The Wisdom of Stability

“The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture” by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (2010)
The Wisdom of Stability
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a noted author. A native of North Carolina, he is a graduate of Eastern University and Duke Divinity School. In 2003, Jonathan and his wife Leah founded the Rutba House, a house of hospitality where the formerly homeless are welcomed into a community that eats, prays, and shares life together. Jonathan directs the School for Conversion, an organization that has grown out of the life of Rutba House to pursue beloved community with kids in their neighborhood, through classes in North Carolina prisons, and in community-based education around the country. He is also an Associate Minister at the historically black St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church.
“Transience is a major curse of our age. From those who are always on the move to avoid their creditors to the upwardly mobile who are always seeking greener pastures, it seems that everyone is on the move. In our urban neighborhood, it is a fairly common practice for renters to move into a new place, paying the first month’s rent, and then forego paying the second month’s rent, and then at the end of the second month when their account is 30 days past due, the eviction process is started and the renter then has 30 days until they are evicted. Thus, crafty renters can get three months worth of housing for the price of one month, and force themselves into a cycle of moving every three months (or more if they are able to scrape together more than a single month’s rent). These habits have larger cultural implications; I have heard of a public school in our neighborhood that has turnover rates as high as 95% from one year to the next (i.e., only 5 % of the students who started in a grade one year were still at the school a year later). Lest I get too critical, it occurred to me recently that I myself have, in the last 15 years (since the summer before my senior year of college), lived at a staggering twelve addresses in four different states! Thankfully, I have been fortunate to live in the same house for the last six years, and have no intention of moving any time soon, and am slowly learning here about the historic Christian practice of stability.

Given the great mobility of American culture, it is not surprising that stability is virtually unknown in our churches today. In the historically Black Walltown neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and the Rutba House community have been growing roots over the last decade in that place and re-learning the practice of stability. Hartgrove has reflected on these experiences and on the Christian tradition of stability in his excellent new book, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture. This new volume features a foreword by Kathleen Norris, who herself has reflected eloquently on stability in her most recent book Acedia and Me (which was our 2008 Book of the Year). The book also features narrative “Front Porch” reflections interspersed between the chapters, in which Wilson-Hartgrove captures vignettes from his own life that cut to the heart of the “craft” of stability….

Stability is not only our teacher, but also our sustenance when the storms of life rain down upon us. A tree is a wonderfully fitting image: through our stability God grows our roots, and though the storms of life may bend us or break us, we remain unmoved. Furthermore, the deeper our roots reach, the greater the possibility of healing and continued growth after the storms. Wilson-Hartgrove, however, also notes that “the people closest to us are not only our connection points in a support system that we depend on for our very lives… but they are also mirrors who reflect the hidden shadows of our souls” (94). Wilson-Hartgrove thus reminds us in some of the book’s finest writing that stability is not a magic solution for all the problems of life, but rather brings its own set of challenges. Drawing on the rich tradition of our ancestors in the faith and especially the monastics, Wilson-Hartgrove speaks clearly and bluntly about the psychological experience of growing in stability. Indeed, his chapter on the demons that assail us as the adventure of committing to a place wears off and we grow in the practice of stability is perhaps the finest chapter in this volume. Ambition, Boredom, Vainglory; there is much here that rings true from our own struggles to learn the practice of stability as a church community here at Englewood Christian Church. Indeed, some of Wilson-Hartgrove’s words here probably hit a little too close to home.

Thankfully, however, we have hope beyond the ceaseless wrestling with these demons. We are not called to perish in the desert of our temptations but rather, as Wilson-Hartgrove notes to bloom there, and this blossoming will ultimately bear fruit. He says: “If God is faith in exile and present in human flesh, then everything — every place — is now holy. We learn to enjoy the fruit of stability as we embrace God’s mission where we are” (139). Stability is essential to our faithfulness as we share life together in our church communities, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s The Wisdom of Stability is the finest reflection on stability in the contemporary world. Through stability, we learn to mature together in a place toward the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4), becoming, by the grace of God, a vibrant contrast to the madness of our hypermobile culture. In The Wisdom of Stability, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove orchestrates the voices of those before us who have set out to cultivate the practice of stability and poignantly calls us to the threshold of this journey of growing into stability. May we have the courage to heed his call and set out together on this journey and the even greater courage needed to weather the many demons that will assail us as we continue to be faithful in our place, day by day and year by year.”

“A Vibrant Contrast to the Madness of our Hypermobile Culture”
By C. Christopher Smith in “The Englewood Review of Books”, 30 April 2010


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