Gathered

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Yesterday my friend Rex came by to tell me that his mother-in-law had died.

Marie Arrocena was 90 years old. She used to live next door to me and when she saws me working in the front yard, she’d come out to talk about flowers and her family. Since she mothered a huge extended family with scads of great-grandchildren, I did not always understand which one she was talking about but that didn’t matter because I could pick up on her many joys and concerns.

Marie Arrocena 1924_2014

Her death reminds me of a charming phrase from the Old Testament; when an elderly person would did, the Scripture refers to them as “Being old and full of days”. Then it says the person was “Gathered to his fathers”.

I like the image of being gathered.

We don’t just fall over and die by the wayside; we are gathered.

One of the Prophets, I forget which one, speaks of Christ, the Good Shepherd, as leading His flock, “And He shall gathered the lambs to His bosom and shall gently lead those which are with young”.

Gathered.

Enfolded.

Not just dead.

Last night Helen and Donald treated me to a feast of seafood and beer at Trent’s in downtown Yukon, a tiny community near the Naval Air Station—a wonderful pleasant evening. And afterwards we sat in their backyard watching a possum sneak out of the bushes to nibble tidbits from the cat’s bowl.

Helen just returned from Art Camp in New York (she calls it a seminar) but her enthusiasm and renewal reminds me of a happy kid just back from camp.

While she was away, Donald and I had spent a super-good day browsing in a book store, spending way more than we could afford, and afterwards sitting in a restaurant sipping milk shakes and ignoring eachother in silence as we read our new books—real quality father/son time.

As the three of us talked last night, we planed and prayed for the Lord’s guidance about future develops. Looks like I may not become a Hobbit after all moving in with the kids; new, exciting directions appear to be developing before us. We’ll see what happens.

As the Scripture says, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth”.

• Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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The Raccoon Of Resentment

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Yesterday, aside from driving a neighbor downtown to meet his parole officer, I did little but read murder mysteries and mull over old resentments.

Looks like as I mature in the grace of Christ I’d get over some things.

Not necessarily.

A recent conversation with a friend about the sins of the elderly reminded me that back in 2010, raccoons gnawed through the roof of my outdoor office and ate some of my research books. A battle with the varmints ensued.

They won.

I no longer have that outside office.

Here is the June 9, 2010, posting from my diary; it comes from page 269 of my book A Dirty Old Man Vs The Coons.

The Raccoon Of Resentment

I checked the live-trap and still no raccoon.

Yes, I borrowed a live-trap from Donald and Helen (I have no idea why they happened to have one) and I’ve been baiting it for the past couple of days hoping to catch the beast that gnawed a hole in the roof of my outside office.

The creature thrives on peanut butter crackers and granola bars, but has yet to spring the trap. The varmint better get caught soon or my next step till be either poison or the shotgun….

Maybe both.

Way I’m feeling this morning, I’d like to trap the coon, then instead of releasing him in the forest, I’d like to feed him poison through the wire, then shotgun him as he writhes in agony… That’ll teach him to chew on my books!

Pipe dreams.

What I’ll do is, since I borrowed the empty trap from Donald and Helen, I’ll just return it to them full of live raccoon.

That’s the Christian thing to do—always give back more than you get.

But, the raccoon is the least of my problems; my biggest one is resentment.

Yes, I still struggle with resentment and bitterness. A recent situation arose wherein somebody did me dirt and instead of forgiving them, I harbor bitterness—and bitterness is harder to get rid of than any coon!

It looks as though after 71 years on this earth, the last 50 or so of them as a Christian, I would have learned by now how to forgive people I feel have wronged me.

But, I haven’t.

In my mind, I can still replay, in glowing living color, offences that other kids did to me when I was a Boy Scout!

And the effect is cumulative.

My first boss. My first wife. My present wife. My children. My church. My neighbors. My dog. My neighbor’s dog. My readers. My editor. My God… Is there anybody who hasn’t wronged John Cowart?

There is no short list.

You know, when you’re young, you can always flee youthful sins. That which is born of the flesh is flesh—but that’s all it is. Flesh. But, at my age, I seethe in the sins an old man is able to commit.

I cherish the damn things.

This endangers my soul’s health.

For years and years I have observed that as a Christian ages– and I’ve seen this lots of times– there is a tendency to either mellow or sour. And that in a man’s advanced age, the Lord Christ sends some aggravation or test which kicks all the props out. Even a saintly man has chinks in his armor and the Lord scratches him through one of those chinks to gall the real man inside. And, the weak spot revealed, the man stands—though thoroughly shaken—or he rages in righteous indignation…

Ugly, ugly, ugly righteous indignation.

Sure, he is right.

But he’s nasty about it.

I feel I’m on the brink of such a testing period in my life right now.

I can mellow and sweeten, or curdle and sour.

And I’m not at all sure which it will be.

Frustrating.

So, for  relief of my stress, for my peace of mind, and for my spiritual growth in Christ, when I trap that coon, I’m going to stomp the crap out of him!

Isn’t that what Jesus would do?

• Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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20 Years Ago They Threw Beer At Me

Monday, October 27, 2014

The pastor of the church I attend got married Saturday, so yesterday Larry Ragan, who is preparing for the ministry, preached about on biblical ways to manage my feelings.

Thing is… I don’t have any.

I live in a state of gray murk. Numb with less than fifth shades to my gray—but nobody wants to hear about my spiritual apathy as I tread water—thrashing and splashing to keep my head from going under but not actually moving anywhere.

I spend my days trying unsuccessfully to find a comfortable position in one chair or another while reading escapist books, mostly murder mysteries.

However, one book which helped me gain prospective last week was an 1885 diary written by a young lady named Helen Mckenny

Helen, daughter of Methodist minister living in John Wesley’s house in London, recorded her life and her ministry to the poor as herds of tourists wanted to view Wesley’s clock, chair, tea pot, etc.

She managed her life with three principles; she said, “Do the next thing. Help the next person. Cease to cry over aggregate wrong”.

I think less and less about my present or my future, but more and more about my past–that’s a sign of growing old, I suspect.

In keeping with that mind set, here is the July 7, 1994, posting from my own diary:

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 only 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.

Maybe…

Bull!

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?

• Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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An Unexplained Wound

Somehow I’ve managed to cut my face. I have no idea how I did it.

The other morning when I went to brush my teeth, in the bathroom mirror I noticed a line of dried blood down my cheek. Washing it off, I found a cut from my right eyebrow down the side of my facer, a shallow cut about an inch and a half long and a quarter of an inch wide.

How did that happen?

When did it happen?

The cut must have been there for a while because it was beginning to scab over.

And I’d been unaware of it.

How could something have cut that close to my eye without my seeing it?

I can’t explain it.

On the upside, it speaks well of me that I obviously don’t spent much time admiring myself in the mirror, but it got me thinking about wounds.

Long ago I read a story about a sea battle during sailing ship days when a cannonball cut off a man’s foot and he kept hobbling around trying to service his own cannon without being aware of it at first.

It seems that sometimes shock prevents us from the pain of an immediate wound.

On the other hand when I was a kid, I saw a dog get run over by a car. Broken on the pavement the dog snarled and bit at anyone trying to aid it. Crawled up under a neighbor’s house. I crawled up under there too and brought it out. Bit my forearms. Animal control took it away and later my dad pulled me out of class at school because the dog had rabies. I had to get a shot every day for 21 days.

Poor dog’s pain blinded it to anyone trying to rescue it.

Ginny died on April 22, 2013—today marks the anniversary of her death.

Gin Amid yellow flowers 2

Oddly enough after all these months I feel the pain of her loss more than I did at first; maybe the shock is wearing off and the real pain is setting in. I want to snap at everyone and crawl up under a house to lick my wounds.

In this state of mind I remember that Christ was wounded for our transgressions and the chastisement of our peace is upon Him, and by His stripes are we healed….

That’s head knowledge.

Heart knowledge simply aches.

A better Christian might tell of how God comforts them in sorrow.

I just hurt and wonder what the Hell happened.

I go through the motions of duty (some of them at least) numb, listless, close to faithless…. Thy rod and Thy staff, they whack me on the head.

This is where bull-headed faith comes in.

No peace. No comfort. No joy—just raw faith.

Ain’t much fun.

I reluctantly agree with the Patriarch Job who said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”.

But I still wonder how I cut my face?

• Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Lions, Big Dogs, and The Lord God Almighty

Friday, October 17, 2014

Last week I picked up this odd news clip:

Daniel girl?

The clipping says nothing about religion but I could not help thinking of the Bible story about Daniel In The Lions’ Den—a time God intervened to save a person’s life.

Obviously, He does not do this every time one of us gets into trouble; history shows that many girls have been kidnapped and raped, many people have been mauled by lions, many people have caught diseases, fallen in war, been attacked by muggers.

Some get healed, others suffer and die.

God does not always step in to deliver; but sometimes, He does.

What gives?

Back in 2006, I wrote about an odd incident that happened to me. (This comes from page 182 in my book A Dirty Old Man Gets Worse.)

Years ago my car broke down and I had to walk to work through a very rough slum section of town. A block ahead of me I saw a six or eight tough really mean-looking guys standing in the street. They eyed me coming and spread out blocking the walkway. Really scary. One of them hefted a bat or pool cue.

I could either turn around and run or keep going because this was the only way I could get to work. I may have said “O damn!” or said a prayer but I really didn’t know what to do.

Suddenly, out a narrow space between the brick walls of a laundry and a bar, two enormous dogs appeared. One black and one white. These two dogs came out like fighter jets in formation and took up station, one on either side of me.

These dogs, each the size of a desk, biggest dogs I’ve ever seen, looked to neither the left or right but pressed in against my legs and matched me step for step as I walked straight ahead.

The gang of tough guys separated.

These dogs and I walked straight through the two columns of them.

The dogs walked like that with me for another block till we came to Springfield Park where both dogs peeled off and ran, disappearing into the distance.

They had never sniffed me or even glanced at me.

Another time, just a couple of years back as I walked through a nive residential neighborhood about 10:30 one morning, a mugger charged up behind me, knocked me down, hit me, stole my wallet,a nd ran off.

No lions appeared. No huge doge. No cops. No God to intervene.

Do I believe in an interventionist God?

Sometimes.

But I’ll have to qualify that by saying that the Lord intervenes in human affairs at His pleasure, not mine.

He is, after all, sovereign.

• Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Columbus’s Moneky (repeat)

Many people observe Columbus Day today; this puts me in mind of a posting I made last year about Columbus’s monkey. Might be worth repeating here

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Christopher Columbus owned a monkey.

Shame what happened to it.

I know something of what that monkey went through.

As best I can recall I first read about that incident back in the late 1970s or early ’80s.. Some magazine, I’ve forgotten which one, asked me to write a history article for Columbus Day. My research for that piece turned up the fact that Christopher Columbus kept a diary available in an English translation made by someone in the 1880s. Further research uncovered letters and papers written by members of his crew.

My notes from those studies have long been buried in a box in a closet somewhere, but certain things about the Spanish voyages led by the Admiral of Mosquitoes (that’s what detractors called him) more or less stuck in my memory.

Columbus’s monkey is one of them.

I thought about that monkey yesterday as I cut up a heavy tree branch that had fallen in one of our garden flower beds. About five inches in diameter and 25-feet long, it weighted too much for me to lift. I wish I could pluck the thing out of the garden and throw it into the next county like the Incredible Hulk would.! But I had to saw it into small lengths to lug to the curb (with Brandon’s help). And as I sawed, I thought about my own life, and about how much I miss Ginny, and about Columbus’s monkey.

On their long voyages of discovery and conquest the Spanish sailors of the 1400s got bored at sea and amused themselves in three ways.

One crewman on board, Bartolome de las Casas, wrote that when the Spanish first landed on the island of Espanola, they found the “Indians” walked around carrying firebrands in broad daylight.,

He said, “We met with great multitudes of people…always with firebrands in their hands… These are dry, and fixed in a leaf also dry, after the manner of those paper tubes which the boys in Spain use at Whitsuntide; having lighted one end they draw the smoke by sucking at the other, this causes a drowsiness and sort of intoxication…

“These tubes they call by the name of TABACOS. I knew many of our crew..who were addicted to the use of them, and on being reproached with it as a bad habit, replied that they could not bring themselves to give it up. I do not see what relish or benefit they could find in them.”

