Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The meaning of esperanza

My brother-in-law died this week after a brief painful battle with cancer. We just got back from traveling to attend his memorial service and visit with the family. At the service, the presiding minister related a story from my sister about a conversation with her husband just before he died.

He asked the hospice worker to leave his room so he and my sister could have a private talk. After the aide left he said, "I know there is something I am supposed to tell you but I don't know what it is."

"Is it something you see?" she asked.

"Yes, that's it. I see your mother, my grandmother and your little niece ( who died of cancer aged 9) and others," he said.

Then he drifted off to sleep. A bit later he woke again. Thinking to divert him, she began describing the blooming flowers in their back yard: the Mexican heather, the daylilies, and the esperanza.

"What is esperanza?" he asked.

"You remember, the small yellow flowers," she replied.

"No," he repeated, somewhat agitated. "What does esperanza mean?"

She asked the hospice aide who spoke Spanish. "Esperanza means hope," she said.

Again, he drifted off to sleep. Then he awoke. "I want to go home," he said.

"You are home," she tried to assure him.

"You know what I mean," he replied. He died a short time later.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brother and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Rockin' the Frozen Chosen

Yesterday we found out that our church's bid for the local Jars of Clay concert at the end of the year was accepted. We're excited about this as an opportunity for evangelism in our suburban area. It gives us the chance to show that we Presbies are not just the "frozen chosen" but also people who can embrace contemporary Christian music and culture (sshhh, don't spread that around in the wrong places).

Being Presbyterians, there had to be a discussion of which committee of the session would be in charge of promoting the concert and doing the work associated with it. Although the idea and the bid were put together primarily by the Youth Committee, the Evangelism Committee will become the "lead dog" for the project. Wherever two or three Presbyterians are gathered in His Name, they will form a committee!

I don't understand how bids for these kinds of concerts work, but I do know this group and their popularity, so I'm excited about the opportunity it will present to us and to the community.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Frustrated by that "vision thing"

Today I'm feeling a lot like Bush 41 who lamented that he didn't really get the "vision thing." I attended a meeting whose purpose was to develop a "vision" for the group we represent. This is called " a visioning process". Whenever a noun is turned into an adjective or a verb--look out.

Members of the group have gone back and forth for several months trying to develop statements of "vision". Every now and then we seem to have a consensus on one and then by the next meeting, through the magic of email, the consensus has dissolved and several new versions of the "vision" have been placed on the table for discussion.

Over the years I have been part of discussions like this in many different venues: school groups, the workplace, non-profit groups and the church. I've yet to see the adoption of a "vision statement" or even a "mission statement" make any difference a few months later.

The Bible says that without vision the people will perish--but I don't think that applies to vision statements. I'm the type of person who relates to well-defined goals and objectives. Tell me what you would like to accomplish and I can deal with trying to find a way to achieve that goal. "Visioning" seems to be a process of trying to get consensus on you want to accomplish. I find it frustrating and elusive.

Why is this type of process so popular? Most "vision" and "mission" statements are platitudinous and soon forgotten except by those who had to spend the time and energy crafting them. In today's meeting I felt like I had been dropped unceremoniously into an ongoing graduate seminar that was engaged in petty linguistic disputes.

Not that I have an opinion!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Making Adjustments

We are now mid-way through the Sunday School series that was inspired by the Terri Schiavo case. Attendance for the class has been wonderful : between 50 and 60 people every week. The speakers have brought sound information and insight into the process of end-of-life decision making with their extensive experience in the medical and ethical fields and on ethics committees of prominent hospitals in the area.

It is a sensitive subject. We are constantly reminded by the questions and comments of those present that many of them either have or are dealing with these decisions in their own families. Some are second-guessing their decisions and others are trying to project "what-if" scenarios and get assistance resolving them.

After several weeks of talking about the practical and ethical aspects of these issues, we realized it was time to renew discussion of how our faith should help inform decisionmaking and allowing time for the large class to break into small groups to help process some of that.

It's a good thing to check on your plans for a class midway and make adjustments rather than sticking to your agenda. It feels like the Holy Spirit at work.

Monday, May 23, 2005

How Do We Serve An Unchanging God?

"How do we serve an unchanging God in a changing world?" asked Dr. O when he gave the devotion at the session meeting yesterday. Using scripture from Malachai and Hebrews as his basic texts, he referred to the controversies in the PCUSA over ordination standards and the divestment resolution of the last GA.

