I have some new short videos on contemporary matters of interest uploaded on my YouTube channel: youtube.com/drlarrytaylor
I’ve been in the habit of confusing confession with repentance. They go together, but they are not the same thing.
Not only did I confuse confession and repentance, I left out lament. All three are vital and necessary to effect change.
Neither confession, nor lament, nor repentance has to do with shame. Shame is the belief that one is unlovable, beyond the reach of love. Shame is toxic, demonic.
Confession is admitting that what we’ve done is wrong. Not only admitting what I personally chose to do or say, but what the systems I’m a part of have chosen to do and say. I am not an island. I’m a part of an immediate family, a family of origin, a culture, a society, a nation, and a world. At various times in my life, I am a part of institutions, neighborhoods, friendship groups, work teams, and so on.
I’ve done and said things that are wrong, unethical, immoral, or just not nice. The systems of which I am a part – those nations, neighborhoods, family groupings, and workplaces – have also done or promoted things that are wrong, unethical, immoral, or simply not very nice.
Confession means I honestly admit that. No sugarcoating; no excuses. To whom do I confess? God and those I have hurt. I confess to God and those hurt by the systems of which I am a part. Confession means apologizing to my wife when I’m inattentive, to my colleague when I’m overly critical, to the Black community for the racism of my privileged station, to Native Americans for the genocide of ancestors, and to the LGBTQ community for the vitriol of my faith community.
Confession is essential because it allows us to realize the harm we have caused. It opens the door for empathy and understanding. It is not meant to leave us down on ourselves, guilty, or ashamed; but instead, kindhearted, understanding, and sympathetic.
Lament is the expression of grief. Lament creates space to grieve the harm caused by neglect, selfishness, greed, bigotry, unforgiveness, or social injustice. If I truly enter into confession, it will produce empathy for the victimized, whether individual or collective, and empathy will express itself in lament.
Confession is not repentance. Lament is not repentance. Confession allows me to realize the harm done; lament allows me to express grief over the harm done.
Repentance repairs the harm down.
As much as is possible, repentance undoes the harm. It aims to make amends, restore, repay, rebuild, reconcile, set things to rights.
While talking heads scream at one another, while dueling protestors shout insults and hurl bottles, while guns are brandished and lies are repeated, we who seek to follow Jesus are called to confess, lament, and repent in order that love, peace, and justice may rain down upon us all.
Life is filled with losses. Every relationship ends one way or another. Death, divorce, distance. Nations and empires fade and fall. Seasons come and seasons go.
It was the Swiss psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who first described the now famous stages of grief in terminally ill patients – denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Based on more recent research, we now know that these are not stages, but rather more like unpredictable random waves that can come in any order and with varying intensity. And we now realize that these emotions are present not only in terminally ill people, but in all of us whenever any of us, individually or collectively, experience loss.
Whether it is loss of a relationship, a career, vigorous health, or the demise of a nation or culture, we grieve. As we grieve that which we valued, we pass in and out of denial, anger, pleading, and sadness, often for many months or even years, before we settle (if we are emotionally healthy) into acceptance.
Denial is natural and normal. It is a mistake to try to rush people out of denial. Denial protects our fragility and enables us to carry on for a time. But, denial must also play itself out. To remain permanently in denial is pathological. The person who interacts with a lover who has been dead for 20 years as if they were still in the room is psychotic.
Faith is not presumption. Hope is not denial. Faith is trust in the perfect love of God. Hope is the certainty that God is making all things new.
Refusing to wear a mask during an airborne pandemic is not faith; it is selfish. Love of neighbor demands a mask. Claiming it’s all a hoax is not hope; it is stupidity.
Insisting America is righteous and guilt-free is not faith; it is willful ignorance of scripture and history. Claiming America is not a dying empire is not hope; it is denial.
In my work as a hospital chaplain, it is not unusual to come across family members of a dying loved one who insist death is not imminent. Nor is it unusual for people to disallow symptoms of disease until it is too late. They are in denial.
On the other hand, hope is essential. As believers, we hold realistic hope in an eventual cure, a beating of the odds, and, even if death comes, we grieve in hope, knowing our loved one is safe with Jesus and we will eventually be reunited.
Christian hope embraces reality. It neither ignores nor disavows the truth of the matter.
America is very sick. Without proper treatment, it will die. How do I know? Watch the news.
Nations die in various ways. Occasionally, one is violently crushed out of existence. More often, its relevance fades until it becomes ancillary. World War I destroyed the Ottoman Empire. The British Empire gradually shriveled to a fraction of its size and influence.
