Friday, December 30, 2005

Meet Samuel Woman

Yesterday Portia and Babs were out for the afternoon visiting friends who were also home for the holidays and I stayed home waiting for a service call. So I thought it was a good time to get some work done on the devotions I promised to write for the RevGalBlogPals next book, Ordinary Time.

Yikes! I realized that I had written 1 1/2 devotions and had 6 1/2 to go--and they are due by January 30 which is when I'll be busy trying to get off to the annual Presby conference for Educators. In mid-January we'll be launching a new midweek discipleship program at church that grew out of our Alpha and Bible in 90 Days classes. So I realized that I'd better get going and finish these.

Like our Advent book, A Light Blazes in the Darkness (see sidebar), the devotions are based on the lectionary readings for each day. The days I volunteered for were based on a random selection of dates that were significant to me (family birthdays) and trying for a balance between Old and New Testament readings. Methodically, I decided to work on them in order of date.

That meant that I spent most of yesterday working on two lengthy passages from Samuel. Unlike the Advent readings which had a different one for each day, I had one scripture linked with two days, so I had to figure out how to divide the scripture which was a tricky task.

Samuel is one of the history books, which is fine with me because as a history major I'm more comfortable with these books than some of the others--like the wisdom and prophecy books. Still, four devotions based on Samuel is quite the immersion experience. It was fun discovering some contemporary allusions in these stories. For example, I saw God whapping the prophet Nathan upside the head for being King David's "yes man" and Samuel conducting a modern day political "beauty contest" with the sons of Jesse. Hope I'm not too far off base. I'm going to let them rest while I work on the other four.

For now, just call me Samuel Woman!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ciao, Y'all!

You Are Italian Food

Comforting yet overwhelming.
People love you, but sometimes you're just too much.

Time for another What kind of (fill in the blank) internet quiz!

It's been a light blogging week as I enjoy time with Portia and Babs, home for the holidays. I do dearly love to cook and eat Italian food, so this one seems more accurate than most. Do your results on this quiz match your food preferences?

Tip of the chef's toque hat to rev-ed.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas Eve Alert: Angel Flashing

Our extended family and friends filled two long pews at Tall Steeple Presby Church in the Woods on Christmas Eve. We got there early enough to secure seats right in front of the chancel area where the Christmas pagent would take place.

The sanctuary was soon bursting with nearly a thousand families--excited children, toddlers and babies dressed up in their Christmas finery. Everything began right on time. We were anticipating the entrance of our angels--my oldest niece and her three girls aged 8, 5 and 3. First Mary and Joseph entered while we sang appropriate Christmas carols. Then the eight year old entered first and stood stage left. The congregation rose to sing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." The rest of the hardy angel band made their appearance robed in white with wings and silver glittery halos.

We were less than one-quarter of the way into the service. As the service proceeded, the 3 year old became more and more comfortable on the "stage". She started skipping around and grinning at the audience. Her mother tried futilely to grab her without breaking her angelic character. Oldest sister had the "I don't know who she is" look on her face and refused to glance in that direction.

The littleist angel spied the whole family in the pews and started waving. We looked down at our shoes so as not to encourage her further. Then she pulled her angel's robe over her head and flashed the congregation just before Mom grabbed her.

"Well, at least she had her panties on," said one family member as we chortled about it afterwards.

We'll be telling that story on her for many years to come.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve 2005

This Christmas Eve Day I wish I could send each of you the beautiful day we are having here. The skies are a crisp, clear blue. There's a light breeze ruffling the bright red leaves of the Bradford pear trees that stand just behind our house. With temperatures in the mid-60's today and predicted lows in the mid-40's tonight we won't have a repeat of last year's once-in-a-lifetime snowfall, but we'll be able to trade the bright sunny day for a star-lit night and a comfortable gathering of family and friends around a lively fireplace.

Presents are wrapped and under the tree or packed in shopping bags for the trip to relatives and friends in a couple of hours. We're scheduled to make two worship services: one at Presby Tall Steeple Church in the Woods to see our oldest neice and her family in the Christmas pagent. I'm told we'll be dodging the live donkey and camel as we settle in to catch them in their roles of Wise Man and Angels. (Typecasting???)

Then its off to exchange presents with El Jefe's side of the family, followed by a late evening supper and present exchange with our neighbors. Then we'll make the candlelight service at our own Suburban Presby Church on the Plain. Tomorrow morning we're skipping the Sunday service on the theory that we attended church already that day as the candlelight service ends after midnight. Santa's presents will be opened to the strains of Messiah, followed by brunch and afternoon visiting with family and friends.

Our baking is done, the house ready for Christmas Day. Merry Christmas, Y'all !

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Music Friday Five

On this eve of Christmas Eve Songbird offers a Christmas Music Friday Five Meme for the RevGalBlogPals and friends. So, Maestro, without further ado....

1. If you had to choose CDs as a soundtrack for the Christmas season, what would they be?

Messiah by George Frederick Handel--the entire oratorio, not just the Christmas portion.

2. How do you feel about singing all the verses of "The First Noel?" (Six in our hymnal, but apparently there are nine.)

Our Presbyterian hymnal uses the "Nowell" spelling. I say sing them all! Especially the last verse:

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
That hath made heaven and earth of nought
And with His blood our life hath bought.
Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell
Born is the King of Israel

"O, Come All Ye Faithful" has a lot of verses, too. Which is your favorite?

Apparently we Presbies got short-changed compared to the version in Songbird's UCC hymnal. There are only 3 verses in the "blue" hymnal. I like the first verse best in English AND in Latin:

Adeste, fideles, laeti triumphantes;
Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum videte Regem angelorum.
Venite adoremus, venite adoremus, venite adoremus, Dominum

I remember singing Adeste Fideles in Latin in my Presbyterian church on Christmas Eve in San Antonio in Latin. I have no idea why we did that! Must've had a Latinist for a pastor or music director.

4. What music do you play while opening presents?

Messiah, Messiah, and then some more Messiah. My father always played Messiah non-stop from Christmas Eve to the end of Christmas Day and I follow that custom. Needless to say I have the ENTIRE thing memorized which comes in handy when I'm singing it with a church choir.

5. Which carols do you consider to be Christmas Eve essentials?

O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and Once in Royal David's City.

Bonus Question:

6. What, if any, is your favorite secular Christmas song?

Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly
'Tis the season to be jolly
Tra-la etc
Don we now our gay apparel
Tra-la etc
Troll the ancient Yuletide carol
Tra-la etc

My maiden name was Hall. When I was growing up we adopted this as our theme song and sang Deck the "Hall's" as we put up our Christmas tree and decorations.

How would you answer these questions? I hope you get to sing all your favorite carols in church tomorrow and Sunday.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

My Favorite Advent

A year ago I knew that I was experiencing my favorite Advent/Christmas season in many years. Unlike El Jefe, I am not a particularly nostalgic person. I tend to focus on the here and now and the future more than remembering the past. But this year I find myself re-living last year's highlights and smiling about them.

It began with a long-anticipated trip to Sewanee, where Babs was a senior, to attend their famous Lessons and Carols service in All-Saints Chapel. People come from all across the Southeast to be at this event. Buses from churches in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia make the pilgrimage every year. The great pipe organ and the Chapel were refurbished during the previous two years so we waited to attend until everything was completed. And we were NOT disappointed.

The university choir was magnificent, All Saints was beautifully decorated with evergreens and poinsettas, the pipe organ was glorious and the readings heart-felt. A large spotlight was positioned outside the building just behind the giant rose window above the altar so that it glowed like the Star of Bethleham when the lights were dimmed for the candlelit recessional. I left filled with a joy and anticipation that stayed with me for weeks.

Advent/Christmas last year was the least stressful season I can remember in many, many years. I discovered online shopping and avoided the disastrous and frustrating construction detours around the Houston Galleria area.

Then an unexpected surprise-- on Christmas Eve snow began to fall on Sugar Land (the Houston suburb where we live). As we left our house to join some neighbors for dinner at a local restaurant, big, fat white snowflakes drifted down. And actually stuck! It wasn't very cold, really, just barely under freezing. The last time I saw snow here was more than 10 years ago and then it melted as soon as it hit the ground. As we looked out the windows of the restaurant the snow flurries seemed magnified by the light reflected from the overhead street lights.

