Wendell Berry’s “Nature Consumers”

“It is maybe most of all … silence that they are so intent to guard themselves against. And there is indeed a potential terror in it. It raises, still, all the old answerless questions of origins and ends. It asks a man what is the use and the worth of his life.” — Wendell Berry

Updated 4.29.2019

It was probably ten years ago or so now when I first picked up a copy of Wendell Berry’s wendellberrybyguymendescollection of essays, The Long-Legged House at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland with a good friend, now deceased, who had introduced me to Berry’s work some years before. Cliché, but I was immediately captured by the timelessness of his concerns articulated in this 1965 publication—a theme that runs through much of his work. His essay found therein, titled ‘Nature Consumers,’ along with chapter two, book one of Thomas A. Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, is among the few most influential pieces of literature I’ve ever read, having revisited each of these chapters dozens of times. It doesn’t have to be brilliant—it need only hit you at the right time and space.

They have each become so ingrained in my psyche that I find myself regularly quoting them and referencing them without actually referencing them—you know, when something becomes so familiar to you that it is less a reference than it is your own exhale. Many have heard me say, “We are all frail; consider none more frail than yourself,” which comes straight from that chapter in Kempis’ Imitation.

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You’re Mist, Not a Fireman (or a ‘Church’)

It’s common enough that it has entered into our cultural conscience: when boys grow up, they tend want to be firemen, serve in the Army or aspire towards pretty much anything involving something dangerous. I’m confident that more than a few psychologists and evolutionary biologists have sufficiently handled the reasons for this fact (and there is a lot of fact there…).

But this wasn’t true for me.

In fact, I don’t ever remember having any aspiration as a youngster that one would aptly call ‘conventional’. Never desired to be a police officer or in the CIA; never wanted to drive race cars or explode things.

No, I wanted to be a ‘church’.

A church?


I was about five-years-old or thereabouts when one day at mass I notified my mother that I would be a ‘church’ when I grew up. Unsure what that meant, she asked and in answer I pointed to the priest up front. ‘Like him,’ I said.

I never became a priest. A hellion teenager, I went through a conversion around 18 years of age and once I was in college I did in fact entertain a vocation to the priesthood, but with the help of a few people, including more than one priest, decided that wasn’t my calling.

In fact, nothing that I ever ‘wanted’ has panned out over time in my almost-forty years on this earth.

Before ever entering the undergraduate program in theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio) I wanted to get a PhD in theology and teach, but abandoned that idea when I met the woman I would marry—sacrificing my life and desires for her desire to be a stay-at-home mother in a two-income-earner society.

Never became a ‘church’, and few if any of the major wants or plans of my life have gone according to ‘plan’, or at least according to my desires. I find myself wondering if the career I took on for her sake is what I will be doing in the years to come.

Such a cold reality is certain to resonate with at least some of my readers.

You knew you were going to have a family in the same small town that you grew up in, yet you find yourself across the country and your parents rarely see you or your children. You knew what your gifts were and you got the degree or degrees needed to work in the field, but a few events, one ‘opportunity’ and a decade later you find yourself in an office daydreaming of what might have been. You found the love of your life and knew that you would make it through the modern obstacles, provide a stable environment for your children to grow up in and live out your days with your ‘best friend’, yet you find yourself divorced while your spouse runs off with her lover and takes your children with her—and with that, your ‘family’. You couldn’t wait to hear the first cry of that baby, yet the joy immediately turned to concern and your life yet-lived flashed before you as you realized that this child’s disabilities would require your aid for the rest of your life.

Life throws us those curve balls. We make mistakes and despite our sincere repentance, we can not control the fallout. There are few constants on this road.

Yet, regardless of what happens, we must have faith that God is provident in our lives. When pain and evil greet us, we can be confident that even there God can and will direct all things to good (Rom. 8:28).

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15). [1]

This isn’t a call to a life of immobility—we must do the ‘next right thing’ as an old friend of mine would say. We are called to work, to pray, to do what is right. But we must be careful projecting too far into the future, assuming that we are in control of our own destiny. We aren’t; God is. And He is there even in the midst of the pain and confusion that surrounds you—He can and will direct it to the good. Be attentive and listen for His whisper. [2]

[1] See also: Proverbs 3:5-6; 16:9, 33; 19:21; 20:24; Jeremiah 10:23; 29:11; Amos 3:6; Luke 22:31; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 1 Thess 5:18; Luke 9:23; Micah 6:8; Hebrews 10:6; Romans 8:28

[2] That, and mingle in, if you would like, a bit of Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy. His book Man’s Search for Meaning should be near the top of your reading list.

