Archive for the ‘Jim Taylor’ Tag

Symbolic gestures can make a difference

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Take Responsibility

By Jim Taylor, published March 2, 2019

I wore a pink shirt last Wednesday. Pink is not my colour. It makes me look like cotton candy with a beard.

But Wednesday was anti-bullying day, so I wore pink.

It feels like a futile gesture. After all, what difference will it make if one old man wears a pink shirt for one day? School yard bullies won’t see it at all. Neither will patriarchal males in India and Africa who think of women as something inferior, to do with as they please. Nor will my pink shirt influence the behaviour of egocentric rulers in Riyadh or Moscow, Washington or Damascus.

Short answer — no difference at all.

Someone else’s problem

 So why bother?

 I hear that response often, when I get into discussions about the state of the world. Everyone agrees — okay, most people in my circles agree — that something needs to be done about wealth inequity, where the three richest Americans have more wealth than the 160 million citizens, 50 per cent of the country’s population, at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

And about climate change and melting glaciers before very valuable real estate in Florida disappears under the seas. And about court processes that turn chronic offenders loose because an overworked cop got the date wrong on a traffic ticket. The answer always seems to be, it’s too big for me to tackle. There’s nothing I can do.

Therefore, that’s what I’ll do. Nothing.

Guaranteed failure

Let’s turn the question around — what will doing nothing accomplish? The answer is also obvious. Nothing.

What you do may not make a difference. But what you don’t do definitely will make a difference.

You may not be able to rescue a child trapped in a burning house. But if you don’t try, you guarantee that child’s death.

Driving safely won’t eliminate accidents; there are other drivers on the road too. But not driving safely will surely increase accidents.

Treating people with respect will not eliminate conflict. But not treating people with respect will certainly increase conflict.

You may remember the oft-told story of a little girl going down the beach throwing stranded starfish into the sea. An observer told her she was wasting her effort. There were far too many starfish for her to throw into the ocean — they’d all die.

“This one won’t,” she replied, flinging another starfish into the waves.

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it,” Mahatma Gandhi advised the world.

Insignificant beginnings

The pink shirt movement itself is evidence that doing something is better than doing nothing.

Anti-bullying day started in Canada. With less than one per cent of the world’s population, Canada’s efforts can’t possibly be significant — the argument currently used by opponents of a carbon tax. After all, bullying is universal. Even chickens do it.

Yet 180 countries around the world now mark anti-bullying day in February.

Even more insignificantly, anti-bullying day started with just two high-school students in Nova Scotia. David Shepherd and Travis Price saw older kids bullying a younger student who wore a pink shirt at the opening day of school. So, on their own, they bought 50 pink T-shirts, and handed them out.

“I learned that two people can come up with an idea, run with it, and it can do wonders,” Price, then 17, told the Globe and Mail. “Finally, someone stood up for a weaker kid.”

The spread of anti-bullying day confirms that symbolic acts can have a positive effect.

The worst result

 The U.S. calculates that one out of every four children will be bullied during adolescence. Bullying rarely stops after a single incident; 71 percent of bullied students continue to be bullied, with a strong correspondence between being bullied and suicide.

Again, Canada brought this reality to international attention.

Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old Canadian victim of cyberbullying, committed suicide in October 2012 at her home in Port Coquitlam, B.C. Shortly before her death, Todd posted a YouTube video that used hand-lettered flash cards to describe her experience.

The video went viral. More than 12 million people have seen it.

Just six months later, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons attempted suicide in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Her parents switched off her life supportmachine in April 2013.

The two women’s suicides pushed cyberbullying into prominence. In 2012, Todd was the third-most Googled person in the world, surpassing even Hollywood stars. In 2013, 38 countries held vigils in her memory.

So wearing pink on anti-bullying day may seem like a futile gesture. But it affirms that doing something is better than doing nothing.

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Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved. To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca

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We are the salmon

Salmon and the circle of life

By Jim Taylor – September 26, 2018

The conference hall was packed full. Five hundred people leaned forward to watch as an elder from a First Nations community along the B.C. coast moved down the aisle towards the microphones on stage. His red-and-black blanket cloak swished as he walked; the mother-of-pearl buttons adorning it flashed back at the spotlights following him.

            This happened long before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for better relationships with Canada’s indigenous peoples. But the church, my church, was making its first tentative moves towards that goal.

