I Am an Outlier

Do you highlight or underline the profound things you discover while reading? Do you try to commit to memory the insights or inspirations of others so you can ponder them or share them in conversation? Do the words you read sometimes haunt you and remind you of how you want to do and be better?

For me, all yes.

In September I read a magazine article about genocide survivors. Okay yes. I read deeply, sometimes darkly. But it’s what draws me toward the light. Truly. As in this case. I think. You decide…

Anyway, a line from the article that stuck with me:

“My lack of proximity to suffering is what marks me as different–the outlier in a world full of horror.”

In my heart, I know this to be true. But in my insulated suburban American life, it can be easy to forget. To believe my life is normal. Something to be expected, earned or entitled to–not the fragile and maybe even momentary gift that it is.

I read about pioneers and marvel at how I don’t need to labor from sun up to sun down to produce my own food.

I read about revolutions and tyranny and how those with hate and revenge in their hearts massacre their own countrymen and I realize how I get to travel undeterred without fear of physical violence when going about my business.

I read about disease and infirmity and I praise God every time I put two feet on the floor in the morning. For now, my mind and body work particularly well considering my age and reluctance to exercise. (Mostly) clean living and privilege clearly contribute to my health but are no guarantee. Calamity can strike as it pleases.

“My lack of proximity to suffering is what marks me as different–the outlier in a world full of horror.”

We may try to avoid getting too close to suffering for fear that it is infectious the way we avoid sugar or secondhand smoke.

After three years of volunteering at a local nursing home, I needed to stop because it was as if old age and disability began to come at me faster and faster. I wanted to focus on the space that still remains in my timeline between two feet on the floor and two feet being washed by an angel.

That’s okay. I needed the reprieve. But it’s not always okay. Do unto others is not just about being polite while in line at Target. (Although some of you could work on that.) For me, Do unto others… is also about recognizing how blessed I am and how life as I know it can change in an instant. And how it will most likely change in ways I will not welcome as I age. Independence is an illusion. We must care for one another.

Somebody in my life or in your life is closer to suffering than us. Who will help them? Who will care for them? Who will sacrifice for them? We are called to do these things. And if empathy and kindness do not come naturally, and I admit that they do not come naturally to me, than I must commit these kinds of words to memory:

“My lack of proximity to suffering is what marks me as different–the outlier in a world full of horror.”

Words like these remind me to be grateful. To be prayer-ful. To be helpful. To understand that just because my life can seem a bit heavenly since I do not suffer (at the moment), this is not heaven. And until I reach heaven, I must do my part to bring a little heaven into the lives of others.

If you are suffering, may you be blessed by someone (or some words) today. May your burden be lighter and your mood lifted by love. If you are beyond suffering for the moment or have yet to endure suffering, I encourage you to take a moment to give thanks and share a bit of kindness to someone today who may be closer to suffering than you.

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We’re More Complex than Our Facebook Posts Reveal

I am not a food blogger. I am not a chef. But I do like to cook and I appreciate a variety of tasty, well-prepared and interesting foods. I say this in response to a few of my friends and family who seem to believe me to be some sort of “foodie” based on the frequency of my food posts online. (I’d argue it’s not that many or that often but…)

I am not a “foodie” if the definition of that word equates to some sort of food snob. I enjoy my fair share of made at home grilled cheese sandwiches, bowls of cereal and coffee made from beans that were ground weeks ago someplace other than in my own kitchen. I do not own a coffee bean grinder. That should assure everyone that I’m not a foodie.

I don’t post food pics to imply anything other than “Look at this tasty treat I’m about to enjoy! I’m not going hungry today. Life at this moment is pretty darn good and I feel grateful and blessed.”

In this turbulent time of distasteful political discourse when people seem to have lost their collective minds when it comes to treating other human beings with any modicum or decency or attempt at understanding–I’m opting to instead post positive. Things that make me happy and that I hope make you happy too. Donuts, burgers, cocktails, recipes and the occasional funny pet video or quote from my kid. Because food seems to be the least divisive thing to share–at least when you’re simply sharing for the sake of sharing and not preaching about low sugar, low carb, all organic ingredients. Because, please… who really wants to hear anything more from the food Pharisees? I’m AWARE that the artificial coloring in those Little Debbie Christmas tree cakes is bad for me. Have you watched the news lately? Indulging in a snack with a little hydrogenated oil seems to be the least of the world’s worries at the moment.