Quick Thoughts on Jordan Peterson and his reading of Nietzsche

Having been lightly perusing Jordan Peterson for the last year (I have not read his two books–I’ve only listened to some 200 hours of his lectures, interviews, podcasts and the like), I was surprised by how often he refers to Nietzsche, and in a manner that often puzzles me. I admit without hesitation that I am not well-versed in Nietzsche’s thought, but knew enough that I thought I would do some Googling and ran into this post. I think that the author makes some good points and he is enjoyable to read, which is always appreciated. – J

Kronstadt Revolt

As rare as it is for me to have interactions with Kronstadt Revolt (KR) readers, the few times it does happen it’s exclusively occurred outside the actual confines of the blog (i.e. mostly emails and private messages through twitter).  My best guess is that due to my low posting frequency they want to make sure there is actually someone still typing away at a keyboard behind the dashboard menu before fruitlessly putting a comment into moderation limbo that may never be read or approved by anyone (as an fyi, comment settings are set to only moderate the first comment you post, to make it easier to control spam from bots; after that first-time approval showing you’re human, your subsequent comments should post automatically).  Never mind that my twitter updates are about as (in)frequent as my blog posts, it is the trend that has developed, and I’m happy to interact with…

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Introverted Paradise

What has happened in my life in the last many years cannot go untold.

And for many reasons.

It is far too much to keep only in my head and my heart, for starters. Second, it doesn’t simply affect me, but affects many of the people I know and love who surround me—even those that I don’t know. And further, it could, just maybe, provide you not only a greater understanding of who I am, but could give you a greater understanding of yourself and the decisions you have made, might not wish to make, or have been made on your behalf.

It will come in time and it will come in full.

But, it will come in spits and spurts for the time being—as it has for a long time. Not only in words, but in pictures and quite often in metaphor and innuendo.

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On Life and Death: Mildred Ornellas


Note: Ten years ago my little family and I were caught in a whirlwind (pun) of ‘life and death’. In the course of just a few short days, I learned that my wife was pregnant with our third child, visited my grandmother for the last time, flew to Houston just hours later for a wedding that occurred during Hurricane Ike and came home just in time for her funeral, then celebrated my fourth wedding anniversary two days later.

Below is a slightly edited and updated version of the eulogy I gave back then. I was 28 years-old at the time. I’ve tried to leave it in its original state as much as possible, focusing instead on making it readable, as opposed to notes for a presentation in front of an audience. Whether you knew grandma or not, it’s worth a read as so many eulogies and obituaries are, yet this one comes with extra… umph. – J.

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September 16, 2008

I don’t really know what I am supposed to say here; my experience with funerals is fortunately limited.

But, I was asked to give and I wanted to give some of my thoughts and memories concerning my my maternal grandmother. I had to prepare this on a whim last night at 3am (with mild jet-lag) so bear with me… I’m working on two hours of sleep, and the last many days, as you will see, have been… intense.

I have few childhood or teenage memories that don’t include my grandma. Indeed, I was very close to her. I feel lucky to have been able to really have two mothers in my life; blessed to be counted among her extended children.

These childhood memories do not go back far enough to remember any other home of hers than the trailer she lived in down by LaCamas Lake in Camas, WA—a very humble home; one that would act as my second for over 20 years. It was a home that I entered into too young to understand the social stigmas that come with the ownership of a ‘house’ that has wheels underneath it. It was in this home, with this woman, that so many of my memories were created. It was there and with her that much of who I am was formed.

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The Nonsense of Life

boat-962791_640There are so many motifs that one can use to describe or explain their angst, anxiety, sin, etc.

Some point to pride.

Others to an inordinate desire to control anything else in life save our ‘response’ in any given situation.

For me, it is my desire for things and people and experiences to make sense; for life to make sense. To make sense to meContinue reading

Cleanse the Temple: The Sex Abuse Scandal in the Catholic Church

One would need to be living under a metaphorical rock to have not heard about the most recent Catholic priest sex abuse scandal, which is shaking not only the Church in the United States, but has reached all the way to the up the highest levels of the of the Church.

This problem isn’t new, of course.

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