Sunday, July 31, 2005

The World is So Full of a Number of Things

Today El Jefe and I went to the Astros game along with our neighbors. We all bought a season ticket package this year so our seats would be together. If you told me a few years ago that I would become an Astros fan and actually learn something about the game, I wouldn't have believed you.

For years El Jefe (who has an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball and baseball trivia) followed the Astros and major league baseball in general. His mother was one of the few sainted moms who did NOT throw out his baseball card collection from the 50's and 60's. On the few occasions when I accompanied him to a game I usually took a book with me to read. "Watching baseball is like watching paint dry," my sister-in-law opined, and I agreed with her.

I grew up in a household that was not sports-minded. My father loved music and opera and scorned athletics. My mother did follow the Dallas Cowboys and liked football, but that was all. But over the years of being married to a great sports fan, I began to get some appreciation for the games. But not baseball, which seemed to be full of statistical arcania that I couldn't and didn't want to follow.

Then Portia became fascinated with baseball -- she even has her own fantasy baseball team every year. Go Portia! She converted Babs to the cause and I concluded that I needed to make an effort to appreciate it as well or I was going to be left at home by my own self and I hate when that happens. It helped that Houston now has a beautiful baseball park that is fun to visit and has a nice crowd of fans. Now that I understand the game better, I find it enjoyable to follow. Because I can anticipate what may happen and understand why, it is no longer "like watching paint dry."

I've learned that an old gal can change her mind about something she really didn't know that much about. Isn't that true of a lot of things in life? "The world is so full of a number of things, that I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. We can always find something new and interesting in the world God created for us, if we take the time to learn more.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Midnight Nudging

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and realized that I was worried and stressing about the new Sunday School year that begins for us August 24. There was still one more teaching team needed and not much time left to recruit. I kept telling myself to calm down and deal with it in the morning--not much can be accomplished at 3 am!

Our Sunday School Superintendent and I had a couple of folks in mind, but had not seen them on Sunday morning the past few weeks so I could speak with them. We prefer asking someone to teach in person--because we're more likely to get a "yes" answer.

When sleep is disrupted, you have to take action. So I made a phone call this morning and not only got an immediate "yes", but a "thanks so much for thinking of us, we'd love to do it." Wow!

Now I think that I was getting a nudge from the Holy Spirit last night. Did anything like that ever happen to you?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tuesday's Meatloaf Madness

Yesterday was spent in Martha mode as I took my turn preparing the main dish for the Family Promise clients who are spending this week at our church. For those of you not familiar with Family Promise, it is a national program assisting homeless families. Families are screened and when accepted into the program are assisted with finding jobs and housing. While in the program they spend their days at a center and their nights at different churches who join the network. The church provides a place to sleep and hosts a dinner for them each night as well as providing breakfast in the morning and a sack lunch. The families stay for one week at our church and then next week will spend the night in another church.

There are two families in the program this week. They requested no fried chicken and no cassaroles. Must have been one too many folks driving by KFC and dropping off dinner! I suspect these families must have been in the program long enough to be heartily sick of cassaroles as well. So I decided that meatloaf and mashed potatoes were the perfect comfort food for these people who are in a very stressful situation.

I was told to prepare enough food for 9 people--but that included a couple of toddlers. So I decided that my trusty meatloaf recipe had to be tripled (so there would be enough for dinner at my house as well that night). I made one ginormous meatloaf and one regular size and then fretted about how much longer the ginormous one should cook. Fortunately, I guessed right : about 1 1/2 times as long as the regular one. The enterprise consumed the entire afternoon, but came out great!

If you don't have a fail-safe meatloaf recipe, try this one:

1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1 cup V-8 juice
1 cup uncooked oatmeal
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 shake Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cube, crumbled of Knorr Swiss Beef Bouillon

  • Mix all ingredients well
  • shape into a loaf and put into a greased 9x5 bread pan
  • Add topping
Topping Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups V-8 juice, 1/4 cup ketchup, 1 tsp. Tabasco,
2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1 tsp dry mustard
  • Mix together and pour 3/4 of topping over meat loaf
  • Bake for one hour at 350 degrees
  • Add the rest of the sauce and continuing baking for 20 minutes at the same temperature
My sister-in-law gets the hat tip for this recipe. The leftovers make wonderful sandwiches!
(Goes great with Texas Chocolate the way.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Traveling Mercies for the Discovery Shuttle

I wasn't in my office at church yesterday due to meetings at our presbytery office. When I came in this morning I found this cute little bear, dressed in a NASA shuttle suit on my desk. It was in a bag along with a note from the chair of the CE committee, my good friend who is a REAL rocket scientist and works with NASA.

The bear was a thank-you for my prayers and support for her and her work group. They were devastated by the Columbia tragedy a couple of years ago and have been working very hard on NASA's "return to space". That's what the RTF stands for on the front of the bear's uniform.

She is under a great deal of pressure--in fact she will be incommunicado for much of the flight. She is the safety engineer responsible for the performance of the camera that is now mounted on the outside of the shuttle. This camera continuously scans the outside of the spacecraft, looking for loose or missing tiles. Those tiles were the cause of the Columbia tragedy. Take-off was successful this morning, so now that camera will be operating to help alert the crew to any potential danger.

This little bear reminds me that behind the headlines about Discovery, or any news story for that matter, are people whose lives are affected by the events reported. I'm keeping the bear on the counter in my kitchen until Discovery lands safely as a reminder to keep everyone involved, especially my friend, in prayer asking for traveling mercies for the Discovery shuttle.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Give Me Committee Meetings

It's really all in the family at Lakewood. Even more than you thought.

(Warning: Those of you who think I'm obsessing over Lakewood Church are welcome to skip this post. I admit I never paid much attention to it when it was located in an area I never frequented, but now that it has moved into the former Compaq Center I pass it a couple of times a week and the phenomenon of The Oasis of Love really gives me pause. )

And I'm not the only one. This move has ratcheted up the church's profile not only in the area, but in the state. Yesterday the Houston Chronicle had a lengthy article in its Business Section about the church's sources of income and its finances. When was the last time a church was analyzed like a business in your hometown paper?

Then El Jefe read another feature in this month's Texas Monthly about Joel Osteen and the Lakewood empire called "Prime Minister" by William Martin, a professor of religion and public policy at Rice University, and called my attention to the description of the "polity" of Lakewood in it. This morning I passed Lakewood twice on a trip into presbytery for a meeting and I was struck by the differences between the governance of most mainline Protestant churches and something like Lakewood. So I stopped on the way home to buy the magazine and check out the article for myself.

Lakewood is run by the Osteen family. Period. The board of directors is composed entirely of Osteen family members. The administrative head of the church (or COO in corporate terms) is one of the brothers-in-law of Joel Osteen. Joel is the CEO, as senior pastor. Lakewood can be fairly characterized as a closely-held family-owned business. There is no vestry, session or lay board with members of the congregation elected to provide any oversight for this group. On the other hand, according to the article, the family-run nature of the church is not concealed but is well-known and publicized. Joel Osteen's wife, Victoria, is the "co-pastor" and his two young children are already being groomed for the family business.

There is little accountability for the more than $60 million received in annual revenue at this time. The annual budget is not made available to the congregation, although Martin said he was told there is discussion about doing this. Apparently there is an annual outside audit because Martin was provided with copies of audited statements for the past two fiscal years. It seems like an invitation to charges of financial misdeeds to me to run an organization of any size this way, never mind a church.

I reflected on these differences as I sat through 3 hours of meetings at presbytery. It gave me a new perspective on the value of our endless committee meetings in the Presbyterian system. It seems very un-Protestant to me to set up a church government that mimics the monarchial system of medieval Europe with all policies being decided by a familial oligarchy. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church admonition : No bishop, no king! Why doesn't this concern the 30,000 people who attend every week and contribute to the church?

Maybe they are happy to attend, give their money, participate in activities and not be responsible for participating in the business and policy decisions of the church. Don't we all sometimes share that feeling? We make jokes about committee meetings and whine about them. Next time I do, I will remember Lakewood as I did this morning. Better three hours spent in meetings so we can remain accountable to each other, to the larger church and ultimately to God than to abdicate that responsiblity to a small group so that church decisions remain "all in the family."

Saturday, July 23, 2005

100th Baptism Quilt

The 100th Baptism Quilt Presented
by The Ministers of the Cloth

This Sunday marks a big milestone for The Ministers of the Cloth, the quilting group at our church. Since 1996 the group has made a presented a crib-size baptism quilt to each infant or toddler baptised at the church. Our 100th quilt has been completed and will be presented tomorrow at the baptism of a very special baby--Cameron.

Cameron and his older sister Jessica are both being baptised tomorrow, so we will be presenting the 99th and 100th quilts to this family. The Ministers of the Cloth decided that Cameron's would be the 100th quilt in celebration of his miraculous recovery from a heart condition that required surgery to correct when he was only a couple of months old. Now his surgeons believe he will have a completely normal life and no lingering concerns from this condition.

For those of you who may be curious about the quilt, the appliques are all Christian symbols and then we embroider the baby's name, the date of baptism and the name of our church on one square. We have more than twenty applique symbols, so the quilts can be very different. We try to include symbols appropriate to the liturgical season of the baptism whenever possible. Otherwise we choose what looks good with the background fabric.

Tomorrow will be a special day for all of us as we celebrate these baptisms and remember all the ones that have gone before. I am honored to have been asked to be the elder for the ceremony. After the baptism the pastor always walks the child or children around the congregation while they sing "The Borning Cry." I must remember to take a handkerchief with me because it's hard not to get teary-eyed over lyrics like :

I was there to hear your borning cry
I'll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptised
To see your life unfold.

Friday, July 22, 2005

RevGalBlogPals Web Ring

The sharp-eyed among you will note an addition to my sidebar today: the RevGalBlogPals Webring. This ring just formed over the last couple of days and we already have our own theme merchandise here, thanks to Reverend Mother and St. Cassarole.

At this writing there are 14 links on the ring and more to come, I'm sure. The ring is open to all bloggers but especially clergywomen who would consider themselves RevGals and their Blogging Pals (as a Director of Christian Education, not a pastor, that's me!). They represent a diverse group--women ministers, with or without children, discerning women and other clergypersons and friends.

Some of the bloggers in the ring are already linked on this blog and some are not--I look forward to getting acquainted with those I didn't know about. If you're intrigued, then click on the ring.

Friday Weird Wine blogging

When St. Paul said "no longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (1 Timothy 5:23), I'm not sure he foresaw the Jalapeno Wine above distilled in our own local Texas winery, Circle S. (Doesn't that sound more like a ranch than a winery???)

It is good for marinating fish and chicken before grilling. I actually drank some of it and it has a nice jalapeno flavor without burning your tongue.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Church Under Seige Update

Back in March I posted about The Church Under Seige here ( March 18 and March 20--for some reason I can't get blogger to give separate url's on these posts right now).

This week I got the latest news from this church. Since the Administrative Commission has been dissolved and the session of the church restored, I no longer received news regularly about the congregation. The mother of one of the members of our church is also a member of TCUS. Our member told me that the man who was the instigator of all the controversy and division in the church has departed--along with his wife and their videographer. Security guards are no longer called to protect worship and session meetings. The congregation is healing and has a new interim pastor. The session is able to work together and a Pastor Nominating Committee elected to seek a permanent pastor.

Praise God! It took two years of lawsuits, threats and fear at that church to accomplish this result. Our presbytery became well-known to the PCUSA legal staff in Louisville and across the country as the threats and false accusations of this man were faxed across the country. Our commission stayed together, prayed together and encouraged each other in our determination not to give in to this man's relentless bullying. No appeasement and no negotiations. We refused to deal with him except on our terms--which we prayed were Biblical terms.

He did not go "quietly into that good night" of course. His website is still up and he vows to continue his bogus lawsuit--but our faithful counsel will make short work of that. More troubling are reports that he is stalking the first interim pastor, who has moved from our area, by making false accusations about him to his current employer (he is a tent-maker).

So we'll keep our prayer chain going on behalf of E.S. and ask God to protect him against this viscious and evil man.

Now that I think about it, I'm sure this post was subconsciously prompted by the news from London today.

Prayer From London For London

How shocking to hear of explosions again in London's Tube today!

When I heard the news reports break in on the television this morning, I immediately thought of the prayer inscribed over Westminster Abbey that Babs memorized and we use often for grace at dinner. I offer it now for all our friends in London and the UK.

May the Lord give to the living grace,
to the departed rest,

to the church and the world
peace and concord,

and to us sinners eternal life.

Amen, be it so.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Could It Happen Here?

Could this tongue-in-cheek story about a megachurch taking over Idaho be prophetic?

Somebody better start monitoring Lakewood Church!

Afterthoughts on Sunday School

This is a continuation of the theme of my last post.

One of the important things I learned that I didn't mention before is:

When we set up coffee for fellowship between our services and during the Sunday School period in the building next to the sanctuary we lost a lot of class attendance (youth and adult) to the charms of the kaffeeklatch. So we moved the coffee bar upstairs in the education building so folks had to go to that building for the coffee, and shut it down when Sunday School began. Attendance improved--it's a miracle!

From time to time I must repeat to myself the mantra I learned from our senior pastor:

You know what I mean: that Sunday School class that is constantly struggling for leadership, topics and attendance may be consuming more of your time than it is worth. Allowing it to fail will either inspire someone to step forward and take leadership of it or allow the Holy Spirit to work in inspiring the creation of something new and different. Neither of those things will happen if you keep it on life support. Of course the trick is to know when it's time to step back and let this happen--and that's not always obvious.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Thoughts on Ramping Up Sunday School

The Reverend Mommy left a comment on my last VBS post asking for suggestions for "ramping up Sunday School." Since some of my bloggie pals in cyberspace may also be interested in that topic at this time of year, I thought I would respond with a post instead of through the comment thread. (Apologies to anyone who read this post earlier in the day when I erroneously attributed that comment to St. Cassarole. )

My approach to increasing interest and attendance in Sunday School for all ages has been to focus on development of adult classes. I was influenced in this direction by one of my all-time favorite pastors who always insisted that children follow the adults in Sunday School, not vice versa. So far that has worked for our church.

When I first became DCE here we had two adult Sunday School classes and very low attendance in the children and youth classes. We also had a worship service taking place at the same time as Sunday School. That is a very big NO-NO if you are serious about emphasizing the importance of Sunday School. With some time and lots of talking, the session was persuaded to change the worship schedule so there was a Sunday School period in between the two services.

Once that change was made, I focused first on adding an additional adult class to our offerings. The two original classes were a traditional Bible Study group using Cokesbury materials and a more free-wheeling group that chose different "contemporary Christian" topics for study and discussion. We first added a class that focused on other types of Bible topics: for example, a study of themes in the Bible, or the Ten Commandments, or Revelation vs. the Left Behind version etc. We have added a couple of other classes every year and last year had 7 classes.

As the number of adult classes grew, so did the attendance in the children and youth classes. After a couple of years we no longer had difficulty recruiting Sunday School teachers for these classes and we spent time researching and choosing curriculum that was "user friendly" for the teachers and the kids. We used the Christian Reformed Church's new Walk With Me curriculum last year and are keeping it because it was very well received.

Here are some of the principles that I think you need to keep in mind when creating adult Sunday School classes:

1. There's not enough time in a Sunday School period for an in-depth class. Choose your topics and curriculum accordingly.

2. Most (but not all) people want to show up in Sunday School, have material presented to them in an interesting understandable way, and then get a chance to discuss it. They don't like all-lecture style classes and shy away from classes that require a lot of reading outside the SS hour.

3. There are a lot of video and DVD curriculums available now. Stick to the ones where the video presentation is significantly shorter than the SS period (I recommend 15 to 20 minutes at most) so there is time for the group to respond and comment.

4. Sunday School attendance is sporadic. When someone misses a class they won't come back if they think they will be behind the rest of the group. We always have at least one class that we can promote as having "stand-alone" sessions. In other words, if you missed last week's class you can still come and participate this week.

5. People love to take a class taught by the Pastor. Sometimes I think that the Pastor could get up and recite The Little Engine That Could every Sunday in class and still keep a sizeable, consistent attendance.

6. Some specific suggestions of adult class topics that have been particularly successful here in the last couple of years are:

-- The Old Testament From Scratch and The New Testament From Scratch by Donald Griggs (never overestimate the biblical literacy of the congregation). (Abingdon Press)

-- Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, by Dr. Kevin Leman (Sampson Resources)

-- Listening for God: Contemporary Literature and the Life of Faith, a video series by Paula J. Carlson and Peter S. Hawkins (Augsburg Fortress)

-- Breaking the Code by Bruce Metzger. A video and discussion study of Revelation. (Westminster John Knox Press)

-- Making Room for Life by Randy Frazee (Zondervan)

-- The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey. Video and book by the same name. (Zondervan Publishing House)

Good luck! I'm sure some of you will have some other good suggestions to add via comments, and I look forward to reading and learning from them.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Oasis of Love Update

The Lakewood Church (the "Oasis of Love") opened its first services in the remodeled Compaq Center in Houston this weekend to overflow crowds and massive traffic congestion. Those of you who were interested in my previous post about this phenomenon may want to read the local paper's report of the Saturday night service. It featured a standing ovation for Pastor Joel Osteen and wife and Governor of Texas Rick Perry (a/k/a Governor GoodHair). Good Grief.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Hymns for Those Senior Moments

Found on a birthday card I bought for a (much older of course!) friend:

The Top Ten Hymns for People Your Age:

10. It is Well With My Soul (But My Back Aches a Lot)
9. Nobody Knows the Trouble I have Seeing
8. There's Something About That Name (But I Can't Remember What It Is At the Moment...)
7. Just a Slower Walk With Thee
6. Count Your Many Birthdays, Name Them One By One
5. Go Tell It On the Mountain--and Speak Up!
4. Give Me That Old-Timer's Religion
3. Blessed Insurance
2. Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah (I've Forgotten Where I Parked)

and the Number One Hymn For People Your Age: Nearer My God To Thee

I thought of two more:

Standing On The Promises In Orthopedic Shoes
Be Thou My Vision (I Can't Find My Glasses)

Bloggie pals, can you add more?

