People of the Books: Testimony by Thomas G. Long

There are a handful of things that are really pushing my buttons today in the arctic tundra of the Land of Pilgrims today, Reader, so I’m sorry if this review gets wander-y.  I’m very frustrated about the place I work and the expectations of some people, and also I’m pretty wound up about upcoming medical messes (speaking of which, there won’t be an entry next week because I will be off my head on meds.  Prayer most certainly welcome.  Take the opportunity to go back and read favorite posts, or something).

But I wanted to tell you about this fantastic book.  That makes it sound like a terrible sales pitch in which you only have to pay for shipping and handling, I know, but it really is a fantastic book.  The full thing is Testimony:  Talking Ourselves into Being Christian.  What a tagline!  And what a great hook for a gal like me who is still really nervous, sometimes, about identifying herself as a Christian because Christians are, well, weird.  And what a deceptive title, as it wasn’t at all about what I thought it was going to be about.

Quelle surprise, this was a loan from Interpreter’s book horde.  He handed it to me a long time ago, but I get around to his stuff in a very strange fullness of time.  I don’t know why I decided this needed to get read this week, but I’m very glad I finally found the time for it.  The book itself walks you through a day of talking and how the speech of a Christian should/could sound through each part of it. There are a lot of stories and people-based illustrations without this getting too folksy, and there are a lot of somewhat obvious things that are gently but insistently pointed out.

The title itself—at least, the “Testimony” part—is intimidating.  I come from a background where “testimony” meant “how Jesus rescued me from the screwed-up shit I was involved in,” and that’s not a story I’m ever eager to tell.  Who I was is God’s and my business, not yours—not even you, Reader, who has patiently read much about who I am currently.  So to give testimony, or more correctly to evangelize, has never been an exciting prospect for me.  I think part of it (beyond the zomg sharing bit) is that that kind of testimony is a heart thing, and I don’t do heart things.  I do head things, and I do them well.

But Long wonderfully draws boundaries around what testimony is and isn’t.  It can be telling about how Jesus rescued me, for sure, and sometimes that account needs to be told.  But only sometimes, and only when that is the God speech needed in a situation.  Testimony is the telling of the story of why we follow this God, of Who this God is, of why it matters that other people know.  Testimony is, as Long brilliantly says, the place where we “see the hand of God at work in life, and we don’t want other people to miss it.”  (p. 120)

Long also has some fantastic things to say about what place worship holds for us as people of faith and how we talk about that, and what our talking within church has to be in order for us to be able to talk outside of church about the experiences we have.  I am, in case you hadn’t noticed, a words person, so a book about the impact and shape of words is absolutely going to earn top points from me.  It’s also well noted (endnotes, sadly, rather than footnotes) without being overwhelmingly scholastic or dry.  Long’s writing voice is easy and smooth; I could have kept reading just for the prose structure.

I got a lot out of this as a layperson in a secular job and really appreciated Long’s remonstrance to get our faith into the rest of our lives (i.e., beyond church) without allowing ourselves to be either cowed or cowing.  It’s hard, especially on days like today when everything about the place where I work and the work that I do just sets my teeth on edge and my soul spiraling, to remember that this is also part of the Kingdom.  God is here in my office, and for me to acknowledge that means I have to be able to speak of it if asked.  This is not to say that I’m going to become the corner office Bible thumper, nor should I.  But it is to remind me that faith and the way it shapes me and my conversation, internally and externally, doesn’t stop after the services on Sunday.  I have to both have and be the faith through the week, which Magister has been trying to illustrate since before I knew him and yet I still struggle so mightily with it.

So now, at the top of my computer screen here in the office, I have taped a piece of paper that says, “This is a child of God, as are you.  Do you speak in a way that honors this?”

I’ll get back to you on how I answer that.

 

Rating:  5/5 stars   Five out of five stars

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One thought on “People of the Books: Testimony by Thomas G. Long

  1. […]  Walter Brueggemann has an essay, Barbara Brown Taylor has an essay, Fred Craddock has an essay, Thomas G. Long has an essay.  Moderate bit of academic fangirling going on for me.  None of the essays (taken […]

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