The Trump Administration’s actions last week only highlight the need for the transformative work that Telos is doing with your help. This month, we’re hearing from just a few of you—the Pro/Pro/Pro community—who are responding by giving, creating, and speaking into the world around them in hopeful ways.
This week, we want to listen to four members of our community—Bjorn Amundsen & Bjorn Hogan, Stu G, and Lisa Jernigan—who’ve generously shared their views on why they create, in hope of a better future. Please consider joining them by making a donation to Telos to help grow the Pro/Pro/Pro community by raising $100,000 this month.
Bjorn Amundsen & Blaine Hogan
Bjorn and Blaine are filmmakers who recently created Apolis—a short film telling the stories of Israeli Danny Seidemann and Palestinian Angie Saba. Check out the film, which premiered at the 2017 Telos Leadership Conference, here.
Why did you decide to create Apolis?
We love telling great stories, especially if those stories have the potential to help enlighten people, raise funds, or have some kind of end result where the world becomes a better, more complete place. After we went on the Telos trip in 2013, we were floored. From the moment we got there, we decided that we had to make something about this. There are so many stories and honestly, we felt like we just scratched the surface with Apolis.
On that first trip, one of the things that we kept seeing and feeling was that story [Telos] was telling is so beautiful and so compelling, but that a lot of the visuals that you had didn’t live up to the story. And so we obviously felt compelled to help solve that problem.
[When Telos initially didn’t have the resources to produce this project], Bjorn serendipitously happened to be near the region, we ended up getting some donation money, and we put in a fair amount of our own money and resources. It really was a passion project. We were so moved by the work of Telos and the stories that we were told while we were in Israel/Palestine. We wanted to do everything that we could with the skills that we have to help tell some of them. And we just scratched the surface. We could have full time jobs just telling those stories for you guys.
Why this format?
We knew from the very beginning that anything that we did needed to tell both sides of the story in a way that felt even and equal and without any kind of editorial or opinion alongside it. The whole conflict is enormous. Everyone has been telling the story of both sides in these really monolithic ways. I think what we’re learning – and what Telos has been teaching – is that your mind is changed and you are transformed through the gift of proximity: movement towards the other in a really specific way. And so it was always at the heart of this project that we want people to be introduced to two very specific people instead of trying to deal with the issue. It’s harder to politicize people than it is an issue.
Have you seen projects that you’ve worked on move people toward a different way of seeing the world?
We’ve seen these kinds of projects raise millions of dollars for different causes. We’ve seen thousands of kids sponsored [through Compassion International], we’ve been able to watch audiences when these things play – to see people kind of whispering back and forth to one another and hearing back like “oh I never knew about this,” or “this is totally new information to me.”
One other specific example that we worked on is a story about Audrey Assad who’s a singer-songwriter. We created it a year or two ago, but when the travel ban happened, it got a re-release because she happens to be the daughter of a Syrian refugee. She looks Caucasian, so she’s never mistaken as someone who is of Syrian descent, and the story got a new life around the time when the travel ban was first passed. Again, this story was told through the lens of a specific person rather than an issue.
Bjorn: And if we’re not impacted by what we’re making, then something’s wrong. I just got back from Ghana. I was doing a story on child slavery in this fishing industry there. And most of the time I couldn’t fully engage with the issue as I was shooting it because I would be unable to shoot. On an emotional level, like I had to remove myself and then process at the end of the day. As a creator, you’re impacted by what you’re doing and you’re using that as fuel to create in hopes that there will be some kind of net change afterwards.
What does it mean for you to be a creator?
Blaine: I have this personal mantra: that the world isn’t finished. My job is to create work that in little ways is working toward renewal by either changing perspectives or helping people see something in a different way.
I am looking to be transformed by the stories that I tell. I’m looking to be moved by the stories that I tell. I need to be transformed before the audience needs it. When I create out of that perspective, that is the work that resonates the most. But I think about that all the time: that the world isn’t finished. And so this act of creation is hopefully doing something to move the world in a more whole direction.
Bjorn: I feel like being a creator is kind of like an input and output machine. I am taking my experience and the input that I receive from the world and then expressing it in the way that I experience it, that I give someone the opportunity to experience the world in the same way that I experience it.
As creative professionals, do you have any advice for creators who want to affect positive change in the world around them?
Bjorn: The fact that we create professionally comes from the fact that we do it naturally. This is part of who we are, and what we’re doing is acting on who we are. I think that anyone – whether you are creative or administrative or anything else – should be who you are to the best of your ability and figure out the marriage between who you are and justice.
