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

To make Comments write directly to Jim at jimt@quixotic.ca

 

24

Apr

2019

Observing ourselves observing ourselves

Author: Jim Taylor

Despite his scornful dismissal of his companion’s intellect -- “Elementary, my dear Watson!” -- Sherlock Holmes was not a brilliant thinker. Rather, he was an astute observer. He noticed things that others overlooked, little things insignificant in themselves but which, when put together, led to a startling conclusion.

            Observing is a key function of survival. It doesn’t refer only to eyes. Dogs observe with their noses. They detect hundreds of scents that we humans miss, scents that feed information about their environment, their safety, their food. Especially their food.

            Birds and butterflies sense the lines of the earth’s magnetic field to guide them on their migrations. Salmon taste their way through a massive confusion of waters, back to their original spawning grounds.

            We humans rely most heavily on our eyes and ears, to observe the world around us. We listen to conversations, to news broadcasts, to public address systems. We watch people clothing, their body movements, their interactions, for clues to what they’re thinking or feeling.


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17

Apr

2019

Choose sides for the future

Author: Jim Taylor

Two great forces shape the world today. No, they are not economic systems, like capitalism and communism. Or political systems, like democracy and tyranny. 

            They are Evolution and Entropy (for this essay, deliberately capitalized). Perhaps we’ve always known they existed, but we gave them attributes, like good and evil, light and dark. Or names, like God and Satan.

            Evolution and Entropy are inseparable twins, like yin and yang. Both are irresistible and irreversible. Both are subject to time. But they are mutually contradictory. 

 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Evolution, Entropy

10

Apr

2019

Three short stories without morals

Author: Jim Taylor

Too many stories tack on moral messages. If these three stories need one, write your own. 

Sorry, but I really can't excerpt all three stories for this "invitation" space. Nor do I want to choose just one to highlight here. Go to the full column to read them -- it won't take you long. 

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3

Apr

2019

Suffering from joy deprivation

Author: Jim Taylor

The news has not been good recently – unless you’re a Trump supporter. The media have been filled with incidents of hate, violence, death, and disaster. 

            The world is still reeling from the mass murders at the mosques in New Zealand. Followed by the copycat defacing of five mosques in the U.K. Where Brexit seems headed for disaster, taking Theresa May with it. And disaster aptly describes typhoon Idai’s effect on Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.

            And that’s not counting an endless parade of house fires, vehicle accidents, thefts, and political conflicts.

            I admit to contributing to this flood of bad news. Ironically, journalists focus on bad news precisely because it’s an exception to the norm. It is news because it is out of the ordinary. 

            So we hear all about the accident where the bus full of young hockey players collides with a semi-trailer whose driver failed to stop at a stop sign. We never hear about the thousands of trucks, every day, that do stop. 


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27

Mar

2019

How not to create a masterpiece

Author: Jim Taylor

At an art show, I chatted with an artist. In her studio, she explained, artists painted collectively.

            I found that hard to comprehend. “Don’t you get upset when someone meddles with your vision?” I asked.

            “Sometimes,” she agreed. “If I’ve done a canvas built of blues, say, and someone plops a blob of orange into it. But then my blues take on a different mood.”

            She clearly believed her creed – many minds can work together for common benefit.

            I like the idea of working together in a community. For one thing, it’s much more enjoyable than working alone. But I can’t imagine a dozen different painters producing a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt. (A Picasso, possibly.)

            Perhaps my skepticism results from working with words. After 60 years, I’m convinced that editing by committee never produces a better text. Never. Friend and fellow-writer Isabel Gibson called “group editing” the “most pernicious form of compromise known to humans.”


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20

Mar

2019

The mattress that fell from the sky

Author: Jim Taylor

We were driving home, one dark night, down Highway 97. My headlights, on low beam, lit the pavement ahead for a short distance, but little else. 

            Then suddenly, something large and white came flying over the top of the car ahead. It landed on the road. I didn’t have time to swerve. Or brake. I ran over it. 

            Ka-whoomp! The car bounced high, as if going over a giant speedbump. Then it settled back onto the road. 

            “What was that?” Joan exclaimed. 

            Over the next few moments, we compared our impressions. We concluded – from the flying object’s size and shape  -- that it must have been a mattress. Probably a double-bed mattress. Possibly even a queen-size.


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13

Mar

2019

The holiness in our relationships

Author: Jim Taylor

           Some relationships are long lasting; some are fleeting. The wonder of relationships is that they can happen anywhere, with anyone. 

            Relationships don’t have to be lasting to be worthwhile. Certainly, long term friendships are worth working at. Letters, phone calls, emails – all help to sustain those relationships. But even when you haven’t seen someone for ten years, a good relationship can be picked up again almost instantly. There may be a lot of catching up to do, but the relationship itself doesn’t have to be re-built from the ground up. 

            But even short-term relationships, the kind where you never expect to see this person again, have value. In the line waiting for a grocery cashier. On a sidewalk. In an elevator. In a family. In a club or church. 

            They can brighten a day, bring a smile to two or more faces, provide unexpected insights. 


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8

Mar

2019

Unauthorized, unofficial, but real

Author: Jim Taylor

When you put a hundred or so teenagers together for a week, anything can happen. When you put them together 24 hours a day, in study sessions, discussion groups, singing, doing sensitivity exercises, attending meetings, and sleeping on the floor of a (separate) gyms, emotions can get overloaded. 

            So it was, back in 1982, at what was called a Youth Forum in Montreal. 

             Because it was a church-run event, we had worship services. Not everyone attended. 

            Towards the end, we put on a replica of John Wesley’s Re-covenanting Service. In the style of Wesley’s time, it provided an opportunity for personal confession of our sins and shortcomings, followed by the laying on of hands for healing and absolution. 

            I thought it would simply expose the young people to the customs of an earlier tradition.

            I was wrong. As the 30 or so young people attending came forward, knelt, and confessed, tears flowed abundantly. 


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27

Feb

2019

Beyond human perceptions

Author: Jim Taylor

I’ve never heard a snowflake fall. It must make a sound, even if, as an Asian parable says, a snowflake weighs “Nothing, or less than nothing.” And yet there must be a point of contact, and with it, a sound, however slight. 

            Even if human ears are not sensitive enough to hear it. 

            I can’t hear a worm, burrowing through moist soil towards a dew-dappled lawn. But a robin can. 

            A dog can hear a whistle way above my frequency range; at the other end of the frequency scale, elephants use a sub-audible rumble to communicate with other elephants out of sight over the horizon. 

           In her book, A God That Could Be Real,author Nancy Ellen Abrams explores some implications of our human limitations. We can only comprehend things that fall within a certain size range, she asserts, relative to our own size. 


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20

Feb

2019

Faith in something, not only someone

Author: Jim Taylor

“Ah yes, I remember it well,” Maurice Chevalier warbled in the musical Gigi. And then immediately proved that he didn’t remember it well at all.

            I remember a gathering of about 30 people at am Anglican retreat centre north of Toronto, to thrash out the policies that would guide a United Church committee for the next few years. Like Chevalier, I remember it, but not well.

            The one thing I remember for sure was the summation by Terry Anderson, then professor of ethics at the Vancouver School of Theology. Terry had been brought in as something called a “theological reflector.” His job, he explained, was not to influence us. It was to identify the theology he observed in our discussions and debates.

            And what he said has stuck with me ever since:

            “What the United Church really believes in is not any statement of faith or doctrine. What the United Church believes is that if it follows the right process, if it brings together the right mix of individuals, from the right mix of regions and interest groups, they can’t help coming up with the right answer.”


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