Friday, September 30, 2005

You KNOW You Need It

Thanks to Dorothy and Jody Too who gave me this priceless gift! You, too, can add it to your bathing routine: available at JoAnn's Fabric stores. Why? I'm sure I don't know!!!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Still Dealing with Katrina and Rita

Here's the current status of the Katrina evacuees our church was helping at the Bethel Ministries shelter. After evacuating away from Rita, about 20 of them returned to Bethel when the storm had passed. I'm happy to report that all of the family groups found apartments in our area and are moving out of Bethel by this weekend.

Several of them now have jobs here, but they have no furniture for the new apartments. So we have a call out to the congregation and friends for usable furniture to get them started.

These folks may choose to stay permanently and they may choose to return to New Orleans at some time in the indefinite future. As they disperse across the city and away from the large, medium and small emergency shelters their plight will be far less visible.

Rita evacuees are also all over Houston from east Texas and western Louisiana. The cities of Port Arthur, Beaumont and Orange lack electricity, water and sewage and their residents are urged to stay away. People are sweltering in our unseasonably hot weather without air conditioning. Yesterday a FEMA site in Houston had to close when several Rita evacuees waiting in the long line outside fainted in the heat. Now they are trying to make fixed appointments so people won't be left outside in the heat.

Two families who have children in our school lost elderly relatives in the evacuation from Houston a week ago. One family's grandmother perished in that awful bus fire on the road to Dallas. The other family's grandmother suffered a heart attack while they were trapped in traffic. Emergency medical personnel were unable to reach them and she died. We are praying for these families.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

RevGals Meeting Idea

Lurking around in some blog comments lately is the idea of having a RevGalBlogPals convention. Well, I don't know about a convention, but here is an idea for getting some of us together.

The Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators (APCE) is having their annual meeting in St. Louis February 1-4. APCE serves the PCUSA, Presbyterian Church in Canada, Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America.

This year for the first time the Lutheran Association of Church Educators and the National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors are participating in the conference.

The one big omission from the RevGalPals would be the Methodists but there is nothing stopping Methodists from attending. Cokesbury is the bookseller for the conference! Here is the APCE website link for more information . And Lorna, last year I met a minister from the Church of Scotland at this meeting--so why not?

A lot of pastors attend this meeting every year--the workshops cover a lot of topics and the bookstore and merchants are usually great. If some of you plan to attend, then we could try to get together for dinner or lunch or evening whatever during the free time. Maybe we could even discuss a future "convention".

What say you, fellow RGBPers? Rach and Mindy--what about a quick trip to St. Louis for dinner?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Bible in 90 days Musical Distractions

We're taking an extra week to read 1 and 2 Kings in our Bible in 90 Days (BIND) groups due to the distraction of Rita. But as I was reviewing those books and looking ahead to 1 and 2 Chronicles, it occured to me that my most beloved oratorios, Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn and Messiah by G.F. Handel were going to cause me distraction as well.

As I was reading the stories of Elijah in Kings and Chronicles I heard the music and lyrics of Elijah the Oratorio running through my head:

"If with all your heart ye truly seek Me,
Ye shall ever surely find Me.
Thus saith our God.
Oh, if I knew where I might find Him
I would even come before his presence..."

That is maybe the most magnificent aria in all of the sacred classical canon. Not to mention the highly dramatic chorus when the priest of Baal are killed:

" We'll take all the prophets of Baal
And let not one of them escape us.
Take them down to Kishon's brook
And there slay them with the sword."

I've sung this oratorio several times over the years and have it virtually memorized. Still when I went to search for my recording of it, it was no where to be found. So I ordered it up on Amazon. I wish I could find a live performance of it sometime soon.

It will be a while before BIND gets to Isaiah. But when we do, I'll have the same problem with Messiah-distraction. Probably more, because I've sung it more often. It's very difficult to concentrate on the Biblical text when it has such powerful reminders of the musical setting that I love. The oratorio texts skip around scripture in order to tell their stories. So I'll have to really focus to read the entire scripture as those soaring melodies swirl around in my head.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Rita Analogy and Rita and Religion

Rita Analogy

It finally came to me. The perfect analogy for Houston's near miss by Hurricane Rita.

Imagine that you are driving down the freeway at 70 mph in the left hand "fast" lane. Suddenly you notice a car coming up very fast on your right. The car swerves abruptly into the car traveling in front of you and both cars erupt into flames on the side of the road. You just barely manage to quickly swerve your car away from the wreck and avoid being involved in it yourself.

For several days after that you feel limp and exhausted. You're very grateful for your deliverance from disaster, but somehow dogged with a nagging sense of doom--even though you know that it's irrational. You go about your regular routine, but you don't feel quite right. You're still wary. That's how I feel--and I know I'm not alone.

Religion and Rita

Pastors at both Second Baptist Church (HUGE congregation) and Windsor Village Methodist (very large, very influential African-American congregation) both concluded in their sermons Sunday that Rita veered away from Houston and to the Louisiana border because God wanted to send a message about the gambling casinos that are clustered just across the Texas state line. See full story here.

As we say down here, that old dog won't hunt. Assuming for the sake of argument that God sends natural diasters to punish sin, if God wanted to wipe out gambling why would he pick on casinos and leave the Texas state lottery alone? Is He only against casino games? (And mind you, I am personally opposed to gambling and state lotteries.)

Also, although most churches opened on some basis yesterday, Lakewood Church (the Oasis of Love) remained closed all day. They have a huge staff and a huge congregation--you would think they would open for at least one simple service of thanksgiving for their people. I'm just saying....

