Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Testimony

Today was the big day . . . when I was chosen to walk in front of the big church and "give a testimony."

Now this was really interesting from a whole assortment of perspectives.  It is also strange (and I meaning nothing by that except for the surface meaning) that I was the very first person chosen to be part of this brand new program of having one testimony per month.  If there was any luck to this draw, it was the fact that the pastor considered me one of the most "unknown" members and the fact I quickly grabbed the first slot for speaking.

I didn't grab the first slot out of any type of eagerness but the opposite.  I've talked many times about the fact that I have an anxiety disorder.  I've had it every since I was born. But it was magnified during two very difficult times of my life.  It certainly isn't as bad right now as it was during the middle of each of those periods . . . but it is still a challenge.  One of the cornerstones to my anxiety is social anxiety.  The number one phobia in the world is public speaking. So, if I knew that I had to do something really, really hard . . . I would rather get it over with . . . like pulling the band-aid off quickly.

Okay, so that covers one aspect (social anxiety) of the testimony . . . okay, not yet.  No there's more.  If I were to pin point the most fearful thing I could face it would be speaking in front of a church. It is complicated, but the root fear of social anxiety is the fear of being judged and that judging mattering.  So, not just someone's opinion of me, but the fear that the opinion counts.  I am a jerk if they think I'm a jerk.  This is not just me but the root of all social phobia. So for me personally (and church is s common site for maxim social phobia for a lot of people) speaking in front of a church is the most fearful circumstance.

Still on this first perspective, I will say that one of my major reasons for accepting this invitation is that it scared the crap out of me. Facing my fears (or anyone facing their fears, or what they call "exposure") is one way out of this psychological trap. This is the same motivation for climbing the mountain a few weeks ago.

So my family doctor gives me 20 Ativan a year. I save them like magic beans.  I honestly think it is more of a placebo effect than anything.  They do play a role in helping me sleep the night before the stressful event rather than during the event itself. For example, I used 1/2 of a tablet for the two nights prior to our summiting the  mountain but not the night of the summit (didn't want my senses dulled).  So I did take the Ativan so I could sleep last night. I also put one in my pocket for the talk . . . but I choose not to take it.  It is a little like the choice to climb Mount Everest without an oxygen bottle.  Experts say that when we face fears in a raw way (without pharmaceuticals) we are in a better position for allowing the exposure to do it's work.

Enough for the anxiety part.  Now to the meat part to this issue.  You see, it was especially hard for me because I'm not a church person.  I am on the very edge of the church . . . by choice.  I'm fearful of the center.  Every church I've ever attended has this same black hole in the middle, one of emotional manipulation under spiritual pretense.  Now maybe this makes me cynical . . . or wise.  I hate to judge my present church in this way.  I have a feeling that I might be pleasantly surprised.  But on top of that, I really don't enjoy the church things that most other church people do, sing-along, most Bible studies and etc.

So here I, an outside, was asked to come to the very center of the hub (the podium on Sunday morning). This was a huge challenge . . . and risk for all parties.

Lastly, was the testimony itself.  What could I say in 5 minutes that would make sense to a typical church congregation?  It was a very hard choice to make, but I did choose to go through with it.  Then putting together the testimony, if I were to be honest, required me to relieve my painful experiences of the past and my crises of faith.  I must have spent 100 hours trying to think through that 5 minutes.  I didn't want to get into details of what happened on the mission field that caused that crises of faith. I really think that I have had good closer on that and I never want to open Pandora's diary again . . . ever.

So enough. How did it go?  I think it went well.  I was terrified.  I cried when I got to the hard part even though I had, intentionally, practiced telling the story with no emotion.  I didn't want to cry. I wanted to have full control.

I had a lot of people come up and thank me for telling the ugly truth of falling completely away from Christianity . . . and finding it again but on different terms.  We will see if that sticks.

But, I'm glad it is over.  Tonight I should sleep very well . . . without Ativan.


annamma said...

I was looking for a page on Christian monism and stumbled across yours. appreciate your honesty and courage, in this and the later posts. Just one observation - I don't like to give up the very good word "evangelical" to what, in your description comes across as largely conditioned, inflexible, thought-less and unkind religiosity with a Christian label. Evangelical means one who holds to the evangel - the good, glad and merry tidings of Jesus! Why give that up?

jmj said...

annamma, I understand your point but I'm not using the word Evangel or evangelical in the literal sense of the word but as the best label for a particular brand and mindset of Christianity as expressed in American (with a broader influence)at this time.

In the same way, if you study the history of "fundamentalism" you would see a good root . . . .supporting the fundamentals of Christianity in the face of liberal attacks (early part of last century) but now that word has an entirely different meaning.