Jared’s Top “New to Me” Movies of Last Two Years

I watched 331 feature-length movies in 2017 & 2018.  

Here are my favorites, semi-sorted by similar styles. Links go to IMDB for descriptions and trailers:

Directing a new short film I wrote entitled Meat Eater. Playing at a film festival near you summer 2019.

Directing a new short film I wrote entitled Meat Eater. Playing at a film festival near you summer 2019.

  • Eighth Grade - so realistic. required viewing for people with young kids. this is 8th grade now…

  • Tully - smartly written, well-directed. Charlize is a beast.

  • The Big Sick - fantastic and heartfelt modern RomCom.

  • 20th Century Women - Annette Bening. Love her. Watch “American Beauty.”

  • The Meyerowitz Stories - every time I watch Ben Stiller I’m more impressed.

  • A Ghost Story - LOVED IT. Slow. Strange. Made me think about my life.

  • First Reformed - what I’d hope more movies about religion could be, then it gets weird.

  • Last Days in the Desert - great reflection on a short passage in the Bible.

  • Raw - strange artsy French coming-of-age as a cannibal.

  • Okja - creative look at capitalism and the meat industry.

  • Blue Jay - low-budget walk through Lake Arrowhead and old memories.

  • Patti Cake$ - a poor man’s Eight Mile, but it got me. I like her.

  • Gaga: Five Foot Two - well-crafted documentary that beat our film “Saltwater Baptism” for a Webby Award in Best Editing.

  • Unrest  - painful documentary to increase your empathy and gratitude for your life

  • Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Jim Carrey is an odd bird, and I love him.

  • Peter and The Farm - life with an aging farmer. (great poster/great trailer)

  • Fraud - the director edited this film from 100 hours of a real family’s eerie home videos he found on YouTube! watch the film then read all about it: LINK and the director’s website LINK

What were your favorites here? What did I miss?

We filmed all night and got the last shot as the sun was coming up. The whole film is only 2 minutes long.

We filmed all night and got the last shot as the sun was coming up. The whole film is only 2 minutes long.

*I’d love to make a list of my favorite short films as well. Most of those will include direct links with where to watch them for free online. For starters, my new friend Floyd Russ directed Zion which you can watch on Netflix now.

**Shoutout to Makenna and Dan for the encouragement to post this. Glad you liked Rams from the 2016 list!

***Please use discernment when viewing all the films listed. You know your own standards for language, drugs, violence, and nudity in art/media. Please research the ratings of each film if you are sensitive to more explicit content.

We had fun…well, most of us did. Meat Eater is coming out in film festivals in April 2019. Stay tuned for updates or for how to see it online. As always, our film updates are through the People People Media emailing list:

We had fun…well, most of us did. Meat Eater is coming out in film festivals in April 2019. Stay tuned for updates or for how to see it online. As always, our film updates are through the People People Media emailing list:

10 Simple Steps to Less Waste

On my #zerowaste journey this Lent, I've been making changes one at a time to lower my consumption and waste. "Zero Waste" can sound overwhelming at first, because truly creating no waste is impossible in a world designed for convenience and disposability. Still, I've been inspired to radically reduce my own waste and I've found that some of the changes truly are simple. They're also cost effective and healthier! 

I carry a #zerowaste on-the-go kit with my water bottle, utensils, mug, container, napkin, and straw in a reusable tote!

I carry a #zerowaste on-the-go kit with my water bottle, utensils, mug, container, napkin, and straw in a reusable tote!

1. Water bottle 

I own at least 7 reusable water bottles, and I only bought one of them. A few were gifts, some came as giveaways from events, and two were simply forgotten at my house so I adopted them (after a good clean). Oh, and I might have stolen one from my mom. All this to say, reusable water bottles are readily available and leave no excuse for using single use plastic water bottles. It's easy to say "one bottle doesn't make a difference" - but that one bottle adds up quickly, as we buy one million bottles per minute around the world. Even the best recycling efforts can't offset the devastation we're causing.

2. Silverware 

For three years during grad school, I brought my own lunch but never thought to pack reusable utensils! I often forgot any utensils at all, so I would grab a single use fork, spoon, and knife from the student break area. Now that I realize 6 million tons of single-use plastics get tossed every year, I made the switch to carrying my own reusable bamboo utensils and it's so easy!

