Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Book Review: Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community by Christopher L. Heuertz

I received a copy of Unexpected Gifts free from Howard Books for the purpose of this review.  The opinions expressed here are my own.   

Unexpected Gifts is a book about community, both the gifts of it and the struggles that come with living in community.  Through the book, Heuertz,, who works for Word Made Flesh, tackles topics such as unexpected communities (a bar), faith and doubt in community, burnout, sabbatical, diverse friendships, chemistry between people, betrayal, grief, and so much more.

Using examples from places he has lived and people with whom he has worked, Huertz gets the reader to wonder "What is my community?"  "How do I relate to people in my community?"  "Can I do better in my community?"  He speaks of his own struggles and mistakes he has made in community.  

Some of the most powerful image in the book come from his stories of time in India.  He tackles this as early as chapter two, in which 
he writes about doubt that comes through some of the questions people he has known have asked, yet he has never had to, such as "How long can my baby live without milk?"  "Where will I sleep tonight?  Can I find a place where I won't be raped again?"  "Does anyone know I am in this brothel chained to this bed?"  He writes of a woman named Sophia, who was raped while her husband was forced to watch and then he was killed, and her three month old daughter's arm was cut off with a machete.  Heuertz explains that these fellow humans who suffer are still our community, that we are all parts of the one body.  But instead of recognizing that, we are divided, and we do not suffer with our fellow members.  

Another difficult lesson Heuertz teaches is love despite betrayal of community or relationship.  "Our response to betrayal," he writes, "can be a powerful force, setting our life trajectories toward grace or bitterness" (page 109).   While we will all be betrayed, he encourages us to look to Jesus:  "Christ's fidelity in loving Judas in the midst of betrayal is the sign of faithfulness and the standard to follow" (page 117).

Too often, in our culture of going to church every Sunday and speaking the right kind of Christian language and expressing the right beliefs, we are so caught up in what we believe that we forget that we actually have to practice it.  In our church communities, do we have deep friendships?  Outside of our churches, do we connect with others who are different?  How do we really react when we are faced with the lessons we hear in sermons?  If these are questions you have wondered, or are  now thinking for the first time, I'd encourage you to read this book.  If you are looking for ways to improve your community, to have a healthier one (no matter the size), I'd encourage you to read this book.  You will not be disappointed.  

One downside to the book was that Heuertz talks about his current community, but it is not until page 144 where he explains what/who that community is (I will concede it's possible it was mentioned earlier but in my eagerness to read I may have missed it).  There were also a couple of other times I thought the writing wasn't clear, and some things that I would have liked to have had more explanation of, but they were minor.

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