Friday, May 05, 2006

Post 100: Wendell Berry

It is fitting that the 100th post on my blog is about the Kentucky poet, author, and farmer, Wendell Berry.

I first starting reading Wendell while I was at Westminster Theological Seminary; and I became so convinced of his importance for Christians--both for how he challenges pietistic Christianity and for how theological his vision is--that I wrote an essay on him for Christian Scholars Review. That essay served as an introduction to Wendell and Tanya Berry and it was my great privilege to meet and spend time with them. The Lord even allowed me to preach a couple of times at Port Royal Baptist Church, Port Royal, Kentucky, where they worship.

The other day, I ran across this tremendous collection of links for Berry material on the internet. Sometimes people who are interested in reading Wendell feel intimated by his large and varied corpus of writings. I usually suggest a couple of starting places.

In order to orient to the Port William membership--the central characters in most of Wendell's fiction--I think the best starting point is his novel, Jayber Crow. Jayber is the town barber, and like most barbers, he learns the secrets and heartbreaks of the community as he tells its story from the 1930s to the 1960s. The other good starting point is Wendell's collection of short stories, That Distant Land, which places his short stories in chronological order.

In order to focus on Berry's non-fiction, and explore the key ideas that animate his fictive imagination, I think the best place to begin is Art of the Commonplace, which are a collection of essay by Berry edited by Norman Wrizba, who teaches at Georgetown College. There one would find essays on Wendell's diagnosis of our cultural crisis and how agrarianism can meet many of these issues.

Finally, the classic Berry manifesto is still his The Unsettling of America. Written in 1977, it remains a pentrating critique of America's industrial and post-industrial economic and political culture. He also traces the deep connections between culture and agriculture, suggesting that a society that fails to care for the land is a society that will fail to care for human beings and life itsself.

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