Monday, August 14, 2006

No More Elevator Speeches !

The Lizard Eater over at the Journey contrasts the "elevator speech" (how would you explain Unitarian Universalism between the first and sixth floors?) and "testimony" (how would you explain how your faith has changed your life?). She calls for each of us to think through and write out our testimony, and provides a paragraph of instructions for thinking about one's testimony. Good stuff !

I think that she has taken an instruction for preparing Christian testimony and changed it to a Unitarian Universalist context. I guess that she did a "find and replace" of "Christian etc." with "Unitarian Universalist etc." And I guess that she did a "find and replace" of "Jesus Christ" with "my church." I don't know that for sure, but that is how it seems to me. Here is the quote.

Personal Testimony


One of the most helpful things Unitarian Universalists can do is write out their personal testimony. This exercise will help you think through in your own mind what your church has done in your life and will prepare you to share your story simply and clearly with others. Sharing how you found out about UUism is one of the best ways of witnessing. It is particularly helpful in presenting UUism to relatives and close friends, usually the most difficult people to whom to witness.


In sharing the story of your experience:


1. Make it personal—Don't preach. Tell what involvement in your church has done for you. Use the pronouns "I", "me", and "mine".


2. Make it short—Three or four minutes should be enough time to deal with the essential facts.


3. Keep your church central—Always highlight what belonging there has done for you.


Please note: If your testimony includes a previous negative church experience, do not mention the name of that church or denomination because it creates needless antagonism in those who are listening to your story.


Try writing down your personal testimony just the way you'd tell it to a non-UU. Make the story of your finding it so clear that another person hearing it would know how find out about Unitarian Universalism. Tell a little about your life before you found UUism; then tell about your finding it, how you came to trust it, and something of what it has meant to belong — the feeling of being around people who also want to explore “meaning,” assurance of their support of you on your journey, and other ways your life or outlook has changed. If you have been a UU for some time, be sure that your testimony includes some current information about the continuing effect of your religion and church in your life.


As you prepare your story, reflect on opportunities to share it. Think of two or three people whom you would particularly like to tell about your church in your neighborhood, at work, or at school. Then take the first opportunity to share your testimony with them.


In conclusion, remember that you do not have the power in yourself to convince anyone of spiritual truth. As you think of those with whom you desire to share your personal testimony, be sure to consider whether this is an appropriate topic to share with that person.


Witnessing is a style of living—you are a witness at all times. Loving others and showing your genuine concern for them are practical ways to communicate Unitarian Universalism. You also witness by your life. Actions are often more revealing than words. Your actions, however, are not sufficient to communicate to another the message of Unitarian Universalism. You need to witness by your words—to identify openly as a Unitarian Universalist and to tell others about the benefits of membership. One of the most effective means of communicating this to another person is the story of how the church has worked in your life—your personal testimony.



If so, there is an interesting presumption there: it is the church that saves. I don't want to repeat the argument that "religious community" is insufficient as a source of transcendence. Some agree and some disagree.

So, let's push the question back further into our own history. The testimony that I hear from UU's often is the story of "why I decided to join this church, and how well it has worked out for me." It is a testimony of affiliation, not a testimony of conversion. Why I thought what I was thinking at the time that I joined is unexplored.

So, what happened that you became a religious liberal, someone to whom a UU church could possibly appeal? From what were you converted?

A story for a minute, not my own. I had occasion to talk at length with a woman involved in one of the churches in my past. She was a very committed pagan, and sympathy for paganism is one of my slowest-growing edges. What became clear though in the talking was that the core of her conversion to religious liberalism was something else altogether. She was a white woman from Mississippi, of baby boomer vintage, and from a conservative Baptist background. She explicitly said that the thing that got her in motion was the desire to break away from the white racism of her extended family.

What is at the core of your religious liberalism and when and how did you agree to let it lead your life? Some suggestions:

  • an affirmation of the power of reason, of thinking, of science, as opposed to superstition
  • an affirmation of the goodness of your body and sexuality, as opposed to shame
  • an affirmation of "the other," as opposed to prejudice and dismissal.
  • an affirmation of adventure, as opposed to routine and tradition.

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