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

To make Comments write directly to Jim at jimt@quixotic.ca

 

20

Mar

2019

The mattress that fell from the sky

Author: Jim Taylor

We were driving home, one dark night, down Highway 97. My headlights, on low beam, lit the pavement ahead for a short distance, but little else. 

            Then suddenly, something large and white came flying over the top of the car ahead. It landed on the road. I didn’t have time to swerve. Or brake. I ran over it. 

            Ka-whoomp! The car bounced high, as if going over a giant speedbump. Then it settled back onto the road. 

            “What was that?” Joan exclaimed. 

            Over the next few moments, we compared our impressions. We concluded – from the flying object’s size and shape  -- that it must have been a mattress. Probably a double-bed mattress. Possibly even a queen-size.


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17

Mar

2019

Regime changes don’t work

Author: Jim Taylor

I hesitate to write anything at all about Venezuela. I don’t speak Spanish  (beyond dos cervesas por favor).I haven’t lived there. I have no inside informants. 

            In trying to sort out the confusion, I turn to an unlikely source – Franciscan priest Fr. Richard Rohr. Rohr’s speciality is religion, not international politics. But I have found his process for understanding Bible stories helpful in deciphering complex secular issues. 

            A story needs four levels of analysis, Rohr argues. 

            There is, first, the literal level. No interpretation, “just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday used to say. 

            In Venezuela’s case, the literal level is complex enough. President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded former President Hugo Chavez, got re-elected in what many consider a fraudulent election. He consolidated his power by creating a constituent assembly, made up of his supporters, to replace the existing National Assembly, which is controlled by his opposition. In the absence of what it considers a legitimately elected president, the National Assembly declared its Speaker, Juan Guaido to be Maduro’s constitutional successor. 

            By analogy, imagine Donald Trump creating an alternative Congress composed of his fans, while the existing House of Representatives declares Nancy Pelosi to be the rightful president. 


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13

Mar

2019

The holiness in our relationships

Author: Jim Taylor

           Some relationships are long lasting; some are fleeting. The wonder of relationships is that they can happen anywhere, with anyone. 

            Relationships don’t have to be lasting to be worthwhile. Certainly, long term friendships are worth working at. Letters, phone calls, emails – all help to sustain those relationships. But even when you haven’t seen someone for ten years, a good relationship can be picked up again almost instantly. There may be a lot of catching up to do, but the relationship itself doesn’t have to be re-built from the ground up. 

            But even short-term relationships, the kind where you never expect to see this person again, have value. In the line waiting for a grocery cashier. On a sidewalk. In an elevator. In a family. In a club or church. 

            They can brighten a day, bring a smile to two or more faces, provide unexpected insights. 


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10

Mar

2019

Imaginary games with imaginary money

Author: Jim Taylor

It just vanished -- $190 million. But was it ever there?

            The $190 million was in crypto-currency, controlled by a Canadian firm called QuadrigaCX. The best known crypto-currency is probably Bitcoin -- an imaginary currency invented, appropriately, by an imaginary person who used the name Satoshi Nakamoto,just ten years ago.

            QuadrigaCX, once Canada’s largest crypto-currency exchange, was founded by Gerald Cotten, a resident of Nova Scotia. Only Cotten knew the encrypted passwords required to access the company’s digit assets.

            As I understand crypto-currencies -- and I don’t -- they’re supposed to be an unhackable way to store wealth. It can’t be touched by governments, banks, or internet thieves, because its security depends on a “block chain” of computers, all of which have to be convinced that a transaction is legitimate before it can go ahead.

            When Cotten died, his crypto-keys died with him. Hmmm…Maybe you can take it with you?

 

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8

Mar

2019

Unauthorized, unofficial, but real

Author: Jim Taylor

When you put a hundred or so teenagers together for a week, anything can happen. When you put them together 24 hours a day, in study sessions, discussion groups, singing, doing sensitivity exercises, attending meetings, and sleeping on the floor of a (separate) gyms, emotions can get overloaded. 

            So it was, back in 1982, at what was called a Youth Forum in Montreal. 

             Because it was a church-run event, we had worship services. Not everyone attended. 

            Towards the end, we put on a replica of John Wesley’s Re-covenanting Service. In the style of Wesley’s time, it provided an opportunity for personal confession of our sins and shortcomings, followed by the laying on of hands for healing and absolution. 

            I thought it would simply expose the young people to the customs of an earlier tradition.

            I was wrong. As the 30 or so young people attending came forward, knelt, and confessed, tears flowed abundantly. 


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3

Mar

2019

Symbolic gestures can make a difference

Author: Jim Taylor

I wore a pink shirt last Wednesday. Pink is not my colour. It makes me look like cotton candy with a beard.

            But Wednesday was anti-bullying day, so I wore pink.

            It feels like a futile gesture. After all, what difference will it make if one old man wears a pink shirt for one day? School yard bullies won’t see it at all. Neither will patriarchal males in India and Africa who think of women as something inferior, to do with as they please. Nor will my pink shirt influence the behaviour of egocentric rulers in Riyadh or Moscow, Washington or Damascus.

            Short answer -- no difference at all.

            So why bother?

            I hear that response often, when I get into discussions about the state of the world. 


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27

Feb

2019

Beyond human perceptions

Author: Jim Taylor

I’ve never heard a snowflake fall. It must make a sound, even if, as an Asian parable says, a snowflake weighs “Nothing, or less than nothing.” And yet there must be a point of contact, and with it, a sound, however slight. 

            Even if human ears are not sensitive enough to hear it. 

            I can’t hear a worm, burrowing through moist soil towards a dew-dappled lawn. But a robin can. 

            A dog can hear a whistle way above my frequency range; at the other end of the frequency scale, elephants use a sub-audible rumble to communicate with other elephants out of sight over the horizon. 

           In her book, A God That Could Be Real,author Nancy Ellen Abrams explores some implications of our human limitations. We can only comprehend things that fall within a certain size range, she asserts, relative to our own size. 


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24

Feb

2019

Haiti’s woes as a parable

Author: Jim Taylor

Rioting in the streets of Haiti makes good video; the reasons for the riots don’t. 

            It’s been 40 years since I was last in Haiti. Recent news reports suggest that no much has changed. Haiti is, and was, a poster child for the effects of poverty and corruption. For at least a century, Haiti has been the poorest country in the western hemisphere. 

           Inspired by the revolutions in America and France, the Haitian slaves revolted -- the first successful slave rebellion anywhere in the world. Haiti became independent in 1804.

            But in one of the recurring ironies of history, Haiti’s black masters proved just as brutal as the French had been. Since independence, Haiti has had 32 coups.

            News reports blame the current riots on corruption in government. That’s too easy an answer. Every Haitian government has been corrupt. The only debate might be over which one was least corrupt.



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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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