Sunday, September 30, 2007

Another Good Guy Retires

Yesterday afternoon El Jefe and I joined SIL and BIL at the last Astros game of the season. Today's game had the largest attendance of any game in the history of the team including the 2005 World Series games, despite the fact that this season was a dismal one for the 'Stros faithful and the outcome of the game was meaningless for both the home team and the visiting Atlanta Braves.

The fans turned out to honor second baseman and 20 year Astros veteran Craig Biggio, who announced a few weeks ago that he would retire at the end of the season.

We had wonderful seats for the game, thanks to the company SIL works for. Since that company is being sold to another company, this also marked the last time we'd have the chance to sit there. SIL will be looking for a new position after the acquisition, so in a way we were also marking the end of an era for her.

There were lots of plaudits and well-deserved tributes to Craig Biggio, whose reputation in the community is that of a solid family man and good guy--a refreshing change of pace from the media's attention on the "bad boys and girls" of the sports and entertainment worlds. Biggio got a hit, ripped his pants, and scored one of the 3 Astros runs. (Final score: 3-0, Astros) After the game, Biggio took a final run around the perimeter of Minute Maid park to the cheers of the crowd. It was a memorable moment.

Although, as El Jefe observed, being a successful professional athlete is hardly a vow of poverty and abstinence, still the money and attention that go with it have caused the downfall of many a promising career. And these days it's hard to find a player who stayed with a team for 20 two decades, isn't it? When a classy guy like Biggio sets a good example of how to handle the fame and keep important priorities straight, it is good for the community to celebrate and honor him as he makes a graceful exit from his playing career. Thanks, Craig.

QG's Sunday Funny

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Borger Blogging

Here's Borger's (El Jefe's hometown in the Texas Panhandle) answer to Amarillo's Horses (see previous post) and the Cow Parade. The city is encouraging businesses to display decorated oil pump-jacks in front of their establishments to boost civic pride.

This photo is the one advertising "Nana's Gifts." Because nothing quite reminds you of your Grandmother's presents like a pump-jack painted with stars!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Horse Blogging

I was reminded of my blogPal Mindy when I saw this horse in the Amarillo airport on our way home from Borger. The picture on its side depicts a scene from the musical "Texas" which is performed each summer at Palo Duro Canyon. It is also wearing a pink ribbon to mark Breast Cancer Awareness month. What a civic minded horse!

Mindy has been posting pictures from her West Texas hometown showing fiberglass cows that are decorated with different themes. It seems that they are doing the same thing in Amarillo--using fiberglass horses.

Yee-Hah, y'all!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

In Search of Times Past

I'm writing this post from the Hutchinson County Library in beautiful downtown Borger, Texas. El Jefe and I are back in his hometown for a few days so he can complete the research on a book project. The project? A sympathetic, sentimental history of the "glory days" of Borger High School football in the late 1950's to mid-1960's. He's the writer, and I've assumed the role of his editor and publisher. Well, self-publisher. I'm going to use one of the "print on demand" services for this little opus.

Portia and Babs are quite puzzled about their dad's devotion--they would use the term "obsession"-- with what they see as an obscure subject. El Jefe didn't play on that football team himself, you see.

But I think I understand it.

The project grew out of a request from a fellow BHS alumna of that era for a summary of the football seasons when their team won the state championship for her to include in a memory book she was working on. El Jefe agreed to provide it, and then decided that there was a longer story that needed to be told. So he set out to write a book. Other BHS grads have heard of the project and eagerly sent their old high school scapbooks and memorabilia to him as source material. There will evidently be a little niche market for the book when it is finished. Right now, El Jefe is across the library from me right sifting through giant bound volumes of the Borger newspaper looking in the old sports pages for the stats he needs to fill in the final blanks of his narrative.

Yes, the book will focus on a football team, but it is really a tribute to the days gone by of his growing up in this small, dusty, oilfield town in West Texas. Yesterday he said he found himself distracted by other news stories--of the prounouncements of the Eisenhower administration, of his oldest cousin's wedding announcement--that reminded him of the people and places that are so dear to him and now available only in memory. We've spent some time driving around the little city while he revisits the site of his family's oilfield trucking business, the homes where his friends grew up, the high school, the bank and the Nu-Way Cafe. At lunchtime and in the evenings, he enjoys reminiscing with his cousin and his wife who are hosting us.

Borger is Big Sky Country. As El Jefe is fond of remarking, "There's nothing here between you and the North Pole but a barbed-wire fence." The sky overwhelms the flat, rolling landscape and the people in it. The sky is infinite and vast. The sky inspires feelings of awe and possibility. For El Jefe, that meant traveling far from his roots for an Ivy League education and life in Houston as a high-powered corporate attorney in the Big Oil Patch. Now as retirement looms in the not-as-distant-a-future-as-he-would-like, he returns to his hometown to reconnect with the place that nurtured and supported him in the beginning.

