This is Part 5 of our interview with Chris Heuertz (his Facebook and Twitter) on his new, vulnerable book, Unexpected Gifts. In case you missed them, check out Part 1 (my overview of the book), Part 2 (the beginning lessons of living with Mother Teresa), Part 3 (on working with mutilated childhood soldiers in the Sierra Leone civil war) and Part 4 (on the importance of contemplative spirituality to sustain good work over the long haul).
Andrew: One of the most difficult aspects of “community” and incarnational living, is that it gets messy really quick. What best practices can you share with us from your two decades invested in loving within diverse communities.
Chris: “In my new book, Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community, I try to unpack the messy assumption around our notions of community—assumptions that are sometimes filled with unrealistic idealizations of what it should be or what it might become. Many of those expectations often lead to disappointments, and in turn we find ourselves perpetually transitioning in and out of communities looking for the perfect one.
If we stay in a friendship, relationship or community long enough we will experience inevitable challenges. These inevitable challenges (things like failure, doubt, betrayal, the mundane, a loss of identity, sexual chemistry, messy transitions and others) are legitimate reasons for people to leave their communities. However, sometimes the reasons we leave are actually invitations to stay—and when we stay, work through these inevitable challenges, they often become unexpected gifts.
But one of the reasons many of us leave communities is because of how homogenized, insulated and isolated our communities tend to become.
Here’s a simple test to try:
Take out your cell phone and review the last ten calls you made or texts you sent. Who’s on that list? What names come up? How many of our recently contacted friends are people of a different race, ethnicity, or nationality? Do any names of folks outside our age bracket show up? For Christians, how many people on our call lists are Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, or even nonreligious? What about their sexual orientation? What does our circle of friends communicate to people whose sexual preferences are different from ours? How inclusive or isolated is our call history?
Not that one’s cell phone usage is the singular measure of the diversity in relationships, but for many people, the folks whose names appear in the call history staring back at us from our phones look a lot like we do. Many of us have a homogenized circle of friends who live like us, look like us, and probably even worship like us. Our call history is often a mirror of who we are. And, as a consequence, of who our community is.
So we need to begin by confessing the poverty of our friendships if we hope to allow the space and freedom for our communities to become more diverse, which ultimately is more human/divine in all its most beautiful ways.”
How have you all learned to love within diverse communities, or diverse settings where people believe different things as yourself?