Brian Tucker

[The Episcopal News] As we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week, I am ruminating on the meaning of “repentance.” It is a word that centers itself in our Lenten reflections, though perhaps with overemphasis on personal shortcomings. It is not that I ought not examine the things I have done and left undone. It is just that if I focus overmuch on personal responsibility, I risk absolving myself from participation in a whole category of evils. These are the evils “done on my behalf” as one of our confessional pleas puts it.

Thinking deliberately about what those evils are and how it is that somehow I bear responsibility for them is discomforting to say the least. My inclination is to shrink my definition of “sin” and so collapse the scope of my responsibility. After all, I have never enslaved anyone, and I bought my house from a nice elderly couple who clearly were not of the Tongva people. Yet, as has been truly said, my involvement in violence and oppression is most destructive when I am least aware.

The crucial first step toward disengaging from participation in the transmission of oppression is simply to acknowledge that I am, in fact, participating in it. This is a scary thing to do, because I then can no longer pretend that it is something I can do nothing about. Figuring out what it is I ought to do is a reflection for a different day, except to say that doing this is itself an act of repentance. My Lenten journey, for now, is sitting with the expanding realization of personal responsibility for the evils done on my behalf. I’m reminded of the old hymn that begins, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Why yes, I was and still am. Christ have mercy. Amen.

— The Rev. Brian Tucker is a priest at Prince of Peace Episcopal Church, Woodland Hills, and a member of the Bishop’s Commission on Gospel Justice and Community Care.

The commission is offering weekly reflections during Lent to support a Gospel perspective for reducing the incarceration rates of marginalized persons and the decriminalization of behaviors that are better addressed through compassion and health-focused strategies.