At the end of every year I’ve made a habit of asking: what happened over the last 12 months that is worth remembering and worth celebrating before they fade away? The list always ends up including both momentous events and small blessings, for both contribute to the scope of the year.
As I look back over 2017, I’m struck by just what an outstanding year this was. Although there were plenty of disappoints and frustrations, it was abundantly rich. Many of these events I had hoped for. Many were unexpected. All were immensely satisfying. And yet as I look ahead and examine my expectations for 2018, I have to remind myself that a list so full is not the only qualification of a year well lived. Ordinary faithfulness, tasting and enjoying the specific goodness of this world, and trusting the upholding hand of God are the ultimate qualifications. And in a year of plenty, like 2017, such a list is a way of remembering the taste of those gifts. Here they are, in roughly chronological order.
Leading music at church
I’ve been making music in church ever since I was 13. Early this year I started leading music regularly for the first time. There was (and remains) much to learn, but to lead your congregation in song is amongst the most satisfying experiences. It’s an immense privilege and a skill that I hope to take with me in the years ahead. When I was younger, I complained about having to learn the piano instead of the violin. But the piano lets me lead worship, a ministry I hope to take with me into the years head.
Leading music for kids
This year I also began a ministry where I lead the 75 kids in our congregation in a time of song and prayer every Sunday morning. Three of my favorite things include music, children, and Jesus, so this is a pretty perfect combination. I’ve learned a lot about what kind of styles of songs work best with kids (think call and answer instead of multiple complex verses). All together, it’s been both a joy and a blast.
Getting my writing published
If you had told me a year ago the places my writing would be published this year, I would have shook my head in bewilderment. My goal was just to write more regularly and get just one piece published. Instead,
-after much trail and error in pitching my pieces, I found a home in Mockingbird, who published three interviews I had been working on for months.
-One of the publications that originally rejected me later accepted a pitch. It was incredibly satisfying to work extensively with the editor to polish the piece into something I’m still proud of.
-And then there were the following two interviews, each of which were incredibly exciting...
Prop has been one of my creative heroes for the longest time. I’ve always wanted to interview him. I’ve been told by sources very close to him that he turns down most requests. Through a happenstance set of circumstances, I was able to speak to him on the phone for 20 minutes. Crazy.
Then I hopefully pitched the piece to a publication I’ve long wanted to write for, Christ and Pop Culture. Not only did they say yes, they placed the piece in their digital magazine which meant, a. I was paid money for my words (wait, what?) and b. they commissioned custom artwork for the piece!
(The only bummer is that Prop never retweeted the interview. Such a disappointment. You can’t win them all, friends.)
Interviewing David Lowery
The second epic interview of 2017 came about like this: the movie I was most excited to see this year was David Lowery’s highly acclaimed little indie film A GHOST STORY. The problem is that highly acclaimed indie films tend to arrive in Calgary months after everyone else gets them.
Then one Friday evening I get an email from my editor at Mockingbird. “We’ve been given access to a screener for A GHOST STORY and the option to interview the director. Would you be interested?”
I watched the movie. I watched endless interviews of David. I reached out to writer friends for advice. I wrote scores of questions and ran them past my editor. Then I had 20 minutes on the phone with David and it went really well. It was an open dialogue about the issues that challenge both of us. At the end, David told me that he really enjoyed the conversation.
Covering my first film festival
While working at Apple, I bumped into the director of Calgary’s Underground Film Festival. Taking a chance, I mentioned that I like to write about film. Might there be an option for writers to contribute to the festival? A chain of emails later and I was in touch with my now friend Laura. She hooked me up with a boatload of screeners and I was busy writing reviews for several weeks in April. I also interviewed a couple directors, was given my first press pass, and had my work featured daily by CUFF’s social media team. But most satisfying of all was the email I got from Ian Mcallister Mcdonald, director of the astonishingly good film SOME FREAKS. He had read my review and took the time to write to me to say that it was “one of my favourite [reveiws] that we've received so far... incredibly thoughtful and beautifully written”. I almost cried. This began an enjoyable and extensive email conversation with Ian, Ian, a play-write and teacher, that covered many aspects of the creative process.
Kyle and I have been dreaming about creating a podcast that explores issues of worldview ever since 2014. It started with a YouTube series, but we soon realized that it was the wrong avenue. We came up with multiple names, made multiple plans, and even recorded a demo episode back in 2015. Finally, after our plans become more elaborate and detailed, we launched Assumptions, a podcast where a Christian and an atheist try to understand each other’s worldview. It was met with a warm reception from our friends. We cracked the iTunes Religion and Spiritually top chart one week, and have built up a devoted fan base. I’m quite happy with our first season and looking forward to our next steps in 2018.
