Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fabulous Texas Size Organ Debuts in Houston

Today's newspaper carried a front page story about the new pipe organ that has just been finished and installed at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in downtown Houston. It made me think about my Dad, who loved all things pipe organ-ish, and how excited he would have been about it.

It is truly Texan in size: 5,499 pipes, 11 tons of metal, 75 stops and 45 feet high!

The organ has a name, Opus XIX, and its very own webpage! On the webpage you not only find a lot of details about the organ--which is massive and has some exciting new technology--but also information about concerts and events at the Co-Cathedral that feature Opus XIX. Some of the events are free and some have a minimal charge and you can buy tickets from the webpage. I bet every organist in the world would love a chance to try it out!

Opus XIX's slogan is: For Worship, For Music, For Education. I can't wait to hear it! Until then, here's a You Tube Clip of my Dad's favorite Bach organ piece:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Take The Quiz!

So you read or heard the news about the recent Pew Forum's report about the sad state of the average church-goer's religious knowledge and shook your head in dismay.

Wonder how you would have fared on the test? Go here to take the quiz and see for yourself. No fair taking it AFTER reading the full report because that gives away some of the answers.

Share your score in the comments! I made 100. I don't think it was tricky at all. You?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Eight Habits For Building Faith Apathy in Kids

Pastor Randy Lubbers, First Presbyterian Church of Crystal Lake, Illinois, published this insightful essay on his blog (Still Up In The Air): Eight Habits for Building "Faith Apathy" in Your Kids yesterday.

I found myself nodding and muttering "preach it!" as my inner DCE came out of hiding while reading it. Especially his points about what I view as the obsessive cult of youth sports.

Go over and read it! Then share it around your church.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Welcome, Cool Front!

Dear Cool Front,

Welcome back! Take off your hat and sit a spell. Here, I'll move those magazines. 

Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Adult beverage? 

Here's the remote control. No, please take it, it's all yours.

I've put fresh flowers and a fruit basket in the guest room. We were hoping you'd visit soon. That Summer had definitely outstayed her welcome! Some seasons never know when to leave.

You, however, are our FAVORITE! Please stay as long as you like. We hope you won't need to make any trips out of town while you're with us because that sneaky Summer will just try to move right in again. No flowers and fruit basket for her!

Did Fall come with you? There's plenty of room for her too. I have an extra guest room. That's the advantage of being an empty-nester you know! 

Please say you'll stay!!!!

Love, QG

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Five: We Who Sing Pray Twice

 The RevGals Friday Five is all about singing in worship--one of my favorite things!

1) Do you like to sing/listen to others sing? In worship, or on your own (or not at all?)

All of the above.

2) Did you grow up with music in worship, or come to it later in life? Tell us about it, and how that has changed in your experience.

I grew up with it. My grandmother was a church music director and my father an amateur organist. The church I grew up in was small but known for its emphasis on the great classical music of the church. All my life I've sung in church choirs--large and small. I'm on hiatus right now due to my session role, but find it hard not to be involved in the choir. The highlight of my "career", so to speak, was singing the soprano solos in Messiah with  two combined choirs and orchestra a few years ago. And of course, singing Ave Maria at my nephew's wedding in the New York City area.

3) Some people find worship incomplete without music; others would just as soon not have it. Where do you fall?

I think worship is incomplete without music. Hello? The Psalms??? 

4) Do you prefer traditional music in worship, or contemporary? That can mean many different things!

Traditional classical music and hymnody is what speaks to me in worship. I notice that there is little participation in the praise songs in our contemporary worship service UNLESS a contemporary arrangement of a traditional hymn and its familiar tune are included. Then everyone sings out with gusto! So I think that too often contemporary music in worship makes the congregation spectators rather than participants which is so wrong. 

5) What's your go-to music ... when you need solace or want to express joy? A video/recording will garner bonus points!
I've been told this is really a modern hymn rather than a contemporary praise song, so no wonder I love it!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Review:The Millenium Trilogy

Today's review is a 3-for-one. I just finished reading the last book in Stieg Larrson's Millenium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest). Yes, that's kept me busy for a couple of weeks!

These books have been on the best seller list for --what?--years now, but I decided to give the first one a try after my daughters started passing them around.

