Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Wendell Berry: The Cranky Farmer, Poet and Essayist You Just Can't Ignore


Wendell Berry reads one of his poems from at the 2014 Festival of Faiths. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)


Wendell Berry: the cranky farmer, poet
and essayist you just can’t ignore

by James T. Keane
December 07, 2021


A writing project for America’s Advent reflection series last week gave me occasion to revisit a favorite poem (“IX”) by an author who knows more than most about seasons, both liturgical and agricultural: Wendell Berry. Now 87 years old, this man of many labels (Is he a farmer? A novelist? An environmental activist? An essayist? A poet? A cultural critic? A cranky old professor? A Christian prophet?) has been a voice of practical reason and concise cultural commentary in his more than 80 books published over six decades.

My own first encounter with Wendell Berry’s writings was not through his poetry, but his essays. It came in college, when a philosophy professor (now retired, he recently ran for governor of California; philosophy professors rule) assigned Another Turn of the Crank, Berry’s book of five essays on the global economy, health care, forest preservation, private property and wealth and ecology. In a 1995 review for America, Patrick Samway, S.J., wrote that “all of these essays address the mind and heart with the same forcefulness and clarity as the writings of Annie Dillard, Henry David Thoreau or Wallace Stegner.” To that august list I think I would add distributists like Peter Maurin and G. K. Chesterton and early Garry Wills (included here mostly so I could write “early Garry Wills”), but at the time my college-student reaction was a simple one: Did Wendell Berry just leap off the page and hit me over the head with a fencepost?

"My reaction was a simple one: Did Wendell Berry just leap off the page and hit me over the head with a fencepost?"

The writing was lyrical but commonsensical and practical. Berry, who had returned decades before to the farming life of his childhood and was an advocate for time-tested agrarian living, drove home the point that the United States had been built on certain principles - 
respect for the land, shared small communities and economies, the handing down of tried and true traditions and lifestyles, an assumption that a life of faith was a natural one, a management of resources that allowed for seasonal cycles
- that were all being abandoned, sacrificed to the gods of technological innovation, individualism, commercialism and unfettered capitalism.

I argued in my final paper for the class that Berry was right, but his solution was wrong: The only solution was Christian Marxism. (Can it be there was only one year I was 21? It must have been a long one then.) In sharp, practical prose reminiscent of Berry himself, the professor tore my essay apart. But I still remember the book well.

If you ask Berry’s many fans, that slim volume isn’t usually among their favorites. Berry first made his bones with his poetic works of the 1960s and 1970s, like The Broken Ground (1964), and many environmentalists and distributists hold dear his 1977 collection of essays, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. His novels—the first, Nathan Coulter, was published in 1960—have their own fans, and you can usually find them gravitating toward his “Port William novels” like Hannah Coulter (2004) or Jayber Crow (2000). (Keep your ears peeled next time you’re at the farmer’s market—one chance in 12 that guy selling you homemade mead named his son Jayber.)

"Keep your ears peeled next time you’re at the farmer’s market—one chance in 12 that guy selling you homemade mead named his son Jayber."

In a 2019 review for America of What I Stand On, a husky two-volume anthology of Berry’s writing edited by Jack Shoemaker, Jon Sweeney identified exactly when he became a Wendell Berry enthusiast: at the age of 16. The owner of a bookstore in the suburbs of Chicago that Sweeney haunted as a teenager gave him two of Berry’s books, The Wheel (a book of poems) and Recollected Essays, and said “I think you should get to know this author.” Sweeney did her one better, becoming so obsessed with Berry’s writings that he decided a few years later to undertake an impromptu pilgrimage to Berry’s farm in Port Royal, Ky. Alas, Berry wasn’t home, but it didn’t dampen Sweeney’s enthusiasm for his writings.


  


“There is always movement in Wendell Berry’s sentences. He writes about what he has experienced, what he has learned, and always with humility for what he does not know. The natural world is his primary teacher: its rhythms, its largesse, its mysteries,” Sweeney wrote:

“And in the essays, the natural world often reflects how change in humans is also natural, inexplicable and possible. I think this is what many who love his writing appreciate most about Berry, whether they realize it or not. For his Christian readers, this becomes an expansion of what we understand as conversion.”

