Why I'm Staying Put

I’ve known a lot of people who’ve belonged to “intentional communities,” known in its most intense form as New Monasticism.  And I know very few who’ve stuck with that way of life.  One of them is Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and he’s recently released a book about staying put, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture.  Jonathan lives at the Rutba House in Durham, North Carolina.

My own experience of living in an intentional community is basically limited to the three years I spent at the Bresee House in Pasadena, California while a student at Fuller Theological Seminary.  Therein, five single guys lived and shared food, but we didn’t go so far as to share finances or make any other more intense vows to one another, as do many monastic communities.

But Jonathan’s book is not a call to the monastic life – it’s a call for people to stay put, which, as the subtitle states, runs against the mobility of our contemporary culture.  Scot, interestingly, has stayed put in the same house for 23 years, yet declined to endorse the book since, “I can’t say I’m committed to stability in the way this book advocates.

Well, I can.

I currently live two blocks from the house in which I was reared, and, other than educational stints in Hanover, New Hampshire, Pasadena, California, and Princeton, New Jersey, I have lived my entire life within five miles of that house. On the block on which I currently live — and on which I plan to spend the remainder of my days — three families live in the same house in which one of the adults grew up.  The women living next door and behind me are not among them, but they were in the same class in Edina High School.  That’s some serious stability.

I consider it a virtue that I have sunk down roots where I was planted, in Edina, Minnesota.  But it’s surprising how much grief I get about that.  People joke with me about being afraid to move away.  And the fact that I’ve chosen to stay put not in the rough inner-city (like Jonathan), but in a nice suburb, only serves to increase the ridicule sent my way.

Honestly, have you ever heard someone make fun of a person for moving?  I haven’t.  But I can tell you that if you live two blocks from your parents, you’ll have people poke fun at you on a regular basis.

Why have I stayed put?  There are several reasons:

First, I like it here.  Minnesota is a beautiful, fantastic, seasoned place, filled with genuinely good people.  I like the culture, and I know it.  And the Twin Cities makes just about every list for best places to live, bicycle, run, etc.

Second, the land.  My family owns some woodland about 120 miles north of my house.  I want to spend the rest of my life within a couple hours of that, my spiritual home.

Third, influence.  Because I know this place and I know these people, I’ve been invited to serve on some youth advocacy committees, I was a volunteer police chaplain for ten years, and I hope to run for public office (probably school board) some day.  Of course, none of this is only available to someone who stays put, but it seems a lot more natural to me since I’ve been rooted here.

And fourth, divorce.  It’s ironic, really.  I’ve gotten a few nasty emails from my internet theology foes that my divorce implicates me in the sin of relational mobility — that I just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, stick with a relationship that I’d committed to for life.  Well, I don’t know why others get divorced, but that’s definitely not why I did.  But what is ironic about ending a marriage when there are children involved is that moving is no longer a possibility for me. I can’t take a professorship at a seminary or graduate school anywhere other than the Twin Cities, or go to work for a publishing house in New York or London, which narrows my professional options significantly.  It means, fairly or unfairly, any job or romance in my future has to come to me, because I cannot relocate to them.  (Thus far, I’ve been fortunate in both regards.)

So, I’m staying put.

Jonathan writes,

As participants in a mobile culture, our default is to move. God embraces our broken world, and I have no doubt that God can use our movement for good. But I am convinced that we lose something essential to our existence as creatures if we do not recognize our fundamental need for stability. Trees can be transplanted, often with magnificent results. But their default is to stay.

Should you ever leave the place where you are? I don’t know. But I trust we are able to best discern the call of God in the company of friends when we are rooted in the life-giving wisdom of stability.

See a promo video for the book here: The Wisdom of Stability.

And, the next time you kid someone for living in the same place in which they grew up, think twice.

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  • http://missional.ca Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    I think it is fantastic that you have had this kind of stability, especially in a suburban community. While I am an advocate for the need for more Christians to call the inner city home, people often assume I would therefore also advocate that Christians should leave the burbs. Far from it! Where there are people there needs to be Christians living in stability there. Good for you, Tony.

    Peace,
    Jamie

  • Scot McKnight

    Tony, good, good thoughts and I’ve heard you say these things from a number of angles.

    I like Jonathan’s book much, but didn’t feel like I could “pretend” that his theology of stability is what has shaped our own kind of stability. I think his book has a profundity about it that a less-than-committed word of endorsement would cheapen.

  • http://tonyj.net tony

    I hear you, Scot. And, honestly, I totally respect your standard of not endorsing every book that crosses your desk.

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Tony,

    I’m all for stability. However, the greatest stability, the one that trumps all others, is that of knowing Christ — knowing that wherever I go, He is with me, working all things for good, even my foolishness and knowing that whatever my failures and inadequacies, His grace is more than sufficient. But all of this depends on knowing who He is and that He is worthy of all the trust I place in Him (2 Peter 1:3-4).

  • http://soulsouvenirs.net David Morris

    Hey Tony. Thanks for the tip on the wisdom of stability. I agree that our theology, our whole approach to faith in America is often shaped by a transient mindset. Sometimes I think that’s one of the big reasons we get so rigid, and so adamant, or conversely, so noncommittal, in our thinking.
    As I kid, my family moved around a lot. I’m having fun now trying to just stay put with my own family. It’s interesting to see my kids being shaped by long-term community in a way I never saw in my own life.
    Luckily, I live in a great community too. But that pressure to think about what’s out there is always a temptation. I should just get that temptation away from me…. stop those incessant job market emails.

  • http://mrhackman.blogspot.com Andrew

    Good call! I am all for staying put when possible. How can a neighborhood develop deep relationships when everyone is flipping their houses?

    As an elementary teacher, I get to see lots of kids move. It is common that the move is occurring because more money is being offered. It doesn’t matter if the Dad is already well into six figures… if more money is offered – we move. Doesn’t matter if the kids have a great neighborhood, the family likes the school, church, etc… money trumps. This is not all cases, but it is a lot of them… and I think that is sad.

  • http://sequimur.com/banditsnomore Richard H

    Staying put is something I only see at a distance. My dad was in the Navy when I was growing up so moving was the norm for us. Nowadays when people ask me where I’m from I answer that it depends on how you reckon where you’re from. I was born in one state, graduated high school in another (after many moves, two outside the US), did degrees in three different states. Sometimes I tell people, “I’m from a small town in Illinois but I’ve never lived there,” since it’s the town both my parents were born in, and the main place I’ve been visiting all my life. And while my mom was born there, she left at a very young age since her dad was bouncing from job to job during the depression. They didn’t meet each other until both were in California.

    Mobility is a modern American phenomenon, but it is not only modern and not only American. My parent’s generation was not the first to move. We own no land anywhere. We have folks like John Wesley (and Jesus!) in our heritage who were more known as movers than stay-ers.

    That said, though my body says “Move!” I’ve been at the place I now live longer than I’ve lived anytime in my life.

  • http://www.larsrood.com Lars Rood

    Tony- Thanks for writing this. I resonate with it although from the opposite side. I have moved and live in a different state even now from where our kids were born. We love it here but feel the pain daily of having left behind so much. God has brought many new things into our lives which have been huge blessings but there is the constant pull to be with friends, family and even the restaurants.

    On another note I too lived in the the Bresee house while a student at Fuller. Not sure where it started but we had a box of lightbulbs that were the “party bulbs” so every time we had a get together we would change all the bulbs in that living room for atmosphere. When we moved out they gutted the house, made it nice and turned it over to women tenants.

    It was a good place to live and a lot of community happened there.

    • http://tonyj.net tony

      Lars, I’m so glad to hear that we have that connection! That box of lightbulbs was used me and my posse as well. And our parties were off the hook!

      In my estimation, the pastoral life is too often peripatetic. I hope you find solidity and peace in your new location.

  • aaron

    I like the idea behind the book, but for many people staying put isn’t an option. In any economy people are going to get laid off or transfered. I spent my whole childhood moving around and I would say it was a wonderful, eye-opening experience. By the time I went to college I knew this country better than hardly any of my friends.

  • http://www.precipicemagazine.com Darren King

    My personal story has definitely been a contrast to what this book is advocating. And, while I certainly agree that staying put is wise for some, maybe even many, its certainly not for all.

    For the record, I was born in the UK, raised in Canada, and now have lived in the US for quite some time, where my family and I have called Tennessee, Washington, Oregon, and California home.

    I would offer a little pushback with some of the following points. Those who move get the opportunity to:

    1.) See themselves removed from the filter of their environment. This can actually be illuminating spiritually. You find out who you really are, when removed from what’s familiar.

    2.) We must form new habits. This allows us to apply intentionality, rather than merely keeping on with what’s familiar.

    3.) Moving around one gains the perspective and the wisdom of different people groups. My guess is, statistically, one is far less likely to stereotype groups of people, from certain places, having actually lived in some of those different places. For instance, I’ve heard ridicule of Americans by Canadians, Canadians by Americans, American Westerners of Southerners, American Southerners of Californians, Americans of Europeans, Europeans of Americans, etc. Having lived in all those places, I believe I have a unique (and more realistic) perspective.

    4.) Moving around also provides one with a unique perspective on how much people, and people groups, are contextually defined. And its only by moving around that one can begin to see some of the “stuff” that clung to you (and entire people groups) in a previous location.

    Well, there are a few points for starters.

    Now, all that said, I still value planting roots. And my wife and I plan on remaining here in California, in this particular house, for quite some time. We’re intentionally choosing this location as the place our kids will group up in, establishing roots of their own. So, while the moving had its season, we definitely plan on experiencing the other side of the coin now – that of knowing a place deep in one’s bones. I get that this might take a couple of decades. But I think there’s a good chance we’ll be here that long to experience it. We certainly plan to be!