But even so, we still can’t “win” if winning means not creating controversy online. Shortly after I posted a picture of my lunch at a fun new restaurant, someone said to me, “How does anyone afford to eat out so much?”

I just shrug. It seems even when it comes to food, we all see the world through our own experience specific lenses. So maybe the next time someone questions another person’s posts of any kind, these tiny edited bits and clips of life that can never capture the complexity of a whole person, it could be met with a shrug and an acceptance that we all see things just a bit differently. And that if you’d care to discuss any particular issue more in depth, maybe we could enjoy some food together and talk about it IRL.

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I May Be Feminist Failure

photo from Betty’s Vintage Musings

While killing time, probably doing laundry or simply staring at the laundry piles and willing the clothes to fold themselves, I flipped through the television channels and landed on Megyn Kelly’s new program–Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly. Whatever you think of Kelly, I was intrigued by the topics featured on the show, specifically the discussion of research about young girls and how after age six, they shift toward believing boys to be smarter than girls. What?!

With the guidance of researchers, Kelly’s staff recreated some experiments. Kindly school-teacher types would tell young girls a story of a really smart person without revealing the person’s gender. Then, they showed a series of photos depicting women and men and asked which the children believed was the smart person in the story. Time after time, the girls pointed to a picture of a man.

The staff member would then simply show photos of men and women and ask the girls to point out the “smart” ones. Over and over, the girls decided the men were the “smart” ones.

Of course, lots of social and psychological input creates this type of output. But surely my teenage sons are more evolved–having been raised by an educated, independent and outspoken woman such as myself.

So, first I went after “the little one.” He’s fifteen. I asked him if any of the girls in his grade, those he is friends with, are smart. He had to think about it. Finally, he offered that a few girls are in the same classes as him and get the same grades as him. To clarify, I asked, “So you think these girls are as smart as you but not smarter than you?” He confirmed that this is indeed is his belief.

Then I asked him which of the adult women in his life he thinks of as smart. Again, he had to think–hard. He finally offered up a couple of names.

“What makes you think those particular women are smart?” I asked.

His response boiled down to particularly good manners and an unlikeliness to suffer fools. Okay. Fair enough.

Finally, I asked him who was smarter, his Dad or me. (I know. I know. I was asking for it. But I went there anyway.) Without missing a beat, the kid said, “Dad!”

Why? “Because everything useful I’ve learned, I’ve learned from Dad.”

Ugh. Okay fine you little ingrate. You’ve only spent over 75% of your life in my company. But what-ev’s.

On to the “big boy.” He’s nearly eighteen. When asked if he considered any adult women in his life smart, he said, “Well, that’s hard to know because most of them are stay-at-home moms.”

At this point, only the restraint of this kid’s guardian angel likely held me back from calling down a lightning bolt to smite my own firstborn child on the spot. But I somehow couldn’t entirely blame him for what is likely my failure. WTF have I done??!! Have I unleashed yet another generation of misogynist Cretans into the world? Can this be undone? If so, how? Lord help me.

I began by explaining to the “big boy” that his mom has a college degree and also attended grad school. That I SACRIFICED a promising career in finance in order to care for him and his brother.

I’ve worked as a magazine editor for several years now. But apparently, my flexible schedule and the fact that I’m the household grocery-getter and meal-preparer still slots me into the “at home” “sub-par” “less smart” categories created in my son’s 1950’s mindset.

I told him that most of the women he knows (all those “stay-at-home” moms) also have college degrees and many also SACRIFICED lucrative careers in order to care for their own ungrateful children. And still others juggle working outside the home or patching together enough side hustles to keep the creative energy (and car payment money) flowing.

He was surprised by my indignation. Apparently many high school girls he knows make comments about their goals being a couple of years of college, then marriage, kids, and… “stay-at-home.” What?! At a highly ranked public high school in 2017, in this hyper competitive world of achievement and accumulation, I’m surprised this remains a goal for enough young girls to seem to be “many” in his mind.

As a teenager, I never dreamed about staying home with kids. Raised by a single, working mother, I was taught to never “need” a man–but to be able to take care of myself. I dreamed of toting a briefcase to important meetings while a nanny took care of the kiddos. Why I chose not to continue on that path is fodder for another post. But suffice it to say, I’ve never considered this choice as a feminist failure.

The fact is, being “smart” has nothing to do with whether a woman works full time!

Being “smart” likely requires some level of education and demonstrable ability to hold a conversation without over-using the word “like.” But moreover, being smart is about being curious, having a desire to learn and master new skills, managing one’s life and future goals based on healthy choices and making useful contributions toward a better world.

