The Testimony Puzzle

“I’d like to stand on my feet today . . .”

I have never been a big fan of testimony meetings for a variety of reasons, but maybe my opinion is starting to shift.

I recently taught the May Sunday School youth lesson from Come Follow Me “What does it mean to bear testimony?” Since I teach 12-13 year olds, including my own son, I wanted to find a game or object lesson to help illustrate testimony.  I found the idea for a puzzle on the church’s website.

I showed the class a partially constructed puzzle.  My son immediately shouted out “It’s a goldfish in a bowl.  Boom!”  I said it wasn’t a goldfish.  Another boy agreed with my son:  “It’s definitely a goldfish.”  I assured the class again that the picture was not a goldfish.  The puzzle object lesson seemed to be working in ways not intended, demonstrating that some people draw wrong conclusions based on scant evidence and their own personal assumptions.

What is a testimony?

All Christians use the term testimony.  From Wikipedia:

Christians in general use the term “testify” or “to give one’s testimony” to mean “the story of how one became a Christian”; less commonly it may refer to a specific event in a Christian’s life in which they believe God has done something deemed particularly worth sharing. Christians often give their testimony at their own baptism or at evangelistic events. In the current age of the Internet, many Christians have also placed their testimonies on the internet.

Mormons use this term slightly differently than other sects of Christianity.

In Mormonism, testifying is also referred to as “bearing one’s testimony,” and often involves the sharing of personal experience—ranging from a simple anecdote to an account of personal revelation—followed by a statement of belief that has been confirmed by this experience. Within Mormons culture, the word “testimony” has become synonymous with “belief.” An individual who no longer believes in the religion is referred to as having “lost their testimony.”

Types of witnesses

Based on these definitions, testimony bearing is very similar to a witness giving testimony in court.  In court cases, there are several different types of witnesses:

  • Percipient witness or eyewitness.  Testifies what they perceived (or observed) through their five senses.
  • Hearsay witness.  Testifies what someone else said or wrote.
  • Reputation witness.  Testifies about the reputation of an individual or organization when that reputation is material to the dispute at issue.
  • Expert witness.  A person who allegedly has specialized knowledge relevant to the matter of interest which knowledge is used to shed light on the testimony of others, including documentary evidence or physical evidence.

Of course, eyewitness testimony has been proven to be notoriously unreliable, and the majority of testimony bearing in church is of that type.  Ultimately, what others testify is mostly for their own benefit, not for ours.  We only rely on what we can testify from our own perspective.  And yet, conclusions we draw may be incorrect.

I also wondered about the analogy whether we all have the same puzzle when we finish putting it together, do we have all the pieces, and do we have some pieces from other puzzles mixed in?

The puzzle of conversion

I shared snippets from my mother’s conversion story throughout the lesson.  You can actually see her constructing her own puzzle in the way she describes what was happening.  Here are some of the puzzle pieces:

Snippet 1:  While living in Freeport, we started going to the Baptist church again.  We felt it was important for Sue and Mary to get some religious training.  However, it turned out they were getting none.  All they had for these young children was a nursery where they put puzzles together and had milk and cookies.  I was very disappointed about this.  I wasn’t getting anything out of the Sunday School classes myself, so I started attending the Lutheran church service right after the Baptist Sunday School by myself.  In other words, I was attending both on the same day (each Sunday).  I began feeling like a hypocrite and was very unhappy with the situation.  I didn’t really like the Lutheran minister either.  He was very unfriendly, as were all the members there.  No one ever spoke to me.  Not even my cousins who were in the choir.

Conclusions:  My mother felt unwelcome and uneasy about being neither in nor out of the two congregations.  She also didn’t find the teaching to be very useful for either the kids or herself.

