Saying Good Words

It was the perfect plan!  Perfect.

The Phillips Brats were in fine form.  Mr. Olson, the patient and gentle teacher of their primary Sunday School class, wouldn’t know what to do.  They were sure of it.

The eight and nine year-old boys normally were on their best behavior on Sunday mornings, since their father was acting as the Sunday School Superintendent that year.  They never knew when his strong fingers would slide through the portable cloth panel behind their chairs and pinch an arm to quiet down his rowdy offspring.  The man knew how to pinch!

Today, though—today—his work with the Post Office guaranteed there would be no pinched arms.  The busy holiday season required more hours of all the employees, and their dad, a clerk at the main office in town, was no exception.  He wouldn’t impede them in their mischievousness today.

They drafted one of the more courageous girls in the class to help with their plan.  It was a simple plan, but one guaranteed to disrupt progress.  

Mr. Olson began to teach and they went into action.  Well, it wasn’t really into action.  Each of the three children simply had an assigned word to whisper.  Just one.

The older brother didn’t hesitate.  


Their teacher stopped in mid-sentence, but only for a second.  His eye-brows went up quizzically, and then he was off again.  

It was time for brother number two to interject.


The result was the same.  No verbal response was forthcoming, nor was any expected.  The lesson simply went on.

Praise the Lord!

The brave little girl carried off her part admirably.  Mr. Olson didn’t even hesitate this time.  He wasn’t sure what was going on, but he would fulfill his responsibilities, regardless.

The entire half hour went in much the same manner.  The alternating voices, sometimes louder—sometimes softer—interjected at appropriate (or not) intervals, and the lesson was completed at last.

Amen!  Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord!

They are good words, are they not?

The plan was genius.  No Sunday School teacher in his right mind would deny the children the privilege of using those words in response to the lesson.  The boys knew that.  The problem is—the good words were not in response to anything.

They meant nothing to the children.  Nothing.

An entire lesson was wasted.  All while only good words were spoken.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

It is one of the Ten Commandments about which we are most vociferous.  In my house, growing up, we had a list of what my father called minced oaths—words mimicking the sound of God’s name—which were prohibited.  I cannot bring myself to say them aloud to this day.  You will, no doubt, be able to bring them to mind without me listing them here.

Frequently, I see written comments or hear them in conversation from well-meaning folks, who are fed up with the constant barrage.  I don’t disagree.  It is disheartening.

We understand what it means to take the name of God in vain.

Or, do we?

Well, at least the ancient men of God understood it, right?  They wouldn’t even utter His real name, choosing instead a euphemism.  The rationale was that they couldn’t inadvertently be guilty of trespass that way.

But, did they understand any better than we do?

What if taking the Lord’s name in vain has nothing—absolutely nothing—to do with the language that erupts when we smash our thumb with a hammer, or are spattered with hot grease?  

What if the foul words that come unbidden when we are angry and out of control are not even remotely connected to the principle God intended for us to take away from His instruction to mankind?

I wonder.  Is it possible that we will someday have to justify our passive invocation of God’s blessing upon our gatherings in which we do nothing but further our own well-being?

Will He reprimand us for the actions we have demanded of others in His name?  Our list of spiritual do’s and don’ts has grown sophisticated and somewhat unmanageable over the centuries.  

Somehow, I hear the voice of the Teacher castigating the teachers of the Law for their lists and demands, as He clearly tells them that the burden the people carry is not God’s, but theirs—and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them carry it. (Luke 11:46)

Saying_grace_before_carving_the_turkey_at_Thanksgiving_dinner_8d10749vWhat if our gatherings for giving thanks are not that at all, but simply a time for us to gaze fondly at our wealth and physical blessings, all the while closing our hearts—and hands—to those who have nothing?

The day we set aside as a country to celebrate our giving of thanks is upon us.

Amen!  Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord!

The children, perhaps, may be pardoned for their youthful misuse of the words.

What if, this time, we really meant the words?  I trust it will be so.

On this day, and throughout the year, may our gatherings be blessed with thankful hearts, out of which flow generosity of spirit and a love for others.

Give thanks!




Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
(Colossians 3:15-17 ~ NIV)



To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.
(Johannes A Gaertner ~ German born poet/theologian ~ 1912-1996)




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

Frosted Glass

I woke up this morning and, looking out the window, wondered about the fog.

Didn’t the weather man say it would be sunny this morning?

Mere seconds later, the fog cleared.  No, not the fog I was seeing through the window.  The fog in my brain.

Looking at the window again, I remembered that the exterior storm windows, set at a distance of a few inches from the original single-pane glass, hold in the moisture of the night.  On cold mornings, the view through the windows is dim and foggy, regardless of the weather outside.

road-815297_1920Sunny.  There was no fog—no mist.  

A beautiful morning.

It would not be many more hours before the fog was back.  The fog in my head, I mean.

I read the words once.  “Saying goodbye to my father…”

I read them again, this time through tears.  His father is a friend, an encourager, a tease.  One of my favorite people.

It’s not true.  He can’t be dead.

I don’t know what happened to the sun.  Perhaps the tears that came unbidden fogged up the view, but it was dim even after I wiped them away.

The rest of my day was viewed through a dark lens.  Tears, sarcasm, anger—all of them were close to the surface and likely to be unleashed without provocation.

