Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Open Toed Shoe Pledge

(With spring approaching, this email making the rounds was too timely not to share. Hat Tip to my friend PJ.)

As a member of the Cute Girl Sisterhood, I pledge to follow the Rules when wearing sandals and other open-toe shoes:

I promise to always wear sandals that fit. My toes will not hang over and touch the ground, nor will my heels spill over the backs. And the sides and tops of my feet will not pudge out between the straps.

I will go polish-free or vow to keep the polish fresh, intact and chip-free.

I will not cheat and just touch up my big toe.

I will sand down any mounds of skin before they turn hard and yellow.

I will shave the hairs off my big toe.

I won't wear pantyhose even if my misinformed girlfriend, coworker, mother, sister tells me the toe seam really will stay under my toes if I tuck it there.

If a strap breaks, I won't duct-tape, pin, glue or tuck it back into place hoping it will stay put. I will get my shoe fixed or toss it.

I will not live in corn denial; rather I will lean on my good friend Dr. Scholl's if my feet need him.

I will resist the urge to buy jelly shoes at Payless for the low, low price of $4.99 even if my feet are small enough to fit into the kids' sizes. This is out of concern for my safety, and the safety of others. No one can walk properly when standing in a pool of sweat and I would hate to take someone down with me as I fall and break my ankle.

I will take my toe ring off toward the end of the day if my toes swell and begin to look like Vienna sausages.

I will be brutally honest with my girlfriend/sister/coworker when she asks me if her feet are too ugly to wear sandals. Someone has to tell her that her toes are as long as my fingers and no sandal makes creepy feet look good.

I will promise if I wear flip flops that I will ensure that they are actually flip and flop, making the correct noise while walking and I will swear NOT to slide or drag my feet while wearing them.

I will promise to go to my local nail salon at least once per season and have a real pedicure (they are about $35 and worth EVERY penny).

I will promise to throw away any white/off-white sandals that show signs of wear... nothing is tackier than dirty white sandals.

FRIDAY UPDATE: QG walked the walk and had a pedicure this morning. HOT WAX is highly recommended! Result: happy, happy tootsies!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Should the Large Get Larger?

The last couple of years I've heard a number of "transformational church" lectures from people like Paul Borden, Glen McDonald and Craig Barnes. We've been trying to apply some of those principles through the work of our presbytery. One point I've heard made more than once is that when a new church opens its doors, it should have be fully staffed (a full-time pastor, a church secretary/bookkeeper, a music director and a youth director) and have about 500 people attending the inaugural worship service. It is expected that average attendance will drop off after the first worship, but being fully staffed will help the church increase average attendance and giving quickly so that it can sustain itself. The theory is that a new church plant needs a "critical mass" when it opens in order to be successful--particularly in urban/suburban areas.

Like most other presbyteries, we have successful churches and struggling churches. To define my terms, a "successful" church has a stable or growing congregation, a low level of conflict, financial stability, and a ministry that makes a difference to the surrounding community. A "struggling" church is one with a dwindling congregation, a high level of conflict, financial problems, and a lower level of mission and outreach to its community.

It seems to me that in a metropolitan area like Houston, a church needs to have around 1,000 members (or 700 average worship attendance) to be successful. Before my gentle readers leap all over me for being too focused on numbers and not focused on ministry, hear me out.

Most people who live and work in a large urban setting are comfortable with large organizations. Many of them are used to commuting long distances to work. Their workplaces are in large office buildings and their employers are large businesses or professional firms. Their children attend large public schools. They are accustomed to working with specialists in every professional endeavor--from doctors to lawyers to accountants to niche businesses. Part of the attraction of living here is the wide range of choice in entertainment, shopping, employment, and educational opportunities.

Churches that are successful in a large metropolitan area reflect these realities. As that old Texas saying goes, "you gotta dance with who brung ya." People who are accustomed to long weekday commutes will drive past several smaller neighborhood churches in order to attend a larger church that offers more choices in worship, discipleship opportunities, music programs, children's programs, and mission and outreach efforts in the community. Successful larger churches have small group ministries that provide the intimacy and support that keeps individual members connected to the congregation.