Dr. O is one of the most respected leaders of the congregation. A native of Nigeria, he studied in London and New York City. Formerly on the staff of one of the local medical schools, he is now in private practice as an internist. He raised four children of his own as a single parent and three children of deceased friends who named him guardian. No stranger to personal tragedy and the difficulties of life, he radiates a solid and joyful faith in Christ. He is one of the most Biblically literate people in the church, thanks to the Canadian Presbyterian missionary school he attended as a boy in his native village of Ututu.

It was clear from his presentation that he is anxious about the scheduled September report of the Peace, Unity and Purity Task Force of the PCUSA. What recommendations will it contain? Will he see them as Biblically-based or based on the demands of the changing culture around us? How will it affect our local church and presbytery if the recommendations are adopted by the GA in 2006? How will he and each member of the congregation choose to respond? Through his devotional, Dr. O encouraged us all to turn to personal study and prayer to seek answers to these questions.

Surely there are similar discussions, devotionals and prayers being offered at sessions across the country, regardless of their point of view on these issues, as the PUP Task Force report is anticipated. Meanwhile each church does its best to continue "serving an unchanging God" through its ministry and mission in the place where it has been planted.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Three times Quiz

Time for a little Friday afternoon fun!
Here's a quiz making the rounds that I saw first on Reverend Mother's blog.

Three names you go by:

Three screen names you've had:


Three physical things you like about yourself:

My height--very tall
brown eyes

Three physical things you dislike about yourself:

Eyes too dry to wear contacts anymore--I would love to ditch the glasses!
Bad left knee
Well....I wouldn't mind being a bit thinner.

Three parts of your heritage:


Three things you are wearing right now:
scarf Portia and Babs gave me for Mother's Day
new pink sweater from Tar-Jey! (Target)
Earrings Portia gave me for Christmas

Three favorite bands/musical artists

Lyle Lovett
The Beatles
Janis Joplin

The last three songs that you listened to:
"It's About Time" by Terri Henrix --love the lyrics "It's carpe diem on a caffeine buzz"
The other two were whatever Babs played in the car when we went to lunch and I wouldn't have any idea what they were.

Three things you want in a relationship:
Intelligent conversation
Amiable disposition

Three physical things about the preferred sex that appeal to you:
Height, lots of it
blue eyes
nice smile

Three of your favorite hobbies :

Three things you want to do really badly right now:
Eat chocolate
Eat chocolate
Drink chocolate

Three things that scare you:
Bumpy airplane rides
Going through airport security lines
Driving in hurricanes

Three of your everyday essentials :
Kiehls face wash

Three careers you have considered or are considering:
Bookshop owner
Professional singer

Three places you want to go on vacation:
Iona/Scottish highlands
Florence and the Tuscan countryside
Barbados because I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Three kids names you like:
I'll give boys names to protect Babs and Portia--

Three ways you are stereotypically a boy:
(just play along here...)
I'm logical and detail oriented
I'm assertive
I'm academic

Three ways you are stereotypically a girl:
(ditto above)
I love purses and accessories
Shoe crazy
When I'm in "Martha-mode" I love to cook and entertain

Three celebrity crushes :
Got over that a long time ago...

Three people I would like to see take this quiz :
Any readers of this blog!

Happy weekend to all!

St Cassarole link fixed

A kind reader let me know the St. Cassarole link on the previous post was faulty. It should work now and is well worth the time to read.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

St. Cassarole on Schism in PCUSA

St. Cassarole wrote a courageous and heart-felt post this week about the threat of schism in the PCUSA. Check it out as well as the thread of comments the post generated which reveal weariness and concern from liberals and conservatives alike.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Contrasting Views of Sacred Text

I heard someone on the radio this morning summarizing an article about the difference between the Islamic view of the Koran and the Christian view of the Bible. I have googled and googled but can't come up with the article--of course I didn't catch the name of the author or the publication it was in, unfortunately, so I can't provide a link to it.

The thesis was that Muslims believe that the Koran contains the direct revelation of Allah to them and when they read it or recite it they are in touch with the actual words of God. Christians, on the other hand, believe that although the Bible was inspired by God it was written by man. Apparently the article concluded that Muslims therefore venerated the Koran in the same way that Christians venerate and worship Christ--as the revelation of God to man.

This was presented as the explanation for the violent reaction in the Muslim world to the Newsweek article (now discredited and recanted) reporting the "flushing" of the Koran down the toilet by American troops. While I think that the alleged incident was probably used by Islamic extremists for their own purposes, it did make me think about our attitudes toward the Bible.

