Rabid Fun

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

Friday, December 28, 2007

Year’s End — It’s Not As Bad As It Sounds

Note: My internet connection and telephone service has been down since December 28th. But now -- with great wailing and gnashing of teeth -- I'm back on line. jwc 1/2/08

Examining my life over the past year, I see I’ve continued to decline.

The same sins and faults of my youth grow more entrenched. All people mellow or sour as they age.

I ferment more daily.

Often in jest I’ve referred to myself as a dirty old man.

No jest to it.

I harbor bitterness in my heart. As I age, I dwell more and more on slights committed against me years ago and resentment wells up. I hardly ever turn on my computer without being tempted to look at naked ladies on porno sites. I’m often tempted to steal things. Curse words color my speech. Self-will motivates me. And any thoughts of charity grow cold.

As the Bible says about the man freed from one demon only to fall again to seven others, “and the last state of the man is worse than the first”.

For the past couple of months Ginny and I have been reading a short passage from Thomas A’Kempis’ The Imitation Of Christ after supper for our evening devotions.

“Blessed are the single-hearted,” he said, “For they shall enjoy much peace”.

“If every year we would root out one vice, we should soon become perfect men. But now oftentimes we perceive it goeth contrary, and that we were better and purer at the beginning of our entrance into the religious life than after many years of our profession.

“Our fervor and profiting should increase daily; but now it is accounted a great matter if a man can retain but some part of his first zeal”.

But, he observes, it is a hard matter to leave off that to which we are accustomed.

In that same vein, 18th Century London preacher Charles Spugeon said, “The Christian pilgrim having obtained fresh supplies of grace, is as vigorous after years of toilsome travel and struggle as when he first set out.

“He may not be quite so elate and buoyant, nor perhaps quite so hot and hasty in his zeal as he once was, but he is much stronger in all that constitutes real power, and travels, if more slowly, far more surely.

“Some gray-haired veterans have been as firm in their grasp of truth, and as zealous in diffusing it, as they were in their younger days; but, alas, it must be confessed it is often otherwise, for the love of many waxes cold and iniquity abounds, but this is their own sin and not the fault of the promise which still holds good:

"The youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint."

Spurgeon said, “Let the oldest saint look well to the fundamentals of his piety, for gray heads may cover black hearts”.

I suspect that’s about where I stand as this year 2007 ends.

A sad summary.

Big deal.

King Solomon said, "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof."

Butterflies are better than caterpillars.

So if I’m feeling wormy at the moment, all I have to do is hang on and await the glorious change which will enable me to fly in the air and drink nectar from flowers.

The whole point of the Christian life is not my progress or lack thereof, but what Christ has done for me.

Nothing I do or fail to do will put Almighty God in my debt.

It is not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy that He saves us.

Pride inspires me to check my spiritual progress to see where I stand on a scale of one to ten — living like a caterpillar with a stopwatch.

The Scripture declares that we are accepted in the Beloved.

That’s all that counts — being in the Beloved.

So, I don’t measure up to my own standard.

Big deal.

I never have.

My friend Wes laughs and says, “Cowart, God’s standards are considerably lower than yours”.

On one level I’m not satisfied with my progresses, but I’m beginning to learn how to simply abide. And for a frantic activist and progress checker like me, abiding is harder than it looks.

Yet, on another level, I can rest in the arms of Jesus and say with St. Paul, “"The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God."

December 28, 2007

When our daughter Eve said she took the photograph of my wife's cat, Jessica, I thought she took the photograph of the cat, but she meant that she took the photograph of the cat.


That clears everything up.


The problem is the word took. It’s easy to see from my diary entry yesterday (and the one from December 11th) that I thought when Eve said she took the photograph, it meant that she took the photograph. I thought she removed it from the magnetic frame on our refrigerator; what she actually told me was that she snapped the original photograph with her camera.

Eve wants me to assure all readers that she is not a thief.

She made the enhanced digital enlarged photograph of that damn cat for the same reason I dug in garbage hunting the missing photograph — we both acted out of love for Ginny, out of our esteem for her.

Ginny is a person easy to love. Once at an office party her boss came over to me and he said, “Virginia hardly ever says anything, she doesn’t have a sign on her desk, she doesn’t even wear a cross — but no one can come into that office for five minutes without knowing she’s a Christian”.

Anyhow, acting out of love for Ginny, Eve and I confused each other.

It’s all that damn cat’s fault.

To clarify the confusion, I took a moment to look up the word took in the dictionary — All it says is, past tense of take.

Following that lead, I discovered that the word take, in its past tense form, took up most of an entire page of my dictionary.

When Eve said “I took the photograph” she was using definition 11b (3).

When I heard her say, “I took the photograph” I was hearing definition 16a.

The word took up a column and a half of fine print in my dictionary!

It can mean victory “The army took the fort”. To rest, “We took a five minute break”. To endure, “The boss took a lot of heat over that question”. To study, “I took piano lessons”. To remove or steal, “Eve took the photograph”. Or to get by drawing, painting or by photography, “Eve took the photograph”.

It can even mean to care for, as when Jesus said, “I was a stranger and ye took me in”.

The word has a wonder variety of meanings.

We can say:

He took a stand. He took a swing at the ball. He took a fancy to her. She took him for all he was worth. I took the ax by the handle. He took the job. Her mother took his side. She took all the credit. He took the bus home. It took two matches to light the fire. They took my fingerprints. She took my advice. We took pleasure in the sunset. He took me wrong. The storm took its toll. He took off running. I took a bath once.

Boy, this is fun,but it took all morning for me to write this and I’d better quit now.

Besides, over the holiday, I took a vicious cold and my nose is dripping but I need to get to work anyhow.

The important thing Eve wanted me to clarify is that she took the photograph, the photograph was not taken by her.

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 @ 6:56 AM

Your comments are welcome: 3 comments

Thursday, December 27, 2007

More About Love and Garbage

The mystery of the missing cat photo is solved.

Back on December 11th (see archives) I wrote about digging through garbage to find a missing photo of Ginny’s beloved damn cat, Jessica.

How I sifted through onion scraps and coffee grounds trying to locate that two-inch square photo, the only one of the cat that Ginny had.

And I told about how that dog in the next yard had killed Jessica as Ginny helpless watched from our bedroom window.

And how we scoured the house looking for that missing photo.

And how I moved the refrigerator just in case the photo had fallen out of its magnet frame and slipped behind.

Well, the mystery of the missing cat photo is solved.

A burglar stole it.

Not a burglar exactly but our daughter Eve, an accomplished sneak thief.

On Christmas day it came out that Eve had slipped the cat photo out of our house thinking we would not miss it. Eve took the treasured photograph and had it professionally digitalized and enlarged and enhanced and gave it back to Ginny for Christmas.

Here’s what the enlarged photo (now 7X10 inches) looks like now:

Eve did all this stuff with the photo for the same reason I dug in the garbage looking for it.

Love manifests itself in many ways.

Eve could have clued me in and saved me a lot of digging through garbage, but she wanted to keep her gift a secret.

Ginny is thrilled.

Even with all the digital enhancements, the cat still looks malevolent to me.

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 @ 5:22 AM

Your comments are welcome: 4 comments

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Ugliest Virgin

The Cowart Family Christmas celebration resulted in the usual mayhem as we exchanged valuable gifts which no one should live without: an ice-skating moose that sings, antique cameos, a skeleton on a motorcycle, a statue of Gort (the robot from The Day The Earth Stood Still) pots and pans and perfumes. — all life’s essentials.

I received some odor-eater socks wrapped in bio-hazard packaging from Patricia’s lab — Is she hinting at something?

One of our customs at such get-togethers is to have a brief devotional thought after the feast. My daughter Jennifer asked me to prepare something special for this occasion.

I chose a meditation on a single word from the Christmas narrative: Swaddled.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger”.

I told the kids that while I had to check various dictionaries to find the meaning of the word Swaddle, I had actually done this for each one of them when they were babies.

So, to illustrate what it means to swaddle a baby, I put on a one-person play in which I draped a blue scarf over my head and stared as the Virgin Mary.

Some wag remarked that I was the ugliest virgin ever to appear in any nativity play anywhere.

Since I did not have a baby doll, a teddy bear played the part of Baby Jesus:

To set the stage for what happened on that first Christmas, we read the ancient prophesy of Isaiah, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given… and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”.

We scanned that passage in Philippians where Jesus is referred to as, “Being in the form of God … Equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took on Himself the form of a servant…and being found in the fashion of a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”.

Again, we looked at the passage in Colossians where Jesus is “The image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature… For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell…”

And Hebrews, where it says that Jesus is appointed heir of all things, the brightness of God’s glory, the express image of His Person”

Heavy things to be said of a baby in a manger.

We all know that a manger is an animal food trough, it’s like saying Mary swaddled him and put him in a lage dog food bowl.

But what does it mean to swaddle?

That’s where things got wild.

Using an adjustable ironing board as a changing table, I demonstrated how to diaper a baby.

Not having any frankincense of myrrh handy, I used Old Spice aftershave. But I had plenty of Johnson’s Baby Powder and proceeded to cloud the air with the stuff as the baby bear kept trying to roll off the table.

Then I folded a diaper and pined it on — pricking myself only a few times.

The family rolled in the aisles laughing.

Once I finally got the bear diapered, I used my blue scarf as a baby blanket (Mary may have used a feed sack), then showed how to snuggly wrap a baby so the kid can’t wiggle out and fall on his head (Something that never happened to my six kids — or at least, not very often).

Here is the bear swaddled:

What are we to make of The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, Equal with God, The express Image of His Person, who yet comes as a helpless baby that needs to be changed and swaddled and nursed?

There’s a tendency to regard Jesus in either of two false ways:

We tend to see Him as a glow-in-the-dark magic charm, too divine to be approachable. Like in the old country/western song:

I don’t care if it rains or freezes
As long as I got my little plastic Jezus,
Up on the dashboard of ma car.

Or to see Him as just another guy who bugged the wrong people and got himself killed, a great teacher whose teaching live on in all good people.

Scripture allows neither heresy.

He is presented as fully God and fully human who came to earth for us and our salvation, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, who rose again on the third day and ascended back to where He came from and shall return again to judge the living and the dead.

The Lion Of The Tribe of Judah, The Alpha and Omega, The Bright and Morning Star. The Judge Of All The Earth Who does Right.

By becoming human, God raised all human activities into the realm of the sacred; whether changing a baby, changing a tire, changing a printer ribbon, changing the world, in Him we live and move and have our very being.

“And 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”.

By His becoming fully human, Jesus is touched by the feeling of our infirmities; He was tempted in all points same as we are, yet without sin.

He knows from experience what we are going through.

Therefore, the Scripture says, “Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need”.




All ours.

All because He descended to became a man.

One of the kids got a camcorder for Christmas and recorded my talk. They say they plan to edit the sound track and such and post it on You-Tube. If they get around to doing that, I’ll post a link.

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 @ 10:07 AM

Your comments are welcome: 1 comments

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

Not that I’ve been obsessed with writing my Fire Department history all season long, but today this cartoon seems just right:

Yesterday I had great trouble getting anything at all posted, but my son Donald went into the computer server matrix and did whatever he does in there so I’m able to post graphics again.

This morning I plan to go to the cemetery to tend my parents’ graves. It’s something I do every Christmas Eve for years. In times past that duty has not bothered me at all, but this year I find I’ve been having to steel myself for it for weeks.

I’ve caught Ginny’s Christmas Crud Cold and my eyes are swelling shut…. I’ll have to eat Christmas Dinner with my mouth. I shouldn’t have teased her.

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 @ 3:20 AM

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

No Real Entry Today

Yesterday I wrote a lengthy entry to post this morning... but when I reconsidered I find that I was fabricating.

What I was saying is just not true.

Therefore, I deleted it.

Instead, just for the joy of it, here's a copy of a greeting card used as a place marker in an old book — an 1880 edition of Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur — that I bought at a yard sale:

The date on the back of the card says 1910. The book is certainly old enough for that date, but the card’s in such good condition I think it’s a more recent reproduction.

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 @ 5:50 PM

Your comments are welcome: 1 comments

No Real Entry For Today

Yesterday I wrote a lengthy entry to post this morning... but when I reconsidered I find that I was fabricating.

What I was saying is just not true.

Therefore, I deleted it.

Instead, just for the joy of it, here's a copy of a greeting card used as a place marker in an old book — an 1880 edition of Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur — that I bought at a yard sale:


The date on the back of the card says 1910. The book is certainly old enough for that date, but the card’s in such good condition I think it’s a more recent reproduction.

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 @ 5:22 PM

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Four Things To Know About Me — A Meme

Last night, Ginny, with her miserable cold stopping up her nose, tried to eat the chili I’d cooked for supper. She had trouble eating and breathing at the same time and said, “My Mother told me not to, but I’ve got to eat with my mouth”.

She meant, of course, chewing with her mouth open.

I just about fell over laughing and teasing her all evening about eating with her mouth.

I’m such a comfort in her affliction..

After supper we enjoyed a long discussion about the meaning of the word succor.

Yesterday my e-friend Amrita in India gave me a nice compliment on her blog; it follows a cartoon about how to become a famous blogger. She once told me that reading my blog inspired her to start her own; now her postings are consistently much better than mine. That makes me feel good.

Yesterday also , my middle son, John, who lives in Maryland, asked that I fill out this Meme:

A – Some Jobs I’ve had in my life:

  • I’ve been a freelance writer for 30+ years
  • Janitor
  • Gravedigger
  • Over-the-road truck driver
  • Installed huge plate glass storefront windows.
  • Home healthcare giver to difficult terminal patients
  • For several years I grew mosquitoes (for test purposes)
  • Editorial Assistant at newspaper
  • Caregiver at an old folks home
  • Night watchman at a city dump (best job I ever had)
  • Tour guide and deck attendant at Library of Congress
  • Worker in a plant that made chicken feed (worst job I ever had)
  • Burger cook on the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift in all-night restaurant

B – Four movies I would watch over and over:

  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • I, Claudius (13-part series with Derek Jacobi)
  • Griffin & Phoenix
  • Adventures In Babysitting
  • The Day The Earth Stood Still

C – Four places I have lived:

  • Jacksonville, Florida
  • Maryland
  • In a truck, driving all over the U.S.
  • In my mind

D – Four tv shows I like to watch:

  • Monk
  • Evening News
  • West Wing
  • The Benny Hill Show

E — Books I read again and again

  • The Bible
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the book that started me keeping a daily journal)
  • The Chronicles of Narnia (7 volumes by C.S. Lewis)
  • Stephen King’s Desperation (and most of his other books)
  • H.Rider Haggard’s She
  • Poems of Robert Service
  • Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder novels (Hot Rock, Drowned Hopes, etc.)
  • Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God

F – Four places I’ve been on vacation:

G – Four of my favorite foods:

  • Fried post chops (If it ain’t fried, it ain’t food!)
  • Fired shrimp I’ve netted myself
  • Egg Foo Young or any Chinese food
  • Fig Newtons

H – Four places I would like to be right now:

  • There’s no place I’d rather be than where I am right now.

I — My Favorite Bible Verse:

  • “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a hope and a future” — Jeremiah 29:11

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 @ 3:44 AM

Your comments are welcome: 2 comments

Friday, December 21, 2007

One Christmas In My Fire History Book:

Being it’s so close to Christmas, here’s a section of my unfinished fire history book which you may enjoy:

Red Lights — Red Faces

Documentation is hard to come by for this incident, but as best I can tell, it happened on the Saturday night before Christmas, 1987:

It seems that on that night, two sailors, stationed aboard the destroyer USS Hanks in Mayport, got commode-hugging drunk in downtown Jacksonville.

That same night a sprinkler went off in the May Cohen’s Department Store. Cohen’s at the time was Jacksonville’s largest store; it occupied the entire St. James Building (Now, City Hall).

Huge crowds of Christmas shoppers gathered at Cohen’s windows all season long to view the annual elaborate animated window displays.

More crowds packed inside the store, so when the sprinkler went off, an alarm went in, and Hook And Ladder 1, biggest fire truck in Jacksonville, rushed up — siren howling, flashing red lights ablaze.

Cops also came by the carload., sirens howling, lights ablaze.

Firemen rushed into the store as cops blocked the streets and hundreds of onlookers clustered to watch.

The two blotto sailors joined the crowd.

