Friday, March 31, 2006

Ninety Birthday Candles for Dutch

This weekend we are celebrating the 90th birthday of El Jefe's father, "Dutch". It has turned into a big family reunion as folks come from all over Texas and even Florida for the big bash.

Everyone's been asking, "Is it a surprise party?" Well, probably! Dutch doesn't have much short term memory left these days, so although he's been told about it many times--the party is likely to be a surprise!

Dutch lives with El Jefe's sister and her husband nearby. He has slowed down and needs assistance but we are blessed to have two wonderful women as his practical nurses and companions. Dutch has always enjoyed being with people, so he should have a good time.

Saturday afternoon the big event is Chez Grace--with barbeque and all the fixin's and, of course, the famous Texas Chocolate Sheetcake and birthday cake from Moeller's bakery in Houston. Festivities commence at 5 pm so we won't wear out the birthday boy.

My guests will be leaving Sunday--so I'll check back in after the weekend.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Rev. Rigby's Defense

Rev. Jim Rigby posted this explanation for the admission of atheist Robert Jensen to membership at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin which he pastors.

Note that he chose to put this on a political website rather than sending it to or the Presbyterian Outlook website or one of the progressive PCUSA websites like Witherspoon Society or Covenant Network. Any of those sites would have published it. Hmmm.

Rigby's defense is wordy and prolix. He totally evades the issue which is that membership in a PCUSA church requires profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior under our Book of Order.

Not Very Quirky

Your Quirk Factor: 22%

You have a few little quirks, but you generally blend in well with society.
Only those who know you well know how weird you can be.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Tale of Four Lawyers

Reverendmother shared one of the writing pieces that she took to the workshop this week. The theme was the clash between the call to ministry and the demands of motherhood. It reminded me of a true story, so gather round, RevGals and Pals, for a tale from Mother Grace about four young women long ago and far away.

In the mid 1970's at the University of Texas Law School there were 4 young women studying--Ann, Susan1, Susan2 and Grace. They lived in a big house across the street from the law school. There were about 500 members of their class, but only 10% of them were women.

The four graduated. Susan1 was the first woman ever hired at a big, prestigious law firm in Dallas. Susan2 wanted a less demanding job and went to work as a staff attorney for the state Welfare Department. Ann yearned to return to San Francisco. She achieved her goal and went to work there for a legal publisher. Grace went to work for the District Attorney in her home town of San Antonio and later became the first woman hired as an associate in a law firm in that town.

Many years have passed. All four married other lawyers. Today none of the four is actively practicing law.

Grace bailed out first when the birth of her second daughter made life as a stay-at-home mom more attractive than the stressful routine of a working mother with a husband who traveled frequently. She became an active community volunteer and, well, you who read the blog know the rest of the story.

Susan1 became the first woman partner at her Dallas firm. She married but after suffering multiple miscarriages retired in the hope that reducing the stress in her life would help her have a successful pregnancy. It didn't, but she and her husband adopted a little boy and she was so happy about it she stayed home to raise him. She left the profession a few years after Grace.

Ann worked off and on for the publishing company for years. She and her husband decided not to have children, but she became very active with her church teaching Sunday School and says that's how she gets her "kid fix". About 10 years ago she retired so she could travel with her husband on his business trips.

Susan2 was the only one of the four to have a full career as a lawyer. She retired a couple of years ago from the Welfare Department where she worked since her graduation from law school. This was a rare "9 to 5" legal job. Susan2's husband was also an attorney for a state agency, so between the two of them, raising their son did not prove to be too stressful for her to continue working. On the other hand, she found the work repetitive and boring and salaries are low for lawyers and subject to the latest whims of the legislature.

And so, dear friends, Mother Grace's moral of this tale is that women who are involved in a service profession--like the law, medicine, or the ministry--will encounter the almost irreconcilable demands of clients/patients/congregants 24-7 and the needs of their families. Although these professions have made it easier today for young women to juggle these responsibilities, still every woman must make her own decision about what is best for her and her family and for her clients/patients/congregants. I've never regretted my decision, and I pray that none of you ever regret yours--whatever those decisions may be.

Monday, March 27, 2006

MOTB Dress Hunting Blues

~ harmonica riff~

Got them low-down dirty Mother-of-the-Bride
Dress hunting blues.
We-e-ll, I've got them dowdy makes you look older
Than a dusty West Texas boulder
Mother-of-the-Bride dress hunting blues.

Yes, Lord, when you can't find a dress at Nordstrom's
All you can do is buy you some shoes.

Well you know I've looked online for hours
And nothing can I find
Yes you know it would be easier
If I had something in mind!

You know I've got them low-down dirty Mother-of-the-Bride
Dress hunting blues.
W-w-woe! Lord have mercy!
Short or long or in-between? It must go with navy blue.
All I've seen is brown and black and that just wouldn't do.

Got them low-down dirty Mother-of-the-Bride
Dress hunting blues.
Oh, Lord, if you were me,
You know that you would too.