Like all nations, like all empires, America will inevitably eventually die. Perhaps that time is imminent. Perhaps it is a ways off. Our choice. Will we accept the cure prescribed by the Great Physician, or persist in denial and anger until America is dead?
The United States of America is in the ICU on life-support.
Like ancient Israel, idolatry has led to injustice in these United States.
America is not “one nation under God.” It never has been. America worships Mars, Mammon, and Caesar, but drapes its idolatry in Christianeze. Idolatry results in national sin.
But, there is a cure. Death is not inevitable. The cure involves confession, lament and repentance.
Honest confession (without excuses) to God and to those the nation has hurt, followed by lamentation that enables us to empathize with the victimized, and capped by the kind of repentance that actually and practically sets things to rights – this is the three-fold divine cure.
Our national sins include:
- Invasion by imperialist Europeans
- Genocide of indigenous nations
- Land owned for 10,000 years stolen from Native Americans
- Forced relocation of indigenous people
- Jim Crow segregation
- Systemic racism
- Voter suppression
- Convict leasing
- Redemptive violence
- Myths of righteous wars
- Abortion as a form of birth control
- Patriarchalism, misogyny, anti-LGBTQ
- Environmental pollution
- Greed, exploitation
- Nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment
National sins have led to injustice:
- The reëmergence of white supremacy
- Mass incarceration
- Intergenerational poverty
- Hatred, greed, environmentally induced illness
- Violence, killing, wars, crime, police brutality
- Late term abortions
- Riots and unrest
- Political lies, corruption, avarice, immorality
- Unsavory foreign alignments
- Lack of civil discourse
- Disastrous response to pandemic
- Income disparity
Why should I confess, lament over, and repent of things I personally did not do? After all, I never owned slaves. The simple answer is that I need to confess, lament, and repent because I am an America. I am part of the whole. E pluribus unum.
America has been in denial for many years. Insisting we are not a racist society, reimaging a history without redlining and mass incarceration, responding to police brutality with “blue lives matter,” calling for a return to a nonexistent idyllic past, thinking the election of an African American president proves a post-racial society, failing to recognize that “Make America Great Again” has always meant “Make America White Again” – all signs of denial.
I am sad because I’m an American and I love America. Majestic mountains, crashing waves, towering sequoia, coral reefs, grazing pronghorn antelope, spewing fumaroles, mist rising from a tropical cascade – so much beauty. Colorful cultures, Mexican dances, African drums, lederhosen, ethnic foods – diversity enriching us all. Education, opportunity, and equality (at least in principle) – founding ideals of liberty and justice. There is much to love about America.
I’m also sad because America doesn’t have to die. As with Israel of old, the healing arms of the Great Physician are outstretched. Will we accept the cure, or, like ancient Judah, spurn the truth until the nation is dead?
America can go one of three ways:
- Blame all the problems on whichever political party we don’t like and naïvely imagine all is well if our tribe runs the show. Racism is our zeitgeist, the water in which we swim. If we imagine we have fixed things by swapping out some politicians, we deceive ourselves. Our nation will die.
- Continue denying we are anything other than great and near perfect. Our nation will die.
“The United States has often been called a land of contradictions, and to be sure, it’s failings sit along side some notable achievements — a New Deal for many Americans in the 1930s, the defeat of fascism abroad in the 1940s. But on racial matters, the U.S. could just as accurately be described as a land in denial. It has been a massacring nation that said it cherished life, a slaveholding nation in the claimed it valued liberty, a hierarchal nation the declared it valued equality, a disenfranchising nation that branded itself a democracy, a segregated nation that styled itself separate but equal, an excluding nation that boasted of equality for all. A nation is what it does, not what it originally claimed it would be. Often, a nation is precisely what it denies itself to be.”
- Repent, do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. As with ancient Israel, there is hope.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
28 Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
31 For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.
Will we take the cure or continue our denial until the nation is dead?
The End of Denial by Ibram X. Kendi, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University and Director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research (The Atlantic, September 2020, p. 54)
Lamentations is a series of five poems – one per chapter. The first four are acrostic, i.e., each line begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Lamentations is also a chiasm. A chiasm is literary form in which the central point is placed right in the middle, on the middle stair as it were. In a chiasm, each step reinforces its opposite.
So, in Lamentations, we have:
A. Chapter 1: The cause of Israel’s trouble is sin, specifically idolatry
B. Chapter 2: The result of their idolatry is the destruction of the nation
C. Chapter 3: Mercy and Grace (the main point of the book)
B1Chapter 4: The result of their idolatry is the destruction of the nation
A1 Chapter 5: The cause of Israel’s trouble is sin, specifically idolatry
Ancient Israel was in denial for centuries in spite of continuous warnings from her prophets. Her problems began with false gods. Worship of false gods led to gross injustice. The eventual and inevitable consequence was demise.
