Jim Hillson’s words of wisdom

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 3, 2020

I just received the distressing news that Rev. Jim Hillson, one of our longtime contributors to these columns, was in a fatal car accident the other day while driving to Regina to visit family.

Jim was pastor of Cochrane’s St. Andrew’s United Church from 2010 to 2012 before retiring to Medicine Hat. This week’s column pays tribute to him by drawing on examples of his inspiring wisdom on four themes that he shared with us over the years.

ON BEAUTY AND ART: My column for April 7, 2016 concluded with a challenge for all of us: “Pigment by pigment, stroke by stroke on the canvas of life,” I said, “perhaps more of us can help the world sing in perfect harmony.”

In my May 5 column Jim responded:

“Working artists and gallery owners need to offer works that buyers will buy. That usually means that they offer for sale work that is pretty, has harmony and cohesion and exuberance. But it also leads to a misunderstanding of the work of the artist.

“I hope that the artists among us are never coerced into thinking their job is to depict pretty and beautiful. I would offer you the comment that the visual artist is like a storyteller. Sometimes the story is dystopic. Sometimes the artist is called to speak (or image) a truth which is dark. Sometimes the image needs disharmony. Artists are commentators. And it is less than honest if we ask them to always make their commentary ‘happy’ – which is kind of what I get from your column.”

I replied that I couldn’t agree more. “Yes,” I said, “artists and writers must not become mere smokescreens – propagandists – for evil. They are first of all storytellers and commentators.”

ON JUSTICE: My Dec. 11, 2014 column focused on the place of religion in public life – so very timely in our own day. Jim added a caution:

“People of religious conviction ought to be cautioned against any temptation to think that their commitment to justice, mercy, humility and love is somehow superior because it arises from religious conviction. Far more important is for all who share such commitments to find ways to break down the barriers which keep us from working together for a better future.”

DEATH AND RECONCILIATION: And then there’s wisdom from Jim on mortality and reconciliation that appeared in my March 1, 2018 column:

“Death is so final,” Jim wrote. “With just about everything in life we can come back later and fix whatever went wrong. We may even allow ourselves the self-indulgence of a bad act today because we are willing to apologize tomorrow. But death changes that. There is no do-over! No cleaning up whatever the mess was we made of things.

“We might be touched by stories of long overdue reconciliations. But more often the reconciliation is neglected too long until it is too late! Keeping the relationship is nearly always more important than proving you're right! So my advice is to apologize even if you think more of the fault is on the other side. And remember that it is not an apology if it comes out, ‘I am sorry, but....’”

EARTH: I began these memories of Jim’s contributions with reference to beauty. Let me conclude with his further reflection on our responsibility to the beauty of our planet. In my July 2, 2015 column Jim said:

“In the last century the world faced challenges of two world wars. In this century we face the challenge of coming to terms with the knowledge that we will destroy the planet if we do not change our way of living. At its heart it is a theological crisis: What do we believe in?”

Yes, as he said about death, so too, with our environment, “There is no do-over!” Thanks, Jim, for these words to live by.


© 2020 Warren Harbeck

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