Confession

** In the wake of the marches on Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11th and 12th I have decided to write about my journey (still in progress) of divesting myself of whiteness, and some of the things I’ve learned along the way. Before getting in to discussions explicitly pertaining to race, I believe it will be helpful to begin here – with a conversation on confession. 

I am a child of the American church. I was born into a United Methodist Church. I spent midweek mornings as a young child in an Evangelical Presbyterian Church while my Mom attended Bible Study. I spent evenings during elementary and middle school attending AWANA clubs at a Southern Baptist Church. The karate class I took was housed in a Pentecostal Holiness Church. My youth group years were smattered across time in Evangelical Presbyterian, Southern Baptist and Willow Creek-inspired churches. During college I was involved in Baptist Student Union, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Campus Crusade for Christ. I have history in U.S. evangelical Christianity. It birthed me, it raised me and it gave me many gifts.

One such gift, is understanding the place for confessing sin. I heard about it every Wednesday night without fail during the Bible study portion of AWANA. Whomever was speaking would end their lesson with an “invitation” – as any good Southern Baptist would – some more jarring than others. The consistent theme in all of the invitations was the opportunity to confess ones sins to God and receive forgiveness. I did this when I was twelve. I was too embarrassed to even raise my hand, as the speaker had requested. Having established quite an excellent reputation at church throughout my elementary school years, I felt like I would be letting everyone down if they knew I had been doing this from a place of self-service rather than obedience to God. So I confessed quietly, in my heart, in my own chair and never said anything to anyone.

I shared a similar practice of confession with people on the beach in Panama City, Florida during spring break in college. Armed with a colorful packet of artistically shot photographs, I marched out on to a beach full of college students to invite them in to conversations about spiritual things over a beer. Except, they were the only ones drinking. I remember sitting cross-legged on a beach towel while debating the existence of God with a guy a few years older than me. His face pink and warm from the sunshine and alcohol. In my head, I silently judged him for his drunkenness and the profanities he wove into our conversation, and I prayed in my head he would confess his sins. He didn’t. And neither did I.

I had forgotten that sitting in a place of self-elevation and judgement of another isn’t the Way Jesus showed us to live either.

My experience of church has always been one where confession was something we talked about a lot, but practiced very little. The unspoken message beneath the weekly invitation was that if you had prayed the words of confession printed on the back of the bulletin once, then you were set for all of eternity. There was also little need for being specific about what we were confessing either. I learned to view humanity through a lens of “total depravity” which, at that point, I understood to mean that I and everyone else was completely sinful and broken and needed total forgiveness. When you believe everything about yourself is wrong and sinful and ugly, you don’t have to practice discernment or be specific when you confess. I had prayed and confessed that I was terrible and wretched without specification silently when I was twelve, so there was no need for further practice of confession as far as I knew.

Five years ago I stumbled upon the Book of Common Prayer, which records prayers and liturgies Christians have prayed and followed for hundreds of years. It gives a structure to a persons’ prayer life and guides a persons reading of Scripture. One of the prayers I discovered in the book was the prayer of confession, to be prayed – according to some – daily:

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.”

Confession for things I have left undone? Confession as part of my daily rhythm of prayer? This was new to me.

Slowly though, I began to develop a sensitivity to the things this prayer spoke to, the ways in which my life does not line up with the example of Christ in the things I think, the words I say, the things I do and the things I fail to do. As I began to come to an awareness in myself of those things, I also began to be able to articulate them to others.

As I begin to look at the ways in which white supremacy is interwoven in to different aspects of our culture and worship in the U.S. I want us to begin here, with confession. Discussions around race and justice are challenging, and can often leave us feeling paralyzed. Confession is one of the paths out of paralysis. In Twelve Step programs, the first steps are to admit powerlessness, seek a Higher Power, turn ourselves over to God for God’s care and then to take a “searching and fearless” inventory of ourselves.

