Rabid Fun

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Meager Hope In Bad Times

Ginny came through safe, but Monday she found herself in a potentially explosive situation.

Her boss assigned her to a team interviewing applicants for 75 job openings. Over 300 people showed up wanting those jobs.

Extra security officers were on duty but nevertheless things got loud for a while as frustrated, fearful people vied for a job.

Now the job openings pay just above the minimum wage.

They are temporary jobs

They are only part-time.

The major requirement is that the workers be able to read, write and count.

Yet, some people Ginny interviewed hold masters degrees. Some of these desperate unemployed people drove down 50 miles from Georgia to apply.

An economic crisis grips our nation as millions of people have lost jobs, and one of every six homes are in foreclosure. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says crime is on the rise in all areas of the city and that domestic violence calls have increased 40% in March as tensions and frustrations build.

And there is no peace.

Ginny and I understand the frustration level of these poor jobseekers. Back in 1977 I worked for the county mosquito control board. I grew mosquitoes for test purposes, a job I intended to stay in till I retired. A budget cut forced 18 of us to be laid off.

Now, a man who knows how to grow mosquitoes can find a new job anywhere—right?

Not necessarily.

After searching high and low for work, in frustration I wrote a magazine article about coping with unemployment. It sold. But not for much. So I wrote about coping with poverty.

That launched me in my career as a free-lance writer—the next rung on the ladder of unemployment. But I’ve kept it up ever since.

We endured horrible times of poverty and deprivation praying for daily bread daily. Knowing every certified letter was a final notice. Living without lights or water in the house. Living in HUD housing on food stamps. Fearing every phone ring was another bill collector…

Then the kids would bounce home from school proudly bearing class photos to be purchased at an astronomical price—and I’d see their faces when we told them we could only buy the tiny wallet sized photos instead of the big ones.

But we survived.

Battered, bruised, but we survived.

Back to back, shoulder to shoulder, Ginny and I fought the world like bears in a trap just to keep our threatened family together.

Many times I lost hope, I lost faith, I lost charity—but the Lord brought us through (In His own sweet time!) I felt useless, lazy, cast-aside, worthless.

And, believe me, when you get in that state, those feelings stick with you even when you survive. You know intellectually that the Lord knows His own and is a very present help in time of trouble, but that’s a hard thing to keep believing when you’re desperate and no end is in sight.

As my friend Wes says, “Sometimes when tribulation comes, all you can do is stand there and tribulate”.

Yes we survived, but even today I feel shell-shocked, a disaster survivor stumbling amid the ruins wondering what happened to my life. Yes, I trust in God and praise His name, but those feelings do linger

So, I felt terrible when Ginny told me about those frantic job seekers yesterday. I understand why they might be dangerous. And I have nothing to really offer the poor bastards.

Yet, I remember one verse of Scripture that I clung to myself during our own times of tribulation:

“I know the plans I have for you, saith the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”.

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 @ 6:52 AM

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Good Dogs—Small, Medium & Large

As Ginny and I worked in our garden this weekend, a flock of russet-capped sparrows swarmed around our birdfeeder. At one point Ginny counted 19 of the flighty creatures. We were happy to see the migration.

But today, I’m writing about dogs, not birds.

Back on March 18th, I explained about posting photos of dogs on this site. Not everyone who buys my books has a blog or website of their own and they get a kick out of seeing their pets displayed on the internet, hence on my site.

That’s what’s going on.

For instance, here is a photo of JaNene’s tiny dog, Keila:

Alert little thing isn’t it?

JaNene owns copies of several of my books including her purchase last week of Heroes All, my history of firefighting in Jacksonville. JaNene says she is the Number One Fan of my books.

Here is a photo of JaNene’s daughter Nitaholding Keila:

Thinking about good dogs reminds me of the first dog Ginny and I ever owned. Walking though a New Mexico desert 40 years ago, back when we drove an 18-wheel, tractor-trailer truck over the road, we spotted this odd lump near a lonely highway. On investigation, we discovered a puppy that someone had coated with tar and thrown out to die in the wilderness.

Even the puppy’s legs were stuck together with tar so it could not walk. And frostbite had taken off one of the puppy’s ears.

We gathered it up and took it to a truck stop garage where the mechanics let us bathe the puppy in solvent. We had to cut a lot of fur off before ending up with a presentable looking border collie. One of the mechanics nicknamed the dog Engine, but because we’d found it near a pueblo ruin, everybody around the truck stop started saying Injune.

Here is a 1971 photo of the noble, grown-up Injune in his Dog of Destiny pose on a roc outcrop in Texas. This medium-sized dog was one of those dogs who “smile” showing all his teeth when wanted to play. Injune lived with us for many years and traveled in the truck with us all over the country:

Later, we acquired Sheba,. a mostly Black Lab, who lived with us for 17 years. Here is a photo of her, oddly enough, it’s the only photo of her that we have:

Although a huge dog which intimidated visitors on first sight, Sheba never met a stranger. She loved everybody. In fact, in all the years she lived with us, I only heard her growl once—that was when Ginny and I were horse-playing in the kitchen and Ginny squeaked as I dropped an icecube down the neck of her blouse; Sheba charged into the kitchen with bared teeth and growled at me as she protected her beloved Ginny.

Many, many years later, killing Sheba was the third hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

I mentioned it in a biographical speech I was once asked to give at a church.

If you like, you can read my talk—the title is Guts, Feathers and All—at http://www.cowart.info/Gutsspeech/GutsFeathers.htm

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 @ 6:36 AM

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Triumph Over Temptation—after a fashion

Yesterday I meet a strong temptation and I resisted it—for all of 12 minutes.

Then, I succumbed as usual.

But for a whole 12 minutes there, I triumphed over temptation.

Won’t Jesus be just tickled pink with me?

Stronger Christians exist, I know. But I’m not one of them. In fact, I don’t ever recall resisting any temptation for very long. When tempted to do anything, I eventually give in and do what I know is wrong, or I avoid doing what I know is right.

That phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation” has meaning for me. The only wrong things I’ve not done are the ones I’ve never been tempted to do.

For instance, I’ve never been drunk. No virtue on my part. It’s just that I’ve never had a taste for liquor—never been tempted to over indulge.

On the other hand, resentment, bitterness, petty theft, gossip, anger, secret lust, carnal cravings, harsh words, obstinate opinions, all sorts of mental cruelty, backbiting, ambition, inordinate love of possessions, hypocrisy, vicarious enjoyment of other people’s sins, and a host of other sins—those catch me every time, as well as even more squalid iniquity.

I wallow in that stuff.

See why I need a Savior?

There was a reason Christ died on that cross.

But, doesn’t the Scripture say that God will with every temptation make a way to escape that ye may be able to bear it?

Funny thing that.

The few times I can recall escaping temptation, it wasn’t my own doing. Like that time parked petting with that girl as we kissed goodnight in front of her house and all systems were GO, but her father came out to the car and interrupted us moments before lift off…. I was saved from temptation, but I was not happy about it one bit.

Back on July 26, 2007, I wrote a another entry about temptation, “The Most Effective Spiritual Phrase We can Ever Use”.. It works but I still haven’t altogether absorbed that lesson myself.

Another thing, I have trouble telling the difference between an opportunity and a temptation. Like if I’m working on one project when the chance to move on to another one comes up; is the new thing a temptation to keep me from finishing project one, or is this the sign to abandon a futile project and move ahead into a new venue?

Beats me how to tell the difference.

You pays your money and you makes your choice—and live with the consequences.

What brought up this train of thought?

At the moment I’m facing a long-term temptation. I’m torn between trusting the Lord to provide, or taking matters into my own hands. Or is taking matters into my own hands an expression of trust in God and an exercise in common sense?

This dwells on my mind gnawing at me this morning.


I do not know how it will turn out.

Maybe I’ll triumph over this particular temptation.

I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me—for at least 12 minutes.

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 @ 5:42 AM

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009


In my devotions yesterday I read the most horrible chapter in the Bible.

I’m trying to read the whole Bible in the course of this year and my reading program has taken me into the book of Deuteronomy. At this point the people of Israel stand ready to enter the promised land.

Moses assembles them near the crossing of the Jordan and tells them that they are to cross without him. He reminds them of how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. “The Lord brought us forth our of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness…”

He instructs them that once they cross the river, they are to erect great stone pillars and plaster them with plaster. “And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly”.

He reviews the main points of the law, and the people respond “Amen” to each point.

