Rabid Fun

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Broken Down

Hi! This is Ginny.
John's computer has decided that it does not want to work.
I think the squirrel in the wheel has died.
He will be back on line when he gets it fixed. (The computer is number 6 in the lists of things which recently have decided to not work.)

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 @ 9:21 PM

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hip-Deep: Thoughts On An Inspirational Poem

In Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri opened his poem about his journey with these words:

In the middle of our life journey
I found myself in a dark wood.
I had wandered from the straight path.
It isn’t easy to talk about it:
It was such a thick, wild and rough forest,
That when I think of it my fear returns…
I can offer no good explanation for how I entered it.
I was so sleepy at that point,
That I strayed from the right path.

Before long Dante’s journey took him to the mouth of a cave, the entrance to Hell; chiseled in rock above the mouth of Hell were the words — Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.

Dante’s poem resonates with me recently.

“I had wandered from the straight path. It isn’t easy to talk about it… I can’t offer any good explanation of how I entered. I was so sleepy… I strayed from the right path”.

Sounds pretty bleak.

A footpath into Hell.

While Dante’s decent into the Inferno led him to classic poetry of high drama with vivid scenes of wild landscapes, of demons and of the damned in torment, my own decent into the dark night of the soul leads into the bland.

The way I’m feeling, were I to write a poem at the moment, it would not be chicken soup but tofu for the soul.

I live in a hell made of oatmeal.

No milk.

No sugar.

No butter.

Just oatmeal.


Gustave Dore’s engraving of Dante talking with a guy stuck in Hell’s muck.

My recent state manifests itself in a lack of interest in anything.

I can’t get excited about reading or writing, prayer or pornography, Bible or blogging.

There’s just nothing inside me at the moment.

That’s the key — at the moment.

I’ve been down this path before. I’ve wallowed in this slough time and again periodically. It is a downer, but it’s not permanent.

Every swamp drains. Every bed of quicksand eventually dries.

Once out fishing I sank hip-deep in mud.

When you’re stuck in deep muck, every movement of your legs creates a stronger vacuum to hold your feet fast in the mire. Every struggle locks you in tighter.

You have to lay flat on the surface of the mud to distribute your weight and gently swim your way out.

You get filthy, but you get out.

Your shoes may well be sucked right off your feet, but you can escape alive.

Yes, Dante’s journey started off with him lost in a wood at the mouth of Hell and he went downhill from there; but eventually, his journey took him into celestial realms, to Heaven, to a vision of God.

Abandon Hope.

Hell no!

Where I am now is but a way station on the journey.

Home lies ahead.

Jesus is Lord even here in the piney woods at the mouth of Hell.

He’s been here before.

Resurrection from the dead — remember?

Oddly enough, while I’m in this dark night of my own soul, some other people seem to find me helpful. The other day my friend Wes said that a visit with me was the high point of his week! And the other night I emceed a civic meeting to which people responded with enthusiasm.

Isn’t that odd?

Here I’m stuck up to my ass in oatmeal, yet other people seem to get something out of my company.

Strange, that.

I know what it is.

People just love my jokes.

For instance, to close that meeting the other night, I told this one:

For Christmas the seven dwarfs pooled their money and bought Snow White a digital camera. But, even with pooling their money the dwarfs did not have enough to buy her a loading dock to make prints of her photos.

Nevertheless, Snow White was happy and went through the forest taking snapshots of each of the dear little dwarfs and of the dear dear little animals. Chipmunks, and squirrels and bunnies and deer.

She wanted to give copies of their photos to everyone at the forest’s New Year’s Eve party, so she took her new digital camera to a Wal-Mart Photo Center to be developed.

The clerk explained that she’d have to leave the camera because the rush of folks wanting their Christmas photos overwhelmed the facility.

A few days later Snow White returned to the store to get her pictures.

The clerk apologized saying that he had so many customers that he’d had to outsource work and Snow White’s camera had been misplaced.

Snow White began to weep. “I did so want to give all the dear dear dwarfs and the dear little creatures of the forest copies of their own photos,” she said.

The clerk patted her on the shoulder saying that he would place a trace on her order to locate her camera.

