Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

All the best (of my year)

Too many “Best of the Year” round-ups make me feel guilty or overwhelmed: oh no, here’s something else I have to know, do, read, make, watch. If you’re the same way, you’re going to love this second year of the ABBYs.

What’s different about the 2015 Andy Butcher Best of the Year prizes is that they are all about what surprised and delighted me during the past twelve months, rather than what I think you shouldn’t have missed.

Think of the following as a “ta-da” list, rather than a “to-do” list.

General Book of the Year: If doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, then the long-standing war on drugs is clearly crazy. Johan Hari’s Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs forced me to reevaluate many of my views on how to address addiction, something which has afflicted loved ones close and dear. Seeing the damage done makes you want someone to pay, but Hari argues convincingly that a caring approach may be more successful than a punitive one.

Christian Book of the Year: If, like me, you find the prospect of what you have long understood to be heaven, well, a tad boring—standing around singing, forever?—pick up N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. Turning to scripture rather than Hollywood scripts for a picture of the afterlife, the respected Anglican theologian presents heaven as a rest stop on the way to forever, not the destination. His view of resurrected life not only whets my appetite for what is ahead, but makes me think hard about how I live here and now.  I am not the only one to think, “If this book is true, then my whole life has to change.”

Album of the Year: Dusting off some old LPs that have survived about forty years and two international moves (plus several internal ones), I came across an old friend: Downwind of Angels by Dennis Waterman. It would be easy to dismiss this as a vanity project for the then-star of a British police drama, but he could rock a bit. And there were two gems of overlooked ballads, the title track and “I Will Glide.”

Music App of the Year: The longer I live, the harder it is to find good new music, because I have so much old music that I still like to listen to. That means I need to “spend” my minutes for browsing judiciously. Noon Pacific helps me do that, offering a great weekly mix-tape of fresh music. I’ve discovered some new gems, and the odd, old one re-burnished, like this remix of Tracy Chapman’s classic “Fast Car.”

Movie of the Year: The geniuses at Pixar have always had a gift for touching something deep within, but with Inside Out they gave us some words and ways to begin to understand those feelings. The story of how a little girl’s inner natures interact offers insights for all ages. It also has some great “throwaway” lines—like when the boxes of “fact” and “opinion” tiles get mixed up, and Bing Bong cheerfully says, “Ah, don’t worry about it; happens all the time.”

Blog Post of the Year: I still remember a business expert years ago saying all those time management seminars and courses could be boiled down to one sentence: “If I am going to do this, I can’t do that.” In the same way, Stasi Eldredge nailed an uncomfortable truth we face in many situations in her “Choose Your Hard” commentary. In other words, Don’t like healthy eating and exercise? Well, you’ll like an early heart attack even less. Sometimes we just need to suck it up for the promise of more.

Podcast of the Year: If you spend any time hanging out with counselors, you pretty soon get to hear the name of practitioner, teacher, and author Dan Allender. He’s widely admired for his blend of pastoral care, biblical insight, and ability to softly prod hard places. His Allender Center Podcast makes moving to wholeness an appealing invitation rather than a requirement to be dreaded.

Project of the Year: There are two great things about freelancing. One is not having to go to a lot of time-wasting, corporate meetings. The other is the variety of work. This past twelve months has been no exception, with a great mix of journalism and book work. A standout, though, was the publication of Doing Good Great. Working on it gave me chance to reconnect with an old, dear friend. And, help Doug Balfour share some of the remarkable ways he enables philanthropists to make their giving go further. Worth reading not just by the wealthy, but anyone concerned about making the world a better place.

Insight of the Year: This category mainly just highlights my own ignorance, as I finally come to realize something most others have probably known for ages. This year, it was the difference between faith and opinions. If what I say I believe about God does not shape the way I live, then I truly do not have faith—merely opinions. What I think doesn’t matter so much as what I do as a result. In other words, “Shut up and walk the talk.”

Person of the Year: Given that these are my awards, I can rule a previous winner eligible for further nominations. Which is just as well, as she is the only candidate. She makes every day worth celebrating, she loves fiercely and tenderly, fighting for and alongside her clients in her counseling practice, and bringing joy and delight to our home—she is an iron spine in a velvet gown. No one lives and models the grace and goodness of God more fully than my wife. In and through her I see Him more clearly.

And how about you? What was the best of your year?

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