The Friday Five: Must-See Documentaries

I have a deep love for documentaries, especially for the way they teach me and expand my worldview. Here are five must-see documentaries to add to your Netflix queue. 1. Urbanized


By 2050, 75% of the world's population will be living in an urban dwelling. This film takes you through several cities around the globe, exposes the challenges and opportunities in urban planning, and reminds us how geography affects how we live.

2. Food, Inc


Do you know where your food comes from? Before seeing this film in 2009, I didn't know and I didn't really care. Be forewarned: this film might change your purchasing, cooking and eating choices in your life. It certainly did in mine.

3. Mad Hot Ballroom


NYC middle-school kids + ballroom dancing lessons = Delightful

4. Buck


A man who was abused as a child spends his adult life traveling the nation with a horse training program, debunking the belief that animals must be beaten to be tamed. This is the story of the real horse whisperer who demonstrates a supernatural ability to calm even the wildest of horses.

5. Under African Skies


On the 25th anniversary of his best selling album,Graceland , Paul Simon returns to South Africa and reflects on his controversial musical collaboration during the height of apartheid. This film explores the moral and artistic collision of rhythm, race, politics and identity, woven by Simon's musical genius and vision.

Which documentaries do you recommend?

The Call of Stories

Our stories matter - yours, mine, theirs. Everyone has a story that is wildly complex, beautiful and redemptive. Yet we forget to pay attention to the call of stories because we have reduced ourselves and others to sound bites, profile pages and 120 character expressions. We lack self-awareness to see the story of our own lives; kindness to put ourselves into the stories of those we know; and imagination to consider the stories of those whom we do not know. In last week's prayer, I begged God to equip us with moral imagination to have real discourse. I am referring to Robert Coles' book The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination. Coles is a psychiatrist and Harvard Professor who champions the importance of one another's story. He understands the unique value of each person's narrative, and urges each and every one of us to dive into the narratives of great literature as well as to consider other people's stories as we conduct ourselves in relationships, politics, vocation and faith. I fear that our discourse with one another will suffer empty and superficial pettiness if we are too blinded to discover the sacred value of each other's stories.

Here are some of his words that have encouraged me to build my own moral imagination as I interact with others in the world:

"Their story, yours, mine - it's what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them."

"The story of some of us who become owners of a professional power and a professional vocabulary is the familiar one of moral thoughtlessness. We brandish our authority in a ceaseless effort to reassure ourselves about our importance, and we forget to look at our own warts and blemishes, so busy are we cataloguing those in others."

"Behind the door of every contented, happy man there ought to be someone standing with a little hammer and continually reminding him with a knock that there are unhappy people, that however happy he may be, life will sooner or later show him its claws, and trouble will come to him - illness, poverty, losses, and then no one will see or hear him, just as now he neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer. The happy man lives at his ease, faintly fluttered by small daily cares, like an aspen in the wind - and all is well. How do we find that 'hammer' for ourselves?"

"We shrug off, shake off, walk away from, close our eyes to the world of unhappiness. Checkhov notes the commonness of this maneuver: we stifle any inclination our conscience has to direct not only our awareness, but our conduct."

How do you think we can cultivate this moral imagination into our discourse with one another?

The Sacred Act of Remembering

It's amazing how quickly we can forget our own stories. We are inundated with the immediate pressures of today, and if we are lucky, we find time to look ahead with vision for the weeks or year to come. But how much time do we spend considering where we have come from? I realize that I have not spent enough time remembering my own story.

Last weekend, James and I drove several hours through winding mountain roads to find ourselves in a secret garden and quaint lodge at the foot of the Smoky Mountains. We joined an intimate gathering of some staff, board members, Jars of Clay and their spouses, and special donors to the organization.

In the serenity of nature, simplicity and community, our stories were drawn out of us - stories of what Dan saw on his first visit to Africa, of writing the name Blood:Water Mission on the plane home, of a wise and thoughtful friend who ensured that Jars of Clay and I meet, of what it was like for me as a college student to hear their vision, and of the 25-page proposal I wrote on my Thanksgiving break to suggest how we could start Blood:Water Mission.

Stories of driving across the country to Tennessee with my dad, moving into the basement of the Haseltine's home, beginning work in the basement of an old church in Franklin, our first tears together in an AIDS hospice in South Africa, our first dollars raised, our struggles to raise more, and the people who came along at the perfect time to keep this mission alive.

There is delight and wonder in remembering. "What we were thinking?" we asked ourselves. "Can you believe we made it through that?" we wondered soberly. "Do you remember the surprise of that first time we collected dollar bills for Kenya?" we smiled.

On Saturday afternoon, Dan, Charlie, Matt, Steve and I sat together outside among the audience of God's great beauty, and we reflected on the stories of where we have come from. It has been painful, exhilarating, disappointing, beautiful - all of it. We sat there, circled together, with the blue ridge mountains as our witness, and affirmed that we are blessed to be a part of such a story. And then we took the great leap to dream about where we are going next, and we cannot wait for the stories that will come as a result of this new chapter of ours.

But we could not have done that until we had remembered where we came from.

Our stories can teach us, time and time again.

What stories ought you to remember?

