Reading Journal 2023: The Silver Crown By Robert C. O Brien
I was made aware of this book after listening to a podcast episode discussing the film adaptation of The Secret of Nihm. The book being a childhood favorite, I decided to revisit it in 2022. Unaware of whether the author had penned other works I decided to do a search. The minute I saw The Silver Crown come up in my feed I knew I needed to buy it.
It’s a simple story with complex themes, which should come as no surprise to those familiar with the stark social commentary driving The Secret of Nihm. All the same characteristics are on display here with many parallels in plot and theme, beginning with trading a magic amulet for a magic crown. The journey itself, framed as it is by this young girls (Ellen) desperate attempt to find her aunt following the tragic events of a fire which open the story, leads her deep into an unfolding mystery of world shaping importance. Along the way she will learn important truths about both how the world works and her place in it. The ending (track down the version with the alternative British ending) cleverly tables some interesting moral questions as well, bringing together these larger themes regarding human nature.
It’s a charming and wholly compelling literary work that fits nicely alongside the great childhood adventure stories of years past.
Film Journal 2023: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse (Directed by Peter Baynton and Charlie Mackesy) Where to watch: Apple TV+
“Life is difficult, but you are loved.” This beautifully animated film, based on the book by the same name, follows a simple cast of characters who happen to find each other as a small boy searches for home. As the four of them form an unlikely bond, they discover what it means to exist in this world together. The dialgue is intentionally sparse, uncluttered by the noise of uneccessary words. Each phrasing, each truth that emerges with the inevitable knowing that comes from journeying together rings clear and true, with a wonderful score serving as its compliment. It’s a concise 40 minute run time, but it’s got more on its mind then many 2 hour animated films.
Over Christmas I found myself meditating on and reflecting on the Gospel of Luke, specifically the parallel stories of Zechariah and Elizabeth and Mary and Joseph. I came across an interesting thesis titled The Blessed Mother Sarah: The Figure of Sarah in Genesis Rabbah in Light of Christian Exegesis and the Rise of the Virgin Mary by Rami Schwartz.
One of the things the paper explores is the development of the figure of Sarah in the midrashic tradition and second temple Judaism. It then parallels this with the development of Sarah in relationship to Mary in the NT texts and later christian traditions (specifically Origen). There are a couple key observations that emerge from this:
As the thesis points out, one of the challenges of locating this within the NT text is that it was written in a world where Jew and Christian did not yet represent a separation and divide. At the same time however, to quote, “often the Christian Bible presents a unique worldview or containsexegetical developments without precedent in the Jewish world.”
Here in lies the challenge for engaging such questions like- who was Sarah, how did the early texts see her, how does later midrash see her, how does the NT text see her, how does later rabbinic and Christian tradtions see her (especially in light of the then divide). This is never as simple as saying that Sarah develops from this to that.
As a Christ follower there do arise some interesting questions when it comes to paralleling Sarah with Mary, especially when it comes to locating the miraculous birth story in Luke and Matthew (and I would argue John). Even for those who simply reject the miraculous birth out of hand, they must still contend with the question of where the story came from, what it’s doing, and why it’s included.
Perhaps the most interesting question, which the thesis fleshes out, is how when we arrive at the Gospel narratives what seems clear in the way those stories are constructed is that they are deliberately paralleling the Abraham-Sarah story as it fleshes out Zechariah and Elizabeth/Mary and Joseph. Why do those stories, which place Elizabeth and Mary at the center, clearly raise up the figure of Sarah rather than Abraham? Further, if it seems clear that the literary design of Zechariah and Elizabeth is structured to parallel Abraham and Sarah (which I would argue the evidence shows), where do we then position Mary within the story alongside Sarah as the seemingly “mother” of the faith? Is it that the early texts represent Sarah this way in a patriarchal society that goes on to assume an emphasize on Abraham, and later writers are pulling out what is already there? Is it that later midrash reclaims Sarah from the shadows? Reformats Sarah? And then the Gospel writers use this to write the story of Jesus through a Mary centric lens? One interesting aspect of the early texts is that not only does Sarah fit within a thread of many women that often get glossed over in modern readings, but it is no small thing that Sarah is afforded the same covenantal words as Abraham.
The other challenge that surfaces here is how the Gospels present Zechariah and Elizabeth as precursers, as a type of the one who is to come (which of course brings in discussions of Elijah’s messianic figure and the Moses-Joshua paradigm- and not coincidentally close readings of the Moses text also seem to place key women figures at the center). Thus Sarah becomes both a type (Elizabeth) amd the true expression (Mary). This grapples with early evidence of Sarah being positioned as the mother of Israel in the same way Mary is the mother of Jesus. From this flows the seeds of the miraculous birth which forms their stories according to the shared promise, with later iterations actually articulating Sarah’s story as both one of old age (Elizabeth) and virgin (Mary).
Anyways, it’s interesting to think over especially when one is reflecting on the Gospels and the arrival of Jesus. There’s a lot going on there to be sure, and it reflects important conversations that can shed light on a text that features a strong and intentional literary design. This is part of, for me, being able to hear what the text is wanting to say both to them in their world and to me today by way of the shared spirit. One thing I am compelled by, which comes from the conviction that the Gospels were being practiced liturgicaly already at the time when Paul was writing, is that one of the key defining points of the Jewish and Christian texts is its appeal to positioning women throughout the larger narrative as the key movers and shakers within God’s ongoing faithfulness to the covenant promise. It is no small thing that the Gospel writers are so well positioned to place these women front and center at the heart of the Gospels arrival in the person and work of Jesus
A couple observations on Luke 15:11-32 (The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother) for discussion:
The context for the passage is found in 15:1 “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
What follows is a set of three parables. What this should tell us is that all three figures will appear in the parables, as parables are designed so that the audience will see themselves in it. When it comes to the parable then we should see it in this way- the prodigal son is the tax collectors and sinners, the eldest son is the religious leaders, and the Father is Jesus.
Knowing these figures becomes important to hearing the parable as a response to 15:1
There is a natural progression to be found within the parables of 100-10-1, and in each case it is one that is lost. 100 is a common number to indicate fullness or wholeness, but one interesting insight might be found within certain midrash which find a sort of parallel with Abraham pleading for Sodom and Gomrroah. One question that surfaces in that story is why Abraham stops at 10. Plenty have weighed in on this question with lots of interesting results. Middleton in his book Abrahams Silence suggests that the one is actually found in the story of the binding of Isaac where Abraham fails to plead for the life of his son over and against a perception about who God must be according to ancient paradigms. Which is to say, God wanted Abraham to push back on a characteristic of God that would have been common in the culture he was called out of. God is in fact demonstrating Himself to be different.
This might or might not be an intentional parallel here where the 10 gets whittled down to 1, but the progression itself does feel intentional and important. Here is something I would wager- in the first two parables Jesus is representing his audience by leading with “Which one of you” and “what woman having ten silver coins”. This implies the religious leaders and would have evoked a tantalizing image regarding their relationship to the “sinners”. If the sheep and coins is Israel in the first parable, then the first two are contrasting this picture of how they might act to “Just so, I tell you”, this is how it is in the Kingdom of God. These first two parables then are the set up for the final one which breaks from the pattern of “which one of you” and switches perspectives from the you to the Father. As in to say, if this is how you would act when it comes to your own, then let’s now place you in this picture as God’s own and see where this places the tax collectors and sinners.
The true protagonist of the Prodigal story then is not the son but the Father. This story is being told from the Father’s perspective with the point of the passage being about the Father’s action towards. This is about establishing how the Kingdom of God operates.
So what do we see in the Father’s (Jesus’) actions? First, we see faithfulness to the promise in the stories use of OT law codes regarding inheritance. This inheritance is placed in the context of the kingdom and played out in terms of the rights of the younger and older sibling. That this inheritance is given of course sets up the given reality that asking for the inheritance assumes the death of the father or functions as though the father were dead. I don’t think it’s a stretch to find in that an appeal to the coming death of Jesus. I could flesh this out more with appeal to exrernal sources, but if the grace gift of the Father (God) is the work of Jesus (God’s self taken on flesh), then this gift says something about their expectation of the Messiah and the Gift of their renewal in covenantal terms which evoke elsewhere this notion of being ratified upon the death of the faithful one.
