Hello/Goodbye: On Coming, Going and Our Testimonies

This is the message I brought to worship on May 13, 2012.

If we take human testimony at face value, how much more should we be reassured when God gives testimony as he does here, testifying concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God inwardly confirms God’s testimony. Whoever refuses to believe in effect calls God a liar, refusing to believe God’s own testimony regarding his Son. This is the testimony in essence: God gave us eternal life; the life is in his Son. So, whoever has the Son, has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life. (1 John 5:9–13 MSG)

This week not only have I been thinking about the passage of Scripture we all have been reflecting on, but I’ve been thinking, very deeply — as only one could do — about this Beatles song — Hello/Goodbye.

Okay, more specifically, what it means to be a hello/goodbye community.

As many of you know this season in Camas Friends life is marked by transition. In the last couple of years we have seen the size and the reach of our community spread, relationships deepen and our spiritual lives grow and be challenged. Watching this has been one of the most exciting parts of my time here. But we have also experienced transition through loss, grief, and in some cases our close friends and family moving away.

In some ways, this is just par for the course. Change isn’t always fun, but it seems to be a universal law. And for as hard as it is for us to enter into change willfully, it almost always offers us one of two paths – we either grow through that change, or we become closed off and detached from those around us. I think by-in-large we have stayed the course.

As the lyrics show there is a tug-n-pull at work:

You say “Goodbye” and I say “Hello, hello, hello”.
I don’t know why you say “Goodbye”, I say “Hello, hello, hello”.

I remember this tug-n-pull when we first moved to Camas and how hard it was to leave such good Friends and a great spiritual community down in Pasadena (Mennos). But coming up here I had quickly made four fairly close Friends (that were not a part of our meeting) that all moved within the first 12 months of being here. But since then I had the opportunity to get to know new friends and maybe branch out more than I may have otherwise.

It’s like my mom used to always sing “make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold.” I moved schools a lot when I was a kid, so I always kind of hated when she’d sing that to me because I felt like it didn’t really help anything, but the point of the song is right. We get to keep these old friends, even if they do move on. Especially in the church, which is a spiritual family. (We are reminded throughout 1 John that we are children of God).

A number of people whom we love deeply are moving this summer. Some are moving to new jobs, some are moving into retirement homes, some are moving across the country. I guess we could say that in a way we are a “hello/goodbye community,” a community of comings and goings (I’m not sure this is what Sir McCartney and Sir Lennon had in mind when they wrote the song, but it works).

And you know what? As sad as it is to see friends and family move on, it is okay to be a hello/goodbye community. This is a normal part of being in community with other people. It is a way to spread out and extend our family here. It is a making of new friends, while keeping the old. And a community like Camas Friends, that has been around for 75 years, has experienced its fair share of hellos and goodbyes.

So I partly just want to name that this is what we are going through personally and corporately, and there will be more no doubt. But let’s affirm the kind of community that is stable enough to remain in spite of change, and yet flexible enough to change without being too fixed.

If the song is any indication – it may be easier to be a community of hellos — always welcoming new people, never having to say goodbye. But we run the risk of never really allowing people to go any deeper, move into a space of authenticity and depth either. It is one thing to say hello, it is quite another thing to call someone friend. On the other hand you have communities of goodbyes. The ones where there is too much transiency, to ever allow anything deeper to grow. Within the tradition of Christianity, both our individuality and community are essential ingredients to our formation as people. Both the Hello, the goodbye, and the inbetween too.

Testimony

So you probably wonder what this has to do with any of the passage of Scripture we read?

Well in a way it doesn’t. But in another, it is an invitation to consider what our piece to contribute is while we are here, while we are still a part of this Quaker meeting. It is also an invitation to go deeper with one another. To take our relationships more seriously, while we have our chance.

Given that, let’s consider something that comes from the text:

If we take human testimony at face value, how much more should we be reassured when God gives testimony as he does here, testifying concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God inwardly confirms God’s testimony.

Last week we talked a little about what is born of God both in us and in those around us?

I’d like to carry that further by looking at this idea of “testimony.” Testimony has a number of different meanings in legal settings. It could mean “to witness” (verb) or “the testimony of two or three” (noun). In the legal setting it has more to do with the witness who comes and speaks on behalf of something or something else.

But here in the Bible, testimony is also the result of that which God births in us.

Testimony is the consequence (or the result) of something happening within us, an encounter with the living Christ who meets us and in that meeting effects change within us (often can happen in moments of transition). A testimony is like the spiritual baby that gets born, it is what is produced from our meeting with God.

What I think 1 John 5 is talking about is when it says “testimony” is something given by God to us, it is about revelation, immediate, and intimate from God to those who are open to receive it. But those who receive it know that God’s testimony about Godself is far greater than what any human being can tell us about God. (One is inward, the other is outward.)

The Christian meaning of testimony is that it is something that happens to us and then as a result, something we start doing. They are the stories we tell, the things we deeply care about and the concerns we carry with us. Testimonies are the ways our lives, our biographies, reflect our deepest “theology.”

And for those who put on Christ, who embrace the immediate and intimate experience of God in our lives, we become “sharers in the mission” we actually become bearers of that same image and testimony of grace and love in the world. In other words, the testimony has a material component.

As Ben Pink Dandelion says:

…In one sense, Quaker testimony is the whole of the way we live our lives as Quakers, everything about it that is visible to ourselves or others.” (Dandelion 2009).

In other words, it is these spirit-led contributions we bring to the larger work of God in the world. If what we are saying about testimony is right, then those receive the testimony of God within their hearts do not stop there but will have something to contribute outwardly. And that contribution, that participation with God in community will help to shape and form the beautiful creativity that arises out of that group of people (so long as we welcome it!).

Image

Yesterday we went to Dozer Days with Helen, Jay and Bill and the kids. Lily got to drive an excavator, Mae got to play in the dirt and eat rocks, it was pretty awesome. But on our way out I noticed something (and wish I would have taken a picture!). It was a mural done by all of the children (maybe some adults). And some parts were colored in really carefully, others were more scribbles, the colors didn’t really line, up, there were blue heads on green bodies, but when you stood back from you you saw a collective image, and a beautiful illustration of the uniqueness that comes out of the creativity of a group of people (in this case Camas, kids).

To me, that image like testimony.

We are painting a mural here at Camas Friends Church. And it’s a work that’s been going on for 75 years (this year)! Many people here, and many who are no longer here have contributed to this beautiful mural. What do we see when we step back and look at the testimony rising from this meeting of Friends? And are we willing to fully bring our contributions, our stories, and our testimonies of God to bear on how this community is shaped?

Just as when we rejoice to see new people and new testimonies about who God is and what God is doing in their lives walk in this door, we recognize the testimonies, and the contributions of those who leave us and who leave something of them and their testimony about God with us. To say we are thankful to have been a part of a community that treasures and receives both of these is to not even come close.

So instead, I’ll say Hello/Goodbye.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.