Childish Things

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

(from “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland~Lewis Carroll)

The boys were ecstatic!  They ran to meet their mother as she entered the door bearing her boxes.  “We can stand on our heads!  Grandpa showed us how!”  I wasn’t sure how my daughter would take the news, so I stood looking down at my feet as she digested the news.  When I glanced at her again, she was looking at me with a mixture of disbelief and worry on her face.  “What?”  I asked, much like an errant child myself.  “They were doing somersaults and cartwheels, along with a half handstand or two and it seemed that I could be helpful.”  Her next words hit me right between the eyes.  “Dad!  Don’t you think you’re a little old to be standing on your head?”  The exasperation in her voice wasn’t because her boys would now be standing on their own heads perpetually, kicking the little girls as they passed, nor even because of the shoe prints which would make their way onto her walls in the very near future.  She thought that I was too old to be doing something that I had done as a child!  She wanted me to act my age!

Can I let you in on a secret?  She was right.  And if any of you breathe a word to her, I’ll deny that I was the one who wrote those words. But, she is right.  I am too old.  And also a little heavier than the last time I did that, over twenty years ago.  Okay…a lot heavier.  The sixty pounds or so that I have gained since my super skinny days of yore were never meant to be borne by my still-thin neck.  I don’t think I did any permanent damage, but I suspect that I might want to stay upright for the foreseeable future.  I’m not a kid anymore.

“I wish things were like they used to be.”  Almost everyday, I hear the phrase from someone else.  Whether it’s someone bemoaning the changes in music, be it worship music, or popular music, or even country music, the complaint is the same.  “I just don’t like this new stuff!”  Teachers complain that the kids aren’t like they were when they started teaching.  My old classmates wish for the days of carefree wandering as children, in neighborhoods and downtown stores.  The political opinions from folks inundate my reading material, as they yearn for leaders from the past (the same ones that made us miss the leaders before them).  What we used to have is always better than what we have right now.  We don’t like change.

I made the phone call today.  I’ve been putting it off for months, hoping that something would happen to make it unnecessary.  I don’t like change either, you see.  I’ve had the same phone number for thirty-six years, acquiring my very first telephone service at the tender age of…well, never mind…I was young.  The phone number is burned permanently into my memory.  It is only the second home phone number I’ve had in my life, and the first was my parents’.  For thirty-six years, I’ve been able to tell people, “I’m in the book.  Just give me a call.”

Today, I called the old phone company and told them to disconnect the telephone.  Almost no one we know calls us on that number anymore.  Four or five times a day, we answer it, only to hang it up immediately, when the telemarketer begins his or her spiel.  Nobody we know.  The young lady at the other end must be growing used to it by now, but she gasped as she looked at the records.  “Mr. Phillips, you’ve had this line since 1977!  Are you sure you want us to disconnect it?”  I wanted to say, “No,” and hang up, but you can’t hold on to the past forever.  Did I tell you that I don’t like change?

Now, like the lisping Gopher from Walt Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree”, I’ll be forced to say, “Here’s my card.  I’m not in the book, you know.”  After thirty-six years of being in the book, you won’t find my name there.  It’s a funny feeling; akin to Linus losing his security blanket.  Of course he knows he doesn’t really need it; it just helps him to feel better when life gets a little too intense. 

Life changes and we go on.  I don’t wear bell bottom trousers or platform shoes anymore, nor do I miss them.  Time moves on.  I don’t ask my father for permission to stay out late, nor do I count on him to provide my housing and meals.  Time moves on.  I can’t eat all the food in sight without gaining an ounce, as I once did.  Time moves on. 

And so too, must we.  For my part, I will leave headstands and home telephones in the past and move on to the future.  It’s not the same, but that’s the way it has always been.  No generation – ever – has been left with its practices unscathed, as they moved on.  Change has been the way of mankind since the beginning of time.  Oh, there have been periods when it appeared that not all of life was as topsy-turvy as it has been over the last couple of centuries, but I can guarantee you that even in the Dark Ages, some old man somewhere said, “We’ve never done it that way before!”  Time has always moved on.

Facts must be faced.  Alice’s nonsense poem above is not as much nonsense as you might think, since it illustrates a common fault in aging men such as I.  We desire to hang onto our youth, when it is long gone.  I suppose it is time to leave the childish things behind and move on ahead to what lies ahead.  I might be surprised at the delights that are still to come.  

Turning from the past, I’m headed for a future that is still just as full of promise as it was when I left home all those years ago.  True, it’s a future without headstands and even without a telephone on the lamp table, but with my smart-phone in hand and standing on my own two feet, I’m moving on ahead. 

I can do this!

I bet you can too.  And, if you find that you need a little encouragement, a little moral support, just give me a call.  No, maybe you should drop me an email.  

I’m not in the book, you know…

“Age is a very high price to pay for maturity.”
(Tom Stoppard~British playwright)

“When I was a child, I spoke, and thought, and reasoned as a child.  But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”
(I Corinthians 13:11~NLT)

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

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No Pressure

Reaching further.  The idea has been on my mind quite a bit recently.  You may have noticed.  I have to admit that I don’t actually do it consistently myself, but I’m beginning to think the time has come.  True, like most, I live my life surrounded by folks who are content to simply get the job done.  It seems to be a time honored tradition in our culture; do what is expected of you, collect your pay check, and go home to your family.  I’m ready to reach further; ready to stretch the old expectations just a little.  You may wonder why.

