This week we’ve been posting about some of our favorite cultural artifacts of the year—books, movies and music not necessarily made in 2009, but consumed, pondered, enjoyed and treasured by each of us along the way. Earlier this week we heard from Nate Barksdale and Christy Tennant; today Andy Crouch finishes up the series.
There were a handful of cultural artifacts that took my breath away in
2009. Here they are, in roughly the order I encountered them:
Of course, I had heard of Over the Rhine before 2009. But I had
never heard them in person. In 2009, I finally did, twice. Their sly,
stylish, hook-laden yet depths-sounding music is a wonder.
Also in the “better late than never” category, I got around to
listening to Pierce Pettis’s 2001 album State of Grace, a
meditation on the South that connected me to my own Southern roots and
the beautiful, broken stories of my Scotch-Irish ancestors.
At a distance, I’ve been thrilled to see the success of Fringe
Atlanta, the most unlikely chamber music program in the nation:
serious, stirring performances of the classical repertoire mixed up
with the spinning sounds of one of Atlanta’s hottest DJs, Little Jen.
What other classical music program is selling out tickets to an
under-35 crowd and has them clapping and whooping after a viola solo
in the middle of a string quartet?
The 5-part documentary Brick City, which aired on the Sundance
Channel in September, is a tour de force, not least because of the
walking tour de force who is one of its principal subjects: Cory
Booker, the energetic young mayor of Newark, New Jersey. If you care
about cities, leadership, gangs, violence and peacemaking, or
redemption—or almost any other aspect of culture making—this series
will provoke, disturb, and encourage you.
I read some marvelous books this year, and two that I read just this
month are likely to stick with me for a long time. Both are memoirs
(the genre of the new millennium, it seems). Kent Annan’s Following
Jesus through the Eye of the Needle is an unsparingly honest story
of relocation to Haiti that captures the complexities of crossing
differences of power, wealth, and culture in hopes of being part of
God’s work of transformation, without and within. It’s funny, gritty,
and strangely hopeful—just what a Christian memoir should be.
The same words could apply to the biggest surprise of my reading in
2009, a self-published memoir by Amy Julia Becker, Penelope
Ayers. This book might seem to have everything against it.
“Self-published” is usually another way of saying “self-indulgent.”
The subject, the death of the author’s mother-in-law from cancer, is
so common that, as
I have written in the past, every editor has a pile of unusable
manuscripts from people trying to capture the experience of
accompanying a loved one through illness unto death. Usually they fall
into unintentional clichés, sentimentality, and too much detail.
But Penelope Ayers is written with an unerring voice, a keen
eye for hard and beautiful truth, and almost no false notes.
Especially significant is the way that Amy Julia (whom I met this fall
through a mutual friend) manages to weave honest reflections about
faith into the story without in any way giving in to Christianese or
insider platitudes. This is one book a Christian could give to a
non-believing friend and say, “This is what it’s like to believe, from
the inside.” We’ll be hearing more from Amy Julia Becker—perhaps, with
any luck, in 2010.