grievance culture

Kim and I are going to see the musician Joe Jackson perform tonight. We are excited to see this 1980’s icon. When we were dating we discovered that one of the few artists we both liked was Joe Jackson, in fact we both had the same cassette albums. I like Jackson for many reasons, not least of which was how many different kind of styles of music he worked on. I can honestly say that I will be happy no matter which songs he sings tonight, from whatever era they come from.

Jim Sweet, our Caretaker, and I are the same age and we remember the same music. When I told him about the concert Jim tried to remember Jackson’s music but was clearly struggling to recall the artist. I mentioned only one song, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” and immediately Jim knew whom I was speaking about. I confess that is not one of my favorite Jackson songs and I know why, the song itself speaks of dating angst, of frustration that attractive persons whom we might like to date are not as interested in us as we are in them. This is not knew and that challenge has beset many a junior high, high school and post-secondary heart.

Here are some of the words to the song:

Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street

From my window I'm staring while my coffee grows cold…

Tonight's the night when I go to all the parties down my street.

I wash my hair and I kid myself I look real smooth

Look over there! (Where?)

Here comes Jeanie with her new boyfriend

They say that looks don't count for much

If so, there goes your proof…

Of course that song could just as easily be sung by a woman about a man or another woman, it makes no difference, all persons, from all genders and in all types of relationships face the reality that whom we find attractive may not find us attractive. And so it goes. I think what find frustrating about the song and about the sentiment expressed in it is the lack of awareness, that the object of our affection is somehow superficial because they are looking for someone physically attractive while we, the virtuous ones, are left alone, our wonderful qualities untapped, unknown, unappreciated. The obvious hypocrisy here should be noted, the fact the singer of this song has noticed the “pretty women” says he is at least as influenced by “looks” as the woman whom he is scorning for her superficiality.

This song is about adolescent unrequited affection but it could as easily be about the current state of grievance that is fueling our culture. Everyone these days is aggrieved, made about being looked down on, being left out, being disrespected, being judged, being marginalized. I certainly understand the need for inclusion. I never ever let someone go “nostalgic” on me, I remind her/him about the limitations of the past (and present), about the reality for women, persons of colour, gays and lesbians and transgendered persons, people living with disabilities and mental health challenges. Stigma is a huge burden to carry and it can crush someone’s will and leave all of us the lesser for it. But now we all want to feel the righteous rage of grievance. Donald Trump and Doug Ford recently won elections entirely based on grievance. It’s hard to understand how two white straight men, both born to great wealth, would feel the righteous rage of grievance, but they do.

As a Minister sometimes, in the midst of a rant or righteous rage expressed to me, especially by persons with much privilege, I ask the simple question, “Have you considered the perspective of the others’ in your story, not just your own POV?” That is not to say we have not been victims of judgment or exclusion but it is good to look at how the other is motivated and how our actions can also be scrutinized for signals of “disrespect”. Looking at situations from points of view that are not just ours is a helpful tool for all of us. Sadly the addictive fury of righteous rage does not allow such perspective to take hold, much less be considered.

Looking forward to a great concert.

Alone Time

I recall accumulating friends like people collect stamps. I held on to them like a rare vintage find, sorted them out into tidy lists with contact information and reached out every few months, spending a day with one, an evening over coffee with another, sending a letter to another, a phone call to another, each interaction selected to show appreciation and affirmation for the friend in question. At the height of this fixation I was sending out 200 Christmas cards every year. I remember one friend hearing this and making some very strong judgments, “Oh, those weren’t friendships, those were acquaintances…” That was cover for her own defensiveness, she had few friends. The reality all of those relationships were “friendships”, I invested heavily in these bonds and I have no regrets. I learned a lot from these friends and each one gave me something I carry with me still.

But there came a time when I did not want all of these friends. In time, and this was a gift from my wife, I came to see that I could enjoy my own company. I did not have to find many friends, in fact I really only needed my wife and daughter. I did grow weary of my friends, instead I grew into the kind of person who wanted to spend time alone, time with my wife and daughter, and I was fine with it. More, I was happy with it. I was happy with 200+ friends but I had not yet learned what it looked like, what it felt like, what I thought about, spending time alone.

I am an extrovert, always have been, always will be. I enjoy being in public and I enjoy interacting with many, many people. I learn so much from watching people and more importantly, being in relationship with people. But the life I have chosen for myself these days includes lots and lots of “being with” but no one person or persons in particular, apart from my wife and daughter. That shift occurred in 2002-2003, I was turning 40, experienced my first and only bout of depression, and I just found that going to the art gallery, going for long walks, going to a café, were experiences I enjoyed alone. I still wanted to be in community, with people, meeting a variety of people every day, but investing in friendships, relationships, that has largely vanished.

I feel my faith has played a large role in this transition. I have always spoken to God, especially when I walk. I actually speak out loud with God, it’s embarrassing when people walk by. But now that I intentionally seek out time on my own these conversations are more plentiful, more substantive, and more revelatory. I find myself, like today, getting away, being excited to be on my own with God and just begin the conversation.

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Tonight my wife came down with a migraine, we had tickets to see Chaka Kahn at the Halifax Jazz Festival. I reached out to a few people, people who are not a lot of work to be with, but they were all busy (too little notice). But truth be told I was happy to go on my own. I stood by the front of the stage, saw all of the musicians perform, felt the beat of the music and could see all of the people around me grooving to tunes from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

That would not have been something I would have done before I turned 40. Watching my wife and finding out I did not need to have a lot of friends to be happy was a profound learning experience. I do not regret those relationships, especially the time I invested in them. But I have no interest in doing that again. My time is now filled with work I love, my wife and daughter whom I love and various communities around me that bring out the best in me. And I have God to walk and talk to…

If I had sneezed

“If I had sneezed.”

Those four words from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. might not be as widely recognized as the four he so famously spoke at the Lincoln Memorial: “I have a dream.”

But here’s the lesser-known, yet important, New York story behind them.

It was Sept. 20, 1958. Dr. King was at Blumstein’s, a store on West 125th Street in Harlem, where he was signing copies of his first book, “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.”

In walked a woman — dressed to the nines — presumably for an autograph from the 29-year-old civil rights activist. But hidden beneath her lovely outfit were a letter opener and a loaded .25-caliber pistol.

The woman, Izola Ware Curry, approached Dr. King, drew the letter opener from her purse and stabbed him in the chest.

Dr. King could not immediately remove the blade; it was too close to his heart. He was told not to move an inch, not to speak. He was rushed to Harlem Hospital for emergency surgery.

The doctors later told him that any sudden movement — so much as a sneeze — could have cost him his life.

The frightening, near-fatal New York episode later became a point of inspiration in Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address, which he delivered on April 3, 1968, in Memphis, the day before he was assassinated.

“I, too, am happy that I didn’t sneeze.”

“Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters.”

“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in interstate travel.”

“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Ala., aroused the conscience of this nation and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.”

“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.”

“I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.”


Rev. Martin Luther King

Harlem Hospital

New York, N.Y.

Dear Reverend King —

Having just made out an inadequate (for the way I feel) (and for the need) check to Core — and having read your words quoted on their envelope about the “good people” + their silence — I think of you in a hospital having come off the critical list today I hope — (although I haven’t heard so)  — I am sure that the lady who did this to you must have been very confused and sick in her mind and I feel sure that you are the kind of a big person who can forgive her — even for this —

Once long ago when we lived in the village, my husband John and I knew your secretary, Bayard Rustin, and felt proud to be even an acquaintance of his — Please give our best to him — and know that we are both all for you and for whatever we can help to do in the direction of racial equality —

As we get older we tend to lose much of our ideologies — and I admit I have lost tem in many areas — But racial + religious equality is still something I want to fight for.

You probably know Rowland Watts who is a member of this community — and who deserves all our respect — I am so glad you didn’t sneeze!

My best, Mrs. John Kepler


Christianity and Coffee by Shaun Pullen

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The Father, The Son, and The Holy Bean

“Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love. -Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, French Diplomat

Have you ever taken a sip of your favorite brew, tilted your head upwards to the heavens, closed your eyes and exclaimed, “God, that’s good coffee!”?

Coffee for many people is almost religion. We worship it in many different forms, and we exult it through rituals and customs; the Grinding of the Bean, the Sacrament of the Pour Over, the Vow of Silence (until you’ve had at least three sips).

We proselytize and spread the Good News about the coming of Intelligentsia to our neighborhoods. We share stories about the miracle of the “Ethiopia Kayon Mountain Natural” and the wonders of “Sumatra Boru Batak.”

