Takeaway: The hard work of building community and developing others has to start with a commitment to stability. If we are serious about changing the world, making a commitment to a specific geography may be the best way to do it.
When I was in college I had a respected mentor of mine pray Jeremiah 29: 4-6 over me (Jeremiah tells the exiles to go ahead and settle down, stay awhile and make Babylon’s concerns and needs their own concerns and needs.) I took that seriously. I expected to stay in Chicago for the rest of my life. I did for 15 years, but then moved to Georgia in order to be closer to my wife’s family. While in Chicago for the last 10 years, my wife and I were members of church near the University of Chicago. In a five year period, there were 27 different people that were a part of our small group. At the end of the five years none of the people still attended the church and only one couple still lived in Chicago. We live in a mobile society (especially those that live in urban areas), even if mobility is down a bit over the past few years.
One of the first things I noticed in this book is that Jonathan Hargrove-Wilson speaks of stability and community in similar ways that Rhett Smith, Shane Hipps and others do. All of these authors fear that people get just enough community, stability, intimacy from their online or short term relationships to keep them from going deeper and getting what they are really looking for. There is an anecdote about a parishioner complaining to the pastor that they were not finding community the church they had been attending for almost a year. The pastor responds that they had only had one year worth of community. The type of community that the couple was looking for requires 30 years of investment. In many ways, this is similar advice and focus as Eugene Peterson‘s Practice Resurrection and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
This book is heavily influenced by monastic writing and thinking. While that may be new to many Evangelicals, it is a rich resource of theological thinking that both speaks directly to the subject and self consciously is aware of its countercultural bent. There is a wonderful section that notes that our modern attempts at efficiency and multi-tasking are at least in part our attempt to be like God, who is out of the limits of time. While there is some good in attempting to be like God, when we try to be like God in our own power, we sin. This sin is at root a rejection of the reality that we are limited creatures. (I think the real benefit of the study of economics is the understanding that everything is scare and we cannot have it all.)
Our attempts at mobility are, for many of us, an escape. But we will always be present with ourself. Stability forces us to deal with our issues. Usually that means dealing with that person, or group of people, that rubs us the wrong way. More importantly, we are forced to deal with what about ourselves that bothers others. The Wisdom of Stability means that we learn about ourselves through observing over time how we interact with people that we might choose to avoid. The more we can avoid difficult people, the more we lose out on the chance for growth.
This is where I find things are difficult. I understand that it takes time. I have a friend at a job where she loves the mission and purpose. But her boss is mean, vindictive and capricious (and a very overt Christian). Do I encourage her to move because I know there are other places where she can love her work and thrive? Or do I encourage her to stay, out last the boss that will probably be gone in a couple years and put down deeper roots in that place?
This is a very counter-cultural book. Even when we try to put down roots, the nature of our society pulls against those roots. Can you really work and play and worship in a relatively small (geographical) area, enough that your work, play and worship overlap? Because it is the overlap that allows the ‘magic’ to happen. I work out of my house. It is not unusual to not see anyone except my family for a couple days at a time. But I worship 25 minutes away and my wife works 15 minutes away. I know the names of my neighbors, but after living here for five years, I still have not been invited into the house of anyone around me. (And I have only invited others in a couple times.)
This is hard work, building into people and learning stability. It is amazing to me that I can read half a dozen books in the past year that have a very similar theme (go deep, church and community are essential for real spiritual growth, the long haul is what matters) that there can be almost zero content overlap. That is not to say the books were opposed to one another, but that the cultural need is so deep that each only scratches a few facets of the whole issue.
This book was provided by The Englewood Review of Books for purposes of review. Englewood Review of Books named The Wisdom of Stability book of the year for 2010. Englewood Review of Books has the original review and the rest of the Honored books on their blog. I started one of the books on the list but have not finished it. But I have added several to my “to-read” list.