Sunday, April 19, 2015

A precious moment at 1st Prez


A big day at 1st Presbyterian Church of Midland, Texas a couple weeks back ... THE day, really ... not just for Christians, but for all people ... Easter Day, Resurrection Sunday, Empty Tomb Day, whatever.

It was also a day of added significance for me, in a small personal way ... it's the one time I have the courage to go up front and sing in public. As I have noted before, little remains of the fine tenor voice I carried into high school. If maturity had replaced it with an equally fine baritone, I wouldn't have minded so much ... but, alas, such was not the case. I still sing in public, but only that one time each year, and in the particular circumstances we have at 1st Prez that day ... when I am surrounded by a large choir, accompanied by chamber orchestra and organ, and singing for a packed house of people feeling more than the usual level of Christian charity and forgiveness.

On that day, a notice in the church bulletin announces that, "Those who have sung the 'Hallelujah Chorus' and would like to join with the choir in this great anthem, please come to the chancel during the singing of the closing hymn" ... so I do.

I do the best I can with the voice I have ... or maybe it's not the voice I usually have. I remember a quote by Edward Hoagland that I have shared before, about positive expressions of mob behavior ... "It manifests itself, for instance, in the extraordinary quality that singing by a congregation acquires," he once wrote. "The humdrum and unlovely voices gradually merge into a sweet, uniquely pristine note, a note angelic-sounding, hardly believable. Looking about, one can't see who in particular might have such a voice. Everybody in the pew has an expression as if he were about to sneeze, and squawks just a little. It is a note created only when hundreds sing ... it needs them all. No single person is responsible, any more than any individual in a mob lends that its bestiality."
 

Maybe that's why I am no longer mindful of my voice, or that lump in my throat - not the result of stage fright but, rather of exhilaration. What can I say? For me, it is a tear-maker as I near the end, "King of Kings, and Lord of Lords ..." It is a wonderful moment. It IS "a great anthem." And even as I mangle this note or that, I didn't care ... I am part of making a genuinely joyful noise, nonetheless.

Easter comes just a week or so before the anniversary of the that night in 1742, in Dublin, Ireland, when George Frideric Handel's "Messiah" oratorio premiered. It's presentation has grown over the centuries, particularly in the expansion of the musical accompaniment. It's reputation and popularity has grown, as well, especially the Hallelujah Chorus. At the moment, historians say that England's King George II probably did not stand during the performance of the chorus ... but the tradition of standing continues to this day, and was observed by all in the pews at 1st Prez-Midland on Easter Sunday, followed by a long and enthusiastic ovation ...


YES, that's right, Presbyterians were clapping and cheering in church!!! For one precious and all-too-brief moment, we were of one voice, one mind and one spirit.

And that made the moment all-the-more precious to me. You see, 1st Presbyterian Church of Midland, Texas is not so much a building or an organization as it is a family ... and like all families, there are times of sharing and times of bickering, times of accord and times of discord. Lately, the discord has become more pronounced. We are part of the Presbyterian Church USA denomination. Actions by that denomination's General Assembly have been in the news over the last several months, as have the reactions of the denomination's individual congregations. Those reactions run the full range from enthusiastic acceptance to outraged rejection, and everything in between.

Right now, we're somewhere in between. Several weeks back, our congregation voted to enter into the 'discernment process' with Tres Rios Presbytery (our regional council of PCUSA congregations in western Texas). For now, a team from our congregation will discuss agreements and disagreements, problems and solutions with a team from the Presbytery. When all is said and done, we could be facing another vote by our congregation, deciding upon reconciliation, disaffiliation or something in between. While they discuss these matters at the official level, we in the congregation discuss them among ourselves at the unofficial level ... how we feel, what path we might take, the consequences of taking one path or another, and the issues that - through the thoughts and actions of others - have brought us to this point.

Please keep our church family in your thoughts and your prayers ... that as we consider and discuss, debate and - yes - argue, we will keep in mind that we are brothers and sisters and that, for our occasional bickering, within us all are shared memories of precious moments in which we have stood up as one, sung as one, and offered praise - to God and one another - as one.

Alleluia, amen.





