Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Watercolors: Street Scene and Still Life

Today's watercolors are both class exercises.

The first one was inspired by my online class exercise in painting buildings.

This second one is a still life exercise I did in the watercolor class I took this month at Watercolor Art Society of Houston -- their acronym is WASH, don't you love it?

I really love the way the colors came out in the still life. This is what I like about watercolors. It makes the street scene look drab by comparison! At least it does in real life, the digital image is brighter than the original. I'm resolved to use less water and more paint in the future.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Giant Puppets in Worship--Trend or Tragedy?

There's been some snickering in the blogosphere about the opening worship processional at the 219th General Assembly, particularly over the giant puppets that were in evidence. One wag dubbed this "the Lion King meets the PCUSA."

(If you are like me and didn't attend, then you can see a clip on You Tube here and here.)

The blog Bad Vestments even called them the Giant Paper-Mache' Calvinist Puppets of Doom. I have to admit I was sad to realize that I can't kid my Episcopalian brother about their Clown Eucharists anymore!

Yesterday Bad Vestments revealed that he had found a trend in the use of Giant Puppets in worship among several Protestant denominations and ranted: "what the hell is the deal with giant puppets during Christian worship?"

So, Gentle Readers, what say you?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sola Kerfuffle

The newly-installed Vice Moderator of the PCUSA, Landon Whitsett, was recently quoted in an interview saying:
This has set off a kerfuffle of commentary at Presbyweb and on some of the PresbyBlogs.

For those who don't know, or don't remember, the Five Solas are five Latin phrases that summarize the theological distinctions between the Protestant Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church of the Reformation era.

The five Solas are:

Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone)
Sola fide (by faith alone)
Sola gratia (by grace alone)
Solus Christus (through Christ alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone)

I can't argue with Whitsett's observation although I deeply regret it. I mentioned it at dinner with some elders before our session meeting last night and had to explain the Solas to them. And our church would be described as evangelical, Bible-centered, and conservative. Yet we are not teaching the Solas-- or much theology at all--in our new member classes and our adult study groups. I am not familiar with our confirmation curriculum, so I can't speak about that.

I bet there are very few churches that are emphasizing the Solas or the basics of reform theology to their congregations. It's little wonder that the concept Sola Scriptura is "dead or rapidly dying" in the PCUSA as conflict over the authority and interpretation of the Bible threatens the unity of the church.

And it is little wonder that the PCUSA is rapidly diminishing as a result. When the church no longer upholds scripture as authoritative in matters of faith and life, it is like a ship in full sail but without rudder and compass, driven in whatever direction the cultural winds are blowing, our port of destination unknown.

This fall I'm charged with coordinating new elder training. This kerfuffle reminds me of the need to include a brief overview of reformed theological principles, including the solas.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Recreational Cooking

Getting Babs and my SIL together for a couple of days guarantees that you will get some really good food as they egg (pun intended) each other on in their favorite sport of Recreational Cooking.

Here's what they served up this weekend at the bay:

Elvis Presley's Favorite Pound Cake topped with fresh peaches and homemade vanilla ice cream. Just don't ask how much butter is in this! It took the two of them to complete all the batter beating the recipe specified. Recipe available here if you are interested.

Some kind of cheese type appetizer made with several types of cheese and cubed french bread. At first Babs feared it would come out like a "low rent cheese puff" but it was pronounced a keeper by the hungry throng when it came out of the oven. She served it with a marinara sauce, as suggested in the recipe, but we all agreed that it didn't need the sauce. Of course Babs added some dry mustard and nutmeg to the original recipe.

And there would be no family weekend gathering Chez QG without the beloved Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake, topped with more of SIL's fabulous home made ice cream. She's convinced the oven in our bay house produces a better TCSC than the one at her house. I'm not getting involved in that controversy, but will say the one she made this weekend was definitely one of the best ever!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Watercolors: Buildings and the Beach

This week I spent some time on my online class exercises . The section I am working on now focuses on painting buildings. I continue trying to find a style that I will be happy with.

This one is an exercise in simplifying the building details. It is a view of Venice at dawn. Definitely NOT a realistic style, which was a good change of pace.

I've always admired ink and wash paintings and so was eager to try this technique myself when this exercise was next. It is Melling Church in the UK. I used a brown ink instead of black so the lines wouldn't look too harsh. I didn't like the colors the instructor used for the landscape around the church so I changed them which was maybe not the best idea!

The last one is my third attempt at painting a photo of two little girls playing at the beach. Each time I tried to make the painting less realistic and more impressionistic. This one shows improvement but I'm still not satisfied with it. I'm finding it hard not to put in too many details!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lois Is Now Blooming

This week has been pretty busy and the busy-ness is mostly unbloggable stuff at church and at home.

However, you will be happy to know that Lois the Corpse Flower is finally beginning to bloom and she is just as stinky as advertised!

