Archive for the ‘rich insights’ Tag

Spiritual Paths   Leave a comment

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“I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.”

Anne Lamott – in the Washington Times, 2008

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Annual Checkups we could all benefit from – by Jim Taylor   Leave a comment

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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Open Minds – open doors   Leave a comment

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A wise woman once told me that,

“Your mind is like a parachute: it works best when it is open.”

On Good Friday the Toronto Star published a column titled, “An Easter Wish for Christianity” composed by Michael Coren. In it, Coren writes:

An authentic relationship with God is a dialogue,

involving questions,

arguments and even doubt.

The full column is at: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2016/03/25/an-easter-wish-for-christianity.html

Re-thinking the Resurrection – Jim Taylor   Leave a comment

RE-THINKING THE RESURRECTION

By Jim Taylor**

This is not one of my usual columns. The newspaper which gets “first publication” rights is not publishing today, Easter Sunday. That leaves me free to muse about Easter, in general.

Easter, as seen by the secular world, is about bunnies and eggs. And chocolate. And spring in the northern hemisphere. And did I mention chocolate? But in the Christian church, it’s about The Resurrection (with capital letters).

When I was much younger, the Rev. Jim Campbell invited his congregation to submit topics they wanted him to preach about. My note said, “Resurrection — I’d love to see how you handle it!”

I knew that Jim was too honest a minister to simply repeat conventional platitudes. He didn’t disappoint me. He admitted that he couldn’t understand it either, but clearly something had happened, “something” that changed lives, which started a domino effect that changed the world.

I can live with that ambiguity, even if part of my mind still wants a rational explanation for what happened. Or, perhaps, for what didn’t happen. But I would guess that 90 percent of the sermons preached this morning will declare, unequivocally,
a) that Jesus conquered death
b) that death is the direct consequence of sin
c) that Jesus had no sin, and that by accepting a death he didn’t deserve, Jesus paid off our sins in advance.

If our sins are already forgiven, why do we still pay the price of sin?

If Jesus defeated death, why do we still die?

In fact, why does everything die? Plants, mammals, fish, insects, bacteria — everything dies. They have different life spans — contrast a fruit fly and a sequoia, say — but they all die. Even our sun will eventually die, and take the inner planets with it. Death is the universal reality, simultaneously the immoveable object and the irresistible force.

The concept that death is the consequence of sin — “the wages of sin,” Paul called it — takes us into the Bermuda triangle of theology. If sin causes death, and all humans die, therefore all humans must have sinned. If we haven’t sinned ourselves — for example, a newborn baby — then we must have inherited sin from our parents. It’s a self-fulfilling equation, a vicious circle. Even if it’s nonsense. Sin may be learned, but it is not inheritable.

But it’s also nonsense to argue that death didn’t exist until Adam and Eve messed up. Would the plants and animals, the wild ones and the domesticated ones, the fruit trees and the fruitflies, all have lived forever if humans had not tasted that apple?

Now throw Jesus into that triangle. Traditionally, theology has insisted that Jesus was without sin. But he died. If sin and death have an unbreakable contract, Jesus broke it.

The only way to avoid admitting that the equation was faulty is for Jesus not to stay dead.

Besides, if sin leads to death, why didn’t Satan die? Satan is the personification of sin itself. But Satan has apparently achieved immortality. The Bible says that Satan was there in the Garden of Eden. Satan had tea with God in the story of Job. Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. According to Revelation, Satan will still be around until the final conflict. Even by Bishop Ussher’s timekeeping, that’s over 6,000 years.

By my reading, the Bible contradicts itself. Death happens whether or not someone sins. And sin — even the sin of rebelling against God — does not necessarily result in death.

I prefer to think of death as a gift from God. It is the matching bookend for the gift of life. Birth and death are our Alpha and Omega. Death was granted to all of creation, across the board. No exceptions, no favourites.

So Jesus didn’t have to undo the consequences of Adam’s disobedience. We didn’t have to be “redeemed” from inherited sin. That turns most rationales for The Resurrection into word games.

And yet, as Jim Campbell said long ago, something happened. Something that started 20 centuries of dominos toppling.
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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

** re-published with permission from Jim Taylor

Two Gods ?   Leave a comment

IMG_0608“The great theologian Howard Thurman makes an important distinction between the “God of Religion” and the “God of Life”. They are not always, unfortunately, the same thing, and when they are not, we have to return to the God of Life to rebegin not only religion but culture itself. I think we are living in such a time.”

Matthew Fox in “Occupy Spirituality”, page 9

Lighting Candles in Paris   Leave a comment

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.
To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca
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An Imaginary Climate of FEAR!   Leave a comment

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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