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

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16

Jan

2019

Singing is breathing together

Author: Jim Taylor

The most radical thing that churches do these days is not their social justice programs, their housing for the homeless, or even their political lobbying. It’s their singing.

            Have you noticed that the younger generations don’t sing? Oh, they’re never without music. They have music -- or at least what they consider music -- pumped into their ears constantly by their Bluetooth earbuds. They have audio systems in their cars that can rattle windows a block away.

            But they don’t sing along. They kinda grunt and twitch along.

            Increasingly, I think that singing is a counter-cultural phenomenon. And it happens mostly in churches.


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9

Jan

2019

Dealing with life’s disabilities

Author: Jim Taylor

My dog is going deaf. At thirteen and half, she’s earned it -- that’s a ripe old age for a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

            First we noticed that she no longer came running to greet us when the garage door opened.

            Then she didn’t hear the doorbell ring.

            And she didn’t come when I whistled.

            When a Chessie doesn’t respond to the word “Food!” we knew something was seriously wrong with her hearing.

            Her deafness has affected our relationship. She now ignores commands that she used to obey, if reluctantly. Then she looks puzzled about why we’re upset with her. She apparently never developed the skill of lip reading.

            Once, when we had conversations on our walks, she didn’t know what I was saying. Now, she doesn’t even know I’m saying anything.

 


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2

Jan

2019

Don’t depend on definitions

Author: Jim Taylor

I’ve made my New Year’s Resolution. I hereby resolve that I will not participate in arguments based upon definitions. 

            A definition, by definition, defines. More precisely, it de-fines. Note the prefix. If you look up “de-” in  a dictionary, you’ll find it means to remove, reduce, lower… In other words, definitions narrow any discussion. They shift the focus from lived experience to someone else’s wisdom, frozen into print. 

            Once, in an early essay, I used the phrase “by definition.” My instructor scribbled, “Whose definition?” 

            Because definitions change. 

           Many people, I suspect, don’t realize the un-examined definitions they’re working with. 

            A friend yearns for mystical experiences. It won’t happen. Because, under pressure, he admits that an encounter with God requires getting knocked senseless, blinded -- or at least blind-sided -- and ordered by a disembodied voice like Paul Robeson’s to change his life.



 

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26

Dec

2018

Standing at the gate of the year

Author: Jim Taylor

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown…”

            King George VI used those words in his Christmas address to the British Empire, in 1939--three months after World War II had begun. They seemed prophetic, given the “unknown” massing across the English Channel.

            It seems appropriate again, as we head into a new year in which the unpredictable Donald Trump is likely to be even more explosively unpredictable, a new year  in which China and Russia flex their muscles, in which financial markets display suicidal impulses, and in which global warming draws closer to irreversibility.

            The night looks dark.

            “Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown…”


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19

Dec

2018

Christmas trees and memories

Author: Jim Taylor

I woke in the middle of the night, sensing something was wrong. Beyond the bedroom door, I could see light, where there shouldn’t have been any.

            It came from our living room. We had forgotten to turn off the lights on the Christmas tree.

            I could have turned them off, and fumbled through deeper darkness back to bed. But I didn’t. I settled into an easy chair, and sank into a reverie.

            Joan and I had decorated that tree, earlier that day. Every ornament had its story. The spire on top, that she remembers from her childhood. Glass balls accumulated, year after year. Delicate brass symbols bought on trips to Europe. Fabric decorations she painstakingly embroidered…

            We didn’t have any of those when we started life together. Just tinsel, that we hung strand by strand. And walnuts, sprayed gold, for balls. And paper snowflakes stuck to our windows with Saran wrap


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12

Dec

2018

Nativity scenes

Author: Jim Taylor

Every year, my old friend Kenn Ward sets up a Nativity scene in his front yard in Winnipeg.

            Many of us have indoor Nativity scenes, often called a creche. And we never set the figures up exactly the same way each year. Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus take centre stage, of course. But the shepherds, the visitors from the east, the animals – they get shuffled around, depending on what we feel is the essential theme of the story, this year.

            Kenn has that problem too, with the bigger figures for his outdoor creche. “I never know quite what to expect,” he wrote on Facebook. “Usually one of the figures, or a group of them, insist that they have been neglected and deserve more prominence in the scene. There is often a clash of egos… 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Bible, Nativity, creche

5

Dec

2018

Permission to let go

Author: Jim Taylor

“All the leaves have gone,” sang The Mamas and the Papas in their short but brilliant musical career. 

            Their words come to mind as I look out my office window. Joan and I planted a Japanese red maple out there, 20 years ago. All its leaves have gone. 

            Except for two lonely twigs that still have bright red leaves clinging to their tips. The twigs lash about in winter winds. But those last leaves won’t let go.

        Perhaps I should go outside and say a prayer for the last leaves on my maple tree. So that they can let go too.


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28

Nov

2018

The goal of true community

Author: Jim Taylor

We had just arrived in the Okanagan. We moved in, unpacked, and went church shopping.

            The first church we tried was Winfield United. The service itself was, well, so-so. Solid. Perhaps even stolid. Nothing exciting, but nothing offensive either.

            Then, on our way out, Marg Kyle grabbed me. “We need you in our choir,” she insisted.

            I’ve been singing in that choir for 25 years now.

            In the church — and I guess in other contexts too — we talk a lot about community. We value community, even the virtual community supposedly offered by the internet.

            And yet we often get it wrong. A seniors’ care home is not automatically a community. Neither is a housing sub-division. Both can become a community — but that will depend on the relationships of the people who live there, not just on living in close proximity.

            And having a million followers on Twitter or Facebook does not create a community either.


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21

Nov

2018

The old systems don’t work anymore

Author: Jim Taylor

Our son was 14 when he came up for confirmation. For those not familiar with the policies of the United Church of Canada, confirmation was a ritual by which young people who were already members of the church by their baptism became “full” members by “confirming” the promises made on their behalf by their parents before they were capable of making any decisions for themselves, so that they could participate fully in church life.

            Back then, it was still believed that young people actually wantedto join the church.

            So they went through a three-step process. First, they had to learn what the church historically believed. And why. And why it mattered.

            Then they were allowed to belong to this community of faith. And then, once they been absorbed into the body politic, they were expected to act – to behave, in other words – like true Christians.

            Believe. Belong. Behave. That was the way it was done.


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14

Nov

2018

The wonders and terrors of touch

Author: Jim Taylor

It started as a straightforward presentation, with the usual statistics and PowerPoint slides. 

Holly Routley from Okanagan College had come to to raise awareness -- and funds, of course -- for a new Health Sciences complex.

            Then Holly did something unexpected. While speaking, she stepped down from the podium and began to massage the neck and shoulders of a young woman near the front.

            I heard an audible gasp. Because in our culture We. Just. Don’t. Do. That.

            But Holly made contact deliberately, to make a point. Nursing is one of the few professions where the practitioner has to make physical contact with the other party.


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