            The old man – he may not actually have been old, but he was older than I was, and he had a deeply weathered face – climbed the stairs onto the stage. He took the microphone from its stand. He held it to his mouth.

            We waited, breathlessly, for his words of wisdom.

            “We are the salmon,” he said.

            Then he put the microphone back, and left the stage.

 DSC01012           Well, that may not have been exactly how it happened. But that’s how I remember it. Because anything else, after that opening statement, was padding.

            “We are the salmon” said it all.

            The annual salmon run up B.C. rivers defined the circle of his people’s lives. The food that fed them. The culture that sustained them. The myths and legends that shaped them.

            They and the salmon were one body, indivisible.

All are one

            We who live in an industrial cocoon are slowly learning that truth. Life has no individual components. You can’t treat the salmon, the forest, or bears and wolves, in isolation. They are one integrated whole.

            Botanists wondered why the spruce and firs along spawning rivers grew taller, stronger, than forests a mere hundred metres further back. They found it’s because of the salmon. Bears catch the salmon, drag their catch back into the woods, leave the remains under the trees.

            The rotting fish fertilize the trees. The forest, in turn, controls water flow into the stream. Provide shade to control the stream temperature. Shelter the bears who catch the salmon.

            It is a single interlocking circle of life, and death, and new life.

            This year is supposed to be a dominant sockeye run for the Adams River, possibly the finest display of spawning salmon in the entire province. At its peak, 10 million deep red salmon look like a solid mass filling the river’s pools.

            But only about two out of every 100 fertilized eggs will survive a winter in the river gravels, a year in fresh water, the long migration down to the ocean, two years roaming wild in the Pacific, and then 500 kilometres back up the rushing Fraser, Thompson, and Adams river to spawn and start the cycle again.

            The river flow, the forests along the river banks, the sediment runoff, even the smells in the water that the salmon follow to their home ground – all can be affected by as little as a slight change in temperature.

            Tinkering with one variable in the great equation of life affects the total outcome.

            Including the lives of the People of the Salmon.

            It took me more than 500 words to express that concept. It took the elder in his buttoned blanket only four.

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Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca

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Posted September 26, 2018 by allanbaker in Canadian society, econotheism, Environment

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Core Values – Canadian, eh?

Saudi dust-up defines our core values

By Jim Taylor, August 12, 2018

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Take Responsibility

We Canadians live in such a comfortable cocoon. Because we have a government and social culture that is, for the most part, rational and compassionate, we look askance at the political infighting and partisan loyalties that afflict our neighbour to the south.

We find it hard to believe that 300-million presumably right-minded people – those who qualify to sit on a jury – allow themselves to be governed by a man who doesn’t seem to know the truth from one hour to the next, and who takes umbrage at the least of slights.

“Umbrage” –to take offence, to react strongly. It implies flying off the handle at minor slights. But recent events suggest we Canadians have tunnel vision. Obsessed with President Tweet, we have ignored an even more explosive personality on the international stage: Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

The National Post’s Terry Glavin describes him as “a chubby 32-year-old war criminal with a taste for fine art, French mansions, and luxury yachts, [who] launched a barbaric bombing campaign in Yemen that has resulted in the deaths of at least 15,000 people and has left half the population of that desperately poor country at the brink of famine.”

Retaliation rampant

The furore started when Canada sent a tweet that said, “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia…. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrightsactivists.

The vehemence of bin Salman’s response outdid even Trump’s tantrums.

 He immediately:

  • expelled Canada’s ambassador;

  • froze new trade with Canada;

  • ordered his global asset managers to dispose of their Canadian equities, bonds and cash holdings “no matter the cost”;

  • pulled 16,000 Riyadh-funded students out of Canadian universities and medical schools;

  • transferred Saudi patients receiving medical care out of Canadian hospitals;

  • suspended Saudi Arabian Airlines flights to Toronto;

  • and stopped buying barley and wheat from Canada.

He also accused Canada of meddling in his sovereign nation’s internal affairs. His anger ignores the fact that the Canadian tweet used a relatively diplomatic term, “urge.” It didn’t “demand,” it didn’t “insist.” It also specifically referred to “peaceful” activists.

Should Canada have made its view known through traditional diplomatic channels? Possibly. Although Trump has pretty much rendered conventional diplomacy obsolete with his own inflammatory tweets.

