Saturday, June 24, 2006

Walk to Emmaus - Men's #1327

Today I attended the first Team training meeting for a Walk to Emmaus for men. This is my second Walk as a Team member; I've also been on the Team for two Kairos Prison Ministry weekend retreats.

For those for whom what I've said so far is Greek, "Emmaus" and "Kairos" are variations of Cursillo de Cristiandad, a Catholic personal and congregational (or "parish" as Catholics would say) renewal program. Cursillo began around WWII in Spain, spread to this country and became popular among non-Catholics as well as Catholics. The concept is to present a short course in Christian teachings thru a three-day retreat built around fifteen talks and other activities, including the Lord's Supper. Then there are "Fourth-Day" or follow-up activities, such as small-group accountability weekly meetings and monthly large-group meetings. Emmaus is a basically ecumenical version sponsored or overseen by the United Methodist Church. Kairos is the same concept, tailored for the prison environment and ministering to inmates.

Each Walk to Emmaus has 36 "Pilgrims" or candidates, who are all men or all women. These are ministered to by an "inside" Team of speakers, clergy, table leaders and musicians and an "outside" Team that works behind the scenes to serve and also to distribute "agape" or small gifts of love. I will be one of the clergy speakers on Men's Walk #1327, giving the fifth Clergy Talk, which is the Twelfth Talk, on "Sanctifying Grace".

Now, my "Pilgrim Walk" was #327 - 1000 Walks ago! And it also "happens" that the centering song is the same for both Walks! A "centering song" is a prayerlike song designed to center participants' minds and spirits on God, to prepare for one of the 15 Talks or another significant event during the retreat. I'm not aware of a specific name for this particular centering song, but the first line is "Jesus, let us come to know You".

The first meeting for us on the Team was at a very large Methodist church to which the Lay Director belongs. He is Bruce Bray, whom I knew well from our mutual participation in Kairos Weekend #9 at the Ruben Torres Prison near Hondo, Texas. From what I saw Saturday, Bruce will be a fine LD! And I'm looking forward to being used by our Lord on this Walk to Emmaus, as an individual vessel for God's grace and as part of the greater vessel for grace which is the Team!

And in case you don't know, the name "Walk to Emmaus" comes from the account in the Gospel According to Luke, of the two disciples who met the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus but didn't recognize Him as their Lord who had been crucified three days earlier - until the three got to the village of Emmaus (near Jerusalem) and Jesus sat at supper with them and blessed and broke the bread! Then the pair's "eyes were opened" and they rushed back to the city to tell that Christ had risen indeed, and about their encounter with the risen Savior and their recognition of Him at the "breaking of the bread".

De colores.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Folklife follow-up

Wow! While attending the Texas Folklife Festival on Friday evening (it goes from Thursday evening thru Sunday afternoon and evening), I felt a great sense of delight and enjoyment. So much so that I was tempted to return on Sunday. (But I stuck with attending evening church instead, which turned into a blessing in itself!)

Highlight of this year's Folklife, I suppose, was my interaction with "Professor Katzenjammer". I had seen him at various times at Folklife thru'out the years. But I'd simply considered him some crazy guy who liked to come to Folklife in this outlandish costume of German lederhosen, an alpine cap covered with buttons and pins, and an over-wide and over-long necktie hanging to his bare knees.

Then Friday's newspaper in its coverage of Folklife gave a short biography about Prof. Katzenjammer, who does emcee work during the festival. He's the alter ego of Robert Thonhoff, a retired teaching principal from the rural community of Fashing southeast of here. This in itself immediately earned points in my estimation! And the article told how Thonhoff was going to retire his alter ego after this, the 35th annual festival. Reading about Thonhoff and his Deutsch persona inspired me to to look him up at Folklife and have my picture taken with him.

Partly because of my new interest in the retiring "Professor" I think I spent more time absorbing the various elements of Deutsch culture at this year's festival: sopng, dance, food. I even got to learn a German folk dance when Der Deutsch Volksdanzverein (sp?) invited a few audience members to join them onstage to dance "The Great Atlantic". Our reward for "cutting the fool" in "cutting the rug" -- actually the dance was very simple! -- was a tri-ribbon pin-on, each ribbon in one of Deutschland's colors of red, yellow and black.

Oh, I did experience also other of Texas' exciting mosaic of cultures at this year's Folklife, including a Mexican mariachi group and a Scottish folk-dance group. There was the Bill Smallwood Band playing country music - in a broad sense, because the band performed the "Mickey Mouse Club" theme song (somewhat "country-fied"). I delighted to tell Bill how that song was the melody for my high school's fight song. Borah HS had begun classes while the Club was enormously popular, as was its theme song.

