Friday, May 30, 2008

In Search Of New Entrees

Someone once wrote that there are only five entrees that Americans really cook and eat, for all our fascination with the Food Network and celebrity chefs. Chez QG those dishes are: meatloaf, grilled steak, baked chicken breast, spaghetti with meat sauce or balls; and El Jefe's favorite Greek Shrimp.

This week in a fit of culinary boredom, I decided to try out two new recipes: Gnocchi with Chicken and Pineapple-Shrimp kebabs. El Jefe gracefully ate the gnocchi, which also had gorgonzola cheese and pinenuts. Truly, chicken/gorgonzola cheese/pinenuts is a wonderful combination on a nice green salad. On hot gnocchi, not so much.

Last night I tried out the kebabs. I didn't cut the pineapple and red bell pepper thin enough for the shrimp. Result: I had to take the shrimp off and cook them in a pan because they didn't touch the grill! The garlic-lime-cilantro sauce that was drizzled over it was a keeper, though.

Babs was with us last night too, and brought a recipe for a Garden Risotto that she wanted to try, so we added that to the menu. She tweaked it by adding mushrooms to the spinach, onions, green peas and asparagus that went in the dish. Delicioso! Clearly the student has surpassed the teacher here.

Will the risotto make our dinner rotation? Probably if Babs is here because it is quite "fiddly" and requires lots of standing and stirring. If she's not, there's always the risotto in a box.

What five dishes are in your dinnertime rotation? Add anything new lately?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Start of Summer Meme

Toby Brown at Classical Presbyterian created a Start of Summer meme and tagged me. Looks like fun, so here goes:
1.) What first tells you that Summer is here?
Heat and humidity.

2.) Name your five of your favorite distinctively Summer habits or customs.
~ grilling outside
~ having parties around our pool
~ sitting outside on the porch in the evening with the ceiling fans going full blast
~ swimming
~ going to the coast

3.) What is your favorite smell of Summer?
The Gulf breeze.

4.) What is your favorite taste of Summer?
Icy cold watermelon and Texas Chocolate Sheetcake

5.) Favorite Summer memory?
Family time on the beach or at the swimming pool.

6.) Extreme heat or extreme cold? Which would you choose and why?
Heat. I'm used to heat--I grew up in San Antonio and have lived most of my adult life in muggy Houston. I spent 4 years in college in upstate New York and found extreme cold almost paralyzing.

7.) What books do you plan to read for the season?

Knowing God by J. I. Packer (reading it to prepare to lead my BSD group next fall)
Under The Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer (recommended by my brother)
How Africa Shaped The Christian Mind by Thomas Oden (just started it and not sure I'll finish it because the author seems to belabor the obvious)
Lamentations of the Father by Ian Frazier (I just began this collection of humorous essays--the title essay was so funny tears were running down my face)
Still working on Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy. It's hard to read on your own.
Whatever else strikes my fancy along the way....

8.) How does the Summer affect your faith? Is it a hindrance or an ally?
It is definitely an ally. It's so important to take a break from the busy-ness of being involved in the church. The slower pace encourages more prayer and devotional time, too.

And what use is a meme if it isn't passed around? Let's see...

Presbyterian Gal, Mary Beth, zorra, Ruby and St. Casserole.

TAG! You're it!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Book Review: An Instance of the Fingerpost

After Babs moved out, I found an old copy of An Instance of the Fingerpost in her room. Seeing that it was written by the author of The Dream of Scipio, Ian Pears, which I enjoyed, I decided to read it. Since my paperback edition has 735 pages of very small print, this took a while.

Reviewers have compared Fingerpost to Umberto Ecco’s The Name of the Rose. Both are historical mysteries where the role of ideas is the key to the solving of the mystery. I've read both and I think I enjoyed Fingerpost more.

An Instance of the Fingerpost is set in 1663 England, just after the death of Oliver Cromwell and the Restoration of King Charles II. Civil strife and intrigue are the order of the day, and no one is who he or she seems to be.

The death of Dr. Robert Grove, apparently from poison, is the focus of the mystery. The story is divided into four sections--each written from the point of view of a different character, two of whom are historical figures. The reader is challenged to discern the truth that lies beneath the widely differing accounts which are shaped by the ideology and theology of each character.

The term “fingerpost” in the title is puzzling, but the introduction to the final quarter of the book is a quote from Sir Francis Bacon, who said “When in a Search of any Nature the Understanding stands suspended, then Instances of the Fingerpost shew the true and inviolable Way in which the Question is to be decided.” In other words, a fingerpost is a piece of evidence that excludes all but one possibility. Looking for that fingerpost will keep you occupied until the very last page.

An Instance of the Fingerpost makes a great (albeit L-o-n-g) summer read, particularly for those who enjoy English history. And do keep in mind that it is a work of fiction, not theology. If you finish the book, you'll see what I mean, but I can't be more clear without giving away the fingerpost.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thien An Church Chartered

Sunday morning I traveled a mere 20 minutes by car from my house to the "Little Viet Nam" neighborhood in southwest Houston. There I was blessed to have the opportunity to participate in the THIRD new church chartering service in the presbytery of New Covenant this year. Unfortunately I missed the first one because of a previous out-of-town commitment, but the past two Sundays got two back-to-back.

Thien An means "grace" in Vietnamese and the service was grace-filled, indeed! Also totally Vietnamese with some English translation. Fair enough! Trust me, it's a whole new experience to try to sing praise songs in Vietnamese, following the phonetic spelling on the big screen. But the congregation was very happy that our linguistically challenged group from presbytery gave it a go.

Here's the very best part of all: the service concluded with the baptism of 10 adult believers and the confirmation of 2 youth. But then one more woman came up from the congregation and asked to be baptized as well. Eighty-eight people had petitioned the presbytery for the charter and after the baptisms, the new congregation had 101 members! Afterwards I got someone to snap this picture of me and some of the Tien An members, proudly displaying their PC(USA) charter.

When El Jefe served as clerk of session at our previous church and had the responsibility for making census reports, he remarked that most of the time we weren't making new disciples, just "exchanging hostages" with other Presbyterian and mainline Protestant churches and reflected that if we (and other churches) didn't find a way to reach non-believers, we could never hope to grow.

I am told that only a few of the members of Thien An church were Christians before they joined. The rest of them were Buddhists, reflecting their cultural background. Isn't it awesome how God is using this congregation to make new disciples for Christ...and not just "exchange hostages"?

As I left Sunday afternoon, Rev. Ho asked me to keep the congregation in my prayers. They are in my prayers and also in my heart. I'm eager to see what God will do next through his church, Thien An.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tx Court Intervenes

Late yesterday the 3rd Texas Court of Appeals (Austin) handed down a ruling that the state of Texas had no right to remove children from the polygamist religious sect at the Yearning For Zion ranch in far west Texas. Presumably the state will appeal that decision to the state's supreme court. Meanwhile, it's unclear whether the state will have to return the children to their mothers and life at the YFZ ranch while an appeal to the supreme court is pending. More than 400 YFZ children are scattered across the state in foster care facilities.

I haven't read the decision, but it seems to me that the problem here is that the state is acting under child protection laws which address abuse and neglect in traditional families. Under these statutes, the courts are constrained from interfering with parental custody without a compelling showing of immediate physical harm to children. The rights of the parents and the goal of keeping the nuclear family together are the paramount goal.

These laws weren't written to address situations like those reported at the YFZ ranch where young girls are "married" to much older men,"wives" are routinely re-assigned by the head of the cult, and the teenage boys are run off lest they challenge the authority of the male elders. Although there are laws against polygamy, they aren't enforced and don't address situations like this. Unlike Utah and the four corners area of the southwestern US, Texas does not have a history of dealing with polygamist cults. I don't know if these other states have legislation that specifically addresses child protection issues in polygamist cults.

The Houston Chronicle reported the reaction of a young woman who escaped from this cult and is advising the state's child protection workers on how to work with these children. It is disturbing.

The case involves conflict between the protection of civil liberties and the need to protect children from what appears to be a predatory cult. It seems preposterous to apply the traditional view of the sanctity of the family and parental rights to this situation. On the other hand, the precedent set in this case might be applied to others less egregious.

Once again I see the wisdom in the old adage: hard cases make bad law. Hopefully the state supreme court will stay the enforcement of the appellate court's order until it can decide the case, allowing the children to remain where they are until a final decision is made. Pray for them.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Quorum Quandries

Lately we've been having problems getting a quorum for business in various presbytery committees. My presbytery is quite large geographically, so distance has always been a factor in making it difficult for folks to participate. With the price of gas what it is--there is no doubt more reluctance to use a half a tank or more just to commute to Houston for a presbytery meeting.

