Ken Lay's Sinner's prayer.
At bible school I was taught to listen carefully to confessions. During the sinners prayer you listen for "I sinned" and watched out for "mistakes happened" or "I'm being persecuted."
There can be all kinds of stuff in a sinner's prayer but it must include that tiny little unqualified admission of sin.
The guilty judgement of Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling is good news but, as a Christian, it's hollow. Punishment can bring partial justice but that's not what warms my Jesus-loving soul. It's repentance and redemption that I want.
Instead, in this case we witness bitter men claiming their innocence in the face of glaring guilt.
In this huge den of vipers* that the neo-cons have created, I see amongst nothing that would identify as a valid sinners prayer. Not even among the most Christian of them, like Tom DeLay or Ralph Reed.
They are all Job! Innocent men suffering because of their righteousness. This little vignette from Ken Lay's church experience is telling:
The Sunday morning when the Rev. David Casto gave his sermon from the book of Job, he considered himself a living example of the story. That October 2003 day he told his Bethel Baptist Church congregation that he had been diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer, proof, he said, that even the righteous suffer.
After the service, Ken Lay, who had been sitting toward the back of the sanctuary, admitted to Casto that he too felt a bit like a modern-day Job.
"He drew that parallel himself," Casto said. "He told me he that he had learned a lot from the book of Job."
Of all the characters and images in the bible, it is Job that Ken Lay relates to?
This is the one I suggest Ken Lay focus on:
Once there were two men who went up to the Temple to pray: one was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood apart by himself and prayed, 'I thank you, God, that I am not greedy, dishonest, or an adulterer, like everybody else. I thank you that I am not like that tax collector over there. I fast two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all my income.'
But the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even raise his face to heaven, but beat on his breast and said, 'God, have pity on me, a sinner!'
I tell you," said Jesus, "the tax collector, and not the Pharisee, was in the right with God when he went home. For those who make themselves great will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be made great. (from Luke Chapter 18)
The conservatives in government are literally the tax collectors (and spenders!) of our day but figuratively they are today's Pharisees. It's discouraging that not a single one of them resembles the tax collector in Jesus' parable.
But as a liberal and as a Christian, I cling to hope.
I see a little spark of hope in Jack Abramoff as illustrated in this quote from Washington's Invisible Man by David Margolick (Vanity Fair, April 2006). You have to search for it:
"I could say to God, 'How dare you do this?'" [Abramoff] says, "'I became religious, against every influence in my environment, I fought to be kosher; there were times I didn't eat. There were times I walked to synagogue in bloody feet.' I could say that very easily, but I don't say it for a second. Why? Because I am a bearer of many transgressions, From stuff that is known to all the stuff known to me."Buried in the egotism, vague blackmail and weird bloody feet is "I am the bearer of many transgressions."
I always look for this from the guilty -- some teeny spark of personal responsibility and repentance.
The start of redemption is rarely a light bulb suddenly turning on but is usually a spark put to tinder. We'll need to check back in with Abramoff in five or ten years to see if the fire took.
As for most of these guys, I'm not seeing even a spark.
* My apologies to vipers