Christmas Eve

• 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. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Silent Night In An Old Jacksonville Cemetery

Friday, December 23, 2011

From page 421 of my book A Dirty Old Man Goes To The Dogs (www.bluefishbooks.info :

Last Sunday Ginny and I drove to Jacksonville Florida’s Old City Cemetery to visit the grave of John Freeman Young. Although I’d never even heard of the man before last week, I felt our  visit made for an appropriate outing in this Christmas season.

Here’s a photo of Ginny at Young’s grave; notice the Christmas ornaments on the wreath:

 

 Earlier in the week, while listening to a radio morning traffic report, I chanced to hear announcer Arthur Crofton say something about Young. That comment sparked my interest, so I did a bit of research and even read a biography of the man.

I’ve written two books about the history of my hometown so I was particularly surprised that I knew nothing about Young and his relationship with Christmas before.

In the late 1800s John Freeman Young served as the Episcopal Bishop of Florida. But that’s not his most notable accomplishment.

I think it odd that his biography tells about his labors as bishop but does not even mention the single aspect of his work that gained world-wide notoriety.

As an accomplished linguist proficient in several languages he translated a song from its original German into English. It’s a song you already know most of the words to—at least the first couple of verses. And I’ll bet that you and I will both be singing it within the next couple of days.

By translating the German-language “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” into the English as “Silent Night, Holy Night” John Young made a lasting Christmas gift to English-speaking people around the world. He published the song in 1859.

Here is a copy of the 1859 text of the first three verses—the ones you are likely to know—of  his translation:

Yes, the man who translated Silent Night into English ministered right here in Jacksonville. And the wreaths placed on his grave in the Old City Cemetery each Christmas contain musical instruments as ornaments.

While most of us know those first three verses by heart—Silent Night is one of the most familiar hymns in the world—the last verses contain a deeper message in the song:

4. Silent Night, Holy Night
Here at last, healing light
From the heavenly kingdom sent,
Abundant grace for our intent.
Jesus, salvation for all.
Jesus, salvation for all.

5. Silent Night! Holy Night”
Sleeps the world in peace tonight.
God sends his Son to earth below
A Child from whom all blessings flow
Jesus, embraces mankind.
Jesus, embraces mankind.

6. Silent Night, Holy Night
Mindful of mankind’s plight
The Lord in Heav’n on high decreed
From earthly woes we would be freed
Jesus, God’s promise for peace.
Jesus, God’s promise for peace.

 

Silent Night, a poem by Josheph Mohr, had been set to music and first sung on December 24, 1818, in St. Nicholas Church, Oberndorf, Austria. John Freeman Young heard the hymn and his English translation became one of the most popular and familiar of all English hymns.

A pdf copy of Bishop Young’s biography, Soldier And Servant, by Edgar Pennington can be read at http://www.archive.org/stream/johnfreemanyoung00penn#page/n3/mode/2up .

While Pennington’s 1939 biography contains much of interest to the Jacksonville history buff, it does not mention Young’s translation of Silent Night. In fact, while the biography dwells on the bishop’s church work, I felt disappointed that its diary excerpts contain little about his spiritual life.

Young, a native of Maine, began his ministry in Jacksonville in 1845, but moved to New York as the Civil War approached. Up north, he served at Trinity Church, Wall Street. It was while there he translated Silent Night among other hymns. After the war, in 1867, he returned to Jacksonville as bishop.

Tough. A yankee Episcopalian bishop in the war-torn South. One dilemma Young found was that unscrupulous yankee carpetbaggers  had come to Jacksonville and taken advantage of recently freed slaves. These businessmen cheated the blacks out of real estate property and possessions. They even discouraged blacks from worship. One of the things Bishop Young did was to established several churches, such as St. Phillip’s, Jacksonville, as churches that welcomed blacks.

Bishop Young did that sort of thing all over the state. One of the more interesting portions of his diary tells how he spend three days and nights alone in a row boat, pushing it through shallow waters with a long pole, in order to visit congregations in a flooded area.

The war devastated Florida and the horrors of reconstruction left churches destitute.

Besides being a musician and linguist, Bishop Young, held an interest in architecture. He instituted the construction of a hallmark style of Florida church architecture known as Carpenter Gothic. Inexpensive local wood was used to form these distinctive church buildings, some of which survive to this day. Here is a photo of a  typical example:

Bishop Young died of pneumonia in 1885. He was buried in Jacksonville’s Old City Cemetery. He is honored by a stained glass church window. The window gives no indication that he had anything to do with the famous hymn.

Nevertheless, I felt this Christmas season was an appropriate time to visit his grave:

Sleep in Heavenly peace, Bishop Young. Sleep in Heavenly peace.

• 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. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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The Kindness Of Strangers

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Last night a street bum showed me an incredible kindness.

He honored me greatly.

Last night when Ginny and I drove downtown to the main library, my arthritis pained me so bad I could not walk from the handicapped parking space to the library. So, while Ginny went inside to pick up the books she had on reserve, I sat on a wall beside the fountain in Hemming Park right across the street.

Jacksonville’s City Hall fronts Hemming Park on the north side, the library on the east. Four downtown rescue missions lie within blocks, so Hemming Park provides a gathering spot for street bums during the day. At night, cops clear the park. Can’t have bums and winos freezing to death right in front of City Hall—bad for the city’s image.

I hurt so bad that I had to sit on a cement wall bordering the park’s beautiful fountain. So I sat there smoking my pipe, watching for cops, and waiting for my wife.

A street bum ambled by.

For years I’ve volunteered in missions and soup kitchens, so I know the look of the homeless.

Shabby gray coat, tattered shoes with flapping untied laces, two plastic grocery bags containing all his worldly goods, stubble beard—typical bum.

Leary of him, I watched as he passed me, paused, and turned.

“Ut oh, he’s going to hit me up for a dollar,” I thought.

Ginny and I each keep a bit of cash to give to the poor in special pockets separate from our own money, and I’d decided to give him enough for a burger as I watched him approach.

Now, I’m just sitting there minding my own business, smoking my pipe, waiting for my wife. I’d showered, shaved, and dressed in clean clothes earlier in the day; Ginny and I planned to go our for dinner after the library, so I feel presentable…

Of course, I was wearing my favorite jacket, my WWII bombardier jacket, my good leather jacket, my best jacket, My Jacket, the one I’d bought five or six years ago at a yard sale for a quarter. (See my posting for January 16, 2010 for description and photo).

Maybe that’s what caught the bum’s attention.

He’d passed me but turned back and came over to me. “It’s going to get cold tonight,” he said rummaging in one of his plastic bags. “It’s going to get cold and you’re going to need this”.

He pulled a blanket out of his bag.

He said, “This ain’t cotton. It’s real polyester. This will keep you warm”.

I protested that I did not need a blanket, but he insisted on giving me his. “That cement gets real cold at night. The wind comes off the river,” he said. “You need this”.

And he pressed it on me.

His own blanket.

I reached for my “poor pocket” to pay him a few dollars, but he’d already started walking away. I started to call him back, but thought, He has not asked me for a penny. Why trivialize the kindness of this stranger? In his mind he’s done me  a kindness that cost him something. He gave you a gift, John, don’t cheapen the act for him by offering to pay.

I knew something important had happened to me. I thought of the story of the Horse Blanket by, I think, Anton Chekhov or Tolstoy, one of those Russian guys. And I felt greatly honored.

I thanked the bum for his gift and he walked off with an almost jaunty step. He’d seen a guy sitting in the dark and cold and he showed compassion to me. He gave what he could to make sure I survived the chilly night.

I sat on my new blanket waiting for Ginny. It made a fine cushion on that concrete wall.

I was a participant in that encounter; in this next one, I was merely an observer:

About ten minutes later, I saw another bum in the park. This one was familiar. I see him there all the time. Certifiably crazy. Practices karate moves in the same spot every day while talking loud on a cell phone—except that he does not have a cell phone.

He walked along with an unlit cigarette in his hand.

A street girl, or maybe an art student, came peddling by on her bike. She smoked a cigarette as she rode on the sidewalk.

“I need a light,” the crazy man said holding out his cigarette as she cycled past.

She wheeled her bike in a circle. Paused beside him. Handed him the cigarette from her mouth. He raised it to light his own from the glowing tip. She said, “No, keep that one, it’s already lit”. And she peddled back around in the direction she’s been headed.

Crazy guy grinned. Stuck his unlit cigarette behind his ear. Puffed happily on the one the girl gave him. And walked away.

And the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men of good will”.

I’d been a recipient of kindness in one incident; I’d been an observer of kindness in the other. In both, I detected the Spirit of God.

No great firefall of the Holy Ghost, just tiny acts of kindness by strangers to strangers. Sometimes the Spirit comes as a mighty rushing wind, at other times He comes as gentle as dew forming on a garden spider web.

His abiding presence is the same in either case.

And I feel honored and privileged to be on the outskirts of these kindnesses.

When Ginny came out of the library with her books and I told her how I got my blanket, she said it’s time to get rid of my favorite jacket in the trash… but she knows good and well that that’s not going to happen.