~harmonica riff~

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Presbytery Investigating Atheist Member Admission

Mission Presbytery's Committee on Ministry is sending a team to St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Austin to investigate the session's admission to chuch membership of Robert Jensen, an avowed atheist.

Jensen wrote about this in an op-ed piece published in the Houston Chronicle last Sunday and I posted about the situation here.

A pastor in that presbytery sent me a statement that was distributed to all members of the presbytery from the chair of the Committee on Ministry. Here is the text of that statement:

To: Ministers, Clerks of Session, Educators, Members of General Council of Mission Presbytery, and Members of Committee on Ministry of Mission Presbytery

I am writing to you as the Chair of the Committee on Ministry,

It has come to our attention that a session within the bounds of Mission Presbytery has received into membership an individual whom, according to his own writings, claims neither to believe in God nor to believe that Jesus Christ is who our historic Christian tradition and scripture claim him to be. We take this incident with great seriousness and want you to know that we will be sending a team from Committee on Ministry to visit with this session discover the facts and take whatever measures we feel appropriate to deal with the situation.

Though we are a denomination often divided by our interpretations of polity and nonessential matters of doctrine (though I realize that is open to debate itself) we have always understood ourselves to be Christians, followers of Jesus Christ; Savior, Lord and God incarnate.

We are Trinitarian people and the Committee on Ministry will work to insure that this understanding guides and directs all we do as a presbytery.

Yours in Christ,

John Judson
The op-ed piece has not been published in the Mission Presbytery area, which includes Austin and San Antonio, so the presbytery was not aware of this until questions came from concerned Presbyterians in the Houston area. I appreciate this forthright statement from John Judson and hope that the session of St. Andrews will correct their disregard of the requirements of the Book of Order after this meeting and remove Jensen from membership without the need for further action by the presbytery. If not, then the presbytery should not hesitate to take appropriate disciplinary action as provided in the Rules of Discipline.

I'll continue to follow the situation and post about developments since so many of you were interested and concerned about it.

(March 26)-- The link to the Houston Chronicle article is no longer active since the website has archived it, but Jensen also posted the article here where the link is still available.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Preparing for DaVinci The Movie

The Da Vinci Code continues to reign atop the best-seller lists and now the hype for the movie based on the book is beginning (even as a copyright infringement suit against the author, Dan Brown, is being tried in London which could delay the movie release). Christians around the world tried to respond to the twisted version of early Christian history that was presented in the novel as an integral part of the plot because Dan Brown claimed it was the "real" story that the church had suppressed for centuries.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a movie worth a million? Here's a real challenge for people of faith--how to respond to the many movie-goers who will believe that Jesus was not the son of God, that he married Mary Magdalene and that from that child came the heirs to the throne of France. The mischaracterizations of groups like the Priory of Sion, the Catholic Church heirarchy and Opus Dei are equally insidious.

Sony Pictures which is releasing the movie version, has created a website for Christian critics of the book so they can present their views of the movie. I've read that the company is concerned about a Christian "backlash" against the movie and is trying to avoid that possibility. We don't know how faithful the movie will be to the book, but there is no way to present the story in the novel without including much of the controversial background created by Brown. Scrolling through the list of "experts" who were invited to contribute, I found that they represent a broad theological spectrum and I am familiar with many of them.

The first week of April I will begin a new class at church for our Wednesday evening program to address the issues raised for Christians by the book, and presumably, by the movie. It's a real challenge because showing the fallacy of Dan Brown's version of early Christian history involves a knowledge of early Christian and Gnostic texts, early Christian history, the development of the New Testament canon, background in ancient languages and even an understanding of art history.

I think the movie presents Christians with a wonderful opportunity for evangelism. Everyone will be talking about it and some will wonder if the assertions made in it are really true or fictional. That gives believers an opportunity to show why the New Testament canon may be accepted as a reliable record of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit among his disciples and the early churches of Asia Minor and Rome. So I am going to try to concentrate on giving class members some background and information on these issues that they can share with family and friends so they will feel comfortable disputing the movie's version of the life of Jesus and the history of the church.

Several video documentaries and a slew of books have been published in response to The DaVinci Code. Some of the books provide lengthy academic analysis and others are written for the layperson. There is also a lot of information on the internet from authors with varying degrees of credibility. I am going to use a video that has 15 minute presentations covering themes in the book--for example: The Gnostic Gospels, the formation of the NT canon, Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper, etc. -- and supplement it with handouts for the class to keep.

A couple of people have told me they plan to attend the class but refuse to read the book and don't plan to go to the movie. I told them that this isn't going to be a "book club" type of discussion where familiarity with the text of the book is important, so they are welcome to come. I read the book and thought it was an absorbing thriller--but when I got about 25 pages before the end of the novel I guessed where the plotline was going and went "OH NO! Not THAT old canard again"! I have no problem with the subject of the novel as long as it is understood as COMPLETELY a work of fiction--but that's the crux of the problem, isn't it? Dan Brown has stirred up a lot of controversy (and MILLIONS of book sales) by pretending it includes new revelations of fact about the life of Jesus.

