Life with Jesus / Relationships / The Church

Let’s Keep It: Confession

I once went to a movie with a boy that I liked. It wasn’t a date, exactly. I don’t remember him paying- it was just more like two friends going to a movie, with one of them being a nervous weirdo. After the movie, he opened the door of his truck for me (this wasn’t an official date, REMEMBER) I climbed in and he shut the door.

While he was walking around the truck to get in the driver’s side, I farted.

I farted, okay? You know how sometimes farts just sneak up on you, like a weasel in a chicken coop. It’s not like I was purposefully trying to shoot butt air out of my anus in what basically amounted to a hotbox owned by a boy I liked. I might not have much game, but I know that filling the immediate area of a potential boyfriend with the aerosolized intestinal remnants of your dorm burrito is not a good idea.

He climbed inside and started the car. Not 30 seconds later, he grimaced and, while rolling the windows down, said, “I don’t remember farting but it smells awful. I’m really sorry.”

I just let the words hang there, like the stinky fart air, until I suddenly turned to him, my white knuckles gripping the armrest, and wailed, “IT WAS MEEEEEE!”, practically begging him to forgive me.

Surprisingly, friends, that was our last ever potential date and, after that, he turned his gaze to other, less stinky, prospects.

Slowly but surely, I feel like I’m rebuilding some sort of faith. I have little piles of what to keep and a much bigger pile of what to get rid of.  Confession, of all sorts- farty and otherwise, is on my keep pile.

Growing up, confession meant telling God my sins and, usually, only God. I associated confessing to people with Catholicism and well, Catholics were weird. They added all this extra stuff and my tradition just read the words on the page and didn’t add any of our own spin, of course. (Ahem, nothing like “God wants men to have all authority everywhere” or “Captialism is God-ordained” or “God wants prayer in school” or “You can’t be a Christian and a Democrat”). I always thought that having to confess your sins to a person, a priest in a box, was so strange. I felt sorry Catholics, those poor souls having to confess their lowest moments to another person just so their sins could be forgiven.

My understanding of the Catholic belief was that they thought that if they didn’t confess their sins to a priest, that they were stained, unforgiven. How lucky was I that I didn’t have to go through a person to talk to God. I could just talk to God directly!

I am now ready to admit that I didn’t know everything I thought I knew about Catholicism and confession. While I’m sure the practice of confession has sometimes been used and abused by religious authorities, I’m starting to understand the beauty of it done right.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16a

I always read verses like these as if God was holding the healing or the saving ransom. Like, God, from his heavenly recliner, sheathed in his stained undershirt and saggy boxers, shouted through the clouds “If you don’t get off your ass and come confess your sins to me, I’m going to smite you like you’ve never been smited before….and bring me another beer!” I confessed my sins to God, sure, because I was scared of being smote. I didn’t want to die with a crimson stain on me that would prevent me from getting into heaven. I didn’t usually confess sins to someone else because that was a Catholic thing.

We’re not good at being vulnerable or humble and confession to another person requires 1) humility and 2) a great deal of vulnerability.  Humility is a spiritual practice that I could always use more of.  Vulnerability? Well, that’s a tough one.

I think it’s tough partially because we have so few examples of vulnerability in the public realm. I’m so sick of the idolatry of a meathead wearing an American flag t-shirt with a giant cross tattoo on his bicep, an AK-47 nestled in the crook of his elbow, his chiseled face looking off into the distance while he thinks, “Me strong. Me not weak. Me invincible.” Americans, including the church, worship this idea of toxic masculinity, as if somehow doubt or emotion or vulnerability is literally the worst thing that could happen to us.

I hate toxic masculinity with the fire of a thousand suns.

It does so much harm to women and girls.

It does so much harm to men and boys.

It is literally the worst.

(Learn more by watching this should-be-required-watching documentary on Netflix.)

This ‘show no fear, show no pain’ idolatry is surely not biblical.

My friend John recently let me borrow some materials from Alcoholics Anonymous.  I’m particularly intrigued by the insistence of the recovery community on being honest and vulnerable about one’s failings. John helpfully marked a very important chapter in the “Big Book”, which is like the Bible of AA. The chapter laid out, very clearly, the steps towards recovery. One of the hardest steps is to “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of oneself”, followed quickly by Step 5, which requires one to “admit to God, to oneself, and to another human the exact nature of our wrongs”.

It’s fascinating to me that confession is used in recovery as a tool, a gift, instead of a punishment. Contrary to what our toxic masculinity obsessed culture tells us, confession is part of what helps someone crawl out of their lowest point, it doesn’t lead them there.

Confess your sins to each other and be healed.

Perhaps God didn’t mean for us to see confession as a sadistic ice bucket challenge to wash away our scarlet sins while we shiver in the fetal position on the ground.

Perhaps confession is meant to be more like a warm hug after a hard day, one where we wedge ourselves under God’s armpit and rest our heads on Her ample bosom while she whispers that we are loved.

We spend so much time and energy frontin’ that we’re good and fine and perfect. We craft these masks to convince ourselves and others that we’re strong and we’re blameless.

Me no need confession. Me righteous. Me faithful. All the time. Me no have no problems.

What if God knows that what we really need is to be honest- with ourselves and with others? How I wish that the universal church could be a place where people come and confess their sins and we whisper, “You’re still loved. You’re still good.” We could literally be the warm arms of God wrapping around someone who has unmasked themselves (unlike my pseudo-date who abandoned this farty freshman in a hot, stinky minute).

Can you imagine?

Confess your sins to each other and be healed

That I, as a mere human, have an opportunity to participate in God’s kin-dom in this way- to heal, to whisper “You’re still loved” to another person, is unbelievable.

I don’t think that confession is meant to be a legalistic ordeal, one where you have think about whether you really confessed every little sin. It’s certainly not something that is screeched from heaven shortly before a lightning bolt is thrown to punish you.

I think the magic of confession is in the healing. When we’re able to turn and face the things that make us vulnerable, when we voice those things to ourselves and to others, we find healing. We can stop running from them. They lose their power.

In the spirit of dying to my fears so that I can have a new life, I’m keeping confession.

I hope you will too.


(A very long aside. There is 100% healing in confessing and being told that you are loved. I realize that this can get tricky and messy. How does this look if, say, a perpetrator of sexual assault wants to atone and confess their sin? I, for one, am not a fan of saying that a Christian victim has to ‘forgive and forget’ or even be the ‘loving arms’ that wrap around the perpetrator. If the victim wants to be part of the healing, then they should get the first crack at it!  But we shouldn’t expect them to. Victims shouldn’t be expected to just sweep all of their own healing and feelings under the rug because the perpetrator had a change of heart.

The Church is big enough that we can carry each other in this way. I can offer love and warmth to someone else’s perpetrator, as they confess. I can take over that duty from the victim. We can have healthy boundaries and still do this in a way that doesn’t minimize a victim’s pain or healing. Spiritually speaking, we can love both victim and oppressor in a way that is good and healing for everyone.

Men should be doing this for other men who have harmed women.

White people should be doing this for other white people who have harmed people of color.

Straight people should be doing this for other straight people who have harmed the LGBT+ community.

Churches should be a bajillion times better about this. I think it’s possible. (Legally speaking, this discussion gets a whole lot longer.))

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