You? A Genius?

I didn’t laugh.  I’m sure I didn’t.  Still, I must have looked a little incredulously at him, because he repeated the word.  

Genius.

A genius.  Really?

The fellow in front of me, a rather normal looking fellow sixty-some years of age had just let me in on a secret he hadn’t told many people.  When he was younger, he informed me quietly, his school counselor had administered an IQ test.  

His voice got even quieter, almost a whisper, as he nodded sagely.  “It was right up there at genius level.”

We didn’t speak about that again in our conversation.  I was happy to leave the subject alone.  As we talked though, I observed some things that continue to give me pause tonight.

He told me he didn’t read books—in fact, he hates reading.  I also noted his lack of grammatical accuracy as we spoke together.  It is not something I normally take note of, such inaccuracies being the rule rather than the exception for many people I talk with.

Still, I expected more—of a genius. 

Well, you would—wouldn’t you?

The gift (or curse) of genius brings with it the weight of responsibility.  It is true of all gifts.  Not to say that they must be repaid, but that there is a respect due the gift itself—the respect of using it well and to its fullest capability.

I’m not a genius.  I think no one would attempt to foist that improbability off as truth.  I have muddled through life with my average intelligence.  I’m rather proud of it.

But, even as the words appear on the page, I have a sinking feeling they may come around to trip me (and perhaps you) up.  Let’s see if we can still avoid that, shall we?

The genius who refuses to play the part of one—that’s who we’re speaking of here, isn’t it?  Perhaps, we can just cast our judgments about him and be done with it.  

He’s been given so much, so very much, and yet he goes about his average life, working his average job, doing the same things any of us average folk do.  Doesn’t he know he owes the world more?

Oh, I can’t do this! 

You knew I couldn’t.

This isn’t about my genius friend who won’t play the part of a genius.  It’s about me.  It might even be about you.

I hear the words of the Teacher, as he spoke of those who had been given magnificent gifts and understanding of how to use those gifts.  To whom much has been given, much will be required.  And, those who have received an even greater portion will be asked for that much more. (Luke 12:48)

Somehow, I get the idea He wasn’t talking about financial wealth.  I’m not even sure He was speaking of physical abilities.

The extraordinary splendor of knowing and walking with God is a gift of astounding value.  The gift of God’s grace is unsurpassed in human history in it’s importance to mankind.

He gives us this gift to hold ourselves.  In our bodies made from dirt, which will return to dirt, He stores all of eternity.  All of it.

The responsibility that accompanies the giving of this extraordinary, astounding gift is just as extraordinary and astounding as is the gift itself.  

And yet, we disregard the gift—disregard it as if it were as ordinary as a Sunday morning.  And, in disregarding the gift, we disregard the Giver.

In spite of our disregard, and only because of our Creator’s unfailing mercy, we yet retain the gift.  His faithfulness toward us is immeasurable.  (Lamentations 3:22)

And I—I have the arrogance to point a finger at the man who was given nothing more than a minor upgrade in intellect.  The lack of scale here is ludicrous.  There can be no comparison.  None at all.kerosene-lamp-1202277_640

What an astonishing gift we’ve been given!

Perhaps, it’s time we lived up to it.

Time to toss off this bushel basket.  

It’s time for us to shine!

 

 

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.
(from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt ~ 26th U.S. President ~ 1858-1919)

 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
(2 Corinthians 4:7 ~ NIV)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Another Bridge

From my workbench in the back room of the music store, I heard her exclamation of dismay.

Just moments earlier, the Lovely Lady, knowing I had over-promised and was likely to under-perform if I didn’t have some relief, had suggested that she would take care of any new business until I could complete the jobs due this afternoon.  It was a good plan.  My work was going well and it appeared that deadlines might actually be met.

Then I heard her unhappy outburst.  

She would be calling me anyway, so I headed for the front.  The sight that met my eyes was, to a lover of fine musical instruments, a sad and disastrous horror.

The young man wasn’t smiling either, as he stood beside the broken and splintered guitar.  But, I remembered a few months ago, when I had installed an electrical pickup system in the aging acoustic Martin, giving him a new facet to its usefulness.

He had had a smile on his face as he carried the instrument out on that day.   He had been sure the beautiful guitar, one he had acquired while still in high school, would be the only one he would ever need.

It took a single moment—just a few seconds of forgetfulness—to dash that belief forever.  

An afternoon at work, good intentions, a momentary distraction, and the guitar was under the wheels of the huge truck.  Completely destroyed.

Lifetime plans dashed.  Instantly.

As the young man spoke to me, he gently touched the fragments of wood.  I could see the pain in his face—could feel it in his voice.  But, there was something else in his voice—indeed, something different written on his face.  He had come in for a purpose, and it was not to commiserate over the fate of the beloved instrument.  

Purpose!  That was what I heard in his voice.  Purpose and resolve.

He would not dwell on the past.  He was ready to move on.

“Let me show you my new guitar!”

The instrument he drew out of the new case was a beauty to behold.  A custom guitar, handmade by an artisan from a nearby town, it simply begged to be played.  The young guitarist gave in and sat for a few moments to demonstrate the capabilities of his new love.  The crisp, clean lines of the instrument were matched by the music that poured out of it.

The clarity and warmth of tone that emanated from the polished spruce and rosewood box were surprising and expected, all at once.  

When he finished playing, we spoke for a few moments about how happy he was with the new tool he held in his hands.  He means to play this guitar for a lifetime, as well.

But, there was more.  He is ready to leave the old broken guitar in the past, but he wanted a favor from me.

“Is it possible that the pickup system from the Martin will fit in this one?”

It made sense.  He had spent hard-earned dollars on that system—quite a few of them.  We might just as well salvage it and keep it in use.  It will do the job just fine.

He is simply being practical.  But, then again, perhaps there is a little sentiment in the request.

The need to move forward is clear.  The old guitar will never, never play another note.  But, part of it might be incorporated into the new one.  The old will aid the new to achieve the vision the young man has always had for his future.

It will be a bridge, of sorts, between the past and the future.

I will help him cross the bridge.

I’m anticipating seeing the smile on his face again, just as I did the last time he carried a guitar out of my shop.

The future awaits.

2016-03-28 23.45.59-1As I sat thinking about what I would write tonight, my thoughts were inexorably drawn to bridges.  It really is almost unavoidable.  You see, I am surrounded by paintings of bridges in the room in which I sit.  I have given in to the urge to write about them before.

I have written of the past and the future, using a bridge as a metaphor for the place where we stand, gazing first behind, and then ahead.  Looking back, we see the events of the past clearly.  Looking forward, we see an uncertain future.

I have insisted that I must cross boldly to the future, encouraging my readers to do the same.  But, tonight I’m wondering.

What do we do when the things we must leave behind were what we loved most in life?

I know folks who have stood at the approach to the bridge for weeks, months, even years, never moving.  Gazing back at what is, even now, lost in their past, they still see nothing across the bridge to coax them to set the first foot on the platform.

Like the Children of Israel in the desert, they receive the sustenance of their God who promises them a place far better than any they left behind, and yet they pine for the food they ate when they were slaves. (Numbers 11:4-6)

Too harsh?  

I also have stood in cemeteries and looked at the pile of freshly-turned dirt, reluctant to turn my back.  I’ve watched dreams disappear into the air, like the morning mist in sunlight.  

The disappointments and tragedies pile up behind me, as they do for every human who has ever walked this earth.  

We can cling to them, like so many splintered guitars, for everything we’re worth.

There will never—ever—be another note of music from that source.  The voices of the past are forever mute—in this world, anyway.

The human spirit is, however, designed by its Creator to be resilient and nearly impossible to crush.  Like my young guitar-playing friend, it hears the call from the future, and must answer.

We’ve stood at the bridge for long enough, looking back.  The past cannot be retrieved, but what we’ve learned in it may be incorporated into the future.  

Our memories are woven—hopelessly intertwined—into the fabric of our lives; we will never lose them.

I like the young guitarist’s way of thinking.

True, there is great sadness in the past.  There was great joy as well.

Both will be found again.  

In front of us.

And one day—one glorious day—the last bridge will be before us.  Nothing awaits on the other side, but great, great joy.  No sadness.  No pain.

Joy.  Across the last bridge.

I’m still walking.  Still feeling.  Still trusting.

There will be sweet music again.  Of that, I’m sure.

Sweet music.

 

 

 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
(Philippians 3:13-14 ~ MSG)

Oh, my dear little librarian. You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to make today worth remembering.
(from The Music Man ~ Meredith Willson ~ American playwright ~ 1902-1984)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

A Man Died

I spent a few hours this evening not watching murder mystery reruns.  An afternoon’s worth of lawn work, followed by a strenuous bicycle ride, made it seem advisable (perhaps, even imperative) to sit without moving a sore muscle for several hours.

It was difficult to concentrate on the television programs.  I’ve not been able to concentrate on much for the last couple of days.  My mind keeps saying the words, over and over again.

I did this.

It hit me on Thursday evening.  With others in my church, we commemorated the night Jesus was betrayed by Judas.

Oh, I wanted to blame him!  But, Judas didn’t put Jesus on that cross.

I was glad for the dim lighting in the church that hid the tears rolling down my face as the scripture was read.

I did this.

One of my poet friends reminded me with beautiful words on Friday that those who mourn shall be comforted.  Jesus Himself promised it.  He did.

But, I did this.

So, I sat for the last few hours this evening and hoped the blaring noise of the television would drown out the voice in my head.

For awhile, it did.  Then, a phrase from an actor in the show cut through my consciousness.

“A man died.  Can we focus on that?”

But, that’s just it.  I haven’t really been able to concentrate on anything else for days.

A Man died.  Not just a Man—God, who came as a Man to do just that.  To die.

As I write, the clocks in the house strike the hour.  It is midnight.  Easter.  By the time you read this, Easter will be reality.

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Still, I sit and wait for this guilt to be lifted. 

Over the last couple of days, I’ve noticed a trend—one I’ve never taken note of before.  A number of folks have offered opinions on what went on for those interminable days between the death of this Man/God and His astounding return to life.

Some have actually argued about it.  Really.  

I’ve seen articles about what Jesus did during that time, what Mary His mother did and felt, where Joseph was, even what Mary Magdalene did.  I don’t know the answer.

I certainly don’t want to argue about it.  Somehow though, I have to wonder if they didn’t think some of the same thoughts I have over the last few days.

I did this.

Peter, with his denial. The other disciples with their cowardice.  Even Judas, with his certainty.  All of them wailing into the dark.

I did this.

My Savior hung on that cross, dying because of my sin.  The weight of that thought is crushing.

But, it is resurrection day.  The Man who died did not stay dead.  

He will turn our mourning into dancing, our guilt into righteousness.  We who were condemned will be pardoned. 

What a day!

A Man died.  

Can we focus?  

That we could live, a Man died.

And, He lives.

Joy comes in the morning! 

 

 

You have turned my mourning into dancing for me;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
(Psalm 30:11-12 ~ AMP)

O love divine, O matchless grace-
That God should die for men!
With joyful grief I lift my praise,
Abhorring all my sin,
Adoring only Him.
(from My Jesus, Fair ~ Chris Anderson)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Offensive

Scott was cool.  Well, to this one-time band geek he was.  The big offensive back was six feet tall and all muscle.  He was no slouch on the football field either.  I was sure he was going to be a star running back.

But, that was before.

I was there when it happened.  Not that I had any part in the event.

Okay.  To be honest, I didn’t even know what was going on.  I just knew something bad had happened.

Scott dated a girl in the band, so occasionally he and a few of his football buddies would come to our marching practices at the stadium. They would sit in the stands and yell encouragement once in awhile.  We could tell they were having a good time, but most of us had no idea how good.

That all came to an end one Tuesday evening.  We heard the next day about how it had shaken out.

What we hadn’t been able to tell from our disadvantaged perspective down on the playing field was that the fellows kept up their high spirits in the stands with just that–spirits.  Each Tuesday evening, one of the guys would find someone to get him a carton of beer since he was underage.  He would distribute the bottles to the guys before they ascended to their seats in the bleachers.  Then they would spend the next couple of hours joking and cheering—and sipping.

It seems that finally somebody on the staff figured out what was happening and alerted the school administration.  On that fateful Tuesday evening, the boys were unaware a trap was about to be sprung.  However, just moments before the head football coach started up the steps to where they were, one of the jocks figured out something was up.

What would they do?

Scott made a quick decision.  He would be the martyr—the hero.

“Quick guys!  Shove your bottles under my seat.  Then move away from me before they can get up here.”

They protested, but only weakly.  Within seconds, the preparations were completed, and Steve was by himself in the stands, evidence galore to be found under his seat.

He was finished as a football player.  Shamed and kicked off the team, he would never play offensive back again.

The other boys?

They played football that Friday night.  They played football every other Friday night of football season as long as they were in school.

All because one guy had taken the brunt of their punishment. One guy had accepted responsibility for their contraband.

The school was abuzz the next day and for several after that.  It wasn’t fair!  They all should have been punished!  Scott was the good guy here, but he was paying the price!  Where was the justice?

Students protested to teachers and administration alike, but it was for naught.  The rules were clear and he had broken them.  Under-age drinking on school grounds—there would be no reversal of the decision.

Scott was a hero.

Or, was he?
                              

It is Good Friday once again.  Today is a day to consider heroes.

No.

It is a day to consider The Hero.

Today, we commemorate the Cool Guy who took the beer bottles for every person in the world and claimed them as His own.

Right about now, I’m guessing there are some readers who are offended.

More than a few of you are unhappy I described the Savior as a cool guy–as if many who followed Him didn’t do so because they saw Him as what we would today call cool.

Some of you who wouldn’t touch a drop of alcohol if you were dying of thirst are offended I’ve equated your sins with that filthy stuff.

Others, who regularly quaff the liquid are offended because you think I’ve equated your sins with the refreshing drink.

Even though both assumptions are wrong, I will admit I’m almost hopeful that you are offended.

I am offended.

I am offended that The Hero had to take the penalty for my wrong doing.  We’re not talking about being kicked off the team here.  My wrong doing had a slightly more weighty penalty attached.

The penalty for my sins was death.

I am offended that I so lightly regard the Heroic act—accomplished on this day nearly two thousand years ago–that I return to my beer bottles again and again.

As Peter, one of our Hero’s followers (who himself faded into the crowd to avoid punishment) later reminded us, like a pig who has been cleaned up, we return to the filth of the wallow.

Is that offensive enough for you?

Try this on then–Like a dog, I come back to eat my own vomit.  Yes, also Peter’s words. (2 Peter 2:22)

Are you offended by the crudeness?

Will you, just for a moment, think of where the real offense was–and is?

God made a perfect place for us to live and we rejected Him.  Again and again, He offered ways of escape.

It was no surprise to Him, but again and again, the human race laughed in His face.

And then, in the fullness of time, at just exactly the right moment, He sent His own Son, the Hero of Heaven, to be born.

The Hero walked with us.  He taught us.  He loved and healed us.

And we repaid Him by shoving our beer bottles under His chair and slinking out into the night.

We were so crude as to spit on Him, and taunt Him, and beat Him.

We left Him to face the bitter end—the penalty for our evil ways.

Alone.  Naked.  Beaten. Bleeding.

And, in spite of the offense, and the crudeness, and the rejection, He never wavered in resolve.

He would take the offense to the grave.

Our offense.

Mine.  Yours.
                              

Scott was a nice guy.  A loyal friend, even.  But, never a hero.

You see, if you count the beer bottles under his chair and then count the buddies who skulked away from him, you will come up with one extra.  Count them again.

You’ll see that I’m right.  One extra.

One that belonged to Scott.

Scott simply got what was coming to him.  He didn’t pay the price for anyone else’s wrongdoing, only his own.
                              

Not a single one of the sins piled under that horrible, offensive cross on that Friday so many years ago belonged to the Hero who hung on it, bleeding and beaten.

They are too numerous to be counted.  I know.  I’ve contributed too many of my own.  Perhaps you have, too.

But, the fact still remains.  Not one was His own.

Not.  One.

It is a day to consider The Hero.

 

 

God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.
(Henry Ward Beecher ~ Congregationalist clergyman ~ 1813-1887)

 

For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:7.8 ~ NASB)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

The Wind Blows

Ting, ting, ting.  Ting, ting, ting.

All along the two-mile course I wandered with the Lovely Lady, I heard them.

At first, it was just a subliminal awareness—no thought given to the sound whatsoever.  The further we went though, the more noticeable became the sound.

At one point, the tone lowered into the bassier voice and, with a start, I was immediately aware.  The clang, clang, clang! of the long pipes flailing at the ends of cords was unmistakable.

chimes-261256_1280This was no gentle ripple of sound, no pretty chord voiced to calm the heart as a gentle breeze moved the pipes.  The gusts of wind that tore violently at our clothes and hair also gripped the silver tubes of the wind chimes and sent them almost horizontal in their arcs, banging against the wooden clapper in the center and then against each other, almost certainly denting the soft metal in the process.

Of course!  That sound was coming from the wind chimes hanging on porches.  Small ones as well as large, made of brass and aluminum—perhaps even of ceramic glass.

The different tones came from different sizes and different designs.  The delicate ting, ting, ting, came from the little short tubes, the low-pitched bong, bong, bong, from the longer pipes and larger bore of the massive chimes several homes boasted.

Not one of them was silent on this day.

Not one.

The wind whipped in gusts and eddies around the houses and porches, spinning and swinging the chimes in a constant cacophony of sound.

I was walking beside the loveliest walking companion one could ask for.  She was telling me of something the grandchildren had done earlier that day, but suddenly I couldn’t hear her for the bells and the violent wind in my head.

I may have been striding down the walking trail in my current hometown, but my mind was over eight hundred miles and nearly fifty years away, on the front porch of my family home.

The wind whipped and howled then, too.   There was rain in this wind, and danger.

The ten-year-old boy standing on that screened-in porch liked the danger part.

Finally.  A hurricane.

All about him the trees waved in the storm like giant windmills, their limbs gyrating first one way, then another.  The sound the tall palm trees made as fronds rattled against each other was almost deafening.

The chinaberry trees, with their fragile limbs bent almost to the ground, cracked and groaned.  The bougainvillea bushes merely shuddered and leaned parallel to the earth, looking for all the world as if they were going to be uprooted and take flight at any moment.

The howling of the wind filled his ears.  Even with all that racket, the clang, clang, clang, of the two sets of wind chimes at the other end of the porch cut through his consciousness.

The noisy things were flying wildly in the wind, making almost as much commotion as the trees outside.  He didn’t understand why the red-headed lady who raised him had left them out, when they had picked up everything else that could blow away outdoors.  

Most days, his mother loved the sound of the chimes as the breeze moved them.  On any other day you might choose, the Gulf breezes blew steadily from the east, coming off of the coast. Then, the chimes made their pleasant tinkling sound constantly.

Noisy things!  It certainly wasn’t pretty now.  Surely they couldn’t even hold together through this monster storm.  Maybe he should take them down.

Suddenly, a yell came from the kitchen, at the back of the house.

“The hackberry tree is going over!  Come look at this!”

He ran in the front door and through the living room to watch the destruction of the trees behind and beside the house, the front porch—and the chimes—temporarily forgotten.

In the backyard, limbs waving and roots still attached, the huge old hackberry tree he loved climbing went over on its side.  Next, the chinaberry tree, in the yard beside the bathroom window, split right down the middle. Half of it stayed upright, the rest toppling to the ground, still hanging by a layer of bark on its thick trunk.

He had seen enough.

Danger was okay when all it did was threaten.  When real damage came to pass, it was time to get things back to normal.  He was ready for this terrible hurricane to be over.

It was the next morning when he finally wandered onto the front porch again.  Funny.  The wind was back to a breeze, prevailing from the east, gently moving the chimes.

Ting, ting, ting.  Ting, ting, ting.

It was as if the storm had never happened at all.  But no.  He looked around.

The ground underneath the palm trees was piled with fronds which had sailed off in the wind.  There were branches and leaves everywhere.  

He stepped outside the door and saw the chinaberry bereft of half of its top.  A look around the neighborhood showed debris everywhere and water standing in the ditches.  

No.  There had been a storm all right.  It wasn’t just a dream.

Still, the little resonant tubes tapped against the clapper and each other gently.  Their sound was prettier than he could remember it, perhaps because he had seen what they had gone through less than twelve hours before.  

They sang out their chords once again, as if nothing could ever silence them.

Perhaps nothing ever could.
                              

Recently, I was in the home of a man I know to help him move some furniture.  We finished the job and I looked around.  Over in the corner of the living room hung a huge set of wind chimes.

Huge.  

Hanging inside.

I asked my friend about them.  

Why were they inside?  Surely they never got any wind in there?  

He smiled as he flipped a switch nearby.  I could see no fan, but I heard the fan motor begin to spin and felt the breeze moving slightly.  Gently, very gently, the huge brass tubes began first to sway and then to undulate toward the clapper.  