If you are leading, or planning to lead, a similar study in your church I would love to hear your plans and what materials you are using in the comments. If you would like to attend a class like this I'd like to hear what questions about the book and movie you would like to see addressed.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Seeing Pineapple Stars

This is the Pineapple Star Quilt which was made by the Ministers of the Cloth at my church and which will be raffled to benefit the annual fundraiser for our school. The star design is actually made from many traditional "pineapple" quilt blocks. The Pineapple block design has lots of itty-bitty pieces and is quite complicated--which doesn't show up in the picture. In fact the MOC gals had to paper-piece the blocks to insure the accuracy of the blocks.

Paper piecing, for those of you who don't know, requires that you think backwards as you work through each piece. Once you get the hang of it, it's not too bad. But then when you put it aside and come back to it a day or so later you have to train yourself to think backwards all over again. GRRRRRR!!! Several years ago we did a Noah's Ark Quilt design that required paper piecing for each animal --and then swore a mighty oath: No More Paper Piecing!

How quickly we forget--just like the pain of childbirth--and do it again. The quilting isn't shown here on the top, but we just got the quilt back from a professional quilter. It's really stunning. She used a pineapple design that really makes the quilt come alive!

Well done, good and faithful Ministers of the Cloth!

Link to Post About Atheist Church Member

Since Pastor Jerry referred to my post about the atheist who joined a Presbyterian church in Austin in his sermons at church yesterday I have had a number of folks ask me how to find it. For those of you not used to reading blogs, the posts appear with the most recent first. Click here to find that post quickly, which is titled "Loosening the Tie That Binds." I'll leave this link at the top of the blog for the next couple of days. Thanks, Pastor Jerry. I appreciate the support.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Misquoting Jesus-- A Misleading Title

I picked up Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman because when I became Director of Christian Education at our church I ordered several of his lecture series on audio CD from The Teaching Company and listened to them many times over trying to get up to speed for my new position AND I was intrigued by the title. Now the book is on the New York Times best-seller list.

Bart Ehrman is the chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ehrman studied at Princeton Theological Seminary under the renowned professor Bruce Metzger and is an authority on the history of the New Testament, Jesus, and the early church. Although he used to be an evangelical Christian, he is apparently now an agnostic--something I didn't pick up from listening to his Teaching Company tapes, but he discusses in this book.

Misquoting Jesus is a book about the ancient texts of the New Testament and the discrepancies that are found in them. Followers of the Dan Brown School of Church Conspiracy will be disappointed because there are no "blockbuster" revelations about these mistakes, ommissions, additions and changes in the book, the title notwithstanding. Ehrman admits in the book that because of the work of textual scholars these changes have been ferreted out and do not appear in the most commonly used modern English language translations: the NIV and the NRSV.

The first part of Ehrman's book explains the process used to evaluate competing editions of New Testament text. Although the subject can be pretty dry, the author is a good writer and manages to make this technical subject surprisingly interesting, at least to me.

Ehrman concludes that most textual alterations were human error, caused by fatigue, lack of attention, miscopying, etc. But he also noted what he described as theologically motivated alterations of the text. He says that most deliberate alterations were made in order to make the text say what the scribe already believed it to mean. Ehrman believes that this usually reflected their reaction to the theological disputes of the day.

In his book, Lost Christianities, Ehrman says that the Nag Hammadi texts and other Gnostic writings that did not make the canon show that early Christianity did not have a uniform belief system and that there were many competing forms of Christianity other than the "orthodox" view that ultimately prevailed. Therefore the emphasis in Misquoting Jesus that the deliberate "enhancements" of the texts by copyists were made in reaction to the views of their antagonists is consistent with his interpretation of the history of early Christianity.

I don't have enough background in the subject to evaluate the second part of this book, but I had some doubts about it. A lot of the second half is spent describing discrepancies that have NOT made their way into modern translations, thanks to the diligent work of textual scholars. Why spend so much energy on these red herrings? Isn't the logical conclusion that our modern translations are fairly reliable representations of the original texts?

While struggling to write this review I came across a link on the blog written by Michael Kruze to the review of Misquoting Jesus on Ben Witherington's blog. I commend it to you if you are interested; it answers many of the questions that this book raised for me. I have to agree that the author has an agenda which has unfortunately sidetracked the second part of the work. The first part of the book is a valuable introduction to the methods of textual criticism for the non-scholar.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Babs Was Outraged...

Me? I'm afraid I'm getting used to it.
From the Houston Chronicle: Saturday, March 18.

Friday, March 17, 2006

More Than Whiskey and Shamrocks

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

If you're celebrating today by wearing the green, pinning a shamrock on your collar, or hoisting a pint of Guiness or a shot of Irish whiskey--spare a minute to honor the early Christian monks of the Emerald Isle who preserved the literary heritage of Western Civilization from the turmoil of the Dark Ages in continental Europe. (Read How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill for the whole story.)

