Holding Loosely

Go, bid the hero who has run
     Thro’ fields of death to gather fame,
Go, bid him lay his laurels down,
     And all his well-earn’d praise disclaim.
(from The Captive Ribband ~ Robert Burns ~Scottish poet ~ 1759-1796)

Late one recent night, fallen prey to a short-lived spasm of conscience brought on by too much time spent in front of one screen or another, I took up a volume of Robert Burns’ poetry and determined to wade through it.  Or, at least a portion of it.

My resolve—along with my guilty conscience—was in the final stages of relenting when I came across the jewel which contains the passage quoted above.  I had slogged through too many lines of the bewildering Scots  dialect, but it took only a line or two for me to grasp the poet’s meaning here.

Mr. Burns speaks of a single ribbon he has saved from the woman he loved, a ribbon he prizes as much as love itself.  Thus the comparison to a hero’s fame and acclaim.  He will never surrender it.

It is a familiar concept.

bank-1532394_640Some men can struggle through a lifetime and never be acclaimed a hero or even have their fabled fifteen minutes of fame.  But, many people, given just one such opportunity, will hold tight to their proof of superiority for the rest of their lives.

I have to admit, I don’t know many old war heroes.  I do know a fair number of old musicians.  Young ones, too.

You wouldn’t believe the stories I hear.

I played with                .

My band opened for                .

I wrote music for                .

Fill in the blanks.  Big names.  Huge stars.  Crowds cheering and screaming for more.  All in the past.

All of it, in the past.

A memory only, except for those who have mementos.  Photographs, recordings (vinyl and otherwise), signed napkins, all are saved and clutched tightly as if they are more precious than gold.

And I, listening to the tale, may be accorded a quick glance at the talisman, as if a pilgrim at a holy shrine.

I find myself both fascinated and saddened by the stories—and the souvenirs.  The joy—the pride—is all in the past, with none left for the future.  Success achieved, aspiration is shed like a suit of clothes, never to be worn again.

Consider the words of the humbug Wizard to the Tin Woodman:

They are called phil. . .er. . .phil. . .er. . .er. . .good-deed-doers, and their hearts are no bigger than yours, but they have one thing you haven’t got!  A testimonial!
(The Wizard of Oz  ~ L Frank Baum ~  American author ~ 1856-1919)

Without diminishing the importance of heroic acts—and they are not to be passed over lightly—I want to suggest that if we must look only behind us to see the deeds worth celebrating, we are a sad and hopeless lot.

The Apostle who loved to write long letters (he shares more than just a name with me) had a mountain of mementos and testimonials.  A mountain.  (Philippians 3)

He called the mountain garbage.  No.  He called it. . .well, I won’t write out the word here, but in the dialect of his day, it was a coarse word for dung.

Some folks have used that passage of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi to prove that God has no use for our good works.  It’s not what He was saying.

In the journey to our real home, the things we do will not earn us safe passage.  They won’t earn us entrance into Heaven.  There is only one thing that guarantees eternity with God.  Only one.

We rely on what Jesus has done for us, having no confidence whatsoever in our flesh. (verse 3)  Salvation is complete,  without one iota of effort on our part.

The high calling is just that, a call to come up higher. Click To Tweet

Still, we are called to better things than what is in our past.  The high calling is just that, a call to come up higher.

The goal still lies ahead.

The trophies and accolades of the past are nothing to what lies ahead.

If. . .

We must finish the course with integrity and with courage if we aim to win the prize.

If we must grip honor in a clenched fist to retain it, we have not yet earned it. Click To Tweet

If we must grip honor in a clenched fist to retain it, we have not yet earned it.

Let the past go.  Nothing in it is anything compared to the trophies and testimonials that are to come.


Better things lie ahead.





So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.
(The Old Rugged Cross ~ George Bennard)



There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
(From Collected Letters ~ C.S. Lewis)





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

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