Moses pronounces lavish blessings on them as they keep the Commandments:

All these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.

Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field.

Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.

Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store.

Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.

The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways.

The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in his ways.

And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee.

And the LORD shall make thee plenteous in goods,…

The blessings go on and on.

Then comes the horror.

But, it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken…

Moses clearly states what happens when we break the Commandments and seek after other gods. These horrible terrors are described in detail in Deuteronomy Chapter 28.

Worst chapter in the Bible.

A real conscience rattler.

More gruesome than any Stephen King novel!

It’s chapters like this that give the Bible a bad name among squeamish unbelievers.

It’s not for sissies.


As Jon’s cartoon says:

But, also in my reading yesterday I ran across this quote from Hannah Whitall Smith , a Quaker lady who died in 1911 but whose books remain in print and are widely read even today.

She speaks to my condition when she said:

I was once talking to an intelligent agnostic. He said, "The Christians I meet seem to me to be the very most uncomfortable people anywhere around. They seem to carry their religion as a man carries a headache. He does not want to get rid of his head, but at the same time, it is very uncomfortable to have it."

This was a lesson I have never forgotten. It seemed, as one of my Christian friends said to me one day when we were com­paring our experiences, "as if we had just enough religion to make us miserable."

I confess that being uncomfortable with religion was very disappointing. I had expected something altogether different. It seemed to me exceedingly odd that a religion whose fruits were declared in the Bible to be love, joy, and peace should so often work out practically in an exactly opposite direction and should develop the fruits of doubt, fear, unrest, conflict, and discom­forts of every kind. Why should the children of God lead such utterly uncomfortable religious lives when He has led us to believe that His yoke would be easy and His burden light? Why do we find it so hard to be sure that God really loves us?

The religion of the Lord Jesus Christ was meant to be full of comfort, because "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for them that love Him."

All the difficulty arises from the fact that we have under-believed and under-trusted.

Yes, indeed, She speaks to my condition.

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 @ 7:42 AM

Your comments are welcome: 2 comments

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dead Stick

The bed of amaryllis I photographed last week has put out a few more flowers—and it’s not finished yet! Some stalks have hardly broken through the soil.

To avoid working or thinking this past week, I’ve engaged in yard work. Mowing, pruning, raking, cleaning, moving stuff that I haven’t touched since November.

The yard went to pot over the winter.

The yard is not the only thing.

Stifled because of age, arthritis and physical inactivity, added to just plain laziness, I find that I’ve grown weaker. I’m not able to sustain hard work long enough to get a job done in one push.

After every 20 minutes work, I need a 20 minute break.

Ginny and I enjoy a rest area under an awning attached to a shed. Two comfortable chairs, a side table for coffee cups, an easy-listening station on the radio, fountain bubbling close at hand, bird feeders visible, our rest area provides a panoramic view of the yard.

Problem is… the view from our rest station also provides an overwhelming view of work that still needs doing. Any direction I look, I see things that need fixing—for instance, I see that dead stick hooked in the foliage of the flamingo plant.

As soon as coffee break is over, I’m going to pick up that dead stick.

I knock out my pipe and start toward the flamingo plant…I hear the pool pump making a funny noise. I shut off the pump and bleed air from the line. Doing that I see pollen stuck on the pump housing and turn on the hose to wash it off. But the hose leaks and I need to replace a washer.

I forget about the dead stick.

Time for a smoke break.

By the time I get my pipe stoked, I look across the yard and see that dead stick sticking up in the flamingo plant.

I finish my break and walk over to get that stick, but Ginny calls me to help her move a big potted Tree of Heaven. Moving that, we see leaves trapped behind the pot need to be swept up…the broom is out front. Go get it and see the gate hangs loose…

I forget about the dead stick.

Time for another smoke break.

I sit down listening to the radio—and see the dead stick still sticking.

Drink my coffee down and walk toward the flamingo plant to move the dead stick. Step on a thorn ball. Hurt my foot. Sit down again. See the stick.

Break over, I got to get the stick.. but first I sharpen the mower blade, check the oil. Clean the air filter…

I forget to pick up the dead stick.

Break time again…. Look across the yard. That dead stick spoils the view. That thing is so annoying… but the only time I notice it is when I sit down to rest. The thing remains forgotten and invisible until I get still from all my activities. Only then does the dead stick come into view.

It’s there all the time, but I just don’t see it until I stop doing other stuff.

What you see depends on what you’re looking at.

Ginny experiences this same process of seeing a chore she intends to do while she’s at rest, then bypassing it once she starts moving.

She said, “Working together as a team, there’s just no end of things which we don’t get done”.

Not to be irreverent here, comparing God Almighty to a dead stick, but the Scripture that comes to my mind is, “Be Still and know that I am God”.

I get so busy.

Too busy.

When exhaustion overcomes me, it forces me to stop running around doing stuff and realize that the Lord has been there all along. Exhaustion forces me to notice. Weakness calls Him to my attention. I put Him on the list of things I intend to get around to… but then I forget.

That dead stick in the flamingo tells me something.

I need to voluntarily quit being busy with important things, and tend to the Preeminent Thing in my life….

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”.

That’s not Scripture.

That’s what did the cowboy said in the movie City Slickers?

But it speaks to my condition.

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 @ 8:01 AM

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Stiffs And Resurrection

As I age, the quality of junk mail delivered to my home changes.

Used to be, every Spring Victoria’s Secret mailed me their lingerie catalogue (always addressed to J.W. Cowart, never to John Cowart).

Now, I get junk mail promoting Medicare supplement insurance, retirement communities with assisted living facilities, and special offers on cemetery plots.

Yesterday the mailman handed me a letter from a funeral home trying to sell me—this is what the envelope said—FREE, PRE-PAID CREAMATION.

How can it be free if I have to pre-pay for it?

Funny, but this coincides with a book I’m re-reading this week: Stiff by Mary Roach (W.W. Norton & Co., N.Y. c.2003). The subtitle of Ms Roach’s humorous book is The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers. With a light, sympathetic, touch the book examines what happens to dead bodies—fascinating. Back on April 6, 2006, I wrote about my own happy stint years ago as a security guard in a morgue. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I found that a beautiful experience.

Ms Roach explains that of the remains of whole body organ donors 80% are used in anatomy labs to enable student physicians to learn how to treat and cure living patients. But first all salvageable parts are used for transplants. My little brother has survived for over five extra years now because someone donated healthy lungs for his transplant.

Thank you donor family.

But, Ms Roach’s book also reveals that some cadavers are used as crash test dummies to teach rescue workers how best to help those injured in automobile accidents or airplane crashes. Some bodies get tied to posts and shot so police or military personnel can observe effects of gunshot wounds. Some of us will end up on “body farms” where forensic pathologists learn the stages of decomposition under various conditions; they study how insects, worms, .and fly larvae do their work.

All of us end up somewhere.

It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.

Years ago Ginny and I both signed up as whole-body organ donors. Now, at my age, I doubt they can harvest many usable parts, but I like to think I’ll be helpful to someone even after my death.

No rush, mind you; but no fear either.

I love the declaration of the Patriarch Job who said,

I know that my Redeemer liveth,

And that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

And though after my skin, worms destroy this body,

Yet in my flesh shall I see God:

Whom I shall see for myself,

And mine eyes shall behold, and not another;

Though my reins be consumed within me.

Isn’t that terrific?

Of course, while we can’t avoid death, we should avoid and alleviate pain in ourselves and others whenever possible. That’s only common sense. If Gethsemane teaches nothing else, it showed that Jesus was not a masochist enamored of pain. He went to suffer on the cross for us knowing full well that it meant physical suffering.

Somebody important, I forget just who, said, “The whole business of the Christian is to get ready to die”. This has nothing to do with acting stoic. The Christian is to face death, and life too for that matter, not with stoicism but with confidence.


But isn’t death tragic? Sad?. Shouldn’t we mourn? And cry? And feel loss? Grieve? Show respect for our dead?


Christ Himself, even knowing all there is to know about future resurrection, wept and mourned at the tomb of Lazarus.

Yes, Jesus knew Job’s words. Yes, He knew a miracle was at hand. Yet He grieved.

Isaiah called Him, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

Jesus never soft-peddled the tragedy of death.

Yet He knew more.

He said,

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.

For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

Cremated by fire, buried in the ground, crumbled into dust, aborted in the womb, abandoned in a landfill, used as a crash test dummy, eaten by sharks—doesn’t matter. Even the sea will give up her dead. Restored, reassembled, revived, we shall rise.