You can follow her progress here without having to subject yourself to the scent.

Yes, it's a slow news day in Houston!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Happy 5th Birthday RevGalBlogPals!

Today we celebrate the birthday of the RevGalBlogPals webring! Check out the story of the beginnings of this group on today's post by Songbird.

I was fortunate to be among the "founding mothers" of the group. I was a very newbie blogger who had just found St. Casserole's blog and was looking for others like it.

Who would have thought it would grow to over 300 members and that I would dust off my attorney hat to create a non-profit organization for the group? Who would have thought that my recipe for the Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake would morph into the RevGals Solidarity Cake?

If you haven't checked them out, this is the perfect time to do so. The webring's blog has regular features that are unique in the blogosphere--especially Ask The Matriarchs (where newly minted pastors can ask questions to a group of experienced women pastors) and the every popular Saturday Preacher Party which allows pastors to exchange their sermon ideas, based on the revised common lectionary, for the next day's services.

Happy, happy birthday to all the RevGals and Pals!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Watercolors: A Shrimp Boat and 3 Pelicans

I've been inspired by recent trips to our bay house to practice painting more Gulf Coast scenes.

This one is a shrimp boat that was moored at a harbor in Port O'Connor, Texas. I painted this one from a photo I took there. Yes, the shrimp boats are still working on our side of the Gulf. Hopefully the BP cap on that well is going to work!

The painting of the three pelicans is also done from a photo. I didn't take this one myself, but used one from the website Paint My Photo where people post photos and give permission for artists to use them for their paintings.
In both cases one of my goals is to edit a lot of the detail of the photos in order to have a better composition for the painting.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book Review: Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising The Dead

Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising The Dead is Sara Miles' second book about the extraordinary food pantry and mission she founded at St. Gregory's Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

Miles told the story of her conversion to Christianity and the founding of the food pantry in Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion. I found that book inspiring despite my initial reluctance to read it (see my review). Miles has the gift for taking her own everyday struggles and those of the people around her and illuminating them through the gospel story.

Jesus Freak continues the narrative in much the same way as the first book did, but with some different people and their lives. I didn't find it quite as compelling as Take This Bread, probably because a conversion story is always going to be more memorable and dramatic than the struggle with faith that follows conversion. Nonetheless, Sara Miles fans will enjoy Jesus Freak. I don't recommend reading it unless you read her first book because it is like a sequel.

I nearly stumbled on the book, however, when I came to a passage where her friend Paul brings a Texas Sheet Cake to a meeting and Miles described it as " a sort of huge low-class chocolate brownie with thick icing."

HERESY! I know my RevGalPals will agree with me on this point. We regard the Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake as the Grace Cake of the RevGalBlogPals webring. Hmph. Low class chocolate brownie, indeed!

I'll have to forgive Sara Miles, though, because she admitted that when her friend shared the cake with a woman at the bus stop, "I went into the meeting feeling undeservedly, irrationally, full of joy." Yes, that's how the Grace Cake works.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Houston On Corpse Flower Vigil

Houston media is all a-twitter (#corpseflower) about the imminent bloom of Lois The Corpse Flower at the Museum of Natural Science.

The Museum is remaining open on a 24 hour basis until the thing blooms so as not to disappoint its fans who don't want to miss this very rare event and even (thank God) rarer scent it puts out.

There's a reason is called the Corpse Flower, friends.

The plant, whose real name is Amorphophallus titanum, has been dubbed "Lois" by the museum. She hails from Sumatra, and as of the writing of this post still hasn't bloomed. When she does her flower could be as large as 10 feet high and six feet in diameter. See the photo here for an example.

You can check up on Lois by viewing the HMNS webcam and view tweets about her at #corpseflower. If you have a sensitive nose, watching the webcam is definitely the way to go!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Worries South of the Border

This weekend El Jefe and I were in San Antonio for a family birthday celebration. There was a lot of talk from family and friends there about the dangerous situation created by the marauding drug gangs along the Mexican border and even into the interior.

We heard several stories about Mexican families who have moved to San Antonio for better security. They continue to have land, businesses and a financial stake in Mexico but the wives and children stay in San Antonio while the fathers go back and forth frequently to tend to their holdings. This has become more common in the past couple of years.

One of our high school friends married a man who is a dual US/Mexican citizen and lives in Tampico. She reports the town is now like an armed camp and she hears gunfire every night. Middle class families hire security guards (and wonder if they can trust them) and live with iron bars on gates and windows. Fear of kidnappings for ransom makes them prisoners in their own homes or refugees in the US.

My brother who is a pediatrician says he recently gained several families in his practice who are in this situation. I have no idea if they are here legally or not--but the people who fit this profile are upper middle or upper class economically and are not working in the US but are continuing to run their businesses in Mexico while buying homes for their families in the San Antonio area.

