My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Review: Common Callings and Ordinary Virtues: Christian Ethics for Everyday Life

Common Callings and Ordinary Virtues: Christian Ethics for Everyday Life Common Callings and Ordinary Virtues: Christian Ethics for Everyday Life by Brent Waters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a rather ambitious book trying to make us see the value in the “ordinary” habits in the formation of [christian] character, making a premise that I was looking forward to exploring. The book is 16 chapters spread over three parts covering basic philosophical themes, relationships and activities. The author acknowledges several challenges in the preface, which were unfortunately the primary reason this book didn’t always work for me. In particular, the abstract language favored in philosophical discussions that make the work less accessible to those less “sophisticated” readers (such as me). I tend to favor more plain language and more direct examples. Instead we get frequent critiques of “later moderns” for what they are doing wrong before implying that they shouldn’t be doing that. It would have been much better to simply focus on the positive here and imply everything else.

Chapter one defines a calling as a “command to take on a way of life or specific task” and tries to place this within the context of God’s three (3) acts of love: creation, incarnation and resurrection. Almost immediately after that we hit problems with definitions that I frequently struggle with in this genre. To be, a vocation is the goal or destination one is called to. I am called to holy orders and my vocation is to be servant to many. For the author, it is simple a set of skills and practices (aka habits) that “are required to fulfill a calling.” So I would be called to holy orders and preaching, prayer, et al would be my vocation. Granted it’s a nit, but like a grain of sand in a shoe eventually becomes fairly irritating … especially when the next chapter tells us this division is artificial and arbitrary (than why do it there). There was a lot of words here that basically boils down to we are called to love where we are attentive to the needs of the other (the term used here is unselfing which I find moderately awkward over something like just selfless). Next up is a discussion of virtues and vices that help form the habits we need to be properly ordered toward the good. There is nothing particular new or controversial here before we get to how we order time and place. I would have liked the author to have developed chapter four on that topic a little more.

Next up is the care and feeding of our relationships [with our neighbors], including various definitions of types of neighbors and the different responses appropriate to each … which is a bit strange within the whole concept of love thy neighbor … but makes perfect sense within the context of hospitality and obligation … which is not exactly love (ordered to the good of the other) but is necessary for the proper order of society. I think I would have structured this section differently, starting with spouses, family, friends and up with a little more discussion on how we are called to each and what obligations and skills are needed to nurture those relationships. All of that is there, just not intuitively organized and sometimes it is not really clear what is that different for each type of neighbor. We also get introduced to the concept of late modern nomads and a hint of the author’s disapproval of progresses (although he tries to condemn the extremes of both sides, he only focuses on the progressive “elites”).

Finally we get to the mundane activities which make up the bulk of our everyday living with basic break down of work, leisure, and play (I tend to combine the last two where the author appears to reserve leisure to something like sabbath theology). There was a lot here that I just didn’t connect with and that is a shame since in my mind this should have been the heart of the whole book. How do we order the mundane within our lives toward love of God and Neighbor. Instead is seemed more like a treatise on etiquette and manners and outward appearance (which is important, but the reason give for why did not resonate with me). Here again, I think less criticisms and more positive examples would have greatly improved the feel of this section and made it more effective.

Over all, this was a decent book, but I can’t help but feel this was a missed opportunity to be a great book.

Part One: Theological and Moral Themes
- Chapter 1 Creation, Incarnation, and Resurrection
- Chapter 2 Calling and Vocation
- Chapter 3 Virtue and Vice
- Chapter 4 Ritual and the Ordering of Time and Place
Part Two: Everyday Relationships
- Chapter 5 Neighbors
- Chapter 6 Friends
- Chapter 7 Spouses
- Chapter 8 Parents and Children
- Chapter 9 Strangers
- Chapter 10 Citizens
Part Three: Everyday Activities
- Chapter 11 Work
- Chapter 12 Housework and Homework
- Chapter 13 Manners
- Chapter 14 Appearance
- Chapter 15 Eating
- Chapter 16 Leisure
Postscript On the Good of Being Boring

I was given this free advance review copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#CommonCallingsandOrdinaryVirtues #NetGalley

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.