Can I Get a Witness?
Saint Valentine was a witness.* In Greek, a μαρτυς, μαρτυρος. In Latin, a martyr. He was one of many early followers of Jesus who bore witness to their devotion to Christ by choosing to die rather than deny their faith. So many, that the Greek word for “witness” eventually became our word for “someone who dies for a cause.”
Long before I began to think about dying for a cause, or even living for one, I was a little boy falling asleep with his transistor radio under his ear. In the fall of 1963, if I wasn’t listening to Al Kaline’s latest exploits for the Detroit Tigers, I was listening to Motown, and probably to Marvin Gaye’s latest hit, “Can I get a witness?” I loved the beat, even if the lyrics talked about things unknown. (Not yet 12, it would be well over a year before I fell head-over-heels into unrequited love for Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady!)
It would be years before I understood that Gaye was drawing on his experience in the Black church, with its lively and engaging call-and-response culture. I only knew that Marvin was looking for some agreement that his situation just wasn’t right… and maybe a little help to make it right. I wasn’t any help to Marvin with his girlfriend, despite the bright red ear at breakfast that testified yes, I had fallen asleep on my radio again. And yes, I would need yet another set of batteries!
I can’t even remember when I last used a transistor radio. And the frequent swollen red “breakfast ear” of yesteryear has been replaced by only occasional all-night use of earbuds (blessedly, noticeable only to me).
But I do still answer the call, “Can I get a witness?” Not from Marvin Gaye. From Jesus. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was happy to bear witness to the message of Jesus with Mexican sisters and brothers in northern Baja California.
I was delighted to discover that one of my students at the Baptist seminary in Mexicali is a Gospel Rapper named Jesus. That is, Jesús.
Jesús, Arturo, Lázaro, María Inés, Gabriel and the others were a wonderful group of Jesus-followers, excited to explore together how we can best live as evidence of God’s message of love in Jesus today. We are surrounded each day by evidence of other realities, destructive forces, destructive ways to live. May the Lord enable us to live as evidence that another way is possible. In fact, another way is coming.
Can I get a witness?
*It turns out that “St. Valentine” was at least two, and probably several witnesses. The best candidates are two martyrs who died for their faith near Rome in the persecutions of 269-70 under Emperor Claudius II. How did losing one’s head for Jesus ever get connected with giving away one’s heart?? If we pursue St. Valentine by means of St. Google, we learn that about eleven hundred years after Valentinus of Rome gave his life as a witness for Jesus, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem that launched his feast day into the realm of romantic love. Here is one writer’s take on the whole process: http://theconversation.com/the-real-st-valentine-was-no-patron-of-love-90518.