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The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture Paperback – May 1, 2010
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Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Although commitment to the traditional Christian virtue of stability isn't easy, it is the best way to encounter both the God who invites humans into community -- and, for the faithful, to do battle with the personal and societal demons that keep them from deeper faith. Cofounder of the "new monastic" community Rutba House in Durham, N.C., and author of God's Economy, Wilson-Hartgrove argues candidly that his aim is to persuade readers to "reprogram your default settings" from mobility to stability. Drawing deeply upon the work and witness of Benedictines both ancient and modern, the writer also roots his argument in Scripture and snapshots taken from the economically poor community where he and his family have chosen to live. In a fortunate coincidence, this slim volume advocating the virtue of "growing where you are planted" appears at a time when more are inclined to challenge the necessity and advantage of multitasking. Wilson-Hartgrove tends to repeat his main point, but he does it in such an engaging and passionate way that readers will go away well-informed, if not converted.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In contemporary culture, staying put—actively maintaining stability—is often looked down upon. Stability is the antithesis, according to this viewpoint, of progress and innovation. Wilson-Hartgrove disagrees and sets out to persuade his readers to reconsider their busy lifestyles. He suggests that by paying attention, we can recover the “wisdom of stability.” Thus, he refers back to the wisdom literature of various cultures, from Lao-tzu and the Bible to the desert monastics and Thomas Merton. He refers to specific traditions, such as Benedictine spirituality, while at the same time insisting that stability can be looked on as a craft, as a rhythm to fall into—and something that can be learned by anyone. “To practice stability,” he writes, “is to learn to love both a place and its people.” He comments on lessons he has learned from the Bible as well as stories shared by family members, friends, and colleagues and concludes with a series of quotations on stability from famous saints and scholars, including Augustine of Hippo, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Sister Joan Chittister. An appealing combination of personal experience and reflection. --June Sawyers
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In an ever-shrinking world, characterized by instant communication to almost anywhere on the globe, how are we actually doing at building community? With families constantly on the go, kids that aspire to grow up and move up the social ladder, and a constant barrage of information overloading our senses, are we reverting to a nomadic existence once again?
Likewise, how do we define stability in today's context? Often, we refer to people who are "stable" as those with a good education, steady employment, financial abundance, and a traditional family. Could it be that, in this very definition, we are undermining the possibility of true community by placing such high value in those things which promote self-reliance and independence from those with whom God is calling us to share community and interdependence?
It is questions like these that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove tackles in his latest book, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture. Many young evangelicals today are finding life-giving wisdom in ancient traditions, passed down throughout the centuries of Christian life and practice. Wilson-Hartgrove is one of these, culling the gifts of the Desert Mothers and Fathers for our contemporary time in this book. Wilson-Hartgrove is among a growing number of young Evangelicals, living in intentional communities that seek to embody this ancient way of life in new, urban contexts.
Drawing from the vow of stability described in the Rule of St. Benedict (which Wilson-Hartgrove's own "new monastic" community follows in adapted form), this book challenges the commodification of community seen in 21st Century culture. Identifying the innate human desire to connect with other people, "social networking" has become a phenomenon through websites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Cell phone companies capitalize on the desire to constantly be in "contact" with one's network through phone calls, text messaging, and access to these online communities. As Wilson-Hartgrove notes,
"The great advantage of a Facebook friendship, of course, is that it is so easy. I get to choose who I want to "friend" and whose friendship requests I respond to. We gather around our common interests, share the stuff we want others to know, and log off when we feel like it. In many ways what we have is connection without obligation. But intimacy without commitment is what our society has traditionally called `infidelity'."
Though Wilson-Hartgrove doesn't use this term, the hyper-mobile nature of today's society has led to an increasingly "pornographic" culture, where people are valued based on their usefulness to another person. Individuals are turned into objects that can be used as means to an end rather than the embodiment of the image of God. As humans, we are not free-floating spirits, despite the temptation to view life this way through the lens of cyber-relationships. This embodiment is the kind of stability that Wilson-Hartgrove is commending in this text. It is the embodiment of faith, within a community, over time. It is the slow development of relationships and communal trust as flawed humans rub shoulders with each others over the course of time, transforming and shaping one another "as iron sharpens iron."
Additionally, Wilson-Hartgrove's advocation of stability as a virtue further embodies the missional nature of the Church's calling. As the body of Christ, the Church is called to incarnate the Gospel - to be the "good news." The vow of stability makes this incarnational quality of the Church's mission truly achievable because it calls to love not just in words, but "in action and in truth."
I have read most of Wilson-Hartgrove's works to date and can say that this one has been the most powerful and convicting read yet. His engagement with the Biblical material is always fresh and insightful, drawing me to a deeper appreciation of the text by looking at it from new perspectives. The overarching metaphor of life as a house, along with his personal stories, cause the reader to feel as though you are pulling up a rocking chair on the front porch and sharing a glass of sweet tea and conversation. This is a timely book, a needed book, a book that should be widely read and talked about among those who wish to fight the cultural tendency to "move up and move out." This is a book about the difficulties and dangers of community life, as well as the unparalleled joys of plunging deep roots in a specific place, among a specific people.
JWH writes reflecting on the Benedictine understanding of stability as a spiritual growth practice. The book is beautiful, simple, homespun and wise.
My doctoral dissertation is about learning from monastic wisdom for socially networked and mobile culture. I rewrote sections of the dissertation to use this book, and am using as I teach graduate courses in spiritual formation in communities and networks. The book is not thick and technical, however; it is loving and approachable. I strongly recommend this.