Seeing Red

What an interesting and sad week.  Holy Week.  That’s what we call it–we who are followers of Jesus.  It hasn’t felt very holy.  With a landmark case being argued before the Supreme Court here in the United States, the gloves have been off for many who usually are, on any given day, peace loving and respectful.  I am sad.

I will not comment on the political argument, which does, indeed, spill over into the arena of Biblical beliefs for many.  I have strong opinions and thoughts about the Biblical principles involved, as well. I would be perfectly willing (although not necessarily eager) to discuss them with anyone who truly wants to discuss them one on one.  I will not argue; will not shout; will not call names.  There has been plenty of that to go around this week as we have forgotten that we’re called to wrestle, not against flesh and blood, but against powers in the spiritual realm.  Just in case that’s not clear enough, let’s put it this way: If they breathe, they’re not our enemy!  Another popular blog, just within the last day or two has called attention to the incongruity of believers fighting with other believers, and even with unbelievers, over this issue.  Especially this week. 

I am seeing red.  You may think that means that I’m angry.  Anger is typically what is implied when we use that term; seeing red.  But all this week, I have seen vivid red symbols of the different camps plastered on my computer screen whenever I’ve gone to my usual haunts on the internet.  The different camps?  Did I really just use that term?  Another of those underlying meanings; the mental picture of two enemy camps aligned against each other, their banners flying proudly and brazenly to indicate that they will fight to the death with anyone who dares to raise a different banner.  The banners all seem to be red.  My eyes hurt from all the crimson I’ve seen over the last few days.

But, I’m seeing a different kind of red, too. As I sat down to write tonight, my heart weighed down with the animosity I have seen from folks on every side of this argument, I realized that it is Good Friday.  I’m not quite sure of the historical accuracy of Friday being the day on which the crucifixion took place, but it is the day on which all Christendom pauses to consider the incredible cost of Grace.  The transaction of redemption wasn’t clean and neat; it wasn’t a simple contract signing in an office.  It was messy, and grotesque, and bloody.  That’s right.  Blood was shed.  The contract for Grace was sealed with the blood of the Son of God who said, in bright red, “For you.  So that you can be with me in heaven.  So that you can live in unity with each other here on earth.”

I’m seeing red.  Today, it seems that all of us who are followers of the Lamb who took away the sins of the world, could take some time to pause and consider what that means to us individually and collectively.  I suggest that we might bow or kneel or stand with arms outstretched to heaven and simply be grateful that God’s mercy has reached to us in the red, red blood of His Son who died willingly for us.

The red was (and is) there to give every one of us individually the opportunity to believe.  It is also there to demonstrate God’s great love for us collectively, not so that we could tear each other’s throats out, but so that we could live together in His love. Perhaps, as we kneel in gratitude, a petition for love for our neighbors wouldn’t be out of place.

I’m seeing red tonight.  It’s a red of a different type than the red I’ve seen all week.  And, my eyes still hurt as I consider the cost.  The tears come as I realize how far from being a loving disciple I have strayed, arguments and excuses on the tip of my tongue, as I seek to justify my sinful conduct.

I’m grateful that God sees the red, too.  It is all He sees, as His Son says, “This one’s mine.”

On this, one of the high and holy days in the life of the Church, I am determined to live in a way consistent with that truth.  I pray that it will show in my life every other day, as well.

How about it?  Are you seeing red too?

“In letters of crimson, God wrote His love
On the hillside so long, long ago;
For you and for me Jesus died,
And love’s greatest story was told.”
(“Written In Red”~Gordon Jensen~Canadian born song writer)

“Christ suffered for our sins once for all time.  He never sinned, but he died for sinners, to bring you safely home to God.”
(I Peter 3:18a~NLT)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

A Word About Those Knives

“Steak knives!  What are we supposed to do with them?”  The Lovely Lady has opened up the mountain of packages which arrived today from our shipping box supplier.  One box contained a free gift from them, a reminder that we had spent a fair amount of money for the dwindling mountain of packages.  The company gives small, useless items as thank-you gifts if you only spend a small amount.  You have to spend a really large sum to get a large, useless thank-you gift, such as these knives.  “Oh, well,”  I remarked morosely.  “If we ever eat steak again, we might use them.”  My doctor has declared red meat off limits for me for the foreseeable future.  I’m confident that the knives will remain in their box for a good long time to come.

What is it about inappropriate gifts which we receive from companies with whom we do business, anyway?  I think that, if the box company would offer a back support as a thank-you, it might make sense.  After unloading the pallet-load from the tailgate of the semi-trailer today, it would have been a welcome find for me.  Perhaps, the doctor’s office, instead of sending home candy with the kids, could send a small bottle of aspirin instead.  The gas station could dole out packages of wet wipes to clean the gasoline off of my hands, which invariably splashes up when I’m topping off the tank.  You know, to ease up to the nearest even dollar amount.  You wouldn’t want me to stop at $32.79, now would you?  Well…you get the idea and will, no doubt, think of a few more appropriate gifts to take home from your favorite vendor.

I remember, as a teenager, wandering through the county fair in the spring.  We called it the stock show, but it was the same thing as the county fairs that draw crowds every year all around the country.  I had blown my money on the midway and was reduced to wandering the exhibitions with my parents.  As we ambled past ladder salesmen and  fruit dehydration demonstrations, I noticed a contest box.  You know the type.  The box is covered with paper and there is a slot cut in the top.  Obviously, that slot wants a piece of paper to be inserted there, so I looked around for an entry.  I didn’t look far.  “Enter to win a FREE sewing machine!” shouted the cardboard sign nearby.  I grabbed an entry form.  Scribbling my name and address, I laughed as I dropped the tiny piece of paper into the box.  “I’ll never win.  I never win anything!”  Wandering off to the stock exhibits, where my brother was showing a hog, I promptly forgot about the box or the piece of paper.

A few weeks later, I received an envelope in the mail.  I never got personal mail!  It looked important, too.  “Mr. Paul Phillips” was the name above the street address.  Not “To the parents of…”, not even “To our friend at…”!  I opened the envelope carefully.  The letter looked official.  “Dear Mr. Phillips,  We are pleased to inform you that you have won…”  I shouted it out to the whole household, “I won!  I won the sewing machine!”  Sure enough, my name had been drawn to receive this machine, for which I had no earthly use.  I was excited regardless.  The red-headed lady used the sewing machine.  I could give it to her.  I didn’t even have it yet and I was giving it away!  No matter.  I had won!  But then, I read further on down the letter.  “Before you claim your free machine, you must purchase one of the following cabinets from our stock.  We cannot deliver any machine without the completed purchase of a cabinet.”  The enclosed catalog listed any number of beautiful wooden cabinets, ranging in price from two hundred-fifty dollars, up to over five hundred.  I was crestfallen, knowing that I couldn’t afford even the cheapest of the offerings, and also, by this time, being adamant that I would never give this crooked business even a dime of my money.  First they offer me this “free” item, which I am going to have to give away, and then they insist that I pay as much for a cabinet as any normal concern would sell the entire outfit for.  The light has gone on, as I sit glumly and consider how quickly my fortunes have turned.  I have learned a hard lesson about what motivates businesses and their owners to make offers which are too good to be true.

