Mr T. chose to end our conversation on my blog last Sunday. But before “checking out” he made two final points.
“For me, confession is honesty” – you say.
I looked into your congregation’s bulletin to see just what kind of confession you use – and then looked to your prayer manual online based on the page numbers listed. If I’m not mistaken, it’s this:
“We acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed, Against thy divine majesty. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings. Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father…
Just to be clear, the form of “Confession” we most commonly use in our main service at St. Philip and that is common now in most Anglican Churches in Canada reads:
…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 neighbours as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent… (Book of Alternative Services, p. 191)
Sin language is difficult for many contemporary people. But, talk about “sin” does not mean that Christians believe people are inherently bad.
In the New Testament, the word “sin” is “hamartia” which means simply “missing the mark.” If the “mark” is loving God (ie. goodness, truth, beauty, gentleness, love, etc.) with my “whole heart”, and loving my “neighbour” as myself, then sadly I do miss the mark. And, I am genuinely sorry. I am sorry that I betray love, sorry that I fail to respond with the gentleness, light, compassion and goodness for which I know deep in my heart I was created. I am sorry that I am selfish, self-centered, petty, and self-indulgent. But, the truth, I am all of these things at times and I know I was created to be better than this.
Talk of sin means that I hold an exalted vision of what it means to be truly human and it is only honest to acknowledge that I frequently do not meet the standard of this vision.
Mr. T goes on
And then, I’m assuming that, if you follow the book, the hierarchical robed ‘reverend’ pastor would then absolve the flock: “have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord”
Is this ‘honesty’?
If so, please leave me out of your guilt-soaked “manifold sins and wickedness” as well as your need for the hierarchy to absolve you of your perceived depravity.
If your congregation practices this, then your soft words about no manipulation or coercion and minimizing the hierarchy, though nice, don’t really ring true, do they?
I do not, nor have I ever “absolved” anyone. When I stand and pronounce absolution, I am simply giving verbal expression to a reality we all believe to be true. God forgives even before forgiveness is sought.
There is a little preacher’s story that helps get a feel for the some of the liturgical practices in Christian tradition.
A little girl had been put down to bed at night. After a few minutes, out of the darkened bedroom, her parents heard her small voice calling out. When her father went into the room to ask what was the matter, she replied, “I’m scared.”
The father answered, “You don’t need to be scared. You know that God is with you.”
The little girl replied, “Yes but sometimes I need someone with skin on.”
We humans are embodied beings. Sometimes we “need someone with skin on.” Sometimes we need to hear words of reassurance. We need to see the beauty of stained glass windows and hear the sounds of rich music. We need to taste bread and wine as an embodiment of the nurturing presence of the Spirit. We need the physical presence of our fellow worshipers as a comfort and support that helps us live the faith in which we believe.
Mr. T. concludes our conversation saying,
Look, I’ve appreciated the conversation. But if my type of people are, as you imply, less capable of commitment, inclusion and beauty as your sacred inclusive holy flock I think I’d better live into your stereotype and check out of this conversation now.
I do not know what “type” of people Mr. T. thinks he is. I certainly do not believe there are any people who are “less capable of commitment, inclusion and beauty” than I am. I have encountered profound loving, self-giving, and compassion outside the church, just as I have experienced selfishness, self-delusion, and violence within the church.
What puzzles and saddens me is why it appears so often to be acceptable to caricature religious people by the transgressions of our past and the abhorrent attitudes of some who claim institutional religious affiliation. I would only hope that the church might receive the same open hearing and consideration that, for the most part, I find it is willing to extend to people who would never choose to come near a church.