Oh, and what did I do with my new blanket?

I took it home and placed it under my Christmas tree.

It’s a gift.

• 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. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Luminary Night

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Much pain, more happiness characterized Sunday’s Luminary Night for Ginny and me. Much pain because my arthritis worked big time, more happiness because Ginny and I celebrated Luminary Night with thousands and thousands of other Jacksonville residents.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

On the weekend before Christmas each year, residents in Jacksonville’s Riverside area open thousands of white paper bags, add a few ounces of sand, light a candle inside and line the streets with these.

On Luminary night thousands and thousands or people stroll the streets greeting each other with “Merry Christmas”. Somebody or another tries to sponsor the event but mostly it is a grassroots thing that people do simply because they want to. They decorate homes, cars, trucks, farm tractors, golf carts, skateboards, segways, horse-drawn carriages, bikes, motorcycles… whatever and parade just because they want to. No organization to it. Bumper to bumper traffic backs up for miles as kids on impromptu floats toss candy to the crowds lining the streets. Fantastic fun!

Many residents throw open their homes for strangers to visit. They build fires on the front yards offering any passerby a chance to warm, eat cookies, and drink hot cocoa.

Many people dress up for the event. Ginny and I saw elves, Santas, ballerinas, Grinches, the Mad Hatter from Alice’s Wonderland, a guy dressed in a real bear’s skin, numerous impressive sweater girls, a hunter carrying a crossbow, snowmen, aliens, formal wear, and body paint.

Those who want music play music on their own; one guy plays carols on a trumpet as he strolls, several violinists, a flautist, drummers, bagpipes, whatever. One family on the main drag invited their church choir to sing in their front yard.

Everyone is cordial. A girl passing in the crowd pressed an tree ornament into my hand saying, “Here’s a surprise present fro you”.  At one corner, this woman greeted me effusively while her husband hugged Ginny laughing… As we walked on I asked Gin who they were and she said, “I’ve never seen those people before in my life”.

Throngs of people roamed the streets like that, happy and celebrating and helping each other, and singing—each person doing their own thing, not bothering anybody, celebrating for joy—and I did not see one sign of drinking or rowdiness, there may have been some, but I did not see it.

One highpoint of the event is that local churches open for concerts, plays, etc. And the Riverside Avenue Christian Church holds an open-air, live nativity scene with multitudes of characters and live animals.

Ginny got to pet a newborn baby goat less than 24 hours old:

There were shepherds and kings and angels and wise men and…this must have been an ecumenical event because I saw Dolly The Llama there at the manger:

One thing impresses me most about Luminary Night:

People of all persuasions, Christian believer and atheist, the pious and the indifferent, the charismatic and the apathetic—everyone in our community, even though they differ about the theological implications of the incarnation, yet all tacitly acknowledge that Something Important Happened in this season!

Something important, something happy, something joyous, something giving hope, something fun, something wonderful happened.

And we rejoice that it did.

For, unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and … His name shall be called Wonderful!

• 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. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Clams and Christmas Treasure

Friday, December 16, 2011

Yesterday, as I drove to Kingsland, Georgia, to buy my brand of pipe tobacco (which I can’t find in Jacksonville), I sang to myself and tried to remember the words to an old Moravian Christmas hymn.

Couldn’t remember them all.

Happily mangled the words I could remember—who’s to complain?

I love to drive long distances alone. Gives me time to sing, pray and think. Of course, from Jacksonville to Kingsland is hardly long distance—trip only takes about an hour each way—When Ginny and I were younger and driving an 18-wheeler over the road, we drove thousands of miles each month.

We had no home in the world but our truck and ping-ponged all over the country from Miami to Reno to New York to San Francisco to Dallas to Calgary to Boston to Key West to…

In those early days we lived three feet apart 24 hours a day and learned one secret to our happy, 43-year marriage—we learned to say, “I love you forever, but I can’t stand you right this minute! Check back with me in an hour”.

But at my present decrepit age, a drive to Kingsland is a long trip and I enjoyed singing to myself, praying a bit, and thinking about treasure, clams, and the word “peculiar”.

I don’t know if he were right or not (I don’t know Koine Greek) but I once heard a preacher expound on the word Peculiar in the place where Peter told the Christians of his day, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”.

Saint Paul used that same term, “Our Savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works”.

A peculiar people? What does that mean? I’ve known some peculiar people in my day and few might warrant being referred to by Peter or Paul. Weird is the word that comes to my mind.

But the preacher, whose name I no longer remember, said a Greek soldier going into battle carried a leather pouch (a sort of fanny pack) containing what he considered his peculiar treasure, a thing he would die to protect, to keep out of enemy hands. Might be a lock of his wife’s hair, a charm his father gave him, his son’s baby tooth—a treasure particular to himself, a thing he valued most, a thing worth fighting for, a thing worth dieing for.

And you and I are God’s peculiar people, His peculiar treasure.

As I drove, dodging yankee refugees headed away from the bleak frozen north to civilization and sunshine in Florida, I naturally thought our early days on the road and about clams.

When Ginny and I drove the tractor trailer, we visited many of the nations major museums, historic sites, and art galleries. We enjoyed rodeos in Texas, Indian dances in New Mexico, street fairs in New York, parades in Chinatown… and she often read poetry to me as we cruised over the countryside trying to keep the truck between the white lines.

In 1969 or ’70 we’d delivered a shipment in Sarasota and decided to spend a day at the beach in some park where grassy lawn came right down to the sand and water of the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s a photo of Ginny in her racy bikini on that day:

 

Here she is lounging in the back of the truck overlooking the beach with a book of Robert Service’s poetry and a road atlas at hand:

 

As we swam in the Gulf, we noticed a tiny commotion at the edge of the water; right where the waves break on the sand, millions and millions of tiny clams called donax burrow in the sand. A single donax measures smaller than the nail on your little finger; each one sports a colorful shell. Here’s a Google photo:

Every time a wave breaks, all hundred million of these tiny clams get washed up from their burrow in the sand—and they frantically scurry and jump and dig to get safely under the sand again.

Ginny and I lay on our bellies in the edge of the waves watching the Chinese Fire Drill of clams for hours. We laughed and laughed at their antics—funnier than a Harold Lloyd movie, funnier than the Three Stooges.

Because within seconds of one wave breaking and the clams’ panic to get beneath the sand again, here would come another wave washing the donax out again. And again. And again.

We laughed at the clams and then we laughed at ourselves for getting sunburned for being so stupid as to lay out in the sun for hours watching clams!

Here’s a Bing photo of donax, in this one you and see the tiny foot they use to jump and dig with:

Time and tide compress donax shells into coquina rock, a prime building material in Florida’s Spanish forts and pre-colonial houses.

The donax is so tiny and their colors so blended with the beach sand, that most beachcombers never even notice them. We step over and on them never noticing their existence. But when you do see them, you see a treasurer in the sand…

Once Jesus told a story about a treasure buried in a field. A man walking in the field noticed the treasure. He went and sold all that he owned to buy that field and get the treasure.

I used to think that the Bible meant I was supposed to give up everything to gain the treasure of salvation.

I was wrong.

I’ve never given up anything for Jesus.

It’s all been gain for me.

As I read Mathew’s Gospel, Chapter 13,  about the treasure in the field, I noticed that earlier in the same chapter, Jesus said, “The field is the world… and he that soweth in the field is the Son of man”.

So, if the field is the world, and the person walking in the field is Jesus, then what is the treasure?

You are.

I am.

As I drove Interstate 95, I thought about clams and Christmas—when the Son of God left Heaven and the glory of the Father, when He came into a manger as He gave up everything to buy this field, this fallen world, to rescue the treasure buried in the sand and stepped on and over by indifferent passersby.

Jesus sees value where others don’t.

And He said, “I am come to seek and to save the lost”.

So, I thought about clams and Christmas and yankee drivers and that elusive Moravian hymn…

Couldn’t remember the words.

Sang “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” instead.

• 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. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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The Residue of a Christian, Shrimp, & a Christmas Joke

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I’m troubled that I see God in action in my life so seldom recently.

I used to feel useful to Him at times; now, I just exist without purpose, value, or meaning.

Here’s where faith kicks in… or should kick in. But it doesn’t. or maybe it does but it’s so remote and rote, dry and unreal, that if might as well not exist in me at all.

In my head, I believe that Jesus is Living Lord, the Son of God, the Lover of my soul; in day to day terms, I feel as though I’m out here on my own. I feel that nothing I do matters for good or ill. I’m just circling the drain.

I feel like the residue of a Christian after all the stuffing has been kicked out.

I’d like to see some evidence of God’s hand in my life, especially in my writing, posting this diary, in my sex life, in my dealings with other people, in my career decisions—anywhere and everywhere.

Yesterday as I talked with my counselor, Michael Swanhart, our conversation touched on times in the past when I thought I perceived God’s hand in my life.

Oddly enough these times often involved poverty.

Back in the days when we were poor, I used to feed my family by netting shrimp each night for the next day’s food. Casting a shrimp net was one of the few things in life I’ve ever been good at.

Some of my diary entries from 1992 tell a little about those terrible days. Here’s a link to some of them: http://www.cowart.info/Journal%20extracts/dogdays/dogdays.htm

Once on the shrimp dock at three in the morning, I encountered a policeman. After we talked a while, he revealed that before he met me, he’d planned to put his gun in his mouth and blow his head off. Having talked with me, he left with hope.

Another man I met there in the small hours of one morning, said he had intended to murder an attorney that day because of  a rotten law suit, but after meeting me, he abandoned that intention.

Now, get this, I would never have chosen to be on that dock except that extreme poverty forced me to be there in order to gather food to feed the family the very next day.

Yes, I suspect God sent the people who crossed my path and whom I could help; but God also sent the grinding poverty that shoved me into that place at that time.

Of course, we never missed a meal. God did provide—after His own fashion. But His provision wore me down to the nub.

Somehow though, back then I thought I saw hints of His hand on my life.

Now, I don’t.

I mean, I think He is still there, but as invisible as Montana from where I stand now. I question the usefulness of my books, my blog, my life. Perhaps a reason the Scripture encourages readers to recall and recount God’s past actions, to “remember all His benefits toward you”, is that otherwise we quickly forget because we dwell so much in the present.

When you’re without roots, you’re without hope.

Is that right?

Anyhow, that’s where my head is at the moment.

What I need to cheer me up is a good Christmas joke. I remember one—here’s a Christmas joke sent to me long ago by my e-friend Carol:

Three businessmen died in a car crash on their way home from an office party on Christmas Eve.

The Recording Angel greeted them at the Pearly Gates and said, “In honor of the season, each of you must show me some symbol of Christmas to get into Heaven”.

The first guy fumbled through his pockets and came up with a Bic lighter. He flicked it on and said, “This flame symbolizes a Christmas Candle; will that do?”

“Good thinking,” said the angel, “Go on into Heaven”.

The next man dug into his pocket and pulled out his key ring. He jingled his keys and said, “Jingle Bells! These symbolize Christmas Bells.”

Impressed with the man’s ingenuity, the angel admitted him into Heaven.

The third man searched his coat pockets desperately. Grinning sheepishly he lifted a pair of black lace panties up to show the angel.

“And just what to those panties have to do with Christmas,” demanded the angel.

“These are Carol’s,” the man said.

• 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. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Nine Treasure Chests, Three Historians, the Will of God, & Me

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In the late 1700s, Eugene Moncrief, a French pawnbroker, escaped death on the guillotine only to be murdered and scalped by a jealous Indian here in what was later to be named Jacksonville, Florida,

The story of Moncrief’s escape from the French Revolution laden with nine treasure chests full of jewelry and of his subsequent adventures was told a hundred years later in the June 25, 1874, issue of the Tri-Weekly Florida Union.

Those are the opening lines of an article I wrote back in 1986.

My piece, the Treasure Of Moncrief Springs, is a chapter in my book Crackers & Carpetbaggers. A couple of months ago, Veronica, Ryan and Stephen, three historians from Metro Jacksonville,  read my work. The chapter sparked their interest and they decided to investigate further.

Their explorations led them to an old building being torn down for urban renewal in downtown Jacksonville. Moving ahead of the wrecking ball in the ruined building, they discovered a treasure in the form of a batch of ancient city maps.

Following these antique maps, the trio uncovered scads of information which had been lost in Jacksonville’s 1901 fire, a fire which burned most of the city and virtually all city records.

Their quest led them to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to contact the Musée du Louvre in Paris, to the clubhouse of a hostile motorcycle gang, to the looted site of the 1789 coquina rock home of that French pawnbroker, and eventually to my living room.

Yesterday, Veronica, Ryan, and Stephen visited me to talk about historical sources for local history. Here’s a photo of the intrepid adventurers standing by my desk.

 

Our conversation soon revealed that they know much more about Jacksonville history than I do. They trace fact treasures far beyond my ability. They prepared overlays from the antique maps they salvaged from the demolished building and placed them atop Google Earth maps to pinpoint locations I could only guess at. In fact, their research shows I was at least a mile off in my identification of sites.

I believe a land developer in 1874 made up the story of Moncrief’s treasure because he wanted to sell property in the area. Stephen said he thinks the story is true. Ryan said that while certain facts check out from various sources, he remains skeptical about the treasure tale. Veronica did not express an opinion one way or the other.

She said, “We live on a boat so I feel like a pirate on a treasure hunt”.

I had great fun listening to their enthusiastic recounting of their adventures.