I thought I’d done a pretty good job of raising smart and evolved young men who might help make the world a better place. Turns out, they may be “smart” but they may also have been socialized to support the patriarchy. Gasp! (I blame their father.)

Or maybe, just maybe, my kids were being smartasses in order to turn my crank. This is entirely possible. And In that case, it’s as my mom always says, “It’s better to be a smartass than a dumbass.” True that! Love you mom!

 

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“Logan” is a Bloody, Beautiful Film

The hubs and I went to the movies last night to see Logan. Obviously, I have something to say about the film since I’m writing a post about it. I actually have lots to say. I’ve been processing what I saw since stepping out of the theater. My analysis may contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.

First, speaking of warnings, I experienced a bit of shock at the door of our little town theater. Taped to the window of the box office was sheet of paper–a home computer printed sign that said,

“Logan is rated R for strong, brutal violence and language throughout, also brief nudity. For this reason, no one under age 6 will be admitted.”

Age 6!!! What??!! Clearly, a sign had to be posted because some ass hats were bringing their young children to see the film.

Let me be clear. This film is NOT appropriate for children under 17. This movie depicts violence reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, which I liked BTW. I’m not against violence in films per say. And the violence in Logan didn’t “bother” me. But in places, it did shock me. As it should. We should be shocked by violence. The whole point of violence in “good” movies is to depict how shocking violence is. It’s not a video game or a comic book. In real life, violence is destructive, awful and is only taken lightly by sociopaths.

Violence in films of this nature appropriately shocks me. It would traumatize a child. So get your shit together people.

Okay. I got that part off my chest. Now let me move on to the beautiful parts of this film. And it is beautiful, IMO.

First, it brims with nostalgia. It’s set in the future. But visions of family farms and prayers at the family dinner table, westerns on TV and antique furniture are some of the Americana on display­–harkening us back to “simpler” times contrasted with self-driving semis and factory farming.

The character of Charles Xavier is the elder in the film, at an advanced age when a deeper appreciation of these simple things in life can mean the most. Reminding us not to wait until our days are nearly over to count our blessings and be still in moments of goodness and grace.

But we delude ourselves if we believe the “good ‘ole days” are the best of days. In the movie, a fallen, rusted water tower becomes a tomb. A symbol (at least to me) of how we can become trapped into believing the past was a safer place. Safety is an illusion. Life is a bitch and mostly always has been.

Xavier’s old age and the advanced middle age of Logan himself are also powerful realities in the film. Getting old is painful. Both characters experience physical pain along with the agony of a lifetime of accumulated regrets. Logan also carries the heavy load of caring for Xavier–a common mid-life experience that many theater-goers with elderly parents can probably relate to. Xavier is both a burden and an occasional source of glorious wisdom. Aging brings humiliation. Logan must help Xavier to the toilet. But love brings humility. In love and honor, we lower ourselves to “wash the feet of others.” The relationship between these two in all its figurative father/son frustration, humor and anguish is really quite beautiful.

All along, a child is watching. If you don’t already know, the plot of the movie is about Logan (a “mutant” comic book superhero, or anti-hero if you prefer, known as Wolverine) being saddled with a young girl who happens to be a “mutant” like him. He is charged with spiriting her to “safety” as she’s being hunted by LOTS of corporate, militant, bounty hunter, evil scientist type bad guys.

This is where we see how the endurance of our hardships as we age is palliated with purpose–preparing children how to live, to be better than we were, with better opportunities, and hopefully, fewer hardships.

As I tell most young mothers, children are not born civilized. That’s our job as parents. To teach kids what kindness, restraint, good manners, respect and gratitude look like.

Laura, the child in the film, like most children, already understands love. She wants to be loved and be bound by love to a caring adult. This isn’t something that needs to be taught, but it does need to be nurtured.

The film also depicts the dark side of human nature. That children innately understand violence, revenge and anger. Without a loving adult (or too often with a broken, violent, angry adult in charge) children learn prejudice, hatred and rage. These things grow like a cancer to consume a person’s soul. The fictional adamantium injected into Logan that “makes” him into Wolverine seems symbolic for this kind of destruction: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

But caring for a child and for her future is why his character pushes on. It’s why we often push through. It’s why my mother did. It’s likely why your parents did and why many grown-ups are driven to be their better selves–so the young might be better off than we were. In this, we offer hope for the future.

