IT BEGINS WITH SPEED, the red flash of taillights in the night, the illuminated city bright against the dark. Over the images we hear a voice, resonant in its drawl as the images move to decimated mountains, poisoned streams, and rushing city crowds. The landscapes are swallowed by machines, the people lost to their digital devices as the voice offers a poem about a nightmare where all is sacrificed for an abstract “Objective.” On-screen we are seeing that nightmare, and it looks very much like our daily lives.
The speaker is Wendell Berry, the poet, farmer, and prophet who has been among America’s most sustained voices for the created world and the people and places that are among its members. Many of those who have read Berry say he changed their lives, but even though he has published more than 50 books and won literary accolades, including a National Humanities Medal given to him by President Obama, Berry is not particularly well known in many circles. It was that widespread lack of familiarity with Berry and the urgent goodness of his vision that prompted filmmaker Laura Dunn to create her latest film, Look and See.
An Enduring Voice
Theologian of Resistance: The Life and Thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, by Christiane Tietz, is an accessible and compact biography of this German theologian, executed by the Nazis, whose writings on Christian community, resistance, and conscience hold continuing power in our times. Fortress Press
Deidra Riggs explores God’s call to love in a way that crosses all divisions (even race and political affiliation) in One: United in a Divided World. She reflects on the aftermath of police shootings of black men as well as the fissures in everyday life. BakerBooks
Song and Poetry
The two-volume Celebrating Wendell Berry in Music features essayist, poet, and farmer Berry reading his work, music by Grammy-nominated bluesman Eric Bibb, and choral and art song settings by composer Andrew Maxfield based on Berry’s work. Volume 2, All the Earth Shall Sing, was recently released.
We Gon’ Be Alright
Stakes Is High: Race, Faith, and Hope for America is a collection of essays by A.M.E. pastor, Huffington Post contributor, and social commentator Michael W. Waters. He is both blunt and lyrical as he meditates on police violence, racism, hip-hop, and the power of faith. Chalice Press
WE LURCH FROM ecological crisis to crisis, all of them real: So far this year we’ve seen the sickening collapse of much of the Pacific’s coral in a 10-month blitz of hot ocean water; we’ve watched a city of 90,000 evacuated ahead of a forest fire so big it was creating its own weather; and we’ve witnessed the earliest onset of widespread Arctic melting ever recorded. And so on.
All of these need urgent responses—the fire company has to report for duty. So it’s been sweet to see activists doing civil disobedience on an unprecedented scale around the world and increasingly putting the fossil fuel industry on the defensive. We’ve got to turn the tide soon.
But “soon” and “urgent” and “emergency” are words that can blind us as well—keep us from seeing the deep roots of problems and solutions. So it is a very good thing that we have some folks who don’t scare easily. I’m thinking in particular of Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry, who keep patiently pushing the most deeply (and literally) rooted piece of legislation I know of, the 50-year Farm Bill.
The Kansas geneticist and farmer, and the Kentucky writer and farmer, begin with the premise that roots are important. Our industrial agriculture has plowed up the perennial crops that once covered the continent (and the planet) and replaced them with high-yielding annuals. All that wheat and corn feed us cheaply—and lead to dead, eroding soils that, among other things, can’t soak up much in the way of carbon. So Jackson, at his Land Institute, has spent the last decades crossing annual and perennial crops. The goal is nothing less than grains you don’t need to replant every year—grains that will grow deep, tangled roots into the prairie soil, feeding us and restoring a desperately needed balance.
The Berry family has lived in these parts for nine generations. While pursuing a prolific writing career, Berry never stopped caring for the land of his ancestors. Now, the 81-year-old writer wants to pass on his family’s farming legacy to a new generation. He decided against teaming up with a large university agricultural program, and instead selected a small Catholic liberal arts college about an hour’s drive from Louisville, run by the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
“We can’t just blame it on the brokenness of the world, pray for peace, and move on, worried that anything more will be seen as politicizing tragedy. What is tragic is that those who have the ability to DO something about this crisis refuse to offer more than simplistic sentiments on Twitter before getting caught in a circular argument about our rights as Americans. It’s time for people of faith to respond.”
