No Pit. No Pendulum.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How many writers to change a lightblub?

I ain’t changing nothing!

Yes, we writers regard our manuscripts as our precious pets; to cut even one line of my deathless prose feels like cutting my very own kitten’s toes off one at a time.

Yesterday, with red pencils in hand, the church staff critiqued the proof pages of my local church history book manuscript. This presented me with the opportunity to exercise Christian virtues of patience, charity, and forbearance.

Good for my character, tough on my ego.

The pastor, church administrator, deacon—who once taught English grammar and punctuation—and I went over my manuscript one page at a time to eliminate redundancies, correct mistakes, and tweak the book.

The words of Jesus were not in red print; my own words on the other hand…

We tweaked about 30 pages out of my book.

Going into this meeting, I recalled Poe’s great terror story, The Pit And The Pendulum, in which the narrator fell into the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. All my apprehensions geared up into a defensive high alert—Cut the toes off my kitten! Never! Not a single toe.

Yes, that’s unreasonable, but tell my mind that.

As I prayed about this meeting beforehand, I resolved to be less of an ass that normal and to listen to the corrections and improvements of my betters.

All my apprehension was for naught. There was nothing to defend against. No one was attacking me.

The criteria I looked for in what I had written were: Does this honor the Lord? Is it interesting? Is it true? Does this need to be said? Will it uplift readers or is it a downer? Does this lightbulb need changing? Are names spelled right?

In many instances, the committee’s enthusiasm, insights, and input saved me from coming across in print as a cynical curmudgeon—especially in sections where my text covered religious controversies and conflicts. Although I did feel that the pastor’s removing one of my jokes was uncalled for; the line omitted from my text said:

“Wonder why clergymen wear collars? Same reason as pit bulls”.

Anyhow, the editorial meeting went smoothly with great suggestions and lots of laughter, give and take, and fish stories.

Then, later in the evening, my son Donald—who came over to rescue me from an emergency plumbing problem—advised me about computer elements, presentation, pricing, and e-book formating.

God willing, I’ll incorporate these elements into one more set of proof pages, then in a week or two, that book will go to the printer for publication… with the corrections made by these other wise people.

Written in stone

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

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Some Who Passed This Way

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Now that only a few days remain till I get the committee’s verdict as to the fate of that history of Christ Church I wrote—they vote yea or nea next Tuesday—my thinking turns to my next book. God willing, I plan to resume work on Rope, that historical novel set in 1840′s Jacksonville that I’ve played with for months.

That novel, first of a proposed trilogy, opens with Jacksonville’s first public hanging of a woman and revolves around the early days of the art of photography—first camera invented in 1839.

In order to write history, I must read history.

So, while awaiting word from the church staff, I’ve been reading some of those Florida history books I splurged on back in April—most money I’ve ever spent on books at one time.

One of those books is titled Some Who Passed This Way by Judge Ira A. Hutchison. The book is so old that no publication information is given; internal evidence suggests it was privately printed about 1950.

The judge relates Florida pioneer anecdotes ranging from the 1500s through the 1930s. He speaks of some former slaves still alive when he wrote it.

His tale of the farm woman who escaped a panther tells of how when she walked through the deep piney woods to meet her husband, she spied a panther stalking her from behind. She backtracked towards the safety of her home.

The panther followed.

She tossed her sunbonnet at the cat and it stopped to rip the garment apart.

But kept stalking her.

She loosed her apron and tossed it. The cat shredded it but kept stalking her.

Item after item of clothing she shed to distract the animal till she finally gained the front door of her home in just her petticoat.

Her dogs chased the cat away.

Hutchison’s book relates tales of pirates, the Second Seminole War of 1842, shipwrecks, politics, murders, road building, mules, saw mill towns, and cooking.

He even quotes a “backwoods pioneer poem on table ettiquet”:

I eat my peas in my syrup,
I’ve done it all my life,
When I eat them in my syrup,
They don’t fall off my knife.