While continental Europe sank into illiteracy and chaotic warfare during the Dark Ages, the monks of the Emerald Isle carefully copied and preserved the essential books of the faith and Western Culture. March 17th originally was the feast day of St. Patrick and marked the bringing of Christianity to Ireland by that early missionary in the early fifth century.

Today the observance has become almost entirely a secular celebration of Irish culture and national pride, but there has also been a rekindling of interest in the faith and practice of Celtic Christianity because of its emphasis on the unity of the secular and the spiritual realms and its more equal treatment of women.

The Celts include the Scots as well as the Irish--which makes me about half Celt. I'll be wearing the something green today as I give thanks for the faithfulness of those unnamed Irish monks whose life's work preserved the foundations of our faith and classical learning that benefit us today. How different our history and life would be without that legacy!

Babs has been home for a few days for spring break and is determined to cook a special Irish-themed dinner tonight. We decided to make grilled lamb chops (because El Jefe won't eat Irish stew or mutton) and string beans. Inspired by a recent Rachel Ray show on the Food Channel,
Babs is also going to make colcannon--which is a mashed potato and kale side dish.

Kale is not easy to find in the Houston area, so we made a trip to Central Market and got it.
(P. S.: Central Market is one of the 7 wonders of Houston--if you're ever in town, you must visit it). We've never cooked kale OR colcannon before, so it will be an adventure! Don't tell--we cheated and bought Irish soda bread instead of baking it ourselves. El Jefe has some Harp's lager on ice and we're going to make Irish coffee for dessert.

What's on tap at your place this day?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Grace Turns One

Today is the first blog-versary of Quotidian Grace.

Back in February of 2005, I attended the annual meeting of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators and was inspired by the keynote speaker, Leonard Sweet, to explore the idea of blogging. After lurking for a couple of months, reading lots of blogs and a couple of books about blogging, Quotidian Grace was born on this day.

My very first commenter remains one of my favorite bloggers--St. Cassarole. Little did either of us know that 2005 would turn our worlds upside down because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Houston area returned to "normal" but continues to struggle to accomodate the large number of Katrina evacuees that remain here, while St. Cassarole's Mississippi Gulf Coast continues to suffer from the devastation of Katrina and live with the very slow rebuilding effort.

A few months later a group of bloggers led by Reverend Mommy, Reverendmother, Songbird and St. Cassarole created the RevGalsBlogPals blogging ring which Quotidian Grace joined. It has now expanded to over 130 members! What a privilege it has been to get to know so many of these wonderful people through this medium and to contribute to their devotional books--A Light Blazes in the Darkness and the soon-to-be-published Ordinary Time.
I've also been enlightened, entertained, and inspired by a number of non-RGBP bloggers such as John at Locusts and Honey, Will Spotts at PCUSA Elders, Michael Kruse at the Kruse Kronicle, Rev Ed at Attention Span and Bro. Greg. Mindy and Spooky Rach are two very special homegirl bloggers-- and who can forget their Texas Towncar o' Justice? (Mindy recently joined RGBP).

What will the next year of blogging bring? Portia's wedding, fun and games at Lakewood Church, Presbyterian follies, midyear election hi-jinks in the land of Tom DeLay, and other quotidian happenings will probably be included in QG's continuing search for grace in everyday life.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Oh, Oh, Osteen

If all my RevGalPals and other blogging pals lived in Houston, they would never know the heartbreak of Bloggers' Block--all you have to do is turn to the morning paper for your inspiration. (See previous post for explanation.) Maybe the city should change its motto to: Bloggers Paradise.

Gosh, it's been , what, more than two weeks since my last Lakewood-Osteen post? And what do I see on the front page of the Chronicle this morning but a story about Joel ("The Pastor") Osteen's new multi-million dollar book contract !

It seems he made over $10 million from Your Best Life Now. A friend of El Jefe's who attends Lakewood gave him a copy of the book. Here's El Jefe's review of YBLN : "pablum".

Osteen is known for advocating the practice of tithing and last year quit drawing his $200,000 salary from Lakewood on that basis. Let's see...10% of $10,000,000= uh-oh! More than $200K!

UPDATE: El Jefe tells me that according to his friend who attends Lakewood, Joel Osteen is the largest contributor to the church. So I don't mean to imply that he is not tithing, because I don't really know.

And RevGals--Victoria ("The Co-Pastor") Osteen is also getting a piece of the action! Yes, you'll want to watch for the children's book that she is writing. Of course. Don't all "celebrities" write children's books these days? What would that be about? I know -- How to Pretend She's Not Your Mommy When She Has a Fit and Gets Tossed Off the Plane.

