Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ecumenism To the Higher Power

How cool is this? My good friend and PresbyCounselor Zorra is working with several candidates for the Catholic priesthood, referred to her by the local Archdiocese. Read about it here.

I knew Zorra rocked, but didn't know she rocked ecumenically!

Repayment Task Force Recs Pass in Second Vote

Presbytery unanimously approved the recommendations of the Repayment Task Force in the second vote taken at yesterday's called meeting. This follows the near-unanimous vote at the regular meeting on February 10. Now we have the authorization to move forward to address the Million Dollar Problem following the recommendations of that report.

While I'm relieved that we've found agreement on how to repay the special offerings and designated funds that were diverted from their appropriate use and meet the copier obligations, the big challenge ahead is to put together next year's budget.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Calvin Would Not Have Been Surprised

Now there's a custody battle over Our Lady of the Pizza Pan between the PTA Moms who set up a shrine to it off school premises and the elementary school cafeteria which wants its pan back to make pizzas for kids' lunches. Both sides have agreed to let the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston decide the matter, since it's a religious issue and all.

Hey, y'all-- why not use Biblical precedent and give each side half? See 1 Kings 3: 23-25.

I'm betting on the Moms.

Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East

As the unofficial “Mom of Congress”, QG has a reading assignment for all representatives and Senators: Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present by Michael B. Oren.

Too many of the Congresspersons yakking in front of the microphones in the current debates over the course of the war in Iraq are displaying woeful ignorance of the history of America’s involvement with this region. It didn’t begin with Bush 41 or Bush 43 or Clinton or Reagan or Carter. America’s relationship with the Middle East has been complex and difficult since before the establishment of the republic. The author of Power, Faith and Fantasy Michael Oren has degrees in Middle East history from Columbia and Princeton and has been a lecturer on the subject at Harvard and Yale. As a resident of Jerusalem, where he is senior fellow at the Shalem Center, Oren has lived the subject. He knows whereof he writes.

QG hereby adjorns Congress until she has received book reports from all members. This will take a while because the book has 604 pages of text and 174 pages of footnotes and index. There will be an oral exam to make sure the reports were not written by Congressional aides and pages. The country shouldn’t mind being spared the politically motivated speeches and sound bites from Democrats and Republicans alike in the current debate over the war in Iraq in the interest of giving some historical perspective to our policymakers.

Actually, this book is a must read for anyone who cares about America’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Much of this history is not remembered today, but it has a profound impact on the current situation.

Did you know that….

 The adoption of the Constitution, which established a strong central government with the authority to create, maintain and deploy military forces for the common defense, came as a response to the inability of the government under the Articles of Confederation to respond to the hostage-taking and enslavement of American sailors aboard American merchant vessels trading in the Middle East?

 Biblical scholar and distinguished professor of Hebrew at New York University George Bush (yes, a forebear of Bush 41 and 43!) was a leader in the antebellum movement to restore the Jews to Palestine?

 The earliest efforts to build ties between Christians and Muslims in Africa were made by African-American Presbyterian missionary, and later Ambassador to Great Britain from Liberia, the Rev. Edward Wilmot Blyden during the period before the Civil War?

 Egypt’s military forces were built up and trained by a group of ex-Confederate officers in the post- bellum period? Remember the Camel Corps?

 The Statue of Liberty was originally intended to be a statue of a Muslim peasant woman guarding the entrance to the Suez Canal and would have been named “Egypt Bringing Light to Asia”?

 Until the modern period, the Middle East IMPORTED American oil and kerosene?

 Col. Norman Schwarzkopf, father of the General of the same name and Desert Storm fame, was responsible for modernizing Iran’s police force as head of a United States law enforcement mission in that country in 1945?

I didn’t think so. I didn’t either.

PresbyReaders will be interested to see how often “Presbyterian” turns up in this history, as Presbyterian missionaries established modern universities and hospitals across the Middle East, although they made very few converts from Islam. These colleges were very influential in shaping the intellectual class and fostering their desire for independence from European colonial domination.