Churches with large staffs offer the opportunity for church professionals to use their best gifts for ministry. After reading many pastor's blogs over the last couple of years and observing pastors in my presbytery, I think that being a solo pastor is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. In an urban/suburban setting, where people are used to a high degree of professionalism in all walks of life, it is almost impossible. All too often, solo pastors are expected to exhibit every gift for ministry. No one can do that. Dedicated church officers and members of smaller churches also find themselves stressed trying to exercise gifts which they do not have. As Paul said "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us." (Romans 12:6) Yes, God calls us to stretch ourselves but I don't believe he calls us to exercise each and every spiritual gift ourselves.

There's a romantic notion about small churches that often doesn't comport with reality. As El Jefe and I can attest, building up a new church from scratch is a very difficult job. Recently I heard a story from one of our pastors about an effort from his church to develop a "mission probe" in a neighborhood close to the church. The goal of the probe was to create a house church congregation as an outreach mission from the church. What he discovered was that the unchurched people in that neighborhood were not interested in a house church--they were interested in the programs of an established church.

Most experts agree that it is impossible for a church with fewer than 100 members to support a full-time pastor--in an urban/suburban area it is more realistic to adjust that number to at least 200. Most people prefer affiliating with an existing organization rather than committing the time, effort and money that are needed to begin something new. There are economies of scale that make expanding a medium size church a better goal than starting a new one in an urban/suburban area. Sometimes that could mean relocating that church so that it could draw from a larger region than its own neighborhood, particularly when that neighborhood has changed from residential to commercial.

Understand that I am not saying that a small congregation in a metropolitan area cannot be successful by the definition I gave earlier. I know there are people who do not want to be part of a large congregation and that there are vital small churches in every metropolitan area in the country.

What I am proposing is that the PCUSA should develop an intiative that encourages and supports metropolitan area churches that are already "large" by Presbyterian standards (500 members+) to grow their congregations and missions. In an urban area like Houston, which is growing by leaps and bounds, we should emphasize growing large congregations larger. We need to play to our strengths rather than multiplying our weaknesses by putting as much effort and support into expanding existing congregations as we do into beginning new ones.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ode to the Sweet Sixteen

Now I would have laid me down to sleep,
But El Jefe's watch o'er the Sweet 16 did keep
Me awake through half the night.
QG did lose the TV fight.

"Oh, Pet", he said: "Just a minute more
I'll turn it off and you can snore."
They jump, they pass, they steal, they score.
The crowd goes wild and screams for more.

The game is over but not the night.
El Jefe is a pathetic sight!
Hunched o'er the computer, eager as can be
To see how he's faring at Bracketology.

Competitive juices are running amok.
El Jefe is having remarkable luck.
In the top 91% is he,
Ahead of the former ESPN reporter from TV.

"Next year," he vows, "no more of this for me
It's ruining my fun. I'm stressed as can be.
Rooting for teams I don't care about to help my score,
I really can't do this anymore."

QG listens with a cyncial smile.
That quote enters the Sports Widow's File
Of promises made but seldom kept--
And wearily to her bed has crept.

Now I lay me down to sleep.
Oh, dear Lord, my mouth please keep
From nagging, and remind me that the reason
Is I'm looking forward to BASEBALL season!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Faithful Over a Few Things

This morning's worship service was one of the most inspiring I have ever attended. Our church celebrated the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade by Great Britain. Of course the congregation sang Amazing Grace! Then our anthem was the old gospel song "Faithful Over a Few Things".

The lyrics previewed the scripture for the day--the parable of the talents (Matthew 15:14-30). Words can't describe the experience of being in the choir singing backup to the fabulous soloist who could really wail. And yes, wail is the right word. We wailed, we swayed, we got down with it! The entire congregation erupted afterwards with applause and cries of "amen"! This is not the usual response to an anthem in a PCUSA church, let me tell you.

There were a number of references in the service to the movie Amazing Grace, which tells the story of William Wilberforce's campaign to outlaw the slave trade in the British Empire. Providentially, El Jefe and I went to see the movie last weekend. It is a great, great movie.

The late, great African-American composer Moses Hogan's "I Surrender All" was the offertory. It's a prayerful, contemplative piece that set the tone for the sermon.

Taking the parable of the talents as his text, the senior pastor tied the anthem and the movie Amazing Grace together by noting that Wilberforce continued to be faithful in his long effort to abolish the slave trade, learned from his mistakes along the way, and that his persistence and faithfulness were ultimately rewarded with success. He reminded the congregation that faithfulness in a few things means that God will set before us greater tasks to accomplish for the kingdom.

That last point is a scary thought. I tend to focus on the details of completing the work that I think I'm called to do now. I don't anticipate God sending me more difficult or larger tasks in the future. Yikes! You mean there may be more?

In the words of today's anthem, "be thou faithful unto death, and God will give you a crown of life." I guess that is the message for today--be faithful over the tasks set you today and trust God when he calls you to new work in the future. I'm going to try not to worry about what may be coming up next and have confidence that God will help me with it.

Update: Thanks to Stushie for correcting my earlier error. This was the 200th anniversary of the Act abolishing the slave trade. Slavery wasn't abolished in the British empire until 1833. I've corrected the post accordingly.

Friday, March 23, 2007

3 Redneck Tenors

For a little Friday fun, you Redneck Presbyterians need to check out our signature singing group:
3 Redneck Tenors. (Available on i-Tunes).

I kid you not. Here's their website.

Play their video "Ave Maria/Dixie".

Them boys are good! I move we invite them to entertain at the 2008 General Assembly. Who's with me?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

You Might Be a Redneck If...

From the Interesting Facts Department-- This one's dedicated to my beloved SIL, the newly-minted Presbyterian, who just LOVES redneck jokes! (She and BIL left their Episcopal church for the same Presbyterian Church El Jefe and I recently joined.)

It seems that her new church home and her favorite source of humor are inextricably related. Although some say the term "red neck" derived from striking coal miners who wore red bandanna kerchiefs, the origin of the term goes back further in time.

From the website Scots History online:

"The origins of this term are Scottish and refer to supporters of the National Covenant and The Solemn League Covenant, or "Covenanters", largely Lowland Presbyterians and Ulster-Scots / Scotch-Irish Presbyterians.

The Covenanters of 1638 and 1641 signed the documents which stated that Scotland desired the Presbyterian form of church government and would not accept the Church of England as its official state church. Many Covenanters signed in their own blood and wore red pieces of cloth around their necks as distinctive insignia; hence the term "Red neck", which became slang for a Scottish dissenter.

Since many Ulster-Scottish settlers in America (especially the South) were Presbyterian, the term was applied to them, and then, later, their Southern descendants. One of the earliest examples of its use comes from 1830, when an author noted that "red-neck" was " a "name bestowed upon the Presbyterians" (emphasis added).

It makes you wonder if the originators of the ever-present "redneck" joke are aware of the term’s origins?"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Return of the Rabbit

Rabbit Redux

Giant Rabbit Fu-Fu
Hopping through the suburbs
Has no fear of QG
And wants her picture snapped.

The very same Mama Fu-Fu
That lost her little bunnies
Last year to Huntress Gretel
Who ate them for a snack.

Now Gretel's in Doggie Heaven
So Giant Rabbit Fu-Fu
Is at home in QG's backyard
And takes herself a nap.

Sometimes we find the rabbit
Hopping around the garage
Or sitting at our back door
As tame as she can be.

Giant Rabbit Fu-Fu
Knows she's got a good deal
Living in the suburbs
No fear of us has she.

QG found her little warren
Underneath a palm tree
Looks like Rabbit Fu-Fu
Moved in permanently.

