I’ve been having a fire in the fireplace in the evenings for a week or two now, since the nights have gotten nippy. I do declare that there are few pleasures in life that rank with building a good fire and enjoying it as you watch the snow fall, read a good book and listen to great music, or even watch a football game or movie. But you must build the fire right in order to feel justly superior about it.

No fair using newspaper to start a fire. Can you imagine people doing that? And obviously a gas flame to help the fire along is cheating in a way that I know you wouldn’t do. Now, first, you get some “fat lightard.” You probably know whereof I speak; this is pine wood that is full of pitch, and burns like crazy. A splinter of it is enough to start your fire, if you place your kindling wood right. On top of the kindling you can put your smaller pieces of oak or locust, or whatever, and then the larger pieces of firewood. Now make sure the damper is open, light the fat lightard and settle back for a fine evening.

Speaking of fires and winter evenings, it was a cold, snowy evening in western Kentucky. I was a young graduate student with more commitment to my church than good sense, and so I was out making the obligatory two pastoral visits per evening. By day I carpooled to Louisville to attend the seminary, and after I returned each afternoon and had supper, I visited church members. This particular visit was to an elderly couple whose home was of the “humble abode” variety.

As I entered the home, there were the usual food smells and other odors dominant in a home tightly shut and overly warm against the winter wind. A fire was blazing in the fireplace, and seeing the gentleman of the house with his chair pulled up to the fire and his wife pulling hers up to the fireplace even as she bade me do likewise, I too pulled a wooden rocker close to the fire and stared at the coals for awhile.

The old gentleman was a man of few words, possibly due to the wad of tobacco he spit regularly into the fire and my conversation was mostly with the wife. However, as we tried to pass the pleasantries, the husband began to get a “coughing fit,” as we used to call it. Both the wife and I ignored the situation as long as we could, but the noise made conversation well nigh impossible.

Finally the good wife said to me, “I keep telling Jim to stop that coughing! In fact, if he keeps it up, I told him we will have to go to the hospital, and they’ll take out his lung.” Turning to me, she said in a whisper, “They’ve already taken out one lung, you know.” Well, I just couldn’t help thinking, “He doesn’t know what trouble is until they take out that one remaining lung!”

For the first few years, that incident struck me as both sad and funny, because the wife didn’t seem to realize what she was saying. But as the years went by, I reflected on how much all of us who enjoy good health are blessed. Henry Ford used to say, when due to health he had to eat only bread and milk, that he would give a fortune to have a good meal! Money cannot buy the most meaningful things in life. I’m grateful for health, for friends, for each day in which to praise God and seek to do my bit part in His kingdom. For what are you grateful this Thanksgiving? Build a good fire and ponder it. That’s what the raccoons around Rocky Comfort do.

Ponder, not build a fire.

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Earl Davis’s column “Raccoon Theology” appears biweekly in The Blowing Rocket. Dr. Davis is an artist earldavisfineart.com, and pastor of the Middle Fork Baptist Church (streaming on Facebook), and can be contacted at earlcdavis@bellsouth.net.

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