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

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Does anyone own Christmas?

Author: Jim Taylor

Sam Steele still makes headlines. Steele is, of  course, the legendary hero of the RCMP who brought law and order to the Canadian West.

            Although the RCMP -- the Royal Canadian Mounted Police -- didn’t exist yet. And the “West” wasn’t fully Canada yet.

            But Steele was certainly a real person. As a staff-sergeant in the North West Mounted Police, which later became the RCMP, he ended the Riel Rebellion in the last formal battle fought on Canadian soil.

            Steele established  the first NWMP fort west of the Rockies at Galbraith’s Ferry -- since renamed Fort Steele in his honour.

            And he went on from there to the Yukon Territory, where the discovery of gold launched the famous Klondike Gold Rush. Thousands of gold-hungry gun-totin’ Americans flooded north. Steele made his own laws. By requiring every person entering the Yukon to bring along a ton of supplies, he prevented the Yukon from turning into the OK Corral North.

             But he’s back. By a circuitous chain of ironies.

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Decoding nativity scenes

Author: Jim Taylor

 don’t see many Christmas cards these days. Between Facebook and email, religious cards with traditional nativity scenes have become less popular. 

            But the scenes themselves haven’t changed much. A mother and child. Sometimes with a father, sometimes not. Sometimes with animals and a stable, sometimes not. Sometimes with shepherds; sometimes with visiting Magi. 

            And the child is always holy. 

            But how does an artist paint holiness?

            It’s easy to draw a baby. It’s not as easy to show that baby as God embodied. 

            The Christian church has historically claimed that God – also known as Father, Almighty, Creator, all-knowing, immortal, unchanging – became a human infant. Who is none of those things. At least, not yet. 

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Let your light shine…

Author: Jim Taylor

           A small ceramic Christmas tree sits on a table in our front hall. It’s not much of a tree – about 12 inches high, dark green, with whitish snow flaked on the ends of its branches. A light bulb inside shines out through coloured plastic plugs stuck into holes in the branches.

            Over the years, we’ve lost about a dozen of the plastic plugs. The light inside now shines directly out through several holes.

            It never was particularly pretty, I suppose. But it’s special. Because it was given to me with love.

            It came from Lorraine Wicklow almost 40 years ago. The next summer, Lorraine died of a massive brain hemorrhage.

            As far as I know, she had no family, no relatives. Perhaps I was her family. She used to drop in at my office, back in the days when I worked at the United Church’s national offices in Toronto. She always arrived at the very end of the day, just as I was loading up my briefcase to go home.

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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Christmas tree




Mixed feelings about what Hope means

Author: Jim Taylor

Here we are, into the first week in December, the first week of what the Christian Church has traditionally termed the beginning of a new year.

            In the northern hemisphere, we have three different “years.” The calendar year starts January 1. The school year starts in September. And the Christian year starts with the four Sundays before Christmas -- collectively called Advent. The first Sunday is usually about Hope.

            Of course, it’s about hope for the coming of a Saviour, a Messiah, a holy person who will show the world how to live.

            But is that really hope, 20 centuries later? We already know that child was born, and grew up, and set us an example…. 

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The day there were no heroes

Author: Jim Taylor

This coming Friday, December 6, marks the 30th anniversary of the deadliest mass murder in Canadian history. That is, if you don’t count attacks on indigenous peoples. They were, after all, just Indians.

            Marc Lepine would probably say the same about his rampage at L´Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. They were, after all, just women. Feminists, studying engineering so that they could steal men’s jobs.

            Fourteen women died. Fourteen more victims -- ten women and four men -- were injured by his bullets. The 15thdeath was Lepine, when he shot himself.

            And there’s no question about his intentions. He left a three-page suicide note, plus letters to two friends, explaining his hostility towards women in general, towards women who wanted to be engineers in particular.

            I won’t attempt to analyze his motives. I do want to trace his actions, and some people’s responses.