Several people at the party speculated that the US may be forced to intervene in the next couple of years if the chaos caused by the drug cartels is not controlled better by the Mexican government because it will directly affect not only American border towns but cities like San Antonio which are close, but not on, the border.

And that is a truly scary prospect.

Friday, July 09, 2010

GA 219: Mixed Results

Yesterday's GA voted to send a change in 6.0106b of the Book of Order which would, in effect, permit the ordination of non-celibate gays, to the presbyteries for approval. The vote was relatively close-- 53% in favor and 46% opposed.

Then late last night the GA voted to accept BOTH the majority and the minority reports on Marriage and Civil Union and commend them for study by the presbyteries and churches and not to take any action on the recommendations that came from that committee. That means presbyteries will not be asked to vote on changing the definition of Christian marriage in our BOO from a man and a woman to "two people." This passed by a narrow margin--about 51%.

This morning's Twittersphere is full of tweets speculating about whether a motion to reconsider yesterday's vote on the Marriage and Civil Union report will be brought to the floor today. So maybe the issue will come up again? Stay tuned.

Other business yesterday included a lot of "social justice" debate which makes the church resemble the caucus of the Democratic party in Congress. Once again we divide the church along secular political lines instead of using the GA to find ways to strengthen its gospel mission in this country and the world.

And there will be more of that today as the controversial Middle East Report comes to the floor of the assembly.

Where is the discussion about addressing decline in membership, strengthening our churches, planting new churches in growing areas, renewing our missionary efforts around the world and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Friday Watercolor: The Blue Door

I finished this yesterday whilst listening to the live feed of the General Assembly debate on ordination standards.

I call it " The Blue Door."

Painting and polity don't mix, so that's all for this post!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

GA 219: nFOG Goes to Presbyteries, gives QG homework

The revised Form of Government (hereinafter referred to as the nFOG) was approved by the General Assembly by a vote of roughly 70% for and 30% against. Hence it will go to the presbyteries where it must be approved in order to go into effect.

I'm of two minds on this issue. On the one hand, I think the government section of the BOO badly needs revision and cleaning up. It's a mess. The index is terrible so it is difficult to be sure that you have found all the sections that apply to an issue that you are trying to clarify.

On the other hand, I'm not sure the nFOG, which is much more than a revision and cleaning up, is the answer. Some valid concerns about its effect were voiced on the floor of the GA this evening.

It dawned on me this afternoon that since my duty on session this fall is to coordinate and lead our new elder training classes, we are going to need to be prepared to include information about how the nFOG will change the BOO if it passes the presbyteries.

You see my dilemma. Maybe I'll open the class on polity by passing around cups of PresbyPolity Alphabet soup. That's soup with mostly B's and O's in it.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Book Review Just for GA: The Organist Wore Pumps

Lucky for you, PresbyPolity types and GA commissioners! Mark Schweizer's latest Liturgical Mystery, The Organist Wore Pumps, has just been published and you can download it to read on your Kindle, IPhone or IPad while pretending to be paying attention in another one of those interminable committee meetings you are stuck in this week.

The only problem is that you will be hard-pressed to stifle your laughter while reading it and when you try in vain to suppress those tears of hysteria from flowing down your cheeks your fellow commissioners may mistakenly think you are In The Spirit.

In this eighth adventure of our hero Liturgical Detective Hayden Konig--full time police chief of St. Germaine, North Carolina and part-time organist/choirmaster of St. Barnabus Episcopal Church--the mystery involves the bones of one of the Three Wise Kings, an obnoxious deacon, some skunks, the Best Christmas Parade ever and a dead body in Lake Tannenbaum. Konig is hampered by a broken arm but not hampered enough to prevent him writing his execreble Raymond Chandler knock-offs or to keep him from solving the crime. This book can be read on its own, but you will appreciate it more if you have read the other seven, beginning with The Alto Wore Tweed. Also available on your Kindle and various Kindle Apps.

Favorite line from the book: "anything too stupid to be said can be easily sung." I really don't know how Schweizer does it, but this book is just as good as the other 7. For more fun, go here and you can listen to The Pirate Gloria, The Mouldy Cheese Madrigal among other things from the series.

Now your Auntie QG feels a bit disloyal recommending a book involving Episcopalians to our GA commissioners, but let's face it-- the Episcopal Church is both more colorful and more liturgical than us Presbys.

Though after seeing some descriptions of the opening worship with the Dancing Eagle and other things I'm thinking that maybe we are getting in a position where we can compete with them. The question is: who will be our Mark Schweizer?

Monday, July 05, 2010

GA 219 Goes To Ground So QG Cooks

For those of us PresbyPolityGeeks who are NOT attending GA 219 in person, the GA has gone to ground for the next couple of days as commissioners burrow into a millionty committee meetings that are not being streamed live. So until the next plenary meeting on Wednesday, we rely on our blogger, Facebook and Twitter feeds to learn what is happening.