Because: NRA. “Researchers from federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have largely been mum on the public health issue of gun violence — not by choice, but because of a 20-year-old congressional ban on federally funded gun violence research.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday that the city would release dashcam footage of a Chicago police officer shooting 25-year-old Ronald Johnson III in the back. The shooting happened eight days before officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Actual tweet: "I just learned there is a Black version of 'The Wizard of Oz' called 'The Wiz.' How is this not racist?" Oy.
It was five years ago now. I had recently finished a few week stay in the ICU, more than two months in the hospital, and more than one conversation between my parents and doctors about whether I would pull through. Still, I had made it, and after several months of regular home nurse visits, fentanyl patches, dilaudid pills, and 12 hours a day on an IV for liquid and nutrition, I was stable but still far from recovered.
The Saturday before Easter was sunny and unseasonably but appropriately warm. My mother and I took a walk outside, over a mile, the furthest I had gone in nearly five months.
“Wouldn’t it be poetic,” I asked, “If suddenly this whole illness, everything that went wrong in the hospital, all made sense tomorrow on Easter?”
“Hunny,” my mom responded kindly, “I think that’s a lot of pressure to put on the pastor. Don’t you?”
The next day was seasonably and appropriately repetitious. I heard nothing new. The same Easter story that had been read for centuries on centuries was read again. I received no specialized message from the divine about my own pain and struggle. That morning, I realized that might be the point.
Jesus came to make resurrection mundane.
“There is nothing quite like the African bush to sooth and rejuvenate.” That experience was conveyed to me by a South African church leader who has been helping plan the speaking tour I just arrived for here in this beloved country.
My wife, Joy, and I decided to use this wonderful speaking invitation to South Africa as an opportunity to take our annual August family vacation here. We arrived for a week of rest before the tour began and spent a few beautiful days on the lovely beaches of the Indian Ocean, still warm even for this end-of-winter period. But then the last two days, our Washington, D.C.-based family did something we have never done before — visited the game park and wetland reserve to see some of God’s most extraordinary creatures. Of course we’ve seen these animals in zoos before, but we now had the opportunity to see them roam freely in their natural habitat. For a bunch of city kids like us, it was truly amazing.
In Hluhluwe Game Reserve, beautiful zebras slowly grazed with a South African sunset behind them over the mountains. There are no more graceful creatures than giraffes, elegantly tasting the leaves on the tallest trees as they wander together at peace. Buffalos with great horns shared the terrain with antelopes that showed us their speed when they decided to run. And hyenas really do laugh off in the distance.
Russell Moore, the new chief ethicist for the Southern Baptist Convention, has Jesus in his heart, Wendell Berry on his bookshelf, and Merle Haggard on his iPod.
His first few weeks in office have been a kind of baptism by fire.
The 41-year-old Moore took over as president of the Nashville, Tenn.-based Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on June 1, just as prominent Southern Baptists were calling for a boycott of the Boy Scouts. Then came the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which landed Moore in the spotlight as an opponent of same-sex marriage.
On Monday evening Wendell Berry delivered the 41st annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, sponsored by the National Endowment of the Humanities, at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. According to the NEH, this is “the most prestigious honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.”
In front of hundreds, Berry took his place among former recipients (Walker Percy, Toni Morrison, Arthur Miller, John Updike, and many others) to deliver a resonating essay on the beauty of place, imagination, and pleasure, titled “It All Turns on Affection.” The title hinges on E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel Howards End, which Berry said, takes some of its thrust as a “manifesto against materialism.”
I'm getting arrested on Aug. 29 at the White House. It's time to put my body where my soul is -- defending God's creation.
A interreligious contingent has chosen Aug. 29 as our arrest day. Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others will train together on Aug. 28 and then worship and risk arrest together on Aug. 29.
This is part of a two-week campaign (Aug. 20-Sept. 3) in which leading environmentalists including Wendell Berry, Naomi Klein, and Bill McKibben will join a peaceful campaign of civil disobedience to block the approval of a dirty oil pipeline that will cross the United States. As one Canadian wrote, "This [pipeline] will make the Great Wall of China look like Tom Sawyer's picket fence." Bill McKibben explained further in an earlier blog on God's Politics: