Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Closing The Sale

Well, today's the day! El Jefe and I meet with our buyers at the title company this afternoon and close the sale of our house.

It's been a bit of a weird journey with some comical screw-ups, such as:
  • the HOA gave us a certificate of compliance with HOA requirements but noted one minor exception. The exception was evidenced by a photo of our next door neighbor's house rather than ours and it was clear that they had not bothered to check the street addresses when making the report!
  • the lawyers for the bank preparing the deed put the wrong block number in the deed restriction. El Jefe had to point that out to them.
  • El Jefe also had to straighten out the chain of title for the careless title examiner.
I'm so glad El Jefe is my lawyer!

It will be odd to hand over a key to someone else, although we will lease back for the next couple of months until the new house is ready. Now I'll really have to accelerate my "downsizing" efforts in preparation for the move. We're getting excited about re-inventing ourselves in our new space, though.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mom of Congress: Uncle Jay's News Word of the Week

Dear Congress Boys and Girls,

It's time to catch up on the news! Our special guest today is Uncle Jay explaining the News Word of the Week--"MADNESS".

Listen up and take careful notes because it will be on this week's test.

Mom of Congress

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Economy--An Unwelcome Guest

A recent article in the Outlook reports that the "staggering economy" is an unwelcome guest at the meetings of the PCUSA's General Assembly Council. The reporter notes that it is also an unwelcome guest at every level of denominational life.

That's certainly true for my church, which has had to take some cost-cutting measures in light of anticipated reduced income. I'm sure it is the case for most congregations in every denomination across the country.

The fear-filled atmosphere that surrounds us on all sides doesn't help, either. It's hard to set fear aside and replace it with confidence and calmness. At yesterday's stewardship committee meeting we were reminded "God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline". (2 Tim. 1:7 NIV). That's a good reminder, but hard to internalize.

On the positive side of the situation, leaders are focusing on continuing funding for core ministries of the church and cutting back on the "nice-to-do's". That is something no one is inclined to do when economic times are good.

Is the economy an unwelcome guest in your congregation?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An Encouraging Word

This just in from the Department of Houston Religious Oddities, Osteen Watch Bureau.

The Osteens are now selling their very own Bible.

It comes with notes and "encouragement" from Lakewood Church Co-Pastors Joel and Victoria.

Especially the encouragement to buy it. $25 plus tax.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A City on a Hill

As I mentioned last month, our session meetings at MDPC begin with a time of group lectio divina. The method is this: the moderator selects a passage of scripture and offers some brief reflections on why he chose it. Then he reads it. We break into groups of three and each person in the group reads it aloud. Then each one comments on what words in the passage stood out and why, followed by a time of silent reflection.

Last night's passage was the very familiar passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5: 14-17.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
The second sentence jumped out at me last night. Why did Jesus talk about a city on a hill in the middle of a talking about light and lamps?

A city on a hill is both vulnerable, because it cannot be hidden, and protected, because it is very difficult for an enemy to scale a hill and overcome the city's defenders. Is this a metaphor for the faithful church which cannot and should not hide itself in the culture of the day? Would that mean that God will protect such a church from its enemies?

Then I wondered why this sentence leapt out at me. Maybe because our increasingly sour and negative national atmosphere needs the example of the church as that faithful city on a hill? How can we do that? For me, that means consciously reducing the amount of time spent with the media. I can keep up with the events of the day without wallowing in them. Then I can become more balanced and faithful and hopefully can be a little light in my corner of the world.

Of course the Houston area is a city on a swamp (er...bayou), not a city on a hill. But still!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fun With Technology

My wireless router died last week, so my internet provider sent me a nifty new gadget that combines modem, router and wireless for my home network. It came on Thursday.

As promised, all I had to do was plug it in, reboot our computers and..VIOLA!

We went down to the bay for the weekend and upon our return--you know what's coming, don't you? NADA.

