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Our Favorite Stories of 2014: The Editors’ Picks

Our Favorite Stories of 2014: The Editors’ Picks

In 2014, RELEVANT’s features, interviews, reviews and editorials reached more readers than any other year in the company’s history, so picking a list of our 10 favorites wasn’t easy.

The editors recently sat down to choose 10 pieces from the print magazine and website that were their personal favorites, with topics ranging from pop culture and current events to spiritual growth and the church.

We also want to hear what you think. Let us know in the comments section what your favorite pieces were, and what made them so memorable.

“How I Rediscovered Faith” by Malcolm Gladwell

What I understand now is that I was one of those people who did not appreciate the weapons of the spirit. I have always been someone attracted to the quantifiable and the physical. I have always believed in God. I have grasped the logic of Christian faith. What I have had a hard time seeing is God’s power.

“I put that sentence in the past tense because something happened to me when I sat in Wilma Derksen’s garden. It is one thing to read in a history book about people empowered by their faith. But it is quite another to meet an otherwise very ordinary person, in the backyard of a very ordinary house, who has managed to do something utterly extraordinary.

“Is Peace Possible?” by Cameron Strang

There is an opportunity—and need—for the Church to raise the global alarm for peace in the Holy Land. But the window is closing, and the situation is increasingly dire. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has initiated a new round of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, has acknowledged that without rapid progress, the future will be bleak.

Daniel Seidemann, founder and director of Israeli peace organization Terrestrial Jerusalem, speaks more bluntly: “There is a war about to break out.”

“We’re not necessarily talking weeks, but certainly not many years,” he continues. “There’s a war out there waiting to break out, and it just hasn’t decided where and over what, but we are living in a bubble. And that bubble will burst.”

It’s a problem that hits closer to home than many in the Church might think.

“Nick Offerman: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Awesomeness” by Tyler Huckabee

In some ways, it’s difficult to separate Offerman from Ron Swanson—creator from creation. And Offerman himself admits the line between he and Swanson is a thin one.

“Some young ladies in airports will approach me trembling and they’ll say, ‘Ron Swanson?’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, no. My name is Nick. I’m an actor. I play Ron Swanson, among other roles.’” He pauses and chuckles a little. “And, you know, they don’t care. So then I usually say, ‘All right, give me all the bacon and eggs you have.’”

However, Offerman is far less curmudgeonly than his Parks and Rec counterpart, and he’s gifted with a frequently astonishing vocabulary. But the differences are more than superficial. There is a depth to Offerman that defies not only the character he’s come to be associated with, but the Hollywood stereotype as a whole.

We call our celebrities “stars” because of their stratospheric glamor. Offerman, however, seems bound and determined to keep his feet on the ground. And he wants to teach the rest of the world do the same.

“Justice for Black Lives Must Begin With Us” Part 1 and Part 2 by Propaganda

“Race was God’s idea, He made us different on purpose, and our differences are part of the story of redemption. So a race issue is a Gospel issue, just like abortion’s a Gospel issue, just like poverty’s a Gospel issue.”

“The pushback I’m getting is people responding to particular facts and how to deal with facts. I can only respond to them, ‘I’m not even arguing the facts. What I’m saying is, there is a nation of people hurting, and who are you to tell them that they don’t feel pain?’ Through the whole thing, as far as Christians are concerned, I’m looking at you and I’m going, ‘You of all people should put your arm around a hurting person. You don’t need to know why they hurt.'”

“6 Heretics Who Should be Banned from Evangelicalism” by Tylor Standley

To be clear, there is no problem with publicly denouncing ideologies. It is, at times, necessary to publicly call out false teachers. However, one must fully consider whether they promote a different gospel before coming forward with such a bold claim.

But we’re not talking about denouncing ideas or exposing real false teachers. We’re talking about needless schisms and inconsistent, prideful exclusivism.

Self-appointed gatekeepers of evangelicalism tear apart what could be a noble, diverse movement of the Spirit. These gatekeepers take it upon themselves to pronounce who is “in” and who is “out” of orthodox Christianity.

By the standards of these gatekeepers, the definition of “evangelical” is becoming increasingly narrow, so much so that very few fit inside the definition.

So, if we are going to be consistent, it’s time to weed out all of the “heretics.” Let’s start with these 6.