Snippet 2:  I had hoped that Royal would join my church at first, and he had hoped that I would join his.  When seven years had passed since we married, it became obvious neither one of us was going to give in.  We decided to pray for help.  We had to consider that there was a possibility that neither his church nor mine was God’s true church.  We tried to get the Baptist minister to visit us, and he kept promising to do so, but never kept his promise.  We found that he had left for a pastorate in a larger community which of course paid more money.  They had trial ministers for some time and none of these came either.  I asked the Lutheran minister to come, which he did, but not when Royal was home.  He said it was up to me to convert him, and when I did, it was his job to baptize or “sprinkle” him.  This did not impress me, since I had tried seven years to convince him and failed.  We both felt that the Baptist and Lutheran churches couldn’t possibly be God’s true church.  We had prayed for help and both of their ministers had failed us miserably.

Conclusions:  The ministers failed to meet my mother’s needs when she was praying for them to help. She concluded they weren’t part of God’s church.

Snippet 3:  A strange dream occurred about this time.  We were praying and looking for the church church of Jesus Christ when I had this dream.  I dream I was being chased by some unseen assailant which I greatly feared.  I was jumping from one ice floe to another across a river.  When I got to the other side, I suddenly saw a white clapboard church loom up before me.  I felt this was my place of sanctuary.  As I approached it, I looked up and expected it to say it was a Lutheran church since it resembled the one of my childhood.  I was shocked to see it said Baptist church on it.  At the door was a minister in a black robe similar to the ones worn by Lutheran ministers.  This very smooth talking man invited me in and said, “See, your name is written in my book.”  I looked to see, but there was nothing written there.  Then I awoke from the dream.  I pondered the meaning of this dream and decided not to tell Royal or he would say it meant I should join the Baptist church.  There were so many inconsistencies in the dream that I couldn’t understand it.

Conclusions:  The dream was confusing but disturbing, so she set it aside.  Later she saw it as part of the conversion process.

Snippet 4:  We were not only praying to find out which was the true church, but were studying the New Testament in the Bible to find out what his original church was really like.  We studied it about a year together.  The missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints came to call.  My mother had always taught me to invite anyone in saying they were representatives of God, so I did.  I knew who they were because we had listened to missionaries before when we lived on Bailey Avenue in 1950 and 1952.  At that time we weren’t ready for their message.  They had 32 lessons the first time, and we got bogged down and disinterested somewhere along the way.  In 1952 we were doing pretty well until we decided to treat them to popcorn and Pepsi Cola.  They told us they couldn’t drink the cola because of the caffeine in it and explained that we’d have to give it up also if we joined the church.  We were pretty hooked on Pepsi at the time and felt that if the church was that narrow minded, we didn’t want to have anything to do with it.  The next appointment we had with them we decided not to keep it and went to a movie instead.

Conclusions:  The missionaries were nice enough, but the church was narrow-minded and there were too many lessons.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t do this . . . “

Snippet 5:  In 1954 they came the third time.  This time we had been properly prepared and were ready to accept their message.  I met with them first during the daytime and soon was ready to be baptized.  Elder Blain refused to do it and said he wanted my husband to join also.  I told Royal about the strong spirit (the Holy Ghost) that was with the missionaries, and I knew they were telling the truth.  He agreed to listen also but never seemed to find the time.  He was painting the outside of the house.  Elder Blain said that if he didn’t have time to stop, he would help him paint and talk to him there.  Royal finally was ashamed of himself and gave up on the painting to come in and listen.  He wasn’t as convinced as I was and was about to quit.  Elder Blain was an emotional person and cried when he bore his testimony.  Royal was raised in the school that said men didn’t cry.  It wasn’t manly.  I was very impressed because I also am an emotional person and understood how the missionary felt.  About this time Elder Blain was transferred out and Elder Johnson was sent in.  He was better able to communicate with Royal.  He was a more logical type, and so was Royal.  Royal agreed to join also and the date was set.  Then Elder Blain was transferred back just in time to baptize us.

Conclusion:  Both had different conversion needs; they needed a different approach to decide to join.

