Tim Schenk’s Holy Grounds contains three of my favourite topics. Coffee, History, and Theology. If you are not familiar with the author, he is the creator of Lent Madness, an annual parody of March Madness that offers opportunities to learn about the lives of saints. I know about him, because we are mutuals on Twitter.
Holy Grounds or An Unholy Beverage
The full title of Schenk’s book is Holy Grounds: The Surprising Connection between Coffee and Faith – From Dancing Goats to Satan’s Drink. That’s quite a long title. The last bit about the goats and Satan, tips us to the origins of the beverage, and an ongoing debate about coffee.
The legendary origins of coffee are that an Ethiopian shepherd discovered the beverage after watching some goats he was tending, dancing around after eating berries off a tree. the question of whether coffee is of God or of the devil has surfaced and resurfaced in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
The order of listing of the religions is indicative of how coffee usage generally spread. It started out as a beverage in Islamic circles, before moving on to Jewish and Christian circles. However the pattern in all three was essentially the same.
Coffee drinking is introduced. It becomes popular. People fear it will harm the religious devotion of its drinkers. Coffee also leads to loss of control over people, as the gathering around coffee promotes the exchange of ideas. Attempts are made to ban it. Eventually coffee develops enough supporters to become an acceptable beverage.
One interesting aspect about the above cycle, is that coffee has often been seen as an aid to piety. This is particularly true for religious individuals given to devotional activities that require staying alert over long periods of time.
While telling us a history of coffee, Schenck also takes us along on his personal journey as a coffee drinker. Schenck’s trip as a coffee drinker follows a path very similar to many individuals who have opened up what are know as “third wave,” coffee shops. As we follow along with him, we discover the ways in which coffee is grown, processed, served, and politicized.
Holy Grounds and Possible Refills
The book is a good primer on all things coffee. None of the topics in the book are dealt with in great detail. This makes for an engaging and easy read. While not being talked about in great detail, Schenck does give a basic understanding. of some of the darker issues surrounding coffee, such as labour practices, and environmental concerns. The bibliography will allow you to dig further into most aspects of the subject.
Schenck’s writing style incorporates a gentle humour into the text. There are some groaners, but generally the laughs provide a little uplift as you read. One thing I really like about his writing on coffee, is that although he has very strong views on what constitutes good coffee, he doesn’t seek to impose it on the reader.
Beyond the beverage itself, Holy Grounds also delves into coffee culture. What it means to us to gather together around a cup of coffee. Coffee houses have long been a major part of what it means to drink coffee. Coffee has been a beverage that
While I really enjoyed Holy Grounds, there are a couple of things I would have enjoyed reading a little bit more about. It would be good to have another chapter on church coffee time that gives examples of that time being transformative in the life of individuals or the congregation as a whole. It would be good to learn how coffee could once again become a dangerous beverage in the eyes of those with power.