The bored sailors smoked cigars.

And they raped captive Indian women.

In November, 1493, a crewman named Cuneo boasted about it:

While I was in the boat I captured a very beautiful Carib woman …with whom, having taken her into my cabin, she being naked according to their custom, I conceived desire to take pleasure.  I wanted to put my desire into execution but she did not want it and treated me with her fingernails in such a manner that I wished I had never begun.

But seeing that (to tell you the end of it all), I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams that you would not have believed your ears. …”

On one island the Spanish also captured a monkey. They brought it on board their ship for fun The creature amused the sailors as it scampered about the deck and climbed in the rigging.

It amused them for a time. Then they got bored again.

Some one came up with an idea to make the monkey even more fun. They cut off one of the monkey’s arms. Then cut off one of its legs.

How they laughed to see the mangled creature try to do the same things it had been doing—scamper across the deck, climb the ship’s rigging, do lopsided monkey things—all with one arm and one leg missing.

Since Ginny died, I’ve acted like that monkey.

I shave and dress. I perk morning coffee. I go out with friends. I visit the library. I scamper across the deck of life and climb the rigging—without Ginny.

The Bible says something about a husband and wife being “one flesh” whatever that means. I always thought it had something to do with sex.

But, with our 43 years of marriage, Ginny and I were a unity in so many ways. With her dead I shave differently. I make coffee differently. I garden with half of me gone. We used to always discuss whether this plant needed more sun or should be moved into a shadier spot. I’d ask her if this green thing was a flower or a weed. What kind fo bird is that? Can this go another day without watering?

She’s not here to talk with about such important matters.

Everything in my life seems lopsided now.

I don’t even pray the way I used to.

My core belief’s remain the same, but they hardly seem important anymore.

The doctrine stands firm: Christ crucified; Christ risen: Christ coming.

So what?

How am I supposed to keep climbing the rigging?

To outsiders I appear to be coping well, still doing monkey things—but with something internal missing. God, I love her so!

However. My Bible reading tonight said, “It is God Himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago He planned that we should spend these lives in helping others”.

Lord, need any help from a lopsided, one-legged monkey? I’m available.

Don’t know why, but I am. Don’t know what a 74-year-old one-armed monkey can do for the kingdom of God, but, even though it looks ridiculous, I’ll try to help. You Lord, have hard-wired us Christians that way.

Remember, Lord Jesus,, it was not all that unusual for Ginny to call me her hero, her knight in shining armor.

She even kept this statue of me on her bookshelf:

Sir John in armor

Yes, Ginny thought well of me.

My own favorite Super Hero is the Incredible Hulk. I even own two tee shirts with his picture on my chest.

I think it would be neat when something frustrates me—like a fallen log in the flower bed—to turn into a giant green muscle man, uproot the tree, and hurl it into the next county!

Once when I expressed such an idea to Ginny, she said, “John, when you get upset, you don’t turn green. You just turn into the Incredible Sulk”.

Maybe so, but, in my present circumstances, I’m just trying not to altogether turn into a modern version of Columbus’s monkey.

• Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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My Crusade Van Exprience Revisited

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Two conversations with friends last week touched on the planned Jacksonville crusade next Spring by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

These talks reminded me of my role as driver of a church van in the Jacksonville crusade 14 years ago—the one I reprinted the newspaper article about earlier this week.

My curiosity tweaked, I searched old files (I’ve kept a daily diary since I was a Boy Scout) and…. Here is my dairy entry for

Thursday, November 2, 2000:

Moved more stuff closing down my office at church, found it didn’t fit where I’d moved it to and so I moved it back. He that increases goods, increases trouble.

Now, in preparation for the Billy Graham Crusade, knowing that the van needed to leave church by 5:30 each evening in order to make the 7 p.m. start of the meetings, Gin & I planned our menu long in advance. We planned for a sandwich alone in the church courtyard then a bowl of soup after the meeting.

I was cutting up vegetables for the soup early this morning when June. A lady in my Sunday School class, called asking what we planned to do for super. I said I was making tomato sandwiches to eat at church before we left. “O wonderful,” she said, “I love tomato sandwiches”. June assumed that I was making sandwiches for everyone going in the van I was driving. “But that’s awful light,” she said, “What about after the meeting?…”

Anyhow, on the spur of the moment, I ended up preparing sandwiches for before, and soup for after, for ten people, a surprise dinner party.

A surprise to me at least!

I arrived at church early to make coffee and check everything out. The parking permits were missing… chased them down. Somehow, instead of their being in the van or in the church office or in my mailbox, they were on top of the dishwasher in the church kitchen. Anyhow, I found them.

I listened to a long litany of excuses from people around church who just could not find time to go to the crusade for some reason or the other.

Gin was not on her usual city bus from work, or the one after that. or the one after that. People began to arrive for the van ride. I wondered if I should assume that Gin had gone home and I should drive without her or if I should give my van key to one of the old ladies and let her drive while I waited for Gin or what…

Not only that, but my hip began hurting big time; the worst flare up of arthritis I’ve experienced so far. I hurt worst than ever. The pain and ache reached from my right femur all the way to my left clavicle!

When Gin arrived (having had to work late) and the eight ladies who’d signed up for the van ride got there, I found that I could not eat my own sandwiches because I was so self conscious about my missing teeth (I always avoid eating in public). But the women dug into the sandwiches.

Then we drove.

Zipped down to Interstate Ten, Up I-95 to Union Street exactly as I’d done in the dry run yesterday. Took the stadium exit…

And came to a dead stop.

No traffic moved anywhere.

Solid, bumper to bumper cars turned Jacksonville into a parking lot. Total gridlock for an hour and ten minutes… with eight ladies telling me to change lanes (the cars parked beside me didn’t matter), that we were going to be late, that I should call the mayor on a cell phone, etc. etc.

And my arthritis causing pain worse than ever before.

One “lady” who appears to be Somebody In Society had been to a reception with Mayor Delaney the night before on the occasion of Jacksonville’s Super Bowl bid being accepted. She is a Person unaccustomed to having her will thwarted. We were stopped on the Union Street exit on a hill raised high above streets lower down. A state policeman was 30 or 40 feet down this embankment trying to direct buses but with nowhere for them to move. This dear lady saint got out of our van and began yelling insults down at this poor cop demanding to know his badge number and threatening to report him to the mayor if he did not clear traffic out of our way!

I prayed that the people in surrounding cars would think that she was a Baptist from the other church vans and buses stuck around us!

A frustrated guy from one van in front of us got out and walked back asking about the cause of the delay. He speculated that witches and atheists who opposed the crusade had driven up on the expressway, blocked the traffic lanes, got out of their cars and locked them just to keep people from getting to the crusade. Pure speculation; he knew no more about the traffic situation than I did.

I reminded him and the ladies in our van of the scripture which says, “Be still, and know that I am God”.

Now, none of the foregoing hassles were unexpected. I had anticipated that the prince of this world would not be crazy about the crusade and would attempt to frustrate people’s attendance. I have seen this sort of thing before in God’s work. So I felt a calm peace in the midst of complaining ladies, frustrated drivers, and honking horns. My own worst trouble was the pain in my hip, chest, arms and shoulders (that was bad, real bad). But I also felt content.

Eventually the traffic began to inch forward bit by bit. We finally got to the entrance to our reserved parking…. to find it blocked. The cop directing traffic turned us away saying the lot had been full for two hours even though I’d paid for our space a month in advance.

Eventually I found a parking spot (for $5) about six blocks from the stadium. The service had already started since we were about 30 minutes late. I hobbled on my cane as fast as I could to keep up with the old ladies who ran toward the entrance gate. June was so winded by the time she got there, the Crusade attendants had to put her in a wheelchair and roll her inside to the handicapped seating on the ground floor.

Immediately, when I walked inside Gate Three, a great sense of release and peace settled on me. I felt a sure knowledge that my job was done; I had got my little flock safe inside. I imagine my feeling was the same as a cowboy’s when he finally herds the last cow into the coral; I did it. I got them here. I’ve done my job. My part in this is over.

