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

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Published on Friday, February 25, 2022

Coat-tails and bandwagons

Sunday February 20, 2022


I usually build my Sharp Edges columns around a current news item. The Rev. Kenneth Bagnell died in February. That’s the end of the hard news for this column. The rest is rumination.

            Readers of my age may remember Bagnell as the editor of Imperial Oil’s award-winning periodical, The Review. And before that as a columnist for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. And before that as Managing Editor of The United Church Observer magazine

            Ken was my immediate predecessor at The Observer. When I first went there in 1968, I lived in his shadow.

            But this column is not a eulogy for Ken. It’s about mentors.


A long chain of mentors

            I look back on my life as a succession of mentors.

            Most were older than me; a few were contemporaries. Some were male, some female.

            For one reason or another, they took me under their wing. They provided experience and expertise beyond my own. They encouraged me to learn from them, to grow with them, to work with them towards a common goal.

            Their passions ranged from theology to boat-building, from linguistics to transistors, from parliamentary procedure to hiking. Whatever the subject, they were enthusiastic about it – sometimes even obsessed by it.

            In my more self-critical moments, I think of myself as riding on their coat-tails. Or, to use a different metaphor, climbing aboard their bandwagons.

            Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Those bandwagons kept moving ahead. Although I am essentially a loner – writing and editing happen mostly inside one person’s brain – I get the deep satisfaction from working together with others towards a shared vision.

            Besides, there have been times when I had to get off that wagon, sink my feet into the mud, and help push that wagon forward through some kind of Slough of Despond -- a fictional, deep bog in John Bunyan's famous allegory The Pilgrim's Progress.

            Bunyan himself knew that Slough of Despond; he wrote his book during 12 years in a jail cell.

            So, in a sense, Bunyan too may be a mentor, from 360 years ago. My specialty is words – words that express ideas, words that shape understandings. In that sense, I suppose, every writer who ever put words to paper is a mentor.

            I’m riding some very long coat-tails.


A shortage of mentors

            Ken Bagnell’s death reminds me uncomfortably that fewer and fewer of my mentors are still living.

            The older ones, who shepherded me through youthful folly and middle-aged angst, have died. They leave their legacy, but I can no longer count on their commitment, their urgency, to drive me.

            I know my own specialty. I write to set the world straight. I want to clear people’s misunderstandings, fix flawed assumptions, tidy incoherent irrationality.

            Except that I’m no longer convinced the world wants to be set straight. People seem too attached to their preconceptions. And I don’t want to drive a bulldozer through anyone’s belief structure, even if I do think it’s a house of cards.

            Years ago, an author I edited, Shirley Endicott, described the biblical prophets as standing on a hill, shouting at the people below, “You’re Doing It All Wrong!”

            It seems that people didn’t want to listen back then, either.

            Maybe they never have.

            And yet that long chain of my mentors seems to be saying that it’s worth making the effort, anyway.


No trumpets yet

            I’m heartened by the letters I receive from readers who think I make sense for their reality. I’m hurt – I might as well admit it -- by letters from people who can’t seem to see over their own mental barricades.

            So this column is not a eulogy for Ken Bagnell. Nor is it a eulogy for my own writing career. It is, rather, a reflection on my struggles to find my way when I no longer have an illustrious mentor leading me along.

            Perhaps that’s what mentors do. They pass the torch, the baton, to those who will keep running.

            Bunyan himself used that metaphor. In one memorable passage, one of his allegorical characters, Mr. Standfast, comes to his end. As he wades into the river, he says, “My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage,”

            Bunyan added, “So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.”

            An enviable ending (although some readers no doubt think I’ve already crossed to “the other side”). But I’m not ready for trumpets yet. I’m gonna keep writing a while still.


Copyright © 2022 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Your turn


I had so much mail about last Sunday’s column about the truckers’ blockade in Ottawa that I had to send it out as a separate mailing. And then I got mail about the mail!