Yet, while we know a lot about coffee, we have virtually no knowledge of how major religions view it. What do our priests and pastors and rabbis and mullahs and gurus think of the beautiful elixir? And do they drink it?

Coffee and Christianity. A match made in Heaven. Exclamations like “Jesus Christ, this coffee is great!” can be heard in all parts of the world every single day.

Biblical scholars know that Jesus never drank a cup of coffee himself, but there is speculation that he did foresee its power during his Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed are the sleepless for they have drunk from the cup of Joseph.” Could ‘cuppa Joe’ be far behind?

If you’ve ever gone to church or church meetings, coffee looms essential. After services, groups of worshippers often gather in church basements to enjoy a cuppa. While most Evangelicals frown upon liquor, Baptists and Methodists and Lex Lutherans can all agree that coffee is a true blessing.

However, the road to caffeinated bliss was oft-times bumpy. Back in the 16th century, a group of java-hating priests petitioned Pope Clement VIII to ban what they called “the devil’s drink.” the ‘devil’ part a slap in the face to all Muslims.

“Not so fast,” proclaimed the Pope. So, he had a cup of coffee brought to him. After his seventh cup and a Danish, old Clement leaped out of his Pope chair and exclaimed, “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall cheat Satan by baptizing it.” (true story)

And, for coffee drinkers, it just kept getting better. Here’s an anecdote I found:

In 1683, a Franciscan friar named Marciano d’Aviano stopped a Turkish invasion of Austria, and along the way, some claim invented cappuccino. The retreating Turks left behind bags of coffee beans, historians say, which the Viennese found so bitter that they added milk and sugar, creating a frothy, sweet beverage. Legend says the word “cappuccino” comes from d’Aviano’s Capuchin order, so named for their brown robes.

Ergo, the word “Frappuccino” must be named after Capuchin friars.

Religion and Coffee

As you can see, religion and coffee go together like soup and sandwich. Except, we’re talking about coffee. So, the next time you have a religious experience while drinking your favorite brew, think of the history that went into it. If not for some adventurous Sufi guy back in the 13th century, you might be sitting there sipping a warm cup of… tea.

Heaven forbid!

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considering the other

Yesterday I included in my blog the obituary for a jazz pianist from New Orleans. This musician lived to be 69, he perfected his craft while living with blindness, his library of work was ruined in the New Orleans flood, and he lived through a number of challenges and all the while created wonderful music and photography. I received this obituary from a friend who had read one of my previous blogs on theodicy, how we live by faith knowing that some are afflicted and some are not, that somehow people of faith manage to live through adulthood and never consider that affliction comes to the just until it happens to them. I wrote in my blog that I find such late revelations surprising considering that we hear every day terrible afflictions being experienced by innocent and just people but only really come to grips with this reality of God’s presence when the affliction comes to us.

Somehow this just, innocent and creative man was afflicted but in spite of this he carried on with a sense of adventure and possibility. My friend wanted me to know he had been thinking of my blog, this obituary was exhibit A of my thesis. I included it as a blog yesterday because it represented to me all those lives we never know, persons just like us, who live all over the world and are challenged, flawed, gifted and loved just as we are. To put that in perspective whatever I imagine God has done for me, or not done for me, I surely must consider the same dynamic exists between others and God, others I shall never know.

I find our ability to block out the reality of others truly bizarre. Don’t we know that millions of people live on this planet, that millions more have been born and died and more still are being born as you read this? Of course we are primarily responsible for our own happiness, making our own decisions and caring for those who live in our sphere of influence. But as we reflect on the God whom we worship, learn from and seek to honor with our covenant love don’t we need to consider that however we make sense of God based on our own experience needs to also be connected to the experience of God by others?

People who read John 14 as an exclusive text, “no one comes to the Father except by me” have to contend with the knowledge that millions of people are born, live and die without any experience or awareness of Jesus. Does our God have a plan for them? What sense does it make for us to imagine our God is pleased with us because we happen to be born to a Christian community but is not pleased with people who have no such experience? If we imagine that the Apostle Paul condemned same gender love how do we make sense of a God who seems to have created a world where 10% of its inhabitants are gay or lesbian? How does one make sense of that? The only way people can hold to these views of condemnation is if they just don’t think about those others, those people who live far away, whose lives are similar and different than our own.

