Coffee in Christian Ethics by Danielle Pollock & Joshua Torrey

Coffee in Christian EthicsCoffee in Christian Ethics: A Guide to Not Being a Drip

by Danielle Pollock & Joshua Torrey

Kindle Edition, 74 pg.
Torrey Gazette Publishing, 2017

Read: April 2, 2016

I know almost nothing about these authors, or their Twitter account of the same name — I bought this because a couple of people I follow on Twitter recommended the book during a pre-order blitz and because it sounded interesting. Score 1 for Social Media Marketing.

Here’s the official blurb:

The need for clear communication of God’s grace in the realm of coffee is great. Because we have been forgiven, we are to forgive. Because we have been given this foretaste, we must pass on this foretaste. It is the job of Christian ethics to pass on this small foretaste. If not in coffee quality, then at least through loving our neighbor with our coffee ethics. We must think of others and their coffee consumption before ourselves. We must consider their need for coffee as greater than our own. This requires us to have a thorough understanding of coffee and how to prepare it. We must rethink the importance of coffee in everyday activities as we focus on others.

Written by Danielle Pollock and Joshua Torrey, Coffee in Christian Ethics is a short introduction to the world of coffee. Filled with bad theology jokes, some snark, and real life stories, the goal of Coffee in Christian Ethics is to encourage Christians to use coffee in the various spheres of life as a way to love our neighbor.

At least of the introductions or prefaces or other filler at the beginning of the book used the word “satirical” — I think I missed that. Probably too subtle for my bourgeois brain and taste. This is a frequently condescending (although it goes to great pains to say it’s not) guide to coffee — beans, roasting, drinks, accessories, etc. — with a thin layer of Christianish language and application on top. Honestly, given the satirical nature of the work, I wasn’t sure how seriously I was to take that.

I found the use of “adult language” (to borrow a term from TV/Movie ratings) and casual attitude towards those things “whereby [God] makes himself known” (Third Commandment issues) enough to make me uncomfortable — if not more — to be found in a book on applied Christian Ethics.

Maybe I just didn’t get it — maybe I’m too dense for the humor, too uptight, too old-fashioned, too whatever. This could be the cleverest thing to come off the press since Fran Lebowitz’ Social Studies, but I just don’t think so. I’m going to give this 2 Stars out of charity and because it made me grin twice (also, some of the information about coffee was helpful) — but I wouldn’t recommend spending time on this one to anyone.


2 Stars

The Sense Of Humor by Max Elliot Anderson

The Sense Of HumorThe Sense Of Humor: Let Humor Fast Track You to Healthier, Happier Living

by Max Elliot Anderson

Paperback, 330 pg.
Elk Lake Publishing, 2016

Read: February 15 – 22, 2017

E. B. White famously said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” And I’ve found no exceptions to this in the couple of decades I’ve looked. Nevertheless, when Anderson asked if I’d read the book, I said yes. Sadly, White’s quip contains more meat than Anderson’s 330 pages.

The central thesis of the book is that humor and laughter are good mentally, physically, socially and spiritually. I’m pretty sure most people know that (at least with most of these things) without Anderson’s help. That doesn’t stop him from saying it over and over again — almost every time, it’s like he hasn’t said it before. As it’s such a benefit, he argues, we need to increase our use of it in our family, relationships, professional life, etc. A time or two, he adds a vaguely Christian-ish gloss to this to add some weight to his argument, but those attempts are pretty weak and best ignored for the author’s sake.

His use of sources is laughable — there are no footnotes/endnotes, many of his citations come in the form of “one entertainer said, . . . “, his history is easily demonstrably wrong. In short, the writing is shoddy and in dire need of a capable editing — which would make the whole thing a lot shorter.

The humor used to tell his point? Well, it’s mildly amusing at best. His chapter “Humor that is No Laughing Matter” is basically a narrow-minded nag-fest about sticking to types of humor that Anderson has arbitrarily decided is appropriate and avoiding humor that he doesn’t like. Everything else is just dull. Overall, the tone and content of the book don’t match up to the subject matter.

This would have made a fairly benign and marginally interesting magazine article, or TL;DR blog post — but as a book? Nope, it just doesn’t work — it ends up spreading what material there is too thin to be any good. It’s too filled with what everyone already knows (and repeats it) and shoddy writing to waste your time with.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest thoughts, I think it’s pretty clear that it didn’t bias me toward the book.