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Virtual Celebration Cake

Yesterday afternoon I was still so keyed up from the experiences of the last few days that I couldn't really sit still --even after we put the house back in pre-Rita order. So I busied myself making a celebration cake (a caramel cake) pictured above and took slices to our neighbors who also stayed behind. I'm offering virtual pieces to all of you who prayed for those of us in Houston and left thoughtful notes on the blog.

I know some of you will ask, so here is the recipe for the cake in case you would like to sample a real-life version:

Caramel Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 package plain white cake mix
1 cup whole milk (I use 2%)
1 stick butter, melted
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
two 9 inch round cake pans, greased and floured

Put all ingredients in large mixing bowl, blend with an electric mixer for 1 minute on low speed. Scrape the bowl and beat 2 more minutes on medium speed. Pour batter equally into pans and cook 27 to 29 minutes. Take out and cool completely, at least 30 minutes.

Prepare the Caramel Frosting just before frosting the layers.

Caramel Frosting

1 stick butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup whole milk (again, I used 2 %)
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place butter and sugars in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir and cook until the mixture comes to a boil, about 2 minutes. Add the milk, stir and bring it bac to a boil. Then remove the mixture from the heat, add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Use immediately--if it cools it will harden too much. If it does harden, return it to the heat briefly to soften up enough to frost. Decorate with nuts if desired (I used pecans, above).

Very yummy and very soothing. Goes well with 'ritas!

Other Rita Updates

Many of you followed our church's involvement with an extended family of 60 people who evacuated from New Orleans after Katrina and were sheltered at Bethel Ministries near our church. About half of the group had left to live with other relatives when Rita loomed out in the Gulf.

We arranged for the rest of the group to go up to Livingston, Texas (about 1 1/2 hours north and east of here) to shelter at our presbytery's Camp Cho-Yeh. Alas, a bad decision--Rita went east of Houston. So no sooner did they get to Cho-Yeh, then they had to evacuate again--this time west to New Braunfels (between San Antonio and Austin). It's a good thing, too, because the dam at Lake Livingston was threatened and the floodgates were opened this morning so everyone south of there had to get out ahead of those floodwaters. Those poor, poor folks. As of today, we don't know whether they plan to try to return here or not.

Church was pretty empty. Many people are still out of town. We decided that Bible in 90 Days would now be "Bible in 97 Days". Everyone will have this next week to catch up on their reading and we will resume our group meetings next week with what we should have done this week. We'll just go with the Act of God here.

We're still planning a mission trip to Mississippi next week for those who want to go help clear out some of the areas devastated by Katrina. This is being done through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. There but for the grace of God...

Lastly, some gas stations are getting fuel and some grocery stores and businesses were starting to reopen around here this afternoon. El Jefe plans to wait until mid-morning to decide whether to try to drive in to his downtown office. If the highways are clogged with returnees, he'll work at home. We may need to go stay with my father-in-law tomorrow since the woman who usually stays with him during the day evacuated to Austin and may not make it back.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Angel in the Storm

This beautiful angel is one of the Tiffany windows at the First Presbyterian Church in Orange, Texas. Hurricane Rita came ashore right over her. This church and these windows have survived many hurricanes since built in the early 1900's.

My cousin from Orange reports that half of the copper covering the dome of the church blew off , but is hanging. They think the plexiglass covers on the Tiffany windows may also have blown off, but the windows appear to be intact. She says that you need a chainsaw to go anywhere--half of all the trees are down. Also 90 % of the businesses were damaged, probably by tornados. The good news is that there was no flooding so this other damage is covered by insurance.

We didn't even loose power at our house and got less than 1/2 inch of rain. We're getting back to normal. Gas is still in short supply and no stores or businesses are open. In our area southwest of Houston, though, I think we'll be back to normal by Monday. It will take a little longer in the center of Houston.

Outside the air feels weird. There's no other way to describe it. Weathermen say that our barometric pressure remains unusually low. It's still quite hot and humid and there are periodic gusty breezes.

Traffic is already building on the highways as people are returning home. Although local officials are begging people to follow a proposed staggered return schedule over the next 3 days, its doubtful that will be very successful.

There's a little blog game that several of the RevGalPals have played lately. You find the 23rd post on your blog and then locate the 5th sentence and post it. Here's mine: "Whew!" Really. I kid you not.

Praise God and pass the 'ritas.

The former pastor at First, Orange, commented on this post and says the windows are not Tiffany windows but were made by J & R Lamb studios in New York. Thanks, Sam, for setting me straight on that!

Almost All Clear

Rita has now passed through and we were very, very fortunate. Our power is back on after being out for about 6 hours. There was very little rain, high (but not hurricane force winds) and almost no damage where we are. Rain and wind bands from the storm are still passing through so we're staying at my sister-in-law's until later this afternoon.

It's hard to describe the feeling of relief we all have right now. I'm sure all those prayers helped. Even where the eye of Rita came in the damage was relatively light. The storm seems to have lost a lot of power as it approached and it moved quickly enough past the coast to avoid flooding problems.

El Jefe observed that historically, there have been no hurricanes hit the Texas coast after October 1. That's next weekend. Wouldn't we all love to see the end of this hurricane season?

Thanks for your concern and your prayers.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Rita Knocks on the Door

We're about to turn in for the night. The wind is blowing outside, but well below even tropical storm wind range at this time. There's only a little bit of rain so far--but that will change in the early morning hours. Since Rita moved east of its initial path, AND has been weakening in strength (thanks for all those prayers!), we're relieved but still wary.

Rita is knocking on our door, but shouldn't slam it down. We had a good dinner with the gathered family, enjoyed each other's company, and even the two dogs got along well. So a bulldog and a dachsund can be friends!

