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

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17

Jan

2021

Misguided mentality of a mob

Author: Jim Taylor

The world watched last week as a mindless mob took over the U.S. Capitol. 

            It was not an attempted coup, as many pundits alleged. If it were a coup, they would have been much better organized. 

            This gang had no plans beyond disrupting Congress. Desecrating the temple of government. Looting a few souvenirs. Putting their feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk. 

            For a second or two, those TV cameras caught a woman brandishing a placard: “Jesus Saves.”

            There, I think, is the overlooked key to this demonstration. 

            At last count, 82 people had been arrested and 13 charged, as a result of the riot. When – and if – they come to trial, I expect that some will invoke religious freedom as their defence. 

            They were only doing what Jesus did, they’ll argue, when he cleared the crooks and shysters from a courtyard of his temple in Jerusalem. He didn’t attempt to take over the temple either. He shut it down for a while, then cleared out. He had made his point.


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9

Jan

2021

All by myself on a ski trail

Author: Jim Taylor

Between my wife’s death and Covid-19 isolation, I’ve spent a lot of time alone this last year. 

            There’s a difference between being lonely and being alone. Lonely is a state of mind; alone is a fact. 

            In the silence broken only by my skis swooshing along the tracks, I amused myself thinking of the benefits of being alone. 

·      No negotiating about where to go, or when and where to meet. 

·      No competition about who’s going to drive.

·      No disagreements over what to pack for lunch. No juggling menus to suit someone else’s dietary needs. 

·      No hurrying to keep up with someone younger and fitter. 

·      No reason not to stop, to catch a breath, to take in the view.. Or, in other settings, to pull off the road to read a historical marker, or to visit some natural wonder you’ve always rushed past before. 

·      No need to phone anyone just because you’re running a little late.

·      And in a broader sense, no interruptions in the middle of a thought, a moment of meditation, or of prayer.


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9

Jan

2021

Crashing through an imaginary wall

Author: Jim Taylor

When he was still a young man, a friend of a friend had a job for a while as a movie stunt man. He learned how to fall off a cliff. How to survive an explosion. And how to roll a car, crash a car, flip a car, and still emerge alive.

            He learned how to work out all the calculations of speed and weight and lift so that he could safely launch a car off the end of a ramp and land without killing himself.

            And then one day he was asked to send a car crashing through a giant billboard.

            My young friend knew exactly how fast he had to be going, how steep the ramp must be, how far the car would fly, how it would land on the other side.

            But it felt different when he couldn’t see ahead through the giant billboard. Even if it was just made of paper.

 


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9

Jan

2021

Where all are welcome

Author: Jim Taylor

Christmas will be different this year, for most of us. No travel, no family gatherings. I don’t expect to have anybody at all in my house over the holiday period. 

            But I’ve put up some Christmas decorations anyway. Then I got to the creche, the traditional manger scene. Ours is eclectic, to say the least.

            The core of the creche, of course, is the Holy Family – Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. We bought those three figures long ago from the wood carvers in Oberammergau, the village in the Bavarian alps that puts on a world-famed Passion Play every ten years. 

            The three camels came from a shop in Jerusalem. We were assured they were carved of olive wood from the trees in the Garden of Gethsemane under which Jesus prayed the night of his arrest and trial. 

            But we didn’t have any Magi to ride in from the East on those camels. So I carved a set of three visitors myself. As a solid mass, blending into each other – as they do in the biblical text, too.

            There are some carved wooden sheep – they’re traditional. Also a donkey made by one of our grandchildren out of a toilet paper roll wrapped with string. 

            Plus a variety of less conventional animals. A hippo, from Africa. A cow, or maybe a water buffalo, from India. An elephant from Thailand. A giant tortoise from the Galapagos Islands. A ceramic penguin from Chile (I think). And an Irish Setter, in loving memory of our first dog.


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9

Jan

2021

Mary and my hitchhiker

Author: Jim Taylor

Every year, as the Christmas season rolls around again, I feel impelled to dig into my archives, to see what might deserve saying a second time. 

