Saturday, September 19, 2009


For one of my classes this week we read a short story from Wendell Berry entitled "The Boundary" along with a chapter from Leviticus (19) and a short snippet of commentary on that text. It was quite an interesting combination of readings. Wendell Berry, the poetic storyteller, and Leviticus.

But they are more alike than I thought. I've always had this terrible idea of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, like they are these horribly depressing and boring books. But that was because I had never really read them! I've had these preconceived ideas in my head without even giving them a chance. It took a professor assigning them as required reading before I woke up to the realization that these books are incredible!

While Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were for my Old Testament class, the Wendell Berry book was not (even though that would have been awesome). But the way they intersect is incredible. Berry has a wonderful view of what it means to be a neighbor, a citizen in a larger community. It's nestled in all of his stories, and especially so in "the Boundary", the story we read for class.

His whole notion is built around the principle that we cannot do life without each other, that we intrinsically need each other. And I wholeheartedly agree, especially from the viewpoint of the post-modern, 20something who lives in a suburb largely disconnected from the kinds of notions Wendell has of land, family, and neighbor.

To Berry, land, family, and neighbor are all interconnected in the tapestry of life. You couldn't take one away without the rest of the threads all coming undone. And it's the same message you get from Leviticus. You can't do life without other people! The materials in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are all about Israel's relationship to God and Israel as a nation. They follow the ups and downs of this nation who were given laws by Yahweh but repeatedly failed to trust God and follow the commands.

Many of the laws are about how Israel's people are to treat each other, and it's an amazing view into the role of justice and equity in a community of people who otherwise would be striving for their own success apart from the betterment of the community. It really gets you thinking about how we treat each other nowadays. No, we aren't Israel, and largely we've written off these "ancient" laws as irrelevant to us, but we would really do well to re-examine their significance for our lives as people trying to live out the dual commands of loving God and loving neighbor.

Choosing love. Choosing to stay together when the going gets tough. Choosing to confront instead of passively letting emotions turn into monsters. These are the things of community. Tough things. It gave me so much to think about. Thank you Wendell Berry and Leviticus!

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