I’m usually a fast reader, but found myself pouring slowly over this book. It is written in a lively, narrative style, not an academic, pedantic one. The history of the US in the Middle East involves a fascinating cast of characters that makes for compelling reading.

The conflict between America’s idealistic goal of bringing its own founding principles of individual freedom and democracy to this part of the world and European colonialism in the area in the years between the Civil War and WWII is sharply highlighted. Oren makes the case that the failure of the United States to intervene in the genocide of the Christian Armenians by the Muslim Turks during WWI kept America from influencing the carving up of the Middle East into spheres of influence by the triumphant European Allies which set the stage for much of the political/cultural/religious conflicts in this area to the present day.

The last chapter of the book, "In Search of Pax Americana", dealing with the period since WWII, is not as good as the rest. Oren begins this chapter by noting that writing the history of the major events of the last thirty years is “hampered by lack of internal government documents—the bedrock of serious research—which are still classified and closed to the public.” Perhaps he was also rushed in completing it. There is an epilogue with an interview with a recently returned American soldier from Iraq who describes his experiences and says, "They (the Middle Eastern countries) can go the way of modernization or they can go the way of Sub-Saharan Africa. The choice is theirs."

The author predicts the US will continue to pursue the traditional patterns of Middle East involvement that have characterized its policy since the eighteenth century. Which is to say, policymakers will continue to see themselves as mediators and liberators; American churches and evangelists will seek to save the region spiritually; and producers of films about the Middle East will never lack for audiences. Finally, Oren warns that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq “may merely herald the outbreak of other, potentially more devastating conflicts lasting long into the twenty-first century.”

This book helps answer the questions "why are we involved in the Middle East?" and "why do they hate us?" I highly recommend it, despite the weak final chapter.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Our Lady of the Pizza Pan

Our Lady of the Pizza Pan appeared mysteriously on Ash Wednesday at a Houston area elementary school and is now the object of veneration by hundreds. The school banished the miraculous pan when the crowds coming to the school's cafeteria interfered with the daily routine. No, I'm not making this up: Here's the complete story.

Brought to you by the QG Bureau of Houston Religious Oddities.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Daylight Savings Time Alert


Daylight savings time begins NEXT MONTH on March 11! And will last until the first Sunday in November! Your congresspersons slipped this fast one by you back in August of 2005 when the Energy Policy Act passed.

Too bad QG wasn't Mom of Congress at the time.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday Different Strokes

It's a very un-Ash Wednesdayish day in southeast Texas. The sky is clear blue, the sun in shining and it's about 80 degrees. My air conditioning is on. On a beautiful day like this it's more difficult to get in the proper mood.

The church we attend now offers a couple of Ash Wednesday services in its small chapel rather than the large sanctuary. Some of you remember my No Ashes Please post on this subject from 2006. El Jefe and I are not going to attend this year because the imposition of ashes is the point of the service, and there's no reason to attend if you aren't going to participate fully. In our previous church, I was expected to go every year because as a choir member we were needed in the service. Here the service doesn't include the choir.

El Jefe and I are observing Lent by taking on the leadership of a small group Lenten study. I think the discipline of preparing for those meetings will be a good one.

I pray that each of you who do attend an Ash Wednesday service today find it a meaningful way to begin the Lenten season and those of you who don't, like me and El Jefe, find your own observance of Lent equally meaningful.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Train Wreck in the Courtroom

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit I've watched this for even the few seconds it took to form this opinion--BUT--what is up with that judge in Florida presiding over the Anna Nicole Smith hearing? Talk about a total train wreck. Will someone please send in a judge with some skill and remove the cameras from the courtroom?

Thank you.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Wearing the Shoe on The Other Foot

The past six weeks have been an interesting experience in wearing that fabled shoe on the other foot as El Jefe and I, along with Sister-and-Brother-in-law attended the new member class at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston. I've organized and led a few new member classes in my day, and El Jefe has helped teach them, but we never had over 40 people in the class or the resources of a "mega-church" put into the effort.

The classes focused more on integrating the new members into the life of the church rather than emphasizing Presbyterian theology or polity, although there was one session on that subject. The format was appropriate: a presentation on the topic of the day followed by small group discussions.