Gin & I relaxed on a walkway smoking and praying and talking about the view of the lights on the river bridges and the boats cruising by. Then we strolled hand in hand to an upper deck where we could be far away from other people and look down at the 42,000 worshipers gathered to hear the prophet’s message. We felt proud to have played a tiny part in the coming of this moment.

Dr. Graham spoke on the passage where Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to…” and Graham enumerated reasons why Jesus had come to earth. Thousands of people responded to the invitation to receive Christ as savior and live for Him without reservation.

Afterwards I choked and panicked as people surging from the stadium brushed against me (makes my skin crawl!!!!!) but I made it out alive and relocated our ladies and drove them home in spite of their directions. We brought them to our house and fed them soup and, when they finally left, I ate some soup and collapsed in bed after midnight.

It was all worth the trouble.

• Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Fort Clinch Roadtrip

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

To familiarize my two older sons, Fred and John, who hail from Maryland, with the beauties of this area, I drive them on periodic road trips just for the fun of it. Monday we enjoyed a road trip through north Florida to Fort Clinch State Park.

Fort Clinch Aerial

Towards the close of the Second Seminole War in 1847, the federal government build this fort to defend the approach to the port of Fernandina at the mouth of the St. Marys River, the boundary between Florida and Georgia. The fort was named after General Duncan Clinch who’d figured prominently in the war.

Sailing ships transported more than five million bricks to construct the fort on the sandy beach of Amelia Island. Here’s a photo of Johnny in an interior room beneath the battery; and another photo of me in a tunnel under the wall:.

John w brick arches

Me in dark tunnel

While John and I crept on aluminum walkers in the recesses of the fort, Fred with his camera explored the upper walls looking across the river to the Georgia shore with the Atlantic in the background:

Fred atop the wall

Mounted on swivels, the cannon atop the fort could fire shells beyond the sandbar out into the Atlantic:

John w cannon

Here’s a photo of the boys in a guardroom:

John & Fred in guardroom

I wanted my sons to know about this place because some of my own happiest memories revolve around camping on Amelia Island and exploring Indian mounds and Spanish mission sites.

The long drive (I drove from Jacksonville via Callahan so we could enjoy huge breakfast platters at Jean’s Diner and so the guys could shop at the ARC Thrift Store) then I returned on US A1A.

For lunch we stopped at a seafood restaurant over looking ocean, beach, and bikinis:

Beach overlook

For hours in the cruising car I entertained my captive audience with tales of local history about early railroads, Indians, pirates, Civil War incidents, tasteful jokes, wild animals, and many stories from my boyhood memories of exploring north Florida’s barrier islands.

More history than they wanted to know, I’m sure.

I’d planned for our excursion to include a plantation on Fort George Island too, but exhaustion forced me to bypass that. I’ll save that one for our next road trip and maybe we can take other family members too.

All my grown kids love to be trapped in a car with me for hours just to hear me talk.

• Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Burning Photos

Monday, October 6, 2014

Yesterday the temperature dropped into the upper 40s here in north Florida, a perfect day to build a fire in the backyard and burn photos.

I’ve been waiting for just such a sad cool day… with regret.

Yesterday also, Donald, Helen and Fred borrowed Johnny’s truck to move Helen’s art studio as a step toward my moving in with Donald and Helen because my infirmities due to old age and arthritis are deteriorating faster than I anticipated.

I feel mostly in good health but does anyone know how much longer they will live?

Therefore, my own first step regarding this planned move was to burn a handful of old Polaroid photographs of Ginny that we’d taken over the 47 years of our marriage. Long ago we’d decided it would be inappropriate for anyone except the two of us to ever see these pictures.

I’ve held onto and cherished them as long as I thought prudent, but now the time felt right to destroy them. It saddened me to do this, but Ginny and I fulfilled every promise we ever made to eachother, so I felt it was now my next loving duty to her.

King Solomon once said, “Rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times. Yea, be thou ravished always with her love”.

That’s one of the few Scriptures I’ve ever obeyed wholeheartedly.

• Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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I Was A Crusade Reject

Yesterday the radio announced that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association plans to hold services here in Jacksonville next Spring.

Billy Graham preached at the Gator Bowl, our football stadium, back in the year 2000. I volunteered to be one of the thousands of crusade councilors and took the training.

I was rejected.

So, I wrote the following article about that experience for a local newspaper; that article generated more comments and phone calls than anything else I’ve ever written; the calls came in from people who have been wounded by various church experiences over the years.

Here is a copy of that article from November, 2000:

CONFESSIONS OF A CRUSADE REJECT

After a brief conversation, the interviewer rejected me as a volunteer counselor at the upcoming Jacksonville Billy Graham Crusade.

I felt disappointed, hurt, frustrated — and relieved.

Organizers plan to recruit over 7,000 local counselors for what many say, because of his age and health, may be Billy Graham’s last major crusade; it’s scheduled for November 2nd through 5th, 2000, at Alltel Stadium.

The former Gator Bowl will  have a standing-room only crowd, including travelers  from all over the country, perhaps from all over the world.

Although I don’t like crowds, I wanted to be part of the action.

But it looks like I won’t be.

The Graham people attempt to carefully train and screen volunteers to work in their crusades. Any wonder? Sometimes religious activities do attract kooks; remember Carrie’s mother in the Stephen King novel, or the warden in Shawshank Redemption?

But, I don’t think of myself as a religious kook — does anybody? I consider myself  a common, ordinary, garden-variety Christian. I attend church most Sundays when it isn’t raining. I serve soup at a rescue mission now and then if nobody else shows up to do it. I read a bit in my Bible most mornings when I don’t doze off over the begats. I pray most nights when I’m not watching Monday Night Football or the Letterman show. I tithe my income unless I have pressing bills to pay or there’s something neat I want to buy. I recycle. I support ecological causes such as Save The Whales; in fact, I have not harpooned a single whale this week. I even “witness” when somebody asks me about my faith though I’m scared of doing that. I believe I’m fairly representative of most modern American Christians.

How humiliating for me to be turned down as a counselor. One friend laughed till he choked when I told him.  Is there an easier way for me to learn humility than by being humiliated?

Being rejected should not have surprised me. Since the long-ago time Mary Lou refused to let me unfasten her bra, through many loan applications,  and my years as a freelance writer, I’ve learned all too much about rejection. Why I could write a Britannica entry on the subject.

Crusade organizers take pains to train volunteers. Potential counselors must be recommended by their local pastor. They must attend five weeks of intensive classes designed to deepen their own spiritual life and increase their ability to share their faith.

Here’s how they told me counseling is supposed to work at the crusade:

Ending his sermon, Graham invites people to follow Jesus. As you walk forward to indicate your decision, you are not just one of the mob. A counselor wearing an official crusade badge joins you for a brief one-on-one talk. First, he will listen to you as you talk about why you came forward.

Your counselor will share Scripture he’s memorized — the Graham people are big on Bible memorization — emphasizing God’s love.

He will assure you that no matter what you have done — no matter what has been done to you — God loves you with all His heart. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” the counselor will quote.

If God loves us, what’s the problem?  Like an arrow with a mind of its own, every single one of us misses the target. We fall short of the glory God intends for us and stick head-first in the dirt. A crying nasty shame, our sins alienate us from the holiness of God. Degradation, depression, destruction  and death result. “The wages of sin is death,” he quotes.

Even so, your counselor will tell you, God writes no one off. He’s persistent and vitally concerned for us. “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

He will quote the verse where Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” You will have a great chance to open whichever door you have closed.

The counselor gives you a free copy of John’s Gospel; on the first page he will show you where it says: “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

The counselor’s job is to help you understand the gospel and to make  sure you’re not left hanging out there alone after everybody goes home from the stadium and they turn the lights out.

In my class, the instructor made counseling seem simple enough; I felt that, if selected, I could do the job ok. I’d attended all the training sessions, prayed,  memorized the Bible verses, done most of the homework. So learning that I did not rate a counselor’s badge stunned me. I thought and felt a number of things — many of them not exactly pious Christian things.

“Screw ‘em”, was my first thought, “Who needs this hassle”.

I also felt a keen sense of sorrow and disappointment.

You see, I love Jacksonville. For years I have prayed for a spiritual awakening here. As a native with family roots going back to antebellum times, I really care about the city, its material and spiritual progress.

