Hands of Compassion and Giving

(Another in the stories and generosity series…by Laurel Amabile)

Compassion is the most wonderful and precious thing.  When we talk about compassion, it is encouraging to note that basic human nature is, I believe, compassionate and gentle.  Sometimes I argue with friends who believe that human nature is more negative and aggressive.  I argue that if you study the structure of the human body you will see that it is akin to those species of mammals whose way of life is more gentle or peaceful.  Sometimes I half joke that our hands are arranged in such a manner that they are good for hugging, rather than hitting.  If our hands were mainly meant for hitting, then these beautiful fingers would not be necessary….Just as you see that with the palm of our hand all five fingers become useful, if these fingers were not connected to the palm they would be useless.        ~The Dalai Lama

Our hands are a unique quality of human beings, for no two are exactly alike.  Take a moment and look at your own hands.  Now look at your neighbors.  Note their size, their shape, color, and markings.  Think of all the wonderful things our hands and fingers can do for us.  Our hands follow our thoughts and act on our intentions.  They fulfill our needs and express our ideas.  Our challenge is to connect our hands not only to our heads and our thoughts, but also to our hearts, where compassion and love reside.

I invite you now to reflect on the hands of those people in your life who have nurtured you, taught you, offered you help, or given you a gift.  Experience the feelings associated with the memories of those special hands that have touched and blessed your life.

As infants it takes us a while to realize that our hands are part of us, not just the curious things that move about in front of us or stick into our mouths.  We learn that our hands have the ability to operate in response to our thoughts. We learn of their amazing capacity to do things:  to hold onto things, to help us stand up, play with toys, feed ourselves, or stroke an animal’s fur.  We learn that our hands can help us express our feelings non-verbally: to show affection, anger, and anxiety.   We delight in expressing ourselves creatively with our hands:  to swirl and squiggle finger paint, to draw a picture, or to write a story.

Ask a child a piece of paper and a pen or marker and invite them to draw a picture.  When the child is done drawing, ask him or her to tell you about their creation.  Most children are eager to explain what they have created and more than happy to give their drawing to someone who admires it.  It seems so easy for children to be generous in that way, to find joy in giving what they have to give.

One special gift I received about ten years ago was from Julian, a boy who was in my daughter’s fourth grade class at the elementary school.  Julian was barely making it in school.  He had significant behavioral and learning issues.  I was a volunteer tutor in the schools and spent a good amount of time with Julian during and after school, helping him with his reading and math.  Truthfully, I didn’t know how much of a difference I could make in Julian’s life, his challenges were so great.

At the time I met Julian, he was living with his Grandma Sally.  Julian’s mother was dealing with chronic addiction issues and not an active part of his life.  His father was unable to work due to serious health issues.  Not long after I met Julian, his Grandma Sally was diagnosed with cancer and did not live long.

Julian and his brothers went to live with their dad in one of the city’s subsidized housing complexes.  Drug dealing was a way of life and happening just outside their front door.  There was a loose and undependable network of support for Julian and his family, at best.

One year, coming up on Mother’s Day, Julian’s art class was given the materials to make a special pin for their mothers:  aluminum foil wrapped around the cardboard letters M-O-M, made to look like silver, with a jewelry pin glued on the back.  With a big smile on his face and no words of explanation, Julian gave me the MOM pin he had made.  I cried.  I cried for the child who was expected to perform a task not in keeping with the harsh reality of his life without a mother.   I cried for loss I knew Julian felt, but that I could never fix or begin to fill.  I cried for this fragile child’s courageous act of generosity and affection.

Over time we come to understand that our hands and the hands of others have many powers:  to help and to hinder, to protect and to harm, to heal and to hurt, to construct and destroy, welcome and to push away.   This growing awareness forces us to choose how our hands will act and react on our behalf.

Now more than ever, it is essential that we remain hopeful, to express the compassion we feel for others through our attitudes and actions, and to open our hands to give in service and share our abundance.  We cannot allow ourselves to be immobilized by circumstances beyond our control, but to act from that place of love, courage, generosity, and commitment that resides deep within our souls.

May it be so.

Resources for Teaching and Practicing Compassion and Generosity:

Armstrong, Karen.  12 Steps to a Compassionate Life.  2010.

