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

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31

May

2020

Doing something worthwhile

Author: Jim Taylor

My shovel sank into the soil the full depth of the blade,  effortlessly, liker slicing butter. I turned the shovel load over.  The soil was rich, black, moist. And loaded with fat wriggling worms.

            Some robins thought I had called them for dinner. They hopped happily over the lumps of earth only a few feet away from my own feet. 

            What a difference 27 years makes. When we first moved onto this property, the land was a horse pasture. Back then, the earth beneath the sod consisted mostly of river-tumbled rock and gravel. In some earlier era, this bench had been the mouth of a rushing mountain stream dumping glacial debris into a lake much larger and deeper than today’s. It left a legacy of stones and sand.

            The remains of the streambed still lie inches  below our lawn. But this garden plot is different, thanks to 27 years of  relentless composting. 

            If I’ve achieved nothing else in my life, I’ve created rich black soil that didn’t exist before. 


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21

May

2020

The value of handwritten notes

Author: Jim Taylor

           I’m sorry that cursive handwriting is disappearing. Because there’s a huge difference between a handwritten note and a printed text, whether on paper or on screen. 

            In the two months since my wife Joan died, daughter Sharon and I have received 60 or so emails of condolence. And several dozen phone calls. But the cards have made the most impression. They were all handwritten. Forty-seven of them.

            The printed words on the cards offered saccharine platitudes. But the notes and letters described memorable incidents, long ago or more recent. They told of the writers’ own sense of loss. They recognized of the double-whammy of grief and mandatory isolation. 

            In an age when “Hey, Siri!” can send off an instant assembly-line platitude, those writers recognized that there was something more personal, more meaningful, in taking the effort to write by hand rather than in just getting the job done the easiest way. 


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16

May

2020

Beauty: just passing through

Author: Jim Taylor

A goldfinch landed on my windowsill. According to Peterson’s Guide, a male American Goldfinch, with brilliant gold and black feathers.

            Goldfinches tend to come every year around this time, as they migrate north to whatever address they use for their summer home. But I’ve never had one land on my windowsill before.

            The tiny bird perched there, as proud and erect as an Emperor Penguin, staring in at me.

            And then he opened his little beak and pecked on the glass. As if he wanted to come in.

            In our church, we usually open a worship service by sharing “God-moments” -- moments when, in some way, we feel closely connected to whatever we call “God.”  That visit from a goldfinch was definitely a God-moment for me.


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8

May

2020

Stay home, keep calm, knit comfort

Author: Jim Taylor

During my wife’s last calendar year of life, she knitted a prayer shawl a month. 

            You may not be familiar with prayer shawls. Some are square; some triangular. Joan’s tended to be about five feet long and two feet wide, knitted with the warmest and softest wool she could buy. (The wool shop was always glad to see her!)

            In the days when we could still gather for worship services, our congregation periodically held a blessing of prayer shawls. Every person either laid a hand directly on a shawl, or on someone connected to a shawl.

            People have different understandings  of the efficacy of prayer. 

            Regardless, I have no doubt that those shawls carried with them a sense of warmth and comfort to people who needed both. 


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30

Apr

2020

How not to make friends and influence people

Author: Jim Taylor

After a month of trying to trace my late wife’s account numbers, policies, investments, and benefits, I can say one thing with certainty – I hate automated voice menus!

            There are times when I think I would rather forfeit any moneys owing than deal with another supposedly helpful telephone menu.

            At some point, the synthetic voice will list a series of options, usually preceded by a caution: “Please listen carefully, as these options have been changed recently.”

            None of the options deals with my needs. I press the number for the most likely option.

            I wait. I get an endless loop of music, periodically interrupted by assurances that the company considers my call very important. 

            Half an hour later, the next available representative is still not available. 

            Corporate voice mail systems are about as inscrutable as the Sphinx.


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24

Apr

2020

Entering a strange new land

Author: Jim Taylor

I would not want to be a refugee. Pictures of them suggest they’re in shock, traumatized by the life they have chosen to leave behind. Civil wars. Poverty. Famine. Religious repression. Militias with licence to kill. 

            Refugees have hope, of course – they hope for freedom from poverty, from oppression, from persecution. 

            But they have left so much behind. So much that was dear to them. Businesses that they sank their heart and soul into, with a clientele built over years, maybe even generations. Extended families -- aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, nieces and nephews, sometimes their own children. Languages and customs familiar since infancy. 

            All given up for a new life they don’t know yet, they can’t know yet. 


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17

Apr

2020

Poetry: the bare essentials

Author: Jim Taylor

This is National Poetry Month. Officially recognized since 1998.

            Does anyone care? A friend says he does doesn’t get poetry. Never has, not since his high school teacher tried to explain it to him. 

            I blame the teacher. You can’t explain poetry. Either you get it or you don’t. Either those images leap off the page and dance a polka in your head, or they don’t. 

            Explaining poetry is like explaining a joke -- if you have to do it, don’t bother. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Poetry, metaphor

9

Apr

2020

Handwashing for beginners

Author: Jim Taylor

Today is Maundy Thursday.

            Maundy? Probably not a word you run across often. “Maundy” apparently derives from Latin mandatum, meaning commandment.

            Traditionally, today celebrates the last evening Jesus spent with his disciples. Where he took pita bread, or some equivalent, and tore it up, and told his disciples, “This bread is (like) my body (which will be) broken for your sakes.”

            And he poured wine into their cups (today it would probably be Tim Hortons coffee), and said, more or less, “This is like blood. You need it to keep your strength up. Drink it, and remember me in tough times.”

            Treat those as commands, and you have “Maundy”.


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2

Apr

2020

The wilderness experience revisited

Author: Jim Taylor

With humour in relatively short supply these days, my own mental energy even shorter, and  April Fool’s Day just over, I thought some biblical exegesis might be in order. So here is a reading from Exodus, chapter 16, (Disclosure: adapted from a version published in 2014).

            The entire assembly complained about the leadership of Moses and his brother Aaron. They said, “Why did you lead us out of Egypt where McDonald’s was open 24/7, to bring us out to this wilderness where we will surely die of fast food deprivation?”

            “Give us this day our daily burgers,” they chanted.


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Moses, manna, Exodus, satire

26

Mar

2020

Why we gather to grieve

Author: Jim Taylor

           It all makes me reconsider the purpose of a funeral or memorial service. 

            It’s not simply an occasion for glowing eulogies. 

            The popular term “Celebration of Life” seems to me to be both a euphemism and a misnomer. We may indeed celebrate who that person WAS. But we do it because she ISN’T. 

            We don’t sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” at “celebrations of life.” Or warble “For she’s a jolly good fellow…” We don’t jive in the aisles, pop balloons, or light fireworks.

            No. We gather to grieve.


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