Cobblestone Kicking

“Hello darkness, my old friend.  I’ve come to talk to you again.”

The quiet duo, almost morose in tonality, began to sing in my earphones as I walked my accustomed route late one night last week.  I almost stopped short.

Oh, it’s not a new song, the recording having been made nearly fifty years ago; it’s not even as if I haven’t heard it a thousand times or more in my lifetime.  It’s just that I heard the words in the right setting for the first time on that night.

In the dark.

In a dark mood.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel wrote and recorded “The Sound of Silence” in the years just after the assassination of President Kennedy.  It was a dark time for many in our nation and they captured the fear and angst of a generation.  “In restless dreams I walked alone–narrow streets of cobblestone.”  The anguish is almost palpable.

I mention the setting simply to reiterate that both the writing and the singing come out of the darkness.  Mr. Simon admits to beginning with the words quoted above as he spoke them into the darkness of his bathroom, where he often sat and wrote in his early days of performing.

My writing will never achieve the stature of his, but often it too comes out of the darkness of night.  Frequently, it proceeds from the darkness of my spirit as well.  By that, I mean that there are places in my heart where all is not gaiety and party favors.

I think it would be an error to cast this darkness as harmful or evil.

Sadness exists, in spite of my efforts to banish it.

And, that’s as it should be.

As I read my own words written in these times, I have to admit that some of the most powerful sentiments I feel come out of that same darkness.  Many of the essays I have wrenched out of my forays into the dim, uncertain night are, in my mind, my most memorable.

You may not agree and that’s fine.  There is room for a different perspective.

For, you see, from the same mind (at times) come lightness and exuberance.  Will you allow me to follow up for just a moment with another example from the writing of the artists I mentioned above?

Perhaps one of the happiest songs to come from that same era is “The 59th Street Bridge Song.”  With the goofiness of Hello lamppost, whatcha knowin’?  I’ve come to watch your flowers growin’. . ., we’re just . . .kicking down the cobblestones right along with the carefree duo.

From the pen and mouths of the same artists who lived in the intense darkness, came this joy and exhilaration for life.  It seems possible that the sentiments of both songs took place on the same route, too.  Notice the narrow streets in the lyrics of the first?

Yep.  The very same streets of cobblestone that the duo was kicking down in the second song.

I thought about that on a sunny day earlier this week, as I rode my bicycle with a couple of old friends.  We followed a lot of the same route I often walk (and run) at night.  You might say the difference was indeed, day and night.

Spirits were light as we talked and laughed, first one person riding ahead, then another.  When the road allowed we rode three abreast to share the enjoyment.  Carefree, the miles flew by.

We want to spend all our time enjoying life.  The fact is, just as half of our life is spent in daylight and half in the night, we will all experience our share of joy and pain.  Both are valuable and essential to learning and growing.  Both come whether we will them to or not.

Will we learn from the darkness, or will we become bitter and angry because of it?  Will we carry the joy of the light into the dark of the night, or is the night doomed to be devoid of hope?

We choose.  We determine the manner in which we face the darkness and silence.  It may indeed, become our old friend.  That said, it does not have to become our destiny and our hell here on earth.

One other thought hits me as I write this:  Friends are a gift from a beneficent God, are they not?  Even the dark times are lighter when they are around us.  I’m beginning to think that perhaps old age may be less onerous with a few of these fine people around.

I think I’ve still got a few sessions of kicking down the cobblestones left in me, too.  I’m even feeling a little like that carefree duo of yesteryear.  For the time being, at least.

We’ll have to work together on keeping it going.  Twenty years from now, we may still be singing those final words.

Feeling groovy.

Everything has it wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.
(Helen Keller ~ American author/educator, both blind and deaf ~ 1880-1968)

But who knows what she spoke to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night…
(from “The Return of the King” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English educator/author ~ 1892-1973)

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

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Peek-a-Boo With Bambi

They’re growing bolder.  Almost every night I see them as I run along the trail that winds its gentle way along the little creek.  The Lovely Lady even saw them with me as we sped along one night last week.

There are sometimes as many as eight of them watching warily as I leave the trees and pass quickly through the tiny field in which they graze.  Oh!  Did I not tell you?  Deer–a little herd of whitetail deer right in the middle of our small town.

A few nights ago, as I ran along the edge of that field in the misty rain, I startled a couple of them just as they prepared to cross the road.  One, a doe, sped across the pavement with three, maybe four bounds, her big white tail flicking in the dim light.  Her companion, a yearling buck, turned tail and fled back into the field a few feet, where he turned and watched, trembling at my approach.  As I passed the spot where he had stood mere seconds before, I facetiously waved my arms at him with an exaggerated traffic-cop motion, speaking to him as I did.

“Your turn, buddy.  Move on across.”