The most interesting session was the "workday" last Saturday. The idea was to acquaint the new members with one of the outreach opportunities the church is involved in and to encourage each one to find a niche for Christian service outside the walls of MDPC whether with the agency we visited or with another one of the many opportunities that were presented in the next day's "regular" meeting session.

Here's a church that believes "if you feed them, they will come." About 25 members of the class showed up Saturday morning at 8:30 at the church for breakfast and briefing. We caravaned over to the agency for orientation and were offered more snacks, water and soft drinks. After a tour we were divided into 3 groups. El Jefe, SIL, BIL, Babs and I were part of the group packing emergency sack lunches given to hungry clients. Then we went to the Thrift Shop where the guys moved furniture around and the gals "freshened up" the displays. By 11:30 we were called back to the workroom and fed box lunches while we heard about a few more mission opportunities in the area.

Before we left the church parking lot to return home El Jefe received an email from one of the new member class co-ordinators thanking us for our participation. By the time I got home there was another email with pictures of the whole family taken during the workday! Talk about positive feedback.

Although new members are encouraged to participate in the class, they will accomodate those who can't attend and still wish to join. El Jefe and I thought it was important to be part of the class even though as Moderator-Elect of presbytery, I am not exactly flying under the radar here. It's certainly been worth it and we've found it fun to have the shoe on the other foot for a change by participating instead of leading a group.

And will wonders never cease? El Jefe volunteered for kitchen duty Sunday after hearing a pitch from the elder in charge. Quoth Babs--"This from a man who never set a table at home in his life?"

As for me--well, as I told you, I'm not exactly flying under the radar--I agreed to lead a 6 week study for new members as part of the Giving Life Together small group initiative for Lent. So now the shoe goes back to the usual foot.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Five: Tourist Edition

Today's Friday Five comes from Reverendmother....

1. What is one place you make sure to take out-of-town guests when they visit? (you can be vague to preserve your anonymity if you like)

That depends on who the guests are. We like to take families out to Brazos Bend State Park to see the alligators or to Galveston to enjoy the Gulf and the Strand area. If our guests are adults, and depending on the season, we try to schedule an evening at the Alley Theatre or a baseball game at the beautiful Minute Maid park.

2. When visiting another city or town, do you try to cram as much in as possible, or take it slow and easy?

It depends on whether we are familiar with the city or not. If we've never been there before, we like to take an introductory tour and then choose a couple of points of interest for a longer visit. If we know the area, then we are more particular and either go somewhere new or revisit a favorite site.

3. When traveling, where are we most likely to find you: strolling through a museum, checking out the local shopping, or _________________?

Margaritaville!! We love the beach, a lounge chair, an umbrella, a soft breeze, a good book and...Margaritas! Lookin' for that lost shaker of salt....

4. Do you like organized tours and/or carefully planned itineraries, or would you rather strike out and just see what happens?

That depends on where we are. If we are abroad we like to schedule a couple of bus tours. If we are in the US, we will plan in advance what we'd like to do. The entire family is WAY too type-A for unplanned trips. Not our comfort zone!

5. After an extended trip, what do you find yourself craving most about home?

Our bedroom and my own space.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bruce M. Metzger, 1914-2007

Presbyweb carried the news today that Dr. Bruce Manning Metzger, probably the greatest New Testament critic and Biblical translator of the 20th century died at his home in Princeton, New Jersey at the age of 93. (Presbyweb is a subscription site, but offers a free trial period.)

Dr. Metzger, an ordained Presbyterian minister, chaired the committee that produced the NRSV translation of the Bible. He was a professor at Princeton seminary. I wish I could have taken a class or seminar with him. But in a way, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to bring him into a classroom at the church I served as Director of Christian Education several years ago.

Dr. Metzger wrote a book explaining the book of Revelation from the perspective of Reformed theology, titled "Breaking the Code" and filmed a series of lectures on videotape that accompanied it. I loved teaching that class and found Dr. Metzger's book and videotapes (now available on DVD) instructive and inspirational. He was scholarly but accessible and persuasive without being dogmatic. The class met during the height of the "Left Behind" craze, so our series was very timely and popular.