A couple of years ago at a memorial service, the pastor leading the service mentioned that when he visits a family to plan a funeral service he will ask to see the Bible of the deceased to help the family find favorite passages of their loved one that could be used in the service. Often he is given a Bible in pristine condition, looking untouched by human hands. He will then ask for the "dog-eared" copy if he knows that the deceased was involved in Bible study. Then the underlined, highlighted, raggedy looking Bible is produced and the family and pastor can find the scripture that was meaningful for the service.

When I teach a new Bible study class, I encourage people to underline and highlight and write notes in their Bibles. The article that was referred to in the radio broadcast included the information that "infidels" were not allowed to touch the Koran, lest they desecrate it by their touch. In contrast, Christians want to place Bibles in the hands of unbelievers and encourage them to read it and make it their own--through translation into their own language, reading, study and yes, underlining and making notes and questions in the sacred text.

Certainly Christians would object to a Bible being burned, flushed down the toilet, or desecrated. And it has been--in the name of "art" and "free speech". But we wouldn't riot over it. Is that because we don't take the Bible seriously enough, or because we don't view it in the same way as the Muslims view the Koran?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What Graduation Should Be

"It was what I thought graduation should be like," said Portia about our weekend celebrating Babs' graduation from college. How right she was! The weather was cool and mostly sunny with a brief couple of hours of rain when it didn't interfere with activities.

The ceremonies were traditional, moving and appropriate. Babs' college is owned by the the southern dioceses of the Episcopal Church and the chapel is modeled after the chapel at Oxford College in England. The baccaluareate service included the University Choir and lots of high Anglican chant and hymnody.

Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest, delivered the sermon. I had never heard her before, but she was a great preacher. Now I'm going to look up some of her books and publications.

Her texts were Genesis 12: 1-4 ( Abram leaves Haran after God tells him to leave and he will "make of you a great nation") and John 5: 1-9 (Jesus heals the man waiting by the pool at Bethzatha). Interesting choices. I was wondering how Dr. Brown would use them. She made an analogy between the next stage in the lives of the graduates--which is fraught with uncertainty as they begin their life's journey as young adults--with the beginnings of Abram's travels and the new life set before the paralytic as he "took up his bed" and walked after the healing. Her point was that God is as much with you in times of uncertainty and change as he is in times of celebration, achievement or grief.

Commencement itself began with the academic procession and the singing of one of my favorite hymns: For All The Saints. We sang all verses using the Ralph Vaughan Williams arrangement, accompanied by the chapel's magnificent (and newly refurbished) organ. Wow!
After the awards and diplomas had been given out, the recessional was just as magnificent, accompanied by organ and the carillion in the bell tower.

Lunch was available on the quadrangle, which was decorated with balloons in the university colors. Having El Jefe's sister and her family join us for the weekend made the weekend a real family celebration.

We all became very attached to Sewanee over the past few years. (Babs' cousin graduated in 1999.) What will be the future for this school which is supported by the most conservative dioceses in the country? The student body and most of the faculty are very conservative (politically and theologically) while the Graduate School of Theology has a very liberal reputation. The dissention over ordination standards in the ECUSA could have a major effect on the school. That would be a real tragedy.

Now it's back to unpacking Babs and preparing to help unpack Portia at the end of the week as she is moving back to the area for her summer clerk job.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Graduation for all

Tomorrow El Jefe and I depart for Babs' graduation from college. We'll be gone all weekend, so blogging won't resume until Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. Much of the family is gathering to celebrate with us, so we anticipate a great time together.

This summer Babs will be at home and has a job lined up for the summer. Then she will join Portia at UT/Austin where she will pursue a master's degree in counseling while Portia finishes law school.

Graduation ceremonies help us acknowledge and assimilate changes in our lives. As El Jefe has often remarked " He who denies ceremony denies memory." Neither El Jefe nor I attended our own college graduations, because our colleges closed for a couple of weeks before graduation and we had to go home to Texas and couldn't afford to return. We're thrilled that we could attend Portia's graduation and now Babs'.

A few days ago it occured to me that Babs isn't the only one graduating. El Jefe and I are graduating from our roles as parents of college students. This follows all those other graduations from our roles of as parents of preschoolers, elementary, middle and high schoolers. As Dolly Parton says "Time marches on, and it's marching all over your face."

And thus we all move to another stage in the life of our family. Congratulations, Babs! You and Portia are the best daughters anyone could have.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Patches Quilt and Thoughts on Tradition

The Ministers of the Cloth have completed piecing the first "Patches" Quilt, which has military patches and insignia sent to the group anysoldier by soldiers on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Each square has a patch and is embroidered with the name, regiment and location of the soldier who contributed it.

