№ 7: 2022 in Review
In which a lot happened...
2023 is nearly upon us! Reaching the end of 2022, it feels fitting to reflect upon the events, memories, and achievements that have stood out within it.
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Alastair: During 2020 and 2021, I was focusing on producing the morning and evening readings for my daily biblical reflections. This was only possible because I was hardly travelling, did not have conferences or events to attend, was not networking, pared down my writing and teaching, and focused my reading. I haven’t done that level of daily single-project content production this year, but that has also meant more time for other kinds of work.
I also didn’t get married in 2020 or 2021, comfortably the highlight of 2022 (there are more pictures later in this post)!
2022 has been an incredible and memorable year, joyful and good. And, as I look back over it, I have produced what in retrospect is actually a substantial amount. The following is a summary of things that I produced in the year, importantly leaving to one side extensive work on various ongoing projects, most of which will be completed in the upcoming year, several books, and various forthcoming articles.
I had planned to complete the audio phase of my biblical reflections project this year. However, the uncompleted chapters of Joshua, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezekiel, and the rest of the Psalms still need to be done. I did complete Leviticus, Numbers, and Judges earlier in the year. I also uploaded all my reflections onto my audio site and made videos for each of the completed books, with every chapter bookmarked. Revisiting these books was a delight: the riches of Leviticus, Numbers, and the concluding chapters of Judges are seldom adequately explored. There are treasures, surprises, and puzzles in them that are still occupying my thinking months later.
This year’s work has in good part been more general-audience focused and public-facing, applying themes of biblical theology to specific issues and bringing the discussions and reflections that were begun in my own podcast to a broader audience. In this process, my Patreon supporters have been an absolutely crucial intellectual community. If you’d like to support my work, please go here.
This year was an unusual one for the Mere Fidelity podcast. Derek was on paternity leave for several months and I was away for a month with the wedding and honeymoon. Nevertheless, I participated in thirty-three episodes, starting with a discussion of shame and ending with our concluding end of year extravaganza. On the Theopolis podcast we had forty episodes, within which we went through the books of Colossians and James and began our ongoing series on James Jordan’s Through New Eyes.
I had several guests on my personal podcast. Jake Meador joined me to discuss his new book, What Are Christians For? Life Together at the End of the World. Having thoroughly enjoyed his work on the Psalms and on typology, I invited James Hamilton on the podcast to discuss his work on the latter subject, discussing his treatment of the subject in his recent book, Typology: Understanding the Bible’s Promise-Shaped Patterns—How Old Testament Expectations are Fulfilled in Christ. I had a stimulating and controversial discussion of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) with my friend John Ahern in April. In September, Dr Sam Emadi came on to present some of his superb work on the Joseph narrative, upon which he has written in From Prisoner to Prince: The Joseph Story in Biblical Theology. Finally, just over a week ago, Dr Chris E. W. Green joined me for a discussion of Matthew’s nativity. Over the earlier months of the year, my good friend Rev Benjamin Miller joined me for a wide-ranging series of ten podcasts, within which we discussed how we ought to respond to current cultural and ecclesial crises in a wise and godly manner.
Beyond such guests, I produced several solo podcasts. I discussed the typological and symbolic significance of the circumcision of Christ, the identity of the Angel of the Lord, and resurrection themes in the Old Testament. I also started an intended series on social Trinitarianism, which got buried under other projects and has not (yet) been revisited. Perhaps, along with Susannah and my ongoing yet long dormant series on Oliver O’Donovan’s The Ways of Judgment, I might do so at some point in 2023.
For many years, I have commented upon the ways in which our media, especially social media, affect the form of our discourse, the necessity of crafting healthy social contexts for searching conversation, the intersection of our psychology and our social media, and how we can develop virtues as participants in such conversations. I have long contended that our prevailing modes and manners of discourse are dysfunctional, predictably intensifying social antagonisms and distorting everyone’s thinking. My conviction is that much of the time devoted to the current discourse would be far better spent considering why the discourse—and ourselves within it—functions in the manner that it does and how we might reform it, or at least our manner of engagement within it. Over the course of this year, I produced several videos addressing these themes: How Apologetics Can Be Dangerous, Unruly Media and Our Disordered Discourse, A Quest For Healthier Thought and Discourse, Social Media and the Lack of Boundaries, and Skins, Strongholds, and the Limits of a Culture War Mindset.
