Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tagged for New Book Meme

Presbyterian Gal tagged me for this one!

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

Actually, the rational me should have cringed away from reading Eat, Love, Pray, but I didn't and we all know how that worked out.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

I'm assuming the question means "fictional characters." I'd have a lovely afternoon tea with Elizabeth Barrett (Pride and Prejudice); Maisie Dobbs and Precious Ramotswe . The tea would be good Indian or Earl Grey for Elizabeth and Maisie, but we would be sure to have bush tea for Precious. And lots of cake, since she is "traditionally built". As for me, pass the Starbucks.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can't die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it's past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. DK and Portia raved about it and loaned me their copy. I got about half way through it before abandoning it. And usually we have very similar tastes in books. I thought this was boring with a capital B.

Come on, we've all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you've read, when in fact you've been nowhere near it?

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. ~bows head in shame~

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to 'reread' it that you haven't? Which book?

There's been more than one, and they were all forgettable historical novels. Too forgettable, apparently!

You've been appointed Book Advisor to a VIP (who's not a big reader). What's the first book you'd recommend and why? (if you feel like you'd have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP)

I'll choose Aayan Hirsi Ali (author of Infidel and former member of the Dutch parliament). She is very well-read, so maybe this cheating a bit. But I would like for her to read the Gospel of Luke, with an open heart and mind, because I think she is still seeking God.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

As a devoted Anglophile, this is a really tough question because to me English is the premier language of literature. I do like Russian literature however, so I would choose Russian so I could find out how many nicknames each of the characters REALLY has.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

Dakota, A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What's one bookish thing you 'discovered' from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

I didn't know there was a subset of the mystery/detective genre that involved women ministers as detectives until I read about them on several RevGals blogs. I read a few of them but found them so-so.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she's granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favorite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

My dream library would be full of hardback books. They don't have to be leather-bound, they can be cloth-bound. It would have a very large university library style desk in the middle with excellent lighting overhead. There would be a large window overlooking an exquisite garden. A window seat would be built into the window with a very comfortable cushion and pillows. Did I mention the houseboy that would bring me refreshments when I rang a bell?

TAG TIME: Gannet Girl (because she needs an excuse to take a break from her seminary studies); BesoMami (she of the Reading Challenge 2008); Toby Brown (to see what he's read that was published after 1750--just kidding, Toby!); zorra (a reeely big reader) and anyone else who wants to play.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Desk of One's Own

Faithful readers know that QG is not exactly a shrinking violet. How is it then that the entire time (20 years) we've lived in this house I have not had my own desk?

El Jefe has a whole study of his own, complete with desk, printer/scanner/fax with dedicated phone line, giant monitor and bookshelves so he can work at home. Which he does several hours every day.

Moi, on the other hand, produced countless reports, memos, adult Sunday school lessons, and all the household accounts on the kitchen table or the little built-in desk in the kitchen. My office supplies and a plastic portable file holder are stuffed into a little closet.

So this weekend I'm with my SIL in a furniture store and there's a sale. And a pretty little desk that will fit either into El Jefe's study ( El Jefe makes a frowny face here) or our bedroom (El Jefe makes a happy face here). There was a nice chair and desk lamp with it on the floor display. It called my name. So I bought it. All!

Babs wonders why I don't use the computer desk upstairs. Because it is in the family room with the big TV and everyone who watches TV up there likes to use it to check their email or surf the web, that's why. It's not just mine.

The desk should come in about 30 days, and though it's not a room of my own, I'll settle for a desk. About time, too.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Co-Pastor Trend

Sunday evening I presided over my first installation service. The circumstances surrounding it reveal something of a trend in our area towards the co-pastor to pastor transitional model among our largest (more than 1,000 member) churches.

For those who aren't familiar with this, here's the deal: as a long-time pastor nears retirement he (so far its always been a "he") works with the session to announce the date of his retirement--usually a year to 18 months in advance--and at the same time the session approves the creation of a "co-pastor" position and forms a Pastoral Nominating Committee to fill it. The Co-pastor position is specifically designed as a short term office so that the retiring pastor and the co-pastor serve together for a short transitional period, two to three months. At the end of that period the long-time pastor retires and the "co-pastor" is installed as the pastor.

Yes, PresbyPolityGeeks, this is an end run of sorts around the Book of Order. The advantage is to avoid a period of transition with an interim pastor after the retirement of the former pastor and during the period of the search. The two churches in our presbytery who have done this were both stable congregations, relatively free of conflict, and united in their concern that their ministry continue uninterrupted by an interim period. Both senior pastors were very cooperative with the process. In fact on Sunday the retiring pastor gave the charge to the congregation in which he stressed the fact that the new pastor was now in charge and that he fully supported him.

This is not to say that all very large churches will follow this model, of course. We have an interim minister at another of these churches following the departure of the senior pastor which was not a retirement. There are times when a church will benefit from an interim ministry following a retirement when the congregation is conflicted about its future direction or needs time to separate from the former pastor before bonding with a new one.

It will take a few more years to see how well this approach worked out. It has been done in other presbyteries, too. Have you seen this trend in your presbytery? Should it be codified in the BOO?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008-Post 4

This week I finished Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy as part of the Bible in 90 Days class I am leading. In the spirit of BIND, here are my brief summaries of these 3 books of the Bible.

Leviticus--This book is a stumbling block for most people trying to read the Bible all the way through, whether they are doing it in 90 days or a year or longer. Full of descriptions of animal sacrifices and rules about eating, drinking, health concerns, clothing and more, it is a sure-fire cure for insomnia for the modern day Christian reader. Odd factoid: the phrase "the fat is in the fire" comes from Leviticus.

Since I have the advantage of also studying Hebrews this year in connection with another Bible study I am leading, this time through I was able to gain a greater appreciation for the freedom we have in Christ today and the burden of the Old Testament law. The anthem this Sunday at church was Thomas Tallis' "If Ye Love Me Keep My Commandments". How appropriate!

Numbers--This is just a little bit more readable than Leviticus. Instead of a jumble of rules and regulations, though, it is a lot like reading a modern day census. The story of the pagan prophet Baalam and his Ass is found here, and it is a welcome diversion!

Deuteronomy--I actually enjoyed reading Deuteronomy. It is more literary and historical in its style and so easier for me to read. I like to think of it as Moses' Last Will and Testament to his people. One of my favorite passages in scripture comes at the very end of the book. It is the valedictory to Moses, after his death:
Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt--to Pharoah and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (NIV)
This week we're reading Joshua, Judges, Ruth and part of 1 Samuel.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Beatrice Blogs Amie's Meme


Mom FINALLY came home long enough to help me answer the meme my friend Amie's (over at Red Heeler Ranch) sent. I've been waiting all day, but that gave me a chance to think about my answers.

Here's the rules:
- Link to the person that tagged you.
- Post the rules on your blog.
- Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
- Tag six people and at the end of your post, link to their blogs.
- Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Six non-important things about Beatrice

1. Like Amie, I have a Frecklebelly.
2. I'm really good at playing fetch.
3. Don't tell Mom, but El Jefe feeds me pistachio nuts when he thinks she isn't watching.
4. DK and Portia think I'm Olivia's best puppy-sitter.
5. I'll do almost anything for a goldfish cracker.
6. Saint Betty's dog, Sweetie, is one of my BFF's. Also Duchess the Bulldog and Dachsie friends from the ranch I came from: Callie, James and Dolley.

Amie tagged all my online canine buddies already. Pooh. So play if you like and let me know!


Beatrice, her mark

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fun With Pollsters

So last night I got a call from a political pollster up in Syracuse, NY. I had some time, so I couldn't resist having some fun with him.

His questions centered on the March Texas primary and focused on the local congressional race, not the presidential race, and like all poll questions are what we lawyers called "leading questions" designed to elicit the response the pollster's employer wants. Nuance is not a virtue aspired to by these folks either. I had to argue with him about the premise of many of his questions.

So I gave him the most contradictory answers I could think up. I professed to be a moderate, evangelical born-again Christian who didn't care about illegal immigration, gun control or federal constitutional amendments making English the official national language or making marriage only between a man and a woman. When he went through a litany of Texas Republican office-holders, I told him I had an unfavorable opinion of half of them. (Some of that is actually true.)

Wondering why the polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and Nevada didn't predict the results very well? There must be a lot of other people joining me in having fun with the pollsters!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Can't We All Just Get Along ? Dept. Update

Faithful readers may recall last year's post about the warring factions in the City of Houston who insist they each must stage the official MLK Day Parade downtown. Alas your correspondent regrets to report that no progress in getting along has occured since last year.

Today El Jefe spent the morning at home working in order to avoid the MORNING parade and just sped off for his office in time to get there before being blocked by the AFTERNOON parade. City officials finally held a coin-toss to determine which group got to have the morning parade which is in the heart of downtown and which got stuck with the afternoon permit for a parade just outside of downtown.

So we're not all just getting along again this year. Maybe next year.

Reading Challenge 2008-- Post 3

I finished Barbara Pym's Excellent Women, which I read after seeing Songbird's post about Barbara Pym, who was new to me. It is sort of Jane Austen-ish, but not as witty to my way of thinking. I did enjoy it and am reading Jane and Prudence by the same author. The books are good for reading on dreary cold English-type days with a cup of coffee or tea and a "biscuit" or two.
Since I'm reading Bible in 90 Days, I'm going to count the books of the Bible that I finish for the reading challenge. They are separate books, after all! So far, that is Genesis and Exodus. Every time I do this I find something new or get different reactions from the other participants. This time my group all went " EWWWWW" over the story of Lot and his daughters in Genesis. Yeah. Know what you mean. In Exodus, I noticed a passage where Moses tells the people not to bring any more offerings for the bulding of the tabernacle because they are "bringing more than enough." (Exodus 36:5) When was the last time that happened in your church? That's what I thought: the 12th of Never.

On to Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy this week. I'm also still working on Dallas Willard's Divine Conspiracy, too.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Friday, January 18, 2008

PresbyNews Prompts What If Query

There's a lot of PresbyNews out there suddenly, as the Christmas season is behind us and the 2008 General Assembly is ahead of us in June.

So far we see:

1. The Form of Government Report which recommends an almost total revision of the Book of Order. The exceptions are the Church Property Sections and the "fidelity/chastity" ordination requirement which the Task Force was specifically directed NOT to address.

2. The New Wineskins model Overture (scroll down to exhibit D-1 at the end of the documents) to change the aforementioned Property Section, which will doubtless be presented to a number of presbyteries within a few weeks for approval.

3. The Lisa Larges ordination case in San Francisco Presbytery, in which she declared a scruple against the fidelity/chastity requirement and the scruple was accepted by that presbytery in a narrow vote. Appeal pending to the Synod PJC and doubtless will go on to the GAPJC.

4. The lawsuit brought against Sacramento Presbytery for approving the withdrawal of two churches to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with their property.

No doubt more news will be coming as we move closer to the date of the GA. Recently it was suggested to me that in a generation or two there may be such a complete realignment of Presbyterian churches that, for example, the Sacramento Presbytery may find itself associated with the EPC along with the two churches that withdrew or that all of them may find themselves members of another not-yet-formed denomination.

What do you think, fellow PresbyBloggers? What if that happened? Is that possibility in the longer term? And if so, what implications might that have for us as we address these issues?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Olivia Sleeps Over

Most weekends Portia and DK bring Olivia when they come to visit. Although Olivia has her own bed at the QG house, she prefers bunking with Bea. She also prefers eating out of Bea's food dish instead of her own! Babs got this photo after the pups spent several hours chasing each other around the house and yard.

After a couple of "escapes", Beatrice has finally learned to stay inside the invisible fence we put in the back yard. Hooray! Now she can frolic safely when I'm gone for hours on presbytery bid-ness.

Thanks, zorra, for the tip. Speaking of zorra, her beloved dog Amie needs prayers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

BIND Redux

Sunday I led the first session of Bible in 90 Days at my church. We're having two classes--one during each of the Sunday School hours and I'm facilitating the early one. The church offered BIND a couple of years ago when it was still in the developmental stage, but now we are using the curriculum published by Zondervan.