Its no small thing then for the parable to assume and even impose from the perspective of the Father that there is no distinguishing between the one (the tax collector and sinner) and the 99. This is how it works in the kingdom of God- all are God’s and God’s view of the one does not change
Gods view of the one does not change even as the one moves to wander in the symbolic wilderness squandering that which has been given. Again, I see a clever double inference there in saying using this wandering image in a way that would have easily evoked the story of the religious leaders as Israel. This is the same sort of role reversal that we find in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In fact, the image of younger and older here becomes significant in terms of hearing the voice of Judea here, playing the you of the first two parables as a divided Israel awaiting its restoration (the scattered tribes being brought back together) alongside the bringing in of the gentiles that the arrival of the kingdom would usher in.
It’s clear, as is in the entirety of the Gospels, that Jesus came to a divided Israel calling the religious leaders to repentance and reform in light of what was upon them- the arrival of the messiah and the full restoration. It is because of this that I have become compelled to see that, as the parable goes on, the younger son is being paralleled with the story of Israel all the more, allowing the religious leaders to see themsleves both as the older and younger son, something again that we see in the good Samaritan. This is as much demonstrating Gods heart and kingdom to the religious leaders (Israel) as it is calling them to image this to the world.
From that angle, much has been made of the final phrasing in the passage, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” It has been used to justify everything from reformed assurance and repentance salvation often playing the dead to life movement as spiritual death and life. I would challenge some common protestant readings on a couple fronts.
I think making it about that shifts the focus from the Father to the Son and wrongly shifts the message from being about the Father’s action to being about our action. This overplays the sons repentance and underplays the fathers right to lay claim to the son as His
I think even if one wants to make a play on the sons movement from death to life as the necessary progression in the story, the most logical inference, especially if you consider that it is telling the story of Israel, is to read death to life as comprehensive realities apart from God and with God. Or even better, apart from Jesus’ work and in light of it. There is nothing in the passage that evokes a spiritual death, and nothing pointing to some sort of action that proclaims such son dead in the Father’s eyes. Rather, the most natural reading is that the death comes from the sons own predication towards living as though the Father is dead. This is a reality he occupies apart from the kingdom, one that can only promise death. It is through repentance, a turning and moving back into the kingdom, something that does not change his status in the Father’s eyes, that life is declared, indicating not that he has earned something by way of his actions but that he is now occupying a new and different reality that is able to declare his true sonship to him.
personally I’m open to that, but even with that reading I think it overplays the phrasing. I think the most natural reading is simply to appeal to the natural implication- the lost and found language of the previous stories. It is the older son who presumes him dead and gone, and given that in the previous stories it is the religious leaders looking for the lost one, here they are not. The older son operates as though he is dead. The proclamation of the Father is that he has returned and thus the one thought dead is alive, which is what the religious leaders are supposed to hear when it comes to the Father’s heart and the way of the kingdom. The older son says why is he back eating with us. The parable plays that back into Israel’s own wilderness wanderings and covenant failure.
This walk through the majority of my nonfiction reads is something of an experiment. I tried to walk through my reads and track through my experiences of these books as a kind of story that defines the major themes of my year. I note the unintentional bookends that frame my first and final reads. I note questions that inspire me to read certain books, and subsequent questions that surface through specific reads. I note some key learnings relating to Christian Ethics, the biblical world and history, and particular readings of history. I note an appeal to Beauty.
In any case, I found this helpful in mapping where, and in some sense who i was at the beginning of 2022 and where/who I am at the end. The one thing I left out here was my journey through Pauls letter to the Romans. I did a deep dive around the summer and finished 17 commentaries and books. I hope to compile my learnings from that elsewhere . It was a very eye opening process relating to how we understand Biblical justice.
Beauty: The Invisible Embrace By John O’ Donohue, Where The Light Fell: A Memoir By Phillip Yancey
The very first book I finished in 2022 was Phillip Yancey’s wonderful Memoir Where The Light Fell. In it he unfolds his personal journey through struggle and doubt towards a new sort of faith in God and life that is able to leave room for mystery and questions while also retaining a conviction in the most important facets of that faith- love, hope, grace and beauty. Rooting this in his childhood experiences and his upbringing, complicated family dynamics and all, really helps to personalize his journey and give the evolution of his larger body of work some real and important context.
Beginning the new year in 2022, looking back on my own writings and reflections, found me occupying a place of longing to turn certain insecurities and exhaustion with the world at large found into an opportunity to recover some sense of those key facets in my own engagement with the world. Having this book as a light to sort of navigate a helpful way forward was a blessing, and as I fast forward to the last book I read in 2022, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace By John O’ Donohue, a book I now have desperate plans to purchase, own, and revisit often, I found myself struck by this full circle movement back to beauty, hope, love and grace. O Donohues book has quickly cemented itself as an all timer, and it has reignited a passion for the imagination in a big way.
Introducing Christian Ethics: Core Convictions for Christians Today By David Gushee
It wouldn’t be too long after finishing Yancy’s book when one of the perennial hosts of the Fear of God Podcast released a sort of passion project by way of a set of two interviews with David Gushee (Here and Here) which discusses the release of his older book (After Evangelicalism) and his new book (Christian Ethics). It wouldn’t be until later in the year that I would be able to devote the necessary time to finishing the newer book (it is an academic work), but the conversation planted the seeds for what would inevitably follow. The necessary reenchantment I sought in Yancy and later fully experienced in Donohue was continued in Gushee, someone who offered such longings a real world and highly practical tool and a boots on the ground/hands on approach to fleshing out such core tenants of the Christian imagination by way of proper Christ centered justice. This would go on to shape an important and key learning in my next book as I transitioned into lent. What better time to imagine the practical and life giving way of justice making as a Jesus centered ethic.
Fight Like Jesus: How Jesus Waged Peace Throughout Holy Week By Jason Porterfield, The Serpent in Samuel: A Messianic Motif By Brian A. Verrett
A book with the title Fight Like Jesus isn’t exactly something I would pick up on a whim. Questionable marketing to be sure, but thankfully an interview with the author compelled me to pick it up as an accompanying source to help me engage with Lent, and inparticular appraising Holy Week. The book functions somewhat as a week long devotion, although dense chapter long devotionals actually might be better suited to the weeks leading up to Holy Week, perhaps doing two at a time culminating in the final chapter of the 7 day journey of Holy Week itself. In truth, I have come to recommend this book to everyone I can as it has the power to reform one’s engagement with Holy Week. You will never look at it the same way again, and far more than a simple appeal to pacifism, irony of the title duly noted, it’s an intelligent, accessible and deeply researched walk through what Holy Week is, what it means, and what it can teach us about embracing a Jesus centered justice making ethic.
Reaching somewhat broader in terms of its interest in biblical motifs, the other book I read during this period was Verett’s meticulously drawn and argued thesis on the Serpent motif. While his thesis is rooted in Samuel, part of his purpose is helping to break open the ways this motif relates to the whole of the scriptural narrative. What we find in the opening pages of Genesis can help us make sense of how the biblical writers understood and made sense of Jesus. Rooting Jesus’ justice making ways depends much on being able to locate Evil as an oppressive and enslaving agency in the world. This allows us to locate Jesus as a contrasting agency in the world rather than seeing the Christian fight as being between Jesus and humanity or Jesus and creation. These are not the Evils that God opposes, rather they are the Evil that God in Jesus frees creation from. This is the inference of the promise of the seed to crush the Serpents head, which lies at the heart of the covenantal interest of the text. This is what frees us then to participate as image bearers, witnessing to a different way of being in this world as image bearers and as part of God’s good creation.
The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity By David Graeber , How Iceland Changed The World: The Big History of a Small Island by Egill Bjarnason
In the book The Dawn of Everything Graeber builds a case for a new understanding of the history of humanity, one that flies in the face of some of the common assumptions we find in voices like Pinker and Harari. Rather than seeing humanities development, and therefore evolution, as a linear movement from less civilized to more, less intelligent to more, less moral to more, etc, etc, the overwhelming consensus of the evidence is of a history of humanity that is not linear but contextual. Why does this matter? Because, as the book points out, many of the problems we face in society are rooted in the sort of othering that comes from believing we as modern society are better than the ancients. Translate that into the different relationships operative today, be it between East and West, country versus country, politics versus politics, immigrants versus residents, etc etc, and we can see how this interpretation of history translates as an operative way of thinking and acting in the world. Assumptions do matter, and as I was reading this book I was seeing all sorts of parallels between religious assumptions regarding human depravity and the assumptions and Pinkers assumptions regarding the depravity of the ancients.