Besides Mere Fidelity, the Theopolis podcast, and my own podcast, I appeared as a guest on several other podcasts over the course of the year. The God’s Story Podcast had me on for a dozen episodes, presenting an overview of the entire book of Daniel (chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4, chapter 5, chapter 6, chapter 7, chapter 8, chapter 9, chapter 10, chapter 11, chapter 12). I’ll be rejoining Brent on that podcast to discuss the book of Revelation in the new year. Byrne Power on the Anadromist podcast (whom I’ll also be revisiting in a few weeks’ time) had me as a guest early last year. The That’ll Preach podcast had me on to suggest ways in which we can disagree without losing our minds. The Home Fires podcast and the That’ll Preach podcast both had me on to discuss issues related to a Christian account of the sexes. I had a very enjoyable discussion of neglected aspects of the Bible as a source for political reflection with the Byzantine Scotist. Rev Barton Gingerich invited me on his podcast to discuss my co-written book, Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption Through Scripture, which encouragingly continues to attract attention, some years after its publication. Speak Life invited me to discuss the question of sermon length. The Heaven & Earth podcast had me on to discuss biblical interpretation and the work of James Jordan. I was also on the Upstream podcast with Shane Morris, speaking about how we might understand Christmas through the lens of the Old Testament.
I also produced series of videos on the subjects of baptism (seven videos), technology (nine videos), and the Bible as book (four videos) for the Theopolis Institute.
Several things of mine were published in various forms over the course of the year, including a co-written chapter with Onsi Kamel in the recently released Davenant volume Protestant Social Teaching: An Introduction. I discussed the chapter with Onsi and the others on the Ad Fontes podcast recently. My piece on the genealogy of Matthew’s gospel was published in the latest issue of Plough. I reviewed Paul Copan’s latest for First Things. Earlier in the year, I also reviewed two books on masculinity for the Gospel Coalition.
I wrote an article reflecting on a Christian understanding of sovereignty for Theopolis, occasioned by the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. For Christmas, I wrote a lengthy treatment of the deep background behind the naming of Jesus. In addition to these articles, I also participated in a number of Theopolis Conversations during the year: responding to Douglas Farrow on vaccine mandates, to Jeff Meyers on the book of James, and interacting with Brad East on the doctrine of Scripture in a series that I began and concluded.
Susannah and I started our new Substack, the Anchored Argosy, a few months ago, and this is the seventh instalment. Since starting it, I’ve published a number of reflections within it, including thoughts on the limitations of chapters and verses, the magnanimous character of Christian good works, the cosmic significance of the tabernacle, and the Old Testament character of Joseph in the accounts of Matthew.
While not reflected that much in my more public writing, Christian politics has been a greater focus of my attention this year, occupying much of my time in more private theological and academic fora, networking and movement-building, social media discourse, and in my personal reading (which I don’t have time to summarize here, unfortunately, but within which political thought featured prominently). For a few years now, I have been a participant in the Civitas Forum, a group of scholars assembled by the Theopolis Institute to discuss liberalism and postliberalism. Susannah joined this group over a year ago now and we attended a session together in Birmingham (of the Alabaman persuasion) for a few days in April. We also attended virtually in October. Civitas has recently started a new podcast and will be publishing various other things in the coming year. Seeing the ways that ugly forms of racism have been using Christian nationalism as a vehicle to spread their prejudices and ideologies, I have also sought to bring some of these things into the light.
Besides the Civitas Forum sessions, this year has had a plethora of events, conferences, meet-ups, and the like. Davenant is becoming more active in the UK and it was wonderful to attend the second UK Davenant Convivium at Oak Hill in September, travelling there and back with our good friend Rev. Tim Vasby-Burnie. Tim is working to form a larger network of theologically-interested Christians in the West Midlands and it has been a delight, over the course of a few meet-ups, to see this starting to take shape. A growing part of our work involves connecting and being connected with people with similar or related interests or concerns. Such connections provide immense potential for growth, support, encouragement, stimulation, inspiration, serendipitous interactions, and cross pollination of good ideas and practices.
I taught at the Theopolis Fellows program back in January and spoke at the Theopolis Ministers’ Conference in July. At the start of the year, I taught a course for Davenant Hall on the Patriarchs and another for Theopolis on the Tabernacle and Temple. I’ve also preached on several occasions over the course of the year.
In a change from previous years, I have done hardly any knitting, although I did make a baby blanket (for Susannah’s brother’s first child, due in March; the siblings were married within less than a year of each other, as was my youngest brother), a scarf, and a head warmer.
Susannah: I helped edit the four 2022 issues of Plough, my beloved magazine: Why We Make Music, Hope in Apocalypse, The Vows that Bind, and Generations. Go here to subscribe, if you haven’t! Some of my favorite pieces from the magazine this year:
First, there’s Alastair’s first piece for Plough (well, first published piece; he’s also got one which I haven’t edited yet, but which he filed just before the wedding): Decoding the Bible’s Begats. That includes a fun bonus window into the family reunion which he endured in July.
