October message from Rev. Barbara

A Time of Turning

We are in a season of turning, in the weather, in resuming activities here at UUFD after the summer. Temperatures are falling, and snow has already been reported on higher elevations. Trees are changing to shades of yellows and oranges and browns. The high holy days, between Rosh Hashanah (September 15) and Yom Kippur (September 24), have marked a traditional ten days of turning on the Jewish calendar.

All of us may be inspired by the Jewish tradition of deep introspection about our relationship with others over the past year. Certainly, as Unitarian Universalists, we affirm the positive in human nature: the inherent worth and dignity of all persons. Still, a gift from Jewish practice is the reminder that even persons of liberal faith are capable of hurt and harm. We are reminded to pay attention to how we move forward from both causing harm to others and experiencing harm from others. Fortunately, there are many approaches available to process hurt between a wrongdoer and a victim. There are many options for turning. Let me consider two of them here.

Many of us may think first about forgiveness to move past misunderstanding and conflict: that is, the person or persons harmed offers the agency, to forgive the wrongdoer. Forgiveness is turning, but not forgetting or denying, hurt and harm, so that wrongs of the past do not dominate our lives, our actions, and our feelings in the future. Forgiveness is seen by some as giving up the right to get even. Forgiveness helps us return to positive relationships. Forgiveness is literally good for your health: forgiveness can lower blood pressure.

A compelling story about forgiveness is by Simon Wiesenthal, a Jew imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp in the 1940s. One day he was pulled from his work detail to the deathbed of a young SS officer who had committed heinous crimes. The soldier wanted to confess and receive absolution from a Jew. Simon was dumbfounded and confused. He left the bedside without granting the requested forgiveness. Nagging questions swirled around his head for years. He eventually wrote a provocative book about the request of the young officer, at the end of which he asked the questions: “What would you have done?” Clearly, forgiveness is complicated.

Contrasting forgiveness, a second model for processing hurt and harm, perhaps less familiar to some of us, is the method described in UUFD’s current “Repentance Project,” which we will delve into as we discuss the current UUA Common Read, Repentance and Repair by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. I described Ruttenberg’s approach in last month’s newsletter and many of you have heard more in conversations and worship services. Click here for more information and to register for “Repentance and Repair: Courage to Covenant Conversations.”

In preparation for your participation in the small-group conversations about this approach, which begin the first week of October, perhaps it will be helpful to contrast Ruttenberg’s model of repentance with forgiveness. Ruttenberg calls not for the victim but the wrongdoer to be the agent of repentance, the one accountable for “turning.” The wrongdoer engages in five steps of repentance, starting with admitting harm, and culminating (perhaps years later) in authentic transformation so as to not repeat harmful acts in new settings. A process applicable in many arenas of life, from personal relationships to communities and organizations (such as congregations) to national policy and leadership.

Ruttenberg also offers stories about healing. Most pointed are her many examples from the #MeToo movement, and the many wrongdoers who have not owned the harm: “Many of the public statements offered by famous men in the first year after #MeToo broke offer a master class in how to fail at [authentic owning of harm].” Joyfully, she also includes examples of others who genuinely demonstrated the deep soul-searching required to own the harm of sexual harassment and intimidation, so to create authentic and effective ways to move forward.

The UUFD Transition Team and I look forward to our small-group conversations starting the week of October 1 on this important and complex theme of repentance. May this season of turning inspire us to move forward toward more authentic relationships, with love, with life, and with one another.