To my amazement, he made a run for it just then.  Was it my motion he was waiting for?  Maybe the dulcet tones of my voice falling on his ear convinced him that all was well.  Or perhaps, the thought of his lady friend watching him from the other side as she began to have second thoughts about his courage gave him the impetus.  After all, she had advanced in the face of danger, while he had retreated.  Whatever went through his tiny brain in that instant, he was in the center of the road in a flash, just in time to jump right in front of the oncoming car which neither he nor I had noticed.

Fortunately, that night was not the night for him to meet a disaster.  His lightning fast reflexes kicked in and he leapt quickly aside as the driver jerked the steering wheel and stomped on his brake pedal to save his car from damage.  My last glance of the little bud-horn was as he and his companion streaked up the wooded hillside on the other side of the road, headed deeper into the residential area than I expect they had intended.

I didn’t think much more of the event until tonight.  As I said before, they are growing bolder.

I see them more and more often as I jog the trail late at night, especially near the spot where I got my concussion, a couple of years ago.  I expect that I have become somewhat of a legend for them, one they have passed on to succeeding generations after my spectacular bicycle wreck that night.  I can just hear the old grandmother deer as she tells the bedtime story to the little fawns while they lie around under the ferns on their beds of oak leaves and pine needles.

“And then the crazy human on his flimsy two-wheeled machine came flying down the mountain.  I stood and waited for the last possible instant and jumped right out from under the shadow of that maple tree.  Right under his nose, I moved, so fast I nearly flew myself.  He never touched me, but he certainly did touch the hard black stuff he was rolling down.  His machine came over on top of him, scraping him and making him bleed.  You should have heard him scream!”

I think the youngsters that watch me nightly from the shadows on that hillside are laughing at my foolishness.  Night after night I run that hill.  Many times during the daytime I still come down it like a madman on my two-wheeled machine, but I will not go that way again by night on my bike.  The hand that is burned learns its lesson well.

One laughed at me tonight as I ran up the hill.  I heard her chuckle (I did!), right before she retreated to a safe distance through the trees.  But, just a couple of hundred feet up the trail, I saw a sight which was even more strange.

As I jogged breathlessly along, having just ascended that steep hill, all I could see of the young doe was her tawny body, standing some distance on up the trail.  My view of her head was blocked by a decorative light post in between her and me.  She couldn’t see me, but she did hear me and she smelled me.  She kept her body stock still and moved her neck just enough to bring her head, with her big ears perfectly erect, to the right side of the post.  I moved over on the trail until her head was again behind the post and kept advancing toward her.  She moved her head to the left side of the post until she could see me once more.  Of course, you know what I did.  Yep, I moved over until she could no longer see me.

Twice more we repeated the dance move.  By then, I was not much more than ten feet away from the little brown beauty.  She decided that it was time to take more drastic measures, and she bolted into the woods and down the embankment just below the trail, crashing and scattering limbs and leaves as she went.

It was, without question, the first time I have ever played peek-a-boo with a whitetail deer.  What an interesting feeling!

There are, however, two very salient points to be aware of, even as we smile at the antics of these too-trusting animals.

Understanding that my fancy about the little buck following my instructions to cross the street is no doubt in error, the experience still gives pause for thought.  How often in a day’s time do we follow the lead of people whose credentials we have no knowledge of?  That person who is telling you to substitute one medication for another–do you know what the basis of their conjecture is?  Do they have training to make such judgments?

Not close enough to home yet?  How about the person who teaches your child in Sunday School?  Or in their regular school classes?  Do you know what they believe?  Do you want your children to believe that?  You would want to be sure that someone who repaired the brakes on your automobile understood brakes on automobiles.  The result for ignorance could be physical disaster.  How much more important is it to know that those to whom we hand over responsibility for our children’s (and even for our own) instruction are qualified and competent.

The stupid little fellow took instructions on crossing the street from me, a perfect, and completely incompetent, stranger!

And what of the other deer–the one that played peep-eye with me tonight?  What possible point is there to be made there?

It’s clear, is it not, that with every delay in running the pretty little doe’s danger increased?  Her Creator made her fearful of man and other predators for a reason.  The defense mechanism that has been instilled in her from birth will serve her well for a lifetime of escapes, if she uses it in a timely manner.  She failed that test tonight.

If I had intended her harm, she would have been mine.  I could not have missed with a shot from a gun or even a bow.  I might even have been able to throw a knife into her heart from that distance.

She was in mortal danger and she played games!

I’m not going to insult anyone by dragging this out any further, except to say this:  I have been a game-player.  I still am.  Again, experience teaches.  I hope I learn before disaster strikes.  I am, as has been demonstrated often, a slow learner.

Second chances are more plentiful in my world than in the world of the deer.  I will be eternally grateful for that.  Grace covers

I do wonder if they’ll be telling more stories of their meetings with the wild bicycle crasher tonight?

Really, I’m just positive I heard that other deer chuckle before she headed into the woods!

