A Review of
Charting Our Future in a Pandemic Year
Anne Snyder and Susannah Black, Eds.
Reviewed by Leslie Starasta
Opening Breaking Ground: Charting Our Future in a Pandemic Year, one of the first observations readers make is that each essay begins with a date. This date is significant as it grounds each essay in that specific moment of time causing the reader to recall where they were and what they were doing on that same date. For example, reading about Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd’s murder, protests in Portland, Oregon, the 2020 Presidential elections, and the January 6 capital insurrection immediately conjured images of participating in those events or viewing them in real-time from home. Other essays are not tied closely to a specific event but focus on themes and universal experiences from the year such as family, vaccines, and economic changes. The insights provided by the essays offer the opportunity to reflect on the lived experiences with the advantage of a wide-angle lens.
Reading these essays is not a quick or uplifting experience. The essays require slow, thoughtful reading and consideration due to both heavy subject matter and the academic and thoughtful tone of each essay. The essays are beautifully written and exhibit fluidity in moving from modern topics as they were occurring to philosophical topics of justice and virtue and quoting ancient philosophers with ease. Many of the contributors are names well-known to readers such as N.T. Wright and Mark Noll. Others were unfamiliar and resulted in new authors being added to a growing list of individuals to follow and their books added to a never-ending to-be-read pile. As such, Breaking Ground serves not only as a well-developed panoramic view into this twelve-month time-period but also serves as an induction to a way of thinking and a group of thinkers. Although all essays are from a Christian-humanistic lens, it is important to note that authors include individuals of other religious backgrounds as well including Jewish and Muslim.
In addition to a diverse list of contributors, Breaking Ground has pulled together a significant list of partner organizations which include numerous think tanks and institutes. In the essay “Breaking Ground: Christian Civic Humanism for a World Renewed,” editor Susannah Black writes that “theologically orthodox, these groups and individuals—American, English, and Canadian—are otherwise varied in their political approaches, theological stream, civil sphere, and civic mission.” This is an important reminder that these essays are not monolithic or homogenous in the views presented. Readers will be challenged to think carefully and to consider other viewpoints. As such, joining with others to read and reflect on the essays would be time well-spent.
Breaking Ground: Charting Our Future in a Pandemic Year is highly recommended. Readers will benefit from reading these essays now as we continue to work through the time frame covered in Breaking Ground and as we enter a third COVID-19 year. Beyond immediate reading, Breaking Ground has created an important and much needed look at responses to the events of this time-period as they were occurring which will be used in the future as primary source documents to study this period.