The snow lay on the ground,
The stars shone bright.
When Christ our Lord was born
On Christmas night.

In the history of recorded weather in Texas, there had never been a white Christmas in our area. I've spent every Christmas of my life in either San Antonio or the Houston area, so it was a first for me, too. Flurries were still falling as we left the midnight candlelight service at church and drove home. It was perfect! The roads remained warm enough to prevent any icing problems. the snowfall was like a light dusting of powdered sugar on all the buildings and cars.

How my late mother, a native of Chicago, would have loved to see snow on Christmas Eve. To her it wasn't Christmas without a fire in the fireplace. The problem was that many years we had to crank up the air conditioning to offset the heat it created when the temperatures in San Antonio were in the eighties.

The next morning it was warming just enough to start melting the snow. Kids all over the neighborhoods were scraping snow off cars and lawns to make snowballs and slushy-looking snowmen. We went over my sister-in-law's home for Christmas Day brunch and present exchanges.

By Boxing Day, there was no trace of snow left. We drove over to San Antonio for dinner with my brothers and sister. This was a mini-reunion of that side of the family and a blessing because it represented a rapproachment after a significant family rift. El Jefe, Portia, Babs and I stayed at the Menger Hotel that night and visited the Alamo across the street before driving home the next day.

Babs and I looked for a traditional Lessons and Carols service in the Houston area at the beginning of Advent. You won't find one like the one in Sewanee (and you sure won't find one like that in one of our Presbyterian churches) but we hoped to find something close. We didn't. And I was disappointed because it seemed to me that beginning Advent with that experience truly heralded the season.

But now I realize that it wasn't just that service. It was a combination of many blessings that came together last year and was made memorable by the sparkling snow flakes that fell from Heaven on Christmas Eve.

Many Christmas cards from friends that we have received contain pictures of that once-in-a-lifetime snow on the palm trees, swimming pools and beaches of south Texas. I'm not the only one reliving that special Christmas Eve.

What was your favorite Advent?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Grace's Virtual Christmas Cookie Exchange

Babs was in a baking mood this afternoon, so she made our favorite Christmas cookie, pictured to the left.

My sainted mother-in-law made this every year at Christmas time when El Jefe was growing up. They're called Turtle Cookies. I decided that they are appropriate for Christmas because the pecans that form the head and feet of the turtle are arranged like a Celtic Trinity (well, maybe that's a stretch).

Around the RGBP webring and on other blogs I've seen Christmas cookie recipes being posted, so I decided to host a "virtual Christmas cookie exchange" here.

If you have a recipe for your favorite Christmas cookie to share post it on your blog (with a picture if you can) and then leave a comment on this post so we can find it and print it out. If you don't have a blog and would like to share then just leave the recipe in your comment.

Here's the recipe for the Turtle Cookies--

Sift together:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
Set aside.

Blend together:
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
Add 1 egg and 1 egg yolk (reserve the egg white for later use)
Then add 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/8 tsp maple flavoring

Add the dry ingredients you sifted to the wet mixture and mix well.

Arrange the split pecan halves rounded side up in groups of 3 to resemble the head and feet of the turtle.

Mold dough into a small ball, dip bottom of the ball into reserved egg white and press onto the nuts.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Do not overbake--these are cake-like.
Cool cookies.

Prepare chocolate frosting by melting 2 squares of unsweetened chocolate, 1/2 cup milk, and 1 tbs butter in the top of a double boiler over boiling water. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat and add 1 cup sifted powdered sugar. Blend until smooth and glossy.

Frost each "turtle" generously. Makes about 18 cookies.

Chronic of Narnia Rap

Oh, yes, it's true--see the "music" video here. Tip of the do-rag to John at Locusts and Honey.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Return of a Son of the Church

It was a surprise to see him coming across the sanctuary to give me a big bear-hug. Tall, dark and handsome, Charles looked wonderful. Now a senior in college in a neighboring state, he hasn't visited home much since going away to school and has frustrated many of us with his inconsistent contact with the folks back home.

Not that we don't understand why. We do.

Whenever I see him I think of his late father, my friend Jonah. Jonah and his wife immigrated from Nigeria. She was a nurse and he was a medical researcher. They both worked in Houston's Medical Center. Charles was the middle of three sons.

When Charles was in middle school Jonah was dying of brain cancer. In the last two months of his life his wife Rose was killed by a drunk driver as she drove home from her night shift at the hospital. Then El Jefe and I became involved in helping Jonah make legal arrangements for the guardianship of the three boys who would soon be orphans.

After Jonah's death, Charles and his brothers went to live with Dr. O, a member of our congregation and friend of Jonah's. Because all of the boys were American citizens and had never lived in Nigeria, Jonah wanted them to stay rather than travel to his native country to be brought up by relatives they barely knew. The almost simultaneous deaths of Jonah and Rose created a legal snarl that rivaled the most complicated law school exam questions I had ever seen. But El Jefe got his firm to work and everything was arranged. Jonah and his wife had been very prudent with their finances and left more than enough money to support and educate the boys.

Now Dr. O was a single father at the time to four children of his own. His ex-wife suffered from mental health problems and left the area to live with her sister. With seven children to parent, Dr. O moved into a larger home and many church members rallied around to help. The boys made the adjustment--but it was hard for everyone.

Several years passed and Charles was a senior in high school and one of the stars of his basketball team. A group of us attended as many of his games as we could to help support him. When we greeted him after the game, calling him "Charles" his friends would look quizzical. "That's my church name", he explained to them. Like many Nigerians, Charles also had an Igbo name and that was the name by which he was known at school.

That spring Charles' older brother, a freshman in college, was killed by a drunk driver one Saturday night. Just about 3 months later his youngest brother dropped dead while on a mission trip in Fort Worth with our senior high youth group. An autopsy revealed that he had a congenital defect in the vessels going to his heart that could not have been repaired. The doctors said that it was probably the result of his mother's having contracted measles in the first trimester of her pregnancy with him.

So Charles buried both his brothers before going away to school. I accompanied him to probate court with an attorney from El Jefe's firm that summer as the judge signed the order consolidating his brother's trusts into one trust for his benefit. El Jefe and another church member who is an investment advisor sat down with him to explain his financial situation and to caution him to be discreet about it--at his age it would be easy for him to be taken advantage of. Charles followed their advice. He was very uncomfortable with this money because it represented the loss of his entire family.

Then he left for college, as planned. He had hoped to play basketball for his school, but that didn't happen. He didn't return phone calls from Dr. O and his foster brothers and sisters or the other church members who tried to keep up with him. When there were breaks from school he found ways to avoid coming home, or else stayed very briefly. He confided to a few friends that it was just too painful to return to the house where his brothers used to live with him. In his new enviornment, his story wasn't known to anyone he didn't choose to tell. He had the freedom to be himself without the burden of his tragic personal history.

"How long are you staying, Charles? " I asked him yesterday. " He said he would be here until the 28th, when he planned to go skiing with some friends. "I'll see you in church Christmas Eve," he assured me.

Jonah and Rose would be so proud of the young man he has become. He'll be graduating from college this year and plans a career in business. He's had more adversity in his life than most of us will ever have and he has suffered much for it. The fact that he chose to come home for Christmas, stay awhile, and re-connect with his foster family and church family shows that he is doing pretty well. God bless you, Charles. And Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sermon from the Comic Page

This cartoon is true on so many levels.

Jeffey can relate to the Baby Jesus -- who seems just a little bit younger than he is--but finds it more difficult to pray to God who he imagines as a distant authority figure.

The baby Jesus is a more comforting figure to adults, too. Praying to God, Yahweh, the Creator of the Universe (and by the way, of you) is --well--an awesome idea. Too awesome for most of us to grasp.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Friday Five Holiday Party Edition

It's now a tradition--Songbird's Friday Five meme. And who am I to break tradition during the Holiday season? So....

1.Have you ever gotten a really good kiss under the mistletoe?
Nope. Maybe that's because Texans don't really use mistletoe much. I've never seen real mistletoe--just the plastic type.