Firemen, cops and crowd paid intense attention to the possible fire (there wasn’t one). But nobody paid attention to Jacksonville’s largest fire truck. No body except the two drunk sailors — They stole it.

They headed down Duval Street (it was two-way then), one drunk in the driver’s seat, the other in the tiller seat.

Cops on the scene laughed at the expression on firemen’s faces as they called in the stolen fire truck to dispatch.

A police dispatcher, trying seriously to do this with a straight face, put out a Signal 10 -- stolen motor vehicle -- dispatch. It went something like this:

"Be on the lookout for a Signal 10, city Hook and Ladder No. 1, large, red vehicle, city license tags, believed traveling east on Duval Street toward the Gator Bowl ..."

But soon the Cops had to swallow their snickers — two police officers working further down Duval Street had not heard about the stolen fire truck but they saw it having difficulty. They asked the driver (who wore his white uniform and a stolen fire helmet) where he needed to go.

He pointed toward the Gator Bowl and yelled, “We’re headed thataway”.

The helpful officers hopped into their patrol car, darted ahead of the fire truck, giving it escort!

Lights and siren going full blast, the cops escorted the stolen fire truck — till it crashed into a street sign.

Then the other Cops caught up.

And the angry firefighters arrived — one threatened the sailors with a fire ax yelling something about capital punishment. One drunken sailor complained, "We would have turned on the siren. But we couldn’t find it."

Even more policemen arrived. Even a few State Trooper joined the scene. Officers J.P. Branch and R.W. Wollitz made the arrests.

The report[i]. says, “Several Duval County patrolmen stopped by, too, ever eager to help and to lend as much moral support as they could while holding their sides and laughing until they got all red in the face and tears ran down their cheeks and they had to put their heads down on the top of their patrol car and slap their hands up and down on the roof.”

Sailors. Firemen. Cops — there were a lot of red faces in Jacksonville that Saturday night just days before Christmas.

[i] “Sailors Added Fire To The Season”, Bill Foley, T-U, Feb. 4, 2001.

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 @ 3:54 AM

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Thursday, December 20, 2007


Back 40 years ago, when Ginny and I were driving a truck cross country, there was a joke I’d play on her.

After a particularly heavy day, when I felt so tired I could hardly move, I’d say, “Call St. George. Call St. George”.

“Why call St. George,” she asked?

“Cause my ass is a draggin”!

Well, maybe you’d have to have been there to see how funny that joke is.

The Lord told St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness”.

This divine message uplifted Paul.

Good for him.

This week for me, on the other hand, …

“Call St. George! Call St. George!”

All that to say, I’m really weary.

An e-mail from my eldest daughter yesterday morning asked me to give a devotional presentation at our family Christmas get-together at her house.

When I read that my heart dropped.

I feel depleted. Wiped out. Weary. Empty. I have no clever demonstration of some Nativity scripture to present. I just have nothing.

Jennifer wants something special and I just have nothing to offer.

Call St. George.

I called her last night to wish her a happy birthday (I had no present for her either this year) and told her I don’t think I can do it. I felt so bad about that. She so seldom asks me for anything; and here when she does, I fall through.

A radio news bulletin yesterday afternoon announced that a major explosion and fire forced the evacuation of a large area near an industrial park north of town. Four people died and 14 were hospitalized. Nearly a hundred firefighters, rescue and HAZMAT personnel responded. The explosion blew up a plant which makes gasoline additives and the plume of smoke was visible from 20 miles away…

When I heard that news, my heart dropped.

Did I pray for the victims? Did I pray about the toxic cloud? Did I pray for the injured? Did I pray for the firefighters?


When I heard the news bulletin, my first thought was, “O Crap! Now I’ll have to write another damn section updating my fire history book”.

Weary. Worn out. Weak. Exhausted…

I’ve pulled some boxes, about a third, of our Christmas decorations out of storage but I’ve not even had the stamina to unpack them. We just may go without decorating our home at all this year.

Then Ginny came home from work last night sniffling and coughing with a major cold. Poor kitten is so sick, yet it was all I could bring myself to do to microzap a frozen tv dinner for our supper. She may have to call in sick today — she’s only called in sick three times in the eleven years she’s been working there. I may be nursing her this weekend.

How can I go on when I’ve reached the end of my rope physically, emotionally, spiritually?

What a downer.

Yet… yet, even in weakness we can go on.

When we were yet without strength, Christ died for the ungodly.

He did not come to rescue heroes.

Right after Paul told about the encouraging message he received about God’s grace being sufficient for him, he went on to say, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me”.

In another place he says, “Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day”.

Tell St. George to stand down and put away his spear.

I’m gonna make it after all.

I may not overcome but, by the power of the Living Christ, I just may muddle through.

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 @ 6:46 AM

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Three Disparate Entries

Occasionally we chose between clear-cut good and evil, right or wrong; but most often, our choices lie between the good and the best.

Good seems good and demands less of us.

Jesse Ball DuPont, a local philanthropist, once said, “It is good to do good because good is good to do”.

Jesus calls us to the best.

And sometimes that means bypassing things that seem like a good idea at the time.

For instance, I think it would be good to have this fire history book written, edited, printed and done with. I push to get it finished. I want it off my desk and out of my mind.

I want to rush it.

But recently I’ve realized that the Lord has called me to slow down, to be more thorough, to backtrack and correct discrepancies instead of bulling through them. He’s in no hurry to see this book in print.

It would be good to have the book finished; it is best to take my time.

Being a Christian is saying one big “Yes, Lord” followed by a lot of little “yeses” through all the following days.

It would feel good to have a systematic theological system printed on a card I could carry in my pocket to consult now and them. That way I could order my life around it and get done the stuff I want to get done.

Instead, we have a Living Lord who butts in with specific instructions, who does not settle for any good idea that happens along, who leads us along the best path — at least when we cooperate.

Thus, yesterday I added only three lines to the text of the fire history book. But I feel they were the right three lines. They corrected a mistake I’d glossed over earlier in the text…

And, more important, they were three lines I would not have thought of had I not stopped, delayed work and re-evaluated what I’ve been doing.

God says, “To obey is better than to sacrifice”.

Sacrifice is good.

Obedience is best.

After a trip to the library last night Ginny and I ate supper at Famous Amos where we read our new library books over the meal while ignoring eachother in intimate companionable silence.

When you’re deeply in love, you can do that.

Each library trip, along with our favorite murder mysteries and such, we each try to check out one book about some unfamiliar subject unrelated to anything we’re normally interested in. For instance, I’m reading a book on contract negotiations — not my normal fare — this week. It helps me be aware of a broader world than the one I’m usually exposed to.

Speaking of broadening! We stopped at the grocery store to buy a fruitcake for Ginny to take to her office party today and the two young people at the checkout counter came from a different culture from ours -- neither one knew what a fruitcake was!

I was flabbergasted.

Who in the world does not know and love fruitcake?

Anyhow, after supper at the restaurant, as we sat on a brick wall outside smoking, I remembered a method of giving to the poor without making them bellycrawl for your help.

When you see someone in obvious need, crumple up a couple of dollars into the palm of your hand. Approach the person and reach down right at their feet saying, “Excuse me, Buddy, looks like you dropped your dollar”. As you rise up, hand them the money and keep on walking. That way they have not had to bellycrawl and they have no one but God to thank for His assistance.

The Apostle John asked, "Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him"?

Just an idea.

Here’s a clipping for the kid in the attic from Reuters News Service at http://www.reuters.com/article/americasCrisis/idUSL18866730

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Dec 18 (Reuters) - The eight suspect human bird flu cases in Pakistan are likely a combination of infections from poultry and limited person to person transmission due to close contact, a top World Health Organisation expert said on Tuesday….

Eight people have tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus in North West Frontier Province since late October, and one of the confirmed cases has died. A brother of the dead man also died, but was never tested, so is not counted among them.

H5N1 is mainly an animal disease, but experts fear it could mutate into a form that could spread easily between people, causing a pandemic which could kill millions of people.

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 @ 5:57 AM

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

And Daniel Said...

I’m proud of me.

Yesterday I did not so much as open a single computer file on fire history.

When I realized just how much that project was pushing me and controlling my behavior, I cut back and slowed down work on it. I’m still working on that book but I’ve decided not to let it drive me to the exclusion of all else.

I find that when I feel harried, that generally means I’m doing something God has not told me to do.

He said, His burden is easy and His yoke light. And when I’m being driven and stress out over a project, that’s a good sign that I’m acting because I’ve got some bug of my own up my ass. I mean, can you imagine the Lord getting frantic over anything?

That’s just not His way.

Anyhow, instead of pushing ahead with fire history, I did a few things around the house and winterized some of Ginny’s plants because a freeze is expected tonight (down from the low 80s last week).

Oddly enough, as I worked moving plants under cover, and not even thinking about the fire history book, I suddenly realized a discrepancy in an incident from 1985 that I should reconcile. Had I been steamrolling ahead with the text, I may well have not seen the error.

My friend Barbara came over and we went to lunch at Dave’s Diner.

Barbara has been reading the last book of the Bible, Revelation, and she got to telling me about something Daniel said… I know I’ve been tired out of mind from all the extra work I’ve put into the fire history, but my friend’s words made less and less sense to me.

I felt as though I would droop over with my head on my plate and go to sleep right there in Dave’s as she talked about what Daniel said.

Now, in biblically oriented circles the Book of Revelation, last book in the New Testament, and the Book of Daniel, the Old Testament Prophet of Lion’s Den fame, are often linked because of similarity in language, imagery, and vision.

(I think the connection between the two is speculative at best, but that’s neither here nor there).

What I’d forgotten is that the name of the pastor of the church where Barbara worships is Daniel.

She was talking about her pastor Daniel; I was hearing about the ancient Prophet Daniel!

No wonder I got so confused.

Saw a cartoon the other day:

Death with black cowl and scythe knocks on a door.

A tottering old lady answers.

The grim reaper announces, “I am Death”.


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 @ 6:07 AM

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Candle In A Bag — Luminary Night

Note To Family & Friends: The violent storm front Saturday night knocked out two of our phones and our answering machine. (Front came through and the temperature here in Jacksonville dropped almost 50 degrees in 24 hours). The phone in the back room still works but you have to let it ring and ring till we can get back there.

Also, check out the home decorations at Oak & James streets (a block behind where Eve used to live on Park Street). It’s one of the finest displays I’ve ever seen. They are computer generated animations moving so I couldn’t get a photo, but it’s well worth going by to see.


During Luminary Night Sunday, at a Living Manger Scene sponsored by some church I overheard a woman.

In the press of the crowds of people in the street pressing forward, she and her friend were moving away from the front and her friend was complaining about not being able to see because of the throng.

Without knowing it, this lady summed up the real spirit of Christmas. “Well, I saw the baby Jesus, and he wasn’t very impressive,” she said.


He hardly ever is.

The meek and lowly one born to serve and to save.

He had no form nor comeliness that when we see Him, we should desire Him.

Despised and rejected of men.

Nothing new about that.

Ginny and I walked for about two miles enjoying Luminary Night Sunday. It’s always a blast. It’s a cross between “Silent Night” and a Mardi Gras riot in December.

The initial idea was simple — but it ballooned.

A Luminary is a light. A simple candle in a white paper bag anchored in place by an ounce or two of sand. Nothing to it:

These bags glow softly.

Not very impressive.

But on Luminary Night in Jacksonville’s Riverside section, where we live, people set out thousands upon thousands upon thousands of these lights in front of their homes and line the streets:

There is a tradition, legend, fairy tale, whatever, that these lights along the roads are supposed to help Christ find his way. They light the way to your home so he can find you:

That’s theological nonsense but great fun.

As though the God who created the universe doesn’t know how to work a GPS. As though He who calls every star by name and knows every hair on our head, doesn’t know one street from another. As though the Light of the World, needed a tea candle in a paper bag — Luminaries are a silly idea and I love them!

Luminary Night is always my favorite part of the Christmas Season.

While quite side streets glow with the little bags of light welcoming Christ, the main drags of Riverside/Avondale flash with every gaudy idea ever associated with a secular Christmas:

No one in particular organizes or controls Luminary Night (although the Riverside Avondale Preservation Society sells bags, sand and candles as a fund-raiser). Everybody does their own thing in wholesome fun just because they want to. And thousands of people walk the streets for no other reason than to stroll, see lights and enjoy.

See the float behind Ginny? Scores of drivers decorate cars, trailers, trucks, buses — and decorate them anyway they please. Folks may dress up as Santa, reindeer, snowmen, Elvis, the Grinch, Batman, belly-dancers — whatever.

And the impromptu floats are just as varied. We saw one rolling along with a Power Point computer presentation being shown from the back of a pickup truck. When I say rolling along, I mean, the traffic creeps; Ginny and I walk faster than traffic on the main drags moves. And kids sing, cheer and toss candy to bystanders.

The glory of all this is it’s complete lack of organization — just folks having wholesome fun for the fun of it.

Homes decorate according to the taste of the owner with displays telling Bible stories or fairy tales, to … to… Well, to whatever:

Some people hold open house. Some assemble their church choirs on the lawn to carol. Some offer anything from a toke, to hot chocolate and cookies. Some let strangers sit on their front porches.

Others build fires in braziers so passersby can warm their hands.

Ginny and I strolled both the main drags and the still, silent back streets. We got so interested in the conversation we were having that we forgot and walked way past where our car was parked.

I know some sincere Christians bemoan the secularization of Christmas. I respect their stance. But I love it. I love the camaraderie of strangers handing out chocolate and building fires for strangers. I love kids excited to meet a snowman (or Elvis)…

Yes, it is all glitz and gaudiness.

No, it has nothing to do with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes it is rooted in the Saturnalia.

So what?

So what if God does not need tea candles to find His way?

Isn’t this misguided custom an unconscious acknowledgement that He is looking for us?

And that on some lever, we are glad He is?

Isn’t this a way of responding to say, “Lord, here I am”?

In all of this falderal last night I thought of an old cartoon I once saw.

In front of a huge crowd of pagan worshipers this priest is throwing babies onto a fire in front of a horned idol. As two guys on the back row whisper, one says, “No, I don’t really believe in it any more either — but it’s a lovely old custom that ought to be preserved”.

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 @ 4:57 AM

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Process & Product

When one of our children was born, I stood in the delivery room with Ginny holding her hand.

There’s a reason why they used to have expectant fathers stay outside in a waiting room.

But, I vividly remember one thing about the birth; at one point, Ginny screamed, “Get this damn thing out of me!”

Here, for months she’d talked about the little baby. She stopped smoking, gave up coffee and tea, went for prenatal exams, took vitamins, prepared baby clothes, loved the baby — but there came a time when she called that much anticipated and much loved baby a “Damn Thing”.

This morning I can identify with that.

That’s how I’m regarding my Fire History book.

After working on it for ages (this is an updated second edition of a book I originally wrote in 1986) I’m ready to be done with the damn thing.

I want it out. Finished. Done with.

Recently I’ve become so obsessed with the end product — the finished, printed, bound book — that the process of making it has become a frustration.

From past experience with other books, I know there always comes a point when I get to hate the very thought of writing. Once when some preacher interviewed me on his television show about one of my books, I told the viewers (an audience which he said numbered upwards of 20 million people) I told the viewers, “I hate this book”.

In fact, I’d relaxed in the course of the interview so I may well have actually said, “I hate this damn book”.

He never asked me to appear on his show again.

I’m not much of a book salesman.

Anyhow, yesterday I realized that I’ve become so focused on the product that I’m sinning in the process. I’ve neglected household duties, ignored Ginny, put aside Christmas projects, turned down invitations from friends, alienated family… Two people called me this week hinting they needed my attention. I played dense. I suppose if they’d come right out and said, “John, I need your help with …” I would have set aside my work and gone to help.

But since they only hinted, I pretended not to hear the need in their voices.

By letting myself become so product-oriented, I’m spoiling the very process which produces the joy.

Yes, I know that product-oriented men accomplish great temporal things. By Whatever Means Necessary becomes their motto. Alexander The Great did not build an empire by fretting over the morality of his methods.

He just got it done.

And, then he wept that there were no more worlds to conquer and drank himself to death.

As a Christian I should remember that God is more interested in my process than my product. The end result of all things is in His hand and under His control. Our eventual arrival in Heaven is not a goal, it’s a byproduct.

Just as babies are.