The Charter for Compassion:  http://charterforcompassion.org/the-charter

Passing on the Values to the Next Generation:                                                                                                                                               http://www.genspring.com/documents/Passing-on-Values-to-the-Next-Generation-Ellen-Perry-GenSpring.pdf

With Justice and Compassion:   http://www.uua.org/immigration/re/192346.shtml

UU Peacemakers:  http://www.uupeacemakers.org/

Inspiration for the Journey:

Rev. Naomi King     http://thewonderment.typepad.com/the_wonderment/

Rev. Roger Jones    http://ironicschmoozer.wordpress.com/

Barry Sanders        http://gatheredbythefire.org/

Paul Mark Sutherland   http://gyatoday.wordpress.com/

Compassion–The Buddha (PBS):  http://www.pbs.org/thebuddha/compassion/

Supports for Caregivers and Community-builders:

Helene J. Powers:  http://helenepowers.com/writing.html

Cultivating a Culture of Generosity All Summer Long

As we move into the weeks of the Summer Diaspora, it is a good time to think creatively about a few ways to sustain your congregation’s stewardship efforts, keeping them strong and visible over the next three months.

The participants in the UU Stewardship Lab, a Facebook Group, came up with a few ideas to get our creative juices flowing….

One stewardship leader reports, “The trick to keeping stewardship going over the summer is to make it about being together. Stewardship means caring, and the most important part of caring for our congregation is caring about our fellow congregants. When we do this properly people feel wanted. They know that we really care for them, and they for us. Then the financial part kind of takes care of itself.”

“We’re planning on keeping the ‘Why I pledge’ pulpit testimonials going through the summer. We’re also going to work with the Membership team to discuss annual giving at the classes for new members,”  said another stewardship leader.

“I’ll tell you the great idea our minister (Rev. Chris Bell, UU Congregation of Santa Rosa, CA) proposed: no committee meetings in July. Everybody takes a break at the same time (except Worship Associates, volunteers at our weekly breakfast for the homeless, etc.),” Ellen Skagerberg explains, “which means people serving on several committees get a real break. I think this is our 3rd year doing it now, and everybody looks forward to it.“

“It’s refreshing to take a break sometimes, not drive ourselves quite so hard.” Ellen reminds us.

Garnett Losak, of the Community Church in New York City, shares some of the ideas her stewardship team has successfully implemented in these early weeks of June:

1) Hold a “Summer of FunD” event with $2,500 in matching funds raised for new pledges.  There was a special table during coffee hour, decorated with flowers and a tablecloth. We set out pledge materials: pledge cards, brochures, etc. We raised over $10,000! with the matching funds that’s $12,500!

2) Share lots of information about what we’ve done this year.

3) Affirm choice not to go into our endowment beyond the prudent 4.5% draw.

4) Celebrate the calling of the first woman serving as our Senior Minister –since 1833!

Summer Leadership Retreats may offer an opportunity for the Stewardship Team, congregation lay and professional leaders to spend some time in a more relaxed setting exploring concepts and practices of good stewardship and planning for the next fiscal year.   You may choose a book to read that stimulates new thinking and enlarges the scope of stewardship in the minds of leaders.  There are some great reading and small group study materials to inspire you and your fellow congregants in the recommended resource list at the end of this post.

Think about ways to nurture a culture of gratitude and generosity across the generations during the summer weeks.  For example, you might invite individuals and families to clarify their religious values, reflect upon a higher calling, and engage in faithful stewardship planning.  There are several great workbooks and guidebooks to recommend, designed for children, teenage youth, as well as younger, middle-aged, and older adults.

Invite families to keep a “summer gratitude journal” of their experiences and reflections.  These could be shared as part of a summer vesper service ritual or special worship series later in the fall.  Gratitude inspires giving, so cultivating gratitude in peoples’ lives reinforces the culture of generosity you strive to create all during the church year.

Get creative with your summer stewardship activities, and make them fun and celebratory!

Use the following summer activities to stimulate your imagination for how to connect them with multigenerational stewardship themes:

  • The pot of gold at the end of a rainbow
  • Walking the labyrinth of generosity
  • Abundance of Ice Cream Sunday
  • Flying kites
  • Collecting shells on the beach
  • Hiking to the Mountain Top                        
  • Lemonade and Watermelon
  • Hawaiian Luau
  • The Garden of flowers or vegetables
  • Balloons
  • Ball games
  • Out on (or in) the water
  • Family Picnics

May your summer weeks be filled with abundant gratitude, joy, generosity, and re-creation!