“He is most free from danger, who, even when safe, is on his guard.”
(Publilius Syrus ~ Latin writer ~ ca. First century BC)

“He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights.”
(Psalm 18:33 ~ NLT)

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

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Five Cents, Please.

Most mornings it is just moments before opening time when I turn the key in the back door of the music store.  The black monsters that have followed me down the sidewalk are jumping in the air or pushing their noses against my leg in a vain attempt to convince me to play with them for awhile.  I close the door on them and go up front to hang up my shingle.

What’s that?  My shingle?  Sure.  You know.  Just like Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip, it seems that when the open sign is on, there is also a sign that says “Psychiatric Help 5¢”, and below that “The doctor is in.”  Some days, there is more traffic than others.

I’m not sure my advice is actually worth the nickel.  Most of the time, I just nod my head and ask a question or two.  I wonder if Lucy did it better.

I’m trying to be very careful about how I say this.  I don’t intend to be insensitive, but people tell me things that I really don’t want to know.  

I don’t really want to be involved in their personal lives.  I don’t really want to invest emotionally in their situations.  The cost to me is well more than I have to spend.  The pain, the sadness, the horror at what people are going through is often more than I can stand.

Are you hearing them too?

Do you know that widowed mom down the street who is embarrassed to admit that she lives on government assistance and food stamps?  She needs still more help and doesn’t know who to talk to.  What about the dad who is devastated that his son is in trouble with the law–so devastated that he won’t even talk with the boy’s mother about it?  Maybe you too have talked to the young teenager who doesn’t understand why her mom blames her for the break-up of her parent’s twenty-year marriage.

The list goes on and on, the situations as diverse as the people themselves.  They are folks that you know–or at least they’re just like the ones you know.  I just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.  Or, is it the other way around?  Regardless, they talk to me because I am here and they don’t think I will attack them.

I won’t.

Now Lucy–she wasn’t so backwards about it, was she?  Charlie Brown comes to her wondering why he doesn’t fit in and she shows him the wide world and asks him if this is the world he must live in.  When he answers in the affirmative, she screams,  “Well, live in it, then!”

To add insult to the injury of her blunt honesty, she then walks over to where he is lying on the ground and, holding out her hand, demands, “Five cents, please.”

Her logic is impenetrable; her empathy, a bit less so.

Want to know why I won’t attack them?  I’ve finally figured out that they are me.  Oh, my problems may not be as overwhelming, but to me it seems that they are.  I struggle with issues which I will not divulge to anyone, except perhaps to someone I think I can trust not to kick me while I am on the ground.  I understand what it is to carry around secrets that threaten to poison my soul.

I know what it is to be wounded.

We don’t kick a wounded soldier.  We offer them comfort.  We give them aid.  We tend to their wounds.  The day may come when correction will be appropriate, but in the agony of loss and torment, it would only add to their pain.

I wonder if my posts for the last weeks have been too dark, too introspective.  I will admit that the world seems a somewhat more dangerous place to me than it once was.  That said, I write these words to encourage, to edify, and certainly not to darken the reader’s mind or to discourage a joyous and happy outlook on life in the Creator’s world.  But, I am almost convinced that we are better served  by living informed and sober lives, rather than going through our days in gleeful oblivion to the hidden suffering around us.  That’s something like fiddling while Rome burns, isn’t it?

Fiddling or not, I do like a phrase I hear tossed about a good bit.  Joy in the journey.

I think the joy comes from sharing the load with others who won’t condemn.  It comes as we teach each other and learn from each other.  And, if the joy is offset a bit by the pain, as least we have traveling companions who we can trust to carry the load with us.  And if they’re the right kind of companions, they direct us to the Physician who really can help when we need it.

You know, come to think of it–The Doctor is always IN.

And you get to keep your nickel.

“Good counsel failing men can give, for why?
He that’s aground knows where the shoal doth lie.”
(Benjamin Franklin ~ American founding father/author ~ 1706-1790)

“In the multitude of counselors there is safety.”
(Proverbs 24: 6b ~ ASV)

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

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One Tiny Yes

I jerked awake.  She was there still, just a few feet away.  She looked at me over her crocheting and smiled.  I smiled back–for a minute.  Then it all came back to me, the weight hitting my chest like a heavy hand shoving me back into my seat.  It wasn’t over yet, either.

I looked at the clock.  Nine PM?  I had work to do!  I couldn’t be still sitting there!  I hadn’t even been out for my nightly run.  Well, it would have to wait.  Like everything else today, the essential would have to give way to the urgent.

No.  I looked over at the Lovely Lady again and said, matter-of-factly,  “I’m going for a run.”

The day had seemed like one no after another.  Some days are like that.  Every phone call, every person who walked through the door needed something for which the answer was no.

“Can you buy this from me?”

“Do you have time to repair this?”

“Is it possible for you to help me with this problem?”

