Strangers At My Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus In Unexpected Guests, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Multnomah WaterBrook Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
While I have never read any of the books by this author before, it appears as if this leader of the New Monastic movement and a known peace activist (he approvingly quotes poet William Stafford , for example) fits in with the general social justice tenor of the books I have read from this publisher . This is not at all a bad thing, but knowing the general context of a work like this helps to understand the approach of this book in urging greater attention to the outcasts, strangers, homeless vagabonds of this world who face the threat of prison, loneliness, and are caught in the grip of powerful addictions (like drug and alcohol abuse) often thanks to terrible family histories. For a variety of personal reasons, including my own family history and my visits to prisons and my own close brushes with homelessness and the treat of imprisonment, this is a book that strikes a lot of personal resonance for me.
This book is organized as a set of stories about Rutba House, a community of people who live together in a sort of communal and monastic way (although the author does not appear to be a Catholic at all). The stories are poignant and all related around the concerns of trust and community. The author appears to misunderstand the nature of God’s laws and justice, a common enough problem for someone with issues with the penology of the Bible, but as an exponent of God’s grace with regards to our conduct and our compassion and openness and vulnerability towards the hurt and exploited and oppressed of the world, this book is a very honest and sincere work that ought to encourage others to be generous and open towards the poor and outcasts where they happen to be. Having been an outcast for my entire life, I am familiar with the family cycles and societal cycles that tend to reinforce failure in certain areas of life, and I have compassion, as well as sadness, for those whose lives have been even more difficult and their social networks even more frail.
As a book that is squarely in the social gospel tradition, this is not a work that will appeal to those who wish to read about the need for greater personal responsibility and holiness. This is, on the other hand, a book that is gritty about the addictions and compulsions that we struggle against and rather empathetic to those in the grips of such problems. This book discusses some fairly weak ground rules for the community, but is definitely lax on personal morality. That said, this book is strong when it comes to an understanding of social injustice and the patterns of failure and exploitation that are embedded in society, walking a very fine line between compassion for the oppressed and liberal white guilt. It would be best, in reading this book, to appreciate it for what it does well, speaking about the need for compassion and openness from a strong biblical perspective, and to seek out commentary on areas where this book is weak (namely the justice of God) from those sources and works that handle that necessary aspect of God’s character better.
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