Rabid Fun

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

Monday, June 29, 2009

Chain Shot

Back in the days of fighting sail, fighters would weld a length of chain between two cannonballs.

When fired from the cannon barrel, the two balls stretched the chain between them and whirled through the air; the two balls circled round each other, gaining force and speed.

When chain shot hit the enemy ship, it scythed down everything—masts, rigging and men.

Vicious, lethal stuff.

To my mind, depression and frustration circle together like chain shot, each feeding the momentum and strength of the other.

I feel as though I’ve been under such an attack recently.

Hardly any fun at all.

I’d like to attribute my state to just aging, I’m a few days short of 70, but, let’s face it, I’ve been subject to cycles of depression all my life. It’s just a thing I deal with—with varying degrees of success. Or failure.

Some folks mellow as they age; others sour.

I curdle.

But, mellowed, soured or curdled, I’m still here and by the grace of God, kicking.

Thanks to the efforts of Donald, Helen, Ginny and the telephone guy, my computer is back to working; it was down since Monday night. Of course I called at&t (we put the cuss in customer service). I went through their recorded voice phone tree, waited for ages to speak to a real person (who spoke little English) and…

Chain Shot!

For the first time in my life that I can ever remember, I hung up the phone on someone who was still speaking! Hey, as part of my southern upbringing, I’m even courteous to telephone solicitors.

But like chain shot, frustration and depression cut right through my manners.

I told Donald to rip out the whole computer system and haul it off!

A few days later, he called at&t and eventually got a repairman dispatched on Sunday… so my computer is back working so that I can continue to spread light and joy to all readers throughout the world.

On the good side, my current fit of depression began to lift last Friday as I mowed the grass—for me, physical work often helps depression better than prayer times (which I turn into mope sessions). Better yet is to pray while engaged in physical work.

While the computer was down, I continued to write in my journal and at the end of this post, I’ll copy last Wednesday’s diary entry… the chronology of this post warps around several days.

Back to Friday as I did yard work… I must be the only person in Jacksonville who did not see it!

The Saint Johns River flows north, one of the few rivers in the world, like the Nile, to do so. In Jacksonville the river curves to the northeast as it bisects the city into neat halves.

Right at 5 p.m. Friday as everyone left work, a tornado touched down in the river in downtown Jacksonville. Everybody with a cell phone camera snapped photos of the resulting water spout; here are two photos from the Times-Union newspaper:

By the grace of God, the whirlwind stayed midriver. Had it moved a few hundred yards to either bank, it would have devastated downtown Jacksonville and caught thousands of commuters in the open. I hear it stayed in the river for over ten minutes.

As it happened, there were no people injured and hardly any property damage—although drivers caught on any of Jacksonville’s seven bridges did get a thrill.

Now, although this happened just blocks from my house, I had my head down pushing the lawnmower and I never even heard the tornado—didn’t know a thing about it till Saturday morning.

If I did hear an odd noise… I probably wrote the roar off as just more chain shot passing overhead.

Oh, here’s that pity party diary entry from last week:

Me Feeling Sorry For Me

Somewhere in the Book Of Common Prayer occurs the phrase “Miserable Offenders”. I identify with that phrase.

While other Christians of my acquaintance talk about feeling happy, joyous, and prosperous, my own experience tends more toward Christian misery.

I don’t know if this is an accurate perception or merely a quirk of my own psyche, some imbalance of chemicals in my brain, some morose hereditary defect, some buried childhood experience, some vile sin—or it my own spiritual/mental state reflects reality.

Or maybe I just overreact to external circumstances.

More likely than any of the above, maybe I’m just a bitter, grouchy old bastard given to whining and bemoaning my state.

So, when in misery, I turn to devotions and Scripture hoping to see some glimmer of light. That’s what’s supposed to work for other Christians. Again and again I’ve heard others gush about the promises of God and the comfort of bible reading.

Good for them.

Feeling low yesterday I turned to devotions:

Nineteenth Century revivalist Charles Finney wrote, “If we do not enjoy the service of God, it is because we do not truly serve Him… Always remember that whenever you lose your enjoyment of serving God, you may know you are not serving Him right”.


Isn’t that a comfort?

I turned to another devotional book to find that the reading for today deals with the sin of impatience. … Impatience? Who me? After all I’ve been hounding Donald for six months to fix whatever computer glitch has been blocking me from my website… And he came over tonight to fix it and now I have no internet access at all.

My internet was down for eleven days last month, and now it’s gone again. So yesterday I called AT&T Fast Access to be told by some girl in some foreign country who does not speak much English that the company will not send our a service man because I have the wrong equipment. The line repairman says the fault is in the DSL system; the DSL repairman says it’s in the phone lines.

Bottom line: I have no internet again.

A pox on all their houses.

Impatient? Who me?

Anyhow, I turned to the Holy Bible and my scheduled reading takes me to that place where God tells King David that he’s not qualified to build the temple but that he’s welcome to gather materials so one of his descendants can build it.

Ever wonder why I hate having devotions?

Why am I writing this stuff? If I want to win readers to Christ, shouldn’t I be upbeat and positive?

Well, maybe so. But I think Christ places a certain value on honesty. And this is where I am in my spiritual life right now. I may not be right, but I try to be real.

To me it seems that for decades I’ve been molding bricks without straw and I’m really tired of it.

I feel the game’s not worth the candle and I’m ready to cash in my chips. If I was working a job, I’d retire. I feel as though I’ve worked and worked as hard as I can and ended up with nothing to show for it. I’m just weary to the bone. Gone down in utter defeat.

And it’s not that I don’t believe there is a resurrection, it’s that I just don’t care.

What about my writing?

Who cares.

Again and again over the years, editors and readers have told me that I’m a good writer—so long as they can use my stuff for free. Hardly anyone anywhere thinks I’m a good enough writer to pay for anything I write. Were it not for Ginny’s working at a real job, we’d starve. My work has no value.

I’ve heard it said that if you are doing something and it doesn’t help you, then you can stop doing it and it won’t hurt you.

I feel as though I’ve pissed away my whole life fiddling around with things that are not quite right, that I’ve taken up space and wasted time.

But, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, and all that crap.

That’s what I hear anyhow.

Somehow I’ve missed out on that part of the Christian life. The fact that I’ve missed out does not make Christianity any less real. It just means that I miss out on that element in it.

Maybe I’m just a trifle down today.

Maybe I should read Ecclesiastes to cheer up.

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 @ 4:15 AM

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

New Shirts & Old Doldrums

Back in February some idiot gave away all my shirts.

Well, not all….

Since my normal working attire, like all successful writers, consists of swimming trunks and tee shirt, my closet abounds with those.

But real shirts, the kind with collars and buttons, they are all gone because I donated slews of them to a mission for the poor.

Well, not all…

Some of my more formal “real” shirts proved too shabby to give to the poor. Being a clumsy pipe smoker, I managed to burn holes in many of my better shirts, so those ended up in the rag bag. Or I kept those to keep wearing myself; they are still perfectly good.

However the shirts that shrank too much to button around my middle (they must have shrunk bad because I haven’t gained that much weight—have I?)

Anyhow, I gave a bundle of shirts to the poor.

Poor poor. They must be in dire straights to wear something I’d discard.

Thus, in February I ended up with four “real” shirts left in my closet.


I figured four shirts is plenty for my wardrobe.

Who wears more than one shirt at a time?

Thing is, that was back when the weather was cool; it never occurred to me that the weather might change… Several days this past week the heat index rose to 105 degrees and I sweat like a pig.

No longer can I wear a shirt more than once before it needs laundering… So yesterday morning I looked in my closet to find that I only have one single wearable shirt left.

Some idiot gave away all my real shirts.

Ginny first laughed at my dilemma, then she drove me to the store and bought me an armload of new “real” shirts. She’d prefer I not burn holes in them.

Once again my closet runneth over.

I am fashionable.

Recently I have also been apathetic.

Back in the days of clipper ships when movement through the ocean depended on wind currents, sailors sometimes reached places where there were no wind currents; they called these mid-ocean spots the Doldrums.

My dictionary defines the Doldrums as “A part of the ocean near the equator, abounding in calms, squalls, and light, baffling winds, which sometimes prevent all progress for weeks; -- so called by sailors; the state of boredom, malaise, apathy or lack of interest; a state of listlessness ennui, or tedium”.

That describes my life the past week or two perfectly.

The old time sailors tried two tricks to get out of the Doldrums: They’d haul buckets of sea water to the top of the masts and wet down the sails hoping that the wet canvas would catch the slightest breeze. Or, they try a bit of sympathetic magic by whistling up the wind; by standing the youngest crewmen on deck and making them whistle tunes at the flat drooping sails, they’d hope to trick the wind into blowing also.

My way of wetting my sails and whistling up the wind has been by reading continually the past couple of weeks hoping to generate some spark of enthusiasm in myself.

I’ve read six or eight of Sally Spenser’s Detective Charlie Woodend novels—I’ve been devouring these things. Love ‘em!

And I’ve re-read some of Donald E. Westlake’s John Dortmunder tales of this master criminal for whom everything goes wrong—Hot Rock, What’s The Worst That Could Happen, Drowned Hopes, etc.

Since I’m stymied in my own work by computer problems I can’t solve without help (And Donald is tied up in real life) I’m whistling up the wind by reading the fine work of other writers.

I have not posted much in my diary recently because the most significant thing to impress me recently was phone news of the friend of a friend of a friend’s husband and a messy suicide, and I have not felt comfortable writing about this tragedy in the life of near-strangers—although the incident drove me to the library to read a copy of Alan Emmins’s book Mop Men: Inside The World Of Crime Scene Cleaners—a book not for the squeamish.

So, essentially I’ve been doing nothing but floating in tepid waters recently, no mighty rushing wind of the Spirit (haven’t even cracked open my Bible in a week), no refreshing breeze from on high.

