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The Kinetic Principle of Burned Corn and Tabasco Spaghetti

January 26, 2014

One of the deep Biblical convictions I carry as a Bible teacher is the James 1:22 principle:

Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.

Numerous students who have been Christians for many a year are quite inexperienced in taking God’s Word and practicing it externally, especially in the area of witnessing for the faith.  They haven’t carried Jesus to their friends, family or others.  Such incubation is unhealthy.  Not unlike the sedentary citizen who eschews exercise, the Christian who does not activate their faith into the hungry and wondering world becomes flabby and unresponsive.  Whenever I teach I make it a point to push, push for the student to take the learning of that day and share it at dinner, in their youth group, in their part-time job, to their neighborhood friend.  Call it Kinetic College if you will.  Grab the textbook and get out on the streets.

Our high school wrestling coach never meant for us to memorize the moves and leave the gym, right?  Within minutes we were taking it to the mat.  Within weeks we were going face-to-face with opponents.  The same thinking applies here.

I give extra credit for the teen who takes what I have learned and presents it as a speaking opportunity before a group, be it a youth gathering, weekend campout, senior citizen’s meeting, family reunion, business men’s luncheon… speaking in front of a group for a minimum on seven minutes on one of the Bible teachings earns my student a cool 25 points on the next test.  Sure, it’s a lot – they can do it once a month – but the reactions and growth to both the listeners and the young teacher has been well worth it.

And the Kinetic College doesn’t stop there.

I teach my students to speak in front of groups.  Within the Bible classes, they give speeches. I teach them how to have the right manners in a restaurant.  How to do laundry.  How to use duct tape.  The joys of WD-40.

But the best – and most enjoyable – is when I take the classes to one of my Theology Camp weeks or weekend retreats and teach them how to cook.

To the uninitiated, this is stepping into uncharted waters.  It’s sometimes frustrating, sometimes joyful, but it is never dull.

Sometimes it’s downright hilarious.

imageMy weekends always start:

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I first state that you used to be fed and catered to by the adult and chaperones all through your camping life.  That was then.  This is now.  You will do all of the cooking for the camp, and we will rotate in shifts.  I will group you in bunches who will then follow the menu I have posted, take total control of the kitchen. Of course, none of the rest of you will laugh or mock, because soon it will be your turn. ”

I have used this camping plan for over two decades, and it has created some great memories.  Last month I raced into the kitchen as smoke billowed from the oven.  Earl stood there, confused and giggling.  “Something’s wrong with the oven,” he said, “or with the french fries.  Or me.”

It was him.

Earl had used a styrofoam sheet to bake french fries.  Gobs of plastic dripped from the rack.  The smell was, shall we say, memorable.

Last year, Brandon pawed his way through the breakfast,making eggs but eliciting a series of grunts as he did so.  The eggs were shredded.  “I don’t like this,” sweated Brandon.  “I didn’t think eggs would be so hard.”

“Perhaps, ” suggested Steve, one of my adult chaperones, “you might use a bit of cooking oil in the pan first.”

There was a cake that Patrick made that had no eggs in it.

Once, we were served a meal of burnt spaghetti topped with salsa and tabasco sauce.

Yet for every unfortunate entree, we have feasted over the years to amazing servings of sirloin steaks, Idaho potatoes, three-tiered cakes, blueberry muffins and tender roasts.  We have also seen students come alive in a previously unused talent.

How did this all start?  Quite by accident…

It was at one of my very first camps,  a Theology Camp in North Carolina next to a pristine lake. It was an end-of-the-year campout for the seniors of the school. As a special treat I was preparing the evening meal – a corn roast with all of the fixings, all to be eaten in the outdoors under a glowing sunset.  While the rest of the camp played sand volleyball, 18 year-old Sophie sauntered over to the firepit, watching me roll aluminum foil around the ears of corn and laying them in the coals of the fire.

“Um, you’re burning the corn, sir.”

I glanced over to her while I put another wrapped ear on the coals.  “No, Soph, this is a great way to enjoy roasted corn.  The foil protects the corn while it cooks like a mini-oven.”  I straightened up.  “Have you ever cooked outdoors?”

She stood, transfixed.  “No, sir, I never have.”

“Oh, so all of your cooking has been in the kitchen?”

She shook her head.  “I’ve never cooked a thing in my life.”

“You haven’t even used a toaster?”

“No, sir.  Microwave is the only thing I’ve used.  I don’t even know how to turn on a stove.” She stared at the corn.  “It sure looks fun.”

I gestured to the pile of corn.  “Well, ma’am, you’re going to get your first lesson. Grab some of that foil and wrap the corn like this, see…”

So Sophie and I wrapped two dozen more ears.  She was grinning from ear to ear all through the dinner.

The next morning I stood in front of the camp kitchen stove.  Sophie wandered in.  I saw the chance.

“Okay, ma’am, pick up a spatula.”

“Beg pardon?”

I waved a frying pan. “You are going to make pancakes.  For every one in the camp.”

She was stunned.  “Me? I’ve never…”

“But now you  will.”  I brought over the bowl of batter.   “That pan is already warm.  Now, put some of this oil on there…  spoon this batter on… and we’ll wait for the bubbles to appear…”

Her first pancake was shaped like California.  The second looked like  raccoon roadkill.  She didn’t give up.

“I’ll get this yet, sir.”

And she did, making stacks and stacks of pancakes.  As the campers devoured the flapjacks amidst praise and syrup, Sophie turned to me.  “I love this.  I never thought I could do it, but I can. ” On the trip home that Saturday afternoon, I could see that she had a new spirit about her.

On Monday at 3:30, Sophie’s parents caught me in the parking lot of the school.

“We want to thank you for hosting the camp, ” said Mrs. Tanner. “It’s all she’s talked about. Sophie came back changed.  She has a new confidence, and she’s been bubbly ever since.”

“I’m certainly glad that the Bible teaching was effective,” I said.

“Oh, more than that,” Mr. Tanner laughed.  “Sophia told us that you opened up a new door of talent that she never knew she had.  She told us she can cook!”

“She insisted that on Sunday she would cook for us – the entire family,” said Mrs. Tanner.  “And on Sunday morning, we woke up to pancakes…”

“… and corn on the cob,” said Mr. Tanner.  “Cooked outside in our firepit.”

“And after church, for lunch we had,” added Mrs. Tanner, “roasted corn and more pancakes…”

“Dinner was roast corn … and pancakes…”

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