Paula Deen has had a tough few weeks.
Let me be clear, I am no fan. I've always found her presentation of Southern food to be a caricature. My grandmother was a spectacular Southern cook, and not once did she ever make a hamburger with a Krispy Kreme doughnut. She did use lots of fresh vegetables and could stretch a small amount of meat into a Sunday dinner for the extended family and any neighbor who happened to need something to eat.
The media has portrayed Paula's situation to be essentially this: she used a racial slur years ago, along with some other questionable ideas and attitudes about race - reading portions of the complaint and deposition revealed quite a bit that has been ignored by the media and is quite troubling, if true. She apologized (or not, depending on your understanding of apology) and she's still losing millions (which also may have to do with her brand not being quite the star it once was). Some say she should; others say her losses have been unfair.
What intrigues me, however, are the way words like forgiveness and apology are being bantered around by the media, Paula, and many, many others and how they are basically reiterating a poor and self-serving understanding of the concepts.
Confession and forgiveness are not easy things to live into. They are lovely words to say, but the actions and feelings behind them dare to expose our rawest selves to the world.
We offer our thoughts.
1. Confession is a statement of the wrong. It sounds like this: "I did (insert action or inaction) and I realize that (action or inaction) hurt you." THAT is confession. A confession does not have room for mitigating factors. My experience is that when someone has hurt me, the fact that his relationship with his parents was less than stellar does not make the knife in my soul feel any better. If the wounded person asks why you did something, then, by all means, share. But doing so as part of the confession is more often a way to divert responsibility. The "why" is often a wonderful place for the person who did the harm to begin his/her own deep work into making a different choice next time.
2. Confess to the wounded party. If you need an audience for your confession, perhaps you are focused on looking contrite rather than being contrite. Or you've wounded a lot of people.
3. Confession does not pre-empt the consequences of our sinful actions. We hate this part, as humans. In our wonderful, imaginary world, we confess our sins, are forgiven, and all is right with the world. Except that's not really the whole story. I can confess and ask for forgiveness, perhaps even be absolved by the injured party. However, the hurt was real and has real consequences. When we sin, we wound another and ourselves. Wounds take time to heal. Some wounds are so hurtful and deep, we can't trust that person in the same way. Ever. Too often, celebrities (and the rest of us) confess and ask for forgiveness more to smooth over things so they will go back to the way they were instead of confessing and being brave and aware enough to accept the consequences of our sinful actions. Boy, doesn't this one sting.
4. Public relations personnel are likely not experts on confession and forgiveness. However, I know a whole bunch of clergy who deal in this messy part of human community each and every day. Calling the former invites one to think confession is more about spin. Calling the latter may show that one is focused on healing and repentance.
5. Yes, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. But don't toss out that "He who is without sin cast the first stone." First, that isn't exactly the full point of Jesus at that moment. But even more, Jesus is not about us ignoring our sin, but taking responsibility for it AND knowing we are still beloved. We live in community not to blame the other, but hopefully to point out (lovingly) the mistakes we see ourselves and others making that hurt the body of Christ. And if you're going to bring Jesus into the conversation, be ready to use words that Jesus used like, "Repent." And other people doing/saying the same thing you did does not make your action okay. It just means we are all capable of committing the same stupid, hurtful sin.
6. Confession is uncomfortable. It's like the pair of pants that are a size to small that reminds us we used to be that size. We don't like to be reminded we are imperfect beings who hurt others, intentionally and unintentionally. I imagine that truth is even harder for the rich and famous. But we do hurt each other. We make mistakes. We say things that we think are harmless that demean others. We do things that we think are harmless that demean others. But rarely will confession kill us. If anything, it pulls away another layer of ego to expose more of our sacred selves.
By any means, this is not a complete understanding of confession. And, as a friend pointed out, the other side of the post is forgiveness. But that's another post. Who knows...maybe that's another book.