Sunday, October 11, 2009


I've spent the weekend at Christianity 21, listening to a variety of speakers addressing Christianity in the 21st century.  One speaker who really stood out for me was Seth Donovan, who spoke about Confession.  Her talk has been lingering with me, clinging to my thoughts and experiences - I keep catching a whiff of it in my conversations and inner dialogues.
Last night was our Saturday Sabbath service, and we gathered around the idea of hospitality- hospitality to God, to ourselves and to others.  Hospitality as radical welcoming, opening space within to truly encounter the other.  And when we had spoken and listened, sung, prayed and shared and eaten, we set off into the darkening evening to begin our sacred time. And I dreamt about church as a place confession.
Today is our Sunday Day of Rest.  In my house this means it is the Day Mommy Sleeps In.  This is the day that when all who have piled into the bed at 6:45, chatting, cuddling, wrestling and whining - (people and dogs both) drop back onto the floor and tumble pell mell down the stairs to have breakfast, I get to stay behind, warm under the covers, by myself for a whole, uninterrupted hour.
I was awakened the second time by the sound of the door opening, and my tussled-hair 5 year old son creeping into the bed once again. "Mommy... Daddy said I can come in and kiss you softly and talk to you quietly."
"Ok", I answered, and made room for him under the covers.
He crawled in and laid his head next to mine on the pillow.
After a minute, he said, "Mommy, I am really nervous about something."
And my Day of Rest began with the hearing of confession.
Seth Donovan is not a preacher. She's not a pastor or an author. She is a community activist, and advocate, working with and for victims of human trafficking. She is used to fighting for those who don't have a voice, standing up to people with power and telling them they are wrong, making a stand and speaking out.  She is also gay, and her sexual identity and orientation have shaped the way she can be in the world.  She felt out of place presenting at this conference.  She brought to us the question, "How can the church be a place of confession?" And not being a pastor or preacher, she was able to answer the question from the human and real place of, what do I need for church to be a place of confession for me?
After eliciting words from the gathered group as to what "confession" meant to people, Seth invited two people to come up so that she could pose their bodies in a stance that represented confession for her.  The first she gently pushed down to her knees, head bowed in contrition.  "I need a place in this world that I can be wrong." she said.  "A place where I can be uncertain, where I can talk about the ways I am complicit in the things that I want to be changed."  Church as a place of confession means it is a place where we get to be wrong, a place we can find release.  She explained that in every other part of life, she was, in many ways and contexts, defending, explaining, posturing.  "I need a space that I can confess, where I am not defending for a minute."
The second person she posed with one hand on her heart and the other lifted out to the sky and to the world, face upturned in boldness.  "Confession for me is also to confess a faith where I don’t have to couch and frame it for other folks. Church needs to be a place where I can stand and be bold about my faith.  It needs to have structure around it to allow for that."
And then she asked, "What does the church need to do for it to be a place for that- a place where we all can confess in both of these aspects?"
For the first, Seth said, "The most important thing isn’t whether I am right but whether I’m loved.  If it isn’t this, then I can’t say that I am wrong, and church is just another place I am defending myself.  I need to be reminded that I am child of God. And that the relationship of God to me, and of the church to me is non-negotiable. I need to know that I am loved in order to be able to confess."
Then she asked, "What makes me able to enflesh theology and confess my faith? I need the structure." she explained, "There needs to be a space held for us so that we can confess our faith – so that it can be about God, and we bring ourselves and our faith and all of our many identities.  We already compartmentalize ourselves EVERYWHERE else in the world."  She talked about all the identities we have - mine are mother, pastor, wife, friend, teacher, homeowner, etc. We can pick out and maneuver these identities however we need to, we know very well how to use all these identities to be loved in this world.  The Church should be place of 'de-compartmentalized-ness' (my word) – "where all those identities have something to do with my faith and my faith has something to do with my identities…"  The church needs to be a place of wholeness.
In order to confess, "I need to know that I am loved, and I need to show up as a whole person – that this has everything to do with the rest of my life..."  In order to confess, we need first to know that we are loved and not asked to be right.  Second, we need to be able, and expected to come as a whole person. "The sin would be not showing up completely."
Seth ended by having us shape one another into our image of confession. Then she asked the question, "What would the church of the 21st century look like that embodied a spirit of confession?"
My son, face pinched in worry, curled on a pillow next to me, needed to know he was loved in order to confess. He needed to know this was a place he could bring his whole self without the need to be right.  "I am afraid to tell Ms. Noori." He finally whispered, looking into my eyes.  "I ripped a book at school, and I am afraid to tell my teacher."  I listened. And I hugged him and told him we'd work through it, and I would help him talk to her.
And the fear left his eyes, his shoulders relaxed, and I watched the release.

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