For many who, like me, grew up in evangelical Christian traditions, our faith called us to the first three steps. We realized we were powerless to sin – in such ambiguous terms – and called upon God to save us. Many of us stopped there though, because our sin often tore apart our lives in subtleties and we believed ourselves recovered because our brokenness was not as visible as some. In these tense times though, we are invited to continue working the process. To take a searching and fearless inventory, in this case of the ways in which we are complicit in the system and practice of white supremacy.

May we continue to show up fearlessly to face injustice and evil wherever it lies in wait whether in our country, our cities, or in our own hearts.

 

Photo credit: Bored_Grrl.

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Searching for Sunday: Confession

My footsteps echoed loudly against the hard wood floor, stained deeply like burnt sienna. The sounds from my high heels against wooden planks bounced from the floor to the rafters to the vast painted dome above and finally back into mine and a dozen other sets of ears around me. I felt like I was invading.  I’ve never been in a Catholic church before, much less a basilica.

I made my way cautiously along the aisle by the confessional booths, equally confounded by their need for existence, ashamed of their abuses and desperately wanting to fling myself inside and break my heart open.

Bless me Father, for I have sinned. 

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Confession is unmistakably absent from much of my personal church history.  I got off pretty easy when I repeated the sinners prayer that night after AWANA. I silently repeated the words of the teacher up front. “I confess my sin” I prayed within myself.   No need to be specific about what those sins were. After all, Jesus died to take on all of my sin anyway, so why name them?

Confession lacked by omission, “I have an unspoken prayer request.”
Confession lacked by volition, “You don’t want to hurt our witness, don’t let them see you struggle.”

Confession just…lacked.

I spent many years of faith claiming a rejected, murdered Messiah who routinely welcomed those who were openly hurting and broken, all the while trying to present an polished and perfect appearance to the world around me.

Like so many others, I failed to value confession as a discipline of the faith.  Awkward and painful and time consuming as it is though, confession is vital. When we lose confession as a discipline, we immediately buy into the lie that has pulled humanity away from God since the very beginning: Do this, and you’ll be like God.

Don’t let them see you sweat, and you’ll be like God.
Save face, and you’ll be like God.
Hide your struggles, and you’ll be like God.
Overcommit your wallet…
Over work your life…
Over simplify your arguments…
Over look the faults of your ancestors…

…And you will be like God.

Except, God isn’t looking for people to hide and cover and stitch together facades of life so that they might be “like” God.

“We could not become like God, so God became like us. God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground, God got up.” (Searching for Sunday)
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I had dinner with a friend last week.

Actually, I had vegan desserts in the middle of the afternoon, but we called it dinner so it was.

“What’s your story?” He asked, and I shimmied around the joys and broken bits of my life like a flamenco dancer.

“How about you?” I ended my dance with a flourish.

Shaking his head, he spun me back to the first bit I had skirted past and asked me to unpack the baggage I had tried hide amidst swirling skirts and flashing lights.

Step, ball change.

And I finally let it pour out in it’s entirety.
The pouring out of hurt and angry and broken matched by the rushing in of grace like salve on my soul.

“‘I’m a Christian,” Rachel writes, “‘because Christianity names and addresses sin. It acknowledges the reality that the evil we observe in the world is also present within ourselves. It tells the truth about the human condition—that we’re not okay.’”

We’re not okay.
I’m not okay.
And I’m even worse when I refuse to let anyone past the facade of “I’m good, how are you?”

I need to come to that place, daily, of not just walking past a monument of confession or muttering prayers written hundreds of years ago (Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you…) I need to allow those words to take root and open up in my soul.

The things I have done.
The things I have left undone.

Just because I can portray my life as perfect doesn’t mean I should.

“Imagine,” Rachel writes, “if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.”

Everyone is safe, no one is comfortable, and maybe we all could find the bravery within ourselves to step out from behind the bushes and walk confidently with God and one another in the garden once more.