Suddenly the gadget wouldn't recognize any of the computers in the house. After several calls Sunday night El Jefe's computer connected. But mine didn't. After a call to the "help" desk this morning, mine connected. But his didn't.

After getting more "help" from his office's help desk, they found a work-around that got him connected to the office server. But now his computer makes a loud "ding" whenever an email hits which sets the dogs off (Olivia is spending the day with us) and he can't figure out how to mute it because muting the sound on his computer doesn't help.

There's more "help" in my future.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Not Just For Traditionally Built Women

Portia, Babs and I are VERY excited about the debut on HBO of a new series based on the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books by Andrew McCall Smith.

We LOVE the heroine, Precious Ramotswe, of Botswana. Andrew McCall Smith lived in Botswana at one time and writes very sympathetically about African life. Precious reminds us of many of the wonderful Nigerian women we have had the opportunity to meet through our good friend Dr. O. Like them, she is a believing Christian and her faith is reflected in the stories, although it is not a prominent theme. It's just part of her personality and life, as it is with most of us. It appears that the producers have taken great pains to make the series reflect the wonderful calming tone of the books.

This looks like a great series for the whole family, so pull up a chair and a cup of bush tea at 8 Sunday evening and enjoy. It's not just for those of us who are traditionally built.

CORRECTION: The series begins NEXT Sunday. Mark your calendar. Mea culpa.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Beatrice Blogs: Tips for Free Play

Woof! Beatrice here.

This is for all my CyberCanine Friends--make your people leave the room so they won't know what you're reading.

Are they gone yet? Good.

Do you have a favorite toy that you OBSESS over as in you must play with it 24/7 and insist your people join in the fun? Me, too. I love me a small ball. But this week Portia and Olivia stayed with us because DK was on a business trip. My mom wasn't happy that I was ignoring Olivia to play with my ball. So she put it away where she thought I couldn't get it.

Never underestimate Beatrice the Bold! I saw her put it in the drawer next to her bathroom sink. So when she wasn't looking I jumped on a chair and then onto the counter above the drawer. Using my magnificent dachsie nose, I pushed the drawer open and retrieved the ball!

If you don't have such a nose, perhaps you can open the drawer by pushing your paws against the knob.

Yours for free play,


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Provocative End of Life Study

An study reported in today's Houston Chronicle found that terminal cancer patients who identified themselves as religious believers sought more aggressive treatment in the last week of life from their doctors than those who did not.

That's not what I would have predicted. I would have thought that those who believe in the providence and grace of God would be less likely to seek this kind of care. But then I don't have experience as a health care provider or minister.

One of the explanations was that because believers hold life to be sacred, they may feel a duty to live as long as possible.

Is that what those of you who provide pastoral care as ministers and chaplains find in your own experience?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Faith Comes By Hearing--Second Update

Yesterday I finished listening to Luke and John and began listening to Acts. I'm a bit behind on the Faith Comes By Hearing schedule, so I need to step it up if I'm going to finish by Easter.

I was thinking I would listen to Acts right after finishing John and then go back to John in order to hear all of Luke's history without interruption. But I didn't plan too well and found myself on the freeway when the narration shifted between the last two gospels. So I let it run on until I got home which meant I was well into the third chapter of John. So much for that idea.

The contrast between the mystic style of John and the other three gospels is just as striking when listening to narration as when reading straight through them. I was surprised by the number of mysterious sayings in John that I didn't remember. Also I found it harder to concentrate on John than on Luke. But then, Luke is my favorite gospel--probably because I love history and relate to his style best.

Acts is one of my favorite books of the Bible so I'm already enjoying listening to this history of the early church. It's much easier to follow in this format than John!

I'm still struggling with bookmarking the recording on my IPhone's IPod. Whenever I switch to another application, I loose my place. Then I guess where I left off and often guess wrong. Anyone know how to fix that?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Four Years of QG

QG is FOUR years old today! It's hard to believe I've been blogging that long. I was inspired to begin a faith-based blog after hearing Leonard Sweet talk about the uses of technology in ministry at an Association of Presbyterian Educators Conference.