Everything that makes you you, everything that makes me me, when we hear that Voice which we’ve yearned to hear all our lives, we will shake off our slumber and leap toward Him. All of us together from the dawn of history to the generations in the future, from all the families of the earth, out of every tongue and tribe and kindred and nation, from the north and the south and the east and the west, we will surge toward Him like the eager crowd pouring into a stadium for a concert.

Leaping and shouting and praising God we will rise giving honor to Christ the first fruits of the grave. Our Lamb has conquered, Him will we follow.

Faces glowing with anticipation, we shall see Him and we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. No more of this through a glass darkly business, then we’ll see Him face to face.

The Desire of nations, the desire of thy heart—face to face!

Can it get any better than that?


On the night before He was crucified, Jesus said:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.

In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.

I go to prepare a place for you.

And if I go and prepare a place for you,

I will come again, and receive you unto myself;

That where I am, there ye may be also.

I find that thrilling!

They arrested Him that same night He said that. Crucified Him the next day. Buried His cadaver in a tomb. Three cold stiff days. Then the Prince of Life burst forth alive. Went back to where He had come from—prepare a place for you…that where I am, ye may be also.

We have so much to look forward to!

As the Scripture says, “As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him”.

That’s wonderful!

Unless, of course, you’ve made some other commitment.

Then, we’re talking about an altogether different ball game.

Heaven is, but Heaven’s not all there is.

As Saint Paul told Timothy, Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men, they follow after”.

Be that as it may, for all of us the grand adventure lies ahead.

We’re moving in that direction already.

Nevertheless, I think I’ll pass on that special offer for a free, pre-paid, mail-order cremation. I think it’s one of those bulk mail senile senior specials where they’re just after my money.

P.S.: Speaking of senior specials—Victoria, if you’re reading this, I’m only 69 years old. I’m still interested. No need to stop mailing me your secret catalogue yet. Just remember it’s J.W. Cowart, not John—I wouldn’t want our mailman to get the wrong idea.

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 @ 4:39 AM

Your comments are welcome: 9 comments

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Literary Lion, or A Dirty Old Man Goes To The Dogs

All readers of great literature love dogs (and sometimes cats).

A few years ago my daughter, who is a librarian, promoted a Read To A Dog program at her library. This encouraged kids who are slow readers to sit on a mat with a dog and read a simple story aloud to the non-critical, non-threatening animal. Kids’ reading skills improved drastically in the low-pressure environment. The kids loved to read to such an appreciative audience.

Playing around yesterday, I offered that for anyone buying one of my books, I’d post a picture of their dog on my site. (See yesterday’s post if you want to get in on this).

My e-friend Amrita in India countered my offer saying that if I’d buy her dog, she’d post a photo of my books on her blog! What a hoot!

Amrita already owns a copy of my book I’m Confused About Prayer. So here I’ll post a photo of her dog; Sheeba has just chased a mongoose out of the house and has it cornered in the back garden:

The idea for posting of dog photos in relation to my books came about in a chance conversation with my friend Carol who owns copies of my books Glog and Crackers & Carpetbaggers. Here are her happy dogs in their baby stroller:

Last week, some Jacksonville firemen (sorry, I don’t know their names) bought nine copies of Heroes All, my history of the fire department. In honor of them, here is a photo of Lucky, a puppy rescued by firefighters from a fire at the Jacksonville Humane Society last year when over 200 other dogs died in the flames. The firefighters adopted Lucky as a mascot:

Another reader who already owns a copy of my fire history is Wendy. She and her husband, both firefighters, live in Texas. She contributed a chapter to my book. Here she is with her dog. I think it’s a border collie:

Brittany’s owner, here in Jacksonville, owns a copy of my book A Dirty Old Man Goes Bad. My book weigh more than the little dog:

Maybe a good title for my diary this year when I publish it next January would be A Dirty Old Man Goes To The Dogs.

Of course having great taste in literature does not mean a person has great taste in pets; EQ owns a copy of my novel The Lazarus Projects and many of my other books—along with this window full of cats:

Cat lovers, Donald and Helen, computer people, not only read my books, they designed several of my book covers themselves and they set up my on-line book catalogue for me. They also have copies of Barbara White’s Along The Way series of books (which I edited).

I tolerate cats, but this couple not only own books and cats, but they print pictures of their cats CC and Perl (named after computer programs) on the chest of tee shirts and actually wear them out in public.

There’s no accounting for taste in books or pets. Witnessed by the fact that whenever I visit Donald and Helen, their herd of cats ignore every fawning cat-lover in the room and come rub against me and want to sit in my lap.

Yes, cats love me. But they’re illiterate.

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 @ 5:31 AM

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gone To the Dogs In A Rust-colored Shirt

Ginny’s office sent her out of town to a conference yesterday. It’s the first time in decades we’ve been separated over night so I’m worried about how she will get along without me.

I’m afraid she might really like it!

What with her being gone and my own blahs and internal worries, I pulled a rust-colored shirt out of the closet and wore it all day without giving it a thought—till my e-friend at Sherri at Matter Of Fact notified me that she posted a link to He Did Not Want To Go, a story I wrote years ago about St. Patrick of Ireland. It’s the third chapter in my book Strangers On The Earth and Sherri, an Irish enthusiast, had asked me about using it several weeks ago.

Since the beginning of the month Sherri worked hard proving green postings on her blog leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. She included receipts, photos, jokes, limericks, and all sorts of other features leading up to her grand celebration of Irish blessings in her post yesterday.

But I blew it.

I had altogether forgotten yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day.

And, for Heaven’s sake, my youngest daughter is named after St. Patrick!

There’s an author’s note at the end of the story explaining how she came to be named, and how I came to write it while laying under a bed.

I do have a green shirt in the back of the closet, a green shirt with shamrocks on it, but I just plain forgot about St. Patrick’s Day and wore my rust colored one all day.

In Ireland do they still burn people for heresy?

St Patrick himself would have understood my recent spiritual blahs; in his book Confessions, he wrote, “I was an illiterate slave, as ignorant as one who neglects to provide for his future. And I am certain of this: that although I was as a dumb stone lying squashed in the mud, the Mighty and Merciful God came, dug me out and set me on top of the wall. Therefore, I praise Him and ought to render Him something for His wonderful benefits to me both now and in eternity”.

I like his image of “a dumb stone lying squashed in the mud”; it matches my current blahs. Were we to meet, he and I would have a lot to talk about.

Carol, a member of our Neighborhood Crime Watch group, phoned yesterday to talk about some situations in our area. In the course of our conversation she asked me about posting a photo of her dogs on my site.

Glad to. Here they are:

Not that these dogs are pampered but—yes, Carol does push them around in a baby stroller lest their dainty paws touch the ground.

Several years ago Carol bought a copy of my novel, Glog. She’s the only person on our block, that I know of, to buy a copy. I think that book is my best,. but Carol didn’t like it. Said it was too gory when the dinosaur ate the school kids.

But, no problem. When anyone who actually buys one of my books wants a photo of her dogs posted on my site, darn right I’ll post it… Isn’t that how Stephen King sells so many of his novels?

You know, that might be a fun promotional gimmick.

Tell you what, buy any one of my books (there are about 20 that I’ve written or edited in my on-line book catalogue) and e-mail me a photo of your dog at bluefishbooks@ gmail.com and I’ll post a photo of your dog on my site too. Please tell me the title of the book and the date you ordered so I can coordinate, and I’ll post your dog’s picture.

Not that I’m desperate to sell books or anything—and this is a crazy spur-of-the-moment idea—but what harm can it do?

Sounds like fun to me.

O, yes, make the photos either jpeg or gif because I don’t know how to post other kinds of photos or videos… Let’s see, I’m making this up as I type… Ok, I’ll post a photo fo your cat if you do not have a dog… but I draw the line at aardvarks … or children, what with the world being what it is, I don’t think it wise to post identifiable photos of children on line, do you?

What else? Ok, a time limit. What do you say to trying this for a month? Have April 18th as a cut off date? Or should it just stay open-ended?

What about downloaded books to read on your computer screen—why not? Downloaded books at bluefishbooks.info are cheaper than print-on-demand paperbacks but why shouldn’t cheap books count too?

That’s about all I can think of … Not that my thinking is all that sharp recently…

O crap!

