This post is part of an ongoing blog series on Pomomusings entitled “(Re)Imagining Christianity.” To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that we must hold onto and live out more fully so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?
The Practice of Testimony
Oh, let me testify.
I grew up in small, organic faith communities in western Canada. We were a misfit crew, complete with the requisite charismatic tambourines and occasional renewal movement missteps. Our church services looked more like a youth group than grown-up high church. We were all a bit suspicious of authority, “smells and bells,” and The Establishment, we liked being outsiders, we met in homes, we wrote ‘yes, Lord’ in the margins of our Bibles, and when we baptized, it was all-in, barely after May long weekend into cold lake water.
And we had Testimony Time.
Do you remember that? How we used to get up in church and tell our stories to each other?
Sometimes it was awful. Someone would ramble on and on and on, enjoying the sound of their own voice, kids would fidget, someone would be inappropriately detailed leading to a few eyebrows raised to the ceiling, the few that fancied themselves as theologians would have near-heart-attacks over incorrect doctrine. There were times when a story was told, half-finished, still open-ended, no clear resolution.
But we told our stories to each other.
Here, listen, God met us once, twice, a third time, over and over. One time, in a bathroom, she swears God sobered her up after a binge, she promised she’d live her life for him forever, right then and there. One time, he had migraines every day for years and God healed him, bless God, not a migraine for six months now. Oh, and he was so afraid, so riddled with anxiety, he couldn’t step foot out of his house but now he’s free, he’s free, he’s free, he sings the word out loud and someone shouts out YES LORD FREE in the back. She’s prayed and prayed for her mama to stop drinking, she is finally going to AA but can we all pray, please? Pray for her mum to really stop with the booze this time, it’s been so hard. It is so hard. Living is so hard.
Sometimes we heard stories about how God physically healed, other times there was an emotional healing. Sometimes a child came to Jesus, and other times, after a run of bad luck, bad debt, bad decisions, someone finally got a good job, a chance. Someone else fell in love. It was basic stuff, the stuff of living a life, birth, death, sickness, money, love, family. We’d whisper into the microphone or shout out loud from the back row, and the entire group of us, sitting on folding metal chairs, we’d clap, we’d shout, we’d murmur praises and hallelujahs, yes, brother, I hear you, my sister.
I still feel most at home in the informal, easy camaraderie of the smaller, missional communities of my growing up years. And even though, like most of my generation, I pick and choose from seemingly – incongruous faith traditions to round out my own narrow experience, falling in and out of love with liturgy and the church calendar, with pews and priests, labyrinths and laity, I always come back to the school gym of folding chairs, to the easy egalitarianism, to the worn out and highlighted Bibles, to the passionately informal, hearts-on-fire misfit crew, to the every-one-here-is-a-minister-so-go-ahead-and-pray-with-each-other-for-heaven’s-sake.
I feel at home here because we’ve always been a Church of storytellers. We’re a people of story. When we hang out, we tell stories back and forth, relationship building masquerading as performance art, and we make space for each other to talk up front, around back, in the rows and in the homes. There isn’t anything compelling about an instruction manual, about warranties, about scientific how-to-steps. No, it’s in the story-telling that our hearts are captured, touched, broken, mended, shattered, understood, encouraged, knit together.
Somehow, when I find myself in someone else’s stories, I find God there, too. It’s hard to fight with someone about their own experience so sometimes, even if it jumps my fence, I have to slow my quick judgement, slow my I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong, to give space to the truth that God works and moves in mysterious and unique ways. Even if I disagree with the premise behind it, I can look a soul in the eyes and say, I heard you, I hear you, I honour God at work in you.
I love when faith communities make space for the stories of the people of God. I hope we always make space for the testimony. Not the sanitized three-steps-to-success stories, no, the real ones. Not the properly vetted, people as mascots for evangelicalism. The unpolished, unedited people of God should be heard, we should be listening, we should be speaking, preaching the Gospel of our lives back and forth, not to one-up each other, but to encourage, to testify to the goodness of our God.
He’s saved me.
He’s healed me.
He’s loved me.
Oh, I can testify to this: God is love and love is God and grace covers us all.
I met God one time when you told me why God matters to you, how you love Jesus, and it felt like a holy moment. The only proper response is to slip off my sandals when someone is telling me a story of God, to hold a white hanky and wave it like a white flag, this is holy ground, this glimpse of humanity encountering a holy God in the details of life. It’s basic, yes, universal, elemental. I don’t care if it’s in a home group, a living room, a slick video at a megachurch, an old microphone with an amp under a bridge, a coffee shop conversation, I want you to testify to me of God in your life.
Sarah Bessey: Sarah is a writer and non-profit marketing director. On her blog Emerging Mummy, she grapples with spirituality, theology, mothering, politics, and almost everything else you’re not supposed to discuss in polite company. She lives in British Columbia, Canada with her husband, Brian, and their three tinies.