Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Grace Gets Focused

Yesterday evening I participated in a Focus Group for the Austin Presbyterian Seminary. The seminary is having a number of these meetings as part of a current review of curriculum. The group I attended was composed of lay people and we were asked to respond to questions about how the seminary could better educate pastors.

After going through exercises designed to get us to think about the criteria we would want to see in someone called to our church as senior pastor, we were prompted to give specific suggestions for improving seminary training.

I suggested that since most graduates who go into parish ministry find their first call as the solo pastor of a small church, seminaries should offer a course in the basics of small business managment. Our newly-ordained ministers find themselves trying to run a small business AND serve as the pastor of the church.

Everyone else in the group agreed and expanded on the idea. We suggested that personnel management, how to read and understand financial statements, basic accounting and an overview of the federal, state and local laws and regulations that churches need to be aware of would be very beneficial to new pastors. I think the two professors who ran the focus group were surprised by this suggestion.

RevGals and RevGuys, what do you think? Would a class like that have helped you prepare for Real Life Ministry 101?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Random Review of Da Vinci Code Movie

Yesterday El Jefe and a friend accompanied me to see The Da Vinci Code. Yes, I know. I should have gone to see it sooner since I taught that class on it and blogged about it and all. But who wants to fight opening weekend crowds-- and then after that stuff happened. I'm not much of a movie goer, and probably wouldn't have made the effort but for the aforementioned activities. Plus I promised my class we'd get together and discuss the movie in a couple of weeks.

So here is QG's Random Review:

* Ian McClellan is so over the top he's almost humorous in his role as Professor Teabring. I bet they are missing some scenery because I swear I saw him chewing it up. He should get this year's award as Melodrama Man. So Hammy the Con of Ian!!

* Tom Hanks and the actress playing Sophie Neveu seem very subdued by comparison and there's no hint of the sexual attraction between these characters portrayed in the book. The Sophie of the book was a more assertive character.

* After a couple of hours, watching the main characters chase the codes seemed like watching an endless game of scrabble. But in scrabble you don't get special effects to help you out!

* The Robert Langdon character is more sympathetic to the church and less convinced of Prof. Teabring's bogus view of early Christian history than he is in the book.

* In another nod to Christian sensibilities (and the truth), when Prof. Teabring cites the Gospel of Philip passage about how Christ used to kiss Mary Magdalene, he is interrupted before he can say "lips"--which is right where the original manuscript also has a big hole in it.

* Some of the objectionable bits of the book were left out but hinted at. Case in point--the friend who went with us had not read the book and wondered what the "secret ritual" that Sophie's grandfather was involved in that she stumbled onto. (It was the practice of "sacred sex", according to the book which described it in some detail.)

*Paul Bettany, the actor playing Silas, the albino "Opus Dei Monk", is really, really creepy. Where did he come from? And both the organization Opus Dei and its members are depicted as ruthless (and maybe perverted) in their goal of exterminating the Priory of Sion and its "secret." That is similar to the book portrayal.

*The "flashbacks" of Catholic Church history are uniformly heinous.

*As a thriller, it is mediocre because there are parts of it that drag and had me checking my watch. By the way, the background music is hokey.

*It's long--Babs left to drive back to Austin when we went to the movie and got there before it was over. (El Jefe picked up her email on his blackberry.) But I didn't get as restless as I thought I would.
UPDATE: If you want to read a screamingly funny, but accurate, review of the movie (thanks to Revabi for the tip!) then check the one by The New Yorker's Anthony Lane.

It's just a movie, true, but the plot fuses fact and fiction about the origins of the New Testament and the development of the Christian church in the same confusing way that the book did.

I still like Tom Hanks, though! Maybe he can do a Forest Gump sequel now: "Church is Like a Box of Chocolates."

Monday, May 29, 2006

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Jury That Prays Together

The local media is just full of stories following the verdict in the Enron trial in which Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling were both found guilty. In Houston, where so many people lost their jobs and life savings when Enron imploded, this is a very big story.

On the front page of today's paper, under the headline "ENRON JURY; WE PRAYED, TOO", is a report revealing that the jury prayed every morning before its deliberations. According to a couple of the jurors who were interviewed, the group which was composed of people with different ethnic and religious backgrounds, took turns praying.

"We wanted the truth, we wanted that guidance. Like Mr. Lay said, the Lord was in control and that's what happened," said juror Freddy Delgado.

There were lots of prayers going up from the defendants in the case and the victims of the crash of the company during the jury's deliberations for acquittal and conviction. Isn't it wonderful to know that this jury was also praying to God to help them determine the truth in the case?

Friday, May 26, 2006

5 Beliefs

Today's Friday Five meme from Songbird (oops! correction, Reverendmother provided today's Friday 5 --my apologies!) and the RevGalsBlogPals is to list 5 things you believe in. Here are mine--

1. Who sings in worship prays twice.
2. You reap what you sow.
3. It's not about you.
4. Life isn't fair.
5. Love is stronger than death.

What are yours?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I've Got a (Not So) Little List

(To the tune of " I've Got a Little List" from The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan)

As soon it will happen that your bride and groom must wed,
You'll need a little list, You'll need a little list.
Of all the folks you should invite to this little fete.
You'll need a little list-- You'll need a little list.

Of the relatives, the lawyer chums, the family friends and then--
You're spending hours hunched over the computer in the den.
Emailing lists to Portia, to El Jefe, and Joe Ann,
Asking for addresses, names of guests, and double-checking them.

Now it's a not-so-little list--
Oh Lord, who have we missed?
Yes, Lord, who have we missed?

The day is fast approaching when the list must finalize.
Each morning I arise and try to focus my crossed eyes,
Upon the never-ending list, the list that haunts my days.
I know I must soon declare it's done and end this phase.
The list that seemed so simple as its creation was begun
Is threatening to blossom into a never-ending one.

It's become a never-ending list!
Oh, Lord, who have we missed?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Will the Church Eat the Seal Meat?

Classical Presbyterian left a comment on my last post suggesting that I apply the insights described in Collapse to the church. That was an intriguing idea, so here is my attempt to do that.

"Eating the seal meat" is a metaphor for changing deeply held cultural beliefs and practices when they no longer promote the continuing existence of a society. There is another factor that contributes to the collapse of a society that I didn't describe in the previous post: abandoning traditional practices in favor of new ones that are so inimical to the society's well-being that it collapses.

The example of this second factor that Jared Diamond used in the book comes from New Guinea. For centuries the natives in a remote mountainous region there had devised a successful way of irrigating their land for agricultural use. When Europeans first arrived on the scene they thought that the pattern used by the natives was wrong because it was different from what they were used to. They persuaded the natives to change to the European method with disastrous results--the topsoil rapidly eroded and the land was no longer arable. So let us understand the phrase "adopt European irrigation" to be a metaphor for changing traditional practices and values for new ones that are destructive because they undermine the very foundations of the group.

Sometimes the church should eat the seal meat. There is a church in our presbytery that has fallen on hard times. Once located in a "Presbyterian-friendly" suburban area, it has seen the area demographics change dramatically over the last 40 years and its membership decline and age. Other mainline churches sold their properties to ethnic fellowships and moved to areas more receptive to them. A neighboring church with similar problems proposed a merger, which this church refused. (The neighboring church recently merged with a third church farther away.)

A few months ago the church had the opportunity to sell the property for a large sum of money because it has highly desirable freeway commercial frontage. There was a fine piece of land a few miles farther down the freeway, also well located, that they could have bought and built on with the proceeds. But the congregation voted not to sell and instead to try to raise the money to do needed repairs and maintenance on their aging buildings. They would not eat the seal meat-- and I predict that this church will ultimately close as a result.

Sometimes change doesn't mean eating the seal meat and surviving, but results in adopting European irrigation and collapsing. A few months ago a Presbyterian pastor and session in Austin, Texas accepted an avowed atheist into the membership of their church, which is contrary to the membership requirements of the PCUSA's Book of Order. They wanted to substitute the membership standards of a political or social welfare organization in place of the church's traditional confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Here is an example of adopting the practices of other groups in a way that is so contrary to the basic values of the church that the church will not survive if this continues.

These are two "micro" examples. Moving on to the "macro" world of mainline Protestant denominations such as the PCUSA, the Methodists, the ECUSA, etc., it is clear that declining membership and the financial problems that go with that suggest that these churches need to consider eating the seal meat. As people flock in large numbers to non-denominational churches like Lakewood, Willow Creek, and others, we see that those groups which use more non-traditional worship and membership practices are thriving. Mainline churches should be asking whether it is time to adapt for survival or whether we are going to leave as our legacy the 7 Last Words of the Church:" We've Never Done It That Way Before." Is there seal meat here and will we eat it?

It is not a simple matter, though, to separate adaptive behavior that brings renewal and survival from that which brings destruction and extinction. Many mainline churches have already decided that things like contemporary worship services, praise bands, "seeker-friendly" services, and projection screens are seal meat-- and they are eating it. Struggles over the ordination of gays, political and social activism of the church, and whether belief in Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation (among other things) reflect disagreement between those in the churches who see these changes as fatally destructive of their core values and those who believe that they must be embraced in order for the church to adapt and survive in the future.

When change is advocated, the church must decide whether or not the change proposed is consistent with its core value: the proclamation of the gospel of Christ. As a Presbyterian, I believe that judgment must be made with reference to the whole witness of scripture and the Book of Confessions. There are doubtless many ways in which the church can eat the seal meat, adapt and continue to survive. But there are also many ways in which it can be led into new practices, that like the European irrigation debacle in New Guinea, will bring its extinction.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Would You Eat Seal Meat?

One of the best things about this weekend's trip to Austin was the fact that we had some "down" time in which I was able at long last to finish the book Collapse by Jared Diamond. (He is the also the author of Guns, Germs and Steel.)

Collapse is a big book about the ways in which societies choose to fail or succeed. The author covered sociology, agronomy, geography, and climate as he examined the factors that he thought were important in determining the life or death of a society using ancient and modern societies as examples. It is an interesting read, but also difficult--especially for a non-sciency person like me.

I'm not going to try to summarize the book because it is far too complex. But I would like to share one of Diamond's insights that I found particularly striking. The Norse settled Greenland in the medieval period but their settlement did not survive the "little ice age" that afflicted Europe around 1200 CE. Not one Norse soul survived and their settlement stands abandoned to this day.

However, the Inuit population of Greenland survived the same harsh conditions using the skills they had developed over centuries of living in that area. Why didn't the Norse adapt some of those skills and survive? For example, the climate became too cold for traditional Norse agriculture and animal husbandry, but the Inuit continued to feed themselves by hunting seals, walrus and (if they could get them) whales. Why didn't the Norse eat seals, too?

Diamond points out that the cultural values of the Norse prevented them from adapting as the Inuit did. They couldn't imagine eating what the Inuit did, much as an orthodox Jew could not imagine eating pork or shellfish. A big factor was that the Norse disdained the Inuit and had, as Diamond put it, "a bad attitude" about them. They refused to learn from them, even when death was the alternative.

It is hard to imagine that you wouldn't go ahead and try to eat seal meat in an attempt to make it through the winter if that was clearly your only alternative. But something in the Norse mindset kept them from thinking: "Hey, we're starving to death. Let's go get some seal for the family." And so they perished.

Diamond makes the point that while in the case of the Norse settlements in Greenland, survival meant setting aside cultural values regarding hunting and eating, other societies either failed or thrived when they were able to re-examine the long-term utility of other types of practices and either adapted them or abandoned them while adopting new ones.

What would we refuse to eat? Probably most of us would not become cannibals. Although there are a few instances where people did resort to cannibalism to survive (the Donner Party and that airplane crash in the Andes several decades ago), there were people in those situations who died because they couldn't bring themselves to do it.

Changing our culturally shaped eating habits is really a metaphor for changing other culturally shaped practices. If we were convinced that the survival of our society depended on it, could we drastically change our dependence on fossil fuel or increase our consumption of fish or change our methods of agriculture or do whatever it takes to achieve zero population growth even if doing these things violated deeply held cultural and spiritual values?

Would we eat the seal meat, or would we perish? Collapse leaves you with a lot to think about.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Old Hotels, Red Mojitos and Thanksgiving

We're BA-A-A-CK!

And we had a wonderful time. Good friends and my brother joined us for the Sunflower Ceremony and dinner afterwards at Portia's favorite restaurant in Austin.

