Saturday, July 24, 2010

In Praise of the Properly Picked Fruit

I decided to write about the thing that was foremost in my mind at the time.  That happened to be fruit.  Lucky you.

There is an art form to purchasing fruit.  At least that is true for me.  This is because I am a picky fruit eater.  I am not all that picky about food in general, save for mayonnaise, which is not a food but something in the paste family, and sweet pickles, which is basically a cucumber fermented in the nastiest of spices that stink.  But about fruit, I am beyond picky.  In fact, I have little tolerance for a poorly chosen fruit.  With me, fruit has a shelf life of about two days.  Any fruit kept longer than that is no longer a food.  It’s just mushy, decaying plant life waiting to be thrown away.

Nectarines, peaches, cherries, apples, grapes, and watermelon.  These are my fruits of choice.  Watermelon doesn’t really get included in this particular writing because this is about picking the right fruit.  That’s just a crap-shoot, I don’t care who tells you they can tell by thumping it.  What is that about, anyway?  I mean, I can thump the belly of a pregnant woman and announce that it’s going to be a boy and I have a 50/50 shot of being right.  Now, back in the day, you would walk up to a melon stand, pull out a Barlow pocketknife, and cut a “plug” out of the watermelon to determine if it was ripe or not.  You walk into a grocery store today and pull out a pocketknife and you will likely be tackled by some well-meaning grocery shopper who fears you are threatening to do something politically incorrect.  (They probably pick their fruit by the "grab and throw" method.  That is, "oh, nectarines, grab 4 and throw them in the cart!"  I have no tolerance for these people.)  Not to mention the fact that if you did cut a plug out of a watermelon, you’re going to buy that watermelon even if the plug you cut out is as green as a Gecko.  Where was I?

Oh yes, picking fruit.  For me, fruit has to be very firm, so that it has a soft crunch to it, but not green.  If it’s ripe to most people, it’s probably already rotten to me.  Where apples are concerned, it has to be a Granny Smith.  And it has to be tart enough to pull your cheeks together when you take a bite.  Don’t even let me smell a Delicious or Jonathan apple.  Mushy, and not dense enough.  Yes, I said “not dense enough.”  It’s a texture thing with me.  Bananas?  Don’t let me even see a brown spot.  I’d rather have a green banana than a “ripe” banana.  Grapes?  They have to be seedless only, and nothing soft.  My basic test with a grape is to pull one off the bunch, throw it on the floor of the grocery store, and it has to bounce back up to at least my knee. 

These are not options with me.  These are hard and fast rules.  For example, I love Bing cherries.  LOVE them.  But one has to be careful when selecting them or pay the consequences.  Allow me to quote from the fruit scriptures.

Fruitations 3:1-12
“And there shall be cherries, and they shall be good; behold, pies shall be made from the reddest of these.  And they shall be good and lo, many will be eaten—yea, with coffee and ice cream they shall be warmed and eaten.

But the greatest of these shall be called Bing.  And so it shall be that Bing cherries will be tasty.  Yea, they shall bring forth juice and it shall be dark red and shall stain all that touch it.  Yea, even thy fingers shall be stained.  And the Bing cherry shall be eaten one following the other, until thy stomach acheth.

But there shall be a bad Bing.  And the bad Bing shall be mixed among the good Bing.  Woe to the produce manager who allows the bad Bing and the good Bing to intermingle.  For the bad Bing shall be malodorous and slimy and shall bring its bad Bingness to the good Bing  and shall make the good Bing bad. 

But the good Bing shall be firm, sweet, and with the right amount of tartness.  Yea, the good Bing shall ‘plunch’ when bitten into; by this ye shall know that thy Bing is good.

And let the stems and stainful pits of thy Bings fall into thy trash receptacle with ease and with minimal stainness.

Let all grocery stores which choose to carry the Bing hear and have discernment concerning the good and bad Bing, and let them make note as the Bing is offered.

For it is written, ‘There shall be few fruits as tasty as the good Bing; but woe to the eater of the slimy Bing, for theirs will be the loss of appetite and the washing out of the mouth to rid themselves of the sliminess.’

So it is written, so let it be done.”

