Bests and Favorites from 2017



You have been waiting for this annual treat. Actually, I have never done this before! It’s a new year, so I do a new thing: thinking through and sharing some of my bests and favorites of the year just completed. The first title listed in each category was my favorite. The others are not in any order.


Movies (some of my choices were released late in 2016, but I saw them in 2017)

Hidden Figures. Moved me at every level. Best movie of 2016.

Loving. This movie didn’t get enough notice. It deserves to be widely viewed.

[Note: the above two could be paired. They both deal with American racism in my lifetime.]

Lion. A thrilling story of a young man’s search for his past.

Wonder. This story about bullying at the middle school level spotlights something happening at every level of society. Bullying needs to be called out and challenged, no matter where it is practiced, from local schools to the highest offices in the land.

Dunkirk and Darkest Hour. These two were not made as a pair, but they inform each other. This preacher and teacher of preaching in me loved the power of the spoken word through the instrumentality of Winston Churchill.


[Note: All my choices, save one, were based on true stories (Wonder is the exception). My favorite movies don’t always work out that way, but my love of history telling is evident in this list.]



Just Mercy, by Brian Stevenson. A lawyer from Philadelphia gives his life’s work to freeing innocent people, mainly black men, from Alabama’s death row. See my first two movie favorites above and know that I believe that racism continues to be an American reality and tragedy. My wife and I listened to the audio version on a long trip. At times, we had to stop listening and drive quietly for a while, so powerful was its impact. I heard Stevenson speak, remotely, a few months ago. He needs to be read and heard.

On Living, by Kerry Egan. Egan shares insights from being a hospice chaplain. I first read it too quickly (it’s not a long book), then read it slowly during last Lent. This should be read slowly.

The Road to Character, by David Brooks. In a time when personal character seems not to matter much for many, this book looks at the character, including flaws, of some notable people.

Saving Calvinism, by Oliver Crisp. Being a moderate, and often struggling, Calvinist, this book was a wonderful surprise. Crisp brings an openness that Calvinists need and don’t always have or admit.

The Preaching Life, by Barbara Brown Taylor. In my teaching of preaching, I read a handful or so preaching books most years. Taylor is a poet, an artist with words, serving the Good News. It got the highest evaluation from my last class of students. I agree.

The Sin of Certainty, by Peter Enns. Enns messes with our categories, as he did in his first book, The Bible Tells Me So. He makes me ponder and think about what I believe and why.



Vietnam. Burns and Novick did a brilliant piece of work. The final hour was documentary story-telling as its best.

The Unabomber. Didn’t get much notice, but deserves a wide viewing.

West Wing, season 2. Such writing. Such acting. I know it’s fiction, but it reminds me that a president can be literate, witty, caring, and human. Every episode grabbed me at some level.


Stage performances

The Agitators. This play about the friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, both of whom lived in Rochester, premiered in Rochester. It was a friendship that included sharp disagreements. In the nineteenth century, they made our nation deal with its deficient view of women and blacks. I hope that this goes on the road and gets national exposure and acclaim. This year, 2018, marks the bicentennial of Douglass’s birth. It will be a good year to read at least one book by or about Douglass.

In the Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical, before the acclaimed Hamilton, also won Tony awards, deservedly.

Little Women, the Musical. We went because a friend played one of the women. Based on the classic book (which I have never read). I am glad that our friend was in it, because it was that good.

Fun Home. Not fun, but a compelling drama touching sensitive issues.


Best bucket list trip. Adult Sunday School class at Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA. Yes, the teacher was President Jimmy Carter. The experience was wonderful and unforgettable.

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