In 2014 I kept a running tab of the best pieces of news journalism and editorial I came across. “Best” should not be taken to mean it necessarily represents my views, only that it is brilliant, fun, or particularly thought-provoking. Writing from across the spectrum made the list: NYT, Relevant, HuffPo, Gospel Coalition, Calvin Post, Vice, The Toast, and some more obscure venues. Check it out! (And if you want the funniest one, go to the ‘If Ayn Rand wrote Harry Potter‘ header in the Culture section.)
I’ve split the pieces into three categories: War and Politics, Culture, and Faith.
War and Politics
Amputees in Afghanistan — Washington Post, Kevin Sieff, December (2013)
“‘What a pity. He is in this state at this young age,’ an older man said. ‘Looks like a mine victim. Well, we have many of them in this country,’ another said.”
One Family, Two Sacrifices — Washington Post, Ian Shapira, January 18.
“Before leaving for Afghanistan, Ben had gone over his final wishes with Traci. He wanted to be buried in a suit, not his Class A uniform. He wanted a Bible placed on top of his body. And finally, he wanted to be laid to rest in Virginia, next to his older brother. They’d be side by side, just as they’d been as kids in El Dorado in their king-size bed.”
The Interpreter’s We Left Behind — Men’s Journals, Paul Solotaroff, April.
“‘Why,’ asked Zeller, ‘are you on our side and not theirs?’ ‘Because you are my guest here,’ said Shinwari. ‘You come so many miles to help my family; I am honor-bound to protect you, brother.’
Saving the System — New York Times, David Brooks, April 28.
“The lesson-category within grand strategic history is that when an established international system enters its phase of deterioration, many leaders nonetheless respond with insouciance, obliviousness, and self-congratulation. When the wolves of the world sense this, they, of course, will begin to make their moves to probe the ambiguities of the aging system and pick off choice pieces to devour at their leisure. This is what Putin is doing; this is what China has been moving toward doing in the maritime waters of Asia; this is what in the largest sense the upheavals of the Middle East are all about: i.e., who and what politico-ideological forces will emerge as hegemon over the region in the new order to come. The old order, once known as ‘the American Century’ has been situated within ‘the modern era,’ an era which appears to be stalling out after some 300-plus years. The replacement era will not be modern and will not be a nice one.”
The Girls Next Door — 5280: The Denver Magazine, Daliah Singer, April.
“Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating at least $30 billion every year. The inception of websites such as Craigslist and backpage.com has helped slingshot trafficking to that top spot: Today, about 76 percent of sex trafficking transactions involving underage girls start on the Internet.”
The Country That Wouldn’t Grow Up — Haaretz, Tony Judt, May 2, 2006 (I realize this is old, but I saw it reposted this year)
“Such comparisons are lethal to Israel’s moral credibility. They strike at what was once its strongest suit: the claim of being a vulnerable island of democracy and decency in a sea of authoritarianism and cruelty; an oasis of rights and freedoms surrounded by a desert of repression. But democrats don’t fence into Bantustans helpless people whose land they have conquered, and free men don’t ignore international law and steal other men’s homes.”
The Vicar of Baghdad — Vice, July 1.
“For more than a decade, Vicar Andrew White has been risking his life to preach for peace on the streets of Baghdad, driving through bombed-out war zones to spread his message. In his quest, White has become the primary liaison between the Sunni and Shia Muslims.”
Horrific Pictures of Dead Bodies Won’t Stop War — The Guardian, Paul Mason, November 23.
“There’s a growing frustration in this milieu not just that journalists are being targeted, but that a disbelieving public has come to see all graphic imagery of war as potentially fake, manipulated or propagandist.”
A Speck in the Sea — New York Times, Paul Tough, Jan 2.
“He went under, took in a mouthful of Atlantic Ocean and then surfaced, sputtering. He yelled as loud as he could, hoping to wake Sosinski, who was asleep on a bunk below the front deck. But the diesel engine was too loud, and the Anna Mary, on autopilot, moving due south at six and a half knots, was already out of reach, its navigation lights receding into the night. Aldridge shouted once more, panic rising in his throat, and then silence descended. He was alone in the darkness. A single thought gripped his mind: This is how I’m going to die.”
Embracing ‘chill’ at Winter Games — Washington Post, Mike Wise, Feb. 9.