A friend posted a message last night on her Facebook page.  “Nearly 40 years into this thing called LIFE, I’m ACCEPTING the FACT that almost NO one does GOOD simply because it is RIGHT to do so.”  Her note goes on, exposing the pain, I suppose, of being disillusioned by someone in her life. But, whether a personal friend or a business associate, I don’t know.  There are no details, nor do I need any.  It is a disappointment shared by most of us.  When we trust people, we are doomed to experience discouragement as our confidence is shaken again and again.

Here’s the really bad news.  Our discouragement grows as we realize that most people function in much the same way as do we ourselves.  We are honest when it pays to be honest; loyal when it pays to be loyal; caring when it pays to be caring.  It is inherent in our nature to be self-centered and self-serving.  We talk of integrity, even embrace the ideal of a principled life.  But, when the situation merits it (in our minds, at least), we discard integrity and dump principles in favor of advantage.  Still, like the sewing machine company, we wish to appear beneficent.  Consequently, we weave webs of deceit, smiling at our friends (and sometimes our spouses), as we slide the knife into their backs.

How about it?  What is it (if anything) that will motivate us to do good simply because it is right to do so? I would submit to you that the answer is love.  As usual, it may be too simple an answer.  I stand by it, nonetheless.  I offer no other support than these words; “Love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking…”  If our actions demonstrate these two qualities, we may be sure that love is not our motivation.  Period.

And trust?  What do we do about that?  Once again, I offer exactly the same answer and the following in defense of the concept; “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” We will, in life, be disappointed in our trust of others, again and again.  Still, we trust and we hope.  When we are hurt, we forgive.  And we go forward, in the company of other selfish, self-serving people who are just like us.  We go forward.  If we spend all our time looking back, we will see nothing but the missteps, the disappointments (both in others and ourselves).  The only way we will persevere is to go forward.

That same friend mentioned above recently posted this short comment of encouragement; “Love still conquers all.”  I don’t disagree.  But, as I consider, I realize that there is more.  Sometimes love simply wraps up its enemy in its arms and holds it close.  No winners–no losers.  “Love never fails.”

The package supplier will accomplish its goal, since I will buy more.  I understand exactly what their motivation is, but I still need their product.  Personal relationships are a bit more fragile.  Perhaps, we could work toward the goal of loving God and loving each other, instead of always working the angles for personal gain.  I know I’m going to try. 

In the meantime, I do have a really nice set of steak knives available, if anyone needs them.  

“And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva…So tweasure your wuv.”
(The Impressive Clergyman from “The Princess Bride” movie~USA 1987)

“Someone who thinks the world is always cheating him is right.  He is missing that wonderful feeling of trust in someone or something.”
(Eric Hoffer~American moral/social philosopher~1902-1983)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Planes, Planes, Plains, and Plein

The skinny kid shrugged on his plaid sport-coat, determined that he would look the part of the seasoned traveler he wanted to be.  Making sure of his tickets in his breast pocket, he squared his shoulders and headed out the front door.  “Be sure to call us when you get there son.”  The red-headed lady reminded him for the fourth time and he nodded his head, annoyed.  “Are you sure you don’t want us to drive you to the airport?” asked his dad.  He didn’t want to seem petty, but the boy could hardly hide his impatience as he replied.  “No!  I’ve got this!”  He felt bad immediately and turned back to them.  “I’ll be fine.  See you in a couple of days.”  And, he was gone.

He boarded the plane an hour later; his first time ever to fly. Gripping his armrest in a death grip, as if holding on so tightly to the airplane itself would help in an emergency, he wished that he had opted to drive instead.  But the plane achieved the speed necessary and left the ground as it was designed to do and flew him to the state capitol without incident.  Once a cruising altitude was attained, the craft sliced smoothly though the air, on its way to its destination.  Only a few hundred miles, yet it seemed like the other side of the world to him.  It was a day of firsts for him.  After his arrival, he hailed his first taxi, checked into his first hotel room, and ate his first really nice meal in a restaurant by himself.  He took care of his business the next day and couldn’t get on the plane home fast enough. Still wearing his plaid sport-coat, he again gripped the armrests on takeoff, a habit he still has, nearly forty years later. The flights (at least the smooth, uneventful ones) don’t bother him much, just the take-offs and landings.

We jump forward a number of years and our young man, still skinny, is now a young husband and father.  He is in the workshop of his Lovely Lady’s brother, helping him with a wood working project.  They have spent an hour or two cutting up lengths of wood and slicing them into smaller dimensions, and he is ready to get building the cabinet they are aspiring to make.  Surely, the small pieces of wood they have here will suffice to glue and screw together into the configuration planned.  But, no!  What is his brother-in-law doing?  He is gathering up every single piece of wood, the long as well as the short, and carrying it over to a power tool, he calls a jointer/planer.  It is a strange affair, with two lengths of narrow, flat steel table that are divided by a wide circular blade-like affair.  The two tables sit almost exactly level with each other, but one, the feed end, is adjustable.  The expert turns on a switch underneath the machine and a motor spins the blades with a threatening whirring sound.  Turning a crank, he adjusts the variable table a tiny bit lower than the fixed one. As the length of wood comes into contact with the rapidly turning blades, the chips begin to fly.  The odd thing?  Even though the table is lower than the next one, the wood slides evenly onto the second one without angling up or down.  The reason is that the blades take off exactly the right amount of surface on the bottom of the board, so that it rides onto the out-feeding table, the tiniest fraction of an inch thinner than when it entered the feed table.

“Cool!” exclaimed the skinny young man.  He set the board where his brother-in-law indicated and then repeated the action for all the boards, probably forty or so of them.  Now…they would be ready to assemble the cabinet.  But no…they repeated the action once more, with the blade taking off the same incremental amount again.  Every piece of the wood…fed through the blades a second time, and stacked, a second time.  “Why don’t you just move the blades as far as you need the wood to be taken down?” inquired the frustrated young man.  The other man shrugged and took a piece of scrap wood in his hand.  Cranking the table down the total amount, he proceeded to feed the scrap through.  Huge chips flew.  Then, holding the piece of wood so the curious fellow could see the lower surface, he showed him what happened when you get in a hurry.  Instead of the smooth, flat surface, the board was marred and scraped, with splinters of wood hanging all over.  “It works the same way with any type of plane,” he told the chagrined helper.  “Power or hand plane, if you try to remove too much at one time, it digs too deeply, splintering and tearing instead of cutting and smoothing.”  The lesson has never been forgotten.

Not many years after, the young man (not so skinny anymore and, come to think of it, not so young) was traveling by car with his family.  They had been to the West Coast, visiting the Sierra Madre mountains and the Pacific Ocean.  They had even made a stop at that magnificent hole in the ground in Arizona, which we call the Grand Canyon.  None of these landmarks could have been described as unadorned or commonplace; instead being grandiose and notable in their structure.  They were travelling through New Mexico and had just left behind the significant tablelands, with their imposing mesas towering over the highway.  The fellow had driven many miles already and was exhausted, but there was no way they were stopping until they were home.  A few hours of relief driving by the Lovely Lady helped, but he was still sleep deprived.  And, they were entering the plains.  No hills to speak of, no forests…in fact, not much except highway and fence posts were to be seen for miles.