Like Trump, bin Salman takes any criticism of his policies personally.

Saudi Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir ruled out mediation. He warned of further measures to further punish Canada. It was Canada’s fault, he said:  “There is nothing to mediate. A mistake has been made and a mistake should be corrected.”

Different sets of values

How can a simple – and relatively mild – tweet lead to such a conflagration? Basically,  think, we misread the core beliefs of the Saudi ruling family. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, the ultimate patriarchy. As such, it bans political activism. It deals harshly with dissidents. One of the activists for whom Canada pleaded has been sentenced to 100 lashes and ten years in prison.

Last month, it crucified – yes, crucified! – a man convicted of theft, murder, and attempted rape.

Earlier this  year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman did permit women to drive — the last country in the world to do so. But many of the those who campaigned for women’s right to drive have since been arrested and imprisoned.

In the same way, though, the Crown Prince failed to recognize Canadian core beliefs.

The new national religion

As reader Steve Roney, currently teaching in the United Arab Emirates, pointed out recently, we no longer expect to impose our religion, Christianity, on other nations. But we will not tolerate their rejection of our science, our technology (including medicine), and especially our human rights. These have become an unofficial religion in Canada.

We expect any nation, anywhere, to welcome our polio vaccines. Our mines. Our money. And whether it’s Indigenous peoples in Canada, victims of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, slaves in Sudan, or young girls facing genital mutilation in Somalia, human rights are sacred.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared, “Canadians have always expected our government to speak strongly, firmly, clearly and politely about the need to respect human rights at home and around the world… We will continue to stand up for Canadian values and indeed for universal values and human rights at any occasion.”

Trudeau is right not to back down. If human rights are indeed our new religion, they are not negotiable. Canada must speak up in their favour. Even if taking a stand has economic consequences.

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Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved. To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca

Beware of politicians quoting Bible verses

The following reflection by Jim Taylor is an excellent reflection on how the Bible, and scripture, has been used in the past, and not so recent past, to justify the actions taken by those who have political power. In fact, I too have been guilty of this offence. In the particular  case that Taylor is reflecting on, Romans 13:1 was used to justify how a government has incarcerated children.

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Beware of politicians quoting Bible verses

By Jim Taylor  – Sunday, June 24, 2018

For a hundred years, the Canadian government took children from their parents and incarcerated them in Indian Residential Schools. For their own good. The feds have since issued apologies. They’ve paid around $5 billion in compensation. And all governments have paid many billions more in welfare, prisons, and social assistance.

In the 1950s, the B.C. government took Doukhobor children away from their families, and locked them up in a prison camp in New Denver. For the children’s own good, of course.

In the 1960s, various governments did the Sixties Scoop. Once again Indigenous children were separated from their parents and placed with white foster families. For their own good, of course.

We’re now reaping a bitter harvest of alcoholism and drug dependency, of depression and suicide, of adults who don’t know how to be parents.

I know about the trauma of foster parenting and adoption personally. My grandson was adopted from Ethiopia. At 11, he’s still working through the after-effects of being torn from his natural family, shipped from orphanage to orphanage, and finally brought to Canada.

Adoption data suggests that if you can adopt during a child’s first year, separation anxiety will fade in two or three years. Separation at two will probably take five years. Separation at seven or eight may never be overcome.

And then the Trump administration set a policy of removing children from parents who enter the United States illegally, and locking the children up in detention centres.

 Can’t we ever learn from past mistakes?

A policy in search of justification

Last Sunday, Father’s Day, William Rivers Pitt wrote that there were already 1,469 children locked into in “an old Walmart outside of Brownsville, Texas… which was given the grimly Orwellian name Casa Padre, or ‘Father’s House’.”

To his credit, the president overruled his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Children can now stay with their parents. In jail. Sessions had claimed earlier, to a gathering of law officers in Fort Wayne, Texas, that St. Paul himself endorsed strict enforcement of immigration laws — which, by Sessions interpretation, included ripping children from their mothers’ arms. He quoted Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, saying, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities…”

Sessions didn’t get the quotation quite accurate, but that never matters when using the Bible as a back-up authority. Claiming that the Bible says so is usually sufficient.

