Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year A

Second Sunday of Advent

Repentance, Remorse, Reparations

December 8, 2019

Revised Common Lectionary

Arts & Architecture

"Wick" from The Secret Garden

Luke MQuillan


Video in which Luke MQuillan sings “Wick” from the musical “The Secret Garden.”

Consider times when you have believed something to be dead only to discover it was wick. What did you first notice? Who helped you, as Dickon helped Mary, to see the buried life beneath the apparent death?

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History & Culture

Federal Government Segregation of the American Suburbs

Richard Rothstein, Ta-Nehisi Coates


A conversation between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Richard Rothstein in which Rothstein details the unconstitutional policies embedded in the building of suburbia to prevent African Americans from purchasing homes and building financial assets.

Pay attention to the example of Levittown and consider how this history informs the current national debate about reparations. Take note of the difference between de facto and de jure segregation.

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Current Events & World Affairs

What Do Slave Reparations Mean?

Ali Velshi, Stephanie Ruhle, Maya Wiley


Video in which Ali Velshi, Stephanie Ruhle, and Maya Wiley discuss the historical context for the reparations bill, H.R. 40 and the complexities involved in the national debate about reparations.

Pay attention to Wiley’s use of the term “black economic exclusion.” Take note of the discussion of this bill as a means of improving structures that impact both African Americans and others.

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Spirituality & Psychology

Forgiveness: From Reinforcing the Status Quo to Transforming Violence

Lindsey Paris-Lopez


Article in which Lindsey Paris-Lopez discusses the importance of understanding the difference between reinforcing the status quo and transforming violence.

Notice Paris-Lopez’s explanation of how forgiveness can be weaponized. Consider how violence is replicated when those in power expect forgiveness from those who have been oppressed without first doing the work of repentance, which is material work.

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How does repentance differ from remorse?


Years ago, my mother took me to Memphis to see The Secret Garden at The Orpheum theatre. To this day, the opening scene, in which the actors waved crimson silk in large undulating gestures to convey the cholera epidemic in colonial India, remains an eidetic image in my mind. One song, (sung by Luke MQuillan in today’s arts and architecture lesson), has fueled my hope, in more circumstances than I can count: Wick. “When a thing is wick, it has a life about it,” Dickon sings. “Now, maybe not a life like you and me. But somewhere there's a single streak of green inside it. Come, and let me show you what I mean.”

A root shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots. Isaiah 11:1

The human spirit is often mistaken for dead when, in fact, it is wick, bearing irrepressible life that pushes through the most hostile circumstances. The irrepressible root requires conditions to support its growth and flourishing. Hence the metaphor of a root, not a tenacious, mature vine.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6

A shoot growing from the stump of Jesse and a world where predators and their prey live side by side is a vision of the peaceable kingdom. The question this text elicits is what would make those who have been harmed by violence trust this new reality? Woody Allen once put the challenge this way: “The wolf shall lie down with the lamb. But the lamb won’t get much sleep!”

In today’s history and culture lesson, author Richard Rothstein discusses with Ta-Nahesi Coates the building of suburbia in North America. He details how the overt racist policies institutionalized in the building of suburbia lie at the core of the drastic economic gap between white and black Americans. Citizens of color have had to push through the rocky crags of redlining to build economic viability amid harsh conditions not faced by white families. To this day, conditions remain harsh for the root of African American tenacity to flourish in this country.

Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Matthew 3:8-10

We are currently engaged in a national debate about reparations to African Americans. As Ali Velshi, Stephanie Ruhle, and Maya Wiley discuss in our current events and world affairs lesson, many Americans lack an understanding either of the complex historical antecedents that have led to what Wiley names “black economic exclusion” or of what we mean when we talk about reparations.

This national conversation raises the question of what repentance actually looks like. How do we turn around and take a new direction as a country, rather than merely giving lip service to a change of heart? How to we do better than empty expressions of remorse for a past upon which current disparities are still daily being built?

In our spirituality and psychology lesson, Lindsey Paris-Lopez describes the “weaponizing of forgiveness.” This occurs when forgivness is used to support a “placating ritual meant to stifle dissent and keep people complacent with the systemic violence of a status quo built on scapegoating.”

Wherever we land in any particular debate of how to do the work of national repentance, we cannot avoid the need to engage the difficult subject matter of our history. Without this engagement, we risk weaponizing forgiveness.

Our capacity to keep at difficult conversations that will lead to necessary change for some of us offers our only hope of seeing new life grow from places we have felled to the root by our collective sin.

When we find ourselves in the position of the repentant ones, we cannot ask forgiveness in the absence of our bearing new fruit worthy of being called “repentance.”

Fruit is not an idea, not something ephemeral. It is material, fleshy, juicy, and grown in richly resourced soil. Bearing fruit requires toil and no small amount of sacrifice.