Prince Michael zu Salm Salm, Ten Theses on Intergenerational Stewardship
Matthew Lee Anderson, Is there a Right to Have Children?
Helmuth Eiwen, The Sins of the Fathers
Lydia Dugdale, Bring Back Hippocrates
Caitrin Keiper, Victor Hugo’s Masterpiece of Impossibility
King-Ho Leung, The One Who Promises
Peter Leithart, Radical Hope
Eleanor Parker, The Sermon of the Wolf
Owen Cyclops, American Apocalypse
Phil Klay and Samuel Moyn, War is Worse than Almost Anything
Christopher Tollefsen, The Problem with Nuclear Deterrence
Mary Townsend, Dolly Parton is Magnificent
Phil Christman, Reading the Comments
Dhananjay Jagannathan, Music and Morals
Dhananjay Jagannathan, What is Our Scholarly Inheritence?
Tara Isabella Burton, Stephen Sondheim’s Company
Tara Isabella Burton, On Good Parties
I wrote mini-biographies of Sadhu Sundar Singh, Monica of Thagaste; Mercedes Sosa and did many interviews including with Ivan Rusyn, Brittany Petruzzi, and Sperello Alighieri, a descendant of Dante. I also wrote about scrupulosity, being a woman, fatherhood (and my own father), Norman Cantor, and nuclear war and the War in Ukraine.
And then there was the recent attempt to respond to a version of Christian engagement in politics which focuses on ethnicity as the major mode of political unity. At its crudest, this becomes explicit white nationalism. My primary salvos were here, in a piece in which I talked about the specific kind of bad reading that is required if one is attempting to ground an ethnonationalist position in classical political philosophy, and here, in which I responded (just yesterday) to another person in the debate.
I organized and recorded 24 episodes of The PloughCast, and appeared on several other podcasts: Michael Horton’s White Horse Inn & Shadi Hamid & Damir Marusic’s Wisdom of Crowds, and Mere Fidelity.
I organized eight or so events - five Plough launches on both sides of the Atlantic, a book launch, several private political theology convivia. Also I organized a wedding and honeymoon. 🙂
I, uh, published my first book! Well, Anne Snyder and I edited it, and it contains several of my pieces, as well as many others: it is a selection from Breaking Ground, the COVID editorial project that Anne and I launched in 2020 as a news-cycle-responsive mini magazine, jointly produced with Plough and Comment as parent magazines.
There are many - SO many - other things in the works, and I did many other things I’m not thinking of now, and now it’s time for me to stop doing this and get ready for New Year’s Eve.
What Happened in 2022
2022 began in New York City. Having left a New Year’s Eve celebration early, we brought in the New Year together in Susannah’s family house. Although we had been in a relationship since March 2020 and Susannah had visited the UK five times over the course of it—the last time with her mum and dad—travel restrictions prevented Alastair from visiting New York until the end of 2021. Although Alastair had visited over thirty states, this was also his first time in New York and the heart of Susannah’s world. Alastair saw many of the sights, was introduced to many people, not least at Susannah’s church and at the Bruderhof community in Fox Hill, and we also watched the Sondheim show Company together.
Later in January, we went to the Theopolis Fellows Program together, Susannah’s first exposure to a Theopolis program and to Birmingham, Alabama. While Susannah is introducing Alastair to New York and parts of New England, Alastair, who has (much to his own satisfaction) visited many more parts of the US than Susannah, is concerned to show her regions of her own country that she has yet to see. We visited friends in DC on the way back.
Alastair’s visit to the US concluded with him getting down on one knee, in the butler’s pantry at Susannah’s house, and proposing. She said yes.
The wedding was scheduled for May. The next few months were filled with planning and lots of work, to ensure that we would be able to put work completely to one side for the period leading up to the wedding and for the honeymoon. In mid-April, Alastair returned to the US and we attended a session of Theopolis’ Civitas Forum, a group of scholars discussing postliberalism from a church-focused perspective. The Civitas group has been a refreshing and stimulating group of interlocutors; it is exciting to see the conversations of the past few years starting to bear more public fruit in the Civitas podcast and elsewhere.
The wedding was held on May 14th in the Armenian—named after Armenia, not Arminius—Evangelical Church of New York building in East 34th Street in Manhattan. It could not have been a happier day: neither of us remember much of the actual service, but we do remember appreciating the message, and Alastair met many members of Susannah’s extended family for the first time. After the wedding ceremony, we took photos in Central Park, where a random dance troupe requested to take a photo with us.