  • http://www.theologyandcoffee.blogspot.com Jonathan Pedrone

    Tony,

    Interesting thoughts. I have personally only lived in 2 places in my lifetime, and I plan on staying in my current local for quite a while [Miami Florida].

    I am in the same sort of situation as you are, a divorced single father, and professor. One of the issues that those who have never been in a split up family don’t take into consideration is that you are stuck in your current location due to the children involved. This disadvantage is missed by many people, but I can relate. I am sure that you receive your fair share of criticism for being a prominent Christian and being divorced, but there are many of us out there who are encouraged by your words and can resonate with the struggles of being a single parent, and a Christian at the same time. So I for one appreciate your openness to the situation.

    • http://tonyj.net tony

      Thanks, Jonathan. Good to know I’m not alone.

  • Dan

    Hello!

    I have not been someone who moves frequently. I grew up in New Jersey, lived in Colorado while going to undergraduate school. Lived in London, England for a year and then travelled for almost a year after that. And then been in Santa Cruz for over 20 years. A small town – not a city. It is fascinating watching youth that I was youth pastor to, now 15 years later since you are in the same town if they haven’t moved.

    Having said that – what would the theology of stability be for the disciples? It seems that none of them anchored for life. Any thoughts on that? I have read a lot of about monastic communities etc. but where do we see this in the New Testament I am always curious about? I assume with local elders who likely stayed in the same cities or towns while the apostles travelled. But Jesus also seemed to move around a lot during his ministry years.

    Just some thoughts…..

    Danny

  • toddh

    I like the spirit of this post, and plan on checking out the book. I was just thinking today of all of the moving my wife and I have done since we were married: 9 times in 13 years. It has cost us a lot financially and relationally. We too moved for education (to the Twin Cities) and I think it was great for our kids to really experience somewhere new. I don’t think you can really understand your particular context unless you live somewhere that is at least a little different so you have something to compare it to. Now, I yearn for a little stability. We move again next month and I hope this time we can stay for a while.

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  • http://traceybianchi.com Tracey

    great post. so good to get a little respect and love out to those of us who made a conscious decision to stay put, a few blocks from a childhood home. Who WANTED to make that choice. Those who hunker down in the burbs often get blown off as ignorant wanna-bes. It’s hard to convince those who have moved away that there can indeed be a redemptive conversation in the suburbs. That a suburban life, right were I grew up, is not tantamount to a lobotomy. That it can actually be justice oriented and though-provoking. so yeah, great thoughts from a gal who lives two blocks over from where her hubby was raised and two towns over from where she grew up. nice.

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  • http://www.shaunaniequist.com shauna

    Tony– I love this post. I feel so much the same way, and haven’t found the words to say it well. In a culture that seems to view “staying home” or “going back home” as fear-based choices and moving around as a jet-setting sign of success, I love hearing you articulate the positive aspects of having a deep sense of home.

    Right now I live on the same street I lived on when I was three. My brother lives down the block, and I can see the church my parents started from my dining room window. And I’m really, really happy about it.

    Hope you’re well, Tony.

  • Jeff Kursonis

    I think that this is a situation of balance. Since we are a bit out of balance right now, a book like this pulls us back toward balance. Our economy produces too much moving around right now, but with all the movements toward the local I think over 5o years our economy will change and produce more rootedness.

    But, of course, the history of the world is separate groups slowly coming together. And for one group to be able to send some of it’s people to “the other” and for that to begin to produce peace between the two former enemies is how things should go, so some are called to go and some to stay.

    I’ve been called to go. I went to over 20 schools growing up. I’ve lived all over the United States and in some foreign countries. I’m just about to go to another foreign country for a year or so. I didn’t choose to be a “go-er”, but it has suited my personality. I did live in NYC for 13 years straight, but in many different neighborhoods with an evolving transient population of friends, so that was hardly rootedness. Now I’m off to India to experience the new global economy firsthand. But with our cyber-friendships, you won’t even notice I’m on the other side of the globe.

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  • Jeff Goins

    Good post, Tony. I like the idea behind it especially as I observe young people from my generation going from place to place and job to job without committing to anything and then spiritualizing it. Will Samson once told me, “The going is staying.” I like that but I have to ask: what is the theology behind staying? I like Dan’s comment and have a similar question: what scriptural precedence do we have for this? (Especially in light of the lives of Jesus and his disciples.) Thoughts?

  • Jeff

    Correction on the Will Samson quote: “The new going is staying” (he was talking, I think about missional living. As you probably know, Will and his wife wrote Justice in the Burbs – a book about intentional living in the suburbs by planting roots and making a difference.)

  • Nicole

    Tony,
    As a woman who has moved 3 times in 3 years…I am happy for you that you haven’t had to move much :) My parents still live in the house they moved into the day my older sister was born. The stability of that household has been a comfort to us in all our roaming.

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