Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Testify! -- A Newspaper Column

I am in Grade 11; one of my classmates turns to me and says, somewhat derisively, “do you go to church?”. Sensing that to say yes would open myself to ridicule, I hesitate and stammer out a “No” – at which he laughs saying “Yes you do”.

Do you go to Church? Why? What do you believe? For many people these are hard questions to answer. It has long been said that the only topics not appropriate for public discussion are Sex, Politics, and Religion – with the reality being that Sex and Politics are becoming more and more acceptable. But still there is a sense that Religion should not be discussed.

And yet, we are called and encouraged to share our faith. If we truly believe that we have found a way to experience the presence of God in our lives, if we truly believe that we have found the path that leads to abundant life why is it so hard to share?

Part of the answer, for some of us, is that we have an image of how sharing our faith happens. In our mind we see the street corner preacher, or the person at the party who aggressively asks, “Do you know the LORD?” and we know that we would never be caught dead doing that. But that is only one way to share testimony, to share our faith (and many of us would argue that it is a highly ineffective method at that).

I would argue that most of us would be most comfortable sharing our faith in the context of a pre-existing relationship. Where there is a level of trust between people we are more willing to share what is important to us. And it may not be in the interest of converting the other to our point of view. In fact I would suggest that simply sharing where we are at and allowing others to share where they are at is the most effective way of giving testimony. When we accept each other without trying to convert then we can move the discussion deeper – and I believe that is why we share our faith (this attitude is needed in other areas of life than faith, say politics for example).

There are other ways we give our testimony. Earlier this month the General Council of the United Church (this is our National Body, which meets every 3 years) met to discuss the life and work of the United Church of Canada. As a part of that meeting there were multiple examples of testimony. The Commissioners shone the light of faith on questions around the Northern Gateway pipeline, Oilsands expansion, our relationships with Aboriginal and First Nations people, how we as a church can push for a just peace in Israel and Palestine, gossip, and a variety of other topics. While there is great debate within the church and within the wider society on all of these questions making a statement, any statement, is a form of testimony. They are ways we talk about how our faith interacts with the world around us.

Testimony happens in fun ways too. Check out this video: A group of teens and young adults on Parliament Hill dancing to the song “Testify to Love”. I have no doubt that this event was seen as a way to raise up a different way of living in the world. This was Testimony to the difference it makes to take seriously the words “love your neighbour as yourself”. We don't have to be solemn and serious when we share the wonders of our faith. In fact, I would suggest that if we find joy in our faith then that joy should replace the solemn and the serious more often. Sadly this is not how many people see the Church. What does that say about our testimony thus far?

St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” and also “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”. The Saint implies that our greatest testimony is how we live our lives. The best way we show people the difference faith makes in our lives is by living it out. What does our lifestyle say about our priorities? How do we treat others? Do our actions show that we have allowed ourselves to be changed by the love of God? Do we, as people of faith, make others think that maybe faith makes a difference in life? This is our testimony, this is the testimony we make every day.

So how do you testify? How do you share what is important in your life? If someone asked you to share your faith, what would you say?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4/9/12 17:44

    I would tell him/her to mind his/her own business. Your church is shrinking away so fast.