Maybe it’s just a guy thing, but while I have great interest in the process of sex, the concept of baby never enters my mind. Process and product are very different things.

Like all guys who are honest would say, I looked at that baby Ginny cradled in her arms and wondered, “Where did that come from”?


I’ve decided to slow down on the process of writing this fire history so that I can enjoy this process more. I’ve been putting in 18-hour days and being a bear the rest of the time. Yesterday I realized that my work is causing more frustration in me than joy.

For God only knows what reason, I’ve been obsessed with the idea that I’ve GOT TO FINISH this book before Christmas.


What is it that drives me? What compels me when the timetable for publishing the end product is an arbitrary goal I set myself in the first place?

It’s not like there are lines of starving children languishing as they wait for my fire history book to come off the press. The world hardly needs my book desperately.

If I never finish the thing, if I stopped work on it altogether, who will notice? Maybe Ginny and my immediate family would notice — and they’re likely to be relieved.

It is doing the work in harmony with Christ that’s important. When I steamroll over everything and everybody pressing toward my goal of a finished product, I loose peace and joy in the very work I’m doing. …

Which, in essence, is carving an idol.

A little idol with red cover and pages

Thou shalt have no other gods…


I forgot.

But, this thing I’ making, it’s so important, it’s so interesting. It’s so me.

I haven’t looked up chapter and verse, but as I recall, after He rose from the dead, some women were going somewhere along a road to be with the disciples and before they got to where they were going something happened.

It’s one of the most important things told in the whole Bible:

“As they went forth to tell… Behold, Jesus met them”.

As they went 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 @ 6:19 AM

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Still In The Fire

The last line of my last entry said, “I never know what I think until I write about it”.

Wow! Am I in good company.

Last night I read Stephen King’s mystery novel The Colorado Kid and in his afterward, King said, “I write to find out what I think”.

Isn’t that cool!

Great minds follow the same thought pattern. So, if Stephen King and I arrive at the same conclusions independently of each other, that means my books ought to sell as well as Stephen King’s do. … Well, maybe not.

Yesterday’s mail brought me an unexpected check for $15.01 — Fifteen Dollars and One Penny — a surprise royalty check for the German translation of a book I wrote 20 years ago.

I'll bet that Stephen King never got a check for $15.01 for one of his books!

I’m on the road to riches.

My diary entries for every day this week all say the same thing — Worked on my fire history book.

I’m up to the year 2000 now.


The end is near.

A problem I confront daily is how to handle warts.

Yes, firefighters are strong, handsome, brave and pure-hearted, but they have a few warts too. Since my aim is to emphasize the strong, brave and pure-hearted aspects of their history, daily I’m tempted to gloss over the sleazy parts.

That wouldn’t be honest.

While I naturally want to put the best foot forward, as a Christian writer, I feel constrained to treat my subject with a modicum of integrity.

But, this is a secular subject; what does being a Christian have to do with it?

Well, anything a Christian writes is Christian writing. I should never divorce what I write about from what I am. Christ is at least prominent in my thinking even if He is not always preeminent. The writing approach is Christian even when the subject is not remotely religious.

Even my grocery list is Christian writing.

The way I’m handling this in my fire history is to say, for instance, at the start of recording each year’s events, “ On the downside of 1899, such and such happened” Then, in the next heading or paragraph I say, “On the upside of 1899, such and such happened”.

That writing technique helps keep me more or less honest.

I wish there weren’t any warts, but since there are, I can’t think of a better way to handle them.

I’d hoped to finish work on this book last month, but I drug my feet.

Now, thoughts of Christmas interrupt my thinking about the book.

Ginny and I spent an hour or so last night discussing the logistics of getting the whole family together at the same time.

Christmas stuff eats away my mind.

I love them all, but having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain.

How can I combine thinking about my fire history with thinking about family Christmas plans? And what about the holy religious aspects of Christ’s Incarnation?

In my fire history research I ran across this cartoon. You may have to have heard us Southerners talk in our unique drawl to catch the joke, but I find this hilarious:

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 @ 4:13 AM

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Work Days

Recently I have focused on writing my history of the local fire department and I feel as though I’m working slower and slower.

It’s not that I’m dragging my feet; it just that I keep finding more and more things I want to include in this book.

In essence the book will be a history of Jacksonville told from the standpoint of how many times the place has burned down — or how many times our firefighters have saved it from burning down. The fires and hazards, disasters and near-disasters bookend the events shaping our daily lives.

My theme dwells on the heroism and professionalism of firemen, yet, to be historically accurate and honest, I have to include even internal squabbles, political intrigues, and just plain stupid actions.

And the more I work, the more work I find to do.

For instance, the main body of my text is up to the 1980s now but yesterday I ran across some more information about the 1888 Yellow Fever epidemic. So I’m bouncing back and forth over a hundred-year span blending it all together into a continuous narrative. (While at the same time inserting more information about some charitable actions of local firemen during the 1930s).

God! But I love what I’m doing!

I feel so much in my element when I’m writing this sort of thing, like I’m doing what I was created to do. I’m a squirrel gathering nuts, a beaver building dams, a bear catching salmon, — I’m doing what I was made to do.

And that is joy.

There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and enjoy his labor which God has given him to do under the sun.

And, it gets even better. Ginny totally supports me in what I’m doing even though my books earn diddle-squat and sales sparse. Years ago we developed a live plan which would lead to the lifestyle we enjoy now and my work would not be possible without her.

That also is a joy.

Last night our daughter Eve invited us over for supper; she and Mark have their home in order (except for all those cats). She is loving her recent job change even though it brings in less money. She’s doing what she loves and I’m delighted for her.

Mark just earned a 5% bonus related to a perfect performance at his work; he’s what you’d describe as a brilliant young attorney.

And in after dinner conversation, Eve and Mark discussed with us ways to help me in my work. We talked over ideas I’d tried futilely years ago as well as exciting new methods of advancing my work and gaining a platform to speak from.

For their Christmas charity this year, apparently they are buying a cow for some family in a third world country.

I told them that if they bought me a cow, then I'd be able to sell my books bound in leather.

Eve said, "Ooooh, Daddy" like she always does on hearing one of my good ideas.

It’s really humbling to see these two young people express confidence that what I’m doing is worthwhile when I doubt that myself so often.

One idea Mark advanced is that I spend less time blogging. It is not unusual for me to spend three to ten hours writing a single blog posting (It’s something I do in the wee small hours of the night). Mark says I should limit my journal writing to 20 minutes tops.

He seemed shocked that I put so much time into this.

I’ll try to pay attention to his advice, but that will be hard…

I never know what I think until I write about it.

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 @ 4:05 AM

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Christmas Thought About Love And Garbage

Sunday I dug in stinking kitchen garbage up to my elbows looking for a photo of — what else — a cat.

Our garbage men come but once a week, so seven days worth of garbage accumulate between one garbage pick up and another.

When grapefruit rinds, onion peels, celery tops, coffee ground, egg shells, chicken bones, all the ashtrays we’ve emptied — when such stuff sits in the garbage can for a week, it reeks.

That didn’t stop me.

I sifted garbage piece by piece by piece looking for that cat’s photo.

You see, Ginny’s favorite cat, Jessica, is long dead (a dog attacked it while Ginny watched from a distance).

That cat had lived with us for years.

It treated us with utter distain but Ginny treasured the creature.

But, alas, Ginny only had one single small photo, about two inches square, of that cat. She kept it in a little kitchen magnet frame bordered with flowers and tiny birds (which the cat would have eaten).

The kitchen magnet attached the photo of Jessica to our refrigerator.

Sunday, Ginny noticed that the frame was empty.

The photo had slipped out.

The cat was gone (how like it!).

How long has the photo been gone and where did it get to?

We checked under the refrigerator and in all the nooks and crannies all around the kitchen floor.

Maybe, just maybe, the photo had slipped out of the frame and fallen down into the kitchen trash can.

Only one way to find out.

I’m a not a cat person, but I am a Ginny person, so I stood one garbage can next to another and carefully transferred ripe garbage from one plastic bag to another. With my bare hands I examined every ounce of garbage.

I got my hands filthy.

As I worked, an odd thought occurred to me:

Out of love for us, Jesus got His hands dirty too; God came to earth to seek and to save the lost. He dealt with garbage too.

