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

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16

Oct

2019

The eunuch and the hitchhiker

Author: Jim Taylor

Who is the most despicable person you can think of? The kind of person you would least like to spend any time with? The kind of person who makes your skin crawl?

            Back in biblical times, you’d probably be thinking of a eunuch.

            Eunuchs had three strikes against them.

            A eunuch was almost always a slave.

            And probably a foreigner captured in battle, a former enemy

            And strike three, a eunuch wasn’t a man anymore. He had been castrated. Although castration of an adult male wouldn’t necessarily prevent him getting an erection, he couldn’t perform that most essential function of manhood – fathering children to continue his family line.


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9

Oct

2019

One rule for open discussion

Author: Jim Taylor

I enjoy good discussions. On almost any topic. Although my aging body no longer allows some physical activities I once enjoyed, I haven’t lost my love of a lively discussion. Yet.

            Along the way, though, I’ve learned that there are many ways of destroying a discussion -- from saying too much to saying too little.

            Still, in my experience, the most pernicious fault is dragging in an external authority. Perhaps a quotation from a famous writer. A statement from a scientist, ripped out of context. A dictionary definition.

            Or selected verses from the Bible.

            Especially, perhaps, from the Bible. Because the Bible can be used to support almost any stance, from slavery to prostitution, from genocide to a flat earth. The same is probably true for the Qur’an, the Hindu Upanishads, and the Analects of Confucius. They were never written as reasoned arguments for a unified worldview.


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: rules, discussion

2

Oct

2019

Regretting things I didn’t do

Author: Jim Taylor

On the last day of summer, before all the kids went back to school, I walked along our beach, watching families having a final day of fun.

            A young girl offered a salted potato chip to a duck swimming near the shore.

            Nervously, the duck paddled towards her. It snatched the chip. Then it retreated to deeper waters.

            A second girl came down to the water. She kicked water out over the duck. Again and again.

            It was -- pardon the cliché -- like water off a duck’s back.

            And I did nothing.

            What should I have said? What could I have done?

            And how would the girls’ parents react, if a total stranger had lectured their daughters on right and wrong? The parents themselves apparently saw no reason to intervene.

            Because both girls were doing something I objected to.


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25

Sep

2019

I still don’t know what worship is

Author: Jim Taylor

You’ve probably heard someone say, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” They might apply the saying to music, cars, or cooking. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. 

            Lately, I’ve been saying it about worship. 

            I’ve probably had more experience of worship than most lay people. Since I was a child, I’ve attended worship services pretty much every week.

            As a journalist writing about religion, I’ve attended worship in Africa, India, and South America – places where I understood not a single word said or sung. I’ve worshipped in big churches and small churches, in affluent churches and struggling churches, in churches with long-term clergy and in churches with no professional leadership at all. 

            I’ve shared the Eucharist with 5,000 at a World Council of Churches Assembly. And I’ve sat with six strangers on wooden benches in a converted garage where a lay preacher harangued me about hell and the woman next to me sounded as if she might be having an orgasm.

            I’ve heard a lot of sermons. Some were brilliant. Others — to quote my friend Ralph Milton — “barely dribbled over the edge of the pulpit before expiring on the floor.”

            But worship is more than a sermon. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: worship, sermon, WCC

11

Sep

2019

Actions that change the world

Author: Jim Taylor

Today is the 18th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, September 11, 2001. 

            My wife and I were wakened early that morning by a frantic call from our daughter, who lived one time zone east. She sobbed, “Turn on your TV! You have to see this!”

            Through the rest of the day, we watched, transfixed by the tragedy. Over and over, we watched the two planes bank, smash into the towers, with a gout of exploding fuel erupting through the far wall of the tower. 

            We watched as the buildings collapsed like a house of cards.

            Of course, there were two other hijacked flights. One crashed into the Pentagon. And another, possibly intended for the White House or Congress, where the passengers refused to sit passively and let it happen. They overwhelmed the hijackers. 

            I wonder what would have happened if the passengers on the two flights piloted into the World Trade Center had shown similar initiative. 


