Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year A

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Stamped Coins and Color Wheels

July 19, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

Reflecting this week on the parable of the wheat and the tares has reaffirmed my belief that all people possess the power to do good and the power to do evil across our lifetimes. Appreciating our fundamental connectedness to all other people on the planet leads us to choose the good.



Education & Communication

'Out of Character': The Good and Evil in All of Us

Maria Popova, David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo

The Atlantic

Maria Popova May 11, 2011 Atlantic article in which Maria Popova discusses David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdeso’s book and shares DeSteno’s presentation both on the subject of the coexistence and fluid nature of good and evil in all of us.

Watch Dr. DeSteno's presentation at Northeastern that is embedded in the article.

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Education & Communication

There are no "bad people"

Nate Soares

Minding Our Way blogsite

Blog in which Nate Soares argues that humans are not inherently good or bad–not possessing a red or green “stone” within us that marks us as such–but rather, we have capacity to learn from past choices to inform present choices that allow us to steer our futures in the direction we want them to go.

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Spirituality & Psychology

The Evolution of the Self

Dr. Bertice Berry

The Official FaceBook Page of Dr. Bertice Berry

Video presentation in which Dr. Berry lays out a concise theory of the evolution of the self.

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How can we steer toward a future that inspires the best character to emerge in each of us?


“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” Matthew 13:37b-43

In his talk on the matter on the nature of good and evil (see video embedded in today’s first education and communication lesson), Dr. David DeSteno notes that the English word character is derived from a Greek word that describes the image stamped on coins. The idea is that once the image is stamped, it stays.

At first glance, today’s gospel seems to suggest the same. When the judgment day comes, the good will go to eternal bliss and the evil to eternal fires. But a closer look reveals a more nuanced position, even in this age-old text we associate with the idea of there being good and bad people. Listen again to these two excerpts from the parable:

Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. Matthew 13:24-26
…In gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest… Matthew 13:29b-30a

First, there is the moment while everyone is sleeping, when an agent outside the tending of the field and certainly outside the wheat itself, comes and sows evil. Something is implanted, as it were, into the unsuspecting wheat. Next there is the understanding contained in the parable that for those tending the field to attempt to remove the tares would risk the viability of the wheat itself. In other words, the two are so closely intertwined that it is not a safe bet to imagine one can simply “root out” the evil. Both of these points in the parable suggest the wisdom of seeing good and evil as existing in a fluid, interwoven relationship with one another, rather than as distinct, permanent traits like the stamp on the coin.

Using the traditional parable of the grasshopper and the ant, DeSteno explains choices we see as good or evil in terms of how we are prioritizing immediate gratification vs. long term goals in a given circumstance. While this can seem simplistic, I find it helpful to move away from the idea that there are good and bad people in this world.

In our present days, while we grapple with persistent structural and systemic ills such as racism and poverty, it seems critically important to hold our awareness of the human capacity to do evil together with our understanding that no one is irredeemable. To the extent that we imagine we have fixed characters, stamped on us like the image on a coin, we run the grave risk of taking one additional step to conclude that some people have the image of evil that cannot be changed. Such a position leaves us with little hope for our own redemption and that of others and with even less hope that we can bridge divides to create true community where many come together as one.

DeSteno argues that human character is best described not by the indelible stamp on a coin, but rather resembles the continuum of colors our eyes can detect, depending upon different light waves. Such a continuum suggests that all of us are works in progress with the capacity to move in any number of directions as we move through a lifetime exercising our capacity to make choices.

In his blogpost in today’s second education and communication lesson, Nate Soares argues for our considering our actions not as reflecting essential goodness or badness but rather as means of “steering our futures.”

To me, this concept of steering our futures echoes the hope Jesus gives us that we are never beyond the mercy of God. There is nowhere we can go that is out of his saving embrace. There is no choice we can make that stamps us as being beyond hope. There is, then, every reason to believe we can “steer our futures” toward the good. Our work is to steer our futures in ways that take the long view, like the ant.

In her video presentation, “The Evolution of the Self,” Dr. Bertice Berry offers a simply model for our spiritual evolution in today’s spirituality and psychology lesson. In it, she weaves truths reflected in some of the most universally appreciated models of human psychological development into one elegant 6 minute presentation. I am very grateful that a friend sent Dr. Berry’s presentation to me this week. It speaks to the hope that all of us carry the potential to make the journey toward practicing goodness in all of our days as we embrace ubuntu, the simple yet profound Nguni Bantu term referring to humanity that actually translates, “I am because we are.”

When we hold this belief as bedrock—that individual existence is fundamentally rooted in the existence of all of us together, then we can see– in those we like, in those we dislike, and in those we do not understand–the full continuum of colors on the color wheel, rather than a pile of stamped coins that have no hope of changing.

May we work to dismantle every oppression that separates us. And may our efforts be grounded not in an assumption that there are good people who must be elevated and bad people who must be discarded–but in the hope that every weed–beginning with those in our own souls–will become a healing agent when it meets the refining fires of our holy connections to one another.