Inspired by my blogmate Brandon, I decided to do a 2020 favorites list. I’ve expanded mine a bit beyond books, but that’s where I’ll start.
The Day Is Now Far Spent by Robert Cardinal Sarah
This book was released in 2019 but I digested it slowly and finished it at the very cusp of the pandemic in 2020. The third in a trilogy of books by Cardinal Sarah, this one punches the hardest. It’s a jeremiad written by an African prelate against the various spiritual crises of the church in the West. I was near the end of the book before I realized that I had misidentified the scriptural reference in the title. I had assumed that Sarah was referring to Romans 13:12, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light,” which seemed appropriate given the contents of the book. But it’s actually an allusion to Luke 24:29 and the Emmaus disciples’ plea to the Risen Christ: “But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them.” The upshot of Sarah’s wakeup call: even if the church in the West is facing a new twilight, as long as Jesus abides with us, we have hope.
A Hidden Life, written and directed by Terrence Malick
This is Terrence Malick’s most linear, plot-driven film since Days of Heaven (1978). But it has all of the stunning cinematography, masterful editing, prayerful voiceovers, and deeply Christian content that we have come to expect from the reclusive filmmaker. A Hidden Life tells the story, inspired by actual events, of Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian farmer and devout Christian who became a conscientious objector to the Nazis during World War II and suffered the consequences. It offers a timely reminder that non-conformity for the sake of faith and conscience will be costly. One reviewer described the film like this: “The movie is cinema at its mightiest and holiest. It’s a movie you don’t just watch; it’s a movie you enter, like a cathedral of the senses.” So turn off the kitschy, flat-footedly evangelistic movies that pass as Christian film. This is what Christian art looks like on a cinematic canvas.
Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers’ evocative sophomore album (after a couple of collaborative projects) is all the more impressive when you remember that she was only 25 when it was released in June. The title track, “Punisher,” is a reference to a particular kind of overeager fan who smothers a famous artist. But Bridgers isn’t looking condescendingly at her own fans; it’s actually self-referential. The song and the album as a whole are an homage to one of her major influences: the late indie icon, Elliott Smith. Like Smith, Bridgers offers up penetrating and confessional lyrics, inviting her listeners into the darkest corners of her own psyche. My favorite track on the album might be “Chinese Satellite,” which laments the fact that Bridgers wants to believe in something–religion, aliens, anything–but just can’t find her way to faith.
I want to believe
Instead I look at the sky and I feel nothing
You know I hate to be alone
I want to be wrong
It’s an aching reminder of the restlessness and longing all around us, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.