Lenten Reflections: Will Dickerson, Brockton Interfaith

During Lent,  the Rev. Arrington Chambliss, Executive Director at Episcopal City Mission, had weekly conversations with a leader about the connections between repentance, forgiveness and justice. We are pleased to share excerpts from her conversation with Will Dickerson, the Director of Brockton Interfaith Community (a grantee of ECM’s Burgess Fund) and a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist tradition. We are grateful for Will’s willingness to share this interview with us.

Arrington: How are you understanding the connection between healing and justice - between repentance, forgiveness and justice?

Will: We just had our racial justice retreat with MCAN (Mass Communities Action Network). We are doing work focused on undoing white supremacy within MCAN. During the conversations, we went through all of this pain and talking about the trauma and hurt of white supremacy, and we opened up all of these pieces, [but] we did not leave space for healing. There is something about having these conversations that opens trauma inside of us – it is steady trauma happening anyways, and reignites and reopens the pain, in our experience of trying to be intentional. We do not have a practice of creating feeling and healing spaces. We go, go, go, go to the next thing and we do not take time to look at ourselves.

In the battlefields, we are fighting a battle for justice. We get cut and hurt in the battle. We are not tending to the wounds and pain. It is starting to show up on me. I have been lamenting because I have been really ill. This illness is hard to diagnose. I think it is deeply connected to stress and trauma. When I find myself stressed, the illness flares up.  What does it mean personally for me to heal and stay healed?

I am deeply interested in building space that is intentional around healing – healing each other and ourselves. If we do not do that, we are not practicing justice.   

What would it take? I am just now starting to think about it.  One of my spiritual gifts is the gift of healing and creating intentional spaces of healing and intentional holy spaces, set aside for the divine or creator’s own special use. I think that part of the process of healing is first and foremost admitting there is something that needs to be healed. There are different injuries and hurts we receive. Some are inflicted because of the structures we sit in – the oppressive house we sit in... another kind of hurt is when someone has injured us. It takes a level of acknowledgement and the personalization of apology or seeing the hurt and having the empathy to see what has happened. And then you have the kind of healing that requires more than an apology… not every time you hurt someone is “sorry” good enough … that is what we are encountering right now.  

This specifically connects to the reparations conversation – no one has really apologized for slavery and there has been no reparations or reconciliation for the pain and injury and hurt that has been caused by slavery.  Reparations is giving an account to slavery’s impact.

In our organizations or lives we all have these budgets and when you buy something you have to bring receipts.  We have to make sure the money spent is accounted for well. In slavery, people want forgiveness but they do not have receipts for the work – they want forgiveness without having to reconcile the account. You cannot have reconciliation without reparation – forgive and forget does not work – the wound cannot be healed until you reconcile it.  Part of the healing process is people getting to the point where we understand that we, as a country, are responsible for healing some of the wounds. You do not just say I am sorry and let it go… you must offer something for what has occurred.

In this country, what does it mean to heal one another and heal with one another?