3. Bags 

I used to think plastic bags weren't too bad because I reuse them for my bathroom trashcan...but that just delayed their inevitable trip to the landfill. I couldn't pick just one statistic about plastic bags because each one shocked me. Since the average American family uses nearly 1,500 bags per year bringing reusable bags (and just tossing things into your purse!) could make a real difference. I also carry reusable bags for produce or simply put food directly into my shopping cart - why do I need to protect my apples?

4. Mug 

Sadly, most "to-go" coffee cups have a plastic liner that prevent them from being recycle-able at all. For the average person, this creates 23 lbs of waste every year, plus the CO2 emissions. Now I carry my own travel mug, or I ask for a cup "for here" when I plan to sit for a while. At my local Philz, it saves me $1 every time! (Pro tip, I hold the lid while they fill it for health code reasons.)

5. Reusable food containers 

Okay, this is the shift that moves you from casual "I just have a water bottle in my purse" to the "Oh, you're really into this environment thing" reactions. This one has an impact because, A) I love to eat out, B) I travel often and, C) I nearly always have leftovers. This makes for a lot of single use food containers in my life, which don't degrade well and contribute to the spread of "convenience culture" around the globe. So now, I'm trying to carry a container with me in case a restaurant doesn't offer reusable plates/bowls, and I keep some in my car for leftovers. I only wish I had started doing this when I lived in the South, land of styrofoam. This simple step also includes carrying a reusable lunch bag and skipping the Ziploc bags and plastic cling wrap.

6. DIY products 

I started making some DIY home/beauty products at the dawn of Pinterest, when they promised me I could save money on my $12 makeup remover and stop supporting unethical companies, which is a big deal to me.  No kidding, I bought the supplies for that makeup remover in 2011 and have never needed to restock. Then I made DIY face wash, laundry detergent, and toothpaste. I'm on a quest to replace all my home/beauty products. Doing this saves money and single use containers, though now my new step is trying to buy the ingredients themselves in bulk/reusable containers!

7. Straws 

Did you know that in the U.S., we use 500 million straws a day -  enough straw waste to wrap the circumference of the earth 2.5 times or to fill Yankee Stadium over 9 times in a year?! Me either - until I heard about the movement to ban plastic straws. When you order a drink, simply add "no straw" and think about how you saved that plastic straw from degrading into tiny plastic pieces polluting our water supply. I added a metal straw to my reusable utensil container and I use them for my morning smoothies!

8. Bulk Grocery Shopping 

I've always loved the bulk bins, since I grew up shopping with my dad at the local co-op. However, I always filled up the plastic bags and then brought them home and dumped them into my mason jars to make my pantry look cute. Now I realize I can simply bring the containers with me! Bring the containers to the store, weigh the container empty, label the "tare", then fill with your granola or flour or chocolate covered pretzels (hey, there is a reason I loved the bulk bins as a kid!). You can write the PLU number on the container or keep a note on your phone. The cashier will weigh the final product but deduct the cost of the container itself. Here's a great guide to zero waste grocery shopping!

9. Compost 

I'll admit, I have a lot of learning to do on this one so that eventually I can use compost to garden myself. For now, luckily, I live in a zero waste city, so I can put every single food scrap, plus soiled paper plates/cups/containers/napkins, into one big bin and the city will wheel it away every Tuesday. We keep a countertop compost bin that prevents smell and gives us a visible reminder to sustainably dispose of our waste. I used to throw it all down the garbage disposal (out of sight, out of mind!) but I learned that is not an eco-friendly option.

10. Second hand shopping 

When we think about waste, we often consider the trash we can visibly see. But the products we buy create a lost of waste in production and the industries are skilled at hiding that cost from the consumer. I was shocked to learn that every pair of jeans I buy uses from 1,800 to 2,900 gallons of water in production! When I ordered some clothing online, I was dismayed when each item came individually wrapped in plastic. My retail manager roommate told me that every item arrives to the store that way too! Thinking about hidden waste doesn't even go into the hidden human cost in our products. This can be a bigger conversation about consumption, but one simple step is to thoughtfully purchase items second hand from local thrift stores, online marketplaces like Craigslist/OfferUp, or swap with your neighbors and friends. 

PS. No Styrofoam!!

This is an add-on to the top 10 because we should do absolutely everything to avoid buying and using styrofoam products. A quick Google search will reveal the facts on how harmful Expanded Polystyrene Foam is. Less than 1% of styrofoam is recycled. It causes harm to marine environments, harm to our health, and while many say they use it because it's cheap, we now have many other comparable and cost effective options.


What steps are you taking to reduce your waste?

