“Testimony is calling out that you have seen light in the midst of darkness. Testimony is telling the story about how you met God, even when you have forgotten it. Testimony is telling the story of a community over time, of a particular people, and how God has intervened.”
-Lillian Daniel (When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church)
So I’ve been deployed now for nearly two months, away from my family and friends…away from home. On the grand scheme of things, and compared to most of my Soldiers downrange with me, that’s not very long. But it is real and different and ultimately…well, it’s important. It’s real in that I don’t hear AK-47 rounds being fired off on a regular basis (even if it is in celebration) back at Fort Polk or regularly see tracers flying over the city as I sit in the tree house smoking cigars with the docs. I don’t walk around in full kit (body armor and combat helmet) on a regular basis back home. There is not the threat of IDF (indirect fire) back home. This is real because the fact of the matter is that I am sitting here writing this, this blog entry, in a combat zone…on a FOB (forward operating base) halfway around the world…and that makes things altogether different. Different from sitting in my office at Fort Polk, different from relaxing in my living room with my family watching Curious George, different from sitting at my dining room table having an engaging theological discussion with my wife.
But in this case different is good. Different is real and tangible and lived day in and day out here on our tiny little FOB in Afghanistan. Different means doing my job and my calling, both in garrison and now deployed. Different is appreciating the little things that bring us joy or simply makes us smile throughout a work day, all the while knowing that home for the time being is a college dorm sized room with a few necessary amenities (bed, desk, drawers, closet, computer, Kindle).
And all of this is so very important. That’s not to say that everything I’ve done up until this point has been unimportant. It’s just that I know I’m supposed to be here, to (as the Chaplains Corps motto states) nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the dead.
Daniel’s statement, “Testimony is calling out that you have seen light in the midst of darkness” is grounding. I have far too often heard testimony used to thank Jesus for that sweet parking space at the mall or to thank God that you’re not like all those other sinners. Such uses of testimony end up being potentially damaging examples of the misappropriation of Old Testament deuteronomistic theology, wherein if you are good God will bless you and if you are bad God will curse you. As a Christian, how in God’s name is this testimony?
And this is precisely why the whole concept of testimony is based on hope, hope in a God who lives and loves and forgives despite all of our failures. There is hope in calling out that you have seen light in the midst of darkness, and naming exactly that hope. There is hope in beginning to remember how God reached out to you and you responded. There is hope in recalling the history of a people, a community of faith, and hope that the Holy Spirit moves in and through that community and will continue to move in divinely mysterious and transformative ways.
Testimony is simply a declaration of hope in a God who is forever faithful. That is precisely why it is important for me to be here, right now, on this FOB in Afghanistan. By virtue of my calling as a United Methodist Elder and Army Chaplain I am to provide help and hope, to love God and to love my neighbor, but to also call out when I have seen light in the midst of darkness, to offer guidance and share testimony. And as with the task of preaching, proclaiming God’s word, I am both terrified of and intimately called to and engaged by such a significant charge.
Hope. It really does all come down to hope. Hope in whom? Hope for what? Ultimately, hope that “thy kingdom come[s], [that] thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Hope in daily bread and forgiveness. Hope that we, both individually and together, can be the people God calls us to be. Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer.
* Daniel, Lillian. When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church. New York: Jericho Books, 2013. Page 21.