It is a particular privilege to engage with all of you every week in this space (for more than six years now!). I am forever grateful to you, my readers, some of whom follow my writings regularly. I am especially indebted to those who take the time to comment—either in the comments section on my website or to me privately. What a blessing! Thank you.
So, in these final hours of this fateful year, I am curious as to which of these posts you found most helpful—or most memorable. Let me know. To jog your memories, I thought I’d share my “list,” of the writings that meant the most to me in the hope that they reveal something about the times in which we live (and perhaps a bit about myself as well).
I begin with the year’s very first post on January 5, Naming the Unthinkable, featuring Congressman Jamie Raskin’s book where he weaves together events at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 with the suicide of his son Tommy. A core belief of mine is that when we connect our deeply personal experiences with current events in society, we become more empathetic and self-aware as human beings. Raskin’s book certainly does that.
Keeping with this theme, my post on February 16, Precious and Precarious, follows a particularly difficult week in the life of my local church where two of our members died—way too young—after fighting long battles with illness. This personal experience is then juxtaposed to the “menacing sight of heavily armed [Russian] troops poised for invasion [of Ukraine].” The timing of this post, in addition to being deeply personal, was fortuitous as Ukraine became the primary subject of these writings for the next seven weeks in a row (through April 6), along with revisiting the topic in May and again on multiple occasions in the fall.
The unprecedented string of posts on the same topic includes one that I believe to be among the most important, The Power of Music, wherein the resiliency of the Ukrainian people comes alive through artistic expression—making music even as the bombs fell and the war raged. Their spirit is perhaps best demonstrated by seven-year-old Amelia Anisovitch who inspired the whole world as she sang the Ukrainian National Anthem, first in bomb shelters and then in concert halls. This child not only embodies the resiliency of Ukrainians but also serves as a representative of other young people—Greta Thunberg, David Hogg, Malala Yousafzai, Amanda Gorman—offering hope for us all as we confront a wide variety of issues that plague our weary world.
Then, on April 13 my post shifts from the conflict in Ukraine to the tragic struggle now more than two years old (and continuing even to this writing) of the global pandemic. Entitled 500 Million, it reflects the unfathomable number of individuals worldwide who have died due to Covid (and with recent reports out of China, it is possible that their misguided approach to the virus may yield hundreds of thousands more deaths in the months to come).
And on November 9 in The End of the Beginning I write about how midterm losses by election deniers and extremists might just indicate, finally, our release as a society from the Trumpian chains of narcissism and divisiveness.
But, perhaps the most significant entry for me came on August 18 in Frederick Buechner. There, I write a tribute to the man whose deep insights and sense of whimsy have shaped my career more than any other theologian. Buechner’s phrase, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” has been the north star in my vocational pursuits for more than half a century.
I met him only once—back in seminary—but that meeting and subsequent readings of his many books led me to write this: “And what would Buechner say about today’s headlines, on a day when Liz Cheney, ‘Darth Vader’s daughter,’ had become democracy’s darling by defying Donald Trump? No doubt, as a strong proponent of holy irony, he’d be chuckling at the divine sense of humor and point to biblical figures from Cyrus to Saul who were wholly unlikely heroes of the faith. Buechner, scarcely able to hide the twinkle in his eye, would call us all to be attentive to her—not for the positions she has taken in the past, but how God can redeem anyone and change their role in unexpected ways. The Bible is filled with them; why can’t someone with a flawed past become a beacon of integrity for our day as well?”
Yes, it has been quite a year. My prayer is that as you turn the calendar page, your life will be filled with good things, wise counsel, and thoughtful reading.