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The Witness Workshop, Conclusion: Exploring the Mechanics

Posted on Monday, September 11, 2006 at 09:00PM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , | CommentsPost a Comment

ew cameo.jpgMy retelling of the story of Nathan and David, in my last posting to this blog, has been on line for nearly a week. So I imagine most of you have had some time to think about it.

Now I want to do a bit of what we do in the witness workshops I facilitate: I want to take this incident apart with you, and look at the mechanics of how it unfolded, and how Nathan succeeded in getting through to David.

It’s obvious that Nathan carried over quite a few elements from secular witness into this encounter. He framed what he was doing, when he began his approach to David, as a secular act of witness: “David,” he said, “I am coming to you with a case for you to try. Let me, as a witness to the case, present my testimony.” He then proceeded as a witness, and held to that tone throughout.

But he also made some crucial changes from the secular method of bearing witness. The most important was in how he chose to find his second witness — the necessary second witness “by whom all things shall be established”, as it says in the Jewish Law. He didn’t do it by calling in a member of the royal court who had seen David’s misbehavior directly and could attest to it, which would have been the predictable worldly approach. Instead he made David himself the second witness — for David knew perfectly well what he had done — and thereby put David on trial before the God in his own conscience.

This of course was the key alteration by which secular witness was transformed into prophetic witness — and a magical transformation it was. If Nathan had chosen to put David on trial before his already-corrupted royal court, instead of in the chambers of his own conscience, no conviction would have been enough to set the rulership of Israel back on the right track: David’s replacement would have been a person chosen by the court and imbued with the spirit of corruption that now prevailed there. But by letting David recognize himself as convicted by God, and letting David work through his own feelings about that, Nathan was able to cut off the corruption at its source.

Keeping the rest of the court out of the interchange was very important for another reason, too: it meant that David had no need to think of how this might look to others, or to defend himself before others. This made it possible for Nathan to speak to David with David’s own defenses down.

Controlling David’s points of choice was equally important; and while I talked about this a little bit in my previous posting, it needs a closer look.

As I pointed out last week, Nathan actually gave David only two points of choice: first, whether to hear the case or not; second, how to address the injustice. In everything else, Nathan used the sheer drama of the story, plus his own standing in David’s eyes, to keep the interaction on track to its intended destination of an encounter with the God of righteousness.

Let’s consider what that means.

If Nathan hadn’t held the reins of the interchange so firmly, David would have found a way to derail the interchange, out of an intuitive fear of what was coming. And then Nathan’s visit would have accomplished no good at all.

But equally, if Nathan hadn’t permitted David those two decisive choices, David would not have had to accept the judgment as his own, and himself as being condemned by his own knowledge of what God reveals to be right and wrong. David would just have rejected the judgment as Nathan’s personal opinion.

This art of choreographing the interaction, controlling it just enough, and giving the person being confronted just the right decision points, is what makes for successful witness. I won’t claim that great witnesses sit down and diagram out what they’re going to do, and work it all up deliberately: as far as I can tell, they go to a great extent by feel — the right way to do it just comes to them. But they can feel their way to their goal because they know in their gut what works and what does not.

And that (in my view) is a great deal of what a good witness workshop is about: honing that sense of what works, and practicing those choreographing skills. And of course, it’s also about hearing the guidance of the Inward Guide, Who tells us when to bear witness, and why, and what to aim at in doing so.

In the course of our workshop at Baltimore Yearly Meeting, we looked at quite a few other examples of successful witness:

  • We covered the remarkable story of Louise Degrafinried and Riley Arceneaux — which you may read about, if you don’t know it already, simply by doing a Google search on “Louise Degrafinried” here on the Web.
  • We looked at some of the many stunning instances of successful witness from the Civil Rights campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s.
  • We examined the first century Jews’ mass witness against Pontius Pilate and Gaius Caligula, which are retold in the works of Josephus and Philo.
  • We looked at a couple of stories of Gandhi.
  • — And we looked at several stories of people you’ve possibly never heard of.

(Here I have to confess: I always come to a witness workshop prepared with several dozen favorite stories, and pick and choose which of them to focus discussion on, depending on what people say their interests and concerns are. It seems to me like a better approach than trotting out the exact same recitation every time.)

  • Oh, and we shared our own stories, too, and considered why some of them worked, and others did not.

There is one two-page hand-out that I always make available, at every witness workshop I facilitate: it consists of a list of questions that people proposing to engage in some act of witness can ask themselves, to clarify their own sense of what they are doing, and to help make sure they are on the right track.

I am not sure how useful this list is, outside of a face-to-face gathering like the ones I convene, where a lot of people are present who have already done a good deal of pondering just what works and what doesn’t. However, I’ve uploaded it to this site, and you can download your own personal copy by clicking here. If you do download it and try it out, let me know how it works for you!

In my next posting to this blog, I will move on at last to the talk I gave to Baltimore Yearly Meeting on the concluding night of its sessions — the thing I was building toward all along my walk (and, later, my walk-and-drive) from Omaha, and all through our Bible study and workshop sessions. I know this has been a long time coming, folks, but — finally — we’re on the doorstep.

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