Suburban life is filled with bake sales, craft sales, and car washes for good causes. Goodwill donations, GoFundMe campaigns, and volunteer work are all attempts to make the world a better place. But most suburbanites don’t have to think too much about poverty and injustice. When one’s neighborhood, health care, and local schools are basically clean and safe, practicing compassion could almost be a hobby, a temporary interest that swells at Christmas and at times of global tragedy.
Nonetheless, a growing number of people are choosing to reject that comfortable suburban culture and its relentless consumption. Instead, they are “turning…away from the false promises of the American Dream and toward Jesus.” In The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us, authors Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger share their hunger for simplicity, reconciliation, hospitality, contemplation, and Jesus.
One rainy night after dinner, Arthur and Wasinger were discussing their shared admiration for Shane Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution) and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (The Awakening of Hope), chief spokespersons of the new monastic movement. Arthur and Wasinger wondered aloud how they might translate that countercultural way of life into their suburban contexts, and The Year of Small Thingsproject began.
New monasticism is rooted in scripture, especially passages like Acts 2 and Matthew 18. It attempts to answer that old rubber bracelet question: “What Would Jesus Do?” Jesus obviously identified with the poor. He obviously wasn’t a racist. He obviously loved strangers, lived in community, and lived a contemplative life.
In 2005 Cascade Books published School(s) for Conversion: Twelve Marks of New Monasticism, a book edited by the Rutba House, an intentional community founded by Wilson-Hartgrove and his wife, Leah, in Durham, North Carolina. The twelve marks include:
- Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
- Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
- Hospitality to the stranger.
- Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with active pursuit of just reconciliation.
- Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.
- Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.
- Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
- Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.
- Geographic proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
- Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.
- Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution in communities along the lines of Matthew 18.
- Commitment to a disciplined, contemplative life.
These are radical marks that require voluntary poverty and vulnerability on the one hand and a renunciation of the stereotypical American Dream on the other. It’s one thing to give money, run 5Ks for charity, and go on mission trips. It’s something else to embrace messy, unpredictable relationships and move into neighborhoods with abandoned houses, struggling schools, and crumbling infrastructure.
Wasinger and Arthur formed a simple, intriguing plan to embrace this kind of shared, radical faith, and it came with a catchy tagline: “One city, one church, one year. Two families. Twelve small radical changes.” Their goal:
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More book reviews:
- Seeking Refuge by Matthew Soerens
- Slow Kingdom Coming by Kent Annan
- Keeping Place by Jen Pollock Michel
- Still Waiting by Ann Swindell
©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2018.