Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, South Carolina
of you who have been around for a while know that one of my favorite TV series
is The Andy Griffith Show. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina
watching a TV show about fictitious small town in North Carolina. One of my favorite episodes is the one in
which Aunt Bee leaves town to visit a relative.
It’s one of the few times when she actually does something for herself. Usually, she is at Andy and Opie’s beck and
call. Without their live-in maid
service, Andy and Opie make a pig sty of the house. Just before she is due back, however, they
clean and tidy the place immaculately.
As they settle down on the sofa to rest, Opie ponders out loud, “Pa, we
did such a good job cleaning the house that we don’t need Aunt Bee.” Andy realizes that Aunt Bee may very well
feel unwanted and unneeded when she returns, so he and Opie jump up and make a
complete mess of the place. This time
when they relax on the sofa, Opie says, “It sure is a lot more fun making a
mess than cleaning it up.”
can’t relax for long, however, because it’s time to go pick up Aunt Bee at the
bus station. While they are gone, their
nosey neighbor, Clara Edwards, stops by, peeks in, and is appalled at the mess
that Aunt Bee must come home to. So she
thoroughly cleans the house before they get back. When they arrive home, Andy and Opie are
amazed that the house has been miraculously cleaned, and just as Andy had
predicted, Aunt Bee is downcast when she sees how well the boys have managed
without her. While she sits despondently
in the living room, Andy secretly dashes into the kitchen to create a mess, and
he sends Opie upstairs to his room to do the same. Aunt Bee catches both of them, but she
assumes that they are trying to clean up, and she is relieved and delighted
that the kitchen and bedrooms are pig sties and that she is needed after all.
want you to know that I am relieved and delighted that you have not
intentionally or unintentionally created a mess while I was away on sabbatical. In fact, from all reports, it appears that
things have gone extremely well these past six months (hopefully not too well!). That is because many of you have stepped up
and assumed even greater ownership of our congregation, which is as it should
be. A congregation is much more than a
minister or a slate of programs or a set of activities. It is first and foremost a community, and
many of you have invested your time, money, ideas, and energy into making this
a caring community.
want to thank the Rev. Hugh Hammond, who came down from Charlotte to lead
several of our worship services and two workshops. I want to thank our co-presidents, Ivy
Coleman and Robin Scherer, and our Board of Trustees for taking on multiple
extra responsibilities these last few months.
I want to thank Kate Noel Wells and the Worship Committee for planning
and conducting our worship services during the sabbatical. I want to thank Sandy Chubon, the Caring
Committee, and the Listening Ears team for their pastoral care during the
sabbatical. I want to thank the Interior
Committee – Greer Lawson, Jean Capalbo, Regina Moody, and Jim Burton – for
getting our building in the best shape it has ever looked. I want to thank the Shared Ministry Committee
-- Mike Paget, Donald Griggs, Keitha Whitaker, and outgoing member Janet
Swigler – for their overall planning of the sabbatical. I want to thank the most competent,
self-motivated, and dedicated staff that a congregation could possibly
have: Andrea Dudick, Lisa Eason, Ann
Cargill, and Jeff Kruse, who has painted just about everything in this building
that has not moved. Andrea was
apparently envious that she did not get a sabbatical, so she created her own
sabbatical by having back surgery. Her
absence more than mine made this sabbatical a challenge, but you more than met
this challenge with your commitment and devotion.
want to thank every member for this sabbatical because your sacrifice made it possible. Because of your commitment and devotion
during these last six months, I believe we are a stronger, more viable
congregation, and I believe that I will be a stronger, more viable minister.
This sabbatical was fleeting, as I knew it would be. These days are fleeting. Life is fragile, and time is precious. Life is most fulfilling when it is filled with love, and time is most meaningful when it is spent with friends. I am grateful for the opportunity to have had some time away, and I am grateful to be able to come back to loving friends. It's good to be home.
I learned of two significant changes
that are coming to the Southeast District of UU congregations when I attended
the annual district meeting in Charlotte last month, both of which will
directly affect our congregation.
The first is a change in
governance. Our district, along with the
Southwest, Florida, and Mid-South districts, will combine over the next three
years to form the Southern Region. This
will cut costs, the biggest cost being the employment of four District
Executives. (For example, our former DE,
Annette Marquis, has not and will not be replaced now that she has taken a
position with the denomination). What we
gain in return, however, is access to the staff of all four districts, who will
be referred to as Congregational Life Consultants. Each has an area of expertise, like religious
education, stewardship, membership, publicity, etc., that can be called upon as
needed by congregations.