Yes, it’s like that.  I love good fruit.  Poorly picked fruit has no place in my life.  I knew you would want to know these things about me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Centrifuge -- Final Day: "Coming Home"

Centrifuge on the last day begins with a slap-in-the-face realization that you not only had to get up really really early after going to bed really really late, but you also have to get all of your gear packed up and out to the bus before breakfast!  And I have to make sure my crew is up, packed, and ready to take all their stuff to the bus before making the hike to the cafeteria.  Cap'n Crunch will have to wait this morning.

After breakfast, the final episode of the "Morning Show" got everyone up and moving, dancing, singing, shouting, and motivated.  Let me clarify what I mean by "everyone."  While I'm certain everyone was moving, dancing, singing, shouting, and motivated on the inside, the adult leaders seemed to be having more difficulty letting those emotions and actions make the journey to the outside.  You know the saying, "if you're happy, tell your face"?  As I looked around the auditorium this morning, it was clear that many of the adults did not get that message.

I found one adult leader from another church just sitting alone at the back of the auditorium, with moist eyes and a very weird smile on his face.  He reminded me of the Riley Poole character in "National Treasure" when he found the stairs leading them out of the caverns and said, with that same look on his face, "Look. . .Stairs!"  When I asked if this adult leader was alright, he simply responded, with profound joy and relief in his voice, "Home!"

"Home," indeed.  After an incredible week of learning, sharing, growing, and yeah, a little suffering here and there, we are going home.  What are we taking with us?  Memories, some great pictures, a strange craving for real scrambled eggs, and a new view of "Defining Moments" in our lives.

LOVE.  OBEDIENCE.  SACRIFICE.  INTEGRITY.  COMMITMENT.  How do these fit into our lives?  How can we make sure they fit into our lives?  What can we do to keep ourselves grounded in God's word?

We come home with questions; we come away with answers, too; we leave Union University with renewed motivation. 

For me personally, I believe this week truly has been a "defining moment" in my life.  It was worth every inch of walking, every forkful of weird eggs.  I have a whole new view of our young people, and I like what I see.

And, in the end, I would do it again next week if I could.  I've already volunteered for next year. 

I might bring along some Pop Tarts, though.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Centrifuge -- Day Five: "Commitment"

I pulled down the handle to dispense some Trix into my bowl.  This is when I discovered that the dispenser chute for the Trix was about the diameter of a truck tire.  So, larger than the diameter of my bowl.  I should have had a clue from the mounds of Trix on the table top and the crunchy sound under my feet.  As if in slow motion, I realized that I actually had to raise the handle back up to stop the eruption of little multi-colored sugar/corn-or-a-grain-of-some-sort  things. 

Since I was now standing in ankle-deep Trix, and my bowl was buried somewhere in the Trix hill, I determined that my best bet to retain some particle of dignity was to act like it never happened and slide quietly to the next cereal station, bobbing my head to some imaginary Hip-Hop song while reaching for another bowl.  I'm pretty sure it worked.  That's when I noticed, for the first time this week, that the kitchen crew at Union had added Cap'n Crunch to the menu!  With Crunchberries!  I determined at this point that Union University would, indeed, turn out some of the finest Christian leaders our country has ever known.  Bless them.

Friday.  The last full day of Centrifuge.  I'm beginning to realize that this week has actually gone by more quickly than I imagined it would.  If I feel that way, I can imagine how the kids must be feeling.

Today was jam-packed with a flurry of activity and a blur of teenagers making the most of this last full day.  More Interesting Eggs, bacon, grits, french toast sticks, gallons of syrup, and cereal; another morning of "Peel...the orange...Peel, peel, the orange" from the Morning Show crew to wake everyone up; another update from "Margaret Marjorie" and her friend "Dictionary Dan" (AH-HA-HA-HAA!  The kids can explain that one for you.); yet another installment of the very well-done series, "Adventure Now!", a video movie/show produced by Centrifuge and Lifeway to bring home the theme and daily focus; another quick illusion/trick from Sammy Knuckles, and then a mass exodus as everyone goes their own way to their recreation time and Bible study group.