There are signs of growth and continued interest. This winter we were interviewed by Patheos and took on a sponsorship. Whenever I tell professors or peers about the project it is met with great interest. It was incredibly satisfying to put our long-simmering plans into fruition and to be met with the early signs of success.
Finding a School
I’ve wanted to go to university ever since I graduated from high school, a good 6 years ago. It was a long and painful wait and my dreams of going abroad to attend a fancy (and expensive!) liberal arts school turned to something more humble and more achievable. Early this year, through a seemingly random series of connections, I realized that the small, Catholic-rooted liberal arts school a mere 15 minutes away from my home was both perfect for my needs and was glad to accept homeschoolers. The question was: would I attend it full time or continue to work?
It was a tough decision, made easier when I got sick (partly due to exhaustion) and had to take what ended up being a three month leave of absence from Apple. This gave me the necessary distance from that environment, which helped me realize how unhealthy that environment had become for me. It also freed me up to work on the writing projects I described above, which gave me the confidence to pursue a new career. I’m very grateful for all that I learned at Apple. It’s remains an excellent company to work for. I needed it. Closing that door was a major milestone.
School is so much fun! My family has been trying to persuade me that the school lifestyle is suited for me, and I have to admit: they were right. I’ve made some excellent friends, have worked with some terrific teachers, and have been challenged and confirmed by many experiences. I got some good grades, throughly enjoyed being part of my first choir (and earned a smashing solo!), and I contributed to some very fun drama productions. I still have much to learn, which is good. This is just the beginning.
Meeting Malcolm Guite
Malcolm has long been a major influence in my thought and imagination. Ever since I wrote a blog post stating my wish to smoke a pipe with him and he responded promising to take me up on the offer, I’ve been looking for the chance to make something happen. So when I learned that he was teaching a course on poetry at Regent in Vancouver and that my dear friends would be hosting him at A Rocha, I knew this was my chance.
My best friend and I traveled out to Vancouver to spend a week studying under our muse. In addition to the course itself, we enjoyed multiple evening lectures with him and other faculty. I then got to spend three hours in a car interviewing him, served him my favorite ales, enjoyed an intimate and magical concert with him and Steve Bell, spent an afternoon wandering the trees and trails of A Rocha with him and some of my closest friends, and saw God work as I lead a group discussion amongst him, Steve, and some of the staff at A Rocha. Oh, and a photo I took of him that weekend was used on the cover of one of his books. How could I ask for more!
But I got more. Last month, Malcolm toured Calgary and we spent two hours doing our favorite things together: wandering the river, smoking pipes, and talking poetry and Jesus. My hero has become my friend.
I believe in reading the classics. I’ve been working my way through Roger Ebert’s list of Great Films. I have access to all the world’s music through Apple Music. So why am I not guiding myself through the best music of all time? Early this year I took The Rolling Stone Magazine’s List of the Top 500 Albums of All Time and (slowly) started to work my way through them. It’s been terrific so far. Here are two of my favourites:
I did not grow up listening to The Beatles. Starting last year, I decided it was high time to change that. In January I picked up the excellent volume The Revolution in the Head and worked my way through every album, single, and film. The Beatles are now justly crowned amongst my favorite artists of all time and their wonderful body of work has become part of my life’s music.
The other artist I am pleased to have met through this list is Bruce Springsteen. I listened to his outstanding narration of his memoir, Born to Run, and worked my way through (most) of his discography. His work and presence is a gift and I’m grateful for it.
Finally updating my room
For years, I’ve wanted to have all my books in one place. I’ve wanted to hang up missing art for ages. I’ve wanted a new desk for a long time. I’ve always wanted a Persian rug. This summer all of these things came together and I’ve been enjoying the fruit of those labours ever since.
Last, but far from least; I was not looking for a relationship this year, but some good things came completely unasked for. I’ve known Annie for almost two years now, but at the end of June we started talking daily. We soon became excellent friends. Sharing the details of my day with her and hearing of her life become a reliable source of stability and joy. After almost six months of this, we both came to realization that something more was afoot. It’s been a remarkable and very unusual journey so far. The details of our future are far from certain, but we have both been upheld by a countless encouragements that continue to give us confidence in each other and in the guidance of our Lord. I’m thrilled that our lives have been brought together.