Thursday, July 31, 2008

PresbyBloggers Re-Inventing Themselves

The Presbyterian Bloggers webring is re-inventing itself!

A group of the bloggers have been working to set up weekly features for the ring website and hope to encourage broader participation and develop a sense of community. Our new Moderator, Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow has agreed to participate in a monthly "Ask The Moderator" post. Thanks, Bruce!

I've agreed to co-host the weekly Thursday feature we're calling "Read and Learn". Plans are to set up an online book club (similar to the one at the RevGals) and offer book, movie, TV, and magazine article reviews as well as suggestions for adult study groups. Contributions and suggestions from fellow PresbyBloggers will be most welcome.

Here's the rest of the proposed schedule, which is still a work in progress and subject to change:

Weekly Devotion

Member Blog Meet & Greet

Personal Faith Experiences

Joyful News on Ministry

Read and Learn

1st: Ask Moderator Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow
2nd: Ask the Experienced Pastor
3rd: Ask the Elder Elder
4th: Get to Know Meme

Chewing on the Word: Lectionary Ruminations


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beatrice Blogs: Olivia 1, Snakes 0, Crabs O


The last couple of days Olivia and I have been down at the bay house. Olivia is finally learning to hunt!

Yesterday she tracked down a sand crab and dispatched it.

Then she sniffed out a small garter snake and whipped it around just like I showed her! When the snake was dead, she took it to the edge of the water and dropped it in. I told her not to eat the thing and she didn't.

We're all very proud.


Love, Beatrice

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

QG's Best Praise Song Ever

Will wonders never cease?

A couple of weeks ago when I was doing an installation service at one of our churches, the congregation sang the praise song "In Christ Alone."

El Jefe and I were so taken by this song that I not only downloaded the song from ITunes, but I also bought the sheet music, hoping that someday I'd have the opportunity to sing it somewhere.

As Frequent Readers of this blog know, El Jefe and I are not fans of praise music in general, but we have found "In Christ Alone" very comforting in the wake of his father's death.

We talked about what made this song different for us and decided it was the Christocentric message; the singable tune; and the text of the song which is full of meaning and is not just a repetitive, simple refrain. I'm sure there is a reason we were introduced to this song at this time!

Here's the YouTube video of "In Christ Alone", which includes the lyrics and the photos are from movie The Passion of the Christ.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Whole Lotta Installin' Goin' On

Here's a map showing the locations of the churches where installations of new pastors have been scheduled in the months of July and August. As you can see, there's a whole lotta installin' goin' on in the Presbytery of New Covenant this summer.

I've been to west Houston, central Houston and I'm going to Webster, east central Houston, Angleton and Lufkin (so far northeast that it is off this map!)

Boy, am I happy I bought that GPS gadget for El Jefe for Christmas and he insisted I should keep it in MY car!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More About Dutch

Ten years ago, El Jefe and I made a trip to his hometown of Borger, Texas, with Portia, Babs and his father Dutch in tow. El Jefe made a point of taking the road from Amarillo to the town of Panhandle, and then following the trail that Dutch followed back in the 1920's when the Harrington family moved to what was then the boomtown of Borger -- a muddy hole full of tents, oil roustabouts, prostitutes and gamblers. It was one of the last of the Wild West towns.

Young Dutch led the family into town on a Shetland pony. His mother, father, and three older brothers were traveling by horse and wagon from the railroad depot at Panhandle to their new home. Dutch was in his early eighties when we made this trip and was able to tell the story to his granddaughters and show them where the family camped in the little ridges that were called "hills" there on the high plains of the Texas Panhandle.

Dutch's father began his oilfield trucking business in the twenties using teams of horses and wagons. Dutch and his brothers continued the business after WWII using trucks to haul large pieces of oilfield equipment around North Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas.

Dutch never liked horses, but he loved all things mechanical. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps and trained as an aerial engineer and top gunner on the B-17. A typical member of the "Greatest Generation", Dutch returned to his hometown and family business after the war and devoted himself to his family and his family's business. He continued to fly until the fateful day when he and his buddy flew into some power lines and El Jefe's mother put her foot down, insisting that it was time to quit flying.

Dutch was a City Commissioner, a member of the Tax Equalization Board and the county Airport Zoning Board back in the day. When a new subdivision was built, a road was named in his honor. Dutch was famous for insisting that the local police not engage in high-speed chases through town, saying it was better for a miscreant to get away than for innocent citizens to be injured or killed by this dangerous practice.

When my grandmother died in 1996 at age 98, I was struck by the incredible changes that she lived through--from WWI to Operation Desert Storm, from early phonographs to cable television, from Model T's to rocket ships, and from handwritten letters to instant email around the world. Dutch lived through most of the same changes that she did. The world he was born into was very different from the world when he died. It makes me wonder what future changes lie ahead for me.

