The ongoing effects

Last night I was trying to explain to Carol about the lingering effects of COVID burnout on the helping professions. She pointed out that many trends that were supposedly caused by COVID were simply existing trends that accelerated during lockdown. But I’m pretty sure that it actually was COVID that contributed to increased burnout in the helping professions.

The healthcare professions are an obvious example. During the first year of the COVID pandemic, doctors, nurses, and others who worked directly with COVID patients saw an increased workload, and an increased risk of infection. There were also healthcare professionals who had a very different experience of COVID — I knew a dermatologist who saw a substantial decrease in their workload during lockdown, although that decrease brought separate concerns of declining income, etc. On the whole, though, a significant number of health professionals left their profession, and reports are that there’s still a labor shortage in much of the healthcare system.

Mental health professionals saw their workload peak a bit later in the pandemic, as many people began to have mental health problems isolation caused by lockdown. We’re still seeing a high rate of depression, anxiety disorder, and other mental health problems, and mental health professionals may still be feeling overwhelmed by the lingering aftereffects of the pandemic. The end result is that someone seeking mental health care can wait weeks for an appointment.

I know less about other helping professions, but I suspect that other professions also saw increased burnout. For example, it seems likely that many social workers — depending on their specialty — also experienced burnout during COVID due to increased workload and increased job pressures.

This brings us to clergy. From what I’m seeing and hearing, clergy are also subject to COVID burnout, just like the other helping professions. In 2021, 42% of clergy reported considering leaving ministry. I suspect there were several reasons for this. Sociologist Scott Thuma has outlined some of the stresses on clergy during the pandemic: increased conflict in the congregation, increased demand for food and other assistance, increased mental health problems, and learning new ways to do ministry. I’ve watched as more Unitarian Universalist (UU) ministers than usual have left the profession over the past couple of years. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn other UU ministers are just quiet quitting.

Beyond all this, all people in the helping professions can experience the trauma or secondary trauma that everyone in society is experiencing. The epidemic of mental illness that began during lockdown continues today — we’re all feeling the effects.

I know I’m still feeling the effects. I had to put in some extra hours this week. This is normal for ministers; some weeks we have to work long hours, other weeks there’s less for us to do. Pre-COVID, I had no problem working a few extra hours. But this week, those extra hours really tired me out; I don’t have the reserves of energy I used to have pre-COVID.

I don’t have a call to action for you. Nor do I have an easy solution for clergy burnout. Nor do I mean to imply that clergy somehow have it worse than anyone else in society. I think my only point is that we all need to be understanding of each other’s ongoing stress, as the effects of the pandemic continue.

Filling the church-shaped hole

In an opinion piece on the Washington Post website, Percy Bacon, Jr., talks about why he stopped going to a Christian church: “I couldn’t ignore how the word ‘Christian’ was becoming a synonym for rabidly pro-Trump White people who argued that his and their meanness and intolerance were somehow justified and in some ways required to defend our [Christian] faith.”

That’s not the only reason Bacon stopped attending church during the Trump years. He also discovered that his church wouldn’t allow LGBTQ+ people to lead small groups. And he started reading leftist Black intellectuals who were openly skeptical about religion. Bacon contacted Daniel Cox, director of the Survey Center on American Life, who told him: “Your experience is very typical. Most people who disaffiliate do not cite a single precipitating factor. It’s more of a fading away from religion rather than a dramatic break.”

Bacon goes on to say: “People have told me to become a Unitarian Universalist. Unitarian churches I have attended had overwhelmingly White and elderly congregations and lacked the wide range of activities for adults and kids found at the Christian congregations that I was a part of. But they have a set of core beliefs that are aligned with more left-leaning people (‘justice, equity and compassion in human relations,’ for example) without a firm theology. I’ve also thought about starting some kind of weekly Sunday-morning gathering of Nones… or trying to persuade my friends to collectively attend one of the Unitarian churches in town and make it younger and more racially diverse. But I’ve not followed through on any of these options….”

In short, Bacon hasn’t found a good way to fill what he calls the “church-shaped hole” in his life. He adds, “It’s strange to me that America, particularly its left-leaning cohort, is abandoning this institution, as opposed to reinventing to align with our 2023 values.”

I appreciate his response to Unitarian Universalism, which can be summed up as: “Mm, yeah no….good set of core values, but too White and too old.”

As an old White guy, sometimes that’s my feeling about Unitarian Universalism. It’s too bad that we can’t realign Unitarian Universalism to our 2023 values of supporting children and young adults, and not being entirely White.

“Self Made Man”

Back in the 1960s, a young John Hartford recorded a fragment of a song called “Self Made Man” (it was released in 2019 in a posthumous album). Then in 1971, Hartford made a nice arrangement for it and recorded the song on his album “Radio John.” It’s a witty satire of those rich men who think they are self-made, though really their rise to financial success has come at the expense of others: “How many fingers must he step on, to do the best he can… Have you seen the bones his closet holds, Do you watch hi when he sharpens his knife?” It was a pretty good song, even though it was really just a fragment of a song.

Fast forward to 2022. Rachel Baiman, a young country and old-timey musician based in Nashville, decided to fill out Hartford’s song. She added another verse, for the women in the lives of “self-made men,” which manages to duplicate some of Hartford’s wit and sparkle:

Do you think you want to sit around and play a part
In the corner of his self made life
Stand by his side patiently
And try to be his perfect little wife?
Will you tell him that he’s done everything right
And that he should never take the blame
For the people cast off and trampled on,
Just because they got in his way?
How many men do you think it takes to make a self made man….

Huh. Reminds me of certain billionaires who are in the news right now.

Then Baiman added another melody for the chorus, which Hartford had just sung to the same melody as the verses. She has turned the song into an infectious sing-along song that challenges the prevailing mythos of the current economic order. (You won’t be surprised to learn that Baiman was raised by parents who belonged to the Democratic Socialist party.)

Worth listening to, and worth singing along to.

Screen shot of a video of Baiman performing the song in a sound studio.
Continue reading ““Self Made Man””


The great showman P. T. Barnum knew the value of free publicity. He told many stories about himself to demonstrate that, and indeed his entire autobiography is an exercise in self-promotion and advertisement. In his book The Art of Getting Money, Barnum addressed this point with a statement that seems eeriely relevant in today’s political climate:

“I say if a man has got goods for sale, and he don’t advertise them in some way, the chances are that some day the sheriff will do it for him.”

And in fact the great showman of 2023, Donald Trump, got the Fulton County, Georgia, sheriff’s office to give him some of the best publicity he’s ever had — that now-famous mugshot, taken when Trump turned himself in at the Fulton County jail.

Old white guys in power find it easy to get publicity for just about anything they do. For example, compare Trump to me. Sure, I’m an old white guy, but I’m not in a position of power. So if I got arrested in Fulton County for racketeering, and my mugshot made it onto social media, I’d probably just lose my job. By contrast, when Trump’s mugshot gets spread around the interwebs, it just puts him that much closer to winning the presidential election.

Caricature of Donal Trump's mugshot, in which he is smiling. The text behind him reads: "That stupid Fani thinks she's so smart. This is the best [crossed out word] publicity I could get. My [crossed out word] stupid followers will eat this up. I [crossed out word] love free publicity."

UU author wins award

The Before Columbus Foundation (BCF) was founded in 1976 “dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of contemporary American multicultural literature.” Their annual award, the American Book Award, is given by writers to other writers. Though not as well known as the National Book Award, winning this award puts you in august company. Previous recipients of the American Book Award include Edward Said, Joy Harjo, and Toni Morrison. Current members of BCF’s board of directors include Ishmael Reed, Joy Harjo, and other respected writers.

This year’s awards were recently announced. Poet Everett Hoagland won an award for his recent collection of poetry, The Ways: Poems of Affirmation, Reflection and Wonder (North Star Nova Press, 2022); other award winners included Maxine Hong Kingston and bell hooks.

Some of the poems in Everett’s collection appeared in UU World magazine; Everett’s a member of First Unitarian in New Bedford, Mass. I got to see the book in manuscript, and loved it (Everett even invited me to write the foreword). Also, there are plenty of poems here that would work well in a Unitarian Universalist worship service, so if you’re a minister or religious educator you might want to pick up a copy.

Unfortunately, about the only place you can buy the book is through Amazon. My spouse the writer does Not Like Amazon, so I won’t provide a link here. But you can easily find it. Go buy a copy. You’ll be glad you did.

