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

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28

Nov

2018

The goal of true community

Author: Jim Taylor

We had just arrived in the Okanagan. We moved in, unpacked, and went church shopping.

            The first church we tried was Winfield United. The service itself was, well, so-so. Solid. Perhaps even stolid. Nothing exciting, but nothing offensive either.

            Then, on our way out, Marg Kyle grabbed me. “We need you in our choir,” she insisted.

            I’ve been singing in that choir for 25 years now.

            In the church — and I guess in other contexts too — we talk a lot about community. We value community, even the virtual community supposedly offered by the internet.

            And yet we often get it wrong. A seniors’ care home is not automatically a community. Neither is a housing sub-division. Both can become a community — but that will depend on the relationships of the people who live there, not just on living in close proximity.

            And having a million followers on Twitter or Facebook does not create a community either.


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25

Nov

2018

Think twice before saying something offensive

Author: Jim Taylor

Harjit Sajjan is a Sikh, a man with brown skin, a full beard, and a turban. He’s also Canada’s Defence Minister.

            An unnamed member of Canada’s  Conservative Party posted a Facebook message with a photo of Sajjan and the caption, “This is what happens when you have a cabinet based on affirmative action.”

            I haven’t heard much opposition to affirmative action recently. (Clearly, I move in different circles from the person who posted the message.)

            Affirmative action is a process for righting past wrongs. For admitting more Black or indigenous students to universities, because they were previously discriminated against. For hiring more visible minorities on police forces. For promoting more women to management positions.

So when newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in 2015 that his cabinet would be 50 per cent female, there was shock. Fear that cabinet members would be appointed for their gender, not their competence.

            In fact, Trudeau’s affirmative action didn’t stop with gender equality. He also included non-Caucasians in his cabinet. Among them, Harjit Sajjan, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

            The Conservative party’s Facebook post reveals that some of its members still object to affirmative action. 


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23

Nov

2018

Snowflakes

Author: Jim Taylor

“The fog,” Carl Sandburg wrote, “comes

on little cat feet.”

If so, 

snow 

arrives on kitten paws, 


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23

Nov

2018

Tangled maze

Author: Jim Taylor

This poem when my friend Arlene Erickson, hearing about what ministers have been taught in most seminaries since the 1950s, demanded, “Why haven’t we ordinary people been told any of this stuff?” Something about the content led me to put it together in lines vaguely resembling the discipline of iambic pentameter.


“Behold,” he said, “thy path unto salvation.”

 

“What path?” I asked, “for all that I can see 

are thickets of incomprehension; thorns

that reach to snare unwary travellers,

quicksand salivating for a sucker,

roots that rise to trip my thoughts; and tigers 

burning bright, crouched to leap with tooth 

and claw upon my slightest flaw.


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21

Nov

2018

The old systems don’t work anymore

Author: Jim Taylor

Our son was 14 when he came up for confirmation. For those not familiar with the policies of the United Church of Canada, confirmation was a ritual by which young people who were already members of the church by their baptism became “full” members by “confirming” the promises made on their behalf by their parents before they were capable of making any decisions for themselves, so that they could participate fully in church life.

            Back then, it was still believed that young people actually wantedto join the church.

            So they went through a three-step process. First, they had to learn what the church historically believed. And why. And why it mattered.

            Then they were allowed to belong to this community of faith. And then, once they been absorbed into the body politic, they were expected to act – to behave, in other words – like true Christians.

            Believe. Belong. Behave. That was the way it was done.


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18

Nov

2018

Paradise Lost, again and again

Author: Jim Taylor

I can’t help wondering how British poet John Milton would have written about the fires in California. In the opening lines of his greatest epic, Paradise Lost,he describes the Hell into which a rebellious Satan fell:

As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames

No light, but rather darkness visible

Serv'd only to discover sights of woe,

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

And rest can never dwell, hope never comes

Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed

With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum'd…”

           Milton’s description from 1667 seems prophetic.

           Paradise has been lost again – this time the town of some 26,000 residents in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in central California. As I write these words, 63 people have been confirmed dead; 600 are missing; over 11,000 structures reduced to ashes. 


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14

Nov

2018

The wonders and terrors of touch

Author: Jim Taylor

It started as a straightforward presentation, with the usual statistics and PowerPoint slides. 

Holly Routley from Okanagan College had come to to raise awareness -- and funds, of course -- for a new Health Sciences complex.

            Then Holly did something unexpected. While speaking, she stepped down from the podium and began to massage the neck and shoulders of a young woman near the front.

            I heard an audible gasp. Because in our culture We. Just. Don’t. Do. That.

            But Holly made contact deliberately, to make a point. Nursing is one of the few professions where the practitioner has to make physical contact with the other party.


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11

Nov

2018

The cost of war also paid by the living

Author: Jim Taylor

Today is Remembrance Day. And it’s a special Remembrance Day -- the Armistice that ended the War to End All Wars came into effect exactly 100 years ago. At 11:00 a.m. on the 11thday of the 11thmonth of 1918 the guns fell silent.

            If only we could say that they had stayed silent.

            They haven’t. They’ve gotten more lethal. With the Second World War. Then with the Korean War and the Vietnam War, both of which I think of as outbreaks of the first World Civil War, with an incessant parade of people taking up arms against their own people. In Yugoslavia, in Rwanda, in Kashmir, in Sudan…

            And then there are the eruptions where outside forces get involved in local conflicts: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen…

            To mark this special anniversary, the Canadian Legion erected 240 crosses in Kelowna’s City Park -- one cross for each Canadian soldier from this area who died in the two World Wars.

            I applaud their effort. But I think by focussing on the fallen, we miss something important.

 


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7

Nov

2018

Beyond my understanding

Author: Jim Taylor

At this time of year, the trail that I walk daily with my dog along the shore of Okanagan Lake is littered with long brown pine needles. 

            They lie on the ground looking like that old game of Pick Up Sticks. Pine needles lie on top of each other in crazy patterns, pointing every which way…

            As I crunch those needles underfoot, I find myself wondering about the chances that the pattern of fallen needles in any one square inch (okay, 2.54 cm squared) might exactly duplicate the pattern in any other square inch. Vanishingly small, I’d guess.

            I find big numbers – really big numbers, I mean – meaningless. The U.S. federal deficit, the chance of winning a Power-Ball lottery, the diameter of the universe – are all incomprehensible. 


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4

Nov

2018

Superstitions still harm people

Author: Jim Taylor

Every now and then, I run across news reports that make me feel sick. (No, I’m not referring to Donald Trump.)

            Last summer, I read a report from Malawi, in Africa. You may not have heard much about Malawi. It always ranks near the bottom on Africa’s poverty scales, for a variety of reasons.

            First, because Malawi is land-locked. It has no seaports, no way to access world markets except through other countries.

            Second, because it has nothing to market. 

            But Malawi does, apparently, have something that people in other parts of Africa covet -- albino babies.

            By some genetic quirk, it seems, Malawi and its nearest neighbours to the north and south, Tanzania and Mozambique, have a higher-than-usual proportion of albino babies. That is, black babies with white skin.

For -- brace yourself -- their body parts.

 


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