The Christ and Pop Culture 25 is a list of our favorite people, works of art, or cultural artifacts from the last year that we feel best represent God’s truth and grace in the world. The list is extremely weird, a meandering, whiplash-inducing product of the diverse perspectives of our writers. We wouldn’t have it any other way. The goal of our list is to illuminate and appreciate the good both in and outside of the church, to show the way God uses Christians to shine a light on the world, and the ways God’s common grace spills out into the most surprising places.

Each of our writers submitted their top five choices for the categories of film, television, music, games, internet, and people. We then used our magic algorithm to compile those choices into a tentative list of around thirty items. Finally, a panel of four Christ and Pop Culture writers, each representing various perspectives and expertise, met over the internet for three plus hours to hash out exactly how the list should look.

While our list is in no way meant to be authoritative or objective, it is a serious attempt at appreciating culture, a task that is at the forefront of Christ and Pop Culture’s purpose.

We’ll be publishing five selections every day this week. On Wednesday and Friday, we’ll run a two-part podcast in which you can hear exactly how the CAPC25 Council determined the order and make-up of our list.

More Installments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5


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15 Radiolab
“A Sobering Tension Between Certainty and Mystery”

Radiolab is a podcast that turns a scientific ear to the world we live in. While there are episodes featuring researchers explaining science-y things like animal populations in the Galapagos islands, fossil records, and the language of dolphins, the show also explores things like the elusive concept of authenticity in hip hop and the ongoing impact of President Bush’s written response to the 9/11 attacks.

At the heart of the show is a typically playful but often sobering tension between certainty and mystery, transcendence and futility, and yes, science and faith. Hosts (and often foils) Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich generally push and pull toward a more objective or elusive understanding of the world, but always in the interest of finding something beautiful, warm, and true to rest in. In “Super Cool,” Jad holds out hope that a miraculous account of a sea’s instantaneous freeze could be true; Robert cackles as experts make the event sound possible but likely bogus. “In The Dust Of This Planet” traces the origins of a t-shirt worn in a Jay Z music video to a philosophical text, interviewing costume designers and cultural critics in search of a meaningful connection to today’s nihilistic pop culture.

The show’s production is the best in podcasting. Gorgeous soundscapes become powerful narrative elements that are at turns lyrical, organic, and digital, bolstering the cast’s perfectly paced storytelling. The subtle audible details brought to the surface allow the listener to share in the wonder of the show’s hyper-curious, creative staff.

In a climate where the staunchest proponents of both science and faith have little use for the other, Radiolab is a welcoming safe haven for believers caught in the middle. The show embraces the tensions Christians so often face, and exhibits genuine affection toward those who are able to investigate God’s creation without abandoning their faith in Him. – Cray Allred


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14 Calvary
“Persistence Is the Alchemy That Transforms”

Here’s the thing about Christlike love: it always seems simple and straightforward at first. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”—roger that, Jesus. Next time I see someone looking sad and lonely at church, I’ll make sure to invite him back to my house for Sunday dinner. Done and done. But things hit a snag once we realize just how unlovable we all can be. I mean, have you seen the human race lately?

What makes Calvary such a lovely film is, paradoxically, its commitment to depicting characters who are absolutely ugly. Brendan Gleeson’s Father James shepherds perhaps the most wayward parish in Ireland, and that’s before one of his parishioners opens the film by promising to murder him within a week. With that threat hanging over his head, Father James devotes himself over the next seven days to the same people who have no interest in godliness or even in reciprocating his graciousness. It’s not an easy road for him to tread; his flock includes everyone from sneering atheists to a convicted serial killer, and Father James is no saint. He persists, though, and that persistence is the alchemy that transforms Calvary’s ugliness to beauty.

That’s part of what makes Christ’s forgiveness so glorious: not just the forgiveness itself but the persistence with which he offers it. The wonder of John Michael McDonagh’s film is that it makes me aware all over again of how much I need that forgiveness. I watch the last scene of Calvary and sense a three-word sentence hovering silently just beyond the final frame. It might as well be directed right at me. – Kevin McLenithan

 


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13 Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor
“Raw People, Knocked Around and Under Too Much Strain to Gussy Themselves Up”

Christians who love books are dealt a rough hand. Most Christian fiction is starchy, not clearly situated in relation to a world of people who eat, fart, and have sex; literary fiction in a secular mode rarely finds room for people of faith except when they provide a useful foil for developing another, more sympathetic, more central character. Cardboard angels or savage idiots: basically, that’s our menu.