2. Do you know anyone who makes real eggnog, not the stuff from the carton?

3. What's your favorite Christmas party album/CD ever?
I like one of the Mormon tabernacle choir Christmas Carol collections.

4. Does your office/workplace have a party? Do the people there ever behave the way in movies behave at office parfties, which is to say, badly?

A church staff party is a pretty tame affair. However, let me tell you the TRUE story of the most notorious Christmas party affair of all time that happened during an office party at El Jefe's law firm in the 1980's.

Everyone was gathered in the large lobby of one of the downtown bank buildings for cocktails and snacks when suddenly bits of the ceiling began raining down on the assembled party-goers. Looking up, they saw a leg and a bare bottom poking through the ceiling! The bottom began wiggling and thrashing around when another bottom and leg came through. The bottoms were stuck! A janitor was dispatched to release them from this embarrassing position.

The owners of the bottoms turned out to be one of the young lawyers and one of the secretaries who, having partaken of too much Christmas cheer, repaired upstairs to a janitorial closet upstairs for a little holiday frolic. In their alcoholic-induced haze they failed to notice that everything on that floor was being remodeled and ignored the "caution" tape that was intended to keep people off the floor in that area.

This incident was widely reported in the Houston press and kept the city amused for days. The managing partner of the firm, however, was NOT amused and the parties involved soon found work elsewhere.

5. If you have to bring something to a party, what is it likely to be? Do people like it?

My "take-along" dish this year is an appetizer: Cheesy Shrimp on Grits Toast. And yes--everyone LOVES it. Since I know you are going to ask anyway, here's the recipe (courtesy of my sister-in-law and Paula Deen of the Food Channel):

Cheesy Shrimp on Grits Toast

3 (14 oz) cans chicken broth
1 1/3 cups quick-cooking grits
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1 8 oz pkg. softened cream cheese
1 Tbl half and half
1/2 cup grated Italian cheese, blend
1/2 lb cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp, chopped

Bring both to a boil in large saucepan. Stir in grits and return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes or until grits are thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in cheese and salt. Remove from heat.

Spoon grits into a greased 9X 13 baking pan. Cover and chill at least 2 hours or until firm. Unmold grits onto a large cutting board. Cut out 1 1/2 inch circles using a cookie cutter.

Brush a large jellyroll pan with melted butter. Place grits rounds on the pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn grits and bake 15 more minutes. Set aside. NOTE: Up to this point the recipe can be prepared ahead. If preparing early, cover and refrigerate grits rounds until you are ready to top with shrimp mixture.

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese and half-and-half, stirring until combined. Stir in cheese, parsley and shrimp.

Top each grits round evenly with shrimp mixture

Broil 5 minutes or until lightly browned and heated through.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

It Doesn't take a Rocket Scientist

This morning I decided to update the CE bulletin board outside my office with displays announcing our new midweek program that grew out of the midweek Bible in 90 Days classes that just concluded. To keep myself amused while pulling staples out of the cork, I hooked myself up to my ipod and cycled between my three Christmas mixes.

Me and my ipod seem to amuse the rest of the staff, because I always get comments about it. Today our business manager asked me who put the music on it for me. What? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to download music onto an ipod, or create playlists, or "burn" cd's from the music you downloaded.

I'm just guessing that we're not ready to plan podcasts from the church any time soon!

I'm Prancer?

You Are Prancer

You are the perfect reindeer, with perfect hooves and perfect flying form.

Why You're Naughty: Because you're Santa's pet, and you won't let anyone show you up.

Why You're Nice: You have the softest fur and the swe
Linketest carrot breath.
Which of Santa's Reindeer Are You?

Tip of Santa's cap to Gord for this one. Don't think I like the result--Prancer sounds annoying! For years I have put "from Vixen", "from Donner", "from Dasher" etc on Christmas presents for the family so I couldn't resis this quiz. Prancer??? Let me know which reindeer you are. I hope someone else is also Prancer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Grace's First Annual Christmas Gift Suggestions

You procrastinators out there are probably just starting to think about choosing gifts for the loved ones on your list or finding items to suggest to that special someone who likes to know in advance what you want. In the spirit of love, peace, and helpfulness I have been surfing the internet looking for unique items so you won't have to.

Herewith, Grace's First Annual Christmas Gift Suggestions:

1. Phone Excuse Machine. You're in your office on Friday trying to complete the sermon you must deliver on Sunday. Suddenly the phone rings and it's a congregant on the line who never uses 2 words if 20 can be found. What to do? Whip out this handy pocket gadget and press a button. Presto! A baby is crying! The doorbell rings! The car crashes! Sorry--gotta go. Now you or your clergy friends will have the perfect excuse for getting off the phone with minimal waste of time and no hard feelings.

2. Redneck Haiku: Doublewide Edition by Mary K. Witte. There are lots of poetry writers and poetry lovers in the RevGalBlogPals webring. Here's the perfect gift. Sample verses:

Betty Lou surprised
to learn you can get pregnant
in church parking lot.

Turkey fryer bought
from cable shopping channel
burns down trailer park.

3. Balloon Rides. Who wouldn't like to ride in a beautiful balloon? Figuring out what it costs is the real challenge here. Well, you know what they say: if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

4. Peter Petrie Egg Separator. Awed by the skillful chefs on the Cooking Channel who separate eggs for meringues with their bare hands? Or just grossed out? Here's the gadget for your friends who are Martha wanna-bees.

5. Jesus Talking Action Figure. Jesus can give you five different pithy sayings! If you're looking for a gift for your favorite Jewish friend for Hannukah, then check out the Moses Talking Action Figure. As you'll see, Moses looks just like Charleton Heston, but is "authentic".

Sidebar remark: Why are the toypresidents people making the Jesus and Moses figures? Interesting fact-- both the first edition of the Ronald Reagan and the Bill Clinton dolls are sold out. Create your own joke.

And finally....

6. The Bullie Bag. A collectible handbag for those who are rodeo-bound. Caution: this is not for your PETA-loving friends! The bag is made from what is removed when a bull becomes a steer...if you get my drift.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Comments on Bible in 90 Days

Participants in our Bible in 90 Days groups filled out "exit" surveys at their last group meetings last week. Now that I have had a chance to look over them, I'd like to share the results and some of the comments with those of you who have been interested in how the project worked out.

We received about 60 completed surveys. Everyone who finished the course didn't fill out a survey, but my estimate is that roughly 65 people out of the 122 initial registrants read the entire Bible. Those who didn't finish still read more of the Bible than they ever had before, though.

Most of those who committed to the program had read "a little" of the Old Testament and " about half" of the New Testament before joining one of these classes. There were a couple of people reporting that they had not read any of the Bible and several who had read all of it once or more in the past. Most people said that the reading was "challenging, but manageable." Of course by the time these surveys were distributed, almost everyone who found it too difficult had already dropped out of their groups.

Some have wondered about the value of a class that emphasizes reading the entire Bible in such a short time rather than taking more time and studying it in depth. Several folks addressed this concern in their comments:

" In the past I have also questioned the value of reading cover to cover. I found this course to be a very positive experience. It helped me to read unfamiliar parts of the Bible and to understand more clearly the themes."

"It gives the entire picture, and at this pace, there is more of a flow to the books."

"What surprised me was that even through the tough parts of the OT my appetite for all of scripture was re-awakened."

"The story in the Bible has been revealed to me in a way not possible by reading bits and pieces as in traditional study...With this foundation, I am better prepared to grow in faith."

Comments about the overall value of the course and the experience were overwhelmingly positive. Here are just a few that I selected to share with you.

"Life-changing--I feel I really began to know God and Jesus and the history even though I went to church my whole life. This made all the difference. Great accomplishment for me with 3 kids under 5 and very worth the time and energy it took!"

"It has been--in all respects--a remarkable blessing in my life. The opportunity to read through God's Word in an intentional (and rapid) manner as a part of a community of believers has been a great gift...This is a wonderful ministry!"

"I can only say, despite the periodic frustration (not 12 pages AGAIN!!), the concern about "what did that really mean?", the alarm that went off at 3:35 am so that I could get up and read and still get to work...most days I none-the-less looked forward to my reading. I would not have missed this experience for anything. The continuity that reading the Bible cover-to-cover gave me was so rewarding. In the past I read the Bible in short passages, and as a result my understanding and knowledge was disconnected...and my disconnect was much greater than I would ever have guessed. I feel so much closer to God than I did before this experience..."