When I was a Boy Scout I took part in the 50 Years Of Progress pageant at the Gator Bowl in 1951. Dressed as an Indian in moccasins and feather headdress, my chief concern was trying to keep my anatomy inside my breech cloth while frantically dancing around a teepee on the 30 yard line. Did Indian braves really wear those things? I felt sure the crowd was laughing at me. So embarrassed I swore I’d never go into that stadium again!

But that pageant generated in me a deep love for Jacksonville, its history and its potential. As a writer, one of my favorite subjects is local history, and I’ve published dozens of articles about it.

As I grew up Mayor Haydon Burns filled in the mud flats to renew Jacksonville’s waterfront. I felt that Jacksonville was really on the move when a shining new Sears store replaced the whore houses, tattoo parlors and pawn shops along Bay Street.

I loved the hometown spirit generated by the various buzz words and slogans applied to our city over the years: Gateway to Florida; the Quiet Revolution; Billion Dollar Decade; Bold New City Of the South; The Yates Manifesto; Colt Fever; the Renaissance Plan; the Better Jacksonville Plan. Back in the 1800s, promoters termed Jacksonville as “The Winter City In Summer Land” and even as “The Gayest of Gay Cities!”

Yet, with all the promise of material progress, I have felt a hollowness in lives around me. Maybe I’m just projecting, but I don’t think so.

Crusade chair Ginger Soud said, “Many are experiencing empty lives, unfulfilled  dreams, and feelings of insignificance… Many people say that they know something is wrong, but they have no solutions”.

Past spiritual efforts here appear to fizzle — more or less. Much energy has been expended with few results. For instance, evangelists D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday, pioneers of the crusade format, conducted meetings here. And  hatchet-swinging temperance leader Carry Nation raided a Bay Street saloon. Recent efforts include Here’s Life Jacksonville,  Evangelism Explosion, the Jesus Video Project; and the advent of Channel 47 as a Christian TV. Hardly anyone in my block ever even heard of these endeavors.

That’s why my heart just leapt when I learned that Billy Graham chose Jacksonville for a crusade. Surely this is what I have been praying and longing for all these years.

Even though I get extremely uncomfortable in crowds, I wanted to take part, to see with my own eyes the power of God which I’ve heard is often manifest in these crusades. I wanted to see souls saved, marriages reconciled, addicts delivered, people awash in the realization of God’s love… and I also wanted my own faith vindicated, validated and strengthened. I have faith solid as Jello. One of my favorite verses is where the man tells Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.”

But they rejected my application — I suspect with good reason.

First, when the interviewer told me I did not make the grade, guilt nagged at me. After all, there are few sins I haven’t already done, want to do now but am chicken, or may still do yet; all the returns aren’t in yet. Who needs another hypocrite?  Christ deserves a better representative.

Maybe, this was like the biblical Judge Gideon, who culled his army from thousands to only 300 warriors and still sconked the Midianites. Ok, I reluctantly admitted, if Almighty God, King of the Universe, wants to evangelize Jacksonville, He just may possibly be able to manage without John Cowart’s help — or Billy Graham’s either for that matter.

But, along side those thoughts, relief washed over me. You see, while in theory I love people, in practice I can hardly stand to  be around them. I feel so claustrophobic in a crowd that I cringe. My skin crawls.    I even feel choked,   trapped and panicked in the Publix checkout line.

Even so, I’d steeled myself to become a counselor because I feel these meetings are more important to our city than the Super Bowl — at least they are likely to draw more actual attendance. But I dreaded the prospect of attending myself.

I regarded the project like changing a messy baby diaper: you don’t like doing it, but you do anyhow. When I said that, the interviewer, bless him,  decided my attitude made me unsuitable as a counselor… That made me so damn happy! Like when I was in the army and they sent the other company into battle. I was trained, I was there, I would have gone, and I would have fought — but I was so glad that I didn’t have to.

Billy Graham will just have to muddle through without me as a counselor. Thank God! But I’m won’t be left out altogether. My pastor will let me  use our church van to drive the elderly to Alltel. I get to stay outside away from crowds in the parking lot where I’ll puff my pipe and pray for the peace of Jacksonville.

                                   That I can do.

• Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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