Tag Archive: Wendell Berry

The Night I Set My Life on Fire

our father's house west unity ohio

Bryan Times Advertisement for Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

Family and close friends know that I can be temperamental and impetuous. I am quick to make decisions, and doing so has, for the most part, served me well. There are those times, though, when making snap decisions has resulted in me doing things that I later regret. The story that follows is one such instance.

I have not written much about my time as pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I plan to devote a chapter in my book to this church. After resigning from Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio, I took the Bruce Gerencser Traveling Preacher Show five miles south to West Unity, a small community south of the Ohio Turnpike, and started a church. I spent seven years pastoring Our Father’s House. We bought the old West Unity library and began holding services in September of 1995. At its inception, the church was called Grace Baptist Church. After conflict over the use of praise and worship music and non-cessationism (the belief that charismatic spiritual gifts are valid today) resulted in five families leaving the church, we decided to rename the church Our Father’s House. By this time, I had theologically made a move to the left. I wanted the church’s name to reflect our belief that sectarianism was contrary to the teachings of Jesus. After the name change, we had the front door lettered with “The Church Where the Only Label That Matters is Christian.”

During the last three years of my time at Our Father’s House, I became increasingly disenchanted with Evangelical Christianity. Deeply influenced by authors such as Thomas MertonWendell Berry, and John Howard Yoder, I embraced pacifism and changed my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. I now see know that the seeds of my unbelief were planted during this period of time.

One night, after a long, depressing self-reflection on Evangelicalism and my part in harming others in the name of God, I gathered up all the ministry mementos I had collected over the years, piled them in the yard, doused them with gasoline, and set them on fire. In a few minutes, 20 years of sermons notes, recorded sermons, letters, and church advertisements went up in smoke. At the time, I found the consuming fire to be quite cathartic. This was my way of breaking with my past. Little did I know that 8 years later I would torch the rest of my ministerial and Christian past and embrace atheism.

Today, I sure wish I still had the things I turned into a pile of ashes in the backyard. I have no doubt my sermon notes and recorded messages would provide information and context about the decades I spent as an Evangelical pastor.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry

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 down 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.
Practice resurrection.

Please check out Wendell Berry’s books in our bookstore. While Berry is a liberal theist, I find that his writing deeply resonates with me and has had a profound effect on my life.