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

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Published on Thursday, June 18, 2020

Implications of “I’d rather…”

The follies of my youth have caught up with me. For a dozen years, I spent almost every sunny weekend out on the water, just bumming around in small boats. Sometimes up Howe Sound, sometimes up the North Arm, sometimes just in Coal Harbour.

            But wherever it was, I got blasted two ways by ultra-violet rays -- from the sun overhead, and from the sun reflecting off the water.

            It was a glorious time, I remember.

            But now I’m paying the price. A dermatologist told me that I will need to have seven pre-cancerous patches on my face removed surgically. Earlier treatments with cryotherapy had not controlled the lesions.

            He told me I should avoid sunshine completely. To stay inside. To wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants. To wear sunscreen, even indoors.

            “Ideally,” he said, “I’d like to see you living in the bottom of a coal mine.”

            Perhaps he was over-dramatizing, to make me pay attention. Regardless, my instant reaction was, “I’d rather die!”

            Give up gardening; abandon my plant friends? Give up hiking in summer, cross-country skiing in the winter? Give up biking beside a sparkling lake, or flicking a fly line into a burbling stream? Give up fresh air, butterflies, cloud castles…?

            So that I don’t have to face possible further skin damage? And maybe full-blown skin cancer?

            It occurred to me that a life that’s not worth living is, well,  not worth living.


Imperfect choices

            I will probably follow some of his recommendations, but not all. 

            Later, I thought about that “I’d rather…” reaction.

            It seems to me that “I’d rather” implies choosing between two, or more, options -- neither of which is ideal. Or, put another way, both have negative aspects as well as positive.

            When the choice is clear -- between a chocolate fudge sundae and a glass of castor oil, say -- no one bothers framing their answer with “I’d rather….”

            “I’d rather…,” though just two words, carries a lot of baggage. They mean that I recognize I’m making a deliberate choice. For which I may not have as much information as I’d like. And for which I can’t always calculate the consequences.

            But I’d rather face the devil I know than the devil I don’t know. Or vice versa, perhaps.


Making things clearer

            “I’d rather” forces me to consider what’s really important to me.

            I’d rather live a life that celebrates the world of nature around me, than a life that avoids it.

            I’d rather live a life that’s open and transparent, than one where I have to keep some components covered up.

            I’d rather live a life that’s vulnerable, that may be subject to pain and loss and deceit, than huddle in self-protective isolation like the late Howard Hughes.

            I’d rather keep seeking truth that’s just beyond my grasp than hunker down behind pre-digested formulations.

            Tomorrow I might change those “I’d rather’s.” So be it.

            An old limerick poked fun at inflexible mindsets:

Said a young theologian named Sam:

“It is borne upon me that I am

An engine that moves

In predestinate grooves --

I’m not even a bus, I’m a tram!”

            I’d rather be free to be wrong, than be safely sheltered at the bottom of a coal mine.


Copyright © 2020 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





In last week’s column, I mentioned the organization called “Freeman of the City of London. Bob Rollwagen actually knew one of them personally: “A good friend [female] was  a Freeman of London, and as a guest of the Lord Mayor of London, guided a flock of sheep across a bridge in London recently. She was a very wise woman and a leader in her profession. While she was likely aware of these guidelines, I cannot remember her relying on historical statements to justify her actions. She lived in her time, built for the future, and worked shoulder to shoulder with colleagues striving for a better world. For her, one big issue was helping children with AIDS in Africa. Not much previous knowledge available on that one.”


And Steve Roney found the little book “Rules for the Conduct of Life” online: https://archive.org/details/somerulesforcon00rulegoog/page/n4/mode/2up

            He called it, “An interesting read. It is a sad reminder of how much we’ve lost. We instinctively know we’re lacking in proper guidance in this secularized world. Thus the unprecedented popularity of Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life.