Sometimes, that’s what love does.

He injured His hands digging through garbage.


Hands bleeding.

St. John wrote, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins”.

I know that the Scripture refers to Christ as “The lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world”.

Nevertheless I wonder, I just wonder, if the day He came into the manger, just might not have been the day He took the lid off the garbage can.

Incidentally, I did not find the photo of the cat.

I’ll keep looking.

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 @ 4:28 AM

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

My Feet Are Sore, My Spirits Soar, But My Ears Don't Hurt

Saturday Ginny and I did it all.

After Breakfast at Dave’s Diner with Donald and Helen — where I teased Helen unmercifully about revealing the lavish $4 present I planned to Give Ginny for Christmas (it was a topper for her car antenna) — Ginny and I attended two, almost three, holiday celebrations back to back to back.

First we toured the Festival Of Trees at the Main Library where various groups decorated dozens of Christmas trees around three floors of the library’s central staircase.

We viewed the most charming Christmas village display I have ever seen. The patriotic tree covered with flags behind Ginny displays the photos of Jacksonville service men.

This tree decorated with antique dolls charmed Ginny:

After wandering hand in hand among the forest of Christmas trees, we visited a number of different churches in A Century Of Sanctuaries, the 2007 Historic Church Tour, sponsored Downtown Vision Inc.

We walked to the first four churches on the tour then sore feet dictated that we ride the trolley for the rest of our tour.

Twenty-three of Jacksonville’s churches burned to the ground during the Great Fire of Jacksonville in 1901. Therefore few of our church buildings can claim to be more than a hundred or so years old; practically all of them were constructed after the fire.

In Jacksonville the term “Historic” means anything older than John Cowart.

Churches of all sorts were open for this tour: AME, Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian. While on the surface various Christian denominations differ, all main-stream churches have one thing in common.

Here are three photos of stained glass windows I took inside three different churches along the tour. (I could post others of the 65 photos I took, but Blogger will stand for only so much).

Each of these windows portrays one thing.

The one thing that counts. Without it Christianity is meaningless, the Virgin Birth a fable; walking on water a hoax; love thy neighbor a joke; the cross a travesty.

These are Resurrection Windows.

The sparking solemn glass depicts an artist’s idea of the scene when Jesus came out of the grave to be greeted by Mary Magdalene.

“Jesus is declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead”.

Jesus Christ rose or rotted.

If He’s just another dead guy, who needs Him? The caverns of the earth are filled with the pestilential dust of dead guys.

Because Jesus Christ is our risen Lord, everything else falls into place; without Him alive and kicking, nothing else makes sense.

Because He ever lives, He is able to say these words inscribed above the organ pipes at the front of one church we visited:

Because they knew He is Emanuel, the living God, God come to earth in the flesh, the Christmas angels could proclaim at His birth, “Fear not. Behold I bring you good tidings or great joy which shall be unto all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord”.

Without this Savior, who rose from the dead, we die without hope and the weight of our sin presses us down into the dank moist soil at the bottom of the grave.

And that sin weighs on us for all eternity.

And our children have no more hope than our parents did.

But because He lives, we also shall live.

It’s Jesus or nothing.

For there is none other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.

Don’t understand it all?

That doesn’t matter.

Come anyhow.

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give thee rest,” He said.

That’s His promise.

As the Christmas hymn Hark The Herald Angles Sing says, “Join the triumph of the sky. Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give us second birth”.

That’s what Christmas celebrates.

Speaking of song and music…

After walking through the Festival of Trees and the Century of Sanctuaries tour, Ginny and I kept on walking.

We intended to take in an open air afternoon concert of Christmas music given by a group playing 100 tubas.

But the rascals finished playing earlier than their brochure announced.

We missed the hundred tubas.

By the time we got there, expecting to hear another hour and a half of tuba music, the players had all packed up their tubas and blown away.

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 @ 5:01 AM

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Magic Twangers And Jacksonville Fire Rescue

The other night the temperature in Jacksonville dropped to a bone-chilling 46 degrees — We Floridians think of 46 as bone-chilling.

As Ginny and I darted from the library to our car through this artic blast, she held the car key remote door opener in her hand but she was slow in opening the car door as I stood there freezing.

To hurry her along I called out, “Pluck Your Magic Twanger, Froggy”.

Where did that come from? It’s a phrase I have neither spoken or even thought of for over 60 years. Ginny had never heard the expression before. She’s too young.

I remembered that the phrase came from a radio show I’d faithfully listened to as a kid. I remembered that I thought the show hilarious and that I loved Froggy, but I could not remember the name of the program.

When we got home out of the cold, I googled “Pluck Your Magic Twanger, Froggy” .Turns out that the kids radio show I listened to as a child in about 1948 was the Buster Brown Show, sponsored by Buster Brown Shoes.

The show ran for 23 years but it finally degenerated into a television show or real radio shows went off the air, or I out grew Froggy’s wit, or something. (Ginny says I have never out grown anything).

Froggy was a gremlin with a magic twanger which he used to confuse other characters and get them into all kinds of trouble. His character developed during World War II when pilots blamed all sorts of malfunctions on gremlins.

Smiling Ed, the human host, would invoke Froggy with the phrase, “Pluck your magic twanger”. I used to laugh so hard at Froggy’s radio antics that my mother would shout at me, “Turn That Damn Thing Down” but Froggy loved to confuse humans — like the time he substituted plaster of Parris for flour in a visiting cook’s cake recipe.

I’d cackle at Froggy’s jokes. He always won out over the adults of this world. He was a hero in my six-year-old perception.

There is a nostalgic website devoted to Froggy and the Buster Brown Show at http://michelesworld.net/dmm/frog/gremlin/gremlin.htm .

Even though the radio program delighted me as a kid, and although I now realize that Froggy contributed greatly to my adult sense of humor, I had not given the magic twanger a thought in over 60 years…

So, why did that phrase pop out of my mouth when I wanted Ginny to use her magic remoter door key opener to let me in out of the cold?

The Bible says something about training a child right to let him grow up right.

St. Paul told Timothy, “Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned… knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus”.

What we learn as kids sticks with us.

It may lie deep, deep, deep down under the surface only to pop up 60 years later on some dark freezing night. We may forget it’s there and not know the meaning of it when it does pop up, but it is there.

I’ve often wondered why I do some of the things I do. I can’t always fathom the reasons for my own behavior. I’m a mystery to me. And I’m a mystery to Ginny and to my children and hardly anybody understands my sense of humor or laughs at my jokes.

Lets face it.

Somewhere over the years, I’ve lost my magic twanger.

Now, for another subject:

At 5:58 a.m. yesterday a building in downtown Jacksonville, a parking garage for a luxury condo, Berkman Plaza II, a 23-story condominium, collapsed.

The building was under construction and workers were pouring concrete on an upper level. The disaster stuck right as workers were changing shifts so no one was sure how many people were trapped beneath the rubble.

Six stories of the structure fell in an instant, each floor compressing floors below. One witness described it as a stack of pancakes

Right now the Jacksonville Fire Rescue Division is still in the midst of search and recovery operations so the facts and figures are still sketchy

At least 23 people were hospitalized and many more injured were treated on site. No one know how many are trapped beneath the rubble or, indeed, if all the people inside made it out.

That Berkman place is on the river right across the street from police headquarters within two minutes of the collapse, police, fire, ambulance, rescue workers and volunteers responded

If nothing else, having spent a couple of years researching and writing our fire department’s history, I’ve gained a layman’s appreciation of what a great job they are doing right now this morning.

Every Jacksonville firefighter receives an extra 50 hours a year training in mass causality protocols and urban rescue techniques As I’ve listened to radio news and watched tv reports, I see this training show up in spades.

These guys are good.

In responding to the building collapse they are using everything from Halligan bars and search dogs to thermal imaging cameras and Hurst Extraction Tools (Jaws Of Life) to locate and rescue any victim.

It’s amazing to see in action tools and procedures I’ve only read about during my research. I come to a deeper appreciation of firefighters every day.

OHSA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) officials are investigating. It’s too early to say for sure exactly why this building collapsed, but as an amature historian, I could hazard a guess.

Before the 1950s the St. Johns River was much wider with mud banks along the edges. Construction projects dumped fill dirt on top of the mud making the river narrower and narrower, then a crust of asphalt topped the fill dirt and buildings went up.