Not only did I forget about wearing my green shirt yesterday, but I also just remembered that Dave’s Diner was offering a special on corned beef and cabbage. I’d told the gang there I’d come have lunch with them. Yes, I’d intended to go up to Dave’s for lunch—but I forgot.

Instead, I ordered Chinese food, General Tso’s Chicken.

But that’s ok, I think.

General Tso … General Tso… Tso…Mmmmmm…

Sounds like a grand old Irish name 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 @ 3:54 AM

Your comments are welcome: 7 comments

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Some Elephants Weren’t Made To Fly

Immediately after I posted my last entry, one I felt was spiritually powerful, meaningful and potentially life-changing, I crashed hard.

A bad case of spiritual blahs, apathy, and depression captured my mind. Not that I didn’t believe in God anymore, it’s just that I didn’t care.

I’ve noticed this phenomena before. Back when I taught adult Bible lessons, after teaching one I thought was good, my own spiritual life would go to pot. Maybe it’s a natural backlash thing, like the way you feel the morning after final exams.

I hope my admitting this will not spoil whatever good readers might have found in my testimony, but I feel that being honest about spiritual doldrums is a sort of backhanded testimony too. I don’t want to misrepresent what Jesus is in my own life—and sometimes He just doesn’t count for much, except as low-key, annoying, background noise. I’m not quoting Billy Graham here.

Compounding my blahs, I’ve been transcribing my friend Barbara White’s hand-written prayer diaries for future publication and she’s one of those Christians who often effervesces with praise, joy, singing, positive outlook, deep wisdom, love of God, and all that jazz.

In one place she mentions that verse from Isaiah which says, “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”.

Good for the eagles.

Great for them to soar.

But, as Ginny pointed out last night when we talked about such things, “Not all birds were made to fly, John. And, let’s face it, you’re shaped a little bit more like a penguin than an eagle”.

Barbara enjoys a close personal relationship with the Lord. Her diaries talk about that a lot.

Ginny’s reading a novel containing much theology, and she questions the author’s view of God; she feels his view limits God. “I don’t think much about my relationship with God,” she said. “It’s just always there”.

My own relationship with God is like my relationship with the President of the United States. He lives in the Whitehouse; I live here. I acknowledge his authority and observe his laws (more or less). I’m one of his citizens; but he sees me as one voter in the polls. He bails out other people with advances—none of which get to me down here where I live.

The President and I get along fine.

Our relationship is just what it ought to be.

I’m loyal to him. He does what he see as best for all concerned including me. And we’d defend each other in a fight. But the President and I are not exactly fishing buddies.

Nothing wrong with that.

Some birds weren’t made to fly.

Some of us see things differently.

Ginny reminded me of that poem about the blind men trying to describe an elephant. One walked into its side and said an elephant is like a wall. Another felt the sharp tusk and said an elephant is like a spear. The blind man who touched the leg, said it was like a tree. The one on the trunk said it was a snake. And the one holding the tail said an elephant is like a rope.

Wrong analogy to use with me when I’m depressed in the blahs.

Today, I feel that I’m the blind man who stands directly underneath the elephant’s tail…

And we all know what happens there.

But don’t let my blah attitude today keep you from Jesus, perhaps God intends for you to be one of His eagles and soar.

Have a good flight.

We penguins love to watch.

You’re beautiful in the air.

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 @ 2:43 AM

Your comments are welcome: 3 comments

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Come-To-Jesus Post

In the midst of the current financial crisis with people loosing their jobs, homes, cars, retirement funds ,and their ways of living, for God only knows what reason, my first quarter book sales at www.bluefishbooks.info have been better than they have been in ages.

Odd that.

I attempted to understand what’s going on by reading Jonathan Salem Baskin’s book Branding Only Works On Cattle (Business Plus. N.Y. c.2008). Mr. Baskin runs a global branding consultancy; he has 26 years experience in the field of brand marketing.

Most of the time I have no idea what Basking is talking about. I’ll never make a businessman.

However, three things he said struck a cord with me:

First, he said, “If you own a hammer, all the world’s problems look like nails”.

I thought that was the coolest quote.

In another place he says, “You won’t get the sale if you don’t ask for it”.

Then, in the one quote that really grabbed me, Baskin says, “The medium is not the message—the message is the message”!

How these observations fit with the increased sale of my books, I can’t figure. The books sell because readers buy them. That’s good. I like that. It gives me hope as a writer.

But, I feel that I’ve been remiss, especially in this on-line diary chronicling my own life and interests. Mostly I do what I do because I do it. That’s what I write about, and I rely on perceptive readers to pick up any deeper message than that.

I need to make a transition here and I’m not sure how to do it. Please bear with me because I want to move from books and blog to more important things. Much more important things.

Every once in a while in these postings, I write something that reveals I am not a preacher, just a common, ordinary, garden-variety Christian. I hope that Christ shines through my life—well, maybe not shines, but is at least obscurely visible behind all my foolishness.

As a result of reading Baskin’s book, I question just how much of my true message gets lost in the constant me, me, me murk of my postings.

And since the message is the message, I feel I should state it here:

Jesus Christ is Lord.

That’s it.

That’s my message.

It’s familiar.

Every Christmas we hear the Scripture—And His name shall be called wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father…Emmanuel, God with us…. And the angel told Joseph, “Thou shall call His name, Jesus, for He shall; save His people from their sin”.

Yes, no matter what we have done, no matter what has been done to us, God came in the flesh to rescue us because He loves us; it’s in His nature to love.

From the beginning God had some purpose in mind for creating you and me, a purpose that would result in His glory and our happiness. But the world the flesh and the devil debased us, degraded us, squelched the glory that should have been. And this happened with our overt (or sneaky) full cooperation.

We have done deeds of darkness in broad daylight.

Yet we want other people to think well of us. We wear masks so we’ll look good—Somehow I think of that weird masked guy in the Burger King commercials.

And behind our false fronts, behind our false deeds, behind our worse sins, our hearts yearn. Like a thirsty deer in a parched land sniffs the air for a scent of water, so we thirst, so we long for something more, for Someone More, for God. Our hunger’s never satisfied with this world’s bread; it leaves us stuffed but hungry still. We want to be home. How shall we sing the song of the Lord in the land of a stranger?

Sprawled and hungover and headachy we wake amid the debris, litter and consequences of last night’s party, we straighten our clothes and brush our hair and try to look presentable as though nothing had happened. We say we’ve done nothing wrong, nothing everybody else isn’t doing too.

Even so, we fake it. Yearning for God, we continue in our addiction to self, sin and satan. We’d like to change the unpleasant aspects of our slavery, at least momentarily on the morning after, but we slip right back, powerless to quit.

And those of us who aren’t party people sneak our sins in the privacy of our own homes and look down on those caught out in public. We snobs get to think of ourselves not as sinners but as superior—which compounds our own situation as rebellious, miserable offenders.

We serve a miserable master. We chose to. On some level, we like it that way.

We call it being human.

And we’re right.

But God too became human. He came to destroy the works of the devil. He healed the sick. He taught the ignorant. He fed the hungry. Whatever was wrong, Jesus made right.

We tortured Him to death for His efforts. We nailed Him down hand and foot. Stuck Him in the side with a javelin like a skewered pig. Mocked. Capped with thorns. Spit on.

Killed Him dead, we did.

In due time, Christ died for the ungodly.

Now, here’s the kicker.

Death could not hold the Lord of Life. He rose under His own power. He is declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection form the dead. King of kings. Lord of lords. The bright and morning star. The living God.


Life from death.

Jesus rose or rotted.

We also will rise or rot.

Death comes on all men because all have sinned.

You and I will spend all eternity somewhere.

If Jesus is not true, then nothing counts.

If Jesus is true, then nothing else counts.

Now comes the call to action.

St. Paul said, “”If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”.

This is where the faith hits the fan.

Mr. Baskin’s expertise in marketing tells me that I won’t get action unless I ask for it. OK, I’ll ask.

Is there any reason you should not make Jesus Christ the absolute lord of your life, right here, right now, today?

As you sit right there in your pajamas in front of your computer, I ask you to do three things:

1. Pray—Simply tell Jesus that you chose for Him to live His life as Lord in your heart. If some specific sin occurs to you, ask Him to forgive you; that’s between you and Him.; He’s more willing to forgive than we are to ask. Scary stuff this, isn’t it?