Book cover of "The Ways"

More photos from the renovation of a 1721 house

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I took some more photos this morning of the renovation of First Parish in Cohasset’s 1721 Parish House. No more surprises today. The cladding that was removed yesterday — 5/4 pine milled to mimic stone — is associated with Colonial Revival, an architectural style of the mid- to late nineteenth century. So the appearance we had become accustomed to was really a nineteenth century invention.

By this morning, the original framing was clearly revealed. The framing is beautiful in its own right. Here are some photos:

House with siding removed, which exposes the old timber framing
With the clapboards and nogging removed, the framing is clearly visible
Close up photo of framing
Joint between the girt and the post at the northeast corner of the house — you can see a treenail (or trunnel) and other details of the framing
Close up of framing
The girt with second floor joists and wall studs

It’s fun to speculate what the front facade of the building looked like in 1721. Based on what we’ve seen so far, and based on what would have been typical of that era, I’m guessing that the windows had smaller panes, and were somewhat differently proportioned (in my imagination, the second floor windows were double hung windows with 9 over 9 sash, and the first floor windows were 12 over 9). There were no pediments over the windows. The cladding was thin graceful clapboards, perhaps with no paint, nailed on with forged nails that had large heads. There were probably no corner boards, and it’s unlikely there was a front vestibule. All of the wood used to construct the house was cut from local trees, and the brick-and-mortar noggin was also of local manufacture. The glass would have been hand-blown, and therefore slightly wavy.

All this raises the difficult question of how we should restore historic buildings. Even if we knew exactly what the building looked like (and we can’t be sure), First Parish does not have the budget to purchase authentic windows with hand-blown glass and hand-made sash and frame. Nor would such windows be energy-efficient. I suspect the neighbors would not like it if we left the facade unpainted; white paint is de rigueur in New England historic districts. Even if unpainted clapboards were acceptable, we would not be able to find old-growth Eastern White Pine, and something like unpainted Western Red Cedar would look wrong. I suspect we would also receive pushback if we had no corner boards (plus, we would have to change the siding around each corner to match, which would add even more to the expense).

In my experience, historic renovation is always a compromise between historically informed research and current aesthetic standards, between practicality and community standards, between what would be nice or best and what the building owner can actually afford. The best way to reach an appropriate compromise is through community review (i.e., going through the Historic District Commission), accompanied by good-faith efforts on the part of the owner of the building.

Renovating a 1721 building, and what we found

We’re completing the final stage of renovations on our historic buildings. The renovation began in 2021 with extensive repairs to the 1747 Meeting House. Now we’re working on repairing the crumbling facade of the Parish House, which was built in 1721 by Nehemiah Hobart, the first minister of First Parish. The Livingstone Company arrived today to begin work.

And we ran into a big surprise.

The front facade was wood milled to resemble masonry blocks. Here’s a 1936 photo showing the facade (click on any photo to see a larger image):

Detail from an old photo
1936 Historic American Building Survey photo of the 1721 Nehemiah Hobart House in Cohasset

But there was something completely different underneath that.

Under the existing cladding, we found old clapboards. So the front facade was originally covered with clapboards!

Not only that, but the clapboards that were uncovered may be the original 1721 clapboards. They’re attached to the house with what may be hand-made cut nails with forged heads. Each clapboard is about three and a half feet long, and the butt ends are feathered where they overlap. The outer faces of these old clapboards are well weathered, and it appears that they were never painted. [Update, 8/22: A neighbor stopped by who has a graduate degree in historic architecture. He believes the clapboards are pre-Revolutionary War, but later than 1721. He believes they’re from the 1760s.]

Here are some photos to show you what we found:

The front of the Parish House with the old clapboards revealed
The front of the Parish House showing the remaining original clapboards
Close-up of clapboards
Detail showing how the butt ends of the clapboards are carefully overlapped

There were some more surprises.

Under the clapboards, the spaces between the frame of the house were filled with old brick and mortar (called “nogging”). Some of the bricks appear to be quite old — not the modern water-struck brick, but irregular bricks that may have been hand-made. This apparently served as insulation and/or fireproofing for the house.

Close-up of clapboards with ruler to show size
The old clapboards nailed to the house frame, with bricks and mortar under the clapboards — you can also see the back side of the lath and plaster of the inside the house

And there were still more surprises in store.

When the triangular pediments over the first floor windows were removed, it appears that the original opening was for taller windows. We were pretty sure that the windows on the front facade were not original (the sash appear to date from the nineteenth century), and this may confirm that supposition.

You could also see where the ends of the floor joists for the second floor were mortised into the girt or cross-wise beam. Notice how the original window frame apparently went right up to the girt, and the opening has been blocked in with a piece of lumber that is machine sawn, not hand hewn. This means the original first floor windows were probably significantly taller than the existing ones. And you can see a builder’s mark, “XII,” which would have indicated which beam went with which post when erecting the finished posts and beams.

Close-up of framing and clapboards over a window
Above the window just to the left of the front door — the builder’s mark is chiseled into the girt above the left edge of the window

We’re now in the process of consulting with the Cohasset Historic District Commission. We received a permit from them based on replacing wood milled to mimic stone. But it’s now clear that this was a much later addition to the building. (I’m guessing it was added at least a hundred years after the house was built, i.e., in the nineteenth century.)

In any case, it has been an exciting day today, as we learned a lot more about our historic 1721 Parish House.

I’ll include a couple more photos below, for those who can’t get enough of historic buildings.

Click to read the follow-up post….

Close-up photo of some of the clapboards
A section of the clapboards
Corner bracing near the front door


Ecojustice Camp comes to Cohasset

I teamed up with Ngoc Dupont and Matt Mulder, two professional educators, to bring the Ecojustice Camp concept to the South Shore of Boston last week. We didn’t have the best of weather for the camp, with rain showers almost every day, and a tornado alert for early Friday morning. The tornado alert meant that we didn’t camp at Wompatuck State Park, but instead camped at the Parish House of First Parish (where there was a full basement we could retreat to if necessary). Yet in spite of the weather, we had a blast.

We’ve posted photos from the past week on the camp website. Since we only have permission to post photos from camp on that website, you’ll have to click here to see them. The photos will give you an idea of the range of camp activities — from cooking outdoors, to whittling, to ecology simulation games, and more.

Another take on White Christian nationalism

Andrew Whitehead, who grew up an evangelical Christian, is now associate professor of sociology at Indiana University and Purdue University Indianapolis. In an opinion piece on Religion News Service, he writes:

“After years of examining Christian nationalism as a social scientist, I’m convinced the greatest threat to Christianity in the United States is not outside forces [i.e., feminism, divorce, homosexuality, Secularism or non-Christian faiths]. Instead, it is white Christian nationalism. Over and over, I find evidence that the practical fruit of Christian nationalism is not love; it is power, control, domination, fear and violence.”

Whitehead then identifies the three chief “idols” that White Christian nationalists worship: “Power, Fear, and Violence.” He concludes with a call to “confront” Christian nationalism.

This is one of the best brief summaries of Christian nationalism I’ve seen. Definitely worth reading.

In an opinion piece on Religion News Service, Tyler Huckabee quotes from an interview with Russell Moore. Moore has become semi-famous for having called out the Southern Baptist Conference on their sex abuse crisis, and getting savaged for it. Anyway, in the interview Moore says:

“…multiple pastors [told] me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching — ‘turn the other cheek’ — to have someone come up after to say, ‘Where did you get those liberal talking points?’ And what was alarming to me is that in most of these scenarios, when the pastor would say, ‘I’m literally quoting Jesus Christ,’ the response would not be, ‘I apologize.’ The response would be, ‘Yes, but that doesn’t work anymore. That’s weak.’ And when we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us [evangelicals], then we’re in a crisis.”

Mind you, Moore opposes same-sex marriage, opposes abortion rights, and I don’t think I’d have much in common with him. But I admire the way he stood up for his core values. And I find it unfortunate that he paid a heavy price — he was essentially driven out of the Southern Baptist Convention, and is now pastor of a non-denominational church.

We’ve actually seen similar things happen within Unitarian Universalism. To give just one example, we drove out half of our African American members from 1968 to 1970, people who wanted us all to live up a moral standard that the rest of the denomination could not accept.

It’s difficult to live up to high moral standards. It’s even more difficult when someone challenges us, telling us that we’re not living up to the moral standards we claim to hold. Conversely, it’s very easy to convince ourselves that we are right and everyone else is wrong. Especially in today’s hyper-polarized society, where we seem to be unable to listen to any point of view that differs from our own. But if we can’t listen to others, we may find that ourselves saying something that contradicts our core values.