Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Five: HGTV Edition, Late Play

Will Smama brings us today's RevGals Friday Five which she labeled the HGTV edition.

I didn't watch HGTV until a few months ago when El Jefe and I got involved in building a new "downsize" home now that we are empty-nesters. Now I actually know who Candace Olson is (besides being a tall gal like me) and what My House Is Worth What? and House Hunters are. Not that I'm especially proud of that, but at least I'm not totally clueless.

Well, here we go:

1) If you could, what room in the place you are currently living would you redo first?

I would do more work on the kitchen. I updated it when Babs was a senior in college, but after watching HGTV realize it needs some more work.

2) What is the most hideous feature/color/decor item you have ever seen in a home?

The time my parents painted their living room (including Dad's reed organ with the fake pipes) Pepto-Bismol pink with gold accents had to take the prize. As soon as we were finished painting (any of us who were handy were pressed into service), my Dad declared it looked like a New Orleans bordello. He immediately bought some beige paint and we began all over again. Let me tell you, it takes several coats to cover that bright pink.

3) What feature do you most covet? Do you have it? If not, is it within reach?

An informal living area just off the kitchen. And I'll get that at the new house! I don't think it's possible to reconfigure the traditional floor plan in the current house to do that--but the next owner is welcome to try.

4) Your kitchen - love it or hate it? Why?

I've always liked it. It's a good size and includes an informal eating area. The original appliances are very good and still work just fine after 25 years.

5) Here is $10,000 and you HAVE to spend it on the place you are living now. What do you do?

Invite the people from HGTV's Design To Sell over. Refinish the hardwood floors downstairs. Install new stainless appliances in the kitchen.

Here's my own bonus question--Know anyone who wants to buy a nice, big two-story house in Sugar Land? Call me.

Too Much Excitement!

All of the QG family is very excited. This weekend is going to be a very special one.

Not ONLY will there be a family dinner arranged by El Jefe, Portia and Babs to celebrate my (xxx-th) birthday, but my talented niece, Catherine, will be in Houston because she is one of the semi-finalists in the Houston Grand Opera 's Competition for Young Singers!

My late father, who was a classical music fanatic, would have been so proud to see his granddaughter singing in such a prestigious competition. I remember how he used to tell me that if he had been a good singer, we would have all starved to death while he chased a career in opera and sacred music. That didn't happen, but his fondest dreams are now coming true for our Catherine.

My sister, her mother, has a wonderful voice but chose to make her career in music in the church. She is the director of music ministry at the largest Methodist church in San Antonio. One of my brothers is a talented instrumentalist and had a bluegrass band before leaving music for a career in medicine. And you know about me, the amateur choral singer who got to debut in NYC at her nephew's wedding!

But Catherine is the real deal--she has the innate talent, the focus and drive and the effort it takes to succeed in the world of classical music. When she sang in NYC it was last week at Carnegie Hall last week in a Master's Class with Marilyn Horne! And yes, that's her name at the top of the list on the billboard.

All week long I've been marveling at all the blessings God has given me in my life and certainly this weekend brings me almost more than I can handle.

Prayers that Catherine will perform at her best would be appreciated, whatever the outcome decided by the judges. I know that Daddy will be beside himself in heaven listening to her!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

QG's Podcast

The lecture that I gave last week at BSD is now available as a podcast on your computer or as an MP3 download on the MDPC website for those of you who were kind enough to say you wished you could hear it.

If you go to this link you can access the audio files. The link takes you to the Media Archives page on the church website. Go to BSD Lectures 2008-2009 and click on "show Details". This takes you to the page with all the lectures. Scroll down to the January 22 lecture and you'll see the link to listen, download the MP3 file and/or the pdf of the powerpoint notes.

Whew! That's a lot of work. I thought about just posting it here as a podcast, but since it was recorded by the church wasn't sure that fit the "terms of service" of the church website.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rex Babin's Miracle on the Hudson

Hat Tip: Brother W.

No Good Deed Department

Notes from the No Good Deed Goes UnPunished Department:

As I've mentioned before, El Jefe and I are preparing to downsize and move to a smaller (but way cooler!) house. Knowing there was no room there for my piano, I donated it last week to a church in Galveston that lost its instrument courtesy of Hurricane Ike.

All well and good.


Three big black stains appeared on the hardwood floor where the piano legs sat all those years.

So I trotted over to Home Depot and, following their advice, rubbed spirits of mineral oil on the stains and then, using a very very fine sandpaper, tried to erase the stain. It worked, sort of. But it took about 2 1/2 hours of diligent elbow grease. Then I put the finish renewer on it. Wow, am I stiff or what?

Huh. It looks a lot better, but not good. The marks are still pretty obvious. I'm not about to have the floor refinished at this point.

Advice, anyone?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Unique Retreat

This weekend I attended my church's session retreat, which was the most unusual, and the most worthwhile retreat I ever went to.

Unusual because the idea was that instead of using the time to make plans for the coming year and asking God to bless them, we spent time practicing listening to God to see what his will was for our congregation and leadership. What a concept!

Two lovely contemplative services with communion began and closed the retreat. Passages from John 4 were the scriptural theme of the retreat. Pastors and elders who are involved in the spiritual development ministry of the church made several effective presentations about different spiritual practices, and we broke into small groups a couple of times to practice lectio divina. Although we did have a brief business meeting at the end of the retreat, it didn't take away from the rest of the experience.

My retreat roomie asked me how the retreat compared to other retreats I've attended at my former church and at presbytery. There is no comparison! The other retreats that focused on goal setting, vision statement writing, program planning and stuff like that usually left me irritated and then frustrated when, as invariably happened, the grand plans and resolutions that were produced were promptly forgotten. This retreat made me feel better equipped to listen to God as I go about my duties in the coming year.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Praying on My Mind

For the past week the topic of prayer has been preying on my mind. (Sorry, couldn't resist the pun.)

I agreed to substitute for our regular teaching leader and give tomorrow's lecture for BSD (Bible Study Discussion). Our study this year is called Revealing God and examines the attributes of God. Tomorrow's subject: "The God Who Hears Prayers".
Thanks to the Wall Street Journal's article on the history of inaugural prayers and the fact that a whole lotta praying has been going on in Washington DC between the inauguration and several prayer breakfasts and services, I can bring in some examples from recent news stories.

As the Church Lady would have said, "how convenient"!

Lecturing is not really my strong suit, though. I've taught lots of adult groups, but they were usually small enough that I could encourage questions and comments from the group. But this group is too large for that, so a lecture it is!

Since the lesson focused on prayers in scripture and the components of prayer, I'm going to focus the lecture on how God communicated with people in scripture and then I'm using Dallas Willard's Hearing God to talk about how we can learn to listen to God's response to our prayers.

Back to work!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

History of Inaugural Prayers

With all the fuss over who is praying at the Inauguration and how they are praying, I found Saturday's article in the Wall Street Journal: The Power of Prayer by Steven Waldman, a very interesting history of how this tradition evolved.

If you're not up to reading the very lengthy article, here is my brief summary.

Surprisingly to me, this tradition is of recent origin. While the first presidents issued "prayer proclamations" periodically that drew controversy, pray-ers were not included in their inaugural ceremonies. This tradition dates only from 1937.

Although most would agree that America was a less tolerant and diverse nation then, the roster of "prayers" was more diverse than it later became. Truman had a Protestant minister, a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi. From 1937 until 1985 (except for the Carter inauguration) inaugural prayers were offered by what Waldman dubbed "the four person prayer scrum." (Love that term!) The prayers given were all explicitly and unabashedly Christian or Jewish.

Ronald Reagan invited just his personal pastor to his first inauguration, but then returned to the four person prayer team at his second inauguration. After that, both Bush 41 and Bill Clinton only invited "America's pastor", Rev. Billy Graham. Bush 43 invited only Franklin Graham (Billy's son) to his first inaguration and then reinvited him and added Rev. KirbyJon Caldwell to the second inauguration.

Barak Obama followed these precedents by inviting only one pastor to pray at his inauguration--Rick Warren. And Rick Warren's prayer was made in the name of Jesus and he closed it with the Lord's Prayer, following the explicitly Christian model of recent history.

It's fascinating that, as Steven Waldman pointed out, the prayers at Presidential inaugurations have become less inclusive as the country grows more diverse. That's not what I would have predicted.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mom of Congress: Reporting For Duty

With all the excitement in the media over tomorrow's inauguration, you are probably wondering what the Mom of Congress is doing.

I'm resting up at home, conserving my strength for what promises to be a very busy legislative season in Washington. Already a division is appearing between some Democrats and the new President's policies vis-a-vis the economy which may require CongressMom's intervention if a food fight ensues.

Although there have been requests for CongressMom to intervene in the impeachment fight between the Illinois Senate and Governor, they have been refused. Unlike Congress, the Supreme Court and the Executive Branch, CongressMom has a sense of proper jurisdiction and boundaries and must set a good example. But I must say, I am sorely tempted! CongressMom's powers are limited to the discipline and training of the Congress of the United States. I must keep my focus.

To that end, I am collecting several Time Out Chairs and looking for an appropriate Time Out Room in the Capitol. Specifications for the room include: no TV access, no wireless for the Blackberries, no IPods, and lots of blank wall space for the Congresspeople to stare at until they are ready to return to the floor and work well with others.

The virtual Texas Towncar of Justice is in the shop, getting an oil change, new tires and extra back seats installed so that squabbling CongressPeople can be separated while transporting them to and from the Time Out Room.

Meanwhile, I thank President Bush for his service to the country and for keeping us safe from attack since 9/11. I pray that President Obama's administration will successfully address our country's foreign and domestic policy challenges over the next four years, because we are all in this together despite our political differences.

Now I have to start packing. Where are those Mom jeans, the Martha Stewart-button down shirt and the loafers? And the stickers. Can't forget the stickers.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

Random Friday Thoughts

  • Ah-Hah! I can use the story of the Anti-Christ in Houston as an illustration of what God's voice does NOT say in my lecture for BSD on Thursday when I sub for the regular teacher.
  • Poor Beatrice whined and cried last night after Olivia went home from their play date, refusing to leave the back door until I took her outside to show her Olivia wasn't there anymore. She really misses her! After the move, we may need to get another dachsie to keep her company.
  • Our realtor says the house is in good shape for showing. Target date to list it: March 1.
  • I'll miss singing with the choir Sunday so we can attend the earlier contemporary service where a family friend's baby is being baptized. Next Sunday!
  • More stuff needs to come out of various closets and the pantry, but I need help hauling it out. So there it sits until the weekend.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Book Review: Understanding the Koran

Last fall my church offered a series of classes called "Loving Your Muslim Neighbor". El Jefe and I attended and found ourselves simultaneously enlightened and challenged by the speakers, who came from all over the country and the world. Houston has a sizeable Muslim population, so the subject is a very relevant one for us. In fact, there is a mosque about 3 miles from our home in Sugar Land.

We were particularly interested in the presentation about the Koran by Rev. Mateen Elass, a Presbyterian minister from Oklahoma. Rev. Ellas' father was a Muslim who came to the United States for his education where he met and married Ellas' mother who is American and was raised as a Christian. Elass described his father as more of a "cultural" than a "religious" Muslim, but said that he grew up in a Muslim enviornment in Saudi Arabia where his father, a Syrian, was employed by AARAMCO. Ellas' recounted his own faith journey, which brought him to confess Christ and later become a Presbyterian pastor--which caused a long estrangement with his parents.

His presentation included a brief summary of his book, Understanding the Koran: A Quick Christian Guide to the Muslim Holy Book.

Elass sees the influx of Muslim immigrants to the United States as a challenge to the church:
In many ways, the relative success of Islam in our midst should serve as a rebuke to the church of Jesus Christ for our poor witness to the grace and truth of our Lord. For the sake of Muslims and all others who are hungry to connect with a personal god, we Christians must make sure that the dividing walls of human hostility that Christ destroyed on the cross are not rebuilt through our own sins of racism or apathy.
Although some Christians say that the Muslim Allah is different from the God we worship, Elass does not agree. He believes that the Muslim Allah is the same God we worship, but that the Muslim understanding of God is incomplete because they do not know the love and salvation available to them through Jesus Christ.

