Standing at the Gate

He did it with a smile on his face.  I saw it happen.

We were waiting for the nice lady at the bank to make a copy for us.  I can’t help it; I watch people.  So, while we waited, I watched.

I watched him lock himself and his dad in the vault.

Just to be clear, it wasn’t the big door—you know, the thick slab made of concrete-filled steel and secured with a time-lock.  This was what they call the day gate—a lighter affair, made with open metal rails that can be seen through.

Even so, I watched the little guy, all of three or four years old, swing the barrier back and forth a time or two.  It moved smoothly and noiselessly, so his dad, engrossed in his own activity inside, had no idea of what was happening.

The lad swung it and let go, reaching quickly to hold it and flip it back.  Looking up at me, he smiled.  There was no forethought or malicious intent in his face, simply the joy of being a child and a moment to entertain himself.

He swung it again, reaching for the edge, but missing.  I held my breath, hoping he’d catch it before it reached the end of its arc.  He didn’t.

Click!

The little fellow gave a tug at the door, but it stayed put.  He didn’t.  With one last sheepish grin, and an almost pleading look at me, he turned and dashed back into the room where his dad was still taking care of the task he had come to do.

The nice lady came back to our table and my attention was diverted from the scenario in the vault.  Even so, as she talked, it nagged at my consciousness.

I never heard a sound.  Still, moments later, I knew something was amiss.  I turned around and, there at the metal gate, saw the boy and his father standing.  This time, the pleading eyes were in the father’s face.  He didn’t say a word, but shrugged his shoulders and grinned—that same sheepish grin I had seen on the boy’s face earlier.

I suggested to the nice lady that she might want to let them out of the vault and she gasped, rushing to get the key and open the gate.

Not a single word passed between the man and me.  He needed help. I did what was in my power.  It wasn’t much.

Still, I haven’t been able to get the picture out of my mind.  The man, standing behind the gate, waiting for freedom.  In my memory, I see nothing but bars—that, and his face behind those bars.

Almost. . .Well—almost as if he were in prison.

I know it’s a stretch, but I can’t help but wonder if there are bars that lock me in, again and again.  Then again, what if the bars actually lock me out, too?

Prison isn’t only being locked in and held against my will.  Sometimes, prison is a place of my own making—the freedom of going where I want and doing what I have chosen.

Bondage can look a lot like freedom to us, if we’re not careful.  The little boy swinging the gate in fun found that out.

I’ve locked myself in more times than I care to count.

Just tonight, I read an email and slid home the bolt on the prison of fear.  Tomorrow may bring an unhappy encounter, so I  entered the cell tonight willingly, muttering to myself as I pulled the gate shut behind me.

The fear of what tomorrow may bring is a barren cell, fraught with pain and distress.  And yet, I may lie sleepless in this dreadful place the entire night.

A conversation with someone earlier today brought about the opportunity of making personal comparisons.  Without a thought, I acknowledged my superiority and in doing so, firmly latched myself into the prison of pride and arrogance.

The incarceration of the prideful may seem to be, at worst, a low-security lock-up.  But, like most hardened criminals, we return again and again, never reformed, to hear the gate click behind us as we fall into the habit of a lifetime.

There are so many prison doors.  Greed.  Gluttony.  Bigotry.  Selfishness.  Lust.  The list stretches as far as the cells in the cell block above.

Sometimes, it seems that others close the doors for us, just like the little boy in the bank.  It matters not.  The lock snaps closed and we are trapped once more.

I’ve spent enough time locked in those cells.  Maybe that’s true for more than just me.

I remember that there is One who holds the key to every door.  Every single one.

Isaiah, the one who seemed to see Him clearly through all the centuries that lay between, said the words first.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the prisoner—to open the locked gates behind which they await freedom.  (Isaiah 61:1)

Jesus used the same words to describe Himself.

He is the Key Holder—the Opener of Doors.

He is the Key Holder—the Opener of Doors. Click To Tweet 

Locks, prison doors, barred gates—they mean nothing to Him.

I’m ready for better things.  Easier than the lady at the bank opening that gate, the prison doors will swing wide.

Time to walk free.

