Archive for the 'As We Build the Beloved Community-Newsletter Columns' Category

Feb 25 2010

The Spiritual Practice of Giving Up Despair

“Easter, Passover, Spring equinox—festivals of liberation, new life, and new hope,” the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry reminds us (you can read more at http://www.uulmca.org/main.html#40days). To honor this season of liberation and hope, the UULM invites us to make “40 calls in 40 days” to our government representatives, urging them to pass health care reform. Opponents to health care reform are surely keeping up the pressure to defeat even the most modest of bills; the UULM asks that we be equally persistent in our commitment to creating a more just and accessible system of care. “Forty calls in forty days”—even if we start late in the Lenten season, this is a beautiful and potentially effective spiritual practice. You will find the phone numbers for our U.S. Senators and for the White House in this edition of the newsletter, along with a brief message we can borrow.

But this spiritual practice is larger and more far-reaching even than health care reform. Here is the line from the UULM that caught my mind and heart: “Some folks give up chocolate for Lent. We recommend that we give up despair.” The spiritual practice of giving up despair … How can we make such a practice our way of life? Let’s puzzle this out together:

Just what is despair? In French and Spanish—désespoir; desesperación—the roots of the word are crystal clear: it means literally the loss of hope. Many of us have experienced moments, or more, of despair in our lives. When I think about my own moments of despair, I can see how fear—fear about the future—almost always plays a major role in that “loss of hope.” Sadness spirals into despair when we fear that the current bleak situation, whatever it may be, will never ever change.

And yet … the one thing we are guaranteed in life is that everything does change. Despair is a kind of misconception, then—a projection that the future will feel as difficult as the present does. And of course, the very best way to ensure that this projection does not come to pass is to get engaged in creating that future. As the UULM’s “40 calls in 40 days” illustrates, we can take action to help move the change—which will come, with or without us—in the direction that we desire! “Action is the antidote to fear” is one of my favorite aphorisms, because I have experienced its truth in my bones.

So when despair shrouds our hearts—whether such despair is prompted by discouragement with the workings of Washington, D.C., or by deep personal loss—let us remember that our feelings are gifts of discernment about where we need to focus our loving attention. If we feel stuck in sadness and discouragement, then we are called to reach out to others who will remind us how good it is that we are alive. If we feel fearful that the future holds only more of the same discouragement that we are feeling today, then we are called to reach out to help lift others’ spirits, to help make others’ lives brighter and more hopeful. Let our experiences deepen our compassion for all who are suffering; let these experiences, even of loss or discouragement, invite us into deeper engagement with each other and the world.

Our Sunday worship services in March, with the theme “Aspects of the Holy—the Depth and Breadth of Life,” will dance with the questions I’ve explored here. Please join us as we try out many languages for naming our surest sources of hope.

My friends, let’s never “give up”; let’s give up despair instead!

 

With warmth and hope,

 

Nancy

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Dec 24 2009

A New Day, A New Year, and the New Century Summit

“Hope is my philosophy, just needs days in which to be. Love of life means hope for me, borne on a new day.” These lyrics, from the song “You Are the New Day” by Airwaves, underscore a common theme that runs through all the spiritual practices that I know. Whether our spiritual practice involves meditation or yoga, running or reading, singing or simply sitting, these daily or weekly practices promise to reconnect us with what we hold of highest worth, with our spiritual center or source. Through that recentering, we tap into a deep well of hope and compassion for ourselves and others. In the Present of such centering, we experience each new day as a gift; we recognize where we have choice about how to spend this new day, as well as where our choices may be limited but are present nonetheless. “Love of life means hope for me, borne on a new day.”

            Ah, I had my hands poised to type my wish that this New Year will bring you just such recentering, with its renewed hope, compassion, and empowered choice. But my fingers paused on the keyboard with this thought: We so often wish for what the New Year may “bring” to us. Yet such passivity doesn’t square with our Unitarian Universalist faith. We believe that it’s up to us to help make ourselves, each other, and this world a better place. So this year, let us focus on what we will bring to the New Year!