But, why did these historians want to consult with me?

They know more about local history than I do; that’s proven by the in-depth history sections they produce at Metro Jacksonville.

Turns out they are involved with a film company producing a documentary on the antiquities of Jacksonville… and with my being a bona fide antiquity, they asked me to prepare a brief commentary about my own research on Moncrief—turns out I even spelled it wrong, it’s Mont Crief—for their film.

That’s so flattering.

Naturally I’m concerned about how my facial deformity might show up before a camera, but that’s a vanity on my part. Viewers will be more interested in the legend of the nine treasure chests than in my appearance.

My part in their film should present a different prospective to the story of historical research because—can you believe it—I wrote most of my history articles before there was an Internet!

Yes, Google, Bing and the other search engines had not been invented yet.

To discover historical facts I prowled through crumbling, yellowed documents which were not even indexed. And I only had access to papers physically present in Jacksonville. No wonder I missed so many things which today are revealed with a single mouse click.

Different world.

Whether or not I can take on another project in the time I have left, I need to pray about. I certainly felt excited at the prospect of friendship and research with these young people, but whether or not it’s God’s will I get deeply involved. Their project certainly strikes my fancy… I just don’t know.

I once tried to write a book about finding and following the will of God.

I bogged down and could not write it.

Can doing something just because it strikes my fancy be doing the will of God?

Why not?

Sometimes I think the Lord has inclined me to do difficult, hazardous things which go against my grain, but sometimes, like any earthly father, I think my Heavenly Father says, “Johnny, why don’t you go outside and play”.

Then, there’s the matter of trouble.

I’m seeing lots of it recently.

Know how to tell if a trouble comes from natural circumstances, the common lot of mankind, or from God as a trial, or from the devil?

The devil always goes for overkill!.

Sucker doesn’t know when to quit.

Take Job for instance:

First, the Bible says the devil sent Sabeans to steal Job’s oxen and asses; then fire fell on Job’s sheep; then Chaldean raiders  stole Job’s camels; then a tornado, a great wind from the wilderness, destroyed the house killing Job’s children; then his wife mocked him saying, “Curse God and die”; then Job’s three best friends denounced him for sin saying Job’s sin caused all his trouble.

Yes, the devil goes for overkill to the extent that troubles pile so high as to become ridiculous. Laughable.

If a whale attacks you, you can harpoon the sucker; but what do you do when being eaten alive by minnows?

King David, who saw his share of troubles, said, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart”.

Wow. What a wonderful prospect.

However, I’m drifting far afield from my scalped pawnbroker and what, if anything, my involvement should be.

According to my sources, Eugene Moncrief escaped the guillotine in France, shipped nine chests of diamonds with him when he came to Florida, buried his treasure, took up with an Indian girl, then her boyfriend killed and scalped him.

My three historian friends found old records saying that it was the pawnbroker’s wife who killed him… who knows?

You know, maybe when they film their movie, my role can be played by Brad Pitt…. Or maybe not.

• 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. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Kicking The Manger

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Note—No phone or internet connection for a few days. Therefore, no new postings.

Over the weekend, my daughter Eve asked me to borrow my Santa suit. Couldn’t find it. Best I can remember somebody borrowed it last year and never returned it. Searching, Ginny and I pulled out boxe sof Christmas stuff  from front closet, back closet, attic and laundry room. We could not find other decorations we remember too… Therefore, this posting, my diary entry for Tuesday, December 12, 2006:

You’ve got to kick our manger to start it.

Ginny & I think like tightwad skinflint Scrooges when it comes to buying Christmas gifts. All year long we shop at garage sales, jumbles, and thrift stores to buy gifts for the many people we care about — but can’t afford to get things for in the local Family Dollar Store.

Yesterday we examined a unique manger scene we’d acquired for only $3.98.

Let me emphasize that this item is a decoration only; it is paint and plaster and a computer chip. It bears no more religious significance to our actual faith than had it been a replica of a Daytona 500 race car.

Actually this device combines a tabletop fountain with a manger scene, a music box, and a motion sensor.

Some puzzled coolie worker in the Orient assembled this machine with no concept of western taste, religious or secular.

Ginny put batteries in the base and filled the reservoir with water. She flipped the switch on.

Nothing happened.

I glued the wisest of the wise men back in place. (I call him the wisest of the wise because he was the only one trying to escape).

She figured it was broken. But $3.98 is no great loss if it did not work.

I fiddled with the device and discovered the motion sensor is out of whack — but, when you kick the manger, the star lights up, water flows over the waterfall, and the angel sings “Up On The Roof Top Reindeer Pause, Out Jumps Good Old Santa Claus”.