Overwhelmingly those who answered the surveys said that they would recommend the course to others. I heartily join in that endorsement. I participated in Bible in 90 Days and led two of the groups this fall. I gained as much (or more!) as anyone from the experience and pray that this habit of daily Bible reading that so many in our congregation formed will lead to increased participation and interest in study of the Bible in the coming months and years.

As I told El Jefe last night, this has been the most significant program that I ever brought to the church, or probably ever will bring to it. You can't read the Bible seriously without being changed. A congregation that adopts the habit of daily Bible reading will be changed.

If you want more information about Bible in 90 Days, there are two websites you can check. One is the publisher's website and the other is the website of the non-profit organization that has been organized to promote the curriculum and assist churches who are using it.

Keys to the Magnet Swap

Aren't these magnets clever? They were sent to me by ax174, a lovely woman in Toronto, Canada, who was my partner in the recent swap orchestrated by Mindy. She is very talented at crafts--I would never have thought of this! I love them.

They are the computer keyboard keys for the letters "Q", "G", "O", D", "+", and a couple of other symbols. I used the cross magnet that I already had in the arrangement for the photo because I thought it looked nice.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Bible in 90 Days Celebration

We had a great celebration of the Bible in 90 Days project today during Sunday School. About 60 folks who participated in different groups attended. The cake above was the centerpiece of our refreshments--it was half chocolate and half white cake with raspberry filling inside. Didn't the cake decorator do a great job copying the BIND logo?

After thanking everyone, sharing comments and responses to the experience from particpants and our pastors I passed out the following lyrics that I composed for the occasion--our new "theme song" was a big hit!

Bible in 90 Days Theme Song

~ Tune of Hark the Herald Angels Sing~

We finished it, but we can't lie.
Leviticus was awfully dry.
Chronicles was full of blood,
The prophets were as clear as mud.
Psalms and Proverbs kept us reading,
As God's Word we should be heeding
Through the Gospels, Acts and Paul.
Revelation scared us all!
Hark, the Herald Angels sing--
We finished reading the WHOLE THING!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Lakewood Open Christmas Day

Credit Where Credit Is Due Department: The Houston Chronicle reported today that Lakewood Church ("The Oasis of Love") will observe their regular Sunday schedule of worship services on Christmas Day, despite the example of many other mega-churches in our area and across the country who are cancelling Sunday services all together.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Big Uneasy--West

The local newspaper has been running a very lengthy series about Katrina evacuees in Houston. Apparently more than twice as many natives of New Orleans are now living in the Houston area than in the New Orleans area. Most of the families described in the reports have permanent housing and jobs here and their children are settling into schools. A majority say they are going to remain in Houston permanently, often citing improved economic and educational opportunities as the deciding factor.

Fighting between "New Orleans" kids and "Houston" kids in some of the public schools has been a problem. Earlier this week about 25 teens were arrested after a brawl at a high school, highlighting the tensions between the two groups. One school counselor noted that these fights are occuring in schools in low income areas. "Our kids are also needy and resent seeing the donations and attention given to the hurricane evacuees," he said in a television interview.

Although we have a significant number of New Orleans kids in the suburban public schools, these children come from families with more financial means and so are not singled out for assistance. We haven't seen tensions between the kids escalate in these schools in the same way.

My neice just returned from maternity leave to her third grade classroom in a public school. There are several "Katrina kids" in her classroom who weren't attending at the beginning of the school year when she was still teaching. When she asked her friends at the school before she returned how things were going with all the additional New Orleans students they told her "we're not going to tell you, or you won't come back."

So far she is managing well, because she anticipated behavior problems related to the stress of their experiences. But she is appalled by their low level of academic achievement. They lag far behind the rest of the class, and this is NOT a high performing suburban school district she teaches in. It has plenty of low income families and a significant gang and drug problem. If you apply that factor to a teenage group then you can see how much additional stress and frustration these kids feel.

Another hurricane related news item: remember Wilma? That's the last big hurricane that whacked Florida in October. It wiped out the grapefruit crop there, opening up the east coast market for Texas grapefruit growers who have a bumper crop this year.

And then the hurricane research team at Colorado State University announced that they are predicting 17 named storms for 2006--more than they have ever predicted for a season. But there were 26 named storms this year! There's a happy thought as we move to the New Year.

Lord, send the hurricanes far away from the Gulf Coast. Send them harmlessly into the Atlantic where they will spin themselves silly and expire. Amen.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Indigo Children and Itchy Eared Parents

So your child is unruly, resists authority, and has little patience? The kid acts like royalty and shows no sense of guilt for bad or mean behavior?

If so, rejoice! Your child isn't a spoiled brat after all! No, No. You have a very SPECIAL child. An "Indigo child". One with an "indigo-colored aura" and unique traits like those described above. One that is extremely precocious with a strong desire to live instinctively. Lucky you!

There's even a website here that will explain it all for you. Psychics, channelers and synthesiasics can't be wrong, can they?

How many times do we have to be reminded-- "They will turn aside their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." 2 Timothy 4:4.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Baby Jesus Wars

It never fails. Once the nativity set at church is put out, the Baby Jesus War is on. You know what I mean. The struggle between those who believe that Baby Jesus must NOT be put into the scene until Christmas Day vs. those who believe that the scene is incomplete without him.

A few years ago someone tried to settle the dispute by using a set where the Baby Jesus is firmly affixed to the manager, all in one piece. Now we Calvinists should know not to underestimate the capacity of man (and woman) kind to continue a feud, but there is always hope. And so on it goes...the Baby Jesus is hidden by one faction in the drawer of the table on which the creche sits. Then He's liberated by the pro-Baby Jesus group. Back and forth, back and forth. At last on Christmas Eve the No-Baby Jesus faction gives it up and He gets to stay in the scene through Epiphany. At last, sweet unity among the bretheren and sisteren! Until next Advent.

When I was growing up we had a nice Italian-Renaissance style nativity set. It had a stable with real pieces of hay glued on it. The angel perched perilously on top of the pitched roof of the stable. My parents always set it out on my dad's black baby grand piano. Then the games began.

This wasn't just a Baby Jesus war--it was a war of all against all. There were four children in the family. Each one had a firmly fixed idea of how that scene should be arranged. As the oldest, I was always "neatening up" the work of my younger sister and brothers. Since I considered myself the "artistic" one, I strove for unity and symmetry of the figures.

My brothers would take the angel off the top of the stable (where I put her) and have her standing BEHIND the shepherds, off to the side. My sister would put the angel by Mary and Joseph INSIDE the stable. Since they were clearly WRONG, it was my duty to rearrange these figures several times a day. As the oldest I got to stay up a bit later, so I got the last word...until morning when the struggle began anew.

Looking back, I realize that there were a couple of agreed upon positions for the figures--Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus and the manger usually remained inside the stable. But everything else was disputed. Isn't that like some of the disputes today between and among our churches? Christians have some consensus about a few basic things--but then engage in constantly questioning the importance (or arrangement) of everything else. We're much more interested in disputing what we disagree about (where's that Angel? Hide the Baby Jesus!) than on celebrating what we believe in common (Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and the Manger belong inside the stable).

The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles as well as the history of the church tell as that this is nothing new. If history is predictive of the future, we'll enthusiastically continue our Baby Jesus wars in some form or another until He comes again. Now...where's the Baby Jesus today?

Monday, December 05, 2005

I'm a Christmas Tree...

What a marvelous person! You are the splendid
Christmas tree! You are a spirited person who
almost always in a great mood. Your smiles and
laughter are some things that people usually
look forward to in you. You are someone who is
full of energy and ready for a good time. Most
likely you are a social butterfly. All of these
characteristics make you a beautiful person
inside and out. People just really enjoy to be
around you. Merry Christmas =)

What Christmas Figure Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla<

Thanks to Gord for the tip. This is an incredibly flattering description. Shoot, now I'll have to try to live up to it. I have to admit that I do resemble a Christmas tree physically: very tall with hips!

