Monday, January 23, 2012

The Art of Confession

I often feel that I am partly recovering from Evangelicalism, partly rejecting it, and partly redeeming it.

And all at the same time.

In any case, I was glad that yesterday was the first time our church made confession one of the movements of our worship service. And because of my partly-Evangelical existence, I was also glad to stumble across an article by Paul Wilkes about his new book The Art of Confession, who I think is parsing out in a good way what confession is and how it's abused, both by those doing the confessing and the requiring it.

He says, "In my own religious tradition, Catholicism, the word 'Confession' has a very specific meaning. That is not what I'm talking about here ... Confession is first and foremost a conversation with our selves ... When we take an honest look at confession, we quickly see that it is a pillar not only of religious belief, but mental health. It demands something for which there is no substitute: that we be honest with ourselves."

Wilkes is a Catholic writing about confession in a very catholic way, but that's not what struck me about the article. He seems attune to the pulse of Western (North American) culture and our glib attempts at self-reflection and truth. This is a really keen observation!

"This kind of confession, which demands self-reflection and change, has little to do with the flood of confessional disclosures that characterize our age -- on tell-all TV talk shows and social networking sites, even via an iPhone app for confession. In this time of Internet connectivity, amid the din of oversharing, we mistake spasms of self-revelation for honesty. Our inner voice is not so easily found and cannot be parsed into ten-second bursts. That voice needs time to find the right words to say and the right place to say them."

In our overly fragmented and individualistic world, people are chomping at the bit to be seen and heard and confession is often used in a grotesque way to simply steal the spotlight for a few more minutes.

Wilkes is right that confession, before it is anything, is a conversation you have with yourself behind closed doors. The worse kind of lie is self-deception. Most of what we see in the media are faux confessions - half truths - from people who just want someone to know the truth but just don't know how to say it.

My suggestion: tell one person. After you know the truth, only one other person needs to know it. This is what confession is for the church, or least what it should be. It's not a total share all story on 60 Minutes. It's you and a friend in total disclosure. And only then, maybe, once we have moved beyond the defining Sin that so required our need to confess, will it be possible to share our story with the world, but that is not the norm. 

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