Free.

 

What a fool am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty? I have a key in my bosom called Promise that will (I am persuaded) open any lock in Doubting Castle.
(from Pilgrim’s Progress ~ John Bunyan ~ 1628-1688)

 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed.
(Luke 4:18 ~ NKJV ~ Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Good for the Soul

I wrote about this the other night.  Really, I did.  

Paragraph after paragraph to explain how I’m still a man of my word, in spite of my circumstances.  I even included scripture verses to encourage the reader to do the same.  

It was good.  Do you remember?

What! You never read that article?

Well, yeah. I knew that.

It’s not true anyway.

The part about me being a man of my word isn’t, that is.  I did write it.  I just couldn’t bring myself to publish it.  It still sits as a draft in my computer program.

Tonight though, I sat at my desk and, almost angrily, said the words to the ceiling in my office.

You’re going to make me write about this instead, aren’t you?

The circumstances of the two events are nearly identical; the actors in the little stageplay are the only real difference.  Oh. Then, there’s my failure to live up to the claim this time.

The details aren’t all that important.  An email arrived both times.  I had sold products, back when I ran a music store, and made promises about the products. Both of the email writers wanted me to live up to my promise.

The first time, I passed.  With flying colors, I passed the test.  I wanted to boast about that.  I wanted to make sure my readers knew how important it was to me to be a man of my word.  Even when it wasn’t convenient to do that.

Tonight?  It wasn’t such a rousing success.  When called on to make good on my promise, I simply made an excuse and said I couldn’t.

Well?  

I don’t operate the music store anymore.  Money is tight.  Bills have to be paid.  No one could expect me to stand behind promises—now that the business is defunct.  No one.

Except the One who called me.  The One who sustains me with His own hand.

He expects it.

David, the psalmist knew it.  He suggested that those who want to live in God’s presence needed, among other things, to do what they had promised, even when it hurts. (Psalm 15:4)

This was going to hurt.  So, I said sorry, I won’t.

I don’t want to tell you this.  I want you to think I’m a man of my word.  I do.

But then, I guess I should actually be a man of my word.  Shouldn’t I?

The red-headed lady who raised me had a saying for this (you knew she would):  Confession is good for the soul.

Her sayings weren’t always right.  This one is.

James said it in a little more round-about way.  Confess your sins to each other and you will be healed. (James 5:16)

I suppose you might say that being healed is good for the soul.

I suppose you might say that being healed is good for the soul. Click To Tweet

I’m confessing.  

The realization has grown in me more and more in these last days that we have become an arrogant people.  

More inclined to boast than to confess, our spiritual leaders and teachers tussle and vie for the places of honor, only to be shocked when they are showered with disrespect and hateful words from other leaders and teachers.

We follow their example.  I have seen more vile speech from believers, aimed at other believers, in the last short period of time than I have in my lifetime.

I wonder.  We refuse to let anyone see our weakness for fear that they will respect us less, and then when the facade falls (as it surely will) our weaknesses and sins are exposed anyway, to the chagrin of some and the glee of others.

If we exalt ourselves, it is inevitable that we will be humbled.  Inevitable.

Among all the shouting and self-promotion, somehow, I think our Lord would propose only seven words for us to say.

They are words of humility and penitence.  Words that remind us who we really are.

I’m saying them tonight.

God be merciful to me, a sinner.

 

A proud man is always looking down on things and people, and of course, as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.
(C.S. Lewis ~ British scholar/novelist ~ 1898-1963)

 

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else:  “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’  I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
(Luke 18:9-14 ~ NLT)

 
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

It Comes Back

plumber-1162323_640I’m standing on the roof, plumber’s snake jammed down the vent pipe.  Again and again I shove the flat wire down and drag it back up.  With each repetitive cycle, the stench of sewer escapes the pipe, to lodge in my nostrils and throat.

I’m not happy.

The trip up to the roof is a familiar one, this particular job needing to be repeated two or three times a year.  The century-old house has pipes under it that date back nearly to its original construction.

I’ve resigned myself to doing the task; clearly, the job itself is not responsible for my unhappiness.

I wonder why I’m unhappy.

