2020: A Year-End Review

Because 1) I don’t want my final post in 2020 to be about the American politics (blech) and 2) this was a remarkable year in many ways, here’s a post of my favorite things from this year, in no particular order:

Music, Movies, & Podcasts

  • Hamilton (the soundtrack and the musical via Disney+). I know nearly every word to every song. My year-end Spotify playlist is literally more than halfway filled with songs from the soundtrack. I think I watched the film five times. It’s a work of genius, a beautiful callback to classic hip-hop and the beauty and tragedy of the American experiment.
  • Tobe Nwigwe. What a discovery. Legitimately good hip-hop that is also pure positive vibes and faith-based.
  • Circles by Mac Miller (RIP), especially “Blue World” and “Complicated.”
  • Not Our First Goat Rodeo by Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, and Stuart Duncan. This wasn’t quite the work of genius as the first album, but a few standout tracks are “The Trappings,” “Waltz Whitman,” and “Nebbia.”
  • No Pressure by Logic. Supposedly his final studio album (we’ll see). But, in my opinion, this is Logic at his best. “Perfect” and “Dadbod” are great tracks.
  • MFDOOM. Still discovering this dude, but he’s a lyrical ninja. “Rhymes Like Dimes” is a fun track.
  • Tenet. Yet another mindbending work of genius by the inimitable Christopher Nolan. Key takeaway: if time travel is possible, it requires physical determinism. In other words, “What’s happened, happened.”
  • Mad Men. A perennial favorite of mine, and a great way to escape our current situation. Don Draper is despicable, but understandable. Peggy Olson is a joy. Roger Sterling is childish but hilarious.
  • The Queen’s Gambit. Another great escape into the 50s/60s. Like many other viewers, I’d love to start playing chess. But even more than that, the story of Beth Harmon’s brilliance and struggle with addiction was poignant yet energizing.
  • Ozark. I mostly avoided this show until this year, thinking it would be a bad Breaking Bad knockoff. I was wrong about this. It’s a great reflection on humanity’s ability to trick themselves into justifying making wrong decisions for the “right reasons.”
  • This American Life. I’m late on this train, but what a delight. My favorite episode I listened to this year was “129 Cars” (which is actually a much older episode).
  • Rabbit Hole by the NYT. An eight-episode deep dive into YouTube, algorithms, and how our thoughts, attitudes, and political beliefs are shaped unwittingly by forces much larger than ourselves (as a corollary to this, The Social Dilemma on Netflix was a great documentary touching on these same subjects).

Books

I’m on track to read 30 books this year. The goal was 60, and that was, in retrospect, a little overenthusiastic. But! 30 is nothing to sneeze at, and I’m proud of the accomplishment. I’m toying with the idea of just going for 31 next year, and spending time with ONE BIG BOOK (maybe Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age — although I am quite intimidated by this tome), and blogging through it for the whole year, thus giving myself plenty of time to chew on its contents.

In any case, here were my five favorite books this year:

  • The Sparrow (and its sequel, Children of God) by Mary Doria Russell. Cheating here with a double. Fantastic mashup of sci-fi and religious/ethical/moral reflection, and even better than Speaker for the Dead at exploring the difficulties of relating to and understanding those who are radically other from us.
  • Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. Psychology & Buddhist philosophy. This was practical, and a beautiful meditation on how accepting — truly accepting — reality as it is can truly lead to a well-lived life.
  • The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson. I had never read this all the way through (just portions in high school English). What I found most enjoyable about this read-through was seeing just how deeply Ancient Greek literature has affected Western tradition, philosophy, and culture. Also, Wilson’s translation is poetic and gripping in a really engaging way.
  • Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain (RIP). Funny, witty, raw. This dude had such a talent for seeing things as they were and for enjoying life in a visceral way. We lost you too soon, Tony.
  • The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. This was one of the many books I read with Lyla this year. It’s also the first time I’ve read this book in the Narnia series, and it’s better than the three prior books that revolve around the Pevensies, in my opinion. A flip on the traditional hero story because Shasta is largely being led along by forces out of his control. And I loved Lewis’s pivot to showing Aslan in so many different and unexpected ways.

One interesting thing is that my list of philosophy/theology/Bible books that I read was a really small percentage of my list. I think I needed to take a break from that side of my brain after many years of intense focus on these subjects.

Life & Work

  • Ten years with my love. I know many people who struggled through the pandemic because they were “stuck” at home. This isn’t a comment on our virtue as a couple, because we struggle in many ways. But the truth is, there was not a single moment where staying at home felt like a burden or a chore. Instead, every day was beautiful because I am still so in love with Elaine. She is beautiful, kind, patient with my flaws, silly, and a perfect partner for me. Ten years has gone by too fast, and I still feel like we are just scratching the surface on this beautiful thing we’re calling marriage.
  • Preaching at LIDE. This year provided me my very first opportunity at preaching in a church service. In January (on my 30th birthday!) I preached for the first time at LIDE. It was a pure joy and something I will always look back on with fondness and joy. Due to COVID, my next few times “preaching” were digital. Not quite the same, but still a great opportunity. This year, I preached about belonging & community, the Holy Spirit, thinking charitably about our perceived enemies, pursuing a process, and work & meaning in Ecclesiastes.
  • Learning to edit podcasts. This was and is a pretty big challenge for me. LIDE had to pivot quickly to producing a lot more audio and visual content when the lockdown began in March. With that came the responsibility of creating three (!) podcast episodes per week. Fortunately, so much practice has helped me make my workflow efficient and has honestly made me a better audio listener. It’s cool now to notice the work it takes to make a really well-produced podcast.
  • Homeschooling. Some days were a challenge. Some days were a joy. But overall, this gave us so much more time together as a family.
  • Yoga with Adriene. I honestly cannot recommend yoga enough, and Adriene is a gem. Within a couple of days of doing yoga regularly with Elaine (we started in November), I began to experience zero lower/upper back stiffness in the mornings. On top of this, yoga is probably the closest I got to prayer and meditation this year. It’s a beautiful way of getting in touch with one’s body and spirit in a way that isn’t weird or hokey.
  • Colorado. We visited Colorado in August. Aside from wildfires at the end of our stay that killed some of our plans, it was sheer majesty. Elaine and I got a night away for our anniversary, which included a loooooong hike in the mountains. 10/10 would recommend.
  • Louisiana. Yes, it was probably not the smartest, best idea to see family at Thanksgiving. But, my dad, stepmom, and brother had already had COVID about two months prior, so we felt like we were taking a pretty small risk in visiting the week prior to Thanksgiving. It was warm enough to swim for a couple of days (!!!), my dad’s new house was a great size and the views from his back yard (to the cane fields) were gorgeous, and I just very much love spending time with that side of the family. For the first time in my adult life, it creeped up on me that I might actually enjoy living in Louisiana if given the opportunity. Maybe someday.
  • Completed Super Mario Odyssey 100%. This was kind of a dumb one, but honestly it was super fun. I found every. single. moon. I’m a normally quick completer of games, but I very, very rarely 100% games. There are just too many other things to do. But, the controls are tight, and the graphics are beautiful.

COVID was and is a real piece of flaming trash. But everyone knows this, and I refuse to lament this year. We have spent a lot of time lamenting. That sadness and anger has been appropriate (300k+ American deaths is nothing to be happy about). And yet — many, many of us are still here. And the challenge of being human is often the challenge of living and thriving and being faithful to that which is good and beautiful in the face of suffering and frustration and anguish. 2020, despite its flaws, was marked with beauty and love and joy for me and my family.

For those of you reading, I hope you can find beauty in the madness.

Onward to 2021.

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