Snippet 6:  We had the Word of Wisdom from the Doctrine & Covenants section 89 explained to us about what was good and bad for our bodies.  I think I really had them sweating.  I said I wouldn’t give up coffee until the last minute if I had to give it up for the rest of my life.  I was in the habit of drinking about ten cups a day.  I kept my word and didn’t drink coffee after my baptism.  Royal had more to give up than I had.  He smoked, drank coffee, and occasionally drank beer, but he also made the commitment and gave them up also.  It wasn’t too hard to give up these things because we felt it was a revelation from God telling us what was good and bad for the bodies he had given us to take care of while on this earth.  In scripture he calls our bodies a temple which should not be defiled by harmful things.

Conclusion:  The commitments went from being “narrow-minded” to being a revelation, an obligation easy to meet.

Snippet 7:  We were baptized at the YMCA pool.  I was afraid to go under the water.  Elder Blain told me to take a deep breath and hold it.  I was still breathing in when I went under and came up sputtering.  I said I had been baptized inside and out.  It was a very elating experience.  We both were happy and knew we made the right decision.  The next day at church, we were given the Holy Ghost, and I was certain I had finally found God’s true church.  This was a real experience I had never felt before.  I felt a warm feeling swoosh down over me when they said, “Receive the Holy Ghost.”  Royal said he also had a warm feeling when he received the Holy Ghost.

Conclusion:  They concluded that what they had been taught was true because they had spiritual experiences that matched the teaching.

Not a goldfish.

A Mosaic of Partial Puzzles

We went back to the partially completed puzzle again, and we finished putting the pieces together as a class.  They finally saw that it was a jellyfish, not a goldfish in a bowl.  They had seen the round shape of the jellyfish’s body and concluded it was a bowl, and the tentacles had been mistaken for goldfish fins.  Sometimes we see what’s not there.  Sometimes we don’t see what is there.  Sometimes we draw wrong conclusions about what we’ve seen.

So it is with testimony.

Fast & testimony meeting is a mosaic of these partial puzzles, a conglomeration of stories that people conclude are evidence of a loving God or proof that the church is true or whatever their other conclusions may be.   The idea of universal experience is illusory, and yet these glimpses of humanity can be very inspiring.

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    Great lesson. I have found that I have forced pieces to go where they don’t belong or find new sets of pieces to add to the puzzle. It is exciting, but not always easy.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Wonderful.

  3. Herschel B Martin says:

    LDS testimony meetings are fascinating and unique. As a missionary in NJ, depending on the ward in which I served, I sometimes hesitated to expose them to it. I found that anecdotes often spiral into all-out story time. For instance, sister whose adopted greyhound died testified that she witnessed its spirit frolicking in the back yard. Fine, but may be taken in a way that detracts from the goal of being converted. An area authority once spoke to my mission. He conducted a testimony meeting in which all who spoke were to speak only of Christ and the atonement (not the BoM, Joseph Smith, etc). Easily the most powerful testimony meeting I have ever been a part of. If I were a bishop I would do something similar from time to time.

  4. Love it, Ang. Great analogy.

  5. Herschel B Martin says:

    By ‘them’ I mean investigators. Sorry about that.

  6. Excellent post. I actually bore my testimony today because, well, there was a long pause and I hate awkward silence. I’ve struggled with testimony meetings at times because I feel like everyone does have different perspectives and sometimes what I think is a faith promoting anecdote might, to another, seem out of place and inappropriate. I try to keep things focused and short. I also really try to avoid using the word “know” in my testimonies. To know something is, in my mind, to experience it first hand. Since I have never met the Savior, I believe he exists and has done what he said he has done. Sometimes I think we get caught up in this need to “know” every thing is true. For me, belief is more achievable than knowledge. I think there was a conference talk about this recently…but I’m too lazy right now to look it up.

