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

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Not worth worrying about

Author: Jim Taylor

Flakes of winter snow sift down outside my window as I write these words. Millions of them. Billions of them. Burying the bird feeder. Burying my driveway. 

            I go out to shovel. Each snowflake weighs next to nothing. It’s amazing how much a shovelful of next-to-nothing can weigh. 

            No two of those snowflakes are identical, I’ve been told. 

            Maybe it’s true. Maybe it isn’t. The only way to prove it, either way, would be to examine every snowflake that has ever fallen. 

             But if you lived in Australia these days, who cares? When summer temperatures soar above 50 degrees Celsius, when fires create their own weather systems, a snowflake wouldn’t have, umm, a snowflake’s chance in hell of surviving long enough to  be examined. 

            So many of the things that we humans argue about, divide ourselves about, even go to war about, are what a friend calls “head stuff.” Interesting, but irrelevant. 

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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Rituals, Chesterton




The mark of moral progress

Author: Jim Taylor

The progress of civilization is not measured by democracy or economics, by health or wealth, nor by art or architecture. It’s measured by our reduction of cruelty.

            I needed to state that thesis up front. To discuss it, I have to cite instances of cruelty that will turn your stomach. If I started this column with them, you’d probably quit reading.

            Let’s start with Genghis Khan, who reputedly killed 40 million people in his 30-year reign. He executed one enemy by pouring molten silver into his eyes and ears.

            Which is probably characteristic of his time. A rival tyrant boiled captured generals alive. Victims may have been conscious for several hours as they cooked.

            Scottish explorer James Bruce became the first European to enter the mountain kingdom of Ethiopia. The emperor and his vizier entertained their visitor by putting out the eyes of a dozen slaves while they ate dinner.

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New angles on an old prayer

Author: Jim Taylor

Many Protestant congregations mark the new year with John Wesley’s Covenanting Service.

            Wesley is, of course, the founder of British Methodism. 

            A “covenant” is like a contract, but more binding. Many people make New Year’s Resolutions -- if cynically, knowing that we will soon break them. But a covenant is more than a resolution. Once you make a covenant there’s no backing out.

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The yin and yang of winter months

Author: Jim Taylor

The days are getting longer – had you noticed? Today will be one minute and nine seconds longer than yesterday. Sunrise hasn’t changed, but the sun now sets later. Soon the sunrise will accelerate too, and the northern hemisphere will hurtle towards summer. 

            Our grandson sent a photo of himself on a beach in Mexico. I must admit that my first reaction was not delight. It was envy. I looked at the sparking sand, the turquoise sea, the fluffy clouds. I could imagine warm sun on my shoulders. I wished I were there. 

            Why, I wondered, would anyone live anywhere but in the tropics?

            But I know why, when I look out my window. Grey snow, piled along the roadsides. Brown grass. Bare tree limbs, black against a sodden sky…

            I need these seasonal reminders so that I can fully appreciate summer. 

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When Christmas isn’t over yet

Author: Jim Taylor

‘Twas the day after Christmas, and all over the floor

lay the littered remains of the day just before…

            That’s a cynical view of Christmas. No presents left under the tree, just bags of tattered Christmas wrapping to go into recycling. The carcass of leftover turkey lurks in the refrigerator. The music channel has put Christmas albums away for another year and gone back to golden oldies.

            There’s not much left of Christmas.

            Or is there?

            I rather like the idea that the walls of an opera house might somehow still resonate to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s soaring soprano. That a sports stadium might remember Roger Banister’s Miracle Mile. That a street in Jerusalem might remember Jesus’ sandaled feet.

            Because that means something isn’t over, just because it’s over.

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Does anyone own Christmas?

Author: Jim Taylor

Sam Steele still makes headlines. Steele is, of  course, the legendary hero of the RCMP who brought law and order to the Canadian West.

            Although the RCMP -- the Royal Canadian Mounted Police -- didn’t exist yet. And the “West” wasn’t fully Canada yet.

            But Steele was certainly a real person. As a staff-sergeant in the North West Mounted Police, which later became the RCMP, he ended the Riel Rebellion in the last formal battle fought on Canadian soil.

            Steele established  the first NWMP fort west of the Rockies at Galbraith’s Ferry -- since renamed Fort Steele in his honour.

            And he went on from there to the Yukon Territory, where the discovery of gold launched the famous Klondike Gold Rush. Thousands of gold-hungry gun-totin’ Americans flooded north. Steele made his own laws. By requiring every person entering the Yukon to bring along a ton of supplies, he prevented the Yukon from turning into the OK Corral North.

             But he’s back. By a circuitous chain of ironies.

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Let your light shine…

Author: Jim Taylor

           A small ceramic Christmas tree sits on a table in our front hall. It’s not much of a tree – about 12 inches high, dark green, with whitish snow flaked on the ends of its branches. A light bulb inside shines out through coloured plastic plugs stuck into holes in the branches.

            Over the years, we’ve lost about a dozen of the plastic plugs. The light inside now shines directly out through several holes.

            It never was particularly pretty, I suppose. But it’s special. Because it was given to me with love.

            It came from Lorraine Wicklow almost 40 years ago. The next summer, Lorraine died of a massive brain hemorrhage.

            As far as I know, she had no family, no relatives. Perhaps I was her family. She used to drop in at my office, back in the days when I worked at the United Church’s national offices in Toronto. She always arrived at the very end of the day, just as I was loading up my briefcase to go home.

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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Christmas tree




Mixed feelings about what Hope means

Author: Jim Taylor

Here we are, into the first week in December, the first week of what the Christian Church has traditionally termed the beginning of a new year.

            In the northern hemisphere, we have three different “years.” The calendar year starts January 1. The school year starts in September. And the Christian year starts with the four Sundays before Christmas -- collectively called Advent. The first Sunday is usually about Hope.

            Of course, it’s about hope for the coming of a Saviour, a Messiah, a holy person who will show the world how to live.

            But is that really hope, 20 centuries later? We already know that child was born, and grew up, and set us an example…. 

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The overlooked melodies of speech

Author: Jim Taylor

Growing older exposes me to new experiences, often unexpected experiences, that make me wonder what I’ve actually been paying attention to, all these years.

            Hearing, for example.

            As a journalist for most of my life, I’ve needed to hear exactly what people were saying. When quoting people in the public eye, it’s not good enough to print what I think they might have said.

            There’s a huge difference between, say, “prosecution” and “prostitution.”

            But as I have aged, my hearing has declined. So I wear hearing aids.

            When I remember them, that is. I didn’t remember them for a recent gathering. I tried to catch, and translate into comprehension, various people’s comments. But I found the extra effort tiring.

            So I tried listening a different way. To the sounds, the tones, the rhythms of speech around the room.

            It was like listening to music. 

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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: hearing, music, deafness




These immigrants welcome here

Author: Jim Taylor

We had some unexpected immigrants drop in at our house recently. A couple, I assume; they’re always together. And they literally dropped in -- out of the sky, onto our bird feeder.

            Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds defines them as ringed turtle-doves. The description is clear and precise -- they could be nothing else.

            Pigeons have been around for a long time. It was a pigeon that Noah released from his ark, to see if there were green shoots growing anywhere. And a pigeon that settled on Jesus as he came up out of the Jordan River after his baptism.

            This particular species was probably imported from southern Africa or Asia as household pets. Peterson calls them “a domestic-bred variant of the African turtle-dove…seen very locally in city parks in Los Angeles, rarely elsewhere.”

            Which raises some uncomfortable questions.

            Did someone move Los Angeles?

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