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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Touch of the Master's Hand

The Power of Written Words

There are a few chapters to go in the "Unsettled" series, but my laptop cord "shorted out" and I'm limited to the family computer, so it may be a few days before Chapter 16 comes. (I do my writing in a recliner with my laptop, often with my family sitting around the room, watching TV or whatever. The thought of sitting here at a desk in a room feels a bit too much like being at work for me to get the creative juices flowing.)

But I did want to take a minute to thank everyone who drops in here at POI for the encouragement of "readership." Knowing that others have taken interest in these chapters brings joy to the task of writing them.

In a post a few months back in the archives, I mentioned my reason for wanting to write the "story" of my family buying a piece of property back in 1968 and "settling" it through my junior high and high school years, (We moved into the house my sophomore year of college). That was a long time ago, and my siblings and I are now in the "unsettling" position of deciding what will become of the family homestead. If we were independently wealthy, we'd probably just keep it as a gathering place. I would love that, but suffice to say we are not independently wealthy. (If any of you are and would like to donate half-a-million to a very sentimental cause, please let me know. Ha Ha.)

Fortunately, we are not in a position that requires us to do anything in a hurry. But because we have all accepted the fact that someday in the years ahead total strangers may live in what for forty years has been our "home away from home," I wanted to write these chapters to self publish in a book that I will leave with a note in the telephone nook between the dining and living rooms. (It's there that our family library was before we divided the treasured books among us.) I will ask that the book be considered a fixture of the house, that it stay there even if the home is sold again. I think that’s a fair thing to ask.

If you were going to buy a house and land with not ghosts but memories wrapped all around the porch and fence posts and the paths and rope high in a tree, would you not want to know the story of how they got there? If you were being shown a house by a realtor, and you learned that there was a well under the basement staircase, would you not wonder how deep it was and what kind of work it took to put it there? If you were to unlock the door to a barn, smell the faint creosote that wafts out with the open door, flick the steel-box light switch and see that it was built entirely of native logs, would you not wonder about the man and the his sons who built it forty years ago? I would.

Worse yet, and this is my deepest dread about what lies ahead, if you were a developer--and developments have sprouted all around our land since the time of these chapters--If you were a developer who bought our land on which to build a half-a-dozen homes and for whatever reason you decide that the one that’s there is “in the way,” and the old barn that’s there is “in the way,” would you not want to know what you’re tearing down before you start the bull dozer? I would… and maybe… just maybe… reading these chapters would make it seem not so bad to have two extraordinary structures among perhaps bigger, fancier but ordinary homes which I dare say will not stand up as well as the solid brick house Dad built (or the log barn for that matter).

So what has this got to do with the title of this post? Two things.

First: I learned nearly everything I know about life from my parents, and they were “masters” in a simple sense.

Neither of them earned their “masters” degree—not the kind from a college anyway, but if being a “master at something” is measured by how effectively you accomplish your goals and teach those involved to do the same, and when there is a very meaningful tie that binds those goals and patterns of life together…and that thing is THE MASTER, Himself, you are a master indeed. So in that sense, my parents were masters. Imperfect, yes; broken and scarred, yes, but striving to pass along what they had learned from THE MASTER.

And second: During these chapters of my life, my mom often read us kids a poem she’d found called "The Touch of the Master's Hand." Her eyes teared up by the end every time. She was so grateful for the time she and Dad met the Lord (as she put it) a few years before we bought the land. It changed how they thought, how they acted, how they raised us kids… it changed everything.

“But, Mom, you and Dad weren’t so bad before that time,” I once said when she read the poem. “'Not-that-bad falls way short, Tom. And besides our story was far from over. We were heading down the wrong path. Totally lost, trying to do what was right as we saw it but fumbling all the way. We had a religious shell, but it was hollow. There was no relationship with Christ. We wouldn’t have made it, Tom. No one can. All our attempts at 'being good' fall short. I hate to think of what would have happened to us, our marriage, you kids. We were lost, Tom.”