Saturday, April 04, 2015

... the day before The Day ...

Big day, tomorrow ... and not just for all Christians, but for all peoples ... that's what I believe.

"We are the Easter people," Pastor Jim Miles of First Prez-Fort Stockton would remind us, and not just in the days leading up to Easter, but throughout the year. And that is what we affirm tomorrow, the day for which we have been preparing over the past six weeks, the day for which we live - or at least try to live - at all times.

A promise was made on a joyful, star-lit night, in a stable in Bethlehem ... but that promise was kept on a bloody, storm-darkened day, on a hill outside of Jerusalem ... and later in a place of tombs in the early morning.

On a highway north of Mason, Texas.
Big day tomorrow, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ ... big day ... THE day, really. But I find myself wondering what it was like the day before The Day ... what was it like during those long hours that passed between Christ's crucifixion and his resurrection? I can't help but think it's easier for us, two-thousand years later, with the benefit of hindsight, with the Word in our hands, our minds, our hearts. But back then ... right then, right there? What was it like for the followers of Jesus on THAT very first day before The Day?

I've always felt a little sorry for Peter, one of the first (and perhaps the greatest) of Jesus' disciples. How many times have I listened to some discussion in Sunday school that included talking some smack about Peter and his shortcomings ... it's especially pronounced now, as we are reminded for the umpteenth time of his denial of Jesus outside the house where Christ was being held. What must it have been like - that day before The Day - for Peter?

Of course, that was Peter before The Day, and before Pentecost. The man that emerges from all that is someone and something else entirely. There is still a growing, learning, developing spirit and awareness in him ... but there is no longer any doubt, or any denial.

But before that? I can only imagine ... because I know, now, and I believe ...

He is risen ...
Christ is risen, indeed ...
Alleluia! Amen!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Added to my bookshelf ... "Learning to Float: Memoir of a Caregiver Husband"

There is so much that so many of us could gain from reading Allan Ament's book, "Learning to Float," taking his words to heart and putting them to work in our lives, our relationships and our community.

The book is sub-titled "Memoir of a Caregiver Husband," and documents the days, then the months, then the years that followed his wife's stroke ... a time that brought dramatic changes to their lives and their relationship with one another. It is also a time that challenged Ament personally in so many ways. His book - which emerged from his regular emails to family and friends, updating them on Deloris' condition - is a frank look at those challenges and how he dealt with them ... sometimes successfully, and sometimes not.

For many of us reaching that point in life where we find ourselves caring for aging parents or spouses, there is much to be gained from "Learning to Float" ... not just in our approach to caring for others, but also in caring for OURSELVES as we care for others. An attorney and educator, Ament is not a medical or healthcare professional, and finds himself like so many others who are suddenly thrust into the role of caregiver without warning, without training, without even a clue of what might lie ahead.

He must 'learn to float.'

So what qualifications does Ament bring to his role as caregiver and his book about that experience? Well, again, he is an attorney and an educator and is comfortable with asking questions, doing research and documenting his experience in order to better understand what he is doing, and what he could be doing. This includes application of long-established medical practices, and advocacy for new applications of medical practices from other fields. Some of his information comes from medical journals and the internet, but also from the counsel of friends, a support group and the first-hand experiences of other caregivers, advice from a Zen master on traveling through life. But at the base of all this is family ... and more. He writes briefly about his parents and how their example, their work with the less-fortunate, reinforced his religious teachers' lessons on the Judaic tradition of Tikkun ha-Olam, an ethical injunction, a command that humanity must restore and redeem a broken world.

Ament notes that these habits, traditions and teachings - along with the "in sickness and in health" part of his marriage vows, led him to assume primary care responsibilities for his wife when she became ill, saying, "it never occurred to me to do otherwise."

