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

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26

Jun

2019

There’s more to life than weeds

Author: Jim Taylor

Last Friday was the longest day of the year. The sun came up at 4:49 a.m., and didn’t set again until 9:10 p.m.

            I was out in my garden pulling weeds, on my hands and knees, head down, nose near the earth, when I realized that half a year’s worth of daylight had passed me by.

           When I look back, I can remember the cherries in our neighbouring orchard coming out in blossom. Then the peaches, then the apples. I didn’t pay attention. 

            A little later in the year, dark red rhododendrons marched down our north fence. Near-fluorescent azaleas adorned our driveway -- orange, white, yellow, even purple. Our flowering dogwood stood as tall and white as a wedding dress. The catalpa exploded in creamy white petals like popcorn. Peonies were burdened with bloom.

            I saw them all. But I didn’t really pay attention to the beauty around me. Because I was too obsessed with weeds.


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: weeds, beauty

19

Jun

2019

Confused about winning and losing

Author: Jim Taylor

Last Thursday night, the Toronto Raptors won their first-ever NBA Championship, defeating the Golden State Warriors. Canada went wild. Even parts of Alberta cheered.

            This whole business of winning and losing leaves me a little confused.

            Because the only thing for the Raptors can look forward to now is losing. They can’t stay on top forever. Sooner or later, some other team will de-throne them.

            Like reaching the summit of Everest, the only place left to go is down.

            Years ago, when I was still a wannabe writer, I took a night-school class from Raymond Hull, co-author with Lawrence J. Peter of The Peter Principle.

            Hull taught that literature really had only three plots. 


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12

Jun

2019

Attitudes that are NOT welcome

Author: Jim Taylor

A couple of Sundays ago, Bob Thompson, our minister-for-the-day, talked about what the United Church of Canada believes, or doesn’t  believe.

            He said, “I often hear that the United Church is tolerant. I don’t think it is. Like Coventry Cathedral, we do welcome ‘pilgrims, tourists, seekers, doubters – and you.’ But when you come in our doors, you need to know that we are not tolerant of attitudes that dismiss or demean others... 

            “If you are racist, misogynist, white supremacist, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, or anti-immigrant, you are still welcome to come in. But don’t bring those ideas with you, and don’t expect them to be welcomed.”

            I like Bob’s distinction. Many religious communities have Statements of Faith – things you MUST believe if you want to belong. Anything else you want to believe, beyond that official statement, is up to you. 

            Sometimes it’s equally important to state what you may NOT believe. 


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5

Jun

2019

Little things mean a lot

Author: Jim Taylor

A friend recommended a YouTube performance of “The Moldau,” the great symphonic poem by Bohemian composer Bedřich Smetana. Reviews called it “a stunning performance,” as indeed it was. Especially the interplay between flutes and clarinets in the opening phrases. 

            But as the symphony progressed, the camera kept cutting away, for a second or two, to a lone man playing the triangle.

            A triangle is perhaps the simplest of all musical instruments. It’s a bent piece of metal. It can play one note. That’s all. And yet the person playing that triangle had to believe that his one note was just as essential to the whole symphony as the first violinist’s cascade of melody. 

            That one note had to come at the right time. Exactly the right time. 

            His part mattered. Even if it was only one note. 


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29

May

2019

The oneness of life and love

Author: Jim Taylor

God is love, I hear, over and over. God is love.

            I wonder what the speaker's definitions are.

            About God. Do they mean the traditional God, the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God who knows everything, created everything, and still controls everything? Including playoff games…?

            That's a comfortable notion, I suppose, if it lets you blame God from everything that goes wrong, from avalanches that wipe out holiday resorts to tsunamis that flood a nuclear power plant and poison the entire Pacific Ocean.

            To say nothing of demented people who run down holidaying crowds with a truck, or open fire in a movie theatre, or abuse small children.

            "God moves in mysterious ways," they will say. "I guess we'll never understand God's will...."

            Such a belief may offer comfort, but it's not a God of love.


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: life, God, love

22

May

2019

Items for the recycling bin

Author: Jim Taylor

Joan went to put some dishes back onto the top shelf in her kitchen. And discovered that a smoked-glass bowl had broken in half.

            We have no idea how, or when, it happened. It could have been yesterday; it could have been years ago.

            The bowl belonged to my mother, who died in 1972. We’ve kept it, all these years, because it was hers. We kept several things of hers, because every time we used them, those things reminded us of her.

            More accurately, perhaps, we kept them because they reminded us that we loved her.

            Many of her things we inherited from her have gone, now. We still have her Indian trays and coffee tables. And her silverware -- that needs polishing regularly -- and her teacups. But the milk jug is long gone. So is a vase we particularly admired.

            Joan handed the broken pieces of the bowl to me. “I suppose I could glue it together,” I said.

            “It’s not worth fixing,” she replied. “Just recycle it.”


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15

May

2019

Shuffling towards an invisible door

Author: Jim Taylor

I woke during the night, a while ago, with my mind racing. It was very dark. Heavy clouds hid the moon and stars. Our rural area has no street lights. And at 3:00 a.m., no neighbouring houses had any lights on.

                   Rather than tossing and turning, and probably waking Joan, I got out of bed, and went to our living room where I could look out the front windows.

                   I could see a few lights across the lake. I could make out the vague reflective sheen of the lake, the darker bulk of the hills on the far side, some humps that might be bushes in our garden.

                   Nothing moved. It was very peaceful. Almost holy.

`                  After a while, calmed and quieted, I decided I could go back to bed.

 


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11

May

2019

Friendship as a way of life

Author: Jim Taylor

                   The late Scottish philosopher John Macmurray once suggested, in a BBC talk, that friendship was an illustration of the ideal “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” that Jesus talked about. 

                   Jesus, Macmurray reasoned, contradicted himself. One time he would tell his listeners, the kingdom is already here. Look around, you can see it. You all know it. Other times, Jesus would say it is not here. Not yet. But it can burst in, explode almost, unexpectedly. 

                   What human situation, Macmurray asked, fits those contradictory conditions? Friendship, he answered. Everyone knows friendship already. Yet we also know that friendship can blossom suddenly, between people who previously were barely acquaintances. 


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1

May

2019

Never take water for granted

Author: Jim Taylor

Every newscast recently seems to make floods its lead story. Floods in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. Less recently, floods in Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe. Largely unpublicized, floods in Iran and South Africa.

            Understandably, some residents resent having their floods described as “once in a century.” 

            “That’s what they told us last year,” grumbled a resident of New Brunswick’s St. John River valley. “Now we’re having another hundred-year flood this year.”

            I have some sympathy for those people piling sandbags to protect their property. I did it myself, once – but never, I hasten to admit, year after year. 

            I was still at university. A group of us sat around the common room of our student residence. Someone stuck his head in the door and said, “Hey! The Seymour River’s flooding. They’re calling for volunteers.”

            In the pelting rain — which was not easing the flood threat — we worked through the night. We waded through water above our ankles. The rain plastered our hair to our heads, dripped off our noses, fogged our glasses, soaked through our light jackets. 

            But we kept working until the army relieved us about 3:00 a.m. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: extremes, floods

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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