The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Incredibly, the 17 Best Things from 2017

I have never written a year in review, and I’m not 100% sure why I am writing one, now. I think it is going to be mostly silly and not particularly comprehensive. I don’t really know, but I’m just going to give it a try.

Like most things in my life, it’s easiest to begin with books. I wrote at the end of 2016 about my new eternal goal to #ReadFewerWhiteDudes, and where that would lead me for 2017. Here’s the Google Doc I used to track my progress. [You’ll note that I am not 100% done, as there is 3% of 2017 left, and you can bet I’ll spend some of it reading.] I exceeded my goal of reading 29 books in the year I turned 29, but am not about to change something in 2018, so I’m setting a goal of 30. I’m turning 30! What a world.

The Four Best of the Books I Read in 2017

  • I like to mark the January 22 anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision each year. This year, I celebrated it by reading Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, a truly comprehensive guide by Katha Pollitt. Written in 2015, it tracks with much of the anti-abortion legislation being pushed through state houses and the federal government, though it can scarcely imagine how much worse it has already become. If you have ever found yourself in a discussion (perhaps argument?) over reproductive autonomy, let this book serve as your one-stop-shop for every talking point ever thrown. One’s personal choices are one’s personal choices. At its logical conclusion, abortion is healthcare, and birth control is liberation; anyone who would deny anyone either has ulterior motives to control women.
  • Two years before I was born, Vikram Seth wrote a novel in verse called The Golden Gate. I read it in 2017, because it fulfilled the prompt of “a book set within 100 miles of where I live”—San Francisco, in case you couldn’t tell. I had never read in a novel in verse before, and I would now like very much to read another. The experience was absolutely delightful, though the premise of the novel was heartbreaking at every turn. In the midst of reading it, I kept being stunned by the cleverness and would have to stop for a moment, say “wow” probably out loud, and pick back up again.

  • At the same time I was reading The Golden Gate, actually, I was also digging into “a book set more than 5000 miles from where I live”: Suki Kim’s Without You There is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite. I absolutely devoured this book. I couldn’t stop talking about it, and tried to figure out ways to bring it up in conversation without just saying, “I’m reading the most fascinating book right now!” no matter what we’d been talking about. Little did I know how hot a topic DPRK would become in 2017 (Trump, ay ay ay). Suki Kim so deftly reports in the same tone (grey, drab) as the world she is experiencing, which doesn’t sound like the rousing endorsement that it is. I think that the true level of astonishment she felt (and I felt) would have been unsustainable for her several months embedded there. If this book is any indication, she is an elite investigative reporter.

  • John Green is why I can’t quit white dudes. His latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down, was six years in the making, and I am so glad it ushered me through the end of 2017. I rarely read brand new books, because I just absolutely despise hardcovers, and this was a notable exception. Jonathan and I registered for a signed copy of the book (haha) and received it on its publication day, four days before our wedding. Jonathan brought it with him to Encinitas and actually read some of it while taking some much-needed introvert time. The novel itself is a classic of John’s work, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment. His treatment of the language used by teens is painstakingly accurate, and deeply moving. His lifelong struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder shined through the main character, Aza, as she navigated her way through the ups and downs (mostly downs) of life as a teen with OCD. It’s so beautiful, and so awful. I feel like John gave me a gift, and that I can come one step closer to understanding someone with OCD in my pastoral care. Since I know John considered priesthood and chaplaincy, I do not think this is an accident.

Want to know what I’m reading in 2018? That post is forthcoming, or perhaps I’ve gone back and linked to it by the time you are reading this. The internet is magic.

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Moving on to words of the audio variety! Y’all, I am currently subscribed to approximately 22 podcasts. Many of them update weekly, others biweekly, others more sporadically. There are a couple to which I have pre-subscribed in anticipation of their January 2018 debut. All this to say, I spend a serious number of hours listening, and cannot expect you to casually peruse all 22 of them. Therefore, here are some highlights that I experienced in 2017 that will give you a hint as to where to begin in understanding what’s sloshing around in my head.

The Four Best Podcasts I Started Listening to in 2017

  • She’s All Fat is a podcast for “body positivity, radical self-love, and chill vibes only” by two wonderful fat ladies, Sophie and April. They’re a new podcast, so occasionally they get into the weeds as they are finding their recording stride, but most of the time I learn important things and laugh out loud forever at their segment “It’s Okay, You Can Ask” where they ask each other race-related questions you really have to reserve for your dearest black/white friend. (Examples include, “how do wigs work?” and “what is square dancing?”) They are also introducing me to great resources from body positive scholarship and political activism. And recommending good underwear brands. It’s truly a public service.