Bong.  I heard the quiet, low pitch once and then again.  With a certain regularity, the bong, bong, bong began to repeat, as the different pitches gently sounded.

I wondered aloud.  

“Can you make them louder?  Does the fan go to a higher speed?”

He looked at me as if I were mad.  

“Do you realize how much these chimes cost?  It was hundreds of dollars!”

I shook my head in amazement.  

The man refused to place the wind chimes where they could ever actually catch the wind, because he was afraid that they would be damaged.  

He would never allow them to do what they were designed to do—sound their chords deep and loud, swinging wildly in the unpredictable wind—for fear that they might be dented.

Wind chimes are meant to be in the wind.

They are made to catch the breeze and hit against a clapper, the beautiful sound being drawn out because of the adversity.  If they experience no hardship, they never perform as they were designed.  Never.

The more distress they experience—the more affliction—the sweeter they sound.

The individual chimes are anchored securely to keep them attached to the whole unit.  Each one is painstakingly tuned to the correct pitch that complements the others.  

The beautiful individual tones blend to make a gorgeous chord as they are tapped and—yes—battered by the clapper and by each other.
                              

Sound familiar?

Do you realize we need to experience hard times—difficulties in our lives—to bring out the beauty hidden deep inside of us?  

The harmony and the pure tones that need to be heard in our world will only come as we are in the public view, battered and beaten as we are, doing exactly what our Creator intended for us.

He made you what you are!  

He made me what I am!  

And, He attached us together to make music for the world to hear and be amazed by. We are firmly anchored to Him and to each other.

Sure, it’s not always a gentle breeze that plays around us.  

The storms of life will send us swirling around and around, to clatter and clang for a little while.  And then, the Master says Peace; be still to the storms, and the gentle breezes return.  

The music is still sweet to Him.

The world, too, is listening as they wander, and stumble, and scramble past.  

I wonder—is the wind chime out on the porch where they can hear it?  Or, have we squirreled it away—in safety—out of the wind, to keep it from damage and distress?

Is there any music for them to hear?

I hope it’s a sweet sound in their ears, too.

 

 

Adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with.
(Thomas Carlyle ~ Scottish philosopher ~ 1795-1881)

 

Sing for joy to God our strength;
    shout aloud to the God of Jacob!
Begin the music, strike the timbrel,
    play the melodious harp and lyre.
(Psalm 81:1-2 ~ NIV)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Restless Heart

It wasn’t what woke me, but my guilty conscience certainly was what kept me awake until the first rays of the sun broke over the horizon on that recent morning.

What woke me was the dogs barking in the backyard.  It’s not all that unusual.  They are dogs, after all.  Normally, it’s just a squirrel in the sweet gum tree, right above their heads.

squirrel-832893_1280Squirrels are such undisciplined creatures.  They run up and down the trees, simply to tempt fate it seems .  Then, when they have the treasure they sought, a nut or the stalk of some plant, they carry it in a rush up the trunk of the tree.  Right in front of the snapping jaws of death they scurry, chattering as they go.  

The dogs, creatures of habit, want nothing more than to have order in their world.  No animal is safe within their reach, simply because that is one of their rules.  Nothing walks where they walk.  There is a penalty for doing so.

The penalty is death.  They have meted out the penalty numerous times.  Moles, birds, o’possums, even a squirrel or two have met the end of their undisciplined ways at the jaws of the law-keepers.

Hmmm.  Like the squirrels, I seem to have wandered a bit.  I meant to tell you that the dogs were not barking at a squirrel on that early morning, but had bigger law-breakers to attend to.

The neighbors up the street a block or so were the reason for the ruckus.  He, sitting in his roughly-idling truck, and she, standing in her bathrobe outside the front door, were shouting at each other.  Again.  

I stood at the kitchen window and remembered that time, a few months ago, when the police were at that front door because of a complaint.  And still, at all hours of the night or day—mostly night—the noisy disturbances are likely to erupt.

On this particular morning, I, standing at the kitchen window, listened for a few moments, fuming.  The nerve!  Don’t they know people—No, strike that!—law-abiding people are trying to sleep?  

I was angry.  Then, I realized I was proud.  Yes, proud.

I would never do that.  Never.  I know better than to shout at the Lovely Lady.  I certainly wouldn’t do it in public.  And, you can bet it wouldn’t be at four-thirty in the morning!

Mentally, I went down the list of things they do I would never do.  It was significant.  I was proud.

As the truck finally backed out of the driveway and roared up the road, laying rubber for a fair distance, I spun on my bare heel and headed back upstairs—to sleep, I supposed.

Not that morning.  Sleep had fled.

I lay there beside the slumbering Lovely Lady and I crumbled.

Pharisee!  Hypocrite!  

In the dark right before dawn, the words were whispered into the blackness, but they sounded as if someone had shouted them throughout the entire house.  I looked at the face of the sleeping woman beside me, but if she heard, she didn’t let on.

Do you know what I learned, in the darkness of my thoughts that early morning?

 Nothing new.  

That’s right.  Nothing I hadn’t already known.

I heard the Teacher say, “The second is like unto the first.  Love your neighbor as you do yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)  I’ve heard the words a thousand times, or more.

I’ve used them in my writing so many times, I can’t remember all of them.

Here’s the other thing I didn’t learn that I already knew, that morning: If you’re a dog, you think you’re better than the squirrels. 

Perhaps, I should rephrase that.  When you work hard to follow the rules, you begin to look down on those who don’t.

It’s really hard to remember that you love someone when your mouth is full of the words I told you so.

It’s hard to pray—really pray—for a person if you think you’re superior to them.

Do you realize how difficult it is to lie still and be quiet in a bed when the disaster that is your soul is revealed to you?  If the pre-dawn night was dark, how was it that I saw the filth of my heart so clearly?

The evil servant who forgot how great was the debt that had been forgiven him, grabbing the man who owed him a mere pittance by the throat while demanding payment couldn’t have known more torment.  (Matthew 18:21-35)

Ah, but even as I made my promise to be a different person, I remembered.  

I recalled that it would never come—could never come—from me.  If I try to be good—if I try to do right—I run right back to the trash I vowed to never dig up again.

It is all because of grace.  All of it that matters.

I can’t do this.  No one can.

And, that’s the whole point.  If I can claim to be good, I have a right to look down on others who walk this path with me.

I’m not good.

Grace changes that.  For any who come.

Funny.  When I remembered what I am—what I am and who He is—I thought about my neighbors again.  The anger was gone.  Almost instinctively, I found myself praying for them and thinking of ways to show them the love of Jesus.  

They are my neighbors, after all.

And finally, sleep came.  

It’s true:  The heart is restless until it rests in Him.

It’s time for rest.

 

 

I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer ~ German theologian ~ 1906-1945)

 

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
(Galatians 5:13-15 ~ NIV)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Connected

I was puzzled.  It’s not a state of mind with which I’m unfamiliar, but I had thought I was on solid ground.

Once again today, I found myself at my work bench with a guitar before me.  As with the state of mind, it’s not a rare situation.  I spend several hours each week at that post in the course of my work.

acoustic-guitar-509466_1280Usually, I know what I’m doing.  Without consulting any manuals, or making any telephone calls to experts, I am confident in my ability to complete the task before me.  I don’t usually take jobs I think I might not be able to finish.

The young lady had been a little vague when she dropped off the high-quality guitar a few weeks ago.  Still, I thought I understood the problem and even had a pretty good idea of what I would do to make it right for her.

“The pickup system just doesn’t have any sound.  I know there’s supposed to be a battery somewhere; maybe that’s the problem.  You’ll figure it out, won’t you?”

I was sure I would.  Until today.

I stood, strings dangling off one end of the guitar cradle, and wires hanging off the other.  In the middle the beastly guitar, ordinarily a thing of beauty, lay taunting me.

The battery was fine.  I had checked the electronic pre-amp, the brains of the pickup system, and found it to be functioning as it should, as well.  That left just one thing, I thought.  There must be a broken wire going to the pickup itself.  

This should be easy.  I was sure of myself.  So sure was I that I took a coffee break.  No hurry—I’ll wrap this up in a few minutes.

The red-headed lady who raised me had an apt saying for this circumstance (she had one for nearly every situation):  Ha!  Famous last words!

I might even have heard her chuckle as I stood there befuddled an hour later.

Four.  There were four pickups, not just one.  I just couldn’t understand it.  If there were four pickups, a single broken wire wouldn’t affect all of them.  I could see clearly that each pickup had its own wire going to it.

I stood there like a condemned man.  I knew what was coming next.  In the same way a man driving in circles in a strange neighborhood knows he will eventually have to stop and do the unthinkable—ask for directions—I knew.

I called the service department at the guitar’s manufacturer.  The lady who answered the phone was perky.  I didn’t want perky.  The man she transferred the call to in electronics was also perky.  I talked with him anyway.

Telling him my problem, he explained the proprietary design of the pickup system.  I think if you look it up, the definition for proprietary is: You need to call our help desk to understand it.

The perky fellow used a hundred words to explain the system.  I heard one.

Series.

Do you remember the old Christmas tree lights?  The ones that worked fine until one light burned out?  With one failed bulb, the entire string of lights went dark.  Series.

In a series circuit, the power flows through each component in the series to the next one.  If there is a break, or fault, in any one of the components, none of them will work.

There are four pickups on this guitar.  If one fails, the other three would certainly be adequate to get the necessary sound to the amplifier and thus, to the audience.  But, they aren’t allowed to do their part if any one of them fails.

Madness.

You know there is more to this than a simple lesson in guitar repair, do you not?

Did you know that electrical circuits are also called branches?  The reason is obvious.  They branch from the main power source and depend on it for electricity.  

I look at the word branch and can’t help but hear the words of the Teacher, in one of the most serious conversations He ever had with His followers, telling them He was the source of all power and making it clear they must maintain a direct relationship with Him.  (John 15:4)

I want to tell you He declared that He was the Main Breaker Box and they were the circuits. 

Actually, He used the agricultural milieu they were accustomed to to explain, assuming the role of the trunk of the plant for Himself and assigning the part of the branches which fed directly from that trunk to His followers.

I’m sure He wouldn’t mind the adaptation to the reality in our day and age.

overloadI wonder.  Are we plugged directly and permanently into the Power Source?  Directly into the Source?  Or have we just dragged our extension cord over to plug in into one of the branch circuits, along with dozens of others?

Many in our day follow a man.  They follow a sect—or a denomination—or even a certain doctrine.  I’m not sure these are bad things.  We’re just not intended to come to God through any of those things.  Any of them.

He didn’t wire us into His grid in series.

Are you plugged in?  Directly, plugged in?  If your pastor, or mentor, or teacher messes up, will you be devastated and left directionless?

If we depend on men for our strength, it is a guarantee—an absolute guarantee—we will be left confused and wandering in the dark.  

I’ll repair the broken wire to that one pickup tomorrow.  The system will function again—for awhile.  And, the guitar will end up on someone’s workbench again—mine or another shop’s.

Madness.  

Time to find the Source.

Get plugged in.

 

“Oh dear,” said Jill, coming another step closer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
(from The Silver Chair ~ C.S. Lewis ~ English educator ~ 1898-1963)

 

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,
(1 Timothy 2:5 ~ NIV)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

The Fabric

cloth-20573_1280

Stitches, one after another, become the fabric, the stuff of life.
The hands of the artisan grow old and slow, and still the pattern unfolds.

Changes come, direction reversed, and the stitches are altered.
No matter; they yet follow what’s been woven before.

The hands falter; the count is lost. With a glance back, the pattern is recalled.
Dropped stitches picked up, the passage ahead is clear once more.

Through the whole of our lives the fabric is crafted, with integrity, one would hope.
But, with or without, the cloth unfolds, one day to become the narrative of a life.

What will be read in my history?  Perhaps the tale will be a warm wrap, shielding from the numbing cold.
But then again—as likely—a rag, suited only to mop up filth.  Choices today determine utility tomorrow.

Stitches, one after another, become the fabric, the stuff of life.
The hands of the artisan grow old and slow, and still the pattern unfolds.

 

 

The righteous who walks in his integrity–blessed are his children after him!
(Proverbs 20:7 ~ ESV)

 

Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric?  Think first about the foundations of humility.  The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.
(Saint Augustine ~ Ancient Christian theologian, Bishop of Hippo ~ 354-430)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Resonance

We’re on the same wavelength, aren’t we?

The man in front of me is a friend—a long-time friend.  I always enjoy seeing his face as the front door of the music store opens.  We share a love of music and the tools from which the music comes.  I’ve watched his children grow, as he has mine.

Today, we talked about politics—a dangerous minefield in which to venture, if ever there was one.  But, somehow his ire rose at the same time mine did; his anger was assuaged by the very same solutions I found to be comforting.

As if we were two strings vibrating on a musical instrument, we hit the same frequencies necessary to bring out the next tone in the chords of amity.  

We were on the same wavelength.

It often happens.  You’ve seen it.  A conversation begins, and you’re drawn to a complete stranger immediately.  It’s hard to explain—perhaps their vocal inflection—maybe the manner in which they consider each word before speaking—whatever it is, you’ve made a connection.

In the music world, we call it a sympathetic vibration.

It’s not always good.

Today, a young man brought in his banjo, exasperated because it wouldn’t stop ringing.  Banjos do that normally too, you know—ring.  It is what makes them sound like a banjo.

The problem is this one had a ring that wasn’t supposed to be there.  Usually, when a musician tells me there’s a ring in his fretted instrument, I suspect a high fret which the strings bump against, causing an unwanted rattle of sorts, albeit a musical one.  It wouldn’t be that simple this time.

I listened to his complaint and then took the beautiful instrument out of the case, striking the strings he spoke of.  Sure enough, they had a strange overtone.

As I explored the strings a bit, I noticed a problem I could identify immediately.  There actually was a string which buzzed on a fret all the time because of a string guide which sat too high.  I could fix that easily, but I was more concerned with the other issue.

I explained to the young man (quite expertly, mind you) what the problem was.

There’s a sympathetic vibration in the instrument.  Something else is vibrating when that string is plucked.  It’s what all resonant materials want to do—vibrate with tones that are at the same wavelength.

This expert searched fruitlessly for nearly a quarter hour to find the source of the vibration.  I finally gave up, suggesting a couple of general cures which might work.  Might.

He had a question before he went.  

Could you fix that one buzzing string for me? You know, the string guide thing?

A simple repair.  It was done in three minutes.

I plucked the other strings one last time.  I don’t know why I did it. I suppose hope springs eternal.

There was no more vibration.  None.  The strange ringing sound was completely gone.  Really.

I stopped to think for a moment.  Suddenly, it came to me!

The string which had been vibrating on the fret was at exactly the same frequency as the two other strings which were ringing.  Exactly the same frequency.  I had removed its capacity to buzz with my repair, so the rest of the problem disappeared.

I hope you’re not tired of my musical interpretations yet.  You see, all the world resonates with music.  Our Creator made it so.  

Sympathetic vibrations are all around us.  The four-wheel-drive monster truck that roars down the street in front of your house and rattles the windows, as well as vibrating the wall, demonstrates it.  High-pitched sounds that break glass work on the same principle.

I want to tell you that my dogs, who howl loudly at the sound of an approaching ambulance or fire engine, exhibit the principle, but I think that might be something of a stretch.

Things which are alike, tend to exhibit the same characteristics as those similar objects around them.

Humans are not immune.  We see it in every direction.  As in the realm of music, it’s not always a beneficial thing.  

Politicians vibrate with anger and name-calling, and their disciples soon resonate with the message of negativity and hatred.  

Pastors embrace a radical belief and soon their adherents echo the tenets without consideration of the merits or demerits of the belief.  

The bully on the playground selects a new victim and, within hours, the unfortunate soul is under attack from all sides.  

All is not ugliness in the realm of resonance, however.  

