Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wednesday with Words - Membership and Organizations

Wednesday With Words

I finished Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry and there was one more idea that has stuck with me. I actually used it as a primary point in the training I did this afternoon.  One reason I enjoy Berry is because he places value in relationships and is able to portray that in memorable ways.  

This was our membership. . . This membership had an economic purpose and it had an economic result, but the purpose and the result were a lot more than economic. . . The work was freely given in exchange for work freely given.  There was no bookkeeping no accounting, no settling up.  What you owed was considered paid when you had done what needed doing.  Every account was paid in full by the understanding that when we were needed, we would go, and when we had need of others, or enough of them, would come.  In the long, anxious work of the tobacco harvest none of us considered that we were finished until everybody was finished.  In his old age Burley liked to count up the number of farms he had worked on in his life "and never took a cent of money."
The membership includes the dead.  

Later they return to this subject.

Andy said, "You're worried because they've left the membership." and he smiled, knowing we both knew whose word that was.  "they've gone over from the world of membership to the world of organization.  Nathan would say the world of employment."
And I said, "Yes. That's the trouble I have in mind."

One of the attractions of moving away into the life of employment, I think, is being disconnected and free, unbothered by membership.  It is a life of beginnings without memories, but it is a life too that ends without being remembered.  The life of membership with all its cumbers is traded away for the life of employment that makes itself free by forgetting you clean as a whistle when you are not of any more use. When they get to retirement age, Margaret and Mattie and Caleb [their children]  will be cast out of place and out of mind like worn-out replaceable parts, to be alone at the last and maybe soon forgotten.  
We live in a world that has a vague sense and longing for membership.  They feel that the world of organization is not enough but don't know what else is out there.  I really appreciate Berry giving vocabulary to these concepts. I think this is one reason I homeschool and work with coops - in an effort to expose my children to the idea of education and life as membership - not organization.  I struggle with how you can create a sense of community and membership in the midst of city and organization life.  Is it something of an era gone by or a vision worth striving for?  I just don't know.


  1. Good thoughts and good questions. I still struggle with these membership things.