Here's hoping for more good news in the morning. Now we just want to get to the other side of the storm and get back to a normal as soon as we can.

Rita, Rita, Go Away

"Like watching a car wreck in slow motion". " Like waiting for someone to punch you in the gut." Two descriptions of waiting for Rita-- one from Reverend Mother and one from El Jefe. Ah yes, morning dawns in Houston as Rita approaches.

We're so grateful Rita moved a bit east of us. I feel conflicted about saying I wish it would move further east. Selfishly, I want it to move into Louisiana and spare us as much as possible. But we just sheltered so many Louisianaians (spelling?) after Katrina--how can you rejoice in seeing Rita hit them again? New Orleans is already feeling many effects of the outward bands of the storm and we're not. Could NO survive a second major punch like Rita? It seems like that would be the final blow for the city.

So let's pray that the barometric pressures of the 'cane continue to rise so that wherever the eye finally comes in it is much weaker. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Rita hit land as a category 1? I can dream...

El Jefe observed that if you thought the evacuation from Houston was a bad scene (and it was) wait until all those people try to return after Rita. Public officials haven't addressed this yet, but I hope someone will have a plan for a staged return. That would only work if people follow it, though. It would be hard for many not to hop in their cars to come home asap once the storm passes.

We just got an automated call from the City of Sugar Land urging us not to try to leave the area because of the current storm track and the lack of gasoline on the road. One of the great ironies of the situation is that southeast Texas, the area that oils and gases much of the world, is short of gasoline!

Rita is also the nickname of my favorite drink--the margarita. One of my favorite pastors has his very own margarita machine! It was a gift from a couple he married in lieu of a cash gratuity. When this is all over, I'm calling him to suggest he crank it up (it lives in his garage) for a celebration. I'll bring premium tequila and the limes!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Evening Rita Update

I could relate about 20 stories from friends about frustrating attempts to leave Houston and make the longest post in the brief history of RevGalBlogPals. El Jefe and I have had multiple phone calls and emails today recounting these experiences.

Stories about leaving downtown Houston at midnight and still being inside the city limits by 7:30 am. Stories about driving for 4 hours from the center of town and getting to the airport and then spending another 4 hours and only reaching a few further exits off the freeway, getting low on gas, finding none at the exits, and turning around to go home and hunker down.

Much of the day we were promised that some of the major evacuation routes would become totally one-way out of town and that came to pass by the end of the day. My older neice and her family left our house about 6 pm hoping to get to the San Antonio area in 6 to 8 hours once the contraflow lanes were opened.

On the whole, I think the local and state government officials have done a great job of addressing this crisis. Many lessons learned from Katrina were put into action: early calls for evacuation; transportation provided for those without it; contraflow lanes created on the fly with the help of the Texas Department of Transportation; evacuations of nursing homes and hospitals have been completed in low-lying areas. Some of these things need to be implemented right away the next time this area is threatened by a major storm and probably will be.

Still the problem remains: how to evacuate two to four million people who heed the warnings and want to get out of the way? Where do you put them all? How can you expedite their travel? I don't know the answer to that. I sure hope someone else will be able to figure it out in the future.

My younger neice, the young mother with the recent c-section, developed mastitis today and we were fortunate to get her antibiotic prescription filled at a local pharmacy. Everything around here is now closed: grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations--you name it. We're glad we didn't try to evacuate with her and the baby now. Thank God Rita seems to be heading east of us, which will help a lot.

We have plenty of supplies between my sister-in-law's household and ours and we will be fine as we hunker down. If power will be out for more than a couple of days we will then drive out to SA and wait until power is restored.

Today it was incredibly hot and dry--about 100 degrees and sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. You would never know from the weather in the Houston area that there was any kind of hurricane threat out in the Gulf of Mexico. We are really blessed to have the kind of advance warning we now have.

El Jefe, his sister and brother-in-law, and I are now so exhausted from the ups and downs of the day that we're pretty numb to the approaching storm--and that's a good thing. I couldn't sleep well last night worrying about the possibility of a disastrously slow trip out of town. Tonight I'm emotionally spent and ready to trust that God will provide for all of us in the next couple of days.

Change of Plan

Once again we prove that you can't put 20 lbs of something into a one lb sack. When we got up at 4 am this morning and watched the local tv traffic reports (it was taking people 11 hours to travel 50 miles), we concluded that we couldn't take a chance on getting trapped and running out of gas on the highway. There are literally a couple of million people trying to get away from Rita and it's causing big problems on the road.

We decided this was no time to try to make a 12 to 18 hour trip to San Antonio with my elderly father-in-law, a new-born baby and a post-C section mom. The prospect made the Hurricane look like a preferable alternative.

My other neice and her family of 3 small children and husband turned around and came back after deciding they shouldn't get into that mess either. Now they are staying with El Jefe and me because their house is surrounded by tall pines and they are concerned about one falling in the wind and coming through the roof.

We still might leave if things clear up on the road later in the afternoon and we think we can make it in 6 hours (it usually would take 4) or so. But the last weather report was somewhat encouraging--the projected path is shifting east of us and so we now only anticipate tropical storm conditions here.

Lesson learned: if you think you want to avoid a hurricane in a highly populated area, you have to be willing to leave BEFORE it's clear that it has your name on it. That's what I will do next time. It's so hard to just sit and wait for the storm to come at you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

We're Off

Thanks for all the good wishes. This will be my last post from home for a while--I'm taking the laptop with me so I may post once we get to San Antonio.

