Green Books Campaign: Sacred Commerce – Business as a Path of Awakening

This review is part of the Green Books campaign . Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a  a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website .

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FTC Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy to review this book, but promise that my opinions did not change given this fact. I will gladly send it to you next if you want to read it!

I chose to review Sacred Commerce: Business as a Path of Awakening (by Matthew & Terces Engelhart) because it was a book about business – about how what you do to make money is more than rote sustenance.  As a 20-something entering the workforce during a recession, I can’t help but be fascinated by jobs and vocations and livings and lives. The Engelharts are spouses and business partners, and own four Café Gratitude locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The first was opened at 20th and Harrison in San Francisco’s Mission District. This book is written for fellow entrepreneurs hoping to start a business while focusing on a quadruple bottom line: economy, environment, community, and “spiritual awakening.”

“Sacred Commerce” is a concept created and written about by Ayman Sawaf and Rowan Gabrielle, and their original book inspired the Engelharts in the early days of their business. The Engelhart riff on the theme – Sacred Commerce – Business as a Path of Awakening blends quotations from famous religious and political figures (Rumi to St. Francis of Assisi to Gandhi) with the couple’s business philosophy and anecdotes from their experience to provide either an instruction manual or a manifesto – or both – for doing business that honors people’s lives.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m instantly skeptical of anything New Age. But the trouble with this book is that it has a lot of really great ideas and compelling stories that make it hard to write off completely. As soon as I was ready to throw the book and its New Agey lingo across the room, I’d come across a lovely, gentle idea, a lot quieter than the trumpeted quasi-religio-psychology that fills most of the chapters. Your expectations affect your perception of reality. Gossip doesn’t help anybody. Listen by acknowledging, not by trying to fix the problem, when all somebody wants is to be heard. We all want to give and receive love and approval. These are truisms we can all stand to hear again. I like how the book talks about the power of the community – Megan Marie Brien, an employee, wrote quite movingly in the book’s forward about her struggles with MS and the ways in which her work at Café Gratitude helped her cope and move on with her life in a positive way.

The book does not seem to have a natural progression through its many chapters, with practical mini-chapters thrown in in the last few pages almost as afterthoughts. Oh yeah! These are instructions for how we play games to help people get their work done! The pacing is uneven, with drudgery before page 30 and after page 60, with regular punctuation by bulleted lists and text boxes and even what seems to be a glossary smack dab in the middle of the book from pages 54 – 60. But there are pearls of wisdom sprinkled throughout – and certainly they are more pleasingly strung together if you are fluent in New Age thought and language.

And the book’s tone is aggressively New Agey. I couldn’t relax into reading it, what with its regular invocations of deities I did not understand – “Oneness” and “Hungry Ghost” were central characters in a book that I had hoped would be mostly about ordinary people. Matthew Engelhart begins by making some assumptions about his readers: “The word ‘spiritual’ may alienate some of you, since a material god requires that we scoff at alternatives and doubt the practicality and sense of those who propose them.” Well, page 2 and I’m alienated. Oh, or maybe that’s my “materialistic egotistical self resisting Love” talking?

But you plow through a few more chapters and you get to the good stuff. My favorite chapter is the fourth chapter, a how-to guide for “Clearing.” It’s a business process akin to a Catholic confessional slash summer camp check-in turned staff meeting. It’s an elegant concept – since your employees will be serving others all day long, take a moment to check in with them and see what’s on their minds. It’s in a section written by Terces Englehart, and it reads like practical big sisterly advice. Cafe Gratitude spends an estimated $230,000 in time clearing employees for their days at work, but they find it adds value in the quality of service as well as the quality of lives of their employees to make it worth it.

And as for the physical aspects – why North Atlantic Books chose to offer a review copy to the Green Books Campaign – the book’s pages are printed on 100% recycled paper! I would not have known had I not been told. No speckly flecks. No gray dinge. No phone book feel. Nothing to differentiate it from an ordinary book. Even the pages that infuriated me with their words delighted me with their feel. I’m not sure what percentage of the book is printed on post-consumer recycled paper, but I applaud the step in the right direction, at least.

My take: you can probably get a healthy dose of this same wisdom from your friendly neighborhood SCORE office, but if you are a fan of New Age this is a pretty good blend of philosophy with pragmatism: one section recommends setting an alarm clock to go off randomly, and then the next person who orders gets their order free because it reminds you how great it is to give. I think all of us can find something to like about that idea!

If you are excited to read this book, leave me a comment! I’ll send my review copy to the first person who asks for it.



  1. sagustocox said

    Sounds like an interesting book, no need to send it to me though. I would be annoyed by the uneven pacing. Thanks for participating in the Green Books Campaign. I reviewed Saffron Dreams for this campaign.

  2. Melanie said

    This certainly sounds like a different approach to a business book! Actually it sounds rather intriguing despite the New Agey feel. I’m always interested in how business makes things work with a more community based conscience. Thanks for pointing out both the good elements and the uneven nature of it, it’s good to hear a balanced opinion.

    I reviewed a book about reading & spirituality for the Green Books Campaign and I felt the same about the physical object: printed on 100% recycled paper but I wouldn’t have known if it hadn’t said so. The book was a pleasure to read both for content and because the paper & printing was so well put together.

  3. Bette Sue said

    I just learned of the Gratitude Cafe and ultimately this book. I co-manage a food cooperative and I love the proposition of anything community based. I love too that this couple offers a short course to go with their ideas which I think would be quite helpful. The idea of the “alarm” was terrific and I could see it being used in a myriad of ways. Anyway, thanks for the review even though I was certainly ready to seek out this book to get a closer gander at it. Did you give your copy away yet?? If not I would be more than excited to receive it:0)

  4. Jenn Henry said

    Bette Sue – I have not yet given the copy away and would love to send it to you! I’ll be in touch via e-mail. I’m so happy I get to pass the book along!

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