As humans, we have invented lots of useful kinds of lie. As well as lies-to-children ('as much as they can understand') there are lies-to-bosses ('as much as they need to know') lies-to-patients ('they won't worry about what they don't know') and, for all sorts of reasons, lies-to-ourselves. Lies-to-children is simply a prevalent and necessary kind of lie. Universities are very familiar with bright, qualified school-leavers who arrive and then go into shock on finding that biology or physics isn't quite what they've been taught so far. 'Yes, but you needed to understand that,' they are told, 'so that now we can tell you why it isn't exactly true.' Discworld teachers know this, and use it to demonstrate why universities are truly storehouses of knowledge: students arrive from school confident that they know very nearly everything, and they leave years later certain that they know practically nothing. Where did the knowledge go in the meantime? Into the university, of course, where it is carefully dried and stored.
Some contemporary theology has been enamored with the heady idea of an imagined freedom that functions without any law or norm or rule of obligation. The technical name for this idea is antinomianism. This yen for freedoms other than Christ's freedom has compounded the problems in pastoral theology. Pastoral practice has at times been exceedingly ready to be guided by this antinomian tendency in theology that implies: if God loves you no matter what, then your own moral responses to God's absolute acceptance make little or no difference; God is going to love you anyway, so assert your individual interest, express yourself, do as you please, and above all do not repress any impulses. It is on the basis of this normless, egocentric relativism that much well-intended liberal pastoral practice has accommodated to naturalism, narcissism, and individualism. It has therefore steered consistently away from any notion of admonition, hoping to avoid 'guilt trips.' But ironically, guilt is more likely to be INCREASED by the lack of timely, caring admonition. For if there is no compassionate admonition, we tend to hide our guilt in ways that make it worse.
I listened impatiently to the wisdom of the O'Neills for about twenty minutes until I could take no more (by this time Steve and Susan had me thumbing through the paperback). I slid the book across the desk at them and said, 'This is so much shit.'That was a mistake because the word 'shit' on the lips of a pastor deeply offended their moral sensibilities. Such was the state of things among us. They took grave exception to the word SHIT, while I was expected to remain noddingly neutral toward their adultery. WELL, SHIT, I thought. Without apologizing, I tried to convince them I was merely 'upset' by the prospects of their separation. Gradually, I achieved the clinical tone that they so admired in the O'Neills and evidently expected in their country parson.
The prayer level of a church never rises any higher than the personal example and passion of the leaders. The quantity and quality of prayer in leadership meetings is the essential indicator of the amount of prayer that will eventually arise among the congregation.
One trains the eye of confession most closely on what is hurting. If sin is present it will be aching. Confession begins where the raw anguish of conscience is rubbing against the primordial awareness of God's holiness.
The confessor can nullify the exquisitely seasonable moment of confession by talking instead of listening. When he sees pedagogy and advice as more important than simple listening, he diverts the stream of confession.
Protestants at one time were confident that their free form of confession was a vast improvement upon Catholic private confession to a priest because it is voluntary, demystified, and not routinized. But amid the acids of modernity it has volunteered itself right out of existence. Demystification has dwindled into desacralization. The escape from routinization has become a convenient cover for the demise of repentance. The postmodern pastor is trying to learn anew to listen to the deeper range of feelings of others, without forgetfulness of the Word of God.
The deeper irony is that the evidence of sin that are always found in and around the body of Christ may become indirect intimations of its holiness. It could not be a holy church if it had clean hands, as if severed from its task of saving sinners and healing human hurt.
Once you've caught a glimpse of the cosmos through the back doors of your church, it doesn't seem like such a big deal to suggest to a sweet young couple that they quit sleeping with other people.
Every experienced pastor knows that what the penitent heart says about itself is much more consequential than well-made truthful sentences that shout from the outside of the inner voice of conscience. No element of confession is more crucial than the discipline of listening. The attentive listener is a chosen agent of divine reconciliation. When the moment for keen listening is offered, take it as an inestimable gift.