Witherspoon Lecture discusses Wendell Berry, environmentalism

Dr. Stephan Shoemaker, Queens' theologian in residenceMason Farnan | The Queens Chronicle

Dr. Stephan Shoemaker, Queens’ theologian in residence and former pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church, spoke about Wendell Berry.

Dr. Stephen Shoemaker, Queens theologian and residence and former pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church, discussed the ideas of Wendell Berry, whom he knew personally, for this year’s Witherspoon Lecture on March 18.

Berry is a Christian environmental activist as well as a farmer, poet, fiction author and essay writer. But if Berry is alive, why couldn’t he speak for himself?

“[Berry] said ‘I can write and I can farm, but I can’t write, farm and speak,’” said Shoemaker.

Sophomore Hannah Trawick, who assisted Dr. Suzanne Henderson of the Center for Religion and Ethics in planning the lecture, added to this point.

“We chose Dr. Shoemaker because of his close connection with Wendell Berry,” she said. “As a friend and supporter of Berry, Dr. Shoemaker … [was able] to provide a comprehensive witness to Berry’s advocacy for the Christians’ call to care for the earth.”

The Witherspoon Lectures are yearly events at Queens on a topic linking the humanities with science. William Witherspoon created the series in memory of his wife, Margaret, who graduated from Queens in 1932.

Shoemaker opened the lecture with one Berry’s poems that described himself:

I would not have been a poet
except that I have been in love
alive in this mortal world,
or an essayist except that I
have been bewildered and afraid,
or a storyteller had I not heard
stories passing to me through the air,
or a writer at all except
I have been wakeful at night
and words have come to me
out of their deep caves
needing to be remembered.
But on the days I am lucky
or blessed, I am silent

This poem explained Berry’s take on life, explained Shoemaker. It’s the reason why he partook in a four-day sit-in to protest the mountaintop removal of coal in his home state of Kentucky. It’s what inspired him beg the question, “What does this Earth require of us if we wish to continue living on it?” It also explains why he mixes his Christian faith with his desire to save the environment.

In an introduction video, Berry made the point that “if you make a commitment and you stick to it until the end, that’s faith.”

Berry’s faith commitment was theology of the care and creation of Earth, leading him to coin the statement “God is great and God is green.” By harming the environment, Shoemaker explained, Berry feels we are throwing God’s gift back in his face.

Spectators listen to Shoemaker's lecture on Wendell Berry.Mason Farnan | The Queens Chronicle

Spectators listen to Shoemaker’s lecture on Wendell Berry.

There are ethics to the care and creation of Earth that include cherishing the world, humility and “doing unto those downstream as you want those upstream to do to you,” he added

Shoemaker closed with a final remark. “The God of creation is also the God of redemption. We join God in restoration of the World.”

To close with laughs, Henderson pointed out that the crowd seemed to be restraining their amens during the lecture. “Can I get an amen?” she asked.

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