Actually, the angel does not so much sing as stand aghast at the tinny tintinnabulations of a western song played to notes on some oriental scale… Picture Andre Rieu with a kazoo instead of his Stradivarius .

The Crèche must play 15 or 20 such songs, but at the end of each piece of music, the star goes out and the waterfall ceases.

Yes, the trouble is, with the sensor out of whack, the only way this wonderful manger scene will start again is for someone to kick the coffee table it sits on.

Ginny and I sat for an hour taking turns kicking the manger, laughing our heads off, and trying to guess what possible song the thing was playing at the moment. “Jingle Bells” and “O Holy Night” we recognized; but much other music left us mystified.

Now, some folks might be offended by a Nativity Display that plays “Rudolph” but I delight in the combining of secular celebration with the holiest of Christian doctrines.

We do one because it’s fun; we observe the other because it’s real.

From the time our kids were tiny, we taught them that we all pretend there is a Santa because that’s so much fun; and that we worship Jesus Christ because He is God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, Emanuel come down to earth as a helpless baby to save us from our sin.

It’s hard to confuse the two facets of Christmas, secular and holy.

All indications from Scripture are that Jesus enjoyed secular celebrations like weddings and harvest feasts as well as Passover.

He enjoyed a firm grasp of reality.

The holy and the fun, each in its place, or both blend together with common sense and joy.

Some malls ban employees saying Merry Christmas in favor of Happy Holiday; some churches advocate renouncing decorated trees and giving gifts.

I think both parties need to get real!

Celebration, exuberance and joy are in our very nature. A hunger for the Holy One, a longing for His reality, a thirst for the pure joy of His presence is also deep seated within every heart.

What’s to confuse?

To deny either one is to warp reality.

People aren’t too dumb to know the difference.

It’s odd but I think one of the songs our Creche plays is the Easter hymn, “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today”, the very essence of the good news the angels proclaimed.

Another song on the menu contains the lines:

Long lay the world in sin and error pinning
Till He appeared and the soul found its worth”.

Heavy stuff.

Wonderful stuff.

The essence of Christmas joy…

Such thoughts excite me, but, I’ll get down off my soapbox now.

Ginny and I intend to keep our treasured manger. It works fine if you kick it. I could try to repair it but as Ginny said, “How can you tell if it’s broken?”

So, we intend to keep kicking our manger to start the fountain, light the star and play the music.

No we aren’t planning to give it to anyone else as a gift.

Some gifts are just too, too good to pass on.

Also, there is that Scripture about not casting pearls before swine …(Er, not that I think there’s anything wrong with swine, you understand).

My camera is still broken so I can’t post a photo of our manger scene.

That’s a shame.

Because our kickable manger is unique.

In fact, Ginny said, “I’ll bet we’re the first ones on our block to own one of these things”.

Note: Tomorrow (Dec. 14th) is the last day for the 25% discount offered on my books by Lulu Press, the company which prints my books. For your discount, enter the code COUNTDOWN at Lulu checkout.

• 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. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Christmas In A Little Tin Box

Due to overwhelming popular demand (actually only one blog reader asked for it) I hereby present an instant replay of my film debut as I star in my first major motion picture. It was originally released on December 14, 2008.

Limos line the curb.

Fans press against the velvet ropes.

Searchlight beams arc across the night sky.

Starlets smile as they sashay along the red carpet.

Stephen Spielberg gnaws his teeth and weeps in envy.

Ginny’s diamonds and jewels flash beside me as I wave photographers aside.

Yes, today marks my film début as I star in my son, Donald Cowart’s film production of Christmas In A Little Tin Box.

Donald originated the idea, directed, produced and masterminded this sure-to-win-an-Oscar, 10-minute, classic movie.

You can view it on line in the box below or as a link at http://blip.tv/cowart-video/christmas-in-a-box-1580399   .

As a viewer at this Premier Showing, you can even start a John Cowart fan club by telling all your friends to watch.

As you might can tell I’m as pleased and tickled and delighted as a kitten catching his first mouse.

Ok, I’ll admit it. There were really no searchlights, starlets, limos or diamonds at the first showing of my film; that was all in my mind. In reality, I even had to pop my own popcorn–but I’m as pleased as if all the Hollywood glitz did really happen.

Donald put a lot of work into this thing. He plans to produce more Bluefish Videos in the future.

Wait! I have to hide. There’s a paparazzi approaching my front door…

Never mind, it was only the mailman.