            This column goes back to 2005. 

            I was driving from Kamloops back to Kelowna, normally less than a two-hour drive. A storm had coated the highway with ice. It took me over an hour just to get to the turnoff that led south towards Kelowna. 

            Just before the turnoff, the road tilted left. I could feel my car slipping sideways on the ice as I crept around yet another accident. Even the cop directing traffic couldn’t keep his feet under him. 

            Then, as I was about to accelerate gently ahead, I heard a tap at my passenger window. A pale, waiflike face peered in at me, bundled in a woolen scarf. 

            “Could you give me a ride?” she asked. “It’s real cold out here.”

            I don’t usually pick up hitchhikers, but these seemed to be exceptional circumstances. “Hop in,” I said. 


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9

Jan

2021

Even when there’s no one there

Author: Jim Taylor

I changed the décor in our church the other day. I took down the Thanksgiving theme, and put up an Advent/Christmas theme. 

            It was a wasted effort, I suppose, because no one will see it. Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has ruled that indoor in-person events such as worship services must be cancelled to control the spread of Covid-19. 

            I’m not sure on what basis she – and the government – determine that selling cosmetics and houseplants is an essential service, and worship is not. 

 


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9

Jan

2021

Even alone, you are loved

Even alone, you are loved

Author: Jim Taylor

Here it is. The night before Christmas. 

            Technically, Christmas is a Christian celebration. About the birth of a baby in Bethlehem. Christian worship services – conducted mostly online this Christmas – will tell and re-tell, in story and song, of shepherds and angels and wise men from the east.

            But outside of church, those songs and stories blur into a kind of emotional fog, about good wishes and gifts, a fog that envelops Jews, Muslims, Baha’is, Hindus, everyone.

            It’s going to be a different Christmas this year. Thanks to the second wave of Covid-19 infections, multi-generations will not gather around a fireplace. Or a burdened table. 

            There will be few Norman Rockwell Christmases this year. 


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9

Jan

2021

Getting off the beaten track

Author: Jim Taylor

We humans love to follow beaten paths. Both figuratively and literally.

            But what if you don’t want to go along a beaten path? When I’m out on the local trails, walking my dog, I occasionally take side trips. To explore a rock face, perhaps. To circumnavigate a small lake. To find an alternate viewpoint. 

            But I’ve noticed that if I take that diversion more than once or twice, my feet leave enough imprint that other people start taking the same route. And before long there’s a whole new beaten path, that wasn’t there before.

            Figuratively, too, we also like to follow beaten paths. In politics, in theology, in economics, we are much more comfortable endorsing and supporting ideas that someone else has expressed already. 


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13

Nov

2020

Finding the right ending

Author: Jim Taylor

No, I am NOT going to write about the recent U.S. election. Everyone else has done that already.

            Instead, I’m going back some 80 years, to a collection of academic papers I inherited, written by my father while doing his studies for a PhD in psychology. 

            He was, at the time, acting principal of an undergraduate arts college in India. His students belonged to four different religions and at least six language groups. And he was using those students to test psychological theories developed for western nations -- Europe and North America.

            The only thing he proved, he admitted later, was that western categories simply didn’t fit the eastern mind. 

            But some of his exercises have interesting implications.


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6

Nov

2020

Underlying structures

Author: Jim Taylor

All the leaves fell off my catalpa tree in a single day. In full foliage, it’s a dense mass of huge flat leaves. 

            Something about an unexpectedly early snowfall, coupled with an overnight cold snap, triggered a reflex in every leaf, leading them to separate from their parent tree.

            The tree looks quite different now. Bare branches stand gaunt against a grey sky. I can see right through it. 

            Some years ago, I was given a book called Trees in a Winter Landscape, by Alice Upham Smith. 

            Most of the year, she suggested, we know trees by their leaves. The underlying structure doesn’t become visible until the leaves fall.  I think that might be true for more than just trees.


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