Dear God, thank you for the newspaper that keeps me blogging on. Help to settle my queasy stomach when I open its pages. Deliver us from the foolishness of your followers, which comes in both denominational and the non-denominational flavors. Amen.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Loosening the Tie That Binds

It's hard to know what to say about a Presbyterian church that accepts an avowed atheist as a member. And what do you say about a pastor and session that would willfully ignore the PCUSA's Book of Order requirement (W-4.003) that those seeking membership in the church must first "profess faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior" and allow an affirmation that he "endorsed the core principles in Christ's teaching" to substitute for that required profession of faith?

How, then, to respond when this man, Robert Jensen, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas-Austin and well-known liberal activist, uses his professional skills and contacts to write a personal opinion column that is published on the front page of today's Sunday editorial section of the Houston Chronicle publicizing this travesty?

I googled the church and learned that its pastor is Rev. Jim Rigby. Rev. Rigby invited (and received) charges made against him for violating the Book of Order by publicly presiding over a gay marriage. He said at that time that he welcomed the charges and wanted to be the subject of a test case in his presbytery. The charges were recently dismissed without explanation, so there will be no test case. I have served on judicial panels in my own presbytery and know that dismissals often come when the complainant, for one reason or another, withdraws or fails to cooperate with the investigating committee.

Here's what I have to say about this situation:

At my church, as at most churches, there are people who attend with varying frequencies who are not Christians. They are usually the agnostic, Jewish, or atheist spouses or other relatives of church members. They are most welcome to participate in the worship and life of the church in any way except for voting in congregational meetings or being eligible to teach in the church or nominated for election as an officer of the church. Sometimes the Holy Spirit works in the lives of the non-believer and the doubter and they become Christians--and sometime they don't--but they should always be welcomed.

However, it is a farce and a perversion of the Book of Order to accept as a member someone who publicly states:
I don't believe in God. I don't believe Jesus Christ was the son of a God that I don't believe in, nor do I believe Jesus rose from the dead to ascend to a heaven that I don't believe exists.
It looks like the Rev. Rigby is courting another "show trial" by creating this situation and that he colluded with Prof. Jensen to publicize this defiance of our constitution using this opinion piece which now has wide circulation by virtue of its publication in the Houston Chronicle. The question is, will someone in Mission Presbytery respond by filing charges against Rev. Rigby and members of the session of this church under the Rules of Discipline and then will the presbytery prosecute the case?

There is a lot of controversy in the church now about the recommendations from the Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church which will come before the General Assembly at its June meeting because they are being characterized as allowing presbyteries "local option" in deciding who they can ordain. Historically the PCUSA has not permitted presbyteries to make their own rules for ordination of pastors and elders, but requires adherence to common standards set out in the Book of Order. If this action of St. Andrews church in Austin is permitted to stand then we will have "local option" that allows individual churches to write their own requirements for membership.

The most basic tie that binds members of Presbyterian churches together regardless of local church affiliation is the confession that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. It is a foundational statement of basic Christian doctrine. If that requirement for membership does not have to be honored then the church is no different from the Rotary or Kiwanis Club. We are truly dissolved into a chaotic mass of "do your own thing" congregations with no unifying principle to draw us together.

For shame, Rev. Rigby and Prof. Jensen!

Early Easter Bunny at Grace's

Giant Bunny Fu Fu
Hopping through the suburbs
Stopped in Grace's backyard
And took itself a nap.

Lucky Bunny Fu Fu
Aging doggie Gretel
Didn't feel like chasing
To get herself a snack.

Giant Bunny Fu Fu
You don't look like a wild one,
Did someone let you go or
Do they want you back?

Giant Rabbit Fu Fu
Gretel did not harm you
But don't bring in your bunnies
Or she may attack!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Hair Today

RevGals' Friday Five theme today is Hair.

1. Do you like your hair?

2. Have you ever colored your hair? If not, would you consider it?
Are you serious? Without my trusty hairdresser the hair around my face would be grey and the hair in back brown. If God didn't want me to color my hair She wouldn't have given us dye.

3. What's the longest you ever wore your hair? The shortest?
A-hem. This dates me, but in high school and college my hair was w-a-a-y down my back in the hip fashion of the day. I was the envy of my curly-haired friends because my hair is naturally straight as a board--just like Cher.

My hair was at its shortest when Portia was a toddler and Babs was an infant. Who had time for hair?

4. When and what was your worst haircut ever?
Alas, I had my hair cut in a Dorothy Hammill style bob when I got married. This was a most unfortunate idea. It looked wonderful on her, on me, not so much.

Brides-to-be, take my advice, don't make major changes in hair style just before the wedding. (Portia? Are you listening to your mother?)

5. Tell us a favorite song or scene from a book or movie dealing with hair.

Portia and Babs loved the story of Rapunzel and used to act it out all the time. They took scarves or long pieces of fabric and pinned them to their heads so they could have a long braid. They made their only male cousin play the prince--boy, was he a good sport!

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair so I can climb that golden stair!

