For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage. This is an excerpt from my book Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes: Removing Religion to Find Relationship.
One fine summer day at the monastery, I went to the garage and got the weed eater. But try as I might, I could not get the weed eater to start. Does it have gas? Check. Is the spark plug okay? Check. Well, that’s as far as my small engine talents can take me. So, let’s pull on the rope some more. Once more. One more time. Pull again. Pull. Pull pull pull pull pull pull pull pull. About the time I started to feel the blister come up on my finger from jerking on the rope, I’d had enough. I laid hands upon it (in the name of Jesus, of course) and removed the offending member from my presence.
I didn’t really believe that a long flight out the garage door would help the obstinate weed eater start. But for that brief, wonderful moment, the sight of the obnoxious, obviously UNSAVED weed eater flying helplessly and unrepentantly across the driveway and into the shrubs by the common center made me feel better. Walking out into the bright sun to retrieve the varmint, I bought it back into the garage and tried it once again. I was right. It still didn’t start.
Fast-forward to the next available Friday. Friday morning is the time when, during morning prayers, we all had the opportunity to confess any sins that needed to be, well, confessed.
As far as the actual confession went, we tried to keep it simple. For example, someone might say, “I would like to ask forgiveness of God and the community for oversleeping and coming in late to chapel.” Simple, short and concise confession.
After someone did confess, the community responded with simple silence. Only after all the confessions were made would John Michael say something, and his words were a simple extension of forgiveness to the offenders. And this is what I liked about our time of confession: What was said during confession stayed in confession.
Now, I didn’t know if anyone saw me wing the heathen weed eater out the garage door, but I confessed it nonetheless. (Note: You should confess your sins because it is the right thing to do, not simply because you got caught. The former you do because it reflects the holiness of God, the latter because it reflects the morality of Hollywood or Washington D.C.) My confession went something like this.
“I would like to ask forgiveness of God and the community for throwing the weed eater out the garage door after I couldn’t get it to start. I tried and I tried but it wouldn’t start and I don’t have much patience for things that don’t work the way they are supposed to work which I think is a sin in and of itself because built-in obsolescence is nothing more than a way for a company to make more money and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get it to go and it made me mad and I picked it up and hurled it across the driveway but then I felt bad about that and brought it back to the garage and tried it again and it still wouldn’t start and then I asked for help from someone and it finally started but I was still mad.”
I still laugh at myself for such a silly confession. After waiting for a few moments, John, quite uncharacteristically, offered this comment. “Jim, are you confessing a sin or indicting the weed eater?”
The absolute truth of that question really cut me to the core. John pegged me and pegged me good. Instead of confessing my sin, I was saying, “The weed eater made me do it!” John Michael wasn’t buying it.
So after waiting a few moments, I tried it again. “I’d like to ask forgiveness of God and the community for losing my temper with the weed eater the other morning.”
John ended our morning chapel by extending the forgiveness of God and the community to all the confessors, and to my knowledge, the only person who has ever told that story on me is me.