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

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Published on Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Actions that change the world

Today is the 18th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, September 11, 2001. 

            My wife and I were wakened early that morning by a frantic call from our daughter, who lived one time zone east. She sobbed, “Turn on your TV! You have to see this!”

            Through the rest of the day, we watched, transfixed by the tragedy. Over and over, we watched the two planes bank, smash into the towers, with a gout of exploding fuel erupting through the far wall of the tower. 

            We watched as the buildings collapsed like a house of cards.

            The September 11 attacks have been called events that changed history -- the first time America had been attacked on its own ground. Not actually true. During the war of 1812, a military force from Canada attacked Washington, and burned the White House and the Capitol Building to the ground. 

            It was only fair. American forces had done the same to Toronto the year before. 


Not a single event

            Of course, there were two other hijacked flights. One crashed into the Pentagon. And another, possibly intended for the White House or Congress, where the passengers refused to sit passively and let it happen. They overwhelmed the hijackers. 

            That plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania., killing all 44 on board. There’s no way of knowing how many lives they saved by sacrificing their own.

            I wonder what would have happened if the passengers on the two flights piloted into the World Trade Center had shown similar initiative. 

            It’s a useless wonder, of course. Because it didn’t happen that way.

            It’s like wondering what would have happened if a Serbian nationalist had not shot ArchdukeFranz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Would the First World War have been averted? 

            Or what if John Kennedy had leaned forward as Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullets headed for his skull. Would the age of Camelot have continued in the U.S.? 

            Speculation is fruitless, futile. What happened is what happened, period. 


Everyone changes history

            But one factor stands out, for me. One person -- or two, or 19 -- can change history. Indeed, one person is constantly changing history. What I choose to do or not to do this instant will affect someone else, who will affect someone else, who...

            That spreading ripple of effects may never make it into history texts. Some of those get written down; most don’t. But they change history, nevertheless.

            I doubt if Jesus thought he was changing history. He was, after all, just an itinerant artisan from a small town in a fractious corner of the mighty Roman empire, talking to people. But look how his ripples spread.

            If the thought that every word or act is shaping history induces paralysis in you, remember that doing nothing will also affect the future. The FBI had reports about the 19 hijackers’ suspicious behaviour. But their agents choose to do nothing. 

            The rest, as they say, is history. 

            When I was young, I was told I should always behave myself, because God was watching. Nothing escaped God’s eagle eye. 

            Whether there is such a God, or not, it might be more rational to argue that nothing escapes history. Whatever is done, whoever does it, cannot help affecting everything that follows. 


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





Some of the responses to last week’s column, about migrating hummingbirds, were quite brief. 

            Tom Watson wrote, “Aren't those hummingbirds just the most amazing little fellows?”

            And Isabel Gibson sent one word: “Nice.”


Laurna Tallman said a little more: “Thank you for this information about hummingbirds. We have them here, too, although we let them feed on the abundant flowers rather than on a feeder. I had no idea how they migrated alone. What a powerful metaphor you have drawn from that information! As I am setting out virtually alone on new ventures I will treasure those images you have drawn so vividly.”


And neighbour Stuart Detjen wrote from his house about a block away, “Sorry to hear the hummingbirds have left your garden and feeders. Down here South of you we still have four hummingbirds visiting. Your living so far North of us -- about 400 meters -- must be the reason for their early departure.”


The longest letter came from Marilyn Stone, on spiritual life in general: “I retired at the end of 2012 from pastoral ministry and was enjoying volunteering in our United Church of Christ churches here in Springfield, South Dakota, or in the winter in Lake Worth, Florida. The church in Lake Worth had not been able to find a volunteer to head the elementary Sunday School class, so advertised it as a very part-time job. After waiting three months for someone else to apply, I dusted off my resume and am starting in October! (Our grandson is one of the students!). 

            “I am writing this to you to mention the Curriculum that we are using. It is ‘A Joyful Path, Year 1: Spiritual Curriculum for Young Hearts and Minds, The Inner Wisdom’. The authors listed are Lorna Knox, Carol Manor, Susan Usha Dermond, and Deshna Ubeda, with contributions by Michael Morwood and Fred Plumer. It is publishedby Progressive Christianity.org. Their theology is very much in tune with your writing. This is especially evident to me in Lesson 22: Opening Our Hearts in Prayer. The Teacher's notes assert "Prayer is the means to deepen awareness that we are intimately connected and bonded with our planet, our universe and all that is in this Presence... Prayer is not the words expressed to an elsewhere God. Prayer is about reflection on life and the interconnectedness everyone and all things within God's Presence.’

            “It especially warns that ‘we should consciously strive to avoid any talk about prayer or saying prayers that suggest:

-- God is somewhere else

-- God is like a big daddy in the sky

-- God controls everything

-- God listens like a human person.’

            “There is much more in this 38-lesson curriculum that is challenging me to my own renewal as I attempt to pass on our faith and heritage to our youngest generation. I am very glad to find help in communicating this contemporary message, and so glad our pastor is promoting it.

            “Keep up your good writing and know that there is a whole community of like-minded, though too often silent, folks who share your views.”






Relationships make us what we are. Maybe, as Isabel Gibson suggested in last week’s letters, we are not individuals at all; we are our relationships. In this paraphrase of Psalm 98, I imagined those relationships during Christmas, but it could be anytime. 


1          Grandparents perch on the edge of the bed; 
young ones snuggle in beside their parents.

2          The family circle is unbroken; 
everyone belongs here. 
It is a time of expectation and of celebration. 

3          Wherever they go, whatever they do, members of this family will be faithful to each other. 
They will always be each other's children, each other's parents. 

4          They all talk at once, excitedly; 
when they hear themselves, they burst into laughter. 

5          Laughter is the icing on a cake of comfort that generations have baked; 
it tinkles around the room like glass bells hung on a tree. 

6          As cold toes grow warmer under a comfy quilt, so loving relationships grow warmer with time.

7          Though icy winds howl and blizzards rage, children will wriggle and seniors smile gently.

8          The simple pleasures of companionship rise from them to heaven; 
it is a sacrifice pleasing to God. 

9          for God loves a loving relationship, and judges the quality of our lives together.


For paraphrases of most of the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalms from 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. Especially of birds.

                  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 (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                  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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