I’ve just been laying up reading novels.

But now I can do that in my new “real” shirts.

The weather may be hot, but now I look so cool!

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 @ 6:15 AM

Your comments are welcome: 3 comments

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nobody Is Pissed At Me

Sunday, Ginny went over to help our friend Barbara shower and dress in fresh clothes.

Some other friend of Barbara’s bought her a new robe.

Barbara feels the prescriptions related to her first chemotherapy treatment are the thing making her so weak and wobbly.

Yet in the midst of her pain, weakness and illness, Barbara remains gracious.

While Ginny helped Barbara bathe and dress, I sat outside on the patio smoking my pipe, fielding phone calls and watching a raccoon on the roof of the apartment across the garden.

And I thought about how things would be if I were a patient.

I doubt that I would be a patient patient.

Yes, I’d be on that nurse call buzzer like a teen playing Froger in a video arcade.

And the ghost of Florence Nightingale, herself would finally stomp down the hall in exasperation to press a pillow over my face to shut off my incessant whining and demands.

As I watched that raccoon, I thought about getting old and needing help to dress, and about Saint Peter….

Shortly after Jesus rose from the dead, He was talking with Peter—you know, the If you love Me, feed My sheep conversation—when Peter got to worrying about what one of the other disciples was doing.

Peter, seeing the other disciple asked Jesus, “Lord, what shall this man do”?

Peter’s nosiness seems typical of Christians ever since; we spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about what other people are doing – or not doing.

We are born busybodies, meddling in other people’s affairs.

We call it witnessing.

The Lord’s reply to Peter applies to the rest of us as well when we get concerned about what other people are doing; Jesus said, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me”.

Not one word in the Bible tells me how somebody else ought to treat me.

It only tells me how I ought to treat them.

The commandment is not They Shalt Not Steal—it’s You, John Cowart, Shalt Not Steal.

Nothing at all about what somebody else ought to do.

Following Christ is an individual matter, not a spectator sport. Yes, there is some place for corporate, group worship, but I fear we confuse individual responsibility to God with collective bargaining.

Were you or I stranded on a desert island, not another soul in sight, altogether alone in the wide ocean, your role as a Christian is no different than if you stand in the middle of Times Square—to worship and serve our Creator.

When we focus on others, we say, “Lord, look what that guy’s doing”.

And the response comes, “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me”.

In fact, in this section of Scripture, Jesus emphasized individual following.

He said to Peter, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not”. … And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, “Follow me”.

When you’re young you can dress yourself, go where you want, do what you please—you are capable of doing acts of charity and kindness for others.

But when you get old, you stretch out your arms so somebody else can help put your clothes on—you become an object of charity.

This galls.

I think it would drive me nuts!

I want to be the one giving charity, not receiving it.

I want the active ministry, not the passive one.

I resist changes in my self-defined role as a Christian. I get comfortable in my role, I adjust my life to one way of being Christian, and when God calls me to another, I balk.

I define what I’m willing to do for Christ and how I intend to do it. I want to call the shots. To tell God just how He is to be served.

While I say I’m a follower of Jesus, I want to lead Him around by the nose.

I see what this man and that man is doing, and from my high vantage point of superior righteousness, I want to control their actions…

But Jesus says, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me”.

What is that to thee?

Follow thou Me.

After we left Barbara’s. Ginny and I drove back by a different route; she driving, me navigating.

There was some confusion about directions. Actually, there was a lot of confusions about directions. She thought we were driving to one place; I was giving her directions to another.

Eventually we ended up at Dave’s Diner which was crowded with folks enjoying lunch.

The place buzzed with conversations. The staff scurried here and there serving customers.

Gin and I landed in a corner booth near the radio which was turned up so folks far off could hear the music.

Since things seemed a bit testy between us I asked Gin, “Are you pissed at me”?

She muttered something I couldn’t hear.

I asked again.

Again she said something, but the radio and the conversations around the room drowned out her words.

I asked again… right that moment there was one of those silent dead spaces in dozens of conversation around the restaurant as Ginny shouted, “NO!”

Everybody looked at us.

Right then, the whole restaurant staff, Nichole, Billy, Robin, Chris—all turned toward our booth and shouted, “No, John!”

I yelled back at them, “Do you know what I’d asked her?... I asked her is she were pissed at me”.

The whole lunch crowd broke up laughing.

For the whole rest of the time we were there, people, even strangers, going up to the cash register would pass our table and say, “No, John”.

It’s good to know that nobody is pissed at 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 @ 5:57 AM

Your comments are welcome: 3 comments

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Thinking About The Musk Ox

The ox knoweth his Owner; and the ass his Master’s crib… Isaiah 1:3

A typical full grown musk ox can weigh over 400 pounds; a big bull can weigh close to 800.

At dawn yesterday our friend Barbara White suffered a nasty fall.

Earlier in the week she’d undergone her first cancer chemotherapy treatment.

Barbara pulled the emergency cord. A staff member at the old folks home got her up off the bathroom floor and back into her bed.

During warm summers, musk oxen live near rivers or marshy areas where they feed on grass or ground reeds; in winter, musk ox dig through snow to find buried food.

Frightened, bruised, hurting, with cuts on her knees, Barbara called Ginny. Since Ginny was not wearing her hearing aids, she handed the phone to me. Barbara said she was scared and asked if my daughter-in-law, Helen, could come over to assist her.

I called Helen, who had to work, but she told my son, Donald, who offered to drive our daughter, Jennifer, a nurse, over to see about Barbara. Donald and Helen’s daughter Maggie had taken the car and drove off with her mother’s cell phone inside.

Ginny and I relayed calls.

Musk oxen are considered to be social animals; they normally live in herds of between ten and twenty; but sometimes as many as 400 gather in one group.

Ginny and I considered going to see about Barbara ourselves but since we have trouble driving on expressways, it takes us almost two hours to make the trip to Barbara’s (Have I ever mentioned that Jacksonville is the largest city in the United States as far as land area is concerned? The city encompasses over 900 square miles and Barbara’s home is at the opposite end of the city from ours).

Who do we know that lives closer?

Randy and Lisa.

A phone call wakes them and Lisa “half-way” showers and leaves her home immediately. I tease her about being an unclean, dirty woman. Over the phone she sticks her tongue out at me.

Donald calls having made arrangement for Jennifer to go over later in the week.

Ginny and I plan logistics about how we can best fit in for hands-on help. I could go over; I ‘ve worked as a care-giver and know how to do what needs to be done, but the nature of Barbara’s problems and her natural modesty leads her to feel she’d be more comfortable with another woman’s assistance.

Lisa arrives and does what needs to be done.

Helen goes over after her work and Lisa goes back home.

The Latin name for Musk Ox is Ovbios Moschatus; biologically the animals are more closely related to goats than to oxen.

Then Randy, Lisa’s husband called me asking directions to Barbara’s house because Lisa was having him deliver some Agatha Christy Miss Marple dvd discs for Barbara to watch.

So, when our friend Barbara fell and had need, Ginny and Helen and Lisa and Donald and Jennifer and Randy—all jumped to help. Not one of these people attends the same church Barbara does, in fact, they all go to different churches from each other. People from Barbara’s own church will look in her today.

Jesus once said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them”.

Funny thing about musk oxen… when wolves attack, when one of the herd falls ill, when calves are threatened—the whole herd forms a circle around the endangered one. Shoulder to shoulder they press together in a formidable stationary ring, heads lowered, sharp horns pointed outward, ready to defend the endangered one.

As I sat around smoking my pipe and fielding phone calls and doing chores that kept me close to the phone, I thought a lot about what was going on.

On one level, the lot of us are responding to herd instinct. Like dumb oxen we circle when one of ours is in trouble. We too are social animals.

Besides, we all love to be drama queens, a phone call at dawn, emergency response, fluttering around, being useful, feeling important—powerful ego strokes.

Wow! They could make a tv docudrama out of such material. Brad Pitt could play the part of me…

Or maybe not.

And besides, were I not manning the phones, I’d have to be out mowing the grass. What fun is that?

Yes, even musk ox must get a charge out of staving off the wolf pack.

Makes the ox feel empowered and in control.

Heady stuff.

But on another level, I think a different dynamic also works.

As Jesus also said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”.

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 @ 5:55 AM

Your comments are welcome: 2 comments

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hush Please… Librarian at work.

Librarians lead a hushed existence, quiet, low stress, serene, pressure free.

They check books out to patrons. They help little blue-haired old ladies find another Agatha Christie mystery. They read Make Way For Ducklings to gaggles of silent, enthralled kiddies. They watch over old men dozing over Dickens. They help with homework. They solve problems. They research. They read.

Librarians live in a bubble of tranquility—unless, of course, they have grown children.

I refrain from naming names, but I assure you I’m not making this up.

I couldn’t.

It’s too bizarre.

Yesterday after my appointment with Dr. Oz, my oncologist, who says my PSA is 10+ now, Ginny and I met our daughter Eve for lunch

Eve works as a librarian.

Friday one of Eve’s co-librarians—let’s just call her Library Mama—showed up at work looking weary. Eve asked about her friend and Library Mama told about a 3 a.m. phone call.

Library Mama is a refined lady with exquisite taste (she buys my books and says she’s my Number One Fan). Once she gave me a beautiful antique edition of Pilgrim’s Progress. She’s nice. She looks much too young to have grown children, but she does have a daughter in her 20s.

At 3 a.m. Library Mama’s phone rings—never a good sign when you have a daughter still out on a date.

Frantic daughter calling on her cell phone.

Angry people yelling profanity in the background.

Loud bangs.



Daughter says she’s under attack by… Strippers.

Yes, Strippers.

Daughter says she was driving three guys home. Gets to one guy’s house. He gets out of her car.

