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

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Published on Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Halloween, beyond the masks

Halloween has a very short shelf life. Apparently, it ranks right up there with Christmas and Thanksgiving for retail sales. But as someone’s blog noted, there’s not much market for Darth Vader costumes the day after Halloween. Nor for packages of 100 bite-sized chocolate bars. 

            With Halloween coming up tomorrow night, I can’t help wondering about our fascination with this pseudo-religious festival. 

            Yes, pseudo-religious. Because Halloween -- or Hallowe’en, a shortened form for All Hallows’ Even(ing), the night before All Hallows’ Day – certainly had its origins in religion. “Hallow” refers to the holy, the sacred, as in “Hallowed be Thy name.” The hallowed ones in this case are the dead, especially those we think of as saints. 

            Formally, we recognize them on All Saints’ Day, the day after Halloween. 

            Hallows’ Eve, therefore, became the night when the dead, both saintly and un-, returned to roam the dark.

            But I doubt if any of the costumed kids going door to door with their loot bags will be thinking saintly thoughts. Indeed, I doubt if one in a hundred parents will bother explaining the religious roots of their annual ritual. 

            For most, Halloween is simply a chance to dress-up in fancy costume. (Hopefully, video won’t turn up someday to haunt their political careers.)

            I seem to recall having more fun fabricating our children’s costumes than they had wearing them.  

 

Between two extremes

            We used to ration their loot for weeks, on the theory that too much sugar would be bad for their teeth. Now, I’m told, dentists recommend pigging out. Get the sugar overload over with, and then brush their teeth. Vigorously. 

            Funny, ain’t it, that we can so readily recognize what’s wrong, much more easily than what’s right. 

            We know that greed is wrong, period. And we know that too much sugar is bad. We don’t often recognize that the Inuit of the Arctic have been growing bigger and stronger, generation by generation, largely because they now have some sugar in their diet. 

            We know instantly that it’s wrong when a mom screams at her child in a grocery store, or when a dad whacks his kid on the playground. But we struggle to find the right level of patience, tolerance, and firmness when our own children misbehave. 

            We only know when we’ve gone too far, when we’ve gone too far. 

            In the same way, long ago, we learned certain “truths.” In the Christian church, for example, the Apostle’s Creed states, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth…” 

            But what if I can’t affirm the traditional creeds anymore? Rejecting a fairy-godmother-god doesn’t mean I have to go to the opposite extreme, and believe there’s no God at all. Or believe in nothing. 

            There’s a middle ground. I find it helps to formulate a personal counter-creed, defining what I do NOT believe in. Such as ghosties and goblins. Or an old white man sitting on a cloud. 

            A counter-creed helps me narrow down what I DO believe. Using the Halloween metaphor, it lets me find the child hidden behind the mask. 

            A counter-creed seems to me to be just as valid a statement of belief as the historic creeds do. 

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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

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YOUR TURN

 

There were lots of letters last week – lots and lots and LOTS of letters – but they were almost all good wishes and prayers for Joan’s health and recovery. 

            I’m very grateful. 

            Sometimes I have written that an online community is not the same as a face-to-face community. And of course it isn’t. You folks out there in cyber-land won’t come running in the middle of the night if I can’t cope, and you’re not going to deliver casseroles and apple crisp. But just the same, you deliver warm feelings; you keep the darkness at a safe distance. 

            Thank you. I’ll keep you informed, from time to time, how things are going.

 

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PSALM PARAPHRASE

 

The Revised Common Lectionary gives me two possible psalms for this coming Sunday. Both of them strike me as what Herb O’Driscoll once called “mealy-mouthed whining.” So instead of using either of them, I’m sending you a poem by Brian Bilston, forwarded to me by James Russell. 

            It’s called a “palindromic” poem. A palindrome, of course, is a word or  phrase that can be read the same either frontwards or backwards, as in “wow,” “racecar,” “Madam I’m Adam.” This poem is not a true palindrome, in that sense, because if you read it from top to bottom you’ll get an entirely different message than if you read it from bottom to top. 

            Aside from the message it conveys, I think it qualifies as a “psalm” because it’s the kind of word play some of the biblical writers loved to dabble with -- such as arranging verses so that they started with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. They just hadn’t invented palindromes yet.

 

Refugees

 

They have no need of our help

So do not tell me

These haggard faces could belong to you or me

Should life have dealt a different hand

We need to see them for who they really are

Chancers and scroungers 

Layabouts and loungers

With bombs up their sleeves

Cut-throats and thieves

They are not 

Welcome here

We should make them

Go back to where they came from

They cannot

Share our food

Share our homes 

Share our countries

Instead let us

Build a wall to keep them out

It is not okay to say

These are people just like us

A place should only belong to those who are born there

Do not be so stupid to think that

The world can be looked at another way

 

(now read it from bottom to top)

 

For paraphrases of most of the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.

 

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TECHNICAL STUFF

 

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, please check 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.)

 

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PROMOTION STUFF

 

To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.

                  Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’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”)

 

ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE

                  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. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)

 

 


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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: beliefs, extremes, Halloween, creeds

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