There’s not much to say.  He yawned and stretched, poked and pinched, and sang and whistled, all to keep himself awake for the miles that the road extended out into the never-ending distance, the horizon never getting any closer.  They were plains all right!  Nothing at all for miles and miles.  Unadorned definitely was the word to characterize this place.  Hours later, the hills and his home were a welcome sight, especially since home meant a bed and sleep.

In recent years, the aging, slightly overweight man has been widening the scope of his interests.  Where knickknacks and photographs once graced the walls of his home, paintings have appeared.  There are oils and water-colors of several good artists, but his favorites are the landscapes, painted out of doors, in natural light and not in a studio.  Still-lifes?  He’s not a huge fan, preferring instead the reality of nature and a few of the imposing structures that men have erected.  He was amused to discover, some time ago, that this type of painting was known as “plein air”, the name coming from a french word meaning “open air”.  The genuine, unadorned character of this style of painting is attractive to him, pulling him away from the gimmicks and noises and gadgets of everyday life that surround him and anyone else living in this overwhelming culture which encompasses us.

Plein air.  Funny.  It sounds just like “plain” air.  Come to think of it, that is just what it is!  Nature without any extras, no makeup, no glaring lights, no clattering keyboards.  Quiet, clean, smooth.  Plain.

We seem to have come full circle.  You may be wondering what this is all about.  I’m not really sure myself, but this evening, I handed my smart-phone to the Lovely Lady and asked her to help me solve a word puzzle, one in which four pictures are displayed, all supposedly having one common denominator.  If you could figure out the common thing they share, you would have the answer to the puzzle We talked briefly about the concept, both how clever it was, and how frustrating, and, for some odd reason, my mind leapt to the little brass finger-plane I keep on my desk, which is in one of the pictures above.  I immediately thought of a number of similar words, having been primed by the discussion. You have been the victims of the result.  I hope you will forgive me.

There is another purpose to my meanderings, though.  You see, I keep that plane atop my desk for a purpose.  It is not only a fine example of quality craftsmanship, but as a tiny tool which smooths surfaces, it reminds me that the edges are best taken off little by little. Like the much larger jointer/planer, if the blade is extended too far, the result is a gouge instead of a smooth, level surface.  Slowly, carefully, the edges come down, eventually conforming to the shape they need to take. With little pain and less trauma to the wood, the goal is achieved and a smooth, uniform surface takes form. It works in life also.  As we help each other to be better people, we do it gently and lovingly.  The rough edges are knocked off without pain, without animosity.  The final result is the same; but the journey there is a lot easier.

Plane trips are, hopefully, uneventful after the ascent to the clouds and before the descent to the ground. The flat lands, the plains, stretch out in their fruitful, productive expanse; devoid of the barriers and the perils which the mountainous regions or the coastal areas contain.  The art produced en plein air is beautiful and uncluttered by superfluous lights and colors.  Nature is spectacular enough without the help of man’s technology and meddling.

Plane, planes, plains, and plein air.  Four different pictures.  One central idea.  Clean, unadorned, and smooth.  Sometimes I think life would be a lot better if we were all just plain folks too.  No highfalutin ways, no cosmetic surgeries to fool people into believing that we’re somebody else, just the unembellished truth, exposed for all to see.

How about it?  Do you get the picture now?

I was hoping it would be plain to you.

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”
(I Peter 3:3,4~NLT)

“You–poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are–I entreat to accept me as a husband.”
(from “Jane Eyre~Charlotte Bronte~English novelist~1816-1865)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

It is Wonderful, Isn’t It?

Am I the only one who does it?  I feel a little embarrassed, but I can’t help it. Over and over, I click on the button, thinking that no one else in the world would be this foolish.  I’ve tried to stop, but I can’t.  I’ll probably still be doing it when I’m ninety.  While it’s not really something to be ashamed of, I can’t help being a bit reticent to admit that I do it publicly.  How to do this?  Perhaps, if I started as they do in the AA meetings…
Hi.  My name is Paul.  I’m an addict of beautiful music.  Once I start listening, I just can’t stop.

I got a new music CD last week.  I ordered it because I heard one song that I really enjoyed.  When the album…I mean…CD arrived, I popped it into the CD player and was instantly carried away with the vocal talent of the artist.  Oh sure, there were a couple of songs I could have done without, but that’s always the reality of purchasing a collection, with song choices which anyone but me selects.  Funny…I don’t think I agree with anyone one hundred percent of the time.  It’s probably a good thing.  
Since the CD arrived, I have played through it more times than I can count.  I’ll probably do that for the foreseeable future.  I like what I like.  Beauty is to be enjoyed.  I’m planning to do just that.
On second thought, I don’t need this Twelve Step thing.  I don’t have a problem at all.

I don’t mean to make light of the real purpose for the support groups, or of their value, but it provides a passageway into my thoughts tonight.  I listened again, just moments ago, to a beautiful version of the old song called “What a Wonderful World” sung by a relatively unknown (outside Christian music) artist named, David Phelps.  I’m not advertising for him.  I don’t sell his albums…er…CDs…No!  It’s an album!

Will you let me follow this rabbit trail for just a moment?  I have been brought up short by customers on any number of occasions when I have called a CD an album.  “No, I don’t want a record.  I want a CD!”  I’ve even been stopped by a young person when I called an MP3 file an album.  I do know that we used the word to describe those black vinyl disks which spun on a turntable and had a needle that rode in the grooves to produce music (when they weren’t skipping and popping).  It was appropriate then and it is still appropriate now.  An album is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as: Album (noun); one or more recordings (as on tape or disc) produced as a single unit.  I’ll keep calling them albums.
I did have a goal in mind before I went off on that tangent, but I’m back now and we’ll head on down the original path once more.  As I listened, enraptured, to the rendition of “Wonderful World” that Mr. Phelps was crooning, a thought suddenly struck me.  “No!  I’m an Evangelical Christian!  I’m “in the world, but not of it.”  It’s not a wonderful world!”  My mind took the thought and ran with it for a moment.  I cannot like this song. It praises something from which I must keep myself unsullied.

But, that’s just the way that cults get started isn’t it?  We take an idea, expressed in specific words in our teachings, and we apply them, using a completely different meaning of the words. With that misunderstanding of the words, we change the application of the idea and we modify our entire lives to fit that errant interpretation.  I think that perhaps a little more consideration is called for here.  And, nearly as suddenly as that negative thought had hit, my brain stepped in with a more logical thought and reminded me that the subject matter is two completely different entities.  The “world” from which I am to be aloof is the reprobate culture which has emerged from man’s fallen nature.  The “world” the writer of the song describes is the physical world which was created by God Himself.  Tell me how I should hate that.