Monday, March 19, 2007

QG Gets Evangelized

Saturday when I went out to collect our mail, I found two shopping bags at our front door. One was a gift bag from Baptist Mega-Church on the Freeway. Inside the gift bag were two books: How To Find God (the New Living Translation of the New Testament) and Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper. Also included were a coupon for a free (with purchase of large drink) Chik-Fil-A sandwich, an invitation to Baptist Mega-Church's Spanish language services, a schedule of their Holy Week events and two peppermints!

The other shopping bag was a request for donations to Baptist Mega-Church's Food Pantry. A list of requested food items was attached. All I need to do to contribute is fill the grocery bag with food and leave it on my front porch next Saturday for pick-up.

Pretty clever, eh? Leave some gifts and ask for donations. Actually, there are a number of non-Christians among our neighbors. Most of them are Hindus, but there are also a few Muslim families. Perhaps the efforts of Baptist Mega-Church will prove fruitful in the long run. Gotta love the Baptists: they aren't reluctant to evangelize.

I skimmed through Fifty Reasons and don't think that it would be very helpful to someone who had no background with Christianity because it seems to assume familiarity with the Bible and basic Christian theology. How To Find God, on the other hand, prefaces the New Testament text with some basic Christian concepts and a "How to Study the Bible" introductory chapter. The NLT text is a modern paraphrase. Its layout seemed "gimmicky" to me, though--lots of little text boxes and asides. I wonder if that type of layout, which looks more like a contemporary magazine than a book, is more inviting to someone totally unfamiliar with the Bible?

Although it is impossible for me to put myself in the place of a non-Christian and evaluate what kind of books on the subject would be appealing, I did start to wonder what books I would include in a gift bag like this if I were organizing this evangelism/service project. I'm thinking that Calvin's Institutes and the Book of Confessions aren't very seeker-friendly! For an introduction to the Bible, you can't beat The Bible From Scratch (OT and NT volumes) by Donald Griggs, but those books are meant to be read in a group setting, not on your own Christianity for Dummies, seems to be for, well, dummies, and not appropriate my well (or over!) educated neighbors. Maybe I would include C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity or Robin Griffith-Jones' wonderful analysis of the gospels, The Four Witnesses. If I were including a New Testament I would choose Eugene Peterson's The Message paraphrase. It doesn't have chapters and verses and reads more like a regular book.

What would you put in the bag?

Since their Food Pantry serves a lot of needy people in our neighborhood, we'll be leaving a full grocery sack on the doorstep for them to pick up next Saturday. I hope they get a lot of donations.

Friday, March 16, 2007

QG is Two

Today is the second blogversary of Quotidian Grace.

It's been a really eventful year, too. Portia and DK got married; RevGalBlogPals INC. was organized; the PCUSA General Assembly proved to be a boon for Presbybloggers; I was nominated Mom of Presbytery for 2008 just in time for the Million Dollar Problem; the QG family mourned the passing of Gretel The Noble Dog; and we changed churches.

Whew! I'm ready for a little less excitement in the coming year!

Through it all I've been so blessed by QG's faithful readers and commenters. I'd love to give every one of you a shout-out, but I'd surely overlook someone. Two years ago I could not have imagined how my life has been enriched by all of you. Thank you for your encouragement and support.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Mission Presbytery Candidacy Case Mooted

The woman who was the focus of a complaint against Mission Presbytery for admitting her to candidacy for ordination because she admitted living in a same-sex relationship resigned from the PCUSA yesterday and plans to seek ordination in the Metropolitan Community Church. (Free registration may be required to access this link.) According to the article, the case which was on appeal is now moot and will be dropped.

Hat tip to Presbyweb which linked this article today.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Not Listening Quick Enough

El Jefe and I agreed to lead a small group during Lent for new members of our church. It turned out to be a very small group--just 6 people, including the two of us. Since we are meeting on Sundays during the contemporary worship hour, we didn't have many takers out of our new member class of 40 people. Many of them joined other groups that meet at other times, though.

The theme of the study is "Giving Life Together". We use a Devotional Book written by members of the church and church staffers that has a different devotion for each day and each week follows a theme. The senior pastor's sermons each Sunday generally follow each week's theme.

When we gathered today, I asked if any of the devotions we read during the last week were particularly meaningful. There was general agreement on the one titled "Are We Listening?"The text for that day was James 1: 19-20: "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires."

We had several professionals in the group--lawyers, a doctor and nurse and business executives. Everyone shared different examples of the need to listen from their professional experience.

El Jefe said that he planned to take the Listening Assessment that was included in the devotional back to his law firm and try to persuade his partners to let him use it in training their new lawyers. For many years he has tried to impress on the new hires the importance of listening to the client instead of thinking about what they are going to say next, slow to speak instead of hasty, and slow to anger instead of popping off. He really loved those words from James.

It's so exciting to see scripture becoming relevant and guiding the lives of believers!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday Five: A Matter of Taste

The RevGals Friday Five game today is about matters of taste and was brought to us by Songbird.

Name five things you like a lot that some close relative or significant other did/does not like. This could be food, movies, hobbies, music, sports or whatever springs to mind.

Here are my answers:

1. Classical Music. My dad was a big opera and classical music buff and I inherited his prejudices in this area. Plus I love to sing the stuff. El Jefe is tone deaf and prefers traditional country western tunes and John Denver. He is sweet enough to encourage my participation in church choirs and to attend the occasional concert, however.

2. Okra and Brussels sprouts. I like them. The rest of the family loathes them so I only get them in a restaurant.

3. Sewing and Quilting. My sister and I inherited my mother's love of sewing and learned from her. But I could never interest Portia and Babs in the craft and they still tease me about making them to to fabric stores with me. I don't do it much anymore as blogging has become a primary hobby for me.

4. San Antonio Fiesta Dresses. You'd have to be from San Antonio or South Texas to really understand this one, but I'll try to explain. Every spring San Antonio celebrates the Battle of San Jacinto where the Texian Army defeated Santa Anna and gained Texas independence during the week of April 26, the date of the battle. Everyone wears "Fiesta dresses" which are Mexican folk art inspired bright embroidered outfits that truly embarrass your daughters. Portia and Babs HATE them. I love them and the memories they have for me of cracking heads with cascarones (eggshells stuffed with confetti) and partying.

5. Miami Ink. I thought about giving you some B.S. about how this reality tv show is about man's search for meaning and permanence. But hey, I might as well admit it's my guilty TV pleasure and El Jefe is absolutely APPALLED by it.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Another Interesting Read: Infidel

I finished reading Infidel while down with the flu the last few days. The author is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, well-known and controversial in Europe for her advocacy on behalf of Islamic women immigrants.

You may recall the murder a couple of years ago of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an outraged Muslim in the Netherlands that touched off a furor. He was targeted because he and Ali produced a film called "Submission", which criticized the oppression of women by a rigid interpretation of the Quran. She was forced into months of hiding under the protection of the Dutch government because of threats against her as well. Today she still lives under the protection of armed guards in Washington, DC where she works for the American Enterprise Institute.

Ali is a native of Somalia, but also lived in Kenya and Saudi Arabia before seeking asylum in the Netherlands from an arranged marriage. She became a Dutch citizen, a graduate of the University of Leiden, and was elected to Parliament.

This is the fascinating story of her intellectual journey from a traditional Muslim childhood to an "infidel" who rejects Islam in favor of Western values. She grew up in a strict Muslim family where she was subjected to female circumcision (which she says is part of tribal culture rather than a tenet of Islam), survived brutal beatings, lived her adolescence as a devout follower of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, and experienced civil war and turmoil in several unstable countries in Africa.

After gaining asylum in the Netherlands, Ali supported herself as a translator for the government immigration agencies. Her experiences convinced her that the Dutch policy of multiculturalism was producing policies that perpetuated cruelty on women and girls. Ali writes that she heard repeated stories of the excision of little girls on kitchen tables in the Netherlands and well as the systematic beating and abuse of immigrant women. She believes that the immigrant culture is being preserved in the Netherlands at the expense of their women and children and of their integration into Dutch society which values tolerance and personal liberty.

