Monday, March 1, 2010

Testimony Fireside

As I have mentioned before, I work in the young women's organization of our church. Last night I gave a fireside to all our youth aged 12-18. It was on what a testimony really is and how to get one. Mostly we focused on what is a testimony. Being that I am an attorney, I got the job of teaching this one. I thought I would share the fireside or at least my written version of it. I never follow my scripts very well and end up adding or saying things different in the moment. But this is what I had prepared.

Feel free to use it if you work in the church youth programs. That is why I am sharing it. I think it is good to share ideas for youth activities, firesides and lessons. I have a lesson on virtue I gave a couple weeks back that I need to type up to share as well. It just takes so much time to type these things up. It has been taking away from the blogging time.

Swimming lessons were great until the last day when Lauren woke up with an ear infection. I will have to do a post on that ordeal. Tomorrow maybe. Suffice it to say for now that I have serious heartfelt respect and a week's worth of empathy for all you single moms out there. You really are superwomen.

Okay now for the fireside: Sorry I know it is really long but I don't know how to do one of those links to a PDF file or something.

Welcome to the Witness Training Center.  Tonight you will be learning about how to be powerful witnesses both in and out of the courtroom. How many of you have watched a TV actor playing a lawyer yell out an “objection” in the courtroom?

There are rules about what kind of evidence and testimony are allowed to be considered in trial. All testimony is given under oath. Two of the most important requirements of a testimony are that it be personal knowledge of the witness and that it be Relevant. That means witnesses can only testify to things they know for themselves and that their testimony tends to PROVE or DISPROVE a material element of the case.

Perhaps this would be easiest to understand if I give you an example.

This is Joe. Joe is in a tight spot. He has been accused of Burglarizing Natalie’s home. Now the law says that Burglary is entering a home, business, or other premises with the intent to commit a theft or other felony. So there are 2 main elements the district attorney has to prove to send Joe away for burglary. He has to prove that 1 he entered Natalie’s home and 2 that he did so with the intent to commit a felony (ie steal something or hurt someone inside.)

So we are going to do a mock trial and few of you will come up and give your testimonies. As each person gives his or her testimony, the rest of you will act as opposing counsel. That means that if you hear the witness testify to something that he or she either does not have personal knowledge of you should raise your hand and call out “objection personal knowledge.” Or if the witness says something that does NOT tend to prove or disprove one of the key elements – entry and intent to commit a felony – you should raise your hand and call out “objection Relevance.”

I will act as the Judge and either “sustain” your objection (meaning you were right) or “overrule” your objection (meaning you were wrong). If you miss an objection that I notice I will help you by striking the testimony myself. Please keep order in the court during this process and leaders are welcome to participate.

We will now call our first witness. Natalie. You are called to the stand.

Prosecutor – Natalie Please tell us what happened to you on February 12, 2010.

We will next call CSI Ryan to the Stand.  – Tell us about what your found at Natalie’s house on the 12th of Feburary of this year.

Now we will call Bob.
“Natalie” -- Please read the following testimony pausing between each paragraph.

I went to work that day and when I came home I noticed the lock on my front door was broken and the door was ajar.

My front door is red and really cute.

I went inside and all my furniture had been rearranged.

There were muddy footprints all through the house.

My floors are all nice hard wood floors.

I picked the wood out myself in the forests of Brazil.

I looked all over the house and no one was there.

Nothing appeared to be missing at first.

Then I noticed my Picasso had been exchanged for a Jonas Brothers Poster.

That Picasso was worth a million dollars.

My grandmother gave me that painting.

I really loved my Grandmother.

My grandmother died last year.

Joe wanted that painting. Bob told me that Joe had been talking about the painting and how much he loved it.

CSI RYAN – Please read the following statements pausing between each paragraph.

I processed the scene using standard procedures. I dusted for fingerprints. I found several fingerprints on the picture frame that did not belong to the home owner. I ran them through the system and found they matched the defendant’s fingerprints.

He was in the system because he is an attorney and he had to be fingerprinted to be admitted to the state bar.

There was a Jonas Brother’s poster in the picture frame.

There were muddy footprints all through the house. They were the same size as the defendants shoe size.

The house was painted a nice shade of sage green inside.

Suspect Joe’s best friend Bob

Bob please read the following statements pausing between each paragraph.

Joe is my best friend. He is a nice guy and very honest. I have known Joe for 10 years.

Joe wore jeans and a tee shirt the day of the alleged break in.

Joe’s favorite color is green.

Joe knows Natalie. We had been to her house for a party.

Joe loves the Jonas Brothers. He has several posters of them.

Joe also loves Miley Cirus. He has lots of Hannah Montana posters too.

Joe asked me if he could borrow my crowbar the night before the incident.

Joe is allergic to peanuts.

Joe drives a Honda Civic.

Joe took work off the day of the incident. I know because I saw him at McDonald’s that morning and he told me he was going to go spend the day with his mother in the hospital.

Joe loves his mother.

Good. Now you know what makes a strong legal testimony. Let’s look at how this relates to our spiritual testimonies.

In legal testimonies we testify of things we have first hand knowledge of – things we have learned using our senses. In our spiritual testimonies we also testify of thing we have first hand knowledge of. But often our knowledge comes from something other than the 5 senses. Most often our knowledge comes from feelings we feel given to us by the Holy Ghost.

We can know it is freezing outside because we can scientifically prove it. But we can also know that we love our mother or that our mother loves us because we can feel it in our hearts and see the effects of it in our lives. So we can know the truth of spiritual things as we feel the witness of the Holy Ghost in our hearts.

