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

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13

Feb

2019

The yin and yang of social movements

Author: Jim Taylor

On Thursday, our mountain ash tree was burdened with bright red berries. Globular blobs of berries hung at the end of every branch, weighing the branches down, bending the twigs.

            By Saturday, the tree stood bare against a grey sky.

            The Bohemian waxwings had returned. Every year, about this time, they come back. Maybe the timing has something to do with the birds’ migration patterns; maybe it depends on fermentation within the berries themselves. Whatever the reason, the waxwings show up in their thousands.

            They start as a distant smudge on the sky. The smudge grows larger, becomes a coiling, roiling, boiling ball of dust motes, displaying the infinite possibilities of fractal math. And then whoosh, the birds arrive in a mighty flitter-flutter of wings, ravenous as a plague of locusts.


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6

Feb

2019

When the masks come off

Author: Jim Taylor

I was walkin’ along, mindin’ my business, when I spied a man sitting on a park bench, staring out across the lake. I was going to pass by, but he said, “Hi, Jim.”

            I recognized the voice, even if I hadn’t recognized the back of his head. It was a neighbour, Derek. 

            Some impulse led me to sit down beside him. I thought he might like some company to stare at the lake. 

            He wanted company, but not for that purpose. “I lost Charlie last week,” he blurted. 

            Charlie was the kind of dog I once thought of scornfully as a “small furry object suitable for punting.” A low-slung, yappy, bundle of hyperactivity. That was before I knew Charlie personally. Charlie was always up for a walk, a game, a cuddle. 

            And he had been Derek’s companion for ten years. 

            For half an hour, as we sat on that park bench, Derek poured out feelings about his relationship with Charlie. I think he needed to. Talking helped fill the hole that his furry friend had left. 

            Or at least it helped him map the edges of that hole.


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30

Jan

2019

Religious rituals that boggle our minds

Author: Jim Taylor

The biggest religious event in the world is taking place right now, and I expect you haven’t heard a word about it. It’s the Kumbh Mela, where 130 million Hindus will purify themselves by plunging into the Ganges River. 

            Stop! You didn’t let that figure sink in -- 130 million! That’s equivalent to gathering in one place the entire populations of metropolitan New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Mexico City, Cairo, and London – every man, woman, and child. 

            Or more than three times the whole population of Canada, gathering on a mud flat at the junction of two sacred rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna.

           What do all those Hindus do at a Kumbh Mela? I don’t know; I’ve never been there in person. Even if I did go, I expect it would be meaningless to me, an outsider. 

            Certainly, nothing connected to the Ganges River suggests purification to me.

 

 

 

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24

Jan

2019

Reading life below the surface

Author: Jim Taylor

There was a time, I seem to recall, when a handshake was worth more than a legal contract. The hand-shakers had reached an agreement; they would stick to it, come hell or high water.

            But in literal fact, a handshake is simply a momentary meeting of palms.

            The example of a handshake came up during a discussion of a blog posting by Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who heads the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. Rohr wasn’t writing about handshakes, of course. He was writing about how people read the Bible. Or any other sacred text.

            “While biblical messages often proceed from historical incidents, the actual message does not depend upon communicating those events with perfect factual accuracy,” Rohr suggested.

            “Spiritual writers are not primarily journalists… Scripture can be understood on at least four levels: literal meaning, deep meaning, comparative meaning, and hidden meaning.”

            He explained, “The literal level of meaning doesn’t get to the root and, in fact, is the least helpful to the soul and the most dangerous for history." 

            It occurred to me that the same approach might enrich our understanding of everyday events. Like handshakes, for example.


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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

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