Thursday, October 29, 2009

Land of Lincoln Tours

El Jefe and I are off tomorrow at o'dark thirty with a crew of fellow Presbyterian Civil War buffs~known as the Civil War Aficianados~to tour the Lincoln Historical Museum and other sights in Springfield, Illinois like his law office, the site of the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the Lincoln family's burial site.

The Aficianados read and discussed A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White before the trip and they focused on Lincoln's life as a lawyer and his spiritual life. I've got the book safely stowed on my Kindle for the trip!

It will be Halloween weekend, so I wonder if we will see goblins dressed as John Wilkes Booth or poor, mad Mary Lincoln in the historic park there. If so, I'll post photos.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Talking About Jesus

Our Vice- Moderator, Rev. Byron Wade, puts his finger on one of the causes of the decline of the PCUSA with his recent blog post: Is It Just Me or Are We Supposed To Be Talking About Jesus?

Hat tip: Presbyweb.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It Is Finished!

After about 6 months of effort the church's policy and procedures manual is finally finished! The session approved it at yesterday's meeting. There were a couple of last-minutes changes, but nothing substantial.

So the great opus will be posted on the website and the master copy will go to live in the church office.

Will anyone ever look at it again? We will make a "reader's digest" version to show the new elders at their training meetings. But its just too long to go over in any detail. And that would be a real MEGO (my eyes glaze over) experience anyway. I do think the revision is more "user-friendly", relatively speaking, and hopefully will be easier to update in the future.

It was a good exercise for me since I am relatively new to this church because it forced me to learn a lot about the way it is organized. Now the challenge will be keeping it current because there are sure to be changes big and small to procedures and policies in the future.

But for now, I'm just glad it's done!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Great Reviews for The Diva!

Friday night's performance of The Elixir of Love was fabulous! The Houston Grand Opera production was very entertaining and fast-paced. The singers were great and we all had a wonderful evening.

My niece Catherine Martin, a/k/a The Diva, is indicated with the blue arrow on this photo. They put her in a truly heinous black 40's style wig and a dress that looked like it was from the sale rack at St. Vincent de Paul. (The Diva is really a blonde.) And let's not even mention the shoes. No, let's not. But as you can see from the photo, that was the vision of the set and costume designers.

I was amazed at the number of people in the chorus that fit on the stage and how well they moved around without falling over each other. The acting was also superb.

And now, a look at the early reviews. You'll pardon my auntly pride as I post the excerpts about Catherine, you can go to the links to read the whole review. Drumroll, please:

Catherine Martin’s Gianetta was also beautifully sung..

Rounding out the cast was HGO Studio Artist Catherine Martin in a small but worth noting role. Her beautiful mezzo-soprano voice in some ways outshone her leading lady with its crystal clear quality and focused, rich sound. She is sure to have a promising and prosperous career... Houston Examiner

And no, neither her mother nor I wrote that second review!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Opening Night at HGO!

We're all all-flutter Chez QG about the Diva's debut tonight. She will perform the role of Gianetta in Donizetti's The Elixir of Love in Houston Grand Opera's production.

Her mom and sister will be on their way from San Antonio to join El Jefe and I. We also get to go to the Opening Night dinner afterwards and will be all dolled up in our black tie duds which we hope we won't burst with pride!

I'm not sure we'll be able to follow the convoluted plot of the opera, even with the English subtitles that HGO projects during performances. The Diva tells us her role is small (about a two page solo) and she is the "head chorus girl", but she is the only one in the cast from the Young Artists program, so we think she is the star!

Review to follow....stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Checking In and Prayers Please

It's been a wild couple of days since coming back from our trip to Pennsylvania for the weekend.

Please pray for my friend Martha, seriously injured in a car accident yesterday. She suffered multiple fractured ribs, a concussion and an injured lung. She faces a long, painful recovery.

Also, prayers for my patience in dealing with last-minute changes to the church's policy and procedures manual would be appreciated. It gets voted on at Monday's session meeting. Yeah!

In other news, I see the Vatican is wooing disaffected Episcopalians. Aren't they concerned that expanding the exception allowing married priests will generate more pressure to permit all priests to marry? Which would be fine with me, but I'm not Catholic. What do you think?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Olivia Responds: Bea Wasn't So Good Herself

Woof Yourself!

Olivia Here.

Beatrice is a Big Tattletale. So there!

And she isn't so good herself, either. Portia made us both spend Saturday afternoon in Time Out in the yard because Beatrice kept chasing DK's cats.

Okay, so I chase them too. But Beatrice started it!

Yours for setting the record straight,


Beatrice Blogs: Olivia's Poor Deportment

Woof! Beatrice here.

This weekend QG and El Jefe were out of town so I went to stay with Portia and DK. But on Thursday and Friday they had to work so QG found a Doggy Day Care facility near our house.

I'm very sad to report that Olivia disgraced the family name by snarling at the other dogs in the day care area so we had to spend the day in the time-out room (a/k/a day boarding kennel) instead of being able to hang out with the other pooches.

