Testimony as Transparency
by Ed Chasteen
“What is your testimony?” That was an often asked question early in my life. At Henderson Street Baptist Church in Cleburne, Texas until I was 12. Then in Firsr Baptist, Huntsville during junior high, high school and college. I was never comfortable with that question. I got the uneasy impression that I was being asked to brag.
I haven’t heard that question much in recent years. I’m still in church. A wordless attraction keeps pulling me there, and when asked to explain, an unwelcome dread settles over me and I wish not to be in the presence of those who ask. I am grateful when I do not have to explain myself.
Lately, though, a new word has become popular. Not so much in church as in the larger culture, and not so much as a question as a requirement meant to give legitimacy and lend authority. The word is transparency. I take the call for transparency to be the longing we all have for a simply worded explanation for why we behave as we do. And thinking about transparency has brought me to a new understanding of testimony, not so much as bragging, more as confession.
“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the children of the world.” I was no more than three when my Sunday school teachers taught me this song. We sang it hundreds of times over the next few years. Then when I was in grad school working toward my PhD, I chose race relations as my focus. My degree in hand, I joined the faculty of a Baptist college. My students and I held Human Family Reunions. I wrote a book called How To Like People Who Are not Like You. My students and I formed HateBusters. To my teachers in Sunday school and my mother who took me there goes the credit for all that followed their teaching me that song.
I suspect that most all adult lives are a living out of what was learned as children. When we become adults, we are responsible and held accountable. Though not entirely fair, I know of no better way for us to live together. But seeing things this way causes me discomfort in assigning either praise or blame
I have never been able to find total comfort in discussing what is most private in my life. There is a fragility about it that causes a catch in my throat when I try to make it public. Face to face and one to one, usually over breakfast in a home town mom and pop, I can find the ease I need to open unread pages, though even in this setting, I find more meaning in listening than in talking.