Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blogging Hiatus

QG will be on hiatus for a few days while we join the family in watching, waiting and praying for our nephew Patrick, now in hospice care.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bless Friday

Our church has been encouraging the congregation to turn Black Friday into Bless Friday by engaging in community service rather than going shopping. Today's Houston Chronicle has a nice story describing the initiative, here.

The church website had several different opportunities for service that ranged from serving meals at a homeless shelter to bagging beans and rice for the church's Hispanic ministry food pantry. Or you could create your own project.
Last Sunday the Outreach Ministry  also distributed $20,000 during the worship services in envelopes ranging from $1 to $1,000. The idea was to pass the money along as a blessing to others and then report back. The idea was that each family took one envelope and then decided what to do with it.

Babs and I went forward and I was given an envelope with $200 in it. Babs got $10 in $2 bills so she gave hers to me and told me to use it together. 

El Jefe and I weren't sure at first how to use the money. Then last night it came to me--we will pass the money along to the Caring Bridge website in honor of our nephew, Patrick. 

That website is truly a blessing for families coping with extended illnesses or traumatic accidents such as Patrick's. I've followed a couple of other people on Caring Bridge in the past and often thought how helpful it would have been for my brother and his family during the years they coped with his daughter's cancer treatments.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankfulness With a Heavy Heart

Last night my sister-in-law called to let us know that her daughter's husband, Patrick, will be transferred from the ICU to hospice care when an appropriate placement can be arranged. That will probably be the first of next week.

Traumatic brain injury from the Columbus Day car accident coupled with subsequent strokes and other complications combined to make the doctors' recommendation that it is time to say goodbye to him.

We'll have Thanksgiving with a heavy heart, but with gratefulness nonetheless for the grace that abounds when family, friends and acquaintances support our precious niece Carol and her five year old daughter Annie and our family as well as Patrick's family.

The picture here is one drawn by my niece, M.E., in her preschool class the Thanksgiving after she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. The kids were asked to draw what they were grateful for and M.E.'s teacher wrote the message for her on the picture.

My brother (her father) emailed this to me last week as a reminder about what we should be truly thankful for. What a timely reminder! M.E. passed away in 1999 at the age of 9 after battling cancer for 4 years. Yet she had a mature faith that continues to inspire us and comforts me today as we have another Thanksgiving anticipating loss.

Paul tells in his first letter to the Thessalonians:
"Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." 1Thess.4:13-15
This Thanksgiving, like M.E., we are thankful for Jesus and the promise of eternal life.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Bake-a-Thon Chez QG

 Portia, Babs and I conducted a Sunday afternoon Thanksgiving Bake-a-Thon at our house yesterday. 

The stated purpose was to get pies ready for Turkey Day when we expect 16 guests--both family and friends--to join us for dinner and the UT-A&M game.

 The QG family are UT fans but will be vastly outnumbered by the Aggies in the group and this looks like the Aggies' year, too. Oh, well!

We baked pumpkin and Heath pecan pies (that's pecan pies with Heath toffee bits and chocolate chips), shown above. Photo from my IPhone is not so good, but you get the idea. I still have two pie crusts in the refrigerator for 2 plain pecan pies which I can easily do tomorrow or Wednesday. Some people just have to go with tradition!

We also got a head start on Christmas baking by trying out a couple of new recipes--just to see if they are worthy. That's our story and we're sticking to it.

Here are the scrumptious cookies Portia baked--a shortbread type cookie layered with apricot jam and topped with chocolate ganache, from the latest Martha Stewart Holiday cookie magazine. We agreed it was fiddly, but tasty and worthy or special occasions like Christmas.

 I had a recipe from Ina Garten for a cranberry-apple cake that I wanted to try. We thought it would be more cobblerish than cakey, but were wrong. Babs whipped up some orange-flavored whipped cream to top it with and it was a huge hit! So expect to see this one repeated Christmas.