If you take the quiz, leave me a comment and let me know what your result was.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Holiday for Everyone and No One

Will Smama posted a rant today about (among other things) the stupidity of calling a Christmas tree a Holiday tree. Great post!

In that spirit, I offer this link to the Official Chrismahanukwanzakah site for a preview of a world where political correctness and commercialism trump the meaning of any holiday. Don't miss the Hindu Santa. (Warning: not for the politically correct).

Thanks to my friend Diana for the tip.

Friday, December 02, 2005

RevGals Friday Christmas Decorating Meme

It's time once again to join in the RevGals Friday Five Meme, courtesy of the uber-creative Songbird.

1. Do you display a nativity scene, and if so, where?

Actually, I collect nativity scenes.Here are photos of two of them: a crystal set and a set that was made from old oil drums in Mexico. Both were Christmas presents from my neices. The crystal one is on the mantel in the den, the one made from oil drums is on the table in the hallway, a white bisque set is on top of the piano in the living room, and I still have one in a bag that I haven't placed yet. And the pewter one seems to have been "liberated" by one of my daughters to her apartment in Austin. Oh... Babs!

2. Do you put a skirt under the Christmas tree? If so what does it look like?

Yes. It's a quilted skirt of course! Actually, it is not round, but a regular wedding-ring pattern rectangular quilt that is done in red, green and white fabric.

3. Do you hang lights on the house or put them in your windows?

No. I have two large wire angels that are covered in small white lights. We put one on either side of our front porch. Each has big wings and a trumpet! See photo at left.

4. White lights or colored lights on the tree? Big bulbs or the small pretty ones?

Tut, tut, Songbird, that's what we lawyers call "leading the witness"! Ok. Our tree has small white lights, but we add a string of red poinsetta lights and a couple of strings of colored bubble lights.

5. Do you have a tree topper? What sort? Who puts it up?

Yes, it's an angel in the shape of a star that I needlepointed years ago, B.B. (before bifocals). Of course El Jefe must place the angel--he's the only one tall enough to reach the top of the tree.

P.S. The picture of the angel was taken last year when we had our first ever snowfall on a Christmas Eve in south Texas!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Grace's Apprentice

Here's my neice with her first quilt. A couple of months ago she said she wanted to learn to make a quilt. Her mother isn't a quilter, so I offered to teach her. Portia and Babs have never been interested in learning, but I do realize it's a lot easier to take instruction from an aunt than from Mom sometimes (maybe a lot of the time!).

Every Sunday afternoon for several weeks we spent a few hours on the project. First she picked out her fabrics and I created a design that would be easy for a beginner. I cut the blocks for her, because mistakes in cutting would make sewing much harder.

I taught her to use the sewing machine. She pieced the top and then I showed her how to pin baste it to the backing and batting. She turned 8 while we were doing this, and we found that she didn't quite have the exterity to close all the pins, so I did that.

Then I drew lines for her to follow and she quilted it on the machine. I took it home and put on the binding, which can be tricky even for experienced quilters.

Her two younger sisters were our constant companions--they kept asking if I would let them sew "when I'm 7." Of course! But first we'll have to go to the fabric store...

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cover 2 Cover--It is Finished

Yesterday I finished reading the entire Bible, cover to cover, in 90 Days. Today I feel a bit bereft after forming the habit of reading 12 pages a day. What to do? Start all over again?

Here are some of the plans others in the program have shared for their future reading. One is going to start again, using Eugene Peterson's The Message, and reading 12 pages every day. One couple plans to begin reading again but at a slower pace--maybe 3 pages a day in the same NIV Bible so that it takes a year to finish.

Right now I don't think that I want to start from Genesis again. On the other hand, I feel the need to continue the discipline of reading. So I think that what I will do is go back to the Epistles and read them through using my Access Study Bible. The reading I just finished raised some questions about how to distinguish between "false teachings" that should be resisted and "useless controversies" that should be ignored. Then I think that I will go back to the prophets, starting with Isaiah and do the same thing.

Rather than set a goal of reading a certain number of pages a day, I'm going to set a goal of spending at least 30 minutes each day in this reading. That way I can stop at a logical place and resume the next day. If that doesn't work well, then I'll set myself a page goal again.

They say you can't read the entire Bible and not be changed, and I do feel changed. I'm still experiencing that change and am not ready to try to define it other than to say that the habit of reading scripture every day has become too important to me to break.

As we begin winding up our groups this next week, I am collecting responses to the experience from some of those who participated and I will share those here when we're all done.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Ode to Cyber Monday

The Monday after Thanksgiving is known as Cyber Monday because today more online shopping orders are placed than any other day of the year. In celebration of the arrival of the last of my Christmas online orders today, I offer this original tribute.

Avoid the Malls
:: to the tune of "Deck the Halls"::

Thank you, God, for online shopping!
Saving me from dread mall-hopping,
Finding offers of free shipping,
In pajamas, coffee sipping,

Praises be for cyber-looking,
Books and clothes and things for cooking,
Checking prices, finding sales there,
Home accessories and footwear,

As my cursor surfs for presents,
The stress of Christmas giving lessens,
See the Fed-Ex man deliver
Stacks of presents to the giver,

~exits giggling~

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Light Blazes in Cyber-Space, Too!

Today is the first day in Advent. If you don't yet have your copy of A Light Blazes in the Darkness (the book of advent devotions written by the RevGalBlogPals webring, see my sidebar for details), you won't have to miss today's reading.

Click on the "A Light Blazes in the Darkness" link on my sidebar and you can read each day's devotion. The readings continue through Epiphany.

We've now made enough money on the sales of the book to cover our costs. Our profits will be donated to agencies assisting hurricane victims in the US Gulf Coast area. You can order your copy from Lulu or

Friday, November 25, 2005

Remember the Stranger

Songbird's Friday Five today were all about Thanksgiving.

1. Did you cook or bake anything for Thanksgiving?
See apple pie at right--along with pumpkin and pecan pies behind it.

2. How was it received?
All the pies were devoured and then we sent some guests home with extra slices.

3. Anything left over?
Yes, thank heavens. We have leftover turkey (both roast and smoked), dressing, sweet potato casserole, green beans with almonds, rolls, cranberry sauce, spinach salad and the afore-mentioned pies.

4. Best use of Thanksgiving leftovers?
We put sliced smoked turkey on top of the spinach salad for lunch.

5. And the worst?
I never did like turkey enchiladas. Turkey and chili sauce don't mix in my humble opinion.

I need to add a reminder: remember the strangers in your life during the holidays.

My nephew is in the navy, training as a surgeon. He is stationed in San Diego, but for the past two months has been sent to a hospital in Sacramento. He wasn't eligible to take leave for Thanksgiving this year so wasn't able to return to Sacramento or come home to Houston.

We called him during our big family dinner and were quite distressed to learn that he had no invitations to join anyone for Thanksgiving so spent it alone. Apparently no one running the program he is participating in thought to ask him if he had plans for the day. It's easy to overlook someone who is temporarily in the area and forget that they might welcome an invitation. We all resolved to be more aware of this in the future ourselves.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Gospel Birthday Meme

Wednesdays are my day to write a "highlights" post for the RevGalBlogPals blog. Today two of the bloggers were posting a "Gospel birthday meme". It goes like this: take the month and year of your birthday and look up the corresponding chapter and verse in each Gospel.

Here's mine--January 28th is the birthday.

Matthew--no 28th verse in the first chapter.
Mark --" News about him quickly spread all over the whole region of Galilee."
Luke -- "The angel went to her and said, ' Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Now we're talking!
John -- "This all happened at Bethany, on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing."

Try it yourself--what are your results?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Doing the Turkey Trot

According to the local newspaper, today is the busiest shopping day at the grocery stores all year. I was warned that there would be no canned green beans, pumpkin, cream of mushroom soup, or fried onions. And bottled turkey gravy? No way, no how, no where.

This is not a pleasant thought. What did they expect me to do? Shop several days in advance for Thanksgiving? Apparently so. I put the paper away impatiently and resolved that I would not allow myself to be stressed by this alarmist talk.

Later in the morning, though, the alarmist talk surfaced again as I visited with some of the women in our quilting group. One of them reported shopping at a local grocery store yesterday and said "it was slammed--there were people everywhere and lots of empty shelves." That sounds like something that happens just before a hurricane--not just before a holiday.