In ancient times competing kingdoms occupied what is now Iraq – Babylon in southern Mesopotamia, Assyria in the north. Israel thought she could escape the jaws of Assyria by making a military alliance with Egypt. In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon defeated Egypt at Carchemish.Soon, Assyria was absorbed into the Babylonian Empire. Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem in 598 BC – the first of three deportations of Jews into captivity. In 587 BC, Babylon crushed Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Jeremiah wept.
Lamentations is a funeral dirge for Jerusalem. God offered hope in the form of a cure, but Israel chose to deny until the nation was dead.
The false gods of materialism, militarism, and nationalism bear the fruit of violence, disunity, and injustice in which the most vulnerable are most injured.
America: These be your gods.
Ancient Assyria and Babylon were about 500 miles east of Israel. Carchemish was a city in northern Syria.
God (along with those whose hearts were aligned with God’s) was appalled that people who claimed to follow the only true and living God, whose very nature is pure love, would go into the Valley of Ben-Hinnom (later referred to as Gehenna), heat up images of Molech until they were red-hot, strap their live babies onto the images’ arms and work themselves into a frenzy while children fried to death.
Jeremiah 32:35 They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.
In the time of Jesus, Gehenna was the town dump where all the sewage, garbage, and refuge was dumped and continually burnt. It was also where the brutal Romans tossed the bodies of the many people they executed by crucifixion. It was a horrible place of stench, where the fires were always burning and where worm-like maggots lived in abundance.
Some English translations render Gehenna as “hell.” We sometimes hear people speak of “hell on earth.” At times, it can be. Imagine being thrown into Gehenna alive.
Something like that happened to Jeremiah about 600 years before Jesus was born. He was thrown into cistern because his message was deemed unpatriotic. A well connects to underground water; a cistern simply collects rainwater. It is a hole chiseled out of rock. This particular cistern had no standing water in it. Around five feet of mud sat in it. Most likely, people dumped their sewage in it, and perhaps their garbage as well.
Jeremiah38 Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah was saying to all the people: 2 “Thus says the Lord: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live. 3 Thus says the Lord: This city shall surely be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon and be taken.” 4 Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” 5 King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you.” 6 So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.
Hell on earth.
Sometimes, we wind up in a hellish situation through our own choices. A drunk driver faces prison. Hell on earth.
More often, we wind up in hellish situations because we live in a broken world. Our hell on earth might be the loss of a loved one, a chronic ailment, eviction, job loss, debt, addiction, mental illness, divorce, or being victimized by prejudiced people. Maybe it was partially our fault; maybe it was the fault of others; maybe it just happened.
Hell on earth.
We cry out to God. God never seems to answer quite as quickly as we would like.
Most often, God rescues us by using other people. Frequently, they are people we wouldn’t expect.
An outsider rescued Jeremiah. Reminds me of the good Samaritan. This person was gender-neutered – not female, not male. He (they?) was a black African, not Middle Eastern. He was a slave. He had no wealth and no privilege other than the fact that he worked in the government building, so he regularly saw the people in charge.
Jeremiah38:7 When Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch who was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern—the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate— 8 Ebed-melech went from the king’s house and said to the king, 9 “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern, and he will die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.” 10 Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, “Take thirty men with you from here, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.” 11 So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to the house of the king, to a wardrobe in the storehouse, and took from there old rags and worn-out clothes, which he let down to Jeremiah in the cistern by ropes. 12 Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Put the rags and clothes between your armpits and the ropes.” Jeremiah did so. 13 Then they drew Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard.
I’ve met people who would rather stay in mire up to their necks than accept help from “that kind of person.” I’ve seen very sick patients so full of hatred that they refuse the care of physicians and nurses of color.
Who are the strangers, the “others” in our lives? Undocumented workers? Those who do not speak English? Alcoholics? Drug addicts? Pro-life folks? Pro-choice folks? Young black men? Old white men? The poor? Wealthy? Red Necks? Harvard elitists? Prisoners? Muslims? Refugees? LGBTQ? Democrats? Republicans? Liberals? Fundamentalists?
Each one of us is “other” to someone.
Who are the people in our cities and towns who are living a hell on earth? Are they sleeping under bridges? Incarcerated? In hospitals, nursing homes, or hospice programs? Hiding in the shadows? Hiding in plain sight? Harassed by law enforcement because of their skin color?
How can we lift others out of their personal hells?
Do we, perhaps – some of us – find ourselves in a living hell?
Expect rescue from unlikely sources.
Scriptures are quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.