What were the most-meaningful cultural influences of 2016? The Christ and Pop Culture 25 is a list of our favorite people, works of art, or cultural artifacts from the past 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. We’re counting down the list each day this week; stop back to see The 25 of 2016 take shape.
Throughout the year, our podcast The 25 provided a place for Christ and Pop Culture writers and friends to nominate powerful cultural artifacts and happenings from 2016. Nominations covered a wide array of potentials from film, television, music, games, Internet, and people. We then used our magic algorithm to compile those choices into a tentative list of around 30 items. Finally, a panel of six (aka, the CAPC 25 Council), 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.
Our final deliberations were recorded and produced into a two-part podcast in which you can hear exactly how the CAPC 25 Council determined the order and make-up of the 25 of 2016. Part one is available today; part two will be released later in the week so as to not spoil the surprise for the top spots.
13th by Ava DuVernay
“The film is heavy yet captivating.”
Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary 13th looks at the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery in 1865. Specifically, the film examines a clause embedded in the amendment that states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
DuVernay sees a criminality loophole within the language of emancipation. Her 100-minute documentary chronicles black criminality and prison policies in America from the passage of the 13th Amendment to the present. She argues that coded language, corporate lobbying, and racial division have placed mass incarceration on continuum with slavery for profit, power and for political gain.
The film is heavy yet captivating. DuVernay holds your attention with the compelling voices of her passionate pundits. The minutes move quickly as she mingles words with archival scenes and daunting numbers: the United States, which holds 5% of the world’s population, claims 25% of the world’s prisoners, or nearly 2.5 million men and women. 13th is a useful starting point for those who desire to grow in their awareness of and concern for racial justice issues like mass incarceration. — Nana Dolce
This Is Us
“[T]he Pearsons are at once radically distinctive and compellingly universal.”
NBC scored a hit (for critics and viewers alike) with its 2016 freshman series This Is Us, the network’s heir apparent to the family drama Parenthood. Presented in a creatively fragmented narrative format, This Is Us tells the story of the Pearson family, presenting them across space and time as they face the challenges of their unconventional family’s dynamics. In the best sense, the Pearsons are at once radically distinctive and compellingly universal: their own relational situation is unusual, yet the responses and emotions of people involved are in many ways recognizable to us all. The series serves as a reminder that, despite our culture’s individualistic mindset, we are all, in part, products of an inextricably intricate network of relationships and that the sins (and virtues) of past generations have real (and often unforeseen) implications for their children. These themes are nothing new, but the innovative storytelling method and the ease with which the cast embodies their characters combine to set This Is Us apart from the crowd. — Geoffrey Reiter
Jesse Williams’s BET Awards Speech
“[This] speech embodied the hopeful, defiant spirit of the modern justice movement.”
On June 26, Jesse Williams turned the BET Awards stage into a pulpit. His blistering Humanitarian Award acceptance speech embodied the hopeful, defiant spirit of the modern justice movement. Williams, a veteran actor and teacher, combined both the educational and entertaining elements of his professions to preach with poetic flare.
Perhaps the most remarkable element of his speech is the breadth of commentary Williams manages to slip into five minutes. Apart from the expected memorializing of dead black bodies turned hashtags, Williams pays homage to the important work of grassroots organizers (especially black women), while deftly firing back at short-sighted critiques of the Black Lives Matter movement. These lines alone would have been enough to inspire his audience, but he didn’t stop there.
At the peak of frenzied applause, Williams issues this redemptive challenge, “Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money — that alone isn’t gonna stop this.” His insightful words manage to surgically thread the needle of appreciating black excellence without neglecting the urgent virtue required for all to reach liberation. In 659 words, Jesse Williams used an unexpected medium to verbalize resistance and give the budding justice movement a definitive, inspiring moment. — Tyler Burns
“[T]his is not a feel-good personality test.”
Twenty-sixteen is the year we started hearing people casually toss out numbers as identifiers — “I’m a two; she’s a four; Donald Trump is an unhealthy eight.” This is the Enneagram, a personality typology that has been around for centuries — but is now being heard of, seemingly, everywhere. It splits personalities into nine different types: the reformer, the helper, the achiever, the individualist, the investigator, the loyalist, the enthusiast, the challenger, and the peacemaker. Instead of relying on a test, practitioners encourage the curious to read the descriptions of the types and choose the one that best describes them. They say the mark that you have found your type is by how much you wish that it wasn’t true.
As someone who rolls their eyes when people talk about Meyers-Briggs or the Strengths Finder, I was as shocked as anyone when I fell hard for this particular way of looking at people. But it has been incredibly practical for helping me own up to my own personality (I am a four who always wanted people to think I was a two). It’s been great for my marriage, for working in a nonprofit, and for getting along with family members. It helps us identify our core personalities and how we can best work together.
However, this is not a feel-good personality test. This is a helpful framework for identifying how you view the world and how to move toward a position of health instead of falling into the vices/stress patterns of your particular personality type. This is because the Enneagram is deeply connected to spirituality — both our inner fears (the lies we most strongly believe) and our sin natures (and the brokenness we are the most predisposed to). The sin thing is actually a huge part of the Enneagram — which makes it so fascinating that it is starting to have it’s moment in the cultural sun. Perhaps 2016, more than any recent year in history, made us collectively realize how the sin nature is prevalent in us all. While the Enneagram can’t fix everything, it can help us identify how to name and operate out of our true natures and how to start working on moving toward a place of health. That is as good of a place as any to start. — D. L. Mayfield
You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith
“[W]e can trace what we love by looking at our everyday practices.”
I read 188 books in 2016. After reflecting on what I read and what was most enjoyable and interesting, I created a short list of recommendations. Near the top was James K. A. Smith’s You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.
Smith has been writing about “cultural liturgies” across several of his books. These liturgies are the practices that we enact, knowingly or not, in the everyday rhythms of life. This could include, but isn’t limited to, trips to the shopping mall, going to sporting events, or attending concerts. His work builds on a variety of sources, but this book is the most accessible to the broader audience. It is also more focused on practical takeaways, particularly for pastors and worship leaders, but not in such a way that other audiences are neglected.
I tend to judge how good a book is by whether it sticks with me or is quickly forgotten. I also tend to value books that give me pause to reflect on my own life and habits. Smith’s book is both of these. His explanation of how we can trace what we love by looking at our everyday practices is perhaps the most thought provoking. It is difficult to digest what Smith offers without reflecting on the cultural practices and habits that shape your own life. This shaping can be for better or for worse, and Smith’s book provides the insights needed to examine them well. — Nate Claiborne