The focus on conversion can seem a bit ironic in Berry’s case, because at first glance he doesn’t seem to be much of a fan of change in general. “He frequently questions society’s attempts to improve things, modernize or make ways of living more efficient. Those words—improve, modernize, efficient—might as well be in quotation marks whenever they appear in a Berry essay. He doubts them consistently,” Sweeney continued.

There were moments in the anthology where Berry made Sweeney’s hackles rise: “He is not always right. Any essayist worth reading will anger and annoy you from time to time. Berry can be cranky.” On the other hand, “his wisdom, and his call to better habits, is too essential. To ignore Wendell Berry is like trying to ignore your grandmother: You just can’t.”

“There is always movement in Wendell Berry’s sentences. He writes about what he has experienced, what he has learned, and always with humility for what he does not know."

Two years before Sweeney’s review, Anna Keating wrote a review for America on Laura Dunn’s new documentary, “Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.” In the film, an 83-year-old Berry “reads his essays in a Southern drawl over images of his working farm, the land he and his family have cultivated in Kentucky for five generations. He and his wife returned to this land after graduate school, in search of home and sense of place or, as William Faulkner once called it, ‘significant soil,’” Keating wrote.

The filmmakers never interview Berry on camera; rather, they try to take viewers into Berry’s world: “You hear the sound of footsteps as an unseen person walks through the hills or around the farm. You get to know some of the people Berry loves: his wife and collaborator, Tanya, his daughter, Mary, and his fellow farmers, both industrial, subsistence and organic.”

Berry, Keating wrote, “is an advocate of small farms, rural communities and Judeo-Christian values like kindness, all of which have been harmed by ‘get big or get out’ industrial agriculture. His life and work bear witness to the fact that it is never Christian to say, ‘I can do whatever I want with my own land’ or ‘my own body.’ We are stewards, not owners. What’s more, the attitude of ‘I can do whatever I want’ is toxic to earth and water, family and community.”

Keating owns a small business with her husband, and has a particular interest both in Catholic social teaching and in distributist writers, including the aforementioned Chesterton and Maurin but also Hilaire Belloc and Dorothy Day. She defined distributism as a way of thinking that “seeks to unite what has been separated, labor and capital, through the ownership of small businesses and farms or through the ownership of tools and a trade or through participation in a guild, so that wealth is not consolidated in the hands of a few wealthy individuals (capitalism) or in the hands of the state (socialism).” She found that the life Wendell Berry has created and the views he espouses “both are in line with this vision and can prove helpful to Catholics, serving as an antidote to the many ills of our time.”

There’s plenty more in the America archives on Wendell Berry, including this 2009 appreciation by fellow writer-farmer Kyle T. Kramer and this 2017 interview by Sean Salai of Berry’s daughter Mary, the executive director of the Berry Center in New Castle, Ky., a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the legacy of her father.

"His life and work bear witness to the fact that it is never Christian to say, ‘I can do whatever I want with my own land’ or ‘my own body.’ We are stewards, not owners."

 - James T. Keane, Senior Editor at America




The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry - Movie Clip
May 25, 2016




#MSPIFF: Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry
Mar 30, 2017




A Present Day Iteration of the Producer's Program
Sep 27, 2016





https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2335444/




A Timbered Choir
by Wendell Berry

Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.

I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever forward
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.

Their passing had obliterated the graves and the monuments
of those who had died in pursuit of the objective
and who had long ago forever been forgotten, according
to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten forget
that they have forgotten. Men, women, and children now pursued the objective
as if nobody ever had pursued it before.

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, which was the destruction of all enemies,
which was the destruction of all obstacles, which was the destruction of all objects,
which was to clear the way to victory, which was to clear the way to promotion, to salvation, to progress,
to the completed sale, to the signature
on the contract, which was to clear the way
to self-realization, to self-creation, from which nobody who ever wanted to go home
would ever get there now, for every remembered place
had been displaced; the signposts had been bent to the ground and covered over.

Every place had been displaced, every love
unloved, every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless
with their many eyes opened toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.

Wendell Berry