Will you hear my confession?
I am not one to write about current events. I have no pulpit; I am not a public figure. And so, usually, I consider that what I have to say about the state of the world is, well, for the small circle of those around me, family, friends, acquaintances. I stand by my belief that we are all — ALL — God’s children and worthy of the love that is offered us. And yes, I know that not all are willing or capable of accepting that love and the responsibilities that come with it. That may be, for me, the ultimate definition of the word evil — because that failure of acceptance makes it possible for us to disavow the humanity of others around us, those who are not like us. It gives us permission to call them “other”, or “less than”.
The events that happened in Charlottesville this last weekend — they were not about the politics of this world. That conflict was not about Republican vs. Democrat. It was not about Evangelical vs. Mainline; it was not about spiritual vs. secular, nor any other dichotomy that we as humans set up and defend in our blindness.
I am no authority. I cannot speak to the sociological or psychological root causes of those who wrap themselves in the cloth of white supremacy thinking. I do not understand why you would journey to a city where you do not live and scream hateful, frightening things at people you do not know. I have a better understanding of the many clergy and faithful baptized who stood in peace, who sang songs, who did the best they could to represent the love that they understand in a difficult situation. I do know that, even when practicing evil, we are still children of God.
And I do know, first hand, what it is to marginalized because of my gender or my age or any of a number of factors, but in the end, I am cushioned by some measure of privilege. But I can listen. I can make space for the stories of others. I can learn from those stories. I can live into the love of my God by doing the one thing that is always in my power — to confess, so that I can clear the way ahead for service and change.
You see, I’m really just getting the hang of this liturgical thing in worship, but the most startling moment for me in any service is the moment of confession. For years, I attended churches that did not include any kind of confession in their service, except on special occasions like Maundy Thursday. But it seems to me that confession is a kin to a tradition from those churches of my past, it is a kind of testimony. It is a testimony to our failings and to the grace that lifts us up even when we sin.
Now, in these times, I am daily more and more aware that I have much to confess. Now, I say that confession daily — sometimes many times a day. And the words in it that always bring tears to my eyes as I speak them are these:
… 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 neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. (BCP 359-360)
Over the past few days, I have often thought of a moment from my childhood. I was probably 8 or 9 years old. I was back in my room, reading a book that I had checked out of the library. My parents were in the living room, watching television. That book was The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I don’t remember how far I had gotten into the book, but, at some point, when I realized what was happening in the story, I raced to the living room, book in hand, and started screaming at my parents: “How could you have let this happen?” I was inconsolable at the thought that what I was reading was real, it was history. As time passed, of course, as we all do, I understood the context and I realized that of course my parents could not have saved this one girl, so many thousands of miles away. I reconciled myself to the presence of evil in the world around me. And that was made easier by the color of my skin, by my education, by my economic status, and at that time, by the fact that I was born and lived in the United States of America.
Now, however, in the current climate, I ask myself this question each day. I am afraid that I now understand all too well how my parents “could have let this happen.” I understand that evil sneaks up on you; it wears a familiar face. It asks for small accommodations first, and by the time it makes the big ask you are in too deep to save yourself or anyone else. You see, it is the things “we have left undone” that create the great sin, the failure to love our neighbors as ourselves. The question has become not, “how could you let this happen,” but what will I do to stem this growing tide now.
I can only answer this question for myself, each day, in my own life. And right now, my answer is confession. It may be a poor answer, but it is what I have to offer. And so, dear friends, will you hear my confession?
I confess to you that I have been blind to the true state of the world for those among you who are not white, not economically comfortable, and not part of what might be called the dominant culture, whatever that means. For this sin, I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
I confess to you that I have been blind to the effects of the particular brand of American Cultural Christianity, which has little to do with the God I know through scripture and community, and, that while I have not often embraced it, I have done little to change it. For this sin, I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
I confess to you that I am, most likely, descended from people who reaped economic benefit from the enslavement and torture of other human beings, since my heritage comes from places with names like Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. For this sin, I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
I confess to you that I am, most definitely, descended from people who warred against the native inhabitants of these lands and that my entire family history is built upon the theft of those lands. For this sin, I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
I confess to you that, despite my extensive training as an historian, I have not always looked at our history as a people with a critical eye. I have looked at the oppression of my gender, but I have not always dug beneath the accepted stories of our corporate past and looked the worst of that past square in the face. Our nation labelled other human beings as less than, as a people, we enslaved them. We drove the natives from this beautiful county and herded them into the most desolate parts of it. We have denied the equality of more than 50% of our population. We have denied access to Jews seeking refuge from Hitler, to Muslims seeking refuge from ISIS, to people from all nations just looking for a way to live a better life. We have punished people because their love did not look like ours, or their way of being in their bodies was not like ours. As an historian, I know that I cannot change what has happened, but I can and must embrace the truth that we are not a perfect and chosen people, that, in many cases, we would make the Crusaders of the Middle Ages look like choir boys. Without this self knowledge, we cannot change the future. For this and any other failure to see or listen or to understand, I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
And, I confess to you that, I am most likely blind to so many other things for which I need to confess. For that, I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
I offer this small confession not to make the events of this world about me. I do not offer it to shame or chastise another. I offer it in the spirit with which my mother raised me — her first commandment was look to your own doorstep before you look to that of another. Or, as the airline safety demo states, put your own oxygen mask on before you try to help another. I cannot begin to figure out how to be of use until I fully understand and deal with the part of the problem that is me. In truth, the struggles around us, whether we acknowledge them or not, have not happened without us. They are not separate from us, we are a part of them. And only after we acknowledge that even silence is participation, only then can we begin to participate meaningfully.
Of course, I know that I will continue to sin. And I know that I will continue to repent. I will not get it right most days. And I know that it is, in so many ways, the color of my skin that gives me this luxury to fail. But all I can do is try the best I can, each and every day. And then, confess, repent, and begin again.
Thank you, friends, for hearing my confession.