I downloaded the first one on my IPad and decided to see how I liked it before springing for the other two. I don't know if "liking it" is the right description but I was interested enough to keep going. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo really set up the other two books well. The second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire, seemed less interesting until the very end when the cliff-hanging ending spurred me onward to the last in the series, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest.

There are so many suspenseful plotlines in this series that it is impossible to discuss them specifically without giving away their endings. However The Girl (Lisbeth Salander) is one of the most memorable characters I have encountered in recent fiction. The journalist who helps her is clearly based on the author himself, as I discovered when I got curious enough to read his biography online. That explained the Police/Intelligence Agency=Bad, Journalists/Private Security/Hackers=Good bias I had detected.

The plot is a heady stew of domestic violence, international intrigue, rogue intelligence agents, incredibly disfunctional families, computer hacker networks, journalistic power struggles, rape and murder. Salander's revenge against men who hate women is the unifying theme of the series.

It's a shame the author died before publication of the trilogy. I would have like to read more from him. After I finished the books I marveled at how expertly the entire suspenseful and intricate plotline had been crafted and resolved. The only loose end I noted was the whereabouts of The Girl's lost twin sister.

There is a lot of violence in the story, so I don't recommend it for everyone. I had to put it down at times--especially just before bedtime--because I got too wound up.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Meeting Myself Coming and Going

How many church meetings is too many church meetings?

Three in a 24 hour period? Six within four days?

Presbyterians are famous for their meetings and fall is always Meeting Season.

'Tis the season to be meeting. Fa-la-la-la-la!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Presbyterians Today: Blogging Stewardship

Every fall the thoughts of Presbyterian church leadership turns to the annual stewardship campaign. In this month's Best of the Blogs column for Presbyterians Today, I highlight blogs that write about stewardship. You'll find everything from advice on planning the campaign to videos that deliver a serious message with a touch of humor in Blogging Stewardship.

Check it out!

UPDATE: Between the time I wrote and published this post the url link was changed from the September article to the upcoming October column about Youth Blogs. Don't know what happened here. Usually the links are changed around the first of the month. I'm checking into it.

UPDATE 2: The September issue is back up on the website, so the link now goes to the September Best of the Blogs. I'm informed the links will change around October 1. At that time I'll repost about the October issue. Never mind....

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Five: Baby Showers!

Well, shut my mouth if Jan over at the RevGals didn't post a Friday Five meme all about Baby Showers since she is hosting one for her daughter-in-law.

As an expectant Granny-to-be, I must chime in!

1. What were baby showers like for you and your friends in the past?

Boy that seems like a long time ago! They were usually simple gatherings with Lady Food and the opening of presents for the baby.

2. Did you play games? What kinds?

I don't remember playing games at baby showers for me and my generation of friends. Guess we weren't so playful!!

3. In your job, especially if you are a pastor, do you get invited to a lot of baby showers? What do you do about them?

I'm not a pastor, so this one doesn't apply. I'm just invited to showers for the daughters of friends who I know well.

4. Are baby showers different for our daughters (or younger friends) than they were for us?

Yes and no. I think it depends on the hostess or hostesses. I've been to some showers where several games with prizes were organized, but most are like the showers back in my day.

5. Do you like hosting baby showers or do you avoid that responsibility?

I like doing it, but I'm not very creative about it so I usually recruit a friend who is to help co-host the event. That works well.

Bonus: Any silliness about baby showers you wish to contribute.

This isn't silliness--but Portia and I have been thinking that it would be great to have a Baby Book Shower where the only gifts requested would be books for the baby that she would choose and register with and Barnes and Nobel or books that guests especially loved reading to their children or having read to them as a child. We loved reading together! I think it's a super idea myself. You???

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Award Results

The results are in and QG didn't win the award for Best Spiritual, Inspirational or Religious Book Blog in the Book Blogger Appreciation Week Award contest. Congratulations to the winner: Books, Movies and Chinese Food. Great title, yes?

However, I'm really pleased to have received one of the three nominations in the category, especially since the nomination and award is based on the votes of other book bloggers. I notice that the winner and the other nominee focus almost exclusively on book reviews and related types of posts while QG covers a lot of other topics.

