My afternoon with Wendell Berry

Rolf Bouma

Rolf Bouma
September 1, 2013

Hear from Rolf Bouma as he spends an afternoon with Wendell Berry discussing community and economy.

September 2, 2013

What a great experience for you, Rolf. I'm more than a bit jealous.

I would wonder, though - you reference Berry's idea of when the church 'went off track' and became irrelevant. Does he offer any solutions for the institutional church? Is it even possible for the church as an institution to relate to the economy (as understood by Berry) in a manner in keeping with Berry's thought?

David Greusel
September 2, 2013

Hard not to be envious of the author's having such a stretch of time with Mr. Berry. I had the good fortune of hearing Berry speak in Kansas City recently, which only left me wanting more.

September 3, 2013

I don't think WB would think the church as institution would be of much help. Church as community, on the other hand, has potential.

WB gave some indications of what would be involved. It would involve the religious community speaking prophetically in two directions: 1) to the world a message that individual lives count, that small is to be valued, that corporations are not persons the same way that humans are persons, that $$ is not the ultimate measure; and 2) to Christians that contentment lies in simplicity, that acquisition for acquisition's sake is soul-damaging, that recognition of boundaries is healthy, and that men and women do not live by bread alone.

His examples will likely put some people off. He admires the Amish and Old Order Mennonites. Those communities are all about economy. He thinks we ought to rig society so that it favors modest ambitions. In his latest book, he distinguishes between 'boomers' and 'stickers', with the former being those who yearn for self-advancement and acquisition while the latter are those who stick to a place and explore life within the boundaries that nature and culture impose. Wendell is definitely on the side of stickers, and thinks religious communities should cultivate the virtues that correspond.

Is there an agenda for the institutional church in there? I don't know, but certainly for the church as the body of Christ.

Jack Baker
September 15, 2013

Dear Rolf,
I'm very interested in knowing the name of Berry's short story that you mention being inspired by Chaucer's Parson's Tale.

Thank you for sharing your visit with us.


September 15, 2013

The short story is "A Desirable Woman". The story is about the pastor's wife, but the pastor plays a significant role in it. The story is in 2012's A Place in Time.

Andrew Maxfield
September 24, 2013

Thanks for this post! I was lucky enough to have a similar experience. In my case, I visited Wendell and Tanya to record him reading some of his poetry for a musical project I co-created.

What surprised me was how genuinely Wendell seemed to care about what I had to say and how he paused to think before responding to questions. These are lessons I try to remember when I interact with others.

He was gracious and generous with the music project, too. I still get goosebumps when I hear him read his poems on the album, and the recording is an evergreen reminder of that special Sunday afternoon. If you're interested, you can hear Wendell's voice and new music (by myself and a bluesman named Eric Bibb) here: http://wendellberrymusic.org/

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