Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ash Wednesday: Confession Booth

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and a day of repentance and confession.

I’ve been posting this winter about social justice issues, ways we exclude and abuse each other, and wondering what restitution would look like: for families harmed by racial prejudice, communities shattered by unjust social policy, women diminished by unexamined assumptions.

There’s a chapter in Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz that I’ve carried with me: "Confession". Miller describes Ren Fayre week on his Reed College campus, and the idea of building a confession booth – not for the partying students, but for the small band of campus Christians:
"Okay, you guys." Tony gathered everybody's attention. "Here's the catch." He leaned in a little. "We are not actually going to accept confessions." We all looked at him in confusion.
 He continued, "We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them."
 All of us sat there in silence because it was obvious that something beautiful and true had hit the table with a thud. We all thought it was a great idea, and we could see it in each other's eyes. It would feel so good to apologize, to apologize for the Crusades, for Columbus and the genocide committed in the Bahamas in the name of God, apologize for the missionaries who landed in Mexico and came up through the West slaughtering Indians in the name of Christ. 
 I wanted so desperately to apologize for the many ways I had misrepresented the Lord. I could feel that I had betrayed the Lord by judging, by not being willing to love the people he had loved and only giving lip service to issues of human rights.
For so much of my life I had been defending Christianity because I thought to admit that we had done any wrong was to discredit the religious system as a whole. But it isn't a religious system; it is people following Christ. And the important thing to do, the right thing to do, was to apologize for getting in the way of Jesus. 
Change starts with confession. Acknowledgement of guilt, acceptance of blame, desire to walk in a new way.

If I could, I’d build a big confession booth in the middle of every reservation.

In the most battered neighborhoods in our inner cities.

On the street corners where prostitutes ply their trade.

And God’s people would sit there and confess.

But my carpenter skills are lacking, and I haven’t figured out how to be multiple places at once. So this will have to do for now.

My confession booth:

I did not drive you from your land, but I’ve enjoyed the benefit. My own yard was once yours. Communities where my family has lived were built on the ruins of yours.

And I didn’t hold you in slavery, but I’ve enjoyed the benefit while you inherited the pain. 

I am not the one erecting walls against you, or jailing you unjustly, but I’m also not crying out for walls to be torn down, or paying your legal fees to see justice done.

I have benefited from your labor, without insisting that you earn a living wage.

I’ve assumed open doors for myself, without ensuring there were open doors for you.

I am complicit in more ways than I can fathom:

When I sit in pews in churches where women’s voices are silenced.

When I participate in programs, policies, patterns designed to please and pamper the wealthy, and disadvantage the poor.

When I enjoy the benefits of well-cared for roads, excellent schools, world class health care, while not asking why others, equally deserving, have no roads at all, substandard schools, poorly staffed clinics with outdated equipment.

And I have misrepresented God, our savior Jesus Christ, the present, powerful Holy Spirit, the glorious coming Kingdom.

I have colluded in a system that creates false standards, pretends to piety, accepts some more than others, delights in theological abstraction while ignoring human need, dares to speak for God in ways we know he would not speak. 

I have helped parcel out love in small measure, crumbs of compassion, small samplings of kindness.

I have stood on the wrong side of them versus us, been silent when I should have spoken, taken the coward’s way out, settled for easy instead of true.

Misrepresented God in speech, action, attitude: presented a flat, flimsy version that my own mind could manage, my own stick figure drawing of a reality far grander than I’ve glimpsed or taken time to imagine.

And yes, daily, minute by minute, I have judged you – whoever you are – for driving slow in the fast lane, for wasting your money for things I find foolish, for laughing too loud, eating too much, failing to be exactly like me.

Please forgive me.

I have friends who find confession oppressive. Insulting. As if admission we are less than perfect is in some way demeaning.

I find confession freeing: I am less than perfect. Far less. I fall short every day, of justice, of love, of the glorious possibility breathed into every human on the this planet.

So I confess, and celebrate Ash Wednesday, and invite you to join me in prayer that will echo around the globe this Wednesday:
Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints
in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault
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, and mind, and
strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We
have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,
We confess to you, Lord. 

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.
        (Book of Common Prayer, Ash Wednesday) 

This is the last in an unexpected series: Justice Is Indivisible. Other posts: 
Epiphany and Filoxenia: Entertaining Angels, Jan. 4, 2015
Looking Back, Praying Forward, Jan. 11, 2015
Creative Extremists for Love, Jan. 18, 2015
Selma:Stories We Need to Hear, Jan. 25, 2015
#NoMore Less Than, Feb. 1, 2015
Learning to Listen, Feb. 8, 2015 

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