VBS --It's a Wrap

It's the last day of VBS. Here are the Mission Zone kids taking a break from their labors with a food fight. We had barbeque sauce, watermelons, mayonnaise, mustard, Cool Whip and ketchup everywhere.

The weather cooperated by sending us some showers to finally break our heat spell so the kids were rinsed off by rain as well as our garden hoses!

This was our best year ever for VBS. Several years ago we didn't have VBS We due to construction and expansion of our Christian Education Building. We just couldn't use it that summer and had no other facility. So we have been rebuilding the program since then and this year we finally ironed out most of our logistical problems.

Here are some things that worked well for us:

* Decide in advance what your ratio of adult volunteers to children needs to be, then use that as a guide for capping enrollment.

* Enlist high school youth to assist teachers, lead playtime, run the audio/visual equipment, work in the nursery with adult supervision--they were the best! We couldn't have VBS without our youth.

* Instead of using one-age-fits-all curriculum, use a different curriculum for the 3 year old group and the 4th-6th graders. Their needs are different.

* Set a deadline for registration a month to two weeks before VBS opens so that you can place accurate orders for supplies and craft items.

* Have some volunteers available first thing in the morning to stay with the children of teachers so they can meet with the VBS Director to get last-minute instructions and for prayer time. Show a video or have some games or music to entertain the teacher's children during the meeting.

* Work out a system that keeps the parents out of the main gathering area for drop-off and pick-up of the children. Parents coming into the sanctuary during opening and closing exercises are very disruptive. We had volunteers taking roll and teenagers escorting the kids to their groups.

* Get cooperation from the pastors to acknowledge VBS in worship the following Sunday. Our kids are going to sing The Lord's Prayer at both services (with some backup provided by the adult praise band and choir) while a slide show of pictures from VBS is projected behind them. This will take the place of the Children's Sermon for the day.

And now, praise God, VBS is over until 2006!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

If God Had a Telephone

This morning one of the leaders of our Vacation Bible School dropped in to tell me a story about her four year old son.

A couple of days ago was the first anniversary of the death of his grandmother, who coincidentally died on her birthday. Although his dad was understandibly a bit depressed that day (it was his mother who passed away), they didn't make any special mention of the day to the children. That evening at dinner the little boy asked " Does God have a telephone?"

"No, God doesn't have a telephone," his mother replied. "He doesn't need one. He knows our thoughts and what we want and need. Why do you ask if He has a telephone?"

"Because," he replied, "if God had a telephone, I could call Him up and tell Him to give Grandma a new body so she would be fine and send her back to us."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Roadside Religion: Book Review

"This is not the book I thought I was writing" Timothy Beal said in his afterword to
Religion: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange and the Substance of Faith. It wasn't the book I thought I was reading when I first picked it up, either--it was a lot more.

Roadside Religion is about religious oddities scattered across the American countryside. Everything from the Disney wanna-be- Holy Land Experience in the Florida theme-park Mecca (mixing my religious metaphors here, but, hey, I'm inclusive) to the Giant Ten Commandments and the replica of Noah's Ark to uncategorizable displays like the Cross Garden and the Ave Maria Grotto are included. And just to keep things lively, there is a stop at two Biblically themed minature golf courses.

Timothy Beal is Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University and his wife is a Presbyterian minister. Making a family vacation out of this project, they rented a motor home and drove around the country on a tour of eccentric religious sites. Beal interviewed most of the creators of these oddities. Why would anyone want to build a life-size Noah's Ark or the world's largest Ten Commandments model, he asked. Or how about the Cross Garden which is a large hodge-podge of hand-made crosses with dire warnings: Hell is Hot! printed on them?

The answers that he found along the way are what changed the book from what he thought he was writing to the book he wrote. Like Beal, I approached the subject with a skeptical eye and the assumption that these displays were mere expressions of eccentric, out-of-bounds religious expression that I could not relate to. But thanks to Beal's sensitive handling of the subject I had to confront my own prejudice and see that many of these exhibits were sincere and unique expressions of religious fervor that had the power to touch others for good.

To take just one example ( and for me, the most compelling in the book), the chapter about the Precious Moments Inspiration Park challenges those of us who see those big-eyed figurines in the Hallmark store as another tacky example of American kitsch. The description of the Precious Moments Chapel and the Books of Remembrance illustrates how Sam Butcher, the creator of Precious Moments figurines, responded in faith to the tragic death of his son and turned that response into a ministry that touches many people. I'm not much of a crier, but this chapter brought tears to my eyes and erased the distance between me and the creators of the exhibits decribed in the book.

