Wendell Berry, the American poet, novelist, essayist, and cultural critic, has been exploring and affirming in his work for more than a half-century the necessity of responsible community membership. His writing offers a lens through which to examine the role of volunteerism and philanthropy and what is and should be the role of politics, the Church, and artists in this endeavor.

Berry contends that the idea of responsible community membership has been replaced with the idea of professionalism, and professionalism’s aspiration of finding big answers to problems. In place of big answers, he argues for particular, grounded, and local ones.

This paper highlights three strands that run through all of Berry’s writing and which offer points for reflection on volunteerism and philanthropy. First, I discuss Berry’s grounding in the “dance of community.”

Second, I present Berry’s case against abstraction and the way it results in professionalism, specialization, and “the merchants of big answers,/whose hands are metalled with power.”

Third, I highlight Berry’s insistence on the centrality of the Imagination in how we see the world and act upon it, especially when we are considering such things as volunteerism.

I conclude with Berry’s contention that we must act personally and locally if we are to seriously address problems and effect change in the world.



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