A Rabid Fundamentalist Column
John W. Cowart
I’m sure the rat I found last Saturday had to have weighted less than 75 pounds.
The reason I know is that I’d picked up the trashcan he was hiding in and carried it all the way across our yard and I can’t lift more than 75 pounds. So the rat had to have weighed less.
In our yard I use that old garbage can to store lengths of worn out garden hose, and I was working on a project that called for a piece of hose. So I carried the can across the yard and began pulling out sections of hose.
Did you know that rats can jump?
I don’t mean jump.
I mean Jump.
I mean Olympic Gold Medal Jump!
From the bottom of the can to over the top of my head jump.
Mr. Rat jumped. In the air he was eye level with me as he turned, landed on the grass and ran into the bushes.
Being a serious, dedicated, former Sunday-School-teaching, Spirit-baptized, card-carrying Christian, the first word out of my mouth was religious.
I said, “Holy”.
The second word out of my mouth was not religious.
It was decidedly secular humanist, referring not to the world of the spirit but to the purely physical realm.
That pretty much sums me up: Christian and human.
And my speech reveals this combination every day.
I bring this up because last month a dear Christian lady told me that she would never let her teenagers read my website because I use dirty words in writing about religious matters.
My first reaction was to get defensive and write her off as a kook.
You know that almost-Scripture: Unto the pure, all things are pure -- everybody else thinks like I do.
But on further reflection I began to take her gentle rebuke to heart. Maybe she has a point. Maybe my writing is not suitable for children. Maybe my writing is not suitable for Christian adults. Maybe my writing is not suitable for anybody.
When it comes to payment, editors often seem to hold that last opinion. And, if the truth be told, in the privacy of my own home, I’ve used some words describing editors which they themselves would never allow in print.
I’ve even called them Yankees!
Now, as any Southerner knows that is only half a word. There is an implied prefix – a word going before which, though usually not spoken, is understood by anyone from the South.
Once back in the mid 1970s, one of the first stories I attempted to write for publication (in a religious magazine for boys) was rejected by the editor; his note said that a common expletive I used carried as an implied suffix a dirty word to follow. He said my story was unsuitable for Christian readers.
Apparently for a supposedly religious person, I have a dirty mouth.
This really came out earlier this month when I walked barefoot out to the kitchen to make coffee one morning at my usual time and noticed the floor tiles felt hot.
Since our home was built about 50 years ago on a concrete slab, this could only mean that an underground hot water pipe, a cast-iron pipe, had rusted through and broken. Under ground. Under the concrete. Under our home.
“Rats!” I said.
“Oh my,” I said.
“Oh dear!” I said.
“Oh Good Grief,” I said.
No I didn’t. That’s not what I said at all – but you get the general idea.
There I stood in the kitchen at 4 a.m., empty coffee pot in hand, no water coming from the faucet, dancing back and forth to keep my bare feet from burning – and cursing the Japanese!
Now where did that come from?
From my Dad.
Because of his World War II experiences, whenever anything anywhere went wrong, Dad would blame the Japanese.
So there I am echoing the curses I’d heard in my childhood even though obviously the Japanese had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with my house, my plumbing, my problems.
Profanity is not exactly rational.
I blundered out to the tool shed, got a key and turned off the main water valve at the street.
By this time I felt more rational. I stopped cursing the innocent Japanese and went after the real culprits – the guys who build my house 50 years ago and all the former owners who had never replaced those old iron pipes. I cursed their cheap, shoddy workmanship, the kennel their mother was raised in, their -- well, again you get the idea.
I even cursed the God who had created them – and me.
Something had inconvenienced me and I did not like it one bit.
I questioned why God would allow such a disruption to enter my life. I questioned His character and His love. I mean, if God really loves me, why would He let a pipe under my house to rust through? Why would He let me ever get a flat tire? A toothache? Arthritis? Why would a loving God ever allow me to experience the stuff of everyday life that happens to everyone living in this fallen world?
I ought to be exempt!
I demand to be exempt!
So I cursed everything and everyone from Heaven to Japan and all points in between.
These curses did not come from my Dad; these curses arose from my own heart.
Once Jesus told His disciples, “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man”. (Matt 15:18-19).
After my 4 a.m. temper tantrum, a modicum of self-control and rationality crept in slowly. The real question is not why did this happen to me, but where do I go from here?
I recalled the words of the Apostle James: “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain”.
Humm. Where does that leave me?
James went on to say: “The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so”.
Here I am, priding myself on being a Christian writer, scribing words geared to save souls, convert the wicked, sanctify the saints, comfort the feebleminded, revive the church, relieve maidens in distress, encourage the hopeless, glorify the Lord, enhance my own reputation --- I babble about this stuff all the time. But let one little pipe break… a few drops of hot water… a hall carpet that squishes a bit when you walk across it -- and what do I say?
That pesky Apostle James (who obviously never had a pipe under his house break) said, “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?… no fountain (can) both yield salt water and fresh”.
Am I the only guy to babble like a fountain with a broken pipe, babbling fresh water and foul?
And what am I to do about it?
Well, I’m not the first. When one Old Testament visionary saw the Lord High And Lifted Up, the first words from his mouth were, “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips”. Yet, God made Isaiah foremost among the prophets.
And at the trial of Jesus, one man there “Began to curse and to swear, saying, ‘I know not the man!’ – And immediately the cock crew ”. (Mtt. 26:74).
Yet God used Peter to write two of the greatest New Testament letters.
From these examples I gather that no matter what we’ve said, no matter what we’ve done, God is greater than all that; His mercy endures for ever.
There is hope for the foul-mouthed.
Bits and pieces of these thoughts flashed through my mind as I stood on the front lawn still in my underwear – who’s to see, it’s 4 a.m. – turning off the main valve and I said a prayer of repentance, apologizing to the Lord, for being the way I am.
I even made a solemn resolve that henceforth I shall refer to editors only as “Northerners”.
I also asked for guidance about what to do next.
Later that day I asked my friend, Rex, a licensed building contractor, to take a look at my plumbing problem and give me some advice. Rex, bless him, not only looked at the plumbing, he took days away from his family to come over, knock holes through our house walls, rip out rusted-shut pipes, replace cast-iron with pvc, and patch the holes so you can’t even see where they were.
And he did it all without uttering one single word of profanity!
However, as I watched Rex work on our plumbing, from within my own heart there arose more comments related to the builders who had done the original plumbing in this house 50 years ago.
Oddly enough, I was not thinking about cursing them.
No. My mind did a flip-flop. What I got to thinking about was how people 50 years from now may view my work if any of it is still around.
Will these people of the future come across places where I did shoddy things and will they curse my unknown name?
All the time as a writer I’m tempted to shoddy workmanship. I’m tempted to jazz up a tale a bit to make it more dramatic; to shave non-fiction incidents to make them read smoother, to change the sacrosanct material inside quotation marks so my own work comes across as more polished; to steal ideas without attributing them to their original source.
To be dishonest.
To earn the curses of someone 50 years from now.
To make myself look good at the expense of some future researcher who’s trying to be honest.
What should my work be like? How true? How solid? How accurate? How honest?
That most prolific of New Testament writers, Paul, said, “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him”.
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