The book is his vehicle for doing that. And I'm his faithful amanuensis and photographer.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Babs Update 2

~trumpet fanfare~

Babs got a job! As a counselor! With a large private counseling service in Houston!

Do you think posting the Blues Song did the trick? Nah. More likely it was all the prayers. Thanks, friends!

*doing the happy dance*

Friday, September 21, 2007

Babs Update

As the saying goes: "It's always darkest just before the dawn."

No sooner had I posted Babs' Job Hunting Blues, then she got a call for an interview for a counseling job. Then yesterday she got another one, also in counseling. Then two aquaintances asked her to call them because they think they can help with her search.

Movement on the job front at last!

Blues update: sun peeking out through the clouds. Thanks, God.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Babs' Job-Huntin' Blues

~cue harmonica riff~

You know I'm feelin' so lowdown, draggy and frustrated,
Job huntin's going nowhere an' sittin' round is overrated.
With a master's on the wall and a license in my hand
Still I got no one to counsel, and no job in this here land.

Got them don't no one need a counselor, a work-up or advice,
Because no one around you knows how to play real nice
Job huntin' blues

You know not even a new pair of shoes
Can chase away them down and dirty job huntin' blues.

* cue steel guitar*

Well you know I check job postings on the web three times a day
For the last three weeks nothing is there, so all that I can say
Is it's really like I'm stuck in place and no one needs my skills
Do ya think its because everyone would rather just use pills?

Got them can't find a way to network, I'm out here all alone--
Why or why won't some one try to call me on the phone
Job huntin' blues.

You know not even a new pair of shoes
Can chase away them down and dirty job-huntin' blues

*Harmonica riff*

So I'm gonna look and see if Human Resources might be for me
You'd think a company could use someone with a master's in psychology.
It's not what I really wanted, but what are you gonna do
When there's no jobs to apply for and your schoolin' is all through?

You know the world could use more folks like me
Who want to help others and engage in therapy.

But I've got those low down and dirty, frustrating, nowhere to turn job huntin' blues.
Oh yes I do.
Job huntin' blues.

*guitar and harmonica riffs*

Monday, September 17, 2007

Devotional Dilemma

One of the duties of the Moderator of presbytery's General Council is to give a devotional at the beginning of the meeting, or see that the same is given by someone else. Some previous moderators have followed the "Word/Share/Prayer" model.

I find the "share" portion problematic because it's difficult to control the discussion and keep the rest of the business agenda on schedule--particularly since the Million Dollar Problem reared its ugly head and demanded our full attention. We allow two hours for GC meetings and since they are scheduled at mid-day, I think it is important to honor the time the members are giving out of the middle of a workday.

This month I had some hope that we could spend a bit more time on the devotion and use a format that would include discussion. HA! Fool that I am. Suffice it to say that a couple of proposals surfaced that could consume the entire two hour period if discussion isn't carefully focused.

So it's back to the scripture/brief reflection/prayer mode for tomorrow's meeting. And I've got nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Bupkis. *sigh*

I'm hoping a good devotional idea will come to me in a dream tonight.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday 5: Meetings, Meetings

Today's Friday Five is brought by Reverendmother on the subject of meetings, inspired no doubt by the reality of life in the PCUSA.

1. What's your view of meetings? Choose one or more, or make up your own:
a) When they're good, they're good. I love the feeling of people working well together on a common goal.
b) I don't seek them out, but I recognize them as a necessary part of life.
c) The only good meeting is a canceled meeting.

Meetings are only as good as the preparation that preceded them. When the meeting leader distributes the agenda and written reports in advance and most of those attending the meeting have reviewed them, you can have an efficient and productive meeting and avoid needless conflicts.

Verily, verily I say unto you that failure to do this is the reason most people hate meetings.

Here's El Jefe's pithy advice: Never serve up a "jump ball" to the session. (A "jump ball" means that you introduce an issue for discussion without preparation or advance notice.)

2. Do you like some amount of community building or conversation, or are you all business?

It depends on the amount of business that must be addressed in the length of time people have set aside for the meeting. It just drives me crazy to have a meeting run over 30 minutes for a devotion, community building etc.. and then have people leave the meeting just as you are discussing and voting on the critical issue you gathered for. On the other hand, if the agenda permits, I think it is helpful to spend some time on community building. But if there is no reason for the committee to meet other than to receive written reports, I cancel the meeting and give everyone a day off because the purpose of the meeting is to do business.