“No one gets hippie like Jamie, just as no one scoots down rails and flies over jumps like Jamie — gold medalist, NorCal granola girl, grinning with the stars and stripes around her on another happy day in the mountains, finding a higher consciousness first on a slope and then on a podium.”
Being Raped in a Bankrupt City — Buzzfeed, Emily Orley, March 27.
“‘We’re a mandated office and last time I checked sexual assault was a crime. Their attitude is ‘forget about those victims,’ and it’s pathetic.’ Worthy said. “So sexual assault is a low-priority crime to the CEO we have here in Wayne County. Those are the issues we face every day.”
What’s So Scary About Smart Girls? — New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff, May 10.
“That’s what extremists do. They target educated girls, their worst nightmare.”
How YouTube and Internet Journalism Destroyed Tom Cruise, Our Last Real Movie Star — LA Weekly, Amy Nicholson, May 20.
“A weird thing happens when people watch a viral video. In catching up with a cultural touchstone, the clip everyone’s talking about at the water cooler, we assume we’re on top of the whole story. After all, we’ve seen what everyone else has seen. Whatever gets edited out isn’t part of the conversation.”
Your Princess is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds — The Daily Beast, Arthur Chu, May 27.
“But the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to ‘earn,’ to ‘win.’ That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.”
Ayn Rand’s Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone — The Toast, Mallory Ortberg, May 27. (If Ayn Rand wrote Harry Potter fan fiction.)
“Voldemort began to melt. Harry lit a cigarette, because he was the master of fire. ‘The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities. The minimum wage is a tax on the successful. The market will naturally dictate the minimum wage without the government stepping in to determine arbitrary limits.’ Voldemort howled. ‘I’m going to sell copies of my wand at an enormous markup,’ Harry said, ‘and you can buy one like everyone else.’ Voldemort had been defeated. ‘He hated us for our freedom,’ Ron said. ‘No, Ron,’ Harry said. ‘He hated us for our free markets.’
It’s Tartt — But is it Art? — Vanity Fair, Evgenia Peretz, June.
“There seems to be universal agreement that the book is a ‘good read,’ ” says Wood. “But you can be a good storyteller, which in some ways Tartt clearly is, and still not be a serious storyteller.”
A critical theoretic Marxist dialectical analysis of the World Cup Song — The Guardian, Stuart Jeffries, June 2.
“In the field of World Cup studies, it is axiomatic that the competition itself and its manifold ancillary cultural products (songs especially) display what Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse called repressive desublimation. By that term, Marcuse meant, of course, the diversion of libidinal energies into timewasting guff such as football, rather than the pressing business of social critique and, ideally, revolution.”
The #1 secret astronauts, samurai, Navy SEALs, and psychopaths can teach you about good decision making — Time, Eric Barker, July 7.
“This is why when top bomb disposal experts approach a bomb their blood pressure actually goes down. Control and confidence.”
Don’t send your kid to the Ivy League — The New Republic, William Deresiewicz, July 21.
“I taught many wonderful young people during my years in the Ivy League—bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it was a pleasure to talk with and learn from. But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Very few were passionate about ideas. Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development. Everyone dressed as if they were ready to be interviewed at a moment’s notice.”
Fuller’s President Reflects on Events in Ferguson — Fuller Theological Seminary, Mark Labberton, August 25.
“The wound exposed by Ferguson is not, however, exclusively or even primarily about police brutality, nor is it simply the shooting death of an unarmed African American teenager. These are urgent and important offenses, but the far more pervasive wound that this story lays bare is of a minefield of racism, with shrapnel buried and unhealed from the past.”
Let’s Talk About It — The Players’ Tribune, Russell Wilson, October 2.
“This issue is much bigger than NFL suspensions. Domestic violence isn’t going to disappear tomorrow or the next day. But the more that we choose not to talk about it, the more we shy away from the issue, the more we lose.”
Restless — The Calvin Post, Will Montei, November 14.
“I don’t know what the cure for it is, if there is one. It’s always seemed to me that something drastic would suffice. I have dreamed of doing drastic things all the time. And they usually remain dreams and become dusty hallways to wander in reverie.”
Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God — The Wall Street Journal, Eric Metaxas, December 25.
“Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that ‘the appearance of design is overwhelming’ and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said ‘the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.'”
This is What Happens When Hip-Hop Lets the Saints In — The Huffington Post, Jon Ward, February 20.
