It’s that time of year once again when everyone makes lists of their favorite things from the past year. But the year 2022 has been long.
With the world gradually attempting to return to a somewhat-normal, somewhat-forever-changed state after the COVID-19 pandemic, our society is ever-changing. Thus, this year was filled with commotion of all kinds. Post-pandemic inflation put a strain on the pockets of families everywhere, countries have tried to get a handle on climate change, and political polarization has defined the ways in which we view major American and world issues. And it was a year of monumental midterm elections.
Meanwhile, religion stayed in the news, as fewer Americans attended churches or were members of churches, but more people said they were spiritual but not religious. The so-called “nones” were the talk of every pastors’ gathering, but Gallup said perhaps the peak of those unaffiliated folks has peaked.
What were the ways BNG readers found inspiration this year through books, movies, television and podcasts? An informal Facebook survey drew a wealth of responses, which are summarized here as indicative of the year just past — at least for those who follow BNG news.
Amid those responses, the most-mentioned content creators — none of whom write for BNG — were Jon Meacham, Kate Bowler and Heather Cox Richardson.
By a long shot, podcasts were the most popular genre of pop-culture media for BNG readers this year, and they covered a broad range of topics. From mental health and personal well-being to political discussions and American history lessons, we were educating our hearts, bodies and minds. Podcasts helped us feel educated and inspired, and the convenient ease of listening to a podcast while you work, drive or do chores around the house helped us discover new things.
Respondents indicated a collective love for the We Can Do Hard Things podcast by Glennon Doyle, a show dedicated to discussing the highs and lows of everyday life, and how we can carry each other through the tough times.
We also dealt with pain, grief and mental health awareness while searching for podcasts to listen to. All There Is with Anderson Cooper shared honest perspectives about the various stages of grief, and although not explicitly religious, made room for spiritual connections. The Place We Find Ourselves podcast hosted by therapist Adam Young helped listeners unpack trauma and abuse from both a clinical and religious perspective.
Books came in second, as BNG readers searched for authors who were being real with themselves and with others, such as Jeannette McCurdy’s recent book I’m Glad My Mom Died, wherein she candidly tells the story of her life as a child actress and is unafraid to be honest about her mother-daughter relationship.
We also read books reflecting on life’s big questions, both religiously and non-religiously. BNG readers wanted to know what it means to be a human living here with other humans, the importance of grieving, how to understand ourselves better and what religious interpretation has to do with our seemingly secular (or perhaps not-so-secular) American history.
Film and TV
With movies and TV, we had a hankering for family drama this year, as readers said they leaned toward stories of family loss, struggle and resilience. Our top TV show was The Bear, a comedic drama about a young chef who returns home to run his family’s sandwich shop after the tragic and heartbreaking death of his brother. Our favorite movie was Belfast, a fictional but biographic drama inspired by director Kenneth Branagh’s childhood experience of Protestant-Catholic sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland during the late 1960s.
And in the midst of these dramatic productions, BNG readers also found room to relax with calm and nostalgic shows for the whole family. You know, the kind of show that just makes you feel at home. Some respondents praised The Andy Griffith Show (but only the early black and white version) for its high moral standing and Sunday-sermon feel. Other respondents watched kids TV with their little ones and found meaning in the collaborative, imaginative and emotional world of shows like Bluey.
Four categories of content
Among the pop-culture media we enjoyed this year, there were four thematic categories of content: Learning how to be real, what it means to be an American, dealing with challenges in our mental and spiritual health and exploring the known and unknown.
On being real, the most popular category, BNG readers sought out media that told the candid stories of people who were struggling through life like the rest of us. Podcasts, books and interviews where content creators used their platforms to share their stories, inspire others with honest experiences, make jokes and laugh through the tough times were the most popular. Here are some honorable mentions from the Be Real category:
- Podcast: The Confessional with Nadia Bolz Weber
- Podcast: For the Love with Jen Hatmaker
- Podcast: Dear Old Dads with Eli Bosnick, Thomas Smith and Tom Curry
- Podcast: Interview with Bono: Songs of Surrender and Carrying the Weight of Our Contradictions on Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us
- Book: Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About by Donald Knuth
The second most popular category, what it means to be an American, featured work that explored American history, the role that Scripture and religious practice plays in politics and honest conversations about the American political system. Jon Meacham was the top dog in this category, with his podcasts It Was Said and Hope, Through History being part of the BNG discussion early on. Heather Cox Richardson’s Newsletter, Letters from An American, was the most upvoted comment on the entire thread.