            Here at the First Unitarian Church, we have much to offer each other in 2010: Through this winter’s Listening Campaign, we will offer the gift of deep listening; in the process we will build relationships and establish a renewed and strengthened foundation for our social justice work. With a much-anticipated (and still in the planning) Music Summit, we will look at how to enrich our music program for years to come. With each Monthly Worship Theme, we will nurture our spirits and discover new ways to help heal the world. With community events like the Service Auction (on January 9) and the PACT Tea (on January 30), we will enrich our friendships and our coffers so that we may continue to deepen and expand our shared ministries. Throughout it all, we will work and play, laugh and cry together, making meaning of the breadth and depth of our lives.

            I am excited about a new resource for such meaning-making that we will be sharing at the Pacific Central District’s New Century Summit on January 29 and 30. We will take a team of congregational leaders and leaders-in-the-making to this summit, to take place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley. You can find out more about it at this web address: http://www.pcd-uua.org/currents/summit.htm. Please take a look, and if it calls to you, please contact Program Officer Tamara Payne-Alex, tpaynealex@gmail.com ASAP to join our team. If we take six or more people (and we surely will), the cost is $50 per person—and my experience at the “preview” of the summit promises that it will be worth every penny.

With a love of life that is borne on the new day, and with gratitude for what we will bring to this New Year together, I send you my love and warmest wishes! Welcome to 2010!

Nancy

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Nov 25 2009

Living the Questions: Exploring Jesus’ Teachings

At some point in a worship service during this month of December, hundreds of Unitarian and Universalist congregations, all around the world and in many languages, will share a common reading as part of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists’ Global Chalice Lighting Project.[1] Just imagine: from Norway to South Africa, from New Zealand to Japan, in India and Indonesia, Pakistan and Poland, the Philippines and Finland, Burundi and Brazil, Canada and the Congo, the United Kingdom and the United States, people who share our multifaceted faith will be pondering the same words at just about the same time.

Here at FUCSJ, we are just now catching the crest of this wave. Looking back, I see that November’s words came from Canada, joyfully welcoming “visitor, friend, or long-time member, believer or doubter, joiner or loner, full of energy or plain tired, seeking a vision or a rest. You are welcome to join us as you are.”[2] The spirit of radical inclusion is universal in our faith, as this shared reading captures. Welcome home, everyone!

This month’s Global Chalice Lighting reading is a bit more somber, perhaps honoring the “dying of the sun” with the solstice or the “dying” of the year. But they are good words for describing why we come together in community at any time of year. Submitted by our own Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, the words are by the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church. Imagine them echoing around the world, from congregation to congregation: “Knowing we must die, we question what life means. Final answers may elude us, but by living the questions, we create and discover meaning where we can.”

I think these words offer a good introduction to this month’s worship theme at FUCSJ: “What Can Jesus Teach Us UUs?” “Final answers may elude us” as we ask the question in this theme, but this month we will “live the questions” and discover meaning in new places. What will we discover from wrestling with and relishing Jesus’ central teachings? When we strip away centuries of interpretation of these teachings, when we quiet the external voices that claim to tell us about Jesus and listen instead to our own internal wisdom, what surprises might we find? What can Jesus teach us about love? About radical inclusion? About the problems and the possibilities of being “in a body”? About the relationship between power and wholeness, between healing and community? About ways of relating to others that can create “heaven on earth”? How will this holiday season grow richer when we live these questions?

Join us for this month’s explorations and meditations, for its stories, songs, simple pleasures, and sudden intuitions. “Visitor, friend, or long-time member, believer or doubter, joiner or loner, full of energy or plain tired, seeking a vision or a rest”—you are welcome here, just as you are. Welcome home!