Q&A with the Filmmaker of "Saltwater Baptism"

Jared produced, filmed, and co-directed The New York Times Opinion Documentary “Saltwater Baptism" which was released today, October 17th. *The interview below contains spoilers. Please watch the short film first.*

You can watch the film here!

VSCO Cam-4.jpg

This film is really an intimate portrait of a person: Santi. How did you come to know Santi?

I served at a church in San Diego for a decade, and over the years met tons of wonderful people. When he was in 7th grade, Santiago Gonzalez IV strolled into our mid-week teen gathering. He was a quiet, tan, surfer-kid with long and flowing golden hair. Santi kept attending youth group through the rest of middle school and throughout high school, where he committed his life to Jesus and was baptized in our community.

There’s a scene in the film where Santi reflects on the moment he came out to his youth pastor. Would you share about that moment from your perspective?

I remember a specific day when he was in 10th grade that I could tell Santi wanted to talk about something deep. It was an incredible moment of honesty and confession. It was also an invitation into this very sacred part of someone’s journey: their sexuality. I remember thinking, “This is a big moment. Don’t screw this up. What does he need from you right now?” I realized two things. 1) Santi seemed afraid that he wouldn’t be welcomed at church anymore. This broke my heart, and so I made sure to communicate that he was loved, and that we were a part of his family. 2) He hadn’t told his immediate family yet, so we worked on healthy ways he could tell his sister and his parents.

It seems like this whole project has been a journey for you. Where did the idea for this project first come from?

I realized during his junior year in high school that the tensions in Santi’s life were complex. He straddles the balance of being Mexican and American, coming from a Mexican family but growing up in the United States. Santi is a flamenco dancer and bullfighter, yet also a stylish American surfer. Santi loves Jesus and identifies as a Christian, while also experiencing same-sex attraction, even though the dominant message from evangelical Christianity is that those identities are incompatible. All these tensions set Santi up for an interesting journey: What does it mean to be Santi?

As far as creative ideas go, I thought it was a good story, but I never pursued the project until six years later. As Santi neared the end of college, I realized that graduation could provide the framework for these conversations. He had the added tension of his first romantic relationship and the idea of being an adult with post-graduate life looming large.

Why did you make this project? How has it impacted your own journey as both a pastor and a filmmaker?

Like many of us, I have felt the tension between the church and the queer community. So I asked myself, “What do I believe? Who am I listening to? How am I engaging?” As a pastor, I’ve studied the Bible, prayed over this, and researched the topic, all while engaging in relationships. I know great-hearted Christians who have differing beliefs about the topic. It’s amazing (and heartbreaking) to me that we boil complex topics to “either/or” answers. As an artist, I wanted to film with Santi to help myself be more compassionate as I engaged the topic of human sexuality. I’m not a naturally empathetic person, so filmmaking for me is an exercise in listening.

Speaking of your vocation as both a pastor and a filmmaker… How do you understand your identity as a Christian and as an artist?

I believe the role of an artist is to ask good questions. Art allows me to see myself and the world differently through engagement with the piece. This is very different than commercial work, which sells you on one specific idea with the hopes of converting your opinion by a specific transactional response. As someone following Jesus Christ, I can follow Jesus’ lead in that when he was asked complex questions (about a variety of topics), Jesus most often responds with questions. If anyone had the right to give declarative answers, it was Jesus! Yet, we have the ability to enter into the journey when we wrestle with the complexities of the human experience.

Therefore, the goal of my film work and my pastoral work are very similar-- to journey with people in a way that allows them to become “more human,” by which I guess I mean that in some mysterious way I’m privileged to help create space for them to be fully themselves, to grow into who God is calling them to be. My past projects have featured an elderly woman, a differently-abled person, and someone from a different political leaning than myself. My current projects follow men battling drug addiction and someone who is dying. By spending time with these people, I am transformed by their humanity and the ways they are experiencing this world differently than myself. By telling their stories, I can honor the journeys of others and see how God moves in, around, and through the world outside of my own experiences.

What was a joy in making this film?

Getting to know Santi’s community! I had known Santi very well through his high school career, but it was such a joy to get to know his amazing friends and roommates. I didn’t know Austin before we started filming, and he has an equally complex and powerful story of choosing Jesus in an environment that in some ways both denies and embraces his sexuality. Getting to know this diverse, vibrant, and loving group of friends is an honor and continues to be my favorite part of the process.

What was a challenge in making this film?