I remember seeing the movie from the late 1980’s, “Good Morning Vietnam”, years ago.  The most poignant moment in the movie for me was when the protagonist, played by the very funny Robin Williams, broadcast the same song I’m speaking of tonight.  The recording was by Louis Armstrong and the dichotomy was striking, as the movie’s writers intended it should be.  The happy voice of Satchmo coming over the airwaves, singing about the great beauty of the created world, set against the stark ugliness of war, had just the effect they were hoping for.  The reaction, for most people, was, “It is not a wonderful world!  Look at the atrocities, the killing, the conflict of man against man!  How could a God who created such beauty (if He did) allow such horror?”

In naked opposition to that fabricated reaction is the factual realization that it is we ourselves who are responsible.  Our evil hearts have brought such hideousness to a world, which was once (and still is, truth be told) beautiful.  Only one thing will change that.  The change comes from the inside.  It doesn’t come by force.  It doesn’t come by hatred.  It doesn’t come by recrimination.  The ugliness that blights the landscape of creation will be made beautiful once more by Grace.  Nothing more, nothing less.  From the ashes of destruction come great beauty.  

What a wonderful world we live in.  The skies declare their Creator in their beauty.  The mountains, the woods, the rivers, the seashore…all are declarations of who He is.  

It’s okay.  You get to enjoy beauty.  No guilt, no reservations.  The Creator Himself looked at it and said, “I am satisfied.  It is good.”  

“And, I say to myself, ‘What a wonderful world.'”  

Satchmo would add, “Oh, yeah!”

“For the beauty of the earth

For the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth

Over and around us lies.

Lord of all, to Thee we raise,

This our hymn of grateful praise.”

(hymn~”For The Beauty Of The Earth”~word by Folliot Sandford Pierpoint~1835-1917)
“Nature is too thin a screen.  The glory of the omnipresent God bursts through everywhere!”

(Ralph Waldo Emerson~American poet/essayist~1803-1882)
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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved. 

Now, What Do I Do?

The young man did everything just as he was ordered.  He waded through the rice-paddies and crawled on his belly in the jungle with the poisonous snakes and gigantic insects, carrying his pack on his back, with an M-16 slung over his shoulder.  The M-16 saw a good bit of use in firefights with the Viet Cong, who looked a lot like the local residents.  He killed the people he was told were his enemies and he saw many of his new friends (and some old ones) killed or maimed for life.  When they got a break from action and were permitted leave, he went with the buddies who were still alive and they drank and did things that he doesn’t want to talk about.  Come to think about it, he doesn’t want to talk about any of it, and never did.  It happened over forty years ago, when he was a very young man, just out of high school.

When his tour of duty was completed, he was discharged and suddenly it was all over.  He was back at home with the boys who didn’t have to go and fight.  They were attending college and going on dates, driving cars that parents had given them while they talked a mile a minute about the latest Steve McQueen movie.  He realized with a shock, that during all of his traumatic time in a place where he could have died at any moment (many did), nothing at all had changed here at home.  Life went on as before; no one had the slightest inkling of the nightmare he had lived.  Furthermore, no one cared and they certainly didn’t want to hear about it.  The things which had been absolutely essential to his existence just days before–stealth, alertness, interdependence–all of these were absent, almost non-existent.  He was confused and hurt.  But, he tried to fit in, leaving the last couple of years behind, in the darkest corner of his memories and dreams.

It would be many years later that the acronym PTSD would make its way into his vocabulary.  By then, the nightmares, the uncontrollable outbursts of anger, the headaches had all taken their toll and he was unable to function without medication and counselling.  Many have scoffed, calling the diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder a fad, dismissing it as a ploy to escape work and responsibility on the part of those who claim the “fake” disorder.  In some cases, they may be right, but certainly not in all of them.

What happened?  Well, beyond the horror and the terror of war, the young man experienced what we would call a paradigm shift (another fad term).  The word “paradigm” simply means an example serving as a model.  His paradigm had been the example of war.  Because of the example, his entire life for two years was wrapped up in alertness, and fighting, and being terrified and on edge.  When he was suddenly removed from that example of war, the model immediately changed drastically also.  We humans don’t deal well at all with drastic change.

Perhaps an illustration which will hit a bit closer to home will help.  It seems unlikely that most of you, if you haven’t already served in a military conflict, will ever experience that drastic a paradigm shift.  But, most of you have gone to college.  Do you remember your freshman year?  Perhaps you were better prepared than some, but many first-year students simply crash and burn.  They have spent the eighteen years prior to this in the protective cocoon of their parent’s paradigm.  “Time to get up, honey,” turns into the buzzing of an alarm clock, easily silenced.  “No TV until you’ve done your homework!” is instantly the freedom of setting your own schedule.  Are the guys going out to play Ultimate Frisbee?  “Who cares if there is a paper due tomorrow?  Sure, I’m going!”  With no one to guide and no one to set boundaries, the Summa Cum Laude high school scholar becomes a  popular Frisbee player with a one point grade average at the end of his first year (and perhaps, his last) of college.  

It happens again and again in our society.  We work at doing something, only to move onto a different playing field.  And, it feels like the ground has dropped out from under us.  We strive mightily to achieve some goal and, achieving it, don’t know where to go from here.  College graduates experience it; new mothers experience it; empty-nest parents experience it; just-retired senior adults experience it.  Everything that has been familiar ground has disappeared.  We don’t recognize the landscape in front of us.

So, where do we go?  How do we cope?  I wonder if too many of us have lost our footing simply because we have forgotten the bigger plan.  We have allowed ourselves to become so tied up in what we do that we forget who we are.  Maybe you need time to read that sentence again.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

I told someone the other day that I wasn’t ever planning to retire from my job.  I actually said to them, “This music store is who I am.”  I repent of the words.  If they are true, then my claim to be a follower of Jesus is false.  Who I am is a believer and a disciple.  Integrity demands that I be who I am, no matter where I am or what I do.  The apostle Paul told us that he was content wherever he was, implying that we should do the same.  If the bottom falls out and I lose my business tomorrow, I will still be who I am.  I will still be the person who loves God with everything that is in me.  I will still be one who loves those around me with a love that is as intense as the love I have for myself.  At least, it is to be hoped that I would continue to practice those things that spring from who I am. I don’t really want to find out.

If you are still with me at this point, I admire you for your tenacity.  I promise to bring this to a conclusion.  Soon.  

The Preacher said in the opening words of his search for meaning in life that everything was actually meaningless.  Many have dismissed the whole of his essay on life in Ecclesiastes because of the seeming incongruence of those opening words with our belief that hard work and determination are Godly endeavors.  We miss the larger point that he is making as he tells us that we will work and strive and die, and the world will go on, nonetheless.  

I think that tonight, I am saying the same thing (and maybe being just as preachy).  Regardless, it’s time for us to make the main thing the main thing.  The other stuff…our jobs, our education, our hobbies…they’re all peripheral.  They will change; we will move on to other things.  They are not unimportant, but if they don’t contribute to the integrity of our purpose, we have missed the boat.  And, when any part of that other stuff comes to an end, it doesn’t mean that we don’t still have the main thing to achieve.  The foundational ideals continue unaltered by disaster, by war, by business failure, or by the death of loved ones.  