2. Relax—He does the rest. This is a supernatural transaction between you and God going on here. He’s alive, remember?

3. Tell—Then I ask that you tell what you’ve just done to the next person you meet, your wife, your husband, your kids, your mailman, the pizza delivery guy, whoever. Just say, “You know what I just did? I’ve asked Jesus to come into my heart as Lord. What do you think of that?”

Congratulations. You’ve just become a Christian, a follower of Jesus. No telling what’s going to happen next! He still has in mind that purpose He created you for in the first place…Wild times. Peaceful times. Dangerous times. Fun times. Painful times. Joyous times…. Who knows? With Jesus in charge, the world’s a different place and you’re a different you:

If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, all things are become new and all things are of God. Think of a scene from mythology, think of a shining dragon just hatching out of the egg, spreading glossy new wings, born now empowered to fly—that’s you.

Or, it could be.

Baby dragons can’t choose to come out of the shell; we can.

You can never choose any time but today. Yes, this very day. There is no other time. Our only freedom is in choosing.

When I began reading about sales techniques, marketing books, and branding cattle in Mr. Baskin’s book, I never expected to end up writing a post like this.

Please let me know what happened.

I’m interested.

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 @ 5:27 AM

Your comments are welcome: 2 comments

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pet Problem

Our daughter Eve, her husband Mark, and their five cats need to move soon..

They’ve been hunting all over Jacksonville for a suitable apartment. Everyplace they go, they run into an obstacle as various apartment managers reveal building policies concerning multiple cats.

I’ve told the kids there’s a way to solve that problem -- but they won’t listen 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 @ 5:07 AM

Your comments are welcome: 2 comments

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Suffer From Spring Giddiness

To avoid real work yesterday, I finished cleaning the pool and mowed the front yard where the amaryllis bed at our front door just begins to bloom. Some stalks stand tall; other just begin to emerge from the soil. Looks as though between 20 and 30 stalks with clusters of flowers are set to open. I photographed this first cluster:

I need to be careful working in that flower bed.

Anyone who steps in that flower bed is suddenly jerked up into the air like a hooked fish. They disappear screaming up into the sky and are never seen again.

The half-buried coffee mug and the shape of the bed explain why:

Click photo to enlarge.

Yesterday also marked the 20th Anniversary of the opening of Jacksonville’s Dames Point Bridge. The main 1,300-foot center span is 175 feet above the St. Johns River. The bridge is held up by 144 steel cables backed by 471-foot towers.

The anniversary is significant to me because back before the bridge opened, I wrote an article for a local magazine about the construction. Researching the article enabled me to tour the construction site and I went up to the top of the cable tower on the right in the photo. I rode up the outside of the tower in an open wire basket/elevator lifted on cables by a crane on top of that 471 foot tower.

Breezy up there.

Thrilling panoramic view from the ocean all the way across this city I love.

Then I got to ride down in that swinging basket again—not a typical day for a history writer who’s mostly used to library research.

I can’t believe that happened 20 years ago.

Seems more recent.

Makes me feel old.

Speaking of old, in other happy news, an Associated Press report yesterday confirms my decision about how to handle my prostate cancer.

An American Medical Association study, "reinforces the message that we are over diagnosing prostate cancer," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society.

The report says, “Most men who undergo a biopsy for an abnormal PSA test don't turn out to have prostate cancer; high PSAs often signal a benign enlarged prostate. Of those who do have cancer, there's no proof yet that early detection saves lives — as most prostate tumors grow so slowly that had they not been screened, those men would have died of something else without the anxiety”.

I’m way ahead of the AMA.

Of course, in the nature of things, the scientists may change their findings next week; seems they come up with a new treatment (or decide that the old treatment is killing you) every other week.

However when this first came up I read the literature, prayed for wisdom, consulted various doctors, talked over our sexual options with Ginny, and decided not to treat my cancer at all.

As I told Dr. Oz, my oncologist, “It’s my prostate. Don’t you touch it”.

I think I made the right choice.

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 @ 4:14 AM

Your comments are welcome: 5 comments

Monday, March 09, 2009

Gene Maudlin

My e-friend Gene Maudlin died in hospice care Saturday.

Though I never physically met Old Horsetail Snake, my world is diminished.

Yesterday, when I read online of his death, I sat at my computer and cried.

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 @ 2:22 PM

Your comments are welcome: 4 comments

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Under The Fig Leaf

On October 16, 1869, while digging a well on his farm in Cardiff, N.Y., farmer Stub Newell and a crew of hired laborers uncovered a giant stone foot.

The men’s continued digging unearthed a naked giant.

The reclining Cardiff Giant measured 10 feet, 4 ½ inches tall and weighed 2,990 pounds. As word of the discovery spread, spectators flocked to Stub Newell’s farm to see the wonder. The farmer pitched a tent over the giant and charged admission.

I learned about the Gardiff Giant last week while reading Scott Tribble’s book A Colossal Hoax: The Giant From Cardiff That Fooled America (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. N.Y. c.2009).

Speculation about the giant ran rampant as physicians, attorneys, ministers, teamsters, scientists, spiritualists, messenger boys, newspaper reporters, and society ladies viewed the wonder. News spread across the country.

The nation’s speculations fell into three broad camps: Some argued that the giant was a petrified man. Others argued that he was an ancient statue. Others called him a humbug.

Petrified man proponents claimed the giant proved the Bible, that in antediluvian times, giants roamed the earth. Statue proponents claimed the giant showed sophistication to great to have been carved by Indians; they said he was carved in ancient times by Mound Builders, a race predating the Indians, or by Vikings, or by refugees from sunken Atlantis. Humbug people claimed he was of recent origin.

Eventually, after over a million dollars had been collected by the giant’s owners, cigar-maker George Hull, a relative and silent partner of farmer Newell, admitted that he’d quarried the gypsum stone in Fort Dodge, Iowa, hired moonlighting marble tombstone carvers in Chicago to shape the giant, shipped the statue in a crate marked machine parts, and buried it by night on Stub Newell’s farm. The giant was just a little over a year old when it was discovered.

Nevertheless, it continued to be exhibited on tour and it continued to rake in money.

But, another argument developed over the display of the giant. Some vocal citizens wanted his private member to be covered by a fig leaf lest women be incited to undue lust and passion; others wanted the giant displayed in his natural state.

Today, the Cardiff Giant is on display in the Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown , N.Y., if anyone cares to see him.

I laughed on reading Tribble’s account of the fig leaf controversy.

That reminded me of something funny that happened to me once in the early 1960s while I worked at the Library Of Congress (along with about 3,000 other employees).

It also involved a fig leaf.

This happened 50 years ago, so my memory has faded a bit. I’ll try not to embellish the incident but certain details, such as the depth of the water or how many employees bet, I just can’t remember clearly. Here’s the best I can do:

A large fountain, called King Neptune’s Court, decorates the outside of the main entrance to the Library. In a semicircular pool, two tritons blowing conch-shell trumpets flank a bronze statue of Neptune. Two bare-breasted water-nymphs ride sea horses in niches to the side. And scattered around the pool sea creatures, dolphins, turtles, sea serpents, etc. spout arcs of water.

An unsubstantiated rumor circulated among library staff members that when the sculptor originally unveiled the statue of the sea king, Neptune came fully equipped. But protestors insisted that a bronze fig leaf be attached to the statue in a strategic location.

Everyone knows that the Library of Congress is a center of learning, a place for high intellectual pursuits, and a forum for deep philosophical debate. So naturally one day during coffee break a discussion arose among busy employees about the truth of the Neptune rumor—was the fig leaf original, or was there something under the fig leaf?

Bets were placed and a gang of us trooped outside to the fountain to resolve the issue.

It was hard to see details of Neptune’s statue.

I’ve heard it said that a Christian needs to be ready to preach, pray or die at a moment’s notice… I had not placed a bet. The group identified me as a Christian likely to give an honest report to resolve the bets; they designated me to investigate.

I removed my shoes and socks, slipped into the fountain, waded across, climbed the granite rock Neptune sits on, and peeked under the fig leaf.

When I announced my findings, bet winners cheered and losers groaned.

Then we all trooped back inside to the Library’s basement snack bar in a laughing, happy cluster of dedicated government workers earning out tax dollars.

Over my years as a Christian, occasionally I’ve been called upon to do a number of odd acts of charity; that day at the Library of Congress was one of the weirdest.

Now, I can not think of the Library of Congress without remembering another incident that happened in that same time frame.

This incident is neither funny nor happy, but it remains horribly vivid.

