Book Review: Unexpected Gifts
Author: Christopher Heuertz
Publisher: Howard Books ISBN: 9781451652260
“In true community, failures give us the chance to choose people over principles.” -Chris Heuertz
This book wasn’t exactly what I expected when I ordered it, but I believe it was exactly what I needed… an unexpected gift. Indeed.
I have been interested in the idea and the practice of true community for quite some time. I believe it [community] has been one of the things I have most longed for in the course of my Christian experience. It is for this reason that I am drawn to books and writers who share their experiences; I’m learning as I go and learning as I continue to search. I am also aware of the potential for romanticizing a dream and making it something that it often is not, although my awareness does not preclude me from being guilty of being idealistic about my passion for community. This is why Chris’ book has been an Unexpected Gift to me.
I’ve read a lot on the topic of Christian community and while there are often disclaimers that would caution the reader about not realizing the challenges faced by people sharing their life together, the stories are mostly shared in positive light. This isn’t exactly the case with Heuertz’s approach. I encountered something more akin to a confessional. I think this was a good thing. One only take a look at or a listen to the chapter titles and I think a certain picture begins to emerge: Failure, Doubt, Insulation, Isolation, Transition, The Unknown Self, Betraying the Community, Incompatibility, Ingratitude, Grief, and Restlessness. Do these chapter titles sound like the ingredients of Gift? Herein lays the beauty of this book.
Community is challenging if not outright difficult. While I have not experienced the level of Community (in a Christian context) as shared by Heuertz in Unexpected Gifts, I’ve been part of community in the context of other institutions (military, athletics, and other). The stories and struggles shared by Chris are sobering, but they are also inviting as they put into words the path of transformation and self-emptying discovery of what Christian love really looks like.
Every part of this book was a joy for me, but there were several chapters that spoke to me at a very deep level; chapter five, Transitions, was one of them. Changes in life, departures from friends, and differences in philosophy of life are among a few of the transitions that have occurred in my own life. None of these transitions have been easy and I have made mistakes, it seems, in the course of each one and this is one of the reasons I connected with this chapter so much. Reconciliation and restoration, patience, gentleness, and understanding are all virtues that should be a part of every transition of life—Chris speaks with rich wisdom on this subject.
Betraying Community and Incompatibility were two more deeply moving chapters for me as they spoke closely to my own experiences with various transitions in my life. As I have said, this is a unique approach to describing the beauty of Community. By taking some of the dirty, misshapen, rocky objects from the muck of the earth, Heuertz shows how patience and perseverance along with a gentle touch can turn those castaway misshapen objects into the most beautiful of gems. These are the unexpected gifts of community.
This is a wonderful book; at times, it was difficult to read, but that was because I was lost in my own reflections or wiping away my tears. Thanks Chris.