2 Stars

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) by Jennifer Weiner

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing

by Jennifer Weiner , Jennifer Weiner (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs, 15 min.
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016
Read: February 6 – 14, 2017

I’m not the biggest Jennifer Weiner fan in the world, nor am I in her target demographic in any way, shape, or form — but I’ve enjoyed (in some cases more) those books of hers that I’ve read. So I figured there was a better than even chance that I’d appreciate this collection of essays about her life, career, love life, dogs, social media and more. It’s also read by Weiner herself, which is almost always a winning characteristic for me.

Sadly, this audiobook was better in theory than it was in real life.

There’s a scene in the last season of Gilmore Girls where Logan points out to Rory that despite her prejudices, attitudes and belief, she’s actually part of the same privileged class that he is — which she doesn’t take too well (understandably). I kept thinking about that as I listened to some of Weiner’s tales of woe about her childhood and college life. I’m not saying that she didn’t have problems in her childhood, that she didn’t have trials that no one should have to go through, or overcome a lot in her professional life. But man…the self-pity was overblown — she got an Ivy League education, came out of it with less debt than many people I know who went to less prestigious schools, took a high school trip to Israel, and a largely pleasant childhood.

It doesn’t get much better when she starts talking about her adult life, either. She assumes sexism — and has faced, continues to face, and will probably face a good deal of it in the future — but seems to have some fairly strong gender biases herself. She will frequently say something like “As a woman, I know I’m supposed to be X in this situation.” Almost every time she said something like that I thought, actually a man in the same situation would be expected to behave the same way — it may not be honest, healthy, or “authentic” in the contemporary understanding — but it’s what how an adult person in polite Western culture should act.

Oddly, for someone who lamented her own inability to be a stay-at-home mom/writer, the scorn she displays for stay-at-home moms later in the book seems out of character. Actually, she is dismissive of people with other beliefs and convictions than hers. I’m not suggesting for a moment that she shouldn’t be an opinionated person (of any sex), but it’s hard to respect anyone who can’t reason with their opponents with out dismissing or vilifying them.

I actually had a few more things in my notes along those things, but seeing this on the screen makes me want to stop before this becomes a diatribe against the book. Because, believe it or not, I enjoyed this book — when she tells a narrative or goes for a laugh, I really got into the book and wanted to hear more. It’s when she gets on her soapbox or when she doles out advice that wouldn’t work for women less-well-off than she is, I couldn’t enjoy it.

If anything, this book makes me like her fiction more — because the flawed people she writes about are a lot more relatable than she presents herself as. But listening (I think reading would be better — see below) to Weiner describe her problems with overeating, or the journey to get her first book published (and the real life experiences that shaped the book), her mother’s reactions to her book tours, getting the movie In Her Shoes made, stories about her dogs, and so on — man, I really liked that and would’ve gladly consumed more of that kind of thing.

As an audiobook, this was a disappointment. I found the little sound effect/chime thing between chapters grating. Weiner’s reading was too slow and her cadence demonstrates that she reads a lot to her kids. Which would be fine if the prose matched, but it didn’t.

I can’t rate this too low — it was well-written I laughed, I felt for her and some of the other people she talked about in a way that I can’t justify rating below a 3. But man, I want to.


3 Stars

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Scrappy Little NobodyScrappy Little Nobody

by Anna Kendrick

Hardcover, 271 pg.
Touchstone, 2016

Read: December 22 – 26, 2016

Unlike some of the celebrity memoirs I’ve read this year (and yeah, there’s been a lot of them — I’m not sure why), this is a pretty straight-forward one. Roughly chronological, it covers Kendrick’s life and career from childhood to the last year or two. What separates this is Kendrick’s voice — it is so strong, so funny (I almost wish I’d gone for the audiobook version — narrated by the author — instead for her literal, not just authorial, voice), so brutal.

Thankfully, she saves most of her mockery for herself, so she comes across as charmingly self-deprecatory and insecure.

I’m not sure what to say about this, without resorting to a very long list of quotations that will be too long, and yet not long enough.

