I still love the evangelical ritual of sharing “personal testimonies.”
In our evangelical churches, the practice has often calcified into something less honest — with stories told more to match others’ expectations, or the tellers’ perceptions of those expectations. Stories told in that way tend to all sound the same.
But the basic idea — Hello, here is my story, this is who I am so far — remains a powerful thing. Stories aren’t arguments, and they don’t call for any particular response other than to listen to them.
When we tell our stories as honestly as we can, they are true stories. But the meaning of those true stories is subject to change depending on what happens next — something none of us can include in our stories until after that happens. We can tell the truth, but we can never tell the whole truth, because the whole truth about our own stories is something we can’t know until we know how our stories end. Our stories may turn out to be like that movie about a brave and compassionate psychiatrist helping a scared, confused little boy, which you find out, once you get to the end, was really a very different movie — one about a brave and compassionate little boy helping a scared, confused psychiatrist.
But our personal testimonies aren’t stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. They stop in the middle because they’re told in the middle. So when we hear or read an honest personal testimony, we’re left with the same question that any good story makes us ask: What happens next?
Anyway, here are several items I’ve recently encountered that each can be considered, in a sense, a personal testimony:
Alise Wright, “Memories of Faith“:
1998 – The Internet is new and the world is suddenly much smaller. I meet my first real atheist. I meet Christians who are gay. I meet people who think that the only real Bible is the King James Version. My views about faith are twisted around and shaken up.
Rachel Held Evans, “15 Reasons I Left Church“:
… 9. I left the church because I felt like I was the only one troubled by stories of violence and misogyny and genocide found in the Bible, and I was tired of people telling me not to worry about it because “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”
10. I left the church because of my own selfishness and pride.
11. I left the church because I knew I would never see a woman behind the pulpit, at least not in the congregation in which I grew up.
Rachel Held Evans, “15 Reasons I Returned to the Church“:
… 9. Liturgy that reads like poetry
10. Madeleine L’Engle
Kathy Escobar, “Justice: What Love Looks Like in Public“:
I became increasingly more secure in my Christian bubble and began to pay less attention to wider issues. I instead began to focus on issues that the people around me were spending energy on–the erosion of the morality of America, the horrors of public education, and making sure tax money wasn’t spent on things I disagreed with. Even though they looked like worthy causes at the moment, the truth is that my support for them had nothing to do with anyone else.
They were all about me. My protection. My kids’ protection. My Christian-world’s protection.
Libby Anne, “A reader asks: Am I angry at my parents?“:
My parents were originally just your ordinary evangelicals. Then, after they began homeschooling for unrelated reasons, they began to be sucked into the beliefs of the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movement, whose influence in the Christian homeschool movement is strong. As a result they not only taught me that I was always to submit to my male authority (first my father, then my husband), but also expected me to be a clone of their beliefs and lifestyle. When I challenged and eventually rejected these ideas, I went through a very painful period where I essentially had to choose between my family and my freedom.
Dan Savage, “This American Life: Return to the Scene“:
I am not a practicing Catholic. I am a lapsed Catholic. An agnosti-theist, a sort of agnostic-atheist hybrid, which means I cross myself on airplanes. I blew up once at a friend who thought it was funny to invert one of the crucifixes in my erotic collection of Catholic kitsch. And half the time when I take the Lord’s name in vain, like when I mutter “Jesus Christ!” through clenched teeth when my boyfriend passes someone going 90 miles an hour in a snowstorm, I am, in all honesty, seeking the protection of a higher power. I go right back to not believing in God once he’s delivered us safely back to the right-hand lane, which makes me a hypocrite and an ingrate. …