Portia was mortified when she came to pick us up and learned that Olivia got an N (needs improvement) in deportment. Now QG is wondering what's the best way to teach her better behavior around other dogs. She is pretty good with one or two small dogs her size but acts up when the dogs are larger or there are more of them.

Embarrassingly yours,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Deciding When to Say NO

Sometimes it is really hard to say NO when you're asked to do things that you are very interested in and enjoy doing. Especially when those things are church-related.

The last week found me sorely tempted to say YES to requests from my church and from Greater PresbyLand (and, no, the Presby request wasn't from anything GA related). Because I was already feeling a bit overwhelmed by existing commitments, I prayed and thought about it first instead of impulsively agreeing, for a change, and finally declined both.

Good Friend Dorothy and I often remind each other when we think its time to get our virtual NO refreshed on our foreheads. She will be very proud of me!

So I decided to make a list of reasons I said no, even though I would have liked to say yes, for future reference:
  • Number and scope of previous commitments
  • Time of day ( already have too many evening meetings)
  • Number of trips to Houston per day added (part of the price of living in the suburbs-- I can't tolerate too many 2 trip days)
  • Complicating Sunday mornings for the family
  • Remembering that too much busy-ness is bad for the soul, even when it is at church. Maybe especially when it is at church!
When you say no when you would like to say yes, what influences your decision?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Our New Doors

This is why recent visitors to our new house are calling it The Cloisters.

Door to the "casita"-- the little guest house.

Looking down the loggia to the front door.

Looking the other way down the loggia towards the street entrance.

Maybe I need to get a couple of black robes to wear around the house, although I would much prefer a lavish medieval gown like this one.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Twitter Worship Follies

From Sunday's Houston Chronicle article Praise for Technology --Tweeting during worship services gets blessing of pastors:

(Pastor Kerry) Shook, of the nondenominational Woodlands Church, is still easing into Twitter. During the first interactive service, his wife, Chris, took questions from the congregation via Twitter, and he contributed a tweet of his own: “Chris Shook looks really hot tonight!”

His son tweeted in response: “please don't broadcast your attraction to mom across Twitter — kind of embarrassing.”

Shook is learning through experience.

“I forgot it went out to the whole twittersphere. I was so embarrassed...,” the pastor said. “But I can see this becoming a real part of the service.”

Gentle Readers, I rest my case.

From those that tweet twitter and text in worship
And cell phones that ring the Aggie War Hymn during silent prayer

Good Lord Protect Us!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Fears of Contagion Change Church Practices

Lauren Winner writes in today's Wall Street Journal that Swine Flu Spells the End of the Common Cup. When I saw the headline I immediately remembered how horrified Babs (my little Presbyterian) was when we attended the opening worship service for entering freshmen at All Saints Chapel at Sewanee and she was offered a common cup. She like to died!

Winner notes in her article that the chaplain at Sewanee continues to use the common cup but no longer allows communicants to dunk the bread pieces in the cup on the theory that the mouth has fewer germs than the hand. That would not have mollified Babs, who decamped to a Presbyterian students' group when Eastern Tennessee presbytery made a retired Sewanee professor a Commissioned Lay Pastor for a ministry to Presbyterian students and friends. And I have to admit that I'm not a fan of the common cup, either.

Although Presbyterians have a long tradition of using what Winner calls "shot glasses" -- don't you love it?--rather than the common cup, even we are making some changes in response to concerns about H1N1 (the politically correct term for swine flu).

World communion Sunday last week saw us using both shot glasses and pre-cut pieces of bread. I didn't think about it at the time, but that was obviously a response to H1N1 because we usually tear bread off a loaf and dunk it.

Another change came at the end of the service when the pastor usually asked the congregation to hold hands as he delivers the benediction. Although a number of people continued that tradition, he didn't mention it.

In our Bible Study Discussion groups we traditionally hold hands for intercessory prayer and we haven't changed that custom. If someone has a cold, they just excuse themselves and we count it as a "virtual" hand-holding.

If you ask me, the biggest center of contagion is in the church nursery where parents will often bring a sick child that they wouldn't dream of sending to school. I assume churches are being more careful about this as well, but don't know for sure because I don't have children or grandchildren in nursery care these days.

Has your church made changes in liturgy or practice in response to fears of spreading flus of any type?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Book Review: Sacred Hearts

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant is a novel set in a convent in 16th century Ferrara, Italy. While one of the stock characters of historical fiction of the medieval European period is the formidable abbess who exercises power and commands respect that women outside the convent will never achieve, the fate of those forced by circumstance or by their families into convent life is seldom examined.

The author says that her research shows that roughly half of the women of noble birth in 16th century Italy were forced into convents because the market for marriage doweries became so inflated that even wealthy families could not afford marriage for more than one daughter. Although convents received doweries from wealthy families also, it was more affordable. Girls who were disabled in any way, or not attractive enough, or too attractive, spirited, or intelligent were usually the ones families "gave to God."