Of course there are no doubt other reasons as well. Everyone is very busy these days and its the busiest people who get the most done and they are the ones who agree to serve--but then their own schedules get in the way of that service. And let's face it, sometimes committee meetings are --ahem-- shall we say less than scintillating?

I'm sure we're not the only presbytery with the aforementioned problem. We're going to investigate other ways of arranging committee meetings to see if we can get better participation. Anyone out there in Presbyland tried teleconferencing or rotating meeting sites or anything else more creative than the traditional committee meeting at presbyHQ? How'd it work for you?

Or here's an idea--maybe we need fewer meetings than we think we do.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Book Review: The Shack

The Shack is one of those self-published phenomenons that slowly builds sales through word of mouth--and the virtual word--in the manner of Same Kind of Different As Me. The Shack has its own website that promotes the book, including forums for readers. It is also available on amazon and other online retailers.

I wouldn't have read or known about this book but for the recommendation from my brother. Here's how that went: he is facing serious back surgery later this week and so we had an email exchange about books he could read during his lengthy recovery. I recommended Same Kind of Different As Me, but warned him about the very painful descriptions of the death from cancer of the author's wife in the book. You see, my brother and his wife lost their precious daughter to cancer nine years ago. She was five when she was diagnosed and went through a lengthy, and ultimately futile, series of painful treatments, dying at age nine. I wanted him to know that was in the book in case he preferred to avoid reading about it.

However, he responded by saying: " All the really good books usually make me cry. That's okay with me. It usually just means that it has a profound message and I like those books. Sometimes tears are the only way to express how much something means to us--words are inadequate--and that is okay." Then he urged me to read The Shack, which revolves around a father's grief over the murder of his five year old daughter by a serial killer. My brother said it was the best book he had ever read. He sat up all night reading it in one sitting and then couldn't go to sleep because he kept thinking about it.

Of course I had to read it. I noticed that Eugene Peterson praised it as "the Pilgrim's Progress of our time." And Bunyan's allegory is a good comparison for The Shack, which is also an theological allegory. The grieving father, Mack, meets God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the very shack where his daughter was murdered. He is full of anger, guilt and grief and his relationship with God has been fractured. The appearance of each person of the Trinity is not what Mack expects, but then God tells him "this weekend in not about reinforcing religious stereotypes."

Each person of the Trinity engages in theological discussions with Mack about the nature of God, free will, love, redemption, God's plan for mankind, the role of relationships, etc. Although sometimes I found the writing stilted, or too precious, still the vision presented is powerful, imaginative, appealing and almost understandable. As I've admitted before, I'm not an expert theologian so I will leave examination of the theology of the book to others.

I wouldn't say it is the best book I ever read, but it is intriguing and spiritually uplifting. But then, I don't have the personal experience my brother did which caused him to resonate so powerfully with the story. I will say that I have a renewed feeling of hope and purpose after finishing it. It is a fascinating book and like my brother, I'll be thinking about Mack's discussions with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit for quite some time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New Presbytery Website Design Debuts

Folks at presbytery have been working on an overhaul and re-design of the New Covenant website. The new site is now published and looks SO much cleaner and easier to navigate than the old one.

Check it out here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

One Charter Service Down, One to Go

Yesterday afternoon I had the very great privilege of participating in the service to charter a New Church Development congregation.

Translated from the PresbySpeak, this means that this congregation has met a number of standards (including financial stability and viability) and is now an official congregation of the PC(USA) in good standing.

This congregation, the Biyaya Community Church, has been forming since 1999 and began with a Filipino pastor who started an outreach to the Filipino community in the Sugar Land-Missouri City-Stafford suburban area southwest of Houston. The congregation has been "nested" in an established Presbyterian church in the area and meets in that facility on Sunday afternoons.

Today when we celebrated the chartering there were slightly over 100 people attending the service, which included the official installation of the pastor and the ordination and installation of the first session. The congregation is still primarily Filipino-American, but also has attracted Africans and African-Americans.

I was particularly impressed with their praise band--a group of talented young people who could really rock that contemporary worship music. And I do mean ROCK! I'm not a fan of praise music, as my gentle readers know, but I give a big tip of the QG hat to this all volunteer group which displayed both good musical skills and sincere and inspiring delivery of the songs. If we had a presbytery Battle of the Praise Bands, they would be hard to beat!