The water used to be right at Bay Street, now two city blocks of structures lie between Bay Street and the water. All these new things stand on a foundation of squishy river mud being constantly undercut by the river’s flow.

There was a day when a man standing on Bay Street could shoot alligators. It's a wonder to me that more buildings along the river bank haven't collapsed. What foundation can there be underneath? Already parts of the Riverwalk built just before the 2005 Superbowl have fallen into the river.

The wise man builds his house upon the rock, the foolish man builds his house in Florida.

But, who am I to criticize the foundation another man builds on?

After all, I'm the guy who build my entire adult personality on the foundation of Froggy and his magic twanger.

So, what spiritual lesson is there in all this for me?

First thing that comes to mind is that Jesus said, “Which of you intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost… lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it…”

But, He also warns me against crowing about other people’s flubs.

In speaking of a construction accident in His day, He said, “Those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwell in Jerusalem? I tell ye, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish”.

But I’m getting far afield here.

The main reason I’m mentioning this present disaster is that it brings me a deeper appreciation of Jacksonville Fire Rescue Division. Seeing them in this kind of action certainly motivates me to get back to work writing their history. Seeing them do their job makes me want to do mine better.

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 @ 6:46 AM

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Page From My Book

Yesterday I worked on my history of firefighting in Jacksonville. I don't know how to transfer footnotes, formatting, or textboxes over into Blogger but here’s the first draft of a page I wrote:

The 1920s brought two national phenomena into Jacksonville’s culture: Prohibition and the Great Depression.

On January 16, 1919, this amendment, Number 18, was ratified in the United States Constitution:

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

When the entire United States went dry, Demon Rum became illegal everywhere in the country… but Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas lay with in the range of bootlegger speedboats which operated out of Jacksonville.

In 1928, notorious underworld figure Al Capone bought a 32 foot powerboat, Flying Cloud, in Jacksonville. He used it for parties and to travel between Jacksonville and a home in Miami — and possibly for rum running. In 1933 Capone was put in prison for tax evasion and later his boat was put up for sale to satisfy his debts.

Local and federal revenue agents fought the illegal importation of liquor.

When smugglers saw revenue cutters approaching, they dashed for shallow water and threw cases of whiskey overboard attached to marker buoys. But if the revenuers saw the buoys, they’d confiscate the liquor. So, when they threw the liquor overboard, the bootleggers anchored their buoys underwater with heavy bags of salt.

In a few hours, after the revenuers left, water dissolved the salt, the buoy floated to the surface, and the smugglers would retrieve their cargo…

Until the sheriff learned that slick trick.

In spite of the Law’s best efforts Jacksonville remained soaking wet while legally dry.

Sam L. Varnes
March 1, 1927

Firefighter Sam L. Varnes was crushed to death under
Engine 2 after being thrown from the apparatus as it
skidded on the wet pavement and crashed into a pole
at Eighth Street and Tallyrand Avenue while rushing
to a fire.

The beginning of the Great Depression in the United States is associated with the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, known as Black Tuesday.

Thousands of companies went bankrupt and closed throwing millions of people out of work. Inflation soared. Work and money disappeared. Within a year, 24,000 people in Jacksonville faced starvation. Men turned to begging in the streets till city government banned all beggars except for “cripples who sell newspapers”.

The city tried public works projects to hire the unemployed. Pay for unmarried men was a dollar a day; married men earned a dollar and a half per day.

To keep hoards of job seekers from the north at bay, Jacksonville stipulated that only city residents could work for these wages.

To give as many people as possible a chance to earn a living, hours for all city employees were cut; first to 30 hours a week, then to 24 hours. One crew would work Monday to Wednesday; another from Thursday to Saturday. Firefighters held on to their jobs by the skin of their teeth.

By December, 1932, city government turned Camp J. Clifford R. Foster into “an unemployment, relief and concentration camp”. A thousand unmarried men were interned there. Jacksonville Mayor John T. Alsop said, “Jobless men who have been begging on the streets will be given an opportunity to enter the camp…If they do not want to… they will be sent to the city prison farm”.

Remember the opening scene of the movie King Kong when Fay Wray fainted in the soup line? That scene could have been filmed in Jacksonville.

But even though soup kitchens opened here to keep people from starvation, in August, 1931, ten thousand destitute people in need of immediate assistance marched on city hall demanding a chance to work.

Families were existing on bread and water alone for month after month and ...

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 @ 4:37 AM

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Still More About My Lawnmower - For The Third Day In A Row!!!

Tuesday I spent the day tidying up Class B projects, answering e-mails (over a hundred in my inbox), crafting some new tin boxes for my wooden matches, and obsessing about my lawnmower.

In case you haven’t guessed, the incident Saturday really bugged me. Obviously my ire over the lawnmower represents a manifestation of a much deeper problem. Remember the single straw that broke the camel’s back?

I can carry a huge load of ordinary troubles then when one more little thing comes up, I react all out of proportion to that small matter.

I doubt if I’m the only Christian to loose my cool over small matters which reach a critical mass. Like the old man I heard about who committed suicide when he lost his favorite hat or the long-married couple who split up over where to hang a picture.

Unless we deal with them, life’s aggravations have a cumulative effect and one small, additional peeve tips the balance so that we A-Bomb Luxemburg.

Such things ought not to be.

Incidentally, in a phone conversation this morning a person who read my blog said that she’s bringing me a new lawnmower next week.

I’m grateful.

But I have not written three postings about lawnmower problems trying to weasel a new mower out of someone. My reaction to the mower problem is the symptom not the disease.

My whole life seems like one big lawnmower with my necktie tangled in the blade. That is what I’m really writing about: living and how to handle it as a Christian.

While the new mower solves the practical lawn care problem, the theological implications remain.

Why, when I follow all the right steps do things still go wrong?

If God loves me, if He is all powerful, If He is all knowing, if He is everywhere present, then why pain, aggravation, hassle, waste of energy, frustration and why haven’t I won Lotto yet?

In our group conversation yesterday Sam said that God is completing us, perfecting us, disciplining us, polishing us so that we reflect His glory. He is conforming us into the image of His Son. He is making us Christ-like.

And He uses abrasives to smooth us out and grind off the rough edges.

The purpose of God’s treatment of us is not the test; honing our reaction to problems is.

I struggle with two major difficulties involved in my unhealthy relationship with my lawnmower: Control and Reaction….

But, to tell the truth, I’m stymied.

I’ve thought about these problems so much that I don’t know what I think anymore. I’ve already spent two hours this morning writing this little bit of a journal entry and I still haven’t been able to think the thing through.

I give up.

I can’t solve the problem.

So I’m going to quit and backburner the whole matter for now.

In spite of all evidence to the contrary, I believe that God loves me and cares what happens to me in every little detail of my life.

When hairy problems arise, I rely on the fact that the very hairs on my head are numbered and that He who names each star in the heavens also knows every sparrow that falls.

The love of God is shown towards us in that while we were still sinners, stymied and confused and lacking answers, Christ died for us.

And He rose from the tomb under His own steam because He is the Prince of Life, God come in the flesh. And He promised that He is with us even until the end of the age and He returns to take us to Himself.

When all is said and done, lawnmower problems — or any other problem we face — hardly matter.

If I can’t understand how my lawnmower works, how can I expect to understand how the King of the Universe works?

Five minutes after he gets there, the dumbest man in Heaven will know more about God than the smartest man on earth — and it won’t matter to him one little bit.


Want To Hear A Lawnmower Joke?

Years ago I read this book (sorry, but I can't remember author or title) in which a thief steals a riding lawnmower.

To steal it he snipped the lock off the garden gate with bolt cutters. Then he pried open the locked shed with a crowbar. Then he cut the chain locking the mower with his bolt cutters and rode away.

A policeman stopped him on the road and accused him of stealing the riding mower.

"I didn't steal it," the thief protested. "They left it out 'cause they didn't want it".

The cop said, "What do you mean they didn't want it. You had to cut through three locks to get it".

The thief said, "Yes, but if they really wanted to keep it, they'd have locked it up better".

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 @ 5:05 AM

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

John’s Comforters

Monday three extremely smart Christian friends met me for breakfast at Dave’s Diner then adjourned to my house where we discussed the burning theological issue of why God won’t let my lawnmower start.