  7. One of my greatest pet peeves is the commonly said testimony phrase, “I know the Church is true”. I know it is well intentioned and in one way represents that they believe the true church of Christ has been restored, ect. ect. But what is really said is ‘everyone and everything else is therefore FALSE’. I don’t like the feeling of self-superiority or self-aggrandizement, that we are vastly better than others (regardless that they may equally be striving to be their best self) or worse, the demonization of others as being less than, ‘evil’, or an ‘abomination’ -as was emphasized by one brother today in my wards fast/testimony meeting.

    Instead, let your testimony be a sharing of your conversion, your sacred feelings about the Savior and forgiveness, about the love and happiness living the gospel has given you in your life, or your belief in the restoration or any other gospel principle and refrain to preach how much more saved, choice or blessed you are than every other non-member on the planet or throughout history!

  8. Sharee Hughes says:

    Robert, this very subject was discussed in Gospel Doctrine this morning. We KNOW that there is much truth in other churches, but somehow we like to think we know it all. There are many good and decent people in other religions who feel very strongly that their church is the TRUE church. Are we better than they? The feeling of our class seemed to be that such people were good candidates for the Celestial Kingdom, as they were being valiant followers of Christ and all they would be missing was the ordinances, which could be provided posthumously. But I do not agree with you that to testify that we know the Church is true, a knowledge that comes through faith, is to.necessarily say that every other church is totally false.

  9. What Sharee said. It doesn’t mean that to the vast majority of people who say it.

    Robynn, it was Elder Holland’s talk, “Lord, I Believe” – and it was wonderful. Here is a link to the printed version:

    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe?lang=eng

  10. The trouble with faulting fellow Latter-day Saints with testifying that ours is “the true Church” is that you’re faulting the Lord for saying exactly the same thing when he said this was “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased” (D&C 1:30). When I say “the Church is true,” I’m not saying that the rest of the world is devoid of truth; I’m saying that we are the only Church with the priesthood, with access to administer the ordinances of salvation, with the knowledge God has revealed in this dispensation that is unknown to others. Other churches do have a measure of the truth, and a great many of their people do a great deal of good … but if you deny that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more knowledge, more truth, the divine authority that others lack, then you’re denying the Restoration. You can’t forbid me to testify to the truth of this Church just because someone might misunderstand what I mean.

  11. V Pauni says:

    “but if you deny that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more knowledge, more truth, the divine authority that others lack, then you’re denying the Restoration.”

    Knowledge and truth are very difficult to define and discuss within this context. We definitely don’t have Knowledge and Truth in an absolute sense. Alma 32.

    Authority is difficult as well. Is a Muslim mother’s prayer over a sick child more effective than a priesthood blessing? I can see you making a case for ordinances.

    Restoration of what? From a historical perspective, 1st century lets say, it’s hard to establish the existence of priesthood authority/office/ordination, a unified Church/Institution, systematized theology, or ordinances. I think that in the future Mormons will be less likely to link the restoration to a Primitive organization as opposed to something generalized like the gospel/atonement.

    I like to say when sharing my beliefs, “Mormonism is right.” or “Mormonism is right for me…”

  12. When I’m bearing testimony, I like to say “I know the Church is true.” I know what I mean by the Restoration, even if you don’t.

  13. I try not to require others to express things the same way I would express them, and I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and not assume they mean the worst possible interpretation. I want that from others when I speak, so I try to give it to them when they speak.

  14. Angela C says:

    I like the idea that saying “The church is true” is acting as a Reputation Witness. The person is saying that the church’s claims have held true for them, and the church as an organization has integrity. Nothing wrong with people sharing whatever their own experiences have been. But that doesn’t mean they are reliable witnesses or binding to my own experience either. Each of us ultimately has to rely on our own witness.

    I also found it interesting reading through my mother’s conversion again that some of the things that caused her to be drawn to the church are similar to those that can drive people out of the church: indifferent leaders, lack of follow through, people being unfriendly, boring or uninteresting lessons aimed at children and adults, feeling like a hypocrite. I do wonder if they would have stayed with either Baptist or Lutheran if they had been welcomed and fellowshipped there. But maybe it would have just taken more time because she was allowing the missionaries in every couple of years anyway.