 

With warmth and hope for a holiday season rich in meaning making,

 

Nancy 

 



[1]You can read more about the ICUU and see a map of all the member groups, emerging groups, and associates at www.icuu.net. To find the Global Chalice Lighting readings, just click on “Resources.”

[2] Phrases extracted from the full welcome by Rev. Ray Drennan, Canadian Unitarian Council, available at http://www.icuu.net/resources/chalice_archives/GCL%2011-09.pdf.

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Nov 12 2009

Simplicity: A Few More Steps on the Journey

In the last edition of the newsletter, I began to ponder this month’s theme of “Simplicity.” My blog, http://www.sanjoseuu.org/revnpjblog/, holds both the poem and the essay that I offered then; look for “Simplicity: The Complex Task of Living a Balanced Life.” Will you walk with me now as we continue this journey?

Here is what we have been exploring: What happens when we develop the spiritual practice of sitting still—sitting still long enough and often enough to begin to notice how we are spending our resources? Not just our money resources but also the resources of our thoughts, emotions, time, and physicality—our energy. How are we spending each of these resources each day? Each week? How we are replenishing them each day? Each week?

Are we living within our means? Are we living a sustainably? Are we replenishing our resources at a “richer” rate than we are spending them? Do our thoughts, for example, bring us more energy, more insight, more joy or depth—or do they deplete us? We have a choice about how we “spend” our thoughts. And what resources have we discovered for replenishing our thoughts? A well-written book; a piece of art; a loving conversation; active engagement for the good of others; the practice of centering meditation when we take a break from “thinking”? Our thoughts are a resource that can be spent wisely or poorly, and that need replenishing. Isn’t this a mind-boggling idea?

The same is true of our feelings: On which feelings do we dwell; which ones do we encourage? How do we “replenish” our feelings?

So, too, with our time: Which uses of our time bring us closer to our authentic self? Which ways do we spend our time that distance us from what we value most? How do we replenish a sense of spaciousness in the time we are given each day?

And which uses of our body, of our physical energies, actually give us more energy? Which uses deplete us? How are we restoring these energies?

Earlier this month, I chose to spend part of my time cleaning out my e-mail in-box. My in-box was like a room in the house where we toss all our clutter until finally we dread opening the door. There are valuable treasures in that room—we know there are—so we can’t just haul everything away. Just so, my e-mail in-box was stacked high with messages that were no longer “new” but that I couldn’t simply delete. Most of them had been skimmed and responded to, but some of them had arrived on days when I couldn’t even get into that room; they were still bright bold, “unread.” Some of those e-mails were being temporarily stored, waiting to be filed—except that “temporarily” had now stretched into months. Many messages needed to be deleted, but I had never formed the habit of getting rid of them right away. My in-box once again held thousands of e-mails.

So, for several hours a day over the course of several days, I entered into a Zen-like mode of selecting, deleting, responding, and filing. My energy rose as the numbers fell. The old messages reminded me of some beautiful ways I had spent my resources in the past year—events and experiences shared with you or with our wider movement that were treasures, but that I had almost forgotten because I had allowed less important preoccupations to pile on top. I discovered a few messages from old friends who were still waiting for a response, and I reached out to restore those lifelines. I saw how busy we are here at FUCSJ—too busy and sometimes swamped by petty concerns—but I also saw the power for good that we have when we let our mission guide us. I wondered in which ways we most want to spend our resources so that our deepest values and highest purpose can be sustained. And I began to free up my own resources so that I could be responsive to what matters most.

This spiritual practice was time well spent. Already I have new and tender habits for how I manage this aspect of my life.

How about you? What steps have you taken on this journey toward a balanced and sustainable life?

 

With love and encouragement,

 

Nancy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oct 29 2009

Simplicity: The Complex Task of Living a Balanced Life

Can we

you and I   

sit down

and be still?

What new habits of

attention

will awaken

then?

How then

will we spend

our

thoughts

emotions

time

money

physicality

each day?

How then

will we replenish them

each day?