Yes, that problem has bugged me all weekend.

The mower is only a couple of months old; and I have done all the right things to it, but it would not start Saturday when I needed it to.

I blame God.

I mean, if He is all knowing and all powerful and if He really loves me, then I figure such minor aggravations should not loom so large in my life.

My lawnmower ought to start!

Of course, I’m sure that any adult hearing me rant realizes that my frustration over my lawnmower represents a deep, on-going, life-long pain and that the lawnmower is only a symptom of a deeper, more serious hurt.

Everybody has a broken lawnmower in their life.

But mine bugs me.

I suppose I could concern myself with larger issues such as world hunger or the AIDS epidemic or the presidential election, but my mower is here and now sitting silent in my garden shed. If I knew I had done something wrong with it, then I could understand its not working. But, when you do everything right and life still goes wrong, then I think it only logical to hold the Creator of the Universe accountable.

Am I the only Christian to think this way?

My three comforters were Barbara, award-winning newspaper columnist.; Wes, a Greek and Hebrew scholar who is concerned because a student he is mentoring has bought a Stumblegardtunersbergstein text of the Hebrew Bible instead of the more correct one and Wes fears the student stands in danger of eternal perdition for reading this apostate text (would I make that up?); and Sam, who holds a degree in philosophy from Yale and runs an import business trading with Japan.

Having this august group of devout Christians at hand sitting around in my own back yard, naturally, I stopped scratching, put down my potsherd, looked up from the heap of ashes I sat on and raised the question: Why would anything bad ever happen to a nice guy like me?

How can I know that God loves me today?

Wes answered, “Because He says so”.

Wes said that the Bible’s authority confronts us with absolute truth. If we reject that there is such a thing as absolute truth, then we loose the concept of good and evil because we have no standard to judge what is right and what is wrong.

He said that in the Greek text of John 3:16 “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish” that the word “so” is not a word of intensity, but of manner. It’s not a case of God loved the world so much that He did something. Rather it’s a case of “Thus, God loved the world. He gave…”

When God’s word says God loves me, then I should believe that God loves me in spite of all evidence to the contrary — such as my lawnmower not starting.

I responded that actions speak louder than words. I could say I love my friends but if I treated my friends like God treats His, then they’d naturally doubt that I really love them.

Barbara pointed out that suffering in this world is but for a time. By it’s very nature bad is finite. There’s only so much bad that can happen, then it’s over. God’s goodness on the other hand is infinite. There is no end to the good that can happen to us.

As I recall she mentioned that passage from Hebrews, “But ye have need of patience, after that ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise”.

She said that the spiritual life is a journey. It is progressive. That by accepting what is going on in my life here and now, God will give me greater understanding or at least a degree of harmony with His will that life’s aggravations will hardly matter.

I argued that a major crisis is easier to deal with that the petty annoyances of day to day living. If a whale attacks you, you can harpoon the sucker; but what can you do when you’re being eaten alive by minnows?

(I hope you understand that I am compressing four hours of conversation into a few words; I hope I am not misrepresenting what any of us said).

Sam said, “Whom the Lord loveth, him He chasteneth”. A father shows his love by correcting his son — even if that correction means punishment. You don’t chasten somebody else’s kid, you don’t much care how they turn out; but you care deeply for your own children and you correct them because you envision them as good, decent, upstanding men and women.

Sam said that I need to trade expectation for vigilance.

Instead of expecting God to act like I’d like Him to act, I should drop my expectations and become vigilant by looking at what God is actually doing in my life and in the world in general. That would move me from the imaginary to the real.

Barbara and Wes talked about how hymn music plays a large part in their devotion and worship. I mentioned that the only song that’s been running through my head is “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”. The radio plays that thing continually recently.

Sam and Barbara also mentioned how petty my problems are when compared to the tribulations of some martyr I had never heard of before.

Yes, my problems are petty.

But they are mine.

They bother me.

Petty of not, these minnows keep me upset and off balance.

At that point, Wes quoted some preacher who told his congregation, “Sometimes when you is in the midst of tribulation, all you can do is just stand right there and tribulate”.

No whirlwind appeared to answer any of my questions.

But I could not help thinking, God may be trying to do me in, but He’s sent me some wonderful friends to comfort me while He does.

After my wonderful comforters left my house to go their separate ways, I thought it was too late to work on my fire history book and I felt the need of more uplifting spiritual input, so I watched the movie, Snakes On A Plane.

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 @ 3:40 AM

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

If God Loves Me, Then Why Won’t My Lawnmower Start? And What Set Off The Car Alarm?

Six trees overhang our house.

All year long they drop twigs, leaves and acorns on our roof.

Periodically, I climb my rickety ladder onto the rooftop to blow this debris off and clean the rain gutters.

Yesterday, although I’d suggested several fun ways to spend our weekend, that woman I live with dictated a massive general cleanup in preparation for Christmas. So, like Santa, I found myself up on the rooftop.

It’s been a while since I last cleaned the roof so there was quite an accumulation of fallen branches and leaves around the chimney pot. I successfully avoided being electrocuted by the electric wires up there and used the leaf blower to clean the roof. Then I climbed down and raked all the accumulated leaves away from the house foundation in neat rows so I could run the mulching mower over them so they’d disappear into the soil and I would not have to pick them up.

The lawn mower would not start.

Fuel. Air. And Spark — the three elements of ignition. I checked each one in turn. Put in a new air filter; that seemed fine. Removed and cleaned the sparkplug; no problem there. Drained the fuel tank and put in fresh gas; should work perfectly now.


I pulled the rope. I primed the carburetor. I pulled the rope. I pulled the rope. I pulled the rope. I pulled the rope. I pulled the rope. I pulled… I cursed like a sailor!

When we came back from vacation, the little boy next door asked me if I ever got angry. His mother apparently had used me as an example of a calm, peaceful adult; she told him to be like John. She said that in the dozen years she’s known me, she’s never seen me get mad about anything.

Good thing she and her six-year-old son were not around yesterday.

I grew livid over that trouble with the lawnmower. Furious! Here I’d done all the right things and the thing still would not work. I did everything I was supposed to do, and still nothing worked right.

I shoved the damn thing back into the shed and began to rake up leaves and put them into trash bags….

The car alarm went off.

Beep! Beep. Beep. It blared. Neighbors ran out to see what set it off; neighbors Phil & Sherri, Rick and Bubba all looked out or came by to see if I were ok. Ginny ran around the house to see what was the matter; she thought I’d pushed the panic button on the remote car key…

I had.

Being so fat, when I squatted down to pick up a rake-full of leaves, a roll of my belly fat squished the car keys in my pocket and mashed the panic button setting off the alarm.

Guess who had to explain what happened?


Looks to me like if God is smart enough to create man smart enough to invent a lawnmower (or a computer) then that same Creator, source of all power in the universe, would be smart enough and powerful enough to keep my lawnmower working so I could mulch the leaves (which He also is responsible for creating).

Ok. Historically, I know that the love of God is shown toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. But on a practical level, how does God show His love for me?

If I loved somebody and had the ability and power to make their lawnmower start, then I’d do it.

Makes me wonder if God doesn’t have a funny idea of how to show love.

He calls us friends, but I would not treat my friends the way He treats me.

Of course, I have to consider the real tribulations Christians all over the world now and throughout history have suffered. Persecution, discrimination, torture, execution for the name of Christ. Having a wonkey lawnmower may well be the slightest trouble any Christian anywhere has ever undergone.

God knows that if having my will and plans thwarted in so small a matter as mulching leaves, then I’m certainly not ready to handle any of the major troubles life brings by its very nature… One way you know anything is alive is by its response to a stimuli; dead things don’t respond to pain. They’re dead.

Still, theology aside, I wish I could get my lawnmower started.

Ginny, God bless her, got out another rake and helped me bag leaves.

For supper, she served us the very last bit of the leftover ham she baked for Thanksgiving. It’s finally gone.

Know a good definition for the word ETERNITY?

Two people and a ham.

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 @ 6:21 AM

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

If I Had My Druthers

Friday, Ginny accompanied me to Dr. Oz's office where he gave me a prostate exam, then we went shopping at Wal-Mart.

If I had to chose between the two, I'd rather have another prostate exam.

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 @ 3:59 PM

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