  15. This interesting thought was expressed by a linguist in our testimony meeting today: that our use of language is colored by each of our experiences. Even if we all speak the same language (which we were not in our meeting today) we relate to and understand the same words differently. Not all people will respond identically to, “the Church is true,” for example. The Spirit, therefore, is needed to bridge the gap when we gather and share experiences and testimony. This is, I realize now, another manifestation of the gift of tongues or interpretation of tongues. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name…”

  16. it's a series of tubes says:

    As is so often the case, this thread reminds me why I heart Ardis.

  17. “I know this Church is true” isn’t a problem because it attempts to makes an exclusive truth claim. Its a problem because it’s trite and boring. I believe in the power God has to place original thoughts in the brains of all his children – no matter how simple. Maybe you could be content to just say amen to the last person who said the same exact thing you’re about to say.

  18. “Of course, eyewitness testimony has been proven to be notoriously unreliable, and the majority of testimony bearing in church is of that type.”
    Angela, did you mean that the majority of testimony bearing in church (1) is “eyewitness testimony” or (2) is “notoriously unreliable”?

  19. We’ve given up the idea that the catholic church represents the other church but not the idea that the LDS church represents the only true one. So we end up thinking literal about one and mythologically about the other. I think those ideas transcend the traditional ways we think of church. However, for me the LDS church has and is the conduit to the only true church — Christ. (D&C 10:67)

  20. Clearly, testifying that “I know this is the one and only true church” is laden with the connotation that other churches are not “true.” However, given the long history of our (Mormon) culture (lesson manuals, statements from leaders in conference) strongly–even emphatically–making this declaration, it is just as clear (especially to investigators, and the less-experienced new converts) that “I know the church is true” is making, for all practical purposes, the same connotation.

    The testifier (e.g, Ardis E. Parshall) may well know the difference and may not mean to be making that connotation. And, I fully agree with the commenter that pointed out that baring (I think more accurate than “bearing”) a testimony is primarily for the person, not the listeners. But, communication requires a sender and a receiver. As anecdotal or “hearsay” evidence: I have a son-in-law, a convert from a protestant church, that is more than a little peeved by what he claims is this near constant refrain in the testimony meetings in his Illinois ward. I have encouraged him to take the opportunity to take the stand and testify of how these declarations likely make many converts like him feel, but he is very unlikely to do so.

    The problem, semantically, lies primarily in the use of the word “true.” Use of this claim brings with it (in the context we are discussing) the clear connotation that entities (churches) other than this one are not “true.”

    IMHO

  21. My wife took me to a Fast and Testimony meeting. I was not impressed and made some rude comments, like “I can say Sig Heil, too”. She got so upset she put my name on the Temple prayer roll. A month later, my adopted daughter decided she wanted to be a Mormon again. I asked my wife what she thought about that. She admitted that she wanted to go back too. I wanted to known “WHAT KIND OF A HOLD DO THESE PEOPLE HAVE ON YOU?” after being out of the Church for 4 years. We talked for a few hours and she asked me to read a book called “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder”, which explained the doctrines of the Church so clearly that within a week, I was ready to be baptized.

    Since then (31 years ago) I’ve experienced many wonderful Fast and Testimony Meetings. Oh sometimes they’re partly boring but there are almost always a few testimonies that really stand out and communicate the spirit.

  22. V Pauni says:

    “True” also directly contradicts Alma 32. Moreover, from an epistemological perspective religious beliefs can’t be Known or True.

  23. In the dictionary, “true” has multiple meanings, like “true north” meaning pointed in the right direction and acting as a compass to keep someone from being lost. That definition works for me in the context of a testimony.

    I like to allow all legitimate meanings, whatever resonates for each individual. Getting dogmatic about something like this just doesn’t work for me, since it is unnecessarily divisive and dismissive.

  24. V Pauni says:

    Sounds reasonable. Great ideas.