It is a challenge to wrestle with a complex topic, knowing that it can provoke intense and diverse reactions. I wanted to honestly portray Santi’s story, which includes his involvement in church and school. As an ordained elder in Santi’s church and a fellow alum (and pretty big fan) of his college, I love the people in these places, so it was important to me to engage both the story and the relationships with respect. Some people might be challenged by this film, but I hope it presents opportunities to listen, learn, and love. If knowing Santi’s story helps someone reflect on what they believe, then that’s a God-thing.

What do you hope people take away from this film?

I hope the piece provides a short moment of pause in the midst of our busy lives. We wanted the pace of the film to reflect the pace of Santi’s life: busy and hectic juxtaposed against the serenity of being alone in water. The film invites the audience into these sacred spaces with Santi, where a human can be recognized for more than one aspect of their complex identity.

In your faith community, you often end gatherings with a benediction-- which just means bestowing a blessing, giving a good word. Would you send us off with a benediction?  

Oh wow, thanks. Yes! If I could give a benediction to you all after seeing the film, it would be, “May the God of patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, peace, joy, and love teach us to make space. May God reign both over the places where we are uncertain and certain. May our faith transcend the places where we are comfortable and uncomfortable. May our love for God blossom into revolutionary love for ourselves, our neighbors, and all of creation. May we have the courage to listen, and to see all as God sees. Amen.”


The Enneagram's Growing Popularity

Recently, a single number has radically informed my self-awareness, my spiritual growth, and my relationships. The Enneagram is a personality system based on 9 core archetypes and used as a tool for reflection and growth into your truest self.


I posted a status that said, “I estimate 24% of my conversations these days include the Enneagram.” Multiple comments affirmed the sentiment, or shared that they probably discussed it at an even higher percentage. Why is this ancient personality system suddenly dominating our conversations? Why is your friend asking you to take another online test?

I suspect part of this can be explained by the publication of a new book (The Road Back to You) by Intervarsity Press, a publishing house with popularity and credibility among evangelical Christians. This has introduced the Enneagram into many Christian communities for the first time (though many of our Catholic friends have been using it for decades).

But my experience has shown that once you sense the power of the Enneagram, you want to share it. You want to learn more, you want to be in conversation, and you want to understand how someone else functions within this system.

This has become a powerful tool for our community, helping us to understand our own motivations and actions, as well as develop compassion for others. I’m able to speak with a shared language, such as “As as Seven, I want to say yes to this opportunity but I want to discern whether that’s the right choice this time.” It also offers us a lens, so that I don’t see a resident as disengaged during group discussion, because I know that as someone dominant in Type 5, he is going to take a longer time to process the information, and I can ask him his opinion in a smaller group later. Furthermore, we are all growing together and learning how to live more and more Christlike. 

If you want to learn about the Enneagram, here are some helpful resources. Many online tests are a more recent development (this is a helpful one), so while they can be a helpful starting tool, continue to read and learn more so that you can make a confident self identification of your dominant type. Once you identify your type, continue to read and grow so you can become your most integrated, truest self.

Five Enneagram Resources:

  • The Road Back to You (This book is a good primer, an introduction to each type and how the overall system functions.)

  • Typology (This podcast by one of the author’s of The Road Back To You explores types through interviews.)

  • The Sacred Enneagram (Recently released, this book focuses on the Enneagram as a tool for self-discovery and spiritual growth.)

  • Enneagram Institute (This website has pretty comprehensive information, including a helpful scale for each number showing healthy to unhealthy levels, and great descriptions of the types in relationships.)

  • Enneagram: The Christian Perspective (This classic by Richard Rohr helped introduce the Enneagram to Christian circles a few decades ago, focusing using the Enneagram to uncover your true self in Christ.)


kendrick lament

We typically open our Wednesday night gatherings with a song, but on this particular week our resident who leads music said she just couldn’t think of an appropriate song. We were prepared to discuss seasons of disorientation and lament, but our typical repertoire of music was not up for the task.

Photo by  Cristian Newman  on  Unsplash

Reading Walter Brueggemann’s Spirituality of the Psalms, we moved through the scheme of Orientation, Disorientation, and New Orientation that he uses to interpret the psalms. The stage of disorientation reflects the lament psalms in Scripture, a high percentage of the songs and poems contained in the book.

We quickly realized that the modern “psalter” we had learned in church (a few hymns and lots of contemporary worship music) failed to capture the lament so prevalent in Scripture itself. If not an complete lack, there is certainly a disproportionate number of positive and hopeful (orientation) songs in many church’s hymnals and worship song portfolios. No one in our community could remember the last time they sang a lament song in corporate worship.