I drink my coffee from my saucer,’
I’ll tell you the reason why,
When I drink it from the cup,
The spoon sticks in my eye.

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

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Cow Patties and A History Book Update

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When I was a boy back in the days before plastic toys came on the market, two of my uncles at Grandfather’s farm taught me the fine art of sailing dry cow patties back and forth to catch in lieu of a Frisbee.

This worked fine so long as you caught it right. But if you shirked and caught the spinning missile straight on, it would crumble as it hit your hand showering you with aromatic flakes.

Guess who flinched.

My hairdo has never looked the same since.

The uncles, of course, laughed like the fiends they were. Clever farm boys triumph over that dumb city boy who fell for their trick.

But I remember one other lesson I learned in that pasture: sometimes in the grass I’d see a beautiful wildflower growing right in the middle of a cow patty.

I’ve carried that lesson over into my view of church history.

No matter how deep the roots may be in manure, God can bring forth beautiful flowers to His honor and glory…. No matter what human maneuvering, back-biting, error, jockeying for position—no matter how deep the roots may anchor in sin, squabble, and self-seeking, God can bring forth beautiful things.

The Lord knows His own.

King Solomon said, “Of the making of many book there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh”.

I agree.

Yesterday and all night, I’ve worked proofing my 4th draft of that church history book manuscript I’ve been working on the past few months. You’d think by the fourth draft the manuscript would read smooth—not so. I corrected hundreds of typos, punctuation mistakes, and structural glitches.

God willing, I’ll be constructing only another draft or two and send it off to the printer.

Last week I gave proof pages to the church’s staff; as the editorial committee the three of them are also going over my copy to make corrections—or to decide whether or not the manuscript is usable at all. They may reject it outright.

No big deal if they do. This project has not cost the church a penny.

Till I hear from them, now, like Martin Luther Here I Stand with my hands out waiting for the return toss.

Wonder if I’ve learned anything about cow pats, frisbees, or books in all these years?

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

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In A Ditch

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

About ten years ago I chanced across a photo of a cow that had fallen into a well in a field. I saved that photo and it came to mind again yesterday during a conversation with my friend Wes.

Although there may be certain superficial similarities, the photo below is one of the cow, not Wes.

Ox in ditch 1

Wes, who taught a seminar on Christian Apologetics earlier this month, is an ardent theologian fluent in Greek, Hebrew, and philosophy. And his compassionate heart is bigger than his brain.

Our conversation related to biblical law, scruples, and exceptions.

Once when Jesus healed a man with a withered arm (in Matthew 12) , critics condemned Him for working on the Sabbath.

Jesus pointed out that , “It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath Days”.

He said, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath”.

He reminded them of how when King David was in dire straights, he and his soldiers ate consecrated bread in the Tabernacle—bread only priests were supposed to eat.

He also pointed out that anyone who has a sheep that falls into a pit, will work to save its life even if it means working on a Sabbath day.

He used that same example in Luke 14 when He healed a man with dropsy: Jesus said, “Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the Sabbath day”?

Withered. Dropsy. Sheep. Ox. Ass. You do what’s necessary when it’s necessary.

ox in ditch 2

Yes, the laws of God are absolute… but does He allow exceptions?

If so, the question of how much exception raises a thought.

The Old Testament Prophet Elisha defended faith in the One True God. Once a general in the Syrian army came to him to be healed of leprosy. By the power of the Lord God the enemy general, Naaman the leper, was cured.

Naaman felt so grateful for his healing that he offered Elisha rewards which the Prophet refused. So Naaman loaded two pack mules with soil from the place he’d been cured to carry home with him to build an altar to God in Syria.

Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel:… Thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord”.


As general and a great man in the king’s court, Naaman had a duty:

“When my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing”.

1And staunch Prophet and defender of the faith Elisha said unto him, “Go in peace”. So he departed

Notice that Naaman vowed to worship the Lord God obeying the very First Commandment—Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods—yet neither thed Prophet nor the Lord seemed too upset about his bowing down to the idol Rimmon.

Ox in a ditch?

In that encounter about healing the man with the withered hand, Jesus told the naysayers, “I say unto you, That in this place is One greater than the temple. If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day”.

Yesterday, in my conversation with Wes, I concluded that following Christ is both simpler and more complex than I’d thought.

I am to obey God’s clear-cut laws and also to exercise common sense and be responsible for my own actions.

Once some teasing wag asked William Wilberforce, British Christian politician, if he could draw a map or give directions on how to get to Heaven

Wilberforce, the man who abolished slavery in England, said, “Yes. Turn to the right immediately; then keep going straight ahead”.

I find these thoughts comforting because, let’s face it, although I own no farm animals, I feel I’ve spent my whole life with my ass stuck in one ditch or another.

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

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Which Way Is Up?

Monday, July 14, 2014

When I was a little kid, maybe 5 or 6 years old, before I started elementary school at any rate, one of my uncles landed a job as a dumptruck driver.

The huge machine was painted bright green with a shinny black bed.

He brought it by our house, on East 11th Street at Phoenix Avenue, to show my father and the two of them put me and some other kid in the bed of the truck, engaged the gears, and raised the bed to dump us out.

Terrifying fun for a five-year-old.

Yesterday four of my children, Donald, Fred, Johnny and Helen, and Sandi, a lady from church, arranged to get me an electric motorized recliner chair which reminds me of that long-ago green dump truck.

Electric Chair

You push a button on the complicated control panel and the chair sinks down and reclines; punch the other button and the chair rises and tilts to set you up right on your feet. There is no safety belt.

Yes there are only two buttons on the control switch, but I find it complicated to operate because if I want the footrest to come up, I have to push the down button. If I want it to go down, I have to push the up button. The up/down buttons reference the person sitting in the chair, not the chair itself.

High tech—computers, cameras, phones, can openers, Scotch tape dispensers, plastic wrap—stuff confuses me.

I intend to master this chair—or else never get out of it, because it is comfortable—but it’s going to take a while.

Punch the button and I’m 5-years-old again being dumped on the street in front of our house on Phoenix Avenue.

This magic chair came to me because Sandi, a lady I’ve never met at Christ Church, posted a notice on the church’s share site saying that after her elderly mother’s death, she wanted to pass this lift chair on to someone else who needs one.

Recently the kids have noticed that my arthritis pains me so much when I try to stand that I flomp around like a beached walrus. So Helen made all the arrangements to borrow a truck and recruit my sons to pick it up for me.

The church maintains an on-line share-group where members can post prayer requests, announcements, job listings, and items members have to give away, or requests for things a member might need.

For instance, recently one person needed work boots for a job opportunity. Once a need is made known to the group, other people step in to supply that need.

Christian love in practical action.

And any member of any church who has a little computer savvy can set up such a dedicated share group through Yahoo or Google or what have you.

Might be worth doing for your own church.

Putting in my new chair meant moving an old one aside. Helen teased me about ashes as we vacuumed where my old chair had been sitting for years.

Seems that knocking out my pipe, I occasionally may have spilled a few ashes on the floor beneath my chair.

Helen said that if we poured plaster in those ashes we could get a perfect casting of my body—like that poor dog and those people at Pompeii in the ashes of Vesuvius.

Pompeii body

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

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An Odd Dream ABout Pain

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Last night I dreamed an odd dream:

For some reason I was in a dentist’s office. I talked with the man about how happy Ginny and I had been and about loosing her.

And he said, “I’m a dentist, but never before have I seen such pain. I did not know that much pain existed in the universe”.

This puzzled me because I wasn’t aware of being in any pain.

As I began writing the dentist a check, he refused to take it saying he could not accept any payment from me.

I think he may have been crying.

Then I woke.

What does this odd dream mean? Or does it have any meaning?

According to Charles Dickens, Ebeneezer Scrouge attributed his vision of Marley’s ghost to an underdone potato or a bit of undigested beef.