A properly tuned and maintained instrument, played well, resonates with sympathetic vibrations.  The overtones complement the original melodies and chords, causing the listener to marvel at the beauty emanating from a single instrument wielded by a lone talent.  

Master luthiers carve and shape, adding bracing here, sanding the surface there—all to increase the acceptance of good overtones and mute the presence of undesirable ones.  

The whole instrument resonates beautifully with sympathetic vibrations.

I wonder if we have lost the true meaning of being sympathetic.  We think sympathy is sadness, and the words that express our concern for that sadness.  We believe that sympathy is an emotion to be dealt out at moments of great need and sorrow.

Did you know that sympathy is simply the state of being like-minded?  It’s sharing what those around us experience—not as an onlooker, but as a participant.

The Apostle Paul begged for his readers to be sympathetic—like-minded.  He wanted them to resonate with each other. (Philippians 2:1-2

It is what folks in fellowship with each other do, almost automatically.

Our Creator, the Master Luthier of all luthiers, has made the whole of His creation to move in resonance with Him.  

It is only as we change the tunings and introduce faults into the instrument that the overtones become louder than the fundamental notes.  When the overtones are all that is heard, it is nothing more than mere vibration, a ringing in the ears of all listening.

Perhaps I need make no more application to the principle here.

It is likely these words have fallen on sympathetic ears, isn’t it?

What a beautiful thing it is, when His people live in harmony with each other.

Resonance. 

 

I think when I was pretty young I got really into the tone of my instrument and I remember just playing one note for an hour to just kind of feel the resonance of the violin.
(Andrew Bird ~ American musician)

Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
(2 Corinthians 13:11 ~ NASB)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Own the Music

He taught me more about playing the French horn than any other teacher I had.  That said, I can remember clearly only two things he taught me.

Funny isn’t it?  All that instruction and all I recall can be summarized in two sentences.  What can I say?  These gems of wisdom came from Mr. Marlar when I was in my early twenties.

It was a time in my life when I already knew everything.

I wish I had been a little more ignorant.  That wouldn’t come until later.

Mr. M’s wise words:

“You will make mistakes; play them loudly so everyone can hear them.”

“If you can hear the pitch in your head, you can play it on your horn.”

The first statement made me laugh—then. It’s not as amusing now as it once was.  Perhaps we’ll talk more about it another time.

But the second thing Mr. M taught me—that bit of brilliance has been more useful than even he could have thought.  Again and again in my work and personal life, I have proved the truth of the idea.

I was still his student when I played horn for the local university production of the musical, Brigadoon.

I’ve related the story before of my disastrous introduction to the tenor lead’s solo—the too-high pitch I played leading the vocalist astray and causing him to start his solo in the wrong key.

He started on the wrong note!  Because of me!

What a catastrophe!  A few measures into his solo, he had to stop and restart on the correct note.

If looks could kill, the Lovely Lady would have been a widow that very night.

My solution to that disaster was to show up the next evening with a pitch generator connected to an earphone so that I could indeed hear the pitch in my head and then play it on my horn.

It was, I believed, an ingenious solution, and worked splendidly.

For every subsequent night of our performances, my entrance on the opening phrase was impeccable and the tenor followed suit.

I heard the pitch.  I played it.

I was proud of myself.

I am less proud than I once was.

You see, in the years since, I have matured a little (only a little).  I have also become a better musician, understanding some of the foundational principles which escaped my youthful brain back then.

The electronic pitch in the ear missed the point of Mr. M’s statement completely.

If one is to be a successful musician, the sense of pitch, the center of the tone, must be in one’s head, not in their ear.  When I listened to the tone and then played it, the pitch wasn’t mine; I just borrowed it.

I have to own the music!  It has to come from inside of me.  It has to be a part of me.

The principle works in all of life.

Don’t believe that?  Watch what happens when kids leave home to go to college or into the work place.

For too many, the principles and beliefs they learned at their parents’ feet are shed left and right as they realize that such things have always come from somewhere outside of themselves.

They have heard the whispering (and perhaps shouting) of morals and creeds in their ears and believe them only as long as it takes to get out of range of their parents’ voices.

Instantly, there is silence where those things are concerned.  If they hear the echo at all, it is easy to ignore as the clamor around them grows in support of different ideologies and moralities.

Suddenly, they have to make decisions themselves, have to determine the appropriateness of choices in what amounts to a vacuum.

Unless we ourselves own our values and our faith, unless they speak from deep inside of us, we will never hit the mark when it comes time for the performance which will occur in the public eye.

If, deep down, all we hear in the moment of our engagement is silence, any mark will do, and we’ll hit exactly what we aim for.

Nothing. Or anything.

Either way, the result will be the same.  We will miss the mark.

The wrong note will sound and those who take their cue from us will also miss their mark.

Suddenly, I realize that anything else I write here will just be a sound coming into your ear through a head phone.

The manufactured pitch may aid temporarily, but it will have no permanent effect.  I also realize that most who are reading this already have the pitch solidly in mind and are hitting the mark on a daily basis.

It’s high time that I turn off the tone generator and get down off this soapbox.

Come to think of it, it’s time to go home and practice the horn for awhile before heading for bed.  I think I hear a high G coming on.

I only hope the neighbors won’t mind.

 

 

 

Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.
(Carl Von Clausewitz ~ German military leader/theorist ~ 1780-1831)

 

For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
(1 Corinthians 14:8 ~ NASB)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.