Friday, July 28, 2006

Cell Phones and Sneezes

Cavernous echoes and distant voices flood my ear as I sit and listen. It sounds as if I have fallen into a deep pit that leaves me disconnected. After a period of odd silence filled with a few lone noises from beyond, the explanation finally comes.

My friend on the other end of the cell phone connection tells me, “Caroline, I just put you in my pocket. It is time to conduct commerce.” Even though I was dropped rudely into the depths of a shopper’s pocket, one cashier at a gas station did not have to wait for someone to get off a cell phone.

Last week, a woman stood in front of me in the line at a local grocery store. As we waited for our turn to check out, she continued to chat on her cell. A few moments later, everyone in our line shifted glances uncomfortably because we knew far too many details of her love life. This customer never realized that she was broadcasting personally every part of her “private conversation” exchanged on her phone. She never even realized that we were there.

How disconnected can humanity become from the people standing all around?

As a little girl, my mother would take me back to school shopping at Mr. Almond’s store in Old Towne Conyers the week before school started. The hardwood floors creaked as we stepped inside to make our purchases. Mr. Almond immediately welcomed us inside and spoke with my mother as Chris and I made our way to the kids’ section.

Brown paper sacks held all the supplies needed for each grade at Pine Street Elementary School. We picked up a bag for our grade, and mom allowed us to pick one more item as a prize. Before we left the store, someone always greeted us and offered us encouragement for our new school year. As a child, I clearly remember thinking we shopped for the simple purpose of socializing.

Shane Hipps’s book The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, The Gospel, and Church warns of the dangers of technology on our culture. When looking at media, Hipps asked what the medium obsoletes from our world. Cell phones offer us instant connection with almost anyone in the world at any moment. However, the more difficult and hidden question asks us what cell phones steal from us? Those phones steal our connection with the people standing right beside us.

The Gospel of Mark describes a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. She had been hearing the stories of Jesus and the rumors of his healing power. When Jesus passed by her on the street amongst a crowd, she reached out and touched his robe.

Her culture banned her from touching anyone while she was bleeding. However, Jesus instantly felt her small touch. Jesus said to her, "Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you're healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague." Her physical connection with Jesus brought healing.

The Center of Disease Control tells that the best prevention we have against influenza and respiratory infections is manners. Simply covering our mouths when we cough and sneeze would prevent over half of those diseases from spreading. When we forget people are living just beside us, we lose even the simplest human protective behaviors.

Dear friends, turn off your phone! In memory of Mr. Almond and his store, I promise to put the cell phone in my pocket and speak to that person behind the counter. The time has come to offer simple humanity to those around us.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Orly, Mrs. Jane, and the Recipe

Mrs. Jane Bellefuille heard about last week’s article at a body shop last week. The cashier heard that she was attending Salem Campmeeting, and that dear reader asked how my cake turned out. Jane joined me at the church picnic, and she even tasted my cake. She, like all of the others at the picnic, graciously welcomed my cake and me into their little circle of cake bakers.

On Monday, Jane stopped me to talk on her porch. She knew that the recipe Orly’s, my maternal grandmother that passed away when I was thirteen.

When Jane and her husband, Claude, first moved to Conyers, she taught at J. H. House Elementary School. Orly, or “Mrs. Brodnax,” was a retired teacher and substituted regularly at House.
Claude was diagnosed with cancer, and Orly stepped into Jane’s life. Orly had cancer years before, so she knew all that the Bellefuille’s would be experiencing. Jane would drop by her little farmhouse in North Rockdale, listen to that sweet woman, and eat a piece of apple cake. Simply sitting at that kitchen table with Orly brought peace.

The last time she visited Orly, who was then in her 80’s, still holds poignant for Jane. By that time in her life, Orly has lost my grandfather and her health was failing. Jane spent the afternoon talking under those oak trees, and she asked Orly is she could do anything to help before she left.

”Jane, I hate to ask you this,” Orly responded, “but I am not able to do my toenails anymore.” In the afternoon up on the hill, Jane stopped to tend to the toenails of a little woman at the end of her days.

As a little girl, I would lean my head over Orly’s kitchen sink, and she would wash my tangled hair. As Orly aged, my mom began to wash her mom’s hair in that same sink. I would stand on a milk crate, and Mom and I would then roll her hair. Time turns all of our family roles upside-down.

Jesus once said, “Anything you do unto the least of these you have done unto Me.” To an outsider, Orly might have seemed to be one of the “least of these. She was just an elderly woman quietly living alone.

She was quite the contrary to me; she was a queen. Orly read a book every day, never appeared angry, brought comfort to half of Rockdale County, and could bake an apple cake with her eyes closed. Most importantly, she taught her only daughter how to love her little girl without any limits or stipulations. Here I stand two decades later with a mother that I call my best friend. We both owe that to her.

Thank you, Mrs. Jane, for tending to the feet of a little woman in North Rockdale. Your love I felt as I listened to your story. May we pour out that kind of love on one another.

(After receiving phone calls, emails, and cards requesting the recipe, I decided to pass on Orly’s recipe. Remember, it must be enjoyed with friends.)

Orly’s Apple Cake

2 ½ cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. Cinnamon
2 tsp. Baking powder
1 tsp. Salt
4 eggs
1 ½ cups oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cup chopped apples

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Add eggs; mix well. Add oil gradually, beating constantly. Add vanilla; mix well. Fold in apples. Spoon into a greased tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Cool in pan for several minutes. Invert onto serving plate. Yields 16 servings.