In fact, off and on I for a couple of years I’ve been writing a book about the will of God. If I ever finish the manuscript, these will be my opening words on the very first page:

Please, let me tell you about one of the times when I did not do the will of God.

Back then I worked on the religion deck at the Library of Congress, one of the most extensive libraries in the world with more than 400 miles of shelving stuffed with books on every conceivable subject.

That spring I felt in love with God. Every morning I hurried to work early so I could go to my desk before anyone else arrived and in the silence of that vast religious collection I would read my Bible and pray and sometimes even sing. I was so enamored of the love of Jesus Christ that my eyes would tear up at the thought of His exquisite perfections.

I felt that, if necessary, I could gladly die for Him.

As my workday began I rushed to meet it with a bounce in my step and love in my heart as I felt the presence of God with me in the midst of everyday duties.

One day as I walked up Capital Hill on my way for my early morning tryst with Jesus, a white-haired old lady hobbled across the street in front of me struggling with two heavy suitcases. Obviously she was laboring under the strain of her burden as she made her way toward Union Station to catch a train.

Immediately I knew that I should carry those bags for her.

Don't ask me how I knew that God wanted me to help that old woman. I heard no voice. I saw no vision. She did not ask my help or even speak to me. But I felt a strong internal conviction that I should carry her bags to the train for her.

I had plenty of time before needing to be at work; it would take just a few minutes to walk to the station only a couple of blocks back the way I had just come.

But I knew that if I did it, I would miss my precious devotional time.

I knew I should do the will of God by carrying those bags.

"Lord, I'll pray for her when I get to work," I told Him.

You carry her bags, the conviction said.

"But I'll miss my devotions," I prayed.

Carry her bags.

This is not the voice of God, I reasoned. It's just a resurgence of my Boy Scout training; A Scout Is Helpful. That's a Boy Scout law not a law of God. I'm mentally conditioned to help old ladies (yes, I really said that to myself). Obviously God would not want me to skip reading the Holy Bible and praying and worshiping Him just to be a do-gooder. This old lady is a temptation not an opportunity to do God's will.

I did not carry her bags.

I walked on to the Library. I slipped behind my desk. I opened my Bible.... and my fervent devotion turned to ashes.

The words of Scripture became dull ink on gray paper.

My prayers raddled around in my mouth.

No hymn graced my lips.

No joy touched my heart.

I had clearly known what God wanted me to do...

and I chose not to do it.

This incident happened over 50 years ago, yet to this day, when I think about the will of God, a mental picture of that old woman lugging those bags pops into my mind.

Sometimes I speculate about what would have happened if I had helped her. Maybe, those suitcases were stuffed with hundred dollar bills and she would have given me a stake which I'd have invested and become richer than Bill Gates. Maybe she was a retired missionary or pastor's wife and she would have revealed some spiritual secret to me that would have guided me through my own spiritual journey. Maybe she had a great granddaughter waiting to meet her at the train and I would have met the love of my life... Maybe my kindness and witness would have resulted in this old woman's conversion just hours before she launched into eternity. Maybe...

I have no idea what would have happened if I had done the will of God.

No one ever does.

I only know that here years later I regard this incident as one of the greatest spiritual turning points of my life... and I blew it.

Now, eventually the spiritual fervor I once had returned. The words and paragraphs of Scripture made sense again. Prayers sweetened. Songs came to mind again. Worship awed me. People responded to my witness and accepted Christ as Savior.

Nevertheless, I know that I had missed something, something eternally important that I will never regain.

I had missed doing the will of God….

It may seem odd to begin a book about the will of God with a personal example of not doing His will, but. that memory is the way I want to start off the book


O, King Neptune’s anatomical status?

Far be it from me to reveal hidden secrets, but I’ll tell you how to find out.

Next time you’re in Washington, go to the Library of Congress, slip off your shoes, wade across the fountain’s pool, and take a look for yourself.

If the Capitol Hill Police or somebody from Homeland Security questions what you are doing in Neptune’s fountain, just tell them that John Cowart told you to peek under the fig leaf.

I’m sure they’ll understand.

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 @ 5:06 AM

Your comments are welcome: 4 comments

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Practical Stichomancy

While digging in the back closet for a book I wanted (books clog all our closets), I ran across a gag gift a friend gave me for Christmas a few years ago

It was a plastic Jesus action figure with flexible limbs for posing.

Seeing it struck a cord.

Once when Fred and Johnny, my two older sons from my first marriage, were little fellows, they had seen numerous tv ads pushing some army soldier action figure for little boys. Looking at the tv promotions you’d think these things came with exploding bombs, a flame-throwing tank, strafing jets, and real hand grenades.

The boys yearned for this thing. It captured their imagination and sparked dreams of battle, conquest and victory.

My first wife and I entered combat with mobs of other parents at the Toyzilla Mega-Mart and in only a couple of hours shopping we acquired two of these soldier action figures.

Christmas morning the boys unwrapped their presents.

One of the guys, I forget which one, said, “Dad, it’s only a doll”.

When I found that Jesus action figure in the closet, I remembered that incident with my older sons because so often I’ve heard things about Jesus, especially when religious meetings are being promoted, that made me expect Him to walk on water.

I’d build up my hopes and expect to see tongues of flame, showers of gold flakes falling on the congregation, souls gloriously converted, blind people walking, miracles happening, Jacksonville transformed.

But when I ‘d go to the event—It’s only a doll.

Other Christians seem to find edification in such an environment, in such circumstances.

I end up disappointed.

Oh well, I could not be disillusioned in religious meetings were I not operating under some illusion in the first place.

In my actually experience, walking with Jesus has been a quite affair. A slow daily progression of trial and error, failure and repentance, mini-deaths and mini resurrections of my soul.

Don’t get me wrong. Jesus is Lord. The mighty God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He died on the cross and rose, Prince of Life, from tomb. He lives and acts in today’s world. But in my experience, I’ve been most aware of Him in Hype-free religion.

Maybe that’s just me.

He meets each person at their own level. He does not run an assembly line. We each encounter Him at our own speed.

One of the ways I become aware of Him most often is through the Bible.

But reading the Bible often cramps my style.

Take the Friends Of The Library Book Sale this weekend.

Every year since the early 1980s Ginny and I have attended this annual sale where tens of thousands of books go on sale for one or two dollars each. The stock comes from old books culled from the public library’s collections as well as from thousands of volumes donated by anyone clearing off their own shelves. When I cull the eleven bookcases cluttering our house, I donate most of my discards to the Friend’s book sale.

When we go to the sale, we carry empty shopping bags to fill. We enter a trance-like state of coveting, materialism, book-lust, acquisitiveness, greed and glee…. Wow! Look What I Found!

It’s not unheard of for us to fill the trunk of the car (and the back seat) with new-bought used books.

I’ve looked forward to this year’s sale for months.

Yesterday, during my normal Bible reading, I ran across the phrases, “Godliness with contentment is great gain… Having food and raiment let us therewith be contend… Be content with such things as ye have”.

Struck a worrisome cord.

Be content with such books as I already have??? But Lord, what if I miss a real bargain? What if I miss filling a gap in my Florida History collection? What if there’s a Gutenberg Bible just laying on the table and nobody else sees it first?

Be content with such things as ye have.

The Lord God can be so unreasonable at times!

I’m a book person for Heaven’s sake!

Maybe I’m mis-reading the Scripture.

There’s got to be a loophole.

Can these isolated phrases from the Bible be a trustworthy guide in my practical daily life 2,000 years after they were written to some Greeks who probably didn’t even own eleven bookcases?

After all stichomancy is a pagan practice.

What? You’ve never heard of stichomancy? It’s a common enough practice among Christians. Scholars call the practice by a lot of names: sortes biblicae, sortes sanctorum, libromancy, or bibliomancy—it all essentially is the same thing.

It means the practice of divination by means of a sacred text. Most commonly in modern times it means standing a Bible on its spine, letting it fall open at random, and pointing to a verse with your eyes closed.

The idea is that the Holy Spirit will make your finger land on a text which God wants you to use to guide your life for that day or to tell you the future..

This practice uses the Bible as a voodoo fetish, crystal ball, or a rabbit-foot charm.

This practice kind of snuck into Christianity, maybe because of the high regard in which we hold God’s Word, but the practice is rooted in paganism.

Ancient Egyptians pointed to texts in their Book Of The Dead. Greeks used the poetry of Homer this same way. The Romans pointed to passages in the oracles of the Sybil. In medieval times, people used bibliomancy to detect a witch for burning.