What's cooking at your house? Are you planning to try something new for Thanksgiving Day or stick to the tried-at-true favorites?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Fantasy Book Tour

So everyone and his sister are out on book tours, haven't you noticed? They're hawking their books, but denying they are running for President. Hah! Of course they are.

QG reads lots of books and writes lots of reviews. I don't think I have a book in me, but I think I would love to go on a book tour--especially if I got to be interviewed around the country by the networks and cable TV shows. And I'm not running for President, either!

Here's my Fantasy Book Tour schedule: First the interviews on the morning shows in NYC on Fox, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Then radio interviews with NPR and Michael Medved (who does frequent and very interesting interviews of authors). No MSNBC because that would be like entering the Witness Protection Program. No one would be listening.

Then its on to the primo local TV and radio stations around the country: QG goes to Washington DC, Nashville, Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, Natchez, Dallas, Amarillo, San Antonio, Austin, Marfa, Santa Fe, San Diego, Santa Clara and Seattle. Following the tour (cities chosen by me because that's where I want to go), I make a triumphant appearance around all the Houston area media outlets and bookstores. Okay, so I don't have a book for people to sign, but I'll shake hands and chat.

Who wants to be my agent?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Review: City of Tranquil Light

(This review is also published on my book blog: QG's Book Reviews.)
The Chinese Christian church is rapidly expanding in modern China despite oppression and sometimes persecution by the Chinese government. At a conference a couple of years ago I heard a Chinese woman pastor speak movingly about the trials and triumphs of the church in her country.

When I was offered a review copy of City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell, a novel about missionaries in China in the early twentieth century, I was intrigued and agreed to read it.

The novel is a fictionalized account of the story of the author's Mennonite missionary grandparents who spent many years in China. Caldwell's grandfather self-published a book about his experiences for his family and she uses that material as well as letters and diaries from other relatives who also served in that mission field during the pre-WWII era. Although none of these sources are ever directly quoted in the novel, it is clear that the flavor of that time and place seem to be accurately depicted by the author. I would have liked to read her grandfather's account.

The novel is in the form of a memoir told by the aging Will Kiehn as he looks back on his work in China alternating with the diary of his wife, Katherine, a missionary nurse. or "deaconess". Their struggles with learning the language and the culture of the people, the privations and joys of their work, and personal tragedy are set in the historical context of the civil war in China. 

There is much to like about the novel. It is gentle in tone and reflects the pacifistic, loving theology of the Mennonite missionaries. Will Kiehn is a well-defined character with flaws as well as virtues. Katherine is not nearly so well drawn, but her diary provides a different, but complimentary viewpoint to Will. The destruction of the Chinese civil war is accurately depicted, well written,  and is an important theme of the book.

My criticism of the book is that, with the exception of the Bandit King, none of the other characters--American or Chinese--are fully realized. The author tells us that the Kiehns came to deeply love the Chinese people and nation but never shows us why and how that came to be. Even the converts who are closest to the Kiehns are little more than names.

That said, I did enjoy reading City of Tranquil Light. I am in awe of these missionaries--and the others around the world--who left the familiarity and comfort of their home countries to follow Christ by bringing the gospel to others. It's not something I can ever imagine doing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Amendment 10-A Fails in New Covenant

(PresbyGeek Alert! This post is about PresbyPolity in action.)

Presbytery of New Covenant voted on Amendments 10-A through O to the Constitution of the PCUSA at its meeting this morning. Amendment 10-A (to change the language of section 6.0106b relating to standards for ordination) was defeated by a vote of 156 to 144 with 4 abstentions.

There was a large turnout and the debate was respectful, "decent and in order", and pretty much covered every pro and con argument I have ever heard.

We did hear from a corresponding member from East Africa who spoke against the amendment saying that if it passed it would negatively affect relationships with Presbyterians in other parts of the world. This concern was echoed by several other African and Asian speakers.