I argued with two young men on separate occasions this afternoon.  They needed to know how dark the world is.  

I took care of that task.

One of them, a man in his late twenties, now clearly understands that his days of carefree happiness are numbered. The reality of death, which will close in to take scores of his friends as he ages, has been explained thoroughly to him.

The second, a slightly older father of two, now grasps fully the ugliness of sin hidden inside every person he respects and loves.  I did my best to explain to him that it would be every person who would disappoint.  Every person. 

The red-headed lady who raised me would have suggested at this juncture that misery loves company.  

I wasn’t done yet.  

Late this afternoon a longtime friend about my own age related his enjoyment at watching a documentary of a famous singer who, though struggling with Alzheimer’s, still finished his farewell concert tour.  It seemed, to my friend, a triumph in the face of overwhelming odds.

Astounded that anyone should see even one ray of sunshine on such an obviously dark day, I set him straight, citing my mother’s experience with the horrible disease before her death last summer.  I wasn’t gentle, helping him to understand with graphic descriptions of the horror.

I have apologies to make.

More than that, I need to learn to trust a loving God, who sees the beginning and the end.  When events overwhelm, He sends messengers to offer words of comfort, but I, drowning in the dark waves, attempt to pull them down as well.

I will make my apologies.  

Learning to trust will take longer—perhaps a lifetime.  

Tonight, I’m in agreement with the Psalmist, who suggested that he had some complaints to make and asked that they be heard.  (Psalm 64:1)

Funny thing.  He got to the end of his complaining and found there was light at the end of the darkness.  (Psalm 64:10)

Light.  And hope.

It is not so dark here as I thought.

I’m hearing from lots of my friends who believe the entire world is dark and without hope.  Events and fears have colored the glass through which they view all of God’s creation.

This morning, as I walked out of my house, the sunshine was brilliant beyond description.  The storm windows, designed to protect, had given an illusion of a world covered in cloud.

Beyond the illusion, the sun is still shining.

The light has shined into darkness and has not been overcome by it.

It is not so dark out here.




Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.
(Christopher Columbus ~ Italian explorer ~ ca. 1451-1506)


Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall make smooth your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6 ~ NKJV)





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


I was in a quandary.  The nice young lady had asked me if I would play my horn with the pit orchestra for a musical at the local university.  Flattered, and hopeful I would be able to cover the part, I agreed.

I would regret my decision very soon thereafter.

My personal preparation for the production (which ran for four nights) would involve many hours—painful hours—of practice.  I’m an old man who has coasted for many years, playing easy, pretty things—the kind of music that makes folks sigh and exclaim that the French horn is their favorite instrument.

This wasn’t that kind of music.  I wasn’t able to cover the part without the personal wood-shedding of the pieces over and over.

I wish that had been the hardest part of preparing for the production.  It wasn’t.  The hardest part had nothing to do with the music, or the time involved, or even the people who would participate with me.

It’s a raunchy story.


manoflamanchaThe story of a demented man who wanders the countryside pretending to be a knight.  It’s the story of people who steal what they want from fellow travelers.  The demented knight is robbed and beaten, and he dies.

He dies.

All of that wasn’t a problem for me.

What was a problem was that one of the main characters, a serving lady in the inn, is also a prostitute.  I didn’t like that she has a filthy mouth.  I didn’t like that the songs seem to make light of the sinful state of the folks who populate the stage play.

I almost called the nice young lady and told her I couldn’t be involved in her production.  You see, I’m not a raunchy person.  I don’t want to be identified with that type of stuff.

I’m not raunchy.  Right?

I didn’t call the nice young lady.  Instead, I listened to a recording of the play one last time before making a decision.  I sat through the fight in the inn’s courtyard as the knight sought to protect the serving lady’s honor, a laughable attempt at a vain undertaking, I thought.  It was especially futile, given that the first man he did battle with had already paid the cash price the woman demanded for her services.  

Moments later in the track, the crude musical explanation of who she knew herself to be left me nodding my head in agreement.  She was crude, the crudeness almost overshadowing the shock of her being raped at one point during the story.

No.  I just couldn’t do this.  I couldn’t be a part of this thing.  I would call the nice young lady in the morning and back out as gracefully as I could.

But the recording was still playing.  

The mad knight would not be swayed.  The lady, his dream of womanhood, could be none other than his sweet Dulcinea, even though she insisted she was neither pure nor sweet. 

I never expected to cry.

It’s not a religious story.  It’s a raunchy tale of twisted humanity.  

And redemption.

Really.  Redemption.

An impossible dream.

The prostitute becomes the lady the deluded knight envisioned.  

How is that possible?

I cried every night of the production.  Every night.  As I played my horn, tears ran down my cheeks.

The story of mankind is a raunchy tale of twisted humanity.  You may read the whole story in the Bible.  Don’t say you haven’t been warned though. 

The pages are populated by adulterers, prostitutes, murderers, liars, cheats, and thieves—to say nothing of insane kings and philandering judges.

Yes.  The Holy Bible.  The same Book that says, whatever is true, honest, just, pure, holy, these are the things to contemplate. (Philippians 4:8)

Here’s the thing:  The raunchy tale of twisted humanity is also the story of a Holy God who looked at what was and saw what would be.  A God who would take the flawed and filthy  and make it pure and whole


And, raunchy becomes righteous.

Somehow, we don’t want to talk about the dirty stuff.  We avoid the filth—as if we’ve never been filthy ourselves.  I sometimes wonder if it makes us feel better to think about how perfect we are, comparing ourselves with others who haven’t experienced His Grace.  Or, perhaps it simply reminds us of hard truths and sad experiences we’d rather not remember.  

But, this I know:  Without the depravity—without the raunchiness, there would never have been the redemption.  Without sin—no grace.

We do Him a disservice when we sweep the story under the rug, as if it never happened.  We lie when we lead people to believe that we are any better than the rest of the raunchy world.

We discount the value of the astounding gift given us when we avoid the stigma of our past lives, as if it had never happened.

What a gift to a people who deserved nothing better than to wallow in their own filth!


Once I was.  Not any more.






“Once, just once, would you look at me as I really am?”
“I see beauty, purity. Dulcinea.”
(from Man of La Mancha ~ Dale Wasserman ~ American playwright ~ 1914-2008)


. . .just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
(Ephesians 5:25-27 ~ NIV)



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

Cream and Sugar?

Did we save any room for dessert?

The young lady waiting on our table clears away the dishes, while asking the question.  I wonder a moment if she is including herself in the query, but it is clear she uses the word we to avoid any hint of accusation that we would have stuffed ourselves while eating our meal.

We did, in fact, save room for dessert on this occasion and we tell her what we would like.  To carry on the charade of not being gluttons, we will share the giant-sized portion of the brownie sundae.

I want a cup of coffee and tell the young lady so.  She writes a note on her pad and asks if I’d like cream and sugar with it.  I don’t.

I never did.

That is changing, though.  I’m remembering that my mother always liked a little evaporated milk and a spoonful of sugar in hers.  I have wondered why that was.

On a recent visit to the grocery store with the Lovely Lady, I suggested we buy a container of flavored creamer.  Italian Cream.  You know—for our daughter and her husband, when they came to visit.  And to satisfy my curiosity.


Can I tell you a secret?  I drink coffee—the habit of many years, but it’s not my favorite flavor.  Oh, the slightly bitter taste is palatable, but I can’t drink it very quickly.  I sit and nurse a cup for an hour.  By the time I’m ready for another, the dregs in my cup are cold and I toss the useless liquid into the sink before pouring my next cup.

On that fateful day we arrived home with the flavored creamer in our grocery box, I wasn’t all that hopeful.  Cream was for wimps.  

May I say it again?  Wow!

I poured a little into the bottom my cup and filled it up with coffee.  Ten minutes later, I was back for another cup.  

Ten minutes.

She’s still buying the creamer at the grocery store.  Two bottles last week.  I refuse to look at the calorie count on the label. 

espresso-833565_1920I still get that old familiar coffee flavor in my cup.  Only now, it’s a smooth, mellow flavor.  The bitterness is not evident at all.  And the sweetness?  I love sweet things.  

Now I can drink so much more!

What do you mean, I shouldn’t do that?  It tastes great!  Smooth and sweet—how could that be bad?

The realization was a real wake-up call.  No.  Literally.  

A wake-up call.

On a recent night, as I sat and wrote into the wee hours of the morning, I consumed five cups.  Five.

I lay on my bed and stared into the darkness until daylight.  

Did you know that, even though the tan-colored liquid in my cup tastes so much better and goes down more smoothly, it’s still coffee?

It’s still coffee.  With caffeine.  And acid.

Did you also know that there is more to talk about here than just coffee?  

I’m a little embarrassed to admit my little affair with the coffee creamer to you anyway.  But, not nearly as embarrassed as I would be if I had to admit all the other lies I tell myself everyday.

I’m not gossiping.  I’m sharing concerns.  We can pray for them, too.

I’m not really a glutton.  I’ll run an extra mile to make up for it later.

It’s not actually a lie.  I’m really just bending the truth a little.  It’s for his own good anyway.

It’s not really envy.  I simply need to work a few extra hours each week, so I can have the same nice things my neighbor has.

These are only the tip of the iceberg.  In so many ways, I twist the truth and present myself in just the light I want you to see me.  The creamy brown sweetness is so much more appealing than the bitter, blackness of my heart.

Pour all the milk and sugar in you want.  It’s still coffee in the cup.

Put pumpkin flavoring in it with the milk and call it pumpkin spice latté.

It’s still coffee.

And, it still keeps me awake at night.




The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
(Jeremiah 17:9 ~ NASB)


For a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,
The medicine go down, the medicine go down—
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way.
(from Mary Poppins ~ Robert/Richard Sherman ~ American songwriters)






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

Keep Walking

Yesterday was Windsday.  I know, I know—that’s not how it’s spelled, but it is what happened yesterday.  

windy1My late father-in-law would have shoved the door open, leaves floating around his white hair, and announced that it was a bit air-ish out.  He would have been right, too.

Throughout the whole day, the wind blew at least fifteen miles an hour, sometimes with sustained winds of over thirty.  There were even a number of gusts blowing at almost fifty miles an hour.

Trash cans flew over, canvas signs flapped noisily, and the black walnuts falling on the tin roof made a racket like a kid throwing rocks at a stop-sign. 

The black monsters in the back yard eventually got so tired of disengaging themselves from the debris and struggling to stay upright that they spent most of the day inside their doghouse.

I wasn’t as bright as the dogs.  Needing to conduct business with one of my instrument technicians, I headed out into the blowing night after work.  Flying in the same direction as the wind in my pickup truck, I hardly noticed it at all.  It would be an uneventful evening ride.

That was before.  

Before I turned the other direction to head for home.  Before I felt the buffeting wind lifting the body of my truck.

Before I began to see things.  

In the wind.  I saw things in the wind.  Coming right at me.  

It is fall in the Ozarks and the leaves are barely clinging to the branches as it is.  The blustery wind needed to do little persuading to convince the trembling foliage to turn loose.  The problem is, I was driving into that gusting blast.

It wasn’t only leaves that attacked me.  Plastic shopping bags of all sizes danced on the wind, spinning and diving madly.  In front of me and beside me, they tore past, along with other unidentifiable objects.  

It was, to say the least, disconcerting.  I didn’t know whether to brake the truck and creep into the wind, or dodge the debris, swerving right and left, hoping against hope that there wasn’t something solid about to crash through my windshield.

I wasn’t the only one.  The scariest moment on the twenty-five-mile drive home came on a busy four-lane highway, as all of us motorists scooted for our destinations at sixty or seventy miles an hour.  

In the lane beside and just ahead of me, the car suddenly swerved toward the shoulder.  Looking at the road right in front of where he had been, I saw a huge mound of some sort of reflective material.  Relieved that he hadn’t hit it, I continued on.

Suddenly, I realized the mound was moving quickly into my lane, shoved over in his wake.  Worried about the cars in the lane beside me and riding my bumper, I held my ground, heading straight for the object as I steeled myself for an impact.

Swish!  The air-filled mass of flexible plastic sucked under my truck and blew up and over the cars following me.

Only a huge plastic bag blowing on the wind!  Nothing more.

Say the word.  Say the word and I’ll come.

The man nicknamed The Rock was speaking to his Teacher.  Impetuous and not a little blustery himself, he was sure it would be safe.  

The Teacher waved a hand.  Come on, then.

You know the story.  Peter walked on the water.  Until he noticed something.  No, it wasn’t the water.  He was fine with that.

Walk on water?  Pssssssh!  Easy stuff!

No.  He saw something else.  It was there when he set out.  It had been there when he blurted out his challenge to the Teacher to let him walk with Him.  But, now it worried him.

The wind was blowing.  Hard.

What if the Teacher hadn’t figured on that when He called him?  What if the wind made him lose his balance?  What if he got salt water in his eyes and couldn’t see where he was going?

What if?

The wind outside has stopped blowing.  The weather system moved on to the east during the dark hours last night.  It was sunny and warm by this afternoon.

Not so in my soul.

Inside there a storm was brewing.  Events and conversations this morning stirred up the storm to an intense blast within a small amount of time.  A hurricane of epic proportions.

It’s not my imagination.  The storm is real.

I’m seeing things in the wind—Coming right at me.

Do I stop going the way I’m headed?  Swerve off on a tangent?  Go back?

You know what I’m going through, don’t you?  You’ve been here, too.  I suspect every one of us has been in the storm.

So—what of the options?  Do we stop?  Should we go a different direction?  Maybe it’s time to just turn around.

No.  None of those are any good.  

The place we need to get to—Home—is out there, ahead of us.

I’ve thought of that old story I learned in Sunday School years ago a lot.  Do you realize that the guys back there in the boat were in the storm, too?  The wind was blowing stuff at them just as hard as at Peter.

They just weren’t out there with Jesus.  They were still in the storm—still on their own.

Who was safer?

I think I’ll keep walking.  Against the wind.

You, too?





Voiceless it cries,

Wingless flutters,
Toothless bites, 
Mouthless mutters. 
(J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English poet/author ~ 1892-1973)


“Goodbye,” said Eeyore.  “Mind you don’t get blown away, little Piglet.  You’d be missed. People would say, ‘Where’s little Piglet been blown to?’—really wanting to know.”
(from The House at Pooh Corner ~ A.A. Milne  ~ English author ~ 1882-1956)


“Come,” he said.Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
(Matthew 14:29-31 ~ NIV)

The Dark Inches

The young man sat on a stool in my music store the other day, strumming a guitar.  As I had already done earlier, I simply looked over momentarily to check on him, and turned back to my work.  The music continued.

He wasn’t the best guitar player to sit on that stool.  Some incredibly difficult and flashy pieces have been played by other musicians there.  Still, he was certainly competent.  And, he was happy.  He smiled the whole time he sat there, fingering the chords and lead lines to the songs, as he hummed along.

I had been on the telephone when he and his brother had walked in the door, so I hadn’t really seen them come in.  Glancing up, I had waved a quick greeting before focusing again on the items I was entering in the computer program open before me.

If I had been free, I might not have been as surprised later when the happy young man finished playing.  Instead of replacing the guitar on its hanger against the wall, he just sat there with it dangling from his hand.

His smile was gone.  While he had been playing, his brother had moved around the corner in the shop and was looking at something against the far back wall.  

After sitting uncomfortably for a moment, the young guitarist called out to his brother, “Hey!  I’m ready to move!”  

Immediately, the other man turned and, walking rapidly, came to his brother’s side, touching him on the shoulder.  The guitarist held the guitar up and the fellow hung it with the others on the wall.

Then I saw it.  The young man was sightless.  

I understood now.  His brother was his eyes in a strange environment.  As he stood, the brother moved close, standing right in front of him.  From there, with a hand on his brother’s shoulder, the young blind man moved easily through the store, back to the guitar strings hanging on the slat-wall display.

If you’ve been in my store, you will understand this is not as simple a journey as it sounds.  Amplifiers jut out from the wall and instrument cases clutter the aisles.  The stack of instruments awaiting repairs is formidable even to sighted folks.

Still, the sight-impaired young man, smiling again, navigated his way easily to and from the back of the store.  His hand never left his guide’s shoulder and the guide didn’t fail him.

The young guitarist trusted his brother.

trustHe trusted him and the brother lived up to his expectation.  Not once did the duo run into anything.  Never did the blind man get hung up on the corner of a counter, nor did he trip over any unseen obstacle in his way.

He trusted his guide.

What is it like to have to trust someone else completely?

Some who read or hear these words already have an intimate knowledge of the experience.  The absence of physical abilities have made laughable the claim of being captain of their own ship.  Without any act of their own will, they must depend upon others for their well-being.  Every day.

I consider that circumstance and I marvel, not only at the courage to face every day of their lives, but also at the helpers who have come alongside these folks and have said by their actions, count on me; I’ll be here for you through think or thin.

Put your faith in me.

But, you know there is more to it than the physical, don’t you?  Before the brothers had walked out my door, my mind was racing.

I trust the God who sees all.

I do.

When I can see it, too.

The disciple named Thomas, the one we have dubbed Doubting Thomas, had nothing on me.

I want to see it.  I’ll believe it, sure—after I see it.  (John 20:25)

Thomas was the same man who had suggested they needed a better roadmap earlier.  The Teacher suggested they already knew the way to where He was going and Thomas objected.

We don’t even know where You’re going.  How do you suppose we’d know the way?  (John 14:5)

I like the practical way Thomas’ mind thought.  I’m all for this trust and faith stuff, but first, give me a GPS and let me see the evidence.

We call it blind faith for a reason.

Mostly, it’s that we can’t see more than a step ahead, but we trust that our Guide will lead us well.  Without seeing the obstacles, nor even the dangers in the dark, we know He won’t run us into anything that will hurt us.

Funny, isn’t it?  I stood on the edge of a life with Him and looked out into the distance and told Him I would trust Him to get me there.  It was a glorious future.  Relationships and family, jobs and ministry—even physical well being—I trusted Him with all of it.  For years ahead, I would walk the road with Him.

I just didn’t expect I’d have to trust Him in the dark.  

Surely, He needs my help and advice.  Surely.

As if.

Faith demands that we trust the same for the dark inches as we are willing to trust for the brilliant miles.  Either we trust Him or we don’t.  It’s that simple.

So, here I am with my hand on His shoulder, putting one foot in front of the other.


And hopefully, smiling as I go.

I’ll work on that, too.





Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
(Hebrews 11:1 ~ NRSV)


Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
(Civilla D Martin ~ Canadian-American hymnwriter ~ 1866-1948)




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


I am ashamed.  Mortified, even.  I may not be able to bear the embarrassment.

hammer-802298_1920I paid the fine today.  I only hope no one finds out.  If word gets out that I’ve been fined, I may have to leave town.

You know, it has just occurred to me that the use of that word, fine, is an odd thing.

The judge brings his gavel down as he intones, “The fine will be $150; you may pay the clerk.  Next case, please!”

“How are you doing?”  “Why, I’m just fine, thanks!”

There is a fine line between cruelty and discipline.

The local restaurant only serves gourmet food and fine wine.

When we play certain pieces of music through, the last time a repeat is taken, we end the piece at the finé mark.  It actually says fine right above the music staff. Yes, I do know that there is an accent on the e in that usage, but you will see that it makes no difference at all.  The word is still fine.

What a lot of things we use that word for.  They don’t all seem to mean the same thing, either.  One has to wonder if the word even comes from the same place for each usage.  I wondered too, so I did a little research.

“Finé: circa 1300, from Old French fin ‘perfected, of highest quality;’ Also from Latin finis, ‘end, limit,’ hence, ‘acme, peak, height.'”

They all come from the same root word.  When something is perfect, it is complete.  Completion is the limit to how far a thing can go.  The best, the top, the height of achievement.  Oh, and the fine we pay in court is the end of the matter.  There is no other punishment to follow, the subject is closed.


A smile comes to my face as I remember Azalee Hammerly, more than forty years ago, noticing that word in her copy of the choral octavo we were reading through.  There weren’t many real musicians among the rag-tag volunteer choir at the little red brick church, but they gave it their all.

Our long-suffering director had done just that–suffered–through our initial reading of the new piece.  It was awful!  No—worse than that!  Horrendous.  Mrs. Hammerly wasn’t really trying to be a comedienne, but it didn’t matter.

The sound of our voices had hardly died away, when she leaned over to Helen Wagner and whispered, not very quietly, “You see, we did fine!  It says so right at the end there!”

The whole choir roared with laughter.

We knew the truth.  It wasn’t fine.  We just reached the end.  Given what had preceded the end, it seemed like being finished was a good thing to all of us.


I still like the word.  I like the idea of completion.  I’m looking forward to perfection.  Okay, maybe not perfection in the way that we understand it, but the day will come when all my deeds are written in the book of my life.  The limit will be reached and nothing else, either good or bad, can be added.

As I thought about all these things tonight, another memory leapt to my mind.  In that same old red brick church, all those years ago, I remember being taught about the Son of God on the cross.  As He paid the penalty for my crimes against God, He spoke one last time.  (John 19:30)


Yeah, it’s a bit of a paraphrase from what you may be used to hearing. But, that is what He said.  Read it how you will; try to change the meaning if you wish.  It means each of them individually and all of them at once.

He said that it was finished, and the final act accomplished.  He said that the penalty was paid, never to be levied again.  He said that it was the absolute best that could be done, a work that needed no improvement.  (Hebrews 10:10-14)


Whew!  I’m not sure how we got way down here.  I only wanted to come clean about my crime and punishment.  Still, it’s nice to know that I’ll not have to face any further penalty.  In more ways than just this little matter.

What’s that?  What was the fine for?

Oh, I kept a library book for an extra day.  The Lovely Lady is returning it for me tomorrow.  I laid a dollar atop the book so she could clear my besmirched name with the other librarians where she works.

It will be the end of the affair.

Everything will be just fine.







“There are two kinds of people; those who finish what they started and so on.”
(Robert Byrne ~ American author & billiard instructor)

“No one has a problem with the first mile of a journey.  Even an infant could do fine for a while.  But it isn’t the start that matters.  It’s the finish line.”
(from The Flinch by Julien Smith ~ American author/public speaker)




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

Lift Up Your Eyes


It’s a big word, isn’t it?  We’ll talk about it later.  For now, I want to talk about something else.

Those who have known me for a long time are aware of the fact that I have worn glasses for most of my life.  I have myopia—near-sightedness—which makes it difficult for me to see things which are far away.

Additionally, I have astigmatism in both eyes, so I really can’t see much without corrective lenses.  And, without the advances in manufacturing technology in recent years, mine would have to be very thick.  As it is, modern plastics have made it possible…

What’s that?

Oh.  Astigmatism.  The distortion of the eye’s cornea.  It adds to the problem I have with myopia, causing images both far and near to be blurry and even a little disproportional.  Almost like a fun-house mirror, although not nearly as much fun.

What happens is that I have to wear my glasses constantly if I want to see anything farther than three or four feet away from me clearly.  Many of my friends have never seen me without the glasses.  I only take them off for certain activities; sleep, swimming, showering, etc.

glasses-983947_1920Oh yes!  I also take them off to see objects up close.  I can read better without them and focus on small objects in my hand easier.  If you watch me working at my repair bench, you may see me remove my glasses occasionally.

In fact, I was in the middle of a delicate repair on a clarinet one day recently, a task which took all my concentration.  Although I was alone in the music store, it had been a slow morning, and I wasn’t much worried about being interrupted.

With my work held as still as possible, and gazing steadily at the tiniest of tiny screws my miniature screwdriver was manipulating, the bell on the front door jangled, announcing customers.

Wouldn’t you know it?  Just when I needed to be left alone!

Hardly daring to move my head, I quietly said, “I’ll be with you in just a moment.”

I don’t think my exasperated tone was lost on the folks, whoever they were.  Still, they waited patiently for me to finish.

Moments later, the minuscule screw finally tightened into place, I looked up.  I knew there were two people there, but they were all fuzzy.

Oh!  My glasses!  I fumbled for them on my work bench and, setting the plastic frames on the bridge of my nose, turned to them once more.

Old friends I hadn’t seen for years were standing there, grins on faces, laughing at me.  We hugged and spent a long time bringing each other up to date on life events and changes the years had brought to pass.

It was a great visit and then they went on their way, anxious to reach their destination by day’s end.  I went back to my work.

But, as I completed the repair, I wondered what it was I had thought so important about the task earlier.  I made my friends wait while I, engrossed in my own little world, had achieved some insignificant procedure which could have been done at any time.

Engrossed in my own little world…

Now, what does that remind me of?  There was something—something—I was going to write about…

Ah, yes!

Omphaloskepsis.  That was it!  I promised we’d get back to it earlier.

A wise old man brought the word to my attention years ago.  He spoke of mystics in the Eastern world who sit and meditate for days on end.  Expelling all other thoughts, all other reminders of everyday life and its responsibilities, they spend days on end in this meditative state.

Days.  Spent in contemplation of their own belly-buttons.

Yep.  Their belly-buttons.

Omphalos—The center of all things.  The navel.

Skepsis—Focus.  Examination.

Navel-gazing.  An ancient practice.

Funny.  I get the idea a few of my readers may be laughing at me right now.

But, then I wonder if in the midst of the laughter, the impact of these thoughts on this ridiculous practice makes its way to the target.

We have our own words in our culture for the practice.  Self-absorbed.  Self-centered.


In our spiritual myopia, our field of vision shrinks in upon itself, until all we can see is what we need.  We almost can’t see past the end of our noses.

Somehow, as we age, our desire to reach out of our comfort zone lessens.  We have done our part.  It is someone else’s turn.

And, just like that, suddenly and unexpectedly, we have lost our relevance to the world around us.

There is much to say about relevance in our response to the culture we are engulfed in, but I will save a few of those words for another day.

For today, I wonder if it makes sense for us to find our relevance in the words and life of our Savior.  Perhaps, if the field of our vision were to be expanded, we would see beyond our own needs and desires.

I find myself coming back to the words again and again, maybe even to the point of annoying my readers, but they are applicable in this instance, too.

When the Teacher sat with the other teachers of His day, they tested Him, asking what was most important.

We know His answer.  We do really well at it.

That is, we work hard at trying to accomplish the first part.

Love God with every part of your being. (Matthew 22:37)

Then the teachers asked the Teacher what came second in importance.

Again, we know His answer.  We like to talk about it.

It’s not so much that we want to accomplish it; we just like to talk about accomplishing it.

Love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself. (Matthew 22:39)

You see, we like the concept of omphaloskepsis way too much.

Oh, sure we do.

God lives inside of us.  We get to contemplate life with Him.  We get to be one with Him.  It’s about us—me and God.

Me and Jesus, we got our own thing going.
Me and Jesus, we got it all worked out.

And then somebody goes and spoils it and tells us we have to stop looking at our belly-buttons.

Do we want to be relevant again?

We’re going to have to care for those around us as He did.  Give up our demands for comfort.  Abandon our requirement that we be served first.

Relevance demands putting others first.

I wonder.  Could it be time for us to look up from our own affairs?

Maybe we could look at the world once more through the lens supplied us by its Creator.

And He said to them, “Lift up your eyes…”




If you just focus on the smallest details, you’ll never get the big picture right.
(Leroy Hood ~ American biologist)


When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;”
(Matthew 9:36-37 ~ NRSV)





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

One Off

It is one of my favorite musical instruments that ever has been carried through my doors.

carvedviolinI’ve never heard it play a single note.  I almost certainly will never hear it play one.

And yet, I treasure it.  

Without a clue to who made it, I admire its maker.  Without any knowledge of its history, I envy the first musician to hold it in her hands, freshly rosined bow held at the ready to bring forth the first notes ever drawn from the hand-carved top.

In my fancy, I see the smile play on the lips of the fortunate violinist.  The dust from the rosin-laden bow puffs from the strings as they vibrate with rich tones.  The slim fingers fly along the fingerboard, feeling out the familiar tunes.

No finer performance ever emanated from a Stradivari-made instrument or even one touched by the famed Giuseppi Guarneri at the height of the golden-age of violin making.  The room in which the musician stands is filled with light and sound—memories made for all the years of a lifetime, be they happy and full, or tortured and lonely.

Odd, isn’t it?  The instrument I’m looking at as it rests beside my desk tonight is not valuable—at least not in the sense that comes to our minds.  

It will never be a collector’s piece.  No catalog will ever list it as a desirable commodity in the world of violin connoisseurs.  No auction house will ever feature it in their offerings to the newly-wealthy seeking that signature piece in which to invest.

And yet, the violin is a one of a kind.  A masterpiece of sorts.  

There is not an identical instrument anywhere in the world.  From stem to stern, the design and hand of the maker are in evidence.  Except for the strings, two sad, rusted specimens which have seen the last bow ever to be drawn over their midsections, every part of the old fiddle—every part—was hand-carved by the maker.

Think of it!  

Each plank of wood was hand-selected by the master for the color and grain.  He planed, and carved, and sanded them, paying special attention to the curve of the top and the back, until they were exactly the right shape to be fitted to the side pieces.  

The long narrow piece of maple was carved, a painstakingly slow and difficult task.  Maple is a particularly hard wood, and not cooperative with the carving process.  And yet, out of the hard, stubborn lump of blond wood, the scroll at the tip of the instrument took shape, curving down to the neck, then the heel where the neck joined the body.

Not to belabor a point, but the maker even thought it essential to carve the tuning pegs by hand, a task that must have exceeded an hour’s time spent on each one.  Complete sets, machined and polished, sell for fifteen or twenty dollars in my store.  Factory made bridges are not expensive, nor are the tailpieces.  Still, this unknown master deemed it important that every single piece be hand carved.

Every single component.  Made by his hand.  

Unique.  A thing of beauty.

And yet…

And yet, if I compare the aged violin with others in my store, this old fiddle doesn’t fare so well.  There are rough edges where the others are smooth.  The shape is not symmetrical, as is that of the factory built instruments.  The hand-cut fittings—the bridge, the pegs, the tailpiece—are crude and not as sturdy.  

Nothing shines; nothing gleams.

What a treasure!

And suddenly, as I gaze at the old violin, I see them.

 I finally see them.

Every day, they come to see me for one reason or another.  The reason is of no consequence.  That they walk through my door is the hand of Providence.  Nothing happens without purpose.

If I look closely, I can find defects in every single one.  And once in awhile, someone actually points out the defects to me.  After the person is gone.  Always after they’re gone.

