“This place is holding me back,” I hear him say.
Or: “I need a fresh start – I have too much history here,” she mutters.
So begins the now-common ritual of transplanting our much-too-mobile bones from one place to another in the misplaced hope that what is wrong with our lives has to do with our geography instead of our selves. A change of scenery does not necessarily produce a change of heart.
What is changing, however, is my increasing frustration level with the incessant mobility of my peer group. My latest mental survey says that everyone I know—myself included—is a flight risk. You’d think we were all living in a James Bond movie – gotta keep moving, I think they’re on to me.
The reasons to leave are always numerous. Feeling culturally stifled? Spend a few months in Thailand, or maybe backpack through Europe. Want to make some cash while experiencing another culture? Teach English in Japan! The always-cynical Stuff White People Like blog further illustrates our tendency to live on the run in the posts Taking a Year Off and Traveling.
But the problem with this tendency to mobility is that building a culture, community or church becomes impossible. We instead wind up with a sick, rootless society of immature, irresponsible people who’ve never met a problem they won’t run from sooner than facing.
There is no commitment involved when where you live is simply another consumer product. Don’t like your neighbourhood? Move. Don’t like your job? Travel. Don’t like your church? Shop around. But at all costs, don’t get stuck where you are for too long.
This culture of constant flight breeds a highly romanticized ideal of community. We talk about wanting “a sense of belonging,” without realizing that actual belonging—rather than some vague sense of it—means that your community owns you. Real community means that when things get unpleasant in your living situation, you work through it; endure it; suffer through it. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not in community.
This has all led me to a shocking rebellion: I’m staying put. I’m here now and not going anywhere. If I move out of my current neighbourhood and into another one, I’m going to stay there for the rest of my life. I’m committed.
I would assume that the preceding paragraph was met with horror by any reader who takes mobility as good, normal and possibly noble. I nearly soiled myself writing it, and my wife said “that’s terrifying” when I read it to her, despite many prior conversations. This goes to show how shallow our notions of commitment truly are. And I am the chief of sinners.
Although “staying put” is a shocking idea to modern ears, it’s hardly novel. Benedictine monks have been swearing a vow of stability (alongside obedience and conversion of life) for about 1500 years. In a paper called The Vow of Stability: A Premodern Way through a Hypermodern World, Gerald Schlabach says that the Benedictines “proclaim a freedom that the hypermodern world can barely know, a freedom not to change everything always.”
And what a freedom that is. Lord knows how much pressure there is to constantly reinvent ourselves in a constantly changing world. Staying put frees me of the anxiety that here is suffocating and there is always better; that is, until there becomes here in an endlessly vicious cycle.
Seen this way, mobility begins to look a lot like slavery, while stability begins to look a lot more like freedom than I would have imagined. True freedom isn’t a lack of limits, but rather an embrace of the limits intrinsic to our nature as embodied creatures. We are always located somewhere at some time. And I plan to stay long enough in one place to make a dent.