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

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Published on Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Five things I’m sort of sure of

Shortly before her 61st birthday, author Anne Lamott decided to write down a dozen things she had learned from life and writing that she could be absolutely sure about.

            Lamott writes a wry, self-deprecating humour. You can hear her at https://www.ted.com/talks/anne_lamott_12_truths_i_learned_from_life_and_writing#t-31390

            I’m considerably older than Lamott. But I thought her exercise would be worth trying myself. So here are some things that I’m sort of sure of. They all seem to be rejections of things I once accepted uncritically.



            First, I am absolutely sure that I can’t be absolutely sure of anything anymore. Life evolves. Knowledge changes. Sooner or later, everything I’m sure of will require reconsideration.

            This is, at least in part, a spin-off from quantum physics, where particles can be waves, or vice versa, and both are only probabilities. Werner Heisenberg defined his Uncertainty Principle in 1927. Ironically, he then developed a mathematical proof for his hypothesis – thus making uncertainty a certainty!

            Although originally applied to sub-atomic physics, the concept of uncertainty has gradually infiltrated other studies. Including life itself.



            Second, as a corollary, I am increasing unsure of objective truths.

            That’s another spin-off from physics that applies beyond physics – the recognition that the observer inevitably colours the observations. What you expect to find defines the data you collect to find it.

            I used to believe that truth existed independently.  Now I accept that my life experience can’t help affecting how I interpret that experience.

            Even if you and I reach the same conclusions, we took different paths to get there.



.           Third, I’m convinced that “both/and” reasoning works better than “either/or.” In this perspective, good and bad are not contradictory opposites but extremes on a spectrum.

            Fossil fuels, for example, have both improved our standard of living andcontributed to global warming. Medicine has extended life expectancy andprecipitated over-population. The internet increased communication andfostered misinformation.

            It’s the extremes that become harmful. Too little water, we die of dehydration; too much, we drown. Too much individual freedom is anarchy; too little is tyranny. Too little interaction between adults and children is neglect; too much can become abuse.

            The ideal -- what I think of as Goldilocks’ “just right” solution -- lies somewhere between the extremes. But not necessarily in the middle, nor at any fixed point on the spectrum. No formula can define the amount of love a child needs. My use of water would scandalize a Moroccan villager.

            We only know we have gone too far when we have gone too far.



            Fourth, I believe that individuals, far from being stand-alone entities, exist as bundles of relationships. Everything is connected to everything else. It’s more than a “network,” which implies physical links. Rather, like gravity, relationships function as an all-pervading force field. Or like love, not dependent on physical proximity.

            Individuals are in some way the sum of their relationships. The quality of those relationships defines their quality of life.

            Through our relationships, we individual humans seek to be part of something larger, something that transcends our individual limitations -- a church, a community, a cause.



            If I had to sum up all I’ve learned from life, it would be one word. Learn.


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





Isabel Gibson called last week’s column, based on my observations of a small garden snail crawling across the paved road,  “a thoughtful reflection… Just one thing left hanging.  Did you pick the snail up and move it off the path to the grass?”

            No, I didn’t. We humans have meddled enough with nature, even when we have good intentions.


James Russell agreed with Isabel’s assessment: “A lovely meditation. It reminded me (many things do these days) of lines from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam…”

            James quoted three verses, of which the third spoke most to me:

Then to the rolling Heav’n itself I cried,

Asking, “What Lamp had Destiny to guide

Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?”

And – “A blind Understanding!” Heav’n replied….


Penny Rankin sent me to a couple of websites about Jeremy, the left-handed snail whose quest for true love achieved viral status on the internet. Google “Jeremy left handed snail” for lots of these.


Tom Watson had “no idea that snails could be left- or right-handed. How fascinating!”


My ruminations played into Laurna Tallman’s work on the relationship between hearing and the functions of the right and left brain hemispheres. She wrote, “Thank you for your delightful ruminations on the snail and on left-lateralization, even in snails.”


“I love especially your last three lines!” Mary Collins wrote about my musings on whether I know my destinations any better than the snail did.


 Arlene Erickson thought I could easily turn that column into a poem. Which (ahem!) gives me an opportunity to remind you that if you want to read some of the thoughts that I haveturned into poems, you can find them at https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry.






The Revised Common Lectionary offers a choice of psalms for this coming Sunday: parts of Psalm 107, or parts of Psalm 49. I didn’t like the chosen excerpts, but I liked the excerpts from Psalm 107 less. So here’s my act of rebellion – a paraphrase of the whole of Psalm 49.


1-3       Everyone wants to be rich. 
Everyone imagines that money will solve all their problems. 
Whether you're rich or poor, wealthy or wino, listen to these words!

5          You know how it is when crises overcome you, 
when Murphy's Law tangles you in endless complications.

6          Other people are doing fine, but for you everything is going wrong. 
You worry. 
You get jealous, angry, and fearful. 
You redouble your efforts.

7          Why? Can you lift yourself off the ground by tugging your bootstraps?
Can you buy wealth? 
Can you grasp the good life by killing yourself?

8          Your own efforts are never enough.

9          You may prolong your life a little, but you can't prevent death;

10        You can reduce your taxes, but you can't take wealth with you when you go.

11        Even if you're worth more than some nations, you still occupy the same space in the ground when you die.

12        No matter what you are worth, no matter what you have achieved, 
you still come to the same end as the cockroach.

13        If you depend only on yourself in life, you will have only yourself in death.

14        In the end, we are all equal; ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

15        Only God transcends this endless cycle. 
God is not mortal, nor limited by mortal things. 
Only through God can anyone escape this mortal coil.

16        So what if you gain millions, and have banks bowing and scraping?

17        When you're gone, they'll bow and scrape to someone else. 
You will be only a memory.

19        Pat yourself on the back all you want for your accomplishments, 
but one thing you cannot accomplish--
you cannot live forever.

19        When you're gone, you're gone. That's it.

20        Like a cow in a feeding stall, prosperity just makes you fatter when you go. 
So don't worry about wealth. 
In the end, it won't matter.


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 recently posted another poem (about the prairies) on my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry 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 some of 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://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTcaHe’s also relatively inexpensive!

                  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



                  I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge.



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