Friday, April 1, 2016

On Generosity and Gratitude by Karen Peck

Talk about gratitude and love?
When Kat Gelder, Chair of the Annual Budget Drive Committee of the DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church asked me to help out, I said yes.  But I said I wouldn’t do any stewardship visits.  Kat asked me why I was uncomfortable talking about what I love about our church. 
“I fear that the person I am talking to is bracing for ‘The Big P’ question—you know, the one about the Pledge,” I said.
I played out an imaginary conversation with a fictional member to see what is really behind my concern.  (I tell The Big P to go wait in the other room.  The Big P sulks and retreats.) 
I say:
I love that I can share my thoughts about spirituality and personal meaning at our church, and have my ideas respected.  I love that I continue to meet people I consider my best friends.  I’m grateful to be a part of a liberal religion that believes in the worth and dignity of all people, without exception.  (Yes UU, you had me at the first principle.  And the rest of the principles are pretty wonderful too.) 
You say you feel the same way.  (I can feel The Big P smiling in the other room as if it’s accomplished something.)
I speak about social justice, like the Black Lives Matter movement.  I am grateful that the church provides a safe and welcoming environment for children, who are taught to think about their beliefs, but not told what those beliefs should be.
And yet, I hear your thoughts so loudly, they are a voice-over in our imaginary conversation: ‘she’s gearing up to talk about The Big P; she’s going to invite it in!’  

You want me to listen?

“Can I ask you what you love?”
I sound like I’m channeling a hybrid of Dr. Phil and UUA President Peter Morales.  You’ll tell me what matters to you: how you love the fellowship at church, the opportunities to grow your character; how you develop your spiritual practice in classes with Rev. Tom Capo; or do a part for the environment on Styrofoam Sunday.  You share that you love coming to a ‘church’ to hear about science.  And that you and your partner grew up with different faith traditions and how our UU church is a place where you can find common ground. 
The Big P peeks around the corner and makes ‘it’s-time-for-me-to-come-in-now’ eyes. 
I return a scowl, but the poor Big P, who is only needing what it needs, steps into the room. 

A Challenging Leap of Faith
“You both love this place, cannot see a world where the work you do ceases to be—WHAT-IS-THE-BIG-DEAL people?  This is not rocket science (that happens at Science Sunday.)  It’s simple—you pledge to give generously to our community you both said you love,” The Big P says.
Now my face is getting hot.  I’m worried that The Big P, I, am asking you to take a leap of faith that is challenging.
The Big P taps me on the shoulder, and whispers,
“And say, if you can, please increase your gift over what you may have given last year, with understanding, of course, that you will give only what you are able.”
I glare at The Big P. 
“Shh!” and I shoo it away.  I say,                             
“We can, with generous support from every one of us, make our hopes for a world based on love, come true,” and before I’ve finished the sentence, I worry; that’s a lot to ask of money, and people.  Furthermore, I have no empirical evidence on which to make this claim.  I turn to The Big P and say:
“In our society we are used to bartering money for stuff.  For something in return.  But for a world based on love?  How intangible, how highly-principled—it seems to be diminished when tied to money.” 
“Why should this be?” The Big P asks.  It is truly flummoxed.  I say,
“We know that money helps run the business of church so that members can run the business of living, growing, and transforming,” I say to Big P.  “But the idea that money equates with making the world a better place seems unholy.”
“Really, you chose the word ‘unholy’ with this crowd?” The Big P asks.  “Stewardship doesn’t happen on hearts and rainbows, my friend.”
Now it’s my turn to pout, because frankly, Big P is right. 
“But what kind of guarantee do I have that the money I offer will help build a kind of world in which we want to live, a world where love is the overriding glue holding us together?”
“There is no guarantee.  But we can’t build it on love alone,” The Big P says, driving the point home. 
“Can we write checks for gratitude?  For each other?  For love?  Hmm.” 
The Big P is smiling.
“How do you assign a financial number to that?  Idealists can’t put a price on love.”
The Big P has puffed itself up and is on the pulpit now.  In a good way—it’s a UU pulpit.
“P is also for Pragmatist, love.  And pragmatists will tell you that you can look at the UUA’s fair share giving guide for a recommended amount of your yearly earnings to share for the cause of love.  But, the only one who can decide how much is enough to invest in love—in financial terms—is you.”   
The Big P somehow made this sound less scary.   

