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

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Published on Sunday, September 27, 2020

The importance of keeping tools sharp

All my tomatoes ripened at once. One day, the vines were loaded with green tomatoes, only three showing red. The next day, it seemed, every tomato was huge, red, and already overripe. 

            I picked about 30 pounds of them. Some were so ripe, they were starting to split. 

            No way can one person, living alone, consume 30 pounds of overripe tomatoes before they rot. 

            So I took half of them to our local food bank. 

            What to do with the rest? 

            I thought I remembered Joan, my wife, cutting them up and freezing them for future use. For tomato soup, spaghetti sauce, or chili con carne. So I washed the remaining tomatoes, quartered them, cut out the stem core, and popped them into freezer bags. 


Paring knives

            For I don’t know how long, we’ve been using paring knives that go back, well,  I don’t know how long. They may be been my mother’s. Or Joan’s mother’s. The blades won’t hold an edge any more. 

            So, recently, I bought a new self-sharpening paring knife. I used it on those tomatoes. 

            What a difference an edge makes! Ripe tomatoes are not tough to cut. But even I, unskilled kitchen labour, could feel the difference!

            Which brings me, finally, to my point.

            Until I did those tomatoes, I had not appreciated the importance of keeping kitchen knives sharp. 

            I knew about woodworking tools. A plane, a chisel, a saw can only do its job properly if it is literally razor sharp. Otherwise, it damages the wood, rather than shaping it. 

            And I was taught by a scoutmaster, many years ago, how to sharpen an axe. “A dull axe,” he told me, “is far more dangerous than a sharp one.”


Tools for living

            And that got me thinking about what else needs to be kept sharp. 

            Our bodies, for example. I have a dog, who needs lots of walking. Others go to gyms and fitness classes. 

            But how about my mind? 

            It used to be assumed that the human brain reached its zenith in our early 20s. From then on, it wasted away. Downhill, all the way to death. 

            T’ain’t so, apparently. Modern research shows that our brains can keep learning, can keep developing new pathways, right up to the final days. As long as we keep sharpening them.

            I like to think that these columns are a way of keeping my wits sharp.

            I also do the puzzles in my daily paper. Sometimes I tackle crosswords or sudoku. I read a lot… but too often, only stuff I agree with. To keep my wits sharp, I should read views contrary to my own. I need conversations that challenge my assumptions, that plush me toward new horizons.

            What about my compassion? 

            I donate to selected charities. My accountant says I’m generous. Still, most of those donations come directly out of my bank account. I don’t have to think about them. 

            Keeping compassion sharp, I suspect, requires actually doing things. Like delivering tomatoes to the food bank. Actually volunteering might be even better. At the food bank, or some other local service.

            It’s far too easy to let life slide. To get dull. Just like paring knives. 


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





Beth Richardson responded to my lament about not getting some of the musical artists of the 1950s and ‘60s in the CD set I ordered with this comment:  “Good grief...if they missed the ‘greats’ in the CD set, who did they include?”

            I had to explain that the set did include many of the "greats," -- Patti Page and Rosemary Clooney; the McGuire Sisters and various “Fours”: Four Freshmen, Four Lads, Four Aces.... There were only one or two selections that I would think of as so-so singers. My whine wasn’t about those they included, but those they didn’t include.


Ray Shaver offered an alternative: “What a pity that you didn’t receive the music that you expected.  But you can today.  There’s all kinds of music out there, on line.  I subscribe to Apple Music for about $10 per month that enables me to listen to any of 50 million music choices and download up to 100,000.  Spotify has features similar to Apple Music for the same $10 per month price.

            “I just tested Apple Music and was listening to Doris Day singing Que Sera Sera within 10 seconds.”


Janie Wallbrown: “You hit the nail on the head [about expectations]. Whether it’s the root problem of all human behavior, this poor 85-year-old mind will have to think about that. 

            “As a pastor doing marital counseling before couples got married, I found clarifying expectations was essential. Doing marriage counseling as a psychologist, digging out expectations was a key to success. “


Tom Watson was philosophical: “Expectations don't always measure up, but it's better to have high expectations than low ones. If we go into something not expecting a whole lot, that's likely what we'll get. 


