Oct 21 2008
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,