Some more honorable mentions in the Being an American category are:
- Podcast: Pantsuit Politics with Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers
- Podcast: Ultra with Rachel Maddow
- Podcast: Now&Then with Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman
- Book: And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meacham
- Newsletter: French Press on the Dispatch website by David French
In the third category, dealing with challenges in our mental and spiritual health, BNG readers took this year to learn about and take care of themselves. We focused on experiencing grief and heartache and explored what it means to get in tune with ourselves and the world around us. This gentler media category helped us come to terms with our emotions and face up to the challenge of acknowledging, accepting, understanding and surviving the tough times that come with living life. Some honorable mentions in the Dealing with Challenges category are:
- Podcast: Everything Happens with Kate Bowler
- Book: Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain
- Book: Good Enough by Kate Bowler
Finally, BNG readers spent 2022 rediscovering what they already know and jumping into explorations of the unknown. Some of us spent some time connecting with our roots, like BNG columnist Justin Cox, who reignited his connection with the South by reading the book Homestyle Cookery by Matty Matheson and tuned into the Old Gods of Appalachia podcast by Steve Shell and Cam Collins to remember where he came from as he engages in “the grindings of institutional church work.”
Other respondents sought out media that wrestles with the big questions and dove into the unknown that deeply and creatively examined philosophical questions about our lives and the universe. Honorable mentions from BNG’s Explorers are:
- Book: Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller
- Book: The Hidden Gospel by Neil Douglass Klotz
- Film: Everything Everywhere All at Once
In summary, we spent the year having big conversations, and pop-culture media helped us navigate our talking points. Our top five media vibes this year were Lighthearted, Nostalgic, Authentic, Investigative and Connectivity.
Connecting BNG content to this year’s trends
For lighthearted readers who spent 2022 going easy on themselves, recognizing our own humanity and searching for a good laugh, BNG’s relatable content from the past year helped us remember Eric Minton’s reflections on New Year’s resolutions in his January article, “I’m Aiming for A Kind Of Fresh Resolve to No Longer Continue Producing Solutions for The Future Based On Problems from The Past.”
If you enjoyed funny, honest and easygoing media this year, read more articles like our trendy autumnal commentary, “Get On Your Sweaters: ‘Christian Girl Autumn’ Is Here.”
Those looking for nostalgia this year spent time remembering their roots and found lessons from the past. Nostalgia helped us in honoring who we are, where we came from and where we are going as we reflect on history and the progress we have made.
If you enjoyed the nostalgic vibe this year, check out work from Justin Cox, aforementioned in this article for his desire to get in tune with himself and his roots. Articles by Greg Jarrell also offered some reflective pieces that settle into this vibe.
Readers who dove into pop-culture media centered around authenticity sought honesty in multifaceted ways. We refused to fall into the pressure of making everything seem great, even when it was not, and we found the value in admitting when some inner work was needed. Authentic reading also led us to be more inclusive of marginalized communities by hearing their voices and recognizing their struggles.
If you spent the year searching for ways to learn and improve, check out some articles by Laura Ellis, project manager for Baptist Women in Ministry and former Clemons Fellow, as she continues to teach us how to understand and respond to cultural issues in ways that promote change. You may also want to read some of David Ramsey’s critically reflective articles about church life, belief and his own experience as a Baptist Minister who walked away from the ministry (but did not stop talking about it).
Another group of readers were feeling investigative this year, seeking the challenging thrill of learning what is beyond your beliefs and biases, and taking the risk of questioning what we know as a means of learning. This group was unafraid to call out injustice, made observations about the Baptist world and unapologetically fought for change.
Mark Wingfield, BNG’s executive director and publisher, spent the year analyzing how church life, news and personal experience all come together in matter-of-fact articles that introduce readers to relevant data, stories and background information that leads them into making connections and conclusions. If you were in this group, you may also want to check out Jeff Brumley’s news reports, and Rick Pidcock’s analysis articles.
Finally, with a vibe that may intermingle with some of these other groups, BNG readers overall seemed to long for connectivity. We valued the importance of human connection and community and made efforts to name and categorize things we did and experienced to better discuss them. These readers recognized gaps in communication and worked toward a solution for our struggles in understanding those who are different from us.
If you found yourself seeking media that connected people this year, take a look at articles by Susan Shaw and David Bumgardner, who (in their own ways) call out and label abuse without hesitation. Also check out Meredith Stone, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, whose opinion articles that highlight the experiences of women and sex abuse victims shed light on important topics that impact us all.
And within all the commotion of this year, BNG became the common denominator between this broad range of interests. Each reader may have had individual interests that they wanted to explore, but our site (hopefully) offered a space where we did not have to enter the conversation space alone.
Now, let’s do this again next year.
Mallory Challis is a senior at Wingate University and serves as BNG’s Clemons Fellow.