All of this is delivered in a straightforward and clear manner, in language that is more an informed discussion rather than a lecture or medical thesis. I am a relative newcomer to Early Reviewing for LibraryThing, and "Learning to Float" is my first review to earn a full five stars. I strongly recommend this book to everyone - whatever your age or place, whatever the challenge you or someone you know is facing or might someday face, in your family or in your community, whatever has you 'learning to float.'
____________________

NOTE: I received a copy of this work through LibraryThing
in exchange for a review.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Upward Devotional: "Sharing the Fun"

As I noted before, during the first two months of the year, part of my Saturdays are spent in gymnasiums … one in my church, and another in the public high school across the street. The Upward Basketball and Cheerleading season is well underway here, in Midland, Texas. Volunteers are helping the program in a lot of different ways … as coaches, referees, time/scorekeeprs, and delivering devotionals to the fans during halftime breaks … I’m one of the volunteers doing the devotionals, and here was my presentation for this past Saturday, inspired by what I observed of the youngsters on the court …




Hello, everyone, and thank you for being here today for the kiddos ...

One of the reasons I volunteer for Upward Basketball is to enjoy a chance to watch kids at play ... there is something spontaneously joyful about children at play ... and that joy can be contagious.

A few weeks back, a timeout was called during one of the games, and a coach signaled to his team to circle around ... and most of them did ... except for one little boy, off by himself, just outside the circle, going like this ... (at this point I'm spinning around in a tight loop while waving my arms)

As the father of two young men, I know there will come a time when sports, and everything else in a youngster’s life will become so serious, a point where a child’s every move will determine whether or not they will have a future as a professional athlete, or a scientist, or a successful business owner.

And of course you are there to support or encourage your kiddos in whatever path they take into their future ... but that might include their choice to abandon that path if all they joy has been sucked-out of it, and pursue another path.

There may be some future NBA or WNBA stars out there ... or there may not. I don’t know, and I don’t care because, for now, at this stage, there is still the fun, the joy.

Jesus told us – more than once, that we can learn something from children.

In the Book of Mark, we read about a time when people brought their children to Jesus ... “And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them ... But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”

I guess the disciples needed reminders sometimes, because in the Book of Matthew we read about them quizzing Jesus ... “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”

Now, I'm not saying 'all fun at all times' ... we still need to make sure they get a good bedtime, eat a good meal, mind their manners and other 'un-fun' things. But when we can, let them have their fun, and let's share that fun, that joy with them.

Thank you, everyone. Enjoy the game!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Added to my bookshelf ... "Undead Obsessed: Finding Meaning in Zombies


There's no denying that Jessica Robinson has an obsession with zombies, and that said obsession is shared by people of many ages in many parts of the world ... myself included.

Proof of her obsession can be found in the time and effort that obviously went into research for, and writing of her book, "Undead Obsessed: Finding Meaning in Zombies." My reading of the book, however, left my own obsession unsated ... which is not necessarily the fault of the book ... obsessions, after all, can be very, VERY personal matters.

Robinson traces the start of her obsession with viewing George Romero's 1968 classic "Night of the Living Dead," filmed just a few hours' drive west of the movie theater in Pennsylvania where my own obsession was launched by watching the same film. Yet, in spite of the importance she places upon such films - she begins the first chapter of her book with the line, "Zombie films serve as a great lens to examine concerns society has about modern science." - most of the ensuing examination relies upon a surprisingly limited repertoire of films, and a television series.

And that's a shame, because much of what she cites is used to address another obsession of hers ... "our fears of science and what could happen if science gets out of hand." And while that is a good discussion in and of itself, little or no attention is paid to films that address the fun of zombies ... yes, the FUN.

True, Robinson does refer briefly to films such as "Zombieland" and "Warm Bodies" that manage to find the humor of life in a zombie apocalypse ... but those references are selective and address our fear of science, and authority, and so on. I can't help but wonder why a host of funny/campy/silly films - from "Juan of the Dead" to "Fido," from "Redneck Zombies" to "Poultrygeist," from "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies" to (my all-time favorite) "Shaun of the Dead" - were left out of the mix.

What if zombie films not only stoke the fires of our fear of science, and our resentment of authority ... what if they also tickle our funny bone? I really, really, REALLY wish Robinson could have spent more time on the fun of zombies, and less time on long, detailed and (for me) numbing descriptions of the science and technology of zombie/virus transmission.

Perhaps Robinson will again tackle zombies in a book, and MAYBE have a little FUN ... I will keep an eye out for it, and I most certainly WILL read it.