“Holy rest

good work

godly play”

Barbara Brown Taylor, you say

that’s the balance[1]

So: what Calder shapes hang

from the mobiles of our lives?

What breath of attention

will make them sway?

What dance

will swing our selves

our world

into sustainable

beauty?

Shall we

you and I   

sit down

and be still?



[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Balancing Act: Holy Rest, Good Work, Godly Play,” Perdue lectures, Stone Church of Willow Glen, 23-24 October 2009.

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Oct 29 2009

Simplicity: The Complex Task of Living a Balanced Life—

“You know how some people say that it takes only three weeks to form a new habit?” I recently launched a conversation with Rev. Geoff using this rhetorical question, which I meant to be merely a prelude to sharing My Latest Plans to Totally Transform My Life (and, by the way, to transform our life here at FUCSJ) over the course of the month of November alone! All of this would be accomplished as part of our theme for the month: “Simplicity.”

“Ummmm,” Geoff interrupted me gently, “I think I’ve heard people say it takes three months. I mean, to really get a new habit into our bones.”

There was a long pause. “Oh,” I replied. Three months does make more sense, doesn’t it, especially for a project as grand as a Life Transformation. Still, I had to admit to being just the teensiest bit discouraged. I was counting on quick results!

Our hearts and bodies, our community and our country, the very earth, sea, and sky are crying out for us to form new habits of sustainability. Yet we are often so daunted by the size of the task—or so overwhelmed by the present demands on our time, attention, and resources—that we put off making any changes at all.

In truth, we don’t have time for such discouragement anymore. We cannot wait until we have the perfect answers before we take the next brave small steps toward transforming our lives and the world around us into sustainable systems. A “sustainable system,” remember, is one in which our resources—whether personal or global—are used in a way that ensures that they are not depleted or damaged. We need new habits for how we spend our resources—all of them—if we hope to save ourselves and our planet.

But these urgent thoughts and words are old and familiar—they are almost a “habit” themselves. Here is what is new: I believe that the current financial recession that has so many of us feeling anxious and helpless is actually a call for a whole new way of being. If we “come out” of this recession merely with a return to our old ways of living—our habits of spending, consuming, ignoring, wasting—then we will have failed to answer that call.

In our FUCSJ worship services throughout the month of November, we will be seeking to build new habits that can lead to a more sustainable way of being. We are calling our theme “simplicity” but it is really about “balance,” which is not so simple, after all. Together we will explore how to get there—how to get there for real and for good, in every sense of those words.

The self-help gurus may differ on how long it takes to form a new habit; a quick internet search reveals predictions of three weeks, nine and a half weeks, three months, and more. But what is certain is that it is easier to create new and healthier habits than it is to break old ones, as Janet Rae-Dupree wrote in “Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?” ( New York Times, 4 May 2008, accessible on-line). Such new habits, Rae-Dupree reports, create “parallel synaptic paths”—new neural pathways right alongside those old ones that have not served us so well. And these new paths—these new habits of being—can actually “jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.”

So what will we discover together as we begin to establish new habits of being, new sustainable ways of living for ourselves and our world? I can’t wait to find out—even if it does take longer than three weeks!

With love and hope,

Nancy

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Sep 29 2009

“Amen—I Love You”: The Power of Love

For thirty years, the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church ended every sermon he preached at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist congregation in New York City with the words “Amen. I love you. And may God bless us all.” These are good words with which to open the month of October, when we will be pondering “The Power of Love.”

Forrest’s words—and his life itself—are resounding in my mind and heart these days. As I write this column, it is less than a week since Forrest passed away, and I am feeling both sadness and gratitude. Forrest was my first Unitarian Universalist minister. He became my teacher, my mentor, the person who offered me the chance to discover my true self and thus find my way to ministry. He was the kind of minister who, despite his natural reserve, lived his life right out loud. All of us in the All Souls family watched Forrest soar, stumble, fall, pick himself up again with the help of friends, family, and congregation, and work his way toward a deeper, truer life. He lived his life out loud these past three years, too, as he journeyed from a terminal diagnosis of cancer toward his dying, testing his theology every step of the way and sharing the journey with all of us through his sermons, pastoral letters, and other writings.