“But I wanted to give them their photos at the New Year’s Eve party,” Snow White said. “They’ll all be so excited to see their own photos”.

“Don’t worry, Snow White,” the clerk said, “Someday your prints will come”.

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 @ 6:08 AM

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Raking Gumballs & The Fish In Our Fig Tree

Wednesday I raked gumballs, pruned bushes and replaced the fish in our fig tree.

Thirteen tall sweetgum trees surround our back yard. They provide cooling shade for us and a haven for nesting birds. They make our back yard seem more secluded than it really is.

But they drop seed pods — Thousands upon thousands and tens of thousands of hard, sharp, spiky husks which I call gumballs. We dare not walk barefoot in the grass and even if anyone wears shoes, the gumballs turn underfoot and twist unwary ankles.

Here’s what a gumball looks like:

They need to be raked up.

So, yesterday I raked.

This trashcan contains three plastic bags of nothing but gumballs I raked up!

Raking gumballs puts me a step closer to finishing the outside work on our house which I began back on January 17th. Here is a photo of the rear deck. Notice the new rain gutters which my friend Rex is installing. Notice the fresh walls and crisp trim which I painted. Notice fountain I refurbished. Notice the deck I pressure washed. Notice the brick walk which I leveled (mostly):

Then I spent ages and anguish tearing down the old rusted metal storage shed to make this quiet nook for conversations. Yes, this is where the old shed used to be. Notice the faux white wishing well; it’s really just a pile of bricks salvaged from a 1901 building; they hide an electric junction box:

And here is a photo of the new shed I erected in a different corner of the yard where the salvia is just beginning to bloom:

Not many of our flowers have opened yet. Here, around the pool deck clusters of salvia, pregnant plant, firecracker aloe and flamingo plant just begin to flower, while on the deck red and yellow hibiscus open to the sun:

And, here at the entrance to our jungle path ruins of the Parthenon welcome visitors amid Wandering Jew Vine with tiny white flowers while the requisite Florida pink flamingo peeks from behind a flamingo plant:

One flower that has opened in full force is the aromatic white jasmine surrounding the wooden swing in a grotto inviting visitors to be still and rest:

I still don’t know what God wants me to do with my life from here on — “Be still and know that I am God”, I suspect — but meanwhile, I keep myself amused in our garden. For instance:

Our fig tree is beginning to put on.

This attracts birds.

They steal my figs.

I foil the marauders with this fish in our fig tree:

The fish is a gag gift from one of our children (sorry, I forgot which one). The fish contains a motion sensor. When a bird lands on a branch, the fish flaps his tail, snaps his jaws, and sings Down By The Riverside.

Terrifies the birds.

What a laugh to see them squawk!

That’ll teach ‘em to steal my figs!

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 @ 4:47 AM

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Scary Time At Sea

I’m afraid.

I don’t know what to do.

This is a scary time for me.

A transition time. A transition to — I don’t know what.

I’m adrift at sea in a leaky row boat and I can’t see the shoreline. I don’t know which way to go, which way is safe.

I feel lost and my little boat floats in danger of being swamped.

Monday I removed the last of the debris from the work I’ve been doing on the house. The place is in better shape than it has been for years.

Now, I don’t know what to do next.

I’m adrift.

This creates great anxiety for me. Since January 17th I’ve been painting and sawing and cleaning and renovating… For the past week, I’ve stretched the jobs out, doing niceties around the place instead of necessaries, correcting little things that bug me, taking longer about things no one will ever see, or if they did, notice.

All this busy work to avoid facing whatever comes next in my life.

Back before Christmas I rushed to finish writing that book on the history of the local fire department. I tabled that project for the holidays and by now I’ve really lost my taste for it. And this is a book which I began writing in 1986!

I don’t know whether I should push ahead and finish the damn thing, try to write something else, or look for a real job, one that pays cash money

I can’t piddle around the yard forever.

So I ask, “Lord, what would You have me to do”?

And I get no answer.

God has clammed up.

No roll of thunder. No whisper of wind. The stars too are silent.

Or, if God is speaking, I don’t hear Him.

