Confession Booth

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Reed College in Oregon is widely regarded as one of America’s most socially progressive campuses.

Its annual springtime student festival, Renn Fayre, is, to put it mildly, faith-averse.  The campus is shut down for three days so the students can come together and do some serious partying in the spirit of revisiting Renaissance England. 

Participants are far more likely to trip out on drugs than contemplate the validity of trusting God.

That’s why author Donald Miller, one of the few practicing Christians on Reed’s campus, was joking when he suggested that he and his friends should put up a booth at Renn Fayre with a big sign that said, “Confess Your Sins.”  There would be lots of sinning going on, after all.

But one of his friends thought it was a brilliant idea.

“Here’s the catch,” he said.  “We’re not actually going to accept confessions.  We are going to confess to them.”

As Miller explains in his book Blue Like Jazz, he and his friends would “confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving.  We have been bitter, and for that we are sorry.

“We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus.  We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them.”

The results were surprising, to say the least.

Miller describes a conversation he had in the booth with a Reed student who identified himself as Jake.  “So what is this?  I’m supposed to tell you all the juicy gossip I did at Renn Fayre, right?” Jake asked.

Donald explained that this was a place where Christians were doing the confessing.  “Explain,” said Jake.

“Jesus said to feed the poor and take care of the sick,” Miller began.  “I have never done very much about that.  Jesus said to love those who persecute me.  I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened, you know, if my ego gets threatened.  Jesus did not mix his spirituality with politics.  I grew up doing that.  It got in the way of the central message of Christ.

“I know that I was wrong, and I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know him, carry our own agendas into the conversation rather than just relaying the message Christ wanted to get across… I’m sorry for all of that.”

Jake was moved.  “I forgive you,” he said.  Miller was amazed at Jake’s sincerity.  “Thanks,” he responded.

Jake was quiet for a moment and then said, “This is cool, what you are doing.  I’m going to tell my friends about this.”

More grace and truth were experienced at Reed College because of one weekend of humility and vulnerability than any number of sermons or programs.

I know a pastor whose unchurched friend once said to him, “I’ve got to tell you, looking at the church from the outside – it’s a real mess.”  The pastor replied, “Oh, yeah?  You should see it from the inside.”

If you’ve ever been on the inside of the movement Jesus started, you know it can be a real mess.  It can break your heart.  It can break God’s heart.

But there’s one piece of exceedingly good news.

Jesus himself still shines through – perhaps especially when we’re honest about our own failure to be his representatives.