This movie is more than an action film, although there is plenty of action. As most good movies are, Logan is a redemption story. Doing something meaningful with our life, even if life has been pretty shitty to us up to now, has a lasting effect beyond our lifetime and possibly for generations to come. To impart goodness, care and love unto others, even at great cost to us, has redeeming benefits that chips away at evil and shines in the darkness. Sound familiar?

My kids often roll their eyes after seeing a movie with me. (No. I didn’t take my kids to see Logan.) I typically leave a theater searching for scenes that I can link back to the bible for the sake of educational conversation. The redemption plot of Logan doesn’t require much linking. It’s clearly biblical.

Jesus’ sacrificial love for all, should we accept and internalize it, will transform our lives for the better and spread like a cure for the cancer that is hatred and spiritual death. That’s my take-away from this movie. I liked it. A lot.

*It doesn’t hurt that I’m also a big Hugh Jackman fan. Whatever.

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A St. Valentine’s Day Epiphany

fullsizerenderOccasionally, I have these parenting epiphanies. Like on Valentine’s Day a few years ago when our then middle grade sons quietly removed the little containers of candy I’d stashed in their lunch. Or later, when I offered a suggestion to a high school teacher about how to best handle our older son when he’s stressed. “Mrs. Johnson,” the teacher said, “if your son requires special treatment from me, it’s probably best he ask me himself.”

Ahhhh…

Yes.

They are growing up.

No more kiddie candy or sandwiches cut into heart shapes in their lunch. And no more trying to stand between them and discomfort. Big boys must learn to navigate the world without mom trying to smooth every path.

But many moms like me don’t see it coming. We think we have more time because sometimes parenting young children feels endless. It’s not. You’re sopping up spilled juice and begging a kid not to wipe boogers on the wall and then… you’re sitting in a chair sipping coffee while your teens make their own lunch. They drive themselves to school. They navigate their own world without you–pretty well I might add. It seems the hubs and I have done a lot of things right.

But this week I had another epiphany. It’s clear that I did something not quite right when they were younger and another thing particularly well.

Here’s the deal. Our younger son, a freshman, is struggling in an honors English class. His older brother took the same class with the same teacher, and although he had similar complaints about the class, he was able to pull off a decent grade. So I question the younger, “what gives?”

His response is telling. In his example he tells about how the class read The Odyssey as part of a unit on Greek mythology. “Some kids who do well on the tests,” he said, “are those who’ve read all of the Percy Jackson books as a kid.”

If you’re unfamiliar, the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan follows the adventures of a boy who discovers he’s a demigod son of Poseidon. The books are beloved by young readers who also happen to absorb a lot of foundational information about Greek mythology.

Our older son read every Percy Jackson book.

Our younger son read Batman comics.

They are both good readers who do well in school. Parents are told it doesn’t matter what kids read as long as they read. I believed that. And it’s probably true up to a point. But like adults who don’t read newspapers or many books, some people lack a depth and/or expanse of knowledge that serves as a building block for understanding other information. I now believe it does matter what children (or all people) read. And for a hot second, I thought I’d failed our younger son.

But then, I attended an art exhibition about Martin Luther and the Reformation at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. While there, I overheard a young boy around 8 years old ask his mother about a painting. The boy discovered this oil on canvas illustrating the decapitated head of John the Baptist and said, “Mom! Is that real? Did that really happen?”

“No,” she answered. “It’s only a painting.”

That’s the moment I was assured I’d done one thing right. You see, when our comic book loving boy was around that same age, we bought him an illustrated bible called The Action Bible. The artwork is similar to comic books but the stories are firmly biblical–and not the shortened, most loved, PG rated versions of bible stories–but the entire bible in graphic novel form. He’s read the whole thing at least twice.

So here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Quality is as important as quantity when it comes to reading material for kids.
  • We’ve got limited time to teach the foundations of our values before our kids launch.
  • One of our kids will have to work harder to make sense of some literature.
  • But both of our kids know the bible and its precepts–that love exists, that God is love, that we are called to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That the one thing that really matters… is a faith that expresses itself through love.

Today is Valentine’s Day. The older son checked his lunch and removed the candy I’d stashed inside. But the younger one didn’t peek. So I get one more small opportunity to show love in a “goofy and embarrassing” mom way. I’ll take what I can get and thank God for helping me to not screw this whole parenting thing up completely.

