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From his column A Minute with Don

minute-with-don-11-13-1I just read a story about a couple of researchers who discovered what many of us have suspected for some time: there isn’t much chicken in fast food “chicken nuggets”—at least not the parts of chicken we’d wish to eat. There was, of course, a lot of salt, breading, and fat. But chicken content was only about 40 to 50 percent, and then it was “chicken” only to the extent that it contained DNA linking it to our tasty, feathered friends.

As I read that story, it reminded me of an outing my wife and I took this fall. With the weather promising to provide our first truly autumn-like day of the season, we were enticed by the promotion of the “Applefest” in a nearby, rural community. Since we’d never been to this particular event, we logically assumed we would be visiting a festival celebrating the many uses of freshly harvested apples from the surrounding countryside.

We planned to travel the 45 minutes after having lunch, so we ate a light meal, since we’d likely be tempted by all of the delicious apple treats at the Applefest. As we drove through the sunny countryside toward the small town, I began to anticipate parking in a quaint country setting, stepping out of the car, and being greeted by the aroma of all things apple. I even pondered how I would respond to the temptations of apple fritters, apple dumplings, apple cider, apple pie, apple turnovers, apple donuts, apple cobbler, apple pancakes, apple spice cake, caramel apples, apple blossom honey, or even someone’s special homemade applesauce. Likely, there would be samples of the many varieties of apples, so we could identify our favorite. No doubt, the newly crowned “Apple Queen” would be strolling the event, and we could have our picture taken with her. I was ready for all things apple!

As we approached our destination, we began to encounter heavier traffic. My wife assured me this was a good thing, since it meant the festival was obviously a popular event. I was driving into congestion, and knowing my disdain for traffic jams, she was trying to preempt an abrupt U-turn. Fortified by her logic, and driven by my desire for the cornucopia of apple treats that awaited, I rallied and pressed on.

After finding a parking space about a mile from downtown, we opted to not wait for one of the crowded yellow school buses ferrying festival attendees, and started walking. The weather forecast for a cool afternoon was a bit more optimistic than we’d dressed for and with temps moving north of 80 degrees, we began shedding layers of wraps. My wife observed that if she’d known I was going to take her on an extended trek, she’d have worn more comfortable shoes. It was my turn to wax optimistic, so I focused on the quaint historical buildings we were passing, and reminded her that we soon would be rewarded for our efforts. (I also assured her we would return to the car aboard a bus.) We pressed on.

As we rounded the last turn and descended the final block into downtown, I was amazed at what I didn’t smell—apples! I smelled charcoal from vendors selling hotdogs and hamburgers, but no apples. Within moments, we were navigating a tightly packed crowd of festival attendees, and working our way around long lines waiting to use the portable comfort facilities. My optimism was beginning to ebb.

However, as fate would prevail, the first large tent we saw was that of a local church selling apple dumplings. A number of happy folk were standing in the street, or sitting on the curb, enjoying beautiful, golden brown apple dumplings, swimming in vanilla ice cream. Unfortunately, the line to buy a dumpling was about three blocks long, so we opted to move on, knowing we would, no doubt, have the opportunity to experience other apple treats from the many other stalls bordering the streets. (There was a lot more irony in the fact it was a church selling the dumplings, which I would come to realize.) We pressed on.

As it turned out, we should have just gotten in line three blocks from the dumpling tent. Aside from a vendor selling apple butter, there were no other apple offerings to be found—no fritters, sauce, cider, turnovers, cobbler, donuts, or pies—only people selling arts and crafts, without so much as an image of an apple.

I’d been duped! The weather was hot, the crowd was pushy, the prices were outrageous, and I wanted an apple. At that point, I would have settled for a piece of pumpkin pie, blueberry cobbler, or even a chocolate donut! It all seemed like an elaborate ruse perpetrated on a couple of unsuspecting and well-intentioned folks who simply wanted to enjoy something apple. The idyllic bliss of a country town drenched in the aroma and flavors of America’s favorite fruit was not to be had. We’d bought into the hype of a wily chamber of commerce, and all we wanted was a ride back to our car. Of course, the line for the bus was longer than the one for apple dumplings.

Later that same weekend, I stopped at my local megamart and bought a store-made apple pie and a carton of factory-churned vanilla ice cream. I warmed the pie in the microwave and plopped a scoop of ice cream on top. Actually, it wasn’t that bad, and I did not have to wait in line or sit on a curb to enjoy it. Even though I fought the temptation to do so, I calculated that, ounce for ounce, my pie and ice cream cost about 30 percent of what I would have spent on an applefest dumpling. That made me feel even better.

I thought about my apple disillusionment as I walked across the church parking lot the following day, and wondered if any of my co-worshipers were entering the building with expectations akin to mine the previous day. Would their expectations be too high, or would our worship be too little? I hoped we all would not be disappointed.

Life is marked by disappointments, and we all know disappointment is simply the result of reality not aligning with expectations. We can lower expectations. We can try to re-create our reality into something other than what it is, or we can live with the fact that sometimes, things just don't turn out the way we had planned. Sometimes, applefests don’t offer many apples, and chicken nuggets don’t deliver much chicken. And sometimes, expectations fall short of reality when it comes to church and faith.

Books have been written, sermons preached, and thousands of counselors have worked with good folks trying to make sense of disappointment with faith and church. One small article isn’t going to solve the problem, but lately I’ve been reminded that in the face of unmet expectations, I’m not alone. Scripture relates several incidents where expectations were not met. Even our Lord, on His last night on earth, came back to find his trusted friends and followers sleeping rather than praying. That had to be disappointing.

It is comforting to read the words “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” right in the middle of the “love chapter,” I Corinthians 13. Personally, it reminds me that Paul, even while extolling love’s greatness, realized that life tempers the best of all things. For now, we live with misalignments of expectations and reality—like looking at life through foggy glasses. It is part of being human in a fallen world. But scripture also tells us that this isn’t all there is. One day, there will be no more chicken-less nuggets or apple-less applefests. In the meantime, we press on.

Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefits USA for the Church of the Nazarene.

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