The next step will be the actual quilting. We have been told that the quilt will be displayed in the rotunda of the Capitol building in Washington DC when it is complete. Now we are thinking about organizing a group field trip to view it there!

We have received more patches than we can include in one quilt, so we plan to continue making these quilts as long as the soldiers send us patches.

Today I read to the group a note from a local doctor who presented one of our quilts to the family of a soldier who died in Iraq, thanking us for the quilt and telling us how much it meant to the family who are devastated by their loss. We continue to sew and pray for those who are serving all of us at home in dangerous places around the world.

I remember my grandmother participating for many years in a quilting group at the church where I grew up. When she died at the age of 98, an elderly woman introduced herself to me as the "baby" of the quilt group and recalled anecdotes of my grandmother with me. In a world of rapidly changing technology and lack of connection, it is comforting to see the Ministers of the Cloth as a part of a very old tradition in the church of women gathering together to sew for the community as a ministry. I can see this group as part of the long chain of faithful witnesses to Christ that links back to Dorcas in Acts.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Worship in the great outdoors

Saturday evening we held our worship service in the outdoor chapel at the top of the hill at MO Ranch. It has a spectacular view: placed at the highest point for miles around you see a dramatic panorama of hills, river and trees behind the rustic cross and communion table made from stone.

There is no nursery or "Children's Church" on occasions like this, so all the infants and toddlers who came with their families were included in the group. Their parents had a difficult time trying to quiet them. The setting didn't look anything like a church to them, and so they had a hard time understanding what was going on. A couple of mothers had to take their children to the parking lot and walk them in their strollers away from the rest of the congregation. The service was at 7 pm which is the prime "witching hour" feared by parents of toddlers as they threaten to decompensate from the activities of the day before bedtime.

One little three year old kept chattering away to his parents through the pastor's opening prayer, despite constant "shushing" from both of them. Finally Dad had enough and picked him up. As he was carried away from his seat he hollered " What are you going to do to me?" Everyone giggled and poor Dad was mortified!

This made me think that we ought to conduct worship services more often in unconventional venues. We need to be reminded that we can worship God anywhere -- not just in the sanctuary of a church building.

Texas Wildflowers at MO Ranch

I love the wildflowers you see in Texas in the spring. Here are pictures of some that were still in bloom this weekend at MO Ranch near Hunt, Texas, where I was attending our annual church family retreat. MO Ranch is owned by the Synod of the Sun (PCUSA) and is in the Texas Hill Country. It's well worth the 5 hour ride from our part of the state.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Retreat to the Hill Country

Our annual Mother's Day Weekend Church Family retreat is at hand. We travel to MO Ranch in Kerrville in the beautiful Texas Hill Country for the weekend. There is no internet and almost no cellphone reception at the ranch. By Sunday all of us type A's have started to settle down just in time to drive home! Still it's always a great weekend.

I'm celebrating the completion of our kitchen remodeling project and have almost finished moving all the stuff back in. The rest will have to wait until Sunday when I get back.

So no blogging until then. It's funny how quickly you get used to posting every day and reading your favorite blogs. I will miss it!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Youth Group Unwelcome at Wal-Mart

This is a true story. Last Saturday evening our youth groups had a lock in at the church. One of the activities for the night was a shopping trip to the all-night Wal-Mart where the kids were going to spend money they raised to buy items for "care packages" for soldiers in Iraq.

A few days before the event, our Youth Director stopped at the store and asked to speak to the manager to inform them about the plans. The manager wouldn't talk to him, so he spoke to the Customer Service desk and asked the clerk to inform the manager that early Sunday he planned to bring about 50 teenagers, along with several adult sponsors, for the shopping trip and explained their purpose.

The group arrived at the store about 2 am. No sooner had they begun walking to the store from the parking lot when the police arrived and stopped the group. Apparently the manager on duty was alarmed by the size and age of the group--even though a number of adults were with them. The adults explained their purpose and the police left.

Once inside the store, the kids divided into groups for the shopping trip. Each group was accompanied by an adult. As they shopped the manager kept making announcements over the PA system accusing them of not behaving. When the Youth Director and one of the fathers asked to speak to him to find out what he was objecting to, he refused to meet with them.

The kids filled their shopping carts and lined up to check out. The manager refused to open an additional check-out lane, so it took nearly an hour to complete the process. At this point the adults considered leaving but decided that would only hurt the clerks who would have to re-stock all the items in the baskets.

