And though the last lights off the black West wentOh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —Because the Holy Ghost over the bentWorld broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
By most measures, 2016 has been a strange and troubling year. In different ways the darkness seems to have been pressing in a little closer, and we’ve had to look harder for the flickers of light.
At times like this, we need artists and musicians and storytellers and poets more than ever, to tell us the truth about where we are, and also to give us glimpses of some kind of deeper truth, something truer and deeper than the darkness, some whispers of hope, some rumours of grace.
So without further ado, and without much comment, here are a few of my favourite things that I’ve discovered in 2016. First, the music:
- The Phosporescent Blues (Punch Brothers)
- The Longest Day in History (David C. Clements)
- Tomorrow is my Turn (Rhiannon Giddens)
- Real Midnight (Birds of Chicago)
- Sermon on the Rocks (Josh Ritter)
I really haven’t seen enough movies this year to make a meaningful list, but I can maybe just about muster a top 3:
- The BFG
- The Big Short
We have enjoyed a lot of great TV series, so I guess they can have their own list. I should add that my number 1 is miles ahead of the competition (as much as I enjoyed the others). We watched all 6 seasons this year and it has gone straight into my “special reserve” list of all time great TV shows, along with The West Wing, Friday Night Lights and Firefly. It has its sentimental moments for sure, but it stands out from a lot of trendier-but-shallower shows as a thoughtful, truthful, funny and very moving reflection on all the challenges and joys of family life. And yes, a tear or two may have been shed. (In every episode).
- The Crown
- Stranger Things
As for books, these are the novels that have most amused and amazed me this year:
- The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
- Saint Maybe (Anne Tyler)
- We Are Not Ourselves (Matthew Thomas)
- The Spectator Bird (Wallace Stegner)
- Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout)
And finally, three non-fiction books which have deeply impacted me this year:
- The Divine Conspiracy (Dallas Willard)
- A Time to Keep Silence (Patrick Leigh Fermor)
- Speak What We Feel (Not What We Ought To Say) (Frederick Buechner)
Although if I’m being honest, the book that has had the deepest impact has been one which made my end of year list last year, and which I have been re-reading more slowly. If I can be allowed a little moment of evangelistic fervour- this is a book that I feel strongly should be read by every pastor and Christian leader. And every teacher or educator. And every parent. And every human being.
It’s called The Shallows, it’s by Nicholas Carr, and it’s about “how the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember”. Although it doesn’t claim to be a book about spirituality, it made me pause and reflect, more than anything else I read this year, on the deepest questions we can ask: what kind of people do we want to be? who are we becoming? how are my ordinary daily habits shaping my mind (and soul)? It is currently leading me to consider making several semi-radical changes to my own habits as I go into a new year, especially in my relationship with technology and the internet. I imagine each person who reads it will come to different conclusions and make different choices, but I think we urgently need to pause and reflect and have this conversation.
Sermon over! As always, I would love to hear your highlights of the year, which will form the basis of my wishlists going into 2017. (Unless they look rubbish). Please let me know what you have loved this year. Grace and peace.