Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Choosing between unequal forces

If you swing a bucket of water over your head, centrifugal force keeps the water in the bucket. But your arm keeps the bucket from flying off. 

            You’ve just illustrated Isaac Newton’s principle of two equal forces working together, commonly stated as, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

            The principle explains not only buckets of water, but also the motions of planets in their orbits, satellites circling the earth, and galaxies in space. 

            Newton was not the first to recognize the truth of paired forces. The Chinese identified it centuries before – essentially, stating that beauty requires two contrasting elements. It could be smooth and rough, as in rocks. Or vertical and horizontal, as in lakes and trees. Or hot and cold, sweet and sour, shiny and dull…

            A sprawling panorama becomes more focussed when viewed through a narrow aperture – perhaps the reason why photographers peering through a camera lens typically see more in a scene than unencumbered tourists do. 

            The yin-yang symbol dramatizes those contrasting elements – light and dark endlessly linked in a circle. 


Challenging mono-anything

            Newton considered himself a devout Christian. Despite articulating three laws of motion, he didn’t consider himself a Trinitarian. But he firmly believed in, and wrote extensively about, a single “Supreme God, a Being eternal, infinite, and perfect…” 

            I doubt if he saw his Third Law of Motion as a challenge to monotheism. But it does carry that implication. 

            Because in reality, human experience knows nothing that has a single dimension, a single force. 

            There’s no such thing as a rope with only one end. A coin with only one side. A magnet with only one pole. 

            In sub-atomic physics, there’s no such thing as a single quark. What happens to one happens simultaneously to its partner, even at the far side of the universe.

            True, gravity (also discovered by Newton) is a uniform force; it affects everything in the universe. But the earth under our feet resists gravity, keeping us from sinking. 

            Of course, Newton was talking about stable situations. When two forces are not equal, whatever they’re acting on accelerates. Or slows down. It won’t stay stable. 


A source of comfort

            I find this recognition of two forces oddly comforting. Especially in a world that is decidedly not stable. Between unpredictable politicians, unending wars, and extreme climate effects, life often feels like a satellite spiralling into the sun. Traditional forces of stability are no longer balanced.

            I’m trying to avoid labelling Newton’s two forces with terms pre-loaded by value judgements. Such as right/wrong, true/false, past/present. 

            Especially, “good” and “evil.” They lead almost inevitably towards beliefs resembling ancient Zoroastrianism, which posits a “good” god, Ahura Mazda, in eternal conflict with an “evil” god, Ahriman. 

            In reality, there’s no such thing as an unalloyed good. Or an unalloyed evil. Everything we know – including ourselves – is simultaneously being pushed and pulled. 

            Everything we invent to make our lives easier, safer, and longer, has had some kind of harmful spinoff. Plastics add pollution. Longevity leads to population explosions. Antibiotics encourage super-bacteria. Fossil fuels link to extreme typhoons.

            In an unstable world, I’m left to wonder, do my actions promote evolution? Or entropy?


Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





Something about last week’s column on salmon and the circle of life (and death), prompted several of you to respond with song and/or poetry. 


Boyd Wilson in New Zealand sent a verse from the South Pacific that, he said, “may resonate with your Soft Edges today:

Creation dance

All is dance.

Love-maker dancing to the rhythm

of all the becoming of the set-free

universe, the integrity of each atom,

in the abundant joy of delighted surprise.

All is then, now and not yet

within every nanosecond,

every quark, of time-space.

And we, we, embody the first-fruits

Of consciousness of the whole,

and (darn it) of conscience.

Get it?  Of course not:

We can but wonder, care, celebrate,

join the dance, reflect

and share the love.”


Jean Hamilton wrote, “Chief Seattle said it best: 

This we know, the earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth.

This we know, all things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.

We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it.

Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.’

            “After reading your blog today, I have been reflecting on the difference between poetry and prose. Today’s column is both.”


And Tom Watson wrote, “In one line you remind us that ‘Tinkering with one variable in the great equation of life affects the total outcome.’ We know this by Innate logic. When, then, don't we humans act accordingly? Over the course of time, we have depleted our resources, plundered species to extinction, done all sorts of things that are harmful to our environment -- all of these things defying logic. Why don't we follow what we innately know? 

            “I'm reminded of the words of a song that Roger Whittaker used to sing:

And will the grass be gone from underneath the sky?

Will the golden flower wither soon and die?

Will the fire burn out the land and the sea fill up with sand?

Will the last word ever spoken be Why?”


Isabel Gibson reflected on her own life: “Had I it to do over, I might study ecology. I don't remember that being an option at the time, but perhaps I didn't know where to look. Great piece.  Fabulous Psalm paraphrase.”


Anne McRae sent “thanks for those 500 words; just the four did not mean nearly as much to me. I think we all have a lot to learn, I know I do, about global warming too.”


Steve Roney sees things differently: “I'm not a fan of the ‘circle of life’ concept. Seems to me more accurate to call it ‘the circle of death’: everybody eats everybody.

            “If ‘we are the salmon,’ for example, then if we eat salmon, we are cannibals. What's the argument then for not killing and eating humans as well?

            “Nor can I find anything beautiful or inspiring in the fact that bears kill spawning salmon, then leave them to rot in the forest. Would we find that inspiring if humans did it? Surely, if we need bushier trees beside our rivers, there are less wasteful forms of fertilizer. There are better justifications for a salmon's life than this.

            “Nature is wasteful. As you say, only about 2 out of 100 fertilized eggs will survive to reproduce in the natural state. Don't you think we could do better than that by, say, fish farming? Why then glorify nature?”






Nothing rankles more than an unjust accusation. Here’s a paraphrase of Psalm 26.


1          Do not treat me harshly, God. I have been true to you.

I have trusted you; I have never doubted you for more than a moment.

2          If you don't believe me, test me.

Look into my heart and listen to my thoughts.

See for yourself that I have been faithful.

3          Can't you see that your love means everything to me?

Everything I do, I do for you. 

4          I don't play around with pretence;

I don't flirt with false ideals. 

5          I despise those who do wrong;

I avoid those who flaunt their faithlessness. 

6          I wash my hands of them.

My hands are clean; I come to you with a clear conscience. 

7          I constantly count my blessings;

I always speak well of you.

I bless the day you entered my life. 

8          I glow when I am near you;

I bask in the sunshine of your smile. 

9          So don't brush me off like dandruff;

don't dump me out with your garbage. 

10        The trash can is full of people who cheat and swindle;

they deceive their friends; they play both ends against the middle. 

11        But I am not like them. 

12        I can hold my head high, among your people,

Because I have been faithful to you. 


For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.






If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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                  I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                  And for those of you who like poetry, I’ve started a webpage http://quixotic.ca/My-Poetrywhere I post (occasionally, when I feel inspired) poems that I have written. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca,  or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blankemail(no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca(If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have been blocking my posts because they’re suspicious of too many links.

                  Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                  Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca

                  Wayne Irwin's Churchweb Canada,an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>

                  I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom

                  Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.

                  Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony”-- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’sreaders. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet






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