            “Amen. I love you. And may God bless us all.”

That “Amen” was the final punctuation mark on yet another funny, thought-provoking sermon. It didn’t mean “And so the final word has been spoken,” but rather “That is what I have to say for now; that is my truth as I know it at this moment. Amen.”

Then, looking right out at the congregation, Forrest would add, “I love you.” The first time I heard him say it, in early March 1997 during a particularly hard time in my life, it took my breath away. It was so personal and specific, yet it was clearly intended to include the strangers in the crowd—strangers like me at that time—along with every single one of the other members, friends, visitors, and strangers who had shown up that morning to sit stiffly side by side in that spacious, formal, old sanctuary. Forrest seemed to be saying that he loved each of us, even if he didn’t know us. For some folks, it was the only time all week, all month, that they heard anyone say, “I love you”; I wonder how many of us came to church just to hear those words. And Forrest was also saying that he loved us as a group, even if we didn’t feel like a “group.” The words had a mysterious, marvelous effect: hearing them, we each felt more lovable and loving; we felt united into one large loving and lovable community. Forrest’s words were a statement of faith, a constantly renewed vow. I know they made Forrest himself a better person, and they invited us into renewed relationship with our best selves and with each other. They had power, those words of love.

 Finally, Forrest would say, “And may God bless us all.” As Forrest explained, “God is not God’s name. God is our name for that which is present in each and greater than all.” With this understanding of God, then “May God bless us all” means the same thing as “I love you,” doesn’t it? It means “May we know the love that we carry within ourselves, and may we share it. May we know the Love that surrounds us all, and may we live every day within it.”

“Amen. I love you. And may God bless us all.” Amen—this is what I know for now: I, too, love you, each of you and all of you, FUCSJ. May we, too, share the love we carry within ourselves and live in the Love that surrounds us. Come, let us explore the power of love together.

With my love and gratitude,

Nancy

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Sep 14 2009

“Draw the Circle Wide!”

As We Build the Beloved Community

 


 

“Draw the circle wide, draw the circle wide. No one stands alone, we’ll stand side by side. Draw the circle wide; draw it wider still. Let this be our song! No one stands alone. Standing side by side, draw the circle, draw the circle wide!”

            These are the words to a wonderful song, with music by Mark Miller and words by Gordon Light, and I can’t get it out of my head. Sometimes that’s an annoying thing—if I mention “It’s a Small World After All” from the old ride at Disneyland, how many of you will be a little annoyed with me? But to have “Draw the Circle Wide” singing in my heart is a joyous experience. We’ll be sharing this song on Homecoming Sunday, September 13—but more importantly, we’ll be reflecting this year on how we can “draw the circle wide” in our lives.

            It’s not that easy, is it? We’ve got to have big hearts and open minds to keep drawing the circle of our community, and of our love, wider still. Each of us has reasons to draw the circle of our friends and the circle of our attention narrower or closer from time to time. Sometimes our healing happens in small ways, in private corners, slowly.

            And sometimes the power of love can burst our hearts and minds open all over again. Then the hard-won fruits of our love—compassion, that deep empathy for another’s feelings or situation; and forgiveness, that soul-searching acceptance that every one of us makes mistakes and can strive to set ourselves right again—can grow sweet once more, and our lives expand and deepen.

            As I write, some of us have just participated in a weeklong spiritual practice called “Here If You Need Me.” Drawing a name at random, we called or wrote to someone in this congregation to say, “I’m here if you need me. If you want to talk, I want to listen. I just want you to know that I care.” When I got my call this week from the person who had drawn my name, I was astonished at the power of these simple words: “I’m here if you need me”—astonished, even though I had proposed this spiritual practice in the first place! What courage it takes to reach out in this way to another person, and what a difference such kindness can make in the everyday ups and downs of our lives. “No one stands alone; we’ll stand side by side.” When we practice “Here If You Need Me” week after week after week, our lives deepen and expand.