Today's theme is "Commitment".  Part of the Bible study focus today was centered around Jeremiah 29:11-14.  This scripture became very important to me into the fourth month of a 9 month layoff I experienced during the down-turn in the economy in January 2009.  I was attending "Toward Wonder", a worship arts seminar at Willow Creek in the Chicago area.  My prospects for employment weren't looking good at that time, which put me in the same lifeboat as many, many other people.  In the bookstore at Willow Creek, I found a Bible bag (sort of a man purse...a "Murse" if you will...or a European Man Bag) to carry my Bible and various other notebooks, pens, phones, etc.  So, yeah, okay, a purse.  Anyway, imprinted on the bag was this scripture: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11

That was a turning point in my outlook concerning my future.  But you have to read the rest of the passage to get the full effect: "12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile."

See, continuing on when you don't feel like it requires something from us: commitment.  It requires some effort on my part.  "Call upon me..."   "Come and pray to me..."  "Seek me..."  Sometimes, we just don't want to go on.  It's easier to quit.   But we will find that, as the adult Bible study guide for the week says, "Follow-through and dedication to fulfill our calling are essential to experiencing the full life God intends for us."

Tonight, the kids' levels of commitment to winning were put to the test during the "Mega Relay" competition.  This is difficult to explain.  It's group against group, defined by Bible study groups (not church), and pitted against each other in physical tests of----well, weirdness.  Run as fast as you can, spin around a pool noodle 5 times as fast as you can, change direction, spin around 5 times, run back to the group as fast you can; Run as fast as you can as a group, holding hands, to a point, pile up on each other and have a bucket of water poured on you. . .it's like that.  And it is very competitive.  Teams have team flags, colors, and lots of face paint.  It's huge.  And it's awesome to watch!   And it's safe.  I'm sure it's safe. . . . . .It might not be safe.  But, the kids and the adults go crazy trying to help their respective teams.  Everyone's a winner.  But not everyone wins.
Last full day of Centrifuge.  How is it that am finding it sad that it's going to be over tomorrow?!  And just when I found the Cap'n Crunch---with Crunchberries!!!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Centrifuge - Day Four: "Sacrifice"

This morning was beautiful...a nice, clear sky and pretty sunrise.  A perfect southern early summer day.

However, into Day Four of Centrifuge, I have noticed another phenomenon.  Yes, the walking distance seems to be getting shorter.  Unfortunately, so do the nights.  Four hours of sleep really doesn't seem like much.  Here's why: BECAUSE IT ISN'T. Still, I find the energy to face Day Four head-on. 

Speaking of finding energy...After breakfast, before the "Morning Show" activity in the auditorium to kick off the theme of the day, some of the kids lined up in front of the fountain in "The Circle" and gave an impromptu performance of "Vast Voyage" from VBS, complete with choreography.
Apparently, they were energized enough to mobilize the show and they rolled on into the auditorium, keeping the music and dancing going all the way, until they spilled into the aisles of the auditorium, picking up more students as the concert continued.  It eventually flowed seamlessly into a coordinated choreography taking up two aisles and complementing the thundering pre-music for the "Morning Show".
It. Was. Awesome.

Today's theme was "Sacrifice".  Bible study focused on the sacrifice of Hannah in I Samuel.  In my study, Romans 12:1 and 2 provoked some thought.  It speaks of making ourselves living sacrifices and being transformed by renewing our minds so that our sacrifice is real and will stand up to the pressure of letting our own will override the sacrifice.  The life questions sting a bit.  What are you willing to give up in order to live the life God has for you?  Why does your affection for other things often outweigh your love for God?  Oh, so it's gonna be like that?

The evening worship services continue to be fantastic, with more examples of how God is moving in these young people's lives.  It's hard not to get caught up in the unbridled enthusiasm and excitement, even for a jaded old guy like myself!  Great praise and worship music, energetic, to-the-heart-of-the-matter teaching, and involved and engaged young people.  What's not to like about that?