I wonder how this might challenge certain religious expressions that see the emergence of humanity built on depravity rather than an internet goodness, and how that might help define the way we see a christlike justice making ethic? Later on in the year, a book I tpuch on below, I would take a similar journey with a book called The Bright Ages, which challenges given assumptions about the Dark Ages on a similar premise (taken together it would seem that viewing the Dark Ages as dark flows from wrong understandings of early humanity as less than).
In keeping with this theme, I also read another reinterpretation of history, this time through the lens of Iceland. How Iceland Changed The World: The Big History of a Small Island by Egill Bjarnason helps us to imagine world history as being shaped in a particular direction the moment an ancient Viking ran “aground” this north Atlantic island all those years ago. We can play a similar line from almost anything of course, but given the strictly contextualized nature of history and humanity these sorts of stories provide an important window into how certain geographical and political realities come to be. It’s a fascinating exercise that helps in growing one’s understanding of the shape of this world and its challenges.
Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics By Tim Marshall, How Art Made the World: A Journey to the Origins of Human Creativity By Nigel Spivey
Little more broke my understanding of the cyclical nature of human history wide open than this perspective shaping look at geopolitics and the role borders and calculated international relations play in the never ending drive for wealth and power. The book demonstrates how looking at international realities, especially when it comes to defining the enemy, is often shaped by our own limiting context and fostered by narratives which serve greater political interests lying underneath the surface. The rise and fall and constant jostling for the position of Empire is as real today as it was thought ancient history, proving that this cyclical reality remains its own beast,, especially with the rise of globalism
If this sounds dire and helpless (it kind of is), while the political powers that be do their thing How Art Made The World reminded me of the essential humanity that persists underneath that. It sheds light on how the need to create and to express through art has shaped history as much, if not more, as borders and geopolitical powers. In fact, the former is what allows us to converse with the latter, making sense of things we can’t control and perhaps living differently in the face of it. If geopolitics tells history as one kind of story, art tells the story of history from the light of the person’s who occupy it.
We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland By Fintan O’ Toole, Maeve Binchy: A Biograohy By Piers Dudgeon
Along the same lines, my next reads would take that perspective shaping window and turn it towards Ireland. Following a deep rooted interest in Ukraine, given the present struggles and the fact that the summer celebrates the different anniversaries of our adoption journey (we left for Ukraine in August). A chance to visit Jen’s family village and connect with extended family while in Ukraine inspired me to start thinking more deeply about my own Irish roots. If I see the world from my own particular context, then that context owes itself to certain Irish particularities. While my readings on Ireland included more than this, these two books started what was a bit of a reflective process on how my life is shaped by history. We Don’t Know Ourselves was particularly poignant given the way it locates a certain crisis of identity. Knowing what it means to be Irish feels as important as knowing what it means to be human, as these realities are interconnected
Metropolis: A History of the City, Humankind’s Greatest Invention By Ben Wilson, Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age By Dennis Duncan, Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern By Jing Tsu
It was fascinating then for me to read in these three books about the connection between language and the voice of the City as a conduit or bridge between these two realities- the geopolitical and the art. It’s within the Metropolis that these stories are embedded, contained as they are within language, and further, as the history of the index would show, ordered language. From order comes the inevitable organizing movements of language and culture, and through the rise of the index language becomes information. The way we process and organize this information might look different today, and if modern society demonstrates anything its a deeply rooted problem of information detached from and operating apart from story (the ultimate expression of language). It also becomes a way into a larger discussion of why story matters. And there is no better space through which to understand this then the ultimate organizing principle of modern humans- the city.
Father of Route 66: The Story of Cy Avery By Susan C. Kelly, The Women Who Built Omaha: A Bold and Remarkable History By Eileen Wirth
Speaking of the city, over the waning days of summer my wife and I had a chance to get away and visit some new cities and hear their stories. Both of these books were excellent opportunities to engage the world from a slightly different perspective than our own. Avery’s role in shaping the landscape of America becomes crucial for understanding the organizing principle of American society, something we were able to imagine while exploring the historic route 66, while reading about the women of Omaha, an unassuming Midwest city of modest size, became a way to know its own creative voice. We would carry this with us into the particularities of Oklahoma City as a boomtown and Tulsas racial history.
Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God By J, Richard Middleton, The Sacrifice of Jesus: Understanding Atonement Biblically By Christian A Eberhart
Moving out of summer and into the fall I found myself involved in certain conversations about the nature of sacrifice in the Bible, or within the Biblical story. These two books have since become formative for me on this topic, with Middleton breaking down one of the most difficult and highly charged (read: divisive) passages in scripture (Abrahams sacrifice of Isaac) and Eberhart digging deep into the sacrificial system of Israel and later Jewish expressions. Both of these things become important for understanding the language NT author employ in order to make sense of Jesus, and these books helped me when it comes to understanding the ways this language is used to tell a story, and ways certain segments of Christianity have perhaps misunderstood and misapplied it, a story that becomes a hugely important part of the larger conversation between the creative forces (art) and the Powers (geopolitics)m especially relatimg to the hopeof the Gospel. Hearing the language of sacrifice expressed in their world and seeing how it invites them to see their world differently than the one which the Powers and their cycles hold enslaved, goes a long way in helping to shed light on the true nature of God, humanity and creation.
As Middleton supposes, if God revealed His true name (meaning Gods true image revealed through the way God acts in and for the world) by breaking into history and dwelling with and within His creation, then we should expect that such a God would be understood within the limiting parameters of language, At the same time, language is the very thing that transcends such limited capacities by setting us in conversation with a greater story. Thus it is by constantly asking how the revealed name might relate to our context that our language can begin to be shaped within our context towards a greater and truer story.
Delivered Out of Empire: Pivotal Moments in the Book of Exodus Part 1By WalterBruegemman; Moses: A Human Life By Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg
The place to begin with shaping the Christian story in its world is with its Jewish roots. One cannot understand the story of Jesus without understanding the story of the Exodus, and for that matter the “righteous” figure of Moses. Not only do the Gospel writers write Jesus’ story as a new exodus, they place Him within the story of Moses, raising Him up then as the essential Mediator between heaven and earth. Bruegemman does a masterful job locating the essential force of the Exodus story as a clash of kingdoms, and Zoenberg is simply wonderful in unpacking such an enigmatic figure from within his own Jewish context.
For The Love of All Creatures: The Story of Grace in Genesis By William Greenway, Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters By Carmen Joy Imes
Suffice then to say that Carmen’s newest work, Bearing Gods Name, helped to flesh out this story even more, moving us from the Exodus to Sinai by way of the sacred story of the Torah. This is attached to the pivotal moment- the revealing of God’s true name as He comes down the mountain to dwell in the Creation, establishing the covenant that the continued sharing of this moment through the story of the Torah would hold on to as the formative image of their hope in God making all things new. The book For The Love of All Creatures served as a welcome compliment to Carmen’s articulated plea to keep Sinai at the center of the Gospel, as it fleshes out this covenant as a cosmic concern for the whole of creation, with Sinai’s call to faithful participation setting us in relationship to this truth,
What Saint Paul Really Said By N.T. Wright, Acts By Scott McKnight
If the Exodus and Sinai, framed as they are by the language of the NT writers, operate as a way of telling Jesus’ own story, then understanding how Paul understood Jesus in these terms becomes crucially important to knowing what these stories are trying to say, given how much of the NT is compromised of Pual’s voice. Two prominent academics in the field of Pauline studies are Wright and McKnight, with McKnight taking a more pastoral approach. Both are really helpful in shaping the voice and letters of Paul according to his very Jewish convictions, fleshing out the larger story of New creation and covenant promise within that. If a christ centered justice making ethic is concerned with both the Powers of Sin and Death as a real, oppressive agency, and subsequently the Powers of this world, or the oppressive realty of Empire at the same time, then this picture that Paul presents of heaven coming to earth becomes palpable in its real world concern for social issues and a practical Christian Ethic. Seeing this in Paul can help to counteract the harmful tendencies that come from spiritualizjng Pauls words into some progression of salvation happening within an individual, and it can help open us up to the true force of the covenant promise for the whole of creation.
It’s worth noting here that along with these two books I also did a deep dive into Paul’s letter to the Romans, reading 17 commentaries and books. I hope to reflect on those learnings in this space elsewhere.
When Everything’s On Fire: Faith Forged From The Ashes by Brian Zahnd, Wholehearted Faith By Rachel Held Evans
As with any rethinking and challenging of older paradigms, such ideas can at times present a point of crisis. A crisis of faith. A crisis of belief. A crisis of hope. A crisis of meaning. I have been there, and in many ways will continue to be there as I seek a more honest and robust faith built on hearimg the Biblical story in its world rather than from the world I create for it, and then allowing that to be recontextualized into my own.
