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

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23

Dec

2018

A nativity story updated

Author: Jim Taylor

           In those days a decree went out, from the emperors living in their glass houses with closed circuit surveillance cameras and 24-hour security patrols, that all the world should be embroiled in civil wars, so that their spheres of influence might be extended over unwilling populations. 

            And so the imperial forces used remote-control drones to bomb innocent victims in Yemen, and brought 20 million Yemenis to the brink of starvation. 

            And they burned to the ground 400 Rohingya villages in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and forced a seemingly endless line of 900,000 people to seek refuge in Bangladesh, where they lived in bamboo shelters on low-lying land prone to flooding.

            And they bombed prosperous cities in Syria and Iraq into rubble, and turned religious factions against each other, and drove the Yazidi minority to retreat into rocky mountains.

            And they maintained armies of occupation in Afghanistan and Crimea, and confined the residents of Gaza into their own private concentration camp, and built walls to restrict the movement of Mexicans and Hondurans and Palestinians. 

            And behold, the number of displaced people around the world, many of them refugees within their own countries, rose to 70 million. 


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19

Dec

2018

Christmas trees and memories

Author: Jim Taylor

I woke in the middle of the night, sensing something was wrong. Beyond the bedroom door, I could see light, where there shouldn’t have been any.

            It came from our living room. We had forgotten to turn off the lights on the Christmas tree.

            I could have turned them off, and fumbled through deeper darkness back to bed. But I didn’t. I settled into an easy chair, and sank into a reverie.

            Joan and I had decorated that tree, earlier that day. Every ornament had its story. The spire on top, that she remembers from her childhood. Glass balls accumulated, year after year. Delicate brass symbols bought on trips to Europe. Fabric decorations she painstakingly embroidered…

            We didn’t have any of those when we started life together. Just tinsel, that we hung strand by strand. And walnuts, sprayed gold, for balls. And paper snowflakes stuck to our windows with Saran wrap


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16

Dec

2018

Two books for every religious liberal

Author: Jim Taylor

At year end, many columnists share their reading recommendations. My recommendations are quite short. Just two books.

            I’ve read more than that, of course. But these two left a lasting impression on me: A God That Could Be Real, by Nancy Ellen Abrams, and The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt.

            I like the Abrams book because it takes a totally different approach to discussing the reality — or not — of a divine being. I don’t recall her ever quoting the Bible. Or the doctrines of any church. Or the theories of any theologian.

            Instead of starting with whatever people already know and assume about the nature of God, she starts with science. With what we already know, and we can know, about the universe we live in.


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12

Dec

2018

Nativity scenes

Author: Jim Taylor

Every year, my old friend Kenn Ward sets up a Nativity scene in his front yard in Winnipeg.

            Many of us have indoor Nativity scenes, often called a creche. And we never set the figures up exactly the same way each year. Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus take centre stage, of course. But the shepherds, the visitors from the east, the animals – they get shuffled around, depending on what we feel is the essential theme of the story, this year.

            Kenn has that problem too, with the bigger figures for his outdoor creche. “I never know quite what to expect,” he wrote on Facebook. “Usually one of the figures, or a group of them, insist that they have been neglected and deserve more prominence in the scene. There is often a clash of egos… 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Bible, Nativity, creche

5

Dec

2018

Permission to let go

Author: Jim Taylor

“All the leaves have gone,” sang The Mamas and the Papas in their short but brilliant musical career. 

            Their words come to mind as I look out my office window. Joan and I planted a Japanese red maple out there, 20 years ago. All its leaves have gone. 

            Except for two lonely twigs that still have bright red leaves clinging to their tips. The twigs lash about in winter winds. But those last leaves won’t let go.

        Perhaps I should go outside and say a prayer for the last leaves on my maple tree. So that they can let go too.


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2

Dec

2018

While the planet burns, we bulldoze

Author: Jim Taylor

 The space probe InSight landed safely on Mars last Tuesday. NASA is working on plans to send humans to Mars. When it happens, I hope NASA will include some real estate developers. 

            They would love Mars. It looks exactly like what they do to the earth when they’re building new projects. 

            Mars has no vegetation. No tree-hugging residents to protest about the destruction of their natural habitat. No cuddly animals to arouse the sympathies of sentimental do-gooders.

            For over 20 years, I have taken my dog for walks on the ridge that rises to the east of my home. Although it doesn’t have palm trees and sandy beaches, it’s about as close to paradise as I can imagine. Knee-high grass grows wild among the pines. Sunlight filters through the branches, illuminating the local sunflowers. From a rock bluff, I have a view along the 160-km lake that fills the Okanagan valley. 

            But a developer – I could name the company, but any other developer would do the same – bought that ridge. 

 


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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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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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