Introduction to On Repentance and Repair Discussion Materials

Most of us know of harm we have directly caused another person. Many also recognize we have shared in doing harm, perhaps by benefiting from injustice others suffer. Even as people of faith who wish to make ourselves and our world better, still we may struggle to name and accept our responsibility. Even when we wish to make amends, we can get stuck on how to make things right.

The new UU Common Read, On Repentance and Repair by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg (Beacon Press, 2022), provides a fresh, transformative perspective on how we make ourselves accountable to others.

This Common Read offers a glimpse into Judaism, one of our faith’s foundational sources, as we follow Rabbi Ruttenberg’s dive into prescriptions on accountability offered by the 12th century Jewish physician and scholar, Maimonides. The book unpacks Maimonides’ five-step process: owning the harm we have done, starting to change, making restitution and accepting consequences, apologizing, and going forward in life as a changed person who will make different choices.

Using Maimonides’ writings as a framework, Rabbi Ruttenberg points us toward modern day practices of repentance that can really make a difference in our personal, community, and broader societal relationships. As a UU Common Read selection, this book invites us to follow our own Unitarian Universalist faith into transformative atonement, whether a harm has been done with family or friends, within a congregation or other community, or by sweeping wrongs such as genocide and racial oppression.

The Workshops

With three workshops, this Common Read invites participants to apply On Repentance and Repair to their own experiences of harm and repentance in (1) interpersonal relationships, (2) communal spaces, such as our congregations, and (3) our wider communities, such as nations.

All Common Read groups are asked to do the first workshop, which consists of two 75-minute parts. Its focus is the personal challenge of repentance and repair in our one-on-one, direct relationships with other individuals. And, it grounds a Unitarian Universalist exploration of wisdom from our Jewish faith source.

Workshop 1 may be offered as one gathering or two. When planning, keep in mind that two and a half hours (even with breaks) asks a lot of online participants. Two gatherings, perhaps a week apart, may be best for online groups. For an in-person group, however, Part I and Part II together can form a deep, rich, half-day investigation.

If you choose a one-time meeting for Workshop 1, you can shorten the length by skipping or condensing the 15-minute activity, “Who Was Maimonides?” which is marked “Optional" in Part I. You can also shorten the activity, “Faith in Practice,” in Part II. Invite participants to find these activities online to explore them on their own.

Workshops 2 and 3 build upon the first workshop. Congregational leadership groups such as Boards, Committees on Ministry, and Right Relations Committees may wish to do this Common Read together, using Workshop 2 as a leadership development program.

Activist groups and Social Justice Committees may especially appreciate Workshop 3. It invites us to use Maimonides’ framework to guide us in collective repair of harms for which we share culpability. Facilitators will want to preview this video before leading Workshop 3.

Of course, it is worthwhile for any Common Read group to move through the complete sequence of workshops!

Moving into Workshop 2 or 3, you might invite participants to watch on their own or together the video, A Journey of Repentance and Repair at All Souls Tulsa (Vimeo, 56:00). The Unitarian Universalist congregation in Tulas (OK) is actively engaged in accountability for the race riot that destroyed the Black Wall Street neighborhood, Greenwood, in 1921. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, the author, talks Unitarian Universalist minister the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, Senior Minister at All Souls, and Nehemiah Frank, a member of All Souls and the publisher of the Black Wall Street Times.

Online, In Person, or Multiplatform

You can offer this Common Read in person, online, or as a multiplatform meeting. This guide is written for online facilitation by a UU religious professional or lay leader. Each facilitator and participant will use their own computer to join a Zoom meeting. Facilitator(s) will lead the meeting with the On Repentance and Repair Discussion Guide pages open on the UUA website. The facilitator or co-host can screen-share media clips and other resources from here.

More and more of our Common Read groups are returning to in-person gathering. When gathering in person, you will need Internet access; a laptop, speakers, and a large monitor. It will be good to also have a chalkboard or flip pad to post discussion prompts and a supply of paper/pens that participants can use for notetaking and private reflection.

A multiplatform Common Read group will need both types of preparation, and two facilitators–one online to move the session forward and one to be with in-person participants.

Offer in-person Common Read participants a time for eating and socializing before, after, or as a break from discussion…because the work of repentance and repair is the work of relationships.

Notes to Facilitators

Any Unitarian Universalist religious professional or lay leader can facilitate this Common Read. Facilitators should have read On Repentance and Repair before convening a Common Read group. It is recommended, also, that you view audio/visual resources for this book posted on the UU Common Read page. When sending meeting information to participants, invite participants to explore the audio/visual resources and the discussion materials along with reading On Repentance and Repair before the group meets.

Review the facilitator guidance for each session in advance. Check in for your own responses to the prompt questions you will use with participants. Identify any places where you have questions or discomfort. Make a plan to resolve these for yourself, on your own or with support, before leading the group.

Every group holds diversity, whether or not differences are visible. You may wish to inquire generally about participants’ accessibility and identity-based needs when convening your group. As with all programming in Unitarian Universalist spaces that are majority white, people who are Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color (BIPOC) and others who hold often-marginalized identities may need their own processing space or identity-based pastoral support to continue in faith with the group. People with a Jewish identity or heritage may find themselves in unexpected relationship with this Common Read. They may welcome a pastoral invitation to process reactions or experiences. When promoting and leading this Common Read, take care to communicate transparently the accessibility and identity-related supports available and how participants can ask for them.

For Workshop 2, facilitators or a volunteer will need to locate covenant(s) of your congregation and bring these to the meeting. If there is no congregational covenant, use the UUA current statement that makes explicit our congregations' covenant with one another in our Association.

For Workshop 3, research the justice, service, and advocacy work your congregational and community members are currently doing. In advance of Workshop 3, invite participants to join in the research and pool knowledge of the justice priorities of the congregation.

In Workshops 2 and 3, the group is invited to brainstorm. An in-person group may wish to record responses on a chalkboard or flip pad. Online groups will need a shared online space, such as Zoom "whiteboard."

If your group will meet in person or in a multiplatform situation, make the in-person experience as equivalent as possible. (When you are multiplatform, make sure the in-person participants have Internet and the equipment needed to comfortably participate in discussion and to view/hear shared video clips. Supply newsprint sheet pads and markers, journals/pens, etc.) For a multiplatform group, two facilitators are highly recommended! You might also take a look at the facilitation guidance curated by the UUA for pandemic-era safety.

Online facilitators may wish to designate a co-host to troubleshoot technology issues, monitor the Chat, manage breakout rooms, and screen-share multimedia resources.

In promoting your Common Read, invite potential participants to explore the On Repentance and Repair video resources posted on the UUA’s Common Read page. If you wish, invite participants to view specific video resources before they meet. You may wish to schedule a watch party as an additional gathering.