The week following Easter, I accompanied my husband, Tom, to Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Missouri, in part to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of his graduation from Eden and in part to attend the Spring Convocation. I was intrigued by the overall theme of the convocation Forward from Ferguson, but other than looking forward to presentations by Dr. Walter Brueggemann, I really had no idea what to expect or how powerful the event would be for me.
Dr. Brueggemann was brilliant, as always. His illumination of themes in the Hebrew Scriptures and the early followers of Jesus that have led to some of the painful circumstances that plague our world was powerful, but without digging out my notes I could not articulate much of what he said in nearly four hours of presentations on Tuesday.
But Wednesday was another story altogether. The day began with a powerful worship in which the sermon was a call to action on behalf of those in our society and world who are discounted, disenfranchised, dismissed and “diss-ed” in all sorts of ways because of the color of their skin, their religion, their sexual orientation, their gender identification, their age, etc. etc. etc. Then we moved on to the speaker of the day – Dr. Gregory Ellison II. Dr. Ellison is an Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Candler School of Theology. His topic was: Screams from the Shadows – Whispers in the Dark: Healing and Hope from the Margins.
As Dr. Ellison was being introduced with glowing words of praise, I was busy, fussing with my stuff (getting my iPad ready to take notes, taking a drink of water and who knows what else), when I was suddenly aware of silence, a long prolonged silence. So I looked up to see what was going on and my eyes met Dr. Ellison’s. He seemed to be staring right at me (after all we were sitting in the second row of the chapel). At first it was unnerving, but then he seemed to move on to another set of eyes and another and another and another as he slowly walked down the center aisle and back up to the front. Then he stood there for a moment longer just looking at us all. Just looking…..Looking…. and Seeing! Then he said, “It is good to finally see you! It is GOOD to Finally SEE you! It IS GOOD to FINALLY SEE YOU!”
Then he proceeded to talk not only about the perils of people who feel muted and invisible -the unacknowledged people all around us- but then he invited us to consider this time a Laboratory of Discovery in which we would be invited to re-member times when we have been unseen and unheard; times when we have been unacknowledged and overlooked. For it is true that no matter the color of our skin, our age, our gender identification or sexual orientation, our martial status, our economic class, our ability, our mobility, or lack thereof, we all know deep in the core of our beings how it feels to be unseen and unheard. Some of us know it only for moments in time, some of us for most of our lifetime. But all of us know it. And what is even more important all of us, ALL OF US, ALL OF US, ALL OF US NEED to be seen with love, recognized with respect, acknowledged with appreciation.
As Dr. Ellison continued leading us through this Laboratory of Discovery with many powerful exercises, including what he called “the long loving look” -simply looking another person in the eye with appreciation for 30 seconds- I understood on a new level what InterPlay names the Five Daily Requirements for a Healthy Life and what our InterPlay Leaders of Color have named the Five Birthright Practices: movement, stillness, connection/contact, voice and story. I also had a new appreciation for the way that the Body Wisdom Tools and Forms of InterPlay help create an environment where all people can be seen and heard, recognized and acknowledged. Perhaps that is why InterPlay is so powerful for so many of us!
Near the end of his presentation, Dr. Ellison gave each of us a paper 3 foot tape measure and had us stretch it out in front, to the side and around us. Then he began telling us a story about a conversation he had with his grandmother -who seemed to be a source of great wisdom in his life. He said that he asked his grandmother how he could change the world and make it a better place for all people. She responded “Baby, I don’t know much about changing the world, but I do know you can change the three feet around you.” He didn’t say much after that. He just left us to ponder what that might mean in our lives.
- What if we all changed the three feet around us, offering respect, really seeing, really hearing, really connecting with each and every person that comes across our path, hearing their stories, honoring their journey?
- What if we made the three feet around us a safety zone for all people?
- What if we filled the three feet around us with what Henri Nouwen calls Hospitality –Hospitality, … the creation of a free and open space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.
How might we and the world be changed if we all changed the three feet around us?