WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

The Possibility of Redemption

By Robin Tanner

“Once you do away with the idea of people as fixed, static entities, then you see that people can change, and there is hope.”
—bell hooks

At the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, a man places both hands on the wall and looks up to read names

“Is your congregation handicap accessible?”

“Yes, it is,” I replied.

“Great. I'll see if my wife will bring me on Sunday.”

There he was the very next Sunday. Over the next few months, I learned a lot about John. A Vietnam veteran who returned home to serve as a police officer for twenty-five years, John had spent his entire life (outside of his time in Vietnam) in one place, one church, one town.

He had an urgency to tell me his story, because his health was not good. He found himself in the midst of a spiritual quest. He no longer believed the same truths of a conservative Christianity that his family did.

Over the next two years, I spent time with his family. They were all exceptionally kind and pleasant, but beneath the surface was John’s anxiety about their reaction to his beliefs, his grief over his terminal diagnosis, and their fear for his salvation. Add to that my own anxiety that John might have a death without suffering.

The day before John died, I was there, offering him a meditation about transitioning, while his childhood minister stood beside me offering a prayer. At the funeral, it struck me that many people there saw one version of John: he was fixed in their minds as they first knew him.

It’s not unusual. We have narratives that guide the way we experience and know one another. In my own life, people often get frozen at a point for me.

One of my mentors, the Rev. Dr. William Barber, often reminds me that in movement work, “you must always believe the redemption of your enemy is possible.”

This year, I’ve resisted a New Year’s resolution. My usual Type A nature doesn’t want to map out a new skill or goal, but this I think would sustain me more than home organization: to believe and experience people in my life as multidimensional; to hold out the possibility of redemption, and in so doing to live into the fullness of universalism, even for the enemy far—and within.

God of Love and Change, inhabit my being to know my soul-siblings on earth in their evolution. Grant me the wisdom to protect myself and those I love without deification or demonization, but living into what it could be to be human together. Amen.

About the Author

Robin Tanner

Robin Tanner is a Unitarian Universalist minister, poet, and activist who serves as the Minister of Worship and Outreach at Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit, New Jersey.


For more information contact .