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

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Friendship as a way of life

Author: Jim Taylor

                   The late Scottish philosopher John Macmurray once suggested, in a BBC talk, that friendship was an illustration of the ideal “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” that Jesus talked about. 

                   Jesus, Macmurray reasoned, contradicted himself. One time he would tell his listeners, the kingdom is already here. Look around, you can see it. You all know it. Other times, Jesus would say it is not here. Not yet. But it can burst in, explode almost, unexpectedly. 

                   What human situation, Macmurray asked, fits those contradictory conditions? Friendship, he answered. Everyone knows friendship already. Yet we also know that friendship can blossom suddenly, between people who previously were barely acquaintances. 

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NRA deserves any trouble it gets into

Author: Jim Taylor

In 15 years of writing these weekly columns, I’ve learned that there are three subjects that always get up people’s noses. Anything I write about abortion, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and/or gun control provokes a heated response.

                   These responses often come from people who don’t subscribe to this  column, people who live in Germany, or Brazil, or Indonesia. I assume someone has forwarded my words with a comment like, “Isn’t this SoB outrageous? Tell the author what you think of him!”

                   Today's column is about guns. (I can see hackles rising already.)

                   Guns are not the problem. (I expect the National Rifle Association to forward that assertion all over the world.)

                   Gun owners are the problem. (I don’t expect the NRA to forward that part.)

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Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: guns, NRA




Never take water for granted

Author: Jim Taylor

Every newscast recently seems to make floods its lead story. Floods in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. Less recently, floods in Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe. Largely unpublicized, floods in Iran and South Africa.

            Understandably, some residents resent having their floods described as “once in a century.” 

            “That’s what they told us last year,” grumbled a resident of New Brunswick’s St. John River valley. “Now we’re having another hundred-year flood this year.”

            I have some sympathy for those people piling sandbags to protect their property. I did it myself, once – but never, I hasten to admit, year after year. 

            I was still at university. A group of us sat around the common room of our student residence. Someone stuck his head in the door and said, “Hey! The Seymour River’s flooding. They’re calling for volunteers.”

            In the pelting rain — which was not easing the flood threat — we worked through the night. We waded through water above our ankles. The rain plastered our hair to our heads, dripped off our noses, fogged our glasses, soaked through our light jackets. 

            But we kept working until the army relieved us about 3:00 a.m. 

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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: extremes, floods




The lowest common denominator

Author: Jim Taylor

It’s one week after the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka, which killed 359 people. It’s two weeks after the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand/Aotearoa, where 80 people were murdered.

            I hang my head in despair.

            I want to do something about it. I want to lash out, to rid the world of the kind of people who do this kind of thing.

            But I don’t know how to identify “this kind of people.” Media reports claim the Sri Lanka bombers belonged to a fanatic Muslim sect, but I’ve seen no proof -- yet. The Christchurch shooter has been described as a far-right white supremacist, which I suppose makes him nominally Christian.

            Nor do I know how to define “this kind of thing.” Is it more reprehensible to bomb people at worship than to kill them at work, in the World Trade Centre, for example? Is it worse to shoot people at prayer than to blow them up in a classroom or hospital or orphanage -- as happens in Yemen?

            In this storm of wind and fire and earthquake, a still small voice penetrates.: “The real purpose behind these actions is to sow discord and hatred, so that we are all reduced to the same level as the perpetrators of these crimes.”

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Observing ourselves observing ourselves

Author: Jim Taylor

Despite his scornful dismissal of his companion’s intellect -- “Elementary, my dear Watson!” -- Sherlock Holmes was not a brilliant thinker. Rather, he was an astute observer. He noticed things that others overlooked, little things insignificant in themselves but which, when put together, led to a startling conclusion.

            Observing is a key function of survival. It doesn’t refer only to eyes. Dogs observe with their noses. They detect hundreds of scents that we humans miss, scents that feed information about their environment, their safety, their food. Especially their food.

            Birds and butterflies sense the lines of the earth’s magnetic field to guide them on their migrations. Salmon taste their way through a massive confusion of waters, back to their original spawning grounds.