I suspect Scrouge knew what he was talking about… nevertheless, my dream seems altogether too vivid to write off as meaningless.

In the Bible’s Old Testament, Joseph foresaw his coat of many colors and he interpreted the dream of Pharaoh.

Daniel told the king of Babylon what his dream meant and Bible scholars have puzzled for centuries over the Book Of Daniel.

And one of the Prophets, I forget which one, said a day would come when your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams (Does my dozing off in church count for that one?)

In the New Testament, Joseph, Mary’s husband, was warned of God in a dream to take the young child, Jesus, and flee to escape Herod’s massacre of babies in Bethlehem. And again he used a dream and common sense to move to Nazareth to avoid Herod’s son.

In the Book of Job, a young man named Elihu says, “God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; Then He openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, That He may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword….”

I’m not at all sure that Elihu knew what he was talking about either; although, he was not in the crowd God rebuked at the end of the book saying, “Ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as My servant Job hath”.

So, was my dream a bit of undigested pizza?

Or am I in more pain than I’m conscious of?

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


Rose Work

Saturday, July 5, 2014

NY Let Things Slide

I’m spending this holiday weekend catching up on yard work and things around the house.

While I’ve focused on writing that church history book (proof pages were delivered Saturday), I’ve let everything else slid.

But now that the bulk of that manuscript work is done (unless the editorial committee votes for an extensive rewrite when they review the proofs next week), I’m catching up with my own life.

The first thing I did was to refurbish the memorial garden I’d arranged honoring Ginny in the back yard. I culled poor plants dying from lack of watering and put in some rose bushes.


Looking back in my photo files I found a picture of Ginny amid some rose bushes I snapped one Thanksgiving Day a few years ago when we visited a Cracker Pioneer village in Macclenny:

Gin w roses at burnsed 11_19_11

The structure in the picture’s background is the Burnsed Blockhouse, a pioneer fort built to protect settlers from Indian attacks in the 1840s Seminole Wars.

Ginny enjoyed the roses there.

God, I miss her so.

The Fourth Of July, besides being Independence Day, was an important anniversary for us, a time we renewed our vows. So I visited her grave early in the morning—had to wait for the cemetery gates to be unlocked. And there ,I thought happy thoughts about our 47 years together—not nearly long enough—we were just getting started.

Be that as it may, I suspect the Lord would not have me mope in the past too much, but get on with my digging holes, transplanting trees, pruning bushes, lifting stones, toting bricks, working, rejoicing, remembering, and being thankful—as much as I am able at the moment.

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

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ginny and I bought our car back in 2005; before then she rode a city bus to work and I walked her back and forth to the bus stop each day.

This morning in the grocery store I bumped into a retarded girl. I’d guess she’s about 40 years old. I do not recall having ever seen her before.

Where is your wife?” she said, “I always see you together”.

Ginny died last April,” I said. (2013).

The girl stood there processing that information for a moment.

She used to ride my bus,” the girl said, “She was always so nice to me”.

Then she went on with her shopping.

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

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Scores of times over the years I’ve heard repairmen say something which I doubt that God ever says,

I’ve heard auto mechanics say it when I took my car into the shop.

I’ve heard plumbers say it when they looked at my drains.

I’ve heard truck drivers say it.

I’ve heard cops say it.

I’ve even heard physicians say it.

And yesterday I heard Mike, the air conditioner repairman, say the same words.

What he said was, “I’ve never seen one do that before”.

Are the problems of my life so unusual that experts in any given field say my situation is unique—“I’ve never seen one do that before”.

When my youngest daughter was born with a double overhand knot in the umbilical cord, the obstetrician called other doctors and interns into the delivery room to show them the unique knot in the cord. They kept saying, “I’ve never seen one like that before!” And one said, “I can’t believe she lived” (Patricia is now grown, married, and works as a bank loan officer).

In Mike’s case yesterday when he opened the housing to my air conditioning unit, he found bearings in the fan motor had worn out, causing a wobble, which sheered off pins which caused the motor to fling the fan blade on the ground outside the housing….

