Rabid Fun

John Cowart's Daily Journal: A befuddled ordinary Christian looks for spiritual realities in day to day living.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I Think I Don’t Know The People I Think I Know

Years ago I became friends with Betty, a tiny, bent, white-haired old woman who had served as a WAC (Women’s Auxiliary Corps) during World War II.

She and I each owned off-brand, long out of date computers which used ink ribbons in the printers. Apparently we were the only two people in Jacksonville to still own these computers.

A salesman in a computer supply store realized that we were both seeking new ribbons (which were no longer being manufactured) and he put us two strangers in touch with each other. She visited my home to discuss our cussed computers and we became friends.

We’d call each other on the phone and meet every few weeks to exchange garden tips and plants. And every once in a while we’d go out for lunch.

This went on for several years.

One day as we worked to replace the rubber band in her computer that spun some kind of drive wheel (yes, these computers ran on a real rubber band between gears), lunch time came, I asked her if she liked Chinese food, and we drove to one of my favorite Chinese restaurants.

We walked in.

The manager greeted me.

Betty said something to him.

He said something to her in return.

They began an intense prolonged conversation in Mandarin Chinese.

Even though I’d know Betty for years, I had no idea that she spoke fluent Chinese. Later she explained that as a WAC during the war, she’d been an interrupter. She spoke a number of Chinese dialects as well as many European languages.

I thought I knew Betty.

But I didn’t.

She had depths I never imagined.

Then there was my friend Randy. I’ve known him for over 30 years. One day as we sat talking, he began fiddling with a sheet of notebook paper. He folded it this way and that way until a dragon with flapping wings took shape in his hands.

Turns out that Randy is a master of origami, the oriental art of paper folding, but it had never come up in our conversations.

I thought I knew him, I knew his wife, I knew his daughter, but I did not know this important element of his make-up. His skill at origami was a revelation to me.

Another such revelation awaited me two days ago.

This time it concerned my youngest daughter, Patricia.

Monday I’d talked with my neighbor, Bubba, the old man whose window was smashed by the brick-throwing drunk. I’d listened to his troubles for about half an hour when Patricia drove up, coming to raid our refrigerator.

As soon as she walked in the room, she began counseling Bubba. She drew him out mirroring the things he said. She pointed out his projections. She reinforced positive statements — she employed advanced counseling techniques as though she were a trained counselor.

I sat back silent and amazed watching the dynamics as this amazing young woman, whom I thought I knew, comforted and counseled the old man.

He’d come to my door down hearted and discouraged, distraught over the recent death of his wife. He left appearing to be uplifted and feeling better, with hope in his heart.

I had no idea Patricia had such skills.

I thought she was a flake.

She said she’s never taken a course in counseling, yet she exhibited a natural compassion and ability that astounded me.

I discovered that I did not know my own daughter.

I’ve seen this sort of phenomena with others of my own children also. For instance, I knew that Fred, my oldest son, was an experienced traffic surveyor having worked for the same company for over 30 years. But when we visited his home a few years ago, I discovered that he is a master gourmet chef and has outfitted his kitchen like something out of the Starship Enterprise.

I found I did not know the man, my own son.

And I knew that Johnny, my second son, is a skilled computer consultant, but on his last visit here, he revealed that he had to get back to Maryland on a certain date because he was a finalist in a ballroom dancing competition.

I never knew that he could dance at all.

I do not know the people I think I know,

Then, of course, there’s Jesus.

Were someone to ask me, “Do you know the Lord”? I’d probably say, yes.

But my knowledge of Christ is so superficial that He constantly surprises me with new revelations about facets of His character and person that I’d never guessed at before.

I know a few hazy facts picked up here and there: Born in a manger with a drummer boy and a red-nosed reindeer standing by with some kings and shepherds; said not to hit back when you get hit; walked on water; brewed wine from water; got killed on Easter; great teacher; dressed in either white robes or a camel-skin coat and ate locus bugs, wild honey and chocolate-covered eggs, — the sort of hodgepodge information and misinformation that everybody knows.

In one sense we all think we know all about Jesus.


We have five sources of information to base our knowledge on: the four, independently written historical accounts called Gospels, and our personal experience.

The Gospels are not biographies of Jesus. All four devote a third or more of their length into portraying a single week in His life.

Instead of biographies, I suspect it’s more accurate to think of them as verbal photo albums. They resemble a collection of snapshots taken by four different guys at the same event with four different cameras snapping pictures from different angles.

Thus Luke and Matthew start their albums with baby pictures which the other two guys didn’t get. I can imagine the four Gospel writers sitting around comparing their photos saying, “Here’s the one I got of Jesus walking on water”… “Say, I got one of Him raising Lazarus from the grave, you three missed that one”… “Yeah, but I got one of the Transfiguration on the mountain, and you didn’t”… “Say, there are two angels in your snapshot, one was out of the picture when I took my picture.”