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The overlooked melodies of speech

Author: Jim Taylor

Growing older exposes me to new experiences, often unexpected experiences, that make me wonder what I’ve actually been paying attention to, all these years.

            Hearing, for example.

            As a journalist for most of my life, I’ve needed to hear exactly what people were saying. When quoting people in the public eye, it’s not good enough to print what I think they might have said.

            There’s a huge difference between, say, “prosecution” and “prostitution.”

            But as I have aged, my hearing has declined. So I wear hearing aids.

            When I remember them, that is. I didn’t remember them for a recent gathering. I tried to catch, and translate into comprehension, various people’s comments. But I found the extra effort tiring.

            So I tried listening a different way. To the sounds, the tones, the rhythms of speech around the room.

            It was like listening to music. 

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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: hearing, music, deafness




These immigrants welcome here

Author: Jim Taylor

We had some unexpected immigrants drop in at our house recently. A couple, I assume; they’re always together. And they literally dropped in -- out of the sky, onto our bird feeder.

            Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds defines them as ringed turtle-doves. The description is clear and precise -- they could be nothing else.

            Pigeons have been around for a long time. It was a pigeon that Noah released from his ark, to see if there were green shoots growing anywhere. And a pigeon that settled on Jesus as he came up out of the Jordan River after his baptism.

            This particular species was probably imported from southern Africa or Asia as household pets. Peterson calls them “a domestic-bred variant of the African turtle-dove…seen very locally in city parks in Los Angeles, rarely elsewhere.”

            Which raises some uncomfortable questions.

            Did someone move Los Angeles?

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Crossing a line one time too many

Author: Jim Taylor

So Don Cherry got fired. About time. The man has been his own fireworks factory for 38 years. Then he lit one incendiary match too many.

            He failed to realize that once you become public property, you lose the privileges of individuality. You can no longer claim the liberty to speak for yourself.

            Like everyone else, Don Cherry is entitled to express his own opinions -- within his own circle. But Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada is probably the most public pulpit in the country.

            Cherry has been a fixture on Hockey Night in Canada for 38 years. Initially, having been fired as coach of the Boston Bruins, he limited his commentary to hockey tactics.

            But he soon used Coach’s Corner as a soapbox to sound off about social issues.

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Visualizing God as http://www

Author: Jim Taylor

The TV news was mumbling away in the background, when a name surfaced — Tim Berners-Lee. 

            Several decades ago, Berners-Lee was idolized. While a scientist with the CERN large hadron collider in Switzerland, he developed a system that enabled computers to talk to each other. 

            Officially it was called “hypertext transfer protocol” -- the “http” in internet addresses. More commonly, it’s called the Web, short for World Wide Web – the “www” in internet addresses.

            The Web has not only changed communication, it has given theology a valuable new metaphor. Yes, theology, although I suspect that was the last thing on Sir Tim’s mind. 

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Time to quit the denial game

Author: Jim Taylor

You’re in your car, let’s say. You pull up to the intersection. You stop. You look both ways. The road seems clear. You pull ahead and --

            Ka-wham! An enormous force smashes into you. You’re spun around, tossed like a rag doll in a Rottweiler’s jaws. You look up at the radiator of the logging truck that’s crushing your car, and you, into a cube of crumpled metal. Just before a black wave of pain and shock washes over your senses, you ask yourself: “Why didn’t I see that coming?”

            A car crash serves as a metaphor for other shocks.

            The firm where you’ve worked loyally for 35 years tells you to clear out your desk. Your spouse hands you a package of divorce papers. Your doctor looks at the test results, sucks her teeth, and says, “It’s cancer. Stage IV already…”

            At times like these, your first reaction is often, “Why didn’t I see it coming?” How could I miss the warning signs? How did I kid myself that even if I saw the signs, they wouldn’t affect me?

             Thirty years from now, I imagine a lot of people will look back at the early decades of this millennium and ask themselves those same questions.

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