Trauma and Confession

not alone

I am a trauma survivor.

Not of one experience, but multiple experiences — from different chapters of my life; some prolonged, some swift and sudden in ways that utterly knocked the breath out of me.

Yes, I am a trauma survivor.

And I will say something else quite clearly. In fact, if you lean in a little, you will hear these words with a tremendous amount of strength.

I am not ashamed of who I am.

You might even hear a tinge of joy.

I am not ashamed of who I am!

You will definitely hear some power. And perhaps, willful snark. Today, these words are posted on a blog, but when I say them in any context, or even simply think them, I assure you, they resound in multiple directions. After all, when you are a trauma survivor, the world likes to tell you should bear shame simply because you are carrying the story of what you experienced. But I refuse to bear shame. I refuse.

Power and snark — hear it!

I am not ashamed of who I am.

Yesterday, I attended a workshop on trauma and confession at the Next Church national gathering. It was led masterfully by McKenna Lewellen. She studies trauma and places it in conversation with theology, worship practice, congregational care, and neighborhood care.

McKenna Lewellen shared that so often in Presbyterian worship (my tradition) we speak Prayers of Confession from the perspective of those who have wounded our neighbors. This is vital, of course. We need to own our complicity.

But we do not often hear prayers that voice the perspectives of neighbors who have been wounded. She says that confession involves “speaking the truth about our lives.” We are leaving something out if we never make space to hear the voices and perspectives of those harmed. By the way, this might include us too. Confession can also name the ways we bear burdens of having been sinned against.

My suspicion is this:

In church cultures, we are often willing to pray about the ways we cause harm generally, but we are not always willing to hear specific stories of harm. We don’t want to grapple with them. We want to silence people and stories because these might impact us, or even change us. We might have to acknowledge our privilege. We might have to experience disruption in our comfort and routine. We might have to acknowledge that we choose to protect and insulate people in power — individuals and entire groups — often at abusive costs, because that power structure benefits us in some way.

Trauma survivors often bear shame, not only because trauma is isolating in itself, but because entire systems work to ensure, both consciously and unconsciously, that folks bear their experiences alone. As we discussed in this workshop yesterday, systems and the communities behind them (family systems, workplace systems, church systems, national systems, etc.) often compound the pain of trauma by treating the wounded as though they are themselves perpetrators, simply because they bear a story and are now a ‘threat’ to the truth coming out. This can happen with individuals or entire communities experiencing oppression (racism and white supremacy are essential to this conversation). This is, in a word,  scapegoating.

Confession involves “telling the truth about our lives.” With the right kind of care, intention, and support, always mindful to be led by the voices and agency of those harmed, we can make space for this in our communities, including in our worshiping communities. We can even make space in our actual experiences of worship.

And speaking of worship, I notice that the word Confession is actually used in two ways in my faith tradition. It is both an opportunity to pray about sin and wrongdoing, and an opportunity to say what we believe.

So with this in mind, let me say what I believe.

We must shift this.

And also,
We need not be ashamed.

Renee Roederer


2 thoughts on “Trauma and Confession

  1. This is powerful stuff and thought-provoking in ways that will require multiple readings over the course of this day. Thank you for having the courage and grace to share what you’re learning and experiencing at this conference! Num, num, num!


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