Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

My Top Ten of 2017

SORRY TO disappoint any fans of Maria von Trapp, but I’m not so big on cream-colored ponies or schnitzels with noodles. However, I do have for you a list of my own favorite things of 2017. For the fourth year, I present (drum roll) the much-anticipated ABBYs: the Andy Butcher Best of the Year awards.

Series of the Year: When it comes to fashion or television I’m usually a little bit behind the times, in part because there’s something in me that resents/resists what’s popular. Plus, we just don’t find time for a lot of viewing. So Marcia and I are belated fans of This is Us, now trying to keep clear of spoiler alerts as we catch up (we recently made it to the second season). Charming, heartfelt and yes, occasionally a bit schmaltzy, it is a warm celebration of the joys, jealousies, and jarring realities of family life. What I especially appreciate is how, over time, the picture-perfect image of the families slowly unravels. Not in a condemning way, but compassionately and realistically; the closer you look, the more imperfect we all become.

Album of the Year: Seeing U2 live this year for the first time—on their trek revisiting the marvelous The Joshua Tree—renewed my love for the band. Still, I have personally found their work of recent years to be a bit of a mixed bag. And that was my first reaction to Songs of Experience, though further listenings have reminded me that sometimes the things that linger take time to settle on you. By turn poetic and punchy, this collection swings from airy anthem to jangly rock. It underscores that after 40 years these guys aren’t ready to rest on their laurels. That’s pretty admirable.

Podcast of the Year: Her slightly snarky, dry British sense of humor is certainly part of the appeal. But Helen Zaltzman’s The Allusionist should prove enjoyable for anyone interested in words and language. From grammar to figures of speech, she explores usage and meaning with engaging curiosity and a dash of irreverence.

General Book of the Year: Maybe it’s because I am getting a bit long(er) in the tooth, and am turning into one myself, in some ways. But I have always had a bit of a soft spot for curmudgeons. Beneath that crusty exterior, rather like a good pie, might be some warm goodness. Such is true of A Man Called Ove, whose titular character reminds us that prickly people are usually that way because they got spiked themselves at some stage. That empathy grows as Fredrik Backman humorously and touchingly unspools his delightful story. This was a read-aloud-together book for Marcia and me, requiring the occasional pause so I could stop sniffling.

Christian Book of the Year: Sometimes I think I could have been a monk—except for the not being married, having to get up in the middle of the night to pray, wearing scratchy habits, and being spiritual enough. Still, there’s something about a disciplined and ordered life that draws and intrigues me—part of the reason I enjoyed James Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life. His warm, engaging introduction to Ignatian spirituality makes saintliness an appealing, everyday goal and practice for the imperfect, instead of a reserve of the super-spiritual.

Digital Resource of the Year: I don’t think I will ever be an entirely comfortable digital reader, but sometimes convenience and cost outweigh the value of holding something in your hand. As a journalist it’s important to be able to keep up with a broad array of magazines, and Texture allows me to do that pretty reasonably each month with access to scores of the top titles. I just have to remember to be careful when using my tablet while soaking in the tub…

Insight of the Year: Our pastor has a gift for boiling truth down in a way that doesn’t trivialize it like so many bumper stickers or memes do. One gem that stuck with me was his back-to-school admonition to the kids before they returned to classes in the fall. Encouraging them to have an eye out for the misfits and the oddballs, he told them, “Be kinder than necessary.” Chew on that for a while. How much more smoothly might the world run if we all tried it on for size?

Professional Observation of the Year: Christian media world people, can we once and for all drop the Master of the Universe thing? No names, to protect the hapless, but just because someone’s a good writer or speaker, that doesn’t mean they should be doing a podcast, too. More importantly, perpetuating Christian celebrity culture elevates some to all-round-expert and super-sainthood status. Ultimately, this mimics shallow contemporary culture more than reflecting the deep timeless truth of the gospel: we’re all stumbling our way to God.

Personal Lesson of the Year: You know how much God loves you? Well, He actually loves you more than that! A decade-turning birthday, coupled with a major relocation after almost 20 years in Orlando, prompted much reflection. There have been potholes, detours, apparent dead-ends, and delays along the way of my life. Still, they were all part of bringing me to where I am right now—which I would not trade for anything. Without trivializing anyone’s great pain, be assured it’s not the end but part of His mysterious means; His heart toward you is good.

Person of the Year: If this category were a numbered sport shirt, it would have been retired to the Hall of Fame now for back-to-back-to-back wins. But the cream always rises to the top. She somehow manages to blend incredible strength of character with the gentlest spirit. Marcia Butcher is a caring, courageous, creative, compassionate counselor who is also cute as a button, and somehow she agreed to marry me. She once again gets the award; I continue to win the prize.

What about your best of 2017? Anything to pass along for me to explore or consider?

Photo by Brad.K on Foter.com/CC BY

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