“‘Christians have no idea how to deal with art,’ Lecrae said more recently, during a September speech to Christian leaders. ‘They say, “Hey Lecrae you can’t do that. That’s bad. That’s secular. You can’t touch that. Hey Lecrae, your engineer is not a Christian. He can’t mix your stuff. He’s going to get sinner cooties on it.”‘”
Red Letter Nonsense — The Gospel Coalition, Kevin DeYoung, February 28.
“The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this ‘red letter’ nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses.”
What Should Christians Think of Governments that Criminalize Homosexuality? — Canon & Culture, Russell Moore and Andrew Walker, March 3.
“…we believe a nation can teach a positive truth in its laws about marriage and sexuality without prohibiting and targeting its opposite.”
Why I Miss Being a Born-Again Christian — Buzzfeed, Jessica Misener, May 21.
“I know — I think — that Christianity isn’t real, but I miss believing it was real. When I got confused in my career, or hurt by a broken relationship, fellow Christians assured me that it was all part of God’s plan to lead me to the right calling or the right person, something that made me calmer and more willing to take risks. Now when things don’t go the way I want, I cling to a vague “everything happens for a reason” sentiment or confront the fact that shit, maybe life IS meaningless, because now I can’t view trauma as just a rolling ball in some cosmic Rube Goldberg machine.”
Theologizers and the Anti-Seminary — Juicy Ecumenism, Bart Gingerich, May 21.
“Young evangelicals have been raised in a culture that discourages good intellectual habits. Instead, they are informed by the blogosphere. Heaven help them if the truth is to be found on page 4 of a Google search. For the orthodox and revisionist-leaning alike, there are a plethora of amateur theologizers rather than theologians in American congregations today.”
Sacrament: Wine is an elixir, a miracle-worker and shapeshifter — Aeon Magazine, Ross Anderson, May 27.
“‘Most of the methods are based on Old World agricultural practices. In this way, biodynamics is similar to many other rituals and religious beliefs that get passed down through different pathways. Some of those traditions involve important practices for the health of an individual, or a society. And in some cases, stories have been built around them, in order to deepen the practice in one’s memory, and increase the likelihood it will be passed on.'”
The Problem with Biblical Authority — Faith Street, N.T. Wright, June 3.
“But just because the garden grows weeds, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plant fresh flowers, instead paving the whole thing over with concrete. No, each generation must do its own fresh historically grounded reading, because each generation needs to grow up, not simply to lookup the right answers and remain in an infantile condition. This too is part of kingdom work.”
Is Evangelical morality still acceptable in America? — The Atlantic, Alan Noble, July 13.
“But morality has this nasty habit of not staying put; it sneaks out of our personal conscience and affects those around us. Some morals affect communities more than others, but no moral is entirely contained. My choice to live my life the way I want to will impact my community, no matter how careful I am to defer and tolerate and be sensitive to others. And this is a basic tenet of evangelical Christianity, too: Faith must be lived out in the public square; a privatized faith is no faith worth the name. Because of this, the real debate isn’t about whether morality should be public or private; it’s about about figuring out what kind of moral impositions are tolerable and fair in a pluralistic society.”
The Wrong Kind of Christian — Christianity Today, Tish Harrison Warren, August 22.
“In effect, the new policy privileged certain belief groups and forbade all others. Religious organizations were welcome as long as they were malleable: as long as their leaders didn’t need to profess anything in particular; as long as they could be governed by sheer democracy and adjust to popular mores or trends; as long as they didn’t prioritize theological stability. Creedal statements were allowed, but as an accessory, a historic document, or a suggested guideline. They could not have binding authority to shape or govern the teaching and practices of a campus religious community.”
Could Religion Survive Alien Contact? — Huffington Post, Lee Speigel, December 11.
“Four years ago, Consolmagno also weighed in on aliens and faith when he was asked by a member of the media if he would baptize an extraterrestrial. His response of ‘Only if she asks!’ shot around the world ‘as if I had made an official Vatican pronouncement about aliens.'”
What the Continued Crucifying of Rob Bell Says About Modern Christianity — Relevant Magazine, John Pavlovitz, December 12.
“He had a rabid army of fellow believers who hung on every word he uttered, who lapped-up every morsel he tossed them, who cheered him on like a local kid making the Bigs. For a while, it was a Christian Bubble love fest.
Then something happened.
Rob Bell “sinned.” ….
Rob Bell’s “sin”, was that he didn’t stick to the script. He deviated. He dared to ask questions. He challenged the status quo. He moved against the grain. He went rogue and everything went South, (or rather, went to Hell).”