December 2, 2020

Looking Forward, Looking Back

My, my. Another year come and gone. Who won the World Series? Not my Reds? Then who cares?

2011 was the most trying year of my life. And the most incredible. It’s one thing to say that one knows the Lord is always faithful. It’s another to rediscover it anew every day. And as I have come to know the Lord as “always faithful” through the trials of 2011, I would have to say it has been a great year.

Not everything was rough this year. There were many bright spots on my journey. So, without further ado, allow me to share with you my own personal “Best of 2011.”

Best Meal: I used to travel quite a bit, and have been able to eat at some really good out-of-the way places. (I hate chain restaurants. If I am in San Francisco, why do I want to eat at Olive Garden? It will taste the same as the Olive Garden in Tulsa or Nashville or Portland, Maine. I don’t want to eat at any of them…) Now, I’m not traveling as much, but I did have several memorable meals this year. Butterfield’s in Scottsdale, Arizona was amazing. Orange juice comes to your table about one minute after it was squeezed. Great menu of fun breakfast dishes that you have to ask God to forgive you for eating. And to add to my experience, I got to meet the McNeeley family, faithful iMonks all. Great food, great company equals a great meal.

Runners Up: I made a trip to Dallas one Sunday afternoon—a three and a half hour drive—so I could have a Double-Double (animal style) at In N Out. Worth every mile. I took another trip in November with my friend Vic to Ohio for a Bengals game. Our first stop in Dayton was at Five Guys’ Burgers. Amazing burger. Almost made up for the Bengals losing to the pagan Steelers.

Best Holiday: The last Saturday in February is the holiest of all holy days. It is the day when Holland Hall,a private school here in Tulsa, holds its annual book fair. Thousands of books to choose from. You go in, grab an empty box, and start filling it. The doors open at 8—my friend Mike and I are there at 6. And when the doors open, Mike will look at me and say, “Once we’re inside, I don’t know you.” What a great day!

Runner Up: Fourth of July. I love going back to Centerville, Ohio to MC the Americana Parade. Upwards of 70,000 people line the street to hear me tell them that they are now looking at firetrucks. Always a fun day.

Best Movie: Ok, I don’t go to the movies all that often. I told myself that I would go see the new Harry Potter as soon as it came out. Then I decided to wait until it came to the dollar theater. Then I gave up and waited for it to come to Redbox. That’s when I finally saw it. And it was a very good movie. But the best movie I saw this year was Cars 2 (at the dollar theater!). Adam Palmer disagrees with me, but I think this to be a fun and sometimes very insightful flick.

Runner Up: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.  A good ending to a good series.

Best Video Game: How should I know? I don’t have any idea how to play these games. I don’t have a game system and I don’t have time to play them even if I did. But I do sell a ton of them at my Target.

Runner Up: How ’bout a nice game of Boggle?

Best Album: Ok, this is my list, so I get to make the rules. Yes, there were some good releases in 2011. Glen Campbell’s Ghost On The Canvas is amazing work for an artist who is quickly slipping away from us. Wilco’s The Whole Love has some very good moments and is imminently listenable. I listened to New York Hymns’ Songs For Lent over and over. Yet there were two albums I discovered this year that stand above them all. One was released in 2011—Bad As Me by Tom Waits. You have to go back to Rain Dogs to find him in better form. If you want to learn why Waits is considered a musical genius, this is a great place to start. My other favorite was released in 2006, but I didn’t hear it until this year. (Hey, like I said, this is my list!)  The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife cannot be put into any particular category. Pop? Yes. Folk? Yes. Prog-rock? Absolutely. I listen to it constantly. Well done, Colin Meloy and crew. Enjoy this song from The Crane Wife.

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Runners Up: The others mentioned above.

Best Book: Ok, now we get to it. To be honest, I don’t get to read as much as I used to. Not enough time in the day, and I can’t stay up late at night very often any longer. Age will do that to you. (When the ball drops at Times Square Saturday night, I’ll be snoring in my bed. I figure the new year can get here without me having to stay up to be sure it does.) But I did read a couple of really good books this year. I didn’t read much fiction this year. Again, just no time. I read an Agatha Christie mystery—my first of hers—on my Kindle that was fun. The Murder at the Vicarage: A Miss Marple Mystery, if I recall correctly. And I read Richard Peck’s A Long Way From Chicago (bought at the Holland Hall Book Fair for a dollar!) and loved that. Before I get to my favorite book of 2011, let me give you the …

Runner Up: Mark Galli gets better and better every time his fingers hit the keyboard. His latest, Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit, is one that I could only read in small bites. It is like a scalpel God used to reach deep into my heart. Just when I think I have it all figured out, God lets me know I am still at square one in my own thoughts. Galli helps me to see God, not as I think he is, but as he knows himself to be. I hope to have a review of this book sometime soon in the new year.

