What Are You Confessing?

A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture Barbara Rossing gave at Oregon State University entitled, “St. Francis Goes Swimming with the Salmon: Ancient Wisdom for a Planet in Peril.” I’ve followed Rossing’s theological work on the environment closely and my writing team leaned heavily on her interpretation of apocalyptic Scripture as we wrote on the theme of eschatology for our textbook. All that just to say: I’m familiar with her work, so I wasn’t expecting to hear anything “new” during the lecture or the talk back session on the following day.

I actually did hear something new though – one thought that emerged from the Q&A session with the audience that may inspire the theme for the next book I work on, and another thought that began as just a phrase buried in a point Rossing made about organizing the church to confront climate change.

She used the term confessional communities.

And I haven’t stopped thinking about those two words – combined.

Technically, any place or space of worship harbors confessional community – folks gathered around similar religious beliefs.

But (at least in my tradition) we don’t use those words to describe who we are. My parishioners would use words like church or faith community or congregation or they would point to the denomination – “I’m UCC.” Some of my other friends use words like tribe or hive or missional group.

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say they belong to a confessional community …

In fact, I get the feeling that when I use any derivative of the word, “confession,” people start to squirm with discomfort.

I don’t know about your tradition – but in the mainline tradition I’m rooted in – we don’t like to talk about confession. We also don’t like to talk about sin or the necessity of personal forgiveness which correlates directly to our hesitance to “confess.” I should be clear: we’re okay with confessing to general and systemic sins. We confess on behalf of the ways we’ve contributed to ecological degradation or sexism or racism or classism – but we’re not all that interested in confessing other, individual sins.

Personally, I think it’s more than just good practice to confess that the hate and violence that’s out there in the world is in us, too … I think it’s an essential element of our faith.

Isn’t it exhausting to keep up the appearance of having your shit together all the time?

I think church is a place we’re supposed to be able to gather and let it all crumble. To be able to say: This was not a good week. My kids drove me crazy and I wished they belonged to other people. I bought an expensive pie from Market of Choice and told the Book Club I made it because I was too damn tired to make dessert. I felt actual hate toward the idiot student drivers while I tried to navigate campus and get to my office. I told my spouse I had a late work meeting, which was a cover for the massage I scheduled. I drank an entire bottle of wine by myself more than once this week. I cancelled an appointment with my therapist because I don’t want to verbalize how much I wish I was living a different life.

Is your church/faith community/tribe a place you can say those words? I imagine most of us would answer – hell, no.

Why not?

I suspect the answer for most of us is a myriad of reasons: because we don’t actually feel safe enough to say those things in church, because we don’t want to be judged, because we don’t want advice, etc.

Those are valid reasons.

And still, my heart longs to be a part of a group of people where I can tell the truth about myself and not worry about my safety or confidentiality or the risk of judgment or that someone will suggest I just “give it to Jesus.”

I want the truth about me to be welcomed and held to the light and I want someone to say to me, “You are loved and embraced.” That’s all.

I want a confessional community.

And once I have that, I want my confessional community to make a difference in the world.

You know what community organizers do?

They create confessional communities. They create people who gather around a similar cause, know each other well, and are committed enough to one another and their mission that they will create an actual, tangible shift in the world.

So if you ask me when the church will start making a difference both in our individual lives and in the world (in systems of violence and hate that destroy human and other than human creation), I’m likely to tell you it will be when churches become confessional communities.

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