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    the sun rising over a wintry landscape

    Plough 2020 in Review

    The most-read pieces of the year, and some of the editors’ favorites

    December 31, 2020
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    The last 366 days have unfolded in ways that no one could have fathomed. Plough’s top-read pieces of the year connect 2020’s destabilizing realities to enduring truths.

    Schooling Hope”: At the beginning of the pandemic, Stanley Hauerwas discussed the “new normal” and the “old normal” in the context of the Resurrection: “We are people destined to die. How that destiny binds us together in a common life is a challenge that we have to meet: to learn to live such that we have lives constituted of goods that death does not defeat.”

    The Politics of the Gospel”: As the election approached, friends across the aisle Cornel West and Robert P. George speak to what each has learned from the other, how they feel compelled to stand up against their own sides, and where their faith unites them: “The Christian way of life allows us to look unflinchingly at the wretchedness in the human condition, and still emerge with joy, with a commitment to perseverance.”

    Holding Our Own”: For all of the overt and subtle bigotry that Muslims face in the United States, Shadi Hamid argues that there is no better place to be a Muslim. But “how resilient can revelation hope to be in the face of an American idea as powerful as [unfettered pluralism]? America may be making Islam safe for liberalism, but it may also make it something other than what it was.”

    Black Lives Matter and the Church”: When the protests broke out this summer, Jacqueline and Eugene Rivers noted that the church has unconscionably failed to lead the way on racial justice, “and so God has placed this responsibility on the shoulders of nonbelievers,” but evidence of the demonic in white supremacy means that Christians still have a vital role to play: “We have got to approach it with prayer.”

    The Edge of Justice”: On the same topic, from an unexpected literary angle, Zito Madu asks, “How should a people ask for justice from a world that has already denied them? That they have to ask at all says so much.” Though his faith that such justice is achievable is dim, he says, “I do know that we are each obligated to keep pulling in that direction.”

    The Case for One More Child”: With everything that’s going wrong, does it make any sense to bring new human life into the world? Ross Douthat offers a resounding yes, sharing how he faced this question in his own family, and asks what it would take to support people in having “the kids they already say they want . . . the kid you can feel pretty sure they won’t regret.”

    The Gift of Death”: On the other side of new life there is death, which has been too much with us in this catastrophic year. Leslie Verner remembers a friend who also died too soon, and the unasked-for insight she received in knowing life was limited: “My heart has been opened to the inescapable beauty of my right now. It’s one of the hardest tensions I’ve ever known. It’s learning to live in Kairos time.”

    Not Just Nuclear”: Edwidge Danticat unites these edges of life in reflecting on a notion of family that extends far beyond parents and children: “It is elders long buried and generations yet unborn, with stories as bridges, and dreams as potential portals,” with love reaching across time and space, “even when bodies and minds are beyond reach.”

    The Solidarity of Grief”: With love reaching across time and space, Emma Meier’s son Rudy gave her a poem shortly before he died at age nineteen, with a message she could not fully understand till he was gone: “Since his death, it has dawned on me that Jesus is here, at the bottom of society, among all those who hurt. I have learned that our pain softens the shell that insulates us from the suffering of others. Our grief allows us to absorb their grief, making us a part of the collective suffering of the world, a suffering known and borne by God himself. In this deepest and most profound connection with others, I have found joy.”

    When Dvořák Went to Iowa to Meet God”: In our most-read piece of the year, Nathan Beacom plumbs the homesick composer’s solidarity with other exiles and the symphony he created to carry the soul through “grief over lost loved ones and lost places” and upward “toward the borders of eternity, to the definitive homeplace.”

    These are just ten pieces out of several hundred Plough published this year. Below, some of the team’s picks (also far from exhaustive!) that are worth an extra look.

    Shana Goodwin: Mary Townsend’s “The Home Is the School” perfectly describes the near-impossibility of working from home while homeschooling, and also explores what true learning looks like. (Hint: it includes taking the garbage!) For a vision of homeschooling under different circumstances, Sally Clarkson’s “Treasures of Knowledge” describes how she tried to build her family into a community through reading and discussing good books together daily. Her article made me want to start putting together a family read-aloud list!

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: Sister Dominic Mary Heath, OP’s essay on cloistered life and solidarity came right when I needed it in quarantine, offering ways to grow in love even while isolated.

    Clare Stober: It’s not every day that reading a piece of writing at work leaves me sitting at my desk with tears streaming down. “Almost Absent” by Ellen Koneck did, and still does.

    Priscilla Jensen: Stephanie Saldaña’s “The Martyr in Street Clothes,” about the nineteen Martyrs of Algeria, first caught my eye because of the beauty of the icon which tells so much of the story. The history of the martyrs involved – Roman Catholic religious, and some of their Muslim friends – is compelling for their clear-eyed embrace of God and one another in the face of mortal peril.

    Chris Meier: Caitrin Keiper’s “Red Is for Remembrance” was poignant and surprising in a wonderful way, weaving the personal with the larger themes of death, faith, and eternity.

    Ian Barth: “Manly Virtues” by Noah Van Niel and “Dependence” by Leah Libresco Sargeant are exceptional in deconstructing some of the myths about independence and individuality that so much of society accepts, and point to the radical nature of Christian discipleship.

    Wilma Mommsen: The short profile of Sojourner Truth in our “Forerunners” series, with text by Susannah Black and artwork by Jason Landsel. Sojourner Truth is of course widely celebrated as an abolitionist and early feminist; what’s less known is the centrality of her unconventional but deeply Christian faith. This article introduced me to that side of Sojourner Truth by quoting her own words, and prompted me to read in full her remarkable autobiography written with Olive Gilbert.

    Caitrin Keiper: Natalia Asipova and Elena Avinova’s graphic novel of “The Grand Inquisitor” puts a fresh spin on Dostoyevsky’s classic theodicy, with Gary Saul Morson’s accompanying essay on the eternal questions of suffering and freedom – Ivan’s illogical love for “sticky little leaves” with Alyosha’s location of “faith not in reason or proofs but precisely in a deep love for the world God created and for each individual person in it.”

    Susannah Black: What happens when a megacorporation sets itself up to be a global family – and fails? Maria Hengeveld’s investigation of one company’s refusal to protect its workers from politicized rape and murder puts the lie to its claims of empowerment and solidarity – and the wokewashed system that enables it.

    Peter Mommsen: I have at least a dozen favorite articles that didn’t make our top ten list, so I’ll arbitrarily pick the longest one to mention here: the two-act play “Sister of the Four” by the beloved Russian novelist Eugene Vodolazkin (Laurus), translated by Shelley Fairweather. A comedy about death, Covid, and conversion? Yes, it’s possible, and it comes with the characteristic Vodolazkin twist at the end.

    Sam Hine: Back in April, Bill McKibben asked some really important questions in “The Hard Work of Conversion.” Enrico Galiano captured what so many teachers were feeling in “Serendipity.” And Kathryn Watson’s reminiscence on how we treat minimum-wage workers, “At Your Service,” will hopefully stick with you next time you tip.

    We would be remiss without mentioning a few of our best books this year: Poems to See By, by Julian Peters; That Way and No Other, by Amy Carmichael; Another Life Is Possible by Clare Stober and Danny Burrows; and The Gospel in Dickens by Gina Dalfonzo.

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