That is why in my Prayers of the People I intentionally balance a personal petition for someone we at the church know by name and love with places, peoples, and circumstances far away from us whose attention and recognition surely our God is affected by, persons we too should be aware of and be affected by. I don’t use set prayers any more, I pray extemporaneously and I weave the familiar and unfamiliar, the comfortable and uncomfortable in the midst of this dialogue and petition with our God. Surely to know the other and what the other experiences, in some small measure, if to help us better understand our own experience of God and what God is doing in our lives. Thus I try as best as I can to be attentive to the other and what that other can bring to this world.

Henry Butler: pianist & photographer

Obituary: Henry Butler, the blind pianist and photographer

By Roland Hughes - BBC News


Four months after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his house in August 2005, Henry Butler returned home to New Orleans for the first time.

He couldn't see the damage - he had been blind since suffering glaucoma as a child. But he knew how bad it was. The stench that stuck to everything told him all he needed to know.

His sense of touch confirmed it. His beloved Mason & Hamlin piano, that dated from 1925, was covered in slime; the 8ft (2.4m) of water that had flooded the house had moved the piano some distance.

"When I touched the piano all the black keys were loose," Butler told The Trentonian three years after Katrina in 2008. "You could gather them up and hold them all in your hand. Even when I tried to mash down on the keys to get it to play something, all you would just hear is 'chump, chump'.

"It was not something I wanted to deal with at the time. There was no tone. There was nothing there, man."

The piano was not the only thing that had been lost: all the master tapes of Butler's recordings were gone, as were the thousands of pages of jazz theory, history and scores he had written in Braille.

Butler never did return to live in the city that had shaped his life and music, and he remained a "New Orleaner" in exile (a title he would give to one of his later songs).

He died of cancer in New York on 2 July, aged 69.

Butler was born in New Orleans in September 1948 and grew up in the Calliope housing projects that went on to be demolished after Katrina.

His first taste of music, he said in an interview in May this year, came aged four as he walked by neighbours' houses and heard them playing the piano.

New Orleans' musical heritage infused his entire childhood - from the ragtime piano of pioneering band leader Jelly Roll Morton he would hear coming from inside bars, to the Caribbean-tinged blues piano of his mentor Professor Longhair.

His enthusiasm for music became a passion aged 11 or 12 when his mother returned home one day with a record picked up in a bargain bin.

It was Viper's Drag by Fats Waller, a three-minute piano composition in the slide style Waller made famous, in which the left hand plays a low bass while the right plays an occasionally frantic melody.

Butler admired how it jumped from style to style with short transitions: it felt different, fresh, he said in an interview with the Library of Congress in 2010, before demonstrating on the piano what he had so admired about the composition.

From then on, Butler would listen to everything his mother brought home from the bargain bin, including pianist Duke Ellington and trombonist and bandleader Ray Conniff.

Butler did not have a piano at home, so would commit all these songs to memory by playing them over and over. Wherever he could find a piano, often at a neighbour's home, he would practise.

From 14, he was playing semi-professionally and developing his own style, one that combined classical training he had received with his enthusiasm for jazz, blues and calypso picked up in New Orleans.

Over his 11 albums, he could channel the influences of Schubert and then Caribbean music - sometimes seconds after each other. But he also performed alongside popular performers like Cyndi Lauper and the Afghan Whigs.

On announcing his death in a statement on Butler's Facebook page, his management team paid tribute to "those extraordinary, lightning-cracking fingers blurring across the keyboard, the way he plucked and shifted and slipped the notes into places they had not yet inhabited so they could create a sort of new world order".

"Henry was grateful for every moment, every experience, every person he encountered until his last slow, smooth breath," a statement by his management team said.

Butler did move away from New Orleans on occasions, including during a stint as a music teacher at an Illinois university. But Katrina severed most of the ties with his home city.

As the storm approached the Louisiana coast, Butler reacted as he had during previous storms - he left the city, but expected to return once the worst had passed. He took only a few items of clothes.

When Katrina made landfall as a Category Three storm, it pushed a huge storm surge along Louisiana's coast. Gentilly, the middle-class neighbourhood where Butler lived, was flooded from two directions when levees and canals overflowed. Across Louisiana, more than 1,500 people were killed.

Butler watched the devastation from Farmerville, a small town in northern Louisiana. He understood quickly that everything had changed.