Collection of mixed messages

 In reality, you can use the Bible to prove almost anything. I have yet to encounter a topic that can’t be defended by quoting some biblical verse.

If you know the right verses, the Bible commends incest, polygamy, betrayal, treason, adultery, civil disobedience, drunkenness, cold-blooded murder, slavery, genocide, and ecocide.

The Bible contradicts itself. The prophet Isaiah had a famous instruction: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks…  Another prophet, Joel, reverses it: “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears.”

Which one y’ gonna choose?

Two days before Sessions quoted Paul in support of strict immigration enforcement, the Southern Baptist Convention cited Scripture six times for immigration reform.

Once again, which one y’ gonna choose?

Not anyone’s final word

The standard Protestant Bible contains 66 books, written by at least 50 different people –not counting the Psalms, known to have at least 57 more authors — over about 1500 years.

I’m an editor. I have worked with books where multiple authors contributed chapters. It was almost impossible to achieve consistency. Even though they were all writing about the same subject, to the same standards, in the same time period.

Expecting consistency in a text created over 15 centuries is like expecting pigs to do long division.

And don’t quote me the verse that says, “All scripture is inspired by God.” That verse was not written to be part of the Bible; it was a personal letter to a young man named Timothy. When it was written, the only scriptures it could refer to were the Jewish scriptures, which we now condescendingly call the “Old Testament.” The New Testament didn’t get finalized until 367 AD.

But that doesn’t matter to Jeff Sessions.

All that matters is finding a verse he can quote to support his policies, to people who think the Bible is the final word on everything. Even if that policy goes against everything we have learned from family studies, psychology, and post-trauma treatment, and against the message of the Bible as a whole.

Anytime politicians quote the Bible to prove their point, beware!

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Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved. To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca

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An unintentional parable

This is a personal reflection written By Jim Taylor:

IMG_1896_2I was driving north, up the main highway. As I came down the hill into town, traffic slowed to a standstill. The truck ahead of me turned on its four-way flashers.

Something was happening, but I couldn’t see what. I peered through the gap between the vehicles ahead of me. And I saw a woman, walking backwards across the four lanes of traffic, beckoning to something or someone with her hands, encouraging them to come on.

Then I saw what she was encouraging. A pair of geese. Canada geese. Big birds. When they spread their wings and hiss, they can be terrifying. But these two waddled along following the woman. And right behind them came a pair of goslings, balls of fluff on toothpick legs. And finally, behind them all, came a man pushing a bicycle, making sure no one got left behind.

Or run over.

The whole cortege reached the far sidewalk. The geese vanished into the park. The man and woman gave each other high-fives, and went their separate ways. Traffic rolled again.

As I too drove on, it occurred to me that I had just seen a parable enacted, a parable of the way the world could be, and should be.

Jesus didn’t have Canada Geese or four-lane highways to talk about in his parables. But I think he would have described that scene as a sample of the kingdom of God.

The goslings trusted their parents enough to follow them into a totally foreign environment. The geese trusted the woman enough to follow her across the highway. The woman trusted the drivers enough to believe that no impatient driver would run her down.

 And it worked.

For that couple of minutes, no one roared over the sidewalk to save a few seconds. No one honked angrily. No one brandished middle-finger salutes. Everyone got where they were going, at most a couple of minutes late.

It’s a parable of the “kingdom” because all our relationships depend on trust. Every day, we commit hundreds of little acts of trust. So many, in fact, that we don’t even think of them as acts of trust — we take them for granted.

I trust that my breakfast cereal is safe to eat. That an oncoming driver will not suddenly swerve into my lane. That the radio news is not fabricated fiction. That the cash register at the grocery store will add my bill accurately. That the tree will stay upright, the bridge will hold, the sky will not fall.

At least, not today.

If I couldn’t trust these incidents, I’d be paralyzed. Afraid of everything. A nervous wreck, a human Chicken Little.

Trust keeps our society, our civilization, even our world, running smoothly.

We exist in a vast, universal, web of relationships. We are, in a sense, the sum of our relationships. When we can no longer trust those relationships, we lose a huge part of what we are. We are reduced to being an individual playing solitaire.

 That’s why breaches of trust are so serious. And that’s why little incidents that remind us how much trust matters, matter. Even if they bring traffic to a standstill.

