Witness (v.): To tell the Gospel message to others in a manner that might convince them to believe.
The headline of the Ask Amy column in Sunday’s Tribune is titled “Offended by religious book from old friend,” and before I even read it, I know it is about an evangelical. We are notorious for this sort of thing—the hard sell, the cold-call, an unwanted book arriving one day in the mail.
The story goes like this: close friends drift apart when faith paths diverge. One marries a “nice Jewish boy,” the other an evangelical. The first becomes devoted to social justice, the other to missions.
After two or three tries at expressing concern over her friends’ life choices, the missionary girl gave up on the talking and sent a book—an introduction to the evangelical faith along with a note advising some quick, book-prompted action.
Is it any wonder that this woman is outraged, writing into an advice column not really so much for advice as to be heard, as to have the world see this and recognize the pain of it, the wrongness of it?
Amy is level-headed about this, resisting the urge (whether she feels it or not) to attack. Instead, she suggests kindness, tolerance. She reminds the writer that her friend is, after all, a missionary, and that this is a core value for her.
But I am filled with sadness for this missionary woman, who would be shocked to hear her gifted book described in the headline as “religious.” She believes she is giving her friend something else. New life. A relationship with the Lord.
Somewhere down the line, she was told that this is witness. This is standing up for Jesus. To pray over a book and stick it in the mail—this is the noble work of God.
In the Christian bookstore, you can buy a God’s Team pen on a rope, a Life is Better with Jesus Rubik’s cube. When playing Rock Band with your friends, you can hand them Stick with Jesus drumsticks. You can give a new acquaintance a business card from a Scripture-emblazoned case before pulling out your Shield of Faith key ring.
You can wear a Christian t-shirt inked with the image of a cross and the words, Forgiveness & Redemption: This Offer Expires When You Do. Or, if it’s more your style, one with a deer peering out from the center that asks, Are you hunting for the Truth?
Can you hear it? The tinny sound of self-righteousness, the undertones of unkindness? It is not saying You are loved, but rather, I am in, and you are out. It is not saying, You are wanted, it is saying, You are wrong.
To the missionary woman, I would say this: I know what you’re trying to do, but this is not bravery. It is not even really honesty. It is a sound-byte, a half-truth, an easy out.
I would say to her that truth requires the whole messy story. Bravery requires that we give more than a message. It asks of us our own fragile hearts: our weakness and doubt and frail, thread-thin faith.
To witness something, after all, is to be present to it. Our own life. That startling rush of grace. An old friend’s quiet pain, a thousand miles away.