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.