I chuckled often, I enjoyed the look at her life and strange childhood; the behind-the-scenes anecdotes about some of her films and award-shows; the present-day social awkwardness. I may not have much to say, but it’s only because my brain isn’t firing right tonight (it seems), not because the book doesn’t deserve it.

If you’re a fan of Kendrick’s, you’ll enjoy this. If you wouldn’t call yourself a fan, but have enjoyed some of her work, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you don’t know anything about her, you still might like this (and get a list of movies to go look into).


4 Stars

War Psalms of the Prince of Peace (2nd. Edition) by James E. Adams

War Psalms of the Prince of PeaceWar Psalms of the Prince of Peace: Lessons from the Imprecatory Psalms, Second Edition

by James E. Adams

eARC, 176 pg.
P & R Publishing, 2016

Read: December 18, 2016

This is the 25th Anniversary Edition of the book — revised and expanded, no less. I was so glad to get the opportunity to read this one — I’ve got a copy of the original edition, which I’ve read 3 or 4 times, and referred to often. So to get to read a new edition — and to have an excuse to revisit the book — I had to jump at the chance.

Adams begins by reassuring Twentieth Century Christians (and I assume those of us in the Twenty-First Century, too) that the Imprecatory Psalms do belong in Scripture, are just as inspired as the rest, and have a place in the life and piety of his readers. Imprecatory Psalms, I should probably mention, are those Psalms that call for the destruction or judgment of the psalmist’s enemies. From there, Adams argues that no only do they belong in our Bibles, but (like the other Psalms) they belong in Christ’s mouth. To prove this, he compares the Imprecatory Psalms to the Psalms of Repentance — if Jesus Christ can say/sing the latter properly, then it’s fitting for him to sing/pray the former. I’m not positive that’s the best argument he could make, but I tell you, Adams makes it work (it helps that he spent far more space than I just did).

Given that they’re part of the Bible, and that if they’re fitting to be used by Christ, then they have a place in the life of the New Testament saint — but what is that place? How are we to use them? Do we get to call down the wrath of God on our enemies? (Short answer: NO).

This here is the heart of the book, and where Adams is at his best. Yes, we are to pray these prayers, sing these psalms —

You may say, “This is the last thing my church needs! If our hearts are too lazy and cold to pray for those we love, how can we think of praying for enemies, as we find in the Psalms?” But I would challenge you, isn’t this the cause of our lack of prayer? We have not learned from the Lord Jesus how to pray!

Learning to pray these psalms is a theme he returns to time and again —

Without assistance how can we ever righteously pray this prayer? I answer this question unequivocally: We never can! We cannot pray this prayer on our own . . . not because we are too good, but rather because we are too prone to evil! Yet we must learn to pray it.

But why are we to pray these prayers?

Why are we taught to pray for God’s judgment on the enemy? So that they will be converted! Nothing could be clearer from this prayer [Ps. 83].

That’s the core of the book, right there — I’ll let you read his explanation, but that’s the ballgame.

On the whole, I can’t tell you what was revised, nor can I say exactly how it was expanded — and there’s just no way I’m going to break out my original and read them in parallel to give you the list. What this primarily tells me is that what he did to improve the book came in fairly seamlessly. So I’m guessing that means we’re talking about minor tweaks and clarifications — no major new sections or anything. Would I have preferred a new chapter or two? Some more in-depth explorations of particular psalms? Yes. But the book didn’t need a new chapter or two, and it wasn’t intended to be that narrow in focus, so that kind of material would’ve felt out of place.

This is an easy read — clear, crisp writing that is deep enough to make you think, but written in a way that you don’t notice that you’re dealing with weighty theology. Adams writes with conviction, passion, and care – which is always helpful but particularly so with a topic like this. You don’t want a dry dissertation here, you need heart to go with the thinking. There’s a sensitivity here, which is needed, but more than anything a desire to treat the Bible (and the Spirit who inspired it) as it ought to be.

This is a gem — it was a gem 25 years ago when it was published, and it’s a gem today.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P & R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.