Our honeymoon was in Vienna and Cassis. Back in 2020, Susannah had visited Vienna after leaving the UK, just after we started our relationship, and revisiting the city was one of many ways in which it felt as though the first couple of months of our marriage formed a closing bookend for the intervening period of our relationship. There may be no better place in the world than Vienna for cafés, and we took full advantage of the fact! We met up with a few friends in the area too - Pater Edmund Waldstein, Red Zimmerman of the Bruderhof and his family. One of the highlights of our days in Vienna was a visit to the Prater amusement park, where we rode on the Giant Ferris Wheel and experienced the adrenaline of a near 100m drop!
Due to a mix-up in planning our AirBnb in Cassis, we had a night without accommodation, so we spent a night in Marseille with Mark and Alice, Alastair’s brother and sister-in-law, and their two daughters, Jane and Olivia. Alastair had never met Olivia before, so it was a delight to see her for the first time. And it was Susannah’s first experience of aunthood, which was very special.
We spent more time with Mark, Alice, and their family over our ten days in Cassis: the interspersing of our time together with time with them was wonderful. Easily one of the highlights of our time was a 13 km sea kayaking expedition along the white cliffs and the tranquil coves of the Calanques with Mark and Jane, the Mediterranean scintillating beneath a glorious blue sky. Our expedition began with several races to buoys, an eager Jane shouting “Allez!! Allez!!”. However, after she expended almost all her energy in such bursts she lay down beneath a towel on the floor of the kayak and left Mark to do all of the paddling.
Cassis is a picturesque Provençal seaside village to the south of Marseille. Nestled beneath the imposing Cap Canaille cliff, Cassis is filled with cafés, restaurants, ice cream stores, and various other establishments catering to a clientele formed mainly of richer tourists. It offers a perfect starting point for tours of the Calanques and the vertiginous and winding Route des Crêtes that leads to La Ciotat. We did an extremely detailed survey of locally available gelato.
Back in the UK, we went down to London to celebrate HM the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, standing outside of St Paul’s for the celebratory service. The next week, we visited Oxford, where we caught up with a number of different US friends who were visiting. In the weeks that followed we also visited York with Alastair’s brother and sister-in-law Peter and Fernanda and some friends from Durham.
Susannah was excited to discover the existence of Capability Brown-designed grounds less than ten minutes’ drive from our house, in the glorious Trentham Gardens. We visit the Gardens regularly when we are in Stoke. We are also fortunate to have several beautiful parks and other nature within easy walking distance of our house.
Having celebrated the Platinum Jubilee, it was only fitting to celebrate Independence Day and Alastair dressed up as an American for the occasion.
As we travel to and from the US frequently, it occurred to us that, as the cheapest flights are often those with long layovers in European cities, we should start to take advantage of the fact. We decided to travel back to the US by way of Oslo in Norway, where we enjoyed a packed seven hours walking through the city, taking a cruise up the fjord and visiting some of the museums.
Back in the US, Alastair spent a few days down in Birmingham for the Theopolis Ministry Conference, enjoying spectacular skies on the return flight.
We ended July in Mystic, Connecticut, as dozens of members of Susannah’s extended family descended upon the family’s lakeside property for a reunion. As it was Alastair’s first reunion, he had a representative leaf sewn onto the family tree tapestry and had to do a ceremonial jump off the end of the pier with Susannah. Especially memorable were the eighty plus lobsters that we had to prepare for the family’s celebratory meal! As Susannah’s mother recently bought a house next to the same lake, we stayed on for a couple of further days with her, enjoying the opportunity to canoe and explore the town of Mystic.
After our return to New York City, we had a few weeks to settle into something more resembling an ordinary pattern of life, making Susannah’s family house more of our home, developing a routine (lots of work in cafés and hotel lobbies), and spending time with various of Susannah’s friends and family in the city. We finally got around to visiting the Met Museum and also saw the magnificent Met Cloisters.
September began with us upstate, visiting Susannah’s dad and stepmom. Alastair experienced a US county fair for the first time on this trip. We also attended a Judy Collins and Richard Thompson concert at Tanglewood. Collins was a long-time friend of Susannah’s dad and stepmom, so we saw her backstage beforehand.
HM the Queen died in September and, together with a visit to the Twin Towers memorial on the twenty-first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we felt something of the weight of our historical moment and the need to rise to the occasion in whatever limited and small way that we can. This sense of resolve powerfully shaped our creation of our new Substack around the same time.
Just over a week later we returned to the UK, in part because we needed to attend the second annual UK Davenant Convivium, hosted by the evangelical training college, Oak Hill. The event was a testimony to the growing interest in and audience for the work of Davenant in the UK and was also an occasion for several new connections and friendships, not least with Tim Vasby-Burnie, with whom we travelled down and back. Tim is a vicar in Shrewsbury and, since the Davenant Convivium, he has been arranging get togethers of like-minded people in the West Midlands, most memorably a glorious walk on Long Mynd from Church Stretton in mid October. The weather was unseasonably pleasant and the scenery was truly spectacular. The Long Mynd is a moorland plateau from which you can descend into lush green valleys, with picturesque Shropshire villages.
We’ve done a lot of walking over the past few months, not least along the canals near to our home. Stoke-on-Trent’s industrial heritage is fascinating, and the local government has done a wonderful job in remaking the industrial landscapes into pleasure parks. We have appreciated the opportunity to deepen our knowledge of it. We also revisited Shrewsbury for another meet-up.
After our return to the UK, we both finally got to visit the Bruderhof’s Darvell community in East Sussex, spending a blessed couple of days with them at a very significant time for us as a couple. Visits to Bruderhof friends and communities have punctuated our lives together with rich times of spiritual refreshment and fellowship. We are very thankful for them.
My father celebrated his seventieth birthday at the beginning of October and Alastair’s brother Jonathan, his wife Monika, and their two children, Jeremy and Megan, travelled over from Hamburg for the occasion. Megan was especially excited to get to know her new aunt, with whom she shares an excessive love for Starbucks. The opening of a new Starbucks just down the road from our house in Stoke was truly a highlight of the year for Susannah!
November began with a week up in Alastair’s former haunts in Durham, where we were looking after our godson and his adorable ruby cavalier spaniel, who was treated to many miles of walking over the course of our stay. Durham is one of our very favourite places and we made the most of the opportunity to explore the city and enjoy its sites together during our visit. After Durham, we went down to London for a few days for a series of events. Being a city girl at heart, Susannah can never spend more than a month away from the lights, the noise, and the bustle of London or New York!
Susannah wanted to return to New York for an event at the start of Advent, and was due to fly out of the UK on Thanksgiving (unfortunately, due to travel delays, she missed her initial flight—ongoing rail strikes and delays were a feature of this stint in the UK).
Over the past month or so, we had been very actively participating in discussions of Christian politics online, especially in conversations surrounding the concept of ‘Christian Nationalism’ and a book called The Case for Christian Nationalism, which was released at the beginning of November. Earlier in the month, we had discovered that the closest collaborator of the author of this book was the author of a pseudonymous racist Twitter account and of articles on white nationalist websites. Concerned that such hateful sentiments and ideology was being advanced or harboured seemingly unchallenged among the leading voices of this movement, we determined, after prayer, extensive confirmatory research, and counsel, to bring it into the light. Alastair disclosed the existence of the pseudonymous Twitter account the day before Susannah left and much of the next few weeks were devoted to handling the fallout.
Before Alastair left, he had a visit from a dear friend from his period in Durham, who was seeing Stoke-on-Trent for the first time.
Shortly after Alastair’s return to New York, we spent a day with the Bruderhof community in Fox Hill, celebrating the season with a traditional feuerzangenbowle and various German Advent songs. We have had several parties and events with friends, family, and colleagues in the run-up to Christmas. Susannah has also been hard at work crafting and baking, making gifts for friends and relatives, decking the house, and cooking in preparation for the descent of twenty people for the Christmas day celebration.
We have bought, received, and read an incredible number of books over the past year. Over the Christmas period, Alastair finally got around to covering and cataloguing all the books he has accumulated on this side of the Atlantic over the past year—nearly 500 at this point. He has also written several lengthy articles, some of which have yet to be released.
Christmas Day itself was a boisterously joyful affair, with uncles, aunts, cousins, Susannah’s brother and sister-in-law, and assorted friends filling the house, playing games, eating, opening presents, and dancing.
Last night, after we finished our work, we returned to the Benoit New York, the restaurant where we ate on our wedding night, and reflected upon the experiences of our marriage to this point. Thinking back over 2022, we are keenly aware of how blessed we have been. The last few months have been rich and eventful, filled with joy, even through some struggles and sorrows.
We are so thankful for the gift that God has given us in each other, even happier together than we were on our wedding day, and excited about all that 2023 has in store for us. We are blessed beyond measure with loving family and friends, with rewarding and fruitful vocations, with answered prayers, and with many unexpected joys besides.
Thank you to all of you who have upheld us and our labours in your prayers, who have supported us, or who have been fellow travellers or collaborators with us. We are so grateful to and for you all!
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It seems right that No. 7 would be devoted to a review of creative activities.
Do you two ever have time to sleep? Busy. Love the pictures. THANKS.