May you be as blessed as we were in the important and sacred act of remembering.

Meet Kabale

For those of you who have been following Kabale's story as well as the money that was raised for her surgery, here is a sweet video we did of Kabale last year. [vimeo 30330697 w=500 h=281]

Meet Kabale from Blood:Water Mission on Vimeo.

Thank you for praying for Kabale and her recent battle with cancer. She was discharged from the hospital on August 2nd, went back to Marsabit for two weeks and is now back in Nairobi for a follow-up appointment.  Enjoy her story and keep rallying for her!

Why Words Matter

Last week, I stood in line at a cafe behind a couple of Vanderbilt University students who just returned to campus for the beginning of the school year. The girl in front of me, dressed in her fashionable summer clothes and dangly jewelry, was inconvenienced that she could not use her meal card until next week. "Well, how am I supposed to pay for my meal then?" she asked in a huff. "I'm poor!"

Healthy women call themselves "fat."

People who haven't yet had lunch call themselves "starving."

A person annoyed with his 30-minute circumstance proclaims, "Just shoot me now!"

The words we use are relative to our experience. So you are very hungry, relative to what your stomach normally expects. Or you are not as skinny, relative to the airbrushed models on today's magazines. Or you are low on immediate cash, relative to what it was like before you had to take out student loans for a world-class college education.

Of course, the Vanderbilt student knows she isn't poor in the way the term was intended. And no American with a growling stomach from the long stretch between breakfast and lunch truly believes he or she is starving. And I imagine that someone who is annoyed just wants the annoyance to go away, and is not actually suffering something so drastic that dying would be better.

It just reminded me that words matter, and I want to be more careful about the statements I make without forethought.

The Friday Five

As the International AIDS Conference wraps up today in Washington, DC, here are five memorable voices from my time there.

1. Ibubetaylor,  13-year-old girl from Nigeria

I was born HIV free. Thank you, Mom. I don't understand why other children are born with the virus and why they are still without treatment. I want all children to be born just like me, free of HIV. Please let us make this world an AIDS free generation.

2. Dr. Jim Kim, President of the World Bank

The end of AIDS is actually something within our reach. My pledge to you is that the World Bank will work tirelessly to drive the AIDS fight forward until we win. Strong partnerships with civil society that delivers results for the poor will be a signature for my service with the World Bank. 

3. Annah Sango, 24-year-old HIV positive woman from Zimbabwe

We are getting tired of repeating ourselves. Why do so many of the same old problems still exist in women and girls accessing the treatment and care that they need? Why are women still marginalized in terms of resources? Why is there failure in speaking out against violence against women? HIV thrives when gender inequality and poverty combine. Include us in this conversation. 

4. Bill Gates, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Even if you take the most efficient way at doing this work, the number of people will increase in who needs to be on treatment. There [currently] aren't enough funds. The world will have to make a decision on how much these lives matter.

5. Pernessa Seele, CEO and Founder of The Balm in Gilead

Ask God to give us courage to uphold the spiritual law of grace, amazing grace. And this amazing grace is for EVERYONE. That God's grace is present in everyone and for everyone. Our ultimate partner is the one who has called us to do this work. Calling is to manifest wherever we are amazing grace. And that amazing grace flows for everyone everywhere. 

When a Homeless Man Changed My Life

I believe that God speaks to us in the everyday moments of our lives - the people we pass by on the street, the whispers of heaven through a quiet walk in the woods, the glimpses of new perspective that come from the simple art of paying attention. When I was nine, I met a homeless man who changed my life. He stood alone on a San Francisco corner with a droop in his face and an ache in his voice. He was hungry.

I couldn't stop thinking about him while I was out to dinner with my mom, and I stared at my food like it didn't belong to me. I wrapped my hamburger up and walked back to give the hungry man my dinner. We walked street after street in search for him, but we never found him. Since then, I have been walking through life looking to know more people like him.

When I was 13, I regularly snuck out of church to hang out at the city park with my homeless friends. I'd buy them a sandwich from Subway or Arby's and listen to their stories. I learned that there were countless hungry bellies and beaten souls out there, and that life is a battle for so many.

When I was 15, I showed up to volunteer at the Red Cross shelter and they were so short on help, they immediately appointed me kitchen facilitator - ensuring that the residents would be served dinner each night. I spent three years rushing between school and extra-curricular activities and building a community of friends among the staff and residents of the shelter.

I went to college to become a nurse. But then I passed out every time I visited a hospital. So I got into politics and international studies. I quickly learned that the stories of the poor in America are a mere sample of what the rest of the world experiences. While in nursing school, I had learned about HIV/AIDS and how the virus attacks the weakest parts of our immune system. While studying international relations, I discovered that the HIV/AIDS crisis was also attacking the weakest members of our society: women and children in Africa.

When I was 21, I seized an opportunity to bring attention to those who have been most affected by the HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa. I thought of that homeless man and how he was ignored amidst personal suffering, and I wished for a different story for him and for all who have felt written off and forgotten.

Today at 30, I think often about what my life would have looked like had there not been a sacred grace at nine years old when one person's humanity lured my own, and it continues to affect the way I live today. May we all risk the art of paying attention.