Among the topics Elass addresses in the book are how the Koran is viewed by Muslims; the origins of the Koran (including Jewish and Christian sources); Jesus in the Koran; and the understanding of heaven, hell and jihad in the Koran. Discussion questions for each chapter are included at the back of the book and should prompt some lively exchanges of opinion in any adult group.

Elass is a scholar, so there are times when the book becomes a bit academic and difficult. I think this adds to the credibility of the author's presentation because the book is a serious study of the subject despite its brevity. Since the Koran is the true heart of Islam, this is important for American Christians. This book is an ideal introduction for church study groups. It is not easy, glib, or polemical. I recommend it.

(Cross-posted at Presbyterian Bloggers)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Anti-Christ in Houston Song

Clever readers Kyle and Reformed Catholic wrote a song in the comments to my post Anti-Christ in Houston.

Of course it is a country-western song! In case you missed the comments, here it is:
The anti-christ went down to Texas
Because he was loosing his assets in a divorce deal
Being forced to leave the home
His ex-wife won in a steal. ( courtesy of Kyle)

Chorus: (courtesy of Reformed Catholic)

The anti-christ is down here, run boys run
(fiddle solo)
He's trying to avoid paying a large sum.
(fiddle riff)
Sitting in Houston, hiding that dough
(fiddle riff)
What he's done with it, no one knows!
Anyone care to add a verse?

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Daughter Portia recently began her blogging career at Odi et Amo.

Ever the classical studies major, the title she chose for her blog means "I hate, I love" in Latin. Odi et Amo focuses on her interest in fashion, interior design, the movies and anything else that strikes her fancy. I think it's really good, but of course, I'm the Mom.

Go on over and check it out and tell her that Mom said to say "hello"!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Self-Proclaimed Anti-Christ In Houston

This just in from the Houston Chronicle: Former evangelist Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda-- who first proclaimed himself to be Jesus Christ Returned and then changed his mind (!) and proclaimed himself the Anti-Christ-- is now mired in legal problems involving his divorce from his wife.

Can you imagine? A Florida court ruled that his church is not a church but a personal business and awarded half of its assets to his estranged wife. Apparently the self-styled Anti-Christ is alive, well and hiding out in Houston.

Just so you know.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Check out Mac's "Adventures"

Mac, over at Around the Scuttlebutt, is writing a series called "The Adventures of Graying Presbyterian Church". Although the posts are fictional, you'll find the "adventures" all-too-true to life for most of us in the Protestant mainline. Go on over and join the conversation!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Two Fer Review: Andrew Jackson Bio and Kindle

This is a two-for-one review.

I got a Kindle for Christmas and decided that Jon Meacham's new biography of Andrew Jackson, American Lion, would be the first book I would read on it. So I'm reviewing both the message and the medium.

First, a review of American Lion. This is a superb and fascinating history of the two terms of one of America's greatest Presidents, warts and all. Although Meacham sketches in Andrew Jackson's life before and after becoming president, this is not a full biography of Jackson. The book focuses on the the eight years of his presidency--and a full eight years it was!

Meacham makes the case that Jackson's successful fight against the Bank of the United States set the stage for the country's later economic success and that despite the fact that Jackson was an unrepentant slaveowner (unlike many other prominent men of the day he did not free his slaves in his will), his firm opposition to the early secessionist moves in the southern slaveholding states shored up unionist sentiment in advance of the later Civil War.

Jackson was the first president to see himself as accountable to the will of the people. This caused him to become the focus of much censure and accusations by the political and social elites of the day that he was trying to grow the power of the office into a virtual monarchy. But Jackson persisted, and today's modern presidency owes much to his vision.

And, by the way, lest we forget, the political rancor between foes and fans of Jackson was so appalling that it makes modern-day partisan almost seem like a Kum Ba Yah Fest.

The book reads almost like a work of fiction. It is well-written and fast paced. Of course Meacham had a great subject, but he also writes very well.