No.  I don’t wonder; actually, I know.  

I’m unhappy because I’m going to be happy in a minute, but unhappy again after that.

There.  That’s made it perfectly clear, hasn’t it?

All right.  Quick, before it happens, let me explain it.  

In a minute, maybe five, there is going to be a loud gurgle,  I’ll hear water sucking downward, and the whoosh of every sewer pipe in the house dumping all the dirty water it contains into the line that leads under the yard to the alley where the city system will carry it to be treated and released again. 

It is exactly what I mean to accomplish.

And, almost on cue, there it goes.  The rush of water is even louder than I remember it.  The sweet sound of success echoes from under ground, up through the cast iron pipes to reverberate in my ears.  It’s done.

The elation is almost indescribable.  

I am sweating and tired, worn out from standing and laboring on the slanted shingle rooftop, but it is the moment I have been working toward from the instant I began climbing the aluminum ladder up from the ground.

What genuine joy!  What relief!

The job is done!  Hallelujah!

But. . .

I stand on the roof, gloved hands wrapping the twenty feet of metal snake back around the coil, and I have this nagging thought.

I’ve done exactly this before.  

I slide my hand around one wrap after another, and my foul mood is back just like that.  I have.  I’ve done this many times before, without variation.

I’ve conquered the sewer demon over and over.

I’ll have to do it again.  Someday.  I’ll have to do it again.

I am unhappy.

The filthy stuff comes back.  As long as we live in this old house, I’ll have to drag out the tools and send the vile stuff back where it belongs.

There is good stuff in the old house too—stuff that needs to be protected from the filthy junk.  It’s worth saving.  Again and again, it’s worth saving.

I’ll do it again.

I wonder.  The one sheep out of the one hundred who wandered away—after he was found and returned—did he wander away again?  Did he have to be found again?  (Luke 15)

The woman’s lost coin—after the house had been cleaned and it turned up—did she ever lose a coin again in that house?

What about the arrogant son, the one we call the prodigal?  After he came back and his dad threw a party for him—did he fall back into his old ways again?  Did they throw another party for him when he returned the second time?

What about the fifth time?  Or the tenth?

The filth of this fallen world encroaches time after time.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I have to stand up to the dirt again and again.  Some times are worse than others.

There are certain sins which are only just defeated to return and tempt again in an instant.  I stand firm, only to be tested in exactly the same way.  Or perhaps, in a subtly different way.

Every time—every time—I rejoice and do a little victory dance inside, only to be reminded that winning the battle is not the same thing as winning the ultimate victory.

Some will say the sin nature is dead and I shouldn’t have to fight the battles again.  I tell you, that never was promised to us.

We were promised that sin doesn’t rule us anymore, for we’ve been made alive to God.  Temptation comes, but we have the tools to defeat the temptation. (Romans 6:14)

I don’t allow the filth to fill my house.  I never will.

It doesn’t always feel that much like living in victory, but it’ll do.

It’ll do until there’s no need to use the tools anymore.  

Maybe, a new house. . . 

Yes.  I think a new house would be nice.  One with no sewer problems.

That’s coming someday, too.

He promised.

 

 

In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
(John 14:2-3 ~ NASB)

 

Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.
(Anonymous)

 

 

 

 

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

What Comes Out

The painting is beautiful, isn’t it?

Whether you’re an art lover or not, the scene evokes emotions—sometimes peaceful, often of awe, and at times, even of wonder.

The artist, clearly a master at his craft, has captured the reflected light on the surface of the water, as well as the powerful motion of the breaking waves; in fact, every detail lends itself to an unassailable sense of the grandeur of the sea.

The beautiful oil painting resides in our den, near the fireplace.  Seldom do I enter the room without at least a glance of appreciation.  Often, I turn on the little track lights that wash it from above with an ambient light, magnifying the effect of the cloud-covered sun as it lowers to the far horizon.

Then, backing away from the wall upon which it hangs, I simply stand and take in the view, reveling in the glory that is creation and thanking the One who placed us here in His world.

Once in awhile, though—only once in awhile—as I stand there, I find myself considering the ugliness of the human heart while I also contemplate the amazing beauty which emanates from the same heart.

