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

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Published on Sunday, April 28, 2019

The lowest common denominator

It’s one week after the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka, which killed 359 people. It’s two weeks after the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand/Aotearoa, where 80 people were murdered.

            I hang my head in despair.

            I want to do something about it. I want to lash out, to rid the world of the kind of people who do this kind of thing.

            But I don’t know how to identify “this kind of people.” Media reports claim the Sri Lanka bombers belonged to a fanatic Muslim sect, but I’ve seen no proof -- yet. The Christchurch shooter has been described as a far-right white supremacist, which I suppose makes him nominally Christian.

            Nor do I know how to define “this kind of thing.” Is it more reprehensible to bomb people at worship than to kill them at work, in the World Trade Centre, for example? Is it worse to shoot people at prayer than to blow them up in a classroom or hospital or orphanage -- as happens in Yemen?


A voice of reason

            In this storm of wind and fire and earthquake, a still small voice penetrates.: “The real purpose behind these actions is not the elimination of any population. That in today’s world is literally impossible. The real purpose is to sow discord and hatred, so that we are all reduced to the same level as the perpetrators of these crimes.”

            Those words come from Mirza Yawar Baig, a Muslim CEO in an increasingly fundamentalist Hindu nation of India, writing for the alternative news service Countercurrents.org.

            I do not know the situation in Sri Lanka personally. But I like Baig’s diagnosis. The goal of terrorists, right-wing militias, and lone-wolf killers is not to conquer anyone. Nor to rid the world of any racial or religious group. Not even to impose a radical new order. They’re too weak to harbour such ambitions.

            It is, as Baig says, to drag everyone down to their own lowest-common denominator.


Overcoming stereotypes

            The problem will not be solved simply by education. As Baig notes, the most destructive weapons of war and racism have been developed by the most highly educated persons.

            The problems, he says, “are moral and ethical. When people are immersed in grief and anger and are looking to hit back, they are not thinking clearly. All they need is a target.”

            I reported on Belfast at the height of Northern Ireland’s “troubles.” The British army had built high walls down the centre of many streets to divide the Catholics on one side from Protestants on the other side.

            Walls don’t solve anything. Not in Belfast. Not in Berlin. And not, I suggest, along the Mexican border.

            But rising above stereotypes can make a difference.

            For a while my cousin Norah was matron of a residential retreat centre on Ireland’s north coast. It brought Catholic and Protestant youth together. Almost always, the first night, both groups barricaded their doors against attack.

            At breakfast the next morning, they discovered that “the other side” had done the same. For the same reasons. Over laughter about mis-founded suspicions, they built friendships.

            Mirza Yawar Baig writes about being invited -- as a Muslim -- to a Jewish Passover seder, a meal whose ritual requires drinking four cups of wine.  “To accommodate my inability to participate in a meal during which wine would be served,” he wrote, “in a totally gracious gesture, this family made the meal alcohol free and drank pomegranate juice instead.”

            Even the presiding Rabbi accepted this inter-faith courtesy.”


“Especially if alone”

            Baig wondered if he should even bother writing his essay. It was unlikely, he admitted, that his words would influence anyone planning violence. Then he remembered a story of a solitary protestor who stood before the White House every night holding a candle.

            One wet and windy night, as he was trying to protect his fragile flame under an umbrella, a security guard asked him, “Why do you do this? Do you really think you can change them?”

            The man replied, “I don’t do this to change them. I do it so that they won’t be able to change me.”

            That story became Baig’s motivation: “I will speak. I will raise my voice. And I will do it even if I am alone. Especially if I am alone.”

            I’m with him. Don’t let hasty reactions drag us down to the moral and ethical level of bombers and killers. Don’t join in a race to the bottom.

            Speak out for what’s right and good. Even if you’re alone. Especially if you’re alone.


Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Tom Watson applied my Holy/Holey Saturday theme to current events: “Your belief that a resurrection is possible, but too many will run away from it and too few will stay to see it through, is being played out just now in the political arena in the U.S. Ample evidence that rampant corruption exists at the highest level of government. Ethics, morality, and common decency have been crucified and left hanging. This presents an opportunity for a new beginning—a resurrection. Will it happen, or will the vested interests of power run away from it because to do otherwise is too threatening?”


Isabel Gibson mused, “As we drive north/northeast from Myrtle Beach SC to Ottawa ON (including through some damage apparently caused by a tornado in the last few days), it is Holey/Holy Saturday and all the church parking lots are deserted.  The gap struck me for the first time -- the space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday services.

            “Now I'm thinking more about resurrection.”


“ Isn’t it interesting that Mary stayed while Peter fled,” wrote Bob Rollwagen. “It is the mother who usually carries on when the father leaves. Little has changed over the centuries. Some small pockets in the world are recognizing how women can lead, but many societies still restrict or limit their places outside the home.

            “While the Jewish heritage follows the mother’s line, it seems to be the fathers who are seen as the faith or business leaders.

            “History is important. Understanding even small parts of it help put a healthy perspective on current events. Easter is about the basic human values of fairness. Education is the road to equality. This is probably why it is the first thing attacked and limited by those wanting to control society for personal gain. Health is funded to create cures that can then be priced beyond the reach of many for the benefit of the few in power. Social programmes are maintained at a level that keeps the masses busy trying to survive while the small group of rich lavish themselves and move to higher ground.”


A couple of writers presented more traditional  views.


Bruce Thomas wrote,  “A fine piece on the Resurrection. The abyss you describe is perhaps analogous to the crucifixion of our humanity during those years after WW2, challenging and in many cases eliminating our relationship with Christ, our Creator, and our beloved churches of people. And like the women of courage who stayed by the cross and the empty tomb without their Lord, there can be that sense of being without support or guidance from our faith. As you have said, resurrection events around Easter need not be restricted to this time of our Christian year ~ our individual and collective resurrections can take place anywhere and at any time we choose,and our lives can be renewed as we center ourselves on Christ’s love that we feel has taken a blow during these difficult days we live in. Even as many will take Peter’s model to move away, there are others who will stay a while with the Christ we have known and restart the love once again.” 


Michael Jensen: “I do not feel helpless. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is what gives us all hope. Because Christ took upon himself all our sins, through His grace and our personal repentance our sins and foolish errors can be wiped out and made white as snow. Christ made it possible for every one of us to live with Him again, when we choose to follow His path. Through his resurrection all will be resurrected. It's His gift to us. 

            “This plan of happiness cannot be discerned by science. It requires scripture study, pondering and prayer; prayer with a fulness of heart. We must be prepared to act on whatever impressions come from God.

            “I am  not surprised that in this secular world something other than the eternal significance of Easter should be emphasized. But we needn't be sidetracked. Christ brought hope to our lives because of his atonement and resurrection.”


I want to add a personal note at the end of these letters. Subscriptions to the Sharp Edges mailing list have been dropping. I get about four cancellations for every new person who subscribes. People die; people change their email addresses; people lose interest…. I’d like to build the mailing list up again. Please remember to let me know if you change your email address. And please invite your friends and colleagues to subscribe. There’s no cost, and no advertising – other than me promoting my views. 






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                       I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-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. I posted a new poem there this last week. 

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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think too many links constitute spam.)

                       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. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com

                       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,includes a host of spectacular pictures.

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







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