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New Monastic -- Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is an author, New Monastic, and sought-after speaker based in North Carolina.

Embracing Failure


by: on March 6th, 2013 | Comments Off

Every week at Rutba House, we have a time of confession. Years ago, we decided it was an importance practice to have in place, whether we need it this week or not. In community, we’re going to mess up. We all need space to be reconciled.

Often, when it’s time for confession, we sit in silence together and look at the ground.

But I’ve noticed something over the years: whenever one person is honest enough to confess their failure, everyone else inevitably joins them.

What’s more, we feel closer to one another when we do. Because we know we’re not perfect. But we’re forgiven. And because we are, we can get up and keep going together.

My friend Chris Heuertz has a new book out called Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community. I love it because it’s all about failure-how to fail well and be honest about it. Which makes it one of the more honest books on community I’ve read.


The Fast We’ve Chosen: Begging with Our Friends


by: on February 27th, 2013 | Comments Off

Today Christians in Durham join sisters and brothers around the world to begin the season of penance that we call Lent. Pastors and priests call us to “remember you are dust and to the dust you shall return.” Recognizing that our sinful inclination is toward hubris, we dedicate forty days to the imitation of Christ’s humility through the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

But this year, Christians in Durham face a challenge: we cannot give to the beggar on our city’s streets because panhandling has been outlawed in Durham.

In a consensus agenda that City Council unanimously passed at their December 2012 meeting, ordinance #14375 went on the books, effective January 17, 2013. Council has been adamant that this new ordinance does not outlaw begging in Durham. And on that point, they are technically correct. The new ordinance only outlaws begging on the medians and exit ramps where our most vulnerable neighbors have been standing to ask for our help in recent years. To these neighbors, the distinction makes little difference.


Faith Among the Millennials


by: on April 29th, 2010 | Comments Off

Here’s a little video on living in community as a practice of Christian faith.

Christian Community w/Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

A few years ago my friend Dorothy Bass, who directs the Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith, wrote to ask me if I’d help write a book presenting the Christian faith to “emerging adults.” At the time I didn’t know what an “emerging adult” was, but when I heard the description, I knew that it fit. This was me, in many ways. It was the folks I’d gone to school with, the college students I speak to on campuses around the country. The children of Christendom, we grew up with a notion of adulthood that included growing up to be Christian. Maybe you sow your wild oats for a while. But when you come home, you come home to Mother church. That’s the story I grew up hearing. But a whole lot of people in my generation learned to read the Christian story critically. We have friends who are Muslim, Buddhist, and agnostic. We don’t live close the the church we grew up in. Having grown up, millennials aren’t sure what it looks like to grow into faith.

Dorothy’s idea was that we could best present the Christian faith to emerging adults by showing how it consists of everyday practices that make up a whole life–practices that look different, even strange, if the stuff Christians believe is really true. A believer myself, I thought the project sounded worth the time. But I also invited an agnostic friend along–a fellow who isn’t too impressed by God-talk. I asked him to keep me honest.

When we’d finished the first draft of On Our Way: Christian Practices for Living a Whole Life, I asked my agnostic friend to read it. “If this is what Christianity is really about,” he said to me, “I think I like it.” I’ve got a feeling that most millennials are going to have to have a reason to like a faith before they’ll ever believe that it’s true.

Giving Up Spiritual Journeys


by: on April 6th, 2010 | 5 Comments »

Don lived for years in the Chicago area, working hard and trying to keep up with the fast pace of his profession. Several years ago, he left the city and took a job on a somewhat remote college campus run by Benedictines. While visiting on the campus once, he and I walked the carefully cared-for grounds, talking about our faith. “Since coming here,” Don said, “I’ve given up my spiritual journey.”

I could tell from his smile that he had a point to make, so I asked what he meant. “Well, you know, we Christians talk a lot about our spiritual journeys. We get excited about experiences and go places looking for the next spiritual high. We say God called us here. Then God calls us there. But it’s all so individualistic. It’s all so focused on little ‘lessons’ or ‘insights’ that we’re supposed to take with us to the next place.” Don paused and looked around at some of the old men in long black robes who were walking by us on the campus. “I think I’m learning from these guys that God can change us if we’ll settle down in one place. So I’ve given up my spiritual journey. I’m going to just stay with God here and see how I can grow.”

We cannot ignore the many ways that our culture of hypermobility has shaped how we think about our spiritual lives. Thanks to cheap plane tickets and strong economies, we can go more places now than we’ve ever been able to go before. We go to Italy to see where Francis lived and to Ireland to learn about Celtic Christianity. When it’s relatively safe, we go to Israel to walk where Jesus walked. We go to conferences to hear from the latest spiritual gurus and we go to retreat centers to find some solace in our busy lives.

