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