  25. Angela thank you for this post. I too am interested in the maleability of these puzzle pieces. The dream doesn’t seem to obviosly point to the LDS church. The things that made her feel uneasy about the other churches could just have easily applied to the LDS church. The Elders being too narrow minded in their avoidance of caffiene could have been the deal breaker. Funny how the WOW is later interpreted so differently. I guess my point is that the pieces of our personal narrative are unique and shifting. Everyone is entitled to honestly come to different and valid conclusions.

  26. cynical statistician says:

    June testimony meeting in our ward: 29 testimonies, 14 children, 0 testimonies of the Atonement of Christ, 6 mentions of Jesus (eg I know Jesus is the Christ, I love Jesus)
    That is it.

  27. Angela C says:

    Zefram: “Angela, did you mean that the majority of testimony bearing in church (1) is “eyewitness testimony” or (2) is “notoriously unreliable”?” Definitely #1, and often #2. In terms of its reliability, it is primarily of subjective personal value at forming our own beliefs, not necessarily useful to others and certainly not factually accurate or verifiable in most cases. Our beliefs change our perception of what happened.

  28. Angela C says:

    One more thought to add about the “church is true” claim. I really am hard pressed to think of a church that doesn’t essentially make this same claim. It seems we beat the drum a little more than others do, but if they didn’t believe this why would they exist?

    I know Catholics who are offended at Protestant sects because the name indicates they “protest” their doctrines. I know Hindus who believe that their creation stories are perfectly factual and that the age of their faith points to its superior claim to all other religions. And Buddhism is essentially protestantism for Hindus. Many Muslims believe so strongly that they are the one true faith that they still consider it acceptable to kill those who leave the faith.

    So exactly to whom are we comparing ourselves? Universal Unitarianism? In that case, I grant you, we sound like intolerant tools compared to them. However, try to express a political view in a UU congregation that is at all conservative, and you’ll see the limits of tolerance.

  29. cynical statistician, you counted each type of testimony (in a ward where every single number you listed marks your congregation as abnormal) on the same day this post was written – apparently unaware of the post, since you didn’t comment until the end of the next day – in a thread where nobody else had made any comment about the focus of your comment?

    Do you make it a habit of doing such counting? If so, that’s just sad – and, again, your numbers, if true, place your ward as an outlier in every respect.

    All we have are words on a screen, and you used a fake name, so there is no way we can know how accurate your comment is. If it is true, I am saddened by the numbers; if it is untrue, I am saddened by the comment. I have no idea if you are a sincere believer or a troll, but, either way, those numbers don’t represent any ward I’ve ever attended (any of the numbers), and I don’t believe they are representative of the Church as a whole.

  30. Angela C says:

    Call me cynical too. How does a ward get through 29 testimonies in one meeting PLUS 14 kids? How long was this meeting?? While you are all starving, too . . . I would resort to cannibalism after about the 17th testimony.

  31. cynical statistician says:

    Sorry I was unclear – 29 testimonies, 14 of them were children ie 15 adult testimonies.
    I am a believer, but sadly cynical, and clinging on, and disappointed by the lack of focus on Jesus Christ in the testimonies I heard. There are many beautiful doctrines and practices of the church which we hear about on f & t sundays, (including “the church is true” etc) but I love to hear about the centre of my faith.
    I guess I was commenting of the first paragraph of the writing – what does it mean to bear testimony.
    Indeed, my ward is, hopefully, an outlier, but it is the one I have to attend, and this is the spiritual nourishment I receive, and what any investigator attending hears.

  32. Angela C says:

    Cynical, even if there were 29 testimonies that’s kinda redonk time-wise. Did some of them just say “ditto” or did they actually speak? Because even 15 is a lot. Most F&T meetings I’m in don’t exceed 10.

  33. I really like what you’ve said here. I’m going to have my daughter read it. She worries a lot about her testimony (or lack thereof).

