Tag Archives: privacy

Shredding: Modern-Day Church Fire?

This morning I spent some time beside the shredder at our church putting old records and documents through and taking out the little tiny pieces of paper they turned into.  In went bank deposit books from ten years ago, old phone lists, meeting minutes etc. and out came material for the composter out back.

I started this exercise because I noticed the three large paper boxes on a shelf above where we hang our coats with a sign on them, “To Shred.”  They have been there for a little while and I had some time, so I decided to put a dent in pile.  With the amount of paper records put out each year in the church there comes a time when there just isn’t enough storage space to keep it all.  And really, who is ever going to want to find out how much I gave to a fundraising effort ten years ago?  I didn’t look closely at any of the pages other than to read headings or notice the occasional date.

Those documents dated in 1996 got me thinking about what was happening in the lives of both my family and my church.  Early in 1996 my youngest child was born, and it seems like just yesterday.  Of course it was not just yesterday, it was fifteen years ago.  So much has happened in that time.  For instance, our church has had two different ministers in that time, we have a new roof, a new organ, new gas stoves in the kitchen etc.  People have been born, baptised, married, and buried.  Many of the names that flitted past me are those of members who have since died or moved away,  while some are those of the people who are still very active in the leadership of the church today.

I started thinking about stories of people trying to get birth certificates in the “old days,” and having problems because records were lost in church fires.  This seems to have been such a loss, and yet here I was, the modern version of the church fire.  Obviously, I was not shredding baptism or marriage records or anything like that.  These days the church is not responsible for recording births and deaths, that is all handled by the government, but now we shred anything that might have a person’s contact information listed,  and financial documents over five years old.

At the same time as we have unprecedented privacy regulations, we have unprecedented levels of self-disclosure through social media and other programs.  The same teens whose names we are not allowed to print on a list to give to classmates, are telling the world what they are having for breakfast, wearing or doing in a steady stream throughout the day.  If we can’t find some happy medium somehow I think future historians will be at a disadvantage. 

Don’t Air Our Dirty Laundry in Public


Last summer my daughter was at camp for a month and part-way through that time I met her for a weekend.  One of the main tasks for the weekend was to get all her laundry washed.  We weren’t at home so that meant heading to the laundromat with her bags.  It had been years since I had been to one, and she had never had the experience of getting her dirty laundry out of a bag and into washers in a public place.  When I came across the picture above it got me thinking.  W hen you think about some of the things that have changed in the last fifty years or so, one of the big changes will be in the area of what things are private and what is public.  The expression in the title was a common thing to hear ‘back in the day’.


There have been some very important advances made with the end of the dirty laundry plan.  Some of the things that were not aired were; child abuse, spousal abuse, alcoholism, mental disabilities, physical disabilities, mental illness etc.  People who were different had been kept behind closed doors.  People who needed help had no way of getting help.  This has changed.  Most people in our society today do not consider family violence acceptable and we have processes in place, child protection, transition houses etc, to help the victims and laws in place to deal with the abusers.  We no longer lock up most people with metal illness and have found successful ways to treat most illnesses.  This is all good!


My concern lies in the popularity of “reality” shows in which people with serious problems allow themselves to be filmed while dealing with them.  The show Intervention for instance films people in the very midst of their addictions.  There is some instructive or cautionary value to these shows, but I don’t think that it is good for the addicts in general and I think that too much of it is possibly harmful for the viewers as well.  Someday, presumably, the addicts will recover and want to put that behind them, but their children and grandchildren will have that ugly footage with which to come to grips.  There is a big difference between being in the public enough to get help and being in the public media!


It is debatable whether or not public figures like politicians and stars have the same right to privacy for their “laundry.”  On one hand, if you choose to be in the public eye then you ought to know that your life will be an open book.  It is only right that people should know about the personal life of the people for whom they vote.  On the other hand, who among us doesn’t have a secret or two we would prefer didn’t go public?  Does it follow that a politician who cheats on his or her spouse will do a poor job representing his or her constituency, or making decisions for the public good?


Jesus is noted for having hung around with the wrong types of people.  These tax collectors and other sinful people had lots of dirty laundry and everyone knew it.  The Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:5-42 had gone through 5 husbands already and was living with a man to whom she was not married.  I’m sure that the people in town were all too aware of this, but she didn’t have it written on her robe and was not out there telling everyone she met.  And yet, Jesus knew all about her.  Whether or not our faults and failings are public knowledge we know that they are at least open knowledge for God.


For most of us, our dirty laundry consists of mistakes we have made of which we are not proud and which we would like to keep quiet.  They are those very sins for which we need the forgiveness that has been offered us through the grace of God.  We don’t need to wave these sins on flags in public, indeed we don’t need to confess them to an intercessor, we just need to lay them before God and ask for forgiveness.  Jesus has already paid the price of public humiliation and death for those sins so that we are reconciled with God through him.  You don’t need to go public with your sins, just admit them and take them to God.