Of course no service like this can conclude without a big reception, and this was no different. The members of the congregation outdid themselves with a big spread of traditional Filipino goodies, which I couldn't identify if my life depended on it but were all delicious.

And amazingly enough, I get to do this again next Sunday when the chartering service for the Vietnamese NCD congregation is scheduled. The pastor of that congregation told me today to plan for the service to last from 10 to 12:30 because there would be 12 adult baptisms of folks converting from Buddhism to Christianity as part of this service. Stay tuned for that report!

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunrise Over Carancahua Bay This Morning

We spent the night at our bay house in Port Alto and I took these pictures this morning. Is it any wonder we hated to come back? The water was calm, the weather was cool-ish and the birds and fish were out.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

In Which QG Didn't Pay Attention


I just realized that the new roll of stamps I bought a couple of weeks ago has stamps that look like this. A whole roll.

Bought in haste, repenting at leisure.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Mother's Day Present

I think El Jefe and the girls bought this as much for them as for me.

But I'm not complaining!

We tried it out and it works very well for a non-commercial size margarita machine. But we weren't happy with the mix we used and are looking for something better.

Anyone have a great margarita recipe?

Meanwhile...lookin' for that lost shaker of salt...

Monday, May 12, 2008

PNC's GA NewsBlog Launched

We've launched a blog for the presbytery of New Covenant for the purpose of posting news of particular interest to those of us in PNC from the upcoming 218th General Assembly of the PCUSA (June 21-28). The idea is that our commissioners, staff and other PNC folk attending as observers will email events as they happen, along with their observations about their experiences.

You'll note the link on the sidebar of QG to the PNC GA Newsblog. That's because your humble scribe was asked by presbytery staff to stay home in her pajamas and act as blog administrator, editor, and general factotum because I have blogging experience. (The Moderator of PNC does not go to GA as a commissioner as is the case in some other presbyteries.) Having a separate blog for GA happenings will keep the QG blog from becoming hopelessly PresbyPolityWonkish and boring during GA. I will probably do some cross-posting, though.

Because we understand that there isn't internet access in the meeting rooms, I will also use other media sources for information. Fortunately, you don't need a press pass to be a blogger! But will I need new pj's? And a robe? Maybe green ones, since our presbytery logo is green?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Good Meeting

Yesterday's presbytery meeting went very well, I think. We had a great speaker, Rev. Karl Travis who spoke on the spiritual aspects of stewardship; full worship with communion including the commissioning of our commissioners to General Assembly; and a smooth flow of business.

The meeting was held at First Presbyterian Church, Houston, which was the first church El Jefe and I were members of when we were first married. Both Portia and Babs were baptized there. I never would have imagined that one day I would be moderating the presbytery meeting at that church back when I was a young stay-at-home mom chasing two little girls!

There were a couple of highlights that are of general interest:
  • Another new church will be chartered! That is the third church in seven months to be chartered in New Covenant. Tien-An Presbyterian Church began as a new church development in a largely Vietnamese area of Southwest Houston. Pastored by a Vietnamese immigrant, the congregation is now self-supporting and continuing to grow. About thirty very excited folks joined us from the church joined us as the motion to charter was made and passed. Only 10 of the present members of the church were Christian before they joined--the rest were Buddhists who have become Christians and been baptized. Alleluia!
  • The presbytery voted to commend the candidacy for Stated Clerk of Rev. Winfield ("Casey") Jones to the commissioners who will be meeting at General Assembly in June. Rev. Jones is one of three candidates certified to stand for the election in addition to Gradye Parsons, the choice of the Nominating Committee. Jones is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Pearland. The text of the resolution as approved is posted on the presbytery's General Assembly Newsblog.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Five: Gifts of the Spirit

Today's RevGals Friday Five is on the subject of the Gifts of the Spirit--an appropriate theme with Pentecost Sunday approaching. Host Presbyterian Gal asks several questions about dreams and visions, which upon reflection, I realized that I couldn't answer, not having any experience with those particular spiritual gifts.

It is fascinating to read the answers of those who have. But for me, the one response to the Friday Five that immediately came to mind is this verse from George Croly's wonderful hymn, Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart:

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

PNC's FOG Report Available

For my PresbyBlogging friends, I would like to call your attention to the excellent Form of Government Task Force Report produced by members of New Covenant Presbytery. The report is available here.

Members of the group did an outstanding job of analyzing the proposed FOG report in great detail. The group was composed of equal numbers of "liberals", "moderates" and "conservatives" and the fascinating thing is that at the end of the day they agreed on all the issues covered in the report. The report is too detailed to permit any kind of summary on a blog, but Commissioners to the upcoming General Assembly will find it a very helpful resource.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

QG To Debut in NYC

Add this to the things I never dreamed I would do: sing Ave Maria at a wedding in a Catholic church in New York City.

Faithful readers may recall that my nephew Doc is marrying Portia's best friend from college, Queenie, who he met at Portia and DK's wedding.

I sang at both of Doc's sisters' weddings and so he and Queenie asked me to sing for them, too. Their choices are On Eagles Wings and Ave Maria.

I'm really familiar with On Eagles Wings, so that's no problem. Ave Maria is another story. It's not exactly a staple of the Protestant tradition, dontcha know, but it is a very traditional choice for Catholic weddings. I'm generally familiar with the song, but haven't ever sung it myself.

The internet to the rescue! Don't you love it? I found a site that allowed me to download both the sheet music and an mp3 file with the piano and voice parts (even the one transposed for soprano!!) that would help me learn it.

My late father, the staunch Calvinist, would have been mightily amused to see the day when his daughter sang Ave Maria at a wedding in New York. If you know what the Latin lyrics mean (and I do), it seems an odd choice for a wedding, but there's no doubt that it is a beautiful, prayerful piece.

So if you'll excuse me, gotta go work on those trills and double triplets.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Beware the Jabberwock!

Like many PresbyBloggers, I was dismayed by the recent GAPJC ruling in the Rev. Jane Spahr case. Amidst the dueling opinions issued (majority, partial majority, concurring, betwixt and between, etc.), the rationale for the decision that emerged was stunning in its sophistry. Stunning.

Rev. Spahr was honest and forthright about her actions and motivation--to bring a test case over what she believes is a justice issue. The majority ruling was dishonest in its attempt to dodge the central issue in the case which was Spahr's deliberate disobedience to the Book of Order's prohibition against conducting same sex marriage ceremonies.

Some have suggested the opinion was an attempt to avoid sparking controversy this close to the June General Assembly meeting. But the pot is now stirred to a froth, and all sides are riled up. The decision has undermined confidence in the church's highest court. The multiple opinions issued do not give reliable guidance to the church for the future and create confusion and uncertainty.

Yesterday Presbyweb posted a Viewpoint by Rev. Ed Koster, one of the candidates for Stated Clerk who is a lawyer as well as a minister, in which he pointed out several unintended consequences that could result from this jabberwocky, which is now legal precedent for the church. One these is that since G-6.0106(b) of the BOO limites ordination to those who are married or celibate, then non-celibate gays or lesbians who have been ordained are not really ordained: if it is impossible to marry a gay couple then it is likewise impossible to ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians. Koster is exactly right when he points out that this is the logical application of the rationale in the Spahr case to the ordination issue.

A bad decision, badly decided. Pass the slithy toves, I'm feeling rather mimsy. Brillig, anyone?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Height Problems

As I may have mentioned before, all of us Chez Grace are taller--much taller--than average. Every once in a while we run into people who just have to make stupid comments about it.

This weekend Portia and Babs attended a wedding shower for one of their friends. The shower was given by friends of her fiance's mother and apparently all of the rest of the group were very short. When Babs came over yesterday she said that she was amazed that many of them made remarks about how tall she and her sister are and asked them how that was for them. (Babs is "only" 5'10" while Portia is 6'1".)

"I wouldn't make remarks to someone who is short like that," she observed. We had a talk about other experiences like that we have all had. I reminded her that in our society height is really an advantage for women as well as men, as lots of studies have pointed out. Still, fielding remarks and questions about your personal appearance from strangers you have just met always makes us feel awkward.

When I was Babs and Portia's age, I was very self-conscious about my height, but now I tend to forget about it unless someone feels called upon to remind me of it, like I hadn't noticed. What? I'm tall??? You're kidding!! Gosh, thanks for pointing that out.

Remember Randy Newman's song "Short People"? I bet it was written by a tall gal who'd had one too many questions about whether she played basketball in high school.