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Improve Your Life by Contributing More Than You Consume

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

January has become a favorite time of year. These frozen, grey days on the tundra when the demands of the holiday season are behind me. Spring and summer remain far enough off with their taunts of being short-lived that send Northerners into a frenzy of lawn care, home improvement and patio dining bucket lists. This stretch of time seems to move more slowly–you know, like molasses in January. And slow time feels like more time. More time to create and contribute–a goal not just for January but for the entire year and hopefully, my entire life.

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

You see, here’s the thing. Sometimes I get down on myself. Maybe you do too. Like I should be accomplishing so much more with my life. I get up in the morning, pour a cup of coffee, sit in my favorite chair and scroll through my phone to see what’s happening in the world. I read news articles and send funny videos to my teenage kids in an attempt to make their morning crank faces crack a smile. But I also thumb through all the pretty pictures on social media. Maybe you do too.

I consume lots of ideas. Recipes I’ll probably never make. Exercises I’ll likely never do. Home décor trends I can’t replicate. Beauty secrets that remind me of my age. There’s lots of wonderfully curated inspiration in cyberspace. But whenever I consume more than I create or contribute to the world, this digital diet begins to weigh me down with negative self-talk. Why can’t I cook like that? Dress like that? Have a clean house like that?

Because I spend more time consuming ideas than I do creating or implementing ideas. Duh!

When scrolling through Twitter and Instagram become a spiritual discipline, it’s probably time to make a change.

Don’t misunderstand. I love Twitter and Instagram. I love all of the connectivity, inspiration and opportunities available right in the palm of my hand! But am I letting my consumption of content weigh me down rather than get me going? Am I balancing my consumption with contributing positively to a conversation, offering ideas or implementing any of the good ideas I see?

For many folks, January is a time to refocus on health and wellness. Well, a simple rule of healthy living (including our relational, financial, mental and spiritual health) applies to most aspects of daily life–including our digital life. Our contribution to the world should outweigh what we consume from the world.

That’s my mantra for 2017: Contribute & Create more than I Consume.

Contributions and creativity can look any number of ways. What’s your gift? How can you use your gifts to create something or contribute to the world? Writing. Cooking. Designing. Volunteering. Reorganizing. Donating. Entertaining. Scrapbooking. Teaching. Photography. Whatever.

For me, this mantra isn’t about any particular task or checklist of endeavors. It’s simply going to be about reminding myself to spend a little less time scrolling through other people’s worlds and more time contributing to or creating something good in my little corner of the world.

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My Fave Books of 2016 & Why Rogue One May be the Best Star Wars Movie in 36 Years

book-reading

Yesterday, I turned the first page of what will likely be the last book I’ll read in 2016. I chose a rather slender volume in hopes that I might get to count it among my list of books read for the year. Yep. Inspired by my writer friend Nina Badzin, I count ‘em. You can read her list (longer than mine) of books read in 2016 here.

But as I peruse my list and attempt to select my favorite titles of 2016 to share with you, I am struck. Nina says I like serious books. She’s probably right even though I do enjoy the occasional memoir penned by a comedienne. And I loved the self-deprecating wit, charm and punch to the gut reality shared by Nora McInerny-Purmort in It’s Okay to Laugh. Crying is Cool Too. Nora’s book made me giggle and guffaw, but it is, at its heart, still a serious book about relationships, family life, grief and discovering our purpose.

Therein lies the undeniable and reverberating theme of what I’ve loved most about my favorite books (and the Star Wars Rogue One movie) of the past year. So here goes…

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I enjoy sports, especially baseball. But I’ve never pictured myself as someone who would enjoy reading a sports novel. Not sure why since I love most sports movies with all of their emotionally manipulative themes of against all odds triumph in the face of adversity. Think Rocky, Rudy, Miracle and The Blind Side.

The Art of Fielding isn’t really about baseball even though the game scenes don’t disappoint as they induce as much heart pounding and breath holding as any real life competition with high stakes. But there is so much more at stake than winning games in the lives of these characters who happen to be brought together by the inexplicable randomness of the universe–if the universe were a lot like baseball–as I’m sure many would argue it is. But I digress…

I loved that this book veered from the tried and true path of most sports stories–those stories about a talented athlete from lesser means who is propelled to stardom through sheer grit and unwavering encouragement from a haggard old coach or mentor. You think it’s going to be that. But then it winds through a forest of tragedy, despair, questionable decisions, strained friendships, mental health issues, loss and restoration. This book, like life, doesn’t turn out as we expect or even believe it should. But these very human characters, prone to error and subject to uncontrollable events (and emotions), learn to navigate the human condition and are forced to determine what is most important in life.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This brilliantly written book about the life of a Vietnamese communist at the end and just after the Vietnam War is likely one of the best books I’ve ever read. The opportunity to glimpse inside the mind of someone who doesn’t share the same life experiences or worldview as a typical American provides a rare gift of insight and perspective. But this book is so much more than an acerbic (and often comical) critique of western culture and politics. It’s about friendship and family and allegiance to a cause larger than one’s self. It questions how far people are willing to go to serve a cause they believe to be right–how the oppressed can all too easily become the oppressor–and how evil can creep in and gather strength by encouraging people to be convinced of their “rightness.” I actually read the final chapter out loud (alone in my home of course) with tears streaming down my face. It is that powerful.

