President's Perspective

Marty Barrett

April 2018

Dear Friends,

 

"We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all."

This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt was, when I first read it, a decades-old splash of cold water. On its face it says so much about the things that thwart our natural tendencies toward doing good — that our efforts won't be appreciated. 

But it also countenances so many daily inequalities in our lives which may or may not have different contemporary names, from donor fatigue to atychiphobia (Fear of Failure: Why try at all if my goals are unreachable?) to co-dependence.

In the world of personal news platforms and social commentary, we might put too much spin on our caring because we are prepared either for apathy or for a negative, knee-jerk reaction. The backlash against the impressive and fierce Parkland students comes to mind as an example of our culture's destructive antipathy toward simply showing we care, even if our opinions are different. 

In our UU community setting, that quote has a bearing on our occasional rifts that arise among a group of spirited, educated people, each of whom enjoys the simple pleasure of knowing they're right.

We are losing our minister in a few months, and my predecessor in this position also resigned. Two good, able, educated, spirited people. My goal in this gig, the goal of the Board, and the goal of you, the congregation of UUVerdugo is to recommit ourselves to Right Relations with each other, to throw open our doors, to draw seekers to us, and to seek people out. It is very simply the means of our survival. 

Today, ask yourself: Are these differences of opinion insurmountable? Is there a bridge I can build? What is my fear of not being agreed with?

Like that guy Eleanor was married to said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." And we certainly should not be fearful of caring too much. I personally will not point and laugh at you if I see you caring too much. 

Marty Barrett, Board President

 

 

President's Perspective: The True Protest Is Beauty

leonard cohen In an unlikely series of events, the true machinations of which are known only to that mysterious and terrifying organization, I have become president of the Board of Directors of my local Unitarian Church in the scenic, doughnut-rich, and fire-scarred Verdugo Hills of Southern California. As such I am called to write a monthly column for its newsletter. What better way to begin the year than with The Slaughter of the Innocents?

In such an ugly time, the true protest is Beauty On Christmas morning, 2017, I was driving to work and was lucky enough to hear a rebroadcast of an interview with the Canadian poet and troubadour Leonard Cohen. Cohen died in 2016 and the interview had been recorded a few months before he took off. He knew he was dying, was in great pain, yet gamely bestowed a lovely, poignant, and oftentimes hilarious valediction.

Leonard Cohen's Final Interview, September 2016

Among other things, he credited his approach to pain management to his decades-long association with an "alternative" Buddhism in a compound atop California's Mt. Baldy. Cohen said, "It makes whining the least appropriate response to suffering."

Pain and suffering are certainly things to complain about, but the only things we can truly control are our reactions to them. As we make our way into the second year of a presidential administration that at times seems both inevitable and the biggest joke ever played, I think of an exquisite protest song Cohen released in 1969—the year I was born—that puts the slaughter of innocents in a Biblical perspective.

"The Story of Isaac" takes the Old Testament tale of Isaac and his father, Abraham, and turns it into an anti-war message. Though he never mentions the Vietnam conflict raging at the time Cohen, speaking as Isaac, tells "you who build these altars now/To sacrifice these children/You must not do it anymore...A scheme is not a vision/And you never have been tempted/By a demon or a god." Isaac's father, on the other hand, was poised to kill his son for "The Beauty of the Word."

The Story of Isaac, Leonard Cohen

Cohen's simple arrangement of "The Story of Isaac" echoes the 14th century "Coventry Carol," a story of the Nativity that's about as far from "Jingle Bell Rock" as you can get. The "Coventry Carol," as we have come to know it, is a lullaby sung by the mothers of ancient Judaea to their children who are about to be put to death under the orders of King Herod. And how will Herod know of these children? By virtue of the census that is bringing Joseph and soon-to-be teen mom Mary to Bethlehem. The Carol is also known as "The Slaughter of the Innocents."

[caption id="attachment_1148" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]phil ochs "In such an ugly time, the true protest is beauty."—Phi; Ochs[/caption]

A Cohen contemporary, the late songwriter Phil Ochs, was fond of saying, "In such an ugly time, the true protest is Beauty." I'm not alone in thinking that the way we respond to ugly things can often be just as ugly. Social media helps this tendency, as they are data-mining, ad-supported force accelerators. We feel justified in leveling the playing field, scorching the earth, rather than "going high," as Michelle Obama said. We must not do that anymore.

I might not believe in "a demon or a god," but I like the high bar Isaac set for sacrificing the innocents among us, whether those be innocent of wealth, innocent of education, or even innocent of common sense. And I would like to make the righteous protests of my future beautiful ones.

Have a beautiful year.