Part 1: Unexpected Gifts by Chris Heuertz

I love Chris Heuertz. I really do. I think he’s not only brilliant, but truly a man of integrity that lives out everything he writes and speaks about. Chris’ previous book, Friendship at the Margins, is one of my favorite books of all time. As a person who reads around 50 or so books a year that is saying something, at least in my mind.

So when I got a copy of his new book, Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community, I didn’t think it would have a chance to be anywhere close to as good as Friendship. He proved me wrong.

Unexpected Gifts is vulnerable. It’s very raw in places. It’s an honest analysis of the failures and stories throughout the past twenty years of Chris’ life serving in spaces around the world that have legitimate reasons to question God’s goodness. I loved it. Chris is a bridge builder without calling himself that–and his life, words and stories throughout Unexpected Gifts illustrate what a life of someone, who is compelled by Jesus, looks like as he works to establish good regardless if anyone ends up on “his side” or not. That is why not only Friendship, but now Unexpected Gifts, are required reading for anyone interested in living in the work of The Marin Foundation.

After twenty years leading the Word Made Flesh global community, this past year Chris and his wife Phileena just opened up Gravity | A Center for Contemplative Activism (and you can also follow it on Twitter). Some of our staff has already attended one of Gravity’s contemplative retreats, and we’ll be blogging about that soon as well.

Chris (check him out on Facebook and Twitter) has been gracious enough to answer a few questions I had for him about his new book. This week, then, is dedicated to Chris Heuertz. I know you will be challenged by what he has to say.

Andrew: Chris, your book was written in such a vulnerable fashion. What was that process like for you, having to dig so deep in reflection of what most authors never reveal about themselves, their failures and their doubts in the process of loving people on the margins?

Chris: “My wife Phileena and I had been part of a missional community for 20 years. When we assumed leadership there were just a handful of us slugging away, attempting to faithfully live vocations of hope—bearing witness to hope in a world that has legitimate reasons to question the possibility of a good God. We saw a lot of growth, and at it’s most inflated point there were over 300 of us on staff, boards, or interning.

As you can imagine, as the community got bigger we started to include people who found us, people who didn’t have pre-existing friendships within the mission. This forced us to re-think what we meant by community and how we continued to nurture and build it.

Though many of us stayed and have spent much of adult lives committed to the community, as you can also imagine, after 20 years we saw lots of good people come and go. Some left too early. Of course many left for the right reasons, but in some of the scenarios experienced deep wounds by how their transitions were mishandled and misunderstood.

Looking back, there were plenty of milestones to celebrate, but there were quite a few failures to grieve and lament. But as Father Richard Rohr says, “the very failures and radical insufficiency of our lives are what lead us into larger life and love.” And so we tried our best to stumble forward in failure, learn from it, and press on.

Reflecting on the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs of community led me to write this book. A book that is full of vulnerable confessions of ways we got it wrong, ways we hurt each other, but also the unlikely ways we remained committed.”

Tomorrow we’ll be looking at the years Chris spent living in India with Mother Teresa.

Much love.

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