On October 6, The Seattle School community gathered for Symposia: An Intersection of Conversation & Innovation, which is rooted in this basic premise—an almost revolutionary notion in our world today: We all have much to offer, and we all have much to learn. Below is the full transcript of the welcome and words of blessing from VP of Student & Alumni Development Paul Steinke, an invitation to remember the root system that grows vibrant and allows us to say, We are still here. You can keep scrolling to see the video of Paul’s remarks, and you can check out all the videos from this year’s Symposia presentations here.

Several months ago, I was sitting at Macrina with my dear friend and Seattle School alumnae Amber Englund. She was asking about me and my family and our recent but unexpected move from Seattle to Bremerton, and we were revisiting past conversations we’d had about the difficult and sometimes painful challenge of putting down roots in a new land among a new people. As we spoke, Amber pulled out her phone and, thumbing through her photos, began telling me—in an “oh that reminds me” kind of way—about a series of paintings she had begun, paintings that she had to paint, that she couldn’t stop painting. Amber said: “So often when we see pictures of trees and their roots, the portion of the tree-above-ground—trunk, branches, leaves—receives all the artist’s attention. The color and movement of the picture, and the roots, are often relegated to not much more than narrow, bleak lines on a page—more of a background, if they’re expressed at all.”

“But there is sooo much life,” she said, “that occurs underground!”

And so what Amber began to paint was a series of trees where the view of the trunk and branches and the leaves above ground were “background” to the vibrant shape, color, expression, and movement of the roots—where what was happening above ground was “bleak” compared to the life growing deep into the earth. “What if,” Amber said, “in the midst of the dreariest and desolate of seasons, if we could see and feel the life pulsing through our roots, growing them, pushing them ever deeper.”

On her phone Amber showed me the photos she’d taken of two of the paintings in this series and I…caught my breath. They were stunning. We were at the end of our time and I was running late for an appointment and so I fumbled through asking her to text them to me. As we hugged and said our goodbyes and I walked back to the school, I couldn’t let go of the shape and color and outward movement of those roots. I found myself almost beside myself, praying and thirsty for more of whatever was there.

For me, Amber articulated in those paintings through image and color and light what I cannot articulate with these words. Through a stark landscape, she gives imagination to life that isn’t visible, brings vision to what is hidden—making vibrant what is below ground, what is to the human eye ordinarily dark.

Friends, much that we can see right now is bleak. Much is desolate.

So why are we still standing? It costs all of us differently to remain standing, and still: why do you remain standing? Two of the presenters today are dancers. Are you a dancer? Why do you continue to not only stand but also to dance? Another presenter will be singing. Why do you sing? Amber’s icon—a window into how things really are—remains with me. And this is why we need each other: to remind and be reminded that we don’t stand alone. You don’t dance alone. You don’t sing alone.

You don’t lament alone.

As we gather together, the roots that are hidden are revealed.

This year The Seattle School is celebrating its 21st birthday. What began in 1997 as a small group of students in a church nursery in Bothell has grown into more than 1,200 alumni around the globe, some of whom we’ll be hearing present this afternoon. The blessing we seek is to honor and remember the root system that grows vibrant and allows us to say, We are still here. When the sky has been its bleakest, our roots were running deep and long. When the wind has been its strongest, our root system has buffeted us. And our root system has been grafted with other roots, because roots, of course, never exist by themselves but within an ecosystem of dirt, and other roots and living things. For The Seattle School our roots are the founders both present and past, our roots are our donors, our board, our faculty, staff, students, our families, our partners around the globe, and the neighbors outside our doors in Bothell and now Belltown. But especially, our roots are our alumni.

Each January, we begin a six-month process at The Seattle School called (S)ending. In the name of Jesus and the wildness of the Spirit, we send our alumni into the world to love the world, fully anticipating—yes, fully anticipating—they will change the world. And when I say such a thing, I know it can sound colonizing and the kind of crap dominant culture says. But I don’t mean it that way. Rather, I believe we boldy send our alumni out as deep lovers to love the world. And deep love changes things. As Anne Lamott has said, “God loves us just as we are and too much to allow us to stay that way.”

“We boldy send our alumni out as deep lovers to love the world. And deep love changes things.”

And so as lovers, we send them in Jesus’ names—of Justice and Mercy—to go with the untamed Spirit to also be changed by the world: cracked open, heart broken, and put back together more whole. And it is weeks like we just experienced that test our roots: a week amidst Dr. Ford’s testimony, Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, our complicity, the dehumanizing of us and each of them, and then the public mockery of a woman’s sexual assault amidst mob laughter. It’s weeks like this that you will hear our alumni as pastors, artists, entrepreneurs, counselors, as lovers arise—almost in one voice—with a holy anger on behalf of and a deep compassion for humanity, for human bodies, the rich humus, living soil we share. And they move boldly with their own bodies into people’s lives, creatively, innovatively, with curiosity and conviction.

And as they do, our roots grow and run even deeper.

And so, it is no surprise then that each year we invite our alumni to return The Seattle School—to Symposia—to show us our roots: where we have come from and where we are growing to. We say: “Our alumni lead us as they seek to live out their callings in the communities they love and serve.” We want to be changed by them, their broken-open whole-heartedness, who they are now, their people, their root systems, that we might continue to be deep lovers of the world who send lovers deep into the world.

So during these presentations, you are invited to explore our roots through the lives and labors of 13 of our alumni and the life and labor of Dr. Angela Parker. I welcome all of you to this place, or to a chapter space around the country, as we anticipate and celebrate what will unfold in this time today. I welcome you in the name of Jesus, and the wildness of the Spirit, to places and stories vibrant with color, movement, and Life. Amen.

Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for videos of all the presentations from Symposia 2018. We are so grateful for our alumni, and we cannot wait to share their vital, beautiful work with you. You can follow us on Facebook and Vimeo for all of our latest videos.