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Knowing Your Place

The wisdom of becoming deeply rooted in one community.
2009This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.
Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader's Guide
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Book Title
Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader's Guide
Brazos Press
Release Date
December 1, 2008
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The current economic crisis provides the perfect moment for J. Matthew Bonzo and Michael Stevens to draw our attention to a Kentucky farmer and writer in Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader's Guide (Brazos Press). Since the 1960s, Berry has been pointing out where we are headed—and where we could choose to go instead. A creature of neither the Left nor Right, he combines a critique of the corporate mania for growth at any cost with an essentially conservative commitment to the "preservation of tradition and rootedness."

In Berry's world, the modern ideal of depending on government or corporations is replaced with the acknowledgement that we depend on our neighbors and the world around us—both vulnerable communities we must protect and nurture rather than use up. According to Berry, the true remedy for our consumerist troubles, from global warming to endemic divorce, lies "in the possibility of settled families and local communities, in which the knowledge of proper means and methods, proper moderations and restraints, can be handed down, and so accumulate in time and place and stay live; the experience of one generation is not adequate to inform and control its actions."

Bonzo and Stevens, professors at Cornerstone University, answer a question that's long troubled me: What can this commitment to place and community mean for those not living in an agrarian countryside? Are there institutions that can serve as substitutes? The authors think so: "the flourishing of placed and peopled churches within local cultures."

By flourishing, they mean the opposite of the wild growth of placeless megachurches. They mean churches like the ones they belong to, ...

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