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

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Published on Saturday, November 12, 2022

A grocery cart burdened with traditions

Thursday November 10, 2022



For a week, a while ago, I was a person with “no fixed address.” My daughter was out of town for a university reunion. That made me the designated driver/chaperone/security patrol for her two teenagers.

            But I still had my own home, cat, and community responsibilities to tend to. 

            So I spent the week shuttling back and forth between two houses 30 km apart. 

            One morning, a woman pushing a grocery cart, piled high with all her worldly possessions, crossed the street ahead of me. 

            I felt sorry for her. At the same time, I must admit, I felt a flicker of scorn, maybe even contempt. 

            Then I felt shame. Because she and I were both in the same cart, so to speak. After my first day of shuttle service, I discovered that whatever I needed was inevitably at the other house -- pills, tools, clothing, toothbrush… 

            So I started carrying every essential with me. Three bags full. Except that I had a car to carry them with, not a grocery cart. 


Excess baggage

            When I picked up my daughter at the airport, I saw the size – and weight -- of some travellers’ suitcases. They at least equalled the woman’s grocery cart. 

            How much do we actually need to carry with us?

            Not just things. How about ideas? Attitudes?

            James Harbeck writes a periodic blog on language (word-tasting-notes@googlegroups.com). Recently, he took aim at “prigs” – people who insist on being right. Even when they’re wrong. 

            He cites, as an example, John Bolton, erstwhile U.S. diplomat and national security adviser, “whose signature move is lecturing other people and being unable to conceive of any occasion in which he could possibly be even slightly in the wrong.”

            Harbeck’s specialty is the grocery cart of “grammar and usage” that some people push around with them. It’s full of “unalterable tradition … what any given change-hater recalls learning in their childhood, even if they have not accurately remembered it.”

            Harbeck has no patience with those whose grocery carts are full of “things they refuse to have taken away…” 


Living one’s beliefs

            The cart doesn’t have to contain only outdated ideas about words. Beliefs, too.

            Pastor Vicki Kemper described a gas station encounter. “I hadn’t done anything horrible, but I hadn’t acted as responsibly as I should have — and reactions were swift. 

            “First, a customer yelled at me, filmed me on her smartphone, and threatened to ‘turn me in.’ I felt about an inch tall.

            “Then an employee stuck her head through my passenger-side window and gently said, ‘It’s okay. This has happened before. Don’t worry about it.’ 

            “I nearly wept with relief and gratitude.

            “Only after I had driven many miles did my heart rate slow enough for me to consider what had happened. 

            “The angry customer was the personification of my childhood God, always wagging a finger and telling me what I’d done wrong, leaving me with a sense of shame that was hard to shake. The kind employee was the embodiment of who I now understand God to be: tender-hearted, understanding, endlessly forgiving.”

            She quotes Fr. Gregory Boyle: “Nothing is more important than the kind of God we believe in.”

            Vicki Kemper makes me wonder what kind of God I may be pushing around with me in my grocery cart. 


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





Last week, I wrote about Hallowe’en, suggesting that we have used Hallowe’en as a way of sanitizing our fear of death.


Cliff Boldt and Ken Nicholls both felt, rather, that we have sold out to Big Money.

            Cliff wrote, “Understanding this event requires that people follow the money.  Who benefits financially?  End of story.”

            And Ken wrote, “I have been increasingly disturbed by what happens at Hallowe’en. It is an excuse to give those who decorate our supermarkets an opportunity to exercise their powers of imagination as they try to see how many new ways they can find to frighten young children and make them believe in the fantasies of some money-grabbing executives.

            “There must have been a time, years ago, when somebody sat down in a dark room and thought ‘What can we exploit to raise more money? What festival can we find to become the new must-do event? We’ve got Christmas and Easter wrapped up, where is there a hole in the exploitation market?’

            “I applaud those who have tried to provide an alternative. Here we had a Light Party where we emphasized the power of the Light to defeat darkness -- Christ as the Light of the World. Perhaps we should institute a Festival of Light as a counterbalance to Hallowe’en. This would be so appropriate when we think that this coincides with the festival of Diwali, the Festival of Light, which is celebrated by Jains, Sikhs and Hindus.”


To balance those two, Priscilla Gifford wrote, “A Facebook friend reminded me that Hallowe’en is a friendly, kind holiday. Smiles all around; we welcome all colors, shapes and sizes of strangers to our doorsteps, and we give them things. We could use that open kindness all the time.”


