The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1: 8 NRSV
Vacation is over. And like me, you may have found yourself behind the wheel and charting routes seldom taken. We discover new sights and take great satisfaction in the sunsets and panoramas that have become Kodak moments for many of us. The film is being processed.
For myself, I’ve revisited popular tourist attractions and I have driven along roads unfamiliar to me. Familiar or new, the summer has been wonderful, and filled with surprises.
One of my greatest surprises was my discovery of evangelical graffiti scratched into the enamel painted walls of restrooms. You may have noticed it yourself.
In public, we inevitably find the need to visit public washrooms and like me, you may have learned to steel yourself for the barrage of vulgarities and obscenities that wait to greet us in seclusion, the gratuitous calligraphy of an anonymous hand.
I had not been prepared for the evangelical graffiti that awaited me. I hadn’t noticed it before and it seemed new to me. “Pray to ask Jesus into your heart!” was scratched anonymously on the metal wall. It was a sentence out of joint. It passively presented itself both as an accusation as well as an invitation, namelessly offered and received.
“Be born again,” another slogan announced in a muted voice, “ ‘cause you never know when the rapture will come.” I cringed, recoiling from the divine imperative that greeted young and old, believer and unbeliever, Christian and non-Christian alike. This wasn’t the early witness of the early Christian era in Roman catacombs. This wasn’t the drawing in the sand by one Christian signalling faith to another with the sign of the fish. This was the presumption of a cowardly witness of a faith distanced from a genuine sharing of faith with another.
Witness is generally uncomfortable for a lot of us. For myself, I dislike the retreat to cliché. I know that I am less genuine when I speak in clichés and I react when others do. But what I discovered this summer was something beyond cliché and without scriptural example.
That we are to bare witness, you and I, there is no doubt. Jesus was perfectly clear in his expectation of his followers when he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1: 8 NRSV
The witness expected is not anonymous, but a courageous declaration of the relationship you and I have with Jesus, and shared with another. From my lips to your ears, we might say.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if all we ever saw on bathroom walls was salvation and the love of Jesus?” scratched on a wall, and in another hand, the anonymous reply, “Yeah, it would be incredibly nice.”
When we come to faith, when we become aware of how God in Jesus has travelled with us through dark days as well as through bright days, we have a temptation to ward off: the temptation that leads us to immature witness trivializing our faith in profane places.
Let me be clear: we are to witness for Jesus’ redemptive life to others, in community, and in conversation with others. Not isolated in washroom stalls, but better at tables, talking to someone we know and about someone we know.
Yeah, that’s what witness is: from my lips to your ears.
Copyright © 2001 James T. Irvine