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Copyright © 2017 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca

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The Gulf Between Macro and Micro

By Jim Taylor – January 1, 2017

Another year end, another statutory holiday, and so I’m under no obligation to deliver a column of 750 words focussed on current events to the local newspaper.

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Like most of us, I find myself thinking back over the last year.

Certainly, if you lived in Syria, Yemen, Gaza, or either of the Sudans, it would not have been a good year. And perhaps not in the U.K. and the U.S.A, depending on your political alignment. In the news, too, famous people toppled like ten-pins.

But that’s the macro level. At the micro level, most people I know have had a pretty good year. Stock markets have soared to record levels. Employment has risen, if fractionally. Mortgage rates have stayed low. Even without autopilot features, cars have been getting better and better – economy models now have safety features you couldn’t get on luxury cars 20 years ago.

Here in Canada, we have a federal government that at least seems to operate from an ethical base. Some things move too fast for some, too slow for others. But it seems that we are going to have more humane legislation governing marijuana use; removal of bureaucratic blockage of safe injection sites; maybe even a more equitable system for voting. We already have something closer to satisfactory laws allowing the terminally and hopelessly ill to get medical assistance in dying.

Medical care and treatment have improved. My wife Joan currently benefits from chemotherapy that didn’t exist just 5 years ago.

And over the last year, we have given almost 40,000 desperate refugees a new home. Media reports claim they have integrated about as well as could be expected. It’s not easy, giving up everything you have known to start all over again.

The challenge for the coming year, it seems to me, is to reduce the disparity between the macro and micro perspectives.

On that theme, I think of an article distributed by CounterCurrents, an alternative news source out of India.

Do not lose heart,” wrote Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a certified Jungian analyst with a doctorate in ethno-clinical psychology. (No, I don’t know what that means either, but I like what she says.)

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. It is not given to us to know which acts, or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

“What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up…”

If you’re interested, Ms. Estes best-known book is Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of The Wild Woman Archetype, which was on The New York Times’ best seller list for 145 weeks. And if you’re interested in CounterCurrents, you can check it out at www.countercurrents.or, or write to editor Binu Matthew at editor@countercurrents.org
Happy New Year!
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Copyright © 2017 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca
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Annual Checkups we could all benefit from – by Jim Taylor

Sunday August 14, 2016

ANNUAL CHECKUPS WE COULD ALL BENEFIT FROM

By Jim Taylor

I had my annual physical checkup this last week. The doctor did all the usual things. He checked my vital signs — I still have them, thank you — and poked and prodded various parts of my body to make sure nothing was going wrong under cover, so to speak. He ordered a series of tests, to ensure he hadn’t overlooked anything.

He asked questions. And he took time to listen to me. To hear what I might have observed about the way my own body functions. After all, I live with it every day. But I don’t always know whether that mole is significant, or how to reduce the pain in my big toe.

Basically, I learned that I am still in good shape. For my age, at least. I can expect a few more years of reasonable health.

In grocery terms, though, my shelf life is limited. And I have certainly passed my “best before” date.

Occasionally, I read that an annual physical is a waste of time. It may be even hazardous. Apparently, the incidence of heart attacks, strokes, and aneurysms rises after a medical examination.

 Maybe so. But I still want that annual checkup. I want to know what might be going wrong, before it’s too late to do anything about it.

OTHER KINDS OF CHECKUPS

 I also need other kinds of annual checkups.

 I do get an economic checkup periodically. I keep track of our investments. I know if we spend more than we need, cutting into the funds to sustain us for our remaining years. An investment advisor regularly sits down with us to evaluate our financial well-being.

But what about my emotional well-being?

I have no such thing as an annual emotional checkup. People ask, “How are you?” Or, “How are you feeling these days?” But it’s a courtesy, as meaningless as the supermarket cashier who tells every customer, “Have a great day!” If I take the question seriously, a detailed description of my feelings causes the questioner’s eyes to glaze over. She looks for someone else to talk to. Anyone.

The other day, a friend asked, “So what do you think of our civilization these days?”

“Doomed,” I replied.

Both question and answer were light-hearted. But he heard something more: “That doesn’t sound like the Jim Taylor I know,” he said.

So I probably need an occasional emotional checkup. It’s not something I can do for myself — my own feelings will inevitably colour my perception of those feelings.

