2012-04-04

The Thing to Do With One Glove

Service is rewarding and meaningful. Providing opportunities for life-enriching service is a key part of this faith community I love. Weeks occasionally come where you might spend 20, 30, 40 hours on a project of this Fellowship. And you do it gladly, joyfully. You go home at the end of long days of Fellowship work and collapse on the bed with a smile on your face. That generosity with our time and energy feels good. As long as such days and such weeks don't come too often.

Some of our volunteer work isn’t so concentrated -- it might be extensive rather than intensive. Serving as our president, for example, might mean 10 hours a week average -- every week for two years. That can be tremendously fulfilling, and I feel good about our Fellowship being a place that offers an opportunity for meaningful service at that level.

I don't feel good about putting our wonderful volunteers in positions that oblige them work beyond those levels that are fulfilling, wholesome, rewarding, and joyous. Our Fellowship is about transformation through service, about spiritual deepening through learning together, worshiping together, engaging in spiritual practice, and serving. We need our Fellowship to be NOT about burn-out. I am concerned that some of our volunteers, bless their beloved and loving hearts, are pushed beyond "transformative service" into "working too hard."

So dream with me. Expanded staff means expanded programs. Our wonderful sexuality education program, called OWL, for Our Whole Lives, could be offered continuously – Gainesville needs some place offering that to the whole community, and we’re the only place that can. We could add a religious education assistant, more music assistants, a sexton. "If we were a wealthy church."

These are extrinsic benefits of your generosity. Generosity is much more that. It is a central spiritual practice for blessing your own life. Let me illustrate. Here's a story I heard a few years ago that impressed the heck out of me:

A woman was getting off the subway in Washington, DC. on a cold winter’s day. She was clutching one glove and fishing around in her coat pocket for the other one as she walks. It wasn't in her coat pocket. She was several steps onto the platform when she spun around to look back into the train car. She clearly saw her other glove sitting on the seat that she just left. The doors started to close. There was no way to get back in time. So she took the glove she had and flung it back into the train – just as the doors closed.

Such a logical thing to do. Let somebody have a full pair. Would you have done that? Me, I’m in awe of that capacity – that spontaneous generosity of spirit.

I have the thought to do that. I have the values, I endorse the principles, to have thrown that glove back on the train. If I were taking a multiple-choice survey, and I came to the question, "What would be the best thing to do in that situation? A., curse the bad luck and continue on your way with your one glove; B, march immediately to the information booth report the lost item and inquire whether subway officials might look for it and hold it for you; C, shout desperately for someone on the train to throw the glove back out to you; or D, throw your glove into the train;" I would answer D. Seeing it on paper, that’s pretty clearly the way to go.

So why do I doubt I’d have been able to actually do it?

In the bustle of the moment, so much going on, thinking about getting to where I’m going, I would have to rely on my habits rather than the sort of considered judgment I could use in calm setting of a paper and pencil test. Most of our lives are run by our habits, not by decisions we make in a calm, removed setting in answer to questions about hypothetical situations. So if you want to be generous, if you want to live out a spirit of open and loving generosity, the habit of generosity must be carefully developed and nurtured through long practice.

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Part 3 of "Celebrate!"
Next: Part 4: "How to Become Generous"
Previous: Part 2: "If We Were a Rich Church"
Beginning: Part 1: "Unitarian Universalism: Welcome Home"