Beal had the same response as he wrote the book--he was changed by the experience. Most of these exhibits get sympathetic treatment. The exception is the Holy Land Experience (Orlando FL), which he compares unfavorably with the Holy Land USA (Bedford, VA). Beal finds that the Holy Land Experience operates on a hidden agenda--the desire of the developer who is a converted Jew, to convert the Jews--and objects to the devious ways in which that agenda is pursued throughout the theme park.

You may not have plans to take a long car ride visiting out-of-the-way tourist destinations this summer, so pick up this book and let Timothy Beal do it for you. You will find those for whom "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen"(Hebrews 11:1) trying to express their spiritual fervor by creating unusual sacred spaces. And you just might find yourself wistful for some of that fervor yourself--even if you cannot go with them on their journey.

Christian Carvnival of Blogs

My post "A Church with no steeple, but lots of people" is linked on today's Christian Carnival of Blogs, hosted by Byron Harvey at A Ticking Time Blog.

For those of you not familiar with the Christian Carnival, it is a selection of posts from Godbloggers (or faith-based bloggers) that is put together and hosted by a different blogger each week. This week's collection has a number of interesting posts, including a couple of others on the same theme as mine: check out Rev. Ed's Why Do We Count, and A View From the Pew's
An Unregenerate Denomination.

Byron Harvey used a Baseball All-Star Theme to tie all the links together. Very clever!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

VBS Tuesday: MISSION Bible School

Today's scripture at VBS from the Lord's Prayer was "give us this day our daily bread." So we planned to take the Mission Zone group (4th, 5th and 6th graders) to the area Food Pantry supported by our church to help sort donations.

Mission Zone is the program we have developed for the older elementary kids who are by now vacation-Bible-schooled-out. The idea is to engage them in hands on mission projects each day that are appropriate for their age group so they can be introduced to the idea of expressing their faith by helping others in the community.

Unfortunately the Pantry volunteers called this morning to say that they had not received expected deliveries, so please don't bring the kids --we don't have anything for them to do.

Time to punt! Our Youth Director, who is leading Mission Zone, called a neighboring mission to the Hispanic community and found that they could put the kids to work. So off we went to see what needed to be done. ( I'm one of the drivers for the group.)

First, the kids loaded bedding and boxes of clothes onto a trailer for the group's upcoming mission trip to Piedras Negras in Mexico. That was easy and quick.

Then we were asked to load unneeded bricks onto two pallets so they could be hauled away. Not so easy and not so quick! Here's a picture of the group hard at work in the hot sun. They vacillated back and forth between whether or not organizing themselves assembly-line style was the most efficient way to attack the project.

I overheard the following exchange between two of the girls as they were nearing the end of their work:

"I thought it was supposed to be VACATION Bible School!"
"No, it's supposed to be MISSION Bible School!"

Monday, July 11, 2005

VBS Monday Report

It's Vacation Bible School week at our church, so I am planning to post several VBS updates.

The stage was set in the sanctuary for Day One of Vacation Bible School 2005. "The Kingdom of the Son" backdrop is complete and waiting for 80 children to arrive for registration and opening of the program.

Registration went very well and the kids settled in rapidly. We had plenty of adult and youth volunteers on hand to be with the kids throughout the morning. Our one minor glitch was a buggy computer that refused to play the program DVD on the screen--but we worked around that using one of the church's TV's on a cart. Technology is great until it doesn't work when you need it to!

We chose the Kingdom of the Son curriculum because it teaches the children the Lord's Prayer and its meaning throughout the course of the week. Today the focus was on the following verses: "Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven."

Since most of the children attend our church or school, we wanted to do something that would be different from the curriculums offered there. Other children attending who may not have much exposure to religious education will benefit by learning about this familiar Christian prayer.

The other minor glitch we had was the weather. By noon it was already about 99 degrees, much too hot for the children to be able to play games out doors as planned. So tomorrow we're setting up the Fellowship Hall for that purpose--heat exhaustion is a definite no-no at VBS!

There's no problem with heat in the Craft Room as the kids work on their projects--drums made out of plastic coffee containers. The drums will accompany them in worship on Sunday when they sing "The Lord's Prayer" for the congregation.

Parents may not appreciate this craft as much as some of the quieter ones that will go home with the kids at the end of the week!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Church with No Steeple, But Lots of People

Here's a picture of the Compaq Center in Houston before it was leased to Lakewood Church.

Here's the architectural rendering of the remodeled facility as it will be occupied by Lakewood Church. The church added a five story building to the existing sports arena.

Some would say "only in Texas." But I bet that there are other megachurches on this scale in California or elsewhere. We drove by the old Compaq Center in Houston this weekend (former arena for the Houston Rockets NBA team) and wondered how the old center was now looking inside as the remodeling and addition for the Lakewood Church are nearing completion. For those of you interested here is the front page article in the local newspaper describing it.

