As 2018 grinds to an end I’ve been looking back over the past year. It’s hard not to focus on the negative with government shut downs, ridiculous tweet storms and the aftermath of wildfires that decimated California for the second year, but there were good things too.

shared here are a few personal bright spots. Following is a list of things that made me happy or encouraged me this year. It’s a random list to be sure—including music, film, podcasts, food…anything that for a moment gave me a sense that things could be better and hope is still alive.

In no particular order:

 Favorite movie: FIRST REFORMED— a priest in a historic church sees his congregation dwindle then meets an environmental activist and begins to rethink his faith. Amazing acting from Ethan Hawk. Worth a mention are two films I found compelling, Annihilation and Hereditary. This first is a philosophical sci-fi film. The second is straight-up horror and not for everyone. 

Favorite television programs to binge watch: FOOD COMPETITION SHOWS—I’ve found that when I’m craving a little solace all I need to do is turn on a show like Final Table, Top Chef or the Great British Menu and troubles seem to melt away. I love getting lost in the contestants personal stories and of course the cooking. These show have become a not so guilty pleasure and an escape. 

Favorite song: RING THE BELLS by Johnny Swim and Drew Holcomb. A call for change that resonates with me.

Favorite podcasts: THE LITURGISTS and THE FUNDAMENTALISTS. These two podcasts are tough to describe. Both of them bring new light to what Christianity could be and often address topics not discussed in the church. Liturgist episodes deal with everything from depression and body issues to Biblical inerrancy. The Fundamentalists can be more fun but still thought provoking. One episode dealt with why people believe in conspiracy theories and touched on “end times,” lizard people and the Berenstain Bears conspiracies. 

Most memorable meal: THE GATHERING TABLE at Ballard Inn, Ballard California. The best meal my wife and I shared this year was in a B&B in Central California. The food was adventurous and delicious. Chef Budi Kazali leads the kitchen at this beautiful little restaurant. 

Favorite weekly event: FAMILY DINNER. I get to cook every weekend for family. We enjoy time together around the table then it’s off to the studio with my grandsons for drawing and painting. 

Best book: SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF A LOVING GOD by Brian Zahnd. This books has stuck with me. It challenged me to rethink a lot of what I believed about God, Jesus, the cross and end times theology. 

Best online course: ATHEISM FOR LENT with Peter Rollins. This Lenten study blew me away and stands out as one of the high points of my year. Rollins uses writings from theologians, philosophers and atheists to challenge preconceived beliefs. There are weekly readings, audio recordings or video to work through at your own pace then a facebook live talk by Rollins every Sunday. There’s also a private facebook group for members to interact and discuss the weekly assignments. The 2019 course has already been announced and will include new material.

I could go on, but should stop here since this post has become a bit long. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far. My post next week will contain some of my thoughts for the new year.