December 10, 2008
The Sins of the Author Are Visited on the Editor
Sometimes when you edit a book, particularly a book of nonfiction and especially a book of Christian nonfiction, you get the feeling that the author has been spying on you. Call me a megalomaniac, but I had that experience today. What follows is a lightly edited pair of paragraphs from a draft manuscript for an as-yet unscheduled, untitled book:
I am an ENFP and a nine on the Enneagram who ignores noises in the vain hope that they'll resolve themselves and is mildly obsessed with being liked. The only thing about these paragraphs that I don't identify with myself is the stuff about Spanish class and The Little Mermaid. I think perhaps my phone has been bugged.
It's one thing when something you read that reminds you of yourself is objectively positive--for example, "ENFPs can make friends with pretty much anyone." Ah, that's nice. But that's not what this author is doing here. My dear author is being confessional, and he's implicating me in his confession. How dare he?!?
That's a hidden value of confession, I think. It has a corporate aspect to it that is often overlooked--sometimes even on purpose. When people hear statements that cut a little too close to the bone, they often quickly distance themselves from it: "You're right. I like being liked as much as anyone, but you're crazy about it. You should lighten up." The degree to which a personal confession takes on a corporate life, however, is the degree to which it is prophetic.
I'm reminded of Isaiah's confession in the presence of the Lord seated on the throne: "Woe unto me! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips." If I had been within earshot of Isaiah, I most likely would have said something equally pious such as "Hold the phone, Isaiah! Speak for yourself!" But he was right, and there's no sense denying it once it's out there. Behold the power of confession: it opens the door for a community to better understand itself and its need for the grace and mercy of God.
Confession also, of course, alerts the community to the reality of God's grace and mercy, which is a nice side effect. At my church we offer a corporate prayer of confession, followed by a time of silent confession, followed by the passing of the Lord's peace. We wind up being the hands of Jesus for each other, speaking the words of Jesus to each other--"Peace be with you"--in the immediate wake of our acknowledging our failings in the company of one another. Behold the power of a community of faith: in case you forget, you're reminded that God is love, and sins are forgiven.