For the record, I voted with the majority because I believe we are to be obedient to scripture, not merely guided by it.  That will come to no surprise to my faithful readers who followed the Sola Scriptura discussions with our vice moderator, Landon Whitsitt. I know if this amendment isn't approved by a majority of the presbyteries we will be doing this all over again in 2012. And if it is adopted, there will be other serious ramifications. But I also have faith that God has a plan for His church that neither side of this debate can see now.

~Aside: After all the years this issue has been argued, I can't imagine anyone abstaining. But they did.~

The only other amendment that drew debate and required a counted vote was 10-C which requires all governing bodies to adopt and implement a sexual misconduct policy. It was approved by 195 to 99. Those voting against it were concerned that there was no definition of sexual misconduct and that putting this requirement in the Constitution could expose churches that fail to follow it to litigation.

The other amendments, 10-B and D through O passed by voice votes.

New Covenant will vote on the proposed New Form of Government at its January meeting and the addition of the Belhar Confession at its June meeting. I'm glad these issues are being addressed separately because 10 A-O was quite enough polity for one day.

(End of PresbyPolity Geek Report. As you were!)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brava Catherine!!!

Last night we had (literally) front row seats for the Houston Grand Opera production of Madame Butterfly. The QG family was in the house to cheer on our very own amazing Diva Catherine who was singing the part of Butterfly's maid, Suzuki.

Our beautiful six foot blonde blue-eyed girl was well disguised as a Japanese woman, and I WAS wondering how that was going to turn out.  She sang superbly and I hope some critics and agents were there to take note! She also displayed some talent I didn't know she had: moving the large shoji screen back and forth throughout the performance. We joked that she would now have to join the stagehands' union or be mocked as a scab.

This production was so well received that HGO added this performance which gave Catherine the chance to sing on the big stage with Ana Maria Martinez, the soprano star, who had an incredible voice and acting skills.

Staging was beautiful and really enhanced the music and the singing. Even DK and El Jefe (not the biggest opera fans, you might say) rated the evening a success. Since many of the singers booked for the original performances were not available for this additional one, we also got to see many of Catherine's friends from the HGO studio in important roles. You could see how well they all work together and, needless to say, their singing was fabulous. Bravo Michael and Nathan!

Now I'm off to the hospital this morning to see my other niece and check on Patrick, whose condition remains unchanged in the ICU. We're swinging from one emotion to another these days!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book Review: The Jew Is Not My Enemy

When I was asked to participate in the Green Books 2010 Campaign by publishing a review of a book printed on environmentally friendly paper today, I chose The Jew Is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths That Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism by Tarek Fatah from the list of books offered to me for review. 

I have not seen many books written by moderate/liberal Muslims speaking out against the extremist acts of a few, so I thought it would be an interesting read. And it is.

Tarek Fatah, a Canadian of Pakistani descent, is a journalist and the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a liberal group. In his introduction to the book he says that he is on a jihad against Muslim anti-Semitism.

Prior to the terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008, the small Indian Jewish community had not been the target of anti-Semitic attacks. The fact that the terrorists came from Pakistan, which has no Jewish population, horrified Fatah and inspired him to write this book about the origins of Muslim anti-Semitism.

Fatah relates the history and development of anti-Semitism in Islam', and the factors that encouraged it from the Qur'an to the policies of the modern state of Israel. 

The purpose of the book is more to persuade his fellow Muslims that anti-Semitism is not a core tenet of Islam than it is to make an apology to non-Muslims. Fatah makes a distinction between the authority of the Qur'an and the writings of the Hadith in order to make his point. He also argues that the creation of an independent Palestinian state would help reduce Muslim anti-Semitism.

I am not familiar enough with Islam or the history of the development of anti-Semitic attitudes in its theology or in the cultures of the countries where it is widely practiced to know whether or not Fatah is making a persuasive case to other Muslims. I do appreciate the courage that it must take for him to take on this subject in a very public forum.

I will give away my review copy to one of my readers. If you are interested, leave a comment on my book blog: QG's Book Reviews.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Beatrice Blogs: Meet Matilda


Beatrice here. I'm wagging my tail so hard that my behind is about to fall off. This morning Portia came in on her way to work and dropped off her new puppy--Matilda. She told me to call her Tilda.

