We Need Confession
Things like shame, fear, and judgementalism have no place in the Christian life. The perfect love of Jesus casts out that stuff. We have new life in Jesus. We face no condemnation. That is all true and very important to remember.
I talk about that kind of thing a lot, but sometimes we over-correct and become afraid of confession. One phrase I’ve heard is that we are Easter people, not Good Friday people. Yes, that’s true. That is where our hope is found. But by definition Easter could not have happened without Good Friday. Jesus couldn’t have been resurrected if he didn’t die first. We, like Jesus, have new life, but the process of that new life isn’t comfortable. It would be wrong to celebrate Easter without Good Friday just as it would be wrong to celebrate Good Friday without Easter.
The Practice of Confession
Confession is an element of faith which has been scrubbed from Protestant tradition. There are good historical reasons. Confession was limited to being said to priests within the Catholic tradition and those priests were often corrupt at the time, helping out the Church institution and themselves rather than trying to help you and those you’ve hurt heal. The Protestant solution was effectively to wipe out any form of confession at all. The individualism that developed in the West made it much worse as our default is to hide anything from the community while (optimistically) trying to solve it all by yourself.
I think it’s healthier to replace bad confession with good confession instead of with no confession. This isn’t about speaking to a priest. As with Protestants, I affirm that all believers are members of the priesthood. We can all connect to God in confession.
It is about being vulnerable and acknowledging where we don’t have our shit together. Because we don’t. For some, maybe it seems like something minor while for others it seems like your life is falling apart and it is all your fault. But none of us do. We all have things we would benefit from being honest about.
Confession and Suffering
To put it another way, how much of our own suffering and the suffering of others could we avoid or at least lessen if we lived a more humble and vulnerable life?
I think of stories of abusive pastors. Many admit to feeling alone, isolated, put up on a pedestal from everyone else. They don’t risk breaking that image so they are not open about their own failings, even when it comes to serious harm done. We get cover-ups that cause more harm instead of honestly confessing, asking the harmed how they can be better, and then actually going and doing better (it may very well include having nothing to do with that congregation again).
I think similarly of abusive husbands, or misogyny in general. Many are fuelled to some degree by cultural ideas of masculinity that tell men we are not allowed to be vulnerable or feel things. We have to be strong and in control. What if we opted instead to fight against that messaging? Instead of doing whatever it takes to get our wives in line, we could share where we are struggling, allowing them to build us up as we build them up.
I think of racial tensions. Across the United States, many cities have been shut down for brief stretches by protesters. We had a similar smaller-scale day recently called #ShutDownCanada with protests in many cities about the systemic racism we perpetuate against our Aboriginal peoples. What’s remarkable to me is when I see wealthy white people complain they’ll be 10 minutes late for work because of the disruption. Would we even have experienced that minor inconvenience – some will falsely call it suffering – if we truly repented of the far-worse suffering we have been a part of forcing on them? No! They wouldn’t have a reason to be protesting!
We like to think the world operates on a zero sum game. Maybe in some ways it does, but not in the big picture. What makes the world better is picking up our crosses for others. We can’t do that if we’re focused on denying any fallibility in our lives because picking up our cross is an inherently vulnerable act – vulnerable enough to get us killed, in the case of Jesus and many others. We don’t dwell in our past or present sins – we are defined by our forgiveness from them – but we cannot afford to ignore them or we will simply repeat them.
This Lent, I invite you to confess, to God, to spiritual leaders, and to others in the priesthood of all believers. Not because it is a rule for God to love us but because we need it for our own health and the health of those who we impact with our lives.
Kyrie Elieson, Lord have mercy.
This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog reflecting on suffering during the Lent season of 2015. To read more articles in this series, go to http://mennonerds.com/tag/mennonerds-lent-2015/. To find out more about MennoNerds in general, go to http://mennonerds.com/about.