Relax, click the white triangle in the middle of the following video, and enjoy the movie Christmas In A Little Tin Box

• 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. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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An Emotional Possum

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In the year 1575, a European artist, who had never seen one, engraved a picture of a possum. I’ve had this picture on my computer for years and I’ve forgotten where it came from–Marsh Library, Dublin, I guess.

 

Intriguing  picture but that is not what a possum looks like.

I ought to know because I am one.

This picture came to my mind yesterday while I talked with Michael Swanhart, the counselor who is helping me solve a problem.

You see, I want to write. Since I was a Boy Scout I’ve wanted to write and tell stories. I tried to write a vampire novel when I was just 12 years old. Got no where. This week while searching for something else in my files, I came across some stories I wrote long-hand on notebook paper back in the ‘60s. I’m still at it. I still want to write and tell stories.

But I can’t.

I face this obstacle.

Its name is John Cowart.

Yes, I hinder myself from doing what I deeply yearn to do.

Something inside me squelches my heart’s desire.

Vicious bastard, my enemy is.

He knows all the buttons to push to nuke me whenever I get excited about writing.

I’ve tried to beat him on my own and he is too strong for me. He’s studied my weaknesses all his life and for my every move, he knows the counter move. Sucker is the Jackie Chan of mental gymnastics. The Chuck Norris of smashing dreams. The Bruce Willis of putdowns.

I can’t beat him.

As I prayed about my problem I decided to ask Mr. Swanhart for help.

That’s where my emotional possum comes in.

Here’s an aside: once in Maryland as I hiked along Highway 450 near Annapolis, I found a dead possum beside the road. Car squashed its head.

Yet, its belly moved.

I had studied possums in high school biology class; I knew what was going on.

Possums are North America’s only marsupials—i.e. the mother carries babies in a pouch, like a kangaroo. Unlike a kangaroo which only has one or two joeys at a time, a mother possum can birth up to 13 kits. She has 13 nipples inside her pouch.

So, when I looked in the pouch of that dead mother possum, I saw six or eight babies squirming for life. I tired to lift one out but apparently when the baby latches on, the end of the mother’s nipple swells sealing the kit in the pouch so the mother can swing through the trees without dropping baby possums on the forest floor.

Those kits inside the dead mother were doomed.

I looked for a brick or something to smash them.

Couldn’t find a thing to do the job.

I could have stomped on the dead possum to kill the babies inside.

No. No I couldn’t.

My compassion has limits.

I draw the line at stomping dead possums in the road.

Eventually I walked on leaving the little ones to their inexorable fate.

Now, back to yesterday’s talk with Mike.

The Licensed Clinical Social Worker showed me how that when a creature confronts a perceived threat, we fight or flee or freeze.

He asked how I respond to crisis.

“Withdrawal”, I said immediately.

I hunker down, draw into my shell like a turtle and lay low till the danger passes.

Possums do that too. When threatened, they curl up into a ball and pretend to be dead meat—hence the term “Playing Possum”.

They stay curled until the danger goes away…

Except, opossums have 50 teeth, more teeth  than any other North American mammal. When playing dead doesn’t work…

They fight as a last resort. They flee when given the opportunity. They freeze as their first line of defense.

Must work.

According to the fossil record, possums have existed virtually unchanged since the Pliocene Era  or whenever.

So, we fight, flee or freeze according to the triggering circumstance.

I find myself afraid to do what I want to do; therefore, I freeze.

It interests me to think that Scripture mentions all three responses:

Flee—Paul told Timothy, “The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things;

Fight—in the very next verse, Paul said, “Fight the good fight of faith”.

Freeze—Moses told the people, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.

So, where is Jesus in my life as I confront the main obstacle holding me back?

Psalm 37 comes to mind: Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the LORD: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.

So, have I ever fled?

Yes, in a hostile environment, like say a church social, I’ll say to Ginny, “Let’s get the hell out of here”!

Have I ever fought?

Yes. Over the years in my testimony for Jesus, I’ve been threatened with guns and knives. I’ve been spit on and had rocks, bottles and garbage cans thrown at me. Yet, I stood my ground because I believe Jesus Christ is worth a little inconvenience.

Have I ever froze?

Yes. I am an emotional possum. Freezing is my defense mode of choice.

As we dressed one morning, Ginny noticed that I’d put on my Incredible Hulk tee-shirt.

She said, “Are you going to be the Incredible Hulk today?”

“No,” I said. “I wish I was. When I get hurt or angry I don’t turn green, grow huge biceps and smash things; I just get quite and withdraw into my shell.”

“I’ve noticed that,” she said. “When you get upset, you turn into — the Incredible Sulk!”

• 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. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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