Sometimes, singing a song of orientation during disorientation can be a bold proclamation of hope that things are not as they will ultimately be. But often, singing purely happy songs during orientation is actually a numb denial of the reality and suffering. Often, a refusal to acknowledge lament serves as a form of social control, where the dominant group refuses to allow suffering. And certainly, as Brueggemann helps us see, this is not the approach of Scripture. Nor is it the approach of all churches, for those who have suffered at the hands of oppressors have often sung their lament communally and before God.

In an effort to discover and name this music that captures our experiences and emotions during times of disorientation, our residents created a playlist called "kendrick lament" that we are happy to share.

Shortly after writing this, the news broke that 59 people died and hundreds more injured in the mass shooting in Las Vegas, reminding us of the painful need for lament yet again. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.  

O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
(Psalm 88:1-3)

Pastoral Statement from The Possibility Project:

As of June 2017, we (Sophie & Jared) serve on the pastoral staff of The Possibility Project. As pastors, we understand we have a responsibility to shepherd and guide our community in conversation and action, particularly during troubling social and cultural moments. In response to the events at Charlottesville and the ongoing presence of white supremacy in our country, we offered this pastoral statement, which was originally shared on our Facebook page. 

As a church under the umbrella of the Church of the Nazarene, The Possibility Project affirms our new denominational statement which speaks against discrimination of all forms:

“Therefore, we renounce any form of racial and ethnic indifference, exclusion, subjugation, or oppression as a grave sin against God and our fellow human beings. We lament the legacy of every form of racism throughout the world, and we seek to confront that legacy through repentance, reconciliation, and biblical justice. We seek to repent of every behavior in which we have been overtly or covertly complicit with the sin of racism, both past and present; and in confession and lament we seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Further, we acknowledge that there is no reconciliation apart from human struggle to stand against and to overcome all personal, institutional and structural prejudice responsible for racial and ethnic humiliation and oppression. We call upon Nazarenes everywhere to identify and seek to remove acts and structures of prejudice, to facilitate occasions for seeking forgiveness and reconciliation, and to take action toward empowering those who have been marginalized.

As followers of Christ and pastors of this local church community, this is our effort to put the new manual statement into practice within our particular context, as we “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14).

We renounce...

Our community firmly rejects the racism, anti-semitism, bigotry, and white supremacy on display in Charlottesville as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, we recognize that this is not an isolated incident and that we must continually call out both specific instances and harmful structures.

We lament...

Our community grieves the violence in Charlottesville and the deaths of three people. We lament the pervasiveness of racism, anti-semitism, bigotry, and white supremacy in our church and culture and the failure of our church to more boldly speak and act against it. We cry out to God, knowing that God is grieved and holds our grief.

We repent...

Our community repents of our complicity in racism, anti-semitism, bigotry, and white supremacy. We recognize that, in varying degrees, we are tied to a racialized history and benefit from systems that prioritize whiteness and oppress people of different race, color, gender, and creed. We admit that we carry bias and prejudice in our hearts and thoughts. As we become more aware, we continually repent of our sin and change our attitudes and behaviors accordingly.

We identify and seek to remove acts and structures of prejudice...

We commit to evaluating our community’s beliefs and practices in order to resist racism and privilege.

We facilitate occasions for seeking forgiveness and reconciliation...

We commit to a posture of humility, asking for forgiveness in public and private forums from those we’ve hurt and moving toward reconciliation in partnership.

We take action toward empowering those who have been marginalized...

We commit to the following actions:

  1. Being in prayer so we may always be led by the Spirit of Life.

  2. Proclaiming in word and deed the gospel of love, peace, life, and justice over and against the anti-gospel of hatred, violence, oppression, and division.

  3. Participating in anti-racism training and educating ourselves on systemic injustice, while learning from and elevating voices on the margins.

  4. Collecting and creating racial justice resources to share with our church, district, and global church.

  5. Financially supporting racial justice efforts led by those who have typically been disempowered.

What's Next? Back, back to Cali!

In the words of Biggie, we’re going, going, back, back to Cali!*

*We still don’t call it Cali though. 

After a three year hiatus in the Peach State, we are excited to announce that we will be serving in ministry in the Bay Area.

