After over a year since I blogged on a regular basis, I hope to return to a more weekly effort to get something up. One recent development that has inspired this return to writing is that I’ve moved to Deanwood, a neighborhood in far NE D.C. I’m excited about this transition for many reasons, as I’ve moved here with several other friends and we’re sharing life together between our two houses. As we endeavor to figure out how our lives fit together and with our neighbors, I hope to offer some of my own reflections here.
I come from a family of “stickers.” We tend to settle pretty close to where we were raised and, once settled, don’t do a lot of moving around. My parents live 15 minutes from where they grew up. They’ve lived in the same house now for 23 years. They’ve been in the same Bible Study with some of the same friends that they knew in high school. My grandparents reluctantly left their hometowns in the mountains of Western Maryland and stayed away because they “got used to eating three meals a day,” as my grandfather used to say.
Many of the other spiritual role models in my life have also been “stickers,” people who grow roots in the same place for a long time. These have been individuals as well as communities. I’ve grown fond of the Benedictines, monks who make a vow of stability. This summer, I spent a month with Benedictines here in D.C., some of whom have lived in the same community for 50, 60 years. Communities like the Rutba House in Durham, Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston, Illinois, Koinonia Farms in Georgia, Church of the Saviour here in D.C., and many more, have shown that staying in a place is the only way to be a part of the long term good of a community. Staying allows you to grieve when appropriate as well as to truly share in the joys that come to a place. I’m not sure all the communities of people who have stuck around originally thought that’s what they’d do. And certainly not all the members of those communities stuck around forever. But somehow or another, enough people understood their call to be “stickers” in a place and were changed in the process.
Nobody told me, growing up, that stability is something I should strive for. I didn’t consciously seek out role models who told me that. It has been the fruit of stability that I’ve tasted in my parents and dear friends that has inspired me to be a “sticker.”
I just moved to Deanwood. Ever since leaving Durham, I’ve felt unsettled living in D.C. because the neighborhoods I lived in didn’t feel like places I could stay in long term. I left Durham feeling called to help develop Christian community in this city, bringing with me the wisdom of friends at the Rutba House and Richard Rohr. It has not always happened the way I imagined, but steadily, I’ve been pulled to the right places and find myself in a neighborhood I could see myself in for a long time. The day I moved in, I could feel the roots start to sink into the ground in my yard.
I don’t maintain the illusion that staying is always easy, or that it’s a sure path to “making a difference” in a neighborhood. But I’m absolutely certain that it changes us in a manner that can’t be discovered any other way.
I attended a Wendell Berry lecture a few months ago entitled “It all turns on affection.” One of Berry’s main points is that people are able to act for the good of others when they experience affection. Someone may dislike the killing and violence of war, but when a friend or loved one is killed at war, there is a much more profound relationship with the truth of war. Same with place. When we develop affection for the soil, for the land, for the people, we will make decisions that contribute to its long term good. And we can’t develop that affection unless we stick around.
I’m trying. These first days in a new place are exciting and I have a lot of hope. I’m trying to develop affection. Like compost and fertilizer for a plant, affection nourishes our ability to develop strong roots that don’t easily move. I imagine it’s often subtle, affection is. We don’t intend to, but one day we wake up and realize that we’ve been in the same place for 20 years and it just feels right. I hope that I wake up like that one day.