“Will I be able to get that by tomorrow?

One by one, the noes were pried from my lips, some after agonized thought on my part, others with no doubt that they had to be said.

It was a day piled high with that tiny negative word.  Not just piled high.  The mountain of noes threatened to bury my spirit in an avalanche of negativity.

No.  Such a short, unpretentious word.  Yet it is also a final, authoritative one, ending more communication than any other word in the English language.  I had repeated it more times than I could count.

By the day’s end, I was grouchy and even argumentative, drawing customers into my contrary morass.  I may even have attempted to trap the Lovely Lady in my cynical mood, but she was too wily to be enticed, taking the high ground.

“I’m going for a run.”  I said the words rebelliously, as if I might get an argument from her, while she smiled at me from her seat on the couch.

“You may get wet.”  She wouldn’t argue, knowing the futility of that exercise.

She was right.  It was as if the world itself was shouting a huge NO at me as I jogged away from my front door.  The wind tugged at my tee shirt and shorts, the drops of moisture it raked over me dampening my body as much as my already low spirits within the first block.

I persevered.  Stubborn isn’t always a bad character trait.

After a quarter mile of running against the wind and rain, I turned the corner.  Suddenly, the wind was at my side, the moisture it held merely a sprinkle to cool a rapidly warming body at work.  This wasn’t so bad.  My spirits lifted a little.

Another half mile and I turned another corner.  With this turn, the wind was completely behind me.  But now, I had a decision to make.  Would I take the turn at the next block and follow the detour marked out by the road signs?  The bridge over the pretty little creek that winds through our downtown has been in the process of reconstruction for the last year and a half.  It is an annoyance at best.  For the folks who have to traverse the roads downtown by auto, it has been an extreme inconvenience.  I am tired of the way being blocked.

Tonight, I looked ahead to where the signs barricading the road stood and saw something different.  Yesterday, there had been a wire fence between the signs.  Tonight, nothing spanned that space.  And–was that a white line on the pavement there?  It was.

You will think it a very small thing, but it seemed to me that I had finally found one single yes in a day full of one no after another.  I wasn’t about to turn back now.  Following the new line painted on the pavement, I ran onto a section of road I hadn’t tread on for over a year.  Even though it was late at night, the darkness in my spirit seemed to catch a glimpse of a light shining ahead.

The line on the road ran straight across the surface of that brand new bridge, without a barrier to be found anywhere.  I don’t know if any laws were being broken, but I tell you, I couldn’t have cared less in that moment.  I ran across that new bridge that I’ve never crossed before.  I was tempted to stand and jump up and down in the center of it with my arms raised above my head victoriously, much like Rocky in the movie from the seventies.  You would have laughed at me and I would have laughed right along with you.

This was definitely a YES!

A tiny yes, but a yes nonetheless.  The mountain of noes had tumbled down on my head in an avalanche all day, but in the midst of them, this minuscule yes pushed its way through and brought a hint of the positive. It was enough.

I ran on.  A mile later, another corner was turned.  As was to be anticipated, with this turn, the wind and the water hit me in the face once more.  Another three quarters of a mile and I turned to face the original direction again and really felt the bite of the wind and its little liquid missiles.  I would face it all the way home.

It didn’t matter.  One yes in a sea of no was all it took.  I could not be swayed back to the dark side.

Yes!  The word is not much larger than its counterpart, but one glimpse of it tonight was enough to give me a fresh run at a world full of no.  I will face that world again tomorrow with new hope.

Tomorrow is upon me as I write these words.  Even tonight, I have already begun to work through another huge no, but the mountain is surmountable.  Yes will be here again.

I’ll just keep moving through the negative.

I hope, like the rain tonight, or even like water off the back of the proverbial duck, there will be no lasting effect.

One always has hope.   I think, perhaps, it will also be enough.

“You’ve got to accentuate the positive;
Eliminate the negative;
Latch onto the affirmative;
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.”
(from Accentuate the Positive by Johnny Mercer ~ American songwriter ~ 1909-1976)

“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances…”
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18a ~ ESV)

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

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The little brown Chevy Vega looked beautiful as the proud young man rounded the last corner and headed for home.  He kept that car as clean as anyone could in the dry dusty climate of his hometown.  On this day, there was not a speck of dust on it.

The eight-track player which he had installed himself was blaring out the pleasant chords and high tenor vocals of David Gates and Bread, and he couldn’t help singing along with the lyrics of “If”.

“If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?
Though words can never show the you I’ve come to know…”

It may be that he was paying a little too much attention to his singing and not as much to his driving, but when he rounded that last corner, he made a terrible mistake.  Downshifting the manual transmission from third gear, he left the shift lever in the neutral position, instead of continuing on into second gear.  There was a visible bump in the road ahead.  Slowing a bit too much to avoid being jostled, the young driver realized too late that the road also had a small rise in it after he made the right turn.  He quickly let the clutch out and stepped on the accelerator, only to hear the motor wind up with no resultant increase in speed.  There was plenty of power, it just didn’t get to the wheels.

The car was still in neutral!  Frantically, he grabbed for the stick shift, but the car had already slowed to a stop and then began to move backwards, right out onto the main road behind him.  The only thing the kid could think about as he rolled the wrong direction was his father’s advice, given as the boy was learning, to always move the gear shift into another gear so there would be power available should an emergency arise.  What was his Dad going to say after the inevitable wreck he was headed for?  Fortunately for him, although there were other drivers following, they were alert enough to swing around and avoid the rear-end collision he was anticipating.  As the last man moved cautiously past, he stuck his head out the window and shouted at the hapless teen.

“Drive it or park it!”

The boy was mortified.  It was a blow to his manhood–that much was certain.  Finally finding the gear he was searching for, he popped the clutch out and lurched ahead.  Like a defeated dog with its tail between its legs, he dropped his head, slouched down in the seat, and made his way home.


It is an odd word.  If you look in a dictionary, you will see that the first definition speaks of directing the movement of a car or truck.  But this word has been around for almost nine hundred years.  Surely it means something more.  After all, the way livestock was moved in the nineteenth century was called a cattle drive.  They didn’t have cars then.

So we look again at that dictionary and we see that indeed, it does mean more.  To drive means to cause to move by force, authority, or influence in the desired direction.

The word applies to more than just cars or cattle, doesn’t it?  One drives the enemy back.  A basketball player drives through the lane.  When a carpenter pounds a nail in a board, he drives it in.  A public speaker might drive home a point.  The list goes on.

The point is that something other than the object itself is in control.  An army drives the enemy and the loser has no say in where it goes.  The carpenter controls the location of the nail and the speed at which is it inserted into the wood.  The cattle don’t always want to go where they are driven, but the cattleman controls their direction.

In most cases, the person controls the automobile, but our protagonist above seemed to lose that control and he became the driven instead of the driver.  He lost his influence, and certainly his authority, over the vehicle.

Many nights as I write, I keep a window open on my computer which alerts me when folks I know post comments and items to a popular social site.  Mere moments ago, I was reminded powerfully of one way of driving and being driven which I have experienced many times over the course of my life, as a friend in Australia posted a video of a recent occurrence in New York City.

Instrumentalists from a well-known orchestra brought their instruments and chairs and set up on a busy street corner in concert formation. They then placed a podium in front of them with the words “Conduct Us” emblazoned on the empty music stand.  Then they sat and waited.  One by one, brave individuals from the street stepped up to the podium and waved the conductor’s baton, astounded at the way the musicians responded to their gestures and motion.  When they stopped moving the baton, the orchestra stopped playing.  When one lady waved a violist up from his seat, he stood and played until she gave him permission to sit down.  He did attempt to sit once before she was ready and she waved him back to his feet.

For the most part, those who stepped to the podium knew nothing about music or how to lead an orchestra.  The performance of the musicians was competent, but not stellar, as they allowed folks who had no authority nor sense of direction to control what they did.

I have conducted and been conducted.  It is the same as driving and being driven.  Oh, I’ll admit that frequently the whole bunch, like a horse with a bit in its mouth, realizes that it can take the power away from the conductor.  Then, gripping the bit firmly in their teeth, they plunge on recklessly until they realize the futility of their wild rush and allow the conductor to take back the reins and bring some semblance of control to the whole affair.  But, overall, the musicians understand that the power belongs to the person on the podium, who hopefully wields that power for good and the benefit of the entire group.  If they are driven by a skillful leader, their performance is enhanced and the sum of the whole exceeds the skill of all the players.

They are driven by their conductor to perform and reach new heights, unattainable on their own.

I wonder–on any given day–what drives me?  What drives most of us?  Does the term even apply to us?

I would assert that oftentimes it does.  I know very few people who are not driven.  We usually describe someone as driven if they seem to have to live their life forced by some outside power.  But, driven describes every one of us, at least at some time in our life.  We often use the term as an accusation, berating the object of our scorn for their lack of self-control.  I would submit to you that being driven is not a bad thing.

The problem lies with what really drives us.  And the question remains: What drives me?  What drives you?

I will not attempt to give an answer here.  It would be foolish to presume about what motivates anyone else but myself, and I even fool myself more often than not.  I want to believe that I have ceded control to the right driver and am following a path which will lead to reward and success.  My problem is that I lie to myself, sometimes worse than I lie to those around me.  But, it’s time, for me at least, to examine the inner workings.

It’s time to be positive that the car is in a gear which will move forward when the need arises.  It’s time to be sure that the hand on the steering wheel is firm and sure.  It’s time to make certain of the destination.