Dutch was blessed with unfailing good humor, unconditional love for his wife, children and grandchildren, and the devotion of his daughter and son-in-law who cared for him in their home until the day he died. What a wonderful life he had. What a blessing he was to all of us.

Thank you, Lord.

And thanks to all of you for your sympathetic comments on my previous post!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Farewell to Dutch

Claude Marion Harrington
April 3, 1916-July 21, 2008

El Jefe's father, our beloved "Dutch", passed away yesterday afternoon. He was 92. A memorial service celebrating his life will be held Friday at 2 pm at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, Houston.

More later--blogging will be light this week.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Yankee or Dixie Quiz

El Jefe sent me the Yankee or Dixie Quiz, which evaluates what dialect of American English you speak.

To his chagrin, he scored 45% YANKEE. Must be all those years arguing with New York lawyers.

QG, on the other hand, scored 63% DIXIE.

It's a short, interesting quiz. Try it here and let me know how you scored in the comments.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

QG's First Sermon

Tomorrow is the day!

I'm preaching here, and I decided to follow the pastor's suggestion and preach on the vision of the presbytery which is: "Growing congregations that passionately engage their communities to make disciples."

One of the problems I have always had with vision and mission statements is that, in my experience, after lots of time and effort is spent in developing them they become slogans for the website and stationery rather than a guide for the future. Although I think that our presbytery's committees have tried to use the vision statement as a guide, our congregations are not aware of it or how the presbytery proposes to help them "engage their communities to make disciples." This is a great opportunity to talk about this evangelistic vision with this congregation. Thanks, Howard!

Here's the outline for my sermon: using scripture from Nehemiah (Ezra the priest reads the books of the law to the returned exiles) and Luke (Jesus sends the disciples out to make more disciples), I talk about how we have to equip our congregations by reading and studying the Bible and then we have to go out into the community rather than expecting people to come to us in order to make disciples.

Presbytery has two programs to support congregations in these efforts. We have a team of Vision Consultants who will come work with a congregation to help them discern how they are being called to engage their communities, we have a Vision Initatives Grant program to help fund creative ideas that fulfill our vision and we have 16 New Church Developments (and counting!). I'll give examples of some of the recent grants so the congregation can get an idea of the different types of things other churches are doing.

I'm emphasizing that making disciples is about forming relationships with others--so it depends on each one of us, it's not something that presbytery can do for us. I'm using some examples from the books Take This Bread by Sara Miles and Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels as illustrations.

My favorite part of getting to preach is that I get to choose the hymns! We're going to sing "Ye Servants of God Your Master Proclaim", "Lord Speak To Me" and "Lift High The Cross."

Thanks to lots of encouragement from friends and family (and the Holy Spirit, no doubt!), I'm over being nervous about stepping out of my comfort zone and into the pulpit and looking forward to tomorrow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Time For Some Campaignin'

A timely reminder to keep it all in perspective from our friends at JibJab.

This is so fun because you can put your own picture in the clip! Check out the last few seconds and you'll see QG being thrown about by every wind of (political) doctrine!

Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Book Review: Year Of Living Biblically

Here's a book that really defies description. The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs records the quest of the author to follow as literally as possible all the commandments and rules in both the Old and New Testament. I think I saw this on the overstock shelves at Barnes and Noble.

It reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love in that both books were conceived as projects by their authors and then sold to publishers before the authors began eating, praying and loving or living Biblically. I think this makes the experiences they recount less authentic because the authors seem to force the experience to fit the proposal they gave their publishers.

I will say that I thought TYOLB was much less contrived than Eat, Pray, Love and more entertaining. The author is an agnostic Jew, who found himself sometimes surprised to make the connections with his ancestors in the rituals that he was following. A. J. Jacobs is witty and sincere in his analysis of how his feelings about God evolved as a result of his experiment.

But don't get excited: he didn't evolve much. He concludes the book by saying he is still an agnostic, but a "reverent" agnostic. He's not sure there is a God, but does believe there is such a thing as sacredness and he plans to continue observing the Sabbath, wearing more white clothes and saying prayers of thanksgiving (although he's not sure who he's thanking).

According to the author's website, the book will be made into a movie. It will be interesting to see if it becomes just a comedy and if the ending will be changed so that the protagonist becomes a believer.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Project Peepway

Babs, Portia, St. Betty, and I are all primed for the new season of our guilty TV pleasure--Project Runway-- which begins tomorrow. Here is the Peeps version:

Monday, July 14, 2008

I'd Like to Thank Presbyterian Gal....