When I went to the store a couple of hours later, it was crowded but well stocked. I don't doubt that my friend who found empty shelves told the truth, but I guess the store managed to restock itself quickly.

There were an unusual number of elderly men in that store alone, pushing carts and looking lost and confused. I noticed that most of them were trying to work with a grocery list but weren't familiar with how to find the items on the list in the store. Probably a wife, daughter or daughter-in-law had sent them out to pick up things for the big Thanksgiving dinner.

The alarmist talk was just that. I found everything on my list--including the ingredients for our traditional after-Thanksgiving Day chili. Take THAT alarmist newspaper reporters!

Portia, Portia's boyfriend, and Babs arrive tomorrow from Austin. They'll be put to work helping me get ready. They're even planning to bake pies for me: pecan, pumpkin and dutch apple. I must have done something right! I don't have an exact count for dinner yet--somewhere between 15 and 20 was the last guess. But not to worry. You can't have too many pies on Thanksgiving, can you?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Let my Sudafed Go!

Over on the RevGalPals blog, there is a comment thread on the relatively new laws restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine -- a common ingredient in over-the-counter sinus and cold medications. Last week I had to get some Sudafed for clogged sinuses and found myself at the pharmacy counter turning over my driver's license and then having to sign for one package of pills. The pharmacy staff was very apologetic and unhappy about having to do this. They told me that many people didn't purchase when faced with these requirements, because they are wary of identity theft and not comfortable with being treated like a criminal when trying to buy something that just a few months ago they could pick up off an open shelf and pay for without further ado.

It got me thinking about the old adage learned in law school: hard facts made bad law. The hard fact here is that drug dealers have been manufacturing crystal meth using over-the-counter cold medications containing pseudoephedrine. The use of crystal meth is very dangerous and was becoming a problem in many states. In our American tradition of trying to legislate away all problems in society, many states passed laws that restrict the sale of these products.

Sounds like a good idea? Well, it certainly has made the purchase of over-the-counter decongestants difficult. And presumably for those who want to purchase them in order to make illegal drugs. It's not likely to do anything more than create a brief lull in the manufacture of meth because a substitute for that ingredient will be found and when it is, manufacturing and distribution will resume. Alas, the entreprenurial urge is not limited to those who direct it to lawful, community-benefiting purposes. Making it difficult to manufacture will not reduce the demand for it, either, by those who were buying it. It just makes it more expensive.

So the legislatures respond by getting out a cannon to shoot a canary. The predictable result is that the drug manufacturers have developed new products using a substitute for ephedrine that is not regulated. I asked the pharmacist if the new decongestants worked as well as the old ones. He said that everyone is different, and they would probably work for some people and not for others. So the law-abiding public finds it more difficult to purchase a medically safe and effective drug (when used for the purpose for which it is intended).

Boxes and boxes of these pills are needed to manufacture even a small amount of crystal meth. So why not use common sense? Educate the staff at the drugstore about the issue. If someone comes in and cleans the shelves of Sudafed or Claritin-D, get their ID when they pay --or go out and get their license plate number as they leave and report the sale to the police. Let their drug task force sort it out. Give more money to the local police and constables so they can investigate and arrest those involved instead of trying to turn pharmacy and drugstore staff into crime prevention personnel.

Here in Houston it's a very lucky person who doesn't suffer from allergies and clogged sinuses at least part of the year. On behalf of all the good citizens who are dismayed by this--let my Sudafed go! Hard facts do make bad law.

Preview of the Peaceable Kingdom

This is a picture of a group of animals rescued from Hurricane Katrina. I know a lot of you are animal-lovers and would enjoy this. It was sent to me by a friend who received it from her friend who is a Louisiana resident and was involved in rescuing animals left stranded and homeless in her area.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Lulu Delivers and Friday Five Meme

Yippee! My replacement order from Lulu arrived--so now I have a set of A Light Blazes in the Darkness with PERFECT covers. And just in time, too. Now I have good ones to give to everyone at our staff meeting next week so they will have them in time for Advent. The remainder I will take to church and re-sell to anyone interested.

It's Friday, friends, and that means it's time for the RevGal's Friday Five meme, courtesy of Songbird. Today's theme is Kiddie Lit, in honor of the opening today of the newest Harry Potter movie.

1. Earliest book you remember (read to you or by you):
Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne

2. Picture Book you would like to climb into:
Anything illustrated by Tomie De Paola

3. Favorite series of books (then or now):
The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

4. Character you would most like to meet:
Jo in Little Women. We have the same real first name: Josephine.
That fascinated me, because NO ONE else ever had that name.

5. Last childhood book you re-read (for yourself or to someone):
The Clown of God by Tomie De Paola

I provided links to amazon in case this gives anyone a Christmas gift idea.

How would you answer the Kiddie Lit meme?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

80% Done: Bible in 90 Days Update

Our study groups are reading the last part of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the beginning of Acts of the Apostles this week. This makes for a real immersion into the Gospel story and the teaching of Jesus. One of the things we have all noticed as we read our 12 pages a day is that we have the ability to make the connections between all of the books of the Bible because we have read them all recently enough to keep some of what we read in mind.

Every few pages I ask myself, "Did Jesus really say that? I don't remember it." Or "what can that mean?" Others are troubled by some of the hard sayings of Jesus that they are encountering. " The parables aren't clear to me," said one. "Often the one who makes a bad choice in the parable meets with no mercy, or worse yet, destruction. As a teaching device, that works. But where is the mercy Jesus speaks of in the next breath?"

Most agree that reading the New Testament has a very different "feel" after finishing the Old Testament first. Several have told me that they feel a call to return to study of the OT when they are finished with BIND. So we're planning to offer a couple of OT Bible study classes.

The Reformed understanding of interpretation of scripture is that scripture must be read in the context of all of scripture--not verses in isolation. This course has really reinforced the importance of that teaching to me. We are all tempted to focus on the passages that are agreeable to us and disregard or ignore the passages that challenge our assumptions and trouble our spirits.

This afternoon I attended the launch of the newly published BIND curriculum by Zondervan. I came back with a copy of the new starter kit to use for our next class. As I mentioned before, we are using a "Beta" test version this fall so I've been eager to see the finished product. Yes, we'll offer it after the New Year since I've had folks ask me when we were going to do it again.

If you are interested in reading more about the newly published curriculum, click on Bible in 90 Days which is on my blogroll. You can purchase at a discount through that site which is sponsored by the Bible in 90 Days non-profit organization.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Anti- Divestment Overture From New Covenant Passes

Yesterday was spent at an all-day meeting of New Covenant Presbytery near Galveston. It had its ups and downs. Among the ups were the chance to visit with old friends from a previous church and lead a small group discussion of what churches need from presbytery to help them grow disciples. Among the downs were the length of the meeting because the agenda was not well managed.

Please, people, refrain from the following:

~reading material previously distributed
~allowing acknowledgments to get too long
~giving EVERYONE their moment in the sun with the microphone
~pulling too many things from the omnibus motion
~giving a sermon instead of a budget report
~delaying the vote on the issues people came to attend until the end of the day

Okay. I feel better now that I've vented. Thanks for listening.

The next part of this post is for those of you PCUSA types interested in denominational issues--although this issue has also been raised in several other denominations. For me, it was a very big up.

The most significant piece of business yesterday was the endorsing of an overture (similar to a motion for you non PCUSA-types) to our General Assembly that would reverse the very controversial divestment policy that it passed in 2004. This overture ("Issues Affecting Israelis and Palestinians and the 216th General Assembly Divestment Action") passed by an overwhelming vote.

The text of the overture for those of you who are interested is available here as a pdf file--see pages 16-19. The goal is to turn the denomination from a punitive approach against the Israelis to seeking investments in the area that would either increase job opportunities for both Israelis and Palestinians, develop more social and health care infrastructures, rebuild homes, businesses destroyed by conflict and fund collaborative ventures between the two groups.

This is a well-researched and well-documented overture. We hope other presbyteries will join in endorsing it so that it will have a lot of support at the 2006 General Assembly.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Man of the House

I got this joke too late for St. Casserole's jokefest last week, but since all my girlfriends loved it, I just had to share....