I was a kid in junior high school.  Mr. Olson told us that he was playing with the guest soloist in the high school band’s spring concert and suggested that we might like to go.  Most of us did.  Rafael Mendez was one of the premier trumpet players in the twentieth century, so many of us left the concert that night with a little different idea of what it was possible to do with that small brass instrument that we played with puckered lips.  The next day at school, Mr. Olson told us a little about the virtuoso we had heard on the previous night.  You can read about him on many sites online, so I’ll spare you the biography.  The one thing that I remember distinctly is the fact that Mr. Mendez almost lost his ability to play the instrument while still a young man.  One night, as he warmed up in his dressing room, another player burst through the door, slamming it right into his trumpet bell and cutting his lip badly.  He went ahead and played that night, but the wound became infected and for almost three years, it appeared that his career was ended.  Six surgeries, including a crude one in Mexico with an electric drill as the operating tool in the doctor’s hand, left him with a horrible scar and no feeling in his lip.  The popular version of the story has it that Mr. Mendez re-learned his instrument by hanging a trumpet from the ceiling on a string and playing notes without holding onto the instrument at all, to keep from putting any pressure whatsoever on his lip.  I’m not sure if the story is true, but at any rate, he played skillfully for many years, sharing with thousands of young players all over the world from his treasure trove of knowledge, until just a few years before he died.  He reached further.

A number of years later, I met the Lovely Lady and her family.  Her mother, a pianist and piano teacher, was an inspiration to many, having been afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis while still in her forties.  This is not anything akin to the osteoarthritis which many, including myself, face as we age.  Her malady was an autoimmune disease, affecting most of the joints in her body, crippling and disfiguring as it advanced.  Most folks who develop this disease have to stop their physical activities, sitting in wheelchairs and being cared for as invalids.  This lady fought.  She refused to be in a wheelchair until the last couple of years of her life, preferring instead to hobble along on her own two feet.  She taught her lessons into her eighties and regularly played as the church pianist until she was nearly seventy.  She still played specials at church, even in the last year she lived. At one point, she arranged and published her own book of hymn transcriptions, written specifically for folks with hands like hers.  It hurt her horribly to play and still, with misshapen and crippled hands, she reached further.

About the same time I met the Lovely Lady and her mother, I met another musician, one on the opposite end of the spectrum in music.  Frank, I’m told, was one of the finest up-and-coming young guitarists in our area.  There weren’t many around who were better than he at their chosen instrument.  But one fateful day, he and a friend were installing a television antenna on the roof of a house and got the metal apparatus across a high-voltage power line.  His friend died from his injuries.  Along with significant burns and permanent damage to his heart, Frank’s left hand and forearm had to be amputated just above the wrist.  One would suppose that his guitar playing days were over.  One would be wrong.

Frank realized that he could never play the guitar in quite the same way, since he no longer had a hand and the fingers necessary to form the cords and fret out the melodies and harmonies.  He also knew that he had to play again.  When he was fitted with a prosthesis, Frank asked the technician if there was any way he could make him another attachment which could screw into the spot where the hook (which was manipulated with cables from his shoulders and neck) went.  They developed a device which allowed the persistent musician to once more play a guitar, this time lying across his lap, in the Hawaiian style.  Frank has played the resonator guitar and lap steel guitar now, for many years, refusing to be denied the ability to make music.  (There’s a link to a short video of him below)  Even with a shortened arm, he reaches further.

You see, I am indeed, as are you, surrounded by folks who are content to be mediocre, but I’m just as sure that you also have those extraordinary people in your lives who make you sit up and notice the difference.  I don’t have the handicaps any of these three stubborn people faced, but still I find myself ready to give up at the slightest hint of hardship.  Maybe, like I did today, you need a little reminder as you work hard to reach some physical goal.  Perhaps, it’s a more esoteric and far-reaching mark you’re aiming at.  Regardless, it’s not a bad thing to have witnesses of the possibilities in your life.

You know…another word for mediocre is “common”.  The folks described above were anything but common.

How about you?  Are you content to be common?  Maybe it’s time to stand out from the crowd.  Maybe you’re ready to reach further instead.

I know I am.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us…”
(Hebrews 12:1~NET Bible)

My friend Frank, Reaching Further…  
(Click the link to watch a short clip, taken just a day or two ago.)

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

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“…the two great lights, the greater one to rule the day, and the lesser one to rule the night.”

Nearing the end of an invigorating walk (which may or may not have included a fair amount of jogging to keep warm) this evening, I turned a corner, putting my back to the setting sun, and headed toward the east and home.  My eyes, normally trained on the path ahead to avoid catastrophe, lifted momentarily toward the sky and I was captured.

Above the horizon in front of me, almost the mirror image of the setting sun behind, the full moon was beginning it’s circuit through the night skies, albeit a few moments early.  It is not an unusual occurrence; the moon frequently can be seen in the blue sky of the day.  Normally though, when that happens, it is visible for a time and then the vivid light of the ruler of the daytime sky blots it from sight.  Not tonight.

I will admit to a fanciful imagination at times, but on this cold, late April evening, the word “twilight” became more than just another term to mean “almost dark”.  The two great lights, the ruler of the day and the ruler of the night hung at opposite points of the compass from my location, each vying for domination, and I waited to see which would emerge the victor.  The logical brain – the scientific mind – jumps, of course, to the correct conclusion, but there is no faith – no soul – in that methodology.  Won’t you banish that dry, monotonous process from your thoughts for now and look at the sky through different eyes with me?  Just for a few moments?

As I glanced over my shoulder at the retreating sun, I was struck with the words from Genesis quoted above, and I couldn’t help myself; I smiled broadly, experiencing an epiphany of sorts.  “Lights to rule…”  Authority over their separate bailiwicks, not to be usurped by the other.  The domain of the sun is the day and it rules without peer.  Oh, the thunderstorms and the morning mists, along with the winter gales, do their best to block out this beneficent ruler, but he is jealous of his kingdom and will not stay hidden for long.  He is a powerful force, and often, a hard taskmaster.  His is the time of achievement; work begun and finished, tasks accomplished, crops planted and gathered.  Many mighty men has he beaten down. He yields to none.

Did I say none?  I should have said, none but one.  I walked outside just moments past and she is still there, holding court in the sky above me, while he, gone to bed hours ago, is not.  The world is alight with her radiance now, this beautiful queen of the night.  Most of you sleep through her stunning display of fragile beauty.  She has not the force to drive aside the clouds, nor the brilliance to accommodate the industry of the day, but there is power in her soft rays nonetheless.  The night is more restful for her light, granting sleep to the weary, offering respite from the commerce of the daytime.  Yet, she too will yield up her domain once again when the dawn approaches, with the sun not far behind.

I watched the two ruling lights in the sky together, the twilight of the sun and the moon, and was struck anew with the beauty and order with which the Creator imbued His creation.  All power issues from the Ultimate Power; the rulers are ruled; the lights, mere reflections of His true light.  Out of chaos, He brings order and elegance.  It is true in the cosmos; true also in those He calls His own.

The great lights do their part, in their turn.  Do I?  Do you?

It’s time to head for home and bed.  But first, I may take another minute to stand in the cold, bright world and admire the queen of the night.

And you just slept right though it all…

“The disciples were terrified and amazed.  “Who is this man?” they asked each other.  “When He gives a command, even the wind and waves obey Him!”
(Luke 8:25b~NLT)

“Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon.”
(from “Silver” by Walter de la Mare~English poet/novelist~1873-1956)

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

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Open The Gate!

In my memory, it was a big book, but it probably wasn’t really all that big.  There was a picture on the front cover, with children watching a goat which was butting at a gate.  It seems to me the gate was big, too.  I don’t remember the stories, can’t remember the purpose for the title, but the words are haunting my thoughts recently.

“Open the Gate”

Now, in my advancing age, I suppose the imagery intended to be evoked by the title is that of a new world opening to the youngsters who were learning to read from that mid-century reader.  The vistas that reading opened up are certainly not to be scoffed at…the lands to which one’s imagination could travel; the people that one could become familiar with…all without ever once leaving the comfort of the armchair or school-desk.  The gates in the mind could be opened, but what of other gates that life sets in our path (or that we build ourselves)?

Open the Gate.

Gates are made for two different purposes–to keep things out and to keep things in.  Their disadvantage is that, regardless of the purpose intended, they achieve the opposite one as well.  The gate which keeps dogs in also keeps friends from approaching.  The gate which keeps strangers at bay turns into a prison, behind which once free folks become inmates, compelled to stay in until at last, they become content to live in the small world within which they have incarcerated themselves.

Open the Gate.

“Stagnant waters are that way because they never go anywhere.  Growth and progress occur as we move out of our accustomed paths, applying what we have learned and absorbing new lessons, to take on bigger and unfamiliar tasks.  You’ll never realize your potential until you move out of the place of comfort and into the place of opportunity.”  I wrote those words several months ago and came across them again today.  How arrogant and hypocritical!  I said them, but have never actually lived them.  Dwelling in my fenced and gated little world, I have successfully kept discomfort and challenge at arm’s length, both protected and imprisoned by the fences I have built.

Open the Gate!

Tonight, I’m warning you that one day soon, you may find the gate standing open and this restless wanderer escaped from the asylum.  Interesting word, that.  Asylum.  It means “a place of shelter and safety.”  In recent times though, we have come to think of it as a prison for the deranged and demented.  Somehow, the evolution of meaning is apropos.  We seek safety and find captivity; needing stability, we become unbalanced.

I’m not telling you that I will be leaving behind my home and family, or all the people I love; I won’t.  I simply mean that safety and protection no longer seem so safe and protected.  There is much to be done with little time in which to accomplish it.  And, these locked gates make it impossible to even start.

I wonder if the lock will even open anymore.  Well, the only way to find out is to try.  You know, it occurs to me, before I take my leave–there is room on the road for more than one at a time.  Do you want to escape with me?


Open the Gate!

“Remember what Bilbo used to say; ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.  You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.'”
(J.R.R.Tolkien~English author/educator~1892-1973

“People gather bundles of stick to build bridges which they never cross.”

