The Nurturing Tree

Yet another story in the Giving Speaks series–Creating a Giving Culture–One Story at a Time–featuring guest author Dr. Jerry D. Wright*

The Nurturing Tree

Once there was a boy who really enjoyed a tree.

He enjoyed the roughness of its bark when he climbed it.

He enjoyed the springiness of its branches when he swung on them.

He enjoyed the crackle, the smell and the pillowy feeling of its leaves when he gathered them into a big pile and jumped into them, in the fall of the year.

He enjoyed the crunch and tart taste of its apples when he bit into its ripe fruit.

And when the sun was hot, he enjoyed sitting in its shade, leaning against its sturdy trunk, thinking about all the things he hoped to do and have and be as he grew older.

The tree enjoyed the boy, too.

She enjoyed watching him grow stronger, able to do more things.

She enjoyed his company.

She enjoyed being useful.

But there came a long time when the boy stayed away.

Then one day, he returned and said to the tree, “I need some money,” and the tree said, “Well, money doesn’t     grow on trees, but apples do, and you’re welcome to gather my apples and sell them for money.” The tree was delighted to have the boy climbing about, gathering the apples she’d grown. She enjoyed his company and she enjoyed feeling useful.

But then the boy stayed away for a long time, again.

One bright, sunny day the tree saw him coming toward her—older now—a young man—and she was very happy. She really enjoyed his company. She enjoyed that he was bigger and looked stronger than when she had seen him last.

“I want a house,” he told the tree. “A house to live in and raise a family. Would you give me your wood?”

“I’ll give you a few of my branches,” she said, “and you may ask my neighbors for some of theirs. If I gave you all of my branches, I’d have nothing to support my leaves. Without leaves to turn sunlight and water into food, I would die. But as long as you take only a few of my limbs, I can grow others; so, you’re welcome to a few.”

The young man thanked the tree and chose a few of her branches to make into lumber for his house. He also asked her neighbors, who gave him a few branches here and there until he had enough.

Then he built his house and enjoyed it, and was gone for several years, again, until one day the tree recognized him coming toward her—a man in his middle years now, looking healthy and having good energy—and he said to the tree, “I’ve been thinking that I’d like to have a boat to sail on the lake, and I’d like to have your trunk to use for a hull.”

The tree liked the man very much—had liked him since when he was a small boy, climbing her trunk and diving into piles of her leaves—but she liked herself, too, and she said, “I like you a lot. I’ve enjoyed you for years. But I have good reasons to say ‘No’ to your request. First, if I gave you my trunk, I would die, and while I like to give of myself and feel useful, I know better than to give myself away. Secondly, I’ve noticed that you only come around when you want something for yourself. Other than that, I never see you”

“Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a boat; you don’t have to have wood to make a boat. Fiberglass is a wonderful material for building a boat. Build yourself a boat of fiberglass. And come visit me from time to time.”

At first, the man wasn’t happy about the tree’s response. Always, before, she had given him at least some of what he had asked for. But then she was right. He did only come see her when he wanted something, and fiberglass was a perfectly good material to use for building a boat.

The more he thought about it, he realized that at first, he and the tree had been giving each other something, but that as time had gone by, the tree had been doing almost all of the giving and he had been doing almost all of the taking.

He decided to take his children to play in, on and around the tree. He also bought some seedlings and showed his children how to plant them, so that the seedlings would grow up to keep the tree company.

Like all living things, the tree grew older and older and finally died, and the keepers of the forest cut her down, leaving only her stump. The man grew older, too, and returned to the tree one day, only to discover that nothing was left of her, but her stump.

She could offer no shade to sit in—no sturdy trunk to lean against—only her stump to sit upon, so the old man sat.

He thanked her for being there when he was a boy, allowing him to climb her sturdy trunk, bounce upon her springy branches, eat her crisp, tart apples, and pounce into piles of her fallen leaves. He thanked her for the shade she had provided, and for being there to lean upon when he just wanted a place to think thoughts and dream dreams. He thanked her, too, for the limbs she spared him for building his house. And then, as he thought some more, he thanked her, most of all, for setting limits and saying “No”—for only allowing him to have some of her limbs—not so many as would have damaged her—and for telling him “No” when he wanted her trunk, which would have killed her. He also thanked her for pointing out that he had fallen into a habit of thinking only of himself—coming around only when he wanted something from her.

He thought a long time.

When it came time for the old man to go, he patted the stump and said,  “Thanks for liking yourself as well as you liked me. I think that liking yourself enough to tell me “No” was the best gift you ever gave me.”

The end.