A Decision in Service of Love

Which brings me back to why I don’t like to do stewardship visits.  I have the luxury of asking if my investment a good one.  If you are trying to live month-to-month, and don’t have that luxury, I completely understand. 
With other members, it’s hard to witness fear about generosity as a risky barter for love and gratitude.  I feel the tension, guilt, fear, and anxiety.  I know the world we want to live in will be that much harder to achieve without the efforts of all of us.  So, I choose to put my faith in you, my friend, to search within yourself and identify what it is that makes for a meaningful experience for you.  And to recognize that meaning and a better world come at a price. 
Let’s put aside our fear in the service of love.  I hope you’ll come to a generous and gracious decision.  Determine the right gift you can give for a more moral and loving world now, and for the next generation.
The Big P is smiling now.  P knows you’ll come through. Because you love us and because we love you.  And because this matters.  This matters more than anything. 
K.V. Peck is a 17+ year member of the DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, has served on the Board, and on more committees than she can name.  She believes in gratitude, generosity, and the power of love.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Atheism and Unitarian Universalism part 3 of 3 by Reverend Tom Capo

Readings and Meditation

Reading from When Atheism Becomes Religion by Chris Hedges

In her novel The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather writes that the Native Americans of the Southwest made pottery to house water once they had housed themselves.  All their customs and ceremonies and their religion went back to water, which [is] one of the essential elements of life…[in her novel, the story] continues: “When Thea took her bath at the bottom of the canyon, in the sunny pool behind the screen of cottonwoods, she sometimes felt as if the water must have sovereign qualities, from having been the object of so much service and desire.  That stream was the only living thing left of the drama that had been played out in the canyon centuries ago.  In the rapid, restless heart of it, flowing swifter than the rest, there was a continuity of life that reached back into the old time.  The glittering thread of current had a kind of lightly worn, loosely knit personality, graceful and laughing.  Thea’s bath came to have a ceremonial gravity.  The atmosphere of the canyon was ritualistic.
            One morning, as she was standing upright in the pool, splashing water between her shoulder-blades with a big sponge, something flashed through her mind that made her draw herself up and stand still until the water had dried upon her flushed skin.  The stream and the broken pottery: what was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mold in which to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself—life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose?”

You may wish to do this with a partner and read to one another:
Sit comfortably in your chair and let your eyelids rest closed.  Now take a few deeper breaths and let go a little bit more on each out breath. 
Allow your breathing to settle and find its own natural rhythm, letting the breath breathe itself. Try not to interfere with this process, and notice how the body moves in response to the breath: the chest expanding and relaxing, the belly rising and falling. If your breath is affected in any way by illness or pain, then just note this with a kindly, gentle awareness. Try to let go of any ideas about how you think it ought to be, and just rest with an awareness of how things actually are for you in each moment. 
Sometimes it can help to include an image with a sense of the breath: you can imagine a wave flowing up the beach, turning, and flowing back out to sea again, noticing how the movement of the breath has a rhythm very like this. Or you might have another image that you find calming. Use your imagination in your own way to help the mind and the body settle around the breath. 
Notice any pain or discomfort in your body. Very often we resist feelings of pain or discomfort, and this just leads to more tension, more pain and more discomfort. Use the breath to help soften the hard edges around the pain and allow a tender, gentle awareness to permeate the in- and the out-breaths. As you use the breath to soften resistance to the pain or discomfort, you may notice how the experience of pain is in fact a constantly changing mass of different sensations. Experience how it comes into being and passes away moment by moment. 
Now you can broaden out your experience even more to invite in the pleasurable dimensions in your body. They might be very subtle, such as tingling in the fingers, some sort of pleasure around your breath, or maybe the feeling of the gentle breeze from the overhead fans brushing against your skin. In your own way scanning through your whole experience and noticing little moments of pleasure, no matter how fleeting – arising and falling with each moment. 
You may notice that each moment of life contains elements that are painful and elements which are pleasurable. This is the way things are in this world for everyone. Notice the tendency to harden against pain and to grasp after pleasure, and in the noticing relax back to let them both go. And bring your attention back to your breathing. 
Remember what you learned about yourself, your breathing, your body, pain and pleasure.  And come back to this time, this place and this room. 
Rev. Tom