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

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Slaying the (small) Dragon

I’m smiling to myself as I write tonight.  You might even say I’m a little smug.

What’s that?

No, today wasn’t all that great a day.  I didn’t get all my work done; I even sent someone the wrong product.  I’ll deal with that some other time.  I didn’t make any huge sales, and haven’t found a wonderful vintage guitar which will net me an enormous profit.

So, what is it that’s making me smile?

I’ll tell you. I fixed the kitchen faucet.  Two days ago.  Yep.  Still smiling.

For the last year or more, the kitchen faucet at our house has leaked from the base if you moved the spout while the water was running.  And I, being the handyman that I am, suggested to the Lovely Lady that she not move the spout while the water was running.

Problem solved.

Well, not exactly.  It was a pain–for over a year.  Then last week, it started leaking from the base whether you moved the spout or not.  And I, being the handyman that I am, suggested that a plumber could replace the faucet for us.  The Lovely Lady, long suffering spouse that she is, suggested that she didn’t want a new faucet and wondered aloud if I could effect a repair myself.

A visit to the local handyman center (no, they don’t sell handymen there, they just equip the bumbling ones such as myself) cost me a couple of dollars for a package of rubber o-rings.  The net price of the one I needed was about twenty cents.

Sliding that rubber piece over the lower end of the spout, I put it back into place and tightened the connection.  Turning the water on, I held my breath as I examined the chrome base of the faucet.

Voila!  No leak!  Gingerly, I moved the spout back and forth as the water poured forth.  Still no leak! I’m pretty sure I did a little dance right there in the kitchen.  I was (and am) ecstatic!

No knight errant, killing a dragon and saving the damsel in distress could have been more triumphant than I.  My dragon may have only been a chrome plated faucet and the damsel in distress, my lovely bride of a number of years (I forget how many), but the dragon is slain and the maid is free of her prison!

“How silly!”  I hear the naysayers already muttering.  “Save your celebration for a real conquest.”

I’m going to suggest as politely as I can, that you may feel free to keep your opinions to yourself.

The little things bring immense pleasure.  Our lives are a parade of little things, bombarding us one after another.  We conquer them and we rejoice momentarily, preparing to face the next one.  The Teacher understood this as He told of the woman who had lost one coin and turned her house upside down to find it.  In the middle of the night, the house blazed with light as she swept the floor to retrieve that one little coin.  Then, when she found it, she called her friends and neighbors to celebrate with her.

One coin!  Silly?  Not in the slightest!

Revel in the small successes!  Delight in the unassuming conquests!  I’m convinced that our lives will never be free of battles to be fought and won…some large, but most small.  All are worthy of our full attention and all are worthy of our delight and celebration, when finished.

I’ve said many times that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, meaning simply that we need not fret and worry about the insignificant issues.  That said, we still must deal with them, ticking off the minor victories one after the other.

I hope that you have a little something today that you are smiling to yourself about.  You might even have called your best friend to let them in on it.  Go you!  Celebrate to your heart’s content.

For my part, I think I’ll head home now to run a little water in the kitchen sink again.  Might even swing the spout around a time or two.

If you hear me humming Willie the Giant’s song from Mickey and the Beanstalk as I do it, take no notice.

“I’m a most amazing guy, a most amazing guy am I…Fe Fi Fo Fum, He Hi Ho Hum…”





Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize that they were the big things.”
(Robert Brault~American writer and philosopher)


What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?”
(Matthew 18:12~NASB)




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

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Friends in Low Places

The young lady who stood in my doorway wasn’t happy.  And, she stank.  No.  Literally, she stank.  Like the sewer.  I didn’t invite her in.  But she was unwavering in her resolve.  She was going to deliver her message, whether on my doorstep or inside my house.  Warily, I asked her what I could do for her.  In colorful language, she launched into a description of exactly what I could do for her.

Perhaps I should back up a little and set the stage for this conversation.  I was standing in the doorway of the big Victorian home in which the Lovely Lady and I raised our children.  The house was on a sloping piece of property, with a little “mother-in-law” house directly behind it.  That little house was no longer part of our property, but was now a rental property.  There were a number of different occupants during our nearly twenty years in the big house.  The way our house was built, it stood nearly six feet above the ground, but the little rent house out back was built on a slab, so it sat just above ground level.  Shortly before my little discussion with our current neighbor, we had noticed that the drains in our house were running a little slowly.  In fact, just that evening, I had used a plunger, commonly called the “plumber’s friend”, to hurry up the toilet.

I will freely admit that I had to struggle to hold back the laughter at first, as she began her tirade.  “Have you been having problems with your drains?  I don’t know what happened, but I just went into my bathroom and found a stinking mess all over the walls and floor.”  She went on in crude language to describe the disaster, although in fairness to her, the word she used the most is actually the word which is most often utilized in such a description.  I say that I had to hold back the laughter.  The thing is, the picture of me standing in my house wielding the plumber’s helper, just as the space in her bathroom erupted in a flood of the smelly debris she was describing (and wearing), would, in any other situation, have been about as funny a script as you could imagine.  It certainly wasn’t funny to her, nor, as my mind grasped the situation, was it to me.

