Not many people in the UK will have heard of WENDELL BERRY, farmer, poet, novelist and ecologist. He is a very American character and somewhat more famous there, although his persistent opposition to most USA policies, domestic and foreign, has not endeared him to conventional patriots.
He is now an old man, but still farming in Kentucky, where he was born. His writing includes a linked set of novels about life in an imaginary US town; many books of poems, all accessible to the average reader, especially his Sabbath Poems, and collections of his incisive essays on farming, ecology, violence, peacemaking and above all, kindness to people, animals and the land.
He is available in the UK from most good book suppliers, and can be found in Kindle and Google Play.
I am appreciative of him because a) he is opposed to the destruction of human beings and their environment by technologies of violence, and b) because is is a very practical theologian. He has said of himself, with a sense of surprise as he lives in one the most religious nations in the world, “I am a man who takes the gospel seriously.”
Like Karl Marx he sees the history of capitalism since the industrial revolution as an explosion of new technologies used in order to make wealth for their owners without much concern for others or the natural world. Unlike Marx, he sees many of these technologies as intrinsically violent, demanding the tearing apart of the earth for power to run them, damaging the bodies, minds and souls of the human beings who tend them, and obliterating the kinds of rural communities which existed in the past. It is true that he tends to idealise these historic communities in ways that would be unlikely in a reader of say, John Galt’s novels or indeed of the Kirk Session minutes of any 18th century parish in Scotland.
His concern is for what he calls kindness, that is, treating our neighbours and environment as kin, which becomes almost impossible if we do not know our neighbours, as is frequently the case in both rural and urban Scotland, and never settle long enough to call any landscape or cityscape our own. The pervasive unkindness of modern life, from the driver who threw his half- eaten Big Mac on to the street in front of my house yesterday, to the scattering of millions of booby- trapped explosives in war zones, reveals to Berry what can happen when neither people nor land are recognised as any kin to us. He has fought a long and good-tempered battle against all forms of endemic violence by his writing, lecturing, demonstrating, and not least, he thinks, by his farming.
He is also an old-fashioned moralist, holding to many traditional Christian commandments; he affirms marriage, neighbourliness, humility, gratitude, courtesy and grace. He is opposed to abortion ( though he would not legislate against it) pornography, most TV, most internet, wealth and ostentation, speed and noise. He loves the sabbath rest and has written several beautiful series of poems in celebration of it. Perhaps he sounds like a cranky old bugger, but that’s because he believes above all that any belief is without value unless it is practised by individual people in individual places, including by himself and in his farm. He interprets Jesus ‘ command to take no thought for the morrow as reminding people that the kingdom starts today.
Along with others, however, he is sponsoring ” the fifty-year farming bill” because he thinks that in order to get a viable environment for crops and animals in fifty years time, we have to start now with the most rigorous laws against wanton destruction and pollution.
In the end he believes that nothing is good unless it is done with love.
His latest book of essays is “Our Only World”
His latest collection of poems is “This Day, Sabbath poems collected and new”
These are available in paperback or in Kindle/ Google
It may be that another cranky person, Desperate Dan, also comes originally from Kentucky.