As any good premillienalist would believe, I think the world is spiraling downwards. The internet is full of cute puppies, and random acts of kindness, but you’d be hard pressed to convince me that the world is actually getting better. If your bubble was just burst, your vibe just killed… sorry. Kind of. Not really. But, never fear, for I have some good news. Jesus is risen! And he is coming back!
Also, here are some of the refreshing media rays of light of 2015 that gave some sense of redemption to the desolation that is the rest of the entertainment culture. In my opinion, here are some top candidates that are worth checking out, due to both superior quality and underlying message.
A multitude of great music came out in 2015. In fact, it’s the music industry that is giving me the most hope. From consistent bands like Muse to new bands like The Gray Havens to great returns like Adele, I’d say this year was pretty great for discography. I pulled a few of my favorite albums that met the requirements of being musically excellent (like really, only the very best here), lyrically heartrending, and then simply having general undertones of truth and beauty.
Wolves at the Gate – Reprise [EP]
I don’t know if I can rant enough about how sick this band is. Wolves at the Gate, a band based out of Ohio, is great if you’re looking for a consistent and talented metal band. If you’re not into the hardcore music, but are looking for a poignant and faithful worship band, you’re still in luck. Their 2015 release Reprise features an acoustic set with clean vocals. Their lyrics point to the band’s strong, principled beliefs in the Lord. I love this album because it’s straight gospel, straight truth. These tracks and this band reminds me of when Paul says in Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” Here’s one of my favorites from the album that is sung as a dialogue between the Father and the Son:
Twentyone Pilots – Blurryface
Also based out of Ohio, Twentyone Pilots is a two-man show who have recently started to hit it big. (Do yourself a favor and listen to their early albums, too.) Blurryface, while not explicitly Christian, almost certainly tells a story about Christian life. Because the lyrics are (probably intentionally) vague, song meaning can be difficult to interpret. However, given the band’s background and previous discography, it would make sense to interpret this album as a story of overcoming fear, anxiety, insecurities, and (I think) sin in general. Blurryface is an album about putting Blurryface to death. (Colossians 3, anyone?) You can read a fairly good and basic interpretation of the tracks here. This album is artistically excellent and engaging. If you listen well, this album will make you think and feel. It resonates. Here’s one of my favorite tracks from the album that seems to a cry to a sovereign and good God:
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens gets back to his folk-indie roots in this album. Like Blurryface, Carrie & Lowell also tells a story. A very raw story. This album is practically an autobiography, and spells out Sufjan’s struggles with his mother’s abandonment, sins, doubts, and grief over the loss of his late mother. So why is this included in my list of musical albums that give me hope? Well, because this artist is willing to be vulnerable, to sing about something real… and because he always battles his struggles with a faith in something bigger than himself. The lyrics and chock-full of Christian allusions and historical references that almost evoke an Old Testament-like hope. The running theme throughout this album is that even in overwhelming darkness, there’s still a reason to keep going. Honestly, I’m confused about how I feel about this album. It’s definitely somber, definitely harrowing. But boy it’s good. Here’s one of my favorite tracks:
Social Media Accounts
When scrolling through Twitter or Instagram, I could always count on these accounts to lift my spirits a bit. (These didn’t necessarily launch in 2015, but came to my attention in recent months.)
Augustine of Hiphop – @hiphopaugustine on Twitter
Rap lyrics and nerd-level theology. What more could you want? Weaving words straight from this early church figure and even sometimes Greek phrases, I have mad respect for whoever takes the time to come up with this stuff.
Matt Smethurst – @mattsmethurst on Twitter
Editor at The Gospel Coalition. His tweets are always encouraging and biblically faithful. I can count on his thread for deep insights from both him and other heroes of the faith. I’ve actually learned a lot from this guy, which is saying something, considering he only has 140 characters to convey a thought. He does social media well.
Socality Barbie – @socalitybarbie on Instagram
Hilariously displayed the sometimes-absurdity of social media hipsterdom. Our accounts can so often be used as a façade. This account was not just humorous, but it reminded us of something actually really important. There is a place for beauty and aestheticism… but there’s not a need to airbrush your life. This account is no longer positing, but is still worth a look.
I would love to see more substance from the movie industry. There were hints of it here and there, but all in all, I would say that while 2015 had some good movies (Steve Jobs, Mad Max, Star Wars, The Martian, etc.), there wasn’t much going on in this industry to really “restore faith in humanity.” I have yet to see Joy, In the Heart of the Sea, the Good Dinosaur, and Creed, and who knows what those will be like. Until then, here is one movie of 2015 that makes my list.
Yes, this film deserves a spot. The animation is superb, the concept is original, and all in all the film is powerfully moving, which is all the more admirable considering its younger target audience. Honestly, this movie might even make my list just because of the heroism of one character: Bing Bong. I think this movie is worth your time just to see this lovable, unexpected character make great sacrifices for someone he loves. His role is actually a deep and powerful one. Shoutout to this random pink elephant for bringing me to tears.
Well, still looking…
I usually prefer to spend my time on the tried and true classics, but some recent books really are great enough to grab my attention even in the midst of a busy senior year of college. Here are some reads of 2015 that are worth your time.
Jesus Outside the Lines by Scott Sauls
Christianity and culture are, for the most part, increasingly at odds. Sometimes I find it hard to refrain from bickering over polarizing issues. This book is incredibly relevant, incredibly convicting, and incredibly reorienting. It’s written in a way that’s easy enough to understand… the challenge will be letting it shape you. I’m still getting there. I recommend it for any Christian, especially for the culturally-engaged Christian.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Okay, this book was published in 2014. But it counts because it just won a Pulitzer Prize this year… right? This brilliantly crafted story will tear you to shreds. The reader follows the stories of two children in two very different circumstances in the midst of WWII. We’ve all heard stories of the great war, but this one is told in a way that I have not heard before. This book is all about sacrifice, the human spirit, and beauty beneath the surface. Its prose it’s just as good as its themes and this brief description could never do these 500 pages justice.
What’s in a Phrase? by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
Ok. Also 2014. But it won an award in 2015. Cut me some slack. I recommend this one for some bedside reading. In this book, McEntyre offers her thoughts on biblical phrases that catch our attention, some of my favorites being “to love kindness,” “born with water and the Spirit,” and “incline your ear.” It’s not necessarily sound theology, but it’s poetic and it’s God-honoring. It focuses your mind on what is right and good and true.
Do you have any good suggestions from 2015 that have helped you see beauty or truth? What are they? Please share!