I was in a quandary.  I could tell her that I had no idea what she was talking about and send her home to call her landlord.  It wasn’t my problem.  I could stay in my house up above her level and continue to use my plumbing, allowing it to flow down to hers, even encouraging it along periodically with the plunger.  I would be just fine.  Let her and her landlord fix the clogged sewer line.

You know, don’t you, that I didn’t do that at all?  We did call her landlord, after I had apologized, and we determined a course of action to repair the problem.  It cost me a lot of money to replace the sewer line to the street, but it had to be done.  True, there was no mess in my house, but mine was the cause of the mess in hers.

I can see those brows wrinkling, as you get to this point and wait for the customary life lesson to begin.  “How in the world does he think there’s a lesson to be learned in this crude story?  What’s to be gathered from a stinking mess in the bathroom?”  Maybe there is none.  Perhaps it’s just a story.

No, you know me better than that.  I do have a point to be made.  I wonder if you see the significance of the juxtaposition of my house to hers.  Do you understand the implication of my big house towering over her little shack, down there on the ground?  Surely, my four bedroom, two bath Victorian house set way up above her little one bedroom, single bath rental entitles me to some privilege.  Why, I have no obligation to her at all!  If she wants her sewer fixed, let her do it herself!

Do you know the term, “noblesse oblige”?  It’s an old French phrase which means, literally, “nobility obliges”.  In other words, there is a responsibility which comes with rank, and if you claim nobility, you must conduct yourself nobly.  In days past, the term was applied to aristocracy, to the ruling classes, but as time has passed, the meaning has come to be understood that those who are blessed with good things have a responsibility to pass on those blessings.  I want you to comprehend clearly that this is not about being told to help, not about being taxed by the government, not even about politics and legislation in the slightest.  It is simply an understanding that “to whom much has been given, much is required.”  Noblesse oblige is no less than what the Savior Himself asks of His followers in the scriptures.  Grace doesn’t exempt us from the responsibility, it actually lays the burden upon us.

I will even go one step further and suggest to you that, whether well-off or needy ourselves, we do not escape the responsibility to aide those who have needs which we can supply.  I often hear folks say that they can’t help anyone because they themselves are not wealthy.  Nonsense!  There is no place in this world where you can’t find someone who is worse off than yourself.  Perhaps the scope of our ability to help is different, but the necessity for us to give out of our bounty is unchanged.

I would venture a guess that many who read these words are fabulously wealthy by the standards of most of the world, while some of you may actually struggle to have food on the table and a roof over your head.  Regardless, it is incumbent upon us to give to, to work with, to lift up, those who have not been blessed as we have been.  Look around you.  You see them every day.  You may have thought that you paid taxes to help them, that there are programs to aid them in their need, but that doesn’t absolve you of your charge to be generous, to be loving, or to offer cups of cool water.

At the risk of ostracizing others of you, I would suggest that it is time for us to stop griping about a government seemingly bent on turning this into a socialist country and to beat them to the punch.  Help the poor.  Visit the people in prison.  Take care of the widows and orphans.  It’s time for us to quit using the excuse of bad government as a reason for not doing what we should already be doing.

Hmmm…that’s a lot of heavy thought to get from a simple sewer repair, isn’t it?  Perhaps, it’s because I know my own heart and my own lack of action that I have ridden this particular hobby horse a little hard and long tonight.  I’m still learning.

Contrary to what you may have heard, what’s mine isn’t mine.  It has only been loaned me for a period of time.  One day, I’ll lay it down and go on without it.  That time comes to every one of us.  While I’m here, I want to invest it the way the Real Owner would want it invested.

It’s time to fix the sewer.  And maybe a few other things in the process, as well.

“Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of you?  Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”
(Matthew 25:44,45~NASB)

“With great power, there must also come–Great responsibility!”
(Spiderman #1~Stan Lee~American comic book author)

“…the possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility.”
(Voltaire~French writer/philosopher~1694-1778)

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

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No Man’s Land

No, not empty, but somehow not full;
On the table, a feast is served, but remains untasted.

Yet, not down, but not high enough.
From the hilltops, climbers beckon and I hang back.

Not stone deaf, still I don’t hear.
From somewhere nearby, music plays, but I can’t comprehend.

No.  There is life, but not what you’d call living.
More abundant is promised, yet I’m content to merely exist.

This no-man’s-land was never intended to be
The place where we walk and love and live.
There was always more.

Bread has been offered, and joy without limit.
One with ears to hear will find them filled.
Life forever has already begun.

I’ve stayed here long enough.
Time to move on.
You coming?

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

Come Out Swinging

The sky rumbles and lightning streaks across it with increasing recapitulations of the first hesitant flashes.  It promises to be a night of glorious noisiness and beautiful pouring down rain I always anticipate joyfully in the Spring.  You might almost call it a guilty pleasure; guilty because always lurking in the corner of my brain is the realization that there is danger and terror for some in the skies; pleasure because I can’t imagine a more powerful demonstration of nature’s re-creation.