As she says, " The message of this book, if it must have a message, is that we in the West would be wrong to prolong the pain of that transition unnecessarily, by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of alternative ways of life."

For her criticism of Islam, Ali has been rejected by her family and clan; suffered political attacks in the Netherlands (including an attempt to void her Dutch citizenship); and lives with daily death threats. Her views are controversial with some, but she is a champion of free speech and the right to dissent at considerable personal cost.

After finishing the book I reflected that for all of her rejection of Islam and her professed atheism, Ali still seems God-haunted. As my neighbor, The Old Marine, says, "every person has a God-shaped hole in the heart that only God can fill." In one passage in the book a Dutch Protestant friend talks to Ali about her own faith, but Ali cannot accept what she has been brought up to believe is an "idolatrous" religion. I pray that someday she will be able to let God fill that hole in her heart again.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Rev Dave's New Blog

Rev. Dave, a PresbyPastor in Wyoming, has been a frequent and very funny commenter on this blog and others. He finally has a blog of his very own: Moose Poop on the Lawn. Go visit and encourage him! He has pictures of moose (s? meese?) and of his recent wedding.

I'm also glad to report that I am finally over the flu!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Flu Haiku

Daytime TV news
Obsessed with grisly crimes
Off off damn TV

Reading is too hard
Head spins like dervish dancer
Nappy-pooh time now

Rachel Ray talk show
Unremitting perkiness
Off off damn TV

El Jefe better now
Returning to world of work
QG left behind

Lunch and dinnertime
Soup soup soup soup soup soup soup
Appetite sleeping

Nighttime basketball
Games on TV March Madness
Off off damn TV

Bedtime toddy RX
Tea bourbon honey lemon
Hot and soothing drink

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Down for the Count

Yesterday I came down with the flu, too. Sick. As. A. Dog. El Jefe wasn't any better, either. This morning I'm improved and praying it lasts. If not, Portia and DK are prepared to come to the rescue.

And we're missing the most beautiful weekend weather of the year. Dang. And both of us had the flu shot, too. Talk about carrying togetherness too far!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Best Laid Plans Department

Happy Texas Independence Day, gentle readers! (Animated flag thanks to

El Jefe and I planned to celebrate with a mini-tour of the state this weekend. We started in Austin yesterday where we attended a big dinner honoring one of his clients at the Texas State History Museum. This is a gorgeous museum, right near the Texas Capitol building. The dinner benefited the museum and attracted lot of politicians and "bidness" people. At the end of the dinner we all sang "Texas Our Texas", though I must say I was distressed to note that I was one of the few who knew our state song.

But alas, the cold El Jefe developed yesterday morning turned into full-blown flu and fever early this morning, so we had to cancel the rest of our trip with the Civil War Aficianados to Hillsboro and Fort Worth to see the Civil War museums and visit with some fun people. Reluctantly we headed home where El Jefe is now fast asleep and I am back from the store fully stocked with videos to amuse us with and stuff to make him feel better. Then I called SIL and found she and BIL and Dutch are all sick, too.

Nurse QG is being paged, so until I get back to the blog you can celebrate Texas Independence Day by practicing Texas Our Texas.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Jesus Family Yawner

Excuse me, I'm so bored by the latest pre-Easter "revelation" that I can scarcely stifle my yawns.

Let's see... take some artifacts that have been around for a couple of decades, add a pinch of Gnostic "lost books", blend with breathless archaeologists and scholars eager to rattle Christians just before Holy Week, go to print and film and VOILA this year you have The Jesus Family Tombs. A movie and a book. How clever. How predictable. People, this is SO last year.

Check Ben Witherington's blog for several excellent posts carefully analyzing and exploding the claims of The Jesus Family Tombs if you need some help talking to folks upset by the advertising for the film and the book.