The husband had just finished reading the book, 'MAN OF THE HOUSE'.

He stormed into the kitchen and walked directly up to his wife, pointing
a finger in her face, said, "From now on, I want you to know that I am
the man of this house, and my word is law! I want you to prepare me a
gourmet meal tonight, and when I'm finished eating my meal, I expect a
scrumptious dessert afterward. Then, after dinner, you are going to draw
me my bath so I can relax. And when I'm finished with my bath, guess
who's going to dress me and comb my hair?"

His wife replied, "The Funeral Director would be my guess."

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Hurricanes That Won't Go Away

You don't hear much from the media anymore about the areas devastated by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma outside of those areas, except for the endless finger-pointing and arguing about rebuilding New Orleans. This last week I was reminded several times that the continuing problems for the people affected extend beyond those directly hit by those hurricanes.

Monday afternoon--I was paired with an educator from Beaumont, Texas for a "word/share/prayer" exercise during the educator's retreat at our presbytery. When it came time to share our prayer concerns I asked her about the affect of Rita on her church and her own life. As she began to talk she described a congregation scattered to the four winds, a pastor still trying to locate his flock, concerns for the safety of several elderly members who lived in areas that are STILL hard to access, no phone service, a landscape transformed by fallen trees and damaged homes and businesses--you get the idea.

Tuesday noon--I ate lunch at the retreat with several church professionals from Orange and Beaumont who talked about efforts to clean up their church buildings and carry on their ministry in the area. "We're still pretty fragile emotionally" was the consensus of this group.

Thursday--A set of pictures from El Jefe's cousin who lives in the Miami area was emailed to us. It showed a lot of damage on his property from Hurricane Wilma. Wilma? Does anyone outside of Florida remember Wilma? In any other year, you'd still be hearing about it.

Saturday morning--A small but mighty contingent from our church set forth on a day trip to Beaumont to help clean up the church served by the educator that I met on Monday.

Saturday afternoon--The game between Rice and Tulane became a "homecoming" for Tulane alums and the 100 Tulane students now attending Rice. These folks are working towards the re-opening of the school in New Orleans in January. Rice won the ball game, however.

Sunday morning--There was an announcement that the "small but mighty" contingent wanted to recruit a larger group of about 30 folks who would go to Beaumont to replace the roof on the house of the pastor at this same church.

We discussed the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on our congregations at the retreat. Although the metro Houston area was spared direct impact, we are dealing with a lot of the "spill-over" effects created by the evacuees and the efforts to assist them --which are still going on. We're not back to business as usual. Our people are showing the need for special spiritual care and nurture.

I think of St. Cassarole and all she and her congregation have been through. Take what I am seeing here and multiply it by God only knows how many times over for those who did loose their homes, their offices, their churches, their communities, and even the lives of relatives, friends and pets. Their world is turned upside down. Let's keep praying and working.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Thanks, Granddaddy

A few years ago a friend of my daughter Babs made this poster for a school project. The teacher of the government classes at our high school did this project every year. These posters were displayed like yard signs on Veterans' Day on the lawn in front of the school. Students were required to make a poster about a family member who had served in one of the world wars, Korea, or Viet Nam wars. They had to include a picture, name, armed service, and the job of their relative. They also had to write a brief paper about that person's service.

Shelia "adopted" my father, pictured above, as her veteran for the project. Like many of the kids in the high school, her parents were born in India and she had no family member who was an American veteran. Shelia was a frequent visitor in our home, so she came over and interviewed me about my father and I scanned the picture for her. Too bad he is in civilian clothes here!

Seeing all those posters on the lawn of the school is a very moving experience--each one represents a different family who lives in our area. It made me think about the WWII veterans in my family and their different experiences in the service.

My father served in the Navy in Key West, chasing German subs, and then in the North China Sea for about 6 years. After WWII he married my mother, who he met while in officer training in Chicago, and went home to Texas to become a businessman. Like many other baby boomers, I am the product of a marriage produced by the war.

My father-in-law served in the Army Air Force. He never went overseas because of health problems, which saved his life as his unit suffered terrible casualties as the first group sent to make bombing runs over Germany. Likewise my mother's brother, Tom, who was badly injured in an army training accident in the UK before D-Day escaped the fate of most of his unit on D-Day.

My uncle Wendell also served in the Navy, patrolling the Caribbean and South America. My uncle Doug, also a Naval officer, served in Asia. Each returned to civilian life, part of a generation now called "the greatest generation." Each volunteered to serve the country in a time of peril. None looked for reward or honor for the years of their young lives that were spent in the effort. They became insurance agents, bankers, attorneys, truckers, and florists. They built their families and their country in the '50's and '60's.

One did not return. My uncle Graham, an army pilot, was shot down by the Germans over Italy in the waning days of the war and perished. My grandmother told me that the night he died she had a dream in which he appeared and assured her that he was all right. She said that she knew immediately that he had been killed in action. A couple of days later two officers appeared at her door to give her the news. His name lives on in my brother and his son.

Bill, Wendell, Doug, Tom and Graham are all gone now. My father-in-law Claude is the sole survivor of his generation of our family. He will be 90 in April. Although his memory is impaired, he remembers the time he spent in service and can still talk about it with pride. It was the most important time of his life in many ways. Like many young men from small towns his service exposed him to different people and other parts of the country. For all men of this generation, their service in WWII was a common bond.

The last of the greatest generation will soon pass away from us. Veteran's Day began to honor those who died in WWI in Europe. Sadly, since then there have been more wars and more dead and more veterans. I don't believe we will ever be free of war in this world because of the sinful nature of mankind. As this generation passes, let us remember these words from the famous WWI poem, In Flanders Fields:

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

-- by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) Canadian army.

Thanks be to God for men like Bill, Tom, Graham, Wendell, Doug and Claude!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Advent Tid-bits including the book

Today in our staff meeting, the senior pastor suggested that when we finish the Bible in 90 Days study (which we are doing as a group) that we use A Light Blazes in The Darkness through Advent and Christmas for our staff study. I think we will just use whichever devotion is the one for that day--read and discuss it. Isn't that great? Now I really NEED my replacement copies with the perfect covers...oh LULU!!!

And since Christmas music is already being played in the grocery stores and malls, check out this link and vote for your LEAST favorite Christmas song by clicking on the comments. If you don't want to vote--read the comments, they are a hoot!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Using Spiritual Gifts

Our retreat was very nice and really was a "retreat" at the conference center in the Piney Woods. Equal numbers of educators and youth ministers were there so there was good spectrum of experiences in ministry represented. Our retreat leader did a great job of mixing guided quiet time with group discussion and sharing. And PCIT, thank heavens, no ****ing church business OR "visioning" (sorry, Songbird!).

We did a "Spiritual Gifts" inventory. I hadn't done one since I was in elder training lo these many years ago. I can't remember what my gifts were then, but here are my top five today:

1. Administration
2. Teaching
3. Giving
4. Leadership
5. Wisdom

So...taking these all together I made the ADMINISTRATIVE decision to take LEADERSHIP in TEACHING the group the accumulated WISDOM of the RevGalBlogPals by GIVING each one a copy of "A Light Blazes in the Darkness" (the ones with the messed up covers but the perfect text inside--also showing my gift for STEWARDSHIP).

Everyone was very interested in the books and asked how more could be ordered. My inventory also said I was very task/scheduled oriented--so I went home happy that I fulfilled my goal of spreading the good word about our book to many church staff members in the presbytery.

Now I must go to prepare for discussion of Jeremiah (and what was he smoking?) for tonight and tomorrow's Bible in 90 Days groups.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Retreating Again

Yes, it's true. Once again I'm heading out to an overnight retreat at the conference center in the Piney Woods. This one is for church educators and youth ministers and will NOT involve "visioning". This one is for professional development.

I hope to get some new ideas for our educational ministry--wish me luck! Our brand new director of youth ministry is coming with me so he can start to get acquainted with others in our presbytery.

Blogging will resume later tomorrow. Happy Monday!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Updating the Golden Oldies

Here's a light-hearted look at how aging rock stars will revise their lyrics to relate to their equally aging fans--thanks to my brother for sending it along.

1. Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Walker--Herman's Hermits
2. How Can You Mend a Broken Hip?--The Bee Gees
3. Splish, Splash, I Was Havin' a Flash--Bobby Darin
4. I Get By With A Little Help From Depends--Ringo Starr
5. The First Time Ever I Forgot Your Face--Roberta Flack
6. I Can't See Clearly Now--Johnny Nash
7. Fifty Ways To Loose Your Liver--Paul Simon
8. Once, Twice, Three Times To the Bathroom--The Commodores
9. Heard it Through the Grape Nuts--Marvin Gaye
10. A Whiter Shade of Hair--Procol Harem
11. You Make Me Feel Like Napping--Leo Sayer
12. Papa's Got a Kidney Stone--The Temptations
13. Denture Queen--Abba
14. Knock 3 Times on the Ceiling If You Hear Me Fall--Tony Orlando
15. I Am Woman Hear Me Snore--Helen Reddy
16. On the Commode Again--Willie Nelson
17. It's My Procedure and I'll Cry If I Want To--Leslie Gore

I don't know why there are only 17, there should be 20, shouldn't there? Gentle readers, can you supply the missing 3 or more? Here's one: Brown Spots--The Rolling Stones.

Friday, November 04, 2005

80 Years to Organize a New Church ?

I'm still thinking about the discussion about mega-churches that I linked to yesterday.

Today I read that a presbytery (regional governing body in the PCUSA) in Pennsylvania organized its first new church in 80 years recently. 80 YEARS! That means that there hasn't been a new Presbyterian church organized in that area since 1925. I'm stunned by that realization. The population of Pennsylvania has grown since 1925. Why weren't there any new churches until now?

Obsession with counting heads can certainly lead to some of the problems observed by those commenting on the mega-church discussion. I agree that imitating cultural trends in an attempt to attract the unchurched and keep current membership risks diluting the gospel and providing entertainment instead of a worship experience.

But failing to develop any new congregations for more than 3/4 of a century reveals a profound failure to follow Christ's Great Commission. No wonder the PCUSA is in a steep membership decline. There's no need to worry about falling into a "mega-church" mentality when the real concern should be whether we are being faithful to the gospel at all.

I do think that it is very difficult--but not impossible--to maintain a functioning faith community when the membership exceeds several hundred people. There are large (but not mega) churches in our area that do that. Once a congregation has more than a couple of hundred people you start to have problems creating meaningful connections between them--but there are creative and skillful pastors, church officers and church staff who do it.

Growth of large churches is not our problem as a denomination. Our problem is the failure to organize, develop and support new churches, which typically have a congregation of 50 to 150. One of the large churches in our area developed The Barnabus Project to address this. The goal of the project is to organize a new Presbyterian church each year for the next 5 years. Most of those churches will be small to begin with and may not worship in the traditionally "frozen chosen" way. The first of these churches has called its organizing pastor. The organizing team for the next church is already working on two new churches for 2006. It's a small effort to turn back a national trend and we don't know yet whether it will be successful. But it's a start.

Prepare to Waste Hours

It's the Music Map. Don't say I didn't warn you. Hat tip -- Dave Barry. Too cool!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Interesting Mega-Church Discussion

"If the electricity goes out in a Mega-church's neighborhood on Sunday, does it make a sound?" asks Susan Arnold who blogs at Heart Soul Mind Strength. Read the Oct. 29 post first and then the Nov. 2 post--she doesn't have her posts archived so I can't link them separately for you. There is a lively discussion in the comments.

Her critique of the Mega-church as entertainment is persuasive and interests me because of my own attempt to understand the appeal of Lakewood Church in Houston--one of the most prominent Mega-churches in the country.

Hat tip to Douglas Groothius who pointed me to this discussion.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Of Prophecy and Soup

It's time for this week's Bible in 90 Days update. We're now on the downhill slide in the Old Testament. We finished Isaiah, Jeremiah and are heading through Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel before meeting the Minor Prophets. Most of us are looking forward to those shorter books. You feel that you are making quick progress when you finish more than one book a day!

But the books of the prophets are tough. Except for Isaiah and Jeremiah, who are echoed in the New Testament, they are unfamiliar to the average mainline Protestant. We don't know what to make of these weird guys who kept making dire prophecies to the powerful of their time and then suffered the consequences of "speaking truth to power" themselves. If the prophets were the people God liked the best--then God please don't like me too much.

Another problem is that when you read them in the order in which they are arranged in the Old Testament the chronology of events is all mixed up. For a history major like myself, this is maddening--I'm spending some time looking up timelines and trying to sort out the prophets accordingly so I can understand them better. And what to make of those visions? When you read straight through as we do in this course, they tend to get all mushed together. The dry bones rattle around the wheel within a wheel inside the firey furnace.

I think many of us in the course are interested doing some real study of these books, to understand them better and try to learn what God is telling us in them. I'm sure I won't figure that out in this type of quick survey course.

Tonight's dinner for our BIND classes featured six different soups and stews contributed by choir members. Our Marvelous Martha who coordinates the meals even presented everyone at the end of the evening with the recipe for the chicken soup that drew raves. How's that for hospitality? We are so blessed, so I am sharing it with you since it's now soup weather--


4 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups diced potatoes
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 (8oz) loaf processed cheese spread, cubed (e.g. Velveeta)
2 cups chopped cooked chicken

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large saucepan; cover and cook over medium heat 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Melt butter over low heat, add flour stirring until smooth. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually stir in milk; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly. Gradually stir in vegetable mixture, soy sauce, cheese and chicken. Cook until cheese melts and mixture is throughly heated.

You can top this with bacon bits if you like (most people do). Being the South Texas girl that I am I would be tempted to use the Velveeta cheese with jalapenos. But that's me....Bon Apetit!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Anysoldier Quilts

American soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to send regimental patches to the Ministers of the Cloth, the quilting group at our church. We just completed the second quilt with their patches -- pictured above with many of the group. The quilt is now on its way to, the organization which collects the patches and forwards them to us. You can check them out here. Anysoldier provides many different ways to support our troops overseas.

Below is a picture of the first quilt we made with these patches. It is being displayed at airshows around the country. Here it shown on display at the Miramar Air Show in San Diego from October 14-16.

Each square with a regimental patch is embroidered with the name, rank and regiment or division of the soldier who contributed it. The quilt is VERY heavy because of the patches and the embroidery. A local quilt shop contributed the machine quilting on the second quilt because we found that the machines made for home use just couldn't handle all that bulk very well.

The Ministers of the Cloth continue to make lap quilts for wounded soldiers (distributed through at hospitals in the Washington, DC area) as well as baptism quilts for infants baptised at our church.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The L'il Trick or Treater


It's the littleist goblin this Halloween--my newest niece, Annie. She's six weeks old and the best baby ever!

Inquiring minds want to know how the RevGals opinions of best and worst Halloween candy compare to those of real-life kids. (See Songbird's Phantasmagorical Phriday Phive )

So thanks to today's Houston Chronicle, here are the 10 top faves and boos of a local fourth grade class:

Two Skeleton Thumbs Up for:

1. M&M's
2. Hershey minis
3. Kit-Kat minis
4. Snickers
5. Nestle Crunch
6. Reese's Cups
7. Skittles
8. Tootsie Rolls
9. Super Bubble Gum
10. Gummy Bears, Worms and Body Parts


1. Dots
2. Raisins
3. Granola Bars
4. Atkinson's Peanut Butter Bars
5. Peanut Kisses
6. Bit-o-Honey
7. Twizzlers
8. Goldfish Crackers
9. Bottle Caps (Bottle Caps????)
10. Fruit

It's not hard to see that the RevGals are still young at heart! Note the strong chocolate theme in the faves and the disgust for "healthy" treats in the Boos. I have to think that anyone who actually gave an Atkinson's bar as a treat at Halloween is evil through and through.

Trust your instincts, friends, when buying your candy for tonight's spooks and goblins!

Whatever the origins of Halloween, it is now a time of fantasy and imagination for kids and grown-ups alike. These are gifts of God, too. If you're lucky enough to have young trick-or-treaters at home, enjoy them with all your might!