I have just finished reading ‘Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community’ by Christopher L. Heuertz.
Jean Vanier, himself a world guru on community life, says of the book –”Unexpected Gifts is a prophetic book about the wisdom of community. For nearly two decades, Christopher Heuertz has led the community Word Made Flesh, whose goal is to serve and be with the most miserable and oppressed people of our world, hidden in war-torn lands, slums, and red-light districts of big cities. The community founded in the evangelical church has become ecumenical; members from different churches united in their desire to serve the poorest of the poor, are inspired by Jesus.” This high praise by Vanier is backed up by a foreword from Richard Rohr.
Chapter One looks at community, under the subtitle ‘Why bother?’, he answers by suggesting that, while God created humanity out of love, God also created out of loneliness, saying: “After all, love, by it’s nature is self-giving and needs a subject. And if there is such a thing as divine loneliness, I imagine our need for relationships is one of those subtle indicators that we actually are made in the image of God (pxiv).”
He is very clear about the difficulties and failures in trying to build community. “I’ve always been in a variety of communities. The most authentic ones are on a continual journey of failing miserably. In those circles of relationships we’ve let one another down and disappointed one another: Many of us haven’t been the kind of friends we hoped we could be to one another. We haven’t always fought fair. We’ve made plenty of mistakes. Sometimes we have given up on one another. But I believe tragic flaws bear unexpected gifts. I trust in the reasons to stay, even though I’ve experienced more than adequate excuses to leave most of the communities I’ve participated in.”
The book talks about the unexpected gifts of staying in friendships, relationships and communities and facing the challenges implicit in sharing our lives with others and pathways to resolution. Here is a summary of the challenges and resolutions:
Failure to support
Doubt to acceptance
Insulation to absence
Isolation to inclusion
Transition to stability
The unknown self to identity
Incompatibility to boundaries
Betrayal to friendship
Ingratitude to celebration
Grief to contemplation
Restlessness to faithfulness
There is so much growth, life, identity and hope in learning to be faithful in friendships and community. As he says:
“Stepping into community is far riskier than expected. It’s far worse than you expect it to be. But in the end, it’s far better than you could ever imagine.”
It is a good read. I’ll summarise a few bits from it over the next few posts.