  34. Angela, thanks for answering my question. Regarding testimony, I’m probably coming from a different place than you. I think testimonies in church have some distinct dissimilarities from testimonies in a legal context. In a courtroom setting, each witness’s testimony functions to either support the case of the advocate presenting that witness, or to cast doubt on the opposing counsel’s case. Each witness’s legal testimony is a component of a larger rhetorical or narrative arc.

    But in our fast & testimony meetings, there is no structured, pre-planned arc or outline connecting those who testify. People are spontaneously choosing to get up and speak about their feelings about church or the gospel or their lives. At the end of the meeting, there probably won’t be a sense of logical closure from the completion of a rhetorical argument. The sense of fullness which follows a good fast & testimony meeting comes from something else which spiritually links together portions of people’s disparate testimonies.

    So I suppose testimonies are like puzzle pieces, as you suggest.

    I guess, though, for me, the idea that testimonies are “not factually accurate or verifiable in most cases” is problematic. It would seem to insert a negative observer-bias into the testimony-meeting experience. (But if you meant to write “many cases” rather than “most cases”, I apologize.) Though I’d agree that many testimony statements are non-verifiable, I wouldn’t then conclude that those statements are factually inaccurate. How can we know what really happened in the privacy of somebody’s heart or soul? I have my own experiences which some might consider non-verifiable, but which actually happened. So I’m willing to give other the benefit of the doubt when they share portions of their spiritual stories.

  35. RE: cynical statistician’s first comment (I wish comments were still numbered) [Alert: thread jack]

    As someone who is both cynical and familiar with statistics, and as a comment on the cultural milieu in which our Testimony meetings occur (that is to say, if awkwardly, that I see the behavior in these sessions as much more culturally and emotionally-driven than spritually-driven, and I personally couldn’t care less about how many times faith in Jesus is specifically mentioned), let me add some more figures.

    While the reasons aren’t relevant (and some will say neither is my whole comment ;-), from Mar ’10 through Aug ’11, I made counts of testimonies in our Arizona ward (not in Mesa). Regarding numbers, 10 was the low, 21 the high, the average was 15.2, and the mode was 17-18 (8 of the 16 sessions). While our Primary has about 90 kids, only 5 to 8 (an estimate–I didn’t count) come forward during any given Testimony meeting (usually the exact same 5 to 8).

    As a sociology major at BYU back in the early 70’s one professor gave us a tally sheet and assigned us to attend any one of the local non-student wards and take a count of the testimonies that fell into one or more of a handful of categories he provided (I don’t remember the categories). That exercise was to show us a “cultural” or “societal” phenomenon. Only slightly as a result of that experience and perspective, I value (and largely enjoy) Testimony meetings most for their value to the ward “community” (as contrasted with their value to the spirituality of the ward). As people share, and hear people sharing their experiences, their emotions, their recent worries and challenges (with the notable exception–for me–of “I couldn’t find my car keys. When I prayed I found them.” Or, “my life story over the past few months” for 20 minutes!). As they see others and make themselves vulnerable in that sharing, the knitting together (bonding) of the ward into a community is furthered. Further, I see the primary value of a ward, and essentially the whole of the “organization” of the church, is to create a stronger and more trusting sense of community and mutual support–and that should have more emphasis than it has ever been given. Testimony meetings are a key element in creating and strengthening our community. The other key elements are Home and Visiting Teaching–with the right mindset–and socials. Without a personal sense of belonging and trusting, at least some of, those around us, it is much more difficult to “strive for perfection” and “endure to the end.”

  36. Angela C says:

    Zefram – “for me, the idea that testimonies are “not factually accurate or verifiable in most cases” is problematic.” Let me give you a personal example of what I mean. There is a story I have often shared that explains why I made certain life decisions when I was in college. I have been telling that story for years that way. When I was moving about 7 years ago, I happened to find my journal from that time. I read through that section, and my memory of the story, of the events and feelings I had at the time, were truly different from the story I had created in hindsight. This is also the problem with eyewitness testimony. We don’t believe what we see. We see what we believe. Memory is very easily confabulated.