She said lots more. I came to understand it for myself, but I try not to preach here at POI. I think less is more, when it comes to me trying to make someone else see the importance of a life-changing relationship. If I get "preachy" here, few would come back to read. So I try instead to write about life and love as I have experienced it, only now and then explaining why it was so. As Edgar A. Guest wrote, "I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day." I had the privilege of hearing good sermons on Sunday but more importantly seeing them during the week.

So here’s our little homework assignment if you feel like taking a few minutes to think about both the gospel message that is in THE WORD and also the power of written words, by human hands, without too many frills added.

Below is the text of the poem Mom used to read to us, "The Touch of the Master's Hand," by Myra Welsh. Read along as you listen to the simple clip above it of J.D. Sumner reciting it from memory (he's old and makes a few mistakes but the spirit of the poem is captured well). Below that is a an earnest attempt from some well-meaning group to “dramatize” the story. Below that are some related links that further illustrate that sometimes the written/spoken word needs little else.

I don’t mean to belittle any of the efforts to “tell this story” in various ways. I’m all for getting the Good News out, but as the apostle Paul said in so many words: Never underestimate the simple power of the written and spoken Word. All the “bling” we moderns have added to the gospel of Christ is sometimes just distraction.

The truth of the old adage “A picture’s worth a thousand words” depends on both the picture and the words. Sometimes less is more.

The text of the poem is below this first clip. Push arrow to start.

"Touch of the Master’s Hand" by Myra Welsh

T’was battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile.

"What am I bidden, good folks," he cried,
"Who’ll start the bidding for me?"
"A dollar, a dollar," then, two! Only two?
"Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?

"Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three . . . "But no,
From the room, far back, a grey haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;

Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loose strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet
As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: "What am I bid for the old violin?"
And he held it up with the bow.

"A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice;
And going and gone," said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,
"We do not quite understand
What changed its worth?" Swift came the reply:
"The touch of a master’s hand."

And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,
Much like the old violin.

A "mess of potage," a glass of wine;
A game, and he travels on.
He is "going" once, and "going" twice,
He’s "going" and almost "gone."

But the Master comes and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.

Think about those words before you read on. I don't want to take anything away from that message. Play it again if you like.

Now... because I want to stress the importance of not taking away from the message, and because I know we so often do... Watch the clip below and see if a picture [or video in this case] is truly always worth 1000 words [or 269 in this case]. These folks meant well by making a movie based on the poem, but I’ll let you be the judge as to whether the words needed help.

ZZZzzzz... Wake up! There's more. Again, I am not criticizing the creative people who were inspired by this poem to “make something more” out of it. My intent is a reassurance, of sorts, to poets and writers: the power of images and metaphors and written/spoken words often need little help.

This poem has also been put to music. Hear the first version here. And at this link hear yet another variation (far to mirthful in my opinion).

See my point? So-so films and songs are fine, but they fall short of when I heard my mother read this poem to me as a kid, and they add no power to what Myra Welsh put to paper 90 years ago. It's that message about The Master, and not this homework assignment, that I hope you take from this post.

Go to this Myra Welsh link to read more of her story. And who is that old guy, JD Sumner, reading in the first clip. Well, he’s a guy I dare say who knew a little bit about being battered and scarred and changed by the Master’s hand. He used to be the back-up bass for Elvis Presley [this video clip proves it], but after Elvis died he returned to his pure gospel roots. JD Sumner died at age 78 and was on tour singing when it happened.

Additional links of interest:
Back in the Sixties, Jimmy Dean also recited the poem.
And the Cathedrals recorded a recitation with just a touch of music.


Blogger the walking man said...

Naww, I didn't push any buttons, the written version of "The Touch Of The Masters Hand" is a stand alone piece and the rest of the things you brought out in the post are exactly why I shun "religion."

One day I was in Berkeley California having a discussion with a group called "College Campus for Christ" or some such thing...On their table were at least fifty different pamphlets trying to define God, Christianity, Mans place in the plan etc etc etc. Tucked away over in the corner and not easily seen or referred to was a bible.

My postulate was and still is, if the bible stands alone why do I need the rest of the things that other men have to say about it?

To me all of the "because's" that followed were simple foolishness. Everything I needed to know was in one book and everything else on the table was one or another man's idea of what the book said. I have heard more sermons and preaching trying to interpret the book that fell so short of the mark, that I no longer found it a worthy endeavor to listen.

I am of the mind that all I need to know God himself will teach me. God will teach me to rightly divide and see wisdom.

As I delved deeper into the other great religions of the world, Judaism, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhism I found the same thing to be true. Every single one of them have thousands of commentaries and postulates on what their prophets taught instead of simply following the words of that (those) prophets.

I needed the words of a man to start me on this journey but soon enough the words of men fell short of the instruction from God.

on another note...Joann and I have been looking at properties in the area of your parents house...I'd like some more information if you think it's time to give it Tom. bdd44m5@gmail.com

22/2/09 5:18 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I'm glad you knew the poem. I sometimes not sure if something that is familiar to me is well known by others. In your case, pushing the other buttons would have been frustrating, because as you said, a stand alone piece doesn't need all the effort to "add" meaning to it. Also like you said, the Bible is a stand alone piece.

I'm sorry you had that experience in Berkeley. I don't doubt it. I've seen "good intentions" like that miss the mark myself, sometimes horribly so. Shunning "religion" (as in the various systems) is good counsel. Jesus did not come to form religions, he came to provide relationship. I know you know what I believe, and I know we could go on and on here, but I guess we'll just leave it at that.

I hope this isn't trite, but have you seen that orange juice commercial for "Simply Orange" that says "The fewer the steps between the orange juice in your glass and the orange juice on the tree, the better it tastes."? Well, it's kind of like that. The Good News of Christ is clear; his example is vivid; what he asks of his followers has played out for 2,000 years and counting. It's all the "additives" of man that sometimes give it a bitter taste. Thanks for your candor, Mark.

As for the homestead. We may be facing that in a year or so. If we do sell, nothing would make me happier than to have someone buy it who knows the story behind it.I'll keep your email address.

22/2/09 7:33 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I’m getting ready to head out to church (not to be “religious” but to fellowship with other believers. Just thought I should clarify that in light of what we were talking about earlier), but any way, as I was getting dressed, I was thinking about that “Simply Orange” slogan I mentioned above. "The fewer the steps between the orange juice in your glass and the orange juice on the tree, the better it tastes."

Whoa! That is powerful when you think of how close it comes to what Christ said just before his death when he was gathered with his disciples. He was referring to juice in a cup but trying to get his followers to understand it was merely symbolic of what would be poured out on the tree (the cross is sometimes called Calvary’s tree). Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

When I mentioned the commercial [which can be seen at http://www.simplyorangejuice.com/] in my comment it was triggered by what you said, but it didn’t hit me until 15 minutes later that Christ himself practically "The fewer the steps between the symbol of what was crushed to put the juice in this cup and what will be crushed for your sakes on the tree, the more effective will be my gospel. He was trying to keep it as simple as he could for those who shared life with him and were still not clear how it would all work out. I may just have to think and write more about this some time.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that as always you gave me some good food for thought. Thanks.

22/2/09 8:24 AM  
Blogger Donnetta Lee said...

I recall the Jimmy Dean version. Sometimes that "country sound" behind the words can be somehow comforting and homey. Well,I grew up part of my life in Oklahoma-so there ya go. Lovely piece. Memories. D

22/2/09 9:24 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Donnetta Lee,
I remember Jimmy Dean's TV show and we had the 45 of his hit "Big John" with PT 109 (about JFK) on the flip side. I do know what you mean about the homeness of a southern accent. Nancy, who reads here, has a strong NC accent. I've not heard but she has said so. My sister-in-law spend several years in Oklahoma and I can still hear it in her voice.

22/2/09 10:16 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Tom...I shun "religion" not spiritual minded folks who choose to come together in their beliefs.

After all isn't that the meaning of the word Ecclesia? A group called out from the midst of a larger group. The word we translate into english as church.

Nor do I shun the meaning of religion which I learned was literally translated as service. Service not in the gathering of the ecclessia but rather similar to your trips to Thailand to aid them of lesser resources.

I do not reject the message and working of Christianity, not at all.

While we would disagree on the divinity of the Christ we would agree that without the sacrifice of his body and soul there would never have been an open door to God for mortal man nor defeat of satan and death.