Resources for Small Group Study:

Wright, Lauren Tyler.  Giving—the sacred art, Skylight Paths publishing.  2008.

Free downloadable UU Study Guide for use with Giving—the sacred arthttp://www.uuabookstore.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=1 092

Stewardship:  The Joy of Giving (five session multigenerational curriculum).  2000. UUA.  http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/generosity/joy/index.shtml

Resources for Reflection (adults):

Burgess, Gloria.  Dare to Wear Your Soul on the Outside.  2008. Jossey-Bass.

Walker, Cami.  29 Gifts:  How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life.  Lifelong Books.  2009.

Resources for Younger Generations:

Share Save Spend.  Curriculum series and workbooks for youth and adults.  2005. www.sharesavespend.com

Kidz4Money.  The Mindset of Wealth book series and workshops for young peoplehttp://kidz4money.com/a-mindset-of-wealth/ .

Zeiler, Freddie.  A Kid’s Guide to Giving.  2006.  Innovative Kids.

Engaging Younger Generations in Your Congregation–Who Gets To Vote?

When I served congregations as an Minister of Religious Education I had regular discussions with Middle School Youth Coming of Age participants about the requirements for membership in Unitarian Universalist Congregations. I always sent pledge materials to our High School students too. These were just two ways I could begin the conversation about what is required of individuals when they join a congregation.

I have to admit I had a motive. I worked with the High School youth group. There was nothing to compel them to be there each week. I wanted them to decide that part of being a congregation member meant that you showed up. I wanted them to decide they had a responsibility to the rest of their community.

We always had lively discussions. One particular group decided that to be a member

  1. You showed up every Sunday.
  2. You brought your children to Sunday School every Sunday.
  3. You pledged 3 – 5% of your gross income.
  4. You contributed to the community by volunteering, inside and outside the walls of the congregation.
  5. Adults attended worship each Sunday as their Religious Education.

The only thing we had to discuss in depth was the pledging. They thought it was unfair to require a contribution since not everyone had money, until we discussed a percentage of income. I could see their minds working on how much of their income they could contribute.

Then one of the youth asked, “Can we join, can we become members?”. The by-laws stated that at age 16 or upon completion of an approved Coming of Age Program, youth could become members. So I told them Yes.

When we had completed the Coming of Age Program, those youth who decided to join the congregation participated in the joining ceremony on a Sunday Morning. The ceremony was the same one we used with all new members. We said our words of covenant together.

In the weeks that followed the ceremony I had two questions from these youth. “When do we get our permanent nametags? “And “When will I receive my pledge form?”

These young people were full and recognized members of this congregation. They knew they had a voice and a responsibility. They had to show up, pledge, volunteer, and continue their faith development. They attended worship services. They would and will go on to be leaders in the congregations in the communities of their future. This congregation opened itself to the youth as full members and in a profound way the youth taught the congregation what it meant to be a member.

I cringe when I see congregations cut youth and young adults from their membership rolls because they cost money. I cringe when I see congregations discourage youth and young adults from joining because they will not be there that long. These young people are both our future and our present. We need their leadership now. To cut youth as members or discourage membership because of money and mobile lives sends them the message that they do not belong. They are unable to play leadership roles in congregations because they are not members. They cannot be leaders in the larger denomination if they are not congregational members. I would venture a guess that the youth and young adults that choose membership in congregations grew up in congregations and know how to be leaders. They have been taught how to worship, plan an event, conduct a meeting, the joy of conflict, to articulate their ideals and most important, how to be a Unitarian Universalist living their faith in the world. Why will they join later on in life when we do not let them fully participate now?

Teaching individuals how to be members of our congregations is one of the most important things we do. We tell them what is required. We teach them how to participate in our communities and we train them to be leaders. Our faith desperately needs our youth and young adults. They know how to be members of our congregations and we can let them lead us.

To learn more about Unitarian Universalist Ministry with Youth and Young Adults: http://www.uua.org/re/youth/index.shtml

For more information about the UUA’s Annual Program Fund: www.uua.org/giving/apf