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

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Published on Friday, March 24, 2023

We make coincidences happen

Thursday February 23, 2023

Just a year ago, Russia invaded Ukraine. The date sticks in my mind because, by some coincidence, on the same day I had to have my dog Pippin euthanized.
In hindsight, she was acting too much like Vladimir Putin. Increasingly aggressive, and increasingly irrational about the objects of her aggression.
Coincidences like that help us remember things. If we can remember one half of the equation, it helps us remember the other half.
And there’s a host of these coincidences. My son died on Hiroshima Day, August 6. My friend and fellow editor Mike Schwartzentruber shares Elvis Presley’s January birthdate. Hitler invaded Poland on my third birthday.
Of course, none of those coincidences are directly connected. Hitler certainly did not wait for my birthday to launch World War Two.
The first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima 28 years before my son died, of completely unrelated causes.
And Elvis was born 25 years before Mike.

Isolated events
There’s no cause-and-effect relationships between any of these elements. And yet we find one. I know exactly where Terry Fox ended his Marathon of Hope across Canada, because that’s where my car ran out of gas, on the road to Thunder Bay.
James Redfield, in his best-selling book The Celestine Prophecy, argued that there is no such thing as coincidence. Things happen, he claimed, because they were meant to happen that way.
Redfield imagines a supreme intelligence running the world so that every piece fits together, like a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece has a place to go, and only one place.
And so, if an encounter changes your life in some unexpected way, Redfield contends, you were meant to meet that person. Or see that thing. Or have that experience.
As you might expect, I don’t agree with him. There may or may not be an infinite intelligence at work in the world, but I do not believe it has planned every detail down to where my car will run out of gas.

Connecting to a larger story
Coincidences, to me, are connections that we create for ourselves. We have a powerful experience; we want some means of fixing it in our memory; we look for some other significant event that can tie the two together.
My wife died the same day that Canada declared a mandatory lockdown to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s not a coincidence – that’s a fact. Both happened the same day.
But I’m not convinced that “Pandemic Day” is going to make it onto our annual calendars of memorable dates. So I’m still looking for a suitable coincidence that seems to fit.
The pattern seems obvious for individual events. But I rather suspect that it’s also how we make meaning of our lives in general. We remember where we were, what we were doing, when President Kennedy was shot in Dallas. When those airliners smashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. When Queen Elizabeth II died.
Those coincidences aren’t chance, and they’re not random. They’re deliberate connections that we make. Mileposts, markers, planted so firmly that subsequent events cannot erase them.
Our own lives sometimes seem small and insignificant. Easily overlooked. Easily forgotten.
When we can tie them to larger events, we connect our own story to larger story of history itself.
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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
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YOUR TURN

In last week’s column, about hospital visiting, I wrote, “I want to do something for the person I’m visiting. But often, I can’t. Except be there.”
Lesley Clare picked up on that phrase, "Except be there."
“Do you remember the movie ‘Being There’?” Lesley asked. “In our world full of doing, isn't 'being there' one of the hardest, and most important things we can do?”

Most of the rest of your letters shared your own experiences – good or bad – about visiting.

Steve Lawson: “Visiting, of course, remains part of the responsibility of any ministry and probably the toughest part for all the reasons you mentioned. When I was in full time ministry, I found it the most difficult part, and I always tried to rationalize, that I was visiting someone in hospital because ‘I had to’ -- not a good reason but mostly the reason. Part of my job description. I usually ended up enjoying the visit and finding it worthwhile for me and hopefully, for the patient. Now, even in part-time ministry. it remains the main component of ministry and I still have the same feelings about the whole thing.”

David Gilchrist: “In Calgary I was doing my weekly hospital visits, and met a friend whose wife was a patient there. I said I’d drop in to see her. He asked me, please, not to pray with her. I was surprised. He explained that their Anglican priest had stopped, and automatically had a prayer, as was his custom. My friend said his wife was upset because she thought his praying meant she was dying! (Last rites?). I never offered prayer thereafter unless it was requested; or if I first asked if the patient would like it.
“Another time my wife was in hospital. A fellow clergy came to see her -- and stayed and stayed. She obviously needed the nurse’s attention; but he didn’t take the hint until I finally had to tell him. He was unaware of the patient’s need; just trying to do his duty -- and, as you suggested, feel good about himself.
“A third thing I learned by accident. My mentally handicapped daughter saw me frustrated, and asked what was wrong. I couldn’t find my knife. She has good speech, but couldn’t tell me where it was; she motioned me to follow her: and there it was on my basement workbench. Her brain damage had broken the connection between her visual memory and her verbal brain. Later, when I was visiting a lady with dementia, a nurse came in and baby-talked her. I followed the nurse out and told her my story; I said that the old lady might well understand everything, and maybe feel humiliated; the brain damage may just prevent her from responding appropriately. The nurse thanked me. Soon I had a call from the hospital thinking me for suggesting that ALL patients need to be addressed with dignity.

Alistair McBride wrote from New Zealand/Aotearoa: “Over the years I have had periods as parish minister or chaplain where I have wondered what I am doing.
“There is another group of people that I have been able to ‘serve,’ as it were -- those unable to visit their loved ones or friends. I have had the task of being a conduit of messages, reassurance, and concern.
“After retirement at the end of 2019, a locum chaplaincy in one of our provincial hospitals in NZ coincided with our first lockdown under COVID, which meant patients in hospital could not have any visitors. For a hospital serving some of the remoter regions (by our standards), my presence became crucial for some as the nursing staff were under extreme pressure. Being a non-anxious presence took on a whole new meaning in those circumstances. Faith conversations flowed sometimes and those often had extra depth. Presence, especially non-anxious presence, has the notion of gift, a gift that many of those I sat with expressed deep gratitude for. Heart-warming, but not head-swelling.”

Andrea Firth described her own experience of being visited: “I was in hospital for an extended time due to an accident. One visitor whom I did not know well (parent of friends of my elementary-aged children) appeared briefly one day to see how I was. It perked me right up to know there was someone out there interested enough, but not obliged, to see how things were.”

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Psalm paraphrase

Most of my paraphrases have visualized the psalm’s message in human terms. This time, I wondered how a river might express the intent of Psalm 32. A brief note -- in this paraphrase, I have not attempted to parallel the verses of the original.

I am a river; you cannot drink my water. I wish you could.
While I ran silently down to the sea, humans and their machines dug a mine into my hillsides. Now toxic metals leach into my current.
While I ran silently down to the sea, corporations built pulp mills, and discharged their effluents into my flow.
While I ran silently down to the sea, acid rain fell from the skies and changed my chemical composition. Trout no longer leap from my pools; salmon no longer spawn in my gravel beds.
I wish some external power existed, that could flush me clean, that could banish the poisons I carry, that could render me pure again.
I have wisdom that I could have imparted to you, O humankind, O human-unkind.
There is no “away” for your wastes to run away to.
Day and night, your successes harmed me; now your short-sighted achievements harm you too.
You cannot drink my water.
If I could be pure again, we could all rejoice.

Update – there are still about 60 copies of my book of psalm paraphrases in stock at Wood Lake Publishing. The book includes paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary. So you can still order a print copy of Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com, or 1-800-663-2775. But, I’m told, there will no further reprints. If you don’t already have a copy of Everyday Psalms, get one while they last.

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TECHNICAL STUFF

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

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”)

ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
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

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