The closer he got to Henry County, Kentucky, the more nervous he became. He had been invited by Wendell Berry to visit his home — the Wendell Berry. When his rental car pulled up outside their house, the late Nobel-Prize-winning Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, thought, “This man is too good for me, and it’s going to be a disaster.” Wendell’s wife, Tanya, met him at the door, telling him that Wendell was down in the barn. His host, standing up from the cow he was milking, greeted him with a cautionary observation: “She’s a mighty splashy sh*tter.” Retelling the story years later, Heaney remembers thinking in that moment, “We’ll get along just fine!”

I like that story. It’s a little vignette of everything we love about Wendell Berry. We picture him in the barn milking cows, fixing fence posts, and hitching up his team of draft horses. We feel better just thinking about his walks through the woods, gathering inspiration for his Sabbath poems. We take comfort knowing that, at any give time, he is probably thinking deeply about the space between our view of the land and the reality of our tenancy. We’ve turned him into some kind of Agrarian Buddha/Poet Laureate. It’s a great setup — he works hard; we enjoy the fruit of his labor.

The Library of America recently published a beautiful, slip-covered, two-volume collection of Wendell Berry’s more important essays written over the last 60 years, titled What I Stand On, edited by Jack Shoemaker. Maybe it was having his life’s work in front of me in a rather concentrated way which led me to what is probably a rather obvious observation: this is a catechism. Berry has been attempting to catechize the last few generations into the lost art of stewardship and community. There has always been something different about Berry; a truthful practicality that isn’t utilitarian. He knows that simply laying down the law to reproduce Eden hasn’t, historically, produced the desired results. Even if he hasn’t read Romans 5:20 by now, he is a parent.

His 1980 essay “Family Work,” first published in The Gift of Good Land, is a perfect example this reality. Here Berry explores the threats to the ideals of the home economy — particularly anything that would interfere with its purpose, including catechesis. For instance, if you think rampant consumerism is unhealthy, why would you buy the firehose that is a television to soak your children with rampant consumerism? He’s not wrong. That being said, let’s say you wanted to retrofit that concept into your current household situation. How do you think your kids would respond? Would your children call your name blessed and receive the news with the love and community-mindedness with which the brutal TV amputation was performed? Berry lays out the odds.

Well, not ideally. Sometimes it will be received gratefully enough. But sometimes indifferently, and sometimes resentfully.

According to my observation, one of the likeliest results of a wholesome diet of home-raised, home-cooked food is a heightened relish for cokes and hot dogs. And if you ‘deprive’ your children of TV at home, they are going to watch it with something like rapture away from home. And obligations, jobs, and chores at home will almost certainly cause your child to wish, sometimes at least, to be somewhere else, watching TV.

Because, of course, parents are not the only ones raising their children. They are being raised also by their schools and by their friends and by the parents of their friends. Some of this outside raising is good, some is not. It is, anyhow, unavoidable.

What this means, I think, is about what it has always meant. Children, no matter how nurtured at home, must be risked to the world. And parenthood is not an exact science, but a vexed privilege and a blessed trial, absolutely necessary and not altogether possible.

If your children spurn your healthful meals in favor of those concocted by some reincarnation of Col. Sanders, Long John Silver, or the Royal Family of Burger; if they flee from books to a friend’s house to watch TV, if your old-fashioned notions and ways embarrass them in front of their friends — does that mean you are a failure?

It may. And what parent has not considered that possibility? I know, at least, that I have considered it — and have wailed and gnashed my teeth, found fault, laid blame, preached and ranted. In weaker moments, I have even blamed myself.

Wow — that reads like a Romans commentary. Or Seculosity. Also, like most TV-eschewing families (parents), once a compelling show comes around that the family (parents) wants to watch, that pipeline of consumerism will be reinstalled and upgraded with a wall-covering screen of impressive square footage. That never happened in my family. Nope. Also, this has little to do with TV. There is a grace in learning twas ever thus.

The young are born to the human condition more than to their time, and they face mainly the same trials and obligations as their elders have faced.

For Berry, the work of home serves as an inter-generational immersion school for learning the art of neighborliness — or a facsimile of it. Ideally, family provides us with a place to be, something to be a part of. This is also mirrored into the larger community. In “Sex, Economy. Freedom, and Community,” Berry encourages a certain realistic grace.

A community member can be trusted to be untrustworthy and so can be included. (A community can trust its liars to be liars, for example, and so enjoy them.)

There are things worth remembering and transmitting on into the future. Since we are prone to forget, humans have intermittently learned that this type of work requires time and repetition. The work of home provides context for the catechism we need in order to not only operate in, but also contribute to a community. These skills aren’t less necessary in the internet age. Something will shape us, or our children, intentionally or opportunistically. Berry has been in a unique position to have witnessed, from his own farm, how industrialization has altered agrarian communities, or in some cases, made into ghost towns. Wendell Berry’s father, his brother, and his daughter, Mary, now the executive director of The Berry Center, have all been involved in sounding the alarm, warning that important things are being lost. This isn’t mere nostalgia-porn; the sheer amount of opposition and competition built into catechizing the generation in front of them makes the endeavor a mercilessly self-selecting one. This is how they’ve spent their lives. Repetition as an act of stewardship.

A little while back, I was listening to Phyllis Tickle and JI Packer — on separate occasions (that would have been quite the conference!). Both, within the same year, gave impassioned pleas for catechism. They were practically singing, “Give catechism a chance.” I find it fascinating that the older these two wise folks got, the more focused they became on repeating what they had heard. Must be something to it.

Berry ends his essay on an honest note, granting that “there is no certainty that we are providing our children a ‘better life’ that they will embrace wholeheartedly during childhood. But we are providing them a choice that they may make intelligently as adults.” This is where I would point back to Romans, but, to quote his Purple Highness, “There is joy in repetition.”