living in community
“Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love them.”
- Dorothy Day
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Catholic Worker Movement — best known for its hospitality houses that dot the nation, bringing together communities of individuals in need and offering them housing and love.
It was in that vein that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and his wife, Leah, began Rutba House in Durham, N.C., after experiencing what he calls the “Good Samaritan story:” While the couple were on a peacemaking trip in Rutba, Iraq in 2003, friends were injured in a car accident, and local physicians gracefully cared for them.
Jonathan and Leah returned to the states looking for a way to extend the same type of love and welcome they received in Iraq. Ten years later, Rutba House holds countless stories of transformation through community, which Jonathan recounts in his book Strangers at My Door: An Experiment in Radical Hospitality, out Nov. 5.
Upon first glance, the arc of the narrative does seem radical. The hospitality house welcomes strangers in to live as part of the community — even at midnight, even when they might not pass society’s presentability test, even when the host is tired, even when they come straight from prison.
“I think part of what I’ve learned over the past 10 years — what Jesus is revealing to us through this call to greet him in the stranger — is something basic about who we are and who we’re made to be,” Wilson-Hartgrove told Sojourners. “All of us are called to hospitality — not just as Christians, as human beings. Because humans can’t live alone.”
I’ve been asked several times in the last year or so, “How is it living in community?” Well, you see, that’s not a question to take lightly. Describing living in community takes more than just a quick response to a seemingly simple question. It’s wonderful. It’s difficult. It has its ups and downs. It’s life-giving and sometimes it feels like it takes the life out of you. How are you supposed to relay all that in a simple answer?
“Stepping into community is far riskier than expected. It’s far worse than you expect it to be. But in the end, it’s far better than you could ever imagine.”
With that line, along with the rest of his new book, Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community, author Christopher Heuertz offers a thorough reflection on how it is to live in community. Granted, he takes the space of 200 pages. But this book does give some ample reflection to those ups and downs, the failures and the joys — the, indeed, unexpected gifts — of community. With an honest and open tone, Unexpected Gifts reads like a story-filled guide to relationships, to living in community, living as Church, as Christ would have us do.