Naturally, my mind jumps to the worst possible scenarios. Even God finds you useless, John. You’ve been fooling yourself, Cowart, the Good Shepherd never has led you to do anything. Jesus has got it in for you because of the porno sites you looked at on the internet; He’s in a huff and giving you the cold shoulder. God has no use for petty thieves like you. You’re too fat and lazy and stupid and unspiritual for Christ to have any dealings with you — ever! God’s guidance is for other people, godly people, people better than your sorry lazy ass. Love you! Hell, God doesn’t even like you, He can hardly tolerate you.

Oh yes. My naturally glum mind has a field day during uncertain times.

And for me, to a certain extent. all times are uncertain times.

That is so scary.

To feel that neither God nor man has any use for you.

To feel worthless.

Back a few years ago an editor asked me to write a book about How To Find The Will Of God.

“Sure,” I said. “I can whip that out in a couple of months”.

I researched Scripture. I studied the biographies of historic Christians. I examined my own past experiences. I even wrote a glib newspaper column about finding God’s will; I titled it How To Tell God’s Will From Pizza.

I thought my column was so clever.

But, I was not able to write that book.

I just couldn’t do it.

I eventually defaulted on the book contract.

Last year, on March 30, 2007, I wrote a diary entry about how I arrived at the decision not to seek any treatment for my prostate cancer.

Sure, I can pontificate to other people about how to find the will of God.

But, when all is said and done, I must conclude that for myself, I have no idea how to find God’s will.

I’m at sea in a leaky rowboat and I don’t know which direction to row to shore.

Fear of doing the wrong thing (again) paralyzes me.

I’m scared to row in any direction.

What does the Scripture say about all this?

“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… And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men”.

I hear that, but…

Working on house and garden stove off my anxiety while I stayed busy. But now that the yard chores are done… I’m in a quandary.

I feel that no matter what I do, it will be wrong.

Looks like after 68 years of living and thinking like this, I’d get used to feeling glum by now. Yes, I’m a Christian who has repeated the above thought process again and again for about 50 years!

I’ve lived scared all that time.

I’ve lived depressed all that time.

I’ve lived confused and apprehensive all that time.

If I have one hope, one modicum of joy in Christ, it is that He is faithful.

I love the Lord because He loved me first.

I suspect that His reality is not my reality. He’s God and He knows what He’s doing. I believe my perception of reality is wrong and His is right.

Isn’t that magnanimous of me?

The Lord should be tickled pink that He has my approval.

And O yes, my fear and confusion are my daily reality. In spite of that, in my writings, no matter what the subject, I try to leave readers with one main thought.

My message is simple — There is hope.

How can I say that when I feel lost at sea in a row boat?

Well, my secret is this:

I harbor a suspicion that my boat sloshes about not on the trackless ocean -- but on the waters of a lake.

A great big land-locked lake.

No mater which direction I chose to row, shore lies dead ahead.

Thanks be to God.

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 @ 4:56 AM

Your comments are welcome: 3 comments

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Lovingly Stroked By God?

At the barbecue restaurant as Ginny and I enjoyed our meal, an elderly man walked from a table in the rear of the place gingerly escorting his wife, an obvious stroke victim.

That’s true love, I thought. To care for her in that incapacitated state says more about love that a whole library of romance novels.

Through the plate glass windows where we were sitting, we watched the old man carefully install his wife in the front seat and get her belted in. She could do nothing to help. She acted like a zombie with a lopsided smile.

I expected the old man to get in the car and drive away, but instead he returned to the rear of the restaurant…

He returned to the rear of the restaurant to get his daughter, also a stroke victim in as bad a shape or even worse off than her mother.

Two of them!

This poor bastard was caring for two stricken family members at the same time!

It was painful to watch as he guided the wobbly daughter, a woman in her 30s, through the maze of tables and out to the car to install her in the back seat.

Ginny and I talked about the horror of disability and the depth of love we’d just witnessed. “What kind of God would saddle that old man with two stroke victims,” I asked? “That seems cruel”.

“The Lord didn’t cause the stroke,” Ginny said. “He allowed it to happen”.

Not much difference to the old guy taking care of those women.

Sometimes in telling people about God, I think I’m defending the Indefensible.

