Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Best of 2016: Music, Movie, Books

Better late than never, right? Every year I post top ten lists of the movies, music, and books that I loved during the year. These lists sometimes do not get posted until we are already a month - or even a few months - into the new year, and they aren't meant to be exhaustive. In other words, they only cover what I was personally able to watch, hear, and read. So, these are the movies, albums, and books that I loved in 2016. Perhaps something on the list will lure you to check it out:


  1. Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins
  2. Arrival, directed by Dennis Villeneuve
  3. Captain Fantastic, directed by Matt Ross
  4. 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay
  5. Florence Foster Jenkins, directed by Stephen Frears
  6. I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck
  7. Last Days in the Desert, directed by Rodrigo Garcia
  8. Other People, directed by Chris Kelly
  9. Paterson, directed by Jim Jarmusch 
  10. Little Men, directed by Ira Sachs
Honorable Mentions: Hail, Caesar!, Silence, Eye In the Sky, Rogue One, Manchester By the Sea, Hidden Figures, Green Room, Requiem for an American Dream, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Swiss Army Man, Where to Invade Next, Before the Flood, Imperium, The Lobster, Midnight Special, Jungle Book, All the Way, Zootopia, The Man Who Knew Infinity.


  1. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
  2. Bon Iver, 22, A Million
  3. Daughter, Not to Disappear
  4. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book
  5. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor's Guide to Earth
  6. James Blake, The Colour in Anything
  7. ANOHNI, Hopelessness
  8. The 1975, I like it when you sleep...
  9. Frank Ocean, Blonde
  10. Jack Garratt, Phase


  1. Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power by Donovan Shaefer
  2. Common Goods: Economy, Ecology, and Political Theology by Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre, Catherine Keller, Elias Ortega-Aponte (eds) 
  3. The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us by Christophe Bonneuil and Jean Baptiste-Fressoz 
  4. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
  5. Democracy In Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
  6. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
  7. Jesus' Abba by John B. Cobb, Jr.
  8. An Insurrectionist Manifesto: Four New Gospels for a Radical Politics by Ward Blanton, Clayton Crockett, Jeffrey Robbins, and Noelle Vahanian.
  9. A Hindu Theology of Liberation by Anantanand Rambachan
  10. Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton
Older books that I loved in 2016: Why I Am Not A Secularist by William Connolly; A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey; The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere by Judith Butler, Charles Taylor, Jurgen Habermas, Cornel West, et al; Ramanuja and Schleiermacher by Jon Paul Sydnor; The Analogical Turn by Johannes Hoff; Zen and Western Thought by Masao Abe; The Advaita Worldview by Anantanand Rambachan; How (Not) To Be Secular by James K.A. Smith; The Philosophy of William James by Donald Crosby; Radical Democracy and Political Theology by Jeffrey Robbins; The Individual and the Cosmos by Ernst Cassirer; The Myth of Religious Violence by William Cavanaugh; Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hope & the Death of God in Father John Misty

I'm always grateful for thoughtful, beautifully produced music like Father John Misty often creates. I've even been able to see him (i.e. Josh Tillman) perform live, which was an amazing experience. There is much to love about his new album, "Pure Comedy", even as most of the lyrics envision a kind of imminent secular apocalypse - intensified by Trumpism, but not only that - and with hardly any evidence of hope. Exemplifying what Charles Taylor insightfully called "the malaise of modernity", the album is pervaded by a sense of loss, frustration, and tragedy, framed in large part by Tillman's experience of the death of god/s and dissatisfaction with liberal humanism. It's pretty bleak, even as it captivates. Or as this critical review in the Atlantic put it, "Pure Comedy often plays like a tedious brochure for nihilism, rescued only by a few flirtations with grace."

Now, I affirm the need to honestly confront the real possibility of humanity's own self-destruction, but one should also take care to avoid confusing optimism with hope. The former doesn't appear to be warranted; the latter seems essential. Perhaps Tillman gets this point, but the overall 'feel' of his new record suggests otherwise (and I'm not alone in this interpretation, as indicated by quite a few album reviews).

To be sure, it can be tempting to give into despair today, as when one considers the immense challenges of climate change, racial injustice, growing economic inequality, and so on. Our world is indeed in trouble, facing many complicated crises. But resigning oneself to a state of radical despair in the present clearly offers little or no help in fueling movements for change, inspiring needed acts of resistance, and imagining real alternatives for a better planetary future. It is to effectively give up on creating any genuine progress - a truly terrifying option, indeed.

So, while I value the art of provocateurs like Tillman (in part because it is relatively rare for music today to demand such existential reflections), here's a suggestion: whatever the source, however variously constructed/discovered - religious or secular, theistic or humanistic, orthodox or heterodox, etc - it seems to me vital to stubbornly insist on the continued cultivation of a sensibility infused with hope, somehow, even in the face of immense challenges, which may or may not progress toward justice. Here I'm reminded of a bit of wisdom from Cornel West that I discovered last November, at a very timely moment:

"Hope has nothing to do with optimism. I am in no way optimistic about America, nor am I optimistic about the plight of the human species on this globe. There is simply not enough evidence that allows me to infer that things are simply going to get better... We can be 'prisoners of hope' even as we call optimism into question. To be a part of the democratic tradition is to be a prisoner of hope. And you cannot be a prisoner of hope without engaging in a form of struggle in the present moment that keeps the best of the past alive. To engage in that struggle means that one is always willing to acknowledge that there is no triumph around the corner, but that you persist because you believe it is right and just and moral. As T.S. Eliot said, 'Ours is in the trying. The rest is not our business.' We are not going to save each other, ourselves, America, or the world. But we certainly can leave it a little bit better. As my grandmother used to say, 'If the Kingdom of god is within you, then everywhere you go, you ought to leave a little Heaven behind.'"