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

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Published on Friday, July 29, 2022

Birds and trees want to be appreciated

Thursday July 21, 2022


One morning this last spring, I went out for my morning walk. Unexpectedly, bird song surrounded me. 

            “Where did all these birds come from?” I wondered. 

            Then I realized they had been there all along. I just hadn’t been able to hear them. Because I had new hearing aids that let me hear the higher frequencies of bird songs. 

            As time has passed, I’ve learned to recognize some characteristic songs. The American Robin’s cheer-up, cheer-up, cheer-up. The goldfinch’s ti-dee-dee-dee. The pine siskin, like a goldfinch with a sore throat. The sparrows’ clear whistles in no particular pattern, except the song sparrow, which whistles a descending minor third. 

            The doves, always in pairs, making cooing sounds at each other.

            And, of course, the magpies, which are capable of imitating every other bird, but prefer to sound like nails on a blackboard. 

            They were all there before. I just couldn’t hear them.


Turn your equipment on

            This could easily turn into a mini-sermon on hearing the voice of God, I suppose. You know – God is always trying to reach you, but you have to turn your radio on. Or your cell phone. Or maybe your hearing aids.

            But I’m not going there, this time. This is more about what’s often called “mindfulness” – paying attention. Hearing and seeing and feeling and tasting. 

            That first morning with my new hearing aids, all that bird song was just a clamour of confusing and conflicting sounds. I had to stop, and listen, to begin to distinguish one song from the other. 

            Listening didn’t start until the morning my walking partner was about five minutes late. I had nothing to do but listen to the music over my head.

            I’ve learned that it doesn’t need even five minutes to marvel at the busy-ness of a bee exploring lavender blossoms. To watch a snail leaving its shiny track across the pavement. To bury your nose in the rough bark of a ponderosa pine and inhale its faint scent of vanilla. 

            They’re there, all the time. They’re waiting for you to notice them. 


Closer relationship

            Is that stretching credulity, perhaps? That trees and rocks and lakes and mushrooms might want to be noticed, to be appreciated?

            Why not? 

            My father, an amateur artist and professional theologian, once mused, “Sometimes I think the purpose of evolution is to create more beauty.”

            Molly Baskette, a United Church of Christ minister writing in the blog Still Speaking, picks up the story of Jesus cursing a fig tree that failed to produce figs.

             Dumb, right? Especially when figs are not in season. But then she notes, “Even in his fit of pique, Jesus is talking to a tree as if it were a person. He calls it ‘you.’”

            Baskette links that story with the insights of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. Buber, she says, “invites us to a different kind of encounter with all created things. People, trees, even the park bench we sit on -- none of them are an ‘It.’ Every one is a ‘You’.” 

            So go ahead, she urges – “Talk back to the crows, mutter at the mosquitos, and hold forth with the trees. Listen as much as you talk. Let them bless you, even if you’re in a cursing mood.”


Copyright © 2022 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





A huge pile of mail about last week’s column on pronouns as a measure of linguistic capability. About 30 of you either pointed out individual mistakes, or requested a corrected copy with commentary. I think I have sent that annotated version to all who requested it. 

            But here are some comments beyond those requests. 


Pat Graham asked, “Do you think it is poor parenting, the educational system, or public acceptance that has caused the downfall of grammar and speech?  I credit being taught by nuns in elementary school, plus my parents, my mother having little formal education, but a talented, skilled, artistic, classy woman of accomplishment, and way ahead of her time.  People of means used to send their children for Elocution Lessons.  Does anyone [today] know what that was?  Is anyone teaching it?  The need is great today.”


Lyle Phillips: “I DID grind my teeth as I read the grammatical ‘mistakes’ in your column. That's probably the teacher in me coming out. I never really understood the grammatical terminology but just went by what "sounded right".

            “Another error in speech that bothers me lately is the use of ‘myself’ rather than ‘me’. (e.g. ‘Please report to myself immediately.’) For some reason people don't like to use the word ‘me’.

            “When I saw the title of this column I immediately thought about the use of the pronouns he/her, they/them by people as part of their gender signature.

            “No need to reply to myself. (Only I can do that.)”


Isabel Gibson concurred: “My pet peeve (OK, one of them) is the misuse of ‘myself’ where ‘me’ would be both simpler and correcter. I sometimes wonder if people got smacked, verbally or otherwise, for constructions like ‘him and me went to the game’ and ended by giving up on ‘me’ entirely.

            “But as for the CBC, I'm still trying to find out who mandated the change that sees ‘junta’ pronounced as ‘dgunta’ instead of ‘hoonta’. I mean, was ‘hoonta’ so hard? 

            “I don't know why they don't check these things with me first.”


Randy Hall: “People of our inclination toward and appreciation of proper grammar are quickly becoming as extinct as the dinosaurs.  Using ‘their’ instead of ‘his or her’ is accepted now, but it still brings forth a negative response within me. And then there are the mistakes like the ones you mentioned. 

            “Since you were in the publishing business, I’m sure that your response is quite visceral.’


Sue Butler-Jones also wrote about gender pronouns: “I do so enjoy your pondering, ranting, questioning and reflections! I don’t respond in emails to you but I often do to Boyd or the plants in the kitchen as I read. 

            “You really got me with this one! My Dad (the teacher that he was) corrected our grammar. I corrected my kids. My kids correct their kids. I still correct CBC occasionally. 