Highlights (other than the ceremony and the dinner) included:
-- the hotel where we stayed. It's between the UT campus and the State Capitol building. An old home that is on the National Register, it has the most awesome wrap-around porches complete with chairs to lounge in and enjoy the great weather we had.
--the red mojitos at the hotel. They're red because pomegranate juice is added to them. Yee-Hah!
--visiting the new art museum that just opened on campus. Although its collection is a bit sketchy ( very minor works by major artists, or major works by minor artists, or even unfinished drafts and reproductions) the gallery space is spectacular so it will be able to display some great traveling shows. Over time I'm sure the permanent collection will improve.
-- the drive over where we stopped in Ellinger (city motto: where time stopped in 1930) and had great BBQ sandwiches.
--the drive back where we stopped in La Grange at a German bakery and bought bread and kolaches. El Jefe nearly swooned with delight over the cinnamon rolls
We were puzzled by the speaker at the Sunflower Ceremony. She is a state senator whose son was graduating. She is known as a big supporter of the university in the Legislature--no doubt two good reasons why she was asked to speak. But she kept emphasizing how as future lawyers the graduates would "make life or death decisions" and how important that was.

Say what? She made it clear she wasn't talking about the death penalty, but about medical ethics and legislation related to it. Huh? Afterwards we decided she must have brushed up an old commencement speech she gave to a medical school, because it sure didn't fit this occasion. Oh, well!

This weekend was truly a blessing for our whole family. Our girl Portia has completed her formal education with flying colors and has the security of knowing she will begin work in September back home in Houston with one of the best firms in the state. Truly, truly our cup runneth over. Thank you, Lord.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Going To The Sunflower Ceremony

Tomorrow El Jefe and I set out for Austin to attend The Sunflower Ceremony at UT Law School, which marks Portia's graduation from Law School.

Traditionally, the law school has held its graduation exercises separately from the rest of the mega-university. From the time the school was first established in 1883 until about the turn of the century, the law graduates did not wear caps and gowns. Then one year a committee of the faculty decided they should wear caps and gowns and issued an order for seniors to wear them to commencement.

But when the seniors got the order, they refused to wear caps and gowns because they hadn't been invited to the meeting where this decision was made. So then the faculty told them they had to choose a "distinctive insignia" to wear. The seniors decided to wear white suits with sunflowers in their lapels. They told the faculty that the sunflower was chosen because as the flower always keeps its face turned to the sun, so the lawyer should always turn toward the light of justice.

That was their story and they stuck to it!

Today the graduates still wear white and the Associate Dean pins a sunflower on each one as part of the ceremony. I remember getting my own sunflower, lo these many years ago, and I am so excited to watch my baby get hers. (And graduate with honors, too!)

El Jefe and I will spend a couple of days celebrating the completion of Portia's formal education and visiting with her, her fiance and Babs before coming home. I hear the hotel where we are staying makes killer red mojitos. I can't wait.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Critics Pan DVC--Oops!

After all that hype, it seems that many of the critics who saw the showing of The Da Vinci Code at the Cannes Film Festival DO NOT LIKE IT.
(Hat tip: Ben Witherington III)

These are not Christian film critics, either, just the regular kind.

Here are a few quotes from the rotten tomatoes website linked above:

"'s not very good--long (2hr.32min.) and mostly inert."
Richard Corliss, TIME magazine.

"There's no code to decipher. Da Vinci is a dud--a dreary, droning, dull-witted adaptation of Dan Brown's religioso detective story..."
Peter Travers, ROLLING STONE

"Perhaps an interesting side-piece to those already fanatical about the book, but ultimately a lifeless adaptation that reveals the flaws of its source. So Dark, the Con of Dan Brown."

Actually I thought the book had a lot of dreary and droning portions. Guess Ron Howard focused on those when he made the movie! El Jefe and I are going to a private showing of the movie Friday night, sponsored by one of his clients. He's going to have a tough time lasting through a 2 1/2 hour movie.

I have mixed feelings about these reviews. The media attention on the making of the movie really gave Christians many "teachable moments" in conversations with friends and neighbors who read the book or read about its controversial assertions about Jesus and the development of Christianity. If the movie is a dud, then those opportunities will dry up. I've had a great time preparing and teaching a class on the formation of the New Testament canon, women in the early church, the Gnostic Gospels, and the development of early Christian Christology disguised as a class on The Da Vinci Code. There won't be nearly as much interest in these subjects if the movie flops.

On the other hand, it's hard not to be gleeful at the prospect of the movie having a very poor box office once the word about it gets around.

Plus, if the DVC movie looses money, then Portia probably won't be able to sell her story DOG-GONE to Hollywood.