So was Bob Rollwagen: “Expectation is a skill. You can be realistic, or maybe just well informed. Experience and education build your ability to anticipate. I admit that I have been greatly disappointed when I have had a significant expectation that did not materialize. The really frustrating aspect is when I think about the event and realize ‘I know better’.  

            “Including the biggest hits by famous musicians likely would have increased the price and reduced net profit for the retailer. I did the same thing [as you] on line, But only once, because of the results. 

            “As I have aged, my expectations have become significantly smaller and fewer.”


Isabel Gibson wrote, “Spanish has a lovely verb, albeit a little confusing to an English speaker: esperar. Its English translation is ‘to wait, to hope (for), to expect’. That seems like a different take on ‘expectations’ and maybe a happier one.”


Barb Landowski applied the lesson in her family: “Your column reminded me of a discussion I had with my youngest child when she was in in her late teens. 

            “She said ‘I want—' and I stopped her there. 

            “I replied ‘Good, because if you didn't “want” you would have no reason to get up in the morning’ It made an impression on my then troubled teen. As an adult she recalled this event to me and still occasionally will bring it up.”


Cliff Boldt: “Your reference to Buddha about desires is a good opening for a healthy debate about desires and life. 

            “I totally agree with your words:  ‘My own Christian tradition encourages me to respond to life actively rather than passively.’ That was, I believe, the basis for the development of the Social Gospel. As a Christian, I believe that I am responsible to demonstrate by my actions what I desire for others.  Not easy, but those are the direction handed to me when I made a commitment.”


Laurna Tallman found an analogy: “Making theatrical costumes, my aim was to replicate the clothing of a particular time period. I soon learned, especially with the low budgets available, that many details of an actual dress or suit worn on a stage cannot be seen clearly even from the first row of seats. (Film and television is a different game.) I learned to exaggerate designs, make materials appear to be some substance they are not, and to use dyes and paint and other inexpensive materials to create realistic effects from the point of view of the audience. I used a seat halfway back in the theatre as a rule of thumb for those appearances. 

            “During my stint at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, one of the professional designers aimed for the front row of seats, with an overall negative effect on his career. It is especially tempting to design for close inspection when the apron stage projects into the wrap-around audience and actors frequently enter and exit along aisles through that audience. In the long run, that’s not a cost effective way to stage a play. My expectations as a designer of clothing had to change. 

            “Those experiences altered my expectations of ‘perfection’ in life, too. We may have the innate ability to imagine closer approximations to the ideal – in sound production, designer clothing, architecture, menus, playlists, and so on, but a sense of appropriateness or suitability and sustainability needs to be embedded in that ‘ideal.’ COVID-19, rampant forest fires, rising oceans, social unrest, and climate change are revising some of society’s most dearly held expectations. Sometimes, ‘good enough’ is most perfect. 

            “Your psalm paraphrase made that point beautifully. 




Psalm paraphrase


How is wisdom passed along? In this paraphrase of Psalm 78, I suggest it happens as we tell stories. 


1          Come, children, sit beside me. 
Listen while I tell you a story. 

2          I will teach you the old wives' tales, the wisdom of many generations 

3          distilled into deceptively simple sayings.
We women have not roamed the world as solitary hunters;
ours is the hearth and the home, nurturing the lives of our loved ones. 

4          In endless talk of nothing much
we learn from each other's trials and tribulations.
We pass our collective wisdom along as aphorisms:
-- A stitch in time... 
-- A rolling stone...
-- Sleeping dogs... 
-- Glass houses...
Each maxim gleams with its own gem of truth, sifted from the sands of time.

5          Through our collective consciousness, God guides us.
Individual insights melt into communal memory. 

6          That is how we pass on our hard-won wisdom to generations not yet conceived.
Someday, children, you will tell these stories to your grandchildren, 

7          So that they too can know that they belong to the people of God,
so that they too can be a light to the nations,
a path pointing the way toward God. 


You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalms available 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, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry I posted some new poetic works there a few weeks ago. 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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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: tools, sharpness mind, compassion



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