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

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Published on Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Dealing with life’s disabilities

My dog is going deaf. At thirteen and half, she’s earned it -- that’s a ripe old age for a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

            First we noticed that she no longer came running to greet us when the garage door opened.

            Then she didn’t hear the doorbell ring.

            And she didn’t come when I whistled.

            When a Chessie doesn’t respond to the word “Food!” we knew something was seriously wrong with her hearing.

            Her deafness has affected our relationship. She now ignores commands that she used to obey, if reluctantly. Then she looks puzzled about why we’re upset with her. She apparently never developed the skill of lip reading.

            Once, when we had conversations on our walks, she didn’t know what I was saying. Now, she doesn’t even know I’m saying anything.


Levels of difficulty

            So far, her deafness has not handicapped her. Certainly not as much as her arthritis.

            My friend Rich, who has lost most of his sight to macular degeneration, says that he would rather go blind than deaf. He reasons that hearing gives him 360-degree perception of the world around him, even with his eyes closed. If he were deaf, closing his eyes would shut the world out completely.

            I follow his reasoning, but I’m not sure I buy it. Which is the greater loss? It’s as hypothetical a question as whether I’d rather do without my arms or my legs. I wouldn’t choose either option. But I would try to live with the loss I have, whatever it might be, rather than imagining the loss I might have had.

            Still, I can’t help wondering how a doggie brain deals with deafness.

            Does she, for example, wonder why humans keep moving their mouths, but not saying anything?

            Does she wonder how people learned to sneak up on her?

            Does she, in fact, recognize that the problem is her own hearing, rather than the whole world going silent?

            Her nose still works fine. So she can still receive the doggie messages posted on telephone poles and fire hydrants. Her taste buds still work (not that food pauses very long on its way down her throat). And she can still see well enough to catch doggie treats long before they hit the floor.


Seeing ourselves from outside

            Do dog brains work like human brains?

            We humans have an amazing ability to see ourselves from outside, as it were.

            People who have had near-death experiences often tell of floating somewhere overhead, watching the paramedics working on them. Perhaps that’s where the idea first developed that a divine being watches over us as we live our lives.

            But you don’t need a near-death experience to see yourself from outside, as it were. Some of us have our own mental navigation system -- seeing ourselves moving along the lines of a map.

            Some of us seem able to observe our own minds at work.

            My own faux pasmonitor warns that I’m going to make a fool of myself -- unfortunately, not always in time to stop me from doing it.

            As an aging human, I wonder to what extent my dog remembers what she used to be, and whether she ever compares her present self with her former self.

            I know I do.


Copyright © 2019 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





In last week’s column, I objected to the use of definitions -- always someone else’s definitions -- in arguments and discussions.

            Steve Enerson explored the point: “I’m having some trouble understanding … If you and I are having a discussion that pivots on what we each think of as Concept A, it is helpful if we both are thinking of the same Concept A. As we discuss, however, one or both of us may realize that one of us is talking Concept A1 and the other is talking Concept A2.

            “I agree that an argument over the ‘real’ definition of Concept A is probably counterproductive. It doesn’t matter what the dictionary definition of Concept A is. What matters here is how we are each using it. And it is highly productive, I think, if we are able to agree on what Concept A means for the purposes of our discussion. Otherwise, the discussion is fruitless.

            “I recently streamed the Intelligence Squared debate on the proposition ‘The more we evolve, the less we need God.’ It was unsatisfactory because the two sides were using very different concepts of God — so different that it removed the ‘debate’ from the discussion. It would have been good if the two sides had made some sort of agreement on the central concept they were debating.”


Paul Coffman examined his own definitions of God: “Two simple statements in the New Testament about the nature of God are: (1) Jesus' statement to the Samaritan woman that ‘God is Spirit…’ and (2) the writer of I John 4's statement that ‘God is love…’ Putting those two statements together gives me a definition that God is (a/the) spirit of love, or, a loving spirit. For me that definition works quite well.”

            JT: Paul’s is a helpful definition -- for him. But such a definition works only for those willing to accept it. It won’t work if someone clings to the common dictionary definitions such as that God is "a supernatural being worshipped as having power over nature and human fortunes." Other dictionaries still insist that God is a "male deity."


Tom Watson quipped, “So, now if somebody asks me about you, I'll say, ‘Well, Jim just can't be defined.’ All the best of this coming 365!”


Either Reed or Linda, no last name given, wrote, “I truly was blown away by this column. So enlightening and informative. And challenging.”


Sandy Warren loved “your paraphrase of Psalm 72. It struck me as I read it that, though Mary's hope was better founded, isn't this really what every parent sees in their newborn child?”






Speaking of definitions (above) Psalm 29 comes out of a time when devout people defined God as Commander-in-Chief of nature and everything else. I don’t believe, today, that God smites the planet with storms, or blows down forests to demonstrate “his” glory. I revised this psalm accordingly.


1          Blow, blow, you winter winds.
Polish earth and sky with your power,

2          until every street and sidewalk is scoured clean,
until a whiter-than-snow earth reflects the glory of the heavens.

3          The spirit of the Lord soars across the oceans;
it bursts upon the mountains, and cascades down to the sea again.

4          The blast of the wind drowns out all other sounds;
the force of the wind drives the clouds like wild horses.

5          It bends birches and willows to the ground;
it breaks the strongest branches of the mighty oak.

6          Snowflakes swirl before the storm;
mice and gophers scurry for their holes.

7          Lightning skewers the sky;

8          Thunder rolls across the land;
the whole earth shivers.

9          Nothing stands unbent;
The leaves fall off the trees;
the cities empty their streets;
The mountains hide their heads in clouds.

10        God surfs on the wind like an ocean wave.
Nothing is impervious to the lord of life.


11        May the wind be always at our backs, God.
Lend the strength of the storm to your people.
Then we can weather the worst,
and come through to the calm on the other side.


            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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