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.
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.
“Game over and everybody loses”
When ESPN announced it was shutting down Grantland at the end of October, no one was surprised. It was easy to see the signs – Bill Simmons, Grantland’s founder, left ESPN earlier in the year for HBO, and four of the site’s top editors departed in September to join him. The closure seemed inevitable and then, seemingly overnight, it happened. Even so, when news about the closure came, I didn’t know how to feel. Popular websites aren’t supposed to just, you know, stop. What made the shutdown truly sting is that Grantland was the place where you’d find high-level sports journalism mixed with some of the oddest, finest, and flat-out most interesting pop culture writing on the internet. Nothing was off-limits: for every oral history of the worst moment in NBA history, we could revel in the glorious geekdom of Jurassic Park’s Blu-ray release. For every glimpse into a coach’s former life, we were given devastatingly beautiful film essays. It was a place where attention was paid equally to lumberjack sports and to rappers with cookbooks. Now that ESPN has declared it’s “getting out of the pop culture business,” it’s the Foster Wallace-esque mixture of unexpected and brilliant glimpses of humanity we’ll miss the most. We only had four years with Grantland, but we’ll always remember.
14 The Blue/Gold Dress
“When it comes to a dress, we want absolute truth”
The Internet offered all of us a mid-winter distraction back in February, one The Washington Post described as the “drama that divided a planet.” What could cause such a raucous? No, it wasn’t the horrors of human trafficking or fear of climate change or atrocities of genocide—it was the color of a dress.
It all began when a woman posted a photograph of the dress she planned to wear to an upcoming wedding. Some people thought it looked blue and black; others thought it looked white and gold. And some people saw the colors morph the longer they looked at it. Debates raged for days as the photo was shared millions of times.
Although the dress truly was blue and black in real life, the lighting and exposure of the photo was the root of all the trouble. In the end, we learned about color blindness, color perception, and chromatic adaptation. But we still wanted someone in authority to pronounce winners and losers. And we wanted to be in the right.
If anything, the dress kerfuffle of 2015 was proof that absolute truth still has a place in society, as long as it serves our own purposes.
13 Russell Moore
“A powerful gospel voice in American society”
In a recent interview with Christianity Today, Russell Moore noted: “Christians are becoming aware that there’s a large portion of society who would be relieved if all the evangelicals were raptured.”
While this sentiment is certainly striking, especially from the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, it’s not surprising if you know anything about Moore. Since becoming the head of the ERLC in 2013—an entity of the SBC dedicated to engaging public policy—Moore hasn’t seemed alarmed at Christianity’s “falling stock.” He has, however, tried to keep it from happening for all of the wrong reasons.
2015 saw Moore take a stand on a number of controversial issues often ignored by evangelicals. He made a case against the Confederate flag (which quickly went viral), spoke out about racial reconciliation, and called for Christians to love their Syrian refugee neighbors. His work landed him on the cover of Christianity Today’s September issue, as well as the Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year award for his work Onward.
Moore’s influence hasn’t been confined to the corridors of the SBC either. In the last year, adherents from across various denominations and fellowships (including this Assemblies of God minister) looked to Moore as a powerful gospel voice in an American society that badly needs it.
Sure, the church might be losing political steam, but maybe, as Moore has illustrated in 2015, this just could be the opportunity God’s been planning all along.
12 Hamilton, An American Musical
“Our hip-hop founding father”
You know something’s up when the original cast recording of a Broadway musical hits #1 on Billboard’s Rap Chart—especially when that musical is the story of America’s very white, very patriarchal colonial history. But that’s exactly what happened in November of this year.
Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also plays the lead), Hamilton tells the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton, who—to quote the show’s opening lines—was a “bastard, orphan, son of a whore/ And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot/ In the Caribbean by Providence.” Despite his lack of credentials, Hamilton capitalizes on his street savvy, his natural ability with language, and an almost insatiable ambition to become a key player in the founding of the United States. And suddenly you begin to understand why Miranda chose hip-hop to tell his story.
But Miranda pushes his audience even further by casting minorities in the roles of the founding fathers. As he puts it, Hamilton is “today’s America telling the story of yesterday’s America.” And it couldn’t have come at a better time. In a year that has seen the United States more divided than ever, when debates about immigration and race and merit dominate the headlines, Hamilton is an ounce of common grace. Hearing “today’s America” sing of the freedom, courage, and hard work of “yesterday’s America” reminds us that the founding fathers’ ideals extend beyond themselves to all the citizens of these United States.
11 The Families of the Charleston Shooting Victims
“A brief but striking hiatus from the rage”
Let’s be honest, the dominant feelings of 2015 were strongly, and deservedly, negative after a year filled with explosive numbers of mass shootings, terrorist attacks, college protests and homophobic or racist conversations.
A brief but striking hiatus from the rage was the reaction by the families of the nine victims of the likely racially-motivated Charleston, S.C. mass shooting. After 21-year-old Dylann Roof entered Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a mid-week Bible study in June with a gun, firing indiscriminately, relatives of those killed forgave.
Despite the alleged racist murder of Ethel Lance, 70, her daughter Nadine Collier told Roof in the courtroom: “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
Alana Simmons lost her grandfather to Roof’s bullets. “We are here to combat hate-filled actions with love-filled actions. And that is what we want to get out to the world,” she said.
Bethane Middleton-Brown lost her sister. “I acknowledge that I am very angry,” she said. But her sister taught her “that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating.”
Four days following the shooting, the small congregation courageously acted in “spirit and in truth” – they opened their church doors wide.
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