A woman bangs open the door of the house screaming abuse. She’s wearing … well, a traditional stripper costume. Five or six other strippers join the first one yelling at Library Mama’s daughter. Apparently the strippers had been performing at a party (maybe a sleepover) at the guy’s house. I don’t know, maybe they were roommates living there.

Anyhow, they’d stayed up late waiting for this guy to get home.

Angry shouts as the strippers pour down the steps. They pound on the car’s roof with their fists.

Shrieking, scantily clad women began throwing things.

Daughter naturally calls her mother on the cell phone.

“Mama, they’re attacking me. What should I do”?

Strippers with long, scratching fingernails try to pry the car door open.

One stripper dashes back into the house and comes back with—you guessed it—A SWORD!

She slashes the car, denting the metal, cracking the glass of the front windshield, trying to slash the tires.

“It was like Red Sonja on the rampage,” Eve said.

Somebody in the neighborhood called the cops. Upset daughter, still holding the cell phone so Library Mama can hear it all, starts yelling at the cop. The cop threatens to arrest her for abusing a police officer.

Stripers claim one of the guys in the back seat was a dearly-loved boyfriend and they thought Library Mama’s daughter was trying to steal his innocent heart away.

She said she was just giving the guy a ride home.

Buses don’t run that late.

Cops confiscated the sword. They separated the various factions. They sent the three guys away. They sent the strippers back to bed. They sent the daughter home to Mama.

No one was injured.

No one was arrested.

Peace again reigned.

Friday morning the battered car sits in Library Mama’s drive, gnash marks across the hood, dents in the roof, gouges in the door, cracked glass from a sword slash across the windshield.

All again is calm in the librarian’s house as daughter sleeps late abed.

And Library Mama goes in to her daily work.

And in the tranquil library yesterday, Eve watched as her friend Library Mama puzzled over how to fill out the insurance company incident report so she can get her car repaired.

Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info
posted by John Cowart @ 5:57 AM

Your comments are welcome: 1 comments

Friday, June 12, 2009

I’d Forgotten An Unforgettable Night

Yesterday’s LA Times reported that a young lady who performs in porno films has tested positive for HIV/AIDS. That newspaper article can be found at http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-porn-hiv11-2009jun11,0,2783528.story

Yesterday also, the World Health Organization upgraded Swine Flu to a Level Six Pandemic, the highest alert stage. While the words pandemic and epidemic appear to be used interchangeably, pandemic refers to the world-wide spread of the disease, it’s now in 74 countries; whereas epidemic refers to the severity and thus far Swine Flu appears to be comparatively mild—unless, of course, you are the one who has it.

Yesterday also, as I sorted old papers from storage boxes, I ran across a pamphlet that triggered an odd memory about a time of family devotions 20 years ago which related to the above two news items..

According to Dr. Sharon Mitchell, head of the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM), an organization and clinic which sort of monitors medical ethics in the porn business, people performing in sex films are tested for sexually transmitted diseases every 30 days. When cases turn up, "What we do is just handle everything privately unless there's a widespread problem," she said.

In an Associated Press article—at http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_12572220?source=most_viewed —AIM administrator, Brooke Hunter said, "This is really not a major event," adding that the infected actress had worked "very infrequently."

I imagine the young lady who tested positive and the men and women who performed with her do regard this as a major event.

God bless ‘em. They must be frightened to death.

My reading these articles on Google News coincided with my finding that 20-year-old pamphlet as I sifted through boxes of old papers in my current clean-up campaign.

In 1988, Dr. C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General of the United States, mailed an eight-page pamphlet titled Understanding AIDS to every home in the country.

It has long been our family custom to have a time of devotion after supper each night before anyone got up from the table.

Usually, our devotions consisted of a reading a brief Bible passage and prayer.

But we occasionally varied from that standard by having a hymn-hum—no words just humming. Or a joke night where everybody got to tell a joke. On Saturdays devotions consisted of watching the Muppet Show on tv after Donald once observed, “No sense praying tonight because God is watching the Muppets”.

Sometimes we heard missionary reports and sometimes we used devotions to play High And Low—in which each person tells the high point of his week and the low point. Or we had an Ask-Me-Anything night, during which I fielded any and all questions with my most common answer, “I don’t have any idea”.

Then, of course, even today our grown kids tease me about TWO-SHEET NIGHT in which I gathered everyone into the bathroom for a lecture on the use and conservation of toilet paper and how to shower—we all packed, fully clothed, into the shower stall and I turned on the water while expounding on soap conservation!

Our poor kids grew up in this fanatical repressive religious household.

Scared ‘em for life.

I hope.

Anyhow, back in 1988, after Ginny and I read the Surgeon General’s brochure on AIDS, we determined that we should go over this information item by item with our kids. “Basic health education should be started as early as possible in keeping with parental and community standards,” Dr. Koop said. “Final responsibility rests with the parents. As a parent, you should read and discuss this brochure with your children”.

Ginny and I picked a night for devotions based on Understanding AIDS.