ADDED NOTE: Undead Obsessed: Finding Meaning in Zombies was added to my virtual bookshelf as a free Early Reviewers Copy from librarything.com

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cooler, with a chance of snow ...


... a lot of photos from around town, taken during last week's snowfall. Here's one of mine, with a quote that expresses very well the quiet, the calm that morning around the campus of Midland College, where I work. It was a 'delayed opening' day, for our college students as well as the Midland ISD students who attend Early College High School on our campus ... which left the campus to me and our gorunds crews ... and contributed more-than-a-little to the sense of peace ildan writes about in the quote above.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Upward Devotional: Looking Inside, Underneath

As I noted before, it’s the start of a new year, and that means part of my Saturdays are spent in gymnasiums … one in my church, and another in the public high school across the street. The Upward Basketball and Cheerleading season is well underway here, in Midland, Texas. Volunteers are helping the program in a lot of different ways … as coaches, referees, time/scorekeeprs, and delivering devotionals to the fans during halftime breaks … I’m one of the volunteers doing the devotionals, and here was my presentation for today, inspired by the story of a an alumnus of the college where I work …




Hello, everyone, and thank you for being here today for the kiddos ...

There's an old, old saying that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. And that's true, really ... too many people rely upon outward appearance, not taking the time or the effort to find out what's underneath, whether it's a book, or a car, or a person.

I work at Midland College, and over my years there, I have met some good people, had some good experiences, and heard some good stories ... one of my favorite stories involves a young man who came to Midland College to play basketball.

Anthony Webb was born in poverty, in the Dallas, Texas area. From an early age, he enjoyed playing basketball. He was quick, and he could really jump. But he was also short ... too short, many people said, to play basketball. He might never have gotten a chance to play even junior high basketball if two other players hadn't failed to meet exam requirements.

When he played, he played well. But over and over again, he had to work hard to prove to the skeptics that he could play basketball at the next level. He graduated from high school with an impressive varsity basketball record, averaging 26 points-per-game. But colleges - certainly the big schools - weren't interested ... except for Midland College, a two-year junior college, out in the middle of nowhere West Texas.

So, what happened? A national junior college championship for the team, and an MVP award and write-up in Sports Illustrated for Webb ... all of which attracted the attention of Coach Jim Valvano at North Carolina State University ... a chance for Webb to continue his education and his basketball at a four-year school.

The pro's came next .... with many scouts finding him too short to play professional basketball. But he was finally drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. Anthony "Spud" Webb played well enough to start for the Hawks, to be selected for the NBA All-Star game, and even compete in the Slam Dunk Contest ... which he won.

Not bad for someone who is five-foot, seven-inches tall.

You shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Don't focus solely on outward appearances.

In the second book of Corinthians, we read ...
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NKJV)

Not a bad idea for basketball or anything you do in life, and what lies beyond ...

Thank you, everyone. Enjoy the game!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Upward Devotional: Good News

As I noted last week, it’s January, and that means part of my Saturdays are spent in gymnasiums … one in my church, and another in the public high school across the street. Upward Basketball and Cheerleading season is underway here, in Midland, Texas. Volunteers are helping the program in a lot of different ways … as coaches, referees, time/scorekeepers, and delivering devotionals to the fans during halftime breaks … I’m one of the volunteers doing the devotionals, and here was my presentation for today, inspired by the fact that bad news here, in my part of western Texas - a motor vehicle accident that claimed ten lives, and effects of the continuing decline in oil prices - made it into national headlines this past week …




Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for being here today, rooting for your kiddos, and all the youngsters on the court ... another good day of Upward Sports here in Midland. And that's good news for our community.

You know, I used to make my living as a news editor, reporter and photographer, here in Midland and Odessa, and across West Texas. I'm not in that business any more, but I still follow the news closely ... Reading the newspapers, watching television and visiting websites.

Sometimes, that can be depressing ... terrorist attacks in Paris, airline crashes in Indonesia, and politicians in Washington bickering like children.

And, really, you don't have to go to the other side of the world for troubling news. Is it me, or is the local news filling more and more with stories of crime, and auto accidents, and fires, and hardship?