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth.  They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.”
(Isaiah 55:10~NLT)

But, it’s not my intention to write about the weather tonight.  If it’s talk of the weather you crave, you need only to walk into your local barbershop and sit down.  You’ll be embroiled in an earnest conversation about the heat, or cold, or wind, or rain, within seconds.  Come to think of it, you need not go to the barbershop; head for the florist shop, or the grocery store, or even the library.  We humans talk of the weather when we dare not delve deeper into more personal subjects which have real bearing on our feelings, and beliefs, and very existence.  No, I’ll move on, even though I will keep an ear out for the rain as it alternately pounds  and then gently murmurs on the metal roof above my head.  Who has need of sedatives or mind-numbing alcohol when the tranquilizer of God’s creation is being administered so generously and effectively?

Earlier today though, my mind was not so calm.  I was struggling with my conscience, you see.  A friend, a lady with whom I work periodically, wanted me to make a wager with her.  I don’t gamble.  Well, in honesty, every purchase I make in my business is a type of gamble, but with those, there is a level playing field, with chance having none of the advantage and good judgement carrying the lion’s share of the burden.  But my friend wanted to make a bet about weight loss.  I had shot off my mouth (a fairly regular occurrence) within her hearing about losing a few pounds already in my two-week old venture into ultimately shedding many more of them.  She, needing help to do the same, thought that a competition might aid her in taking the steps necessary to lose a similar amount of weight.

Did I tell you that I don’t gamble?  I have avoided betting on anything since I was thirteen years old.  You may think that is too young to stop gambling, but it was also the year in which I started gambling.  That’s right.  I had made one bet in my life before today.  I didn’t even intend to make that bet, but you know how it is with kids.  Every time someone says something with which you disagree, the words come automatically, “You wanna bet?”  We never intended anyone to take us up on it; the words just meant “you’re wrong and I’m right.”  On this occasion, my friend Steve and I were discussing the upcoming boxing match in New York City.  In Madison Square Garden, on March 8, 1971,”The Greatest” Muhammad Ali and “Smokin'” Joe Frazier were to meet in the fight of the decade.  Being a kid who was all mouth myself, I couldn’t imagine that the big, slow, methodical fighter, Frazier, could ever best Ali, who “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee”, taunting and mouthing off the whole time.  When Steve told me that Frazier was going to win, I uttered the fateful words, “You wanna bet?”  Within seconds, his hand was stuck out and shook mine as he said, “Yeah, five dollars.”  A day later, Ali went down in defeat after fifteen rounds and a unanimous decision, and I owed Steve five bucks.  Which I didn’t have…

Ever the fast thinker, I realized that I carried in my pocket the answer to my dilemma–the lunch card, paid for by my dad at the start of every month.  Most of the kids who used these were from financially disadvantaged families and the cards were free to them.  My dad never wanted to dig for cash for five kids at the beginning of each day, so he arranged with the school to purchase the cards for the full face value.  Steve was a big kid who liked to eat, so I had my answer.  Every day for a week, I waited in line with him in the cafeteria and, when we got to the station to make payment and get a tray, I handed Mrs. Olsen the card and Steve took the tray and got a free lunch.  I went without my noon meal for a week.  I never forgave Muhammad Ali.

I have also never made another bet…until today.  I accepted the wager my friend offered.  You see, I have learned a few other things during my lifetime, one of the most important being that you should never miss a chance to help someone if you have the capability to do so.  This is almost a no-brainer.  We are going to see who can lose twenty-five pounds in the shortest amount of time.  The loser will pay for a nice dinner for the winner.  I can’t lose.  No.  That didn’t come out right.  I’m pretty sure that I can lose…the pounds.  It’s just that this is a bet that I can’t lose, even if I do lose, if you take my meaning.  If she wins the actual competition, it will be worth every penny spent to encourage her in her goal to shed the pounds.  And, the friendly competition will give me incentive to work harder at watching what goes into my mouth and to keep to my exercise regimen.  This is not a bet, it’s an investment!

Did you notice when I told you I was battling my conscience earlier?  The battle didn’t last long.  One thing we must understand is that many of the legalistic tenets we have followed, simply because we were taught that they were right, are actually detrimental to our mission as followers of Jesus.  “Thou shalt not gamble,” is a law never found in the text of the Word.  Yet we treat that important concept, which helps us to avoid financial disaster and self-centered thinking, as absolute.  What I’m saying is that when the opportunity comes for us to help our neighbor by putting aside a concept, we shouldn’t have to think twice.  I will be happy to pay the price for losing this wager.  That said, I’d also be happy to have the nice meal to enjoy after all the scrimping on calories I’m going to do over the next few months.

Perhaps it’s time for us to examine the things we believe and consider the necessity (or lack thereof) for all of our rules and regulations.  You might be surprised at what needs to go.  There is also the possibility that some other safeguards need to be added.  I’m all for structure.  But, I like the idea that “form follows function” as well, an idea which I have discussed with you before.  On that last occasion, I warned against change simply for the sake of change.  Tonight, I invite you to consider the purpose (function) for which we exist and then to determine if the forms to which we hold actually do help us to achieve that purpose.  It they don’t, we need to break out of them and do the things which help us to deliver the goods.