I have been pondering whether to create a separate blog just for book reviews, but given the fact that fewer people follow blogs these days than a mere 5 years ago when QG was first created, I'm not sure I want to divide my efforts. Thoughts?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Now I don't remember why I downloaded The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet to my Kindle. I wasn't familiar with the author, David Mitchell.

I guess I saw it recommended somewhere and thought it looked like an interesting historical novel about 19th century Japan in the era when only a single Dutch trading outpost was allowed offshore and the island nation otherwise isolated itself from Western influences. I don't know much about this history and did learn something about it in reading the book.

The novel started out that way and initially I thought the plot was going to be about how the Dutch clerk Jacob de Zoet got caught with a forbidden Psalter in his belongings and was captured by the Japanese as punishment. You know--a thousand autumns in the Japanese prison or something. But no, that's not where the author was going at all.

The plot is quite slow moving and filled with imaginative interludes which depict the nightmares, fantasies and premonitions of the major characters. I'm not really sure why I kept reading but suddenly in the middle of the book the story took an abrupt turn.

Jacob de Zoet's growing attraction to a disfiguered young Japanese girl who is training as a midwife is thwarted when she is suddenly whisked away to a secluded convent in the mountains in payment for her late father's debts. De Zoet and a young Japanese man who is also in love with her discover evidence that this convent is the site of sinister and perverted practices run by a very powerful Japanese official.

The uncovering of this criminal enterprise and the attempt to rescue the young woman merge with a battle between a British frigate which seeks to seize a piece of the Japanese trade from the Dutch in the denouement of the novel. I won't give away the resolution of the novel, but expect themes of treachery, poison, self-sacrifice and eternal love to come together in the end.

Despite the slow start to the novel, I found it a very satisfying-- if lengthy (over 400 pages)--read. The story was compelling and the twists and turns of the plot were not easy to anticipate once it got rolling. Jacob de Zoet is a memorable character.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Layman Reviews the Podcast

For those of you who haven't had time to listen to the full podcast conversation between me and vice moderator Rev. Landon Whitsitt--and you know who you are--the Layman posted an article today reviewing the discussion here.

It seems like a pretty fair summary of the debate to me. Of course the Layman's point of view is much closer to mine than it is to Landon's.

I must say that thanks to their link I learned what "all that and a bag of chips" means. So color me clueless....

Bundle of Joy on the Way!!!

Now that Portia has gone public with the news, I'm thrilled to report that we are expecting our first grandchild --due the first week in March!

We're all very excited Chez QG. Portia is feeling better now that she is in the second trimester of her pregnancy and we have seen those ghostly ultrasound scans of the future member of the family. The OB assures her all is well.

So we're having fun listening to ideas about names--which will get narrowed down later in October when the OB can determine the baby's sex. Meanwhile the question is what will Baby call the grandparents???

Friday, September 10, 2010

Random Friday Notes

  • Earlier this week I caught the same upper respiratory "crud" that El Jefe developed shortly after we returned from our trip. Clearly "Airborne" and extra vitamins didn't help me resist it! That's definitely affected blogging and other things. Nothing got done unless it HAD to get done.
  • Tropical Storm Hermine dumped half the Gulf of Mexico on our back yard. We're hoping the swamp dries out over the weekend and before the next dowsing.
  • It says somewhere it is now fall. Who knew? Maybe I should go look for my fall wreath for the door and put some fall flowers in the pots filled with only dirt by the front door.
  • I was asked to lead a workshop on the Solas for the presbytery's officer training event in January. Guess I'm now the official Sola Gal of PNC.
  • Tonight El Jefe and I are going to a Ronan Tynan concert! I'm sure he will sing America the Beautiful or another patriotic song in rememberance of 9/11. And El Jefe does love an Irish tenor.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Sola Kerfuffle: The Podcast with the Moderators!

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called "Sola Kerfuffle" in response to remarks by Rev. Landon Whitsitt, the newly-elected Vice Moderator of the PCUSA reported in an interview. Whitsett said that Sola Scriptura is dead or dying in most churches, which created a stir in the PresbyBlogosphere.

