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Why Urban Christians Need Wendell Berry

Why Urban Christians Need Wendell Berry

What could the agrarian essayist who still uses a typewriter teach Christians in city centers? You'd be surprised.

Berry has changed the way I see my home. The landscape became more beautiful. Now I can drive 15 minutes down Highway 77 toward Crete, passing farms and what's left of the prairie, and the scene shoots straight through me. I can go on walks and feel the gusting winds off the Great Plains and welcome them with "unconsecrated relish," to borrow a phrase from Berry. The gospel of Christ alone changes hearts, but God works through many means in his creation. And one of the mightiest means through which he's done deep soul work in my life is through Berry.

Moreover, that love becomes contagious. Recently my wife and I, along with our pastor and his wife, hosted a local foods dinner with a few people from church. Each of us prepared a dish using locally sourced ingredients and, before we ate, told the rest of the group about what we had brought, where we got the ingredients, and how we made it. The night that followed was divine as a small group of people circled around one of God's most basic gifts and gave ourselves utterly to enjoying it. We're now talking with other church members about making these dinners a regular occurrence. And all of this goes back to a fictional town of a hundred-odd people somewhere in Kentucky.

What can Port William have to do with Portland? It depends on your meaning. If you're looking for practical discussions about best strategies for urban planning, not so much. But if you're talking about the most basic and visceral of Christian needs, then the answer is a great deal. The movement among evangelicals to revitalize urban areas with the Gospel will be successful to the extent that evangelicals themselves are enchanted by the God of that gospel and the world he has given us to both steward and enjoy. And for learning to become enchanted, I haven't found a more helpful teacher than Wendell Berry.

Jake Meador blogs at Notes From a Small Place.


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Displaying 4–8 of 13 comments

Christian Man

October 25, 2012  5:15pm

...These are relatively small, common, piecemeal acts--and indeed, it is on that fine-grained level that much of Berry's work focuses. Therefore he has many things to say to those of us who live in cities. To mark him as "N/A" for urban evangelicalism is a little like saying evangelicalism has nothing to learn from Catholicism. Only a superficial comparison would lead you to dismiss the wisdom of that religion altogether. (2/2)

Christian Man

October 25, 2012  5:13pm

Mr. Meader, you could have dug much deeper. Community,ecology, sex, family--there are so many issues Berry has written on that are of import for life, urban, rural or somewhere in between. Naturally his writings on agriculture have limited practical adaptation to lived urban experience, and I certainly think he says some misguided things, but then again the lives of urban evangelicals are obviously complex, and not defined only by their being urban. So, a more complex treatment of the question, "What good is Berry for urban evangelicals?" might consider how an agrarian cultural vision affects political activism (i.e., petitioning Congress to pass a new Farm Bill), consumer spending (voting with one's dollars by purchasing sustainably-produced food), attitudes towards neighbors("Neighbor, let us break bread together!"), transportation decisions (buying a small sedan instead of a large SUV), etc...(1/2)

No Name

October 25, 2012  3:14pm

I think you may have misunderstood the meaning of the word ascetic. This is a bit disconcerting considering you are writing about theology. I suggest having someone more intelligent proofread your works.

Restoring Eden

October 25, 2012  12:25pm

A lot of what the author brings up is why we at Restoring Eden (Christians for Environmental Stewardship) launched our Creation Reveals program. Encouraging more urban Christians to get outdoors and experience the ways in which creation reveals the things of God. Especially, in our our world of noise and distractions, it is important for Christians to create a space to slow down and connect with God by surrounding themselves with His handiwork. – “For by Him all things were created” (Colossians 1:16). As Wendell Berry has demonstrated, we have a lot to learn about God, community, and ourselves in doing so! http://restoringeden.org/ Nick

Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning

October 25, 2012  10:20am

Well-done! A couple other gifts that Wendell Berry brings to urban Christians . . . One, he has helped me see my particular, local place within my city - my local neighbourhood - as a place to be cherished and to put down roots. The second gift is the recognition that urban places depend very much for their health and well-being on the smaller towns and villages that surround them. It is in those places that urbanites' food is grown, resources are extracted, etc. He argues, convincingly I think, that urban and rural places must work toward a more reciprocal, mutually beneficial relationship, rather than one of 'colonizer' and 'colonized' (as Berry described the relationship in one of his essays).


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