Two wonderful and wise voices who have navigated this space as dedicated Christ followers are Zahnd and the recently departed Evans. Both understand the difference between questioning the viability of God because it failed to attend to me, and questioning the viability of God because it failed to attend to the world around us. The first sense flows from what is often the first thing to get sacrificed in an interest towards reconstruction- the self, or the individual. The second is where our genuine crisis of faith should get fleshed out. For as long as that is where our uncertainties and our questions are pointed, our struggles will pull us in this same direction. This is, not inconsequentially, where we are most likely to encounter Christ as well. This reminds me of those earlier reads above which point out that how we see creation and humanity matters a lot. If we are to find Christ in these things we will need to learn to see it in the light of Christ’s image, recognizing the Evil instead as the systems which oppress and cloud this image. These two books gave me the freedom to do that while reclaiming a more hopeful imagination in the biblical story as my primary conviction,
How and How Not To Be Happy By J. Budziszewski, The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe By Matthew Gabriele
I have already noted the Bright Ages above, a complimentary read to some of my earlier endeavors. What is slightly unconventional for me is picking up a book that feels even remotely connected to self help. I did so with How To Be Happy based on a recommendation, and I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It might seem like such a book would take the grander story that has been shaping me above and shift it to a heavy focus on the individual, but the author goes to great lengths to tie true happiness to our life in the world. Who and what we are is shaped by these external realities, thus finding happiness, which gets defined through the multiple uses of the word (such as contentment or joy), is something we should expect to find in relationship to the external. In its own way then this becomes helpful in building a Christ-centered justice making ethic. To see this in light of a renewed sense of the darkness at play in history and the light that often gets obscured by ways of our thinking about humanity and creation, becomes a way of reclaiming beauty and hope as a healing agency in the world.
Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us about Wisdom, Persistence, and Strength By Kat Armas, A Hermeneutic of Wisdom: Recovering the Formative Agency of Scripture By J. De Waal Dryden
Nearing the end of the year I decided to pair a couple books on the subject of wisdom, one which challenges conventional approaches by broadening definitions of what wisdom literature is and what qualifies as wisdom, literature, and then affording it a proper hermeneutic. The other locates wisdom in the voices of those whom have played a role in seeding, growing, and encouraging our faith, and further uses a cultural touchpoint to locate the women who play such roles in our world and in our lives, moving then to uncover the wisdom of such women’s stories prevalent throughout Scripture. One is about the formative voice of wisdom in scripture, the other is about the formative voices that we find carrying such wisdom in scripture, and further in our world as marginalized voices. If we are to think about what it looks like to embody a better story, this wisdom becomes important in fleshing that out in an embodied fashion. Wisdom and ethics are closely entwined.
Two seminal voices of our present age, two of its most vital artists. These two books provided a perfect pathway towards my (unintentional) full circle reading of Yancys Where The Light Falls and Donohue’s Beauty. They both tell the stories of their respective journeys from the lens of their personal experiences as successful musicians. Both carry and describe a very particular spiritual outlook and experience of this world and existence I relationship to God.. Both use art as a way to speak about problems in the world and both image Christ by allowing their own struggles to move them out into the world. Equally fascinating and illuminating and inspiring .
A few years ago I began a New Years Resolution Plan called Rosebud. I heard about it on one of the travel podcasts that I follow. The process essentially looks like this: Step 1: List Three Roses- This is the stuff that I would consider the greatest strengths, successes or accomplishments of the past year, the stuff that has managed to blossom into a Rose. Step 2: List One Thorn This would reflect my greatest personal struggle of the past year. Step 3: List Three Buds Based on my “thorn”, this is a list of what I would like to “bud” into potential Roses in the coming year. Step 4: Come up with a word for the year This should be a single word that can help reflect the direction I want to head in the coming year, a single word that can give my year a theme or a recognizable focus and narrative.
So, why Rosebud? I have been asked in the past, why three Roses but only one Thorn? Most of us don’t realize it, but it is often much more diffciult to come up with roses than it is thorns. Also difficult is learning how to speak about thorns in a way that imagines forward movement, seeing it in light of one’s potential for growth. It’s kind of like that old piece of advice that says when you are in an interview for a new job and they ask you about your weaknesses, always give a weakness that you can do something about.
The great part of the Rosebud system is that it allows one to document their struggles and their growth year by year as a kind of working and interactive diary. You can build on the previous year and form an ongoing narrative out of the successes, struggles and hopes. This is not about resolutions persay, at least not in the traditional sense, it is about making space for introspection and observation and forming that into perspective and potential. And it allows one to not just make goals, but to examine what those goals are actual about, the why of our goals. With that in mind…
A look back at ROSEBUD 2022:
My Three Roses were:
1. Research Project/Book
2. The Fear of God
My Thorn was:
1. Reinvest in relationships at home
2. Take my record breaking year in film and books and funnel that time into greater investments
3. Make progress on my book
My Word For the Year: Process
One of the things that I noted in my Roses was potential. New potential when it came to writing and new potential when it came to the biggest change in our lives- welcoming Buddy into our home. When I consider how the Buds were meant to sort of supplement and build on my Roses, I have to confess that this was not my best year. I failed to make progress on my book, and perhaps at this point consider it a regression, and in the latter half of the year the onset of depression and some other barriers relating to life led me to neglect doing much writing at all, both for the Fear of God and on my personal page. The further downside of this is that I don’t feel like I was able to reinvest the time that I did have from dialing back on some of reading and watching the previous year well.
While the rest of my 2022 year seemed to fall off the wagon as things went along, Buddy was there to ensure that something remained on track. He arrived with more than a few challenges, and many of those remain. Those who know me well know that a dog is never just a dog, and so ensuring that the Budster has a safe and loving home where he can figure some of this stuff out in grace and with family is hugely important for me. I do feel like I had the necessary grace, patience and time to give. I feel like some of this too has provided good opportunity for dialogue with Sasha as well as he has been able to observe and participate in the process
I feel like 2022 has been marked by key conversations which have represented important transition points in my life. This includes family, work, friends, and Church. Without fleshing out the context, suffice to say while these conversations didn’t always go well or continue the way they needed, I feel like starting points are always positive.
Related to those conversations, I do feel like there were small ways in which I was able to reprioritze some key facets of my life. I feel like I’m positioned well towards certain potentials in that regard at the very least. It just needs a greater imagination.
One Thorn:Failed Potential
I feel like this is the logical weakness to list here even if it stretches the unspoken rule of this slot by spreading things too broadly. Given my Roses and my reflections on last year this seems like an important foundation to build on in 2023
1. Get back on the horse
Let’s keep this simple- get back to writing, get back to reimaging how to utilize some of my reallocated time
2. Establish further community
If conversations have been started, and if this relates to key points of transition, perhaps the logical step is to allow this to formulate into some important investments in community (relationships). What this means exactly seems less clear, but it is something to at least table and begin to flesh out
This will seem somewhat superficial, but this is meant to build on one failed potential from 2022. It has been a good long while since we have done a more extensive trip, and having landed earlier this year on planning to try and ultimately failing to make it to England, a place which holds perhaps the most bucket list items for me personally, being more intentional this year might help bear that out and make it a reality
I have a fond memory from earlier in the year following a blind buy of Gallant. I had been inspired to read more fiction. At the time I was immersed in non-fiction (still am), and I was craving a good story. This set in motion an intentional effort to uncover more literary fiction. My year was hit and miss on this front, but I do remember feeling so rewarded after finishing the final page of that book. Left me craving more.
The following is not a ranked list nor a complete list. They are simply the reads that I found most memorable. I was excited to look back, and I was a bit surprised to see how much I gravitated towards younger books. Seems that’s what I needed, and I am more than happy to embrace that. Looking forward to what the new year has in store. Happy reading.
Gallant By E.B. Schwab
The aforementioned read that sparked a renewed vigor to track down and read some good literary fiction is the sort of story that feels tailor made me for. It revels in themes of light and dark, death and life, while infusing this exploration with a sense of childhood innocence and imagination capable of addressing real existential questions in meaningful ways. The horror notes are simply the icing on the cake.as it utilizes its atmospheric setting (a mysterious house and unsettled family history).