The week is beginning to tell on the adults, for sure. The kids seem be impervious to calorie intake, fatigue, or hoarseness.  The rest us us?  Well. . . .what is the old saying about a picture and a thousand words?
And I would have to say that this picture also fits in rather well with the day's theme.  Let's caption this photo with one word:    "S A C R I F I C E"

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Centrifuge - Day Three: "Obedience"

I would like to start this update by thanking the parents of the boys in my room (Jared Dietz, Kyle Crane, and Kyle Pettys--who, because we have so many Kyles, we call "Tucker" for some reason) for raising their kids with such good hygiene habits. Having experienced the opposite traits in teenage boys, I honestly can't thank you enough. I think that's all we need to say on that topic.
Jared and Kyle in a quiet repose after a meal

An interesting phenomenon has occurred on this third day of Centrifuge. During the night Union University officials, who have apparently been reading this blog, have moved the building that houses the cafeteria closer to our dorm!  (Yes, I allow for the possibility that I'm simply getting used to the walking, but--how boring to write about is that?)

During morning recreation time, the "adults" (hey, that's what they call us, stop laughing) participated in what is referred to as a "Trust Fall", or as I like to call it, "Do You Think I'm an Idiot with a Death Wish???"  Now, there are times when carrying a camera with a big lens can be helpful in more ways than taking good pictures.  "I can't participate in the Do You Think I'm an Idiot with a Death Wish??? fun because I have to take photos for our church...But I do get the point of the activity and I am in total agreement with the hoped-for result."

This "Trust Fall" was a bit different than the ones I have actually participated in before.  In those, one stood stiffly and simply forced oneself to lean backward until gravity could assist and then the person the Idiot with a Death Wish "trusts" catches said Idiot on the way down and helps soften the landing.  With this new and improved version, one stands on what looks to be a deer stand about a hundred feet off the ground and free-falls onto a group of adults who are as old and as out of shape as I am and who are entrusted with catching the Idiot with a Death Wish.   Enter the "I'm the photographer" excuse.

Bible study today focused on "Obedience" as the theme for the day, and the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was the foundation.  Interesting to think that those guys not only refused to bow, but made it clear that they would not bow down even if God did not deliver them.  Compare that to the "situational obedience" we so often choose.  Lord help me to be willing to lay it all on the line, holding nothing back, and avoid the "depends on the circumstances" road that seems so much easier.

In the afternoon, I was part of the "Missions" Track Time, which included three of our young ladies (Katherine Alexander, Lauren Hennefen, and Justine Dietz).  About 30 young people boarded vans and drove off campus to a nursing home to minister to the residents.  What an awesome experience that was.  We met Miss Carolyn, a life-long resident of Jackson, and Miss Dorothy (one of my favorites simply because she shares the name of one of my grandmothers), both dear, sweet ladies.  But the amazing thing to me was watching our girls ministering to the residents there.  I would swear I could actually see them growing spiritually right before my eyes!

Union University really is a beautiful campus with a rich history (founded in 1823), and a great heritage as an institute of Christian education.  And since they were so nice to shorten my walking distance, I have to say they are extremely accommodating!  Parents, you really should make this college campus a part of your college visits for your young people.

Tonight's worship service was an anointed time of music and teaching.  I looked around me at one point and saw one of our teenage guys lost in worship, unashamedly praising God with lifted hands--not in a big, showy, "does this look right" sort of way, but truly worshiping.  I saw our teenagers singing songs of praise and making me believe that they not only knew what the words they were singing meant, but that they believed what they were singing.  What a concept, huh?  What a great teaching moment for me.

Again tonight, many lives forever changed, the Kingdom expanded, and seeds planted.  Following the service, when camp pastor Sammy Knuckles asked everyone to exit reverently and respectfully (of those still in counsel with leaders and pastors), you could have heard a pin drop.  Do you know what over 800 teenagers sounds like leaving an auditorium reverently and respectfully?  I do now.

Another great time of sharing in our Church Group time in the Chemistry class lecture room followed, with more openness from these awesome young people.  These are moments that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.  These are truly, as the theme of the camp suggests, defining moments for them.  And for me.

As for whether or not I'll survive the week, I think I'm over the hump.  I mean, teenage boys with good hygiene, and buildings closer together for less walking?  It's looking better all the time!

Heck, I might even try the eggs again tomorrow.  Nahhhhhh.  Let's not be unrealistic in our expectations.