Monthly Archives: March 2009

CONFESSION IN COMMUNITY AS HEALING

Confession in community is something I want to grow in. I am aware that there are limits to how much we can confess very personal sins and short-comings to a large group but I want to try to work on this area of my life. I also want to learn how to be more transparent with regard to confession in a smaller group. I think there is a connection between confession, prayer and healing. In fact, I suspect that this is something God is trying to teach all of us.

Listen:

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

Could the act of confession be the means of grace in our lives? I suspect so. So why have I learned from my experience in church meetings that confession rarely takes place in the context of church gatherings? If God is offering healing through this means of grace, why not explore it further?

What is it that God is healing in us through confession? I’m wondering this myself. I think of the brokenness caused by lies I have believed; the burns that shame from failures hidden from others has seared onto my heart; the deafness learned from not hearing the words “you are forgiven”; the cancer of pride that consumes from thinking I don’t have anything that needs confessed; how my heart has grown stony, cold, and defensive from not communicating openly, from not practicing vulnerability, from not trusting God or the communion of saints.

Like most people, I resist showing my ‘bad side’ to others. There is also a side of me that is very cautious about sharing my own sins because I don’t want what I say to be used against me. Can you relate to this? What are the proper boundaries of public confession? What are some ways for Christian communities to practice confession as a regular discipline? How do we discover what sins we can confess in a large group setting and those best kept to only a few close friends? Regardless, I know that confession is a spiritual discipline and as we engage it we must confront our own pride and our tendency towards all kinds of sophisticated ‘cover-ups’.

We cannot force one another to confess. This rather misses the point. Confession, however, is not easy, and if I wait until I feel like doing it I probably won’t ever do it. I think it’s probably one of those things we can/should make a commitment to doing, as a starting place at least. This could occur between two or several individuals. In a larger context, we can also give space for this on a regular basis (which at GW we kind of are doing…at least, we are talking more about it) and hope that we will trust one another increasingly and allow each other to be involved in each of our healing.

In some ways, the problems we face today are not very different from the problems revealed in Genesis 2-3. Rather than confess our sins (which is agreeing with God), my tendency is to run away from God, hide and point the finger first blaming God and then blaming someone else. So how can I get beyond the habit of spiritual blindness? I am unsure but I do know I can’t figure this out by myself. I want to grow in this area because I see a connection between confession and healing and I want to be healed so that I am more free to love. I also see a deep connection between confession and trust, confession and true community, confession and self-respect.

I’ve found that confession removes this lie we believe that others are somehow more perfect, more “arrived”, that we are alone in our struggles and failures.  I think there is also something in giving words to things.  In giving words to fears, to failings, or whatever we need to confess; it becomes less of this ominous, foreboding, indefinable presence and becomes more bounded and identified.  We are able to look at it and say, “Oh, so THAT’S what you are.”

I think that there are probably different contexts appropriate for different things.  For most of us the practice of confession is relatively foreign and scary and certainly a new level of transparency that requires intentionality.  I think we can ask for safe opportunities/places/relationships in which to practice this, with an individual or a group.  In my experiences, even sharing small things with one person has given me greater courage to share more deeply and with different people.

What then is the role of leadership in helping others grow in this area of confession? I think our role is simply to intentionally find our way into the process. While leaders do set examples and while growing leaders do want to be more transparent, in the end, I think what everyone wants is for leaders simply to demonstrate their desire to grow in this area by making space for it to happen in the context of our community life. And I desire to make space because I desire to grow.

I appreciate the role leadership can take in finding our way into these processes, in making space for this. Sometimes I wonder, though, how much we don’t do because we’re waiting for someone else (a pastor, president, or whatever kind of leader) to start things. And this is not the fault of the leader; he or she is limited just like the rest of us. A good thing a leader can do is to give space for others to initiate and lead in spheres or topics that which energize or convict them. It’s unrealistic to think that any one leader could lovingly push a group in all the places needed, and lazy for the group only to wait for specific directives from leadership before pursuing growth. I know from personal experience that this is an easy mindset to embrace.

Recently I rediscovered a prayer of confession (I think it’s from the Book of Common Prayer) that a friend and I had spent some time with a couple years ago, and it’s been something I’ve been thinking about and praying. I’ve found it to be a useful tool in thinking about confession, and in giving words to it, and in doing it. This is part of the prayer:

    Most holy and merciful Father,

    I confess to you and to the whole communion of saints
    In heaven and on earth

    That I have sinned by my own fault

    In thought, word, and deed;

    By what I have done and by what I have left undone.

    I have not loved you with my whole heart, mind, and strength;

    I have not loved my neighbor as myself;

    I have not forgiven others as I have been forgiven.

    Have mercy on me, Lord.

    I have been deaf to your call to serve as Christ served us.

    I have not been true to the mind of Christ.

    I have grieved you Holy Spirit.

    Have mercy on me, Lord.

 — Anne Wilson & Keith Wasserman

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Filed under Wrestling with issues of perspective

Entitlement vs. Empowerment

Entitlement: the unhealthy belief held by an individual that they deserve special treatment because of their special circumstances. Constantly giving a handout reinforces this mindset.