            “Validating the advice with quotations from the Bible is of course the natural thing for a Christian audience, who believes that the Bible is the revealed word of God. Rule 7 is “To live well is to be constantly obedient to God's commands, and never willing to do or desire that which is contrary to any of them.” The Bible is where, for a Christian, God’s commands are found.

            “It is fair to object that the moral law can be reasoned out without reference to the Bible -- I think Kant, for example, demonstrated this; and it has always been the teaching of the Catholic Church. But it is irrational for each individual to try to do so -- that’s like demanding that we each arrive at all the knowledge obtained by science throughout history entirely for ourselves, by experiment, without referring to any science text.”


The rest of the mail was mostly about the citation of authorities. 


Tom Watson wondered about my suggestion that we should begin “by observing ‘...the current situation fully and correctly.’ What are the guarantees that we have observed, and understood, the current situation ‘fully and correctly’? What are the safeguards against our letting our personal view of something carry us away? Can we be so convinced of our own understandings that they lead us to fundamentally flawed conclusions, and thereby decisions?

            “I agree that citing old authorities doesn't cut it. What's called for, maybe, is figuring out the general principles the old authorities were guided by in their decision-making. Not simply to take their decision because, as you rightly point out, the contexts will be entirely different, but the principles may well still hold.”


James Russell defended citations: “I thought footnoting and the search for sources was honest work done so as not to claim other’s ideas as our own.  We do it so as not even to  seem to steal.  We are always the author of the parts that aren’t footnoted, and responsible for errors in attributions.”

            He added, “I’ve read a couple of books lately by Eric Larsen, a historian I’ve just discovered.  He’s a really clear and interesting writer who puts no footnote marks in his text but has extensive notes at the end on sources….  I thought you might be interested in the tail-end to his introduction: ‘In the following notes I cite and credit mainly material that I have quoted from original documents or secondary sources; I’ve also cited things that seem likely to strike readers as novel or controversial.  I do not, however, cite everything.  Episodes and details that are well-known and fully documented elsewhere, and material whose source is obvious, such as certain clearly dated diary entries, I have chosen not to annotate in order to avoid end-matter bloat.’”

            JT: Lovely phrase, “end-matter bloat.”


Nenke Jongkind appreciated that “I’ve often thought [what you said] yet I had never put it into words and could not have done it as well and concisely as you have. Why indeed do we need any external resources? Are we so insecure? Will we not believe each other if it is (merely) our experience or opinion? Or can that work only within family or friends? 

            “Thank you too for the poem and the opportunity to chair dance to the Psalm.”




Psalm paraphrase


Through this season, the Revised Common Lectionary offers two choices of psalms. I’m going with the alternate reading this week, Psalm 69:7-10 (11-15) 16-18, mostly because I have never yet used it in these mailings. I wrote it after a boy who had brain damage at birth levelled with me about his feelings. David, if you’re still around, this is for you. 


7          I'm tired of being treated with contempt. 
I can't stand people completing sentences for me. 
I don't want to be different.

8          Nobody knows what it's like -- not even my sister or my parents. 

9          I've tried, God. 
I've tried to ignore the snickers, the ridicule. 
I've tried not to mind always being the last one picked for a team. 
They look away when I drool; 
they insist on helping me when I don't need it. 

10        Companies and organizations use me. 
They put me on display to show how they hire the handicapped. 

11        I've played along. 

12        But it hasn't changed anything. 
I'm still the outsider, the incompetent one, the laughingstock. 

13        Do you understand what it's like, God? 
Can you, in your perfection, know what it's like to be imperfect? 
Can you love me in spite of my imperfections?

14        Sometimes suicide seems the only way out. 
I tried it once. 

15        But I was too scared. 
All I could see ahead was a black hole, a bottomless pit. 
I couldn't face my fear of nothingness. 

16        Now I hang between that nothingness and the emptiness of my life. 
Pull me back from the brink, Lord. 

17        Don't you reject me too. 

18        Hold my hand. Draw me back to life. 
Set me free from the prison of my faulty body. 


You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.







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                  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”)



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