Our friend Christine is hosting a confession tent at the Cincinnati Gay Pride Festival this weekend. She got the idea from Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, a book of “nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality.” Miller, who lives in Portland, writes about Reed College’s annual Renn Fayre, a weekend-long marathon of mayhem and shenanigans (sometimes involving nakedness and blue paint). Donald and his friends get the idea to have a confession booth on campus with the words “Confession Booth” painted on the outside. Being Christians, Donald et al. knew that the assumption your typical Reed student would make of this booth, at the Renn Fayre, being staffed by Christians, was that the people inside would deliver a fiery blast of judgment and condemnation.
But that’s not what the booth was for. As Donald’s friend Tony explains it,
Here’s the catch. We are not actually going to accept confessions. 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.
Astonishingly, people came into the booth. The first, Jake, asks, “So, what is this? I’m supposed to tell you all of the juicy gossip I did at Renn Fayre, right?” No, Donald tells him, I’m actually going to confess to you. And so he does, haltingly, to the point that Jake gets teary-eyed and tells Donald, “It’s all right, man. I forgive you.” After Jake leaves, Donald finds someone else waiting to come in. By the end of the night, Donald himself has confessed to thirty people, all of whom left moved by the experience.
Miller said the whole shebang was liberating. “Many people wanted to hug when we were done,” he writes. “All of the people who visited the booth were grateful and gracious. I was being changed through the process.”
“I was out of the closet now,” he adds. “So many years before I had made amends to God, but now I had made amends to the world.”
This will be Christine’s fifth year at the Cincinnati Gay Pride Fest. She built the tent herself and invites friends to join her. Everyone is a volunteer. Nobody represents a specific church or organization. “Once you show up, you realize it’s a blast,” Christine told us. “You think, ‘I should be paying to do this.'”
What exactly happens once someone comes in the booth? “It’s simple,” she said. “I say, ‘I’m sorry, and God loves you.'”*
Do people get into a theological argument about what the Bible says about homosexuality? “No, actually,” Christine said. “The conversation never goes that route. Sometimes people share their personal story, many of which are incredibly painful. And I just listen.”
We like people like Christine. We’re glad she’s friends with us. We wish there were more of her.
CityBeat will post a podcast with her on its site tomorrow. Once it’s up, we’ll include the link here.
UPDATE: The link is up.
* = This is a page out of Marva Dawn’s playbook.