“No gambling” isn’t a law, but a principle.  I want to be very careful here and be unambiguous in saying that I do not mean that we have the option to cast off those things which are compulsory.  There are absolutes and they must be adhered to.  Tonight, I’m speaking specifically of the protocols of do’s and don’ts which we have added to those absolutes.  Somehow the guidelines become law over time and before we know it, we believe that they themselves are the absolutes, when they are most decidedly not.

Oh boy.  I’ve gone a lot deeper than I intended, when I said that I would speak of a more important subject than the weather.  Perhaps we should extricate ourselves from this tangled mess and finish up.  You’ll make your own way out as you can, will you not?

The match is on, the bell has rung.  The prize once again is the cost of meals, just as it was over forty years ago in my only other wager.  I couldn’t afford to lose that one.  This time, whatever happens, I simply can’t lose. I like these odds.

Tomorrow, we’ll come out swinging.  Let’s hope it’s a good, clean fight…

“The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.  It is twice blessed-It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.”
(William Shakespeare~English playwright and poet~1564-1616)

“There are more pleasant things to do than beat up people.”
(Muhammad Ali~American boxer)

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


“There are no more possible moves.  What do you want to do?”  The words in the little blueish box glare out at me, demanding an answer.  I am taking a break from work and the computer game of Solitaire seemed as if it would be a welcome diversion.  I said it seemed so.  As I gaze at the meddling dialog box, I am not relaxed.

What do I want to do?  I’m not really sure.  I could start the game over again.  I’ve done that before.  The problem is that almost without fail, the game ends in exactly the same way–with the frustrating blue box staring me in the face.  I seem to see the same moves as the time before and miss any other options.  Perhaps there is no right path to take anyway.

What do I want to do?  I could go back a few moves and try to make some different choices.  Again, almost invariably, the result is the same.  The road is already set in place and I simply move along it, clicking on the possible moves, knowing that at any second the detestable blue box will pop up with it’s digital version of a child’s “Nanny Nanny Boo Boo”, to mock me.

What do I want to do?  I quit. No more struggle; no more frustration; no more offensive blue box to make my life miserable.  In fairness, I only quit this particular game and play another, with a new deal, a new set of possibilities.  But, sooner or later, the little imp in the machine gets restless and appears once more.  I am done.  Click.  “Quit the game?”  Frustrated, I bang my hand down to manipulate the “yes” response.  “Stupid game!”

Beaten. The end. Finis. It’s only a game after all.  Or, is it?  

You’ve seen the list of famous “failures”, haven’t you?  The folks that went on to be amazing stars in their field, who were rejected on their first (and sometimes fiftieth) attempt.  Here are just a few of them:
Walt Disney…fired from an early job at a newspaper.  The editor said that he “had no imagination” and “no good ideas.”  Out of options?
Michael Jordan…cut from his junior-varsity high school basketball team.  Game over?
Henry Ford…failed in business five times and was left penniless each time.  Time to quit?
Abraham Lincoln…went bankrupt twice, failed in business several times, and lost in twenty-six attempts at political office.  No more possible moves?

This is only a tiny sampling.  Many, many more “successful” people have failed and failed and failed again at their chosen profession, but believing that they were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing, ignored the signs right in front of their faces and found other moves to make.

Being in the music business, I have seen my share of people give up on their dreams.  I won’t tell you that all of them should have followed those dreams in the first place.  For every wild success in the music world, there are thousands of mediocre talents who are best suited to other pursuits, while keeping music in the context in which it functions best, that of enjoyment and, assuming a spiritual world-view, praise for their Creator.  That said, there is something noble in the folks I see who have never given up their original aspirations.  Always hoping, always scheming, always honing their skills, these people refuse to take no for an answer.  One of these, a man in his seventies who has a fairly good local following for his music, was excited as he spoke with me recently.  “I’m selling a lot of my recordings in Europe now.  I wonder if I should put together a little tour over there?”  In his seventies.  No “game over” for him; none of this “no more possible moves” in his vocabulary.  I admire his spirit.

What about you?  Have you been beaten?  Did somebody take a baseball bat to your dreams and destroy you in the process?  Try as you might, that brick wall in front of you can’t be knocked down or scaled over or tunneled under?  Nobody ever said it was easy.  But, they didn’t tell you it would be this hard.  Perhaps it’s time to quit.  I hope you won’t.  I hope you’ll keep fighting.  Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, always the optimists, never the quitters, I hope you’ll keep going against impossible odds.  (I wonder if they really did make it to Australia?)

“When you get the choice to sit it out, or dance…I hope you’ll dance.”

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot!  Fred Astaire?  “Can’t act.  Can’t sing.  Can dance a little.”

Success is just over the next mountaintop.  Keep climbing!

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens.
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,

And when you get the choice to sit it out, or dance;
(“I Hope You Dance~Mark Sanders/Tia Sillers~American songwriters)

“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
(Matthew 7:7,8~NASB)

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

Finding a Happy Place

Bombs exploded in the streets today.  People died.  Others will bear the scars and disfigurement for a lifetime.  Tonight, the pundits and the muckrakers are all at it; on television, in print, even on the social media.  In times past, I too have attempted to fill the incredible vacuum left by such acts with words of comfort, or explanation, and even accusation.  I have none to offer tonight.  My heart aches and the words won’t come.