Breaking the Norman Rockwell Code

Here's the latest Da Vinci Code parody--a movie trailer called The Norman Rockwell Code with a Mayberry touch. Pretty cute. Hat tip: Russell at The Eagle and Child.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Great Meeting

"Great", "meeting" and "presbytery" are not words you'll often find strung together by Presbyterian elders and pastors. But we sure had one today. And I'm very happy to have heard from Martha in her comment on the post below, that she and our other friend who attended for the first time agreed. These two are so enterprising that they cadged a tour of Tall Steeple's kitchen and serving areas from the manager and the child care facilities in addition to attending the workshops and worship. You can bet they took notes, too. Way to go, ladies!

The day was focused on getting us all back to the basics of our faith: worship, prayer, Bible study, fellowship and stewardship. There were a number of high points, but I want to single out the workshop that I attended on stewardship. Not one word about money or pledging was mentioned. Instead the emphasis was on stewardship of our lives and our relationship with God.

I've heard the speaker before--in fact I had him come to my church last summer to talk about a new ministry of planting new churches that he is involved in. This morning he urged us to think about the "mental models" that keep us from giving space to God and whether or not your prayer life is opening you to God's revealing to you who you really are. His own experience as a partner of Arthur Anderson, who was personally affected by its downfall in connection with the Enron scandal, and as a cancer survivor is so familiar to me and many Houstonians. His faithful response to God's call on his life is a true inspiration.

I can't repeat his message, much as I would like to. In the short time he gave us at the end to write down what keeps us from giving space to God I found myself writing a longer list than I anticipated and learning a lot about myself that I had not thought about before.

We had an inspiring worship service with awesome music (Tall Steeple Church's fabulous pipe organ, choir and an incredible violinist), a sermon that expanded on the theme of the day without being repetitious, and the best use of projection screens I have ever seen in worship.

So I must confess that I fell into the sin of coveting Tall Steeple's violinist, pipe organ, graphic artists AND their bookstore. I would love to have a bookstore in our church since the offerings at the local Barnes and Noble and Family Christian Bookstores are each problematic in their own way and the closest Cokesbury is a 40 mile round-trip to central Houston.

Best of all today there was no wrangling over polity. I was appointed as a teller and thrilled that I didn't need to serve. No one monopolized the mike with tedious "public service" announcements. The atmosphere was collegial and upbeat as a result. Well, done, everyone!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Anticipating a Day at Presbytery

Tomorrow I'll be at Tall Steeple Church in the Pines attending a presbytery meeting. The agenda focuses on the 6 marks of discipleship, as described in the book by Glenn W. McDonald. We're going to have workshops around that theme offered in the morning sessions and then an abbreviated (please, God!) business meeting in the afternoon.

Two of the most dedicated young women in our church are going to attend the workshops, schlepping their toddlers to the child care offered by Tall Steeple Church along with them. I'm praying they will have a good experience, because the PCUSA which is rapidly aging, really, really, really needs them.

Incidentally, the two session members who are attending as commissioners from our church this time are also women. And I attend as a member of General Council. I think this must be a first for our church: 5 laywomen attending presbytery!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Sorry for Whining, but...

It's been a frustrating week in many ways, so I'm going to have to vent with a little whining.

Yesterday, though, was the worst. Babs is home for a few days, having completed her spring semester's work and exams. I had an appointment to donate blood at the local blood center. (I'm a member of the Commit for Life program, where you donate quarterly). Babs offered to come with me and donate as well--she'd given blood a couple of times before. After being screened, we were on adjoining chairs, hooked up and bleeding for the cause, when she suddenly said, "I'm feeling dizzy. I'm going to pass out." And then she did.

There was a great scramble among technicians who brought her back after about 10 seconds. I couldn't get up, but lay there anxiously watching. Of course we waited quite a while for her blood pressure to normalize while she drank juice and ate some snacks to revive herself. The general consensus was that her breakfast that morning wasn't hearty enough (she'd had a bowl of cereal about 9 am and then ate a piece of coffee cake just before we left for the center). Apparently she should have had some protein.

That killed the rest of the day because (as they advised us) she was tired, had to nap, and of course was shaken by the experience. Not to mention her mother's reaction! She's fine now, but I am sure she's daunted enough by the experience to be reluctant to donate again.