The second change is in our denominational
stewardship. In the past, each UU
congregation contributed separate dues to its district and to the Unitarian
Universalist Association (UUA), and these dues were based on membership
numbers. This year, we will participate
in the Generously Investing for Tomorrow (GIFT) program, in which each
congregation will give a single contribution to be shared by the UUA and the
Southern Region, and this amount will be a percentage of our congregation’s
expenditures. Our UUCC Board has elected
to give at the highest level, 7% of our expenses, which is less than our contribution
under the old system. The advantage of
the new plan is that it will take into account the rises and falls of
congregations’ budgets due to economic booms and recessions.
Both of these changes represent the
covenantal nature of our polity. UU
congregations stand alone in that we are autonomous in calling our ministers,
owning our property, governing ourselves, establishing our own policies and
procedures, etc. But we also stand
together in that we pool our resources and experience to promote the health of
our congregations and to advance the cause of liberal religion in the world.
a week! Congress’ defeat of gun
regulation. The Boston Marathon
bombers. Ricin-laced letters to a
Senator and the President. The
fertilizer plant explosion in Texas. A
heckling reporter interrupts the President during a Rose Garden speech. If it weren’t for bad news, we’d have no news
at all. I’m still stunned and sickened
by the inability of Congress to pass simple, prudent gun regulation – an
expanded background check to flag people who shouldn’t have their hands on a
gun – a reasonable measure supported by 90% of the American people. When do 90% of Americans ever agree on
anything? The best response in my book
is this satirical report by Andy Borowitz the day after the vote.
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz
Report)—In the halls of the United States Senate, dozens of Senators
congratulated themselves today for having what one of them called “the courage
and grit to stand up to the overwhelming wishes of the American people.”
“We kept hearing, again and again, that
ninety per cent of the American people wanted us to vote a certain way,” said
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). “Well, at the end of the
day, we decided that we weren’t going to cave in to that kind of
“It was a gut check, for sure, but we
had to draw a line in the sand,” agreed Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S. Carolina).
“If we had voted the way the American people wanted us to, it would have sent
the message that we’re here in Washington to be nothing more than their elected
Calling yesterday’s Senate action “a
bipartisan effort,” Senator Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas) said, “This proves that on
a matter that affects the safety of every man, woman, and child in the nation,
we can reach across the aisle to defy the interests of all of them.”
Senator McConnell agreed that
yesterday’s vote “sent a powerful message,” adding, “If the American people
think that just because they voted us into office and pay our salaries,
benefits, and pensions, we are somehow obliged to listen to them, they are
“Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there's a man who sits
behind a counter and says, ‘All right, you can have a telephone but you lose
privacy and the charm of distance.
Madam, you may vote but at a price.
You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your
petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the
air, but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of
gasoline.’” -- Henry Drummond, Inherit
It’s become a congregational joke that nearly
everyone in Columbia has a key to our building.
The locks on our doors are the original circa 1950s locks, and there’s
only one establishment left in town that can make duplicate keys to fit
them. I wonder how many dozens of
duplicates have been made since the UUCC moved into the Tree of Life synagogue
back in 1985. Each year, we give out
keys to new Board members and committee chairs and rental groups, and we try
our best to retrieve them after members have served their terms and groups have
had their events, but inevitably many keys stay “out there.”
Obviously, “lost keys” present a safety concern,
along with the fact that sometimes a door remains accidentally unlocked after
an event. Thank you, Kevin Eason, Walter
Patterson, and the Building & Grounds Committee, for coming up with a
solution. Soon they will oversee the
installation of press bars (to permit easy egress in case of emergencies,
especially for children) and self-closing mechanisms (to insure that each door
automatically locks whenever someone enters or leaves the building). Instead of handing out keys, a coded keypad
will be installed on the doors to the RE wing, and individuals and groups will
be given a code to enter our building.
I see this as just one of many changes, big and
small, that we are undergoing as our congregation continues to grow and as we
continue to adjust to our growth. I love
the energy and vitality of our increasing numbers. I love the increasing opportunities our growth
brings with it – more programs, more classes, more groups, more occasions for
learning, for growing, and for bonding for all ages. I am particularly aware of the increased
opportunities for our children.