God bless you, Dr. Metzger, and be with your family and loved ones as you join the Church Triumphant. Your life touched many, many people for good.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Contrasting Views of New Wineskins

My Presbyblogger friends who are interested the New Wineskins Convocation in Orlando last weekend will want to check out the contrasting reports from attendees Toby Brown :"Day Two No looking Back"and "Cliffs Not Named Kirkpatrick" by Bayou Christian.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An Unexpected Tour

El Jefe and I were at a private party last night at the Museum of Fine Arts, which currently has a fabulous exhibit of French paintings on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art in NYC. While we were seated at a little table with some friends, a couple asked if they could join us. We all got to talking and found that she was the curator at the museum in charge of the exhibit.

She had a very German name, but no accent, so El Jefe inquired about her family and we heard this fascinating story. Her father was a prisoner of the Russians in Siberia for 6 years during and after WWII and was one of the few who survived the ordeal. He survived because he managed to learn Russian and thus got to spend some time as an office worker rather than at hard labor. After he was released, he returned to east Germany and then he and her mother escaped to New York when our new friend was only 3 months old. They had to leave most of their family behind. We had a great discussion with her and her husband, retired from the German consular corps, about the changes in east Germany and Europe they have seen.

Afterwards she offered to take us through the exhibit, and we got our own private tour of the exhibit with her! She described how the paintings are shipped, which is a complicated logistical process, and how they are accompanied by museum curators who stay until they are actually hung on the walls.

El Jefe and I had been looking forward to the chance to see this exhibit, but were truly blessed to meet these fascinating new friends and be treated to an art historian's tour. The exhibit is great, go see it if you can.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Pantypalooza II

Wednesday is Valentine's Day, and it is also the second annual Pantypalooza Day!

PantyPalooza is a mission project created by RevGalPal Mindy. You're encouraged to buy new panties and donate them to your local women's shelter or other organization that helps homeless or poor women in your community. Mindy says that this is a need for most of these groups because they will not give used underwear to the needy.

All sizes are needed, so buy some in your own size to donate. Extra large sizes can be in short supply so if you find some of those buy and donate them as well. Here's a link to more information from Mindy's blog.

Valentine's Day is delivery day. Join us in remembering sisters in need on Wednesday.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Mesdames Moderators

Here are the Moderator (Rev. Deborah Cooper) and Moderator Elect (yours truly) of New Covenant Presbytery after our installation at yesterday's presbytery meeting.

The meeting went extraordinarily well. The plan to repay the Million Dollar problem was overwhelmingly adopted and a second vote is now scheduled for February 27. Thank you for your prayers and comments which were a great support for me.

Dr. Craig Barnes preached an incredible sermon on the subject of "Pastor as Minor Poet." There's no way I can summarize this, but fortunately I am told that this is part of his next new book. Reverendmother, I kept thinking how much you would have loved it!

We voted on 68 pages of amendments to the Form of Government portion of the Book of Order. Wait, you say, what about the FOG Task Force and its work? That was a concern of many in the presbytery as well as a concern for moving portions of that section out of the BOO and into advisory handbooks. Results of the voting were mixed but clearly reflected reluctance to make any changes before the FOG made its report. For you Presbypolity types keeping score, New Covenant defeated amendments 06-A, 06-B.1, 06-B.2, and 06-C by large margins and approved 06-B.3, 06-D, 06-E and 06-F.

UPDATE, CORRECTION AND APOLOGY: Dear Readers, Please accept my apologies for erroneously attributing the formation of the EPC to disagreement with the ordination of women in the PCUSA in the first version of this post. Jim Loughlin has correctly pointed out in a comment that this was the reason for the PCA split not the EPC. I am embarrassed to have made this mistake and am revising the rest of this post accordingly to avoid continuing to contribute misinformation to this debate. I really do know my history better than that. Thanks, Jim, for calling me on my mistake and thanks to Will Spotts for questioning it as well.