I won’t take time here to also delve into the author’s brilliant style and craftsmanship. But I still rave about that to those who’ll listen and will likely re-read sections in order to hopefully learn a thing or two about writing well.

Note: I recommended this book to a writer friend who twice tried to enjoy it and didn’t seem to like it nearly as much as I did. So there’s that.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I picked up this gem at Milkweed Books in Minneapolis. Let’s just say I’m a huge Milkweed fan. Several books published by Milkweed Editions rank among my all time favorites and the selection of titles displayed front and center at their new(ish) bookstore is right up my literary alley–this among them.

It’s another well-written, historical and insightful book that provides an aura of awareness that history repeats itself and that the oppressed are too often tempted to become oppressor. But that’s all in the milieu of a wonderful story of an exiled Russian aristocrat who must reorient himself to an unaccustomed life and determine what is worth living and fighting for. I loved it and said so on Twitter while incidentally saying how much the book was making me crave dinner at Moscow on the Hill. Mr. Towles tweeted back his appreciation and desire to dine at the terrific Russian restaurant in St. Paul someday. I give extra credit to an accomplished author willing to communicate with readers. But despite my fan-girl moment on Twitter, this book actually does fit perfectly with the themes that drew me in this year. Integrity, self-sacrifice and a desire to look beyond this moment in time toward how our lives and decisions play out and contribute to a larger narrative of restoration.

This leads me to my unexpected love of the movie Rogue One. I’m married to a man and am the mother of teen boys. This means most family movies involve super heroes, hand to hand combat, car chases and explosions. I’m mostly up for it. But I didn’t expect that another installment in a mostly worn out and recycled 30-year-old franchise would be my favorite since The Empire Strikes Back. Then it dawned on me.

Rogue One encompasses all of the elements I’ve been appreciating in literature this year. The characters display an appropriate level of horror at wartime atrocities. There is a willingness to take risks for a cause larger than personal comfort. There is a reality of what those risks (especially in wartime) actually cost in human terms. There is an acknowledgment that some endeavors take a long time, often many years, and that our efforts during an entire lifetime may only be a small piece of a larger and more significant storyline playing out across the cosmos. Some say this movie (and many of my favorite books) is too dark. I disagree. The world is dark. I’m drawn to art that shows us how to be a light in that darkness.

That said, the inclusion of a blind, martial arts master and mystic was exactly what this franchise needed! Chirrut Imwe is hands down my favorite Star Wars character ever. Just sayin’.

These books and this movie ask its characters to choose. What I especially love and was likely drawn to in the volatile year of 2016 is how these books and movie seem to also ask us as readers and viewers to also choose. Will we participate in making the universe a better place for future generations? Will we live with integrity even when it’s risky? Do we seek freedom from bondage only to enslave others with whom we disagree? Will we live sacrificially in a culture that encourages selfishness and self-indulgence?

My goals for 2017 are to continue reflecting on these questions and to hopefully, by God’s grace, choose a life of gratitude, integrity, humility and self sacrifice.

Below is the full list of books I’ve read in 2016 starred 1-4 by how much I was moved, challenged, entertained, engrossed or amazed by them. Please share your favorite reads of 2016 in the comments.

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker ***

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom ***

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett ****

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas *

700 Sundays by Billy Crystal *

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates **

Socrates in the City by Eric Metaxas ****

My Brilliant Friend by Elana Ferrante *

Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber ****

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant ***

The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal ****

It’s Okay to Laugh Crying is Cool Too by Nora McInerny-Purmort ****

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbaugh ****

The High Divide by Lin Enger *

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers ***

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks **

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen ****

Zeros by Chuck Wendig **

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood *

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein **

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue ***

Good Faith by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons **

Radical Reinvention by Kaya Oakes **

You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson **

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles ****

Unashamed by Lecrae **

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt ***

 

 

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