Grace By Natashia Deon
A studied author, new to me and I think fairiy new to the literary scene as a whole. I was introduced to her works through an interview with the author on the thefearofgod podcast here. I went out and tracked down her two primary works (the other one being The Perishing) through one of our local bookstores and was immediately taken up with her style. She writes with one eye towards the spiritual and another towards the deeply felt realities of the world she is fleshing out. Here she tells a generational story that allows the book to look backwards and forwards as it grapples with the subject of racism and the black experience. Features a strong literary structure and a powerful emotional undercurrent that pulled me into the world of the characters and allowed me to experience its story,
Til We Have Faces By C.S. Lewis
Picked this up following a podcast episode where a couple of readers described this as a lesser known work from a popular author that really surprised them with its depth of insight on the nature of love and its use of mythology to say something true about our experience of it. I actually timed my reading to intersect with valentines day, providing a kind of liturgy for the season, and it did not disappoint. It’s different from anything else I’ve read from Lewis, and in a way uncovered a side of him that I didn’t know existed. Expands his imaginative tendencies into a work that is able to challenge our narrowed way of seeing such myths play out in the moder world as mere story rather than as truth.
Tilly and the Bookwanderers By Anna James
This was another podcast recommend (many of the books I read are), and it came from someone passionate about getting this story out into the world where more people can experience it. Seeing the world through a child’s eyes and setting this world in an old bookstore, a space which affords this young child endless opportunity for adventure through the written word, is simply the starting point for a story that includes elements of family, mystery, interesting characters, and important life lessons. A pure delight to read as a grown adult.
Interior Chinatown By Charles Yu
I made an invested move earlier in the year to read more books from and about and/or set in China, and this is one that stood out for me for its inventive style and its investment in fleshing out its characters in a real sense of time and space. I felt like I was able to embody the world from a perspective different than my own, and the sheer quirkiness of the Hollywood backdrop gives the whole thing a unique and entertaining flavor.
Trumpet of the Swan By E.B. White
Bought this one because of my love for the author and a renewed interest in his biography. Charlotte’s Web played a formative role in my childhood, being one of earliest books I read and reread over and over. In Trumpet, I loved the way the tale details this relationship between a boy and a swan by giving both an assumed sense of agency without ever questioning the viability of their shared struggle across species. The swan isn’t presented as a Disney character, rather White imagines how it is that a swan might exist in the world as a swan if barriers to communication were not an obstacle. It would happen through vocal cues rather than words, and it would require reconceptualizimg how it is that we define social norms. The fact that it is so normalized in the book for a swan to simply participate in the world of humans allows the book the freedom to simply focus on their relationship as two creatures somewhat removed from their natural habitat, as though neither belongs where they are, attempting to find their way back together. It is a moving and beautiful story.
A Psalm For The Wild Built By Becky Chambers
A monk and a robot walk into a room. If that sounds like a joke, rest assured it is actually a poignant philosophical and spiritual reflection on life, death and meaning, sentience and desire. Chambers is an intelligent writer who knows how to imagine a small, intimate sci-fi premise in ways that dig deep into some big important questions regarding the nature of being human, forming that through some nice world building and intimate characterization into a compelling journey.
The Wishing Spell By Chris Colfer
Had the privilege of reading this while I was in Omaha in the shadow of a genuine castle. Loved the take on a world where familiar stories come alive, and it is filled with magic and adventure as we follow these children through the land of stories in search of a way home. Some nice family subtext as well
Scarborough By Catherine Hernandez
Saw the movie and I was immediately compelled to pick up the book. The film is a nearly word for word adaptation of the book, simply fleshing out some of the side trips into the lives of the different kids and families with a greater use of silence and space as opposed to descriptive. Both hold an equal gut punch as it examines a neighborhood in the GTA by way of a learning center dedicated to helping set up families with young children for success.
Fairytale By Stephen King
I’m a big fan of King and generally try to read much of what he releases, which is a lot. Sometimes the stories he writes feel familiar, fitting one of the handful of motifs and genres that he tends to dabble in. Every once in a while he comes out with something that expands on that mold. This is one of those books. It’s a grown up take on a fairy tale that also works for a slightly younger audience. It’s lengthy (not unusual) a bit epic (also not entirely unusual), and a fresh mixing of worlds hidden and visible befitting a strong fairy tale vibe. I personally enjoyed the characters, which centers on a boy coming of age and a grumpy old man whom he accidentally ends up befriending after responding to some distress. There is a subtext of faith that undergirds the young boys personal journey that fits well with the kind of journey he finds himself needing to embark on. I do have some issues, but this is one that I ultimately found both enjoyable and refreshing in terms of Kimg’s usual fare.
Before The Coffee Gets Cold By Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Another blind buy, this time based on the dual premise of coffee and time travel. If anything would sell me it would be marrying these two ideas together. And the book does so marvelously using a kind of what if scenario. Inside this unassuming coffee shop there sits a woman, who herself is sitting in a chair. As the legend goes, the one who sits in this chair can travel back to a given point in time, but there are rules that must be followed. The setting is contained, and everyone in the shop is given the space needed to flesh out their story. On that level it plays as part mystery without ever getting heavy handed or subsumed by the complexity of its big ideas. A delightful and breezy read with just the right touch of emotional concern.
Eternal Life By Dara Horn
I am a considerate fan of Horns earlier work, so when I saw she had written another work tackling similar themes I was excited to pick it up and give it a go. This never quite achieves the same level of introspection and world building, but it does have its moments. It trades some of the humility of the previous work for something slightly less nuanced. But where the big ideas do surface here it rings out with potential. This is especially true when the book spends time exploring the different worlds that bind two separate times, the Greco-Roman world and the modern one, together.
As the final few days and hours start to wind down on 2022, looking back at the year in film is a chance to remind myself of just how full 12 mohths really can be. Memories of heading to the theater to see Black Widow, a film that, at the time, was supposed to kick off an exciting new phase of the MCU, with Reeve’s Batman and a fresh iteration of the DCEU right around the corner, remain seared in my mind. I really enjoyed both of those films, but oh the stories my future self could share about the current state of both of those franchises.
I have equally fond memories of venturing out into the long, cold January days to see the surprisingly fun The 355 at our now defunct and closed down independently run downtown theater. The loss of an icon. Or finding time at the last minute to sacrifice some sleep for a late night showing of Belle at a theater halfway across town. A truly amazing big screen experience.
One thing that I did not anticipate is the insanity that would become the current state of the theatrical landscape. Most pundits, including me, were predicting that theaters would become increasingly dominated by big blockbusters, while smaller films would go to streaming or VOD. In truth, in all my years of movie going I have never experienced this many films being released week after week at the theater. It is, to say the least, an embarrassment of riches for a filmgoer like me. In truth, even the most avid movie goers as myself can’t keep up. The other side of this picture, however, is that the landscape remains incredibily nconsistent along with the stress of trying to keep up. It feels, to put it lightly, unsustainable at the moment on all fronts, and who knows what the future will bring. The industry hasn’t adjusted yet to the overall box office being much smaller, especially when you have such a glutton of films releasing every single week. The industry hasn’t adjusted yet to the overall box office being much smaller. It’s nearly impossible to know how long films will be in theater for, making the whole thing more than a little frustrating when it comes to figuring out what I should prioritize and when. And sadly more and more films end up the causality of this disarray.
And yet, what putting together this list has reminded me of is that I am blessed. Blessed to be able to support this artform. Blessed to have the time to invest in it and experience it. Blessed to be part of different communities that share this passion. Blessed to be able to have these memories to look back on and be inspired. With that in mind, this is the culmination of a painful process, attempting to narrow down these titles from a strong representation of many memorable titles into something that can represent my year honestly and well. What I did is break it into three parts- three honorary mentions, a snapshot of my #20-11 picks, and then spotlighting my top 10 films of 2022. These films do not include horror, animated or documentary as I have dedicated other space to those genres.
Mrs Harris Goes To Paris (Directed By Anthony Fabian)
A charming and delightful film featuring the charismatic Lesley Manville and a story which weaves together a clash of cultures, class divisions, and the personal longings of this unassuming maid from England. A strong first three quarters and a satisfying finish come together to make this one of the more heartwarming stories of 2022.
She Said (Directed By Maria Schrader)
I so wish that I could have found a spot for this film in my top 20, but alas. It’s an important film that utilizes some raw and sometimes rough editing to keep it grounded and honest. Whatever shortcomings this might and likely has, the films qualities lie in its passion. It there is a line between entertainment, art and commentary, this film would make a great case study. It’s a must see simply for its ability to shed light on the womans voice along with highlighting some important aspects of an often compromised industry. It made me think deeply about my own role in feeding a problematic system as a patron and a consumer of art. It also reminded me of why we need art like this to exist and to speak for itself.
