Since my last confession.

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Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. –James 5:16

It happened again today.  I watched three more church members crossing the street and walking into the Catholic church down the way.  That was 8 people now, over the past few days.  What was going on?

I decided to find out.  I pulled on a hat and trench coat so as not to be easily recognizable.  I walked the short distance to the Catholic church and stepped inside.  It was a nice enough building.  I’d never been inside before.

Just then I caught a glimpse of my church members darting into the sanctuary, so I followed them.  I slouched down into a pew in the back, and watched them sitting over to the side.  Then, one at a time, they stepped into the small door on the side.

It was the confessional!  My people were sneaking into the Catholic church to take confession!

Confession was developed long ago, in the early years of Christianity, as a way of responding to James 5:16, above.  A regular, private, personal confession of sins, heard by a Priest.

When the reformation came, Protestants objected to confession, saying “Who says Priests are qualified to forgive sins?”  And some of the penance they prescribed included indulgences — basically a “pay you or your relative’s way out of salvation” scam.  So Protestants did away with the practice, replacing it with…not much.

Today?  According to an article in the Boston Globe, less than 2% of Catholics go to confession regularly.  And 3/4 don’t go at all.  Confession has become, for many Catholics, and unwelcome sacrament.

But what about us Protestants?  After 1,000+ years of very little opportunity for confessing sins, aside from the occasional corporate prayer, the idea of having someone to hand our heavy loads to doesn’t sound half bad.

Based on the actions of my (fictitious) parishioners, I propose a trade.  If Priests are willing to listen to our confessions, we’ll do something nice for the Catholics.  Give up red meat on Friday during Lent, maybe?  Treat our communion elements a little more carefully?  Something like that.  What do you think?

After my parishioners left the sanctuary, I made my way up front and climbed into that little box.  Finally I said, “It’s been…uh…at least 47 years since my last confession.”  Then I just kind of laid it all out there.  The little things that had been bugging me.  The big weights I was tired of carrying.  It felt really good.

But afterwards, I realized that I really could just ask Jesus for forgiveness directly.  Or talk things over with a friend.  Why hadn’t I made this a priority? I’ll admit I did feel a lot better, but not because of that confessional.  I felt free because I’d made space in my busy life to accept Christ’s freedom.

Let this be a reminder to us (Protestants and Catholics alike) that confession IS good for the soul.  Whether it involves talking to a priest or minister, or sharing with a good friend, or praying with a congregation, or holding nothing back from Christ, guilt is something too many of us carry around.

Put forth the effort and let it go.

Throw it away like a Hail Mary.

(I’m supposed to say 7 of those)

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Reclaiming “Thoughts and Prayers”

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What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  –James 2:14

In the last week, I’ve read several comments, cartoons, and editorials that were, in effect, bashing the phrase “Thoughts and Prayers”.  I understand why.  Some people carelessly throw that phrase around during a tragedy.  The words seem empty, not followed up with action.

And there’s so much going on that demands action.   The need to stand up for justice, or donate to a relief effort, or write your congressperson is very real.  If we don’t do any of these kinds of things, the possibility of positive change becomes less likely.

I get it.  I see that urgent need as well.  But please, stop treating the notion of “Thoughts and Prayers” as if the words were pointless.  In the rush to condemn human apathy or criticize lip-service, a vital activity at the heart of Christianity is getting caught in the crossfire.

Thinking is NOT doing nothing.  In fact, we could all stand to do it a little more.  Critical thinking in a time of crisis can be hard to come by.  People are scared, numb, in survival mode.  Rash actions and words are not the answer.  God gave us minds, and wants us to use them.  When faced with a crisis, there are few things that can be more important than taking a deep breath, examining the situation, and sorting out our thoughts as clearly as possible.

Similarly, Praying is definitely NOT inaction. Prayer sets the foundation that makes sure future actions align with the Kingdom of God.  Prayer focusses one’s own spiritual energy, and joins with others pursuing common goals.  Prayer conveys our great needs to God, and invites us to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Prayer opens us up to receive the improbable or seemingly impossible.

When a person of faith says, “My Thoughts and Prayers are with you”, it is not an empty phrase or a polite brush off.  It is a statement of alignment, with God and with neighbor.  It is a promise of attention and focus.  It is the promise of divine action, channeled in part through the believer.

Or at least, it can be.  Truly, that phrase has been dumbed-down and co-opted, but that’s not the way it is supposed to be used.  Rather than letting sacred activity be mislabeled as inactivity, let us put this false dichotomy to rest.

The work of the Christian in the world has internal and external components.  Thoughts and Prayers not without Action.  Faith not without Works.  All these words are to be taken with utmost seriousness.  Reverence, even.

Those are my Thoughts and Prayers.

Can I get an Amen?

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Parannoyed

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Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.  Luke 21:10-11

This can’t be good for us.

Living like this.  Looking over our shoulders for the next terrible thing to happen.  Waiting for the other size 15 shoe to drop.  Watching it raining crazy around the globe.

I’ve decided I’m being parannoyed.  Both paranoid with fear over what comes next, and annoyed that this appears to be my new normal.  Do you feel this way too?

It doesn’t really feel like the end of the world, to me.  Just more of the same long line of crazy stuff we humans are capable of.  However, that list in Luke makes me feel the same as all the recent things happening in our world make me feel.

It’s this feeling of doom.  Of non-stop yuckiness.  Of powerlessness.  It just keeps coming.  So much so that it’s beyond distressing.

It’s parannoying.  One irritating reason to be afraid after another.

This can’t be good for us!  The human body can only take so much stress.  The human mind can only process so much negativity.  The human heart can only be slapped around so many times before we’re brought to our knees.

Ah, but here’s some help:  Mid way through Jesus’ list of end times event, he says,  “Stand firm, and you will win life.”

For us to stand firm means to put our trust in Christ as our sure foundation.  In Christ, we remember that we live according to God’s plans, not the world’s chaos.  And Christ reminds us that there is more to the story than what we see on the nightly news.

So stand firm, dear Christian. Trade out your paranoia for passion.  Exchange your annoyance for assurance.

That’s right. It will be very very good for us, if we

trade out our parannoyance…

for some Blessed Passurance.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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