And how about a spiritual checkup? Many people might not even consider a spiritual checkup important. And what would one check for , anyway — adherence to a defined set of beliefs? Memorized responses to a catechism?

No, it’s not about whether I believe the right things. It’s about how what I believe affects how I live.

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Weathercock near Waupoos, Ontario

DEEPEST CONVICTIONS

A spiritual checkup would probe my deepest convictions. Why am I here? How did I get here? What am I supposed to do about it?

Those convictions affect how I relate to my family and my friends. How I spend my money. What I do with my time. How I treat my environment.

Don’t confuse those convictions with conventional religion. They may — or may not — relate to my professed beliefs in God or my connection with a church. If the kind of God I believe in influences the way I deal with fossil fuels, human rights, and income disparities, good. But if I don’t believe in God, I still have to deal with those issues. And if the kind of God I believe in doesn’t affect those decisions, why should I bother believing in Him? Or Her — whatever…

These checkups require more than just head knowledge. They require sensitivity to me. I don’t want a medical checkup from someone promoting her own quack cures. I don’t want an economic checkup from a shill for his own mutual funds.

In the same way, spiritual and emotional checkups would require, I guess, someone with extensive insights into theology and psychology, but free of cookie-cutter solutions. Jesus is not the answer, if you haven’t heard the question. Nor is Freud.

As a milestone birthday hurtles towards me, and as I realize that the road ahead of me is much shorter than the road behind, I feel an increasing need to know that I’m on the right road. Or at least, on the road I want to be on.

Aha! That’s what I need to extend my shelf-life — a map reader!
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Copyright © 2016 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
       To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca
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Lighting Candles in Paris

Sunday November 22, 2015

LIGHTING A CANDLE AGAINST FANATICS

By Jim Taylor

In all the video since the attacks in Paris, a week ago, the image that sticks most in my mind is the picture of Parisians lighting candles in the darkness.
A friend, talking about the tragedy, burst out, “I feel so helpless! What can we do?”
French president Francois Hollande knew what he would do. “We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless,” he vowed. That weekend alone, a dozen French jet fighters dropped 20 bombs on the city of Raqqa in Syria, considered the headquarters of the Islamic State. The French Defence Ministry said they destroyed a command centre, a recruitment centre, an ammunition storage site, and a training camp.
The western media never give death counts for such attacks. But an independent study calculated that since the Syrian civil war started four years ago, an average of 144 people are killed every day. Some would be militants; most would be civilians.
Put that in context. More people have been killed in the Middle East conflicts — every day for the last four years — than died in the coordinated Paris attacks that so outraged us.
This is surely the wrong way to go about establishing peace.

THE IMITATIONS OF POWER
As Charles Pierce wrote in Esquire, “A 242-ship navy will not stop one motivated murderous fanatic from emptying an AK-47 into a crowded restaurant. An F-35 fighter plane will not stop anyone from detonating bombs at a soccer match. A missile-defense shield in Poland will not stop a platoon of fanatics from opening fire in a jammed concert hall.”
Andrew Bacevich expressed similar misgivings in the Boston Globe: “In this conflict, the West generally enjoys clear-cut military superiority. Our arsenals are bigger, our weapons more sophisticated, our generals better educated in the art of war, our fighters better trained at waging it.
“Yet most of this has proven irrelevant. Time and again the actual employment of that ostensibly superior military might has produced results other than those intended or anticipated… Instead, intervention typically serves to aggravate, inciting further resistance. Rather than putting out the fires of radicalism, we end up feeding them.
“In proposing to pour yet more fuel on that fire, Hollande demonstrates a crippling absence of imagination…”

THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE
During a period of prayer, another friend quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
Her words reminded me of going on a tour of a potash mine in Saskatchewan, years ago. Our group donned heavy coveralls and headlamps. We went more than a kilometre underground.
In a massive cavern, huge excavators scooped up rich phosphate deposits. Our guide flipped a power switch. The floodlights went out. We waited for our eyes to become accustomed to the darkness. They didn’t. They couldn’t. A kilometre underground, there was no light at all.
Then our guide flipped his cigarette lighter. And that single tiny flame illuminated even the farthest corners of the cavern. It drove the darkness back.
Just as the candles on Parisian sidewalk memorials pushed back the darkness people felt.
It’s not fashionable these days to use metaphors of light and darkness as symbols for good and evil. It’s too easy to broaden the metaphor into racism — if dark corresponds to evil, then black people must be evil, right?
But the people of Paris were not thinking about political correctness, or metaphors. Instinctively, they lit candles, to shine light into their caverns of despair, of grief, of anger.

