A friend of mine has a fairly well-known dad who was a Superior Court judge. He heard an
influential case in Washington State that involved a unique sentence. Two
17-year old teens, part of the small Tlingit tribe in southeast Alaska, were
found guilty of robbing and severely beating a pizza delivery man. The elders of
the Tlingit tribe (pronounced “clink-it”) argued that under their tradition, the
defendants should be sentenced to exile on an uninhabited island in the Gulf of
Alaska. Hundreds of years ago if a crime such as assault and battery occurred,
the guilty party would be isolated for four or more seasons. The convict would
have to learn to depend upon himself as an exercise in learning the importance
of community – provided that he survived the harsh winter.
My friend’s dad, during the sentencing portion of the case, heard from the tribe. The defendants
were struggling with many issues, a primary one substance abuse. The tribe,
concerned about the recidivism rate in our penal system, believed re-education
of the young men would best be served with four seasons of isolation.
Additionally, as restitution, the tribe offered to build a duplex for the
plaintiff and pay his medical bills with the income from the rental property; at
a later date they would give him both units.
While in college, I prepared to become a lawyer. I thought being friends with a Superior
Court judge would be handy. But I found it, instead, rather disappointing. He
could not remember any case I asked him about, except for his current docket. It
was not that he wouldn’t tell me, it’s that he flat out didn’t remember. I asked
why this might be and he said it was partially due to case load and partially a
basic brain protection method that he had learned. It’s best to hear and decide
a case and then let it go. Otherwise the second guessing after the sentencing
phase might drive a judge crazy. I did not understand that when he told me; but
now, after some years as a priest, I do understand, and here is why.
One day someone mentioned something to me they’d said in a confession. Although I vividly
remembered the meeting, I couldn’t remember the specifics of the confession
which were entirely gone from my conscious memory. Ever since that day, I’ve
noticed that once a confession is done, and God’s redeeming Grace is announced
and received, I forget. An early church theologian wrote that confession blots
out our transgressions from God’s memory. It appears that in confession, I share
something with God; we both forget what we have heard.
The Episcopal Church does not have confessionals but Episcopal clergy do hear confessions.
I’ve heard confessions over a cell phone, through email, on a Facebook chat, and
in person at coffee shops, my office, in the church, and once in a grocery store
while I was holding a ruby red grapefruit in my left hand; it is interesting
that I remember the fruit but not what was confessed. And by the way, the
formality or informality of the process does not affect the degree to which the
weight of sin is lifted. Experience tells me that when someone decides to
confess something, it’s best to handle it right then and there.
We are heading into a busy and hectic season. The Church calendar starts with the beginning of
Advent, Sunday December 1. If you are ready to let go of something that has been
weighing you down, as we prepare for the birth of Christ, maybe this is the time
to start new. Your clergy, Reverends Tolley, Stott, and I, stand ready to
- Fr. Marshall