Answer the Call in the TTOJ

My posts here and here about manning (womanning?) the polls on election day referred to calling for backup from my blog friends Spooky Rach and Mindy and their Texas Towncar O' Justice (which I mistakenly called a truck--sorry).

Rach and Mindy are probation officers in West Texas and as a former Assistant District Attorney I identify with them. Plus they are witty and smart and write wonderful blogs.

Now you, too, can join their quest for Justice, Truth and the American Way--order the T-shirt here. It comes in white, yellow or green. Then be prepared to answer the call!

Thanks, Rach!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Grace at the Polls

6:45 am: I arrive at the high school auditorium by the dawn’s early light to find the other election officials busy connecting our new E-slate machines to a power supply. The election judge swears us in-- we swear to “guard the purity of the election” and not to in any way attempt to influence the voters. The first voter arrives before 7 am and huffs off when she is told she has to wait 2 minutes because we can’t allow anyone to vote before 7.

I’m working the Republican primary and we are covering 2 precincts. The Democrats have a group of workers for their primary and they have to cover 5 precincts. Hooray! We don’t have to try to cover both primaries.

7:00: We open the polls to several voters. The machine that assigns the passcodes for the E-slates decides to be balky. A call to the county clerk’s office corrects that and we are in business. One man shows up with a mail-in ballot that he failed to mail in time. We call the County clerk again and are instructed to allow him to vote and to retain his mail-in ballot to be returned and voided. That's not what they told us to do the last time, but oh, well.

7:35: The security guard at the high school stopped by and brought us a menu from a local deli that won’t charge for delivery to election workers today. Hooray! The lunch dilemma is solved and no one has to take orders and shag food.

7:50: Republican Primary –23 voters, Democratic Primary—0 voters.

Fashion Police Alert: One of my co-workers came DECKED out in red, white and blue—including a rhinestone American flag belt buckle, rhinestone American flag watchband, rhinestone patriotic earrings, a red cowgirl shirt with rhinestone stars in red, white and blue, bedazzled blue jeans and short socks with red and blue stars. And yes, it’s Rodeo time in Houston! This is one time I wished for a photo-phone so I could get a picture to show you.

8:12: First Democratic voter arrives. She’s under 21 and started to vote in the Republican primary until we caught her mistake and sent her over to the other group.

8:43: Heads up, People! Tom DeLay didn’t vote early after all. A press spokesman just came in, trailed with several cameramen to alert us that he will be voting here in about an hour. We’re to expect CNN, the AP, the Houston Chronicle, local TV news stations and other local media. We go over the guidelines for filming in the polling place with them—no pictures that show other voters casting their votes, no pictures of other people voting, etc. Okay, we’re going to have our excitement for the day after all!

9:15: Tom and Christine DeLay arrived earlier than advertised, trailed by a huge RV plastered with the election signs of his opponent. What a coincidence—who would think? We had an unusually large group of voters in here when he came. One of the other ladies thinks some of them came at this time on purpose to catch the action which included Ms. BeDazzled hugging Tom. There were 5 TV cameras—including CNN and Fox News filming the DeLays voting. The press abided by our guidelines and interviewed him for about 15 minutes just outside the auditorium, so we didn’t get to hear anything. We’re having a lot more voters than we expected this morning.

Voter Update: Republicans—78 voters. Democrats—5.

9:30: Community Snack Inventory Report. I spotted pudding cake (almost gone because we shared with the press), low-fat chocolate angel food cake, low-fat pimento cheese spread, string cheese, diet coke, ice, bananas and bread in the little kitchenette behind our setup. Hmmm, what? No donuts??? How are we expected to function without donuts?

10:45: Republican voters continue to trickle in steadily. People and Vogue magazines and a crossword puzzle are being perused by the idle workers. Guess I’ll go get mine, too. I sure wish I had wireless access!

11:30: Time to post again. Republican Voters: 122 Democrat Voters: 6. Crossword Puzzle 55, Grace 2. What in Heck is the name of Eurytus’ daughter?

12:15: I’m getting a headache from the door that keeps slamming loudly as voters come and go. We tried to fix it with a wad of paper, but it’s no use. The guy who built our house just came in to vote and asked if we are still living there. It brings back memories—Babs and Portia were only four and five when we moved into this house and now they’re all grown up.
SLAM. Someone PLEASE get that &^%$$# DOOR! ~sigh~ SLAM!

I’ll perk up when Sonia gets back with the lunch we ordered. The deli won’t deliver unless the order is $15 or more and everyone else brought their lunch.

12:45: Can You Hear It Now Department. The school security guard reported the slamming door to the custodian and so he came and has been SLAMMING all the doors to diagnose the problem. There are 16 heavy doors. You do the math.

1:45-2:15: My phone rings with the Yale Fight Song tune. That means it’s Portia. I call her back after registering a voter. She wants to talk about shoes she ordered to go with her wedding dress, but then I go back to the kitchen for a lengthy mom-to-daughter when she switches topics to the real point of the call--her fiance’s future career plans. It’s all very good news but it takes awhile to discuss. Fortunately my fellow election officers understandingly covered for me.