REASSURING OURSELVES
Martin Luther King had a second part to his line about darkness: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Vengeance cannot defeat vengeance; violence cannot counter violence.
The trouble is, of course, that we can’t see how tiny acts of kindness, generosity, or compassion are going to change the mindset of Charles Pierce’s “motivated murderous fanatics.”
In reality, I suggest, we don’t light candles to change the minds of fanatics. We do it to convince ourselves that even small acts matter. That it’s worth helping a wounded person, or welcoming a refugee, or creating a small oasis of peace in an angry world.
Somewhere, deep inside, we recognize that light itself is active, not passive. Even the lonely flame of a candle or cigarette lighter does something. By contrast, darkness is passive. You cannot turn on a dark that will extinguish the light.
We know that darkness takes over only if the light goes out. And so we gather on sidewalks, in churches, in homes, to comfort each other, to provide support, to renew our commitment to lives beyond violence.
To light our own candles. To help drive the darkness back.
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Copyright © 2015 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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An Imaginary Climate of FEAR!

i-remember-for-peaceIMAGINARY CLIMATE OF FEAR

By Jim Taylor – Wednesday March 18, 2015

A big black SUV with dark-tinted windows pulled up beside me. The driver’s window zipped down. A very big man with a shaved head and lots of tattoos leaned out.

“Hey, you!” he growled.
It felt like the opening scene of almost any TV crime show.
“What kinda dog is that?” the driver demanded.
“A Chesapeake Bay Retriever,” I replied, a little nervously.
His door popped open. He levered his bulk onto the ground. He bent over to rumple my dog’s ears.
“I’ve never seen a Chesapeake before,” he said. “She’s got a beautiful face.”
Nope, definitely not your stereotypical crime show.
Television, I’m convinced, gives us a hugely distorted view of reality. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize how distorted that view is.
Every study, for example, says that the rate of violent crime in Canada has decreased by around 50 per cent over the last 25 years. Yet the federal government bases its run for re-election on fear, pushing a heightened “tough on crime” agenda.
Admittedly, the U.S. — source of most TV crime shows — has a much higher violent crime rate than Canada. You’re about three times more likely to be murdered in the U.S., according to Wikipedia. But the chances of being murdered at random are extremely low in both countries.

INACCURATE PORTRAYALS
Rather to my surprise — yes, I get influenced by television too! — the overall crime rate in the U.S. appears to have dipped even faster than in Canada. Even for gun crimes.
Yet no one would ever get that impression from the hail of bullets launched every night on the screen, where teams of crime fighters smash down doors, fan out through homes wearing flak jackets, fingers on triggers….
TV coverage made the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, look like an episode of Star Wars last summer, with Darth Vader’s troops massing to crush protesters .
The medical profession suffers from TV-induced distortion too. Doc Martin glimpses a rash on a woman’s exposed belly. “I must operate immediately!” he commands. “Get me some boiling water!”
“At a time like this, you want tea?” his befuddled assistant gasps.
“To sterilize my scalpel, you idiot!” the doctor snorts.
Marcus Welby might have spoken more diplomatically, but the aura of omnipotence stays the same.
Given the stereotypes of medical drama, it must be very difficult for ordinary doctors to say, “I don’t know.”

OVERLOOKED ELEMENTS
The great failing of television, it seems to me, is that it ignores the essential goodness of people. In the rush of telescoping a plot into an hour, or a news story into a minute, there isn’t time to acknowledge little acts of kindness, compassion, caring.
I can’t quantify this claim, but I suspect that 99% of my life is spent trusting other people. Trusting that the relationship I have with them will withstand any disagreements. Trusting that those I don’t have a personal relationship with will still act with honesty and justice.
Yet the TV culture encourages us to base our life decisions on fear. We act to protect ourselves, even when nothing needs defending. We withdraw. We hold back. We hesitate.
We let a few drops of imaginary fear taint the entire bucket of life experience.
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Copyright © 2015 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca
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Reflections on a violent day in Ottawa (3)

DISTORTED STATISTICS FOMENT HATRED

By Jim Taylor – Sunday October 26, 2014

Wednesday morning, a man with a gun killed a soldier on ceremonial duty at the national cenotaph in Ottawa. Minutes later, the man ran into the parliament buildings. Where, in a flurry of gunshots, he died. A recording by a Globe and Mail reporter caught the gunfire. It was over in seconds. But the sounds echoed through parliament’s old stone hallways much longer.