We have accepted positions to pastor with an intentional living community/residential internship program called The Possibility Project. We will also coordinate compassionate ministry and youth ministry leadership on the Northern California district of the Church of the Nazarene. Our move is prompted by Sophie's graduation from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology with her Masters of Divinity.

Our first visit to the NorCal district ignited a spark that surprised both of us, prompting us to wonder if we could move there. After speaking at NorCal district camps and retreats, our connections with this community deepened. Jared has been working on a collaborative book project with the interns. This past summer, we realized that working with an intentional living community could combine our passions for spiritual formation and mentorship, hospitality, community life, social justice, and creativity. We began some conversations with Jeff Purganan about the needs of the district and the opportunities to serve together. 

Under Jeff’s creative leadership, the Sunnyvale Church of the Nazarene re-organized and launched a new ministry. The Possibility Project is a two year leadership development program designed for Christians who desire to live and work in the Bay Area. Participants share in life together, preach and serve in local churches, and develop their own ministry projects. 


You both have jobs?
Yes! Together! Sophie is hired full time and Jared will work half time, while he continues to create films, write, and speak. 

What is an intentional living community?
Quite simply, a group of people who choose to share life together based on similar values. It looks different for every intentional community. The Possibility Project is a more loosely structured intentional community, a.k.a we’re not sharing our incomes (as some of you have asked), but we will share life together and support each other’s growth through intentional communal rhythms, like regular meals and book studies. 

Will you live with other people?
We will live in our own house, but we will live near the two community houses and Crossroads Church in Palo Alto.

Can I join the community?
Yes! We might have more applicants than beds this year, but part of our role will be facilitating the expansion of the program. It is typically a two year commitment, beginning in August. Check out the website here or email to let us know you’re interested so we can have a conversation. 

When will you start?
Sophie graduates on May 8, and after moving, we'll begin working in mid-June. 

Is this where you're from?
Jared grew up in Lodi, CA which is in Northern California but about two hours from where we will be living. Before moving to Georgia, we both lived in San Diego, CA. We're excited to be in California again, but living in the Bay Area will be a completely new experience for us.

Are you going to miss Atlanta?
Of course! We’ve really enjoyed our three years here. We imagine we’ll be back for some BBQ and biscuits, to visit our friends and maintain our connections with the Atlanta Film Society, where Jared is still serving as a filmmaker-in-residence.

Are you going to be a nun/priest?
Okay, you’re probably not wondering that but Sophie gets that question A LOT when she tells people what she is studying. 

Our Weekend with Shane Claiborne

On a Friday night, we sat around the table eating popcorn, drinking hot chocolate, and talking with our houseguest...Shane Claiborne. Shane is an author, activist, and founder of The Simple Way, an intentional community in Philadelphia. 

We first came in contact with Shane’s work through his book The Irresistible Revolution. For Sophie, the book brought together her faith commitments alongside her concern for social issues, giving her more clarity on what to study in college and encouraging her to adjust her daily living to reflect these values. For Jared, the book served as a missing piece in what Church was currently offering and painted a picture for what fully dedicated Kingdom-living might look like now. He had the youth staff at San Diego First Church read the book. For the both of us, Shane’s work was both inspirational and challenging, and helped us shape the values of our marriage around simplicity, hospitality, and justice. 

So, why was Shane sitting in our house? Sophie will take it over…

During my first year in seminary, the state of Georgia scheduled an execution date for Kelly Gissendaner. Though I had advocated for the California proposition against the death penalty in 2012, regularly scheduled executions weren’t a regular practice there, so I hadn’t given much thought to the issue. But this execution was different. People in my community knew Kelly. They had served her communion. They had taught her in theology classes. They had written letters with her. They had received ministry from her. Her story was compelling, because I was learning about a prisoner as a real person. Flawed, yes. Guilty, yes. But also forgiven and transformed. Kelly’s story of grace highlighted for me the absurdity and barbarity of the death penalty. 

Despite a groundswell of support, including a petition of over 92,000 signatures, including many of yours as well as a letter from Pope Francis, the state of Georgia executed Kelly in September 2015. She died singing “Amazing Grace.”

Shortly thereafter, I met Shane at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) Conference, where he told a few of us Candler students about his upcoming book focused on the death penalty, called Executing Grace: How The Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us. Shane told us when he did a book tour, he didn’t simply want to come read passages and sell copies. He wanted to highlight the way the death penalty affects real people, and bring alongside family members, ex-felons, and policy makers who deal with this daily. As he said, he chose to advocate against the death penalty, but for other people, the death penalty chooses them. 