But isn’t the Bible supposed to guide a Christian’s life?

Yes, but the Bible is not a rabbit’s foot. No magic charms or incantations here.

But can’t God use the pagan practice of stichomancy to speak to His children today?


When it comes to communicating His love and will for us God is unlimited and unscrupulous; He’s not above using things rooted in paganism to touch us today. Case in point—Christmas glitz and glitter and commercialism is about as pagan as you can get, yet it directs my thoughts to the manger, to the incarnation, to God’s coming into this world seeking to save the lost—especially me.

Pagan, smagan. Whoever said God is fair? He does what it takes.

But the stichomancy superstition doesn’t work for me.

This morning I opened my Bible at random, closed my eyes, pointed, and landed on the verse which says, “Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men”.

What am I supposed to do with that?

On the other hand, as I consistently read Scripture in order, I get a sense of the glory, character and nature of God—information which helps me fit into His plans…. And realize that in spite of everything He loves me.

That’s practical stichomancy.

Each book of the Bible was written by a specific person, at a specific time, to a specific readership, and with a specific purpose in mind. All under the breath and supervision of God’s Holy Spirit. And the Bible is a library of individual books, each originally a stand-alone volume.

Here 2,000 years later I read over their shoulders seeking the information that applies to me.

Unless, you are tracing a theme, such as women in the Bible or an overview of all the parables of Jesus, I think it’s wiser to read through individual books than to pick phrases here and there.

Do we expect God to speak only in ten-second sound bites?

We are not working magic here; we’re seeking the living Christ.

In my normal Bible reading Thursday morning, I encountered a phrase that struck my fancy; it was Daniel 11:32 which says, “The people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits”.

I thought that would be a neat verse to base my day on.

So, what happened?

First, I don’t know any more about God than I did yesterday… As for being strong, I felt so tried that I napped much of the afternoon… And my exploit for the day? Well, I made one phone call.

Does that count?

So much for stichomancy…

“Be content with such things as ye have”.

Ok, the Bible is not a magic charm… but do you suppose God could be dropping me a hint about buying any more books?

Maybe He wants me to clean out the back closet instead.

Oh well, The Lord makes sure we know what to do when time comes to do it.

The Lord is my Shepherd

He leadeth 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 @ 4:21 AM

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Friday, March 06, 2009

A Man For One Season

Thursday I continued transcribing for eventual publication all those hand-written diaries of Barbara White’s. Their dates range from May, 1976, through 2003. My typing of the things now approaches December of 1981.

They tell me adversity is good for my soul.

They lie.

Anyhow, the last entry I transcribed speaks to my condition.

On November 26, 1981, Barbara wrote:

There is a seasonal nature in Christian experience…There is no instant maturity. Time either works for us or against us. If it rains on you and you never bring forth fruit, you haven’t used your time right.

Spring—All Christian life begins in the Spring. That’s the time for multiplication of the seed, blossoms, bees.

Summer—Summer is when the Lord puts the heat on—and sends the rain. It’s a time of growth and maturity. Vines don’t bear fruit unless there is first a Summer.

Fall—Fall is the harvest time. Thanksgiving. In-gathering. God collects fruit.

In Fall, get all you can, then can all you get.

Winter—The winter experience prepares for Spring. What happens to fruit in Winter? Don’t panic. Spring is coming. Every child of God has seasons of Winter. Rest in God and prepare your tools for Spring. Fruit bearing in Winter is unusual—and probably plastic.

Every tree of God is an evergreen. No dried up shriveled up trees.

God never demands fruit out of season.

In Winter, the accuser attacks us asking, “Where is your fruit? ”. The accuser accuses us of spiritual laziness, being barren, unprofitable. He questions, “Why is not God doing something?’

My job is to cooperate with God in all my seasons.

By Barbara’s criteria, I’m a man of one season.

Winter hell!

I’m a walking, talking spiritual Ice Age.

A one-man glacier.

But, I’m not alone.

Wednesday Business Week magazine released a list of the ten unhappiest cities in the United States; their survey looked at divorce, crime, unemployment, depression, suicide, and cloudy days to determine which cities were not very happy.

Jacksonville ranks number six on that list.

Broken down in sections, the Business Week survey says Jacksonville is #2 in depression, #23 in crime, and #9 in suicides. One high point—the survey lists Jacksonville as #144 in cloudy days….

Bunch of damn yankees! If that’s what you think of us, stay home. Why do droves of you move here—maybe that’s what makes the rest of us so miserable.

Hey, we icemen deserve a rant now and then.

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 @ 4:40 AM

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Today’s Posting Is Brought To You By The Number Five, Wal-Mart, And Smith & Wesson

Yesterday I wasted too many hours trying to understand a passage of Scripture that has nothing to do with me.

Sometimes I get on one of these kicks, chasing intellectual rabbits instead of paying attention to work or my own clear-cut duties.

While chasing rabbits is fun, neither the kingdom of God on earth nor my own happiness depends on my understanding everything mentioned in the Bible.

I refer to the book of Numbers, Chapter 5, verses 11-32, in which a jealous husband could take his suspected wife to the Tabernacle where the priest would write a terrible curse on a parchment.

He’d wash the ink off the page, mix the inky water with dirt off the floor, have the accused woman drink it, and if she were guilty her belly would swell and her thigh rot. But, if she were innocent, nothing would happen.

Is this really in the Bible?

Sounds like a voodoo ritual to me.

While the law allowed for this ritual, there is no record in the Bible of anybody actually doing it.

Commentators say this ritual was instituted to protect women from abuse by jealous husbands. In other places, the law stipulated that an proven adulterous couple could be stoned to death, both the male and the female.

In the New Testament, when a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought before Jesus and the crowd wanted to stone her, He said, “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone” and the once indignant crowd melted away without anybody throwing anything. And Jesus told the woman, “Go and sin no more”.

Numbers Five makes no sense to me.

It sounds like some sort of magic charm.

It just doesn’t fit the overall tone of Scripture.

And my Bible study tools aren’t any help at all; they just leave me more confused.

I’d happened to read Numbers Five in the course of my normal morning Bible reading yesterday. When I read that strange passage, it sparked a memory of what I’d read in this newspaper article from Sunday’s paper:

A News Services article in the “World Briefs” section on page A-8 in the March 1st Florida Times-Union reports:

Chechnya: President Defends Women’s Deaths

GROZNY—The bull-necked president of Chechnya emerged from afternoon prayers at the mosque and explained why seven young women who had been shot in the head deserved to die.

Ramzan Kadyrov said the women, whose bodies were found dumped by the roadside, had “loose morals” and were rightfully shot by male relatives in honor killings.

He is carrying out a campaign to impose Islamic values and strengthen the traditional customs of predominantly Muslim Chechnya, to blunt the appeal of hardline Islamic separatist and shore up his power.

Then, last night’s tv news reported this news item from right here in Florida:

HOMESTEAD, FLA. - Police are investigating after a woman was injured during a shooting at a Wal-mart super center in Homestead, police said.

Homestead police said the incident happened at the garden center section of the store at 33501 S. Dixie Highway. Police said the victim was an employee at the store and the suspected shooter was her boyfriend.

Police said the man shot the woman several times and she was transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital by air rescue.

Google news says a similar shooting incident involving an estranged couple happened Monday at another Wal-Mart in Arizona.

My impression is that in modern times, all too many workplace shootings involve estranged couples when the jealous one takes a gun to settle volatile emotional matters.

In the light of what’s happening today in Muslim lands, in Wal-Marts, and in workplaces all over, maybe the Mosaic Law’s provision to settle domestic tensions with a washed-away curse and dirt off the tabernacle floor—maybe that odd ritual makes more sense than I first thought.

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 @ 5:47 AM

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Transcribing On The Cutting Edge

Reading that young girl’s 1942 diary Monday, reminded me of how remiss I’ve been in transcribing all those diary notebooks Barbara White entrusted to me for eventual publication. So Tuesday I typed another few pages into the computer.

Understand please, that I do not actually know how to type—a strange confession for a writer, but I never learned how. And I’ve only been a free-lance writer for 30+ years.

To change Barbara’s handwritten text into computerease, I follow the lines of her hand-written text with the forefinger of my left hand, and punch computer keys with the forefinger of my right hand.

That’s the way it works as I straddle the cutting edge of high-tech electronic communications.


God made a serious mistake in judgment in laying this task on my heart. Had He known what He was doing, He’d at least have picked someone who knows how to type.

