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

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Published on Monday, January 30, 2023

Edging towards my expiry date

Thursday January 5, 2022


So here we are – 12th Night, 2023, the end of the fabled Twelve Days of Christmas. 

            Originally, 12th Night referred to the arrival of the Three Wise Men – although the Bible never says there were three – from the East.

            My mother’s British traditions considered it bad luck to leave Christmas decorations up after 12th Night. In an eruption of winter energy, we took down all the tinsel and tinkles, the glass balls and nativity scenes, and packed them away for the next Christmas. 

            And burned our Christmas tree in the back yard. 

            I’ve already taken down most of my Christmas decorations. I didn’t put up as much this Christmas as usual. 

            The first two Christmases after my wife Joan died, I dutifully set out all the decorations in ways I thought she would approve. I wanted to do it, for her. 

            This Christmas, I realized -- she’s not here anymore.

            I can honour her memory, certainly. I do, and I will. I do not want to believe that she’s gone. I would like to believe that her immortal spirit still lingers, somehow, somewhere.. 

            But after three Christmases, I’m convinced that she lives only in memory now. And when those who remember her die, those memories will die with us.


Depressing prospect

            At my age, death is all around us. I can name more dead friends than live ones. 

            I think particularly of many who have mentored to me. They encouraged me, nurtured me, and sometimes took me to task. Where are Bob Elliott and George Tuttle, Pat Clarke and Al Forrest, Malcolm McGregor and Jean Skelton today? 

            They continue to live in my memory, certainly. Are they peering over some balcony, watching while plod along at ground level?

            This is an uncomfortable subject to deal with. But ignoring it doesn’t make it any more comfortable. 

            It seems to me that we spend the first three-quarters of our lives accumulating what comedian George Carlin scornfully called “stuff.” Cars and boats and real estate.

            And respect. Credentials we display with initials after our names. CEO. MBA. PhD. The late Dr. Bob Hatfield of Calgary had three sets of initials: MD, DD, LLD. He refused to take them seriously. When asked what they stood for, he grinned: “Mairsy Doats, and Doesey Doats, and Liddle Lambsie Divy.”

            We also accumulate ideas – fixed notions about money and politics and how society works – that we don’t bother sifting through because we’re too busy doing other things. 

            Ideas like eternal life. 


Bodied souls

            As my own body moves inexorably towards its expiry date, I become increasingly convinced that we are bodied people. Not disembodied souls. 

            We cannot think, act, or even remember, without our bodies. Our thought processes depend on inputs from every organ. Eyes and ears, of course. Also heart, lungs, guts, skin… 

            Without a body, there can be no “me”. 

            If that conclusion offends you, sorry. You don’t have to believe it. Stick with your own beliefs. But I need to be honest – that’s where I am, at this stage in my life. 

            The circle of life shrinks as we grow older. Ultimately, it contains just one person. Me. 

            Then one day I’ll be gone, too.

            And life will go on without me. 

            L’Chaim! To life!


Copyright © 2023 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





My email was quite busy last week, sending out the missing column to 28 of you. A few more commented on the content of last week’s column.


Mirza Yawar Baig gave me the name for that flocking movement of waxwings that I wrote about: “murmuration.” 

            “Reading about your wax wings reminded me of the most famous murmurating bird, the Starling. Interestingly it is one of those birds which were brought over to North America from Europe by someone who decided that all the birds that Shakespeare mentioned must be here. The result now, is zillions of starlings causing huge crop loss and so on. Introducing foreign species is never a good idea. 

            “Having said that, Starling murmuration is a spectacular phenomenon.”

            You can see an example of those starlings at: https://youtu.be/V4f_1_r80RY


Isabel Gibson had some thoughts about murmurations: “It seems that birds must be born knowing how to fly in those mobs. There's not much allowance for a clumsy adolescent is there?

            “This balancing of opposites reminded me a bit of Kahlil Gibran's advice on marriage: ‘Stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temples stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.’

            “We might say the same of all human associations.”


Tom Watson called my musings “Great illustration of the principles of when it's important to band together in groups, and when it's important to go it alone.”


Laura Hutchison: “The cedar waxwings have a system, and it works. I wish that humans were as adept at coordinating without a lot of squawking! They illustrate beautifully the message of the scriptures for this Sunday about being aware, and present, and sharing what we see and hear, and then acting accordingly.”


Libby Sheather recalled a mountain ash tree of her own: “At a place I lived during the ’70’s in New Jersey, we had one Mountain Ash tree which was loaded with bright orange berries. A flock of crested birds landed en mass and started eating the berries. I rushed to get my bird book as I hadn’t seen this kind of bird before. Cedar Waxwings!

            “They stayed for about a week, then left en mass. What a sight! I never saw them again but felt so fortunate to have witnessed such a sight.”


Jan and David Edwards wrote: “I wish there was a bird that liked crab apples as well. Our tree, like yours, gets heavy with fruit and we can't use even what is on the branches we can reach. In the late fall, the deer will eat all that they can reach, but the high branches have no takers. And the way your waxwings all arrive and leave together reminds me of the way the bees swarm in when the tree is heavy with bloom. They all seem to know where the good stuff is, and the whole tree buzzes for a day or two. 

            “And about that ‘not too close and not too far away’ rule, we do that, too. We call it social distancing.”




Psalm paraphrase


This paraphrase of Psalm 72 seemed appropriate to news reports of the shenanigans in the U.S. House of Representatives this last week.


1          If only powerful people could be more like you, God.

2          They would apply the same standards to their own lives that they demand of those who depend on them. 

3          Then office environments would help employees enjoy working;
press releases would tell the truth;
industrial wastes would not defile the world. 

4          Powerful people would selflessly serve their constituencies;
they would not exploit for short term profit those 
who have less money, less power, and less influence. 

5          Such people would earn our long-term loyalty;
they would deserve to prosper. 

7          Their radical example would make others reconsider their own attitudes. 

10        All the world would recognize this remarkable approach;

11        all the world would come to see how it is done.

12        Amazing -- people in positions of power
who do not manipulate events for their own benefit;
they do what they do for the least of their citizens

13        they treat single mothers, natives, immigrants, and teenagers as people of worth, not merely as potential supporters. 

14        For them there are no mass markets;
every individual is precious as a person. 

6          We need that kind of leadership. 


Apparently the print 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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                  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

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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: Incarnation, 12th night

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