As we savor the gift of these days of Lent, we find richer experiences of confession: of seeking more intently the way of Christ, of telling more wholly and deeply the truth about our sins, of being more profoundly amazed by the grace of God, of reaching and stretching to right wrongs.
“Confession” and “forgiveness” are likely familiar words and common understandings for most of us. “Amendment of life” and “reparation” are likely less so. Nor is penance a word in common usage among us.
Many of the sins we commit are acts of harm to persons near to us, persons we will never meet, and to the holy gift of creation we share. We have caused damage. Some of the damage we have caused and are causing can’t be repaired. Some of it can.
In our congregations at worship, we raise our prayers of confession and receive reminding words of forgiveness to hold and to share. We use the word “we” because we understand that some sins are not personal, but are a collaborative effort, engaging sinners with many zip codes. I behave unjustly as Jonna and I collaborate with many others in community, nation, and world in perpetuating and dozing through injustices. I sin widely. We sin widely.
We are invited by Professor Jennifer Harvey, in our Lenten study of Dear White Christians, to see that our collaborative sins of “we” as white Christians don’t just stretch across zip codes. Our collaborative sins of “we” as white Christians lasix quinine stretch back through time, from generation to generation. We both inherit and perpetuate not only sins of racial injustice but the suffering and devastation that flow from the first days of slavery in America to Lent in Iowa in 2016. We both inherit and perpetuate the sins of white privilege in America.
Professor Harvey takes up the voice of a prophet, summoning us to act on a call to penance, to amend life, to make reparation for the sins of racial injustice. The suffering and devastation of racism is ours now to repair.
Think and pray, plan and act, dear bold followers of Jesus. What repairs are you and I and we called to make? Imagine what our steps might be toward racial justice in health care, repairing the breach in wellbeing and health outcomes between black and white in America. Imagine what our steps might be toward racial justice in education, repairing the breach in opportunity between black and white in America. Imagine what our steps might be toward racial justice on our streets and in our courts. The fruits of our imaginings will be verbs. Listen. Listen hard to black Americans. Listen harder. Connect. Engage. Bear witness. Vote. Move money (both “ours” and “mine”) from the purchases of privilege to the labors of repair.
I’ll look forward to hearing your imaginings. I think and pray, plan and act alongside you, summoned by a prophetic voice, startled and chastened, reaching for the verbs.
–Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister