Unexpected Gifts: a book review in community

Taught by Flannery O’Connor
March 1, 2013
The Winner Is… and a Review of Jesus Is ______
March 19, 2013

Since this is a book about community, I thought it would be important not to review the book alone. So, read on, this gets a bit more interactive and you play a role in this later on…


Chris Heuertz’s new book Unexpected Gifts  is about community, and since Tim Høiland (@tjhoiland)  read it around the same time, I asked if he’d like to review it together. Below is the first half of the review, presented in interview form. The second half of the review will appear on his blog tomorrow .

By the way, be sure to read all the way to the end for a chance to win one of three free copies of Unexpected Gifts!

Tim, what did you pick up about the idea of community in Unexpected Gifts?
I appreciated Chris’s honesty that shone through on page after page as he reflected on his experiences and understanding of community. It seems to me that honesty is an essential aspect of community itself, especially understood in terms of Christianity and the church. After all, what’s a true community if it’s not made up of people who are willing to be honest with each other? Chris is just as honest about his own failures and weaknesses as he is about the reality that doing life with people is messy, and that deep community isn’t for the faint of heart. I mean, look at the chapter titles and you’ll see what I mean – Failure, Doubt, Insulation, Isolation, etc. I hope readers don’t get bogged down, though, thinking community is all gloom. As the title suggests, community brings us gifts we couldn’t expect, and is made possible by grace. It just might mean walking through hardship and messiness to get there.

Since the book contains stories from inside and outside the U.S., what strikes you about how Americans do community differently than those in other nations?
Through Chris’s work with Word Made Flesh, he’s been all over the world, and has built true friendships with people at the margins of society, living in slums and other hard places in India and Peru and elsewhere. And I think it’s definitely given him a unique insight into the differences in the way community is practiced in the U.S. compared with some of these other places. It seems that for those of us in more affluent contexts, community is a nice add-on to an already full life. If anything, we need to cut things out of our schedules to make room for a community group at church, or to just spend time going deep with people. In my experiences overseas, community is a necessary fact of life – a matter of life or death, really. Often, it’s mostly extended family, but community provides a sort of safety net that’s nonexistent otherwise. And just culturally, people in collectivist societies don’t tend to have the same aversion we do to having others getting into our personal business. I think we could learn a lot from folks who do community much better than we do, without necessarily even having a name for it, much less a program or a budget.

I like what Howard Books did with the cover, which is important to anyone in the world who still shops in real bookstores – and a nice surprise when it comes in the mail.
I agree – I must confess I have a tendency to judge a book by its cover, and in this case I approve! Who knows what the designers were thinking when they dreamed it up, but here’s what I see when I look at it – I see no two circles that are the same size, though they’re almost all touching each other with a few strays thrown in there. In that sense, it’s unexpected. You also get the sense that the circles are moving around, expanding and contracting, even though they’re of course frozen in ink where they are. The truth is, community isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing, and in that way, Chris’s series of stories and reflections will probably be far more helpful than a book that’s presented as a sort of “ten steps to amazingly deep and rich community.”

Book Giveaway
We’re giving away three free copies of Unexpected Gifts. Each time you do one of the following “actions” you’ll be entered to win

1. Tweet this review, tagging @bomwhite  and including the hashtag #UnexpectedGifts

2. Share the review on Facebook

3. Make a donation to Word Made Flesh – each dollar donated counts as one entry (hint: this is a great way to increase your odds of winning!)

Whether you tweet, share, or donate (or all three!), be sure to let me know in the connect section or via twitter so we don’t miss any of your entries. Winners will be announced this upcoming Monday, March 18.

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