Total spent at Wal-Mart for soldiers' care packages = $1000. Total Goodwill earned by Wal-Mart = 0. Letters of complaint are on the way to Bentonville.

Where did all this happen? An upscale suburb. Ethnicity of the kids and adults involved? They're Presbyterians, so most of them are Anglo. Conclusion? Teenagers in a group are scary, even when they are part of a church group. What a message to our youth!

His Essence Official Website

His Essence Official Website -- Creations to Comfort the Soul

Do these candles smell to High Heaven? What Would Jesus Smell Like?
(I PROMISE I am not making this up...)

Texans will be astounded to note that this product apparently originated in Vidor, TX, notorious as the most Klanish town in the state.

What's next? His Essence after-shave? Cologne? Deoderant? Air Freshener?

Stay tuned....
(Hat tip to KBTV4)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A Word About Presbyweb

I'm a subscriber to Presbyweb and yesterday got an email asking me to email my friends to encourage them to subscribe. I'm a big fan of Presbyweb, so I decided to respond through my blog as well.

Presbyweb's motto is " The national PC(USA)news--official and unofficial, from left to right--" and they live up to it. They report news from all sides of the theological spectrum. You get PCUSA news at all levels as well as news from other denominations and Christian news from around the world. For example they have closely followed the Beth Stroud ecclesiastical trial in the UMC and provided numerous links and articles. I check it every day.

Did you know that last Saturday Heartland Presbytery endorsed an overture to overturn our present ban on the ordination of gays and is sending it to the 2006 GA? Did you know that the Presbytery of the Pacific is meeting tomorrow to vote on removing the senior pastor and associate pastor of the large and nationally known and influential Hollywood Presbyterian church in California and assigning an administrative commission to run the church? You would if you followed Presbyweb.

During the 2004 GA, Presbyweb updated the site several times a day so you could follow all the news being made faster than anywhere else.

Presbyweb is a subscription service, with a twist. The twist is that you set your own annual rate (they request at least $15). You can sign up for a free trial first before subscribing. Payment can be made online by credit card or with a check by snail mail. Try it in time for the 2006 GA!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Check Review of new Anne Lamott book

As one who enjoyed Anne Lamott's writing in Traveling Mercies, I was interested to read Rev. Ed's review of her latest, Plan B, today. A well-written evaluation and some interesting links to similar discussions on other blogs. Thanks, Rev. Ed, I won't be reading Plan B.

No Simple Bibles

I'm warning you now: I'm off on a rant.

Today I went to several bookstores and "Christian" stores looking for what should have been a very simple item to find--a hardback thinline large print NIV Bible. I needed a couple of these to display when I talk to groups in the church about a new program we are planning to use in conjunction with our church's 20th anniversary this year. The program is called Bible in 90 Days and (as you might have guessed) the idea is to read the entire Bible in 90 days, using this particular version of the Bible because that way you pace yourself by reading 12 pages a day.

Friends, there seems to be nothing for sale anymore that isn't either paperback and flimsy or bound in leather for the ages. You could have your choice of black or almost any color of the rainbow leather or blue jean and leather binding-- but no plain hardback copies.Now you can find the exact Bible I was looking for online for about $13--but you sure can't find it in a bookstore or Christian store.

"Presentation"style Bibles were all over the place. They look like the kind of book that will be displayed or left forgotten on the shelf. They are too elegant and elaborate to really read or handle much. The paperback Bibles are too large and seem to be falling apart--their bindings are not sturdy enough to keep them intact. So either you don't read them either or you treat them as "throw-aways."

Why are there so few well-bound simple Bibles available in the stores? Bah, back to amazon.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Super Sabbath

What a spectacular weekend in southeast Texas! Clear blue skies, low humidity and temperatures in the low 70's made it a perfect day today. That allowed El Jefe and I to enjoy the afternoon at the baseball game watching the Astros beat the Cubs. We played hookey from worship (but did attend and teach Sunday School!). After that we joined our extended family for one of the regular Sunday dinners that are the highlight of our week these days.

Kitchen remodeling is nearing an end, but painfully so as little logistical problems cause some delays. I am SO ready to clean up the mess and get back to normal--that will probably happen by the end of the week.

Looking back at the past week, it struck me that there were several families in our congregation that got really good news about potential medical problems. Fears of the return of cancer, diagnosis of possible tumors or very serious neurological disorders were all set aside when the diagnostic tests were completed and interpreted by their doctors. How many blessings were received and how grateful each family is for that!

Today was a super Sabbath, one worth savoring and remembering. I hope yours was, too.