Of course, we find some good in all these places. But picking up fragments of spiritual wisdom can begin to feel like trying to piece together a tree from limbs that we’ve broken off here and there. Even if we gather enough limbs to make a tree, something is still missing. Life just isn’t in the pieces the same way it is in a tree whose roots are fixed in the soil of a particular place.

The practice of stability invites us to give up spiritual journeys for the sake of growing in a life with God. As it turns out, people have been doing this for thousands of years. What is more, staying put is becoming something of a movement of its own today. I’ve written more about this in my book, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, which released this week. You can watch a short video about it by clicking here: The Wisdom of Stability.

Face Time for the Movement


by: on March 19th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

A friend told me a story about visiting her son during his first semester of college. She took him to dinner (a chance to eat something other than cafeteria food) and sat across from him, eager to hear how school was going. After looking at the menu, she looked up to see his head hanging down across the table. “Oh, what’s wrong honey?” she asked with motherly concern. “Nothing, Mom,” he said looking up. “I’m just texting a friend under the table.”

Technology worries me sometimes, not because I don’t like to stay connected but because I, like my friend’s son, am easily distracted. Still, another friend convinced me last year to join Facebook, and I blog here and elsewhere occasionally because a conversation is happening. And conversations matter. Because people matter, and all we really have to connect us is words. My friend who coaxed me onto Facebook likes to say, “All communication media can help relationships, but none can replace face time.” I think he’s right. We can keep up with one another online. We can even learn from what others are thinking elsewhere. But every once in a while, we need to get together. There’s no replacement for face-time.

Which is why I want to invite folks to join me for the second annual Duke Divinity School Summer Institute here in my home town, Durham, NC, May 31-June 5. Our theme is “Reconciliation in a Divided World,” and many of the folks whose blogs and books I like to read will be gathering again to eat and worship together, to listen to reflections from elders like John Perkins, Mary Nelson, and Virgilio Elizondo in morning plenary sessions, and to get down to the nuts and bolts of our daily tasks in afternoon workshops on Jesus and Justice, Racial Reconciliation in Congregations, Global Poverty, Community Development, Institutional Leadership, the Arts and Creation Care. I’m delighted to be teaching a workshop with Mary Nelson on Building Beloved Community.

I’m posting this today because the organizers of the conference tell me that scholarships for this time together are available–but only until April 9th. I don’t want anyone to miss the chance for the face time that helps us move from words and ideas to relationships and a movement–God’s movement to reconcile all things.

My Education in Wake County Jail


by: on February 23rd, 2010 | Comments Off

I got locked up once when I was in seminary. It was the dead of winter, and for some months a group of Christian peacemakers in North Carolina had been organizing civil disobedience to public executions at the state prison in Raleigh. Four or five times they had arrested and booked us, then let us out in the night on a promise to appear in court. Finally, the DA had enough. He asked the magistrate to set our bonds at $5,000 each. We put on the orange jumpsuits and got processed into the general population.

I’ll never forget the morning I walked onto the overcrowded fourth floor of the Wake County Jail. With my newly issued mat in hand (they didn’t have any bunks left), I looked for a place on the floor. I found one beside a fellow who was glad to talk.

“What you in for?” he asked. I asked if he’d seen the execution on the news the night before. “Yeah,” he said. I told him I’d been arrested for trying to stop it.


Learning God’s Economy from Muslim Friends


by: on October 2nd, 2009 | 4 Comments »

A January 2008 study conducted by United for a Fair Economy estimated that the sub-prime mortgage crisis we were beginning to experience at that time would ultimately result in a net loss of $164-213 billion in assets for people of color. A friend pointed out to me that this was, in market terms, almost certainly the largest transfer of wealth away from black people in a very long history of economic injustice. By all accounts, the subprime crisis was the result of bad lending policies by banks who wanted to capitalize on a lucrative securities market.

As banks reported huge losses and markets took a dive in the winter of 2008, I was struck by an article titled, “Islamic banks shielded from subprime.” At that point, the author said, conventional global banks like CitiGroup and UBS had already written down more than $80 billion in losses. Islamic banks, however, reported almost no loss at all. Because sharia law (like the Bible) forbids usury, Islamic banks do not charge interest or trade debt. “Many of these conventional products that have been under stress lately are very complex and need special risk management tools,” explained Rasheed al-Maraj, the governor of Bahrain’s central bank. “In Islamic banking you will not have this kind of thing. Some of these products would not be sharia accepted.”

