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Wendell Berry says put down the iPhone
I’ve been noticing an interesting trend among students I work with. They’ll read C.S. Lewis if it’s assigned. Of course they’ve seen the Narnia movies. They might even pick up The Screwtape Letters for a floor Bible study. But the thinker that they really track with is not an Inkling but an Agrarian.
Wendell Berry, poet, farmer, gadfly, has captured the attention of this generation in the same way that C. S. Lewis captured the attention of the previous generation of Christian scholars.
In some ways this is not surprising. They both share some common characteristics. Their writings cover a panoply of topics, thus there is much after the first book. Both are non-Evangelicals who nevertheless seem to come to conclusions that aren’t too far away from orthodoxy. Finally both offer hope a life beyond a middle class suburban existence (Lewis in the ivory tower and Berry in the fields).
But in other ways, I’m surprised but pleased that students born in the 90’s are reading Berry.
The surprise comes from the one fact that we “know” about Millenials, namely that they want to be connected all the time. I’ve seen dozens of articles that tell Bookstores that we can hold back the digital onslaught if we just tweet coupons to our students. Or friend them on Facebook. Or harass them with any other social media that’s currently making Fast Company breathe heavily. But what if what they are really looking for is something that transcends the plastic culture that they’ve been raised in? Something more thick than thin?
And of course the pleasure for me comes when imagine what choices students will make under Berry’s influence. For while I like Lewis, emulating his Oxbridge life is not only anachronistic, but also expensive for some and impossible for everyone else. We can’t all become tenured professors at ancient universities. How much better the Berry lesson that finding one’s place in the world is first and foremost a matter of going deeper, into one’s community, into one’s family, and, quite literally sometimes, into the soil.