Category Archives: Wendell Berry

Three Ordinary Radicals

Carlson pic TimeIn our series, ALL IN! we come to the 8th Commandment against stealing. I called it, Who are you Robbing?  which you can access here. We highlighted three doctors – ordinary servants of Christ – who have freely given their lives out of love for God and their African neighbors. Their stories teach us the depth of what it means to not waste our lives and to live with radical generosity.

This month is the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Paul Carson, Evangelial Covenant missionary, in the Congo in November 1964. He became known as the “Congo Martyr” – killed by insurgent rebels. The story was featured on the covers of both Time and Life magazines. His tombstone, bears the inscription “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  Shortly after Carlson’s death, his wife, Lois and others formed the Paul Carlson Medical Program with the goal of raising money to support the hospital and local economy. Since 2000, it now operates under the name Paul Carlson Partnership out of Chicago with a mission that focuses on investing in health care, economic development, and education in Central Africa. Read more here about this remarkable life and the on-going work in Congo.

FAST FORWARD to Afghanistan, April 2014.

umanos-follow-up-241x300Dr. Jerry Ulmanos was a pediatrician, a life-long member of a Covenant Church, who was one of three Americans slain by a member of the Afghan security  force in Kabul. His widow, Jan said, “Jerry always wanted to serve underserved populations. Afghanistan was just one of them. He always had a desire to be the hands and feet of Christ. He was always a light for Christ, and he had a love and commitment that he expressed for the Afghan people because of that love for Christ.”

She added, “We would really like for all of our friends and family and anybody else to please honor Jerry’s memory by opening up your heart to the Afghan people as well as any other populations around the world that need to see Christ’s love.

One of Jerry’s heroes was Dr. Paul Carlson. His story motivated Umanos to pursue a career in medicine and in missions. On his medical school application, Jerry wrote: “In conclusion, I want to underscore clearly that my desire to be a medical missionary is not some command of God against my wishes…On the contrary, I believe God wants me to serve him and has left the manner by which I do this up to me. And becoming a doctor and a missionary is what I truly desire. Dr. Umanos embodied what it means to be an unreserved disciple of Jesus Christ. You can read more of his story here.

Nancy WritebolFINALLY – on the front lines of the Ebola crisis in Liberia

Dr. Nancy Writebol was the first Westerner to contract the Ebola virus this July. She is a missionary doctor who was serving in Liberia. Read her story reflecting on why “Risk is Right,” in an interview from Nov. 8th. It is a powerful read! 

I ended the sermon that included these stories – with an excerpt from Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poem (1993 I)

Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes…

Every day you have less reason
not to give your life away.

What only ‘Sabbath time’ can do – learning from Wendell Berry

wendell_berry-247x300 copyWendell Berry is one of my favorite poets. For 35 years he has been writing what he calls Sabbath Poems. They are crafted mostly outdoors; on-foot walking his beloved Kentucky hill farm on Sundays. He has published some of these in different poetry volumes, the first of which was A Timbered Choir (1979-97). Now, he has two new poetry collections, one this dayof which is dedicated solely to his Sabbath poems. It’s titled This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems.

The introduction is a beautiful essay on the importance of Sabbath.

I deeply enjoyed reading it on my ‘sabbath’ today:

Here is his description of practicing sabbath, and what can happen there – though not automatically, and not without attention and intention.

In such places, on the best of these sabbath days, I experience a lovely freedom from expectations – other people’s and also my own. I go free from the tasks and intentions of my workdays, and so my mind becomes hospitable to unintended thoughts: to what I am very willing to call inspiration. The poems come incidentally or they do not come at all. If the Muse leaves me alone, I leave her alone. To be quiet, even wordless, in a good place is a better gift than poetry.

On those days and other days also, the idea of the sabbath has been on my mind. It is as rich and demanding an idea as any I know. The sabbath is the day, and the successive days honoring the day when God rested after finishing the work of creation. This work was not finished, I think, in the sense of once and for all. It was finished by being given the power to exist and to continue, even to repair itself as it is now doing on the reforested hillsides of my home country. 

We are to rest on the sabbath also, I have supposed, in order to understand that the providence or the productivity of the living world, the most essential work, continues while we rest. This work is entirely independent of our work, and is far more complex and wonderful than any work we have ever done or will ever do. It is more complex and wonderful than we will ever understand. (p. xxi-xxii)

Are you making space for ‘Sabbath time?’

Thinking of myself less

I just had the intense enjoyment of several days with a life-long friend and missionary. His endless stories of being available to the”Everywhere present Jesus” in-spired me! I’m again reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem ending:

Every day you have less reason
Not to give yourself away.

Mary Oliver versed it another way in a poem from Evidence, p. 39:

I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.

And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then love the world.

And in prose words, Tim Keller has a wonderful small book with a much larger title. My favorite quote:

“…The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy. 

p.s. It’s 99 cents on Amazon in the Kindle ebook version. Buy it!

Poetry Monday – Lament and Peace

A Psalm and a poem by Wendell Berry in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy.

from Psalm 5 (NIV)

Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
The arrogant cannot stand in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord , detest.

But I, by your great love, can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple.
Lead me,  Lord , in your righteousness because of my enemies—
make your way straight before me.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Surely,  Lord , you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:1-12 NIV)

The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

NOTE: A Boston band, Crooked Still, put this poem to music that you can listen to here.

Poetry Monday – ‘How to be a poet’

Wendell Berry is one of my favorites.  In so many ways he pushes back against the tendency in our western world to separate God from his creation.

This poem begins with the need for solitude and silence:

How To Be a Poet
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.

You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity.

The last lines of the second stanza remind us of the sacramental nature of the created world:

There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.

Take a moment to read the whole poem here at The Poetry Foundation site.

Wendell Berry on the “Myth of Limitlessness”

Wendell Berry is one of my favorite authors, especially his Sabbath and “Mad Farmer” poems. He is up in years though it seems he has always been at the marvelous place of not caring -in a good way- about the ‘popular’ critique of his work. He speaks his convictions about a Christian world-view and the perils of consumerism in multiple genres of poetry, essay, and novel. A friend sent this link to a May ’08 Harpers article that is brutally relevant to our current world. It is also wonderfully insightful for our current series on what it means to be human. You may not agree with Berry on everything here but being provoked to think and re-think is vital. Here’s the link.