central to the vision of humane fairness that is reproductive justice and view reproductive justice as closely linked with ecological justice. Both are about a decent way for humans to go on within the larger living world. This is my version of wholeness, but it is not Berry’s, and over the years I have struggled to reconcile his views on abortion with the parts of his work that I find indispensable. Unlike his localism or his skepticism of politics, which I do not share but seem honorable expressions of important traditions, his views on abortion pull me up short. With the stakes for women’s lives so high right now, they do so even more.

Berry’s writings on reproductive justice contain an important caveat: He does not believe abortion should be the decision of the state, and he has argued that for this reason, “there should be no law either for or against abortion.” This cannot be a complete answer, and imagining it could be is a token of his distance from modern politics. Take Medicaid and the heavily regulated private insurance industry. Must they cover abortion? May they not? The question is not avoidable, and it is political as well as personal. In answering these questions, there is no such thing as the silence of the law.

Still, Berry’s stance means that all bans on performing abortion should be rejected. This is a position that falls well to the left of anything the Supreme Court has said on the matter. Nonetheless, many readers would not remotely recognize their experience in his description of the procedure as a “tragic choice” and might mistrust his judgment on other matters because of his insistence on his opinion here.


Throughout his work, Berry likes to iron out paradoxes in favor of building a unified vision, but he is himself a bundle of paradoxes, some more generative than others. A defender of community and tradition, he has been an idiosyncratic outsider his whole life, a sharp critic of both the mainstream of power and wealth and the self-styled traditionalists of the religious and cultural right. A stylist with an air of timelessness, he is in essential ways a product of the late 1960s and early ’70s, with their blend of political radicalism and ecological holism. An advocate of the commonplace against aesthetic and academic conceits, he has led his life as a richly memorialized and deeply literary adventure. Like Thoreau, Berry invites dismissive misreading as a sentimentalist, an egotist, or a scold. Like Thoreau, he is interested in the integrity of language, the quality of experience—what are the ways that one can know a place, encounter a terrain?—and above all, the question of how much scrutiny an American life can take.

All of Berry’s essays serve as documents of the bewildering destruction in which our everyday lives involve us and as a testament to those qualities in people and traditions that resist the destruction. As the economic order becomes more harrying and abstract, a politics of place is emerging in response, much of it a genuine effort to understand the ecological and historical legacies of regions in the ways that Berry has recommended. This politics is present from Durham, North Carolina, where you can study the legacy of tobacco and slavery on the Piedmont soils and stand where locals took down a Confederate statue in a guerrilla action in 2017, to New York City, where activists have built up community land trusts for affordable housing and scientists have reconstructed the deep environmental history of the country’s most densely developed region. But few of the activists and scholars involved in this politics would think of themselves as turning away from the international or the global. They are more likely to see climate change, migration, and technology as stitching together the local and global in ways that must be part of the rebuilding and enriching of community.

The global hypercapitalism that Berry denounces has involved life—human and otherwise—in a world-historical gamble concerning the effects of indefinite growth, innovation, and competition. Most of us are not the gamblers; we are the stakes. He reminds us that this gamble repeats an old pattern of mistakes and crimes: hubris and conquest, the idea that the world is here for human convenience, and the willingness of the powerful to take as much as they can. For most of his life, Berry has written as a kind of elegist, detailing the tragic path that we have taken and recalling other paths now mostly fading. In various ways, young agrarians, socialists, and other radicals now sound his themes, denouncing extractive capitalism and calling for new and renewed ways of honoring work—our own and what the writer Alyssa Battistoni calls the “work of nature.” They also insist on the need to engage political power to shape a future, not just with local work but on national and global scales. They dare to demand what he has tended to relinquish. If these strands of resistance and reconstruction persist, even prevail, Wendell Berry’s lifelong dissent—stubborn, sometimes maddening, not quite like anything else of its era—will deserve a place in our memory.


*Jedediah Britton-PurdyJedediah Britton-Purdy teaches at Columbia Law School. His new book, This Land Is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth, will appear this fall.