This will be the fourth time I've read the Bible in 90 Days and facilitated a class. It's interesting to see the difference between doing it at a mid-size church and at a very large church:
  • Almost everyone registered online through the church website. I didn't have to handle lots of registration forms myself.
  • Lists of all registrants and their contact info was forwarded to me from the church's secretary for Discipleship. I didn't have to try to collect it from several sources.
  • An audio-visual tech guy actually shows the DVD--I didn't have to set up the TV/DVD and fool with the controls and cables and haul it around. Cool!
  • Publicity for the classes was handled by the church's communication director. I didn't have to write my own articles for the newsletter, beg the powers-that-be to include notices in the bulletin, or create my own banner for outside use.
  • Instead of knowing everyone in the class, I only know a few people.
  • The class is large enough to require several small groups for discussion instead of just one. That meant recruiting small group leaders to assist but I had help with that.
  • Yesterday morning I actually had someone I don't know email and volunteer to be a small group leader exactly at the time I realized we would have to form one more group. Amazing. Providential. Yippee!
  • People I don't know ask me how things are going at presbytery.
The first of the year is a great time to start, especially this year since Lent and Easter come early so we will be reading the Bible all through Lent. A couple of weeks ago I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and thinking maybe I had over-extended myself, what with the unbloggable happenings at presbytery that keep me busy along with some personal stuff. Now, though, I'm really glad I am doing this again because it keeps me grounded and connected to scripture as well as to my congregation --both of which are really important to me in this year of the Momderator.

(ASIDE: I've blogged a number of times in the past about Bible in 90 Days so I'm not repeating the details of the program in this post. If you're interested in learning more about it check out the website:Bible in 90 Days.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

John Who??

It's the silly presidential primary season, so the whole QG family sat down this evening and took one of those little internet quizzes that tells you which presidential candidate's positions are most like your own that was sent to El Jefe from one of his friends.

El Jefe, DK and Portia were told that John Cox was their candidate. My candidate was Tancredo (who dropped out a long time ago), with Cox as my second choice. Babs's top candidate was Obama, which she attributed to the number of "undecideds" she checked in her quiz. Cox was her third choice.

Which leaves us with the question --just who the heck is John Cox? And why do we match up with him? And is he even still in the race? If so, where? And should we care because he isn't going to be on the ballot in Texas anyway and we couldn't vote for him if we wanted to?

Hugh Cort, Duncan Hunter and Hoa Tran are on the Texas Republican primary ballot for president, though. Anyone know who they are? Didn't think so.

So much for internet quizzes! Bah, humbug!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008--Post 2

Add Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear to the list of books I have read in 2008. Like the other two Maisie Dobbs books in this series, the solution to the mystery lies in the effect of the tragic events of WWI and its aftermath. I'm going to order more of these mysteries.

Will I or will I not finish Dallas Willard's Divine Conspiracy before the end of this month? That is the question. Probably not if I allow myself to be sidetracked by more Maisie Dobbs books, given that as of Sunday I am committed to reading the Bible in 90 Days, again, since I'm leading a class at my church.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Woman of Valor

The service for Jan Schiff yesterday was beautiful. Crowded into the sanctuary at Temple Beth Israel were hundreds of people, mostly Christian. Many police and fire department officials from Sugar Land were there in uniform as well, paying tribute to our friend. Her two adult children gave beautiful presentations about their mother. We all wondered at their ability to do this, and knew how proud Jan would have been of them both.

The rabbi presiding did an excellent job of keeping the mostly Christian crowd included in the traditional Jewish service. He and the cantor both choked up a couple of times, evidencing their own grief.

I was struck by the reading of Proverbs 31. In the translation used by the rabbi, the term is "A Woman of Valor." Isn't that wonderful? Proverbs 31 is often included in memorial services for women, but the translations I have heard use the terms "a capable wife" (NRSV), "a woman of noble character" (NIV) and "a good woman" (The Message). Jan truly was "a woman of valor", who left this world much better than she found it. May we all strive to be Women of Valor.

Thank you for your prayers. We're all still reeling from her loss, but I am confident that her legacy will live on.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Return to Tragic News

Thanks to all of you for your good wishes on our 30th anniversary.

Sadly, we returned to the news that one of our good friends and neighbors was killed in an accident on Saturday afternoon. Jan was a wonderful person who worked tirelessly to better our community. She was truly "ever mindful of the needs of others." We worked together in several nonprofit groups and on her husband's city council campaigns. Her legacy will live on while her family and friends mourn her loss.

Prayers appreciated.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Thirty Years Ago...

El Jefe and I were married at this church by a young pastor who later became the General Presbyter of New Covenant Presbytery and who was one of the pastoral trifecta who married Portia and DK eighteen months ago.

How time flies! Back then we had one car, one apartment, and one job between the two of us. The internet, HDTV and wireless gadgets were not yet invented. In a leap of faith and love, I quit my job as an associate with a San Antonio law firm to join El Jefe in Houston. That was the biggest and best decision of my life.

