Back to the Basics

You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.
(As Time Goes By ~ Herman Hupfield)


Life is complicated.

That’s what I hear from folks.  It’s what I say myself, when I get confused about events in my life.  Relationships get tangled; children grow up and have adult problems, or they grow up and have children of their own—which yields the same result.

Wherever I look, the rest of the world encroaches on the boundaries I was careful to set—for myself and for my family.  Overwhelmed, I throw my hands up in surrender and declare it’s all too complicated for me.

Life is complicated.

Or, is it?

Perhaps, I could give an example or two from real life—my life—just today.  Since much of my life revolves around music, the examples will too, but I promise to attempt to avoid too much technical detail in the telling.

This morning, two vehicles  pulled into the parking lot at my music store at the same time.  Out of one, my preacher friend exited, holding two to-go cups of coffee.  From the other, another friend, about whom I’ve written before, alighted.  They had been at the local coffee shop and decided they should share a cup and some conversation with me.

I always enjoy their fellowship,  and today our conversation ran the gamut from memories of days long past to the preacher’s need for a rhythm instrument for his worship team.  We also talked about music a little, while our other friend strummed one of the vintage acoustic guitars he had taken from its hook on the wall.

The conversation turned to guitar playing, the man strumming the guitar explaining his finger-picking technique.  The preacher is also a guitarist, so we stopped our conversation to listen and watch for a moment.

As I watched, my mind began to race away on a tangent.  In the nearly forty years I’ve worked in the music business, I have seen many changes come in the way guitars are played, not the smallest being the blossoming of alternate tunings.  

I was taught that a guitar should always be tuned in a standard form.  The chords I learned fit that form.  The strings I install fit that form.  The way I tune the guitars which hang on my wall fit that form.

 Life used to be so simple.

Nowadays, anything goes.  Drop the pitch on a single string, but leave the rest in standard tuning—Keep the intervals the same, but drop all the pitches a half step, or one step, or two steps—Add strings to the neck and use higher and lower pitches for the additional strings—Anything goes.  If you can figure out how to play it, use whatever tuning you want.

I was just getting ready to suggest that playing the guitar was getting awfully complicated when the preacher brought things back into perspective.  Apparently, watching our mutual friend play his complicated fingerings was more than he was prepared to contemplate any longer.

guitar-196268_1280“The technique I like best when I play guitar,” he said, “is the one where I don’t drop the pick.”

I almost wanted to hug him. Almost.

In that moment, the light broke through the darkness of my confusion about playing guitar.  The profundity of the preacher’s statement stirred a common note within me.

Guitar playing is only as complicated as you make it!   When you strip it down to the basics, you play the chords and you don’t drop your pick.

All the rest is just fluff.  

Sure, there’s some good stuff which may be played later on, but you get there by mastering the basics.

One would think that moment of clarity would be enough to last me throughout the day.  One would be wrong.

I walked into the house tonight and, even before sitting down to supper, headed for the living room and opened up my French horn case.  I have been invited to play in the pit orchestra for an upcoming musical at the local university.  

Rehearsals begin next week.  I don’t want to be embarrassed.

“This music is complicated!”  I groused, as I pulled out the score.  “Look at all those odd time signatures!  I’ll never get this right!”

And, for the next forty-five minutes, I proceeded to prove my statement.  Wrong notes were the least of my problems, as I fumbled my way through the music.  To say I was overwhelmed would be like saying there are a few Razorback fans in the state of Arkansas.  Overwhelmed doesn’t nearly cover it.

As usual, the Lovely Lady came to my rescue.  As I explained my issues to her, she looked from me to the music, and then back at me again, smiling—you know, the kind of smile a teacher puts on when the solution to a math problem is as simple as one-two-three.  

No really.  That simple.

“You can still count, can’t you?  So there are more counts here than you’re used to.  Whether it’s two beats to a measure or ten to a measure, you still count it.  Slow it down as much as you need to work it out.  But, just count.”

Again the light came on!  

Basics.  Nothing but the basics.  

I’ve got a long way to go on that music, but for now, I’m going to concentrate on the basics.  I do know how to count.

I thought today about the Man the religious leaders of His day called RabbiTeacher—and how confusing must life have been during His days on the earth.  One might think there were just ten laws to follow, but one would be wrong.  The Ten Commandments had turned into a mountain of rules, depending on which sect you followed.

On the day I’m thinking about, the learned men—men who specialized in making life complicated for their followers—from two different sects came to the Teacher.  Both tried to trap him in error.  It should have been easy, given the convoluted maze of rules and regulations they had exaggerated from the original Ten.

The first group was silenced quickly and soon thereafter, the second gave it a shot.  Almost as if they were holding out a deck of cards, they asked the Teacher to pick one.

“Make sure you pick the most important one,” they warned.

He did.  

“Love God with every part of your being: Your heart and your soul, as well as your mind.”

Before they could remind Him that life is not lived on just one plane, He picked one more card.

“This one is a lot like the other.  Love people the way you love yourselves.”

Is life complicated?

Perhaps it’s time to get back to the basics.

Okay, so it’s not as easy as falling off a log.  Loving God involves learning what He requires of us.  It involves putting that into action.  And, loving people is one of those things—the major one.  There will be action required there, too.

Sometimes, we complicate things ourselves. 

I hope the light stays on for awhile.  

While it’s on, I’m going to learn how to hold on to the guitar pick.  

And, I’ll practice counting.

I may still be embarrassed as I take care of the basics.  Both in life and at my musical.

Neither will be fatal.

He still knows that we came from dust.  He still offers second chances.

Even if we drop the pick a time or two.




Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.
(Sir Isaac Newton ~ English physicist/mathematician ~ 1643-1727)


Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
(Matthew 22:34-40 ~ NIV)









© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 


3 thoughts on “Back to the Basics

  1. Yes, life can seem complicated until we examine God’s word. He breaks it down into basics for us—love the Lord and seek His kingdom first and all the rest falls into place! I enjoyed this reminder.

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