Just as there are rules to what is admissible in a courtroom as evidence, there are parameters for what is and isn’t a testimony in church. Testimonies at church should be statements of firsthand knowledge that tend to prove the truthfulness of the gospel, it principles and doctrines.

As Elder Oaks said in the May 2008, “A testimony of the gospel is a personal witness borne to our souls by the Holy Ghost that certain facts of eternal significance are true and that we know them to be true. Such facts include the nature of the Godhead and our relationship to its three members, the effectiveness of the Atonement, and the reality of the Restoration.
A testimony of the gospel is not a travelogue, a health log, or an expression of love for family members. It is not a sermon.”

Let’s apply the rules of evidence to some church “testimony” statements and see which are really “testimony” and which are not.

I am thankful for my friends. They really help me to choose the right.

I love the Book of Mormon. I know when I am reading my scriptures every morning, I feel the Spirit helping me to choose the right throughout the day.

I know the Joseph Smith really saw Heavenly Father and Jesus in the sacred grove because I feel so peaceful in my heart every time I hear or read his account of that experience in the Joesph Smith History.

My Family went on a Church History trip last summer and we had a really great time and I learned a lot about what the early pioneers went through.

I love my mom and dad.

I just got back from EFY and I learned that there really is some cool church music and we should be listening to more of that and be more careful about the music we listen to everyday.

I know God lives because everything in me tells me that He is there and that He is my Father. I can feel His love for me when I am lonely.

I know Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God. I feel the Spirit confirming this to my heart when I hear him speak in conference.

I know when we pay our tithing the Lord takes care of us. I once had to choose between paying my tithing and paying my rent and I chose to put the Lord first and pay my tithing. I thought I was going to be evicted. But then my friend dropped off a check to me in the exact amount of my rent and reminded me I had lent him money 5 years ago and he could just now pay be back.

I know the priesthood power is true because I have been healed by its power.

I know our bishop is called of and inspired by God because he has known just when I needed to talk or just which calling would be best for me.

The other day I had a friend ask me about church in my English class and we were able to talk about the gospel and it was really cool.

I am thankful for my teachers at church because I know they love me and they do a really good job.

I know the Book of Mormon is true because I have read it and prayed about it and I felt peaceful and right and warm. I know that was the Holy Ghost telling me it is true.

I love to come to church on Sundays and see all my friends and I love it when my teachers bring treats.

I know the Jesus is the Savior. I have felt his forgiveness in my life when I have turned to Him.

Last week I had a really tough week and I didn’t really want to talk to anyway so I went in my room and then my mom came in and talked to me it made me feel better so I am really thankful that God made mothers to help us when we have bad days.

I know the Savior Lives. I know it because I feel it is true when I say it.

Great job at finding the relevant testimony. Now in court witnesses are sworn to tell the truth as they are under oath. We similarly end our testimonies “in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen” when we are bearing them in church.

Now you know more about what a testimony is. Let me just share a few points on gaining your own.

First we must have a desire to know. Then we must follow the pattern laid out in Matthew 7:7.

Ask, and it shall be bgiven you; cseek, and ye shall find; dknock, and it shall be opened unto you:  Matthew 7:7

We pray and ask with real intent.
We seek and study and learn all we can about it
Then we go and DO – we Knock. We try it out.

One of the easiest ways for me to know if something is true is to say it out loud. I have a very sensitive internal lie detector. If I say something untrue it feel different to me. I would never be able to fool a polygraph. But when I bear my testimony I do not feel that feeling that I am saying untrue things.

Elder Oaks confirmed that this is a valid way to find a testimony. “We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them.”

Some of you may not yet “know” that gospel or its principles are true. But you may believe. So if you believe you should say “I believe” when you bear your testimony. Then as you say it you may come to feel the truth of that statement in your heart more and eventually you will be able to say “I know.”

Now we are going to take some time to write a couple points of our testimonies down. Please take a piece of paper and a pen and write down 2 or 3 things you KNOW that are relevant to the gospel and its principles and how you KNOW them. If you don’t have things you KNOW for yourself yet, then write down 2 or 3 things you Believe and why you believe them. Do not write your name on the paper. These will all be anonymous.

I will turn on some church music to set the tone and I want each of you to find your own spot to write. You will have 5 – 7 minutes. When you are done come put your paper face down here on the table. You can then grab your blanket and head outside by the fire.

After everyone is done we go outside and I read everyones testimonies with a flashlight by the fire.

We have done this outside so you could be under the stars. Each star is such a small piece of light in the sky. They are like a single spark. They are small in the big picture.

An attorney will similarly call many witnesses with little bits of information. Some witnesses will only be called to say someone who has testified is an honest person. Others will have more sure facts about a case. But all the information together helps the jury to come to KNOW beyond a reasonable doubt whether to convict or acquit.

Your testimonies may be just small sparks of belief or knowledge of truth at this point. But if you foster these sparks and keep them alive and add to them by asking, seeking, and doing to gain more knowledge you can build a burning fire of a testimony in your heart similar to the one here tonight.

May I bear my testimony to you that I do have a testimony and I know the importance of KNOWing for yourself. I was about your age when I got my testimony so I know many of you are in that process of finding out for yourselves. And it is good to believe on others testimonies until you know for yourself. But someday you will need to know for yourself. I count my testimony as one of my most treasured possessions. It has borne me up through some very difficult times. It has been the rod of iron that I have clung to and used to pull myself up when I didn’t think I could ever stand again. I pray that each of you will seek your own testimony and foster it into a burning flame so that when the cold times of life come your way it can warm you through those times. In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.