But let’s be honest about a shadow side to growth. It comes with a price. Every step forward necessitates leaving
something behind. What we leave behind
is the cozy, comfortable, extended family-feel of being a small
congregation. It is no longer possible
to know everyone personally and to have a personal relationship with
everyone. Let’s acknowledge that this is
a loss, and it is a loss keenly felt by those who have been around for a long
while and remember the good-old-days of being a small congregation. This is the paradox of growth. The cozy, comfortable, extended family-feel
of being a small congregation is what attracts new people, but growing
membership makes us cease to be a small congregation.
This doesn’t mean we can no longer experience the
warmth and intimacy of community. It
means we experience community in a different way – not as a single,
everyone-knows-each-other group, but through various groups and
connections. Our sense of community will
no longer be automatic; it will have to be intentional. It will require your investment of your time
and energy in one of the many classes, committees, or small groups that are
springing up due to our larger size. So
get involved … for your own fulfillment as much as for the health of our
congregation. You’ll no longer get a
key, but you may gain a friend or two, as well as a spiritual home.
Rev. Dr. Neal Jones
Yesterday, I was invited as the
president of Columbia's chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church
& State to speak at the Statehouse rally in support of marriage
equality. This week there are over 170
such events in all 50 states, as the Supreme Court hears arguments concerning
the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8,
both of which deny marriage to same-sex couples. This is not only a national issue but it's
very much a local issue, as well: there
are 135,000 same-sex couples in South Carolina without equal protection under
the law. Here is what I said:
"There are moral, legal, financial, and commonsensical
reasons to repeal DOMA and Prop 8. There
is also a Constitutional reason. They
violate the First Amendment. The First
Amendment of the Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion."
The First Amendment ensures that our government will neither inhibit nor
promote a religious belief or practice.
DOMA and Prop 8 are blatant
violations of the First Amendment because they enshrine into law one particular
religious definition of marriage -- marriage between a man and a woman -- a
definition which denies same-sex couples over one thousand rights and benefits
of civil marriage.
Under the Constitution, all religious groups have the right
to define marriage within their own religious communities, but they do not have
the right impose their particular definition of marriage on the rest of
society. Various religious groups
prohibit marriage after divorce, but under the Constitution, they cannot impose
their religious restrictions on civil marriage for all. Various religious groups prohibit interfaith
marriage, but under the Constitution, they cannot impose their religious
restrictions on civil marriage for all. In
the past, various religious groups prohibited interracial marriage, but the
Supreme Court has ruled they that could not impose their religious restrictions
on civil marriage for all.
If the Supreme Court decides to honor the First Amendment,
it will strike down DOMA and Prop 8 and rule once again that particular
religious groups cannot impose their particular beliefs and practices on the
rest of us."
Dr. Neal Jones
I'm an animal lover, so the story of
Lawrence Anthony touches me deeply.
Anthony was known in South Africa and around the world as the
"Elephant Whisperer" because he bravely rescued and rehabilitated
elephants and other wildlife all over the globe from human atrocities,
including his courageous rescue of Baghdad Zoo animals during the U.S. invasion
of Iraq in 2003. Anthony died exactly
one year ago. He is remembered and
missed by his wife, two sons, two grandsons … and apparently by numerous
Two days after his death, herds of
wild elephants started showing up at his home.
In all, 31 elephants walked patiently and slowly in a solemn one-by-one procession
for 12 miles to get to his South African house to pay their last respects and
honor their dear friend who had saved their lives. The elephants had not been to his house prior
to that day for well over three years!
They stayed for two days and nights without eating, and then the next
morning they left, making the long journey back to their habitat.
How did they know of Anthony's
death? Clearly, they possess a depth of
memory, emotion, and intuition that we
humans don't ordinarily recognize in other species.
things strike me about this story. First
of all, it reminds me that our deep sense of empathy and connection
may be cultivated by culture and religion, but they are not given to us by
culture and religion. Our sense of
empathy and connection appear to be biologically and genetically based. Not only elephants but other evolutionary
ancestors appear to exhibit rudimentary empathetic behavior, as well. Dolphins will push a sick or injured member
of the pod to the surface so they can catch their breath. Whales will defend a wounded whale by
circling it and striking the water with their flukes in order to ward off
fishing boats. Chimpanzees share their
food, and after a conflict, chimps not involved in the conflict will touch,
hug, and groom the combatants, especially the ones most upset. Rhesus monkeys, the primates with which we
share nearly identical DNA, will choose to go hungry rather than pull a chain
that delivers food to them but delivers a shock to another monkey.