Don’t Worry Darlimg (Directed By Olivia Wilde)
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood films of 2022. This continues the trend of Olivia Wilde making films that are decidedly on the nose in terms of messaging. What anchors this films unhurried approach to telling a straight forward narrative though is the fact that in making the message clear it also opens this up for some rich discussion. This is the kind of film one is meant to ruminate on, and I think the more one does the more the story itself comes alive. Here we get a portrait of systemic realities which inform the way the particular relationships are able to live and breathe. The film traverses certain themes such as sacrifice, control, shame, economics, expectations, social pressure and demands, and communication. All driven by genuine expressions of love fleshed out in complicated ways.
The Woman Kimg (Directed By Gina Prince-Bythewood)
Good old fashioned storytelling undergirds this entertaining blockbuster which, despite all the conversation that has taken place surrounding its approach to the historical narrative (it takes a liberal approach that brings together different truths about the past in a way that accentuates and privileges an emphasis on the women of this story and the eventual outcome of the events- the dismantling of the slave trade) remains an important voice and message to bring to a more complex and nuanced historical discussion. That and it seriously kicks some butt as an epic, entertaining, big screen experience.
Diaspora (Directed By Deco Dawson)
I found myself caught off guard by this Canadian made film which features one of the most intimate and revealing depictions of my hometown (Winnipeg). It’s not a flattering look at my city, but it’s willingness to dig into the most calloused corners, particularly of our North End, holds love and empathy. This is slow cinema, and it is built intentionally around the use of repetition. As we spend time with our main character, a young recently immigrated Ukrainian woman relocating to a famed neighborhood in Winnioeg once bustling with Ukrainian heritage, we get to discover the paths and sights and streets with her as she finds herself lost in what has since grown into a mosaic of mutli-cultured communities. The films final word is every bit as human as it is particular in its exploration of her as a Ukrainian, and the filmmaking, channeling a kind of Wes Anderson symmetrical vibe, features some of the best and most detailed framing of the year
Till (Directed By Chinonye Chukwu)
Not everything in this unassuming and deeply affecting racially charged drama works, but in its own imperfect way it manages to stake its claim on some of the best sequences of 2022. The real star of the show I feel is actually the camerawork, the set design and the cinematography. There are some framing shots here that are simply spilling over with expertly crafted emotion and a real sense of place. You feel the storied landscape of the spacious Louisiana countryside and small town flavor, and the timrless captures of a young Chicago bustling with the fervent energy of a city caught at the crossroads of older tendencies and a need for change. You can feel the gradual drum beat playing in the background foreshadowing where this story is going, and it’s really effective as a visual and sensory experience.
Triangle of Sadness (Directed By Ruben Ostlund)
Hands down one of the best theatrical experiences I had all year. This had most of my theater on the floor in stitches. And for as funny as it is it also packs a punch when it comes to the social commentary
God’s Creatures (Directed By Anna Rose Holmer)
This would make a great double feature with The Banshees of Inisherin, both of which follow an isolated Irish character dealing with life in an Irish village where things never appear to change and where life stays the same. Both explore existential questions and both exhibit darker edges to their story which beg for moral complexity.
In this case Paul Mescal, in a break out role, never mind that Afrtersun will go on to outshine even this, plays a young man who returns home bringing with him some hidden baggage. It is his relationship with his mother, played with equal perfection by Emiiy Watson, that drives the narrative forward into a storied and difficult moral landscape, forming this into an atmospheric slow burn character study that makes full use of sound and setting.
Scarborough (Directed By Rich Williamson)
This film resonated with me to such a degree that I immediately went out and purchased the book (which the film follows almost word for word). Distinctly Canadian and set exclusively in a neighborhood within the GTA, the film follows a group of children by way of a government funded language learning center which is designed to give children and their families the tools they need to foster healthy home environments and enable the kids the foundation they need to learn and develop. The film is lengthy as it takes its time fleshing out each of these children and their respective families, all of whom have their own unique stories and context. At the same time it explores the nature of the system itself, focusing in on the well weathered Director of the program.
Taken together- families and system, this provides a tension which operates as the subtext for the lives that we then get to observe in both the parents and the children, along with the Director. We move in and out of this learning space naturally digging deeper into their everyday patterns of life. The camera never shies away from following the children when they are either neglected by their parents or when they retreat from them. This has a way of taking us down these side trips and random excursions into methods of coping, exploration, or even surviving. The camera spends less time doing this with the adults but it has the same effect, and taken together it becomes a really powerful portrait of our shared humanity across these different generational roles and perspectives. A truly emotional ride.
Cha Cha Real Smooth (Directed By Cooper Raiff)
A feel good, ridiculously entertaining story built on the Directors unique sensibilities and traits, which is all about love and life, growing up and growing older. It features really strong performances, honest human moments, and plenty of emotions that navigate the ups and downs of this particular group of individuals simply figuring stuff out as they go. Loved the generational element as well.
Hit The Road (Directed By Panah Panahi)
This was one of the last films I saw in 2022, and if I had more time to sit with it I could absolutely see this moving into my top 10 slot.
It is the quintessential road trip movie, but it is also so much more. We are never quite sure why this family is traversing the Iranian highways on route to the Turkish border, and that is not really the focal point of the story. In fact, the characters themselves often don’t know where they are, why they are there and even where they are going precisely, What we get here instead is a deeply felt portrait of a dysfunctional and obviously unsettled family carrying some unspoken baggage. There is pain that lies underneath the surface, almost to the point where it seems if they stop moving it might consume them. And so they keep going, driven by an innate ability to use things like laughter and dancing to fuel their way forward.
One of the most heartfelt, deeply enjoyably, and also incredibly funny films of 2022, one that features one of the great child performances of the year as well.
Help (Directed By Marc Munden)
Immediately landed in my top films slot early in the year, and it is a testament to the films staying power that it managed to hang on for this long, just missing my top spot. Much of this hangs on the power of Comers commanding performance, but perhaps equally so for the way it gave me permission at a time when the world found itself divided over Covid to remember that we all just went through something significant and that this historical moment had real world consequence. It captures this from the vantage point of someone inside a burdened system in the early goings of a virus still not fully understood, and it plays to powerful emotional effect and an unsettling use of tension
A Love Song (Directed By Max Walker-Silverman)
An intimate portrait anchored by two invested and heartfelt performances helps to formulate a memorable love story out two well crafted and well realized characters. It’s a wondrous thing witnessing these two old souls reestablishing a connection out in the desert, but the journey itself finds this connection by way of two individual journeys bridging the passage of time from within their own unique spaces. These are the quiet and subtle moments that prove truly special.
Elvis (Directed By Baz Luhrman)
Just go ahead and give Austin Butler the Oscar for best performance. Luhrmans frenzied style is absolutely part of what makes this one of the most entertaining films of 2022, but it is Butler that manages to anchor this in his commitment to digging underneath such an enigmatic figure in a way that allows us to feel like we are learning something we didn’t already know. The film utilizes a narrative of victims and villains but breathes into this a lot of nuance. And for as much as this features a larger than life performance, it is equally so a narrative told through its mix of visuals and sound and style. This is, for example, where we find the deeply felt spiritual concern of the story, using these different sequences to tie together the earlier and later parts of Elvis’ personal story. We see what makes him who he is, and subsequently what makes where his story ends up so heartbreaking and emotionally resonant. We also feel and hear it, and that’s a testament to the power of visual storytelling.
Tar (Directed By Todd Field)
Likely the most talked about and controversial release of 2022, I am clearly on team Tar. This is a phenomenal accomplishment in filmmaking and a fascinating story about cancel culture- what it is, how it works, and the implications of it in a world where art is connected so directly to the people that make it. One of the amazing things about this script is how it never allows us to settle into black and white judgments of its characters and their actions. It expertly weaves into matter of fact realities notes of uncertainty that bleed into uncertain empathy, a choice that ultimately pays off in a powerfully poetic final sequence. Certainly one of the best performances of the year in Blanchetts Tar, but I would also argue this is a studied Directorial achievement,
Three Thousand Years of Longing (Directed By George Miller)
“Humanity has superseded us. They no longer have room for us.” “And yet here you are. My impossible.”