Our Candler community had been affected by the death penalty, and situated in Georgia, a state that had the highest number of executions in 2016, we knew it was affecting more communities. Furthermore, because it is our tax dollars and elected officials that enforce this punishment, we realized we were all implicated. As a seminary and students training to go into churches, we were convicted by Shane’s explanation that the death penalty has not existed in spite of Christians, but because of Christians. Situated in the Bible Belt, we wanted to have a discussion about theology, ethics, law, and the personal impact of the death penalty. So we invited Shane to a three city speaking tour called Executing Grace in Georgia: A Faithful Conversation About the Death Penalty.

As we traveled to 3 cities in 30 hours, I saw that this movement is building, and despite the continued operation of this death machine, I have hope. As Shane said in the final event, “Before every movement, they say it’s impossible. After every movement, they say it was inevitable.” Change seems unlikely. Change seems daunting and impossible. Yet we are committed to hope. As Kayla Gissendaner, Kelly’s daughter, said at the panel, “I never gave up hope because my mom deserved every ounce I could give.” If Kayla can maintain hope, so can I. If Kelly can die with Amazing Grace on her lips, we can trust that grace will indeed get the last word. 

(click photos for slideshow)

Sometimes Shane gets dismissed for being too idealistic or too outrageous. But spending a weekend with Shane, doing regular things like driving around Georgia and sharing meals, just revealed to us a person who is all in for Jesus. Shane sees injustice in the world and engages it with his whole self. Hearing about his family and his neighborhood, and the creative ways they are building a world they want to live in, reminded us that what he preaches is possible. More accurately, what Jesus preaches is possible. Shane is, simply, is doing what we’re all called to do as disciples of Christ. Shane is fully committed to loving God with heart, mind, body, soul -  and wallet, neighborhood, and vocation. He’s not special, he is faithful. May we all find more ways to be faithful to our calling. 

The reasons Christians should stand for life and stand against the death penalty are abundant. You can read them in Shane’s book much more eloquently stated than I could recount here, or watch this video series with Shane by our new friend Rex Harsin. And I don’t need to recap the full event - you can watch the keynote and panel discussion at Candler here. To get involved with this movement for grace and life, check out the resources + action steps we recommended at the event.

I Watched 244 Movies in 2016

We are living in a Golden Age for original creative content. But how do we choose what to consume?

This year I made it my goal to watch over 200 feature films (not including short films and television shows). I had hoped this mission would push me beyond my comfortable "go-to" genres and into the strange corners of cinema. Many movies I had seen in previous years still stand the test of time.

Top Old Favorites You Should See:

  • The Game
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Amelie
  • Into the Wild
  • The Truman Show
  • Wall-E
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Dear Zachary
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Adaptation
  • Forrest Gump
  • Inside Man
  • Honorable Mention: Goon, American Ultra
2016 Top Films

I am a big believer in “hype.” The expectations we carry into a film, when/where we see it, how we are feeling that day, and the issues we are dealing with in “real life” all have incredible influence over how a movie resonates. This list isn’t trying to be objective to rate the “best” movies of 2016 for all people. It is a list of my Top 10. Each film includes a “Suggested Pairing.” These are other films that will resonate on similar themes and make for a more well-rounded film viewing experience.*

#10 - Rams 

Gorgeous and slow Icelandic film in which two estranged brothers are forced to interact for the first time in 40 years when their sheep get sick.

(Suggested Pairing: The Lobster, a dystopian critique of singleness and the degradation of social skills.)

#9 - The Barkley Marathons

Microbudget documentary following a quirky old man and the ultramarathon he invented following a prisoner’s escape route.

(Suggested Pairing: Tower, a rotoscoped retelling of the 1966 shooting at the University of Austin. Demolition, Jake Gyllenhaal trying to find level after the unexpected death of his wife.)

#8 - The Big Short

Revolutionary to be both so informative and entertaining. Adam McKay establishes himself as a talent across genres.

(Suggested Pairing: The Accountant. I really enjoyed the unique perspective on thriller/drama/action movie through the lens of an autistic man.)

#7 - The Revenant

A beautiful moving picture. The film is a slow burn, but it’s a cinematic triumph. Know you’re in for a very long, very slow, very stunning film.

(Suggested Pairing: Moonlight. Many people will have this film as their top for the year, and for good reason. I think hype was the downfall for this film for me. Going into the theatre I had been told it would be the best film I’d have ever seen. Moonlight deserves every single award it will get this year, and you should see it.)

