I’m thankful for Wendell Berry.
It seems all my favorite books quote his poetry liberally. I’ve even wrestled with a number of his poems myself. I’ve been challenged. My faith in the gospel has been stretched. My anger at injustice and folly has been kindled. And – whether he intended to or not – he’s exposed me for the fraud that I am.
On a superficial level, there are a few similarities, Berry and me. We both left the epicenter of American consumption for insignificant little organic farms. It seems we share the same nightmare of the consumerist destruction of all things good and beautiful. We have each been led away in handcuffs for overstaying our welcome with powerful men. I think we both cling to the gospel of Christ, but recoil in shame at the culture that loudly claims his name.
But for me, I look for solutions in big things. I desperately want national, even global, action to address the climate crisis. I see the crying need for Christians to get off the fence, and demand action now for responsible climate policies. I don’t have time for anything that won’t work, and work fast. The more furiously I run, the less time I have for the small piece of ground that has been entrusted to me. And given how few things will actually work in our broken democracy, I am prone to despair.
I suspect Berry wrestles with despair too. But he’s found a way to be faithful in small things: the Kentucky River’s polluted waters, Eastern Kentucky’s coal-devastated mountains and streams, poisoned willows and birds. Why not focus on the big things that work? How can caring for a small farm really succeed in the fight to preserve the creation for its Maker and his creatures?
“We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not,” says Berry. “The only question we have a right to ask is what’s the right thing to do? What does this earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?”
That quote comes from Berry’s recent interview with Bill Moyers. Berry doesn’t do a lot of interviews, but Moyer sat him down for forty minutes, and the video is thrilling to me. Here’s a one-minute trailer for the show:
If that looks interesting, consider watching the whole thing. But look out. I don’t believe you’ll come away unchanged, and not everyone will go for that. Here’s the entire show. It’s more than worth the time, in my book:
And in case you’re reading on, here are a few snippets I thought worth highlighting:
- You know, you’re waiting for the day when some politician of stature and visibility will finally say, we can’t have this any longer, we’re here in Washington or Frankfort to represent the people, not to be employed or bought by the corporations and to serve them.
- It’s an article of my faith and belief that all creatures live by breathing God’s breath and participating in his spirit. And this means that the whole thing is holy. The whole shooting match. There are no sacred and unsacred places. There are only sacred and desecrated places. So finally I see those gouges in the surface mine country as desecrations, not just as land abuse. Not just as human oppression, but as desecration. As blasphemy.
- This is the dreadful situation that young people are in. I think of them and I say well, the situation you’re in now is a situation that’s going to call for a lot of patience. And to be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial.
- Agriculture as we are now practicing it involves a highly destructive ratio between people and land. More and more land is being used, and used fairly destructively by fewer and fewer people; used destructively because the fewness of the people implies and requires a dependence on more and more mechanical power and more and more toxic chemicals.
- It’s wrong for people to mistreat fellow creatures. To use them inconsiderately and cruelly. Let me say that there is an inescapable cruelty involved in our life. We have to live at the expense of other creatures. Doesn’t make any difference how vegetarian we are, we’re still displacing other creatures. But the rule in using other creatures – and I mean plants and animals – is to use them with the minimum of violence.
- The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them? Tell them at least what you say to yourself. Because we have not made our lives to fit our places, the forests are ruined; the fields, eroded; the streams, polluted; the mountains, overturned. Hope then to belong to your place by your own knowledge of what it is that no other place is, and by your caring for it, as you care for no other place… (from A Poem of Hope)
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.