When I got home from the meeting, news that Presbyterians assembled in Orlando this weekend at the New Wineskins meeting voted to accept the formation of a transitional NW presbytery in partnership with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and to establish a covenanted network of NW churches within the PCUSA was on the internet. Time will tell how significant this event will be in the life of the PCUSA.

Although the EPC allows local congregations to ordain women, there are congregations that will not ordain women pastors or elders in the denomination. Little wonder the EPC wants to keep departing PCUSA congregations segregated in a non - geographical presbytery while it determines whether it can absorb them without a lot of disruption to its own congregations.

About 1990, the church where our daughters was baptized split over national PCUSA issues. El Jefe and I had already transferred our membership to Suburban Presbyterian Church before this occured. There was a big debate among those who left about where to affiliate and they went with the EPC because it permitted, although it did not insist upon, the ordination of women. I just checked the website of the church that formed out of this and it does not have any ordained women on staff nor any women elders but does have women deacons.

This is why many women in the PCUSA who might otherwise be sympathetic to the theological positions of the New Wineskins and the EPC are skeptical about the position of the EPC on women and church leadership and ministry.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Piney Woods Presbytery Meeting

The gracious congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Lufkin ("Crossroads of the Piney Woods") is hosting Saturday's presbytery meeting. So I'm off on a road trip tomorrow so's to avoid arising Saturday morning at o-dark-thirty.

Presbygirlfriend will be accompanying me on the drive. El Jefe is staying home because his office is being moved Saturday to a temporary space while his floor is being remodeled and all hands have to be on deck at the law firm.

Saturday's meeting will feature the installation of the Moderator and the Moderator-elect (yours truly). My RevGal readers will be interested to know that the Moderator is a RevGal. I'll try to post pictures afterwards. Craig Barnes will be speaking during morning worship.

The main business comes in the afternoon session as the presbytery will be asked to approve a budget severely impacted by and a plan to repay the The Million Dollar Problem. As Moderator of General Council, I have to present the plan which it approved to the presbytery for approval. A super-majority will be required to approve it because of previous presbytery actions, and the vote has to be ratified again at a special meeting if it passes Saturday. If you're interested in the details of the report, it is posted here, see pages 13-17. It's a complicated proposal, which I drafted for the task force, so I'm praying for the ability to respond accurately and clearly to questions from the floor and to keep my wits about me if amendments are offered.

Having a plan in place to cover these unexpected and devastating financial obligations will help those responsible for the financial side of presbytery determine the resources available for presbytery. There's a lot of work ahead, and we want to remain faithful to our call to grow disciples and churches in southeast Texas.

Please keep us in prayer on Saturday!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Clear Lake Connection

You just know that we're all going to be treated to endless stories from the cable news networks and talk radio about the NASA female astronaut who drove from Houston to Orlando in a diaper in order to squirt pepper spray in the face of a younger woman who was her rival for the affections of another male astronaut. Good grief!

I doubt the charges of attempted capital murder and kidnapping will stick, but reducing the charges to lesser felonies won't dissuade the media from following the story. Last night I had dinner with the Shower Sisters and we all cross-examined Wonder Woman (our own rocket scientist) to see what she knew about this story. She didn't know anything more than was in the papers, but observed that the NASA culture seemed to encourage sexual hi-jinks that usually aren't publicly exposed.

Remember Clara Harris, the woman who ran over her cheating husband with her Mercedes and killed him after catching him in flagrant delicto? And how about Andrea Yates, the mom who drowned her 5 children in a depressive, psychotic moment? Both of them lived in Clear Lake, a subdivision of Houston. Lisa Nowak also lives in Clear Lake. Makes you wonder if there's something in the water over there.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Monday, February 05, 2007

Too Late for Blather

Things are heating up again in the Presbyland. Today's letter to the churches from the Stated Clerk and Executive Director of the PCUSA, posted under the title "Unwavering Confidence Expressed in Letter to Congregations" in fact expresses no such thing. Although Kirkpatrick and Valentine fail to name it, the letter is clearly written in response to fears that the New Wineskins Association of Churches meeting in Orlando later this week will be followed by more than "a few" congregations seeking to leave the PCUSA.