Many thanks to those of you who comment, lurk and encourage me! You are all such a blessing.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Picky Picky

Here's today's lesson in Real Estate 101--Inspectors don't think they've done their job unless they can find something to complain about.

Thanks, Homeowners Association, for the nit-picking.

Just sayin'.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book Review: Author Response Benyamin Cohen

It's always a treat to have someone comment on my book reviews, but when I got an email from Benyamin Cohen today thanking me for my review of his book My Jesus Year (see post below) --- well, it really made my day!

Cohen sent me a link to a highlights video of a talk he gave at an Episcopal Church and said that he welcomes the opportunity to discuss his book at other churches. If you're interested, watch the video and email him: theauthor at myjesusyear dot com. The book's website is: www.myjesusyear.com.

Book Review: My Jesus Year

Here's another book by a Jewish journalist with a reality-show flavor. It reminded me of The Year of Living Biblically in some ways and I wasn't surprised to see A. J. Jacobs, the author of YOLB, endorsing the book.

Although both YOLB and My Jesus Year are about Jews seeking to connect with their faith, the difference is that while Jacobs was an agnostic (and remained one), Benyamin Cohen, the author of My Jesus Year, is a believing and observant Orthodox Jew.

This is NOT a book about conversion, but a record of the author's hope that by investigating Christianity, Jesus lead him back to Judaism. And He does, by the way!

Cohen is the son of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, and the only one of his siblings not to become a rabbi or marry one. In fact, his wife is the daughter of a Methodist minister who embraced Judiasm when they married.

Cohen writes that he felt estranged from his faith and found no meaning in its rituals and services. With the permission from his own rabbi (because Orthodox Jews are not supposed to attend church services) he embarked on his "Jesus Year", which involved attending as many Christian church services as he could, mostly in the greater Atlanta area where he lives.

The value in this book for the Christian reader lies in the sage observation of Robert Burns:
Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursl's as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
And foolish notion.
Cohen's viewpoint is that of a sympathetic outsider to the Christian faith. One of the things he is seeking to discover is how some Christian churches attract and keep their attendance and the devotion of their members. He hopes that he will find ideas that would translate to the synagogue.

The book is both humorous and instructive. Cohen writes extensively about the evangelical mega-churches and some odd sects like the Black Jews, but not much about the mainline Protestant churches. I think this shows his journalistic bias because these groups provide more entertaining and sometimes sensational copy.

Cohen spent some time in Catholic churches where he found he could identify with the emphasis on ritual in their services. There was one odd chapter in which he goes to confession and has a discussion with the priest about his loss of faith without telling the priest he is a Jew and not Catholic., although he knows that confession is meant for Catholics only. I'm really not sure what to make of this, not being Catholic myself, but it made me uncomfortable.

At the beginning of the book Cohen writes of his fascination with the Cokesbury Methodist Church which was in his neighborhood when he grew up. At the end of the book he visits that church and finds that the congregation has aged, dwindled away and the church is hanging on by a thread. In the afterword he notes that this church was closed not long after his visit. A parable for our time?

The book is well written and the author is likable and sincere. It's always a good thing to learn how Christians appear to others.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We Are The Presbyterians (New Hymn)

Hat tip to the Presbyterian Outlook for this link to a New Presbyterian Hymn.

Title: We Are The Presbyterians.

Tune: Aurelia (The Church's One Foundation).

Wonder if I can persuade the powers-that-be at MDPC to use this?

All together now and-a-one and-a-two!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Cloud of Witnesses

This weekend El Jefe and I went to his hometown in West Texas for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the church he grew up in, Wesley UMC.

A few weeks ago my SIL found a baptismal certificate that seems to indicate that she, El Jefe and their father were the first baptisms in that church. Their parents were charter members of the church and although my father-in-law Dutch was not very active, El Jefe and SIL say that their mother poured her heart and soul into this church.