This got me interested in Islamic banking, so I did a little research. It turns out that Muslims have a long history of practicing the tactic of economic friendship that Jesus taught when he said, “use money to make friends for yourselves” (Luke 16:9). When members of the community need money for a large purchase, they typically borrow it from fellow Muslims. But Islamic law’s ban on riba – or interest – has forced the Muslim community to think differently about money lending. If you can’t make money on money, banking isn’t the big business we often imagine it to be in the West. “We are not run-of-the-mill marketing people who find a niche and run with it,” says Yahia Abdul-Rahman, the CEO of Lariba, an Islamic bank based in Pasadena, California. “We are humble servants of the community.”


Lament Violence, Invest in Peace


by: on August 31st, 2009 | Comments Off

As we remember the eighth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, we join our voices with the psalmist in a cry of lament: “How long, O Lord, until Abel’s blood stops crying, until justice rolls down like waters, until the lion can lay down with the lamb in a restored creation?” We lament the violence suffered by 9/11 victims and their families. And we lament the violence that people in Afghanistan and Iraq have suffered these past eight years. We cry out against the violence, and we want to act now for peace.

A couple of decades ago our brother Ron Sider made the following statement:

Making peace is as costly as waging war. Unless we are prepared to pay the cost of peacemaking, we have no right to claim the label or preach the message.

Before long the Christian Peacemaker Teams was born. CPT has been interrupting injustice and respectfully partnering with local nonviolent movements in some of the toughest corners on the planet for years. CPTers radiate the sort of courage and imagination we need if we are to expect folks to take our cross seriously in a world riddled with terror and smart bombs. For this reason, many of us have joined delegations like the one we went to Iraq with in March of 2003.

This sort of Christian “witness” is marked by the truth at the center of the Christian message–greater love has no one than those who are willing to lay down their lives for others. There is something worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for. No doubt, CPT is a new face of global missions in a world of omnipresent war – a witness to the God that loves evildoers so much he died for them, for us. These days, the cross presents a beautiful alternative to the sword.


Interdependence Day


by: on June 25th, 2009 | 1 Comment »

A few years ago I was invited by an evangelical campus ministry to speak on the campus of a liberal arts college. My topic was Christian peacemaking, and the Christians advertised my talk on campus by sharing the story of how I learned what God’s love looks like when Muslims in Iraq offered me and my friends life-saving hospitality just three days after our country had bombed their hospital. This story caught the attention of a Muslim group on campus and they invited me to meet with them for a meal before my talk.

After telling my story, I asked the Muslim students to share about their own experiences of practicing their faith in America. “We have a lot in common,” one of the students said to me. “The individualism that makes it hard for you to be a Christian also makes it hard for us to be Muslims.” Reflecting on each of our traditions, we swapped stories about the challenge of being an authentic faith community in a culture that sometimes seems to worship independence.

I thought of that conversation with Muslim friends when my friends at the Englewood Review of Books sent me their list of “40 Ways to Celebrate Interdepedence”-a wonderfully subversive call to action for people of faith on July 4th. Like any good list, it’s a countdown. I’ve listed the first ten here. To read the others, click on the link below.

40. Shop only at locally-owned merchants or restaurants.
39. Write a note of appreciation to a mother; thank her for raising a child.
38. Look through your clothes. Learn about one of the countries where they were manufactured and commit to doing one thing to improve the lives of the people who live and work there.
37. Take a digital recorder out into your neighborhood and do “field recordings” of your neighbors showing off their talents (singing, playing instruments, telling jokes/stories). Make a cd of these recordings and distribute it freely in your neighborhood.
36. Gather some neighbors, walk around your neighborhood and do asset-mapping, noting key places in the local economy: local businesses, restaurants, parks, community gardens. Make a map that highlights these assets and distribute it freely in your neighborhood.
35. Learn where your utilities come from-the source of your electricity, gas, and water.
34. Dig up a bucket of soil from your garden or yard, examine it, noticing all of the elements of organic matter, sand, clay, and the organisms that make your daily meals a possibility.
33. Host or plan a neighborhood produce exchange, where gardeners can barter the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors with one another.
32. Spend the 4th of July baking cookies or bread. Give your baked goods to the person who delivers your mail or picks up your trash the next time you see them.
31. Host a rain-barrel making party and teach your neighbors how to make and use rain-barrels to recycle rain water.

For full list go here.