The Campus Confession Booth

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This is the article I mentioned in church on Sunday. Give it a read and share how it strikes you. Are you compelled to consider some type of confession?

The Campus Confession Booth
What I considered a horrible idea turned into a moment of transformation.
Donald Miller

Friday, July 1, 2005

Don Miller was a student and campus ministry leader at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, a decidely secular and highly intellectual place that Princeton Review named “the college where students are most likely to ignore God.” In his book Blue Like Jazz (Nelson, 2003), Miller tells of an unlikely event that introduced him to the mysteries of spiritual transformation.

Each year at Reed they have a renaissance festival called Ren Fayre. They shut down the campus so students can party. Security keeps the authorities away, and everybody gets pretty drunk and high, and some people get naked. The school brings in White Bird, a medical unit that specializes in treating bad drug trips. The students create special lounges with black lights and television screens to enhance their mushroom trips.

Some of the Christian students in our little group decided this was a good place to come out of the closet, letting everybody know there were a few Christians on campus. Tony the Beat Poet and I were sitting around in my room one afternoon talking about what to do, how to explain who we were to a group of students who, in the past, had expressed hostility toward Christians.

I said we should build a confession booth in the middle of campus and paint a sign on it that said “Confess your sins.” I said this because I knew a lot of people would be sinning, and Christian spirituality begins by confessing our sins and repenting. I also said it as a joke. But Tony thought it was brilliant. He sat there on my couch with his mind in the clouds, and he was scaring the crap out of me because, for a second, then for a minute, I actually believed he wanted to do it.

“Tony,” I said very gently.

“What?” he said, with a blank stare at the opposite wall.

“We are not going to do this,” I told him. He moved his gaze down the wall and directly into my eyes. A smile came across his face.

“Oh, we are, Don. We certainly are. We are going to build a confession booth!”

We met in Commons—Penny, Nadine, Mitch, Iven, Tony, and I. Tony said I had an idea. They looked at me. I told them that Tony was lying and I didn’t have an idea at all. They looked at Tony. Tony gave me a dirty look and told me to tell them the idea. I told them I had a stupid idea that we couldn’t do without getting attacked. They leaned in. I told them that we should build a confession booth in the middle of campus and paint a sign on it that said “Confess your sins.” Penny put her hands over her mouth. Nadine smiled. Iven laughed. Mitch started drawing the designs for the booth on a napkin. Tony nodded his head. I wet my pants.

“They may very well burn it down,” Nadine said.

“I will build a trapdoor,” Mitch said with his finger in the air. “I like it, Don.” Iven patted me on the back.

“I don’t want anything to do with it,” Penny said.

“Neither do I,” I told her.

“Okay, you guys.” Tony gathered everybody’s attention. “Here’s the catch.” He leaned in a little. “We are not actually going to accept confessions.” We all looked at him in confusion.

He continued, “We are going to confess to them. We are going to 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 the 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.”

All of us sat there in silence because it was obvious that something beautiful and true had hit the table with a thud. We all thought it was a great idea, and we could see it in each other’s eyes. It would feel so good to apologize, to apologize for the Crusades, for Columbus and the genocide committed in the Bahamas in the name of God, apologize for the missionaries who landed in Mexico and came up through the West slaughtering Indians in the name of Christ.

I wanted so desperately to apologize for the many ways I had misrepresented the Lord. I could feel that I had betrayed the Lord by judging, by not being willing to love the people he had loved and only giving lip service to issues of human rights.

For so much of my life I had been defending Christianity because I thought to admit that we had done any wrong was to discredit the religious system as a whole. But it isn’t a religious system; it is people following Christ. And the important thing to do, the right thing to do, was to apologize for getting in the way of Jesus.

The booth was huge, much bigger than I expected, almost like a shed complete with a slanted roof and two small sections inside, one for the person confessing and the other for the one hearing it. We built a half-high wall between the two rooms and installed a curtain so the confessor could easily get in and out. On our side we installed a door with a latch so nobody could come in and drag us away. Nadine painted “Confession Booth” in large letters on the outside.

People walking along the sidewalk would ask what we were doing. They stood there looking at the booth in wonder.

“What are we supposed to do?” they would ask.

“Confess your sins,” we told them.

“To who?” they would say.

“To God,” we would tell them.

“There is no God,” they would explain. Some of them told us this was the boldest thing they had ever seen. All of them were kind, which surprised us.

I stood there outside the booth as a large blue mob started running across campus, all of them, more than a hundred people, naked and painted with blue paint. They ran by the booth screaming and waving. I waved back. Naked people look funny when they are for-real naked, outside-a-magazine naked.

The party goes till nearly dawn, so though it was late we started working the booth. We lit tiki torches and mounted them in the ground just outside the booth. Tony and Iven were saying I should go first, which I didn’t want to do, but I played bold and got in the booth. I sat on a bucket and watched the ceiling and the smoke from my pipe gather in the dark corners like ghosts. I could hear the rave happening in the student center across campus.