The idea that a church is big enough and wealthy enough to buy and remodel a professional sports arena is hard to comprehend. There will be 16,000 seats in the church. The remodeling costs about $95 million. Average weekend attendance at this non-denominational church today averages 30,000 and is one of the most integrated congregations in the country.

Joel Osteen, now a best-selling author (Your Best Life Now) is the pastor of this church, succeeding his late father who died in 1999. Most of us in mainline denominations cannot imagine someone inheriting church leadership in this way--but it seems to have worked for this church.

Maybe my vision is just too small. I can't imagine running a church on this scale. How do you provide Christian community for individual members when you are dealing with crowds like this? Megachurches like this are criticized for not asking much of their members and for preaching a "prosperity gospel". Yet they are clearly doing something compelling when you consider that this church can raise money on the order of almost a hundred million dollars for its facility.

Non-denominational, "seeker-friendly" churches like Lakewood don't keep membership statistics, but focus on attendance so you don't know how many previously unchurched people they are bringing to Christ and what kind of turnover there is in the congregation.

Lakewood Church will dedicate this newly remodeled facility this coming weekend and begin using it for weekend worship, while retaining their old church buildings for other uses in another part of town. There is no cross on the outside of the newly remodeled building--just the logo of the church which symbolizes its motto: The Oasis of Love." (Really!) This is a church with no steeple, but lots of people.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A Small Victory

I've been working on a project for our church's 20th anniversary year called "Bible in 90 Days"and blogged about some frustration I had trying to find the Bible used in the course here.

So being the type A that I am, I decided that I should place an initial order for the Bibles used in the course now in case I had trouble getting enough at the time the course begins. You have to use the NIV Thinline Large Print (yeah to large print) Bible so you read 12 pages a day and finish in the 90 days.

Earlier this week I got an email from telling me there was a problem with the order. Uh, oh, I thought: if amazon is having a problem, maybe there's a larger problem. I scoured the online sites and local bookstores. There was a problem. No one had this particular version.

I called Zondervan, the publisher of both this Bible and the curriculum to order them. A-hah! I'm told that Bible is discontinued but they have now published another version with the same number of pages. And surprise, surprise, it's going to cost about $10 more than the previous publication! What perfidy.

A couple of hours online searching discount and overstock bookstores yielded results this morning. I got all the copies I need for less than the original price, plus free shipping. It's hard to resist the urge to make a nanny-nanny-boo-boo call to Zondervan--but I will.

Friday Dog Blogging

Gretel, The Noble Dog.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Psalm for London

For our friends in London and the United Kingdom, because there is truly nothing new under the sun:

Psalm 64

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
preserve my life from the dread enemy.
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked
from the scheming of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless;
they shoot suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, "Who can see us?
Who can search out our crimes?
We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot."
For the human heart and mind are deep.

But God will shoot his arrow at them;
they will be wounded suddenly.
Because of their tongue he will bring them to ruin;
all who see them will shake with horror.
Then everyone will fear;
they will tell what God has brought about,
and ponder what he has done.

Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord
and take refuge in him.
Let all the upright in heart glory.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Web Madness

My inner geek seems to be coming out since I started blogging. My new project is constructing a family website. El Jefe has actually encouraged this, suggesting that it would be great to share news and photos among our extended family with a website. Being the historian and amateur geneologist that he is, he wants a section devoted to family history that I am counting on him writing.

I actually got the urge to learn how to be a "web mistress" when the church got a new volunteer to overhaul and keep our website updated. As a former high school newspaper editor, I have always enjoyed designing pages for publication so this was a natural extension of interest for me.

First I checked out online sites that provide a template you can just insert photo and some text into. But I found the templates too constraining. So then I got the really bad idea to try my hand at html. Bah! After two days of wresting with HFML for dummies, I had produced a pale blue blank page. Phooey. So much for that.

Persistence does pay off. I think I have found the answer in a software program that combines templates with the ability to tweek them some and add more text. So I downloaded a trial version and spent a couple of days learning how to use it. Success, I think! Now the next challenge will be (after purchasing and installing the permanent version) to upload it somewhere.

There's still a nagging question--is this worth the time and effort spent on it? Is it really any better than emailing photos to interested family members? Will anyone else in the family really find it useful? In other words, have I become more interested in the medium than the message? I had this experience when I was more first got a new sewing machine that did lots of fancy stitches and embroidery. It was great fun to try them all out at once--but it made for a pretty ugly piece of work.