It's not a bad world we live in ... it's a good world ... BUT, it's a good world where bad things DO happen, and who can blame people for being cynical, depressed ... even afraid? I know this ... and you know what? God knows this, too. When our minds and our hearts are troubled by the bad things going on around us, when we're afraid, God has our back ...

In the Book of Isaiah, we read ...
"Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous hand."
– Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV)

And remember ... GOOD things happen, too. Has anyone seen that report about those two young men who climbed up the sheer cliff face of Capitan, in Yosemite, with nothing but their hands and feet? Wow! And there are a lot of good people, and a lot of good things happening under this roof, in this gym, right here, right now. Let us all look for ways to do good, and to encourage others to do good, around the world and right here at home.

Thank you, everyone, enjoy the game!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Upward Devotional: Happy New Year!

It’s January, and that means part of my Saturdays are spent in gymnasiums … one in my church, and another in the public high school across the street. It’s the start of the Upward Basketball and Cheerleading season here, in Midland, Texas. Volunteers are helping the program in a lot of different ways … as coaches, referees, time/scorekeeprs, and delivering devotionals to the fans during halftime breaks … I’m one of the volunteers doing the devotionals, and here was my presentation for today …

Good afternoon, everyone … and happy new year to all of you! Let me have a show of hands here … how many of you made New Year ‘s Resolutions for 2015? … okay … now, how many of you are still keeping those resolutions?

Resolutions — looking at ourselves, looking around us and thinking, “this could be better … I could do better” — resolutions are a good thing to have … for ourselves, for our family and for our community. And while resolutions have become a customary part of celebrating the new year, they are a good thing any time of the year. On a Thursday afternoon in November, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke to a crowd at a cemetery in Gettysburg Pennsylvania, honoring the soldiers who were buried there, saying “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”


And you know what? God approves of resolutions, too … encouraging us to put the past behind us, and move toward a better future …

“Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.” – Isaiah 43:18-19 (CEB)


That kind of resolution could make for a great future … let’s all resolve, all of us, right here-right now, across this great nation and around the world, let us to meet that future together.

Thank you, everyone, enjoy the game!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Added to my bookshelf ... "Futures Near and Far

More than once I have added a book to my shelf after reading one of Lisa Hura's reviews on the "When Falls the Coliseum" blog. "Sure would be neat to do something like that," I thought ... so here we go ...

We all have our reasons for reading science fiction. Me? I have at least a couple, and I found them both - well, eventually, at least - in Dave Smeds' collection of short stories, Futures Near and Far. The title is appropriate, really, since some of the futures Smeds presents are far-off indeed, while others are quite near ... maybe a little TOO near for comfort.

When I read science fiction, I look forward to a chance to sit back and speculate on "what if?" Where might future developments in science and technology take us, and will we better for the direction and the distance S&T takes us into the future? Smeds' stories offered plenty upon which to speculate upon the first point, with a look at a variety of possible developments ... though with a particular emphasis on nanotechnology.


As for the second (the "we") part, though, I found myself less-than-encouraged by the people who populate these speculative futures. By book's end, however, Smeds' words had me thinking that humans will probably be a mixed bag then (as they are now) ... and that in the end, things will be alright ... that the violent beatings our world will take from extreme cage fighters and callous corporate lawyers will be more than offset by a mother's love, by the support of a dedicated sensei, and by the awakened spirit of an interstellar homesteader, among others.

If only we could dispense with the introductions to the stories! Some are short, some are long, and none seem to contribute much to the story that is to follow. Don't get me wrong ... introductions CAN be useful, and add to the enjoyment of the story ... Arthur Clarke proved that in Tales from the White Hart, and Isaac Asimov did as well in his HUGO Award Anthologies. Such is NOT the case in Futures Near and Far. But in the end, that is a small thing, really ... and I highly recommend the stories themselves.

One more thing ... Two of Smeds' stories, which revolve around the future of martial arts and artists, their practice and competition, get high marks from my son, who has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do ... sugo ha shasim nida! 


ADDED NOTE: Futures Near and Far was added to my virtual bookshelf as a free Early Reviewers Copy from librarything.com