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

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12

Dec

2019

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

5

Dec

2019

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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27

Nov

2019

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

20

Nov

2019

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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13

Nov

2019

Visualizing God as http://www

Author: Jim Taylor

The TV news was mumbling away in the background, when a name surfaced — Tim Berners-Lee. 

            Several decades ago, Berners-Lee was idolized. While a scientist with the CERN large hadron collider in Switzerland, he developed a system that enabled computers to talk to each other. 

            Officially it was called “hypertext transfer protocol” -- the “http” in internet addresses. More commonly, it’s called the Web, short for World Wide Web – the “www” in internet addresses.

            The Web has not only changed communication, it has given theology a valuable new metaphor. Yes, theology, although I suspect that was the last thing on Sir Tim’s mind. 


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6

Nov

2019

Tuning up your smile antenna

Author: Jim Taylor

In one section of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s best seller from ten years ago, she describes being taught Balinese meditation. She had just spent four months in India learning -- sometimes painfully -- Yoga meditation.  Physical postures that had to be learned, and held, until her joints begged for mercy. Endless Sanskrit texts that had to be memorized and repeated, endlessly.

            But her guru in Bali simply said, “Smile.”

            At first, it seemed far too simple. Yet, as she thought about it, his advice made sense to her. It was the Balinese attitude, she thought. Smile. Always smile. Always face the world cheerfully.

            All great truths seems to have a core of simplicity; all simple statements contain a grain of truth. Not necessarily the whole truth. But a grain of truth, somewhere.

            The underlying truth to her guru’s instruction was that you receive whatever you are tuned to.


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30

Oct

2019

Halloween, beyond the masks

Author: Jim Taylor

Halloween has a very short shelf life. Apparently, it ranks right up there with Christmas and Thanksgiving for retail sales. But as someone’s blog noted, there’s not much market for Darth Vader costumes the day after Halloween. Nor for packages of 100 bite-sized chocolate bars. 

            With Halloween coming up tomorrow night, I can’t help wondering about our fascination with this pseudo-religious festival. 

            Yes, pseudo-religious. Because Halloween -- or Hallowe’en, a shortened form for All Hallows’ Even(ing), the night before All Hallows’ Day – certainly had its origins in religion. “Hallow” refers to the holy, the sacred, as in “Hallowed be Thy name.” The hallowed ones in this case are the dead, especially those we think of as saints. 

            Formally, we recognize them on All Saints’ Day, the day after Halloween. 

            Hallows’ Eve, therefore, became the night when the dead, both saintly and un-, returned to roam the dark.

            But I doubt if any of the costumed kids going door to door with their loot bags will be thinking saintly thoughts. Indeed, I doubt if one in a hundred parents will bother explaining the religious roots of their annual ritual. 


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24

Oct

2019

As autumn leaves begin to fall

Author: Jim Taylor

There’s a sadness to autumn as the leaves begin to fall. I used to look forward to what we called “Indian summer,” that precious period of bright sunny days and cool crisp nights, a brief oasis of pleasure before the world skids into winter.

            But I have reached an age where falling leaves make me think of mentors who have also fallen to the cycle of  seasons. 

            I was fortunate. Or blessed. Or something. I had some exceptional mentors over the years. 

            But alas, many have gone. By this time next year, a few more will have gone. I feel increasingly bereft.


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16

Oct

2019

The eunuch and the hitchhiker

Author: Jim Taylor

Who is the most despicable person you can think of? The kind of person you would least like to spend any time with? The kind of person who makes your skin crawl?

            Back in biblical times, you’d probably be thinking of a eunuch.

            Eunuchs had three strikes against them.

            A eunuch was almost always a slave.

            And probably a foreigner captured in battle, a former enemy

            And strike three, a eunuch wasn’t a man anymore. He had been castrated. Although castration of an adult male wouldn’t necessarily prevent him getting an erection, he couldn’t perform that most essential function of manhood – fathering children to continue his family line.


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9

Oct

2019

One rule for open discussion

Author: Jim Taylor

I enjoy good discussions. On almost any topic. Although my aging body no longer allows some physical activities I once enjoyed, I haven’t lost my love of a lively discussion. Yet.

            Along the way, though, I’ve learned that there are many ways of destroying a discussion -- from saying too much to saying too little.

            Still, in my experience, the most pernicious fault is dragging in an external authority. Perhaps a quotation from a famous writer. A statement from a scientist, ripped out of context. A dictionary definition.

            Or selected verses from the Bible.

            Especially, perhaps, from the Bible. Because the Bible can be used to support almost any stance, from slavery to prostitution, from genocide to a flat earth. The same is probably true for the Qur’an, the Hindu Upanishads, and the Analects of Confucius. They were never written as reasoned arguments for a unified worldview.


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: rules, discussion

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