The Preacher offers the conclusion of the matter himself.  I certainly can’t say it better myself, so I won’t attempt it.

“Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”

Too simplistic?  I can’t answer that.  But, perhaps the next time you find yourself at a loss for direction, you can give it a shot and let me know how it works out.  I’ll do the same.  We’ll just have to pull up our big-boy (or big-girl) pants and do the things we know to do.  

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that it will suffice.

“Life is a series of tasks that you absolutely must get done before they don’t matter any more.”
(Robert Brault~American freelance writer)

“All is change.  All yields its place, and goes.”
(Euripides~Greek playwright~480-406 BC)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Discos in Treehouses

I had not planned to write today.  I’m still not sure that I want to write.  But I am driven tonight to put into words the musings which were planted in my head earlier this evening.  The Lovely Lady and I sat at a dinner table with good (dare I say, old?) friends and laughed uproariously as we always do.  They too, as we, have had their losses and sadness, so there were also moments of thoughtfulness.  But none so sober in my mind, as when their son, whom I have had the pleasure of seeing grow from infancy to maturity, spoke.  The children played and laughed nearby, undeterred by our serious conversation, as the moments flew by.

We had talked of many things when our conversation turned to the young family’s experience in eastern Africa where they work with a camp that serves many of the African young people and families.  The country in which they live has been decimated by violence and civil war for generations and there are thousands of children who have no parents or who have lost siblings to the bloodshed.  Our conversation did not extend much to these children specifically, but they nonetheless figure into the equation which this post hopes to cipher out with you.

Not many words were said, so I have drawn conclusions from the discussion which may or may not be completely accurate from the perspective of those who were there.  I will welcome correction if it is offered.

The first picture, which is etched indelibly in my mind now, didn’t take place in Africa, but occurred immediately upon the family’s recent return to the States.  The young man and his father, along with another family member, went to a local building center.  That’s all.  No big deal to most of us.  They simply went into a place which sells lumber, and appliances, and…and stuff.  But, after just a few minutes in the store, our young friend had to leave.  The abundance, the excess (if I may use that word), was overwhelming.  Aisle upon aisle of plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, appliances, tools, electrical supplies, plumbing supplies…the list could go on and fill this page…all of it was too much for him.  Where he lives–in a country with real needs–they have no choices like this, no overabundance of anything.  If you go shopping with a project in mind, you might be able to find what you need and then you gratefully use it; or, lacking the exact item, you adapt the materials which are available and you use them; or, lacking anything at all which will serve your purpose, you change the idea you had in your head and you move on to other pursuits which may be accomplished.  The concept of not only enough, but more than enough, is not present there.

Then, as we spoke of the actual work they do, he spoke of the attitude of the people who came to the campgrounds and, under pressure from us, he admitted that they had very different expectations than people in the same circumstances in our country.  When things break or don’t work (and, in those conditions that is almost a constant), the folks merely shrug and find another activity.  If the electricity is interrupted–again, more of a certainty than a mere possibility–they shake their heads and move on to something which doesn’t require that luxury.

I will admit to you that, as I read the words above, I think to myself that there is little personal impact to them.  I have described a typical third-world country.  But, I think that is exactly my point.  These folks have so little and demand less.  We, on the other hand, who have so much, demand more and more.  Does that make sense to you?  Does it make you want to shrug your own shoulders and say, “So what?”

I have spoken before of my thoughts about money and possessions.  We are given these things which, by the rest of the world would be called wealth, to use as tools, nothing more.  Money has no other logical purpose than to leverage whatever it can affect.  To hoard it is to do nothing different than what buying truckloads of hammers would be for a carpenter. Foolishness!  As I spoke momentarily about this concept this evening, one person asked, “Do you think that it does any good to tell people this?  Will it change how they live?”  Sadly, I had to answer in the negative.  “No.  I’ve never seen anyone change because the words are spoken.”  We refuse to live as servants, but instead want to live in comfort and dominance.  I include myself in the description, although I wish to deny it.

The more I have, the more I want.  It is a part of being human.  As The Teacher suggested a path for the wealthy young ruler, one of giving away his wealth to free his heart, the young man became sad, because he loved his things and his money.  Am I any different?  Are you?

But, the person who asked the question about merely talking about the concept also had a suggestion, although it seemed to be a weak one in the moment.  “I wonder if we just have to live lives which demonstrate the concept ourselves.  Maybe that’s the only way to bring about change.”  The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that she actually has a very powerful idea.  She wasn’t the first one in history to suggest it.  Nonetheless, change does come from the inside.  One by one, we determine to do what is right, regardless of what others around us are doing and, one by one, others are won by example where words will not suffice.

I watched a television commercial for one of the giant cellphone companies and realized that we begin to teach the concept early to our children.  On the screen, the man interviewing four youngsters asks, “Would you rather have a bigger tree house, or a smaller one?”  Obviously, the children answer, “Bigger!”  When he asks them why, one young lady suggests that you could have a disco in a bigger one.  And, a little boy, not to be outdone, suggests that you couldn’t have a big-screen TV in a small one and describes the inconvenience of having a small television.  Oh yes.  They are listening to our actions, regardless of what our mouths are saying.  Bigger is better than small.  More is much better than less.  Fast is superior to slow.

I am not suggesting that we foolishly rush to give everything to people who have less than we.  History has shown the folly of that path.  What I am suggesting is that our hearts should be bigger than our houses, than our bank accounts, bigger even than our churches.  The Teacher also taught that where our treasures are, our hearts will be there also.  If we treasure what we can gather together of this world’s wealth, our heart will have no room for our God’s love.  It is clear that we cannot have faith in both money and God.

Are you looking to build a disco in your tree house?  I’m thinking that there is room aplenty to dance in the wide world that the Creator has given to us.

The moon makes a much better sparkly pattern than that disco ball anyway.

Are you coming to the dance?

“We are not cisterns made for hoarding; we are channels made for sharing.”
(Billy Graham~American evangelist)

“Don’t be selfish and eager to get rich–you will end up worse off than you can imagine.”
(Proverbs 28:22~CEV)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Attracting Flies

They are coming…I know they are.  Those awful flies.  Soon, the air will be filled them.  They will make their way in the back door of the house and through the entrance to my music store, only to spend their time buzzing around and alighting on people and anything else that is attractive to them.  And, I have only myself to blame.  You may think I’m exaggerating, but give me a minute to get my bearings (just the thought of those flies disorients me so…) and I’ll explain.

Springtime is teasing, as she often does.  For a few days last week, I was fooled into believing her promise of warmer temperatures and sunny skies.  Today, she has gone back on those promises and disappeared from sight.  And, I find myself disappointed and disillusioned once more.  But, for just a few hours, I nearly held the joy that is the end of winter in my hands and I am confident that the promise will yet be fulfilled, albeit delayed a day or two.