  • Ear Hustle is produced by two incarcerated men at San Quentin, and an artist who volunteers there. If you’re wondering what’s happening in America’s prisons, Ear Hustle will tell you that it’s exactly what you think, and worse than you think, and more fascinating than you think, and more human than you think. You can listen to pretty much any episode as a standalone, or trek back to the beginning. They’re very good at the explanatory comma, so you will be able to keep up with terminology and references to previous episodes.

  • Who Weekly is literally the dumbest thing I do twice a week, and for it I am eternally grateful. The tagline is “all the news you need to know about the celebrities you don’t.” The general idea is that every person they mention on the podcast, you’d say “Who?” if someone mentioned them in real life. Bobby and Lindsey provide a hilariously pedantic rundown of “wholebrity” gossip that I normally completely ignore. Admittedly, I have used my newfound knowledge to answer a question at our weekly trivia night. Good form, Bella Thorne.

  • I just started listening to Ampersand, from Poets & Writers, like two weeks ago, because every podcast went on a season break or Christmas vacation and I needed to research something for my >8-hour drive to Encinitas this week. If you think Public Radio Voice is the most soothing sound on the airwaves, try Editor of a Poetry Magazine Voice.

The Three Most Memorable 2017 Episodes of Podcasts I Have Been Listening to Since At Least 2016

  • The good folks of NPR’s Code Switch podcast did a tremendous four-episode story on a public high school for black boys in Washington, DC. I was riveted, and would listen to a podcast exclusively devoted to Ron Brown forever. If you follow that link, scroll down to the episode from October 18, and listen to the three that follow, as well. Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Maraji (Code Switch’s home team) follow along with Cory Turner and Kavitha Cardoza’s impressive reporting, then ask some questions of their own. Genius, genius, genius.

  • I really struggled to decide which episode of my all-time favorite podcast Call Your Girlfriend to recommend to you. I have been listening every Friday since early 2015 (which is wild) and truly feel like Aminatou and Ann are part of how I process the world. Their January 27 episode, entitled “Executive Disorder” covers the inauguration weekend and the marches that took place around the nation and world. Ann’s recordings from women and girls at the DC march were just the mix of rage, defiance, hope, and puns that that week called for. Their acknowledgement of white women’s horrific complicity in Trump’s election carries on throughout the whole year, and helps me figure out how to get to work.

  • Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris of the New York Times host a podcast called Still Processing. I love what they do, in principle, because they commit to not making definitive claims about whether something is “good” or “bad”—a few obvious things excepted, like racism—but rather inviting the listener into the conversation where they process what they’ve experienced and wonder aloud about its significance. I think my favorite episode from this year is from May 11, in observance of the 5th anniversary of Whitney Houston’s death—the episode is called “We Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston.” I listened to this episode early in the morning on the freeway and it set me up for the most #blessed day. You deserve to experience these key changes.

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Okay, so I don’t really see movies or watch TV very much at all, so this might turn out to be a very disappointing section.