Now while our kids were growing up, our house was a magnet for neighborhood kids. Swarms of kids infested our house, friends of our kids from scouts, school, the corner store, wherever gathered at our house all the time.

On the night we’d picked for AIDS devotions, teens, pre-teens, and yard kids surrounded our dinner table. I’ll never know how God fed all that lot at our table. Anyhow, when strangers showed up for supper, we’d give a brief explanation of our devotion practice then go ahead with it.

Ginny and I hesitated about getting into a sex discussions while neighborhood kids were present; we had no idea what their own parents might think. But we decided to go ahead with what we had planned.

In a room packed with kids of all ages, we read sections of the Surgeon General’s booklet and discussed each section freely and honestly and we asked for questions. And did these kids ask questions! Anal intercourse, fellatio, condoms, mosquitoes, cunnilingus, kissing, bestiality, dating, hand holding, missionary position, doggie and can you get it from borrowing your sister’s gym shorts—How in the world did these kids know enough even half-information to ask such questions!!! Where did they learn the words???

Heck, when I was their age I thought breast was a chicken part.

Dr. Koop said, “Children hear about AIDS, just as we all do. But they don’t understand it, so they become frightened. They are worried they of their friends might get sick and die”. He advocated honest education on a level suitable to their understanding.

Now there was nothing salacious, nothing sleazy, about that night of devotion. But honest kids asking real questions and looking for real answers, questing to find their own place in the world of God and man.

It was an honor to serve them.

It was one of those unforgettable nights I’d forgotten all about—until I uncovered that tattered pamphlet in my box of old papers.

I wonder how many other unforgettable things I’ve forgotten?

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 @ 6:05 AM

Your comments are welcome: 1 comments

Thursday, June 11, 2009

About Two Old Magazine Articles

The cartoon showed an apprentice watching expectantly as the master examined his work. “Of course you’ve improved greatly,” the master says, “That’s because you were so terrible to begin with”.

I thought of that old cartoon yesterday as I sorted through a box stuffed full of magazine articles I wrote back in the 1970s and 80s.

Some brought fond memories of great experiences; others made me cringe.

Did I write that?

Did I really?

One piece I wrote for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce magazine reminded me of a laugh—I’ve always been a bit of a devil to long-suffering editors.

Carolyn Carroll, who was then editor, called me to her office and assigned me to write an article about the warehouses of Jacksonville.

Deliberately misunderstanding her, I bounced joyfully saying, “Wow! This is right up my alley! I’ll interview all the girls. Can we run photos? This is going to take a lot of research. Can you explain to Ginny what I’m doing? This is the greatest assignment ever! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

“John Cowart, what are you carrying on about,” Carolyn asked.

“Didn’t you just ask me to write a piece about the whorehouses of Jacksonville?”

“Get out of my office! You know good and well it’s warehouses”.

“Drat! I never get any of the good assignments,” I said.

But yesterday I did find that piece I wrote extolling the warehouses of Jacksonville; it’s as boring to read now as it was back in December, 1988. I can’t believe I wrote such tripe.

What I won’t do for money!

But, as I sifted through those ancient articles from my distant past, I also came across the first article I ever had accepted for publication; Didn’t pay anything, only contributor’s copies, but it launched my career as a published author. It appeared in the March, 1973, issue of the Hoosier Conference Reporter. Here it is:

What Is God Like
John Cowart

What is God like?

This is the most profound question that either child or philosopher can ask. Getting the wrong answer to this question is the root of every error in doctrine, every doubt of faith, and every circumstance in life.

The Scripture’s main purpose is to reveal to us what God is like so that we can be completely and thoroughly furnished for every good work.

Read Psalm 145 and underline in your Bible (or make a list) the things that the Psalmist specifically tells us about God. In these 21 verses, over 30 distinct characteristics of our God are mentioned. And the Psalmist starts off by telling us that God is unsearchable. We, as created beings, cannot learn everything about our Creator, but this Psalm gives us a good start toward that end.

When I looked at a list of the qualities of God, my first reaction was “so what?”. The Psalm says that God is great, mighty, glorious, wondrous, righteous, gracious, full of compassion, etc. “Church words,” I said, “Self-evident, anybody knows these things”.

However, as I began to study this Psalm, I ran across a word that I wanted to look up in a dictionary to see the exact meaning. The word was gracious (verse 8). A certain lawyer I know often opens his prayer with the address “Gracious Lord”. What kind of God is he praying to? What does gracious mean? My dictionary says (among other things) “Marked by qualities associated with good taste”.

We serve a God who has good taste! Obvious? Perhaps to some, but I was amazed to find this out. I look at some of my fellow Christians and wonder if God has any taste at all. But, it He’s a God of good taste, perhaps He sees something in them that I don’t.