Presbyterian Gal gave me this lovely "She's So Artistic Award" along with kind compliments that left me blushing and truly grateful for her friendship.

This is one of those awards that come with the responsibility to pass it around. Here are the rules:

1) Pick five blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also for contributing to the blogging community, no matter what language.

2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3) Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.

4) Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of Arte Y Pico blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award -- which is here: Arte Y Pico.

I'm all in favor of mutual encouragement, so here are my 5 nominees:

1. Presbyterian Gal her own self. Although she has already had this award from one blogger, she gets it from me as well for her lively and creative writing, her unique voice, her fascinating life and her strong Christian and Presbyterian witness. Really, who else writes such wonderful stories on her blog? I hate it when she is on vacation!

2. Gannet Girl of Search The Sea. One of my early PresbyBlogPals, GG regularly posts wonderful photos of nature that she takes. As a former attorney, teacher in a Jewish school, and now as a progressive seminarian at a conservative Presbyterian seminary, her blog is full of interesting anecdotes and reflections.

3. Stushie of Heaven's Highway and Presbyterian Bloggers. Stushie regularly posts beautiful glass art projects of his own design and sometimes cartoons! He is a Presbyterian pastor in Tennessee and I also enjoy his posts on all things Presby.

4. Rachel of Skewed View. Presbyterian Gal already nominated her, but I have to second the motion. She has a killer wit and her regular Friday Cemetery Photo feature is something I always look forward to.

5. Jan Edmiston of A Church For Starving Artists. Jan writes thought-provoking posts about the emerging church in the PCUSA and always illustrates them with beautiful and appropriate graphics.

So those are my nominees: Four Presbies and a Baptist! Don't say I'm not diverse...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Different Take on the "Grace" Cake

Recently my SIL made a White Texas Sheet cake that the whole family gobbled right up. It's really just the Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake that the RevGals know and love as the "Grace" Cake--but without the chocolate.

I whipped it up this morning because I'm expecting a bit of company over the weekend. It's delicious and seems more summery than the original version. I've seen some recipes for this that include pineapple--but I prefer my pineapple fresh not baked in a cake. Here's the recipe:


1 cup butter
1 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup chopped nuts-- I used slivered almonds and toasted them first!

In a large saucepan, bring 1 cup butter or margarine and water to a boil. Remove from heat, and stir in flour, sugar, eggs, sour cream, 1 teaspoon almond extract, and baking soda until smooth. Pour batter into a greased 10 x 15 x 1 inch baking pan.

Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 20 to 22 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and tests done. Cool for 20 minutes.

Combine 1/2 cup butter or margarine and milk in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

Mix in sugar and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract. Spread frosting over warm cake. Sprinkle nuts on top.

Makes 1 - 10 x 15 x 1 inch sheet cake that serves a big crowd!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Marking Houston

New Bulletin From QG's Bureau of Houston Religious Oddities:

Picture two giant 200 foot tall structures consisting of a cross perched on a globe of the world riding on a smaller chapel-like structure marking the entrances to the city of Houston on the north and south sides of Interstate Highway 45. That's the vision of Grace Community Church, a megachurch of about 12,000 members with two campuses in those locations.

The World's Largest Cross is the Cross at the Crossroads in Effingham, Illinois, measuring a mere 198 feet. Of course, the Texas crosses will be TALLER! Everything's bigger here, right?

See this morning's front page Houston Chronicle story.

Here's the description of the Cross Project from the church's website. Interestingly this page describes the crosses as being only 150 feet high.

Reactions to the plan from non-Christian groups as reported by the Chronicle were surprisingly supportive. A Hindu spokesman said "all religions are related to truth. So if you see a form of religious structure, treat it as a structure of God and move ahead with it." The Muslim spokesman said the US "is a land that promotes marketing of ideas. Muslims have the right to put billboards up that say 'Call 1-800-Why-Islam?' I have seen that in other cities. If Muslims can do that, Christians can put up a large cross, too."

Apparently the FAA may have to get involved in limiting the height of the proposed cross on the south side of town because it is near an airfield.

Since the pastor of Grace Community Church expressed a hope that ultimately there would be one of these crosses at every entrance into Houston, I'm wondering if some day we'll see one near our house on the Southwest Freeway.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Without "Vision"

So I'm thinking that since I've been asked to preach about the vision of the presbytery that a good Old Testament reading for the service would be "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Proverbs 29:18.

Uhm. Not so fast, QG.

I couldn't find these exact words in my NIV or NRSV, so when I went over to an online Bible search engine, I found the following:

When there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint (NIV and New King James)

Where there is no prophesy, the people cast off restraint (NRSV)
Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained (New American--at least it used the word "vision"!)