It seems a strange thing to do, does it not, to think about ugly things while looking at great beauty?

Perhaps, you’ll let me tell you a story.  No, it’s not the made up kind of story; it’s completely true, as far as I can tell.

I warn you though; it is not a happy tale.
                             

Our hero, or villain—whichever—enters the story in about 1918, toward the end of World War I.  The Count had made his way by rail from Des Moines, Iowa down to Kansas City, Missouri, but found himself short of funds to get home again.  Stranded and without cash, he worked his way north to the little town of Excelsior Springs, a locale that suited his personality and lifestyle just perfectly.

In his late twenties, he was a sophisticated and debonair artist, lately emigrated from Hungary, and the young ladies in this tourist town of healing springs nearly fell at his feet.

Their fathers?  Not so much.

The artist boasted of his expertise and training at the finest art schools in Paris and Italy, and the little projects he turned out for the locals gave testimony of considerable talent.

When it became clear the teenage daughter of the local banker had been seeing entirely too much of the arrogant young dandy, her wealthy father fabricated a plan.  Knowing that the Count desired to go home, he made a deal with him.

The bank would pay him twelve-hundred dollars to paint two large murals in their building downtown.  In return, he promised to leave town and go home.  The artist honored his word, finishing the stunning murals and boarding the next train north, leaving a tearful banker’s daughter behind, along with a number of other disappointed young ladies.

For twenty years, the Count lived in different places, always wandering, always leaving behind his conquests, the young ladies, whom he had wooed and won with his foreign accent and his cocky self-confidence.

He kept finding his way back to his home in Iowa with money earned from paintings he was able to sell to well-to-do folks along the way.  He never stuck to any position, and never showed the slightest remorse about the lives he left ruined behind him.

Do you get the idea that this man was not a model of moral purity and goodness?

It got worse.

In the late 1930s he finally found one young lady, half his age, with whom he decided he could tie the knot.  Her parents, disliking him intensely, demanded that she break off the relationship.  Instead, she and the Count eloped and escaped south to Texas.

Four years later, she was dead.  She could stand neither her marriage to him, nor her life, so she ended both by hanging herself.

The police report said that she was still alive when her husband found her, but he didn’t take her down, instead going to the neighbors to ask for help.  When they got there, the only thing they could do was to assist in taking down her lifeless body.

Her family came and took the body back to Iowa, refusing to allow the Count to attend her funeral (he had no money with which to travel anyway).

Only months had passed when the Count, traveling under an assumed name, made his way in the twilight of evening to the cemetery where his wife was buried.  Standing over her grave, he took a bottle from his pocket and putting it to his mouth, swallowed the entire contents.

His dead body was draped over her grave when they found him in the morning.  Carbolic acid does its grisly work efficiently.

They buried him in an unmarked pauper’s grave.
                             

There are some who would call this a romantic tale.  Today, they might even make a movie about his life.  But, from this distant perspective, one can only assume he was riddled with the guilt of his past and couldn’t face the darkness of continuing life like that.

Romantic?  Hardly.

So, I stand sometimes and gaze at the amazing painting on my wall, completed by the Count himself in 1926, and I consider the dichotomy.

Evil lives in the heart of man.

Great beauty dwells there also.

Both make their way out, without fail, into the light of day. (Luke 6:45)

I’m reminded of the old story, oft repeated, about an old Native American man who was talking to the young braves of his tribe, encouraging them to exercise self-discipline in their own lives.

He told about two dogs that were always fighting inside of him, one evil and one good.  One of the young men asked the question that was on each brave’s mind:

“Which one will win, old man?”

The wise old man sat silent for a moment before answering, as if recalling a lifetime of the inner battle.  When he spoke, it was almost as if he spoke to himself.

“The one I feed; that one will win.”

There is more to be said—much more.

Words about grace, and new life, and beauty from ashes.  I could write for hours and not even begin to deplete the store of wisdom.

I’ll pass.

You certainly don’t need another sermon from the likes of me.

The two dogs live inside of me, too.