Lest you believe that I wear rose-colored glasses where this alluring lady we call spring is concerned, let’s go back to those flies and talk for just a moment or two regarding one of my worst misgivings about the approach of this most blessed of seasons.  You see, just over eleven years ago, with the help of my daughter’s fiancee, I invited the flies to visit en masse every spring.  They have accepted the invitation every single year.  That fateful year, we planted The Hedge.  I don’t remember what kind of plant it is.  I only know that the nursery told us that the plants would grow quickly into large bushes which, when set in close proximity to each other, would provide a wonderfully dense hedge.  They were right about the bushes.  I wonder if I am not the one who is actually dense.

Every spring, the hedge produces an amazing crop of blossoms that attracts a fair number of bees, come to steal away the nectar, in exchange for which they offer delicious honey.  It is only a fair number of bees that come though. The profusion of flies which swarms the aromatic blossoms, on the other hand, is immense.  When one walks beside the hedge and brushes a hand over the tips of the leaves, the flies arise in clouds, the buzzing almost deafening.  I do exaggerate a bit, but only a bit.  I wonder if I could sue the nursery for non-disclosure of facts pertinent to my decision-making process? When I was contemplating which variety of bush would be planted at the dividing line between my house and my business, not a word was said regarding the quantity of flies which would be attracted to the beautiful hedge.  You understand that no lies were told, but then, who would think to even ask about such things?

I’m still trying to decide if I should uproot this natural fence line to rid our lives of these horrendous pests.  Oh sure, it’s only for a month out of every year, but the annoyance is enough to drive me to distraction for that month.  And, I know that time of distraction is approaching very soon.  Perhaps, we should even cancel spring and just keep it the way Narnia was during the reign of the White Witch; always winter and never Christmas (or spring).

You realize, of course, that the suggestion is foolishness.  The hedge does exactly what it was intended to do.  It is a beautiful part of the landscape now and I would greatly regret removing it.  And, how could we live without springtime?  I make the ridiculous suggestions only to prove a point.  If only I could remember what that was, I would feel better.  But then…you’ve already seen the point, haven’t you?

Of course!  The point is that we take the bad with the good.  It is true in all of life.  Watermelons, which are delicious, have seeds, which are annoying and messy.  Cars, which are amazingly convenient modes of transport, use gasoline, which is expensive and produces pollution.  Dogs and cats, which are loving and entertaining, have to be cleaned up after and eat us out of house and home.  You see the parallels, do you not?  Most things in life come with a downside.  We learn to live with it; we learn to cope.  We don’t, as you have no doubt heard it said, throw the baby out with the bath water.

I wish that all of life was easy.  I would love to have the option of, as one of my former pastors was fond of saying, “going through on roller skates”.  It doesn’t work that way.  I hope I haven’t spoiled it for anyone out there who was still under the impression that life was actually a bowl of cherries.  Those have pits too, you know.

I will revel in spring!  I will take pride in the beautiful hedge which grows on the edge of my lawn (as soon as I have trimmed it)!  The minor set-backs that come will be taken in stride and the astounding beauty will remain on display.  When we focus on the negative, we lose sight of the great good which is ours.  Mr. Longfellow understood this when he reminded us that “into each life, some rain must fall”.  I have heard this life called a “vale of tears” more times than I care to remember, but I maintain that there is much more reason for dancing than for tears.  You may be in a time which requires tears right now, but there is still dancing to come.  Don’t lose hope.

The ugly flies will come, drawn by the sweet aroma of beauty.  We will swat them or they will die on their own, but I have confidence that eventually, they will quit coming in droves.  The beauty of the hedge will stay all year.  What a wonderful picture of life!  Mourning into dancing…sorrow into joy!

Now, if we could just convince spring to do her part…

“…a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance;”
(Ecclesiastes 3:4~ISV)

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Yesterday, Once More

“Wind’s in the east, mist coming in. 
Like somethin’ is brewin’ and ’bout to begin.
Can’t put me finger on what lies in store,
But I fear what’s to happen all happened before.”

The words, delivered in the horrid faux-cockney accent of Dick Van Dyke, are only an interlude in the opening song of the classic children’s movie, “Mary Poppins”, but they prove to be prelude to a morality play which is the undercurrent of the story. Indeed, the events (leaving out the incredible exploits of the title character) are common in every era of history; a husband and wife too busy for each other and growing apart, with no time for their children who keep misbehaving to gain their attention.  In short, history is repeated.

But, does history really repeat itself?  Are we indeed doomed to take paths which have been traversed before?  I want to answer with an emphatic, “No!”  I don’t think I can do that honestly. We seem to be locked in an eternal time/space continuum, living lives and performing actions which mimic those already undertaken in the past, either by ourselves or previous generations. Don’t believe it?  Check your friends’ comments; listen to them as they age.  “I opened my mouth the other day and my mother came out!” alleged one middle-aged friend of mine just a couple of days ago.  Read the ongoing arguments in child-behavior articles of nature versus nurture.  They’re all talking about the same thing–history repeating itself.

Deja vu.  It’s another French word which has made its way into our everyday usage.  It means simply, “already seen”.  We use it to describe the feeling that an event we are experiencing has happened before.  You’ve had it occur, haven’t you?  You walk into a room and, looking at the people and listening to the conversations, think, “I’ve been here before.”  You haven’t really, but certain things just trigger the memories in your head.

I experienced this deja vu strongly, on an occasion some years ago.  The Lovely Lady and I had been married a short time and we took a business trip to St Louis, Missouri one very hot July.  One of the events we were to attend was a concert introducing new Christian artists.  As we waited for the doors to open on the opera house where the concert would take place later in the day, I felt the need to find a restroom.  The doors were locked!  What to do?  Glancing around and across the parking lot, I saw the big bus station nearby and headed over.  As I walked in the entrance off the street, I took a look around and was hit with the strongest feeling of having already been here and done this.  I knew, without seeing any sign, where the facilities were and headed down the stairs to my right.  As I descended, I racked my brain.  How would I have the slightest memory of this place?  Surely, I had never been here before!  Then, climbing back up the stairs, I looked across to the doors leading out to the bus garage, and a vivid memory took form.

In my mind’s eye, I saw a group of teen-aged boys and girls, standing and sitting with pillows and transistor radios, waiting for their huge chartered Continental Trailways bus to be cleaned in the middle of another hot July night.  The bus was parked in that very garage.  As they stood, there came a scream from the garage and a gray-haired African-American woman charged out the open door of the bus.  One of the boys in the group (not me. I promise you!) began to chuckle and, under pressure, admitted that, coiled up on his seat in the bus, he had left a rubber snake which the unfortunate cleaning lady had, undoubtedly, come upon unawares.

The vision faded.  I stood again, an adult, in the same place where I had stood with that youth group from South Texas years before as we had headed to a conference in Wisconsin.  I tell you, I had never expected to enter the St Louis bus terminal again.  Even if you had asked me, I would have averred that I would never do so.  Yet, from my home in northwest Arkansas, I had made my way here to the city and into that bus station, though I didn’t want to go there at all.