Empowerment: providing an individual the skills and information that helps them make an informed decision. Giving someone a hand up by taking the time to believe in them, nurture them in love and teach them a new skill.

After my meeting with Sally, regarding providing her assistance for her rent, my thoughts turned reflective.   What should be the preferred approach for connecting her to local assistance?   I don’t question the difficulty she has being a single parent of three, working part-time in the university’s food service department.  I find it difficult not to judge her deeply ingrained notion about receiving help from a Christian.   It is the belief that Christians are expected to be generous in assisting anyone in need. Secular experts often refer to this as a form of entitlement because she believes her status as a single, working mom automatically qualifies her for assistance from the government, or anyone better off.   Yet it is this notion of entitlement, not Sally herself, which perplexes me. Even though I have worked with her three times in ten months, explained that my program has no funds to distribute and I guided her to local sources of assistance, she seems unwilling to give up her imbedded mindset and embrace my effort of empowering her. Why isn’t there any sign of her moving towards empowerment?  Is there a barrier she needs help crossing?  Am I really walking with her on this journey?  On the other hand, with my middle class, suburban mindset, am I undermining her efforts towards empowerment because I don’t understand her life?  My racing thoughts come to an agreement and pose a question; do I quit helping her get assistance until she is ready to accept empowerment?  Before I can answer that, a deeper underlying question is raised – what does Scripture teach?

In Luke’s gospel 17:11-19 we find Jesus demonstrating unconditional compassion to strangers. Jesus did not ask them if they were in a position to do anything about their situation, he responded to their plea for mercy and assistance with compassion. Like many of us Jesus is surprised by the mixed responses to his act of compassion. “And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’. And when he saw them, he said unto them, ‘Go show yourselves unto the priests’. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.’ And he said unto him, ‘Arise, go your way: your faith has made you whole.”

There are other verses and passages, which point towards compassion and mercy; each of them highlights an interaction between the one receiving help and the helper.  This interaction is a form of change brought about by God in both lives when they see Jesus in each other.  To the helper, it is remembering that our treatment of the marginalized reflects our treatment of Jesus.  For the one receiving help, it is the reminder to listen to the cry of the needy.  Above all, it is about participating in unconditional love and seeing the image of God in each of us no matter our perspective.  There is much to learn when it comes to relating with others who don’t fit the category of “our kind of people” yet deserve grace as we strive to follow the command Jesus gave his disciples, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).  Whether it is entitlement or empowerment, what really matters is the way we love one another.

— Chip Guyton

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Potential

Potential.

I have been thinking for a long time about how important it is that we believe in people until they believe in themselves. I think this is a significant role of leadership.

Many people don’t see value in themselves but we, through listening prayer and discernment can help them see things – beautiful things –that have been there for a long time. In short, we can help them ‘uncover’ the truth about themselves. And when they begin to believe in themselves, we can nurture them to see things in themselves that they may have not yet seen. We help them identify good things in their DNA that they have not given much ‘weight’ to either because this fallen world we live in has ‘marred’ their view of themselves or because their deep wounds from living in this world has colored or distorted their worldview.

This is one important aspect of loving another person.

When people begin to see good things in themselves –gifts from God— they journey towards their best self. When we continue to believe in them by helping them find ways to use these abilities and skills and ‘giftedness’ we help them move forward in their love for themselves and others. This process takes time and requires discernment, timing, wisdom, grace and courage. In the end, one of our goals is simply to help facilitate ways for people we love to love others, and in doing so, experience the deep meaning and purpose in their lives they were created to experience and which they may be lacking in. In the end, at least for me, there are very few things in this life that are more significant than the fact that God can use me – once a Jewish, drug dealing, juvenile delinquent – as an agent of transformation into another person’s life. By grace, Jesus the resurrected one, has resurrected in me (in part through the Body of Christ) things I never saw in myself and, has enabled me to use these God-given abilities to bring positive and transforming change into the lives of others. If God, who is rich in mercy, has done this for me, then in doing this for others, I will realize God’s image in me, and experience one significant piece of the meaning of life.

I heard a very powerful story recently from a highly esteemed professor about how her peers believed in her when she was only 13 years old. She said ‘they saw potential in me that I did not see in myself’. She explained how a group of teenagers befriended her at a time when she saw herself as very unlikable. It was their friendship that brought her to faith. Their willingness to see potential in her caused her eventually to see things in herself that brought her to places where she could trust God.

This idea of seeing potential in people energizes me. Indeed, it motivates me to think differently about how we can help one another see the image of God in each other and experience the kingdom of God.

 

Keith Wasserman

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Art as sermon

7 deadly sins

sloth, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, pride and envy.

I am not an artist, at least not in the traditional sense. What God creates through me would not be considered art by most people (even though I do see my work as artistic). I had the opportunity to visit an art display last week that a friend invited me to. Her work expressed and explored 7 visualizations of the 7 deadly sins. Each display was a creative act in itself and through a range of different mediums created a way for me to have some insights into myself and into these particular problems of humanity. As things sometime work out, my friend popped in to the room while I was viewing the display so I spent some time to talking with her. I expressed to her that what she had ‘created’ was also a sermon. She looked surprised. I asked if she thought her work could be displayed in the front of the congregation at a Sunday gathering as the sermon. She looked puzzled. I pressed further. Do you think the work you have developed is as important as the sermon the Pastor delivers for a Sunday morning?