I can see Joshua ben Joseph ben David as the unbroken line from Adam to himself and I also always have looked to him as the son of Elohim, God. I have no problem with virgin birth whatever. Because God can create man he certainly can create sperm in the womb of a virgin.

Yet at the same time I do not worship Jesus. I love his life, and am grateful for it but I worship his father.

While I understand Christianity quite well, I also understand the hows and ways of other traditions and prophets and found wisdom in their sacred texts as well.

Understanding is where you find it and God the giver of the path is all I am saying. The juice analogy is a perfect example of why I so long ago rejected Catholicism, I need no human mortal man between the spirit and myself.

Be well Tom.

23/2/09 4:42 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I have always known you were a very smart guy and I've always sensed in previous comments (we've been cyber-neighbors for years now) that you had a very broad understanding of the things we sometimes talk about. Broader than my own to be sure. I do take Christ at his word that he is the way the truth and the life...

I've thought more about that juice commercial and I do think I'll write about it sometime--maybe this Easter.

Some time when I'm over there, we'll have to get together and talk over coffee. In the meantime, thanks for knowing where I'm coming from. =)

23/2/09 8:24 AM  
Blogger the walking man said...

You have my e-mail tom, as long as it doesn't conflict with Joann's work hours (one car family) I'd be happy for some coffee with you.

24/2/09 5:52 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

I read that poem years and years ago. It brought tears to my eyes then and it did again today. But then my wife says it doesn't take much to fog my glasses.

24/2/09 6:15 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I'm over there about three times a year, so you never know. I may just drop you a line and take you to Izzy'a (on Little Mack?). Last time I was there was with my mom and the family.

Dr. John,
There is something about the metaphor that is powerful. The line "he's going and almost gone" evokes such empathy. That and the fact that the crowd doesn't get it. When I think of the time Christ healed the blind men and only one stopped to thank him, I'm reminded of how deep the "thoughtlessness" of the crowd tends to be even in the face of dramatic change.

Thanks for stopping by.

24/2/09 8:10 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

As usual, the comment section acquired a life of it's on here at POI, which is always a delightful surprise after having read such an inspiring post! Where do I begin? FIrst let me say that commenting on my accent is somehow endearing, seeing my name in print along with all this intelligentsia is humbling to say the least. My accent, for some that do not know me, puts me in the stereotypical category of the Appalachian Mountain People; which is one of the reasons that I love this forum of writing and blogging. By the time that you meet me, if that ever happens, you will already know me, not only through my words but through my heart as well. I'm not embarrassed by the accent and I've embraced it as a part of who I am. It can be humorous to watch the faces of Northerners when they hear me speak and many say they think "it's" cute! GO figure, I aint gonna cipher on it too much.

Now to the post, your mom really had a wealth of information in that head of hers. I had never heard the poem but it is powerful. I even enjoyed the different media versions, maybe because I'm a teacher and that's what we do, present things in a variety of ways to reach all learning styles. The key word I think, that sums up the post and the comments is "relationship"! I see God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, as one and the only way to get to the other two is through Jesus, accepting that He is the way and the only way! Therefore, you have a relationship with all three and if you don't you are missing out on something powerful. That relationship for me is still growing and I hope it continues to do so. One way that helps my relationship grow is through fellowship with other Christians (where two or more are gathered..) and I believe one way God speaks to me is through other Christians, by letting His will be known through them. I even see that in the blogging world. Sooooo, I try to surround myself with Christians in all areas of my life, being attentive to their words not only in the pulpit or at church but in every day conversation.

Great post Tom, great food for thought, great finesse in the comments, and the orange juice idea is a great one! God speaks to us even in the blogging world. You are such a blessing to me so keep 'em cummin!

27/2/09 11:57 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I missed this commment because it was a post behind the other one. That happens sometimes. =)

To answer a question from the above post since it ties into southern accents. We will be taking this year's seniors to Destin, FL, in late may. Down there in Destin just below Alabama, the accents are thick and inviting.

I'm so glad to have introduced you to this poem. It is powerful and your thoughts help explain the relationship implied in "the touch." Thanks for taking the time to join in--it's never too late!

28/2/09 11:41 AM  

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