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

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Published on Wednesday, November 20, 2019

These immigrants welcome here

We had some unexpected immigrants drop in at our house recently. A couple, I assume; they’re always together. And they literally dropped in -- out of the sky, onto our bird feeder.

            Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds defines them as ringed turtle-doves. The description is clear and precise -- they could be nothing else.

            Aside from that dark ring behind the neck, they look and act like ordinary pigeons. The same birds that strut and fret in Trafalgar Square, and poop on statues all around the world. Pigeons tend to be world citizens.

            Pigeons have been around for a long time. It was a pigeon that Noah released from his ark, to see if there were green shoots growing anywhere. And a pigeon that settled on Jesus as he came up out of the Jordan River after his baptism.

            This particular species was probably imported from southern Africa or Asia as household pets. Peterson calls them “a domestic-bred variant of the African turtle-dove…seen very locally in city parks in Los Angeles, rarely elsewhere.”

            Which raises some uncomfortable questions.

            Did someone move Los Angeles?

            Has global warming spread so fast that birds of southern California can now winter in Canada?

            Or could Peterson be wrong?

            Until now, we have treated Peterson’s Guide the way many people treat the Bible: anything it says must be right. So far, it has never let us down.


Adapting to change

            But times change. Worlds move on. Our edition of Peterson was published in 1990. Like the Bible, what was true back then may not still apply. Thirty years moves us into a different time, a different context.

            Peterson has been our authority for so long, I hate to cast him aside in favour of more recent authorities like Kaufman or Sibley -- or the app, Merlin. Many pages in Peterson have marginal notations, recording the occasions and locations where we first saw this species, this variant. If we switched to a new reference, we’d have to start notations all over again.

            Just like the Bible. One time when Joan and I vacationed in Thailand, the hotel placed a book about Buddhist teachings in our bedside table, the way most North American hotel rooms offer a Gideon Bible.

            I read it with interest. I liked a lot of what it said. But I would not toss out the Bible for a book of Buddhist teachings. Or for the Qur’an or the Vedas. The Bible contains too many of my marginal notes -- even if  only written in my mind -- for me to start over with a different and unfamiliar text.


Victims of change

            There is, of course, the possibility that our avian visitors are involuntary immigrants, refugees, driven by hurricanes of change to start new lives in unfamiliar territories. Storms have blown tropical species into Nova Scotia; Siberian species to the B.C. coast; European birds to Newfoundland.

            Just the way Honduran migrants flood northward, or Syrians pour into Germany. They have no choice. Wars and oppression drive them out, drop them down.

            Whatever the cause, I’m putting out a welcome mat for these two immigrants. They seem to get along with the resident quail. I’ll keep the feeder filled. I hope they’ll stay.


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 column about Tim Berners-Lee and the internet was a kind of extended metaphor -- an analogy that is simultaneously true and not-true. So obviously, I was not saying that God is the internet, or that the internet is God. I was saying that the internet provides a different way of thinking about God.


Tom Watson got the point. He wrote, “Isn't it interesting that, even though all attempts to visualize God end up falling short, even though the best we can do is talk metaphorically, we still persist?”

            I suggested that our sheer persistence may be the strongest argument for the existence of, something that we call "God."


Richard Best: My first thought on reading your title was ‘Hmmm. That would need to be https://www, because our relationship with God is secure.’ Although maybe it isn't. At any rate, that's my first response. Now I will have to settle down and read the rest of the document.


Steve Roney starts with existing definitions and then works down to conclusions: “God is by definition omnipotent. It follows, therefore, that God must be a conscious being—a being with self-awareness and intent. A being that is unconscious and without will, like a rock, the internet, or gravity, is an obviously lesser being than mankind, let alone the Supreme Being.”


In last week’s column, I suggested that love was not a thing that exists, but an emotion. That doesn’t make love any less real.

            Laurna Tallman challenged me: “Love is not an emotion. Love is a type of rational, integrated behaviour that may or may not be accompanied by feelings of pleasure.”


David Edwards likes metaphors: “Thanks for the exploration of how we might picture the Eternal in internet terms. I like Richard Wagamese's concept, in Embers, of Creator as light: ‘Nowadays, I figure life is pretty simple. Creator is everywhere and divine light shines through everything and everyone all the time. My work is to look for that light.’”


Bruce Thomas agreed: “Another fine effort to explain the difficult to our younger ones (and not so young ones as well).”






The lectionary offers three possible psalm readings for this Sunday. One is Zechariah’s speech at the birth of his son John; the other is a threat in Jeremiah. I don’t like either of them, which is probably why I have never written a paraphrase for them. The alternate reading is Psalm 46, for which I have written a paraphrase.


1          Wars and rumors of wars swirl around us;
corporate strife and struggle engulf us.
Only God stands firm in these shifting sands.
God is our shelter from them; 
God gives us strength to go out into the stresses of each day.

2          We have nothing to fear. 
Though the social order is shaken, 
though our leaders come crashing down,

3          though long-honoured standards fly at half-mast
and the values we inherited are scorned --
even then, we have nothing to fear.


4          The comforting presence of God pours over us 
like cool water on a burning beach; 
it makes us glad.

5          God is with us; 
God is an oasis of peace

6          upon a darkened plain where ignorant armies clash by night. 
The ambitious trample on each other; 
The emperor stands naked in the cold clear light of innocence. 
They are frozen in their folly.

7          But God is with us; 
God is our sanctuary.


8          See how wonderfully the Lord works! 
Those who would beat others have beaten themselves;

9          Those obsessed with winning wind up as losers; 
Those who think only of themselves find that no one thinks of them at all. 
Their struggles add up to nothing.

10        This is God's word to the warring: "Be still! 
Be still, and know that I -- not you! -- am God!"


11        In the tumult of the nations, 
in the torment of the earth, 
God is with us. 
God is our sanctuary. 
Thanks be to God.


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.






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, 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.)






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”)



                  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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