I find the innateness of empathy to be extremely reassuring. It means that our Unitarian forebears were
wise in rejecting the Calvinistic doctrine of original sin, that old belief
that you and I and Gandhi and the Dalai Lama are born in sin, that we are
inherently flawed and defective, as if sinfulness were a part of our
biology. This is why traditional
Christianity says that we need a savior to save us from our sin. Instead, it appears as though evolution has
planted within us a moral intuition like a seed and that our families,
communities, cultures, and religions provide the rain, sunshine, and soil for
the seed to blossom into mature empathy for most of us. This would make us naturally good. Sometimes, of course, nature goes awry and
not everyone is born with a fully functioning brain. Sometimes the familial, communal, or
religious conditions are not favorable.
But most people do turn out kind and decent, just as we are hard-wired
to do. Criminals make headlines
precisely because they are the exception to the rule.
this story reminds me that we should honor our grief. I am very much aware that in our culture of
immediate gratification, we typically try to rush through our losses. We typically encourage grieving
people to “get on with their lives” and to “live in the future, not the past”
because grief makes us feel uncomfortable.
For instance, many men and women rush into a new relationship before
they’ve given themselves time to recover from an old relationship. If you don’t give yourself that time, you
will bring all the unfinished business of the previous relationship into your
new relationship, which means that you will not be fully present with your new
I don't think we can fully
embrace the new until we let go of the old, and before we can let go of the
old, we need to sit with it for a while, taking the time to cry, to reminisce
the good times and the bad, to ache what you miss and feel relief over what you
no longer miss. How long is long
enough? As with many things in life, it
depends. It depends on the quality and
"quantity" of the lost relationship.
The more the person meant to you and the longer you were in relationship
with him or her, the longer it will take to recover. I know many people like to say that a year is
long enough to grieve, but I think when it comes to matters of the heart, we
should trust our internal calendar.
Isaiah says that "a
little child shall lead them."
Maybe sometimes we're led by elephants.
Rev. Dr. Neal Jones
of 20 elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, has jump-started a
national conversation about gun violence.
President Obama is proposing what appears to me as reasonable
regulations -- a national background check, a ban on assault weapons, and a
limit on ammunition magazine capacity.
Unfortunately, the National Rifle Association and NRA-supported
politicians, including several in our South Carolina General Assembly, are
proposing the use of still more guns to curb gun violence, including arming
teachers and putting armed guards in schools.
after the Newtown massacre, an intriguing incident occurred at Taft High School
in California. A science teacher, Ryan
Heber, 40, stood face-to-face with his 16-year-old student, who was holding a
shotgun. The student had already shot
another student, and Heber had no idea whether the armed student, whose pockets
were filled with ammunition, would shoot him.
He spoke calmly to the teen, allowing the other students in the
classroom to escape, and finally persuaded him to put the gun down. "To stand there and face someone that
has a shotgun, who's already discharged it and shot a student, speaks volumes
for this young man and what he may have prevented," says Kern County
Sheriff Donny Youngblood. Heber,
however, hates the term "hero."
He tells CNN that he doesn't want to be labeled anything except
Heber isn't surprised that his son played a key role in defusing the situation,
telling CNN that Ryan makes a point of getting to know his students, including
the gunman, on a personal level.
"Because he knows the boy and the boy knows him … I attribute that
to why the boy talked and listened to my son," David Heber says. "It's all about kindness. It's all about my son being kind and caring
about his students that makes this successful."
wonder how this incident would have ended if California allowed teachers to
bring guns to school or if Taft High School had an armed guard. It seems to me that there are some things that
happened here that are worth paying attention to. A teacher cared about his students and took
the time to get to know them, and a dangerous student knew that his teacher
cared about him, so he listened to him.
from the risks of having armed teachers and the costs of having armed guards, I
wonder what kinds of lessons the presence of guns in schools would teach. That the answer to violence is violence? That might makes right? That human beings are acceptable targets for
bullets? Are these the kinds of lessons
we want to teach our children?
we could take some lessons from John Lewis, who was beaten by an Alabama state
trooper on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965. Rush Limbaugh says that Lewis should have
used a gun to protect himself. Here is
Lewis' response to Limbaugh:
"Our goal in the Civil
Rights Movement was not to injure or destroy but to build a sense of community,
to reconcile people to the true oneness of all humanity. African Americans in the ‘60s could have
chosen to arm themselves, but we made a conscious decision not to. We were convinced that peace could not be
achieved through violence. Violence
begets violence, and we believed the only way to achieve peaceful ends was
through peaceful means. We took a stand
against an unjust system, and we decided to use this faith as our shield and
the power of compassion as our defense."
State Senator Lee Bright is introducing a bill to create a
gun class for South Carolina high schoolers.