I find that there is repetition in all of life.  There are tasks we complete again and again.  There are things we do again after years of not doing them.  Even in the bigger context of human history, it is true.  The names are different, the trappings have changed, but the interactions continue.

It all seems a bit futile, doesn’t it?  If we are doomed to repeat history, why should we think about changing or worry about maturing?  But, I believe that the fact that we do so often repeat history is actually a good thing.  I have told you before that I am grateful for second chances.  You see, the second chances aren’t just intended to be a reprieve from the penalties incurred by our bad decisions the first time around; they are for getting it right the next time we find ourselves in that situation.  Grace extended isn’t intended to be a free pass to misbehave a second time.  It assumes that we will be careful to avoid the mistakes of the original run-through.

A group of men met at my church last night.  I handed each of them a piece of music and, after a few introductory notes from a piano, we began to sing.  It was awful!  We didn’t know the melody.  When we split off into parts, the tenors were off on their notes.  I heard a few guys come in when no one should have been singing.  The basses and baritones were wandering around in one section without a clue to the intervals they should have been hitting.  In short, a disaster!  It’s a good thing no one was listening to us.  We would have been taken off the schedule for Easter morning immediately!  But, that’s not the end of the story.

We ran through the song three more times, stopping to work on notes, having the men on the individual parts listen as the pretty red-headed pianist played through their trouble-spots.  When we did our last run-through before disbanding for the night, it was not perfect.  It was certainly not ready to perform.  But, no one would have covered their ears and run for the exits, so we had made progress!

In a few days, we’ll meet again. I wonder, do you think that it will sound just the same as the first run last night?  “What a stupid question!” you may suggest.  And, you would be correct.  But, that is exactly what many of us do with the opportunities we have to improve upon our last attempt at whatever activity we are replaying.  Again and again, we make the same errors, never deviating, never improving.

Yes, history repeats itself.  It is up to us to make sure that we change the result on our second, or third, or fifteenth attempts.  To continue doing the same thing is not only stupid, it is crazy.  In fact, the popular definition of insanity is just that; doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.

Sometimes, we end up in the same places we have been before through no fault of our own.  Taking different paths (as I did to the St Louis bus terminal), we arrive at the same point, nevertheless.  These chance arrivals are interesting but not earth-shattering.  The repeat visits which devastate are the ones which come with regularity and which have the identical negative response, no matter how many times we pass by.  We have to determine to make changes, to have our mind set on better things.

We would think him an incompetent musician, who returns to rehearsal, only to repeat the mistakes he made the first time he saw the music.  We say that “practice make perfect”, yet we belie the truth of that adage when we make no effort to improve the results in our own lives.  The sins of the fathers don’t have to be repeated in their children, but it takes considerable effort to effect change.

So…how about it?  Are you ready to get to work?   We’ve been practicing for a good long while.  We haven’t yet reached the end of the practice session.  Maybe, the next run through, we can begin to hear some beautiful music.

Time will tell…

“My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience.  But, let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
(James 1:1-4~NKJV)

“What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again; 
there is nothing new under the sun.” 
(Ecclesiastes 1:9~NIV)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Somewhere, a Place for Us

Twenty-nine years!  Mr. Onoda could have been living with his family and friends for almost thirty years!  He might have married and had children, living to enjoy their company in his old age.  Instead, he hid in the jungle, believing that he was following orders and would one day help to win the war for his beloved motherland.  Tonight, I think I may have a clue, just a little one, into what he felt like.

You see, World War II ended formally in the Pacific theater on September 2,1945.  But, it wasn’t until March 9, 1974 that Hiroo Onoda finally was officially relieved of duty by his former commanding officer (himself, a bookseller by that time), since it was obvious that the holdout Japanese soldier would never believe that his beloved country could do the unthinkable and surrender.  He was determined to fight until he was commanded to stop.  Holed up in the mountains of the Philippines, he lived in poverty and needless hardship for twenty-nine years after all of his compatriots had given up their arms and taken back up the tools of their civilian trades.  They lived in relative ease, while he sat in the jungle wondering when the war would be won for the Empire of the Sun.  Peace was his all along, he just never possessed it.

I too, have sat in the wilderness for almost thirty years when I could have been living in the lap of luxury.  You think I’m kidding, but I speak in relative seriousness. The comparison with Mr. Onoda is a bit far-fetched, but it doesn’t feel it to me.  You see, I have owned my own business, with the Lovely Lady, since the mid-1980s.  In that time, I have suffered beyond what a business-owner ought to be expected to bear.  There has never been a single day that I had a place where I could retreat to have privacy; never a room where I could invite an associate, or a contractor, of even a friend, to sit and visit.  I have sat night after night, pecking away at the keys on my computer as I write these posts, in full view of the passing public, a number of whom have felt it their privilege to come and tap at the front window simply because they could see me there…sitting at my desk.  Numerous times, I have been confronted by the local police force who, I know, are only doing their jobs, but it has been a burden nonetheless.  You may have read my version of the events on that summer night a few years ago, when they even scaled the fence into my backyard, greeting me with a blinding beam of light in the eyes and a pistol trained on me when I ran out to investigate the racket.  I have suffered!  I feel a kinship with old Hiroo, because I too, have lived life in a jungle of my own making.

I speak in hyperbole (and more than a little tongue-in-cheek) to make a valid point.  You see, over last weekend, I cleaned out a room (a room I have owned for many years) and made space for a private office for myself.  I am writing this from the solitude of that retreat, out of the view of prying eyes, safe from knocks on the window and, it is to be hoped, intrusion from an overeager police crew.  The office is not plush; the furniture, not new.  There is an old oak roll-top desk and a comfortable leather love-seat (should I need a moment to nap).  I’ve even hung a couple of paintings on the bare wall, but more decorating should, and will, be done.  That said, I feel as if I’m in the promised land.  No longer do I need to heed every creak of the roof or every set of lights that creeps down the road outside in the early morning darkness.  Even in the busy-ness of the workday, there is a place to which I may retreat to rest for a moment and an out-of-the-way space to invite a visiting sales rep to sit and show me his latest wares. I have finally arrived!

But, last night, as I sat and reveled in the privacy and the affluence of having my own private office, the truth hit me.  I have owned this business for nearly thirty years!  I could have had an office at any point in that time.  This private space was within my grasp for all of the long years; each of the stretched out months; every single one of the interminable days. It was mine all along!  I own this place!  All I ever needed to do was to clean out the riffraff and take possession of my office.

Do you see my point?  Do you understand my regret and my feelings of camaraderie with the Japanese soldier, sitting in that tropical jungle for all of those years?  I shouldn’t be proud of cleaning out a room and moving in some furniture.  I should be disgusted that I didn’t do it many years ago.  It was mine; I just never possessed it.

