Book: Earley, Justin. The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction
Point: Our daily habits form us. If we are not intentional about those, or if we buy into the lie that unrestrained freedom is the good life, we will wither.
Path: Earley helps those of us lost in our business to begin to order our lives around 8 keystone habits. These simple (not necessarily easy) habits form how we view ourselves, others, our world, and our God. These are separated into two categories, daily and weekly and include: (Daily) Kneeling prayer, Meal with others, Phone-free hour, Scripture before phone, (Weekly) Hour conversation with a friend, Curated media, 24 Hour fast, and Sabbath.
Agreement: This book was a challenge to me. I appreciate much of what he said. Some of the habits were new to me, some were not. Some I continue to practice, some I have yet to try. I have even incorporated other habits not mentioned in this book, but as a direct result from reading it.
The simplicity of the habits is deceptive. Some are really hard. I could feel myself fighting against them. For example, putting the phone away for an hour was revealing for me.
I don’t disagree with any of the keystone habits he has chosen. They are good. There are other ones, for sure, but these are helpful.
Earley is both thoughtful and interesting in his writing. I enjoyed reading the book. The simple charts were helpful to reorientate myself in the overall movement of the book, in the same way that the habits themselves help me to reorientate myself daily and weekly.
He is a good writer, however there are points in the book where an idea or a sentence sounds great, but it fails because it is 1) false; 2) unproven; or 3) vague. In those moments I could sense the undercurrent into which we easily fall, namely, “Everyone is saying it, and it sounds good, so it must be true.”
Here are some examples from the chapter on prayer:
“I believe in the power of words – and especially the words of prayer – to shape the world” (32). Is this sentence, and the paragraphs surrounding it, saying his words are powerful, his praying is powerful, the one he is praying to is powerful, or all three? There is truth here, but it is vague.
“There are two kinds of prayer” (34). Only two? Are there more? Where do you get this from?
“You say your prayers until your prayers say you. That’s the goal.” (43) Is this true? Is it false? It may be true, but where do you get that from? Help me to understand why it is true.
His epilogue, On Failure and Beauty, was both encouraging and confusing. I recognize that trying to live a thoughtful life is not easy. There will be failure. But what is this “failure”? How do you defining “failure”? Is failure just another way to say, “I didn’t pursue a thoughtful life”? By failure do you mean sinning against others by responding in anger, indifference, or apathy? If failure “is making you a work of art” (166), I need to know what that failure is. I think if he were to switch out the word “failure” with “dependence”, “humility”, “faithfulness”, or perhaps another word, I would be able to better understand his point. As it stands, this appears to be a “you’re messed up and I’m messed up, so we are good” type concession. That may make me feel ok about myself, but that doesn’t help me. I need to hear that God’s mending is what makes all things beautiful, not my “fault lines” (166).
Personal App: Living life without intentional habits to reorientate me toward God and others will numb my relationships, shrivel my soul, and hasten my body to the grave.
Favorite Quote: “But the rest that our souls need is not simply a nap. It’s the rest that comes with realizing we don’t have anything to prove anymore” (147)
Who should read this:
If you are expecting this to be the foundational book of any of these ideas, you will be disappointed. It was not written to be that. There are excellent books on prayer, fasting, community, etc. This book was written, not as the go-to manual, but as a reality check to get you interested in a life that is possible because of God’s work. This book serves as an agent of change in the same way a hallway of a home serves hospitality – people pass through it to the larger rooms. For that, I am thankful for this book. I will re-read it. I will recommend it.
Stars: 4 out of 5
Other books along this theme would be:
Reinke, T. 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You
*I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.