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

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Published on Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Community picnics, past and present

Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but as summer scrolls towards a closing, I miss community picnics. 

            I seem to recall when every organization had a company picnic, a Sunday School picnic, a team picnic. 

            At times, I’ve been put in charge of these events. I have fond memories of planning games and activities that would build a feeling of family. Softball games, where it was okay to strike the boss out. A tug-of-war. Foot races. Egg and spoon races. Three-legged races. Sack races. Water balloon tosses… 

            At one church picnic, I set up a potato-peeling challenge: the winner had the longest unbroken potato peel. 

            And at a company picnic, I remember teaching people how to make s’mores around a campfire. The most common s’more consists of chocolate and partly melted marshmallow sandwiched between two graham wafers. But even better is chocolate and marshmallow, sealed into a cavity sliced out of a partially peeled banana, wrapped in aluminum foil and roasted in the embers of a bonfire until the whole thing is a drippy gooey mess. 

            We don’t seem to do those things anymore. 


Getting involved

            I owe my involvement in several local organizations to summer picnics. 

            In 1993, the summer we moved here, we heard happy noises coming from the playing field at the bottom of the hill. We went down to investigate, and got involved in CentrePiece, the museum’s annual fund-raiser. 

            CentrePiece featured a couple of its own events that I had not previously experienced. 

            A dunk tank, for example. Into which we could plunge dignitaries willing to undergo sudden immersion. 

            And something called a Cake Walk. Like musical chairs, but when the music stopped, the youngster in a selected space got to pick his or her very own cake. From a table full of cakes. Without parents telling them what to do. 

            Some kids chose to share their cake. Others ate the whole thing themselves, right off the plate, covering themselves in icing from ear to ear. 

            Meanwhile, the rest of us talked. Heard each other’s stories. Made new friends. Got involved.

            In later years, I got more deeply involved in CentrePiece. I climbed a tree in front of the museum to string a huge banner across the road. I rented stilts so that young kids could talk to my kneecaps. I wore a 1920s bathing suit that my wife made for me. 


For how long?

            I missed CentrePiece when it died. 

            The same folks had run CentrePiece year after year, and they got tired. 

            Volunteering increasingly seems to be an activity most valued by older people. Younger parents get involved in soccer, hockey, gymnastics, or Little League baseball, where someone else – perhaps a staff person -- runs the program. Volunteers just fill pre-defined roles. 

            But community events don’t work that way. Someone has to take the initiative, to gather the frayed threads out of well-intentioned chaos. To impose order. And of course to find more volunteers.

            I’m glad to say that CentrePiece is back this year. But sadly, it’s the same old people who have accepted the challenge of reviving it.

            I use the adjective “old” deliberately. They’re not young anymore. Perhaps they’re the only ones who still remember how picnics can draw communities together. 


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





Last week’s dialogue with myself was more popular than I had expected. It’s one of the rare occasions where someone has actually telephoned me to say thanks!


In letters, though, Judy MacGillvary wrote, “I can relate so well to the whole notion of wasting time, and the feeling of guilt around that. BUT, as a retiree, I'm working to learn how to waste time. We are so work oriented; I thought of going back to work and then I decided that I need to learn to play. I have worked all my life, so I have structured most times in my day. I'm learning how to let go of that structure, enjoying the time to organize and clean my desk, files, etc. I don't need to be in a hurry , I can do whatever I want to. I have played my flute every day this week, looking over some old books that I saved for when I have time. I am wandering through our apartment building just visiting with people that I run into. 

            “Thanks for sparking all of this in me, I came up with some new ideas. I need to go get another cup of coffee and waste some more time! Maybe I'll think about the whole notion of an inner voice.”


Steve Enerson hasn’t read “Eat, Pray, Lovebut I have been using that technique on and off for three decades. I don’t use it as often as I should but when I do, like you, I find it powerful…and hateful, with the logic and all. I never know what my alter ego will say, and occasionally it is astonishing.”


James Russell called the column “Just what I needed to get on with doing … nothing more than I should have been doing all morning and didn’t realize I was.”


Diane Levison: “Another thing you accomplished today was to impart some wisdom about living -- possibly ‘the power of positive thinking’.”


Richard Best asked me, “1) Did you feel better about yourself because you did something? If so, why? If not, why not?

2) Would you have felt worse about yourself if you had done nothing? If not, why not? If so, why?

            I can usually make a list of things I haven't accomplished and feel badly because I haven't. It's harder to make a list of things I have accomplished and feel good about it, because I (almost) always could have done more.”


Bob Rollwagen said, “I do not have an inner voice, or at least I must be deaf if I do. This makes me wonder what kind of person I am.”

            Bob’s letters suggest to me that he does have a strong inner voice, dedicated to justice and fairness. 

            To which Bob replied: “Based on that observation, my inner voice never shuts up!”


Dawne Taylor wrote, “I have used the ‘dialogue’ technique for years as a way to find clarity and direction. Comes from Ira Progoff’s ‘Intensive Journal Workshops’  popular in the 1980’s and ‘90s. My conversations are revealing (at least to me) when I need some way of finding my way through a morass.

            “Some call it ‘automatic writing’. I prefer to think of it more as ‘spiritual soul searching’.”






This psalm (71:1-6) is sometimes described as an old man's prayer, but it could equally well apply to a young child. Both are dependent on others. I chose to paraphrase from the child's viewpoint, because every one of us has been a child; fewer have been old -- yet.

            Based on my admittedly imperfect  records, this may be the paraphrase I have used most often over the years. I’m not sure why.


1          Don't let them make fun of me.
Let me hide myself behind your skirts. 

2          Comfort me and protect me; 
listen to my fears, and enfold me in your arms. 

3          When I am in trouble, I run to you.
I have no one but you to rely on. 

4          The bigger kids won't leave me alone; 
their greedy hands keep grabbing at me. 
Rescue me from their clutches. 

5          From the time I was tiny, you have been my refuge.
I have always been able to trust you. 

6          Before I was born, I felt safe in your womb. 
As an infant, I rested on your breast.
You are all I have, and all I ever had.


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 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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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: picnics, volunteering, CentrePiece



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