This topped off a week in which:

We had to cancel our plans to go to MO-Ranch for the annual church family retreat because of El Jefe's work schedule which was thrown off by his day on jury duty (AND we'd already given away our Astros' tickets for 2 games this weekend);

Portia had a fender bender in the parking garage of her apartments Thursday just before she left for a vacation Friday so guess who is now in charge of getting that claim processed and the car fixed long distance;

One of Portia's friends who is at U. of Michigan Law School and starting a summer clerkship at El Jefe's firm on Monday contacted us in a panic yesterday because his housing arrangements in Houston fell through at the last minute, so of course we will host him until alternatives are arranged; and

The lawn service came Thursday and cut not only the grass but the electrical wiring to the A/C system so we had to have an after-hours service call.

On the bright side, since Babs is now staying for the weekend, we were able to get tickets to see the Alley Theatre's new Agatha Christie play this afternoon to cheer us all up.

I feel better now. Thanks for listening.

UPDATE: Saturday afternoon, 4 pm. It's becoming comical. We drove downtown (40 mile roundtrip from Sugar Land) to the theatre and were greeted with a "sorry, the performance has been cancelled" notice! I have NEVER had that happen before. The play was sold out for both performances today, so they must be having technical problems or something. Now I'll have to call the box office and see if we can exchange the tickets for another day or get my card credited back.

We drove home and stopped for ice cream. Then had El Jefe drive us to the grocery store and Babs and I decided to whip up a dinner of shrimp and grits before the Astros game comes on at 6 pm. Sheesh!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Festive Friday Five--Professional Conferences

I haven't played the RevGal Friday Five meme in several weeks, so this morning I am inspired to join in the fun. Today Reverendmother is our quizmaster and her theme is professional conferences, retreats, workshops and conventions.

1. Describe a memorable conference, retreat, workshop or convention you've attended.
The Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators (APCE) in Vancouver 2005. It was a really inspiring conference and I got a lot of great ideas there, not the least of which was the idea to start my own blog. Thus Quotidian Grace was born in March 2005! It was unfortunately also memorable because I got sick as soon as I got off the plane in Vancouver and got worse when I came home--as did a lot of other people. This year when we boarded the plane for the APCE conference in St. Louis my pal Free Will and I downed Airborne tablets as a precaution (yuck).

2. Tell us about a memorable speaker or preacher you've heard.
Leonard Sweet was the keynoter for that same APCE conference and is a compelling speaker. He is a Methodist minister and a professor at a seminary as well as a popular author. It was the first time I was exposed to a major figure in the Emergent church movement and I was fascinated, especially with his focus on how and why the church should use the internet and other modern technologies.

3. Do you attend all of the scheduled events, or play hooky? If the latter, what do you do with your free time?
If my way is being paid by the church (or back when I was a practicing lawyer, a law firm) I feel an obligation to attend all the events, especially the workshops. I've attended APCE for several years now and must confess that sometimes the keynote speaker has become tedious and I have skipped out and either done some sightseeing or had sabbath time in my room or in the hotel.

4. Do you like having a roommate or would you rather have a room to yourself?
I'm happy to have a roommate if it's someone I know pretty well, otherwise I would rather have my own room.

5. What's the most exotic location you've conferenced or retreated?
Church conferences: Vancouver. Law-related: a train ride from San Antonio to Mexico City with my law firm for a long weekend of professional "bonding" time.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ready to Sow the Seed

Yesterday evening was the last class of the Da Vinci Code series I have been teaching at our Midweek Manna program. It was really a lot of fun to prepare and teach this class. I had a lively group that engaged in good discussions throughout the series. By the end of the class everyone in the group had finished reading the book.

My aim in creating the series was to help equip folks to engage in conversations about the controversial themes of the book in a knowledgable fashion with friends, family and acquaintances. So we spent this last time together talking about how to briefly and effectively "speak the truth in love".

One of the videos that I used as a resource had a good segment on this subject which emphasized that being faithful means "sowing the seed" of truth, not being successful in changing someone's mind. Although we may not persuade someone that Dan Brown's characterization of Christ as an ordinary human being with a wife and family whose life and death were turned into a useful myth by a power-hungry Roman Emperor is wrong, we can rejoice that this book and the movie present an opportunity to talk knowledgably about our faith with them and that this may be the first time they hear that witness.

Christian media of all types is asking the question, "are you ready" to respond to the movie as it begins showing across the country next week. I'm happy to report that my class is ready! And we've decided to gather together to discuss the movie in a few weeks after everyone has seen it.

I hope you and your church are ready, too.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

El Jefe On Jury Duty

When in the course of human events a jury summons appears in the mailbox, then if you are a lawyer and you value your license--you will show up in the jury room as required.