Looking at the displays of old photos and bulletins, it's clear that she was a very important leader of the congregation, serving on the building and finance committees during the construction of the first building. Later she spent years as the Sunday School superintendent and teacher. We bought a DVD that had transferred some old 8 mm movies of the first building going up and El Jefe was thrilled to see an image of his mother on the camera for a few brief moments.

The congregation has dwindled due to age and the decrease in the population of this small town since the 1950's. A few vigorous saints in their late 80's and early 90's who knew my husband's family back in the day were clearly still actively participating in the life of the church. But it now has lay pastor (what we PCUSA'ers what call a Commissioned Lay Pastor) and its future as an independent congregation is questionable. The pastor's wife lamented the deaths of 11 members in the past year and the mother of one of El Jefe's Sunday School buddies told us they are lucky these days to see 50 in attendance in worship.

None of that affects the lasting legacy of those, like my MIL, who established the church and raised their families in it, though. This trip reminded me once again how we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and that we are truly surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses."

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Great Questions To Ponder

I just love it when our BSD lesson gets people to ponder and struggle with some very deep questions!

Today we tried to answer the following in connection with a study of the nature of Christ:

Surely Satan knew Jesus was God, so why did he even bother trying to tempt him?

If Jesus is fully God, then how could he possibly have been really tempted by Satan?

How can you respond to a loved one or friend who believes Jesus was a good teacher, but not divine?

In connection with the above question, is C. S. Lewis' "Liar, Lunatic or Lord" argument persuasive?

If not, then how else could you give evidence of the divinity of Christ?

There were lots of different answers offered to these questions, but ultimately the mystery of the Trinity doesn't lend itself to discovering THE answer. What's your response?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Getting Inspected

Yesterday was pretty tense Chez QG.

Our prospective buyers scheduled their inspection of the house. They arrived at 1 pm and didn't leave until well after 6 pm. St. Betty kindly let Beatrice and I stay at her house so we could get out of the way. You don't want to watch people crawl all over your house looking for defects!

Now we wait to hear their response to the inspection.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Faith Comes By Hearing--First Update

I've been listening to the New Testament on my Faith Comes by Hearing MP3 recording (see previous post for background on this project) for the past 10 days, so it's time for an update. I've listened to Matthew and Mark so far.

I do like listening to audio books and podcasts. I've found the production values of this recording to be good. The background music is not obtrusive or distracting. The voices are pleasant, but sometimes I find the delivery kind of hammy. The voice of the devil really gets your attention!

As a veteran of the Bible in 90 Days program, I'm more accustomed to reading the Bible straight through than listening to it read aloud. Of course the early Christians would have listened to the New Testament rather than read it for themselves. So it is instructive to have this experience.

One impression I have so far is that the "apocalyptic" bits in Matthew and Mark seem longer in listening than in reading. Also the contrast in style between these two Gospel authors jumped out at me--especially the frequent reference by Matthew to OT prophesy and the frequent use of the adjective "immediately" in Mark. Mark can wear you out! The overlap between these two Gospels also became more apparent to me in listening as opposed to reading.

I've been listening to the recording while driving, with the use of my IPhone IPod. One problem with this is that I haven't figured out how to "bookmark" my place in the recording when I close that application in order to use another one. My solution is to keep listening until the end of a chapter so I can more easily remember where I was.

Monday, March 02, 2009

House Under Contract !

We're stunned. We got a good offer on our house literally within hours of its listing on the MLS service Friday. The buyers even offered to allow us to remain here after closing while our new home is being finished, so we worked out the details and accepted the offer.

Although the deal isn't done until the closing, we're so excited!

As if that wasn't enough, shortly after we accepted the offer another agent asked to bring clients to view the house even though we told her we had already accepted an offer. After the viewing, she called me and said if our contract fell though to call her because her clients wanted to make an offer as well. Our buyers have 10 days to do an inspection and decide whether to proceed.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow....As my SIL said (after she said Get Out and Shut Up) "It was meant to be."

~doing the happy dance~