We're leaving with the following in tow:
El Jefe
The Noble Dog
El Jefe's 90 year old father
El Jefe's sister
El Jefe's brother-in-law
Our neice, who had a C-section ONE WEEK ago and is still covered with stitches and in a good deal of pain ...never mind the hormones! Oy!
Her one week old baby girl
My sister-in-law's dodgy bulldog, Duchess
My neice's husband is in construction and may not be able to leave with us, but hopefully will join us as soon as possible.

We're off to San Antonio where we have managed to farm ourselves out between my family there. The drive will be a real ordeal--especially for my poor neice. She thinks that if we have to drive slowly it will be better for her. We'll have to stop a lot for her and my father-in-law to take breaks. We plan to come back when travel is safe and the power is restored.

I'm praying to remain calm, patient and focused on what is really important. Thanks for all your prayers, too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

From Katrina To Rita

It's hard to believe what a difference a few days makes. Officials in Galveston, having learned from Katrina, are evacuating those without transportation from the city in buses. A couple of coastal counties have also called for voluntary evacuations.

Although the projected strike area for Rita encompasses the entire Texas coast and part of Louisiana, it is still too early to really know whether the Houston area will be affected. Nonetheless, the mega-Katrina shelters in Houston are being closed today: evacuees are being bused to Ellington AFB for travel to Ft Smith in Arkansas, or one-way flight to the city of their choice in the continental US. The Astrodome and the Reliant and Brown convention centers are not safe as storm shelters, so the mayor was determined to get the evacuees out. The Texas governor recalled the Texas National Guard from Louisiana yesterday, in case they are needed here.

Water is in short supply in the supermarkets already as there is an element of panic going around. We're all trying to keep our cool--literally--the temperature is in the high 90's. Which is good! That's because the high pressure system that produces the heat will also keep Rita away from us, if it stays in place long enough.

Here's an update on the Bethel Ministries evacuees our church was helping: half the family left to stay with relatives in Cincinnati Ohio and the rest are expected to go to Detroit in the next day or two. Bethel would not be a safe place to weather a hurricane, either, so it's good that they are able to leave. The evacuees being cared for by St. Paul's are living in hotel rooms, and should be fine there.

We're all pretty distracted by the prospect, as you can imagine. And I need to find something to blog about besides hurricanes and their aftermath!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Joan of Arc?


You are Joan of Arc! You don't really want to hurt
anyone, but if they attack your friends or your
country and no-one else will stand up to fight
them, you head into the battle. Beware though,
conviction tends to get you killed.

Which Saint Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Interesting result and dreary prophesy. What fun!

Houston Watches Rita

As Tropical Storm Rita is forcast to become Hurricane Rita, the Florida Keys are being evacuated. But that's not the only place eyeing Rita warily. A voluntary evacuation for Galveston Texas has been ordered by that city's mayor. Learning from Katrina, Galveston announced that they have buses ready to transport people without their own cars and they will be evacuated during the voluntary evacuation.

Current projections of Rita's path have the storm heading straight for the Houston/Galveston area. It's still early and that could change. However the weather forecasters are predicting the storm will be large and about a 3 when it hits land.

It's hard to imagine that the Houston/Galveston area, overflowing with Katrina refugees could be hit with a major storm. Although we are trying to close our major large shelters there are still about 1000 to 2000 people in them from Katrina. All our hotels and apartments are full. This is important because it will affect people in Galveston and the low-lying areas of Houston and southeast Texas who will need a place to go if they have to evacuate. They'll have to go a lot farther than Houston--and San Antonio and Dallas and Austin are also full of Katrina refugees.

This afternoon one of the Houston city councilmen said he was worried about evacuees from Louisiana who were staying in the many Houston suburbs. They aren't familiar with our area and won't know whether or not they are in an area which is covered by an evacuation recommendation or order. They may be in Baytown, Pearland or Sugar Land or The Woodlands and not realize how those areas relate to Houston or Galveston.

Houston is about 50 miles inland and unlike New Orleans is above sea level--but not much. We don't have a levee problem like they did. But a major hurricane can do a lot of damage. Houston could absorb the Katrina evacuees, but which city could absorb Houston, the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country? Especially after Katrina?

I'm praying really hard that this one goes south of us into the area between Corpus Christi and Brownsville where there is very little population and the hurricane would weaken rapidly before hitting any major city. We're still reeling from the effects of Katrina in New Orleans.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Friday Tiffany Window Blogging

This is the Tiffany window in the "parlor" of the First Presbyterian Church, Orange, Texas. It depicts Christ as a child helping Joseph in his workshop. Mary is spinning in the background.

Notice that the planks of wood being carried by the Christ Child have formed a cross in his hands. The doves at the top of the window probably symbolize the Holy Spirit.

As the first groups of people move back to the devastated Gulf Coast and start to rebuild their communities and their lives, this seemed like a good picture to post.

El Jefe and I will be gone this weekend, so no blogging until Monday.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Effect of Municipal Ordinances on Shelters

At lunch I was having a conversation about the different churches sheltering Katrina evacuees in our area. One of my companions said that one of her daughter's friends who recently did some volunteering at Bethel Ministries asked her how Bethel Ministries (see post) could manage to shelter 60 people and our church did not. The youngster pointed out that Bethel is a poor congregation compared to our church and its facilities need some repairs while ours are much newer and in excellent shape.

Another person at the table observed that the problem lay not in the desire of our church to be a shelter but in the local municipal fire and safety ordinances. Since our church doesn't have showers and lacks other things that these ordinances require for shelters (never mind the area to person ratios that are required), the city fire marshall would order us to close a shelter in a heartbeat. And that's no joke: our preschool and elementary school are constantly being inspected by the local fire marshall and his minions.

Bethel, on the other hand, is located in a municipal "no-man's land" between two suburban municipalities. There is no city government to pass or enforce health and safety ordinances. By the same token, services are limited to those provided by the county. So Bethel can open up their buildings and house these evacuees with impunity. But we can't.

I'm sure none of us would want to do away with fire, health and safety codes. But it does make you wonder if there shouldn't be a way to relax them temporarily when faced with an emergency such as the one created by Katrina and the evacuees from New Orleans.

I know, I know --the first time some shelter that didn't meet these codes caught on fire and someone died or was injured the trial lawyers of the world would sue the city and the church and probably destroy the church in the process. Sigh.

It just shouldn't be this difficult to do the right thing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Fall Meme--

I found this fall meme while composing the RevGalBlogPal Wednesday round-up, and thought it would be fun to answer it from the Land Where There Is No Real Fall (southeast Texas). Thanks to jo(e),who made it up, and lives in the Land Where There Is Fall !

Favorite fall dessert: Pecan pie -- my mother-in-law's recipe.
Holiday: Halloween! In keeping with my British heritage.
Best fall memory: Birth of Babs (October).
Worst fall memory: September 11, 2001.
Most puzzling fall memory: Not being able to find lightweight fall clothes in Texas in August/September
Best thing about fall walks: When the temperature goes below 90 degrees during the day for the first time.
Favorite fall chore: Decorating the house for Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Least favorite fall chore: Cleaning the Bradford pear leaves out of the swimming pool twice a day.
Best change in the home: The day you don't have to use the a/c--unfortunately this is often in December
Favorite flower: What flower? They all died of heat stress.
Best tree in the fall: The pecan trees, because with the leaves you also get nuts!
Fall ritual: Football! It's Texas, what else???
Most frustrating thing about fall: Reading about everyone else's fall foliage and crisp weather while still wearing my worn out summer clothes.
Favorite childhood game: carving pumpkins.
Favorite childhood memory: Halloween carnivals--they still called them "Halloween" carnivals then, not "Fall" carnivals or festivals.
Favorite decorations: Witches! Spooks! Haunted Houses with rotating lights!
Favorite clothing: Stop it, we're still wearing shorts and flip-flops here.
Best scenery: Somewhere else, most everything here is crisp.
Best fall travel tip: Leave VERY early for the A&M game or you will sit in traffic for miles.
Favorite drink: Margaritas, any time of the year!
Best method of transportation: Pickup truck or SUV
Traditional fall candy: Can't get enough candy corn--get behind me, Satan.
Favorite Sound: a norther blowing in
Best for fall sex: air conditioning (or am I repeating myself?)
Fall song: We Gather Together
Reliable prediction: Hurricanes will continue to form in the Gulf.
Best fall television show: Martha Stewart's Halloween episodes and Saturday Night Live's spoofs of the same.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Houston's Muslim Community: Credit Where Credit is Due

Credit Where Credit is Due Department:

According to the Houston Chronicle, over 2,000 members of the Houston Muslim community volunteered at the George R. Brown convention center on September 11--helping the hurricane victims. One spokesman said he welcomed the opportunity to serve on 9/11 in order to demonstrate rejection of the Islamic extremists who flew the planes into the towers. This group is part of the interfaith community effort here to organize assistance for the shelters.

People who aren't familiar with Houston tend to think of it as a stereotypical Texas city with a homogeneous population. Houston today is one of the most cosmopolitan urban centers in the United States. We do have a significant Mulsim population, with mosques and Islamic schools scattered across the region. We also have a significant Hindu population--there is a new Hindu temple under construction about a mile away from our church.

It is wonderful to see these Muslim neighbors joining with the churches, synagogues and temples in the Katrina relief effort. I pray we will see more cooperative efforts between these groups in our community in the future.

Monday, September 12, 2005

And the Winner is: The Year of Jubilee

I lost the office pool on the scripture selection for Week 2 of Bible in 90 Days. (See September 8 post).

My choices: either Numbers 12: 1-16 (Miriam and Aaron both diss Moses, but only Miriam is smitten with leprosy) or Deuteronomy 30: 19-20 (God sets before the Israelites blessings for following the law and curses for worshiping other gods).

But no. The winning scripture was (drumroll, please)...Leviticus 25:8-13--the Lord God ordains the Year of Jubilee.

Guess we're lucky the pastors didn't choose a selection detailing the architectural plan for the tabernacle (snore!) or the detailed instructions for killing animals for the blood offering (gross!).

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Eyewitness Report from the Astrodome: Evacuees Moving On

Houston is moving rapidly to place all the Katrina evacuees into temporary housing or permanent shelters. Today officials announced that they expect to close the Astrodome as an emergency shelter within two weeks.

Here's a first hand report from a friend who volunteered at the Astrodome last Friday, to give you an idea of the situation as it has stabilized and begins to wrap up.

"I helped out this afternoon/tonight with meals and drinks at the Houston Astrodome. You've seen similar pictures on TV over the last week but it is quite surreal being there in person. I have a hard time camping with three daughters in a tent on those same cots, can you imagine 11,000 people you don't know. There was even another large exposition center (Reliant Center) on the same grounds that held another 10,000.

Despite what poor and negative reporting is going on with the networks, this operation is running quite smoothly even with the enormity of the situation. Everyone has plenty to eat, drink, new clothing, clean showers, much needed medical help and people there who just care.

Seeing the lines of people ready to volunteer is quite incredible. I met a couple who drove in from San Francisco to help. I served meals with another gentleman from LA, whose wife's company flew him and her in for a few days.

Believe it or not, they are no longer accepting clothing or food because they have too much. Around 4 pm, kids started coming back to the dome after attending school in the area. They have Soc Security offices set up, Salvation Army, Red Cross, local housing assistance, faith ministries, FEMA and SBC has 1000 free phone lines set up for outbound calls available to all occupants.

Continental Airlines (based in Houston) is offering up free one way tickets to all to be with other family members across the US. Each day the crowd is diminishing as families are being relocated to other smaller shelters, semi-permanent housing or meeting up with family members in other cities.

However what made this trip most memorable and heart warming were the many people from New Orleans who personally thanked us for volunteering our time to give to them during their time of need. We live in a great country!"

Today's sermon at church reminded us that these people will still need our help and support over the next several months or more, but they will no longer be as visible to us as they were when they were clustered in these large centrally located public buildings. We need to continue to be involved once national media attention, fickle as it is, moves on to the next crisis du jour. Once there are no more dramatic pictures of rescues from rooftops, massive flooding, and teeming groups of evacuees for the cameras, you won't see and hear much about the hard, unglamorous, undramatic daily work of cleaning up, reconstruction, and rebuilding of lives scattered around the country.

O Lord, we see your hand everywhere as needs are fulfilled, families are reunited and strangers help each other. You want us to be Christ to others. You want us to give sacrificially. We clean out our closets and give away items we haven't worn in months. This is not sacrificial giving, please forgive us. Help us to give our time and our resources, because we love you and we want to express our love. Amen.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Church Rides at Disneyland

For some diversion from the continuing coverage of Katrina-disaster related news, check out this amusing post from Dr. John Mark Reynolds.

My favorites are the Ride for All Calvinists, the Evangelical Feminist Ride, and the Episcopal Church USA ride.

How about you?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Further Proof that Homeowners Associations are the Tool of the Devil

Ocala, Florida area homeowners association
says Katrina evacuees are not welcome.

For shame!

Thanks to Will Spotts for sending the link.

Report from Bethel Ministries Shelter

This is the scene at Bethel Ministries where about 60 Katrina evacuees are staying. The building is less than 2 miles from our church campus. We have taken on the task of organizing volunteers to prepare, serve and clean up lunch and dinner every day for the forseeable future. Today my team was there fixing lunch.

All of the people in this shelter are part of a large extended family. The matriarch of the family, who is with them, had 14 children--then they had children, in-laws, etc. You get the idea. They came here because they have a relative in the immediate area. At lunch there weren't very many folks there. All the children are already enrolled in school and most of the adults were out getting medical assistance, getting signed up for social security, food stamps, employment, housing etc. We made enough lunch and then some for everyone and left it out so the late-comers could pick it up later. Leftovers will be saved for the weekend lunches.

One of the women was constantly on her cellphone, checking out leads for housing and employment. Several elderly women are in the group. One is diabetic and so we looked for some sugar free items for her. Two of them are bedridden and are staying in a trailer on the property. We have several medical professionals in the congregation checking on them daily.

One of the men came into the kitchen to chat with us. It turns out he was a cook on the Mississsippi Queen before Katrina. He plans to make gumbo and pork chop cassarole for the group this weekend and gave us his professional tips on making shrimp and lobster pasta ( boil your pasta in the broth you used to cook the shrimp or lobster). Clearly he is starting to get antsy away from work. We assured him that with his skills, there were plenty of jobs available in Houston which is a big restaurant town.

If you look in the back of the picture you will see piles and piles of donated clothing behind the mattresses and cots on the floor. Bethel has stacks and stacks of water, diapers and baby supplies and donated food stored in their sanctuary building. In fact they have had to throw away prepared food that was brought to them because they didn't have room to refrigerate it. This is a common in all the shelters in the Houston area--not just at the Astrodome, Reliant Center and Brown Convention Center. This is why gift cards that can be used to buy gas or other necessities are so useful.

I hope these folks find more suitable temporary or permanent housing in the next couple of weeks. It's hard to live in a shelter, with its loss of privacy and control. But if they're still there a month from now, we will be too.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bible in 90 Days --Week Two update

We're nearing the end of the second week of the Bible in 90 Days (BIND) classes. At the end of the week we will have read Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and about 2/3 of Deuteronomy. Whew!

The groups are going very well. As expected we have had a few drop out or not start and a few join at the last minute. Despite the limited availablity of the Thinline Large Print NIV Bible we had enough for everyone and a few extra that I sold to another church in our area who needed them. So we have about 115 people reading, reading, reading.

Jack Modesett is the presenter on the DVD lessons that are part of the course. So far people in the groups are quite enthusiastic about his video lessons. He is an excellent speaker who sprinkles his presentation with amusing stories that make the readings relevant to the listener.

Our Sunday School group cannot use the DVD's because they are about 30-35 minutes long and we only have 45 minutes for our SS period. Fortunately we have two very gifted, experienced Bible teachers leading that group who are able to bring in supplementary material and set up good small group discussions. We made the decision that the group process was more important than the DVD's if a choice had to be made in the interests of time, and so far that seems to be the right choice.

I did set up a "virtual BIND" group, by creating a Yahoo discussion group for several women who could not attend any of the groups but wanted to participate. I'm the moderator of the group and I've been posting supplementary information each week and asking the group members to report their current reading status and encouraged them to post their own reactions and comments on what they've been reading. We have 3 members of the group and have had a few exchanges. I'm hoping to hear something from each of them weekly. I do see them around church and we also talk informally.

Our pastors have decided to do a "Cover 2 Cover" sermon series for the 14 weeks of the program. Usually they follow the lectionary, but they are going to choose scripture from the BIND reading for the week as the Bible readings and sermon topic. Last week they choose Genesis 3 and talked about the problem of evil. Since this week covered Leviticus, Numbers and part of Deuteronomy I set up an office pool to see who could predict their choice. Let's see, ritual laws about sacrifice, census reports, "clean" and "unclean" rules, and whining, whining, whining.
How to choose?

