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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On Aging

I chuckled a bit to myself this evening when taking a break and partook in my love/hate relationship with Facebook, noticing the ads and “group” posts: Men’s Health is dominant (in all of “health’s” facets…); Dad Jokes (group); multiple career related groups; and on and on.

I’m not a kid anymore, am I?

I seek out dad jokes on Facebook and have basically perfected the art of telling them (something my kids mock, making me relish in it all the more, truth be told…).

I have ED medicine, from Roman to Hims, shoved down my throat constantly (any visual images just projected were entirely unintended, as was my projectile pun…).

I spend most of my time reviewing the group posts of strangers discussing air conditioners and electrical panels.

What I emit are ramblings that seem inspired by Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. Get off my lawn!

Yay me?

How does this happen? When? It seems like yesterday my Facebook feed and “ad experience” was rife with rock bands, guitars, skateboards, and the like. And one day… it was dad jokes and prostrate cancer warnings!

The truth is that I feel it too.

It isn’t simply Facebook reminding me that I am as close to 60 now as I am to 20; my body says the same thing. My upper neck hurts constantly. I’ve had lower back, pelvis, herniated disc and sciatic issues for years now and I don’t even remember what it is like to not be in pain and experiencing dysfunction. My knees, fingers and joints ache. I can’t throw a baseball hard more than a couple times without elbow pain, yet I used to excel in all sports. I even skateboarded and biked—I’ve fallen down flights of stairs and other heights, yet I’ve never broken a bone. And yet the prospect of jumping off my tailgate onto the ground below is met with mental projections of pain or injury. My mind does indeed feel like I’m 15-20, and yet my body is losing its ability to respond to what is in my head.

Not all is lost though as I enter my “middle ages”.

My mind is sharp. I think more clearly than I did 20 years ago. I have learned to value experience, now realizing why I would have dismissed its tutelage back then: because I had no experience, and had no idea what was missing. The merger of knowledge and experience is, in many respects, when one becomes wise. I’m wiser. Oddly enough, I am more comfortable in my own skin than I was back then. I may have been hardheaded and bold—vastly more than I am now—but I was still so “becoming” in my life. How can this not be true? I was yet to be married. Yet to have children. Yet to be divorced. Yet to have a career; still in college. I was barely out of high school and out from under my parent’s wings. Frankly, I didn’t realize how uncomfortable I really was back then, despite the comfort I had or seemed to. When life throws you as many hard balls and curveballs as it has me, it forces you to change. Hopefully for the better. Sometimes not. But it is the clash of ideology and experience that should hopefully lead to a net gain and, thereby, a greater comfort with who we are as individuals. It should also strip of us of our idealism, bringing us to a greater awareness of ourselves and reality.

Good things.

I miss the innocence of idealism, stripped of all experience. I miss the innocence of thinking that all that one needed was the right thought and the right conclusion—experience be damned! I miss what it feels like to not be in pain, or the confidence that I can, yes, jump off that cliff into that water below and be fine. There is something to be missed as these parts decidedly rest in my past.

I’ll still take the older me. Along with Facebook’s Men’s Health ads. If there must be a trade, then I think it’s a fair one.

+J.

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?

Yes.

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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On Life and Death: Mildred Ornellas

life-cycle-picture

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.

+ + +

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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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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On Autumn

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Officers Row, Vancouver, WA | by Justin Augustine Lee | 9.2018

Like clockwork, but one that accepts fine-tuning every so often, autumn arrives to Portland, Oregon.

It’s a season that is marked less by the turned-page of a wall-calendar or the orientation of the earth to the sun as told by the stars, than by the final bursts of color the leaves give, asking that you acknowledge them one last time before bowing out after their closing act; or the crispness of the night, which works feverishly to regain control in its bout against the heat and the light of the summer—a season that will murmur just a few faint sounds until it becomes the past. All the land and its various parts which make up this orchestra—all the movements that mark this score—is busy in its preparations for rest, for darkness and for the cold and rain which will come. Continue reading

A Glance From My Father

cropped-20180904_201502.jpgIt seems that the majority of parents, mothers and fathers alike, succumb to the notion that our children will primarily or exclusively remember the major events in life: the big vacations to Disney Land, some grandiose birthday party or that ‘really amazing gift’ from Santa Claus that one Christmas. And because of this, we tend to focus on these kinds of things and events, putting in so much effort and time and money on the event that we can forget the little people that it was supposed to be for. And we forget how and what they remember. Continue reading