*Dr. Jerry D. Wright preached his first UU sermon in Bloomington, IN, on merger Sunday, when the Unitarians and Universalists merged to form the UUA. Subsequent to graduation from IU, he earned his BD (later MDiv) from Crane Theological School of Tufts University. He was a member of the first class of DsRE to be granted the status of Ministers of Religious Education. In  1989, he earned his DMin from Meadville Lombard . He served in churches in Massachusetts while at Crane; after ordination, he served congregations in New York, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas, before establishing the Inter-District Office of the UUA in Indianapolis, from which he consulted with congregations in Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and western Ohio. He retired from the UU ministry in 1995, and after retiring in 2010 from doing data analysis for a hospital, amuses himself with photography and the crafting of “magic” wands (see display photo below).  To contact Dr. Jerry Wright directly:  drwright8706@sbcglobal.net

Resources for Environmental Justice & Stewardship:

Unitarian Universalist Association: What is Environmental Justice?  http://www.uua.org/environment/27663.shtml

Green Sanctuary Program:  http://www.uua.org/environment/sanctuary/index.shtml

Ethical Eating Resources:  http://www.uua.org/environment/eating/index.shtml

Climate Change & Global Warming information:  http://www.uua.org/environment/climate/index.shtml

Sustainable Local Economies:  http://www.uua.org/environment/sustainable/index.shtml

Resources for Nurturing A Healthy Culture of Giving and Generosity:                                                                                                  http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/generosity/index.shtml

Giving–the sacred art (book by Lauren Tyler Wright) and Study Guide for Giving–the sacred art for small groups  (by Laurel Amabile)                 http://www.uua.org/documents/stew-dev/study_guide_giving.pdf

UUA Congregational Stewardship Services:  http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml

Forward Through the Ages (FORTH) Program:  http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/forth/index.shtml

Ecumenical Stewardship Center:  A Network For Growing Stewards   http://stewardshipresources.org/

Finding Generosity in a Cup of Coffee

Once upon a time, a wise woman traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry. The wise woman opened her bag to share her food.

The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation.

The traveler left rejoicing at his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious.”

“What would that be?” The woman asked her fellow traveler.

“Please give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”

__________________________________

A version of this parable surfaced a few months ago from somewhere in the vast universe of the Internet. Its message resonates deep within many of us in the place where the heart and soul and generosity reside.

What IS the special quality that enables a person to give away their most valuable possession to a stranger in need?

Love?

Moral obligation?

Complete lunacy?

In our society we are conditioned to earn, possess, consume, and receive so that we may feel satisfied and happy. How could we so easily give it all away?

But there is such potential within us for experiencing the abundance and joy in life than most of us realize. Awareness comes from reflecting deeply about why we give without an expectation of receiving anything in return.

Some years back I was attending a professional conference in downtown Toronto. I was serving on the board, which met for two full days before the conference.

These meetings began at 8:00 AM—torture! Those who know me well, know that I will go to great lengths to get my daily Espresso Americano wherever I am.

Okay, I thought, this would take planning. There would be early pre-dawn logistics: I’d get up by 6:30, be out the door by 7:15, walk the four blocks, cross the street to the coffee shop that opens at 7:30, get the Americano and something to eat, and walk back to the hotel. That should allow me just enough time to grab my computer bag and dash to the meeting, fortified for the long haul.

On the first morning, I embarked on my journey to the coffee shop. It was dark and cold, and, being alone, I walked with intention at a fast clip. Venti Americano in one hand, a bag with a big fresh croissant in the other, I started back to the hotel. No time to sip on the coffee now, I thought, I’ll have plenty of seat time during the meeting. But hungry, I pulled off one end of the croissant and popped that into my mouth, savoring it.

As I walked briskly along, I saw movement in one of the dark storefront doorways. I paused briefly to see two men huddled there, obviously cold after being there all night.

I was startled as one of the men stepped out of the shadows, hand outstretched and moving in the direction of my Espresso Americano. Without a nano second of thought, I yanked my drink back, a reflex action. After a brief pause, I held out the bag with the rest of the croissant to the man and walked on toward the hotel.

My brain began swirling with questions. The espresso was double-cupped, why couldn’t I have shared some of it in the second cup? They must have been so cold. A hot drink would have been such a kindness. Why didn’t I give them my coffee to split and walk back to get another for myself? Is this fancy, expensive coffee so important to me that I can’t live without it?

What does this say about my values and priorities? And, WHY did I give the man my croissant with the end ripped off? Arghhh!

I almost turned around, to go back and bring them the coffee. I realized there would be no time to spare and I would be late for my meeting commitment. I felt a strange mix of embarrassment and shame in my decision to walk away. Needless to say, sipping my Espresso Americano was less satisfying that day. The memory of this brief encounter stays with me, now for well over a decade. I can still see the hope-filled look in the man’s eyes in the dim light, the hand, reaching out for a gift desired but denied. The experience was transformative.

Since then, I have established a new pattern of giving which I consider a spiritual discipline. I now give away at least twice the cost of my daily Espresso Americano; just give it away….to friends, panhandlers, food servers, family members, collection cans on the counters of local businesses.

dollars in coffee cup

I choose to give more in support of my local congregation and wider faith community as an expression of who I am and what I believe. My goal is to tithe 10% through my combined gifts. I am making progress toward that goal, and now that I have a generosity plan, I take pleasure in both giving AND my daily Espresso Americano!

