A Call to the Good Life
I’m a 20-something young woman living in an urban center, so you might be surprised to hear that my spiritual role model is an 84-year-old farmer from Kentucky.
For the last several decades, the poet/farmer/philosopher has been a prophetic voice constantly crying for loving communities and humane economies that honor creation and all the life in it. This man, who wrote more than 50 books of poetry and novels, essays and short stories, is Wendell Berry. And it’s Berry’s call to lives of radical humility, simplicity, and community that has deeply shaped my view of the good life.
The good life, Berry tells us, is found from living peaceably and honoring life even in its smallest forms. It’s from doing honest work and considering how one’s actions impact other people, animals, and the natural world.
Poet, farmer, and philosopher Wendell Berry stands in front of a storehouse of logs. Photo via National Endowment for the Humanities.
Every year, in the weeks leading up to Easter, I remember Berry’s poem Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. The association feels nearly inevitable, as the last line of the beautiful poem exhorts the reader to “practice resurrection.” Yet the calling to practice resurrection fits inside the context of present-day culture.
While the world entices us with shiny things that have no long-term, lasting value, Berry asks us to invest our time differently. He entreats us: spend your lives following God, building strong communities, and remembering what matters.
When Berry says, “practice resurrection,” he asks us to remember that Christians are the witnesses to Christ’s one-time resurrection. We demonstrate the power of God’s redemption of the world in how we live and love. Practicing resurrection is obeying Jesus’s call to love our neighbors and our enemies.
Who Needs Jesus Most?
Not long ago, I was scrolling through the endless stream of social media when I stumbled across a tweet from Washington, D.C.-based pastor Duke Kwon. The post read, “It’s impossible to love someone you disagree with when you secretly believe they need Jesus more than you do.” I think it stopped me mid-scroll because, well, it’s true. I secretly believe that most people I disagree with need Jesus more than I do. And I suspect that I’m not alone in that.
“It’s impossible to love someone you disagree with, when you secretly believe they need Jesus more than you do.”
– Pastor Duke Kwon
This year, “practicing resurrection” reminds me that Easter Sunday is about remembering how much I need God to transform my heart. As He transforms me, I become better equipped to serve others, including the poorest and most vulnerable people, especially those that Food for the Hungry walks alongside. And I become better able to proclaim peace in the manner of King Jesus.
So pertinent though that calling is for the time surrounding the Easter holiday, that is a calling that applies to all seasons. Join me now in reflecting on its wisdom.
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute.
Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. 1973. Also published by Counterpoint Press in The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1999; The Mad Farmer Poems, 2008; New Collected Poems, 2012.
Other articles you may be interested in:
Entering Lent with the Right Heart, And Why It Matters
The Truth About How You Can Be A Proverbs 31 Woman
God’s Story: Transformation Is Better Than Development