The door is still slamming, by the way.

2:29: One of the officials gets a phone call from her daughter-in-law. DIL reports she just saw her on national Fox news giving Tom DeLay the passcode to vote on the e-slate machines. Omigod…we went national!

2:30: The high school lets out for the day. We’ve had several teenagers come by to vote for the first time. That’s always fun!

We took a vote and the Worst Attitude Displayed by a Voter goes to the arrogant guy who responded to an offer to demonstrate the E-slate machine with a haughty “I AM a COLLEGE GRADUATE!” Yes, but not a gentleman. So far the Most Confused Voter is the poor gal who inadvertently pressed the button for the Spanish language ballot after starting to vote. This required voiding her entire entry, some paperwork and starting all over again. Moral—if you don’t habla then don’t press the Spanish button!!

3:00: Ran home to let out Gretel The Noble Dog. El Jefe will be home in another couple of hours so she can sun herself on the patio until then. Now I’m back at my post.

3:15: Time to post again. Republicans—225, Democrats—19

It’s fascinating to be in a precinct where the Wangs, Shahs, Patels, Ahmeds, and Chens are the most common family names, far outnumbering the Browns, Smiths or Joneses!

4:12: Our first disaster with the machines occurs when a voter punches the Cast My Ballot button without first entering any votes. We can’t give her another passcode, so she leaves unhappily. She just wasted her vote on an empty ballot! With that door SLAMMING, it’s a wonder more people haven’t screwed up.

Oh, my aching head! Could the Texas Truck 'o Justice deliver us from these wretched doors? Where the heck is Mindy's phone number? Is it too late to call for backup from West Texas?

4:45: Here’s a tip, Voters. Don’t try to carry on a cellphone conversation and check into the polling place at the same time. PUT DOWN THAT CELLPHONE. That is all.

5 to 7 pm: We are overwhelmed with voters and close the polls with 25 people waiting in line to vote. Everyone who is in line to check in is allowed to vote. Now we wait for this group to finish voting before we can finish our paperwork and pack up the machines.

7:30 pm: The last voter finishes voting and we have a lot of tedious paperwork to do. The E-slate machines also have to be dis-assembled and packed up for the county to come and pick up in the morning. We are tired and can’t lift them so we put out an SOS and get a husband to come assist. Over 450 people voted in our precinct today in the Republican primary. I lost track of the Democratic primary voter totals. I predict that means that Tom DeLay will face a run-off for the Republican nomination because in my experience big turnouts are bad news for incumbents. We'll see tomorrow if I'm any kind of political prophet.

9 pm: I’m finally home from the polls. It was an exhausting day. We concluded that the learning curve on the new machines slowed the voting—also I think the new machines are slower than our old paper ballot and number 2 pencil scantron equipment. It's change but it sure ain't progress. Also, my ears still ring from those infernally slamming doors.

In conclusion, friends, our democracy works because of the dedication of your civic-minded neighbors who volunteer their time on election day to wrestle with all the tiresome and boring details that insure a safe and fair election in your area and put in more than 12 hours that day to do so.

Did you vote in your primary? And did you remember to thank your volunteer election officials?
10 pm update : I guess I'd better keep my day job. The local television news is reporting that Tom DeLay will win the Republican nomination with about 59% of the vote--no runoff needed. He had 3 opponents in the primary election. Obviously Ronnie Earle (the District Attorney in Austin who brought the charges against Tom DeLay) and company have zero credibility in District 22.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Footsoldier for the Republic...

Tomorrow is Primary Election Day here in the Great State of Texas. And I, your humble correspondent, will be spending the day at my precinct as an election official, as I have for the past 10 years.

I'm planning to write a streaming report on the events of the day--a day in the life of a humble footsoldier for the republic. It's people like me and my neighbors who give up our day from 7 am to 7 pm to see that the election is conducted properly. I won't be able to post until tomorrow evening because I don't think I will be able to pick up a wireless signal at our election venue (the local high school).

My precinct is one of the reddest precincts in one of the reddest states in the country: it is the home precinct of Rep. Tom DeLay. I think he has already voted early (Texas has very liberal early voting laws) and will not be voting in person so we probably won't get the press coverage that we usually do when he comes to vote. And wouldn't it have been wild this time? Maybe Christine DeLay, his wife, will show up.

Until the 2004 election, the Democrats never had anyone to oversee their primary in our precinct, so the same set of election officials had to work both primaries. We'd put the Republicans on one end of the auditorium and the Democrats on the other end and one of us would run over to the Democrat post if someone wanted to vote in that primary.

There usually isn't much interest in the Democrat primary because there are seldom contested races and there is no candidate in most of the local races. When a Democrat showed up we tried to convince them to sign up to be an election official for the next election. I remember one primary election when our first Democrat voter didn't appear until afternoon.

