Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Centrifuge - Day Two: "Love"

This morning, I awoke suddenly to a scream that sounded like a terrified little girl.  After a moment, I realized it was me.  Apparently my back did not appreciate the miles walked and the hours of standing in various lines yesterday.  So, I decided the best thing to do was to do it all again.

My judgment of distances may be slightly off, so forgive me if I'm off by a few yards here and there, but I'm pretty sure it is 12 miles from our dorm here on the campus of beautiful Union University to the cafeteria building.  Part of the requirement, after making that Byrd-esque trek, is that you stand in line with 492 people in front of you, waiting for a lukewarm dish that began as a powder in a cardboard box labeled "Scrambled Eggs" somewhere in a pantry or maintenance shed in back of the kitchen.  It tasted like feet.

Now, in all fairness, I must admit that my recollection of the morning may be somewhat slanted due to the fact that they ran out of coffee somewhere near the 490th person in front of me.  And since I didn't get coffee for some time, I may be remembering things a bit more harshly than they naturally occurred.

In retrospect, the breakfast was actually not bad at all.  The bacon was good, and so were the biscuit and gravy.  But the eggs not so much.  I do remember that.

Today's theme was "Love" and our Adult Bible Study time focused on the story of Jonah, running from God, and allowing God's love to lead.  The question in our study guide was, "When was a time you tried to run from God and His direction for your life?"  I ran out of fingers and toes doing the math on that one.  But I have experienced the mercy and compassion of God, and my aim should be to share that love.  Even if it is with the Ninevites in my own life.  1 John 4:16 says "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him."  It was a great time of reflection and study, and in a nice air-conditioned room. 

The young people began their "Track Time" today, splitting up and joining other youth for tracks like "Witnessing," "Digital Photography," "Water Games," "Aerobics," and many others.  My job was to try and get as many pictures of our kids as possible involved in those activities.  This task added approximately 132 miles to my walking today.  But the effort produced some great pictures!

Tonight we experienced a fantastic time of worship and teaching with Dove Awards New Artist of the Year winners, Sidewalk Prophets and camp pastor Sammy Knuckles.  Several young people in the audience tonight gave their hearts to Jesus and new lives began.

Our own church group time followed that as we focused in on what we had all learned in our Bible study times, our fellowship and our worship time.  Again tonight, I saw kids opening their hearts before the Lord and each other, and lifting each other up.  It's a phenomenon you have to witness first-hand to fully appreciate.  You can see the spiritual leaders of our churches tomorrow being formed before your eyes in these sessions.

A late night "County Fair" themed Nightlife program capped a long busy day at Centrifuge.  These "kids" really are fun to watch and learn from.

I'm looking forward to starting another day at 'Fuge tomorrow morning!  I think, however, I'll start the long journey to the cafeteria a bit earlier.  I'll start with coffee and bypass the scrambled feet.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Centrifuge - Day One: "The Journey"

What is "Centrifuge"?  It's a modern version of an old tradition: church camp for young people.  Let me make this clear, however: this is NOT your father's church camp.  It IS the church camp your father wishes he had, though.

When my church's Youth Pastor, we'll call him "Lee" (because, you know, that's his name), asked if I would go to Centrifuge this year as an adult sponsor, I don't think he really knew just how old I am.  See, one thing that hasn't changed about church camp for young people is that it is mostly for young people.  It's a grueling schedule with lots of physical activity and lots of walking.  Lots and lots of walking.  So very much walking.  Nonetheless, I agreed.  I don't know why.  I love the young people at my church and I want to do what I can for them.  I didn't really think it through or it might have occurred to me that at some point during this week, the youth group may very well need to carry me.  Or at least wait with me until the ambulance arrives.

So, this morning--we'll call it Day One (because, well it's the first day and everything)--I was up at 4am, and at the church in plenty of time for the scheduled departure.  The Centrifuge camp this year is at Union University in Jackson, TN.  That's about a six hour drive from Springfield, IL.  And here I am, at around 11pm, still awake.  I say "still awake" because the pain in my feet, legs, and back won't let me sleep.  This is because I have walked the approximate equivalent of the distance BACK to Springfield today.

So, besides walking, what has transpired on this first day of Centrifuge?  Well, earlier, on the drive down here to Jackson, I threatened to throw one young person out the window of the van I was driving.  I stood in line at a Chic-Fil-A in temperature that approximated a pre-heated oven.  I babied an iced Latte from Starbucks long enough for another young person to run into my arm and knock it to the ground.  I spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating where to hide the body of that same young person.  And, in the middle of all that fun, something else happened.  Something extraordinary.

I saw over 800 young people celebrating their youth, lifting up God, and unabashedly proclaiming their faith.  I saw the young people from my church, 44 strong, work as a team to win top honors in a game that required a lot of activity, willingness to act silly, and individual effort.   I saw our young people gather in a chemistry lecture room and share very personal things from their lives that were defining moments.  "Defining Moments" happens to be the theme of this Centrifuge.  Some of these shared moments were profoundly sad.  Some were happy.  And what I heard and saw today was encouraging to me.

In a world that is increasingly cynical and discouraging, I was encouraged.  I saw young people at their best.  Better, more mature, smarter than I was at their age (all those many years ago), and more willing to lift each other up and share their burdens.

If Day One is any indication, the future of our country, all of us--we might just be alright after all.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The End of a School Year

I work in technology at an elementary school. Riverton Elementary School, in Riverton, Illinois, is a great place to work. I love working there, and I love the people I work with. Almost all of them. No, really, I do.

Today was the last full day of activities before summer break. It started with a district-wide breakfast at the high school for all of the school faculty and staff.

It was a great breakfast. I decided that this is what they do for us in lieu of anything so tacky and common as say, money. But, hey, I'm a sucker for a big breakfast, so I was all over it.

I found an empty table and sat with my bounty. I could eat in peace because I work in technology. So, basically, you eat alone.

On my plate was an egg casserole of some sort, with an enormous amount of cheese on it. How can that be bad, right? I swear, I could hear my arteries closing as I ate it. It was good. So was the bacon. I finished it all off with a cinnamon roll the size of a throw pillow. Hey, it was my raise, and I was going to enjoy it.

Following a short program to honor retirees, all the staff members returned to their respective schools to begin the task of "closing up shop" for the summer break. Some would be moving to different classrooms. Some would be moving to one of the other schools. Some would just be gone.

At one point, I made my way upstairs to visit with the 4th grade teachers. I should mention at this point that none of them are exactly what could be described as right. That's why I relate to them, I suppose. They are a fun group. And we were going to be losing one of them to the middle school. I decided to shun her.

This was my first year at the school, and I made some good friends. It was nice to see some of them moving up, and sad to see some of them moving on. As for me, my own office will be moving to another location in the elementary school. It's a nice change of scenery, and I'll have a busy summer of updating and reconditioning the various technology pieces in the school.

All too soon, the chatter of children will once again fill the hallways, and I'll be dodging them as I try to navigate through the waves of sweaty little bodies, to a classroom with an out-of-date computer that isn't working right, and I'll try to make it work. And I'll smile at the teacher and tell her it works again--for now.

But for now, I'll enjoy the quiet hallways, the empty classrooms, and wonder which teacher will provide me with animal crackers in August.

Tales of the Transmission, cont.

A few days have passed since I first wrote of my exciting stay in Marion, IL, Milky-Eyed Steve, and the fun that we all had.

Thursday afternoon, realizing that I would be once again be enjoying the hospitality of Marion, I made arrangements at a Hampton Inn. I chose them primarily because their website announced in bold letters "We are a 100% smoke-free facility." Well, that and the fact that Milky-Eyed Steve did not endorse the Hampton Inn.

I arrived later in the afternoon, after over 7 fun-filled hours of waiting at the Toyota dealership. Those are moments I will always treasure. I choose to treasure them because I'll never get them back, so I may as well treasure them.

I loved my room, but I needed a change of clothes. At this point, let me explain how guys pack. See, I was going to be gone for one night and one day. That's one pair of jeans and a t-shirt to wear on the drive down, one set of dress clothes for the funeral I was to attend in Tennessee, and one pair of jeans for the return trip. One extra pair of underwear, and I'm all set. So I wasn't ready for the marathon theme park that is Marion, Illinois. I needed to do some laundry at the hotel, but I had nothing to change into except the dirty jeans I had stuck in my suitcase on day two (the rest of the dirty clothes were in the dirty clothes bag in the back of my car).

I walked about 200 yards in the hot, muggy afternoon heat to a convenience store. Why, you ask, did I choose a convenience store? Because it was the closest store. I took a gamble that they might have an assortment of "Marion Rocks!" T-shirts, or maybe some "I Survived the Super 8 in Marion" T-shirts. I thought at the very least they would have some of the black, sleeveless, "wife-beater" tank shirts I had seen so many of in Marion already. But, no. The convenience store had no shirts of any kind. Only some Harley Davidson bandanas. Not quite enough material.

I walked the 200 yards back to my room, and by the end of the walk, I really needed to do some laundry. I looked online and searched for "walmart in marion il". Imagine how excited I was when I discovered there was a Wal-mart just across Highway 13 from my hotel! I was going to have something to wear while I did laundry! I left the hotel immediately to make the short walk to a real store!

Okay, first, it wasn't a short walk. Turns out, crossing Highway 13 is about 100 yards of steep banks and wide, very busy roadways. But I was on a quest. I made it across both east and west lanes of 13, and I could see the parking lot ahead. And the parking lot really didn't even look that full!

As I got closer, I realized that, in fact, there were no cars in the parking lot. There were, however, lots of cars at the Sam's Club next door. And then, I saw it. The "BUILDING FOR LEASE" sign on what used to be a Wal-mart store. Really?

I didn't have a Sam's Club membership. I do now.

At that point, it was a quest. I was going to get a new T-shirt. And maybe a little something extra.

Thirty minutes later, I headed back out across the massive, hot asphalt parking lot for the return trip to my wonderful, clean, 100% smoke-free, cool, hotel room. In my wallet was a new Sam's Club member card, with a likeness of--someone who looked less than zippity do-da about the entire odyssey. So yeah, it looked just like me. Under one arm, I proudly carried my new T-shirt and a Family Value Picnic Pail of Beefaroni. Under the other, a 25-pound bag of Cheetos. There would be a party at the Country Inn & Suites that night. Right after a load of laundry.

I would like to bring you up to date on the story of the remaining stay and intervening days, but I'm not sure what that would do to my blood-pressure. So, to quote Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, "...Let me, there is too much---let me sum up..."

Friday evening, 5/28, returned to Springfield to await word on when the car would be finished.
Wednesday evening, 6/2, still waiting.

Don't get me started.

The best part of it all? At some point, I will get to return to Marion to pick up my car. At the current rate of service from Marion Toyota, however, that may be somewhere around Labor Day. . .2011.