What Can Making Amends Look Like in Today’s World

by Lisa Schilansky, Ministerial Intern

Every year the Unitarian Universalist Association selects a book for the Common Read. The Association then produces a curriculum for UU adults to use in discussing the book. The UUA provides additional materials for folks who do not join a book discussion. This church year’s Common Read is On Repentance and Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. In her book, the author takes a compelling look at various personal and global conflicts, set in the framework of Maimonides’ Five Stages of Repentance. Maimonides was a twelfth century philosopher and Jewish law scholar. His writings are often cited and used by rabbis today.

As Rabbi Ruttenberg is quick to point out, Maimonides spoke about the concept of repentance, not of forgiveness. The five stages explain how one is to do the hard work of repair when one harms another. This is much more than an “I’m sorry.” This is deep, spiritual work, that requires true transformation.

The first step is to name and own the harm you have caused. The second step requires you to start to change, knowing that true transformation will not happen all at once. Maimonides’ third step is to engage in restitution—working to ensure you will not transgress again and to accept the consequences. The fourth step is to apologize. I want to highlight its placement here, as often we would expect forgiveness to be first. Finally, the fifth step requires making different choices. As Rabbi Ruttenberg demonstrates throughout the book, doing some steps but not others generally leads to more harm. She gave numerous examples of people who did some combination of the first four steps but had not learned their lesson and later repeated the same troubling actions.

Over four sessions in February, a small group of UUCWC members met with me to explore this book and to apply it to our own lives. This covenantal group has involved a discussion of the book, sure, but also confession and reflection and deep transformative work. Together we have discussed the ways we missed the mark, and the ways we might do better in the future.

This is a truly incredible book that I hope you might read. If you are interested in learning more, the UUA’s compiled resources can be found here.

“I’m sorry” can be difficult to say at times, but it can be even harder to do the hard work to demonstrate that you really believe it and that you won’t repeat your behavior. What can the five steps look like in your life? What repentance work awaits you in 2024? How does Unitarian Universalism make you want to stay in Right Relationship with each other? I invite you to consider these questions and others as you travel throughout your week. And as always, I am happy to chat during coffee hour.