            I’m not publishing publish letters that simply took issue with previous writers. I’m also not including forecasts that have since been overtaken by real world events.


Ruth Buzzard thought the column of letters was “Wonderfully insightful column, even though it was a collection of writings from your readers.

            “I am horrified at the radical right-wing opinions suddenly being spouted by old friends who always seemed to be much more balanced in their views. People are changing their ‘Canadian Values’ in favour of Trump-style ‘Freedom’. This is really a time when we should listen to the views of our friends and family and not condemning their ideas even though we disagree.

            “Please don’t blow up this situation into class warfare between the educated believers in science and the uneducated followers of Facebook and Tik Tok. If it comes down to a fight between the college educated and the high school grads everybody will lose. 

            “And please do not assume that the anti-vaxxers are stupid or naïve. They genuinely believe that they should not be forced to take a vaccination they have been told is ‘experimental’. Don’t bully them or condemn them as selfish.

            “The solution is to listen to them, love them, empathize. This deep rift in Canadian opinion can only be healed by understanding, not criticism.”


JR Orlando described himself as “a retired military and a political junkie, who is for the first time ever in my long life, ‘speechless’. I sense a war is coming, in some form, and Canada is woefully unprepared to deal with it. 


Perhaps relevant to Orlando’s fears, Mirza Yawar Baig sent a link to a magazine or blog I had not heard of before, Upheaval. In it, writer N.C. Lyons uses the truckers’ protests to explore what he/she/it/they call a new class division that transcends and absorbs all our previous definitions -- Physicals and Virtuals. Virtuals work at desks; they deal with information, planning, processing, administering, but they don’t do any of the actual work. That’s done by the Physicals, the feet on the ground and the hands on the equipment – everything from waiting on tables to hard-rock mining. And the abyss between the realities of the two groups, Lyons argues, is growing.


Randy Hauer quoted his favourite historians Robert Conquest, (Reflections On A Ravaged Century):."What has suffered in all these cases is a sense of balance; between the proper rights of the individual and the necessary rights of the State, between personal aims and mutual obligations, between the often conflicting claims of liberty and equity."


Bruce Thomas quoted Frederick Buechner. that when you look AT a window, you see flies, dust, smudges etc. but when you look THROUGH the window, you see the world beyond.

            Bruce added, “The wider view doesn’t allow room for the narrow thoughts expressed by some of the comments. I found it interesting to read one comment that we are or will be experiencing an authoritarian government. For a real authoritarian jolt, try living in some other countries of our world.”


Robert Caughell: “This protest is being directed/funded by people who hate our ‘socialist’ system of government. I have yet to hear how their way of doing things/running the world is better. How other countries have handled this does not matter. People only want to see/hear what they want to, not the truth. “


James Russell wanted to clear up any misapprehension: “‘Qonvoy’ is not my invention. Your friend (and so mine) Judith Mermelstein tipped me that this was an occasional choice on Twitter.”


Steve Roney also wanted to clear up a possible misapprehension: “You quote my observation that no trucks were visible, without saying that I was referring to the Ambassador Bridge, at the time that it was cleared. Any reader would assume I was referring to the Ottawa protest.”


Wilma Davison offered an apocalyptic perspective: “I am definitely not a street-corner religious fanatic. The Bible (I am not as familiar with other religious writings) has several examples of God’s response to civilizations that have wandered away from a Supreme Maker’s rules or commands. Droughts, plagues, insects, crop failures and the like are sent to try to teach us… Call our Maker what you like -- all established religions seemingly are based on a Creator who preaches love and respect of your fellow man and respect for our resources. When we rape the resources of the world’s poorer countries, desecrate or own natural resources, tread on those we consider our inferiors, practice white supremacy, and call it progress, is the Supreme Being sending us a message to sit up and take notice of our wicked ways?”






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            You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca

    I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

            Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

            I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

            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”)



            The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns



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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: mentors, Bagnell

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