In lieu of a weekender, today we give you something of a year-ender, 2016’s five golden (or not so golden)…themes. By all means, tell us in the comments what themes you spied in the headlines throughout the past year.

1. Donald Trump. It goes without saying, but nothing frenzied the network television companies and newspaper writers and Twitter opinionators quite like Trump’s historic campaign ride this year. Well, nothing besides Trump’s actual victory. Opinions about his ascendance and eventual victory have been as diverse as it has been profuse. In all honesty, he could have his own five golden themes—and that would just begin to cover the Mockingbird takes on the subject. There was Trump’s unrepentant certainty, there was Trump’s scapegoating and scapegoating of Trump, there was Trump at church, Trump at war with evangelicalism, Trump at war with politics in general. And that was just the campaign.

From this vantage point, the election over (praise Him) and the cabinet mostly full, the themes that have resounded most powerfully (to the point of cliché) are 1) the nation’s deep-rooted and divisive anger and 2) the unwillingness of the ‘Political System’—from the party leaders to the pundits to the voting public—to listen to what they did not want to hear. Donald Trump, love him or hate him, has represented a reality check upon both. Whether it is the voicelessness of minorities and/or immigrants, or the voicelessness of the rural white working class, this election has clarified an ugly divide (racial, socioeconomic, cultural) that we were intent on ignoring. No longer are Americans, on either side of the aisle, able to lean upon the farce of ideological unity (or straight-line power). At Mockingbird, we believe that there is hope in the facing a truth, in “calling a thing what it is,” no matter how ugly. Thank God this hope cannot be taken away.

“Yesterday’s News” by David Zahl

“Further Thoughts on the Donald” by Scott Larousse

“Praying with Trump?” by Scott Jones

PZ’s Podcast: “Cook’d Books”

At the bookstore: J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy

2. Gender Mindbenders and Political Correctness. The campaign was also a minefield for stereotypes and PC provocation, especially in the realm of gender. Whether it was the “locker room talk” or Gloria Steinem telling women that a vote for anyone but Hillary spelled damnation, the election proved to be a vortex for the vitriol that was already in the air. And like so many of the divisive issues, one’s gender becomes the marketable power broker in one’s public identity. It becomes one more tool for drawing lines between winner and loser, righteous and guilty. As Kristin Dombek noted in her essay on narcissism, it is one way we “choose to see others as mirrored inversions of our false sense of decency.”

2016 has also shown us that it’s not that simple, though. While some lines grow thicker, other ‘norms’ are growing increasingly blurry. (No, I’m not talking about pansexuality, whatever that is.) Whether or not you’re using traditional models of “normativity,” gender is a cultural, little-L law writ large. Woman, man or merperson, you are never enough of who you ought to be.

Mockingbird: “Dear Gloria Steinem: On Being a Young Woman in the Church” by Sarah Condon

“Are You Man Enough? When Virile Was a Compliment” by David Zahl

“Wonder Woman: Maid of Honor in a Dishonorable World” by Wenatchee the Hatchet

At the bookstore: The Narcissism of Others by Kristin Dombek

3. Mental Health. Little did I know, embarking on the eighth issue of The Mockingbird this fall, that a topic so heavy would bring such an influx of readers. Mental health seems to be a central, if un-talked-about, part of our lives. Our issue covered everything from suicide to cognitive biases, medication to self-justification. But it wasn’t just us. Teen suicide and self-harm continues to be something we are talking about as a nation. As is depression. As is therapy.

From our perspective, though, the Gospel provides some real medicine—relief in a world trying endlessly to cope. In many circles, there’s a lot of stigma with mental illness. Needing help on the outside is hard enough, but inside? This is the sacred space of our own willpower and ego. If something is wrong with us mentally, it is an affront to our sense of self-propulsion. Christ, though, is friend to sinners, to inner-weaknesses of all stripes.

At-Large: Invisibilia’s Second Season, particularly “The Problem with the Solution”

Mockingbird: The Mental Health Issue!

“Attachment Theory and Your Relationship with God” by Bonnie Poon Zahl

“13 Signs of Bad Pastoral Care” (from Frank Lake)

4. Grief. Another theme that can be abstracted on wide scales—Syria, terrorist attacks, police violence—but has also made its home in very individual ways on Mockingbird. I didn’t quite know whether or not you can call ‘grief’ a theme for a year. Aren’t people always grieving? Isn’t grief a continual part of human experience, unconditional to think-piece trends or global events? To some degree, that is definitely true. People are always dying; God, to some degree, to every person, seems absent in suffering.

At the same time, there’s no denying that death has been on our minds at Mockingbird this year. For whatever reason, there have been a lot of writers touched by the experience of death. Thankfully, from the Christian framework, this is our bread and butter: the cross of Christ. And yet, our grief is a living sign of Luther’s insight about simul iustus et peccator: on one hand, death is the punctuating hope of Christianity—the promise of salvation and  resurrection. On the other hand, the loss is all we can see. The rest is only seen through the eyes of faith.

“The Prosperous Gospel of Stage 4 Cancer” by Ethan Richardson

“Bumper Stickers and Background Screens: Reflections on Losing a Child” by Cameron Cole

“Religious Experts vs. The Cross: On Reading the Book of Job” by CJ Green

“The Ubiquity of Grief (and How I Tried to Climb the Ladder)” by Connor Gwin

5. Deconstruction of the Soulmate (and Other Lies). This theme could also be called “What We Quoted from Alain de Botton.” Seriously, if you need to go back through the annals, it’s worth it. In an age that has largely exchanged traditional modes of religiosity for others, one of the biggest, goldenest calves of all (besides maybe food?) is a heightened soulmate in a deified love. Botton’s book brings romance back to the living room couch (in a manner of speaking) and kitchen sinks where we actually live. But it’s not just de Botton. Everywhere we look we’ve seen people deconstructing our romantic loves, not just to bring our love back to our lives as we know it, but also to deconstruct the endgame of emotional fulfillment in our relationships, a pursuit that really just becomes another way to get what you want out of a relationship.

In other places, we found the deconstruction of similarly clean (and oppressive) gospels, from Kondo cleanliness, to Jobsian minimalism, to church. As Elvis Presley sung it, “Love is a stranger and hearts are in danger / On smooth streets paved in gold.” Life, we’ve read, actually isn’t found in the images we’ve had for it, or the sure simplicity we’ll finally experience when we get there. Instead, the gospel message is a stark reversal to Life According to Me. It positions life in the jaws of death, and peace in the midst of immense suffering. And, thanks be to God, in this post-election season as well as this Christmas season, its power is not derived in the strength of humankind. It is, instead, found in the manger of a helpless babe. Talk about a real deconstruction…

“When You Marry the Wrong Person” by David Zahl

“The Gospel’s Steady Work of Reversal” by Ethan Richardson

“Welcome to My Neuroticism, I Mean, My House” by CJ Green

At the Bookstore: How to Be a Person in the World by Heather Havrilesky

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton