Thursday, November 30, 2006

Great New Time Waster!

This afternoon's mail included a catalogue from something called Despair, Inc. located in Austin, Texas. I promise I'm not making this up. Their motto is: "Motivational products don't work, but our Demotivational products don't work even better."

So I went to their website:

They have a slew of posters with sayings such as "Depair. It's always Darkest Just Before It Goes Pitch Black." and "Strife. As Long As We Have Each Other, We'll Never Run Out of Problems."

But the fun thing is that you can make your own poster on the website and save it to your computer-- like the one I made above!

Talk about a sinkhole for time! If you make one, let me know in the comments so I can check it out. I've got some other ideas--maybe I could do one with a Presby theme, or Worst Christmas Song Ever, or RevGalBlogPals Rule!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dear Deer Feeder

My niece Baby Annie fed the deer Thanksgiving Weekend in Port Mansfield, Texas. Photo courtesy of her Daddy, also known as Uncle P.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

All About the FOG

I promised to write a post about the Form of Government Task Force workshop that I attended at the Moderator's Conference just before Thanksgiving, and I'm just now getting around to it.

First of all, we were asked to please not call it the FOG. But really, can you not ? So the FOG it is.

The presenter was one of the members of the Task Force, Dr. Paul K. Hooker (Executive Presbyter of San Augustine presbytery), who distributed the current draft which is available online here. I am impressed by the transparency of their process. The FOG task force invites anyone interested to send questions, suggestions, and comments to them through the website. A GA staffer collects the emails and forwards all of them to each member every two weeks. So if you don't like what you see in the draft, by all means let them know about it now.

The entire Book of Order (the "BOO") is NOT being re-written, just the old "G" section. The Rules of Discipline and Directory of Worship are not included in the FOG's job description. Also, the GA instructed the group that section G.0106(b) and the property trust clause must not be changed and must retain their present language exactly. The goal of the project is to revise chapter 14 and overhaul the entire form of government section. FOG must report a draft by September 2007 to the presbyteries and sessions, take comments and revise the document by March 2008 so it can be considered by the 2008 GA.

The old "G" section has become two sections in this draft-- "The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity", which will presumably become a new section "F" of the Book of Order, and "The Form of Government", which remains section "G".

The new Foundations section is a shortened version of G.1 to G.4 with updated language restating core values and the order is rearranged to make it more accessible. I have seen some criticism of the "Core Theological Commitments" chapter from some bloggers, already so the FOG folks are likely getting a lot of comments on this part of the draft. Other chapters in the new "F" section are: "Core Principles of Order and Government" and "The Church and Its Confessions."

The new "G" section--The Form of Government-- combines the old G.5 and G.7 sections of the Book of Order. It is still a work in process, but there is an outline posted on the website that reveals the current FOG approach to its task.

El Jefe, with 15 years experience as Clerk of Session, says that the BOO is one of the most poorly indexed organizational documents he has ever seen. And he has seen a lot of them in his 30 plus years of legal experience as a corporate attorney. On more than one occasion he has had to call the GA office in Louisville to get guidance on a question that he could have answered if the BOO were properly indexed. Anyone else had that experience? As far as he is concerned, the most helpful thing the FOG could do would be to prepare a thorough index for the BOO.

"Are we just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic?" one of those in attendance asked. Dr. Hooker replied that he hoped not. I hope not, too. I've long thought the BOO needed a complete re-write, because it just grew and grew and grew and badly needs pruning and rationalization. Not to mention a good index! I wonder if it's possible to do this in the current atmosphere of distrust that pervades the denomination and I wonder if it's even a good idea to expend the energy on it at this time instead of addressing other needs.

But I do commend the FOG for their openness in posting this preliminary draft and inviting comments on it as they proceed. I guess I better write and tell them about the index.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cyber Monday Celebration

It's my favorite shopping day of the year--Cyber Monday. I made my rounds this morning, mouse in hand, and placed almost all my orders for Christmas gifts. Now it's time for a little celebration, so I'm reprising the Ode to Cyber Monday song I composed last year.

~cue orchestra~
Avoid the Malls
:: to the tune of "Deck the Halls"::

Thank you, God, for online shopping!
Saving me from dread mall-hopping,
Finding offers of free shipping,
In pajamas, coffee sipping,

Praises be for cyber-looking,
Books and clothes and things for cooking,
Checking prices, finding sales there,
Home accessories and footwear,

As my cursor surfs for presents,
The stress of Christmas giving lessens,
See the Fed-Ex man deliver
Stacks of presents to the giver,

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Extreme DeLurking, Texas Version

In the spirit of Thanksgiving DeLurking Week, Denis Hancock (left) (The Reformed Angler) and I met each other yesterday in Sugar Land. El Jefe is on the right. Photo courtesy of the lovely and gracious Susan Hancock, Denis' wife, who also joined us.

Denis is one of my favorite Presbybloggers! He and Susan were in Houston visiting family for Thanksgiving. We had a great conversation in a local coffee shop and solved all the problems of the PCUSA and the world in an hour and a half. We hope to have the chance to visit with the Hancocks again when they are down here.

You'll notice that Denis is a really tall guy, like El Jefe, so I look almost petite between the two of them!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving Delurking Week

The RevGals declared Thanksgiving Delurking Week. I'm a bit slow joining in due to travel around the country. Lurking is reading and not commenting on blogs. De-lurking means leaving a comment to let me know you're reading. If you can't think of anything to say, just leave a (0) which is a stone showing you stopped by.

Thanks to those of you who have already de-lurked here at QG this week. I'm grateful for your encouragement and support. I'd love to hear from more of you and I encourage you to delurk this week on other blogs you read.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sailing the Good Ship PCUSA

Saturday night's “Speak-Out” with Moderator Rev. Joan Gray revealed widespread concern from the Moderators’ group about the ongoing loss in membership in the PCUSA and the intractable divisions of opinion over a number of issues, but principally the ordination controversy, that divides the denomination. A couple of moderators even suggested that it may be time for some type of “gracious separation.” The crusty old football coach from West Texas finally got up and declared “woe, boo-hoo and misery on me! Can’t anyone find anything positive to say?"

Rev. Gray spoke directly to these concerns the next morning in her sermon in blunt and powerful words. She said “money in the bank” thinking is killing the church. “Money in the bank thinking” means that the church first considers what resources it has and then decides what it can do rather than asking what God is wanting us to do and finding a way to do it. The issues raised last night are “gifts to the church”, in her view, because we must learn to surrender in humility to God’s will rather than trying to do our own. Rev. Gray observed that want to “fix” our problems because it will make us feel good about ourselves—but it is not about feeling good about ourselves but about the glory of God.

Using the metaphor of the sailboat, which was an early Christian symbol for the church, she pointed out that there’s a weariness in the church that she hears wherever she goes. We are rowing as hard as we can, but the church is not meant to be a rowboat, but a sailboat catching the winds of the Holy Spirit. She called on all of us to join her in prayer and fasting every Friday for the spiritual renewal of the PCUSA.

Can we learn to hoist the sails of the good ship PCUSA and go where the Spirit will lead us?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Learning to Moderate

It's been a L-O-O-N-G day at the Moderator's Conference. Too long to write a really substantive post, but I promise that I'll do one after I get home about the FOG Task Force workshop that I attended for my Presbypolity readers, and about the Q&A session tonight with the PCUSA's Moderator and Vice Moderator.

So it's back to a little list of the day's highlights, to give you a feel for how the day at the Moderator's Conference went.
  • My old acquaintance and I remembered that we knew each other from our days back in the 1990's when we were involved with the Cho-Yeh Camp board (Cho-Yeh is the camp and conference center owned by New Covenant Presbytery)
  • In the session on Meetings for Moderators, I was reassured to learn that " I don't have to know everything, I just have to know more than they do!"
  • Other tips for running a presbytery meeting included: Don't let them have your mike, Consensus is NOT unanimity, and Preparation-GOOD! Surprises-USUALLY BAD. Truly words to live by.
  • There was a demonstration of how to use sticky note pads to keep track of motions, amendments to the motion and amendments to the amendment.
  • We were also urged to remember that there is a difference between being nice and being fair. A moderator's job is to be fair and if you do a good job of that, then people will think you are nice.
  • The best for last: the PCUSA Moderator, Rev. Joan Gray and her husband Bob came up and introduced themselves to me in the buffet line at dinner. He reads QG (among other Presbyblogs) and reports on it back to her. He'd read I would be here and was looking for me. I was amazed. And flattered. Thanks for reading!
I can't resist closing with a couple of excerpts from the Litany for Eight Useful Motions by Marianne L. Wolfe that we all recited at the end of the training about running a presbytery meeting.

"Liturgist: Amend. There are only three forms of simple amendment. They are: to delete or strike out, to add or insert and to strike out and insert. The words proposed for deletion or additions must be consecutive words.

Congregation: And Job said, "Do you think you can correct words, as if the speech of the desperate were wind?" (Job 6.26)
Liturgist: Limits on Debate. The assembly always has the power, and the moderator the right of suggestion, to limit debate to a particular hour, or extend or shorten speeches according to the necessity of the moment.

Congregation: And Job said, "Have windy words no limit? Or what provokes you that you keep on talking?" (Job 16.3)
ALL: Do not think that we have come to abolish Robert's Rules of Order; we have come to fulfill it..."

Okay, there was a lot of Job in this liturgy. That should tell me something about being a Moderator. Good night.

Friday, November 17, 2006

QG in GA-Land

Here I am in Louisville for the Moderator's Conference of the PCUSA. It's chilly outside but we're meeting at the Brown Hotel downtown which is a pretty old building. My room is nice and we just got started today.

Here are the highlights so far:
  • A good bit of talk over dinner about "whither synods". General conclusion--synods are an unnecessary additional layer of church government.
  • They gave me a nametag with "REV. QG" on it! I had to mark out "Rev" and handwrite "Elder".
  • An older African-American gentleman from North Carolina came over, introduced himself, and said he remembered me from his days in New Covenant presbytery 15 years ago. Fifteen years ago I don't remember doing anything with presbytery except occasionally attending a meeting as a commissioner from my church. I had to admit he looked familiar, though.
  • Learned Gomer Pyle's understanding of God--"surprise, surprise, surprise." No kidding!
  • Went down to the bar after the meeting hoping to meet more people and I wasn't disappointed. I wound up in a group listening to the amazing story of one man's parents, both German missionaries in the Pacific at the time of WWII who were trapped in Japan for the duration.
Tomorrow there will be workshops. Onward through the FOG! (Form of Government Task Force which is rewriting the Book of Order.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why Did RGBP Inc Need to Incorporate?

A comment on the last post asked what the RevGalBlogPals Inc. can do as a non-profit corporation that it couldn't do just as a webring. That was a really good question, so I thought I should answer it in a post rather than respond in the comments because some of the other RevGals and Pals and my readers may wonder the same thing.

As a 501-c-3 corporation, we now have established a legal identity that we didn't have as an unincorporated association. This allows us to:
  • own the blogring and have an organization (rather than a couple of administrators) that can set policies for it and administer it
  • own the copyright to the name RevGalBlogPals and protect it from unauthorized use
  • own the Cafe Press store and use the income from it for the purposes of the organization without paying tax on the income
  • own the copyrights to the two books published by the blogring--Ordinary Time and A Light Blazes in the Darkness--as well as future publications
  • receive the income from the sales of any publications owned by RGBP Inc on a tax-free basis
  • receive tax-deductible contributions from individuals
  • apply for grants for programs that support women in ministry from foundations which require that their funds go to tax exempt organizations (example: the Lily Foundation)
  • make periodic financial reports to the membership that reveal the sources of RGBP Inc income and where the money is spent--we also will be required to file financial reports with the IRS that show the same thing--thus insuring proper financial accountability
  • provide for members of the corporation to elect their leadership
  • have perpetual existence and limited liability and eliminate the significant legal uncertainities that accompany an unincorporated association
These are the major advantages of incorporating as a tax exempt organization. Of course, the cost of incorporation is keeping records and accounts and following appropriate corporate procedures. But all these requirements also provide safeguards for the members to insure that funds are properly accounted for and spent for the purposes of the organization.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

RGBP Inc Receives Tax Exempt Status

I'm so excited that I'm cross-posting from the RevGalBlogPals blog! I just received a letter from the IRS granting RevGalBlogPals Inc. tax exempt status under section 501-c-3 of the Internal Revenue Code. When I filed the application I was told not to expect to hear from the IRS until late January 2007--so this was an unexpected and welcome surprise.

Now that we are recognized as a tax-exempt organization we will be eligible to do a lot of things that we couldn't do before. I expected that the IRS would ask questions about the group, since it is rather unique--organized around a weblog for the primary purpose of supporting women in ministry. But they didn't!

Thank you, IRS. You're my new best friends.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

New Covenant's $1 Million Problem

I've spent the last week or so dealing with the discovery that over $1 million in funds donated by church members to the PCUSA's special offerings were not forwarded by New Covenant Presbytery, but were diverted to pay for mission projects of the presbytery by the director of financial affairs for the last 3 years. I can blog about it now because a press release on the situation was sent to the PCUSA and to the Presbyterian Outlook--you can read the Outlook's report here.

The money given to the special offerings (Christmas Joy Offering, Peacemaking Offering, One Great Hour of Sharing, etc) is sent to the presbytery from the churches and then presbytery forwards it to the denomination for distribution to the agencies and groups that benefit from the offerings. They are essentially funds held in trust by the presbytery and passed on--the money should never have been used to pay any obligations of the presbytery. There was no authorization for this and the employment of the director of financial affairs was terminated.

An interim director should be in place this week and last week additional financial control procedures were instituted to make sure this situation cannot be repeated in the future. New Covenant has had annual audits by an independent accounting firm that did not discover this unauthorized diversion of funds. Apparently the auditors didn't understand that these funds were supposed to be passed on to the PCUSA and should not have been applied to presbytery obligations. Curiously, the GA offices never asked why the offerings had not been forwarded--and New Covenant is one of the largest presbyteries in the country.

The only explanation offered so far is that the former director of financial affairs started using the funds to cover short-term cash flow problems and then the numbers mushroomed into a never-ending cycle of robbing Peter (the PCUSA special offerings) to pay Paul (New Covenant). While the investigation into the situation is still ongoing, there is no evidence so far that the former director personally benefited from these unauthorized actions.

This coming Saturday there will be more discussion at the regular meeting of presbytery. I won't be there because I am attending the Moderator's Conference in Louisville. At this time, I am the "Moderator elect-elect" and don't have a role in the meeting, but in 2007 when I chair the General Council I will be dealing with the after-shocks of this revelation.

Our Vision 2010 which involved plans to grow more disciples and churches in New Covenant is threatened. There were already discussions about the need to develop a long term strategy to address the cash flow and budget deficit problems of the presbytery, which now will begin in earnest. Not only must we find a way to pay back the $1 million owed for the special offerings, but we will have to cut back on the items that we thought we could afford but were being paid for by the special offerings rather than by presbytery's money.

I'm praying that in the long run good will come out of this million dollar problem: that the churches will agree on and support a plan for repayment that will allow presbytery to pursue its vision and purpose; that the presbytery will establish better financial control procedures; that the presbytery will focus on and perform its essential functions well and that the churches will cooperate with each other and with presbytery to do the "nice to do" functions that foster mission, connectionalism and community.

Meetup Deep in the Heart of Texas

What fun it was to meet Mary Beth at her home in Denton this weekend!

We had a great time breakfasting together yesterday morning, getting acquainted and even talked a little RGBP Inc. business. (Can I write off my trip now???)

I was in town to hear my niece Catherine give her senior vocal recital at the university. Of course she sang gloriously (she's a mezzo soprano) and looked gorgeous and poised!

Photo is courtesy of the handsome and gracious Ken! Thanks also to her two precious Maltese dogs who also welcomed me to their home.

Wish you all could have been there, too! And Mary Beth, sorry about your cold, but I'm feeling great today so I must not have caught it. Feel better soon!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Christianity for the Rest of Us Book Review

When I picked up this new book by Diana Butler Bass I wondered, “Who is ‘us’?” Now that I’ve finished reading it, I can tell you that ‘us’ is the people in mainline Protestant denominations who see themselves as theologically centrist to liberal/progressive, and feel isolated in today’s American religious culture.

As Butler Bass frankly states in her introduction: “The religious right seems to have hijacked American Christianity, and I can barely stand to read the news about religion and politics.” The jacket contains endorsements by Marcus Borg (who calls it “the most important book of the decade about emerging Christianity”), Barbara Brown Taylor, and Brian McLaren, among others.

Christianity for the Rest of Us is the result of a three year study on vital mainline denominations, which was funded by the Lily Foundation and based at the Virginia Theological Seminary. Diana Butler Bass was the project’s director. An appendix details the methodology used in the project study, which involved varying degrees of investigation and participation in 50 medium size mainline congregations that are identified as theologically “centrist to liberal.”

For those not familiar with her background, it is helpful to know that the author’s spiritual journey has taken her from the fundamentalist, evangelical side of the church to life as a theologically liberal/progressive Episcopalian. The “us” and “them” dichotomy between these two viewpoints has thus become very important to her and colors many of her observations and conclusions as she continues to wrestle with her past.

This is an intriguing book that prompts the reader to critical thinking. I found myself tabbing 23 pages as I prepared to write this review. Some tabs marked places I thought were insightful and some marked parts that I disagreed with. Just when I began to wonder how to use it as a study for an adult CE class, I noticed that the author has thoughtfully provided a section in the back “reflections for reading groups."

Christianity for the Rest of Us is well-written and easy to read. There are a few graphs and charts included, but most of the book is devoted to anecdotal stories are included that illustrate the many ways in which some mainline congregations are reviving themselves.

Butler Bass emphasizes ten “signposts of renewal” that characterize the congregations she studied: hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection and beauty. Each signpost gets its own chapter that includes descriptions of how some mainline congregations are living out that aspect of faith. The emphasis is on these spiritual practices rather than theology as a way of reviving and renewing the "emerging" mainline church.

This review would be too lengthy if I tried to explain each one, but here are a few examples. In the chapter on hospitality, Butler Bass distinguishes between hospitality as a recruitment strategy designed to manipulate strangers into church membership and hospitality as a a vital feature of congregational life which she found at one Seattle area Lutheran church that hosted a tent city for the homeless on the church’s front lawn. Another example was the “Welcome Table” at a Washington D.C. area Episcopal church that offered worship, breakfast and small group Bible study for 200 homeless people every Sunday. Although the impression of “emerging” churches is that they emphasize entertainment, constant activity and loud music in worship, Butler Bass’ chapter on contemplation examines a movement toward silence in worship. At one Presbyterian congregation in the study the worship service includes time for silent contemplation and there is a weekly evening Centering and Healing service.

As noted earlier, I do have number of disagreements with some of the observations and conclusions in the book. Again, the review would get too lengthy if I tried to include them all, so here are a couple of examples arise in the chapter on diversity.

In writing about a Presbyterian church in California, the Butler Bass states, “the most troubling division comes from the tensions within the Presbyterian denomination between the church’s traditionally more liberal constituency and its vocal evangelical minority.” In fact, every study of the PCUSA shows that the majority of its members identify as centrist to conservative theologically and that the “liberal constituency” is the minority—although it is not the minority among the national leadership of the church.

Butler Bass also attributes broader racial diversity in congregations as a reflection of the emerging mainline church as contrasted with the evangelical/independent churches. However in the Houston area, where I live, the church with the most diverse membership –1/3 white, 1/3 African-American, 1/3 Hispanic—is Lakewood Church, an independent conservative evangelical congregation. My impression is that this is true in some other independent evangelical "megachurches" so it seems that her bias against these churches affected her conclusion.

I’m sure that every reader of the book will find something to agree with and something to disagree with which is why I think it is a good subject for study and discussion for all kinds of adult small groups.

I enjoyed reading about all the different congregations discussed in the book. The “signposts of renewal” stories were usually inspiring and thought-provoking. Groups looking for ways to renew and revitalize their mainline congregations will doubtless benefit from a study of Christianity for the Rest of Us. If you’re interested in a hopeful book about the future of the American mainline church, then you will want to read this book.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Reflections on a Day in Write-in Land

After collapsing in exhaustion last night, I've had some time to reflect on the election in my precinct yesterday. Almost 50% of the registered voters in #4119 voted. That is an astounding turnout for any election, historically. The results for our precinct are still not available this morning--not surprising given the high number of write-ins that we observed and assisted yesterday. My guess is that the Republican write-in candidate for Congress won in 4119.

But here's what's really important about the election:

--the woman who brought her Arab neighbor, dressed in the Muslim hijab, to the election and asked if she could observe her vote so that she could learn about how Americans run an election

--the elderly African-American woman who came in with her son, the doctor still dressed in his surgical scrubs and her precious toddler grandson, Charlie, who entertained the dozens of folks waiting to vote with his winsome prattle and antics. She was recovering from knee replacement surgery, so we set up a chair for her and the grandson near me while her son waited in the long line at the end of the day and kept her place. That grandbaby really loved his grandma!

--the eager high school students who came in to see if they could vote at their high school

--the elderly Indian woman who was very anxious about trying to use the machine and understand the ballot, but who I was able to calm and help cast the votes she had carefully written down and brought with her

--the VERY pregnant young woman ( I mean, call the hospital someone) who came at the end of the day and faced a wait of more than an hour, but who was invited to the head of the line by a true Texas gentleman

--the good old boy, with the John Deere cap, who loudly remarked, "they made it really HAWRD! You gotta know how to SPELL!" as he exited the premises

--the reaction of the voters, who when seeing the long lines exclaimed "this is great!" They loved seeing the high turnout, even if it cost them an hour or more of their time

So, friends, whatever the outcome of the election--the republic is in good hands so long as the people treasure and use their right to vote. It's a great privilege and blessing to have the opportunity to be a part of the process in this great country.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

QG in Write-In Land

6:20 am:
It’s still pretty dark as I drive to the high school to open the polls. We rush around trying to open and set up the 6 E-Slate machines we have been given for our precinct AND get the machine that assigns the passcodes booted and up. Four men are already lining up to vote.

7:00 am: The polls open with about 25 people in line. The line grows longer and longer because 3 of the voting machines won’t boot up. After a call to election central, they come on and we make some progress. The wait to vote is now longer than the wait to check in. Lots of writing in is going on.

7:40 am: Three high school students show up. Their government teacher released them from class to help work the election. After being sure that they all are 18 and registered to vote, they are sworn in and I put them to work checking in the voters. They’ll get service hours for their time. It’s fun to have the kids helping us. They’ll go back to class for the second period. They told us their teacher will be sending a couple more to work after school, which will be great! We’ll need help at the end of the day.

7:45 am: The Republican poll watcher shows up. Where’s the Democrat?

8:10 am: The Democrat poll watcher arrives. Both of them are seated behind the voter check-in desk. Another worker arrives, and she also offers to be our Hindi/Urdu translator if needed.

9:10 am: Things are slowing down but we still have a line. Each machine has a list of the declared write-in candidates at each machine. I think that is helping the process. So far no one is confused and only a couple of people have requested assistance with the machines.

9:30 am: Time to post a tally! 153 voters so far. 840 voted early, which is 25% of the registered voters in the precinct.

9:45 am: First voter to screw up the “vote twice for Shelley” maneuver is reported.

10:00 am: The line is shorter now. A couple of smart young mothers came in with toddlers and babies who are doing just fine now. Bringing in tired and hungry kids around noon to one when there is a line is just asking for trouble. Things are pretty quiet.

11:30:Time to post again! 293 voters.

2:15 pm: Well, I spoke too soon. We had a big rush for the last three hours and things are settling down again now because most people avoid coming to vote during the time when the high school dismisses. I’ve been helping a lot of people who want to vote for the Republican write-in candidate. The machines won’t let you correct spelling mistakes easily—so there is at least one vote for ShelleySSSSSSSSS. Hopefully the voter’s intent will be clear. Mrs. America called out for a pizza and salad delivery for the troops because we were getting peckish and couldn’t spare anyone for a lunch run. They have been nibbling on the Texas Chocolate Sheetcake I brought all day—hope there will be some left for El Jefe. The poll watchers both left, but will probably come back at the end of the day.

8:52 pm: We had over 650 voters. I had no more time to blog during the election. Now I’m home eating the warmed-over pizza I didn’t have time to eat during the day and quaffing a restorative glass of vino.

Here’s the bottom line--(650 voters) X (6 e-slate machines) X (80% of the voters taking an average of 10 minutes to write in a candidate) X (40% of the voters behind on the learning curve of using the aforementioned e-slate machines) = over 100 voters in line at 7 pm when we closed the polls. They all got to vote of course. It took an extra hour and 15 minutes to vote them all.

I spent hours on my feet helping voters use the machines and enter their write-in candidate. In my nightmares I am going to see SHELLEY SEKULA GIBBS written on a wall like Nebuchadnezzar saw MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN.

I’m done. Goodnight everyone. Thankfully, there is one small piece of cake left for El Jefe.

Monday, November 06, 2006

On the Eve of The Big Fat Mess

This is a map of the 22nd Congressional District of Texas. Looks like a Rorsach ink blot, doesn't it? My precinct is in the roundish-looking blobby portion on the left. This has become one prime piece of political real estate since last week's polls showed that the Republican write-in candidate is in a statistical dead heat with the Democratic candidate who is actually listed on the ballot. Here's a review of the situation previously posted on QG.

The campaign ratcheted up several notches over the weekend. El Jefe and I had been in Austin attending the UT football game (Go Horns!) and returned to 7 calls on the voicemail--6 were political ads, including one from George W. and TWO from Laura Bush. One was a strange call saying that another write-in candidate was "too liberal" for the district. Huh? That little mystery was cleared up when I read in the newspaper that the Democratic Party paid for those calls in the hope of dividing the conservative Republican vote between the write-in candidate chosen by the party and the other guy. Oh those wacky Dems! There's a wily political ploy for you.

Mrs. America (yes, she competes in Mrs America pagents in her spare time), the election judge for my precinct, just stopped by to tell me we need to be there extra-early tomorrow morning. She's been told that there will be poll-watchers from both parties at our precinct. In the ten years or more I've been an election official, we've never had poll watchers attend our election. We've also heard rumors that both parties have lawyers poised for a courthouse sprint. Ugh.

The write-in campaign is sure to cause big delays. If someone wants assistance writing in their ballot, then two election workers plus one poll watcher from each party have to observe the proceedings at the e-slate machine. We'll have a PDA loaded with the names of everyone registered to vote in the precinct so we can pre-screen voters while they are in line and save them time by sending them to their correct precinct before they try to sign in. Since we are Tom DeLay's home precinct, we also expect a visit from the press. Oh joy.

Light a candle and say a prayer for St. Betty, Mrs. America, Sonia and me tomorrow as we do our d$%^*st to assure that the election is conducted with complete integrity. Spooky Rach and Mindy--please have the Texas Towncar Of Justice ready to roll! I'll be blogging throughout the day as I did during the primary, but there's no internet access in the voting area so I won't be able to post until after the polls close and we have gone home.

If you didn't vote early--vote tomorrow!

Going to The Why Presbyteries? Conference

In a couple of weeks (Nov. 15-17) I'm attending the Moderator's Conference at the PCUSA "headquarters" in Louisville. Any other Presbybloggers planning to attend? Let me know in the comments so we can get acquainted.

The theme of the conference is: Why Presbyteries?

Erm. Don't they know? Seriously, this theme reveals a lot of uncertainty about who we are and how and why we organize ourselves in a connectional fashion that isn't particularly reassuring to this newbie Moderator-Elect.

In preparation for the conference, I was sent a paper titled:

What The Book of Order, The Book of Confessions, and the Book of Numbers
Have to Say About Ecclesiology and the Presbytery

A little light reading before bedtime it's not. I'm learning new words: praxis, eschatological ecclesiology and proleptically. Sigh. Where's that dictionary? I'll have to read the paper more than once to be comfortable discussing it since it is highly conceptual.

I signed up for the workshop on Revising the Form of Government Project. That's the FOG for short. Heh-heh-heh. Write your own joke! Did you know the FOG was working on re-writing the Book of Order? Neither did I.
This week there were a couple of Presbybloggers who posted some criticism of what FOG has released so far. Jim Berkely thinks that the draft sections of dealing with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit lean toward the ancient heresy of Modalism. S T Jones (Curmudgeon's Progress) is also concerned about these theological statements and fears that trying to complete this effort in 19 months is unreasonable.

I haven't read any of this yet but I certainly agree that the theological basis for the BOO is very important. As a layperson with a legal background, I am more familiar with polity than theology, so I will say that in my opinion the BOO needs to be re-written and not just revised. Parts of it are not logically arranged and sometimes are internally inconsistent. As the denominational consensus has unraveled over the last couple of decades, it has been repeatedly amended in an attempt to keep the PCUSA together, which creates more confusion over its meaning and interpretation. Given the lack of internal agreement on many essentials of polity and theology, I'm doubtful this effort will succeed--but if it were done well, it could be a great thing for the church. The FOG website is here if you are interested in checking it out for yourself.

For my second workshop I had the choice of "All You Wanted To Know About Being a Moderator But Were Afraid To Ask" and yet another excursion into PUP-apologetics. I've heard enough about the PUP to last a lifetime and unless there is some PJC decision that changes things, I'm better off practicing how to moderate.

I've never been to Louisville, a General Assembly, or headquarters, so it should be very interesting. Our current Moderator, Rev. Joan Gray, will be there. I'll get to see the people I've read about for years. It should make for an interesting weekend.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday 5: Nothing But the Tooth

I haven't played the RevGals Friday Five meme for several weeks, but I have time to join in today's version--which is all about the tooth.

Please share your thoughts on the following:

1) The Tooth Fairy-- causes problems between siblings when one looses a tooth and gets a visit and the other one doesn't.

2) Flossing--I didn't floss much until the last few years. Now that I'm the proud owner of two dental bridges and don't want any more, I am Frannie Flossie herself. There's a great product out that combines a stiff flossing end with the regular floss in individual packets for FF's like me who don't like to use those loopy-thingie-me-bobs.

3) Toothpaste Brands--Crest. Force of habit.

4) Orthodontia for Adults--I say go for it if it makes you more comfortable or happier!

5) Whitening products--Wish they worked on my crowns better, but I think that those of us of a certain age look much older with super-white grins than we would with something more appropriate.

This Friday Five is dedicated to El Jefe, who went yesterday for what he THOUGHT was a routine filling only to hear the dreaded words "root canal". Poor thing!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Portia is Called to the Bar

Oh Happy Day!

Portia passed the Texas Bar Exam!!

~running off to celebrate~

(Thank you, Jesus!)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Watchman for the Lord

How often do you see Ezekiel quoted in the Wall Street Journal?
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel;
so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.
Ezekiel 33:7
Rusty Leonard read this verse and believed God was calling him to "watch" over the donors who sent money to religious organizations. The original WSJ story is only available to subscribers, but the AP picked it up and it is available in full here.

Leonard, a stockbroker, founded Wall Watchers, an investment guide for the religious donor. You may not be aware of this, but unlike other non-profit organizations, churches are not required to report their income, whom they get it from and how they spend it. Mainline denominations require churches to have annual audits or financial reviews and make them available to members of the congregation. But too often non-denominational churches lack responsible fiscal policies to prevent fraud, embezzlement and personal enrichment of those who control them.

Wall Watchers focuses on television evangelists and their organizations. A bunch of billboards sprang up around Houston recently touting the appearance of televangelist Joyce Meyer. I never heard of her, but back in 2000 Wall Watchers dug up property tax records and church financial reports showing Ms. Meyer's ministry bought five houses, a $ 6.5 million jet and expensive artwork. Leonard believes that donors should "stop being so dumb and start thinking like investors" and there wouldn't be so much fraud and misuse of funds in televangelist organizations. The Meyer ministry was included on the "donor alert" page of the Wall Watchers website.

He has a point, but I doubt many of the folks who are fans of the televangelists are going to use the information his organization gathers before they make their donations. Most of them preach the "prosperity gospel" and their followers think that their financial success affirms and authenticates that message.

Still, Wall Watchers provides a valuable service to the public. State and federal tax agencies and attorneys general are also reading the information. The county tax assessor went after the Meyer ministry resulting in a negotiated payment of back property taxes. Meyer's salary was cut from $700K to $250K annually. Wall Watchers took the ministry off the "donor alert" list and now praises the financial disclosures her organization makes voluntarily.

With more than 500 ministries already in its database, Wall Watchers is on its way to being a "watchman" that brings some accountability to the religious "entrepeneurs" of the airwaves.