            We humans rely most heavily on our eyes and ears, to observe the world around us. We listen to conversations, to news broadcasts, to public address systems. We watch people clothing, their body movements, their interactions, for clues to what they’re thinking or feeling.

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Waiting for a resurrection

Author: Jim Taylor

Today is, officially, Holy Saturday – the empty space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It might better be called Holey Saturday. It is a hole, a hiatus, an abyss between the two strongest days of the Christian calendar. 

           Unlike Christmas – which has very little biblical evidence to support a date of December 25 – the date of Jesus’ crucifixion can be quite precisely identified. It happened at the Jewish Passover, which came about according to a 1000-year-old formula based on the spring equinox and the full moon.

            The crucifixion is also one of the few facts in the Bible that cannot be challenged. Every gospel, every letter, agrees that Jesus was crucified. No other world religion claims a leader who was executed as a criminal. 

            And the traditions agree that on the “third day” – counting Friday as Day One, because the counters didn’t have zero, yet – on Sunday morning, he was no longer in his tomb. 

           But Saturday is the day between. When nothing happens. 

            Because nothing could happen. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath. The laws of Moses made it a day of rest. Jews were commanded to emulate God, who – according to Genesis – created the universe in six days, then rested on the seventh day. That’s why the women had to wait until Sunday morning to come to the tomb, 

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Choose sides for the future

Author: Jim Taylor

Two great forces shape the world today. No, they are not economic systems, like capitalism and communism. Or political systems, like democracy and tyranny. 

            They are Evolution and Entropy (for this essay, deliberately capitalized). Perhaps we’ve always known they existed, but we gave them attributes, like good and evil, light and dark. Or names, like God and Satan.

            Evolution and Entropy are inseparable twins, like yin and yang. Both are irresistible and irreversible. Both are subject to time. But they are mutually contradictory. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Evolution, Entropy




Breaking an ancient taboo

Author: Jim Taylor

By the end of this year, all B.C. schools will have to provide free menstrual tampons and pads for students.

            The announcement begins to end a prejudice that seems to have been around as long as civilization. The Bible, an authority for three world religions, considers menstruating women unclean. They must be segregated. Anita Diamant built that exclusion into her best-selling book, The Red Tent.

            Half of human population have, or have had, menstrual periods. Yet it remains a taboo subject.

            Although most schools do make pads and tampons available for emergencies, “many young women feel awkward asking for menstrual products at a school office,” said Rebecca Ballard, a Grade 11 student in the New Westminster school district. 

            And if that’s the situation in Canada, imagine what it must be like in more traditional countries like Uganda.

            Erika van Oyen went to Uganda in 2008 as a volunteer. She quickly realized that many girls got short-changed on their education. Unable to afford disposable sanitary supplies – indeed, often unable even to afford underpants – they missed a week of schooling every month.

            “Before we started this program,” van Oyen says, “schools taught about women’s biology, about menstrual cycles. But a girl in her period is ridiculed. Teased if she soils her clothes. Humiliated. So they stay away. They fall behind in their classes, and eventually they drop out.”

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Three short stories without morals

Author: Jim Taylor

Too many stories tack on moral messages. If these three stories need one, write your own. 

Sorry, but I really can't excerpt all three stories for this "invitation" space. Nor do I want to choose just one to highlight here. Go to the full column to read them -- it won't take you long. 

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Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Author: Jim Taylor

The first thing budding writers learn is to “avoid clichés like the plague.” Unfortunately clichés sometimes describe the current political situation better than a host of well honed words.

            In Ottawa, Justin Trudeau has spent weeks stuck on the horns of dilemma.

            On the one horn, he represents a Montreal riding. He has a right -- even a duty -- to lobby for his constituents, many of whom work for SNC-Lavalin. He also needs SNC-Lavalin’s services for his $187 billion infrastructure renewal program.

            On the other horn, he should not pressure Justice Minister and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to interfere in a criminal case.

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