The Common Rule, Justin Whitmel Earley. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.
Summary: Offers an alternative to the habits of our technological world that make us busy, distracted, anxious, and isolated by proposing a set of habits enabling us to live into loving God and neighbor, and into freedom and rest.
Justin Earley was a well-intentioned, missional Christian with ambitious goals who found himself having panic attacks and self-medicating with pills and alcohol and other destructive habits. A life of busyness shaped increasingly by technology was undermining his health and relationships. He recognized that he was being shaped by a set of cultural habits, ways of being that left him busy, distracted, anxious, and isolated. He saw that these habits were not only shaping his schedule; they were forming his heart. Along with some friends, he identified an alternate set of daily and weekly habits that they thought were consonant with their shared faith. He began sharing these with others, and eventually, in conversation with a pastor, realized that he and his friends had rediscovered an ancient practice going back to Augustine and Benedict of living under a rule of life, hence the name they adopted, The Common Rule.
The Common Rule Consists of four daily and four weekly habits. Two of each of these focus on loving God, and two on loving neighbor. Also two of each focus on embracing the good in God’s world, and two of each focus on resisting destructive cultural practices, even as we pursue a life of love. The eight are:
- Kneeling Prayer morning, midday, and bedtime (Love God/embrace)
- One meal with others. (Love neighbor/embrace)
- One hour with phone off (Love neighbor/resist)
- Scripture before phone (Love God/resist)
- One hour of conversation with a friend (Love neighbor/embrace)
- Curate media to four hours (Love neighbor/resist)
- Fast from something for twenty-four hours (Love God/resist)
- Sabbath (Love God/embrace)
After introductory chapters explaining the rule, one chapter of the book is devoted to each habit, explaining the rationale for each habit and concluding with practical instructions for practicing the habit. He concludes the book with the observation of art critic Michael Kimmelman that the greatest work of art is the “curating of all of life as a single witness to something grand” (p. 162). Earley then applies this to the work of habits in our lives. He writes:
“I believe that paying attention to the work of habit is similar. It is best thought of as giving attention to the art of habit. It isn’t about trying to live right; it’s about curating a life. It is the art of living beautifully” (p. 163).
The book concludes with an extremely helpful set of resources for individuals or groups (Earley believes it is especially helpful to practice these disciplines with others who voluntarily enter in so that individuals can encourage each other). The resources include the habits in a nutshell, a guide to trying one habit a week, trying the whole Common Rule for a week or a month, ways congregations can use the Common Rule, prayers for those trying the Common Rule, and ways the Common Rule might be used in different walks of life for skeptics, parents, at work, for artists and creatives, entrepreneurs, addicts, and those with mental illnesses.
It may be a small thing, but I appreciated the typography of the book. The medium blue of the cover is used for titles, subtitles, diagrams, quote grabs, and headers, setting this book off from most mono-chromatic texts. More substantively, the practical application of James K. A. Smith’s ideas of cultural liturgies and the early fathers practice of rule of life makes for an inviting book grounded in rigorous thought and tested practice. Couple this with his own vulnerable example, and you have a winsome exposition of the practices that makes you want to start right away. The practices of scripture before phone, shutting off the phone for at least an hour, and curating media were both challenging and helpful for this reader whose life is too dominated by the smartphone. Whether you embrace the full rule, or substitute other practices, Earley’s Common Rule offers an important alternative for people of faith to the ways our technological culture may lure us into frantic busyness, distraction, anxiety, and isolation instead of helping us curate beautiful lives of love for God and neighbor.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.