“I’ve never seen one do that before,” he said.

As he replaced the guts of the unit, I reflected on the fact that the Lord God never finds anything I do unique. He’s never surprised an any dumb thing I do or any mess I make in life, or any sin I commit, or anything that happens to me..

The All-Seeing God beholds all actions and events as eternally present.

Hagar, mother of the Arab nations, called Him, “The God Who Sees Me”.

When I tell the Lord some vile secret thing I’ve done or thought or want to do, He never gasps in surprise and exclaims, “O! I didn’t know that”!

He is un-shockable.

He has seen—sees–it all before.

When I come to Him confessing the rat’s nest of my heart, He does not say, “I’ve never seen that before—

No, He says, “Yes, John. I know. And I love you anyhow”.

That’s cool.

And now, thanks to Mike’s repair work on my AC, so am I.

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

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Two Hot Books

The thermostat in my hall now reads 93 degrees. Yes, yesterday while I was out driving my daughter, Jennifer, to a hardware store, the air conditioner in my house broke down.

I did not need this.

Looks like I won’t freeze this July. I’m safe from frostbite.

And two of my books are hot.

Early yesterday, I sent off to the printer for proof pages of that church history book I’ve been working on for months. That horrendous project has consumed every speck of my energy recently.

Tracking the shenanigans of bickering bishops exhausts me!

Makes me remember times back in the days before the Interstate Highway system when driving from Jacksonville to Grandma’s house in Maryland, 818 miles, took 17 to 20 hours—with five kids and Squirt, the dog, in the backseat.

In fact, I thought of titling this history, Bishops In The Backseat but that might be construed as being disrespectful.

Who, Me?

Anyhow, when the proof pages of that book come back, the church staff will review them and decide if my book is altogether unacceptable, or if it should receive their imprimatur, or if it still needs extensive work and a rewrite.

In that last case, I’m inclined to side with one of the Scripture’s most famous characters and declare, “What I have written, I have written”.

Hey, that’s biblical.

Yesterday also, Jennifer gave me a copy of another hot book—this one is well traveled.

I knew it existed, but I’ve never seen a copy before; it’s a German translation of a book I wrote years ago about prayer.

Cowart_Why Don't I Get Waht I Pray For in German

I did not have a copy.

For some reason the European publisher will not ship directly to the United States.

However Jennifer, collects solid perfumes and is a member of an international society of solid perfume collectors.

In case you didn’t know…

Solid perfumes are perfumes that are solid—that is, they don’t come in bottles like real perfume, but come in a sort-of-solid paste contained in metal boxes shaped like… well, stuff.

Here’s a photo of some of Jennifer’s perfume solids on a checker board:


Here are more on a brick wall:

Brick wall

Before Jennifer began her collection, I’d never heard of perfume solids before.

But apparently hundreds of thousands of women treasure these cosmetics. They correspond, and trade, and buy, and enjoy long phone calls, and pray for eachother, and get together in week-long conventions, and bond as a subculture of friends and enthusiasts.

Perfume solid ladies have been around since the days of Cleopatra. The lady in the Bible who anointed Jesus with Spikenard from an alabaster box, washed His feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair—She hath anointed my body for burial beforehand—she may well have been in a member of a society of perfume solid ladies.

So, when Jennifer learned I could not get a copy of the German translation of my own book, she contacted a perfume solid lady in Germany who smuggled a copy of my book to a perfume lady in England who included it in a batch of perfumes which she mailed to a perfume lady in South Carolina, who in turn shipped it (and, of all things, an empty box that once, like maybe in 1910, contained some perfume solids—yes these ladies treasure and collect the empty boxes also; they will pay hundreds or dollars for a rare one), So the South Carolina collector shipped my book to Jennifer here in Florida.

And Jennifer gave it to me yesterday.

Good thing she did not give me an actual perfume solid too, because those things must be kept in a climate controlled environment–else they will melt…

Like my poor hot books are doing in my home without air conditioning today.

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


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