I hope that you will pardon a departure from the horror and the recriminations which are flying.  I have a great personal need to escape the barrage of information and speculation for a little while.  With that in mind, I invite you to take a few moments with me to revel in the innocence of youth and nature, with not a shadow of terror, nor a twinge of pain.  Perhaps tomorrow, we’ll take up more serious subjects.  Today, I offer a simple essay, descriptive of simple pleasures.  You may have seen it before.  

Maybe you’ll even take the time to plant a dandelion or two yourself today, just to remember what it was like before…

Of Parachutes and Helicopters

I planted some dandelions today.  Oh, c’mon admit it.  You’ve done it too.  Who can resist the tantalizing wispy white head of a dandelion plant in springtime?  You hold the beautiful stem in your hand, gazing directly at the horde of delicate seeds gathered in a circle around the ovule at the top of the stem.  Their tenuous grip on their life source indicates their readiness to make the trip for which they were designed.  If you examine them closely, you’ll notice that each seed has a tiny, slender stem itself, the bottom of which is attached to the main plant.  At the top of that tiny stem is an umbrella, a parachute of sorts, specifically designed to carry the seed far enough away from its sire to multiply the species.

Careful not to inhale too close to the seed head, you take a deep breath and push it back out again, directing the stream of air right at the puffball.  The resulting explosion of little flying whirligigs is spectacular!  And, if you weren’t watching so carefully out of the corner of your eye to see if the neighbors were peering angrily from behind their curtains, you would laugh for joy to see God’s creation at work.  A common weed, we call it.  Ha!  More like a miracle in action, putting to shame all the complicated machines that our feeble minds can contrive to complete the tasks we deem important.  The simplicity, along with the amazing resilience, is so far beyond our imaginations that we can only marvel.  The process needs us not at all, as is evidenced by all the empty stems I see as I view the yard.  The strong storm winds have already spread the plant’s progeny to the four corners of my property (and maybe just a little beyond, truth be told).  The gentle rain that fell last week has already aided in pressing them into the soil, and even tonight, I imagine they are starting to germinate, putting down their stubborn tendrils into the damp earth, preparing for another bumper crop in a few weeks.

I hear the naysayers in my ear as I write this.  “Why would you allow this vicious weed to thrive in your yard?  Don’t you know it’s aggressive and ugly?  Aren’t you aware that it spreads to my perfect lawn?”  Of course I know that after I mow the lawn, they pop up and make it look as if I haven’t mowed at all.  I know that millions of dollars annually are spent trying to eradicate this “blight on the landscape”, but all in vain.  Ugly or not, I’m doing my part to protect the species, although it has no need of my protection.  I must admit, I have never dug a dandelion plant from my yard, never sprayed a drop of pesticide to control them.  They are, to me at least, one of Spring’s best gifts to the awakening world, with those wonderful maple helicopters running a close second.

The fantastic design of that maple seedpod is, without question, another source of wonderment for me.  This spring, the red maple in my backyard is covered with thousands of the odd winged vessels.  It is more properly called a “samara”, but I much prefer the descriptive name “helicoptor”.  Of course, the English have a fine name for it also; calling it a “spinning jenny”.  Every two years or so, the slender branches of the spreading tree almost sag beneath the weight of the seeds (as with this year), until the spring winds call to them, coaxing them off, first just a few at a time.  I like to think that the first ones are the adventurous type, not needing the company of the rest to know that this is what they were made for.  And then, before you know it, the slightest breeze fills the air with the spinning, gyrating seeds, headed by the hundreds of thousands to a resting place in the surrounding yards and ditches, awaiting their time to be pressed down into the soil and be watered; ready to spring up into saplings.  If we humans weren’t so intent on open spaces in which to do nothing, the hills would be covered with the beautiful trees.  Oh, I know…not all of the seeds would produce trees.  If they did, the forest would be so dense nothing could live.  But, as it is, I am particularly fond of the maple trees, with their large shade-providing leaves,  shaking and quivering in the storms, turning brilliant oranges and yellows before loosing their grip on the branches in the fall; only to be the earliest to burst forth again as the warm air triggers the life-cycle once more in the springtime.

I will grudgingly admit to the beauty of the autumn, and even the excitement of a beautiful snowfall in the dead of the winter, but spring is the season I love best.  I think it’s because my mind cannot fully contain the wonder of creation; cannot take in the fantastic design of the wonderful and diverse organisms surrounding us, from the flowering trees and bushes, to the pollinating hedges (covered with bees and flies to carry the pollen far away), to the amazing methods of regeneration afforded to all of the growing, thriving flora and fauna around us.  The intricate designs of a loving Creator overwhelm the intellect, as well as the senses, with each new bloom and every living thing that meets the eye.

It also might have something to do with the simple pleasures that spring affords.  I think that’s exactly the way our Creator intended it, too.  And, it doesn’t hurt that I love it when the children in my life are overjoyed as they plant dandelions along with this silly, aging man.  I can’t imagine a better way to spend a cool springtime evening!

“If dandelions were hard to grow, they would be most welcome on any lawn.”
(Andrew V Mason M.D.~American doctor and author)

“Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”
(A.A. Milne~English author)

A repeat of one of my favorite posts, which appeared on April 12, 2011.  Sometimes you just figure you can’t improve on your first take. 

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