May 17 – True Confessions – Grace in a One-Click-And-You’re-Gone World

DeleteI am serving on a committee of the Presbytery of Philadelphia that is, by all accounts, a very important committee in the life and mission of the presbytery. The outcome of our work is going to make a difference; for good or for ill it is going to be consequential.

There are nine of us on the committee. We are well led and the work is hard, but the camaraderie is good. We’ve been meeting regularly for about four months and we may finish our work in another four. Maybe.

Most of the documentation for our committee work has been stored electronically, and at four months in, there’s been a lot of work to document. We almost lost it all.

We are using a wonderful program called Dropbox as the common depository for our work. For those of you who don’t know, this is part of this “cloud” computing phenomena. We’ve set up a file system in the cloud – a Dropbox – that all the committee members can access from any remote location. We come to committee meetings ready to work.

Our committee met this past Tuesday. We’re getting down to the core work to which we have been called. All day Monday, I kept seeing notices on my computer desktop of more and more files being placed in the Dropbox. Serious work being done by our committee members. I shut down my work computer around 9:00 Monday evening as I headed home from a Worship Committee meeting. Right before shutting down, though, I checked the committee Dropbox. It looked as if we would be ready for Tuesday’s meeting. The data was almost all there. 85 megabytes of data in 335 files in 96 subfolders. Four months of work.

My phone rang at 9:45 Monday night.

It was one of my colleagues on the committee. We had talked earlier in the day about some of the ins and outs of using the Dropbox system.

“I think I’ve done something really bad,” were his first words. “I think I’ve deleted all our work.”

I tapped the keyboard on my iPad and sure enough, for just a split second I saw that folder as it disappeared from the screen. Dropbox updates all the time. It had updated itself to include the deletion. All our work. 85 megabytes. 335 files. 96 subfolders. Four months. Lost in the cloud.

For those of you who care, right then and there I went to the church, disconnected my PC from the church network and internet, saved the Dropbox folder to my C drive, reconnected the Ethernet cable, and placed the saved folder back in the Dropbox. Oh, and saved all our committee work to three other places. We lost 45 minutes of committee work. It turns out that we lost 8 files that committee members were still working on Monday night between 9:00 and 9:45.

I tell you all this not to commend my baling wire and duct tape approach to IT, but to commend my brother in Christ who knows the power of confession.

My friend could have denied responsibility. Computer glitches are one of our favorite scapegoats in our digital world. A little white lie may have gotten him off the hook. No one would have known. We live not only in a complicated digital world, but also in a world of little white lies (that often become darker) and wanting nothing more than being off whatever hook it is that threatens our fragile sense of well-being.

“I think I’ve done something really bad,” my friend told me. And, yes, I got off the phone and said something to Becky about “How in the world could he have…” But, really, his humble confession had already moved us from blame to solution. A half an hour later, we had our duct tape fix in the cloud and all was well. I was feeling pretty good about life. And about my friend.

Not all the really bad things we do can be remedied with duct tape, literal or otherwise. But honest and humble confession made among brothers and sisters in Christ always opens the door to restoration and wholeness.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16.
The Protestant insistence on the priesthood of all believers does not mean that we don’t believe in an ordained clergy or that we believe that all believers are equally gifted for all the ministries to which Christ calls us. It does mean, among other things, that confession is not restricted to a confessional. We confess not to an anonymous priest behind a fabric screen. We confess to one another. We pray with and for one another – even, especially, when something really bad had been done. We repent and we offer forgiveness in the name of the One who has already forgiven us.

I am glad that we were able to save all but eight of 335 files. I called my friend around 10:15 Monday night to tell him all was well, and that, by the way, don’t worry about it. I told him I wasn’t planning on saying anything about it at Tuesday’s meeting. When we gathered for our meeting in morning, however, my friend was eager to say something to the whole group. He told them about something he had done that was really bad, but that all was well. That is the privilege of those who have been willing to confess.

The little white lies to get us off those hooks that threaten our fragile sense of well-being are very tempting. The power of healing through confession to one another and prayer for one another can seem very scary. But we in the church ought to try it more often than we than we do.