            As I write, some of us will be answering a Call for Commitment by contacting our congresspeople to urge them to pass health care reform—another spiritual practice tht embodies our care for each other and for people whom we have never met. All of our work for justice, all of our work to build a beloved community of acceptance for all, are ways to “draw the circle wide,” to expand and deepen our lives.

Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7rSxdCQVdM if you’d like to hear “Draw the Circle Wide” sung by the Young Person’s Justice Chorale in Washington, D.C. Better yet, join us at FUCSJ for Homecoming Sunday, September 13! You can join the Massed Choir for Homecoming by showing up for choir rehearsal on Wednesday, September 9, from 7 to 9 p.m.

“Let this be our song! No one stands alone. Standing side by side, draw the circle, draw the circle wide!”

 

With much heart and hope,     Nancy

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Nov 26 2008

The Greatest Gift: A Season of Listening

The Greatest Gift: A Season of Listening

 

Did you hear the series on National Public Radio the week of Thanksgiving, in which newscasters participated in very personal interviews with family members and loved ones? It was part of StoryCorps’ project to create an annual National Day of Listeningon the Friday following Thanksgiving. StoryCorps, which collects recorded interviews from everyday people around the country and then stores them at the Library of Congress, was inviting every one of us to find someone whose stories we would like to hear and record—stories of that person’s earliest memory, for example, or stories about what she is proudest of in her life; stories about when he felt the most alone or what it felt like to hold his own child for the first time; stories about serving in the military or going to school; funny stories, sad stories, stories that have been told over and over again or have never been heard before. Here’s how, StoryCorps suggested: Just create a short list of questions, then sit down with a friend or family member or with anyone you’d like to get to know better, and (if possible) record your conversation—not for the national archives this time but for your personal archives.

            I love everything about this idea. I love the invitation to spend a part of the post-Thanksgiving Sales Day—when we are expected to shop until we drop—having a deep and loving conversation instead. I love the recognition that there is alwaysmore to learn about someone, even when we think we know him or her through and through. I love the idea of reaching out to near-strangers and demonstrating our interest in them and our respect for their unique worth by asking them to share their stories, all the while creating new and meaningful relationships in the process. I love the idea of creating a day when we intentionally offer each other the gift of listening.

            But the National Day of Listening may be over by the time you read this, so what are we to do? Wait a whole year until it comes around again?

            Of course not! Let’s create a Season of Listening right now. It starts the moment you read this column and continues through New Year’s Day. Participation is simple: Once a week, ask someone to spend about half an hour to 45 minutes with you. Tell them you want to hear their stories—that this is the best holiday gift you can give each other.

Here are some tools that will help make this spiritual practice of listening easier and more inclusive:

1. Go to www.nationaldayoflistening.org, and scroll down to the “Do-It-Yourself” guide for creating an interview. Follow the simple steps that StoryCorps suggests. If you want to generate a really interesting set of questions, click on “Question Generator.” (I have had such fun using this tool to create questions for my spouse Kevin and my dear friend Terry; some of the questions took me by surprise!)

2. Take a look at the list of Multicultural Competencies that accompanies this column. These suggestions help us to move out of our comfort zones and get to know others across seeming cultural or social divides. They can deepen even the most comfortable and familiar conversations by encouraging us to set aside our assumptions and approach our interviews with respectful and passionate curiosity.

3. Finally, have fun—and please share what you discover about yourself and about this gift of listening with our spiritual cooperative!

May your holidays become warmer and richer through this gift of listening!