And now, I'll turn to my experience reading in on a Kindle, instead of a hard-copy.

It took a couple of hours of reading to learn how to keep from inadvertently turning the page before I was ready to. But once I learned how to position my hands to prevent that, I found the Kindle easy to use. The print is quite easy on the eye and I loved the fact that I could easily adjust the size of the type, depending on whether or not I was using my reading glasses!

I had not expected to be able to view the photos that are in the hard copy of the book, but they were included and showed up very well. The Kindle doesn't show color, but since all the graphics were black and white old pictures and etchings, that was not a problem. One annoyance was that if the image was large, the description appeared on the succeeding page.

All in all, I love my Kindle! I liked that when I turned it off, it automatically bookmarked where I stopped reading and opened to that page when I turned it on again. I'm happy not to continue stockpiling books all over the house, too. The downside is I can't easily share a good book with someone else if it's in Kindle format, but on the other hand, it's a lot cheaper.

I've now downloaded several more books and plan to keep Kindling.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Heard Over the Coffee Cups...

So this morning El Jefe and I are having breakfast with the TV on to an early morning news show.

Victoria Osteen* is being interviewed, flacking her new children's books.

QG: "She is really good at happy talk. She could have been a successful investment banker."

El Jefe: "But then she wouldn't have made as much money."

~rim shot~

*Co-pastor, Lakewood Church, Houston

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My Favorite Longhorn's Last Game

It wasn't just another great Longhorn cliff-hanging win. The whole QG family avidly watched yesterday's Fiesta Bowl game between the University of Texas and Ohio State University to see our Favorite Longhorn in his final college game.

What a way for Chris Ogbonnaya to wrap up his career at UT! He was the Horn's rushing leader with 11 carries for 42 yards, and received 4 passes for a total of 56 yards, including the longest UT pass of the night-- 37 yards .

Chris now has FIVE bowl championship rings--two Rose Bowls, Holiday Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Alamo Bowl. (Chris was red-shirted as a freshman, but suited out for the first Rose Bowl game so he got a ring.)

Most importantly, he graduated with a history degree, took a second degree in communications in his last year of eligibility, was named to the second Academic All-American Team, and gained the respect and admiration of his coaches and his peers. We can't wait to see him use his many gifts from God in the next phase of his life. Will he play in the NFL? We'll see.

We've always been UT fans, but following the Horns next year won't be the same without cheering Chris' every move on the field.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Book Review: Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood is the third book in a series written by Sharon Kay Penman about the Angevins: King Henry II of England and his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. I loved the first two books, When Christ and All His Saints Slept and Time and Chance and so I ordered it as soon as it was published.

And Devil's Brood does not disappoint! Penman focuses on the sons of Henry and Eleanor and their rebellions against his father. Although Henry and Eleanor were once the most celebrated lovers of the European medieval period, Eleanor sided with her sons in their rebellion. This led to the destruction of their marriage and her 16 year captivity by her husband. Truly the Angevins took dysfunctionality to a different dimension!

Penman's historical fiction is true to historical fact. She took 6 years to write Devil's Brood as she carefully researched the events and people depicted in the book. The interpretations, of course, are hers, and in the author's note (and on her website) she explains where she took artistic liberties in her writing.

One of the best aspects of the book is that Penman does not depict any of the major characters as villains or angels. Henry, Eleanor, their sons and other prominent figures in the story are portrayed sympathetically with equal attention given to their virtues and their shortcomings.

The book is a long one--752 pages. If I'd had my Kindle before Christmas, I could have downloaded it, saving both money and the weight of the book!It ends with the death of Henry and the ascension of his son Richard ("the Lionheart") to the English throne. Richard promptly releases his mother from captivity and names her his regent because he is preparing to lead a Crusade to the Holy Land. Penman is now writing a sequel focusing on Richard's reign. I hope I don't have to wait another 6 years to read it!

Devil's Brood is excellent--one of the best works of historical fiction I have ever read. You don't have to be familiar with the previous two books or the historical period to enjoy it, but you'll probably find yourself wanting to read the other two after you finish it. I highly recommend this book for English history buffs and fans of historical fiction in general.