The film is not simply a love story, it’s a story about the numerous relationships that define this world. And in particular it’s about humanitys relationship to the divine imagination. It is a profound and deeply moving portrait of our need to make sense of things through story. Stories told and stories heard. Lying underneath the essential fabric of this developing relationship between the Jinni and the woman are subsequent stories of longing, isolation, meaning, desire and emotion. This is a story that requires imagination,using sparse images and subtle visual effects to move us between the mortal and immortal realities. It feels real, but the film is intentionally designed to play with our sense of what is real, and that becomes a way of unsettling our senses in both time and place. It invites us into a story with both a beginning and an end but one that is also seemingly eternal at the same time, giving us a way to put hands and feet and faces to the fleshing out of our stories in the here and now. In this sense the film also functions as an invitation to the viewer to relearn how to tell and how to hear the necessary stories of this world in their truest and most formative sense.
The Banshees of Inisherin (Directed By Martin McDonagh)
On its surface this is a film about the value of friendship and the dissolution of friendship. It is about the ebb and flow of life through the lens of these two aging men confronted by what it is to live a meaningful life, a sentiment that seems intimately attached to questions of legacy. There is a definite melancholic tone to the whole thing as it explores some deep and resonating themes surrounding fear and longing and perhaps even the sort of bravery required to live in the face of lifes great uncertainties. What lingers in the background is a real sense of loss, both potential and actual, along with the possibility of gain. The film doesn’t simply stay with these two men, rather it sets them in relationship to this small Irish village, captured through exquisite detail and framing, to family, to home, and even to their domesticated animals. For me all of these thiemes hit with a particular force, so when the somewhat inconclusive nature of the ending arrives it lingered for a good long while, unsettling my spirit in some unexpected and welcome ways.
Top Gun: Maverick (Directed By Joseph Kosinski)
The big story surrounding this film, aside from its unprecedented success at the box office, is the fact that what seemingly should have been a project destined to be forgotten alomg with a lengthy list of ill advised sequels preying on waned nostalgia, turned out to be the quintessential model for the perfect blockbuster and a reminder of what makes going to the movies so important and so special. It is intelligent, meticulously crafted, without flaw, and features a final quarter that is as edge of your seat as they come.
Petite Maman (Directed By Celine Sciamma)
It’s hard to find the words to describe just how beautiful and perfect this film is. So simple. So profound. Deeply human.
The cast is small and the context extremely detailed and focused, but the depths it is able to mine from such a contained portrait is incredible. I don’t want to say too much to keep from spoiling the story, but suffice to say it provides a family portrait made up of deeply broken and flawed individuals who are also bursting full of beauty. Sadness is a word that emerges near the beginning and remerges near the end, but for as defining as the word is these characters are also not bound to it. In its own way this might also be one of the most uplifting and inspiring stories I’ve seen this year.
Babylon (Directed By Damion Chazelle)
Proving to be a love or hate it effort, and certainly one that has proved to be a hard sell at the box office, this is my new favorite Chazelle along with being an incredible love letter to cinema and the big screen experience. It’s an ambitious and epic tale that is equally complex in its detailing of an era, using the transitional period between silent film and talkies to say something astute about our present day. This is a reminder of why film matters as an artform, but even more than this it is a reminder of how something beautiful can be found in what is often a messy and problematic industry. The devil is in the details, profoundly imagined through the allure of Babylon, and yet so is the transcendent.
The Fablemans (Directed By Steven Spielberg)
Five minutes in and I knew this film was going to be special. Spielberg might have stronger projects in his filmography, but this is likely his most important. And despite it being grossly underseen I do feel like it will go on to age like a fine wine, cementing itself in future years as a bona-fide classic. It has all the markings and characteristics to become this.
What makes this film so special is that it is Spielbergs most affectionately drawn and honest portraits to date. It’s autobiographical nature allows him to simply tell his story and explore why this artform matters so much to him. It’s far less concerned with the normal polish he might ordinarily provide, giving this story some freedom to be a bit more unwieldy and raw. Where we might expect him to reach for transcendent qualities, which is what he is so good at evoking, he stays decidedly grounded. And it is here where the film is able to revel in the detail of the artform more so than simply demonstrating its final expression. If Babylon stands as a larger than life love letter to a messy film industry and the artform it so carefully curates, what Spielberg offers here out of the messiness of his own life is a pared back and personalized love letter to the workings of the form itself, highlighting its immense potential to transform.
Aftersun (Directed By Charlotte Wells)
Stunning is the singular word I can use to describe this film. Stunning in the fact that it is a debut. The emotional depths this film finds is indicative of a seasoned master. Stunning in its commitment to simplicity. And stunning at the same time for its sheer emotional depth. This is about the relationship between a father and a daughter. More so its a story about the power of memory and the art of looking back. The film opens with an aged daughter who stumbles across an old home movie of a vacation she took with her father. We obviously know something happened in the gap between this vacation and this present moment, and as we go on this journey of recollecting this vacation we also know that this vacation was somehow significant. The power of the film lies in these moments between her reflecting on the trip through thus VHS tape and the Directors reenactment of these memories as a story which is able to fill in the gaps. This becomes a way of moving in and out of specific points of perspective, discovering the hidden details of this relationship along with the daughter. A simply powerful and dismantling emotional journey,
After Yang (Directed By Kogonada)
For most of 2022 After Yang has occupied my number one spot, standing far and above the others in this respect. For me this is a film that managed to transcend all of my normal measurements regarding what makes an exceptional film truly exceptional. Aftersun put up a good fight in threatening to derail it, but a rewatch of After Yang confirmed for me that this remains the best of 2022 and an appropriate representative. It asks big, life altering questions about the nature of memory, what it means to be human, and how it is that we make sense of life in the face of this existing tension between our mortality and our longings for the eternal. It showcases a striking commitment to fleshing out the humanity behind their well established questions about existence, which is made all the more poignant by the fact that Yang himself is not human. He is a robot in a future where such automated persons are becoming the norm. This provides the grounding for fleshing out such questions in light of this quiet, sci-fi premise as a larger existential concern.
There is a necessary investment in the world building that expresses itself in a subtle and low key fashion, resulting in some haunting and lingering sequences that are busting full of emotional concern. This is accented by the equally beautiful and captivating performances that help this story come to life with meaning and purpose. From here the film grows into an expertly crafted portrait of the connection between the particulars of being human and the cultural touchpoints of being Asian. Equally pertinent then is the multi-layered presence of the “after” in the title. It is as much about what lingers I the face of deeply felt loss (after death), as it is about recognizing how life after Yang has left them a changed people navigating the world differently. There is so much worthwhile subject matter sitting on the surface of this story, which only makes the obvious layers that much more exciting to explore and peel back on subsequent viewings. This is the sure sign of a master storyteller, one who shapes this story with compassion, insight, skill, care, and creativity
As it is with any year, it’s been a good year for film, As it is with any year, taking the time to seek out worthwhile titles will merit possible gems and worthwhile projects and personal favorites. There remains a wealth of new titles and plenty of ways to see them, especially as the year comes to a close.
My lists are of course simply my, and therefore one persons perspective on the most memorable and special watches of this year. This belongs of course to a much larger discussion filled with many different opinions and experiences and perspectives. As I’ve been reflecting on 2022, I found myself wanting to champion titles that left their mark and managed to make me feel something. As is typical, I lean heavily into theme and cherish good stories. So with that in mind, I figured I would start with a choice of 10 outliers, hidden gems from 2022 that I very much enjoyed but which didn’t make my top 20. These do not include horror, animated or documentary genres as I have dedicated separate pages to them in this same space.
The Hidden Gems
Lotawana (Directed By Trevor Hawkins)
The films stripped back nature might betray the strength of its thematic and structural presence. The way the Director draws out the underlying tension of this relationship between two indivduals looking to escape from the pressures of the world, and ultimately finding motivation to do so in eachother, using specific visual and design techniques is really impressive. These tensions have a way of invading the hopeful ideals they are trying to find, or perhaps establish, out on a remote Missouri lake. This brings unexpected revelations, unwanted news, disagreements and uncertainty, family tensions. Their intentions are good and even admirable, but it is a responsibilty to life itself and the worlds they occupy both separately and togetger that prove vital to their need to work things out in a way that fits both the idealism and the stark nature of their reality. If the film has its way it would convince us that such a tension is possible to hold in the beauty of the moment and the intimate details such as facial expressions, sunsets, shimmering water, a smile, or even the silence.
Really impressed with this one. One of the better films from the early 2022 slate, and I even think it’s a debut. Which makes it more impressive.
All My Puny Sorrows (Directed By Michael McGowan)
One of my favorite Canadian films of 2022. It’s a tough watch, but a rewarding one. It follows two estranged sisters as they reconnect following an attempted suicide and navigate the aftermath of this reality. It’s a bit raw and rough around the edges, intentionally so, especially when it comes to the editing. But that plays a role in its definite emotional punch.