This misunderstanding about one word in this Psalm made me want to go on to look up others in my paperback dictionary to see if I’d been missing anything else. I’m going to record a few of my findings, but I urge you to take your Bible and dictionary and study Psalm 145 in this way. Incidentally, I’m not going to skim off the best ones to write about, Some of the juiciest ones are left for you to discover for yourself. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

“Great is the Lord” (verse 3). Great is defines as “remarkable, eminent, distinguished, or first-rate”. Our God is first-rate!

“The Lord is good to all” (verse 9). Good has many meanings starting with “Having positive desirable qualities” and ending with “Well-behaved” as in “You’re a good boy, Johnny”.

Our God is first-rate, well-behaved, and has good taste.

Many people returning from Disney World a few miles south of my home describe it as glorious meaning “delightful”. Or perhaps they will describe it as wonderful, meaning “capable of exciting us”. The Psalmist (verse 5) uses both these words to tell us about what God is like.

Our Lord is exciting, and He is delightful. How can we be bored and dreary if we have an intimate relationship with such a God?

The Lord has power (verse 11), i.e. “the capacity to perform effectively”. He had dominion (verse 13), i.e. “the exercise of control”. Do we live like worshipers of the God revealed here? Or do we find our lives ineffectual and out of control?

The Lord is near (verse 18) i.e. “close by, or available”. This same first-rate God, who is well-behaved, delightful, and exciting; who performs effectively and has control, is also available to us.

Now, you look up compassion and remember the time Jesus used spit on His own fingers to wipe the pus from a blind man’s eyes before He performed a miracle. Look up terrible and remember Peter’s reaction to Christ’s stilling the storm. Look up mercy (verse 9), raising (verse 14), giving (verse 16), satisfying (verse 16) hearing (verse 19), saving (verse 19), preserving (verse 20) and destroying (verse 20). In all these qualities and actions of God, remember that Christ is God come in the flesh, and He represents all these things perfectly to us.

Study this Psalm and worship our God whose greatness is unsearchable.

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 @ 5:39 AM

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Almost Important

The woman had been born retarded.

And, as though that were not enough, as a child, she pulled a boiling pot off the stove onto herself, scaring her face and withering one arm.

Kids at school teased and tormented till she had to drop out and just stay at home.

Her family coped with her affliction as best they could—but, well, you know families. It was not easy for them, or for her.

Although my friend Wes is not a clergyman, the family asked him to conduct the woman’s funeral at a back-woods church last week.

As Wes and I visited our friend Barbara White yesterday, he told us about the funeral; he read the burial service from the Book Of Common Prayer and gave a brief sermon on “The Value Of A Diminished Life”.

Afterwards, people told him it was the most meaningful funeral they’d ever attended. They had not realized who had been dwelling among them.

Yesterday morning I’d laid out my work on the kitchen table and just started to get down to it when Wes called asking if I wanted to go to Dave’s Diner for breakfast. Ever ready to avoid work, I agreed. At breakfast he suggested we drive across town to visit Barbara—she had her first chemotherapy treatment Monday and she may not feel like visitors later in the week.

Barbara has been diagnosed with peritoneal cancer which originated in an ovary. Her doctor said that with chemotherapy she may last another year or so; without it, he recommended entering a hospice program now. Barbara, who is in her 80s, is going to see how her body handles this first chemo treatment then decide.

Recently Barbara’s grown daughter Mary died of cancer after long chemo treatments. Barbara drove Mary for the treatments every couple of days for months and months, so Barbara knows what she herself faces with chemo.

Fortunately, Barbara’s many friends from her church have volunteered to drive her for treatments and doctors’ appointments. And I’m very pleased that my son, Donald, and his wife, Helen, have involved themselves in some of Barbara’s hands-on care.

Since Barbara’s apartment in the retirement home is so tiny (and so Wes and I could smoke our pipes), the three of us sat outside in the beautifully landscaped garden on benches beside Turtle Lake to talk. As we talked about medical issues, church stuff, family matters, etc. we watched two small alligators glide through the water.

Wes and Barbara discussed reactions and the side effects to various medicines—things I know nothing about.

Two large fountains spray high in the air from the lake. Acres of flowering ginger border the waters. A waterfall near us splashed and cascaded over a waterwheel circling at the base of a dam as overflow from the lake move toward Julington Creek and the St. Johns River visible in the distance.

Our discussion turned to the movement of the Holy Spirit which Wes and Barbara detect in their respective churches.

We talked about how the Spirit falls from above. We can not “work Him up”, but He, while always present, yet sometimes, at His own discretion, He moves, “comes down” in ways that we can become more aware of Him.

Sometimes that manifestation falls with abrupt power and a mighty rushing wind like on the Day Of Pentecost; at other times, He falls from above with silent pervasive power like morning dew forming on Spring grass—unseen till it’s there.

As we talked about God’s Spirit, we also talked about revival—a wide-spread, noticeable manifestation of God throughout a community.

I think that there is nothing more important any person can do than to receive from God, even when we feel the slightest nudge in that direction. Maybe, especially then.

Problem is, we try to live ordinary lives in a supernatural world, not realized who is dwelling among us.

As we talked, I felt we three stood on the verge of something important.