Why be so coy? The New Wineskins published a plan whereby congregations leaving the PCUSA would join a non-geographic presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church for a period of five years as a transition into that denomination. That is on the agenda. There have been a few churches leave for the EPC already, and clearly this convocation is (and ought to be) a serious concern in Louisville. Presbybloggers Toby Brown and Bayou Christian will be in attendance, so check their blogs for their reports and observations if you'd like to read a first hand account.

Sharing this letter will raise more questions than it answers for most people in the pews. It is past time for straight talk, not more tedious smokescreens and pious blather. The letter reveals an inability to acknowledge and deal with the very real division in the church, and further undermines whatever confidence in GA officials remains.

As The Wedding Bells Toll

We're all a-buzz Chez Grace over the latest news from the wedding front: my nephew, Doc the Navy Surgeon, and one of Portia's bridesmaids met and fell in love at the wedding in September. He looked so dashing escorting me down the aisle in his dress uniform--who can blame her?

Now Doc has proposed to Queenie (so-called because her hometown is in Queens, NY) following a whirlwind bi-coastal courtship and she said yes! This weekend he flew to her home, talked to her parents, and then presented her with a big batch of roses and his grandmother's diamond ring on bended knee. El Jefe and DK are already grousing that he's making them look bad by comparison.

Doc is stationed in San Diego and Queenie is in New York preparing to take the New York state bar exam following her graduation from law school. They'll make their home in San Diego where he should be stationed for at least a couple more years for his residency training. Portia is thrilled that her college roommate, sorority sister and close friend will become part of the family when she marries her cousin. And yes, Queenie has already asked her to be a bridesmaid.

SIL and I are reminding ourselves that this time it's our turn to do as we're told as the Mother and Aunt of the Groom. This is not an easy thing for either of us after planning 3 weddings for our daughters. Not to mention the older sisters of the groom, who have their own ideas. Let's face it, none of us are good at doing what we're told! Question to self: can I wear my MOB dress to a wedding in New York if I cut off the dorky mini-train foofy thing on the back?

El Jefe and I think the powerful mojo of the Presbyterian pastoral trifecta presiding at Portia and DK's wedding created the atmosphere that inspired this match between Episcopalian Doc and Catholic Queenie! Isn't it awesome when blessings flow from blessings?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Time and Change Friday Five

Today I'm playing the RevGalBlogPals Friday Five meme. The topic is changes in life.

1. Share, if you wish, the biggest change you experienced this past year.

2006 was a year of many big changes for me. It's hard to choose just one. So I will choose the one that I didn't see coming this time last year and haven't blogged about before. El Jefe and I left our church home of nearly 20 years for this church this fall. We're very excited about its mission and ministry. Plus all of our extended family (including Portia and DK) are now attending here every Sunday. And I'm singing in the choir again with my favorite director.

2. Talk about a time you changed your mind about something, important or not.

Remember the energy crises of the Carter administration? As a young lawyer with a large Houston corporation I had the job of trying to explain the energy-saving regulations passed by Congress to the building engineers of our company. The head engineer was almost in tears as he explained to me that there was no way we could comply with the new regs because they were written for climate control systems of the Northeast and our systems in southeast Texas were so different that he couldn't make head or tail of them. That's when I changed my mind about the desirability of big federal government.

3. Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote a controversial book called "Why Christianity Must Change or Die." Setting aside his ideas--what kind of changes would you like to see in the Church?

I'd like to see Christians behave as though their faith and the church were really important. I know if I did this more consistently I'd be a better Christian, and I think the church would be better if we all did. And by all means, let's set aside Spong's ideas.

4. Have you changed your hairstyle/hair color in the last five years? If so, how many times?

Yes, after lots of "encouragement" from Portia and Babs, I went to a new hair stylist and am letting (yikes!) some of the gray peek through. Now Babs isn't so sure she likes it and last night El Jefe was looking at it funny. So maybe I'll be changing again!

5. What WERE they thinking with that New Coke thing?

Quien sabe?