Blaine: I think that creating is really inside out. The work that Bjorn and I are trying to do is an embodiment of who we are, and so that requires a fair amount of inner work. I have a mantra that “every artist needs a therapist,” or someone to help you to figure out who you are so that you can express that in a creative way. Doing that inner work creates an enormous amount of empathy for ‘the other’ because you see your own flaws and you see where your own story has brought you. It makes it a whole lot easier to look at other people’s stories and realize that who they are who they are hasn’t been created in a vacuum. I think this is the beauty and genius behind Telos; you start at the Holocaust museum for a reason. You’re trying to take people on a journey to understand how did someone come to think a certain way, and the greatest way to have empathy towards the other is to figure out how do you get that for yourself.
What is hope?
Bjorn: Hope is having a vision that things can be different, and then acting on that vision and pressing towards it. For me, hope is a big motivator in making these things. I love beauty, and I finding beauty in things is one of my gifts. My act of hope is applying this gift towards specific initiatives and creating these kinds of stories.
What gives you hope?
Bjorn: You guys. Telos is doing this amazing work and that gives me hope and makes me want to do something. It makes me want to get involved and contribute in a way that I can contribute. I’m not a diplomat and I’m not an organizer or anything like that, but what I can do is create a video. It’s like being inspired. If I see somebody who’s doing something courageous and innovative in the justice arena, it makes me want to do something as well.
Blaine: Sometimes we think about hope as this quiet sort of thing, but I think hope is extremely active. The hope that we’ve experienced that Telos has offered – that the world could be different and that peace could be possible – caused Bjorn and I to decide to give up almost a month of our lives to go and create a piece that might make others have the hope that we had through the work of Telos.
Stu G, formerly the guitarist for the band Delirious?, recently released The Beatitudes Project, a film, book, and album seeking to “breathe in the nearness of God when we are at the bottom of life.” Find out more about the project here.
Why did you decide to create The Beatitudes Project?
The Beatitudes, these words of introduction to The Sermon on the Mount, grabbed my attention and imagination about 20 years ago. I thought back then that I’d love to create a musical project based around the themes. Over the years, I started to collect stories of people who somehow embody these announcements. One of the final moments that pushed me into full-on creation was the Telos trip I was a part of in 2013. To sit on the hill where the Sermon on The Mount was spoken and to get new understanding of “Blessed are the Peacemakers” were pivotal moments in the process. After that trip, the stories became a book, the first song “Oh Blessed” was written, and I had a clearer vision of what the project could be.
The goal has been to look at the Beatitudes through a 21st-century lens and to ask the question what are the beatitudes inviting us into right now?
How did you select the stories that you feature in the book and film?
Honestly the stories selected themselves. Once I had a roadmap of what I thought the main idea should be in each theme, it became about me reaching out, making friends and listening to those who were willing to tell me their stories. So the people who said “yes” are in the book and the film.
Have you seen the Project move yourself or others toward a different way of seeing the world?
Yes for sure. Firstly my deep dive into the Sermon on the Mount has changed me. Rather than seeing these words as something only to be owned by a religion, I’ve discovered these words offer a roadmap of being for all humanity. One of the invitations that the Beatitudes and the Telos Group offer us is to engage in the conversations of difference. I have heard from people who’ve read the book, telling me stories of how they’ve been inspired to reach out to their literal neighbors; people who they’ve never really interacted with because they are a different religion or race, and how they are forging friendships and serving them.
Just a few weeks ago, I was asked to take part in an event and talk about “Blessed are the Meek.” I talked about those we see as the other and invited my Syrian Muslim friend Riyad to the event. Riyad is a chef and he baked the bread for us to use in the Eucharist that night. It was a beautiful stunning moment that many will never forget.
What does it mean for you to be a creator?
I feel like being a creator is something that “just is” I don’t think you choose it, I think it chooses you. At the heart of being a creator, along with the passion and vision, comes much self doubt: “Will anyone like what I’ve done? Will this connect with anyone?”
I have had a hard time learning that whether something is a success and earns you money, is not the point of being a creator…the point is to create.
Do you have any advice for other creative people (who might not have the level of skill and resources that you have) who want to use their gifts to affect positive change?
Yes! Your ideas and dreams are valid! Nothing comes without hours and hours of work, nothing comes without trying things and failing.
I would offer this advice— that if you feel like you are at a roadblock and nothing seems to be shifting, maybe you are supposed to find others to do it with.
Community and collaboration are everything to me and I think it’s an upside-down message for the world right now. If I was writing the Beatitudes today I might well add “Blessed are those who know their need for others, for they shall never be alone.”
What does hope mean to you? What gives you hope?