May your day be filled with abundant blessings~

Laurel

Giving opportunities for Unitarian Universalists beyond their local congregations: http://uua.org/giving/index.shtml and http://www.standingonthesideoflove.org/

Money Flows Like A River

Go forth, but return to this community,  
Where rivers of tears may be shed,
Where dry souls are watered,
Where your joy bubbles,
Where your life cup overflows,
Where deep in your spirit you have found in this place a home.              

All rivers run to the sea.  

                                     ~Kayle Rice (excerpt)

Money and water have much in common. –

Think of words abundance, affluence, currency, lavish, bountiful, tributaries, profusion.  All derive from words describing a flowing quality, such as water…energy…resources.

Water is known as the great solvent, cleanser, and purifier.  Water is a highly valued commodity, for it sustains all living things.   It occurs naturally, abundant in some places, scarce in others.  Similarly, money is essential to the health and wellbeing of people and communities.  In today’s world, it is difficult to exist without both of these essential resources.

Among the world’s great religions, philosophical systems, and earth-based traditions, water is an essential element in the teachings and rituals.  With its qualities as solvent, cleanser and purifying agent, water is has been an irresistible symbol and source of inspiration for that which sustains all living things.

Generosity is the essential and sustaining element that must flow through our faith communities so that they may prosper.  Givers in the congregation are like the tributary streams that flow into the river, carrying fresh supply of vital nutrients and abundant life energy.  At the same time, it is important to remember that financial resources, like water, must continue to flow through the congregation and out into the community in healthy, life-sustaining ways.  For when water is stagnant, it can become unhealthy—at times toxic—and unable to nourish living things.   Faith communities function in similar ways to bodies of water.

Let us consider the waters of the Middle East.  The Jordan River is a major river that diverts water from the Sea of Galilee down through valley between Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.  Thermal springs bring salt to the Sea of Galilee, a body of water teeming with life and vitality.  The Jordan River flows over 150 miles from the Sea of Galilee, carrying six million tons of water to the lowest point on the earth’s surface and with no outlet flow, The Dead Sea.  With evaporation occurring in desert heat and thermal springs around the shores of the Dead Sea, there are high concentrations of salt and magnesium.  Despite these high mineral concentrations and their value as commodities, with no flow of fresh water moving through, the Dead Sea is just that:  a stagnant body of water unable to support life beyond micro-organisms.

As people of faith, we must understand the elemental nature of money and enable its steady flow into and through the congregation.  It is money that provides the energy for the congregation’s mission and the essential nutrients to sustain its ministries, programs, infrastructure, and outreach.

The healthy, well-resourced congregation is like a major river with its currency abundantly supplied by its tributary streams, its givers.  Its ministries flow out into the community, lavishly supplying plentiful resources to its surrounding communities.  Without the in-flow and out-flow of money, our congregations cannot flourish.   Just as environmental stewardship is necessary to effectively manage the world’s natural resources like water, so is congregational stewardship.

Sacred texts, poetry and literature are filled with the imagery and metaphorical wisdom to be gleaned from flowing water.  These offer insight and inspiration for congregations seeking to nurture a culture of generosity and promote giving as a beneficial spiritual practice:

 

Thou in thy narrow banks art pent:
The stream I love unbounded goes
Through flood and sea and firmament;
Through light, through life, it forward flows.  (
Emerson’s Two Rivers)

                                ~   ~    ~   ~   ~

At times we flow toward the Beloved like a dancing stream.
At times we are still water held in His pitcher.
At times we boil in a pot turning to vapor –
that is the job of the Beloved.    
(Rumi’s One Whisper of the Beloved)

                                ~   ~    ~   ~   ~

You, Blessed One, are my first love.
The love that is always present, always pure, and freshly new.
And I shall never need a love that will be called “last.”
You are the source of well-being flowing through numberless troubled lives, the water from you spiritual stream always pure, as it was in the beginning.                      (
Thich Naht Hahn, Call me by my true names)

                                ~   ~    ~   ~   ~

Like the water of a deep stream,
love is always too much.
We did not make it.
Though we drink till we burst,
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.  
(Wendell Berry Like the Water)

                                ~   ~    ~   ~   ~

Resources for Nurturing Generosity and Congregational  Stewardship:                          http: //www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/generosity/index.shtml

Shick, Stephen.  Be The Change: Poems, Prayers & Meditations for Peacemakers & Justice Seekers. 2009.  Skinner House Books.  (several readings featuring water imagery.)

Rice, Kayle.  All Rivers Run to the Sea   http://www.uua.org/worship/words/closings/submissions/151326.shtml

Worship Resources, including Water Communion Ceremonies:  http://www.uua.org/worship/holidays/174532.shtml

Water Justice Resources:                                                                                     http://www.uusc.org/environmentaljustice http://www.unicef.org/wash/index_3951.html