I also can’t help but think about the lessons I learned in Sunday School, so many years ago.  I always loved hearing and reading about Moses and the exodus of Abraham’s descendents from their life of slavery in the land of Egypt.  It was only a short journey of a few months, at the most, to their destination.  They had a place to call home. The Children of Israel owned the Promised Land.  It had been promised to their ancestor and to them.  All they needed to do was to cross the river into the land and possess it.  Yet, they wandered for forty years, because they couldn’t bring themselves to take what was theirs.  They stood by the Jordan river and gazed over at it.  Theirs.  But they couldn’t bring themselves to go and clean out the riffraff.  Their home, they just didn’t possess it.

Have I bumbled around long enough on this subject?  Is my point obvious enough for you?  There are things in this life to which we already have the right, but of which we refuse to take possession.  Promises have been made and contracts drawn up.  I will abstain from defining them clearly to you tonight, because many of you already have taken possession of much that is yours.  An enumeration of the properties would, no doubt, include many you have moved into, but it would also miss a number which are still to be occupied.  I will leave it to you to consider carefully what is rightfully yours and what steps you will take to enjoy the benefits.  You may need to consult the Contract to reacquaint yourself with some of the more obscure or forgotten assets.  There is almost certainly a copy on your bookshelf, although the dust may be a bit thick on its cover.

I will reiterate though, that it is good to have my own place; to be out of the jungle finally. While I have without question, taken leave of my senses long ago, I have only now taken possession of this space in which to practice my madness and will defend it tirelessly.

As the explorers of old, here I set my flag and make my claim.  Possession is nine-tenths of the law, you know. 

“For once I can say: “This is mine, you can’t take it.”
(Frank Sinatra~”For Once In My Life~written by Ron Miller & Orlando Murden~1967)

“Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day.”
( Caleb, upon entering the Promised Land~Joshua 14:12a~NIV)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Talking to Myself and Feeling

I talk to myself sometimes. Okay.  Not just sometimes.  I talk to myself a lot.  Oh, it’s not always aloud.  You might not know it to look at me, but even when I work silently, the conversation continues unabated.  Frequently, there are outbursts; periods of unruly audible admonition.  The words are intended for me alone, but those around are privy to my thoughts, whether they intended to be or not.  I am talking to myself tonight.  If you think you can stand it, you may feel free to spy for a few moments.  You may regret taking the chance.

This particular conversation began yesterday and continued into this afternoon, as I packaged up the contents of my “hoarder’s room” in preparation for making it into a private office.  She calls it that…”hoarder’s room”.  Sometimes, she has insights into the nature of things which bring clarity to my confusion, sanity to my lunacy.  I have known husbands who resent such events, but it is a good thing and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  So, the hoarder’s room is going away, string collection thrown into the trash, random pieces of cardboard following close behind.  I will no longer have to sit and write late into the night in full view of passersby and the local gendarmes, who feel the need to shine their spotlights on me as I peck away at the keyboard into the early hours of the morning.  I have mixed feelings about my ability to write in total seclusion, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

Now…where was I?  Oh yes, the conversation with myself.  I was cleaning up the various heirlooms from days gone by and found myself sorting through boxes and boxes of old music and other paper goods.  I hate old paper products, simply because of the effect they have on my breathing process.  Paper is the perfect material to collect dust, and decomposing parts of bugs, and even mold, if it has been where it is damp.  I had only sorted a short time when the sneezing began, followed closely by the coughing.  Then came the tears.  I will deny that the tears were due to having to dispose of my old treasures.  They came exclusively because of my reaction to the invisible allergens contained in the old boxes of music.  That’s my story and I won’t be moved from it.  Such tiny particles, not possible to see at all, but they had a deleterious effect upon me, without question.

Then again this afternoon, as I labored, I finally reached my old photography backdrops against the back wall.  No, I have never been a photographer, save in the most rudimentary of senses.  Sales of musical instruments on the internet some years back required that the potential customers have the ability to view the products being offered, so I presented the merchandise as attractively as I was able.  This entailed using backdrops of different colors to set off the various finishes of the guitars, or trumpets, or piccolos; a process in which I employed colored pieces of cloth material to achieve my goal.  I have not used them for a couple of years, but still they hang draped over the lattice frame.  Today, as I pulled one of them down to put it away, the Lovely Lady gasped.  “There’s a brown recluse spider!”  Almost before I could drop the cloth to the floor, she had her shoe in her hand and was ready to smash the vile thing. I’m not easily frightened, but I was shaken.  He (or she) had been right beside my hand as I handled the cloth, potentially able to strike my hand without me being any the wiser until after the fact.  We saw several more of these frightening spiders before the job was completed, all invisible to the eye until items were turned over or around.  It gives me pause to think…How many were there that we didn’t see?

Funny, isn’t it?  Beautiful, expensive instruments with a backdrop of color…all hiding a nasty secret.  I wonder if the folks would have spent their great sums of money for those guitars, had they known that just inches away there was an ugly, dangerous thing like that.  Do you suppose that they might have placed a different value on the item they were viewing?  I’m not positive, but I think it likely.

This afternoon, as I readied myself for the job, I had entered the room worried that I would spend the whole time sneezing and with teary eyes, as was the case yesterday.  The minor inconvenience of the allergy attack quickly faded into insignificance as I realized the danger I had faced without knowing it.  A recluse bite is horribly painful and potentially crippling.  Their venom doesn’t enter the bloodstream and paralyze, as the black widow spider’s does, but it slowly and inexorably rots the tissue around the bite, causing the area of dead flesh to spread unless the process is halted with medication or sometimes, surgery.

“But, what of your conversation with yourself?” you may ask. And, it’s a fair question, since I brought up the subject to start with.  This afternoon, I was reminded anew of what is hiding behind the personal facade I have left up for many years.  Oh, I want you to believe that they are just small problems, issues which are nuisances at worst.  A sneeze here, a cough there.  Why anyone can wipe the tears from their eyes and keep going.  And, speaking honestly, I do have a number of those minor issues with which I am concerned and on which I am actively working.  I will not try to hide them from you.  But the other, more serious faults; the dangerous ones which lurk behind the pretty picture I want you to see?  Those, I wish to hide.  Those, I will even deny if you mention them.  The result of these issues can be much more serious.

Don’t let the carefully tended image fool you.  I have sins with which I struggle, faults which can and will cause great harm to those in my vicinity (and further) if they continue unchecked.  My inner conversation goes on. But, I hope it’s a conversation which you have with yourself also.  We need to constantly be vigilant to keep the ugly recluses from hiding behind the fabric of our lives, but just as much as that, I believe that we need to be ready to expose the ugly things for what they are.

I’m reminded again of the Great and Wonderful Oz, who really wasn’t either.  “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” is bad advice, both when we are the ones hiding there and when we are the ones seeing what others are hiding behind their pretty fabric.

Time to pull down the backdrop.  My inner voice tells me that it will hurt, that you might not like what you see in me.  It doesn’t matter.  The facade must come down.  And, little by little, I’m starting to listen to what my heart is telling me.

I only hope that’s not a shoe in your hand…

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
(I Peter 5:8~NKJV)

“…I was talking aloud to myself.  A habit of the old; they choose the wisest person present to speak to; the long explanations needed by the young are wearying.”
(Gandalf~from “The Lord Of The Rings”~J.R.R. Tolkien)