 

A religious life is a struggle, and not a hymn.
(Madame De Stael ~ French author ~ 1766-1817)

Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires.
(Romans 6:12 ~ NET)

 

 

 

© 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.

A Little Off

It’s a job I do almost every day.  You’d think I know what I’m doing.  Most folks would.

Alongside the Lovely Lady, I’ve spent most of my life in this little music store. Folks bring in instruments almost daily for me to repair.  The most common request I get is to replace the strings on guitars.  

Six strings.  Take the old grungy ones off—replace them with shiny new ones.  It’s an easy job—one I could do in my sleep.  Or, so I have thought.

Today, as I finished up one such job, I learned that familiarity is not the same as expertise.  One implies comfort, the other, attentiveness.

The old, rust-covered wires had all been removed, the fingerboard cleaned and oiled, and the bright, bronze-colored strings put into place.  All that remained was to tune the guitar, a part of the job I pride myself on.

I’m good at this part!  Bringing the slack strings up to tension, I can almost always tune them to pitch, without a tuning aid of any sort, within a quarter-step of standard.  Then, with the tuning fork, completion of the job is a cinch, my sensitive ear enabling me to complete the job easily.

Do you note just the tiniest hint of pride in that last paragraph?  Perhaps there is more than a hint. Funny.  I hear the words clearly—in retrospect, that is—which a wise man spoke many centuries ago.  Pride goes before a fall.  (Proverbs 16:18)

I had completed the initial rough tuning and, with an electronic device attached to the headstock of the guitar, attempted to complete the job.  Note I said attempted.  

The results were somewhat less than stellar.

The first string settled into tune easily.  Likewise, the second.  When I got to the third string though—that’s when the problem began.  Perhaps it was before; I don’t really know.

I must have been distracted.  Or maybe, tired.  It doesn’t matter.  

I plucked the third string to listen to the pitch as I increased the tension.  Twisting on the knob, I waited to hear a change in the sound.  All that happened is it got really hard to turn the knob. 

I kept twisting, wondering as I did if the gear inside was damaged.  Suddenly, there was a loud BANG! and the knob became quite easy to turn.  The other thing that happened was the immediate stinging sensation on the back of my hand as the tip of the broken string hit it.

Drops of blood rose to the surface immediately and I put the back of my hand up to my mouth to draw away the blood and soothe the sting.

There was nothing to soothe the sting to my pride, though.  It was an amateur’s mistake.  The fingers on one hand had plucked the third string repeatedly, awaiting change, while the fingers on the other hand twisted the knob for the second string.

There is only a space of about one third of an inch between the strings.  One third of an inch.

Such a small distance.  Such a disastrous result.

Perhaps this is the place I should end this little morality tale.  I should talk about our sinful nature and how close we come to doing what is right.  I could even suggest that the slightest deviation from the right path will lead to destruction.  If we keep all the law, but err in one point, we are doomed.  (James 2:10)

guitar-806255_1280I don’t want to end the story there—mostly because that’s not where it ends.  I didn’t leave the broken string on the guitar.  I didn’t carry the offensive thing into my back room to await an ignominious fate in the distant future.  

When the customer arrived to retrieve his fine instrument moments later, he picked up a perfectly beautiful (and in-tune) guitar.  He ran his fingers across the strings and mused at the astounding depth of tone and beauty.

Every time, Paul—every time—I am amazed at the difference when the strings are changed!

With that, he was gone.  The stunning instrument will be played on a stage this weekend.  The audience will marvel.

Did you really think the story would end because one idiot got a third of an inch off?  I suppose some could write that story.  Not I.

I’m a believer in grace.  Second chances.  Broken strings which are replaced with new ones—and then replaced again—and again.

And again.

So, I’m a little off.  

That is true for any human who can read these words.  

Pain ensues.  Blood flows.

Grace happens.

The music is still not finished.

The Master Musician is making a masterpiece, a work of art.

Grace.

 

 

 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
(Ephesians 2:8-10 ~ NIV

 

 

 

 

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

Raunchy

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.

Raunchy.

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

Redemption. 

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!

Raunchy?

Once I was.  Not any more.

Redeemed.

Redeemed.

 

 

 

“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.