We are almost there, friends… 2020 is coming to a close. As the Washington Post wrote this morning, 2020 has been 97 months long, and it’s hard to remember all that has happened.
I kind of like New Year’s Eve, in general. I think it is important to mark time, to acknowledge the passing of seasons, to take a moment to zoom the lens out and take a look at where we have been and where we are. Those are important parts of figuring out where we’re going, as anyone who has tried orienteering can attest.
So the other day I took a notepad out and considered what 2020 has held for me. It was a powerful exercise, and surprising. Even with my calendar precipitously cleared of all gigs after early March, it’s been quite a busy year! Below are a few things I scribbled down on my notepad.
Before I get to those things, though, I want to note the biggest gift that has come to me, in terms of my work, this year: On January 1, 2020, I was about six weeks into having launched an online experiment in community on a web site called Patreon. 64 wonderful people had joined me in that experiment, and it was starting to take shape.
Now, at the end of 2020, there are 275 people standing in this virtual circle, and it has become central to my work, in terms of the art I’m creating, and also how I am supported as a writer and musician. At a time when so many good things have fallen away, it has been beautiful to see this good new thing grow. If you want to know more about it, here’s some stuff I wrote on my web site to try to explain it. Or just go here and sign up, for as little as a dollar, to give it a test drive.
• January and February included heading up the Critical Conversations team for the Montreat College Conference, trips for the APCE conference in Arkansas, gigs in New York, and New Jersey. I shot some video with Connect.Faith, and got to help out with the Movies & Meaning festival in Asheville. Airplanes and hotels, playing music for folks and leading some workshops — a pretty typical launch to the year for me.
• I also took a writing retreat at my friend David’s cabin in January. I wrote more songs in 2020 than any other year of my life, largely thanks to my Patreon community, and the fact that I have promised them a new song each month.
• In early March, I played at the White Horse, here in Black Mountain, and I haven’t played a single show for a live audience since then, other than a tiny outdoor gathering at a LEAF retreat in the fall. In April, I started doing occasional online concerts.
• In the early part of the pandemic, I started an interview series with artists who have positive things to communicate. Sustaining Our Spirits ended up including 25 conversations, all of which are still available to watch.
• George Floyd was killed on May 25, and the nation began a period that some have called a ‘Racial Reckoning.’ I helped with some protests, and engaged in some conversations around how we can face this history, acknowledge this current reality, and move in a healthier direction together. On June 2, Essence magazine listed my book White Flour as one of eleven books they recommend to talk with kids about racism. Sales of the book were very strong in June, and I donated those profits to organizations working for racial justice.
• In June, the NC Council of Churches released the hymn that they commissioned me to write, in honor of their 85th anniversary, and their work for justice. That hymn, God of the Movements and Martyrs, has now been recorded by professional musicians in a broad variety of musical styles, and has been translated into Spanish.
• In July I began recording a song each week for my Patreon community, and calling it Monday Music. I also started sharing pieces of writing, whether poetry or passages from non-fiction books, or sometimes fiction, and talking a bit about how that writing intersects with what is going on in the world. I called that Wednesday Words, and kept it up through mid-October, when I began to prepare for a big move.
• In September, the Old Fort Mural was dedicated. I worked on a committee of local folks helping to raise money and awareness for this beautiful project, commemorating some important local Civil Rights history. I wrote a song about the events that are commemorated in the mural, The Ballad of Catawba View, and the song was used in a documentary about it. It’s a beautiful project, through and through, and I’m grateful to have played a small part in helping it to happen.
• In November, PEG Partners, the non-profit Deanna and I founded in 2004, got word that a grant from Rotary International had come through, allowing us to move forward with building a new school in Tzanchaj, Guatemala. The Rotary Simple Schools Grant is a very exciting opportunity. This school will serve generations of children in an under-resourced Mayan community. Due to Covid and back-to-back hurricanes, people we love in Guatemala, who are already leading pretty precarious lives, had a very tough year. In addition to our usual work with education and arts, PEG was able to offer seven food distributions in two communities. Here is more news from PEG.
• Partly due to the rancor of election season, Let’s Be Neighbors banners have been attracting some attention this year. We updated the Let’s Be Neighbors web site to make it more useful for folks.
• Over the course of November and December, my family has been moving ourselves and my father-in-law to a new house in Black Mountain, about a mile from the houses where we lived before. The new house has a small apartment attached, where my father-in-law now lives. It needed an extensive remodel (more than we knew!) before we could put him in there, and we had to get his house and our old place ready to rent out. This is not a professional endeavor, of course, but it did seem to take nearly all of my time for a couple of months, and can’t be left out of a review of the year. 🙂 Now if I can just get these stacks of boxes unpacked…
• On December 6, we had an online screening of Braided Prayer, the documentary film by John Kennedy and David Saich about Abraham Jam, the interfaith trio that I’m a part of. The inimitable Diane Johnson interviewed us, and nearly 900 people from over twenty countries on five continents tuned in. Braided Prayer has just been screened at its fourth film festival, this time in India.
So, in spite of all that was brutal about 2020, there is also no shortage of things to celebrate, when I take a moment to stop and notice. I hope you are finding some things to celebrate, as well, as you mark the turning of the year. Blessings on what is to come. May it have an upward trajectory.