An Excerpt from John Cowart’s Journal:
John W. Cowart
Thursday, July 7, 1994:
Gin off to work at CC; Patricia off to summer school.
Devotions: Psalms 35 to 37, BCP.
I worked on The Reincarnationists novel all morning -- actually what I did was not work but read over the stuff I've already written.
Then I walked across the bridge to the Post Office to mail Donald's birthday present: a new Far Side cartoon book, a copy of T.S. Elliot's Old Possum's Practical Book Of Cats, a religious tee shirt (a thorn-crowned head with the caption "What Has God Ever Done For YOU?") and, for old time's sake, a packet of toilet paper (remember the past two years).
I was supposed to mail the July payment to the collection agency but decided to hold it back another month.
On the way home I stopped at the drug store and bought some treats to go in Gin's lunches (since she can't smoke in that wimpy office, I fixed her a bowl of hard candies), a new phone cord, and about $30 worth of luxury items we have been doing without for ages such as stamps, toothpaste, matches, roach spray, etc. I ran out of money before I could get extra amenities of my own such as razors and hair tonic, but the things I did buy will go a long way toward improving our quality of life.
As I returned home, walking in the blazing sun across the bridge, for the pure hell of it, some ass yelled and threw a drink cup full of beer and ice cubes at me from a passing pickup.
Missed me but made me mad.
This morning's devotional reading from Psalm included phrases such as, "Let them be turned back and brought to confusion that imagine mischief against me... Let the angel of the Lord scatter them... Let their way be dark and slippery. For they have privily laid their net to destroy me without a cause... (Ps 35)
"The ungodly have drawn out the sword and have bent their bow to cast down the poor and needy... The ungodly watcheth the righteous and seeketh to slay him... (PS 36)"
Since I try to get along with everyone and I have no human enemies that I know of, such passages puzzle me; recently I have generally thought them to refer to demon enemies. Nevertheless, this morning as I prayed along with the Psalmist, these passages seemed more important than usual (I normally more or less skip over them); now I wonder if they did not take on added significance in my devotions so that I would pray for physical protection -- that could well have been a beer bottle or a brick the ass threw at me.
The pickup truck full of young men appeared to be just cruising around seeking a target of opportunity and seeing me as an old man walking with a cane and an arm-load of grocery bags the temptation for devilment was just too great for them to pass up. Any target will do for the devil; you don't have to be special.
So first I raged at the bastards, I prayed imprecatory prayers that would make David blush. I imagined how nice it would be to have a shotgun and answer their attack with a scorching blast.
I imagined how nice it would be that if in throwing the beer, the driver had lost control of the pickup, crashed through the bridge rail and landed in the river below. I could see my self calmly leaning against the rail, lighting my pipe and watching the whole truck-load of yelling young men drown (damn shame there aren't more alligators in the river).
Then I imagined how nice it would be if the young men has squealed to a stop on the bridge, jumped out of their pick-up and came over to hassle me face to face; imagine their surprise when they discovered that I walk with a cane not because I'm crippled but because years ago I studied aikido, a Japanese martial art which includes training in stick fighting, and I believe that my cane could effectively put down three unarmed thugs.
Possibly without killing them.
O but I wish they had stopped.
They might have found the experience educational.
Then I wondered what kind of creep would throw things from a passing truck at any pedestrian? Did they think it funny? Had they seen me somewhere before and found me offensive for some reason? Were they spaced out on drugs? Drunk? Just being mean and cussed?
God ought to do something about people like that.
The words of David's Psalms I'd read this morning returned to my mind: Lord, how long wilt thou look upon this?... Let them be put to confusion and shame together that rejoice at my trouble; let them be clothed with rebuke and dishonor... Wicked doers shall be rooted out... The ungodly shall be clean gone... Their sword shall go through their own heart... The arms of the ungodly shall be broken.
Sounds all right to me.
Sic 'em Lord.
Show the creeps who's Boss.
But what about forgiving my enemies? Didn't Jesus say to turn the other cheek when some ass throws a bottle at you? Didn't He say, "Resist not evil". When the soldiers spit on Him and beat Him and mocked Him, didn't He teach compassion even then. When they drove the nails through His hands, didn't He say, "Father, forgive them"?
Ok. So I'm a Christian, my mind grudgingly admitted -- why do I think about religion at such inconvenient times as this? -- I ought to forgive these guys because Christ forgives me. "Forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me."
But how can I dismiss this incident as a youthful prank? What if the missile had hit me; I could have been blinded, crippled or killed -- that truck must have been going 50 miles per hour. What if Ginny had been walking with me and they hit her? What kind of person throws things at an old guy walking with a cane?
At this point -- God must get a perverse pleasure out of doing this to me -- I suddenly remembered another pesky phrase about wicked ungodly people from this morning's Psalm:
Right in there with curses on evil people who set traps for others, and dig pits in another person's path, and who wink with their eyes and gnash with their teeth, busy mockers who steal from the poor and trip the blind -- right there in that same cluster of verses, God mentions:
"The ungodly borroweth and payeth not again".
And here this very morning I'd spent a good bit of time and energy trying to figure out how to squirm out of paying that bill I owe!
Now wait just one minute here. Does that mean that in God's sight my sin of not paying this bill (and Lord, You know that collection agency doesn't need the money nearly as bad as I do) is equal to the sin of those guys throwing things at pedestrians?
That can't be right.
Here's the difference.
Them -- the wicked ungodly sinners who yelled at me and threw the beer -- is them.
Me -- the wicked ungodly sinner who borrowed money and has not repaid it -- is me.
Can't God see the difference?
Here comes another passage from this morning's Psalm reading to mind (I've got to stop reading this stuff, it's too unsettling):
"Flee from evil and do the thing that is good... the Lord loveth the thing that is right" (Ps 37:27).
God's primary characteristic is holiness. He is pure. Undefiled. He is light and in Him is no darkness at all -- why should he regard my favorite form of darkness any better than He regard's the other guy's darkness?
Both I and the beer-throwers will stand before the holy face of God.
They must answer for their deeds.
I must answer for mine.
Makes me squirm.
"Forgive me my trespasses, just as I forgive those who trespass against me."
As I continued trudging across the bridge in the 98 degree heat, I began to look for a way to excuse the young men in the pick-up.
Maybe they had not really thrown the beer; maybe the guy just had it out the window and it slipped from his hand just as the truck passed me.
Maybe, he saw me trudging with that heavy load in the heat, and, maybe with a distorted sense of compassion, he thought that a cold slosh of beer would refresh me. Maybe he did a misguided act of mercy.
Maybe, he did throw the beer deliberately but next Sunday he will attend an evangelistic meeting and remember the mean thing he did, feel shame and conviction and be converted -- so his action was really part of God's plan.
Excusing is not forgiving.
If I excuse a sin against me, I can downplay it, then I don't have to forgive it.
Excusing takes all human blame away and places it on the circumstance, and I don't need to forgive circumstances; God only requires that I forgive the sinner who bugs me personally.
Excusing the sinner's action is a cop out.
Yes, the guy did it.
And, yes, I must forgive him.
The burden for action, the deed of forgiving, falls on me alone.
It is inescapable.
So, as I reached the other side of the bridge, I said the words: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge". But I felt no more kindly toward the guys in the pickup.
Am I supposed to?
Meanwhile, what am I going to do about that collection agency bill?
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