 

With my love,        

Nancy

 

 

 

 

 

Multicultural Competencies

Adapted from Building the World We Dream About:

A “Welcoming Congregation” Curriculum on Race and Ethnicity

by Mark Hicks

 

When we are competent in “multicultural communication”:

  • We can listen and behave without imposing our own values and assumptions on others.
  • We carry with us an attitude of respect when approaching people of different cultures; this requires that we engage continually in a process of self-reflection and self-critique. We thus have the ability to move beyond our own biases.
  • We can maintain a communication style that is not based on arguing or competing, on trying to overwhelm someone with our “compelling evidence” or on establishing who is “right.”
  • We are curious about the other person, and we seek solutions to problems and approaches to projects that work across the shared interests that we discover.
  • We are comfortable asking questions when we are uncertain or unclear about the assumptions of an individual or a group.
  • We intentionally seek to see, hear, and understand the cultural “other.” We actually seek out opportunities for multicultural communication.

 

Notice that we don’t have to be “excellent” at any of these skills! Our goal is competence in multicultural communication; we are striving simply to build skills, attitudes, and abilities that will grow with each new experience.

How often might we use these skills in our everyday lives in Silicon Valley? How might these skills enrich our spiritual cooperative at the First Unitarian Church of San José?

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Oct 21 2008

A Reflection on Gratitude and Recognition

As We Build the Beloved Community …  

A Reflection on Gratitude and Recognition 

Often I pause to marvel at this “voluntary association” that is the First Unitarian Church of San José. Take our Fall Church Retreat, for example: Diana Wirt and Kelly Burnett voluntarily organized a beautiful gathering for us up in the Santa Cruz mountains, with congregants from the Mission Peak and Los Gatos congregations further enriching our time together. Folks volunteered their time and talent to offer a delicious smorgasbord of workshops and activities. It was glorious. And I hear it was wonderful to be in San José that weekend, too, with a beautiful worship service led by Rev. Geoff and a host of volunteer worship associates, with special music volunteered by Frank Farris and Patrick Smiley bringing people onto the labyrinth to walk the “path.”        

Honestly, it takes my breath away to recognize who we are and what we accomplish all because you choose to belong, you choose to contribute to this association out of your own free will and generosity, out of your belief in our mission. Think about it: First Unitarian exists—and has existed for 143 years—in downtown San José as a beacon of liberal religion, of social justice, and of personal transformation because you and our Unitarian ancestors have voluntarily given of your hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits to this spiritual collective. Wow! I personally owe every one of you and of those ancestors a heartfelt, handwritten thank-you note!           

In truth, we are still learning how to thank each other. We are getting better; thanks to creative, thoughtful folks like Genie Bernardini, we have added annual rituals of recognition that lift up our volunteers. But we can never really thank each other enough, because at the root, we are run—and the professional staff is paid—by your voluntary contributions of time, talent, and treasure. (Can I just say it again? Wow!)       

So, what about recognition for these gifts? Is public recognition itself a “good” or a “bad” thing? Should we not even try to recognize your generosity, just because we won’t be able to honor every single act of giving, and because surely we’ll miss some folks, which can be painful and embarrassing? To that I say, Let’s not give up; let’s simply become more and more mindful and creative in our recognitions!         

Does public recognition take away one iota from the generosity of the gift or throw into question the motivation for giving? I say, Not at all. Recognition keeps us honest; it says, “We wouldn’t be here without you!” Recognition is a crucial part of the spiritual practice of gratitude, expanding our hearts and minds, deepening our sense of connection. It can inspire and strengthen us in our own giving, too, making us more generous people. Hallelujah for you who are willing to receive public recognition!     

On the other hand, some folks like to give quietly, behind the scenes; they don’t want their names to be called out or scribed on a plaque. Hallelujah for you, too, because when we don’t know exactly who our beneficiary is, we are called to be grateful to everyone! Anyone might be our anonymous beneficiary, so everyone shines with an extra light because of your quiet giving.     

Want to know the truth? I am happier right this minute because I’ve spent this time focusing intentionally on your infinite acts of generosity. May you find joy in this practice of gratitude and recognition, too!

With my love,       
Nancy

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