It’s a game I’ve often played in restaurants, parks and airports — trying to guess who people are and what they’re thinking. A good place to begin if it gets me out of myself and my own thoughts about what I am going through and on to realizing that other people have their own thoughts that have nothing to do with me.
If we could see, hear and feel what others see, hear and feel, wouldn’t we approach them differently? Yes, but how will we do this? We have to connect with them.
In our video, we made up some real-life scenarios that could have been going on in the lives of the people we photographed. We don’t know any of these people–we only guessed based on their body language and facial expressions–but it is enlightening, isn’t it, to get a feeling for all those different issues going on at the same time in the same place? And though we were probably not even close to the real things in these people’s minds when they were being photographed, it was most certainly something like this. Maybe not these thoughts, but they had thoughts and feelings that consumed them. And if we could know those thoughts and feelings, wouldn’t we approach them differently?
So, what would be different?
First, we’d be outside our own thoughts and feelings. We’d be trying to understand someone rather than just to be consumed by our own lives. The best way out of yourself is to get into someone else.
Second, we wouldn’t be judging them; we’d be empathizing with them. I remember the first time a gay person explained to me what it was like to go pick up a date and find he was more attracted to his date’s brother than to her. He wasn’t necessarily happy about this. It was simply a reality about him that he was trying to deal with as best he could at the time. I approached him differently after that. I was no longer an outsider to his situation. I didn’t have any answers for him, but I could feel something of what he was feeling — something I’d never even thought of feeling before. You can only judge from a distance, and from a separation. You can’t judge someone with whom you feel a certain identification.
Third, in identifying with a person’s thoughts and feelings, we might be in a position to offer some help or counsel, especially in the case of something we have experienced as well at some level. We might even be able to solve a problem, or offer some suggestions from an understanding place. Or, even if we can’t identify with what someone is going through, we can still sit with them and provide a warm body, a silent prayer, a human connection; or, as Bruce Cockburn sings, when faced with those things that are beyond any of us to solve, we can nonetheless sit with that person and “kick at the darkness.”
Being a representative of the Gospel of Welcome means more than just delivering a message. This is not drive-by evangelism. It’s all about welcoming someone in, and that requires a good deal of listening, identifying, and connecting. It requires seeing, hearing and feeling what someone else sees, hears and feels. It requires not just the gospel, but the Gospel of Welcome.