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4

Sep

2019

The changing seasons of life

Author: Jim Taylor

Our hummingbirds have flown south.

            We hung out three hummingbird feeders all summer. Hummingbirds are scrappy little critters, even more so than finches. They fiercely defend their own territory, which includes what they think of as their own private Walmart of sweet nectar.

            Even so, we’ve sometimes had three or four birds zipping around at a time, grabbing a sip here, a sip there.

            The last hummingbird dropped in for a drink about two weeks ago. I think she was a female calliope hummingbird, although she didn’t stay still long enough for an unskilled bird watcher like me to check her anatomical details.

            She fluttered up, slurped, and was gone.

            And didn’t come back for a second martini.

           That last little hummingbird prompted me to read up about bird migration.


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28

Aug

2019

Imprisoned by meanings of words

Author: Jim Taylor

I’ve spent my life working with words. I love words. Reluctantly I’m recognizing that words can also form prisons for our minds.

            I’m not convinced that we need words to think. Dogs don’t need words to figure out how to get around an obstacle. 

            Certainly we use words to reason things out. But I don’t think many of us realize how much the words we use may also restrict our ability to reason.

            You can’t use “nigger,” for example, without imagining that person as a lesser human. I have never heard “nigger” used as praise.

            You can’t address someone as “Captain” or “Doctor” without a sense of deferring to authority.

             In the same way, “King” and “Lord” have acquired a patina of sacredness in the religious world. But the words are largely meaningless in today’s world. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: religion, words, Trinity

21

Aug

2019

Community picnics, past and present

Author: Jim Taylor

Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but as summer scrolls towards a closing, I miss community picnics. 

            I seem to recall when every organization had a company picnic, a Sunday School picnic, a team picnic. 

            At times, I’ve been put in charge of these events. I have fond memories of planning games and activities that would build a feeling of family. Softball games, where it was okay to strike the boss out. A tug-of-war. Foot races. Egg and spoon races. Three-legged races. Sack races. Water balloon tosses… 

            At one church picnic, I set up a potato-peeling challenge: the winner had the longest unbroken potato peel. 

            And at a company picnic, I remember teaching people how to make s’mores around a campfire. The most common s’more consists of chocolate and partly melted marshmallow sandwiched between two graham wafers. But even better is chocolate and marshmallow, sealed into a cavity sliced out of a partially peeled banana, wrapped in aluminum foil and roasted in the embers of a bonfire until the whole thing is a drippy gooey mess. 


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14

Aug

2019

Listening to my inner voice

Author: Jim Taylor

I didn’t read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Lovewhen it was a bestseller. I waited ten years.

            When I finally read the book this summer, I was interested in the conversations Gilbert had with God -- or something -- by writing out her pain, anger, depression. And something told her hand what to write in reply.

            Psychics might call it “automatic writing”; charismatic Christians might call it “writing in the Spirit.” Whatever it is, it gave Gilbert the assurance that she was okay, she was loved, she mattered.

            One day, I didn’t want to do anything. I had a “to-do” list about a page long. But I felt utterly unmotivated.

            I wondered what would happen if I applied Gilbert’s process myself. I started by typing, “I’ve wasted the whole day.”

            Almost immediately my alter ego, or something, interrupted: “ What do you mean, wasted?”


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7

Aug

2019

A time to live and a time to die

Author: Jim Taylor

My pea vines have died. Despite getting the same water and sunshine as the rest of the garden, they seemed to know, somehow, that they had accomplished their mission. Now it was time to go to The Great Compost Bin in the Corner.

            Like salmon, they produce their next generation, and then give up living.

            All living things seem to recognize when their time is running out. Pea vines live less than one full summer; some trees will live thousands of years. But they all die, eventually.

            And so, interestingly, do their individual cells. Cells have their own life spans. Human skin cells die every few days. So do the cells in the toxic environment of your digestive system. Sperm cells survive only a few hours.

            Indeed, without cell death, we wouldn’t be human. A human fetus has webs between its fingers and toes -- a throwback, perhaps, to our  amphibian ancestors -- and those web cells must die so that an infant can be born with recognizably human hands and feet.

 


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