I envision a community gathered, songs shared, a time of announcements and a time of greeting followed by a prayer. At this point, the congregation is invited into silence and encouraged to walk around the art displayed with a prayerful and examining heart. Maybe some write thoughts on paper. Maybe others gather in another room for a few minutes to pray and reflect their observations. Maybe others sit, reflect, say nothing and listen carefully to God and themselves. Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. We do have different learning styles and we need to be exposed to the variety of ways that God can speak through his people as they (we) create many expressions of his image in us.

How can we make room for the artists in our community to share what they create? How can we find new ways for these voices (and prophetic voices) to be heard and considered? Aren’t leaders responsible for facilitating these opportunities by recognizing the unique gifts God has given his people and their voices that have come to inform us about the kingdom of God?

According to Krissi Carson, “art teaches us to value the creation of God. Not just WHAT was created but the very act of creating. We connect with God as we create. Art connects us with beauty. Art connects us with things that we cannot say – things that are beyond words and beyond our capacity to express in words”.

I suspect I have much to learn from the creative expressions hidden inside creative people. However, I also suspect that it may be my role to begin to think of new ways to facilitate these expressions. God speaks in many ways. His image is revealed through his creation. Speak Lord, for your servants are listening.

 – Keith Wasserman

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A letter to the city of San Luis Obispo, CA police department and local newspaper

To those who protect and serve,

I am writing because I am angry about the injustice I have witnessed towards our city’s homeless primarily in Mitchell Park. I do not intend for this letter to be an attack against people or their respective jobs, but the injustice that is deeply rooted in our social systems. I recognize that the police officers of San Luis Obispo are simply doing their job and I want to extend my gratitude to them. I also recognize that I don’t see or hear of everything that goes on, for I know only what my eyes show me and my heart tells me. Yet, I must speak out against what I see.

One of the things I love most about Mitchell Park is the sense of community there. I find joy in the mother strolling through the park with her baby and in the father who is teaching his little boy how to throw a baseball, but more than anything I find the most joy in those who are ‘homeless.’ Many afternoons have I been filled with joy in hearing their laughter and listening to their tunes. NEVER have I felt threatened by their presence. Over the last two weeks, I have witnessed several occasions where police officers have approached these homeless people and have questioned them, searched them, handcuffed them and placed them in the back of their police cars. These homeless people at the park are citizens just like you and me, however they seem to be denied the simple pleasure of sitting in one of our city’s beautiful parks. Yesterday, I saw a man sit down at a picnic table and within minutes, a police officer confronted him. This man had no alcohol nor was he smoking anything, he carried with him a garbage bag and appeared to be homeless. It appeared to me that he was confronted simply because of his appearance. This stigmatization against the homeless here has taken nearly all of them out of the park. Placing our city’s poor behind bars and essentially making them invisible is not solving the problem of homelessness, it is only hiding it and robbing these people of their rights and their dignity. This problem cannot be ignored.

To me it seems that as a society we have allowed the hardships of our time to fill us with fear. This fear seems to place lenses over our eyes and causes us to see people as threats and diseases rather than human beings. When we allow fear rather than love to govern us, it becomes easy to forget that these people here in the park are suffering as many of them are lacking the basic needs that most of us take for granted. We need to see each other through eyes of compassion, compassion that goes beyond trying to institutionalize the homeless and worries more about their present needs. Perhaps we could bring an extra lunch on our picnics or motivate the city to allow us to plant a community garden for them in the park. However, it can be even simpler than that and it must start with our thinking, for our thoughts govern our lives.

We need to start thinking less about ourselves individually and more about our communities collectively. Many people are struggling right now and life would be easier if we struggled together for we each have different gifts and blessings that we could contribute to the greater good of our nation. Nannette Miranda from ABC7 News reports that 1 in 10 people have lost their jobs this month. In December, unemployment was at 8.7% and in January alone, it jumped to 10.1%. Nearly 2 million people in California are unemployed and the threat of foreclosure and thus homelessness is becoming more of a reality to many. The Economic Opportunity Commission in San Luis Obispo reports that between 2500 and 4000 people in San Luis County will be looking for a place to sleep tonight. In a time where so many are struggling, we must be able to look to one another for help. Most likely, the state of our economy will continue to get worse before it gets better. Let’s not make the mistake as a community to rob the homeless of their dignity for simply sitting in the park and let’s do what we can as individuals and as a community to take care of the basic needs of these people on the streets. Injustice to these people is injustice to us all.

This letter was given to the San Luis Obispo Police Department, the Parks and Recreation Department, the Chief of Police, the Community Development Department, and the city’s mayor.

Thank you for your time, my hope is that my words may bring forth reform and justice,

A concerned citizen

— Katie Pagenstecher (a former intern)

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