I grew up in Florida but I’ve never tasted an orange. At least not a real one. I thought I had until I recently read a portion of John McPhee’s book Oranges. It describes Indian River citrus – grown in the coastal areas of East Florida near Cape Canaveral – and tells why it’s better than fruit grown elsewhere, including the interior of Florida, an area citrus growers call “the Ridge.” McPhee explains that “Indian River oranges have about twenty-five per cent more sugar in them than oranges grown on the Ridge, and they contain more juice as well.” That’s because unlike the sandy soil in most of the Sunshine State, the soil on the coast “holds nutrients and moisture better, and it grows a better tree.” As a child growing up on the Ridge, I saw Indian River Fruit advertised on billboards at the ubiquitous roadside stands and tourist shops along the main north-south highways that claw their way down the peninsula like a rake. I thought it was a bunch of hooey. Just an advertising gimmick used to pick the pockets of unsuspecting Yankees. I figured the citrus grown around my hometown of Ocala was as good as the over-priced Indian River fruit shipped all over the country by the truckload. Now I suspect that I was wrong and have been missing out all these years.
I experienced something similar with avocados. As a boy I never liked them. My cigar-chewing grandpa grew avocados in his backyard and after each family visit we’d be obliged to take home with us a paper grocery bag full of the dark green fruit. They looked like someone stretched alligator skin over a fat pear. I found their flesh hard, slimy, and flavorless. But after I moved to California as an adult and sampled a native avocado – Shazam! – it was love at first bite. Unlike the east coast fruit, the west coast variety is creamy and delicious. It was as if I had never tasted an avocado before.
I had another where-has-this-been-all-my-life experience with Christianity. I grew up in a Christian home, was baptized and confirmed in a Christian church, attended Vacation Bible School every year and Sunday School every week, could sing the hymns, and thought I was a Christian. Then I met Jesus. There was no bright light or voice booming from heaven, but I tasted something I had never tasted before. The Bible says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). I was fourteen when I realized that I had just experienced real Christianity for the first time.
I suspect there are other people who are a lot like I was: good, church-going people who experience a flavorless Christianity that makes little difference in their lives. They think they know Jesus and what it means to be his disciple, but they’ve never met the real Jesus. There’s been no Aha! moment. No new birth. No conversion. Therefore it’s no wonder many have drifted away from church over the years. My first goal during the coming year is to tell them that there’s something better, something sweeter, something that makes it worth giving church another try. My other goal is to eat a real orange from the Indian River.