lenten journal: talking ourselves into being


    The last of my Books for Lent arrived over the weekend.

    I would not have known about it except I’m one of those suckers who clicks the link at Amazon.com that says, “We have recommendations for you.” Perhaps they know me better than I think they do.

    The book is called Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian by Thomas G. Long. He begins with this premise:

    We talk our way toward belief, talk our way from tentative belief through doubt to firmer belief, talk our way toward believing more fully, more clearly, and more deeply . . . When we talk about faith, we are not merely expressing our beliefs; we are coming more fully and clearly to believe. In short, we are always talking ourselves into being Christian. (6,7)

    I’m not too far into the book, but his clever turn of phrase seems to be working out for him. He certainly set me to thinking how we are changed by our words. Or perhaps unchanged or even petrified. If we can talk ourselves into something, we can talk ourselves out of it as well. We are created in the image of a God who spoke all of creation into existence. We were talked into being human. As we talk, we give ourselves clues as to who we are becoming.

    Many years ago, I was going to speak at a youth camp for a church in East Texas. I was a youth minister at the time. The group was big – almost two hundred kids – and they were excited to be at camp. The youth minister stood up at the first gathering and said, “OK, I know you all aren’t going to follow the rules this week, but I’m going to tell them to you anyway.” With that sentence he spoke a week of chaos and frustration into existence. He talked the kids into being young surly ne’er-do-wells and they lived up to their calling. I went to camp with my youth group a couple weeks later and a little wiser. In the front of the camp notebook, which everyone got, it said:

    • Live, act, and speak like the children of God that you are.
    • There is a bus that leaves from Giddings for Fort Worth everyday.

    In six summers of camp and numerous other retreats and gatherings, we never had a problem that required anyone to get on a bus and go home. We talked ourselves into having a great week.

    I talk myself out of being in shape. There are any number of things I would rather do than work out at the gym, but that’s not the reason I don’t get there. I talk myself into believing there are other things that need to happen first. I plan to go. I even carry my gym bag in the car with me. But then the day goes the way the day goes and my bag travels with me unopened. I struggle to learn how to talk myself into a new attitude.

    Ginger and I talked ourselves into getting married and continue to talk ourselves into a deeper level of love. I’m speaking more literally than figuratively here. When we realized we were getting serious and headed for marriage, we made two choices. (Actually, Ginger made two suggestions and I agreed.) First, we would not go to sleep angry. If things were not right between us, then we stayed awake until we cleared the air. There were some late nights early on as we learned how to talk ourselves into deeper trust and forthrightness. The second thing was similar: we don’t go to sleep without hearing about how each of us spent our day. By being committed to these two things, we have talked ourselves into a great marriage, even if I do say so myself.

    I talked myself into being a chef. I have a – how shall I say this? – fairly diverse employment history. I’ve chosen jobs, or let them choose me, because someone talked me into it by telling me I was good at whatever it was and these people needed that job done. It’s not that I regret my major vocational choices; it is that none of them were things I talked myself into doing. When I started going to spiritual direction about a year and a half ago because I wanted to talk myself into a better sense of vocation, Ken, my spiritual director said, “You have to figure out what it is you most want to do, what the price is for you to do it, and how you’re going to pay that bill.”

    What I found was I love to cook and write more than anything else. I’m still talking myself into the implications of what that means for my life, but I am cooking and writing pretty much everyday. For me, writing is one of the best ways to talk myself into a better sense of being, particularly writing in the conversational context this forum provides. Reading supplies the other side of the dialogue.

    If words are the seeds of faith, then every conversation is planting something. We are talking ourselves in some direction. If we aren’t talking ourselves into a deeper faith, then what are we talking about? The strength of the possibilities is one as good as the questions we ask as we grow.

    (OK. I need to talk myself into a different direction. This is turning into a sermon and that’s not what I was trying to create.)

    On the way to work this morning, I listened to half of my Valentine’s present from Ginger, Shawn Colvin’s new CD, These Four Walls. The last cut is a cover of the song “Words,” which I remember first hearing done by the Bee Gees (before Saturday Night Fever and falsettos). The last line of the chorus says

    it’s only words
    but words are all I have
    to take your heart away

    In the beginning, God said . . .

    They’re never “only” words. We’re always talking ourselves into something.



    1. Thank you, Milton.

      One strategy for getting into the gym: Wear your sweats out of the house, with your street clothes in the gym bag. You might make a few stops along the way, but you won’t go all day in the sweats (unless you’re on your way to the Dollar Palace :).

    2. Milton, thanks for this. I have recently begun this very same book, and I am listening, these days, to this very same CD.

      I have often gained great comfort from the knowledge that countless people around the world are praying the same prayers (“Keep watch, O Lord…”). Today you have reminded me of other common experiences and connections…

      So glad to have found your blog!


    3. Milton, thank you so much for your wonderful posts — just discovered you via RLP (which I just discovered when I saw his book in a store). I’m in the process of talking myself into a new life (SO appreciated yesterday’s column on that!) — out of congregational ministry, into I’m not sure what yet, but something that allows me to get to know the church from the outside, and interpret the church and the world to each other and to themselves…. I strongly suspect that a blog will be part of it, although at this point I know boo-all about the mechanics of blogging. I figure I can learn — AFTER I get through the next six months of leaving my congregation, getting married and moving to a yet unknown location! Thanks for being out there — you’re part of the light at the end of this tunnel.
      Peace, Prairie Spirit

    4. Milton,
      “They’re never ‘only’ words.” Hauntingly true. In seminary my professor for Lutheran theology would have noted that language is often performative, i.e. “it does what it says.” Thanks for this reflection.

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