#6 - Spotlight    

This film had me gasping and cheering for justice out loud in the theater. Amen for films that pursue truth and justice, giving voice to the powerless and persecuted. In this story, the journalists seeking to expose the truth are far more Christ-like than the Church, as it protected itself instead of the children it was wounding. I am grateful for shedding light on this still dark time/topic in the story of the Church.         

(Suggested Pairing: Holy Hell, a terrifying documentary recounting the twenty years spent in a cult as told by a survivor. How do these things still happen? Presents wonderful and timely critique of power and what it means to be complicit in evil by our silence.)

#5 - La La Land

I haven’t had this much fun in the theater for awhile. I had goosebumps and was dancing along in my seat for much of the film. Hollywood is swooning for this love letter to itself, layered with a tasteful nostalgia for jazz while commenting on the challenges of pursuing your dreams.

(Suggested Pairing: Tap dancing out of the theater, and watching old classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, Singing in the Rain, & White Christmas. Also, if you haven't seen the writer/director's Whiplash, see that now.)

#4 - Captain Fantastic

Wow. This film hit perfectly on the struggle of growing up inundated with technology and what modernity has brought. How do we rebel against thoughtlessness? What would raising a child be like in this society?

(Suggested Pairing: Spend time reflecting on your upbringing. What are some things from your family of origin you want to emulate in your current life? What are some things you’d like to do differently? What is your current relationship with technology? Where are some places that it might be hindering genuine relationship?)

#3 - Arrival

This could easily be my #1. Amy Adams is a linguist tasked with making contact with a new species visiting Earth. Arrival is stunning, creative, fresh, and well-acted.

(Suggested Pairing: Dr. Strange. I saw these both the same week, and sharing what themes they have in common would ruin the films, but they complemented each other very well.)

#2 - The Hunting Ground

A documentary exposing the epidemic of rape on college campuses. This film should be mandatory viewing for all college students, administrators, teachers, and high school students, church youth groups, and parents of students. This is not an easy film to watch, but it is tastefully done and is terrifyingly relevant.

(Suggested Pairing: I was so devastated from The Hunting Ground that it was interesting what balance my next few days of film watching provided. As someone is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds in the USA, art and storytelling are important to tell their stories as well as to celebrate how beautiful life can be. How do we hold both tragedy and beauty at the same time? It is not “either/or” but “both/and.”  First Monday in May shows the process of the Met Ball fashion fundraiser. The Drop Box tells the story of a community in Korea who collects unwanted babies through a drop box and raises them. Can we hold rape, art, and hope at the same time?)

#1 - The Act of Killing    

Members of the 1960’s Indonesian death squads reenact the murders for which they are heros. The film takes time to develop, but it pays off as you watch the transformation of the main character. By the end of the film I was crying and almost threw up. I can’t remember a film that has moved me so much.

(Suggested Pairing: Take some time to reflect in silence. Maybe go on a hike without your phone? Ask: What are the stories I am telling myself that are untrue? Where have I wounded people and have not yet seen the truth of my actions? What does forgiveness look like? What are some steps I can take to reach reconciliation?)

What were your favorites?

*Please use discernment when viewing all the films listed. You know your own standards for language, drugs, and nudity in art/media. Please research the ratings of each film if you are sensitive to more explicit content.





An Election Day Reflection

On the whole, I’m not the most emotional person. But when I walked out of my polling place, I found myself choked up. I didn’t cry because I was thrilled to vote for a particular candidate, nor did I cry out of fear of another candidate. 

I cried because when I looked around, I realized that Jared was the only white male in the room. I cried because I realized that despite the claims that our nation was founded on liberty and justice for all, none of us in that polling place were guaranteed a right to vote in 1776.

Because until 1870 the color of your skin determined whether you were really a man. 

Because until 1920 by my gender I wouldn’t have been considered worthy to make an informed vote.

Because until 1965 most of my neighbors here couldn’t go to the polls without intimidation and attack.

I cried because an out-of-business Men’s Warehouse in a mall became a tiny testimony to equality and civil rights and we still have so much work to do.

Because I am mindful some people can’t vote, like those in my neighboring refugee community or our undocumented brother and sisters or my friends still in the the citizenship process or minorities who are suppressed by voter ID laws or amazing women I’ve met who have spent time in prison. 

I never want to take for granted that I get this chance to participate in the process. My vote for President won’t necessarily make a difference in the outcome, but still, my vote matters. 

Happy Election Day. Make your voice heard.