    That’s one reason I really like what fbitsi is saying too. The value of testimony sharing is in the sense of community and empathy it creates. But the factual nature of what we are saying is entirely subjective based on our current viewpoint. The present mindset always re-writes the past to conform to our present view.

    If my mother had told my father about her dream, and he had convinced her it meant they should join his Baptist church, and she had then joined and been happy, she would have a very different memory of the dream than she now does. The dream was subjective. Her testimony is the interpretation of it.

  37. Angela, thanks for your reply, and for sharing your personal experience. I agree with you and fbitsi that sharing testimonies can enrich the empathy in our faith-community. And I can understand, from your example, how disconcerting it would be to discover that the story one has been testifying of and remembering for years is substantively different from what actually happened. So I think I understand a bit better where you’re coming from.

    However, my problem (and maybe this is just me) is that I’m concerned that some of your conclusions are stated in a way that is overly definitive. For instance, “the factual nature of what we are saying is **entirely** subjective”, or “the present mindset **always** re-writes the past” (emphasis added). Now I understand that, in our culture, definitive assertions are expressed this way to emphasize or underscore the strength of our reasoning and/or belief in our conclusions. So you probably think and/or feel very strongly about this. But for me, the presence of such all-or-nothing modifiers is an obstacle in the communication process, which hinders me from appreciating your point-of-view.

    So I might agree that the present mindset *often* can rewrite the past, or that *many times* we don’t believe what we see. But I can’t say those statements are *always* true. And just because memory is *often* easily confabulated, doesn’t mean that memory is *always* confabulated. And as for the factual nature of our statements being *entirely* subjective – well, I’d agree that our memories of various facts is often fuzzy. And if we were to zoom in for a close-up of an experience we remember (as you did in your example), we might find that some of the details are not what we thought they were. But zooming out again, the overall shape of the experience may yet still match what we remembered. So the shape or outline of what we remember may still be objectively true. (Please excuse the visual analogy. I’ve been working with Photoshop.)

    I just worry that overly-definitive conclusions about the unreliability of testimony could lead someone to pre-judge and pre-classify others’ testimonies before they even open their mouths. And that could interfere with feeling compassion or empathy for those speaking.

    Anyway, Angela, I apologize if I’ve overly-focused on a minor point. I’m not trying to disrespect your post, I’m just trying to have a honest dialogue with you.

  38. Zefram: Excellent comment and highly respectful.

  39. I got the impression, from the First Presidency letter that was read a few months back, that children are encouraged not to participate in testimony meeting, and instead share their testimony in a Primary or FHE setting. Was I the only one who got that impression? I’ve noticed that the number of kids sharing their testimony has gone down but not disappeared altogether.

    I thought that was an interesting statement for the FP to make. I find the testimonies of Primary age kids to be more on-topic and more concise than the ones given by adults. I’d rather hear twenty one-minute testimonies than one twenty-minute testimony. But perhaps there are parts of the country/world where it has gotten out of hand.

  40. Angela C says:

    Zefram, I can appreciate your remarks. Let me just add another example to explain what I meant when I said: “The present mindset always re-writes the past to conform to our present view.” If you converted from Lutheranism to Mormonism as my mother did, you would likely see your experiences in the Lutheran faith through your new Mormon lens (as she does). She always caveats these stories by contrasting them with her understanding since joining the church. I was simply referring to the fact that our views of experiences change as we add new experiences. Particularly when we see our past beliefs as “wrong” we are in a position of mentally reframing these memories for the benefit of others and ourselves. That changed perspective reinterprets the event and alters our memory of it. I was referring to this phenomenon.

    It is similar when someone changes political parties or cultures or just changes opinions about something or someone. For example, I just read Ann Rule’s book on Ted Bundy. Her view of her interactions with him when she thought he might be innocent are very different than how she viewed those same interactions once he confessed.

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