            When I read your title today I thought this column would be about our personal pronouns.  Over the last couple of years when it has become customary to add our preferred pronouns after our name on the Zoom screen, I am embracing the challenge to expand my understanding of the changes around me. My 13-year-old granddaughter recently asked me what my pronouns were. My heart leapt  at the opportunity to have this conversation with her (I checked with her too so I am correct in using ‘her’). 

            “My teeth were definitely on edge by the time I finished reading. There was a big smile on my face too.”


Diane Levison: “A number of years ago, when I taught a variety of high school classes, I provided my class with daily newspapers for them to examine for typing and grammatical errors.  They were amazed at the number they located.  They began enjoying the challenge and, in that process, became dedicated to correctness.   I doubt that attitude or teaching exists today.”


Nenke Jongkind: “I began to learn English at age eight. My Miss Trantor would have appreciated your Miss Skelton. She taught me that to write left-handed, turn your paper. Barack Obama would have benefitted from that. She also taught us about adverbs. Your article could as easily have been written about them as pronouns. 

            “I don’t police other’s use of the language, yet I wince at times when those who use it professionally use it badly. At worship bad pronunciation or bad grammar can throw me off my concentration.”


Ruth Shaver: “At seminary, we were required to speak extemporaneously on a subject of the examiner's choosing. At the end of my exam, Dr. Ward said that my elocution and construction of formal speech was ‘superb’. He continued to say that a modern preacher would need to learn to speak with less perfection. ‘To an infinitive split you must learn.’ I cringed. Then he asked me if I liked STAR TREK. Upon my nod yes, he said, ‘To boldly go...’ My world has not been the same since. Neither, thank God, has my preaching.”


Tom Watson: “You have, intentionally or unintentionally, just made a good case for editors being worth their weight in gold!”


 “Your column provided me with the first chuckle of the morning,” Sue Moshier wrote. “My mother was a Latin/English major… I’ve had to bite my tongue for nearly 45 years now listening to VERY close family members as they might say something such as, ’Him and Michael went….’ Or ‘We had went….’ OR in your example, ‘I golfed really good (or bad) today.’ I guess I’m somewhat of an English snob as well, thanks to my Mom.”


Here's part of a longer letter from Laurna Tallman: “My teeth were shrieking before I finished your column! 

            “I hope your next column on grammar and precision in speech will dig deeper. I have heard that a woman’s best defense against rape is a command of her language. In [some] circumstances, being able to out-talk a predator also brands you as a person with social power. 

            “Grammar reflects reasoning ability. Grammar is based ultimately on human traits and relationships. Grammar allows people to express respect, intelligence, dignity, and caring. Grammar breaks down in a person with ‘mental illness.’ 

            “While I am not asking for a purist approach to conversation among people lacking training or the ability to learn the orders embedded in grammar, those hierarchies are essential to communication, in the present, in the historical record to which we contribute, and to implement the possibility for peace, order, and good government in the future. 

            “Excellent reasoning matters, which is why you write and why we read what you write. Accolades to Jean Skelton!”


Bette Kosar: “I, too, am a stickler for good grammar and l, like you, can thank one of my teachers at school, Miss Galliford at grade V in Victoria.  I didn't appreciate her at the time, of course. I am told that grammar is not emphasized in the school curricula any longer. Where are the Miss Gallifords of today?  If we are considered old-fashioned and out of touch with the modern world, how is it that Jane Austen and the Brontes are still considered classics of the English language?”


James Russell: “I’m inclined to think that whatever helps us achieve subtlety in language is probably a good thing, and therefore I’m generally on the side of language law and order and a supporter of the language police.  On the other hand, it’s sometimes worth asking if the established distinction still makes a difference, and if so whether we want to maintain it.  


David Winans: “One additional reason for precision and correctness, though you have provided enough, derives from the school that endorses language preceding thought. This, as opposed to the more common conviction that thought precedes language.  (Here, I subscribe to a broad conception of language to include music notation, choreography and visual art.) Sloppy language, sloppy thought!” 


I’ll give the last work to fellow-editor Chris Blackburn: “Yes, I was sure all those errors in your column were deliberate.”




Psalm paraphrase


In biblical times, I gather, worshipers would have prostrated themselves on the ground before the Holy of Holies, while reciting Psalm 138. For us, it feels like a strange position from which to express gratitude. 


1          This is your turf, your home, your territory.
I am so glad to be here, God, that I kiss the earth you walk on.

2          I press myself into your soil, I inhale the sweet moistness of humus, I extend my arms to embrace your earth.
But you lift me up from my humble position.
You take me in as your guest.
You have made me one of your family;
you have even given me your name!

3          You have taken me under your wing.
When I cry out, you cover me;
I benefit from your strength. 

4          Foxes may lord it over the chicken coop,
and squirrels over the sparrow's nest,
But no creatures challenge the eagle's rule;
They cower before the eagle's eye and ruthless claws.

5          As the eagle soars above field mice,
so do you, God, rise above us mortals. 

6          Daily duties keep us scurrying close to the earth.
But you keep watch over us;
you can see danger long before it draws near. 

7          Troubles grow around us like tall grass.
But in the shelter of your outspread wings, predators scatter
Like leaves before an autumn wind.

8          There is a place for me in your plans.
You will never abandon me.
You will work out your purpose for me, no matter how long it takes. 


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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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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