Of course this assessment is idiotic and sweeping and lazy and etc. I mean, of course it is. It doesn’t work as analysis. It’s rather meant to capture a sentiment I find to be prevalent among my literary friends. Many of us are starved for characters of faith that don’t fall into one of the buckets described above.

This, at least, is a first go at understanding why Kyle Minor’s book Praying Drunk has so deeply affected many of us. We were starved for fiction like this, and we knew it.

Minor is an exile from American evangelicalism who writes semi-autobiographical fiction that cuts and scalds. Praying Drunk is a beautiful, jagged, and forceful book. The central conceit is that a man “in literal Baptist heaven, sitting on a cloud,” is trying to make sense of the life he had on earth by telling and retelling stories. Characters and events recur; when they do they change, accruing meaning and intensity as they do.

There are many bodies in this book. There are suicides, unsuccessful fights with cancer, murders, and then there are the spiritual deaths—the sudden ends to relationships, the passing out of sight and memory, the abandoning of belief.

Raw people, knocked around and under too much strain to gussy themselves up: these are the characters that populate these stories, and what a miracle it is that those who are Christians are allowed to be human beings too. – Martyn Wendell Jones


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12 Anita Sarkeesian
“Suffering in the Way That Pioneers Tend to Do”

In her Feminist Frequency series of videos, media critic Anita Sarkeesian examines female tropes in video games. She looks at the way women are portrayed visually and in the plots of the games themselves, whether they are primary or ancillary characters, for example. None of this may seem particularly relevant to those of us existing outside the world of gaming, because this is just what critics do. They peer closely at culture from a specific point of view and make their analysis public. But inside the gaming subculture, Anita Sarkeesian’s work hasn’t been well-received. Many gamers disagree with the idea that misogyny in games is a problem. In fact, many gamers disagree with Anita Sarkeesian so vehemently they have threatened to rape and kill her. Repeatedly. In public, private, inventive, intentional, designed ways, gamers have repeatedly threatened Anita Sarkeesian’s life.

As gaming, now a multi-billion dollar industry with nearly two billion players worldwide (many of whom are women) continues to expand, the industry’s players are adjusting to the spotlight, moving from subterranean subreddit subcultural status to the aboveground glare of the mainstream.

Anita Sarkeesian is a pioneer in this regard and, not to put too fine a point on it, has suffered in the way that pioneers tend to do, even cancelling an appearance at Utah State University in October because of a threatened shooting massacre if she spoke at the University’s Center for Women and Gender as scheduled. Agree with her or not, 2014 just might be a watershed year, the moment when gamers realize that the growth of their industry cannot outpace its development. If gamers want to enjoy the technological advances of this present age, they need to participate in its societal advances as well, including this: women have the right to expect agency in the world they inhabit, virtual or otherwise. – S. D. Kelly


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11 Noah
“A ‘Non-Christian’ Approach to the Flood Story”

There’s no denying that Darren Aronofsky’s take on the story of the Flood is far from orthodox. Drawing from extra-Biblical sources in addition to the Biblical text, Aronofsky creates an antediluvian world of rock-encrusted fallen angels, proto-industrial societies, and supernatural snakeskin. At times, it seems like something more akin to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies than a “traditional” Bible movie. But therein lies its strange power.

I confess, in all of my readings of this story, I never gave much thought to, say, the terror that Noah and his family might’ve felt at seeing God pour out His wrath on a sin-riddled world. Nor did I give much thought to just how depraved mankind must have been to make God do such a thing. Aronofsky pulls no punches with regard to the details, whether it’s brutal scenes of those outside the ark crying for help as the waves wash them away, or graphic—yet not gratuitous—depictions of human fallenness run unchecked.

Noah confronts us with the hard truths found in Scripture—truths that Christians might be tempted to brush aside or sanitize due to familiarity or perhaps a desire to make the Bible “cleaner” or more palatable. By taking a “non-Christian” approach to the Flood story, Aronofsky allows Christians to see an all-too familiar story in a new light. Even with its flaws (and there are many), that alone makes me appreciative of Aronofsky’s effort. – Jason Morehead

 


Illustrations courtesy of Seth T. Hahne. Check out Seth’s graphic novel and comic review site, Good Ok Bad.