The Four Things I Watched On Screens in 2017, Which I Would Recommend

  • I am late to every party, as we all know, and so I began to trek through Madam Secretary on Netflix in 2017. I did not quite make it through seasons 1-3 in time to watch the current season live on TV, so I will now have to wait until that’s available to stream in full somewhere. Perhaps I’ll recommend it to you in 2019 or something. In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed these 66 episodes (which I really cannot believe I made time to watch, when I put it like that). Sometimes it felt icky because it was far too similar to a real scenario (sometimes because it was based on true events, sometimes because life imitates art, and terrorism imitates terrorism). Mostly, I love Elizabeth and Henry’s marriage. Their teen/young adult kids are very good at behaving age-appropriately. The plotlines got super complicated and I would always sound like a conspiracy theorist when I’d try to catch up Jonathan on the several episodes I’d watched without him (don’t worry, he did not care about any of it).
  • The only thing I look forward to watching every week, I am not kidding, is the Holiday Baking Championship on the Food Network. The season finale is on tonight, and you can imagine my excitement. OBVIOUSLY it is not as good as the Great British Baking Show, because nothing is. But if you like baked goods and hot messes and mostly kindness, you will like the Holiday Baking Championship. They also do like a Spring edition and perhaps there was a Halloween one (but we all know I am a Halloween grinch) and I don’t watch those. Holiday cheer or bust!
  • We actually saw a few movies this year, because Jonathan likes movies and therefore encourages me to like movies. However, I needed no encouragement to continue on the beautiful journey that is the Fast and Furious franchise. I have been a devotee of these films since their debut in 2001, which amazes even me. The eighth installment, Fate of the Furious, came out in May 2017, and ushered us into summer blockbuster season with a literal bang. Why do I love these movies? They are full of explosions and murder and other things I normally shy away from. The answer, obviously, is just one word: family.
  • Right at the end of 2017, we saw the sweetest movie ever made, Coco. If you haven’t seen it, add it to your goals for 2018 and then do it immediately and then be so pleased with how quickly you achieved something. I intend to intend (you’re welcome) to watch Coco every year, to be continually reminded of the communion of saints. Dia de los Muertos and the celebration of the feast of All Saints happens on October 31 and November 1, and I am already looking forward to next year’s celebration. That being said, seeing Coco on December 15, 2017 was fairly bittersweet for me. On December 16, 2016, my 29-year-old college friend ReShai died of complications from his chronic kidney disease. On December 16, 2017, my best friend’s 24-year-old brother died of pneumonia. Our loved ones leave us, and no platitude can change that. Truly grieving and remember those who have died can help us to celebrate life while we have it. We are made of those who came before us, and we will one day be the remembered. Honoring that truth is an immense task for a children’s film, and I’m grateful to Pixar for going for it, helping everyone who sees it to remember.

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It really shouldn’t be number 16 on this list, because it is number one my heart (lol lol lol) but this year, Jonathan and I got married! If that’s not something to celebrate, we are officially the worst at knowing what to celebrate. It was an incredibly joyous occasion, and everything was perfect. When my best friend Kelsey married Andrew in 2012, I remember her saying that it was the best party she’d ever been to, and that that should be my eventual goal. That was very sound advice (I was still more than a year away from meeting Jonathan when she said that, for what that’s worth) and we definitely achieved it. One of the ways we achieved it was by stretching the party out for nearly a week, gathering our wedding party together days in advance. We laughed, we went to the beach, we ate, we bowled, and we put together last minute things for the hotel welcome bags, probably. I could not ask for a more wonderful husband, or a more wonderful group of people to launch us into this new way of life together. And look how pretty we are:

Dunsworth_0237.jpg

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This is it! The 17th thing of 2017! I set out with absolutely no intention (as you can tell from the first sentences) around this post, and I am about to close it in a fairly orderly fashion, and supremely on-brand.

“When you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.”
- Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

The 17th best thing (not like the 17th-best, but just the 17th thing on this list of best things) of 2017 was joy. My mother’s favorite hymn is Joy to the World, and she will request to sing it even when it isn’t Christmas, thankyouverymuch, because joy is not relegated to any season. But it is almost Christmas, and so tidings of comfort and joy actually are all around. (You are so, so welcome for that terrible sentence of allusions.)

Joy is not the same as happiness, though of course they can overlap. Joy is a deep feeling of wholeness, wellness, truth, beauty, peace, goodness...there’s no sentiment quite like it.

Don’t misunderstand me, dear ones: 2017 was a year of unspeakable horror around the world. The President of the United States is a serial predator, and a budding autocrat, and our liberties are being wrenched from us minute by minute. Not only that, but regular terrible things continued to happen; jobs were lost, loved ones died, wars were fought, hearts were broken. And, for many of us, it was ALSO full of joy. We had weddings, and we had babies, and we had good work, and we cooked good food, and we learned things, and we achieved things, and one of the hardest parts about 2017 has been reconciling these simultaneous truths.

So I go back to these words from Rebecca Solnit again and again (they’re my pinned tweet, even). She wrote them more than a decade ago, about a different geopolitical reality. And that’s how true they are. There will never be a year or country where joy should not be sought, and where joy will not be necessary. We cannot give in to despair if we have any hope of surviving and thriving.

If joy does not come easily to you, it would increase my joy to share it with you. Because what I wish for you, dear ones—in 2018 and always—is that sweet, beautiful, soul-saving joy:

C'mon. #ReadFewerWhiteDudes in 2018.

Follow the Leader—A Sermon on Christ the King