Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water by Amanda Hudson

Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water by Amanda HudsonCoffee, Tea, and Holy Water by Amanda Hudson
Published by Abingdon Press on March 3, 2015
Genres: Religious, Special Interest, Travel
Pages: 224
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
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Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water takes the reader on an armchair tour of Christianity in our world, across borders and over continents. Author Amanda Hudson provides a personal touch with cultural curiosities, profound questions about the nature and practice of faith, as she travels to five countries: Brazil, Wales, Tanzania, China, and Honduras.  Part reflection, part entertaining travelogue, Coffee Tea, and Holy Water explores everything from each culture’s offer of hospitality to life in a Masaai boma. “There are lessons to be learned from other countries that are not visible in our own culture,” writes Hudson, “Questions that are not our questions. Struggles that are not our normal struggles. And yet, when we look around the throne one day at the nations assembled there, instead of marveling at the diversity, I think we will actually be fascinated by what we all had in common.” This is a book about the places we meet, what we share, how we can learn to cross borders (geographical, cultural, personal), and learning that the steps to do so make all the difference.  Honest, witty, and thought-provoking, these stories come from a young woman raised in the South, who found herself wondering what “normal” Christianity looked like in other countries.

Although I suspected the author leans quite a bit more conservative (theologically) than I do, I took a chance on this memoir. The premise sounded interesting to me, and I enjoy travelogues. Plus, Abingdon Press is an imprint of The United Methodist Publishing House, which is known for “crossing denominational boundaries.” Unfortunately, my expectations did not line up with the actual book.

Faith

My expectation: To read about experiences in Christian worship most typical in the places she visited. Indigenous would be even better.

The book: A tour of how missionaries of a conservative and/or evangelical American bent have planted or helped finance churches in places around the world. In Brazil, for example, Catholicism is predominant. Hudson points this out, then spends most of her time at a nondenominational church with an American pastor. Why? (I didn’t get an ecumenical feel about this memoir at all, so I suspect I know the answer to this.) Tanzania, with its ancient and rich history, was an especially disappointing missed opportunity.

Travel

My expectation: Some interesting cultural facts or experiences about the places she visited, something I didn’t already know or expect.

The book: Plenty about her sightseeing, but not much depth. Mostly common knowledge.

Perspective

My expectation: It’s okay if someone hasn’t traveled much and has a somewhat limited worldview. You can’t learn more until you put yourself out there, and that sounded like the author’s purpose. So I expected some sort of attempt to understand the local culture.

The book: Large portions came across too generalized at best, judgmental and preachy at worst. There was a lot of contemplating what’s “truly Christian” and far too many sweeping generalities. Potentially thought-provoking issues were handled with awkward analogies that fell flat (such as an analogy of American Christianity to coffee: “some want decaf so they can have the taste without the caffeine”).

So yeah, not a good fit for me. On the bright side, it’s a very, very fast read. Better yet, my frustration with the book prompted me to do my own googling, and I learned quite a bit. If anyone can recommend a good book about African initiated churches, let me know!

  • I’m sorry to hear that the book didn’t meet your expectations. I’d be more interested to read the book you thought you were getting than the one you did. Thanks for the review!

  • Jennine G.

    This is the first review I’ve seen on this book and I’ve been wondering about it. I think I would have the same expectations as you, which means this probably wouldn’t be a good read for me. Which is disappointing cause the premise sounds interesting – I know Christianity is way different around the globe.

    • Yeah, exactly. And I wasn’t expecting her to be universalist about it, just more authentic and open-minded, you know? Brazil was first on the list and when she mentioned Catholicism as being predominant and then pretty much ignored it, I think at that point I knew how this book was going to go. 🙁

  • Well, I started out feeling kind of optimistic about this one but, after reading your thoughts, I’m pretty sure I would have had problems with it, as well. I’m glad you’ve saved me the time, Monika! 😉 Thank you!

  • This would make me want to throw the book at the wall. Glad I read this review before trying it. NOT my cup of tea. Pun intended. 😉

  • I liked the way you talk about this book. I think a lot of times our expectations about books really do affect how we respond to them.

  • Too bad! This sounds like a much shallower take on the topic than I would have wanted too.

  • When you find the book you’re more interested in, let me know. I’d be interested it in too!