We Should Build a Confession Booth
Our goal this year at Good Shepherd is to go deeper into community so that we can go further out in faith. If you haven't heard about that, learn more here.
The desire to go deeper into community has prompted us to explore the "one anothers" found throughout the New Testament during our Sunday morning messages. A few of the recent week's topics, Carry One Another, Confess to One Another, and Forgive One Another reminded me of a chapter in Donald Miller's book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality.
He writes of an experience at Reed College in Portland, Oregon:
Each year at Reed they have a festival called Ren Fayre. They shut down the campus so students can party. Security keeps the authorities away, and everybody gets pretty drunk and high... Friday night is mostly about getting drunk, and Saturday night is about getting high. The school brings in White Bird, a medical unit that specializes in treating bad drug trips. The students create special lounges with black lights and television screens to enhance kids mushroom trips.
So the Christian students in our little group decided this was a pretty good place to let everybody know there are few Christians on campus. Tony the Beat Poet and I were sitting around in my room one afternoon talking about what to do, how to explain who we were to a group of students who, in the past, had expressed hostility toward Christians. Like our friends, we felt Ren Fayre was the time to do this. I said we should build a confession booth in the middle of campus and paint the sign on it that said, "Confess your sins." I said this because I knew a lot of people would be sinning, and Christian spirituality begins by confessing our sins and repenting. I also said it as a joke. But Tony thought it was brilliant. He sat there on my couch with his mind in the clouds, and he was scaring me because, for a second, then for a minute, I actually believed he wanted to do it.
"Tony," I said very gently.
"What?" he said, with a blank stare at the opposite wall.
"We are not going to do this," I told him. He moved his gaze down the wall and directly into my eyes. A smile came across his face.
"Oh, we are, Don. We certainly are. We are going to build a confession booth!"
We met in Commons - Penny, Nadine, Mitch, Iven, Tony, and I. Tony said I had an idea. They looked at me. I told him that Tony was lying and I didn't have an idea at all. They looked at Tony. Tony gave me a dirty look and told me to tell them the idea. I told him I had a stupid idea that we couldn't do without getting attacked. They leaned in. I told them that we should build a confession booth in the middle of campus and paint a sign on it that said, "Confess your sins." Penny put her hands over her mouth. Nadine smiled. Iven laughed. Mitch started drawing the signs for the booth on a napkin. Tony nodded his head. I went my pants.
"They may very well burn it down," Nadine said.
"I will build a trapdoor," Mitch said with his finger in the air.
"I like it, Don." Ivan patted me on the back.
"I don't want anything to do with it," Penny said.
"Neither do I," I told her.
"Okay, you guys.” Tony gathered everybody's attention. "Here's the catch." He leaned in a little and collected his thoughts. "We're 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 lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, 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, we could see it in each others eyes. It would feel so good to apologize, to apologize for the Crusades, for Columbus and the genocide he committed in the Bahamas in the name of God, apologize for the missionaries who landed in Mexico and came up through the West slaughtering Native Americans in the name of Christ. I wanted so desperately to say that none of this was Jesus, and I wanted so desperately to apologize for the many ways I had misrepresented the Lord. I could feel that I betrayed the Lord by judging, by not being willing to love the people he had loved and only giving lip services to issues of human rights.
For so much of my life I had been defending Christianity because I thought to admit that we have 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.
Don Miller and his friends did build a confessional. They did confess their sins. And the sins of Christians throughout history. Fellow Reed students couldn't believe it - as you might imagine! And God did incredible things through their willingness to confess, in their lives and in the lives of other Reed students.
He concludes the chapter with these words:
So many years before I had made amends to God, but now I had made amends to the world. I was somebody who was willing to share my faith. It felt kind of cool, kind of different. It was very relieving.