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painting of a bearded man with eyes closed and calm look on face, with hands held open with fingers pointing upward, near the face

Confession: Holy Peace

John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

painting of a bearded man with eyes closed and calm look on face, with hands held open with fingers pointing upward, near the face

Waiting For the Word

Anyone who knows me well has heard my story about confession. Actually, you don’t even have to know me well to have heard my story because I’ve preached on it, I lead with it in my book on confession, and I often use it to describe what it feels like to hear a confession.

As an Episcopal priest, I have the honor of occasionally hearing people’s private confessions. These are sacred moments when people get to lay down the burdens that they have been carrying – burdens of guilt, shame, and the pain that comes from knowing you have done something that has put you out of relationship with those you love. In this role, I continually run up against the need to let the weight of my own sin go as well as helping others do the same. It is an awesome responsibility. And because of my story, I know the importance and magnitude of what can happen when that option and gift is denied to someone.

My story goes something like this: When I was young I decided I would like to try private confession. As an Episcopalian, I’d only experienced corporate confession on Sundays. Since my church did not openly advertise the rite of reconciliation, I decided to go to a local Roman Catholic Church on Ash Wednesday (by skipping class with my friend – which was the first sin I was planning on confessing). They were offering private confession to those who wanted to begin Lent free from the burden of their sin.

As I took my place in the surprisingly long line up, I began to catalog my sins. My trespasses and brokenness began to weigh heavily on my soul. I thought of more and more ways that I had “wronged” God. By the time I finally took my turn in the confessional, I was not only on the verge of tears, I was incredibly elated by the idea of being able to “get rid” of the sins that had tarnished my soul.

As I stepped in the confessional, I decided that I should not add to this list of sins by lying to the priest and told him right away that I was not a Roman Catholic. I told him that if he would listen to my confession, I would feel lighter and understood if he could not offer me absolution as an Episcopalian. He replied, “No. Please leave now.” Read more

Being the Church in Pre-Post Racial America

Young Americans

Young Americans

Rarely can a book successfully weave together complex theological concepts, social justice frameworks, and the stories of ordinary people of faith. Pre-Post Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines does just that. The book’s author, Sandhya Rani Jha, is deft at the art of storytelling. Her insightful analysis of the theology of racial/social justice-making plays a perfect melody against her counterpoint: a subtle but devastating critique of the ways we as mainline Christians are tempted to separate the (spiritualized) Good News from God’s call that we build the Beloved Community.

Jha does theology by participation, and through her willingness to locate herself, to tell her story, and to listen intentionally to the life stories (both spoken and unspoken) of others, she invites us to do the same. She lifts up both the deep theological roots of knowing and loving one’s neighbor, and the deep socio-economic roots of our systems of racial and class-based injustice.

It is these twin balances that define the book. Her essay “#Every28hours” is a Jeremiad in the truest sense. It comes after she sets the context with nearly a dozen stories of people committed to the work of justice, and just before her final three chapters, which are filled hope, wry humor, and deep optimism. She wisely notes, “We can’t get to hope without acknowledging what’s happening that robs us of our hope: despair is a necessary word, even though it is not the final word.” Amen, Rev. Sandhya. Amen.

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