4 Stars

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Talking as Fast as I CanTalking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between

by Lauren Graham
Hardcover, 205 pg.
Ballantine Books, 2016

Read: December 12 – 31, 2016

This book isn’t a proper autobiography or anything (doesn’t claim to be, either); it’s stories, memories, thoughts and humorous bits that Lauren Graham shares about her life and career.  She uses the revival of Gilmore Girls as an excuse to look back on her both to this point, as her career is marked by looking back this year. I haven’t seen the new Gilmore episodes (still working my way through the series with my kids), so I could’ve read the material discussing that a little closer — although I did think the tributes to Edward Herrmann fitting and touching.

The book covers pretty much what you’d expect from an actor’s memoirs — discussion of her childhood, paying her acting dues, education, her big break and so on. All told with wit and charm. Graham’s personality shines forth and really draws you in. She spends a good amount of time talking about the original run of Gilmore Girls, Parenthood, and her novel. I was glad to see that she did that — so many actors/celebrities don’t give that much time or space to the things that made someone want to read their books in the first place.

A few of the highlights of this book are from the parts that aren’t de rigueur. There’s a section on eating and health tips, that made me laugh out loud — Graham learned the same lesson Jim Gaffigan and Weird Al did — food jokes work 99. 6% of the time. There’s some really good writing advice that Graham was given by a friend that helped her to finish this book — and seems like the kind of thing that could help many authors. There’s some recurring jokes about Ellen DeGeneres and the cast of Today. I don’t want to suggest those are all the highlights, but they’re are good sample. 

Most of the book feels like Graham set her phone to “Voice to Text” and cut loose. But there’s no way that it would’ve come out as good if that’s what she did — that kind of feel is the result of a lot of hard work and planning. It all paid off, this was one of the more enjoyable books to read that I’ve tackled recently — don’t get me wrong, the content was good, too — but the writing was as smooth as silk. Unlike that sentence. Between this and her novel, it’s clear that Graham’s really quite a writer, I hope to see more from her.

This was a fast, breezy read — a lot of fun with plenty of heart. Pretty much everything you want from/would expect from Graham. A sure fan pleaser.


3.5 Stars

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? by L. Michael Morales

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus

by L. Michael Morales
Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology, #37

Paperback, 306 pg.
IVP Academic, 2015

Read: October 16 – November 27, 2016

So this is another one of those books that I’m not really qualified to talk about, but . . . whoops, here I go.

Morales doesn’t give us what you typically find/look for in a study of Leviticus — detailed explanations — or dodges — of the various purity laws and other commands and regulations contained in it. Instead, he begins by explaining his conclusion that Leviticus is the center of the Pentateuch, and that Chapter 16 is the center of it. Beginning in Genesis, everything is leading up to the Day of Atonement, and then everything from that is to be seen as the result of, or in light of that day.

That’s a lousy summary, but that’s the best you’re going to get from me in a couple of sentences. The argument is so detailed, so complex that I can’t really do much better without spending a few pages on it — and no one wants to read that (especially since you can read Morales doing a better job). At first, I thought that it was an interesting idea, but it really didn’t matter much. But as I read on and understood what he was doing better, it started to capture my imagination and draw me in. This was well argued, well researched — and well explained for even non-technical types like me.

But when it comes to Biblical Theology, the proof in the pudding comes from tying in his theses to the unfolding story of redemption — first in Israel’s story and then showing how it leads to Christ and His work on earth, His Ascension and pouring out of His Spirit to prepare a people to meet with Him on Mount Zion. The last two chapters were fantastic — and I’m going to have to reread them a few times to really wrap my brain around it all. There were moments of beauty here — it’s hard for an academically-inclined work to inspire and touch the emotions of a reader, but Morales did it.

This volume is the first I’ve read in New Studies in Biblical Theology (I believe it’s the first I heard of it, too) — the series is edited by D. A. Carson. The series aims “to simultaneously instruct and to edify, to interact with current scholarship and to point the way ahead. . . While volume notes interact with the best of recent research, the text of each work avoids untransliterated Greek and Hebrew or too much specialist jargon. The volumes are written within the framework of confessional evangelicalism, but they also engage a variety of other relevant viewpoints and significant literature.” If this is a representative volume, it won’t be my last in the series. If I can just pick another — the list of 41 is daunting — just too many choices.

Anyway, Who Shall Ascend was a challenging, interesting, educational and inspiring work — there’s not much more that you can ask for. If you’re up for the work, I heartily recommend it.


4 Stars