Thus it was that El Jefe departed early this morning for the courthouse in Richmond, Texas dressed in his best Big-Time-Downtown-Houston-attorney suit and carrying his beloved tatty briefcase full of paperwork that he planned to work on while waiting for the wheels of justice to turn...ever so slowly...hopefully in the direction of dismissing him from the panel.

A lot of people think that attorneys are automatically excused from jury duty by virtue of their profession. Not so. El Jefe has served on two juries in the past--both of them petty criminal cases. It mystified me that the defense attorney didn't use a pre-emptory strike to take him off the panel, because he was OF COURSE the foreman of both juries.

Then when the defendant's attorney in both cases opted to have the jury, rather than the judge, determine the sentence (the accused having been found "guilty as charged" in both cases), it should have been ruled malpractice per se. The book was thrown at both defendants. El Jefe is a law-and-order kind of guy and they were very, very guilty perps with many prior convictions.

Once the girls grew up and I could no longer get the "mommy who needs child care to serve" excuse, I have been called a few times. Sometimes I go down dressed in my most scary Republican Women's Club-type suit and 3 inch heels--that makes me 6'5". I let them know very quickly that I am a "retired" attorney, a church professional, and a former assistant DA. Once a prosecutor tried to trifle with me, but I would have none of it. You won't be surprised to know I seem to be anathema to both sides. Which is too bad, really, because it might be fun to serve on the right case--but of course, you don't get to pick your cases.

El Jefe is now back from his day at the courthouse and the wheels of justice will spin onward without him. The perps of Fort Bend County (and one perp in particular) can rest easy--he was dismissed. But he had the same experience of being trifled with by the prosecutor. They must teach this now in District Attorney School: "If you have a lawyer on the panel, read back the instructions the judge just gave and make him/her agree that that each one is correct so you look like a legal genius and they look like your flunkey." Bah.

~grinding of teeth~

Monday, May 08, 2006

Ordinary Time Devotional Book now available!

The second book of devotions written by members of the RevGalBlogPals webring has been completed and is now available for purchase: $18.99 currently from It will be available in a few days from and the cost will probably be a bit higher there.

Covering the liturgical period between Pentecost and Advent (June through November), the devotions follow the same format as our Advent devotion book--a scripture from the Year B lectionary, followed by a reflection, followed by a prayer.

That's a whole lotta devotions, folks. I wrote 8 (count 'em!) of them and got one of my good friends, Zorra, to write one, too. It's amazing how the internet can be used to develop and publish a book with so many people from all over the world involved.

For those of you at my church, I'm going to order some copies to sell at cost at the church, so let me know if you want one. I thought the Advent book was unique because the reflections were so personal and meaningful. I've read a number of the devotions (other than mine) that are included in this one and they are just as good, or better.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Found: The Gospel of Debbie

From The New Yorker: a translation from the high-school Aramaic of The Gospel of Debbie.

You will, like, totally love it.

Hat tip: John

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Campaign Store Opens

Inspired by the the many supportive comments I got when I announced my candidacy for Mom of Congress, I decided to expand the campaign.

With thanks to Hipastorzwife2B for suggesting campaign T-shirts, I created a Cafe Press store for the campaign with men's and women's T-shirts, a mug and a button. The link to the store is on my sidebar.

In the unlikely event that the campaign makes any money from sales of these items, I hereby pledge to use any profits to make micro-loans to third world entrepreneurs through Kiva. No slush funds are permitted by the Mom of Congress, either!

(And yes, El Jefe is gone for the weekend to a partners' meeting and both Portia and Babs are pre-occupied with finals and I had a lot of time on my hands....)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Ta-DAA! Found It!

Dorothy and I found the MOTB dress! I ordered THIS dress...

In this color...

And not a moment too soon, either. I had to order it and it will arrive early in August.

AND it goes with the shoes!

AND Portia approves!! AND I could wear it to the inauguration ball if I win my campaign for Mom of Congress. And yes, that's me modeling it.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Step Up If You Can

Cheesehead has been pondering whether or not to accept a position as moderator (chairman for you non-presbyterians) of a presbytery committee and Reverendmother responded with some thoughts about her own experience attending presbytery committee meetings with baby in tow.

I'm interrupting my campaign for Mom of Congress to add my two cents' worth to the discussion.

There's a lot of dutiful talk in the PCUSA about having "diversity" of representation at all levels of the denomination. In practice that means a lot of attention to whether male/female, clergy/lay, and racial ethnic ratios are met when nominations are made. And there's the token "youth" representation which encompasses high school and sometimes college age students.