I was picturing all the cool dancers, the girls in white shirts moving through the black light, the guys with the turntables in the loft, the big screen with the swirling images and all that energy coming out of the speakers, pounding through everybody’s bodies, getting everybody up and down, up and down.

Nobody is going to confess anything, I thought. Who wants to stop dancing to confess their sins? And I realized that this was a bad idea, that none of this was God’s idea. Nobody was going to get angry, but nobody was going to care very much either.

I was going to tell Tony that I didn’t want to do it when he opened the curtain and said we had our first customer.

“What’s up, man?” Duder sat himself on the chair with a smile on his face. He told me my pipe smelled good.

“Thanks,” I said. I asked him his name, and he said his name was Jake. I shook his hand because I didn’t know what to do, really.

“So what is this? I’m supposed to tell you all of the juicy gossip I did at Ren Fayre, right?” Jake said.

“No.”

“Okay, then what? What’s the game?” he asked.

“Not really a game. More of a confession thing.”

“You want me to confess my sins, right?”

“No, that’s not what we’re doing.”

“What’s the deal, man? What’s with the monk outfit?”

“Well, we are, well, a group of Christians here on campus, you know.”

“I see. Strange place for Christians, but I’m listening.”

“Thanks,” I said. He was being patient and gracious. “Anyway, there is this group, just a few of us who were thinking about the way Christians have sort of wronged people over time. You know, the Crusades, all that stuff …”

“Well, I doubt you personally were involved in any of that, man.”

“No, I wasn’t,” I told him. “But the thing is, we are followers of Jesus. We believe that he is God and all, and he represented certain ideas that we have sort of not done a good job at representing. He has asked us to represent him well, but it can be very hard.”

“I see,” Jake said.

“So this group of us on campus wanted to confess to you.”

“You are confessing to me!” Jake said with a laugh.

“Yeah. We are confessing to you. I mean, I am confessing to you.”

“You’re serious.” His laugh turned to something of a straight face.

“There’s a lot. I will keep it short,” I started. “Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. 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 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. There’s a lot more, you know.”

“It’s all right, man,” Jake said, very tenderly. His eyes were starting to water.

“Well,” I said, clearing my throat, “I am sorry for all that.”

“I forgive you,” Jake said. And he meant it.

“Thanks,” I told him.

He sat there and looked at the floor, then into the fire of a candle. “It’s really cool what you guys are doing,” he said. “A lot of people need to hear this.”

“Have we hurt a lot of people?” I asked him.

“You haven’t hurt me. I just think it isn’t very popular to be a Christian, you know. Especially at a place like this. I don’t think too many people have been hurt. Most people just have a strong reaction to what they see on television. All these well-dressed preachers supporting the Republicans.”

“That’s not the whole picture,” I said. “That’s just television. I have friends who are giving their lives to feed the poor and defend the defenseless. They are doing it for Christ.”

“You really believe in Jesus, don’t you?” he asked me.

“Yes, I think I do. Most often I do. I have doubts at times, but mostly I believe in him. It’s like there is something in me that causes me to believe. I can’t explain it.”

“You said earlier that there was a central message of Christ. I don’t really want to become a Christian, you know, but what is that message?”

“The message is that man sinned against God and God gave the world over to man, and that if somebody wanted to be rescued out of that, if somebody for instance finds it all very empty, that Christ will rescue them if they want; that if they ask forgiveness for being a part of that rebellion then God will forgive them.”

“What is the deal with the cross?” Jake asked.

“God says the wages of sin is death,” I told him. “And Jesus died so that none of us would have to. If we have faith in that then we are Christians.”

“This is why people wear crosses?” he asked.

“I guess. I think it is sort of fashionable. Some people believe that if they have a cross around their neck or tattooed on them or something, it has some sort of mystical power.”

“Do you believe that?” Jake asked.

“No,” I answered. I told him that I thought mystical power came through faith in Jesus. “What do you believe about God?” I asked him.

“I don’t know. I guess I didn’t believe for a long time, you know. The science of it is so sketchy. I guess I believe in God though. I believe somebody is responsible for all of this, this world we live in. It is all very confusing.”

“Jake, if you want to know God, you can. I am just saying if you ever want to call on Jesus, he will be there.”

“Thanks, man. I believe that you mean that.” His eyes were watering again. “This is cool what you guys are doing,” he repeated. “I am going to tell my friends about this.”

“I don’t know whether to thank you for that or not,” I laughed. “I have to sit here and confess all my crap.”

He looked at me very seriously. “It’s worth it,” he said. He shook my hand, and when he left the booth there was somebody else ready to get in. It went like that for a couple of hours. I talked to about thirty people, and Tony took confessions on a picnic table outside the booth.

Many people wanted to hug when we were done. All of the people who visited the booth were grateful and gracious. I was being changed through the process. I went in with doubts and came out believing so strongly in Jesus I was ready to die and be with him.

I think that night was the beginning of a change for a lot of us.

Donald Miller is an author living in Portland, Oregon.

A Post-Confessional Chat with Don Miller
Have you continued to use confession as a way to start meaningful conversations, even apart from the Ren Fayre atmosphere?

I usually ask people what their perceptions are about Christians and if they have been hurt or offended. I usually say I am sorry, sorry those things happened to you. It gives me the opportunity to share the true Christ. It also stirs in my heart a genuine love for the person.

Confessing is the opposite of defending, and most people defend. So offering a confession sometimes appears as a bright light in a dark world. Saying you’re sorry, for whatever, it is always a tender moment.

Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Click here for reprint information onLeadership Journal.

To read the original article, click here.

Five Comments about Gospel Stewardship

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Sunday’s message was how we spend too much time fixating on financial stewardship while we neglect stewardship of the most precious treasure we have — the Gospel message!

Anyway, I said a lot of stuff and as I was speaking it seemed to come our more harsh than I when I prepared it. I didn’t intend that but I do think our church as well as most others find it too easy to be distracted from what is most important.

So here are five things said on Sunday that we need to keep in mind:

#1 — Too many churches have a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” culture that exists. We all silently agree not to ask each other who we have shared the Gospel with so we are not accountable for doing so. I don’t believe this is a conspiracy, but I do think it is a trap we fall into and must break out of. Let’s start asking each other and praying for each other.

#2 — Consider the parable of the man who found the field with the treasure hidden in it. He ran out and sold all he had to possess the treasure. Have you sold all you have to possess the treasure of the Gospel? Have you held back something for yourself? If so, then you really don’t possess the treasure yet.

#3. — Good stewardship is not leaving success to chance, but it is being diligent about what we do and how we do in order to achieve the greatest success. (Thanks Kate for that nugget of truth!)

#4. — Actually this tidbit isn’t from the message. John Ashton sent it to me later in the day. His comment was that a good steward must know the owner’s desire in order to please the owner. What a great comment! Do we know what Christ’s desire is for us, his servants, those who are charged with managing the Gospel story? I fear that too many feel the story is for them alone and never feel compelled to share it.

#5. — I am the worst of sinners in this area. I have enjoyed sharing the Gospel when I have do so. But I am the worst at feeling like I don’t have time. When I do that I am prioritizing my mundane task (cleaning the garage, washing the siding — you know really important stuff) over my responsibility of stewardship of the Gospel. My greatest downfall is robbing time from my family or from my time in the Word or from building relationships for stupid stuff that will one day burn to a crisp. God forgive me for my ignorance!

Ten Suggestions for Gospel Stewardship

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This past Sunday we talked about how important it is for us to be as diligent at being a good steward of the Gospel as we are with our money.

So what now? Don’t you hate it when some loud-mouth preacher rails on you without giving you any real opportunities to do something with the message!

Well, here’s ten suggestions on how to begin to be a good steward of the Gospel:

1. Be intentional about the relationships you build. Ask God to point you to the people He wants you to get to know and beginning loving to Christ. Loving them to Christ means making them more important than yourself, asking about the things important to them, praying for them, earning the right to share about the difference Jesus has made in your life.

2. Do pray walks. Walk through your neighborhood, your campus, your workplace praying for the people you pass by. If you’re really industrious, jog and pray! Just make sure you pray silently or they will know how weird you really are.

3. Be willing to sacrifice what you are doing or what is important to you in order to seize a “gospel” opportunity with someone.

4. Take the first step. Be the one that begins the conversation, that invites the other to dinner, for coffee or dessert. When you do this, some folks will respond and some won’t. Don’t worry so much about the ones that don’t and focus on the one’s that do take you up on your offer. (Be sure you have something really good to serve them!)

5. Begin an evangelistic Bible study. There are several at CCC who have done this before and would be glad to coach you as you lead your study. There are all kinds of materials you can use. If you want to know about them, just email me!

6. Begin a book or movie discussion group. When it’s your turn to choose the movie or book choose one that will lend itself to spiritual discussions.

7. Host a backyard Bible club. Don’t think this is only about the children. Many parents will hang out wanting to know what’s going on. Invite them in and make them feel welcome. When you do that, you just went from children evangelism to adult evangelism!

8. Work on your personal testimony. Don’t let it be so long that you bore your guests to death. None of us have that good a story. Boil it down so you can tell it in less than 3 minutes. Even shorter would be good. Some call this your “elevator story” – in other words, can you tell your story in the time it takes to ride the elevator a few floors?

9. Attend the evangelism class at CCC. Last week Scott and Greg ran out of materials. Be there this week and begin to equip yourself so you can better steward the Gospel.

10. Finally, and this is the most creative idea – don’t fill out your census form. If you don’t fill out the census, our government will send a census worker to your door to ask you their ten questions and you can ask them a few questions back!! “Do you know where you would spend eternity if you get ran over by a car as you walk to the next house?” I bet their visit to your door will be unlike any other!!

If you begin to do any of these things I would love to hear about. We need to be sharing our stories with each other and praying about them. If you keep the good stuff to yourself the rest of us lose out. So spread the news of how your personal stewardship program is going! Leave a comment to share what you’ve done and how it worked out.

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