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

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20

Feb

2019

Faith in something, not only someone

Author: Jim Taylor

“Ah yes, I remember it well,” Maurice Chevalier warbled in the musical Gigi. And then immediately proved that he didn’t remember it well at all.

            I remember a gathering of about 30 people at am Anglican retreat centre north of Toronto, to thrash out the policies that would guide a United Church committee for the next few years. Like Chevalier, I remember it, but not well.

            The one thing I remember for sure was the summation by Terry Anderson, then professor of ethics at the Vancouver School of Theology. Terry had been brought in as something called a “theological reflector.” His job, he explained, was not to influence us. It was to identify the theology he observed in our discussions and debates.

            And what he said has stuck with me ever since:

            “What the United Church really believes in is not any statement of faith or doctrine. What the United Church believes is that if it follows the right process, if it brings together the right mix of individuals, from the right mix of regions and interest groups, they can’t help coming up with the right answer.”


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17

Feb

2019

Loss of privacy marks societal change?

Author: Jim Taylor

I bought a Fitbit a couple of weeks ago. It tells me things I never thought I would want to know. How many steps I’ve taken each day. How many hours I’ve exercised. How many stairs I’ve climbed – 35 floors worth, apparently, the result of living on a steep hill some 300 feet above the lake. 

            And my heartbeat, of course. (At my age, I need constant re-assurance my heart is still beating.) My Fitbit tells how many times it’s beating per minute, right now. Also my average heart rate over the last week. And the highest it went.  

            Each week, Fitbit congratulates me on my progress. So far, I’ve received three award badges. Obviously, my little black wristband relays information to an anonymous computer somewhere.

            I can’t help wondering how many other people also know about my heart rate, my exercise hours, and my sleep habits. 



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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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10

Feb

2019

CPR crash leaves difficult questions

Author: Jim Taylor

We’re not getting the full story about the CPR train crash just east of Field, in the Kicking Horse Pass.

           According to reports, Train #301 had been safely stopped for over two hours before it started down the hill towards Field. It could not have been stopped without its airbrakes working.

            While it stood still, a new operating crew took over.

            And then, unaccountably, the train started to roll. “It was not anything the crew did,” senior investigator James Carmichael assured the media. “The train started to move on its own.”

            That seems to contradict the basic laws of physics. As Isaac Newton theorized, centuries ago, things do not move on their own unless a force is applied to them.


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8

Feb

2019

Absolute zero

Author: Jim Taylor

The numbing cold that has swathed most of Canada during February prompted my mind to wander into uncharted territory. 

Cold slithers down

from the far side of 60 degrees, latitude.

When it’s that cold,

when tears turn into salt hailstones

and spit ricochets,

the scale doesn’t matter.

But even a polar vortex

retains measurable warmth.

Heat itself ceases

at absolute zero —

on the Kelvin scale, minus 273.15 Celsius —

a temperature beyond which

there is no beyond.


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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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3

Feb

2019

Three stories that made my week

Author: Jim Taylor

I don’t often say kind words about the modern mass media. Unfortunately, as dollars get tighter, publishers can no longer afford to have a writer spend days, weeks, even months, researching the nooks and crannies of a complex story.

            But this week is an exception. This week three stories renewed my faith in the written word.

            The first came from Maclean’sonline. (I don’t know if it will appear in the print version.) Shannon Gormley wrote about the cave rescue in Thailand, last July. It seems so long ago now, doesn’t it?

            But instead of a dry recounting of wet facts, Gormley searched the personalities involved, got inside their emotions, enabled us to feel their fear in the absolute blackness deep inside that mountain.

           The second story, in the on-line newspaper, 

The Tyee,

told of a father and daughter trapped on Saturna Island by the great windstorm last December. Sofia Osborne tells the story without any poor-me histrionics. Without moralizing. But the story packs an emotional punch as strong as that December gale.

           And few stories could pack the emotional punch of the impact statements made by the families and friends of the Humboldt Broncos victims, last summer.

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