So I'm going to put the website file aside for a few days and then try to look at it with a more objective eye. And while I'm at it, try to restrain the impulse to overdo other things as well. A lot of the time simpler is a better and more effective stewardship of time and resources. But not as much fun!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Memorable Baptism

There was a very special baptism Sunday. Fittingly, it was the day before Fourth of July. The child being baptised was recently adopted from an orphanage in Russia. The elder assisting at the baptism is the adoptive father of yet another child also adopted from Russia, but from an orphanage in a different part of that country. His son will be baptised next week. ( I previously wrote about these pending adoptions here.)

The little boy baptised Sunday is not an infant, but a toddler. He has a bright shock of almost platinum blonde hair and is walking. He is still reacting to this big change in his life: from being institutionalized to being part of a family with an older brother and sister and two parents. Since he is still wary of strangers and afraid of being left by his adoptive mother, she walked him around the congregation after the ceremony--a tradition in our church usually performed by the pastor.

Our church has always marked the Sunday close to the Fourth of July with the singing of patriotic hymns by the choir at our late service. "America the Beautiful" and " The Battle Hymn of the Republic" took on a deeper meaning in the light of the promises that the congregation made to this newest American.

Welcome to the USA, little one. And more importantly, welcome to the church of Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake, A July 4th Tradition

St. Cassarole and Reverend Mommy shared chicken cassarole recipes on their blogs today. We must all be in "Martha" mode because of the the Fourth of July holiday. Yesterday we had our extended family celebration at my house--a cookout, swimming for the kids and lots of watermelon, both red and yellow.

I also made Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake, which is a must for all gatherings. My brother describes it as "a religious experience", so here it is for all of you. Bon appetit, y'all!

Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake

Bring to a boil in a pan:
1 stick margarine
1/2 cup solid shortening (I use butter flavor Crisco)
4 tablespoons Hershey's cocoa (NOT European style--only use the good old USA style)
Set aside to cool.

Sift together in a large bowl
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pour chocolate mixture over the flour/sugar mixture

2 well-beaten eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk that has 1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in it.

Mix well and pour into greased 9x 13 pan.
Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Do not overbake!
Ice the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Bring to a boil in a saucepan --
1 stick margarine
6 tablespoons milk
4 tablespoons Hershey's cocoa

Stir continuously until mixture thickens. Then remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon vanilla, the box of powdered sugar and 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans. You can omit the pecans, if you don't like nuts.

Pour hot icing over the cake and let it cool. This cake can be made ahead because it is actually better the next day!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Report on the GodBlog class

Many thanks to those of you who responded to my post and to the post from John at Locusts and Honey relaying my request for ideas for my class on blogging and your comments on your own experiences blogging. Thank you John, Jim at Wabisabi, Songbird, St. Cassarole and Grandma Jean. I had a good response from the class, more than half of whom did not know what a blog was when I began the presentation. They know now!

Portia was amused when one of the older men in the class asked her before church whether she was Portia or Babs in the blog. In a discussion later with her and a friend I was asked why have a class on blogging at all? Doesn't everyone understand what it is? Well, no--not really. My experience is that those who are about 35 or older are more likely than not to be totally unfamiliar with blogs of any type. Of course, since this was a Sunday School class I concentrated on Godblogs (faith-based blogs) but did touch on the many other subjects that bloggers cover.

This was a good trial run for the workshop on blogging I agreed to give in October at our presbytery's annual educational/leadership event. Since I'll have more time then, I plan to include a "how-to" section as well.

Again, thanks to each of you for your help. Your comments and responses illustrated the fact that a community of faith can extend through the internet across the country and the world. Hopefully some of them will check out your blogs and become regular visitors, as I am.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Godspeed, Justice O'Connor

One of my few claims to fame is that I met Sandra J. O'Connor several years before she was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Here's the story: she is the neice of close family friends and I met her at a wedding when I was still in law school.

I'd heard about her before from these friends. When I announced my intention to go to law school they told me about her. How she was second in her class at the Stanford Law School but no law firm would hire her because she was a woman. How she married and moved to Arizona, where she put her legal career aside for a few years while raising her family and was a very active community volunteer. When her boys were older she became a state court judge. "You see," I was told," you, too, can go to law school, take time off for family and community and then return to the law and be a judge."

It was from that position she was nominated to the Supreme Court after intense lobbying by her old law school pal, Justice Rhenquist. Was he trying to right the wrongs of past years when he did that? It is very rare for a state court judge to become a Supreme Court Justice --usually some experience on a federal bench is required.

For many years her example inspired and encouraged me as I took time off to be with Portia and Babs. This was before the days when law firms or corporations created "mommy tracks" for women as many do now. But when the time came for me to consider returning to the law, I found my call was to the church instead.

Thank you, Justice O'Connor. Your example encouraged me to follow my own path. Godspeed in your retirement.