"I believe the more guns we have the safer we are," says
Bright. The "SC Gun Safety
Program" would teach students how to use firearms properly, safety
techniques, and the history of the Second Amendment. Wouldn't it be great if we offered classes,
instead, to teach children how to use nonviolence properly, the techniques of
building healthy relationships and a sense of community, and the history of the
Civil Rights movement, peace movements, and other movements to advance
For my future, I'd rather hire more teachers like Ryan
Heber than armed guards.
December 2, you gathered for a congregational meeting and voted to
"call" me as your minister.
What exactly does that mean?
Before now, I have served as your minister on a contractual basis, and
we have renewed that contract at the beginning of each fiscal year for the last
eight years. We have been doing it this
way because my ordination and ministerial standing were with another
denomination. During these last few
years, I have been reading, writing, and studying for my UU ministerial
credentials and finally passed my final examination by the UUA's Ministerial
Fellowship Committee in December 2011.
With those credentials in hand, I am now eligible to be "called"
by a UU congregation, or hired to serve as minister on a permanent basis. Serving as a contractual minister is, as we
say back home, like "shacking up," living with one another without a
formal commitment. Being called is like
getting married, making an intentional commitment to stand by each other over
the long haul.
it's time for the wedding. The
installation service will be Sunday, January 27, at 4:00, and what a wedding it
will be! There will be a ceremony --
ours will be an act of installation, presided over by our president, Ann
Johnson. There will be a processional
and recessional -- ours will involve about twenty visiting ministers wearing
their clerical robes. Since I don't have
a clerical robe, I'm hoping a bathrobe will do
(Just kidding. Thanks to Barbara
Beeler, I will have a real robe.) There
will be music -- all three of our choirs will be performing, the Adult Choir,
Bon Voyage, and the Junior Choir. Plus,
we will be singing two of my favorite hymns, God of Grace and God of Glory and We'll Build a Land.
We will have out-of-town
guests. The Rev. Barry Lynn, Executive
Director of Americans United for Separation of Church & State, will deliver
the installation sermon. I have been a
member of AU all 26 years I have been a minister, and I got to know Barry when
I agreed to be one of four ministers who were plaintiffs in AU's lawsuit to halt South Carolina's explicitly
religious "I Believe" license plate.
I have gotten to know him more intimately these last couple of years while
serving on AU's national Board of Trustees.
The Rev. Dan King, who is my "mentor minister" in this stage
of "preliminary fellowship" as a UU minister, will also be
speaking. Many of you know Dan from when
he was president of our congregation many years ago and then when he was
director of the UU Mountain Retreat Center and pastor of the Augusta UU. Another speaker will be Rep. Gilda
Cobb-Hunter, whom I regard as the conscience of our General Assembly. I have gotten to know Gilda through my work
on behalf of various social justice causes in the community. And there will be friends from my bygone days
in North Carolina and Texas, as well as current friends from Columbia.
the service, we will have a reception in our social hall. Thankfully, the reception will not be left up
to me. If it were, we would probably
have Vienna sausages and fried bologna.
This will be a real reception catered by a real chef, Jeff Kruse.
want to thank our planning committee -- Sandy Chubon, Marcia Fletcher, Ann
Johnson, Janet Swigler, and Sue Thayer -- and the one hundred individuals and
couples who gave donations to make this wedding possible. And I want to thank you for taking a chance
eight years ago on a Baptist preacher.
Mickey Rooney, Ron Howard, and Neil Patrick Harris, I was a child actor. In every Christmas play at every Christmas, I
was either a shepherd or a wise man.
Although these two characters may be at opposite ends of the
socioeconomic ladder, they dressed the same -- they wore bathrobes. My childhood image of the wise men was that although
they may have been parched and sweaty from traversing an ocean of sand, they still
looked comfortable and suave in their bathrobes, kind of like Hugh Hefner on
have a confession to make (and who doesn't like hearing a minister make a
confession?). I don't like the story of
the wise men. It's too neat and
tidy. They see their star, which they
follow doggedly and single-mindedly, and it leads them to their destination. They see the light, give thanks, and go home.
Their journey is over.
spiritual journey has rarely been like that.
The stars I have followed have usually been partial and incomplete, sometimes
a dead-end and sometimes disappointing. The
best laid plans of mice and men and of Neal Jones have often gone awry. For me, there has been no final word on the "truth,"
even when that word has come from a holy book or a holy person or a holy
tradition. Even on the occasions when the
stars which I have followed have been worthwhile and I have reached them, there
have always been other stars just beyond the horizon.
spiritual journeys never end. The quest
for truth and meaning is never finished.
Recently, I was looking through a file of sermons written over twenty
years ago. I was impressed with some but
embarrassed by others. I shook my head
when I looked at how I used to perceive life and conceive truth, and I suspect
that twenty years from now when I look over today's sermons, I may be shaking
my head again. But that's encouraging
because it means I'm still growing. It
gives me hope to know that there will be other stars that will shed new light,
or as liberal theologians used to say, revelation is not sealed; it's ongoing.
magi are the patron saints of fundamentalists because fundamentalists of all
stripes -- religious, political, scientific, atheist -- get all their light
from one star, and they refuse to admit light from any other source. That's because it's more important for them
to remain true to their ideology than to be open to realities that may cause
them to change their course, as well as their minds.
magi are not my patron saints. Chuck Noland
is. He is the character portrayed by Tom
Hanks in the movie Cast Away. Noland is a FedEx employee whose plane
crashes in the South Pacific, leaving him stranded on an island. For four years, he repeatedly attempts to
escape with makeshift rafts, but his forays are foiled by the rough surf.
one day, the unexpected happens. The waves
wash up a piece of a port-a-john, which he uses as the sail for a raft that is
able to get him past the surf and eventually home. When his friends ask him how he was able to
hang onto hope, he says, "Because I knew that tomorrow the sun would rise,
and who knows what the tide will bring?”
hard to say what the tide may bring. Sometimes
it brings something to celebrate. Sometimes it brings something to dread. Always it brings something unexpected.
have learned and I am still learning to make room in my life for the unexpected
because the journey is far more important than the destination and the
destination is always being redefined by what happens along the way. Or as John Lennon puts it, "Life is what
happens to you while you're busy making other plans." I admire the single-mindedness and tenacity
of the wise men, but I prefer to ride through life on my camel, wearing my
bathrobe, with Chuck Noland by my side.
can still remember Christmas when I was 10.
I received a brand new, bright blue bicycle with a banana seat. I quickly embellished it with playing cards
attached to the back frame with clothes pins so that they would slap the
rotating spokes of the back wheel, sounding like a motorcycle to my ears. I was the James Dean of Smithfield, at least
in my mind.
a kid, Christmas was the most exciting day of the year. Full of anticipation, I could hardly get to
sleep on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas morning, I would awake while it was
still dark to see if Santa had indeed fulfilled the wish-list I had shared with
him on his lap at Roses dime store. More
often than not, he did.
a kid, Christmas was all about receiving gifts, but as an adult, the focus has
shifted to giving as well as receiving.
I have given gifts with various motives.
Sometimes I have given out of obligation, because I was “supposed to”
due to family ties or social convention.
There is not much joy involved with these kinds of gifts. Such gifts feel more like items you check off
your to-do list, and whatever joy you feel is a sense of relief at having
gotten this out of the way. Sometimes I
have given because of the law of reciprocity, the expectation that a good turn
deserves one in response. I can't
explain exactly why, but it feels wrong not to reciprocate when someone gives
something to you. Maybe it's a way
keeping a relationship in balance, as if to show the other person that you're
not a moocher and that you're holding up your end of the relationship,
I have gotten older, I give more and more gifts out of a sense of
gratitude. Maybe the losses we endure
along the way make us appreciate what we have and cause us not to take what we
have for granted. Maybe we realize along
the way that we're not so self-sufficient after all, that we wouldn't have made
it this far if it had not been for so many helping hands along the way, pulling
us up when we fall and pulling us along when run out of confidence. I catch myself saying “Thank you” more often,
and I often wish to express my appreciation more tangibly. But it feels socially awkward to give someone
a gift out of the blue. Christmas,
however, provides the perfect excuse.
still like receiving gifts at Christmas, but there has been an internal
shift. Now I relish giving gifts. Some people describe gift-giving as giving
yourself to another, but I see it differently.
I see gift-giving as putting yourself aside and putting another front
and center. You can't know what to give
another unless you know the person, and this takes time, attention, and
discernment. What another person wants
is not always so apparent and it's not what I would necessarily want. You know you've hit the mark when he or she
opens your present and reacts with a genuine smile. I believe they smile not just because they
have received something they like but because they recognize I have made the
effort to know them. And that makes me
suppose all gift-giving is reciprocal in the sense that we get something in
return, even if just a smile. Receiving
joy in exchange for giving joy. Not a
hoping you enjoy such bargains this Christmas,