But where are the thirty and early forty- somethings? I look around my presbytery committees and find they are heavily weighted towards retired folks. Certainly their experience and leadership is valuable, but it isn't very diverse. The viewpoints of younger people in the church are not being brought into the system in significant numbers--especially that of younger women with children still living at home. Presbyteries are often not sensitive to the needs of this group and then are surprised when they cannot serve.

I speak from my own experience here. I'm currently a member of the General Council of our presbytery, but in the past when asked to serve on presbytery committees, I had to decline because the meetings were scheduled downtown (20 miles from my house) at the same time school let out and ended at the peak of rush hour traffic. Drag two tired cranky little girls along with me at that hour to a meeting? I thought not.

I'm glad to report that today our presbytery has more midday meetings, which helps those who work and those who are stay at home moms participate. But where are they? Nominating committees too often keep going back to the same group because that's who they know. Every time someone in the younger demographic agrees to serve there is an opportunity to expand this group's participation because that person knows others of their own age and circumstance and can recommend them to the powers-that-be.

If you are a thirty or forty-something and are asked to serve the denomination at any level, I encourage you to do so if your other responsibilities will permit it. The PCUSA needs the involvement of our younger members if there is any chance that the precipitous membership decline of the past several decades can be stabilized or reversed.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

QG for Mom of Congress

If you're like me, you can't stand listening to any more namecalling, fingerpointing, lying and general demagogery from Congresspersons of both political parties on the subjects of illegal immigration, the war in Iraq, and rising gas prices. They're acting like spoiled brats. Then it came to me: Congress needs a MOM! So I decided to run for the position.

If elected as Mom of Congress, I pledge to:

--take away their press conference and microphone privileges until they can prove they have actually read, studied and understood all aspects of these issues,

--send them to their rooms without supper until they apologize for grandstanding and misleading the public,

--remove the blackberries, cellphones and laptops from their sweaty little hands until they promise not to communicate in sound bites,

-- ground them from lunches, dinners, golf games and "fact-finding trips" with lobbyists from industry and special interest groups of all types--and needless to say, there will be no sleepovers,

--ban C-Span from televising Congressional 24/7 until Congresspeople learn to set a good example for the other children,

--make them talk to voters in "fly-over" country and write a report about what average Americans think as opposed to what the New York/Washington media says they think,

--not permit them to watch the "talking heads" on NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, CBS, PBS, ABC or Fox News OR to read the talking points memos faxed to their offices by the RNC or the DNC,

--write 100 times on the blackboard "It's not about ME". No, wait, make that 500 times.

In the event the above tried-and-true remedies don't work, then I promise to show up at their next Congressional session in my most embarrasing MOM outfit. The one Portia and Babs hated the most. YES! The bright pink and orange, rick-rack covered tiered Fiesta Dress with matching painted wooden earrings in the shape of a fruit basket. I know, I know--it's harsh, but sometimes a Mom has to practice Tough Love.

After I've whipped Congress into shape, then maybe I'll try running for Mom of the PCUSA.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Last Day of School

This picture was taken 20 years ago. It shows Portia (brunette) all dressed up for her first day kindergarten at the local elementary school down the street from our home in Houston.

Little sister Babs is holding her hand. This marked the first year that the two would not be attending the same school, since Babs remained in preschool at a local Episcopal church.

Today is Portia's last day of "real" school, as she attends her last class of law school. Although final exams and then the bar review and the bar exam are just ahead, many years of formal education are coming to an end for her.

It's definitely a time for nostalgia for El Jefe and me as we look back fondly at this cherished picture, recalling many happy memories along the way as Portia progressed from public elementary, middle and high school, to Yale and the UT Law School.

And I must admit to shedding a little motherly tear of nostalgia as I write this, for her last day of school marks a change for us as well. Our oldest daughter completes her education with a law degree, a job in hand with a good firm, and a fine young man to share her life with. Portia is really all grown up.

El Jefe told her yesterday that although he is very proud of her, it made him feel a bit sad and old to realize how time had passed. She said he wasn't to think he was old until he had grandchildren, which cheered him up a bit. We're so pleased she and her fiance will settle in the Houston area. She's lived away from home base for 7 years and we've missed her.

Happy last day of school, Miss Portia! (And how about those Astros?)