I’m thinking that changes may need to be made.  It wouldn’t be wise to put up a sign that says Conduct Me to allow random drivers to take control.  There is only one Driver who knows the equipment and the road, as well as having the road map securely in His memory.  It’s time to let Him take the controls exclusively.

It’s not a stretch to suggest that we’ll be in Good Hands.

When I think about that, driven doesn’t seem so bad, after all.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
(Colossians 3:23 ~ NIV)

“And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame;
But each for the joy of working, and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They Are!”
(from “L’ENVOI” by Rudyard Kipling ~ English poet/author ~ 1865-1936)

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

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Pure and Lovely

I don’t want to write today.  I am tired.

During the week just past, there have been too many of them.  Too many who need–too many who hurt–too many who have lost hope.  I hear them; I see them;  I sometimes even smell them.

My mind says, “Think about other things.”  Years ago, I memorized the verse in Philippians 4 that ends with these words:  “…whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

So, I stick my fingers in my ears and hum loudly.  “La La La La La!”  I think about how blessed I am.  I wonder how my doctor’s appointment will go tomorrow.  I am proud of my physical achievements over the last months.  Will he be as pleased?

I take my fingers out of my ears momentarily and still I hear them.  No clothes–no food–no job–life is empty.

My doctor’s appointment is just another walk in the park compared to the ones many of them have endured recently.  I have the luxury of hope for years of health.  They don’t.

I worry about painting the trim on my house and mowing the over-tall yard.  They have lost their homes and live in their cars and in the already overcrowded houses of relatives.

I visit with my grandchildren and dream of our future together.  The folks I hear don’t see any future at all, except more misery and more want.

Their voices clamor for attention.  Not just for my attention.  You may not have heard them yet, but you will.

I don’t want to write about them anymore.

I want life to be carefree and easy again, without the inconvenience of these interruptions.  And then I realize–that was never promised to me.  If, like me, you believe in God’s Word, you understand that Jesus himself told us we would have troubles in this life.

And the words I quoted earlier from Philippians?  Purelovely?  Somehow I don’t think they mean exactly what we take them to mean.

I want to make this clear.  Pure is not some Perfect 10 who spends thousands on skin creams and body rinses.  Lovely is not the well-to-do family who lives in a gated community, with every amenity known to mankind.  Oh, those things aren’t bad, but if the Perfect 10 closes her ears to the cries of those around her, and the family with everything withholds help from those in need they can see right outside their locked gates, I can assure you of one thing; they know nothing of pure and less than nothing of lovely.

Pure and lovely is the dirt you get on your hands as you help that widow woman who has no one.  Pure and lovely is the stench of unwashed bodies that rubs off when you give a hug to that person you also just fed or slipped a few dollars to.  Pure and lovely is the result when we show love to those whom we erroneously label unattractive and unlovely.

I don’t feel very pure and lovely.  Some days, I’m not even sure that I want pure and lovely.  But, the apostle who suggested the formula for finding virtue and gaining praise in that earlier quote also suggested that we mustn’t tire in doing good.

It’s good advice.

So–fingers out of ears–it’s time to hear the sounds of the world around us.

I’ll even shake off the lethargy I feel and get busy again.  Are you with me?

Pure and lovely looks great on you!

“What is lovely never dies, but passes in other loveliness.”
(Thomas Bailey Aldrich ~ American poet/novelist ~ 1836-1907)

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good.  At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
(Galatians 6:9 ~ NLT)

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

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WYSIWYG? Probably Not.

My door is always open.

Well, not literally.  You know what I mean.  You’re welcome to come to my home anytime and sit and talk–or eat–or play the piano.  I want to be completely available.  Come any day.

Except Saturday.

Saturday is work day at our house.  Okay, to be perfectly forthcoming, it’s the day on which the Lovely Lady turns the house upside down.  She starts early in the morning with the first load of laundry.  This requires moving the stacks of miscellany from the top of the washer and dryer to the counter tops in the kitchen.  As the day progresses, the dining room is covered as clothes are folded and music for church the next day gets sorted on the table.  Some time in the afternoon, my grass covered shoes join the mess and possibly even a sweat-soaked tee shirt.  After a trip to the grocery store and to the place we purchase our allotment of fruit for the week, the table is completely obscured and the counter tops in the kitchen are crowded.  An empty pizza box may or may not join the jumble before the end of the evening.

Don’t come on Saturday.

My door is always open.  Except that day.

Transparency.  The term gets thrown around these days as if it were something to be desired.  We want transparency in our friends, we want it in our churches, we want it in our government.

Do we?

I won’t waste time arguing all the reasons that complete transparency isn’t the best plan in government, but examples will come to your mind if you want to fritter away a few hours thinking about it.  Ditto for most organizations in which we participate.  I’ve had several conversations with a few of my younger friends over the last several days about our personal relationships and if transparency is really what we want there.  I’ve gotten different responses.  I’ve even had an argument or two about it.  Oh.  We didn’t call it an argument.  We were “pushing back” at statements made by the other participant in the discussion.