It's really been fun to have so many conversations about the Bible around church. People who are involved in BIND are discussing their reading with each other. Almost every day someone stops by my office and chats about it. Imagine!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Effects of the Law of Unintended Consequences

As the evacuees settle in to their new communities, we start to see the law of unintended consequences in action.

Item: El Jefe gets an email from a friend in Baton Rouge who says that the city has doubled in size. Now she finds long lines everywhere: the gas station, the grocery store, the drugstore, etc.
Traffic is hopelessly snarled by the addition of all these cars. Hmmm... El Jefe reported that this morning he had the kind of traffic on his morning commute that is usually only caused by severe weather or a major wreck--without either of those things happening. Is the traffic jam showing up here, too?

Item: A friend's son attends a local Catholic high school. They accepted 300 students from a related school in New Orleans. Houston city officials said the campus didn't have enough room for portable buildings. So the school is now running on shifts. The NO students and faculty have the campus Sunday through Thursday from 3 to 8 pm. The Houston students and faculty have the campus Monday through Friday from 7 to 3.

Item: The State of Texas is waiving its requirements for teachers so that Louisiana teachers in Texas can be hired to teach in the public schools. We need them to handle the influx of students.

Item: At the dentist's office today, the hygenist told me a story about a friend's daughter who was beginning her freshman year at Loyola University in NO last week when she evacuated back home with 4 friends in tow. Now each of these students have been placed in other Catholic-related universities around the country--but no two are in the same place. Her friend's daughter is at Loyola in Chicago. In order to preserve her NO Loyola scholarship she had to accept what was offered--same with all her friends. When she worried about the loss of her new college wardrobe, her parents pointed out it wouldn't have been useful in Chicago anyway.

Item: Our church's school is willing to enroll an elementary student from NO, but he doesn't have his ADD medication because it got lost in the confusion of getting out. Without the meds, he can't be properly tested and screened so the school knows how to work with him. The head of school referred him to appropriate medical people who will get him his prescription refilled so he can get tested and start school.

And here's an observation: when the governor of Louisiana called the governor of Texas and asked the state to accept 25,000 evacuees (it's now well over 200,000), he said yes and Houston city and county officials handled the needs of these people pretty well. Did anyone see the State of Texas or the City of Houston or Harris County officials call for the federal government to come down here and take care of the problem? No, you didn't.

The contingency plans developed in case of a catastrophic hurricane hitting the Houston/Galveston area were taken off the shelf and implemented on behalf of our Louisiana neighbors. Is everything being done perfectly? Of course not--humans aren't perfect (see Genesis for explanation). But we're trying to deal with the unintended consequences flexibly and with our focus on what is important.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Sorry, Today It's Another Katrina-related Post

Today the church office was really busy as more Katrina-related concerns continue to press upon us. A Hispanic church, Bethel Ministries, up the road from us has about 60 evacuees and although some have already moved out to temporary housing in the area, more evacuees are then being referred from the Astrodome, Reliant Center and Brown Convention Center in Houston.

Bethel desperately needs more volunteers to help prepare and serve food for the next couple of weeks. My study group is covering the Friday lunches. Our custodian, business manager and one of the pastors just loaded a donated freezer into a truck and are taking it to them to store the perishable food there.

Over the long weekend a number of medical professionals from the church did screenings of the evacuees and dispensed appropriate medications. Everyone was taken to a nearby clinic for preventive shots such as tetnus, depending on what they had been exposed to.

Our sister church, St Paul's Presbyterian, has about 120 people they are feeding and they need more food--so the food being collected from families at our school is being designated for them.

Over at our church school we are starting to get calls from evacuees in the area looking for places for their children. The local Catholic grade school is now maxed out and so are some of the local elementary schools.

Next week is "Presbyterian week" at the large shelters in Houston. The three "mega" Presbyterian churches in town are covering Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Our church is in the next size group and has been assigned Thursday. Our presbytery office is coordinating this.

Even the High School Youth Rally has been affected. It's been moved from one church to another because the original church is now a shelter. Hard to keep up with all of this.

I would love to blog about something else. Before starting this post I spent some time surfing around and trying to get another inspiration, but nothing came. Right now we are living and breathing all of the logistics of matching willing helpers to the needs that come to the church.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Bell Tolled for Us

This morning I as I was reading the latest all-church email from our mission committee asking for volunteers for various evacuees' needs in the area, I was thinking about how this whole situation reminds me again of our connectedness with others.

Here we were in the Houston area as Katrina approached, "fat, dumb and happy" so to speak, tracking the storm but not unduly concerned for ourselves. Then WHAMMO! All H*&!! breaks loose in Louisiana and points east and we find ourselves coping with hundreds of thousands of people who are displaced and lost everything.

The hurricane disaster contingency plans that were in place for Houston/Galveston were quickly taken off the shelf and implemented for evacuees from hundreds of miles to the east. That's why the city was able to act quickly and effectively, for the most part.

With apologies to John Donne:

No one is an island
Entire of itself
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If part of Louisiana is washed away by the sea,
Texas is the less.
As well as if a promontory were
As well as if a manner of your own
Or of your friend's were.
Each person's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in humanity.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Of Pods, Floods and the Bible in 90 Days

This portable storage pod stood on the parking lot of our church this morning. The senior high youth were taking turns unloading cars and trucks filled to the brim with donations for the Katrina evacuees in our area. This picture was taken about mid-morning. I expect the pod to be nearly full by the end of the day tomorrow. Then it will be moved to the East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry which is an area-wide collection point for distribution to those who need it.

