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

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The problem with great expectations

Author: Jim Taylor

 Last spring, I planted some beans in my garden. I don't know how many, but around 100 beans. Exactly according to the instructions, three inches apart. Four of the beans came up. Just four.

            So, about two weeks later, I tried again. I planted another package of beans. About 90, this time. Two more beans came up. Just two.

            Total bean plants, six.

            But oh my, how those six beans grew.

            I estimate, in hindsight, that I harvested around 15 gallons of beans before I pulled those six plants up by the roots.

          Looking back, I'm grateful now that only six seeds germinated. We'd have been overrun if they had all grown. Perhaps those seeds knew better than I did how much growth to anticipate.

            Disturbing thought – are beans smarter than I am?

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Another parable of talents

Author: Jim Taylor

"I've been diagnosed with terminal cancer," the CEO told his vice-presidents. "The doctors say that I have five years to live. You three have run this business for years, but I want to hand it over to just one of you as sole owner. 

            "So, for the next two years, I'm giving you an extra task." 

            He reached into his desk, and pulled out three small burlap bags. "Seeds," he said. "I’m not going to tell you what to do with them."

            Two years later, he called the three vice-presidents to his hospice bedside. 

            "Tell me what you did with my seeds," he ordered. 

            The first vice-president stepped forward....

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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Parable, talents, seeds




An act of pure altruism

Author: Jim Taylor

While I worked in Toronto, a group from our office made regular trips downtown to give blood.

            On one of those trips, I saw a man I knew walking aimlessly along the street. “Don!” I called. “Come and join us. We’re going to give blood.”

            I knew Don McCallum from his time as a minister in Newfoundland. I had visited him twice in Baie Verte; he had written articles for the magazine I edited, the United Church Observer. As we lay in adjoining tiltback chairs, filling our bags of blood, he told me that he had felt that he was in Toronto because he felt that God was calling him to move on.

            He didn’t mention that he had been in Toronto for several weeks already. He hadn’t found a church that needed him. He was broke, despondent, and homeless. He had just 23 cents left in his pocket.

             “I was about to give up,” he told me years later. “I thought I had nothing left to give. And then you showed me that I did still have something. I could give some of my blood to someone who needed it.”

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The games people play

Author: Jim Taylor

Does anyone remember playing Kick-the-can?

            I watched a group of kids playing together, the other day. Well, at least, they were sitting together. And they were playing. On their smart phones, that is. Heads down, thumbs flying, ignoring each other.

            Kick-the-can, as I recall it, required only one piece of technology – an empty tin can. We put it on the ground in an open space, and drew a large circle around it.

            Everyone who wasn’t “It” scattered and hid. “It” had to find them, by calling the hider’s name and hiding place: “I see Jenny, behind the rain barrel!” 

           Kick-the-can differed from ordinary hide-and-seek, because Jenny – or whoever -- had a chance to escape being captured. If she could kick the can out of the circle before “It” got back, all the captives went free.

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A different kind of God

Author: Jim Taylor

           I cannot deal with a world in which there is no God at all. As I wrote last week, I need something that I can call God. 

            That’s why I write about God. Writing about God is how I sort out my thoughts. Often, I don’t know what I think until I try to put my vague intuitions into words. 

            But those words convince me that I am not just an atheist, an unbeliever. Yes, there is a God. I am obsessed by God. I don’t know how to understand that presence. But I keep trying.

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Why I keep writing about God

Author: Jim Taylor

“Why do you keep writing about God?” a reader asked.

            Good question. The only answer I can think of is that I have to write about God.  I need something that I can call God.

            I use the term “something” loosely. It doesn’t have to be a thing. Or a person. Or a being, supernatural or otherwise. It doesn’t even have to be an idea. It just has to be more than me.

            And it has to have some kind of volition. It has to be something more than blind chance, more than a probability field in quantum physics. Whatever it is, I want it to have an ethical sense – to want, even to desire, a better outcome for all.

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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: God




Reflections on a dream home

Author: Jim Taylor

Last Sunday marked an anniversary for Joan and me. On July 23, 1993, we moved into our dream home.

            It wasn’t actually finished yet. But the builder assured us we could move in on July 23. He likes to keep his promises. So he had the inside of the house ready for us. Dust and sawdust swept out. Appliances installed. Walls painted. Carpet laid.

           But there was still work to be done outside. 

           A dream therapist told me once that when I dream about a house, I’m dreaming about myself. Maybe so. Certainly houses and personalities have parallels.

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Voting for a different Jesus

Author: Jim Taylor

Renowned humorist Garrison Keillor had eye surgery recently. In an article in the Washington Post, he wrote about recovering in his hotel room, unable even to watch television because his vision was so blurry: 

            “And it occurred to me, not once but several times, that I am a fortunate man and thank you, Lord. For Medicare and a good group health policy and savings to cover any shortfall.”

            Others, he realized, would not be as fortunate -- “The 22 million people who will lose their health insurance in the next few years if Congress does as the man wishes will face some high barriers between them and any sort of eye surgery… Eighty per cent of white evangelical Christians who cast ballots last fall voted for the man who seems as far from Christian virtues (humility, kindness, patience, etc.) as Hulk Hogan is from the Dalai Lama.”

            From their viewpoint, Keillor mused, “Apparently, Jesus got the story wrong.”

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Whap! One flat housefly!

Author: Jim Taylor

When summer comes, we throw open our doors and windows. Flies love us. Especially when I neglect to close a screen door behind me.

            The other day, I spotted a house fly feasting on crumbs of breakfast cereal left on a kitchen counter. He seemed pre-occupied with his meal. I found the flyswatter, sneaked up on him, and whap! One flat housefly!

            Then immediately I felt guilty. I remembered – or vaguely thought I remembered – that 50 years ago Mao Tse Tung had decreed that the Chinese people should kill flies. And they did. So effectively that they almost caused the extinction of tree swallows. 

            I wondered if I might be similarly harming some Canadian species when I swatted that housefly.

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The question we have never asked

Author: Jim Taylor

Three days before Canada celebrated its 150th birthday, a group of indigenous protesters erected a large teepee on the lawn in front of Canada's parliament buildings, as a symbol of the mistreatment their ancestors had received from the colonizers of this country.

            They had tried to set the teepee up the previous evening, but had been forced off the parliamentary lawn by the police. Which also seems symbolic. It re-played the experience of Canada’s original inhabitants ever since Jacques Cartier landed on the Gaspe Peninsula in 1534 and claimed Canada for France.

           By some coincidence, during the week before Canada Day, a small group at my church had discussed ways of repairing the harm done by the colonial mindsets of past generations.

            Not until later did I realize they that our thoughts perpetuated that colonial mindset. With the best of intentions, we ask ourselves what we can do to improve their situation.

            But – and here’s the point -- we never ask them how they might like us to change.

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