Monday, July 17, 2006

My Rite of Passage

Many cultures celebrate a rite of passage where a boy becomes a man. Aborigines created bungee jumping for their young men to prove their courage. Native American legends tell of young braves going on his first hunt. African tribesman sent boys into the jungle to become men through their first fight.

I am staring down the barrel of my own rite of passage. It does not involve braving a jungle or making a kill; instead, my challenge is my first entry in a legendary annual event. The First United Methodist Church picnic at Salem Campground is upon us. This is a festive time under the oak trees that we sit and enjoy fried chicken and various covered dishes together. They mentioned that we are even bringing in a bluegrass band this year.

My grandmother called last week to review my recipes. She has known for months what she will be bringing. Grandma is one of the few who has earned the right to place her masking tape name label on the top of her dish. Her pound cakes are renowned at any church picnic.

“Caroline, go ahead and tell me what you are cooking. Let’s think through what people always enjoy,” she instructed me on the phone last week. This rite of passage is significant to everyone in my family. It proves if they really raised me right.

Our church published a now out-of-print green cookbook called “Feed His Sheep” that is a collection of recipes from various church members. In fact, my grandmother personally sold over 300 copies in Conyers. Any recipe from the green cookbook has a magical ability to flourish as the best dish at the party.

Certain rules do apply. If you make a dish and someone compliments you, the cook must site the name of the recipe author. (Side note: anything by Nadine Yoder, Frances Ingle, or June Barnett guarantees greatness). Many people have begun to call the recipe author or send her a note to tell what compliments ensued from her dish. We share all of the glory.

My recipe selection has stressed me out all week. My first impulse was the make something hip by using a recipe from my new Rachel Ray cookbook. A friend dashed my idea by telling me than no one wants originality at the picnic. I have to walk the path of the ones before me. So, I will make deviled eggs. I will even go out and find one of those platters that has the egg indentions.

Sausage balls are next on my list. They have a handful of recipes in “Feed My Sheep” and my brother will eat the entire batch if no one else will. No one wants to leave a picnic with food still on her platter.

My baked item will be Orly’s Apple Cake. My maternal grandmother made an apple cake every day, and people all over Conyers knew her for it. Orly taught me how to make the cake when I was a little girl, and my mom submitted the recipe to the cookbook.

Grandma has approved the selections and now I am on my way.

This experience revealed how important it is to me to stand among the greats. For generations, families have gathered under that tabernacle to worship and to tell the story of God. “I love to tell the story, twill be my theme in glory, to tell the old, old story, of Jesus and His love.”

Now, I can walk their path by telling their stories, singing their songs, and baking their cakes. May my life join with theirs to continue telling the story of His love.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Old Conyers

We call it Old Conyers. This expression is not referring to Olde Town Conyers, the historic district found in the center of our city limits. Old Conyers, instead, refers to the way life was before.

Old Conyers actually creates a secret grid over the city. Even though Evans Pharmacy thrives each morning with filled prescriptions and warm cups of coffee, Old Conyers calls it Beasley’s. We don’t mean to do it; Vince Evans is doing a great job. This is in no way a derogatory term. Instead, Beasley’s was the name of the drug store in his location for so many years. The old name just falls right off our tongue. When my brother has a bad day and needs a surprise, our entire family knows to go to Beasley’s and get Chris a Lemon Sour. Good thing they still serve those at Evan’s.

On another note, we are thrilled to house Georgia Perimeter College here in Conyers. My dear friend is an English Professor there, and she keeps me posted on the academic progress happening. The only problem is that I am Old Conyers. In my mind, that building on West Avenue is the Liquidation Mart. Before the days of T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s, Liquidation Mart was our only option for discount clothing. We went there in the summer to buy shoes, and they never had a working air conditioner. Just looking over at the building when I drive by makes me feel hot.

Old Conyers exists for so many of us. Whistle Post Tavern? That’s the Feed & Seed for Old Conyers. Crusade Dominion Church? Old Conyers calls that the new movies. Warehouse Music could be called Blockbuster Music, but most original Old Conyers speakers would refer to it as Turtle’s. Billy Bob’s is really Duvall’s, and the Piggly Wiggly is Thriftown. Or Big Star. It depends on who is reporting.

How can we change with change?

In the Scriptures, change usually symbolizes growth and new life. Jesus told us that He would bring “new wineskins.” This meant that He would not try to force Himself and His Church into old patterns and habits. The transformation was part of His plan.

God actually changed people names as a symbol of their inner transformation. Abram became Abraham as he stepped out on the mission God presenting him. Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter when Jesus prophesized that Peter would be the Rock on which the Church would be build. Saul transformed into Paul as his conversion.

My mother always tells “the only thing no one can argue with is a changed life.” Who can dispute that something significant has happened when they witness a life transformed?

When Jesus stopped to get a drink of water in the heat of the day, he came across a woman from the wrong side of town. She could not believe that He spoke to her.

He told her that day that He could offer water that was living. She would not have to thirst anymore. Jesus, then, looked directly into her soul. He questioned her about the men in her life. Through that conversation, the woman at the well recognized Jesus as the Son of God that day.

John 4:30 reports what that woman told everyone when she returned to her town. "Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?" And they went out to see for themselves.

Jesus changes hearts and lives. Can we support them and even call them by their new name when it happens?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Luke 12:31 (The Message)

"What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don't be afraid of missing out. You're my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself."