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

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Published on Saturday, September 18, 2021

The “temples” we ring bells in

Thursday September 9, 2021


At some point in the years before his death, Peter Gzowski interviewed a musician who played temple bells in southeast Asia. Was it in Thailand? Cambodia? I can’t remember. Nor can I remember the musician’s name. 

            I can remember the conversation. 

            The musician talked about the resonance of the temple bells. The resonance could still be heard for a minute or more, after a bell was struck. As long as the bell was inside the temple. Taken out into the open air and struck, it made a dull chunk. 

            “You’re not really playing the bells,” Gzowski exclaimed. “You’re playing the temple!”

            The interview stays with me, because it explains a lot of the animosity I hear in public discourse these days. Not so much from the politicians in this federal election. More from the fringe elements who see things only their way and no other way. 

            To make senses of their message, I need to sense their temple.


Different temples

            Author Harper Lee wrote, “You never really understand another person until…you climb inside their skin and walk around in it.”

            Or, I might paraphrase, until you discover what kind of temple they’re ringing their bell in.  

            A recent newspaper editorial from a taxpayers’ organization, for example, railed against government deficits. Money being wasted on social programs. The futility of throwing money at climate change.

            The argument makes perfect sense – if you accept fiscal orthodoxy as your primary value. 

            That’s the editorial writer’s holy temple. 

            The other side might equally argue that fiscal orthodoxy is useless, if our grandchildren inherit an unliveable planet. 

            Different temple.

            Protesters gather outside hospitals to denounce health-care workers for giving vaccinations. They claim that vaccinations are harmful. That mandatory masks violate their rights. That the coronavirus is a hoax. Or not as dangerous as it’s portrayed. Or was created by Dr. Anthony Fauci -- because he said, three years ago, that a pandemic was coming. How could he know that, unless he caused it?

            Some will also proclaim that the pandemic is an international  conspiracy by which pharmaceutical companies make billions from selling fake cures to the bottomless coffers of governments, while paying the mass media to suppress the truth.

            If you buy into conspiracy theories, it will ring true. 

            To me, observing from outside that temple, it goes clunk. 


Churches too

            Another word for “temple” might be “echo chamber.” 

            Echo chambers are misleading. Even dangerous. What you hear resonating back to you is what you put out. It confirms with what you think you already know. 

            I can’t claim clean hands. I’ve spent most of my working life in churches. Temples. Which are also echo chambers. 

            In most churches, you hear what you expect to hear. It’s easy, even expected, to talk about God as unconditional love. 

            But I wonder how much unconditional love the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the floods resulting from Hurricane Ida, are feeling. 

            Maybe, if you’ve survived, you can believe that a divine power saved you. But if that’s love, what about all those who didn’t survive? 

            When your home has been destroyed, your son drowned, your mother missing, traditional platitudes just go clunk.         

            They only ring true inside a particular temple. 


Copyright © 2021 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





Okay, washing dishes is not a profound subject to write about. But it obviously touched something within you. You responded with your own stories. 


Ken Nicholls: “It was a rule in our family that Mum got Sunday off from doing the dishes. Dad, \ my two brothers and I performed the task and make sure all was clean and tidy. To make it more of an event, we used to sing our way through as many hymns as we could. We discovered later that our neighbour used to open her kitchen window to hear us sing -- her own male voice choir! This is the nearest she could ever get to going to church.

            “This proves the great value of washing up!


Jim Henderschedt: “As the official ‘dishwasher’ in our home (yes, we have a dishwasher appliance but some dishes need hands-on attention) I found your pastor's soapy devotion to be most meaningful. She reminded me that it is the most ‘mindless’ tasks that we should be mindful of. 

            "She also reminded me of the Thin Places of Celtic Spirituality where the veil between heaven and earth is briefly parted and we get a glimpse of the divine. I doubt that I will wash many dishes from now on without being reminded that the kitchen sink is another ‘thin place’ and that the divine is present among the suds. 