We'll see if the Dems show up tomorrow! I hope so, because at the last primary election they graciously fetched lunch for everyone since they're not very busy. And one of us will cover their post while they are out shagging burgers, nachos and fries for the troops.

And now the question is, What To Wear? We sit all day on very hard folding chairs behind a folding table, so comfortable pants are a must. The A/C at the high school auditorium has been known to freeze your fanny so it's good to tote a jacket. We have to wear large red, white and blue plastic ELECTION OFFICIAL badges-- so choose colors that won't clash too much.

And don't forget: cellphone (besides personal calls you may have to call the county clerk's office if there are voter registration issues), laptop, crossword puzzles, a snack, and a book for the periods when no one comes in and your fellow officials have run out of gossip.

If we need backup, I'm calling for Spooky Rach, Mindy and the Texas Truck o' Justice!

Sunday, March 05, 2006


I think this will be the Most Memorable Post of the Year.

Yes, I know the year is young, but just read it, please, and see if you don't agree.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The St. Stephen Theological Awards

The church pastored by one of my local revgals was recently spotlighted in the Food Section of the Houston Chronicle for their annual Oscar Party. (Read about it here.)

A group at the church meets regularly to discuss movies throughout the year. My friend told me that they found it best to have group members go on their own time to see the movie rather than trying to coordinate a time for everyone to go at once. Then they gather to discuss the movie, looking for spiritual themes. On Oscar Awards Night they dress up in their most formal attire for a dinner party featuring dishes based on (or inspired by) the movies nominated for Academy Awards which are prepared by group members.

The focus on the evening isn't on the awards of the Academy of Motion Pictures-- but on their own St. Stephen Theological Awards which are based on the movies they viewed and discussed that year. Here are the award categories:

The Best Example of Fallen Humanity
The Most Powerful Christian Message
The Best Christ Figure
The Richest Use of Christian Symbolism
The Church as a Community of Faith
Grace: God's Abiding Presence
The Majesty of God (two awards--audio and video)
My Favorite Movie
The Most Spiritually Literate Film

Since their 2005 selections included The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire some of these categories will be easy to fill. But of course that's not always true!

How would you vote for the St. Stephen 2005 Theological Awards? Let us know in the comments. Cast your vote for any movie that opened in 2005, whether or not it received an Academy Award nomination.

The envelope, please...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The McPassion Movie

Remember last year's hype about the opening of Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ on Ash Wednesday?

Here is a satire of those trailers of last year, brought to my attention by my friend Dustin who saw it on Christianity Today's website. Thanks, Dustin. I think.

Warning: this has something to offend EVERYONE, particularly in the last bit with the coming attractions.

UPDATE and Correction: Songbird pointed out that The Passion of the Christ opened 2 years ago, not last year!
Second Update: Dustin reminded me in the comments that the purpose of the movie was not to insult anyone but to make people think about how this was unduly commercialized. Here is the link to an interview with the filmaker that Dustin included in his comment for more information. Thanks, Dustin, for real!

Happy Texas Independence Day!

On this day in 1836 Texas unilaterally declared its independence from Mexico even as the Battle of the Alamo raged in San Antonio.

This is also the birthday of Sam Houston, the father of Texas independence.

When I was growing up this was a public holiday and we had no school. It is still a holiday for our state government.

As a college student at Frozen North Ivy League U, the small but hardy band of expat Texans gathered together to celebrate, bringing the Texas flags that we displayed in our dorm rooms. Our Texas accents made us stand out in the crowd--and usually not in a good way-- among the Yankee prep school types. This celebration was our way of asserting our pride in being Texans.

When Portia and Babs were in college out of state, I sent care packages of tamales, chili, hot sauce, refried beans and chips to Portia and Babs as they gathered to celebrate March 2 with their Texas friends. The Texas Independence Day celebration continues to be a tradition for expat college students.

Texas is the only state that was once an independent country. When it joined the union, it retained the right to divide into up to 5 different states. Some days we think that would have been a good idea--we'd have 10 Senators from Texas instead of only 2!

Texas pride was instilled in all of us growing up here. But I've never been more proud of being Texan, or a Houstonian, than in this past year when the state was the refuge of choice for so many fleeing Hurricane Katrina. Texas remains a haven and now a new home for a lot of these folks who have found jobs, new lives and a welcome here.

"God bless you, Texas
And keep you brave and strong.
That you might grow in power and worth
Throughout the ages long."
--from Texas Our Texas, the state song

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

El Jefe's First Ash Wednesday

service went okay. This was the first time in his 50-something years that he ever attended an Ash Wednesday service. Along with a few others, neither of us went forward for the imposition of ashes. I think most of the "recalcitrants" just stayed home.

"It was a little weird, but I got something out of it," he concluded afterwards. "But I don't think I will ever get ashes."


Maybe we are both closet Baptists on this point.

Staying South

I saw this on several blogs today and decided to try it myself. It shows a startling affinity for the South, doesn't it?
create your own visited states map