Best Book: Brennan Manning is slipping away from us. He is very close to the veil right now, the veil that separates us from our next step in eternity. Years of alcohol and hard living have taken their toll. Yet he was able to summon the strength to give us this one last offering. All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir is not a complete autobiography—Manning tells us right up front that he is not going to go into a lot of details of his past. But what we do get to see is an amazing glimpse of true grace. Yes, we hear many of the stories we have heard in his other books, but some have different twists to them. We are not given a list of things we must do to comprehend God’s grace. We are shown the life of a broken, sin-filled man who walked a life of grace. I cannot wait to read this again.

Ok, there it is. My list of favorites. And the great thing is I get to start over come this Sunday. Celebrate the faithfulness of the God of great, scandalous grace as you ring in the new year. But please, do it quietly. I’ll be asleep.




  1. Jeff, don’t be hating on the Steelers, now. They’re all I have left since the Dolphins have been belly-up for more than a decade and the Colts have gone into a tailspin without Manning at the helm.

    My version of your Holland Hall book fair here in Virginia is the Green Valley Book Fair, which runs for 15 days every six weeks between March and December. My excuse for getting to go at least twice a year is that I’m taking one of my English classes on a field trip! 😉

  2. As a Cowboy fan I can wholeheartedly agree with you about the truly pagan nature of that Steelers franchise. Here, here! I like those Decemberists too. Happy New Year with all that God has for you.

  3. Gail McNeeley says

    Hey, Breakfast Brother! Rich and I enjoyed reading this; we like to know your thoughts and opinions, so this is a treat! Especially since you named Butterfield’s as the place you had your best breakfast meal! We SO enjoyed that time with you and your 2 buddies! Maybe we can go again sometime and I will brush up on my Agatha Christie reading. A few years ago I read everything of hers that I could get my hands on! On another note, we’ve prayed for you through this year and HOPE that 2012 is just as amazing, but maybe without so much trauma. We just love you bunches. Hugs, Gail

  4. Sorry chief. Any team whose fans holler Who Dey instead of the more poetic Who Dat deserves to lose…

  5. Glad you liked them, but I hate to tell you that In N Out and Five Guys are chain restaurants . . . 😉

    • In N Out is family-owned, not franchised. Five Guys is franchised. I will make an exception for them…

      • Jeff-

        5 Guys is Headquartered I believe in the Washington, D.C. area. That’s where they come out of…I see them everywhere when I am in DC. They are a part of the local culture.

  6. Foo Fighter’s “Wasting Light” was a great album from this year, winning the Rolling Stones Reader’s poll best album award.

  7. Richard McNeeley says

    I am so glad we could be a part of your best meal. Butterfields is one of our favorite places to eat when we are in Scottsdale. Next time you are in Arizona we will have some other places to recommend.

  8. my favorite book of the year was one I read during the Christmas season. It was Jacob T. Marley, a re-telling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol from Marley’s point of view. It sort of gave a behind the scenes story about what was happening to Scrooge that Christmas Eve.

    My favorite movie of the year was Kung Fu Panda 2. I saw it so many times, when it came to the dollar theaters.

  9. MelissatheRagamuffin says

    I don’t think I bought any albums that actually came out in the last year.

  10. Anyone see “The Way”? It’s the Emilio Estevez-directed story of a father (a terrific Martin Sheen) whose estranged son was killed in a storm just as he (the son) had begun to walk El Camino de Santiago. Dad, a hitherto color-in-the-lines California dentist, travels to France to collect the remains and, on impulse, commits to walking The Way himself. A motley crew of fellow pilgrims assembles around him, and… well, the rest is in the movie. IMDb calls this a 2010 flick, but it didn’t open in the US till the Fall of 2011. Deeply touching story; highly recommended.

  11. My son gave me Tom Wait’s “Bad As Me” for Christmas, and I’m listening to it tonight for the first time. It is a very good album.

  12. You know for what its worth I am kind of surprised that Philip Yancey isn’t recommended more on this site. His books are quite raw, amazing and he tackles many questions that Fundagelicals avoid with a passion. With deep books on God and the problem of pain and suffering, to being disappointed with God; to his book Soul Survivor in which he talks about how he almost lost his faith and is compelled to write after his brother walked away from it. I’m surprised he’s not recommended more on this website.