Well I have been hanging out with Todd Deatherage a lot! So as he says in our film “Hope is not a form of optimism, Hope is what you do.” I am learning about acting in hopeful ways to bring about a different future…to tell a new story.
What gives me hope is the message inside the first Beatitude. In The Message translation, it says “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope!”
Who hasn’t been there? I mean at the lowest point you can get to—the blessing is that God is on your side. I think that’s amazing! I always thought that life was about climbing the ladder of success. Jesus flips that on its head and says no—”if you’re at the bottom, if you’ve nothing left, you’ve got me!”
This might sound strange but, to be honest, what also gives me hope is humanity. Even with all the ugliness in the world right now, I’m a big believer in the human race, and whenever I see people working together for good, for unity, living out of kindness, speaking up for the oppressed, living for change and being the best version of themselves…That gives me hope.
Lisa recently launched a movement called Amplify Peace: a community of women that believes everyone has the capacity to live a better story. “All of us have received a holy invitation to join a symphony of stories that release transforming power in the world. This is the kind of power that can change us from the inside out. Together we can change communities and nations and the globe.”
The Now and the Not Yet!
My worldview and theology were disrupted with two simple invitations from friends. The first invitation was to attend a Telos Conference and the other invitation was to go experience the “holy land” differently. My husband, Cal and I were asked to go to Israel/Palestine, not as typical tourists, but as listeners and learners of narratives from both sides of the wall. Neither one of us had any idea at the time what life transforming experiences these would prove to be for us. Both would literally change the trajectories of our lives and life purposes in profound ways.
Now that I have seen I am responsible, was a quote I ran across in my pre-trip preparation for my first peacemaking pilgrimage and it was also a quote I saw spray painted on the wall in the West Bank. With this simple sighting God got my attention in a very personal way. This began my journey of immersing more deeply into the ways of peacemaking amidst the backdrop of this particular conflict. This immersive encounter became a huge catalyst for transformation in my life. And so my global journey was launched.
I must confess, it took me a couple of years and many more trips to Israel/Palestine before I began to realize what that “responsibility” could look like. I did a lot of soul searching, praying and showing up. I knew I was passionate about leading women and I was wired to create. Two particular trips and two particular conversations led me to create Amplify Peace.
On one trip I found myself standing in a classroom of high school students, listening to their stories, their hopes and dreams while peering out of a broken window pane with the plaster surrounding it still revealing bullet holes from a recent attack on the school. As we listened and asked questions, one thought emerged as they shared what they wanted to be when they grew up. Their answers were all professions of expression, i.e. photographer, journalist, artist, musician, even the President. I realized in that moment that they wanted their lives to speak and they wanted to be heard. Isn’t this what we all want?
On another trip, while sitting in a room in Bethlehem with my friend, Sami Awad, Founder and Executive Director of Holy Land Trust, a conversation evolved that led me towards my new “responsibility”. Sami made a couple of statements that caused me to rethink some of my ideas of how I could respond as a peacemaker. He basically and quite frankly told our small group of women, that we can’t come over here and fix it. They don’t need us to do that. There is a lot we could do at home and the best way we can help is to focus on some of our own issues. I left that trip with a new perspective of what my “responsibility” could and should look like.
I turned my focus to “home” and to creating spaces that would allow change to happen within hearts. From my global encounters my eyes were opened to the changing power of story and the healing potential of peacemaking. I realized I sat in a place of privilege with a platform and the freedom to use my voice. How could I intentionally use these to amplify the voices of those who have been marginalized and silenced? Pain, courage, trauma, brokenness and a longing for hope uniquely shape every story. Every story deserves to be carried, to be told and to be amplified for the sake of peace.
Amplify Peace has become a movement of women peacemakers leveraging their voices to create change in the world. It is a launching point for local and global encounters, a platform for amplifying the stories of women and a sisterhood committed to creating and telling a better story together. Women are a force, they are determined and they are an untapped resource. It is important to give women a place and permission to step into those places that will allow them to identify and live their purpose.
I recently reread the parable of the various soils found in Luke 8 with new ears. What jumped out at me was two words, “good soil” followed by the sentence, “It (the seed that fell on it) came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” Good soil, full of potential and transformation to those who choose to see, hear and live differently like Jesus. Those who choose the path to love, forgive and be reconciled to the other are like the good soil. God’s intent is for us to live for the now and help usher in the “not yet”, together. He promises a return, even 100 times!
I have been asked numerous times if peace is really possible and if I have hope for a better future? I have to believe peace is possible, and because of Jesus, there is always hope. To live without hope is not an option. We need courageous storytellers and peacemakers. Hope and peace are gifts we can give now to impact future generations. The world is looking for a better story.