The Gospels are not comprehensive but they tell us what we need to know; The Apostle John said, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written”.

Why did these men go around recording the doings of Jesus?

John explained, “Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name”.

In the area of personal experience, the Scripture says there is a light that lightens every person coming into this world. We catch distant flashes of that light and move toward it — or away from it. “Men loved darkness because their deeds were evil”.

Seem to me that we react to the revelations God gives us in one of three ways:

We may be indifferent, going about our business ignoring the mighty God as unimportant, trivial. We stick Him on a back shelf and chose not to think much about Him one way or the other.

We may be repulsed. When St. Peter caught a glimpse of the glory of Christ, he fell down saying, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man”. Of course Peter came around later. Paul felt revulsion to Jesus at first also; then he met Jesus on the Damascus Road. I think revulsion is a more hopeful response to God than indifference.

Or, we may join with angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven worshiping Jesus and coming to appreciate His beauty and counting Him worthy.

When it comes to personal experience, we each chose our own way.

Yesterday I got to thinking along these lines as I sat in the garden taking a smoke break from my editing work. I began to reflect that I hardly know Jesus at all because He is so much greater than I can comprehend.

Once, when Fred was a tiny boy he memorized a Bible verse for his Sunday School class. It was the Psalm which says, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised and his understanding is infinite”.

I asked Freddy if he knew the meaning of the word infinite?

“Sure,” he said with a five-year-old’s confidence, “It means that God has got all the jelly that you’ve got bread for”.

I remembered that incident as I sat in the garden contemplating the Virginia Tech shootings, the bomb-killed and mangled young people in the Iraq war, traffic accident victims, disease, the drudgery and office frustrations many workers endure day in day out, the general everyday horrors and despair of unhappy marriages…and such evils go on and on and on.

Let’s face it, if the universe ever needs an enema, this world where we live is where they’ll plug it in.

Yet God left the purity of His holy dwelling place to come down among us, right here where we live. He was not afraid to get dirty in rescuing us.

Yes, I marveled that in the midst of all the debris of this falling world, the love of God still shows through. That we catch vague glimpses of His beauty and majesty in the turmoil around us. That He comes to us as the still small voice amid the clamor.

I marvel that even with the falling world as bad as it can be and getting worse, we still see sights of love around us. Everyday people who do acts of kindness. Some husbands and wives who truly love each other. Children and parents who love. Bad guys who take in stray kittens. People who donate hard-earned cash to charities. Acts of unselfish love abound.

All this love has some Source.

Where there is love, there is a Lover.

I marvel that even as evil men nailed His hands to the cross, at the same time He was upholding the entire universe by the word of His power in those same hands, for in Him dwells the fullness of the godhead bodily.

Such love for us.

Such incredible love.

Do we know Him?


But we’re beginning to.

We all have that chance.

Isn't that wonderful? Utterly wonderful!


Two historical notes:

A pall of thick smoke hangs over Jacksonville as four massive wildfires burn just north of us across the Georgia border. Sixteen months of drought conditions, no sign of rain in the forecast, and high winds spread the flames over thousands of acres. Updrafts of intense heat create tornados of fire in the forests and dry swamps. Whole towns have been evacuated because firefighters have not been able to curtail the spreading flames.

Of course, a guy down the street picked Tuesday to build bonfires in his yard to burn leaves so that smoke, sparks and burning particles from his fire float in the air and blow across our yard.

I spoke to him about the burn ban which is in effect but he thought that smoke from the Georgia forest fires made a perfect mask for his own illegal burning.

He continued to pile dry leaves on his two fires.

I felt reluctant to hassle the guy because life is hard enough for him, but his actions threatened our home as burning particles landed in the wooded area behind my house. So I prayed about it then called the fire marshal’s office to report and let them put out his fires, speak to the guy, and possibly issue him a citation.

The other things in today’s news is that Monday Cho Seung-Hui, a student at Virginia Tech college in Blacksburg, Virginia, went on a shooting rampage killing 32 fellow students and wounding more than 20 others before turning the gun on himself.

I culled these comments from news articles of interviews with student survivors:

“He was always really, really quiet and kind of weird, keeping to himself all the time. Just anti-social, didn't talk to anybody. I tried to make conversation with him in August or so and he would just give one word answers and not try and carry on the conversation."

"I didn't know what (Cho's father) did for a living. But they lived a poor life."

“Cho ate his meals alone in the dining hall and shunned attempts at friendship”.

“Never saw him with any friends”.

“Everybody thought he was just strange. Never in a million years could they imagine him to be the kind of person who would kill 32 other people and himself in a three-hour spasm of violence on campus”.

“He was my roommate,, but I didn't know him that well, though."

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posted by John Cowart @ 8:20 AM


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