And this from Fran Ota: “Hallowe’en, or All Hallow’s Eve, has always been a sacred Christian observation. Yes, people believed that spirits and ghosts could return on the ‘thinnest’ night of the year. Thus in the Middle Ages, Christians dressed in a variety of such costumes to scare away evil spirits. But they also set extra places at the table for loved ones who had died, and put candles in the windows to light the way home for their loved ones. Look up the story of Jack O’Lantern. A very Christian tale. 

            “Hallowe’en is followed by All Saints and then All Souls. And in some predominantly Roman Catholic countries Dia de los Muertas, Day of the Dead. These days are all of a piece. 

            “The only connection they have with Samhain is that they happen to fall on the same day. Not much else.”


Steve Roney, on the same theme: “Strictly speaking, probably most of the world believes the dead ‘still have a presence among us.’ Any Catholic does. Any devotee of any shamanic religion does. Chinese tradition does—that’s a lot of people. Buddhists and Hindus do, through reincarnation. Muslims don’t; most Protestants don’t.

            “Halloween is a Catholic holiday in its essence—the eve of All Saints Day. ‘The Day of the Dead’ in Mexico. To the extent that Protestants do not believe in Purgatory and the intercession of the saints, they of course do not take All Hallows seriously. Or they imagine it is some pagan survival.

            “You suggest that there is no longer anything wrong, except for Orthodox Jews, with using the names of God in ordinary speech. This is also still sinful for Catholics or Orthodox: this is using the name of the Lord in vain, breaking the second commandment. The fact that people commonly do it has no bearing on its sinfulness.”


Mirza Yawar Baig offered an insight from Islam: “As for death and trivializing it, I contrast it [Hallowe’en] with what Mohammed (Peace be upon him) said:  ‘The most intelligent among you is the one who thinks of his death, most often.’ 

            “This is not to say that one must become morbid but that one must remember that one day he/she will be called up before his/her Creator (Allah). Therefore the intelligent person weighs his/her speech and actions to ensure that they will stand up to scrutiny by the One from whom nothing is hidden.

            “This is what we say when we visit a grave of a Muslim or a cemetery: ‘Peace be upon you O people of the dwellings, believers and Muslims. In sha Allah (by the Will of Allah) we will join you, I ask Allah to keep us and you safe and sound.’

            “Death for us in Islam is not trivialized or wished away. It is real and we are encouraged to remember that and to prepare for it.”


Tom Watson: “My lack-of-love for Halloween dates back to when I was 10 years old. I took my almost-four-years-younger sister, Ruth, out ‘trick or treating.’ I met two of my buddies coming the other way. We decided to drop Ruth off at the end of our farm laneway and continue on to the village of Wheatley, 1 1/2 miles east. We ended up at my grandfather's home in Wheatley, and called my dad to come and pick us up. Dad was, to put it mildly, less than pleased with my waywardness. He said, ‘You won't be going out on Halloween next year.’ I figured he would forget, or relent, by then...but he didn't. He figured there was no point in proclaiming something, whether it be punishment or something else, if you didn't follow through. 

            “I didn't go out the next Halloween!”


Isabel Gibson pondered, “Maybe in rejecting mystery we are not more sophisticated after all, but less so, in refusing to see the true and awe-ful majesty of reality?

            “As for Easter & bunnies, in the mid-1960s the Smothers Brothers had their weekly run-in with the TV standards folks over their Easter Sunday show. Dick came out to do the opening monologue all alone, and was unusually serious. After some build-up, he announced that they had a special guest that week - the person we think most about at Easter. And Tom came out in a bunny suit.”




Psalm paraphrase


In the opening verses of Isaiah 12, the writer plays with the image of a well, a source of life in the desert. But it occurs to me that arid deserts are not limited to the Sahara.


My soul has dried up. 

I am a bell without a clapper, 
a well without water, 
a heart without feeling. 

Where can I look for hope? 

When hope swirls down the drain, how do I call it back?

I have faith that I will have faith again. 

The holy mystery of life will bubble up within me again, 
like an effervescent spring rising out of the rocks, 
like the morning sun rising over the darkened horizon.  

Joy shall come, even to the wilderness.

It has been so in the past; 
I believe it will be so in the future. 

I can only hope…


Apparently the printed version of my paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary is now out of print. But you can still order an e-book version of Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com, or 1-800-663-2775






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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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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: baggage, Homeless, grocery cart

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