This scene is being repeated in every church I passed today as they are all collecting supplies for those at the Astrodome, Reliant Center, and the Brown Convention Center as well as the rapidly-multiplying Red Cross Centers and the full-to-bursting hotels and motels in the area.

Our services today were extended by announcements about relief efforts. In addition to St Paul's church, Bethel Ministries (non-denominational Hispanic church near us) has about 80 evacuees and needs volunteers to help with serving food and with transportation and medical assistance.

Our church's elementary school, along with all other private and public schools in the area, will open admission to children of evacuees on a space available basis. We are also exploring the idea of partnering with the YMCA across the road to become a shelter ourselves. There's still a lot of organizational work to be done.

Meanwhile Bible in 90 Days begins its second week. This week we read all of Genesis and Exodus. The passages about Noah and the flood and the drowning of Pharoah's army in the Red Sea stand out in my mind, no doubt because of all the images of flooding we have all been exposed to all week. One nagging question: what's an ephod? (See Exodus--it's something a priest wears). Note to self--look that up before leading the next group.

I see a lot of the blame-throwing and finger-pointing reported in the national press over this deplorable, tragic situation. We in Houston have no time for it. We've got a very big job to do for the forseeable future. Pray that we will have the fortitude to see it through until all the evacuees are satisfactorily settled.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Another Rescue Story

Ted M. is a young lawyer in El Jefe's firm. He graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans, and so he has been spending a lot of time finding out whether his friends who still lived in the area got out safely.

Yesterday Ted became concerned about Professor R., an elderly gentleman around 90 years old, who had befriended him when he was a student. When he called "Tulane-in-Exile" which is now based in Houston they told him they had not heard from the professor. Miraculously (because most phone circuits are still so overloaded that you can't get through to NO) Ted reached his home on the first try and spoke to the professor's sister who is in her eighties herself.

She said their situation was dire. They have been trapped on the second floor of their home with a foot of water extending to that level since Katrina. They had no food and were almost out of safe drinking water. Their housekeeper was also with them. Miss R said that she feared her brother could not be moved now.

Ted called back to the Tulane group in Houston and reported Prof. R's whereabouts, urgently asking that they get word of the need for rescue. A few hours later the National Guard found them and got all three out of the flooded house and to safety. I don't know the professor's current condition, but he is surely better off now and his sister and housekeeper are well.

It's been said that God uses us as His hands to help others. This time God used a young lawyer, in a suit, with a blackberry wireless device to bring about a rescue.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Friday Church Window Blogging

For the next few Fridays I will be posting pictures of the Tiffany glass windows at First Presbyterian Church in Orange, Texas that I took last week at the presbytery meeting.

This is the Good Shepherd window. After this week of Hurricane-Katrina related concerns as evacuees have streamed into the Houston area and we have tried to find ways to help them, we need to be reminded of the promises of the 23rd Psalm.

Notice the elaborate arched window and the cross placed behind the figure of Christ so that it almost looks like a mere wooden beam. In the distance there is a rugged landscape rather than a tranquil pastoral scene.

You Can Help Us With Gift Cards

Several of you have left comments asking how you can help the evacuees in the Houston area. My church has been asked to help a sister congregation, St. Paul's Presbyterian Church, a few miles away which is providing shelter for more than 50 people. I have volunteered to help with the meals, so I will be personally involved. Right now I am scheduled to be there Labor Day since they are covered until then.

The best in-kind donation for those of you who are interested is gift cards for food, gasoline and phone. Since our grocery store chains in the Houston area are regional and not national I suggest cards from Target and Wal-Mart which are all over town and sell groceries. As for gasoline, the major retailers here are Shell, Exxon and Texaco. Phone cards are universal, so that isn't a problem. Our church is collecting these cards and other in-kind donations for St. Paul's.

You can mail the cards to me at my church:

Jody Harrington
Director of Christian Education
Southminster Presbyterian Church
4200 Cartwright Road
Missouri City, Texas 77459

There goes my bloggie anonymity--but for a good cause! God bless you for your concern and keep those prayers coming for these people who have lost everything.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

In response to a number of queries, here is the link to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance for those of you who are looking for a good agency to give Katrina-related assistance to.

Houston Opens Its Heart

"Are y'all from Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama?" asked our waiter at a restaurant downtown last night. "If so we are offering a 30% discount on your meal." This is becoming a common refrain around town.

Amid the reports of looting, shooting and disorder surrounding the attempts to evacuate people from New Orleans there are wonderful offers of assistance being organized in Houston.

As the Astrodome opens to 25,000 evacuees, cots are being set up on the floor. Plans are underway to accept donations of needed supplies. The idea is for the Astrodome to serve as a short-term shelter while the search is on for more permanent accomodations for this large number of people.

Elementary school classes for the children will be set up at the Astrodome through the Houston ISD. Some recently closed schools in the area for middle and high school will be re-opened to accomodate older students. Requirements for immunization records will be waived and extra textbooks are being ordered and more teachers hired. Buses are also going to be arranged for transportation to and from schools. The Catholic schools in the area and many private schools are also offering to enroll children of evacuees. Our own church school is also preparing to enroll children who come to our area.

A 211 line is now operating for people to call to find shelter openings or short-term housing opportunities. The Houston Apartment Association has a website where offers for free or deeply discounted short-term housing can be accessed.

There is also a link on the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau website for free or discounted admissions to many sporting events (Houston Astros and Comets, U of H football games), museum admissions, plays and even a free day for refugee families at 6 Flags Over Texas near the Astrodome.

LATE BREAKING NEWS: The City of San Antonio has agreed to take another 25,000 people from the New Orleans area.

I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room. Matthew 25:35 The Message