"Most people across the country just don't understand what happened," he said in 2010. "All of a sudden, the cultural footprint of the country is smaller. A lot of those people who were creating that culture couldn't get back - they were rich musically, but poor economically."

Between 2000 and 2015, rent in New Orleans increased by 50% even though the population fell by a third, due largely to Katrina. Musicians in the city are among its lowest earners, with an average annual salary of only $10,000.

One fundraising group has been able to replace the instruments of 3,000 musicians whose livelihoods were destroyed by Katrina, but many of the city's most noted artists left, and remain in exile.

Butler first moved to a hotel in Colorado, and said he struggled to cope with post-traumatic stress after losing his life's work.

"Like most people, I had it," he said a year after Katrina. "I had it pretty seriously. And if I was going to do some crying, I wanted to do it in a place where nobody could see it."

From Colorado, he moved to New York, where he continued to perform with several bands, and continued his passion for photography.

He would rely on friends to describe what was in the frame in front of him, and listen to the subject's voice so he could get a sense of how tall they were.

"I started because I wanted to become a participant in the visual arts field, and affect the consciousness of sighted people," he wrote in 2005. "After going to exhibits, hearing people describe photos and paintings, I felt kind of empty - I wasn't getting all that I could get.

"The best thing, I decided, was to try to become at least an artist who was doing something in one of the visual arts."

Butler was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer at the end of last year but continued to perform, including at April's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It was his last show in his hometown.

"New Orleans is always going to be special to me," he said before the concert. "When you're born in a town, you always have that magnetic attraction to that place."

He leaves a brother, George, and a long-time partner, Annaliese Jakimides.


Psalm 62

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.

Truly he is my rock and my salvation, he is my fortress; I will not be shaken…

Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

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I have been pondering why it is that I find such rest, refreshment and relaxation at White Point lodge, why I find it also on our back deck (when there are no bugs!), why it is I found it when Kim and celebrated our 20th anniversary in Ireland, why it is I find it walking the Polly’s Cove trail, and my conclusion is this, not only do I need to stop what busy work I am doing, I need to be attentive to the rest I find in God’s work and God’s presence. That is why I find this rest so often in Creation, I experience the fingerprints of God in nature, in trees especially, but in the ocean too, in the bright sky, in the sun and the moon, in tall grass and birds singing. All of Creation reminds me that I am NOT at the centre, I am part of what God has designed and woven together but NOT at the centre.

I think this reveals to myself what it is I love and what it is that I feel annoying about the evangelical tradition, their understanding that it is only in God where rest is found (love it!) but that it has to fasten onto this that I am at the centre. I think this is where the false impression is made that when all over the world there is suffering and heartache only when it comes to me do questions of theodicy, why me?, arise. I used to find this so strange, how clever, worldly, mature persons could get through life knowing about pain and suffering all over the globe and yet somehow only experience the angst of “why me?” when the suffering came to them. How odd? But I think this is a direct result of feeling that everything God does is all about them, when they lose their keys and find them, God did that for them, when they are lost and a stranger tells them where to go, God does that for them, when they need a pair of shoes and someone tells them of a sale at the Mall, God did that for them. Meanwhile there are hundreds of thousands of people living in poverty, people with terminal illness, children being sold into slavery, but somehow the lack of deliverance from these afflictions is less evidence of God’s presence than when I found my keys.

I find peace of mind and heart in knowing that I am less at the centre of things than I am in a woven fabric of Creation, in other words it is more meaningful to my soul to know I am part of something larger than self than it is to imagine it is all about me. When I stop what it is I am doing and rest in all of God, in all that God is doing, in my connections to everything and everyone, I feel at peace, I feel whole, I feel I am in the midst of a healing, life-giving, and nourishing source, power, and spirit.

It is not enough to “get away” or to stop or to pamper one’s self. None of that lasts or heals what ails us, none of that recharges our batteries or gives us spirit to embrace the challenges that lay ahead, what does refresh, relax and repurpose our lives is to take rest in God, in what God is doing, in who God is, and our connection to it all. Rest.


Forgiveness is a topic I rarely preach on. Yet forgiveness seems to be somewhat of a permanent obsession with most people. I rarely think of it and I guess that surprises me. I live with regrets and I feel badly I have said things and done things that upset or hurt people...

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