The "day" at Folklife ended with me under the dome inside the Institute of Texan Cultures building. There's a regular dome show of slides and music, called "Faces & Places of Texas". (From the folks' garb in the slide pictures one can tell that the show was put together for HemisFair '68 -- but even tho' dated it's fun to watch.) However, the show I watched was a new one (projected against only one side of the dome) in tribute to the late O.T. Baker, founder of the Texas Folklife Festival in '72. The tribute was built around the popular country-rock song "God Blessed Texas" -- a very fitting homage to a man who had so loved Texan folkways.

. God blessed Texas, with His own hand
. Dropped down angels from the Promised Land.
. Gave them a place where they could dance,
. If you wanna see Heaven, brother,
. Here's your chance.
. I've been sent to spread the message,
. "Mmmm, God blessed Texas!"

Friday, June 09, 2006

Texas Folklife Festival - una fiesta más

Yup! This city whose middle name is "party", as I've said before, is having yet another one -- a major one. The Texas Folklife Festival is held every June (years ago it was in August) at HemisFair Park in and on the grounds around the Institute of Texan Cultures. The ITC is an adjunct of the University of Texas, housed in what was the Texas Pavilion during the 1968 World's Fair (HemisFair). The ITC is open year round and is always worth a visit. But it's sheer excitement during Folklife. That is, if you're into cultures as they're expressed in food, music, dance, and other arts.

Folklife celebrates the many, many ethnic cultures and national origins that together have composed the mosaic that is the people of this great state of Texas. And what better city to host it than San Antonio, to which city many ethnic groups have contributed since its founding or shortly afterward. Such as, the indigenous or native American (the local "Indians" evangelized by the Spanish Franciscans were the Coahuiltecans), the Spaniard, the Mexican, the German(Deutsch), the British or Anglo-Celt, and the African-American.

If you think that a typical Texan is a white, Anglo-Saxon cowboy type -- you're sadly mistaken! If you think that San Antonio is a city of mostly Mexicans and Anglos (or British-origin) -- you're still sadly mistaken! One aspect of this city (indeed also the state) that so much endears it to me is the tremendous variety of cultures and ethnic origins which not only historically contributed to it but are today celebrated in numerous festivals. Of which Folklife is the largest and most notable as the confluence of them all! (I understand that a subtitle of HemisFair '68 was "Confluence of Cultures", referring primarily to the convergence of the northern European from the north and east and the Latin-native (that is, the mestizo or mixed Spanish-Portuguese and indigenous) from the south in the host city.

So-o-o-o, as soon as I get off this computer terminal, I'm heading to Folklife! To get some culture! See you there some year?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Democracy in action!

Having the day off, I attended this morning's session of the San Antonio City Council weekly meeting. Almost all the morning was taken up with a currently "hot" issue, that of the Mayor's proposal to redevelop historic Main Plaza (aka Plaza de las Islas). Today featured presentation of the final proposed plan for the square's redevelopment, which features permanently closing the two north-south streets, and the Council voting on it.

From the first that I heard about the proposal, as a member of VÍA's citizens council, I've opposed closure of ANY streets. My position has modified somewhat, as I received more info and watched VÍA develop their response to the plan. I didn't EVER oppose plans to improve the landscaping, seating, etc. Just closure of any streets.

But this morning I saw democracy in action, representative democracy. The vote did not go exactly as I wished, but I know our Council took all viewpoints and reasons into consideration.

I'm proud to live in this city. I'm proud of our city government and my neighbor citizens!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Trains in my life - "All aboard!"

For the third summer (plus weekends of Spring) I'm working in a delightful amusement (or theme) park, Fiesta Texas. This park, which I've mentioned in earlier blog postings, is officially named Six Flags Fiesta Texas. But I prefer to use the shorter name, primarily because that WAS its name when the park opened in 1992, fostered by Opryland Park of Nashville. (Six Flags took over the park a few years ago).

I'm working a new job this year at Fiesta Texas, Conductor and Depot Agent on the Fiesta Texas Railroad. This is a train ride very similar to the train ride in the now-defunct Opryland. And there are other amusement parks and even a few public parks, e.g., Brackenridge Park here, that have train rides. Folks, it's a barrel of fun to work on the train!

Possibly this fun aspect of my work is because trains (particularly of the passenger sort) have been a prominent part of my life since early childhood. Back then there were two very dominant buildings in downtown Boise, at opposite ends of a major, scenic boulevard, the State Capitol in the style of the nation's Capitol, and the Union Pacific (RR) Depot in California Spanish Mission style, including a very tall clock tower. And when I was about 6 or 7 years old my family took a vacation trip on the Union Pacific's "City of Portland" or "Portland Rose" passenger line to upstate New York (this was before Amtrak). It was a very exciting experience for a little boy, and I remember that it led to my first goal of what I wanted to be "when I grow up": a railroad engineer.