Why my sudden interest in transparency?  Over the last several weeks, a few of my readers have written notes thanking me for just that–transparency.  My immediate reaction is to say that I haven’t been that.  For various reasons, I eschew transparency.  Admitting that I have a need for you to like me, I’m pretty sure that you would no longer care for me if I let you see the entire mess that is inside this place, this earthly home, from which I live and love–and hate–and sin.

Yep.  I said it.  I hate.  I sin.

You see, transparency isn’t what I want.  The rooms inside need to be tidied up a bit before they’re fit for company.  It’s a work in progress.

Besides the fact that you wouldn’t like me that well, I have a real desire to build and not to tear down those of you who choose to read these little essays.  There are some rooms into which you may never be invited.

It’s nothing personal.

There are just some things that are nobody’s business besides those whose business they are.  Does that make any sense?

So.  Transparency is out.  Perhaps, we just need to be opaque.  No–not enough light there.  Maybe translucent.  That’s it.

Translucent.  Light shines through enough to prove that there really is light in there, but the details are not evident to all.  You’ll need to come through the door to see the rest.

Fibber McGee’s Closet 1948

Still, when you come–don’t open any doors that are not already open.  I remember hearing the red-headed lady who raised me talk about Fibber McGee’s closet.  Fibber McGee and Molly were characters in a humorous radio show from the 1940’s.  Frequently, someone would open Fibber’s closet and you would hear the landslide as everything tumbled out.

That’s what I’m trying to avoid.  It’s not so much the embarrassment.  I’ll get over that.  I just don’t want anyone else to be hurt by the things I’ve squirreled away to be dealt with in some future time.

Some readers may have wondered about the title for this post.  WYSIWYG is techno-geek lingo for “what you see is what you get”, a popular way for computer programmers to tell you that what you see on your computer screen is the real thing.  When you type a document, you are seeing it just as the finished product will appear when printed.  It’s easier to work with a WYSIWYG program because you’re not always having to remember to click that key, or pull down this menu.  It’s a good thing.

With humans, it’s not so simple.  I don’t know a single WYSIWYG person in real life.  I’ve got this idea that when we leave this temporal shelter behind and reach our forever home, it will be different.

I certainly hope so.  I long to throw open the doors and give the place a good airing out.  This one room at a time gambit is getting a little old.  The day that the place can really have the doors always open will be a welcome one.

I hope you’ll come to visit then.  Transparent?  The entire house will shine with light so brightly you won’t be able to stand it without your sun glasses.

In the mean time, you can come to visit me here.  My door is always open.  Well, except for Saturdays.

Perhaps you could come on Wednesday.  The cleaners are here that morning.

Come Wednesday.

“He had shown her all the workings of his soul, mistaking this for love.”
(from “The Longest Journey” by E.M Forster ~ English novelist ~ 1879-1970)

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
(James 5:16a ~ NLT)

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

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Two Words

I lost weight today.  No, not the kind of weight that will make the bathroom scale’s result lower than it was when I stepped on it yesterday.  The weight I lost today wouldn’t move that reading even an ounce.

In our lifespan, we have quit talking about burdens, haven’t we?  We don’t live in a day when we like to think about guilt, or responsibility, or even concern for offense.  Somehow, it seems that we almost believe that all of the gadgets and labor-saving devices we have at our fingertips can keep us from feeling the consequences of bad choices, or harsh words, or thoughtless actions.

I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one left that feels it, but I know better.  For my part, it happens mostly when I’m alone and frequently late at night, but I feel the weight of my past actions.  Oh, I don’t mean I feel it in a manner that worries about redemption or salvation.  I know who is responsible for that, and I’m confident that it isn’t I.  Grace has carried the eternal consequences for those actions as far as the east is from the west.  And that’s far enough for me.

No, I think about the human cost of my past indiscretions.  I know there is a crowd of damaged people lining the road I’ve walked in my life.  Their faces appear to me, unbidden and unexpectedly, reminding me of amends that need to be made.  Many, I will never see again, except in those moments.  That doesn’t stop their appearance in the occasional mental tableaux.

He walked into my music store today.  The handy little cataloging system at work in my brain went into alarm mode instantly.

“It’s him!”

I felt like I was in one of those cartoons.  You know.  The cartoons where the character has an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.  The angel had spoken first.

The little demon stood there stoically.  “So what?”

The angel shouted from the other shoulder, “So what??  You know, so what!  It has to be done.  You may never get another chance again.”

The devil sneered, “What difference does it make?  He never spent that much money in here anyway.  Who cares if he never comes in again?  Keep your mouth shut.”

The man, unaware of the little drama playing out in my head, asked me about a mutual friend.  It was the sole purpose of his visit.  He wouldn’t have darkened the door of my business establishment for any other reason.  I gave him all the information he required and he turned to go.

