It was common in my Jesus movement days (60s and 70s) to wear long hair, flowered shirts, hippie sandals and to witness to “pagans.” Doesn’t sound very politically correct does it? But witnessing certainly made us feel in the right and powerful with people we were sure were in the wrong and weak. We were Jesus’ people, we had Him on our side.
Witnessing was a technique with a particular technology. The technique was face-to-face confrontation on the moral condition of the other, and the technology was a tract with violent pictures of hell and Satan, or propositional persuasion about God loving you in spite of who you really are — something like that.
But I have learned today from a friend, Dr Candis Callsion, another definition of witnessing, one I agree with and appreciate. Witnessing is about sitting, listening, caring, kind-ing through your nonjudgemental eyes, and being “there” to absorb a story that affects you. The purpose of witnessing is so that there is an objective, differentiated account. This is what counsellors might call “empathy” or “attending” and it is about forming a community of intimacy, that one might call communion. This is what people want. To be witnessed; to be seen, not told.
It came up at a lunch meeting where Candis, who is from a BC First Nations community, talked to us about the “Truth and Reconciliation” meetings in Vancouver. Her comments were in response to what white neighbors might typically do with aboriginal neighbors: push God. But what if we simply sat and listened? Would we be witnessing then?