Faith does not fly in the face of reason; faith flies in the face of experience.

The love of God is certainly compatible with the dictates of reason; but I have a hard time reconciling the love of God with my own life experience and the experiences of people I see around me every day.

Why doesn’t God just kill us outright, crush us like bugs instead of stroking us with affliction? Wouldn’t that be kinder, more loving?

Is God helpless to prevent the strokes that mother and daughter suffered?

Was it something genetic that runs in that family, a natural phenomena? And God said, “Tough luck. But that’s just the way it goes. What do you expect Me to do about it?”.

I’ve heard Christians explain such things as strokes and famine and disasters as a just punishment on humanity. They say that we each and every one deserve eternal torment now and in the hereafter because we have sinned, and that the fact that some of us live happy, healthy lives is a mercy of God, when in fact we all ought to be stroke victims. They say that vile, nasty sin merits the harshest of punishments, so what do we expect when some people get stroked by God here and now?

I’ve heard other Christians explain stroke victims and the like as God giving the rest of us test cases on which to exercise our charity. How can we show love unless we have some poor bitch to practice on? We can help only if there is someone who needs our help; we should be glad we are stretcher-bearers instead of the slob on the stretcher.

Other Christians tell me that in the long run even stroke victims will eventually realize that God loves them and that He brought tragedy into their lives to lead them to a bright happy future waiting in store for them after they have suffered in frustration and humiliation for years and years and years on earth — someday there will be pie in the sky.

What a crock!

I have no answer myself, but I find such answers as those I’ve heard other people suggest unsatisfactory.

When I was in college a skeptical friend teased me saying that religion is an opiate of the people, that faith is an easy way out of intellectual problems, that Christians refuse to face reality, that we have a Pollyanna view of the universe.

Faith may be a lot of things, but easy it’s not.

To love the Lord thy God when you suspect Him of causing, or allowing,, strokes requires a supernatural gift of faith. A gift He gives.

When I was younger I worked for a while as a hands-on care-giver at different times to three different stroke victims so I have an inkling of what that old man in the restaurant went through to get those two women up, to get them diapered and dressed, to get them down the steps and out to the car, to bring them to a restaurant as a treat, to cut up their meat and feed them by hand, to sop up their spills, to endure the stares of embarrassed other customers, to get them back to the car, and finally to get them back home and lifted into bed.

Such activity on the part of that old man required Herculean effort. He did not have to bring them out for barbecue. He could have spooned them mush at home in front to the tv. But he did all that work to take his ladies out to dinner.

That’s love.

I wonder…

Maybe Ginny and I did not just see an old man escorting stroke victims to his car.

Maybe we saw God.

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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Saturday, May 03, 2008

While Lugging Trash To The Curb

Ever meet a total stranger and strike up a conversation as though you two were long-time friends?

That’s what happened to me Friday.

I’d been straightening the garden shed and when I lugged another garbage can full of debris to the curb, I met a lady who was waiting for her son, one of our neighbors, to arrive.

She was just passing through Jacksonville on her way from her home in another city to Savannah for another son’s college graduation.

We struck a cord.

After only a few words, I invited her back to sit with me in the garden to wait (her son did not know she was coming to his house till she called him on a cell phone so he was off across town getting his hair cut).

In just moments this lady (I’m not sure I even caught her name; I think it is Betty Jo) and I were chattering away as though we’d known each other for years.

She went back to her van and brought over some Vernon’s Ginger Soda, (a brand hard to find in Jacksonville) and we talked about the song Under The Boardwalk. I thought the Beachboys recorded it; she said it was by the Drifters.

We talked about computers. One of her sons recently gave her a Dell laptop and she’s learning how to use it.

We talked about her work. She manages a Popeye’s Fried Chicken restaurant in her home city. She says hiring good, conscientious help is her biggest problem. She thinks America’s work ethic seems to be disappearing.

We talked about gardening and squirrels and lizards and the virtues of different types of barbecue sauces.

She asked me about good places to visit in Savannah. I told her about things Ginny and I enjoyed on an anniversary second-honeymoon there a few years ago.

