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

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12

Apr

2020

Don’t expect to go back to normal

Author: Jim Taylor

People say to me, “When all this is over,” as if everything will return to normal -- whatever they think normal is -- as soon as the Covid-19 furore ends. 

            I doubt if things will ever go back to normal. At least, not to what we used to consider normal. 

            This may seem like a bleak subject for an Easter weekend, but it’s relevant – please read on. 

            A disease does not go away simply by restricting its transmission. 

            Suppose that Dr. Bonnie Henry’s isolation measures eliminate the Covid-19 virus within B.C. No new cases show up for, say, a whole month. All current cases recover. Our province becomes Covid-free.

            The only way to stay Covid-free would be to deny entry to anyone who comes from anywhere that is not equally Covid-free. Other provinces, and neighbouring U.S. states, to say nothing of the rest of the world. Otherwise the transmission ripples start all over again. 


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9

Apr

2020

Handwashing for beginners

Author: Jim Taylor

Today is Maundy Thursday.

            Maundy? Probably not a word you run across often. “Maundy” apparently derives from Latin mandatum, meaning commandment.

            Traditionally, today celebrates the last evening Jesus spent with his disciples. Where he took pita bread, or some equivalent, and tore it up, and told his disciples, “This bread is (like) my body (which will be) broken for your sakes.”

            And he poured wine into their cups (today it would probably be Tim Hortons coffee), and said, more or less, “This is like blood. You need it to keep your strength up. Drink it, and remember me in tough times.”

            Treat those as commands, and you have “Maundy”.


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4

Apr

2020

Palm Sunday was not a victory parade

Author: Jim Taylor

Tomorrow, Christian churches all over the western world will celebrate Palm Sunday. (Eastern-rite churches will celebrate a week later. )

               Most of our churches will celebrate the day as triumphant. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. All four gospels tell us that the crowds go wild. They hail him as the long-promised Messiah. They tear palm branches off the trees and wave them in the air. They rip off their clothes and throw them on the ground for the donkey to trample on. They shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”

               The streets of Jerusalem must have looked like downtown Toronto after the Raptors won the NBA championship, with Jesus playing the part of Kawhi Leonard.

               But the crowds just didn’t get it. 


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2

Apr

2020

The wilderness experience revisited

Author: Jim Taylor

With humour in relatively short supply these days, my own mental energy even shorter, and  April Fool’s Day just over, I thought some biblical exegesis might be in order. So here is a reading from Exodus, chapter 16, (Disclosure: adapted from a version published in 2014).

            The entire assembly complained about the leadership of Moses and his brother Aaron. They said, “Why did you lead us out of Egypt where McDonald’s was open 24/7, to bring us out to this wilderness where we will surely die of fast food deprivation?”

            “Give us this day our daily burgers,” they chanted.


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Moses, manna, Exodus, satire

29

Mar

2020

Isolation causes its own social problems

Author: Jim Taylor

My grocery store has a sign up at its cash registers: “Due to the COVID-19 virus, we no longer accept reusable grocery bags.”  Instead, they’ll give away free plastic bags.

            Not that long ago, the same store encouraged reusable bags, to cut back on single-use plastic bags made from fossil fuels that ended up in landfill sites. Or swirling around the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

            I cite that as a single instance of the way the coronavirus panic is suddenly upsetting -- rightly or wrongly -- many of the notions that we used to take for granted. 


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26

Mar

2020

Why we gather to grieve

Author: Jim Taylor

           It all makes me reconsider the purpose of a funeral or memorial service. 

            It’s not simply an occasion for glowing eulogies. 

            The popular term “Celebration of Life” seems to me to be both a euphemism and a misnomer. We may indeed celebrate who that person WAS. But we do it because she ISN’T. 

            We don’t sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” at “celebrations of life.” Or warble “For she’s a jolly good fellow…” We don’t jive in the aisles, pop balloons, or light fireworks.

            No. We gather to grieve.


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15

Mar

2020

Joan's Death

Author: Jim Taylor

I'll use this space for an event I don't want to, and can't, ignore.

My wife Joan died Friday evening, March 13. She had wanted to die at home, but on Thursday morning she realized that her illness was getting beyond my ability to look after her. Hiring staff to come in was a possibility, but Joan herself felt that she needed to change her mind and check into a hospice. 

We moved her into Hospice House in Kelowna Thursday afternoon. Although she was very tired and very weak, she was able to take part in conversations with her visitors that afternoon. 

The next morning she was unconscious, having great difficulty breathing, with no indication that she could respond at all to us or to other visitors. Just before 11:00 she took her last breath and was at peace. If you go now to the full page, you can read her obituary, and the eulogy that Sharon would have given at Joan's memorial service -- which of course cannot happen during this corona virus shutdown of all services. 


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15

Mar

2020

Serenity in short supply these days

Author: Jim Taylor

           As Scott Gilmore editorialized in Maclean’s, “It’s not the end of the world, it just feels that way.”

            Gilmore recalled his childhood days, reading a framed poem on a church wall. He assumed it must be “a piece of ancient wisdom, a psalm from the Old Testament.”

            It was neither. It was a prayer written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, in the 1930s:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

            It’s commonly called the “Serenity Prayer.” Alcoholics Anonymous popularized it. Other self-help programs have picked it up.

            Are prayers the answer to today’s chaos?

 


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14

Mar

2020

In the beginning was pi

Author: Jim Taylor

This coming Saturday is International Pi Day. No, that’s not a typographic error. Pi, not pie, regardless of flavour. Or maybe pi. Usually represented by π, a Greek letter that looks like a wobbly footstool.

            It’s on March 14, because if you write it as 3/14, or better yet as 3.14, you have the first three digits of pi. Correctly, pi is 3.141592 plus an endless series of further decimals, but for most purposes, 3.14 will suffice. 

            But then, pi can never be precise. Mathematicians have calculated pi to 13.3 trillion decimal digits, and they’re firmly convinced that it will never – no, never – repeat a pattern. Which means that no matter how precisely they define pi, the next digit will be unpredictable. 

            So pi is at once a constant, and a variable. 

            And yet the universe could not exist without it. 


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8

Mar

2020

Terrorized by a tiny virus particle

Author: Jim Taylor

The dominant news story of the last few weeks (aside from the American media’s obsession with the Democratic primaries) has been the spread and effects of the new coronavirus, officially dubbed COVID-19.

            Medically, it’s a relatively minor illness -- far less fearsome than, say, cancer, heart disease, or obesity. As I write this column, in midweek, COVID-19 has spread to 46 countries, but resulted in only 3,100 deaths worldwide.  The whole U.S. has had only 135 cases, with just 11 deaths; Canada, only 35 cases in total, with no deaths at all. (Figures depend on the source and date.)

            There are times when our collective reaction feels like a tempest in a teapot.

            By comparison, the 2009 H1N1 virus caused 12,500 deaths in the US alone. And that figure is annually surpassed by the ordinary, common, garden-variety flu which will kill about 18,000 people in the U.S. this year...


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