I have, to my shame, pointed out the defects myself.

And the Teacher stopped writing in the dirt long enough to suggest that any of them without defect could feel free to carry out the sentence in person.  Then, squatting down again, He ran His finger through the dust once more, waiting for them to grasp the impact of His message. (John 8:6-8)

Do you suppose any one of the teachers of the Law missed the message of the dust he played with?  How long did it take for them to remember what they were made from?

He never forgets it.  How would He?  He made us!  (Psalm 103:14)

As with the old violin, the comparisons with others prove nothing.  Each person who walks through my door is a masterpiece of unique design.

A one-off, if you will.

Every one, a treasure.  Every single one.

Fearfully and wonderfully made.

I can almost hear the music again.




Odyous of olde been comparisonis, And of comparisonis engendyrd is haterede.
(John Lyndgate ~ English monk/poet ~ 1370-1451


For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;  that I know very well.
(Psalm: 13-14 ~ NRSV)





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

Dance With Who Brung You

The red-headed lady that raised me is at work once more.  Oh, I know she’ll never actually say the words again, but still I hear her voice in my head.

Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream.

The old adage has been passed through several generations since Abraham Lincoln popularized it as a campaign slogan in 1864.  He used the word picture to convince a divided nation to keep him as president during the Civil War.  It still means basically the same thing today as it did back then.

Don’t make drastic changes in the way you are achieving a goal while in the middle of that activity.

Have you seen the movies where they show the driver and a passenger in a vehicle trading places as it careens down the highway at high speed?  The result is usually a little scary, and somewhat humorous, but almost never disastrous.  

I wonder if anyone reading this has attempted such a maneuver in real life?  No, I don’t mean on an empty stretch of highway.  I’m thinking about during rush hour, on the busiest freeway in Los Angeles—or Dallas—or Atlanta.

Anyone?  Anyone at all?

I didn’t think so.

No one in their right mind would try that foolish shenanigan under those conditions.   No one.

It has been on my mind for a few months, so I mentioned it to a few select friends the other day.  Well, it was actually a few friends and acquaintances on Facebook.  I realized the Lovely Lady and I have owned and operated our music store for thirty years this week.  It’s a long time to do one thing.

I mentioned it and my friends rose to the occasion, sending notes of congratulations and praise.  

I may have taken the praise too much to heart.

Today was the first day of my thirty-first year of owning and operating a music store.  I don’t know what I expected.  From the congratulatory notes I read about the first thirty years, I suppose I wanted to think the hard days were behind me.  Everybody loves us and will do what is necessary to insure our lives will be easy from here on out.

There would be no more fussy customers to make happy.  No more sticky problems would arise.  I’ll never have another unpaid bill to be concerned about.

None of those was true today.  It was a day of struggle and of problem-solving.  Exactly as nearly every day of the previous thirty years has been. Customers didn’t receive their orders as expected.  I had to take back a guitar a customer had changed his mind about.  There is a large payment due to a vendor tomorrow, and no surplus of funds in my bank account today.  

Nothing has changed.  We face the same challenges, the same necessities.  It would be easy to despair.

I won’t.

Reality continues on apace.  We will deal with that reality in precisely the same way we have always attempted to do so.

I said the words to a young man as I tied strings on his classical guitar today.  He is wondering what comes next for him, hoping to achieve dreams and plans for his family.  I’ve said the words before to my readers, relating my conversation with a wise man many years past.

This is my place of ministry.  These are the people I am called to minister to.

It’s not a church.  It’s not a foreign country.  It is where God has placed me.  For now.  The interactions arrive as they will, sometimes at the lazy speed of a country lane, sometimes at the frenzied pace of a crowded freeway at rush hour.

I am resolved that I will not change horses in the middle of this stream.

With that reminder, I hear the voice of the red-headed lady once more.

emotional-50309_1280You got to dance with who brung you.

She wasn’t much for dancing, my Mom.  It was frowned upon in my family and church in those days.  That said, she grasped fully the concept of being faithful and committed.  She wanted her children to do the same.

I understand how I got to the place I am today.  As I look back over many years of life, I see many influences.  I do.  

But, I know beyond any question Who brought me to this point.

I’m planning to keep dancing with Him.  

There are numerous other tempting companions here at the Dance.  I see many I know who are changing partners, not necessarily suddenly.  Little by little, over time, they have been drawn by promises of other rewards—other pleasures.

The end of the Dance is not going to be a happy time for them.  Their new partners will never satisfy the expectations they have.  The disappointment will be profound.

The dance of life continues.  The steps are sometimes intricate and complicated, taking every bit of concentration I can muster.  At other times, all I have to do is follow the lead of my Partner.

If I step on His feet and of those around me, patiently the steps are explained again.  Never, not once, have I been sent to sit against the wall and wait until I can do it better.

The dance is not over.  There’s still time and room for as many more as will come.  The invitation is open.  The Host still says come.  (Revelation 22:17)

The music is starting again.  

I know who my Partner is.  


The same One who brung me…




Nothing shapes your life more than the commitments you choose to make.
(Rick Warren ~ American pastor/author)


The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
(Revelation 22:17 ~ ESV)


Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
(Revelation 2:4 ~ NKJV)




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