Living In Contradiction, Life, Faith and American Culture Reflections from Reading Wendell Berry

“I honestly don’t worry about my children growing up and losing their faith.  I do worry about them not doing anything with it or not being open to anyone who doesn’t share it. ”


I read this on a friends blog last week and was encouraged by her perspective.  I’ve noticed lately that in contemporary American Christianity we seem to have an almost obsessive fear of our kids growing up and loosing  their faith.


Now for those of us who value our faith above all things, who believe that knowing God and making Him known is the ultimate source of satisfaction in life and death, want fervently for our children to  have this same peace and satisfaction.  And we want desperately to spare them the  soul searching and anguish that we went through which finally lead us to Christ.


Wanting to instill a deep sense of faith into our children is  good and natural.  But fear is a dangerous motivator. Though it does drive us, it often makes us miss the things that are most important in the process.


And so I have been wondering, as my friend implies, if perhaps I am worried about the wrong things.  Maybe I need spend more time to figuring out first what my faith really means and then determine whether I am communicating it in a way that my daughter will truly be able to embrace.


Living In Contradiction, Life, Faith and American Culture, Reflections on Wendell Berry.


Really for me this whole conversation started with nail biting. You see I don’t want my daughter to bite her nails. And I have told her over and over  not to bite them. But I am a recovering nail biter myself and I have noticed that if I bite my nails she bites her nails. The more I bite my nails the more she bites hers. The less I bite mine, the less she bites hers.


My words are empty. It is impossible for me to teach her not to bite her nails while I continue to bite my own. But when I stop biting mine she also stops (now I know some kids just bite their nails even if their parent don’t, this is just one example that is true in my own life). And through this I have begun to realize the futility of trying to teach her with words  alone something that can not be fully explained.


And I wonder if teaching her about my faith is the same way.


Let me give a couple theoretical examples.


We tell our kids not to be greedy but we live in a economy where the accumulation of wealth  is our ultimate goal.  And while positions will certainly vary, I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that the church in America has embraced this or at the very least has done little to oppose it.  And so when our child grows up and begins to value money  over people should we be surprised?  We have been training them for this very thing, not with our words but through the priorities of our nation, by our own lack of generosity, our unwillingness to take financial risks for the sake of our faith, and our failure to live on less so others can have more.


We also know that we  live in a world crazed with individualism, personal expression of self is our greatest ambition and source of happiness.  And for the sake of individualism our culture has allowed people to become commodities that can be bought and sold. As a church we may speak of morality, of valuing life, but our actions point daily to the use of people to get what we want for ourselves.


It is totally acceptable to buy a shirt without knowing if it was made by slave labor (or even when it is quite likely made by slave labor),  or to buy a banana without questioning the labor practices that have brought it to us from Central America for 0.19 cents a pound. In our actions are we not saying that getting what we want is more important than the human lives behind the products that we want to consume?   Why should we be surprised if our children start to value things over relationships and self over others, haven’t we been telling them that this is okay all along?


This week in our reading group we began The Art of the Commonplace by Wendell Berry.  In our first essay Berry writes about leaving New York and returning to his hometown in Port Royal, Kentucky while at the cusp of establishing a successful career in writing.


Though it was not considered a wise career move, by returning to his birthplace, Berry  has gained  a perspective  on American culture that is nearly inaccessible to the rest of us.


His perspective isn’t a new one though, it is one shared by Native Americans and peasant cultures all around the world.  It is the perspective of learning by observation of the world, in fact it is what our kids are constantly doing (and it is why they notice and remember so many embarrassing details about or lives).


Berry writes as  someone who has studied the natural world and who understands man’s role in it. He lets us take a step out of American culture, gives us new eyes to see it and reveals to us the constant contradictions in which we live.   Saying that we want to care for the earth while buying  foods that are produced with chemicals and throwing our plastic into the landfill. Demanding that we care about those in need but living more and more in isolation from those who are different from ourselves.


The list goes on and on.


Berry’s words are a good warning for us in the church.  While we may not go to the trouble to understand all of the contradictions in our lives, our kids likely will, and may reject what we teach them for our inconsistency though it has nothing to do with the actual tenets of our faith.


Berry doesn’t say this, but he is asking us to make a choice. We can either continue in this culture of hoping our kids don’t lose their faith but living in a way that seems to almost ensure that they do, or we can change. We can face our own lives with honesty, not just from our own experience but a studied honesty that comes from understanding the world and our role in it. We can make hard choices to live differently, and in doing so we can stop living in fear and embrace a new kind of freedom.



This post is part of a series of reflections on The Art of The Commonplace.  To learn more about our reading group, click here, or check out our facebook group.  We would love to have you read and ponder along with us.


Thanks for being here,






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