3. How do you feel about leading meetings? Share any particular strengths or weaknesses you have in this area.

I'm very comfortable leading meetings. Obviously. Miss ENTJ here, remember? Have gavel, will travel. And I do practice what I preached in the above answer.

4. Have you ever participated in a virtual meeting? (conference call, IM, chat, etc.) What do you think of this format?

I've been in all these forms of virtual meeting. Conference callsare by far the most effective and efficient alternative to a face-to-face meeting. Chat can work but is tiring and time-consuming.

5. Share a story of a memorable meeting you attended.

The bad meetings I have attended shared the same characteristic--a jump ball was served up to the session or the committee and confusion, conflict, and chaos ensued.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Humberto Blows East

Thanks for the comments and concern about what turned into Hurricane Humberto. Fortunately for the Houston area, the storm veered east and made landfall right at the Louisiana/Texas border at the last minute. Those poor folks are still recovering from Hurricane Rita of 2005, too. It doesn't seem fair. As for us, we got no wind, no rain, no nothin'. Today it's beautifully sunny and slightly cooler.

Now we're feeling a bit foolish as we
--put the patio furniture back on the deck
--take the potted plants back outside
--put away the lanterns and flashlights we had at the ready yesterday evening
--remember that we didn't go to choir practice and Bible study last night because we thought Humberto would be here as we tried to drive home.

Oh well. Better safe than sorry. At least now all my flashlights and lanterns have fresh batteries!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Vamos, Humberto!

This little fellow blew up today just off the coast of Galveston and is predicted to hit our area later tonight. We're more concerned about flooding than winds at this point. Vamos, Humberto!

*scurries outside to secure the yard*

Theology and Massage

Yesterday I went to my favorite masseuse because of painfully tight muscles in my neck and shoulder. She's really a hoot--the descendant of a long line of Swedish masseuses. She even has pictures of her grandmother's class graduating from massage school back in the old country in her treatment room. I'll call her Freda.

I always enjoy talking with Freda. She loves to opine on the local sports teams and political matters. She's very very conservative in her views. Yesterday when she asked me where I worked (always a difficult thing to explain to nonPresbies, and sometimes even to Presbies), she started to talk about her own religious background.

It seems Freda is a lapsed Catholic. Every 15 years or so she tries going to mass again, gets ticked off by the priest's homily, and re-lapses. She said that if churches only preached what Jesus said, and left out Paul, then they would disappear because the church is more concerned with rules than love. She's not a fan of Paul and thinks he hated women.

Ahem. That gave me the opportunity to share with her the fact that Paul had several women colleagues that he valued highly--as revealed in his letters and in Acts. Freda was surprised, and then said that growing up in Catholic schools they did not study scripture--and her theory is that was because scripture would contradict some of the teaching of the church.

Freda wanted to know if Presbyterians had women ministers, and then asked a lot of questions about how my church was governed. She was impressed that decisions weren't made solely by the clergy, but equally with the laity. At the end of the day, though, Freda says "once a Catholic, always a Catholic." There's that loyalty again that I noted in my post Church Without Walls.

And the neck and shoulder pain--much better already. Thanks, Freda!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Kirkpatrick To Step Down

The Presbyterian Outlook reported yesterday that the PCUSA's Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick will step down at the end of his term next year after serving 12 years in that position, clearing the way for election of a new Stated Clerk. (For my non PresbyReaders, the Stated Clerk is an elected office, roughly comparable to that of chief executive officer of a corporation.)

While it's tempting to view his retirement as paving the way for positive changes for the denomination, the truth is that renewal of the PCUSA is not the job of the Stated Clerk alone, but of all of us who care about the church, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Book Review: How Doctors Think

Dr. Jerome Groopman teaches at the Harvard Medical School and writes frequently for the New Yorker magazine. In How Doctors Think, he offers valuable advice to both physicians and their patients about the ways in which doctors analyze and diagnose.

Using specific cases as examples, Dr. Groopman interviews doctors and patients involved in situations where initial analysis of the symptoms and history presented resulted in errors in diagnosis.

He analyzes how and why this happened--he considers the training the doctors had, previous diagnoses and history presented to them, as well as the pressures on them from insurance carriers, drug companies and patients alike to come to certain conclusions.

The author suffers from chronic medical problems of his own, so he is quite sympathetic with the frustration of patients who feel that they are not being heard. For someone like me, with no medical training, the book offers guidance about working with physicians and insight into how they think which is quite valuable.

When I finished the book, it occured to me that some of what Groopman describes in the medical profession is found in every profession--and the church. He points out that often doctors accept a diagnosis because it was made by others and ignores the facts of the case that don't jibe with it. This is classic "inside the box" behavior, and the remedies he suggests --such as assessing the situation from the ground up without reference to previous analysis and using more global thinking to approach a solution--can be applied anywhere.

