7 People I'd Buy Dinner for in 2020

It’s the end of a year and the beginning of another. Thus come the lists of bests and worsts and favorites and least favorites and so on and so on.

I was tempted to do a couple on music (favorite song is Dean Lewis’ “Don’t Hold Me” or Alec Benjamin’s “Must Have Been the Wind”) or movies (“The Two Popes”) or TV shows (“The Mandalorian,” obvs). But as I was thinking about what I really want, what I most desire, it’s not more movies or music or TV. It’s time and conversation with people.

Thus I present you with my 2019 end-of-year list: The Seven People I Want to Buy Dinner For in 2020. They’re split into three categories.

First: People, sadly, I won’t be able to because they’re no longer with us.

Rachel Held Evans: Here’s what I wrote about her when she passed away in May:

As a writer myself, I love her style of mixing emotional self-reflection with life story, biblical application with textual criticism. She was both humorous and intellectual, realistic and self-deprecating. I want to write like her, to turn phrases with emotional impact and spiritual depth while pointedly approaching problems she sees. She wrote with compassion, understanding the reality of life as a Christian and a human, not taking any crap while seeing people’s flaws and elevating them [the people, not the flaws].

By all accounts, she was a wonderful person as well.

I’d want to take her and her husband to dinner with my wife and I. We’d talk about growing up evangelical, being Bible know-it-alls, going through significant faith changes and being a writer. That last part, particularly. Maybe she’d let me write a book with her. Or maybe she’d just read something I wrote and give me a good piece of writing advice.

Jarrid Wilson: Here’s what I wrote about him after his reported suicide in September:

This was a guy who, the day before his suicide was reported, wrote on Twitter, “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.”

He was so, so, so, so right. And he lived that message! He was the guy who more-or-less singlehandedly, just through his presence on social media, helped me believe that it was OK to be a Christian who had depression and anxiety, that my mental illnesses did not disqualify me from being loved by God and loved by Jesus. 

By all accounts, he was a good guy too.

We’d talk, if he was willing, about writing and mental health, our own struggles and how Jesus loves us through it. With his permission, of course, we’d scheme about ways to raise awareness of mental illness and mental health in Christian culture and walk out planning to save some lives.

Second: People who are alive who are way too famous and/or busy for me to realistically have a chance to dine with them.

Andy Mineo: I enjoyed Andy’s music when he first landed on the Christian rap scene earlier in the 2010s, but it’s his latest stuff that’s really helped me appreciate his life and journey and our similarities. Maybe he could give me some writing pointers as well. But mostly, like Rachel, he speaks my language:

Yeah, built my life on this (huh)
Half my adult life like unlearnin’
Lies that I heard in a dumb sermon
What I unearth got me uncertain
More knowledge and more sorrow
Worryin’ that never fixed tomorrow

Andy Mineo, “Clarity”

Jon Bellion: I discovered him and his music this year. While he’s not my favorite, there’s a couple songs of his that just cut to my core like good songs do. I’d want to pick his brain on creativity and the music industry, how on earth he got such a good voice and what the inspiration for songs like “Human” is:

I always fear that I’m not living right
So I feel guilty when I go to church
The pastor tells me I’ve been saved, I’m fine
Then please explain to me why my chest still hurts

Jon Bellion, “Human”

Pete Enns: Pete wrote a book that radically helped shape my perception of the Bible this year. I wrote about it here. I’d want to get into the weeds a little bit on the academic and nerdy side of faith, but also learn how the academic connects to the trusting, spiritual side of things. He also seems like a pretty funny guy. I had a couple minor qualms with the book — that’s what writers do — but I also really liked it. I’d still ask him for writing advice.

Whatever else we do, and especially with issues that generate so much conflict, wisdom must be pursued by all and invited to take a prominent place in these discussions — if only so that they may remain discussions and not an exercise in lobbing back and forth ‘clear’ Bible verses as grenades. Using Bible verses to end discussions on difficult and complex issues serves no one and fundamentally misses the dimension of wisdom that is at work anytime we open the Bible anywhere and read it.

Pete Enns, “How the Bible Actually Works”

Pete Holmes: His book “Comedy Sex God” was one of the more enjoyable reads I had this year. He’s a comedian and actor, but my favorite thing he does is his podcast “You Made It Weird.” He interviews actors, comedians and authors about their line of work and various other things, but he always ends with faith and religion. The conversations are enlightening and hilarious. I’d want to have a similar one. I’d want to talk about growing up a Christian, growing up a white Christian male, where he’s at with his faith now and what marriage is like for him — he was married young, divorced after his wife left him and got re-married a few years ago.

Faith isn’t certainty, it’s adventure, something you’re going to come back from dusty and bruised, having seen and done things you never would have even considered before.

Pete Holmes, “Comedy Sex God”

The last category is the people I know for sure I can buy dinner for this upcoming year.

My wife. No explanation needed. She’s the best.