All in all I suppose we talked about inconsequential matters and I doubt that we’ll ever met again, but it was a pleasant interlude on a hot afternoon.

Her son arrived and they drove off to buy him a new shirt to wear to the graduation.

I went back to organizing my new shed.

I suppose over the past few weeks I’ve written everything there is to say about tearing down an old shed and building a new shed…. Except…


Well, there is that disturbing Bible passage in Luke Chapter 12 from verse 13 through verse 21 where Jesus said…

But, I just don’t want to go there.

That’s not something I want to think about right now.

I should have pondered that Scripture BEFORE starting all this work.

For Date Night, Ginny and I went out to enjoy a special offer at an AYCE barbecue place (the letters stand for All You Can Eat) and I made the management regret their special offer.

We anticipate a carefree weekend of love and relaxing and talking and pleasure gardening. No more sheds to reconstruct, trenches to dig, electric lines to splice, or doghouse foundations to uproot.

Thanks be to God!

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 @ 6:17 AM

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Dog House In My Garden

I never actually saw the doghouse in my garden.

It was gone before we moved here.

Twelve years ago when we bought this house, the former owner pointed out a wooden platform toward the back of the yard and told me he built it to keep his dog’s house above the damp ground.

I’d left the platform stand all these years and used it to store odd bits of lumber.

Wednesday, I tore that platform down as part of my home fix-up campaign.

The 4X4 supporting pilings of the doghouse extended four feet underground with only six inches showing above the surface.

I pounded them from side to side with a sledgehammer to loosen them before I could pry them out.

I am not a sledgehammer kind of guy.

Today, I ache.

I needed to remove the old doghouse platform in order to run an underground electric cable to another outbuilding. This meant I had to splice electric lines together. To waterproof (I hope) this line, I cut an old rubber bicycle inner-tube, ran the wire through the resultant hollow, sealed the ends, and dug a trench to bury the thing.

Slight problem.

Six or eight inches below the present surface of the ground, I discovered a brick patio. Over the years water-washed silt had covered this brick pavement and grass had seeded itself over top. Until I began digging, I had no idea that bricks underlay that section of my yard.

That must have been the Gibraltar of all doghouses!

At various times during the day I talked with three visitors who interrupted my work: one needed to borrow tools; one needed consolation on a death in his family; one needed help with a confidential problem.

I love pittering around in my garden. I enjoy solving landscaping problems, watching birds, squirrels and lizards, viewing flowers, rescuing spiders from the sprinkler can, mowing grass, sitting smoking my pipe while pondering the next step in tending the garden.

I think the Lord created Adam to do just this sort of thing, to pitter in the garden and walk with God.

People should enjoy their work and enjoy peace in God’s company.

But, Adam and Eve ate the onion.

Sin brought forth sickness, turmoil, death.

And thorns infest the ground.

Then Christ, who Paul calls the Second Adam, came to save us and to destroy the works of the devil. I think ideally He came to restore us so we, like that first Adam, could pitter in our garden, everyman under his own fig tree, and enjoy God’s company.

To a certain extent, that’s the life I daily enjoy now — and I feel a tad guilty about it.

Yes, pittering in the garden and enjoying peace should be the natural state of every Christian. Such is normal life (of course with adjustments for individual tastes and callings, but you get the idea).

However during a war, peaceful people get drafted into the army. We leave home and hearth and garden flowers to live in tents, sleep on the ground, eat combat rations, expose ourselves to loneliness, death and dismemberment.

We live in a war zone.

We live in enemy occupied territory.

There’s a Heaven to gain and a Hell to shun.

Wounded people — blasted and torn, screaming and moaning in pain, crying out for help — litter the battlefield. The stench of death cloys our air. Hardships and vicious cruelties abound.

Sometimes, I indeed feel guilty about the peace I enjoy while pittering in my garden; I feel as though I ought to do more, to devote more time and energy to evangelism and social service.

But sometimes I also wonder if my role is not that of a supply clerk. While not in direct combat myself, maybe I contribute a little something to the war effort.

Yes, sometimes our calling is to simply write encouraging letters to soldiers in the field.

To remind them of Home.

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 @ 5:25 AM

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