A number of the cases he describes involve people who suffered for years (and nearly died in a couple of cases) because of medical treatment that was not appropriate. The patients kept returning to their doctors with deteriorating conditions and the doctors continued the same wrong course of action. Isn't that similar to the ways in which the church continues to keep doing things in the same way with poor results but refuses to change its course of action? You can say the same thing about each of us in our individual lives as well. As Doctor Phil would say, "And how's that working for ya?"

I think we all must be proactive about our health care, and this book certainly offers a lot of insight and guidance for patients. I would think it is a valuable resource for physicians and other health care professionals as well.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Total Momsense

I'm thinking that with a little tweaking of the lyrics, this would make a perfect theme song for my Mom of Congress campaign.

Waddaya think?

Thanks to Cathy Stevens for the tip.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dachsie Madness

Here's the latest on the dachshund front.

My nephew, Doc the naval surgeon, and his fiancee' Queenie, Portia's college roomie and bridesmaid, were so taken with Beatrice, James and Dolley after meeting them last weekend that they bought a puppy from the Dachsie Ranch, too. She will be ready to go home with them next month.

She looks like Beatrice, but with fewer brown markings (see photo at left).

In other news, Beatrice already got out of the backyard fence. So now we'll need to repair it and install puppy bars. She's cute, but she isn't cheap!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Church Planting Problems

A few years ago our presbytery bought a piece of property in one of the a growing suburban areas near Houston for a prospective NCD. For several years the NCD committee tried to organize a church plant in that area. Several applications for a mission program grant were made to the powers-that-be at the General Assembly offices of the PCUSA in Louisville, Kentucky in 2004. The grant requests were denied and the effort abandoned. Presbytery still owns the vacant land and has listed it for sale. Meanwhile, the area around it continues its explosive growth.

I live in the area where this property is located. It is one of the fastest growing counties in the country. New housing developments spring up like mushrooms after the rain as the Houston metro area expands relentlessly southwest of the city center. New churches of every denomination and non-denomination, as well as mosques and Hindu temples are being organized as Anglos, Asians, African-Americans, Africans, and Hispanics are now living and working in the area. The PCUSA ought to be trying to organize new churches in two or more different areas of the county. The most recent church chartered in our presbytery is located in the far western portion of this county.

The Methodists, the Baptists, the Church of Christ and all sorts of Bible churches have opened in these new subdivisions. The Catholics aren't there because of the shortage of priests. The PCUSA, with its surplus of ministers, is AWOL, in my opinion.

Why? Because the powers-that-be in Louisville didn't understand what is going on in this community. They think the area was mostly Hispanic and that the local folks were not taking that into account in the "target group." Clearly they were looking at data that was already outdated when they read it. Don't they understand that when an area is rapidly changing from small town/rural to suburban/exurban, the longtime residents are not going to be your target group for an NCD?

I've lived here for 20 years. I know that the most significant non-Anglo ethnic group in these new communities is not Hispanic, but Asians of all nationalities. My daughters were in a distinct minority as Anglos in the very diverse public high school they attended. There were more Asians than any other group in that school population. This is also true of my neighborhood.

I'm afraid that the powers-that-be in Louisville are living in a time warp. They don't understand the changing nature of suburban/exurban communities which are attracting Asians, Hispanics who are native English speakers, Africans from Africa and African Americans along with the traditional Anglo-American base. Despite their ethnic differences, these people have economic and educational commonalities that draw them to these new communities which are a fertile field for evangelism. For everyone but the PCUSA, apparently.

It is so frustrating not to be able to get any assistance from "headquarters" for planting a new churches in a community like this.

Gretel Would Be So Proud

Don't let the cuteness fool you. Beneath that winsome exterior beats the mighty heart of a huntress.

Last night El Jefe took Beatrice out for a walk. He reported that she spotted a rabbit in the bushes and immediately took after it. It was all he could do to restrain her with her leash.

Gretel would be so proud!

And no, it wasn't Rabbit Fu-Fu (who hasn't been seen for a couple of months now so we're concerned about her) or any of her progeny. It was definitely a wild jackrabbit.

Bunnies Beware of Beatrice!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Renovation of the Heart study

El Jefe and I are part of the facilitating team for the study of Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart at church. We're using the video that features brief lectures from the author and a "roundtable" discussion with Larry Crabb and John Ortberg on the themes of each chapter. The study begins this coming Sunday.

This is my first exposure to Dallas Willard. If any QG readers have led or participated in this book and video study, I would love to hear from you--particularly if you have any tips for leading the study. What did you think of it?