Thirty years later (as of Monday), I can only marvel at all the wonderful things that flowed from that day. God has blessed us with good health, good fortune, two wonderful daughters and a fabulous son-in-law.

We're off to celebrate this weekend, leaving Beatrice in the good care of Babs. See you all next week!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008--Post 1

Alex at BesoMami posted some dismal statistics about how many books adults in the US read every year and then issued a challenge to her blogging friends to write a post about each book they finished in the New Year.

I'm going to try to keep up with that challenge, so here are the two books that I have finished since January 1.

Birds of a Feather (a Maisie Dobbs mystery) by Jacqueline Winspear. Babs got me started on the Maisie Dobbs series and gave me this book for Christmas. I love the series, which is set in post-WWI Britain. The themes of the books involve the aftermath of the war on individuals and society in Britain and are historically accurate. The heroine is symbolic of the era--a plucky servant whose employers recognized her intellectual gifts and assisted her in getting a university education. She was a nurse in the war and lost her fiance' in a tragic accident that also injured her. After the war she became a psychologist and private investigator. The solution to the mystery in this book is found in the social history of the era of the Great War. Babs gave me another Maisie Dobbs mystery that I'm reading now.

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez and Kristin Ohlson. I picked this one up on a whim at Barnes and Noble. This is a true story about an American hairdresser who volunteered to go to Afghanistan to help rebuild the country and ended up founding a beauty school in Kabul which trained local women in hairdressing and other beauty techniques. It's a quick read and suffers from an obvious "as told to" style. Debbie Rodriguez is a memorable character--honest about her own shortcomings and the mistakes made because she didn't understand the Afghani culture very well. Ultimately she fled the country because she feared for herself and her son, but says she wants to return. Although I admired her defense and advocacy of the Afghani women she befriended and taught, she was also impetuous, hard-headed and reckless in ways that its hard not to criticize. It's an interesting book.

Small Mercies

Today I am really really really thankful not to live in Iowa.

You know what I mean?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Book Review: Renovation of the Heart

Since September El Jefe and I have been reading Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard for our Sunday School class at church. I was part of the leadership team that facilitated the class. We finished the book just before Christmas, so I thought I would share our experience with it.

This is really more than a book review, it is also a video review because an important part of the class presentation is the accompanying video. In fact, I'm sure that many of those who attended the class (including me and El Jefe) would say that it was the most important part.

Renovation of the Heart is an introduction to spiritual formation. Dallas Willard is a professor of philosophy at USC and a Southern Baptist minister. The book reflects his philosophical training and academic background in that it is very closely reasoned and difficult to follow in several places. The video includes a short summary of each chapter of the book by Willard, followed by a three way conversation, dubbed "Coffee Talk" between Willard, Larry Crabb and John Ortberg on the themes of the chapter. Larry Crabb is a psychologist who stresses the importance of spiritual direction rather than therapy. John Ortberg is also a psychologist and the senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California.

Willard's thesis is that the church fails in its transformational mission because it focuses on behavior rather than spiritual change. The book is a step-by-step guide to beginning that process of spiritual transformation. The three-way discussions in the "Coffee Talk" portion of the accompanying video make the drier text of the book come alive and sparked excellent discussions in the small groups that were formed in the classes. Although these classes were held on Sundays, many of the people who attended were not regular attendees of any particular adult Sunday School class at the church. I was impressed at the depth of the discussions, given that many of the people did not have a previous relationship with each other, and think it is due to the honesty and frankness Crabb and Ortberg shared in "Coffee Talk". El Jefe was among those who gave up trying to read Willard's book but enjoyed the videos and joined in the discussions.

I did read the entire book and found it difficult but ultimately very rewarding. The last chapter which focused on ways in which the church fails in its mission to make disciples and why provided me with many "ah-hah!" moments. Unless you have a group that is committed to working through a difficult philosophical-style text like Renovation of the Heart, I would not recommend it as the subject of a class without using the accompanying video. The video makes the ideas in the book understandable and accessible to those who struggle with Willard's style. I think that the book needs to be read with a group to get the most out of it. I doubt I would have finished it without the support of the class and the supplementary material in the video.

My nephew recommended Willard's Divine Conspiracy to me, and I've just begun reading it. It seems much less academic and difficult than Renovation of the Heart so far. I'll let you know what I think of it when I'm finished. If you've read either of these books, I'd love to see your reaction to them in the comments.