            “She must be a ‘mystic.’ I am so pleased to believe that she is comfortable thinking and living outside the ‘box’ in which our Seminaries worked hard to contain us.”


Fran Ota: “The great Vietnamese Buddhist leader and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, wrote a book in 1991 called ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’. The premise is being mindful of everything we do, of being aware as we do it and contemplating the doing……even to washing the dishes. It’s been one of the guidelines of my life since I read it. In current church jargon we speak of ‘being fully present’, but I much prefer the word ‘mindful’ -- of our relationships and interactions, and our actions: doing dishes, cleaning, cooking. It seems simple in concept but not always easy to do.” 


Ginny Adams: “This isn't meant as a feminist comment, but one of the many things about doing the dishes with a group was at my in-laws when all the women gathered together in the kitchen to do the ‘cleaning up’.  To this day I cherish my memories of these times, for then we could and did share our opinions and express thoughts, sometimes not positive ones, about the men who were in the other room.”


Ralph Milton: I have memories of Jean Vanier, I think it was at the General Council in Saskatoon, talking movingly about the sharing and caring and conversation that happened in washing up the dishes. 

            “With every advance in technology we lose something as we gain something. Dishwashers speed the cleaning and are probably healthier, but we lose the relationships that are built when washing up. Wearing masks we gain protection from Covid but we lose facial expression, smiles and frowns, that enrich the words we speak.”


Norma Wible: “I’ve never looked at the mound of Thanksgiving or Christmas dishes, pots, and pans as onerous, because it was always a chance to laugh together with a favorite cousin-in-law who shared my sense of humour. The kids could join in helping, but never the husbands. I’m convinced that that practice kept my kids grounded, knowing that helping out is not just essential, but can be fun, and also that we could make fun of our mistakes. Owning up to shortcomings made the kitchen sink a confessional of sorts!”


Bob Rollwagen: “You bring back many memories, in particular, the clean up after family reunions. I would suggest that they were not after, but rather during and a big part of the planning for the next one.

            “My brother and I did the dishes every night before homework, during our pre and early teen years. I remember the informal family meetings we had around the sink as my parents discussed their day and my brother and I listened in while doing our chore and talking about mutual friends or school events. It is unfortunate that the automated dish washer has changed this. Thank you for the memory.”


Isabel Gibson: “One of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories talked about the conversations that happened best over the kitchen sink, working side by side on the dishes. Me, I find that I don't really get to know people until I work with them on something – anything, from paid work to knitting projects. Or washing dishes.”




Psalm paraphrase


Ever since I had to memorize it as a 10-year-old, Psalm 19 has been one of my favourites. My notes suggest I have used this paraphrase year after year. 


1 Quarks and electrons, crystals and cells;
stems and trunks and limbs and bodies--

2 on the land, in the water, in the air--
the elements of the universe wait to expand our understanding. 

3 Rocks have no words, nor do cells have syllables, 

4 yet their message can be read anywhere.
Even the fiery stars, 

5 racing at unimaginable speeds through space, 

6 yield their secrets to those willing to probe the limits of God's universe. 

7 And what do they find?
An underlying harmony, a delicate equilibrium
built on the value of every thing,
living or inanimate, past, present, and future. 

8 There are no exceptions.
No one is above the law of interdependence. 

9 Life dies and becomes new life;
spirit and flesh are one.
My fate is inextricably linked to yours,
and our fate to the trees and insects.

10 This is the beginning of wisdom.
It is better than wealth, more valuable than possessions. 

11 Awareness of it will change us forever. 


12 But we are too often blind;
we close our ears to the voices of the winds and the waves, 
to the insights of the rocks and the plants.


13 God, keep us from thinking we know it all;
human minds cannot encompass eternity;
an assembly of facts does not equal truth. 

14 Keep us open to wonder, to beauty, to mystery,
O greatest of mysteries. 



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.






If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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            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”)



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