If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves (The Message)

Apparently the old King James translation is the only one that says "Where there is no vision the people perish."

I'm sure this church uses the NRSV for its pulpit Bible. Sigh.

Don't you just hate when this happens? Back to the drawing board....grumble, grumble.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Preacher For A Day

A week from Sunday Yours Truly will be preaching at one of the churches in our presbytery. The pastor who asked me to come wants me to talk about our presbytery's vision statement: Growing congregations that passionately engage their communities in making disciples.

I've never preached before, though I have often served as a lay leader. (For my non-PresbyReaders, in the PCUSA both elders and pastors can preach in worship.) Although I am comfortable speaking in public, when I teach adult Sunday School classes I use an interactive, Socratic style rather than a lecture. It will be a challenge to come up with a 15 to 20 minute sermon that doesn't sound like an attorney's closing statement!

If I hadn't been asked to preach on this specific subject, I would have followed the lectionary and used one of those texts as the theme of the sermon. But that's not an option, so I have to come up with the scriptures. And the hymns. And some other liturgical stuff. But I don't have the go-byes that pastors have, so I'll be all over the 'net looking for appropriate calls to worship, benedictions, charges etc.
This is sure to deepen my appreciation for you pastors who do this every week. And I'll get to join the Saturday Preachers' Party at RevGals, not as a lurker, but as Preacher For A Day!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Beatrice Blogs: My 4th of July

WOOF! Beatrice here. While Mom is cleaning up in the kitchen after Portia, DK and Babs came for dinner tonight, I thought I'd tell you about my adventures this 4th of July weekend.

We all went down to Port Alto. Olivia came with us because Portia and DK were visiting his parents for the weekend. We had a great time! SIL's bulldog Duchess was there for us to pester. Plus there were lots of other dogs since it was a big holiday. Olivia took out after a boxer and was the worse for it, so every time I saw that dog I'd give it what for.

Friday afternoon there were a bunch of little boys playing baseball with their dads. They had these great plastic balls with holes that I could really get my teeth into! The dad who was pitching let me play shortstop. That was really fun. The dad said he was afraid I'd be too short to make the big K9 League, but what does he know?

I'm as patriotic as the next dachshund, but let me tell you that the fireworks were way too loud for me and Olivia. We got really upset so QG and El Jefe had to sit with us in the bedroom with the windows closed and the TV on to distract us. When they heard there would be even more fireworks on the next evening, they decided to take us home.

Thank you! We had a nice nap in the car and have been recovering from running around, sniffing, taking boat rides, being petted by toddlers and generally adored by all the grown-ups.

Olivia just went home, so I'm ready for a nice evening nap now. Whew! It's hard being a dog sometimes.

Love, Beatrice

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Fourth of July

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness

America, America, God mend thine ev'ry flaw
Confirm thy soul
In self-control
Thy liberty in law!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Book Review: Take This Bread

First a confession. When I read about this book, I was put off by some of the reviews and had decided not to read it, even though it was a RevGalBookPals selection a short time ago. Then a friend at church who is in my BSD book study this summer enthusiastically recommended it to our group. So I thought there was a reason this book kept coming across my radar screen and I ought to take a hint and give it a try, despite my reservations.

I'm glad I did.

Sara Miles is a very gifted writer. She also has a spiritual sensitivity that I envy because I sure don't have it.

One of the reasons I avoided reading the book earlier was because, frankly, I am weary of reading spiritual memoirs that spend as much time bashing Republicans and the Bush administration as on religious experience. You know what I mean--the kind where True Christianity and the Liberal/Progressive/Democratic party are equated. Anne Lamott is the poster girl for this genre.

And, by the way, I don't read conservative/evangelical books that make the same mistake in the other direction, either. If I want to read about politics and national/international policy, I will choose a political book. Although Sara Miles and I are "miles" apart in many ways (couldn't resist the pun!), she is no Anne Lamott. But I was not so put off by our differences that I could not appreciate what she had to say.

Take This Bread
is, as advertised, a truly remarkable story of conversion. You can see how God worked in the author's life, weaving together seemingly disparate threads that brought her to faith: her grandparent's legacy; her experiences as a journalist and political activist; and her skill in cooking and restaurant management.

My BSD friend in recommending the book pointed out the fact that the author didn't know any Christians before she walked into that church and had her conversion experience.

What does that say about us? How many of us know people who are not Christian and if we do, are they aware of our faith? It was a stark reminder of how we all tend to stay in our comfort zones--Christians with like-minded Christians, atheists with each other, Republicans with Republicans and Democrats with Democrats--and that Christ calls us to leave those comfort zones so the Holy Spirit can go to work.

I recommend this book, if you haven't read it already. Take it, read it and then pass it around.