Tilda came from the same Dachshund Ranch in Brenham where Olivia and I were born. Poor little thing is not a piebald like us. She's a long haired black and tan. Kinda cute though.

Portia missed Olivia very very much and decided she wanted to get a puppy and get her trained before Baby comes. You know what that means, don't you? It's up to me to show Tilda where and when to do business, bark, sleep, be adorable and generally not disgrace the family.
QG says she is counting on me to set a good example. I know I can do it, too! But first I must find my copy of Puppies for Dummies. Not for me, for QG.

Oops, Tilda just woke up. Duty calls.

Yours faithfully,

Monday, November 08, 2010

QG Meets THE Moderator

Saturday morning I had the opportunity to meet Cynthia Bolbach, the Moderator of the PCUSA, at a reception in Houston. 

I was very happy to have the chance to make her acquaintance in person because she is one of QG's Gentle Readers and I got to talk with her over the phone and by podcast when she, the Vice Moderator Landon Whitsitt and I recorded the podcast discussing the Sola Kerfuffle.

Cindy and I may not see eye to eye on everything. However in person we see exactly eye to eye, literally! We can agree that the best Moderators are women attorneys of a "certain age" and well over 6 feet tall. ~grin~

We had a small but eager group from Presbytery of New Covenant gathered for a Q&A session. Cindy displayed the same ease and good humor she showed when she moderated GA this summer. She is honest, forthright and even-handed in her comments.

My question to her was what "elevator speech" I could give to the new elder training class I am involved with at church about the difference between the proposed NFOG and the current provisions in the Government section of the Book of Order. (Sorry for the PresbySpeak, y'all, but if you don't know you don't really want all the details.)

Her answer was both succinct and very usable: the NFOG represents a Constitutional, or broad principles, concept of church government as compared to the detailed rules and procedures manual that this section of the BOO has become over the years as it has been expanded by multiple amendments. 

I can make the comparison to the Texas Consititution which has umpty-ump-umpteen amendments versus the Constitution of the United States which has only 27, including the 10 called the Bill of Rights. Of course the federal statutes are WAY longer and take up multiple shelves on the bookcases of legal libraries and law firms. The Texas Constitution has become a Rulebook while the US Constitution sets forth broad principles of governance.

When someone asked Cindy what would prevent future GA's from continuing the practice of multiple amendments to the NFOG if it were passed, she readily admitted that there was no way to guarantee that would not happen. Habits and the culture of the denomination are hard to change. 

Liberals and conservatives alike have expressed frustration with the difficulty of complying with the present form of government provisions of the BOO. But a lack of trust on all sides may prevent the NFOG, or any major overall of the current system, from passing.

I really appreciate the fact that Cindy is highlighting the importance of ruling elders in the Presbyterian Church. I mentioned to the group her excellent article from The Presbyterian Leader, The Awesome Task of Elders, and had several folks ask me afterwards how to find a copy of it for their sessions. Here is the link.

Thanks, Cindy, for taking the time to meet with us in Houston and for your service to the church. May God guide and bless you during your term!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Presbyterians Today: Facebook and Twitter Evangelism

My column in the November issue of Presbyterians Today is about using Facebook and Twitter as tools for evangelism. You can check it out here.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Book Review: Exercising Your Soul

Note from QG: When I skimmed through this book after receiving it from the publisher, I realized that I did not have much background in Catholic and Ignatian spirituality. Fortunately my friend Robin Craig has much experience with this and agreed to be a guest reviewer for me. Many thanks, Robin! I know my readers will really appreciate your fine review of this book.

Gary Jansen's Exercising Your Soul is a humorous and helpful read for anyone who wants to explore a life of prayer.  

