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Our Favorite Stories of 2016: The Editors’ Picks

Our Favorite Stories of 2016: The Editors’ Picks

Each year, we have a hard time choosing from the stories we’ve done and narrowing it down to our favorites through an intense editorial process. We’re committed to bringing you the top ten of all-time so naturally, there were a few rounds of heated debates, tables flipped and a few bets were lost.

After looking back at an epic year and a serious alter call, here are our top picks of 2016:

The Rise of Andra Day

You know her Grammy-nominated song ‘Rise Up.’ But do you know what she had to rise from?

In the world of music, these aren’t necessarily uncommon circumstances. But her’s is nothing like the typical celebrity success story: “It was a low point,” she says, “but it was the greatest point in my life.”

Why? Her whole life turned upside down when her breaking point led her to faith in Jesus Christ. For the first time since her rocket-like rise to fame, Day talks openly about hitting rock bottom, finding faith and living vulnerably—even in the brightest of spotlights.

Alejandro Iñárritu

The Oscar-winning director of Birdman and The Revenant is dominating Hollywood right now with complex, gritty takes on humanity and spirituality.

The Revenant was the biggest and most expensive film of Iñárritu’s career so far, with elaborate battle sequences, jaw-dropping natural settings and stunning special effects. But what makes the film memorable is the way it carries the same dramatic potency, spiritual rigor and interest in physical and psychological exploration that have always defined Iñárritu’s work.

These tensions are what drive him.

“As a filmmaker, the most important thing for me was the spiritual dimension of these journeys,” he says. “There is a very animalistic and primitive dimension to these people’s stories, but
you can’t judge people—it’s a big mistake to judge people without understanding their context.”

The Gospel According to Ewan McGregor

We sat down with Ewan McGregor to talk about his groundbreaking take on the 40-day temptation of Jesus, and the experience of getting inside the head of history’s most famous foes.

Though he formerly had a bit of an indie bad-boy reputation (see Trainspotting and Velvet Goldmine) and battled alcoholism, the 45-year-old actor is today regarded as one of Hollywood’s genuine “good guys.” He is a longtime UNICEF U.K. ambassador and an active supporter of charities like the orphan-centered GO Campaign.

His efforts to bring polio vaccines to hard-to-reach children in India and Nepal were chronicled in the 2012 BBC series Cold Chain Mission, and his motorcycling adventures around the world (chronicled in 2004’s Long Way Round and 2007’s Long Way Down) benefitted charities like Children’s Hospice Association Scotland and Riders for Health, a charity that works to provide health care by motorbike to isolated areas in Africa.

How Could A Game Make You Feel This Much

The true story behind That Dragon, Cancer, the video game that’s making players literally CRY—and rethink their view of God.

Wired called the game’s creation a “quest to make the most profound video game ever.” The Guardian said playing the game was an “unforgettable experience.” And a reviewer for the gaming network IGN called it a “crushingly intimate game that left me thankful for the people who are still in my life.”

It’s been featured by Radiolab and The New Yorker, and a documentary about the harrowing story of the making of the game has drawn rave reviews from the likes of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

That Dragon, Cancer isn’t just changing the idea of what a video game can be. It’s changing the way people think about life, death and, most of all, God.”

Fear Not

Recent tragedies in Paris and San Bernardino have spurred a dramatic rise in islamophobia, anti-refugee political rhetoric and a culture of fear. Here’s why there’s no room for this fear in the Gospel.

Diana Butler Bass, a historian of Christianity and author of Grounded: Finding God in the World, doesn’t buy the “healthy level of fear” justification some Christians use to support xenophobia.

Shortly after the San Bernardino attacks, Bass traveled the country in an effort to remind Christians that “the story of Jesus begins with the words, ‘Fear not.’” And also that “[Muslims] are not ‘the other.’”

“This needs to be fixed by all of us on the ground,” she says. “And we can’t just ‘pray about it.’ Doesn’t Christianity insist that we welcome strangers? Isn’t that the essence of the faith?”

Welcome to Holy-Wood

In one of the least religious cities in the country, a handful of new churches are setting the stage for spiritual revival.

Seemingly ripped from one of Los Angeles’ fashion billboards, hundreds of twentysomethings create a line down Sunset Boulevard outside of an LA nightclub.

When the red rope gets pulled back, the crowd is treated to a sensory experience of bright rhythmic lights, impressionistic videos and an auditory explosion with decibels that shake your chest cavity.

Then, the crowd begins to sing praise and worship songs. An offering is taken, a sermon is preached, the altar call is given.

This is the scene at the first service of Zoe Church, a new LA church plant whose christening took place at the infamous 1OAK nightclub on the Sunset Strip.

No Laughing Matter

The critically acclaimed indie rock band won’t settle for anything less than perfection.

“There’s always somebody that’s gonna get upset about something,” Buress says. But taking on the bigger issues in an irreverent manner may be the best way to get people’s attention. As Pearlman points out, “Comedy is the alternative to thinking everything is fine.”

Pointing out broken systems has the power to take down an icon, to shine a light on injustice, to challenge people to make themselves better, and maybe even to change the world. It helps if you can make people laugh while doing it.

The Complex Faith of ‘Doctor Strange’ Director Scott Derrickson

Why he’s Hollywood’s most interesting filmmaker.

When pressed to consider how his Christian faith influenced his work on Doctor Strange, Derrickson observed that he’s gotten away from the impulsive need to express his own point of view as he’s matured as a filmmaker.

“In this age where the word ‘Christian’ conjures up angry, vocal, closed-minded Christians and the word ‘atheist’ conjures up images of angry, closed-minded atheists and all of these terms just become fighting words,” Derrickson says, “I really liked the idea that the comics and the movie therefore could just be a third thing where we’re talking about magic and we’re talking about mysticism and we’re talking about possibilities and other realities and places where we all know religious ideas and scientific ideas overlap, even though we’re not really playing with either in this movie.”

The Lecrae You Don’t Know

He’s a Christian icon and one of the biggest names in hip-hop. But you already know that. What you don’t know is the jaw-dropping story of the man behind it all.

His breakout Fallon performance that night still brings Lecrae attention—his neighbors love to talk about it—but of course, a lot has happened since then: other national TV performances, sold-out tours, parties at Jay-Z’s house and Grammy nominations competing with the likes of Drake, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. It’s safe to say Lecrae is venturing where few Christian artists have before.

Lecrae’s music is known for being bold, even raw, and in some of the songs, he’s shared part of his story. But those songs, no matter how powerful, don’t compare to the unfiltered, real story.

The Chosen One

When controversial director Mel Gibson tapped Andrew Garfield to star in a new film that asks big questions about war, God and morality, neither realized how much it would change the both of them.

Mel Gibson, by his own admission, does not live up to the standard of Desmond Doss. Neither does Andrew Garfield, who plays Doss in Gibson’s film about his life, Hacksaw Ridge.

Yet both Garfield and Gibson, men born in U.S. but raised abroad, find inspiration in the classic American tale Hacksaw Ridge tells about Doss: a tale of convictions tested and courageous faith (literally) under fire.

Doss was a medic in World War II and America’s first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor. A devout Seventh Day Adventist, Doss’s pacifism kept him from wielding a rifle. Yet he felt compelled to join the Army; he wanted to save lives and not take them.

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