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

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Published on Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Never take water for granted

Every newscast recently seems to make floods its lead story. Floods in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. Less recently, floods in Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe. Largely unpublicized, floods in Iran and South Africa.

            Understandably, some residents resent having their floods described as “once in a century.” 

            “That’s what they told us last year,” grumbled a resident of New Brunswick’s St. John River valley. “Now we’re having another hundred-year flood this year.”

            I have some sympathy for those people piling sandbags to protect their property. I did it myself, once – but never, I hasten to admit, year after year. 

            I was still at university. A group of us sat around the common room of our student residence. Someone stuck his head in the door and said, “Hey! The Seymour River’s flooding. They’re calling for volunteers.”

            We loaded several cars with husky young men. I think I drove one car, because I knew the way — I had had, for a while, a girlfriend who lived in a house near the lower reaches of the river. 

            A coordinator directed us where to park, where to go to help. 

            In the pelting rain — which was not easing the flood threat — we worked through the night. We shovelled sand into burlap bags. We handed full bags along a human chain. We piled bags to reinforce the barriers already holding  back the rushing river. 

            We waded through water above our ankles. The rain plastered our hair to our heads, dripped off our noses, fogged our glasses, soaked through our light jackets. 

            But we kept working until the army relieved us about 3:00 a.m. 


A frightening reality

            We saved the community. At one point, though, I peered over the wall of sandbags at the river racing by. The water was chin-high. And furiously fast. 

            I was stunned at its depth and its power. I was standing on the paved blacktop of someone’s driveway. The water should have been well below the level of that driveway. 

If I needed any additional incentive to keep working, the height of that torrent provided it. If our sandbag barriers ever breached, we would all be swept away in an instant. 

            It’s not how we normally think of water. Water is benign. We drink it, wash in it, water our gardens with it. 

            Even in the wild, we idealize water. A sparking brook, tumbling among boulders. A placid river, threading through green pastures. A lake, dancing in the sun. 

            But water has another side. Two other sides, really. Because either too much or too little water is equally dangerous. 

            Too little water leads to death by dehydration – trivialized by cartoons of parched pilgrims crawling on hands and knees across the sands of the Sahara. 

            Too much water is the floods afflicting much of the world as weather systems grow more severe. Too much water is drowning. Too much water is congestive heart failure. 

            Either extreme is deadly. 

            Where’s the happy medium? There isn’t one. A water shortage in Toronto would qualify as absurd abundance in Timbuctoo. Nor should we try to define the “right” amount of water. Or the right amount of anything else. What we need to watch out for in any situation is the extremes. 


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





I drifted into abstract conceptualizing again last week, with a column about how we observe ourselves behaving. And beyond that, how we observe ourselves thinking – observing ourselves observing ourselves. I didn’t get a lot of responses. 


Ruth Buzzard commented, “Personally, my sense of observation is infinitely improved by hanging a ‘real’ camera around my neck, not just a cell phone.  I look at the structure of a flower, maybe there is a bug on it;  a single close-up or a field of flowers?  I look for a tree, or a bush, or an interesting rock, or a total stranger to put in the foreground of a beautiful landscape.  I try to accent the cloud formations.  Painters do the same thing but with considerably more skill.  I would not have noticed these things with such clarity if I had not been trying to express my feelings about them.  And it is the photo I remember, not the actual scene.  When people ask me what I do with my photos, and do I show them to other people, I answer that it doesn’t matter.  It is the act of seeing that is important, not the finished picture.”

            Ruth also liked my paraphrase of Psalm 150: “I loved the pure joy of your up-date.  Around a campfire a friend told about [the joy of] skiing down untracked powder with friends, and everyone threw up their arms and just yelled together in joy.”


Gwen Hayes wrote, “Your question of whether anyone struggles through the works and convoluted reasoning of the world’s great thinker-observers (from Aquinas and Nietzsche to Rachel Carson, Rebecca Solnit) made me think of another newsletter that I subscribe to. You may well have come across Brain Pickings by Maria Popova www.brainpickings.org on your own, and if not I highly recommend it. Maria writes about philosophers, observers, thinkers, and creatively links perspectives and observations, one to another to another. (Check the archives –philosophy, history, philosophy, psychology, culture, art.) 

            “A treasure chest! Each link takes me down a new rabbit hole, expanding my observational skills and awareness, exponentially at times. Indeed I’ve been prompted to read a few of the original references (or attempted to). I’ve learned that despite a thirst to understand convoluted reasoning and expand my own observational capacities, there are limits to my patience, and while I might struggle through some of the source material, I’m relieved and grateful that writers such as yourself and Popova take weighty subjects and unwieldy concepts and transform them into a cogent and succinct set of thoughts. Sometimes small bites are more easily digested than scarfing down the entire meal.”


And Tom Watson commented about my sending budding writers out to spend 15 minutes in silence: “I recently heard a speech by a man who does a lot of photographing in the wild. He said that the best approach was to stand still and observe because wild creatures bolt at any sign of movement, but if he stands motionless that's when he gets his best photos.”






I have several versions of Psalm 30. I wrote this one for a friend declared cancer-free. But it’s not necessarily about cancer; I hope anyone recovering from a life-threatening illness or accident would have some of these feelings. Granted, it portrays a God who intervenes in human affairs, a concept I’m trying to give up. But it still speaks to a powerful human emotion. 


Glory, hallelujah! Today marks one year free from cancer!

Chemotherapy is hell. 

In my pit of self-pity I wondered if beating cancer was worth it.

It’s hard to be up when you’re down.

But this too shall pass;
the darkness of despair lifts when new life dawns. 

I do not coast through life on the level.

When life is good, it is very very good,
but when it is bad, it is… you know the rest.

My prayers were anguished cries. 

I stormed at God; I raged,

“What good will it do you -- or me --
for me to die denouncing you as impotent, faithless, unfair?”

You heard.

You acted.

You have turned my kyries into hallelujahs,
my IV bags into picnic baskets.

Sunshine surrounds me;
I will radiate your infinite love  to every being I meet.

Glory, hallelujah!


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.

                  To subscribe or unsubscribe, send an e-mail message to jimt@quixotic.ca. Or you can subscribe electronically by sending a blank e-mail (no message or subject line) to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca. Similarly, you can un-subscribe at softedges-unsubscribe@lists.quixotic.ca.

                  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 blank email (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 web 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. The original website has been closed down, but you can still order the DVD set through Wood Lake Publications, 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. She also has lots of beautiful photos.

                  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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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: extremes, floods



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