Echoes do that.

A thunderclap actually lasts only as long as the lightning flash; the echoes rumble around the hills for minutes. Echoes reverberate even longer in memory. Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is, basically, an echo that refuses to fade away.

Listening to eight hours of news coverage from Ottawa, I felt that I was hearing more echoes than insight.
Apparently no one saw it coming. Not CSIS, the Canadian security Intelligence Service. Not the police. Not the government.

The government had planned to introduce new anti-terrorist legislation in parliament that same day.
CSIS told a parliamentary committee that it had some 130 “radicalized” young men under surveillance, including the driver who ran down two armed forces personnel on Monday in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. But it lacked funds to track every potential terrorist.

Echoes… after the act….

VENOMOUS E-MAIL
By some coincidence, the day before the Ottawa attack, I received an e-mail that seemed to anticipate events. It listed 16 violent acts, from the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in 1968, through both bombings of the World Trade Centre, to the bombing at the Boston Marathon last year. All committed by Muslim males.

I suspect that e-mail had circulated on the Internet for some time, because it didn’t include the ritual beheadings in Iraq.

The unidentified writer — like the assassins in the desert, such persons prefer to hide behind the balaclava of anonymity – thought his litany justified racial profiling. To solve the problem; go after young male Muslims.
Statistics can be so easily distorted to suit one’s own prejudices.

One could equally argue that 80 per cent of all U.S. murders, about 12,000 a year, are committed by Christians. That 100 per cent of institutional torture in the U.S. was done by federal employees. That most U.S. neonaticides – killing or abandoning babies during their first 24 hours after birth – come from mothers under the age of 25.

Would those statistics justify surveillance of all Christians? Monitoring all federal employees? Banning pregnancies in women under 25?

The writer of the anti-Muslim e-mail also chose not to mention 190 incidents of violence during the 1990s by right-wing militias like Timothy McVeigh’s. Or that lynch mobs such as the Ku Klux Klan were 100 per cent non-Muslim.

Because that wouldn’t suit his biases.

Essentially, the e-mail invited security services to treat young Muslim males the way many U.S. police forces have treated young black males. And we know how well that has worked to reduce tensions. Even President Obama has told of experiencing harassment simply because he was black and male.

THUGS WHO SHOOT EACH OTHER
I am very much afraid that anti-Muslim sentiments will flourish in the aftermath of last week’s attacks. Both men were described as recent converts to Islam, and therefore suspect. I think Crawford Killian described them more accurately, in The Tyee, as “nutcases, choosing Islam as a flag of convenience for their internal demons…alienated for whatever reason from their society, with no more political significance than the thugs who shoot each other for control of the B.C. drug trade.”

Indeed, these deaths appear to be just as targeted as gangland killings. The St-Jean-sur-Richelieu driver waited two hours for his victims to come out. The Ottawa gunman picked a reservist at a symbolic site, the War Memorial.

Perhaps there’s a reason soldiers were picked. As international journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote, “If you want to be a country that spends more than a decade proclaiming itself at war and bringing violence to others, then you should expect that violence will sometimes be directed at you as well.”

I’m afraid Stephen Harper will toughen his proposed anti-terrorist legislation to permit, even encourage, intelligence forces to set up databases and sting operations to trap “radicalized” Muslims. Police will start shooting Muslims on sight, as they have young blacks. CSIS agents will lurk in grocery stores to observe who buys Halal foods – an actual suggestion from a “radicalization” conference a few years ago.

And we, the citizens of Canada, will find ourselves giving up more and more of our rights and freedoms – of speech, of religion, of movement – as we chase the U.S. into the Homeland Security quagmire.

As Green party leader Elizabeth May wrote, while still locked-down in the parliament buildings, “We must ensure that this appalling act of violence is not used to justify a disproportionate response. … These kinds of events open the door to a loss of democracy. … Once we surrender rights it is very difficult to restore them.”
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Copyright © 2014 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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