Last chance.

I forced the words out quickly.  I said just two words to him.  They stopped him in his tracks.  They are the most powerful words I know in the English language.  He didn’t move.  Perhaps it was the shock.

“I’m sorry.”

It was all I needed to say.  He turned to face me again.  Without any explanation on my part, he knew exactly what I was talking about.  He had a couple words to say, too.

I’m sorry.”

In July we had argued about a stupid little thing.  I got angry–he got angry.  He stalked out and I stood with my arms crossed, just daring him to turn and come back in.

Did I say July?  I meant a year ago last July.  I’ve seen his face in my mental diary of failures since then.  I even wrote about it shortly after the event with a final comment about it.  My words then?  “I have apologies to make.”

Until today, I had taken no action.  And I almost let him walk out again!

I cannot describe the sense of relief, of closure, that accompanies the lifting of the weight of guilt I have carried for my treatment of this man.  Again, I shudder as I realize that I almost missed my chance.

Two words.

They are easy to write here.  They are amazingly difficult to say to another person.  Surely, the red-headed woman who raised me was wrong when she described the word please as the “magic word.”

These are the magic words.

Of course, the memory of this day will fade by the next time I have occasion to say them.  I will fight this same fight with myself once more.

I trust that I will say the words anyway.

I’m sorry.

Practice makes perfect, you know.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.
(Romans 12:10 ~ NASB)

Play fair.  Don’t hit people.  Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone.
(from “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten ~ Robert Fulghum ~ American Author)

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

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Friends Deleted

Actions speak louder than words.

I want that to be true.  I want all the caring deeds which were accomplished today to make more of a difference in the world than all the angry, ugly words which were spoken and written.

I want friends to not be angry with their friends who happen to see things differently in at least one aspect of our corporate life.  I want all the stupid, thoughtless statements that were made today to matter less than a lifetime of doing the things that friends do.  I want friends to remember the visits, the meals shared, the work accomplished together, more than any hurtful words that ever came out of that same friend’s mouth.

I fear it will not be so.

I have always believed that the original thought above was true.  In the world in which we used to live, it was.  Few men or women put their thoughts into words and fewer wrote those words down to be a record used against them for all of their days.  We talked face to face.  We argued; we discussed; we shook our fingers under each other’s noses.

And then, when we parted, as friends, we shook hands and promised to do it again someday.

Today, we argue with little snippets of written information.  No one listens, no one considers carefully the other’s point of view–we just regurgitate our talking points.  If we need reinforcements, we copy and paste a link to an article that a professional writer crafted carefully–for a handsome price.

And we call that communication?

On a day like today, when our world is abuzz with the latest idiocy from Washington, many have crowded the most popular social website to put in their two cents’ worth.  I wonder, at the end of this day, do we believe that we have accomplished anything?

I believe the most unanimity has been achieved today in the answer to one question on that website.  It is a question asked by the computer program and not by any participant in the discussion.


Even my spell check program doesn’t think it is a real word, underscoring it with an angry red line.  Yet today it is a verb, an action word if you will, which has been agreed to by untold number of indignant people who think they know now who that person really is, and they don’t like him or her anymore.  Not because of anything the person has done, but because of words they repeated in the heat of a long-distance argument.

I almost clicked that button today myself.  I am sick of the constant barrage of opinions, based on other opinions, based on–well, you get the idea.  More than once, I was poised to unfriend someone I know and care about, simply because of their hurtful or thoughtless words.

I will not.

I spent a little time a few moments ago, going through my list of friends on that social website.  There is not one–not one–I wish to cut off from contact with me; not one with whom I wish to part company.

Do I wish that they would stop leaking their arrogant and spiteful words all over my computer screen?  Of course, I do!  Do I think that those words which are being spoken in a time of stress and social upheaval are the sum of who that person is?  Not at all!

A friend, with whom I have a normal relationship–normal meaning that we usually speak face to face–walked into my store this afternoon and we discussed much of what is happening in our culture today.


We argued about it.  I raised my voice and spoke my mind.  He raised his voice and gave me a piece of his.  I shook my finger at him and he held up his hand in protest.  Half an hour later, as he headed out the door to get back to work, we shook hands, and he promised that he would be back.  We’ll argue again.

I’m looking forward to it.

We have been friends for over thirty years.  I know who he is.  I’ve watched him raise his children and love his wife, and I’ve watched him touch people’s lives.  So, we have a difference of opinion now and then.  What of it?  What idiot throws away a lifetime relationship because of a few words that hang in the wind and then are gone?

The more I think about it, the more I’m coming down on the same side as my spell checker. There is no such word as unfriend.  If it’s all the same to you, I believe I’ll be keeping all of you around, thanks.

I hope you feel the same way.

“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson ~ American philosopher/writer ~ 1803-1882)

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
(1 Peter 4:8 ~ NIV)

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

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