Sympathetic to the struggles we all face in developing an honest and disciplined prayer life, Jansen offers candid and wry anecdotes detailing some of his own challenges.  And, recognizing how difficult it is for many of us to figure out how to make a start, he provides numerous illustrations drawn from popular culture -- movies, television, and everyday encounters -- to demonstrate how easily we can make use of the ordinary events of our lives in order to discover the God who is present in all things.

Although Jansen writes from a Roman Catholic perspective, with many of his insights based upon the 16th century Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, most of what he  suggests offers prayer potential to anyone of Christian faith.  Many of his very short chapters give helpful introductions to various prayer forms -- historical background, explanations of the how and why, and brief but easy-to-follow instructions.  If you've been curious about lectio divina, or contemplative prayer, or imaginative prayer, he offers lots of practical ideas for for developing a new practice or for revitalizing one that's stalled.

Protestants who are accustomed to focusing primarily on Scripture in their devotional life may find the chapters on praying the parables particularly helpful.  Interestingly, Jansen uses (perhaps unwittingly) a famous metaphor of John Calvin's.  Calvin urges us to understand Scripture as the "spectacles" which God gives us to see and understand God's creation in a way that out brokenness precludes; Jansen offers us prayer as another lens through which we may see God's activity in our lives .

The final section of the book addresses the Stations of the Cross, a Catholic form of devotion. Jansen presents two versions: the traditional one, developed in the Middle Ages, which incorporates moments of Jesus' journey toward the cross as depicted in legend as well as Scripture, and a newer version promulgated in 1991 by Pope John Paul II, based solely upon events related in the Gospels. The latter may be more acceptable to those Protestants who are distracted or troubled by stories and customs that have emerged from tradition rather than from the Bible itself.  As always, Jansen provides detailed but not overwhelming instructions for those wading into new waters with respect to this form of meditation.

As Jansen says in his Introduction, we often think of prayer as :"asking for what I want" rather than as an experience of God's grace.  This book would, I think, be helpful as a guide to either an individual or a small group desiring to explore forms of prayer or seeking to deepen the experience of prayer as grace received as well as desire pursued.
--Robin Craig 
GIVEAWAY-- If you would like to enter the drawing for a copy of this book from the publisher, leave a comment to this review on my book blog, QG's Book Reviews.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

What I Learned in the Waiting Room

I've been spending a lot of time in the waiting room the past couple of weeks, although not as much as I think I should.

Here's what I've learned hanging out in the waiting room outside the ICU.
  • You want to "fix it" but you can't.
  • Sometimes all you can do is show up and have some tissue available.
  • Food offerings are always appreciated by friends and family waiting around.
  • You can feel the power of prayer.
  • A bacteria came back from Iraq with our soldiers that was previously unknown in the US and is now a common problem in all ICU's.
  • Trying to plan the future is frustrating.
  • Living day by day is more doable.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Book Review: The Spice Necklace

 (This review is also posted on my book blog: QG's Book Reviews.)

Books that combine travel and cooking are great to take with you on vacation. Or to pick up and read when you need a vacation but aren't going anywhere.

Ann Vanderhoof's The Spice Necklace is an excellent example of how to combine these two genres into an entertaining and educational read.

I'm not a big aficianado of Caribbean cooking, despite the fact that I do like hot and spicy food. Vanderhoof's book didn't change my mind and send me out to Whole Foods looking for jerk spice, mangoes, fresh coconuts or plantains so that I could try out some of the recipes she includes in the book. So I can't comment on how the recipes come out. 

However, her memoir of a recent trip around several Caribbean islands included great descriptions of each as well as insight into what is distinctive about each one. She and her husband made friends with islanders on each of their stops and took the time to learn about their lives and participate in their traditions.

The title is meant to remind the reader of the old term for this area of the world: The Spice Islands. Vanderhoof shares the education she gained through her experience about the history and cultivation of their traditional spices such as vanilla, wild oregano, nutmeg and mace, and congo peppers as well as their use in the native cuisine.

All in all, The Spice Necklace is a fun, escapist read that informs as well as entertains. If you try any of the recipes, let me know how you liked them!