Don Miller was a student and campus ministry leader at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, a decidely secular and highly intellectual place that Princeton Review named "the college where students are most likely to ignore God." In his book Blue Like Jazz (Nelson, 2003), Miller tells of an unlikely event that introduced him to the mysteries of spiritual transformation.
Each year at Reed they have a renaissance festival called Ren Fayre. They shut down the campus so students can party. Security keeps the authorities away, and everybody gets pretty drunk and high, and some people get naked. The school brings in White Bird, a medical unit that specializes in treating bad drug trips. The students create special lounges with black lights and television screens to enhance their mushroom trips.
Some of the Christian students in our little group decided this was a good place to come out of the closet, letting everybody know there were a few Christians on campus. Tony the Beat Poet and I were sitting around in my room one afternoon talking about what to do, how to explain who we were to a group of students who, in the past, had expressed hostility toward Christians.
I said we should build a confession booth in the middle of campus and paint a sign on it that said "Confess your sins." I said this because I knew a lot of people would be sinning, and Christian spirituality begins by confessing our sins and repenting. I also said it as a joke. But Tony thought it was brilliant. He sat there on my couch with his mind in the clouds, and he was scaring the crap out of me because, for a second, then for a minute, I actually believed he wanted to do it.
"Tony," I said very gently.
"What?" he said, with a blank stare at the opposite wall.
"We are not going to do this," I told him. He moved his gaze down the wall and directly into my eyes. A smile came across his face.
"Oh, we are, Don. We certainly are. We are going to build a confession booth!"
We met in CommonsPenny, Nadine, Mitch, Iven, Tony, and I. Tony said I had an idea. They looked at me. I told them that Tony was lying and I didn't have an idea at all. They looked at Tony. Tony gave me a dirty look and told me to tell them the idea. I told them I had a stupid idea that we couldn't do without getting attacked. They leaned in. I told them that we should build a confession booth in the middle of campus and paint a sign on it that said "Confess your sins." Penny put her hands over her mouth. Nadine smiled. Iven laughed. Mitch started drawing the designs for the booth on a napkin. Tony nodded his head. I wet my pants.
"They may very well burn it down," Nadine said.
"I will build a trapdoor," Mitch said with his finger in the air. "I like it, Don." Iven patted me on the back.
"I don't want anything to do with it," Penny said.
"Neither do I," I told her.
"Okay, you guys." Tony gathered everybody's attention. "Here's the catch." He leaned in a little. "We are not actually going to accept confessions." We all looked at him in confusion.
He continued, "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."