Even reputable media outlets have willingly sailed in this boundless sea of dreck to appeal to a public with an apparently insatiable appetite for, well, confession. Whether it’s from the various mistresses of Tiger Woods, an un-humbled David Letterman, or actors and actresses whose names mean almost nothing to me — the newspapers, blogosphere, Facebook, Twitter, and TV shows are full of public disclosures that would have made my grandparents apoplectic.
So what’s wrong with confession? Isn’t it good for the soul? Isn’t it what we Presbyterians do publicly each week at worship in our prayers of confession? (More on that in a minute.) Isn’t it what various passages in the Bible urge us to do?
Yes, but confession without rules can be as destructive as sex without rules, the latter in our culture often leading to the former.
Perhaps it’s time to turn back to John Calvin and his important words about confession in chapter 4, Book III of his Institutes of the Christian Religion:
“(In Scripture) one method of confessing is prescribed; since it is the Lord who forgives, forgets, and wipes away sins, to him let us confess them, that we may obtain pardon. He is the physician, therefore, let us show our wounds to him. He is hurt and offended, let us ask peace of him. He is the discerner of the heart, and knows all our thoughts; let us hasten to pour out our hearts to him.” The focus here is on God, not on us. And we can enter into authentic confession to this God only when we begin to grasp the reality that we can never grasp the full reality of God. One way to do it — draw the words of our private and corporate prayers of confession from the book that shows us what we know of God, the Bible.
With that in mind, I’m at work on a project that may never see the light of day. It’s a series of corporate prayers of confession for worship services. To find the words for these prayers, I’m drawing on the language and concepts of each week’s Revised Common Lectionary selections. Thus far I’ve completed a draft of the Year A prayers and, as I write this, am working on Year B. But it’s a slow process because — as is supposed to happen with corporate confessions — these prayers convict me over and over.
There’s something liberating about confessing one’s sins, something useful that opens up a new future. But when I live with these prayers of confession on a daily basis, eventually they rip open my heart.
It’s no longer me just reading the prayers once I write them, it’s the prayers reading me. Again and again I am disabused of any notion of my own purity.
But all of this happens at my desk here at my home office, where I’m composing the words you are reading. It doesn’t happen on “Entertainment Tonight” or on “TMZ.”
My guess is that we Presbyterians would live together in more harmony were we to take our private and corporate prayers of confession more seriously, craft them more carefully with more attention to Scripture and then heed Calvin’s idea to keep them in the I-Thou context. For the reality is that in recent decades over various issues we have abused one another, have not loved one another, have not been kind to one another. It’s been a terrible model for others, and we would do well to confess our failings.
But let’s not do it in a way that would let anybody in the world “Google” it.