Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Forrest and Leah

An old preacher friend of mine used to say there is always a place where the needs of the world intersect with everyone’s gifts and talents. Another theologian called it “over-the-shoulder and through-the-heart activism.”
Teddy Roosevelt said it was the willingness to get into the arena. He famously wrote, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena.”
All describe Forrest King and Leah Zegan. They are in the arena. Forrest is a local artist. He is talented enough to take a collection of symbols of brokenness from more than 25 disparate faith communities and within 10 days create a marvelous piece of artwork symbolizing the move from brokenness to healing in the decade after 9/11. Leah is as articulate and creative with her words as Forrest is with his hands.
Together, this youthful couple has found the place in our community where their talents intersect with the need to create change. Like most of us, they have become painfully aware of the damage caused to women (and men, but mostly women) and children by the unacceptably high rate of domestic and other home-based violence. Forrest and Leah have been moved to action not only by the statistics but also by the stories.
They have met and listened to brave victims who share their often tragic stories hoping that someone who hears will act. Leah and Forrest heard and are fully engaged in  “over-the-shoulder and through-the-heart activism.”
They have created the Battered Bride Project. Combining Leah’s eloquence with Forrest’s artistic talent and using their curiosity and caring natures, the two have launched a commendable effort to raise awareness of how great a problem we have in Cheyenne and other Wyoming communities and how it has been neglected by policymakers.
As Forrest paints a large canvas depicting a beautiful young bride arrayed in the finest wedding dress with a frightening blackened eye, he has created a visual dissonance audiences find compelling. As they watch Forrest continue to use his paints and brushes to create this haunting image, Leah speaks about the problem, telling us that more than one out of every five of our daughters, granddaughters, sisters and mothers has been and will continue to be victims of domestic violence unless the community acts. She explains the work of the Safe House and other advocates, what they do, how they do it and asks why the funding for these critical programs is such a low priority.
Frequently, members of the audience are moved to tell their own stories. They step forward to put a face on the issue, sharing the experiences that are far too common even in our neighborhoods. Over-the-shoulder and through-the heart, these stories quiet the room but not the mind.
As we watch Forrest continue adding paint to the shocking image on his canvas, Leah’s ability to use a calm voice to create urgency calls us all to come off the sidelines and join them in the arena.
During lunch with a friend last week, I was groaning about the state of the nation, offering a rather pessimistic view of the future of the country. My friend, who is older than I, cut me off, telling me why there is every reason to be optimistic about America’s future. He said he found those reasons in the bright, committed young people he meets around Cheyenne and Wyoming.
He is right. There are many, each one a reason for optimism and hope. Forrest and Leah are two among us. If you don’t know them, you should and if your church, civic club, or business is willing to get into the arena, schedule Leah and Forrest to speak at your next event. You can contact them at artistforrestking@yahoo.com and find the Battered Bride www.facebook.com/batteredbrideproject or call 6313742. Learn more at www.wyomingsafehouse.org.

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