Here's a shout-out to the Presbytery of New Covenant delegation: they have their own blog ( PNC Notes from Minneapolis) and several new posts went up today from commissioners. Keep up the good work! Pray for our EP Rev. Mike Cole as he testifies against the Middle East Peace report today.

Meanwhile, I've been cooking, so I'll share two "keeper" recipes from yesterday's Fourth of July festivities Chez QG.

The first one is a variation of the beloved and famous Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake-- the Texas Strawberry Sheetcake.

Kudos to blogger Homesick Texan for the recipe which you can get here. Everyone really LOVED this. It is easy, very fruity and moist.

The second one is a super fabulous Truffle Mac and Cheese. I got this one from the site What We're Eating. Here's the link to the recipe. It's a rather fussy recipe, so not exactly something you're going to whip up on a weeknight to go with your meatloaf. However for a special occasion it is outstanding. My guests gave it 5 stars and requested a re-run for Labor Day and Thanksgiving.

As I always say, when the goin' gets tough at GA, the tough get cookin' at home.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

GA 219 Icon for your IPad or IPhone

Fellow PresbyPolityGeeks--you can download an icon for the home screen of your IPad or IPhone that will take you directly to the GA219 streaming video.

I just put it on my IPad and it's working perfectly!

Go to the GA210 home page ( and follow the simple instructions.

Geekily yours,

Friday, July 02, 2010

Friday Watercolors: A Quartet

Since the last time I posted some paintings, I finished 4 little watercolors. Two were done in a class--both real and virtual-- and the other two I did on my own from photos.

This first is from the class at WASH (watercolor artists society of Houston). The instructor seems very fond of very dark backgrounds since she really is emphasizing how to use color values in a painting. I find the dark backgrounds difficult and am not sure I'm crazy about them, but I learned a lot from this exercise painting the pots and straw.

This study of an old stone barn is from the online class which concentrates on techniques for landscape paintings.

I did this one from a photo I took on our recent trip back to West Texas. This is the old trestle bridge over the Canadian River in the town of Canadian. It is now closed to vehicles but open to the public as a historic landmark. The figures on the bridge are El Jefe and his cousin Mary.

Here's a study from a photograph of southwestern style home. I like the way the building turned out but if I did it again would use masking to reserve the flower areas instead of trying to drop that color in wet-on-wet.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Onward Into the Fray: GA 219

The senior pastor of our congregation sent out a letter about the 219th GA that convenes this coming Saturday in Minneapolis. He reminded us that like the kings of ancient Israel, the PCUSA go out to do war in the spring of the year (2 Samuel 11:1).

Well, okay, so technically it's summer already, but you see his point. So onward PresbySoldiers, into the fray.

The PCUSA remains deeply divided along the same lines that divide American culture, and this shows no sign of abating. Presbyterians continue to prefer fighting about these types of issues every other year at GA rather than try to address the church's continuing sharp membership decline and resulting irrelevance.

The three "hot button" issues for this year's GA are:
  • The definition of Christian marriage (our presbytery sent an overture to GA advocating retaining the traditional "one man one woman" definition and this was also endorsed by our session). Any change by the GA will have to be concurred in by a majority of presbyteries to become effective.
  • Ordination Standards and the issue of gay/lesbian/transgender eligibility. Any change by GA in the current Book of Order requirements will also require presbyteries to vote to concur.
  • Middle East Issues: a highly controversial report is coming to the GA that will draw much negative publicity and create further division within the church. This won't require presbytery vote and approval .
Why does anyone think that the commissioners to GA have the time and expertise to pronounce on this complex subject, and why do they think that this exercise is good stewardship of the PCUSA's declining resources and influence? Presbyterians for Middle East Peace has a petition on their website asking the report not be adopted and there is still time to sign, which El Jefe and I have done. The website also has good information about the report.

There are 6 candidates standing for the position of Moderator. I just finished reading their responses to questions posed by the Presbyterian Outlook. Interestingly all but one said that the most important issue before the GA was the adoption of the Form of Government report. Really? Revising our Book of Order is the most pressing issue? That will be a hard sell back in the home churches.

By now those of you wanting to follow the doin's know where to go and how to do it online. PresbyBlogger Robert Austell (also a commissioner to GA this year) has developed a great website GA Help for commissioners and those who want to follow the proceedings in the committees and plenary sessions in detail and that is new this year, so you may want to check it out. The plenary sessions will be streamed live so you can watch at home in your pajamas, too.

Sometimes I feel the GA is like the slow motion train wreck that I can't bear to watch but also can't stand to turn away from. So this time I'm not planning to watch every proceeding and blog about it, but will doubtless watch some of it and may blog. Or not.

But I will be praying.