Our conversation was almost important.

But, unfortunately we veered into religious small talk about spiritual gifts; as the token skeptic in the gang, I’m inclined to think that in myself, what Wes and Barbara term gifts of the sprit are merely tricks of the trade.

Mid-lake a free-floating log hosted a line of large turtles sunning themselves; when a new turtle tried to climb aboard, the log rolled dumping the others in the water and all had to climb on again.

That was fun to watch as they did the same thing again and again.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All the thoughts of a turtle are turtle”.

Finally, afternoon heat drove us inside the air-conditioned lounge and we never returned to talking about the fall of the Holy Spirit.

Instead, we talked about teeth.

Specifically the typical lack of teeth among backwoods crackers (I’m a prime example of that toothless clan). But we joked about us Florida hillbillies. And I felt comfortable about my friends’ teasing.

Then the conversation turned to baldness—which Barbara faces as a result of her chemo. Wearing a bandana, cap, or a wig concerns her.

Ever the gallant Christian gentleman, Wes, who is a trifle hair challenged himself, offered to go to her church with her and sit the two of them on the very front row so they’d look like bowling balls in a rack.

What a funny mental picture!

Anyhow, by the time I got back home, six hours after I’d left for breakfast with Wes, my files still littered the table.

I felt depleted as I always do after contact with superior Christians. I need to withdraw more.

Yes, I know no man is an island, but I should stay as close to the tip of my peninsula as I can.

I feel unfit for human contact.

Later in the evening, Ginny and I drove to the library and to a fast-food place for supper. When she checked her blood sugar, the reading was only 54—that’s close to pass out territory—the lowest reading she’s had in ages.

I’m concerned.

Ginny is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

I love her with all my heart.

The other evening she was ironing clothes singing I Dreamed A Dream—that song Susan Boyle sang wowing the entire world. (But, while Ginny is beautiful, she resembles Susan Boyle more in appearance than in singing voice).

Nevertheless I got such a kick out of hearing her sing.

I love to see her happy.

She is such a joy and delight.

Although, I’m not beyond teasing her….

For instance, last Friday, I knocked one of my few remaining front teeth loose.

Yes, while slurping a bowl of vegetable soup, I bit down on a chunk of carrot wrong and knocked my tooth loose. It wobbles in the socket and will soon fall out.

Yes, I broke a tooth eating soup. Not many people make that claim.

Not that losing one more tooth will make much difference in my Florida Hillbilly appearance, but I’m extremely conscious about my facial deformity (hardly any bones in my face so I can not be fitted with dentures—growing up my children teased me by calling me Gnaws after the famous shark in the movie).

I know it’s my vanity, but I feel all too aware of my appearance and avoid smiling or eating in public where my sloppy eating may disgust people.

An aside: Once over 50 years ago I avoided a man who wanted to be friends because I saw he had such bad teeth. I’ve often wondered, since my own teeth fell out and my face fell in, if perhaps the Lord touched me with this gentle judgment to my vanity over my own teeth because I deliberately shunned that man.

Be that as it may, as Ginny and I ate lunch at the BBQ restaurant Sunday, we held hands across the table as we usually do as we talk.

I worried aloud that when this next loose tooth falls out like all those others, Ginny will not find me attractive any more, that she will be ashamed to be seen with me.

“O sweetheart,” she assured me patting my hand, “I’m not ashamed to be seen with you. I’ve never been ashamed to be seen with you. I never will be ashamed to be seen with you”.

“That’s what I like about you,” I teased. “You are a shameless woman”.

We got to laughing so hard the waitress thought something was wrong and came over to check on us.

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 @ 8:46 AM

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Monday, June 08, 2009

On The Beam

Lots of stuff, external and internal, going on recently.

Since the external stuff largely involves other people, I don’t feel at liberty to write about it; Although they’ve let me in on things, they deserve their privacy.

And since the internal stuff largely involves my own bitterness, resentment, and despair, I don’t want to write about that carp either. What a downer, who needs it.

I saw one recent insight. It came about through an odd juxtaposition of diverse elements: an old science fiction movie and a passage of Scripture.

From the Main Library’s video collection, Ginny and I checked out the 1951 movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still—one of the greatest movies ever made! We cheer and clap every time we watch it.

A few nights later as I worried over my own inclination to be harsh and judgmental—especially where government or businesses are concerned—for our evening devotions, Ginny happened to read that passage of the Bible where Jesus said:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye

I determined that I need to repent about being so judgmental… But I don’t like that idea at all.

I said that I wish the beam in my eye was like the beam in Gort’s eye. That way I could zap evil-doers any time I spot them.

Ginny—who is not a Bible scholar—says I’m misinterpreting the Scripture.

I say the world would be a better place if I could beam-zap anybody and anything that bugs me.

Yes, it’s easer to spot and condemn other people’s sins than my own.

There’s a reason God did not put a zap-beam in my eye.

He wants me to deal with the other kind.

Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info
posted by John Cowart @ 10:48 AM

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