And I dare not outsource the task. The last time I let someone else take off manuscript pages to transcribe for me, the irreplaceable pages ended up in a dumpster. That experience spooked me. I’m leery; it makes me think I’m the only person who can be trusted with one-of-a-kind autograph pages.

Or maybe I’m just a control freak.

Whatever. The task is worth doing. Here is a section of text I transcribed yesterday:

August 6, 1981: I am walking through a shadowed valley and it is sometimes hard for me to see very clearly when the shadows are so dense. But this morning, He sent a ray of light.

Somewhere I read that God does not have a planned end for us, just a planned going—and for some reason I took that to mean He only cares about the kind of person we are—not the things like our jobs and so forth.

And I am so mixed and uncertain about work/job. But He does not ignore anything in our lives.

Who—and Whose—I am is more important than what I do to earn money, but He knows and cares about it all.

Nothing is too small for His concern.

And He loves 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 @ 4:11 AM

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Fun Hodgepodge

Sunday’s Florida Times-Union newspaper ran this notice about our friend Barbara White’s books:

Familiar Voice

For 15 years, award-winning Florida Times-Union religion editor Barbara White, now retired, wrote a weekly T-U column profiling her personal spiritual journey. Thousands of readers followed her accounts drawing inspiration and encouragement from her popular Along The Way column.

Recently, Jacksonville’s Bluefish Books collected the best of these columns for a series of four Along The Way books.

“I write about trying to life the Christian life and failing and trying again,” White said, “God loves us just as we are—and too much to let us stay that way”.

Her first Along The Way book is available at www.bluefishbooks.info .

Ginny and I have known Barbara for about 30 years; all I can say is that she lives what she writes. I wish Barbara’s books circulated more. They carry the potential of becoming spiritual classics.

Monday my friend Wes treated me to breakfast at Dave’s Diner where we discussed the process of formatting the Pentateuch as advanced by proponents of Wellhausen’s documentary hypothesis. Wes denounced the presuppositions and conclusions of these critics, while I applauded their initial observations.

In the midst of this highfalutin theological discussion, we laughed like crazy over the waitress’ Midol joke (which need not be repeated here). The three of us laughed so hard that other customers stared and the cook came out of his kitchen to see what was so funny. That made us laugh harder.

Once Wes and I arrived back at my house and got our pipes stoked with fine tobacco, we talked about unemployment, foreclosures, financial crisis, bankruptcy, Depression, bailouts and taxes.

Then, our conversation turned serious:

Recently a young pastor from out of town called Wes asking advice about dealing with an adolescent in his flock who is tormented by a poltergeist.

The unclean spirit has manifested itself in visions of a black hand, by physical fires, and by throwing heavy objects.

Wes has previous experience confronting demons; I have none.

Wes traveled out of town to consult the pastor. He advised first eliminating natural phenomena, such as emotional, mental or physical illness, attention seeking, or outright fakery, before looking at occult influences.

Wes says we face two equally mistaken attitudes when it comes to unclean spirits: first, we tend to ignore or disbelieve their existence; or secondly, we tend to nurse an unhealthy interest in them. Either attitude is counterproductive to life and godliness.

I’m glad of this reminder. I tend to think I fight a lone battle by myself against circumstances without a spiritual dimension. I forget that St Paul said, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”.

On a happier note:

Wes brought me a typescript diary which a young Jacksonville woman wrote in 1942, the first year of World War II.

After Wes left, I read the whole text in one sitting. Fascinating! Filled with zest and breathless energy, innocence, and curiosity.

What a delight!

She was 17 and a college freshman when she wrote:

“This morning I did the most awful thing that I have ever done—I’m still mortified to death & I still don’t see how I managed to let it happen!

Something happened to my sense of time ‘cause at 10:10 I heard Tish coming up from her 9:00 class & realized that I should have been in English class at 10:00! You should have seen me dash! I got there 15 minutes late… That’s no way to act!”

On July 12, 1942, she describes her first-ever kiss:

“Charlie kissed me tonite for the first time! I mean, on my lips. I got all kinds of tingles all over me & I almost felt like crying! It was awful & wonderful & everything all at the same time. I had really not intended to let him do it ‘til the end of the summer, but I just could not hold out any longer”.

She and Charlie married and lived together for, I believe, over 50 years.

I knew them as an elderly couple; she survived him by a few years before her own death. I wish I’d known them young.

Last night, as Ginny and I were praying after dinner, the telephone right beside us rang. So we put God on hold while I answered the incoming call.

The young lady on the phone said she’d called to let me know that she’d read my March 1st posting (about the chicken-headed potholders) on her computer at work and started laughing. A coworker came up to read over her shoulder and started laughing too. Soon five ladies clustered around the computer to laugh at me and those potholders.

That news gave me such a lift. So often I feel as though no one reads my stuff and I’m just typing on air. I wonder why I bother writing. It makes me happy to know that there are a few readers out there.

After I hung up the phone, Ginny and I resumed praying—the Lord God was still on the line waiting patiently for us.

He always is.

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 @ 9:39 AM

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Silly Saturday

A hunt for missing potholders, the ones with chicken heads, started the silliness.

Someone in this house (I refrain from naming names) in a deep-seated commitment to sharing in household chores, cleaned the kitchen back in October or November.

Yesterday that person’s wife began looking for her chicken-headed pot holders—not in the potholder tray, not in the linen closet, not in any kitchen drawers, not in a cupboard.

Where could they be?

I could not remember.

I know they were there. Now, they’re not.

Someone may have moved them someplace else.

I encouraged her to use the lobster pot holders, or the ones with snowmen; but that woman insisted on finding the chicken ones.

Now, a year or two ago our dishwashing machine broke down. We’ve never repaired it—too expensive and with only two of us in the house, it’s just as easy to wash dishes by hand.

That wife knowing the way the other person’s brain sometimes works (or doesn’t) said, “I’d better check the dishwasher”..

There she discovered two cutting boards which had gone missing, a tall pillar candle in a glass holder, her two chicken-headed pot holders, and a Christmas present I’d hidden but forgotten.

Ginny will tease me about that forgotten cache till Judgment Day.

Hey, when I clean the kitchen, I clean the kitchen.

That incident started us on a day of silliness. Like two pre-teen school kids we laughed over inane jokes which would make no sense to anyone else. They were only funny because we were telling them to eachother. We caught a bright emerald grasshopper in the garden and talked about him for 20 minutes; great fun, but we really need to get out more.

Just having fun together for no other reason than we were together.

In the afternoon, after a trip to the library, I discovered something I’ve never known before about this mysterious woman I’ve been married to for 40 years.

As we waited for our lunch to arrive in the restaurant, Ginny scanned some printed pages from her purse. When I asked, she explained that the pages were her four-page checklist of Agatha Christie mystery novels. Ginny said one of her life goals is to read every novel Agatha Christie ever wrote—all 80+ of them as well as over 160 short stories. Ginny has checked off as read about half her Christie reading list.

I never before knew that reading those was one of Ginny’s goals.

Wonder what else she intends?

I’ve never read an Agatha Christie novel. But, I once fell asleep during a Masterpiece Theatre showing of a Miss. Jane Marple mystery; does that count?

It’s good that Ginny and I have so much in common.

But, alas, a dark cloud arises on our horizon:

The taskmaster at Ginny’s office has dispatched her to an out-of-town convention later this month. She tried to get out of it, but can’t because the office considers her indispensable for all activities--except a pay raise.

This will be the first time in about 30 years we’ve been separated overnight.

We both find the prospect traumatic.

We like being together.

We have fun.

No possibility of my going with her, so being a dirty-minded old man I immediately envisioned what might happen—I’ve heard tales about beautiful women at out-of-town conventions.

Hey, even after 40 years of marriage, she’s still a babe.

Remember Tailhook?

I told her to be sure to take her pepper-spray to fend off admirers, the horny cads.

Being a Christian husband at peace with the Lord and serenely confident of His daily protection, I also entertained visions of traffic accidents, plane crashes, hotel fires, and even a nuclear attack on one city or the other while she’s gone. I believe you can never be too paranoid

No problem in any of these scenarios.

If we both survive we have a pre-designated contact point in another place.

If only one survives, the other will grieve but carry on.

If neither of us survives, we’ll meet before the throne of God—where she will tell all the assembled saints from time and eternity about me and the stuff in the dishwasher.

That’s ok.

While she’s out of town, I plan to clean the kitchen again.

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 @ 12:18 PM

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