“The Amazing Reese” by Tyler Huckabee

And, according to Witherspoon, it wasn’t just those who had made it out of the camps that changed her view on refugees. The people in the camp were far different than she expected, as well.

“A really remarkable thing about it is the joy and the determination of these people to rise above, their determination for them to have a better life for their children,” she says. “Their spirit is just incredible. They greet you with joy and laughter and hugs and dancing.”

When asked how this journey—this knowledge—affected her, Witherspoon doesn’t hesitate to answer. It’s something she’s clearly considered.

“You don’t have to be a perfect person to do something great for somebody else,” she says. “The imperfections in your life might be helped by the process of meeting and helping and creating community for people who are displaced. It’s not just for the saints of the world. We can all do something.”

“For Pete’s Sake” by Jesse Carey

“I’m not burdened with the label of ‘pastor.’ Nobody would ever confuse me with a pastor. But I still see comedy as an opportunity to sometimes inject some positivity,” he says. “So, the Christian in me likes to consider comedy a ministry. I do think it ministers to people.”

“What it Takes to Free a Sex Slave” by Matt and Laura Parker

Next to Sarah, the brothel owner bartered her price. He offered my partner, an undercover national investigator, sex with Sarah at a premium because she was still considered “fresh.”

Sarah, a native of a neighboring country, was 15 years old. Her mother had recently sold her to pay off a family debt. Sarah’s virginity had brought her trafficker $600 just three days earlier.

As you might imagine, I felt rage. The only hope I had in that moment was knowing our interaction with Sarah’s pimp was being captured by the covert cameras my partner and I were carrying. I knew when we recorded the sale of Sarah, when we gathered enough evidence to prove money changed hands with the intent of sex with a minor, we could spark a raid with the local police on her behalf.

“Welcome to TV’s Golden Age” by Laura Ortberg Turner

In writing, there is a genre called “literary fiction.” It doesn’t perfectly align to literary television—nor is it always a helpful classification in books itself—but the general concept of literary fiction is that the characters, not the plot, are at the center of the action. The readers (and, in this case, viewers) care more about what is going on in the internal life of the character than what is happening in their life circumstances. The two will always be connected, but the internal world in the case of literary television will always hold an edge over the external.

In this sense, literary television can be a highly Christian thing. Not, perhaps, in explicitly talking about the Gospel or even the existence of God—although that’s a question that has been raised more and more of late—but in reminding us that people are more important than the circumstances in which they find themselves.

“What the Bleep Does the Bible Say About Profanity?” by Preston Sprinkle

Religious people have been covering up obscene language in the Bible for years. Jewish scribes in the middle ages, who copied the Hebrew Old Testament used as the base for all English translations, edited out some vulgar words and replaced them with nicer ones.

In some ways, it’s understandable that we don’t want to be using this type of language in church. But, on the other hand, the Gospel is offensive. Grace is scandalous. And that’s the real point. The biblical prophets sometimes use offensive language, but not to produce shock for its own sake. Edginess was never the goal, and neither was some vague notion of Christian “freedom.” God’s messengers used vulgar images to shock their religious audience out of complacency. Because sometimes the goodness of God becomes lost in the fog of Christianese rhetoric and religious routine, and the only way to wake us up is to use provocative language.

“The Most Damaging Attitude in our Churches” by Cara Joyner

We tend to think of cynicism as something that’s overt. We love watching the overt cynics—Bob Kelso, Gregory House, Don Draper. We laugh at their bitter rants and quote their best one-liners. Perhaps their extreme negativity makes it easier to justify our quiet tendency to be overly critical, especially in the name of something good.

But cynicism doesn’t always present itself in the sweeping, broad negativity we see on TV. In the day-to-day, it looks more like quick, unwarranted, “constructive” criticism. I’m not talking about the critical thinking required for success as an adult. I’m referring to the way we constantly evaluate and critique people and what they do.

“8 Ways to Change the World” by Jon Foreman, Joshua Dubois, Craig Groeschel, Nikole Lim, Tyler Merrick, Debbie Sterling, Jim Wallis

Every day you’re alive you change the world. Even a lack of involvement is a decision with lasting ramifications. No matter who you are, your actions and thoughts every moment of every day have powerful implications for not only your life but the lives of those around you.

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