Friday, June 3, 2011
Beat That Testimony
One of the most uplifting things in my faith is hearing people share about the transforming, redeeming power of God in their lives. Growing up in a variety of Christian environments, the sharing of testimonies were pretty much standard in Evangelical, Protestant communities, rare in modern Catholic culture (though everywhere in the lives of the saints), and so collectively, I've heard my fair share of these stories. Especially in light of a secular culture where the common rhetoric for the non-existence of God is the lack of evidence, I've always enjoyed hearing these sort of macro-social examples (though I realize that atheists don't feel that it's bullet-proof).
Something I've realized over years of hearing testimonies is that I have sub-consciously developed something that I'm terming the "prodigal-meter." What is that you ask? Well, assuming we're familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son, it's basically a meter of spiritual tolerance that dictates the emotional amazement and awe I feel when hearing a testimony. The more "prodigal" a testimony is, the higher it scores on the prodigal-meter and the more, "Wow! God is so awesome-spectacular-worthy-holy-is-the-lamb-praise-tha-Lawd!" I get. The interesting thing with this "prodigal-meter" is that it is relative, ever-changing, and continually normalizing as I hear more and more stories and is honestly something I have to actively fight against.
For example, when I was in middle/high school and heard my first testimony of someone praying to God for an A and then getting it, I was like, "Foe reeealz?! God hears and answers those types of prayers?! Siiiick! (a little norcal 1990's slang for ya'll)" Then, as I got older and learned more about how God isn't a cosmic, wish-granting genie (Jesus Following 101, I guess), each subsequent time I heard this type of testimony again, it was easier and easier to dismiss the relative importance of that experience for the testifier and even feel a bit smug.
These days, it almost feels like the "gold-standard" of testimonies has become ones of deliverance from a life of promiscuity, drugs, and/or alcohol. And even then, the rank of the wow-factor of this "gold-standard" testimony seems to go, from least-wow to most-wow, alcohol and partying (eh, lots of people get into that), then the dabbling in drugs (okay, this is bad, but at least you're mostly only screwing yourself up), then the sexual sin (sex?! <cue general Christian insecurity and personal confusion>). But still, it does seem that people ascribe the most awe to these types of testimonies and it has had an impact on general Christian culture. Seeing it especially in my generally square high school students, there is sort of an increased lack of sharing because there is a fear that if the testimony isn't "hardcore" enough, people feel lame about sharing it or may not think it's even worth sharing, diminishing a powerful thing God did in their life.
While I could write a lot about that, on the flip-side, one testimony I recently heard set a new standard on the prodigal-meter. In a large group setting, someone that I know shared how a few years ago, in a moment of alcohol-affected weakness, he ended up molesting a younger, more vulnerable friend and how he had carried the guilt and shame with him through the years. In fact, it was this guilt and shame that drove him to be so active in the church to "make up for it." He hadn't been to Confession since that time, but through a powerful retreat experience, finally went, fully confessed it, and experienced the amazing redemptive power of God's forgiveness through the Sacrament of Confession. You could've heard a pin drop. I was so blown away.
Hearing this testimony actually made me realize how normalized deliverance from sexual promiscuity/pornography/masturbation has become in the sense that it is something that increasingly gets shared, in my experience. Don't get me wrong, on an individual level, it's still an incredibly difficult struggle and thing to share, but I think that part of the reason for the normalization is because just about everyone can identify with the struggles whether you have gone through it yourself or could easily see yourself doing it based on what you know about your desires. Molestation is such a taboo topic, especially in the Catholic Church, that it has almost reached "unforgivable" status, right there next to blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
It was a good reality check for me. Clearly, I need to be intentionally vigilant against the prodigal-meter and continue to allow myself to experience ever new the breath-taking goodness and love of Jesus.