Subsequently I was contacted by Moderator Cynthia Bolbach, who told me she is one of QG's readers! She asked me to continue the conversation about the authority of scripture with Landon and her in a podcast. We got together by phone a couple of weeks ago to do this and now Landon Whitsitt has posted it on the Vice Moderator's blog:

I'd like to express my thanks to Cynthia and Landon for the invitation. Cynthia tells me that she hopes this will be a model for future respectful conversation between different points of view in the PCUSA. That is a great idea and I look forward to future podcasts with others.

I look forward to your reading your responses in the comments!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Tropical Storm Texas Peanut Butter Sheet Cake

Tropical Storm Gaston is fixin' to strike a glancing blow on the Houston area later today and we're already seeing rain. I'm thankful it didn't have time to become a major hurricane, but it could make grilling those burgers and hot dogs for our Labor Day cookout this evening a damp outing.

Since it's just a Tropical Storm and not a Hurricane, Gaston doesn't rate the Texas Chocolate Sheet cake. So I decided to bake this Texas Peanut Butter Sheet cake instead.

Tasting of the batter and frosting proved promising! The technique is similar to that of the Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake except that mini-marshmallows are added to the frosting to help spread the peanut buuter. If you want to try the recipe, which you can find here, I advise you to make a double recipe of the frosting because it didn't come close to covering the cake the first time. I'm planning to serve it with vanilla ice cream.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Random Remembrances of Croatia

This is the admonition that was posted outside the church of St. Mark's (all the churches in Croatia seemed to be named for St. Mark, reflecting the Venetian influence) on the island of Kortula. Interestingly, it's in English. Guess they figured that English speaking tourists are less likely to know how to behave than the Croatians! When we were in Zadar, we watched an official at the cathedral chase out several women tourists with bare shoulders and skimpy shorts or bathing suits. In Dubrovnik the main church (St. Basil's) had shawls on hand. Good for them, say I.

At the convent of St. Mary's in Zadar, we toured the museum full of reliquaries that is attached to the convent. A most formidable nun in full traditional habit sternly watched our small group tour the first floor. However on the second floor we spotted a much younger nun, also in full habit, playing with her cellphone! I would have loved a photo of that scene, but no cameras were allowed inside.

Zadar also has a unique feature on its waterfront---a sea organ! An architect designed and installed organ pipes that take in the water from the waves of the Adriatic. When the water is choppy you hear the pipes making music which sounds like blowing over bottles filled with different levels of water. It really fascinated all the kids who clustered around it listening to the sound.

The ruins of the palace of Diocletian are in Split, Croatia, near the harbor. We were amazed to see that people are living among the ruins in apartments on the site that are built into the remaining walls. There is a large cathedral there that was originally the Temple of Jupiter. and contained Diocletian's tomb.

Today the cathedral, which is named--you guessed it--for St. Mark, and contains the relics of the Christian bishop executed by Diocletian. Much of the area inside the walls of the old palace now contains shops and restaurants. There was a long line forming outside a book shop which our guide explained was selling school books.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Virtual Church Meetings

An ongoing problem in the Presbyterian church (and other mainline churches) is that it is difficult to find younger members who are willing to serve on the session because of the number of meetings--not only of the session but of session committees--that are required.

All too often those meetings are scheduled during the day which makes it impossible for many of these folks who are working to attend. The result is that the church elects more elders who are really "elders", i.e. retired, delaying the transition in leadership to the next generation.

I've been thinking about ways to address this and wonder if any of you have implemented changes that are working in your churches? Of course the current leadership needs to be more flexible and willing to schedule meetings at times when younger people could attend, but the number of meetings is still a big issue for most families today.

Can't we make better use of our digital capabilities for meetings? For example, are you cutting down on in-person meetings by using conference calls, Facebook private groups or some other method? Anyone know a cheap and effective way to video conference with a group? I don't think you can Skype with more than one other person, but if I'm wrong let me know.

Certainly there are some committees whose work is best done in person, but for most of them I suspect that a lot of things can be done through virtual meetings thus reducing the number of times a committee has to gather in person at the church. After all most businesses and other organizations do that these days.

If we are going to bring younger working people into church leadership--and we MUST do this-- then we have to rethink the ways in which we have always done our committee meetings. Your thoughts?