Women "given to God" in this era were basically incarcerated behind the walls of the convent for the rest of their lives. They did not teach, nurse, help the poor or serve in the community. The choir nuns (from the noble families) sang, prayed, embroidered, or copied manuscripts. The lay sisters (from poorer families) did the everyday work and acted as maids for the choir nuns.

Sacred Hearts is marketed as a love story, but it is really much more than that. Dunant creates several very complex characters--the novice Serafina whose father beats her and forces her into the convent because of an unsuitable love affair; the Abbess Madonna Chiara who is a brilliant spiritual and political leader; the infirmarian Zuana who developed medical skills in the convent that would have been forbidden to her otherwise; and the novice mistress Umiliana who seeks a stricter rule for the community.

The transformative power of prayer, music, learning and community are major themes of the novel as they illuminate the motivations of the main and lesser characters here. Dunant emphasizes the value of a holistic spirituality as opposed to a narrow religious fanaticism that would starve the body in order to feed the soul.

I really enjoyed reading Sacred Hearts. It has a complex plot although the ending is somewhat telegraphed just before you get there. As all good novels do, it leaves you with a lot to think about after you finish it.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Full Disclosure Time

Here's a heads-up for all my blogging friends from the QG Bureau of BlogLaw: the FTC now requires you to reveal your freebies if you write about them. More info HERE.

So, okay, FTC, here's mine. I got a free copy of a book that I reviewed, which I disclosed in the review. Yes, that's redundant but I'm following El Jefe's guidance to his corporate clients with regard to SEC filings which is when it comes to disclosure, you need boots AND suspenders.

Clearly I'm not a very successful blogger if the FTC is concerned enough about blogging freebies to make this rule. (Note: I do understand that there are advertisements that are disguised as blogs.)

Is there something you need to disclose? The FTC wants to know....

Monday, October 05, 2009

Thoughts on the Gift of Administration

And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:27-29

Although I like to think of myself as having other spiritual gifts, it seems that I am mostly called upon by the church to exercise the gift of administration. Checking the above passage from 1 Corinithians, I suppose it is a good thing that it is listed ahead of speaking in tongues since most of us PresbyTypes don't do that.

For the last couple of months I've been immersed in revising the Policies and Procedures manual for our church. This is done every other year and assigned to the newest Senior Administrative Officer (a/k/a SAO) in the 3 year SAO chain. That would be me this year.

The old P&P was a mish-mash of styles and formats which made it hard to read and use, so we decided to create a standard format for ministry and committee descriptions. My inbox has been filled with comments from elders and staff after I emailed the new versions to everyone and asked for any additional policy documents that weren't there in the first place.

Master drafting responsibility is mine, and did I mention that as a word processor I am a great lawyer and a better singer? I confess that frustration with editing did have me speaking in tongues--just not the kind in 1 Corinthians! Fortunately the church communications staff agreed to format the manual after the text of it was in a final draft form. Whew!

Although we've joked about how the best manual would be two pages long rather than the 100+ pages this one is morphing into, I'm now convinced that it is important to have everything in one place somewhere. The fact is that if a policy or procedure is approved by the session and is only recorded in the minutes, it is likely to be forgotten within a few years when the membership of that group has turned over. What we are doing here is creating institutional memory and consistency and that is just as important for a church as for any other group.

When the master P&P is finished, we plan to create "condensed" versions that will refer the reader to the church website for links to the lengthier policy documents such as teacher and employee handbooks, accounting and financial guidelines, etc. We'll also post the P&P on the website, probably in the condensed version that will include live links. Since the church is "reformed always reforming" its policies and procedures, the challenge will be to keep it current!

Having to revise and live by this manual is difficult--but not doing that would be far more difficult because not operating under agreed upon policies and procedures invites the chaos, dissension, and misunderstanding that undermines the ministry of the church.

And that's why administration is one of the spiritual gifts.

Friday, October 02, 2009

MOB Redux Update: Cake Tasting

Yesterday Babs, P-Dubya, Portia and I went to a cake tasting. This is one of the most fun parts of the wedding planning! The baker was recommended to Babs by a couple of recently married friends and we loved the website (isn't it cute?).

Babs requested samples of an almond cake; white chocolate and strawberries cake and a white chocolate cookies and cream cake. Unlike most tastings where you get a see-through slice of the cake and several separate frostings and fillings to sample, we were served regular portions of the completed cake. Yum! All were super delicious.

Babs has a firm NO FONDANT policy because she doesn't think it tastes good. She is all about buttercream! So they chose the cookies and cream cake for the bride, to be decorated with fresh flowers.

The grooms cake is still being debated, but Portia suggested that the almond cake in the shape of her dachshund Olivia (who is crazy about P-Dubya) would be an excellent choice. I'm betting on the almond cake, but not the dachsie shape!