Murina (Directed By Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic)
Technically a holdover from 2021, but it didn’t get a wide release until this year.
The kind of coming of age drama you don’t encounter very often with a concluding third act which will leave you thinking about it long after. Not simply in a thought provoking way, but in a “did they just do that” kind of way.
And what’s interesting is that for as crazy as the film’s finish feels it also feels entirely realistic and natural. This is a film that is bathed in its setting, making the eel spear and the one piece bathing suit that comes to define the film’s aesthetic a character in and of itself. A character uniquely suited to capturing the Adriatic, Croatian backdrop. This is a film for the senses. I guarantee you will never look at family dynamics in the same way again.
Moon, 66 Questions (Directed By Jacqueline Lentzou)
A poignant picture of a dysfunctional familial relationship which digs underneath the facade of our emotional distance and past the trauma to unearth some important observations about living and functioning in the present moment, especially where reality forces us to reconcile life’s important tensions. Here we follow an estranged daughter who travels back home to attend to her ailing father. Through this we are made aware of the unspoken baggage, even if we don’t know entirely what it is. This forms the central arc of the quietly expressed journey, told through the observation of external movement and the internal processes that guide them.
The Phantom of The Open (Directed By Craig Roberts)
Just might be one of the most heartwarming films you see all year.
A pure delight with Rylance capturing the real world personality with his usual understated charm and commitment
Man of God (Directed By Helena Popovic)
This one surprised me, not just with its unconventional approach but also with its intimate portrait of an orthodox Saint. And to be honest, it’s intimate portrait of Eastern Orthodoxy. It follows the story of a single, Orthodox Priest who, after being falsely accused of a scandal, goes on to make an appeal for necessary reform, for a return to aestheticism.
As a very low budget and indie affair I imagine this will struggle to find an audience. But I was quite taken with the journey of this Priest as he attempts to stay faithful in the midst of adversity while striving to bring about change, especially when it comes to the commentary it provides on power, power systems and the relevance of a Christlike and cruciform life.
Jockey (Directed By Clint Bentley)
Features a career performance from Clifton Collins Jr,, who plays an aging Jockey wrestling with questions of mortality and legacy. The film also boasts some amazing cinematography which shines through some exquisitely drawn long takes. This is about a relationship between a human and his horse, bor more so it is about life’s relationship to living in the shadows of those most important questions. It’s a beautiful film and deserves more eyeballs.
Marvelous and the Black Hole (Directed By Kate Tsang)
Quirky, different, and refreshingly accessible given its creative edges, this coming of age family drama manages to speak to a younger audience while also displaying it’s maturity. Be.aware that it has some mature elements (including language), but don’t let that detract from this being a film you watch with your kids. I think the message is important and the way it sheds light on real life struggles is honest and unfiltered.
The young woman occupying the heart of the story finds herself struggling with the death of their mother and not knowing how to grieve. And so she takes it out on her family and friends by rebelling, neglecting school and picking up destructive behaviors. That’s when she meets this marvelous older woman who is into performing magic. The two strike up a relationship that threatens to challenge both of their perspectives as they now are figuring stuff out together.
The magic motif is a nice touch, blending in with with the dreamlike sequences to form a corelary narrative. But it’s the grounded stuff that retains the film’s true emotional weight.
The Drovers Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson (Directed By Leah Purcell)
Every year there seems to be a small, quiet western that manages to sneak in under the radar and prove the genre is still going strong. This is 2022’s entry, and it’s a strong one.
A really strong performance from someone I’ve never heard of tops of the list of accolades here, which include an excellent use of mystery and suspense that keeps adding layers to our protagonist as the film goes on, a gripping tone, some honest emotional moments that hit to the core, and a messy, raw undertone that serves its dark and moody atmosphere. It’s an Australian western and thus the backdrop affords it a haunting and beautiful backdrop as well.
It’s also ripe with the necessary family drama befitting the homestead focus, leaning into the lawless nature that such a survivalist tale demands.
To Leslie (Directed By Michael Morris)
The rise and fall of this films central character in a memorable and perhaps career defining role for Andrea Riseborough happens early and happens quickly. It’s a plot device which uses a sudden lottery win to mark the middle aged mother’s journey through the inevitable bookends. Who she was before she wins and who she is after losing the winnings is meant to parallel a person enslaved to addiction and given to relapse. The early sequence that shows her going from untold riches to forgotten and invisible single mother estranged from her son and relegated to the streets becomes a window into her past relationship with her son. So when she decides to track down her son we are immediately able to locate the unspoken patterns that continue to govern her life while also being able to empathize with struggles to trust and forgive.
This is a character drama through and through with some lovely moments of vulnerability and a strong emotional core. These are complex characters who don’t fit easy categories, and thus it becomes easy to get invested. Strong direction keeps the focus on the journey, not so much in a progressive or linear sense, although there is a natural progression and potential growth, but on the revelations themsleves. Which makes this a rewarding and worthwhile viewing
I feel like if I have some real blind spots in 2022 it would be in the category of documentary. There are a few of the big hitters I never got around to seeing, and to be honest, unlike last year where we had two big frontliners for the Oscar’s and some very real hopefuls things have felt quieter this year as a whole. Still though, definitely did come across a few worthwhile titles.
Here is my top 5 ranked in decendimg order, along with two outliers:
Fire of Love (Directed By Sara Dosa)
Gorgeous to look at. See it on the big screen if you can as much of the story’s weight stems from the fact that the footage this eccentric couple captured through their generally fearless love affair with volcanoes helped to reshape our understanding of what volcanoes are and how they work. The footage helps to tell this story.
It’s also unquestionably sentimental in the way the Documentary filmmakers write their story. The degree to which this a positive or negative will depend on the viewer, but there is some heavy interpretive work on display here that reaches far beyond the reality of the volcanoes themsleves and their story of capturing these volcanoes in their element, especially when it weaves this into a commentary on the nature of existence.
Stutz (Directed By Jonah Hill)
Raw and honest experiment that is best experienced rather than critiqued. I’m not sure it has an appropriate measure. It’s basically a camera set up to capture the story of Hill’s therapist, or more importantly the ideas his therapist has given him through their time together.
Given it is an experiment it takes some random turns as it becomes aware of its own process. Becomes a film intended to capture and communicate that then instead begins to observe the process of therapy itself. No matter how hard Hill tries to keep it on his therapist, turns out the best way to know his therapists ideas is to see him in action. Through that we get to know intimate parts of of both of them.
Not sure quite where to categorize it. Feels like there is a Buddhist subtext to the therapy? In any case it didn’t isolate me watching it as a Christian. I think it leaves plenty of space for that external force or power to occupy the unknown, the uncertain, the hopeful and unspoken longings. That space where the self meets the other.
My Top 5 Docuementaries of 2022:
Good Night Oppy (Directed By Ryan White)
Very basic but also designed to be a crowd pleaser. If the measure of its success is accomplishing what it sets out to do- making us feel for these robots as though they were human- it should be defined as a success story both in the field and on screen. Of course one of the things the doc needs to do is translate the investment of the professional in their field both emotionally and scientifically, to our own investment in humanity’s and the earth’s future, and it mostly succeeds on this front as well. Do the two things- the sentimentality and the seriousness- sometimes feel a bit at odds? I guess. But that’s not really a detriment to the experience of the film itself
Navalny (Directed By Danuel Roher)
A shocking story that I imagine hits harder if you know nothing about it. Timely given the Russian context. Given the shocking nature of what happens to this singular individual, future leader and critic, the film offers one of the most intense experiences of 2022,
Son of Cornwall (Directed By Lawrence Richards)
“I tried living without God. It was a mes… So if we’re taking about what drew me back to the love of God, it was a terrible mess I was in.”
A quiet, unassuming doc about an opera singer returning to his home to revisit his past. Lovely and touching, mixing humor with the honesty of his story.
Adrienne (Directed By Adrienne Shelly)
Ya, I’m crying. And so are you. Or you will be
Tells the heartbreaking story of Adrienne Shelly, affectionately know around here for her work on and in the amazing film Waitress
Decendent (Directed By Margaret Brown)
Shocking and hard-hitting, this documentary set in Africatown, Alabama is a great example of the power of the form at work. It’s a film that digs into the soil of a forgotten history to find the story of what really happened in this place where the last slave ship made landfall. It’s about the past, it’s about the dead. It’s also about the living and the present as it attempts to grapple with the tragic realities of slave history and race relations in America