Well, other things happened, other things came to my attention, other things intervened. Actually, I went thru several versions of what I wanted to be "when I grow up". But now that I'm working on the train at Fiesta Texas RR, it's almost like I've come full circle back to my boyhood dream! This insight came to me the other day, as I approached the depot that is the train crew's office of sorts, in the company of one of the older fellows who works on the train. I shared this insight with him and we both smiled at this.

Also, a day or two before this insight, I was doing my usual M.O. upon entering the park for work, which is to go first to a food shop just inside the Guest Entrance (i.e., the main entrance) to get my mug filled with ice water and then proceed down the main pedestrian pathway under the tracks and hang a left to ascend the steps into that depot. The train was just about to depart for the other depot and thus the whistle was being blown. In response I chimed in, "Choo, choo!" A family of Guests was passing me as they left the ride, and the dad stopped me to ask if the guys on the train crew were retired railroad engineers. I smiled as I replied, "Oh, yes, we all are! I'm retired from fifty years on the Union Pacific." Then I quickly added with a bigger smile, "I'm 52". The man took me in good humor, "I tho't you were pulling my leg when you said 50 years on the railroad!"

Ha, ha! All in a day's work on the Fiesta Texas Railroad. "All aboard!"

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Trees - from Boise to San Antonio

As I've mentioned in earlier blogs, including my initial blog back in March, I was raised in Idaho's capital city of Boise. My original hometown got its name thanks to a French-Canadian explorer, Captain Bonneville, who was leading a party across the dry semi-desert north of the Snake River, a thirst-spawning region indeed. Then they came to the top of a crest looking down on the tree-lined Boise River, and Capt. Bonneville excitedly cried out "Les bois! Les bois! Voyez les bois!" or "The Trees! See the trees!" - a sign of flowing water close at hand for drinking. (Hence, I learned a bit of French long before I began my years of study and teaching of español.) So from my early childhood trees have played a major role in my life. I'm hardly a "tree-hugger" if such means a nature-worshiper. And yet I mourn whenever I see a vacant spot where a once-large, healthy tree used to give shade.

In Boise and environs there are plenty of species of shade trees and other trees. There are lots of ponderosa pines (this is just one of the pine's names) in the nearby mountains, maples (I don't know if they're indigenous, but I suspect not), weeping willows (another I suspect isn't indigenous, but there was a huge one in our front yard when I was a little boy), Douglas firs (popular, if I remember correctly, for Christmas trees, and we would go into the mountains to harvest one each year for the holiday), etc. Among other trees I remember well from my Boise boyhood (in addition to the above-mentioned) are a cottonwood (an indigenous species?) I would pass on my way from elementary school to my grandmother's house, and an apricot tree in our back yard when I was in high school. I delighted to got out back and pick an apricot off that tree when the fruit was in season; apricots remain my favorite of all fruits!

But. . . I'm no longer in the "City of Trees", as Boise is nicknamed. Haven't even visited in many years. I'm living in the "River City", to give one of San Antonio's nicknames (also "The Alamo City" or "The Mission City"). And yet, these two cities dear to my heart share this, both sit at the northern edge of a stream-scant flat semi-desert with a river flowing thru the heart of the original city - a tree-lined stream with abundant water. And both cities share their names with the rivers which are their raison d'etre. (Some more French, which I used also in an earlier blog, meaning "reason for being" or "reason for existence".)

Trees! South Texas, which received over-average rainfall from the middle of my first year here (A.D. 2002) to early last year (A.D. 2005) had been suffering a drought since (see my "Wildflowers" posting of April). But since the start of May we've been blessed with some good rainfall. En'uf to green the grass, prompt the flowers to perk up their blooms and return the flowery color to S.A., and livening the green leaves of the many trees here. Here is a list of some of the native trees I especially appreciate in S.A., and the surrounding area, including the Hill Country:

Pecan. This, the State Tree of Texas, gives its name to the Nueces River south of here (the south and southwest boundary of Spanish and Mexican Texas). In my first residence here the courtyard of the former motel featured very mature pecans; in the summer evenings I delighted to go out and lie in a lounge chair listening to KKYX-AM 680 broadcasts of the S.A. Missions Texas League baseball games and gaze up at the twisted branches of those towering pecans. Thru those writhing branches the sky would fade from sunset into star-spangled night. Beautiful!

Cypress. I suspect these are a different species from the cypress I was acquainted with during my year of residence in Tallahasseee, which had prominent "knees" sticking up out of the water beside or in which they grew. But whatever specific of cypress these are, there are plenty along the San Antonio, the Guadalupe, the Medina and other rivers flowing abundantly from the springs of the Hill Country and the Balcones Escarpment.

Live oak (encino in Spanish). These carry small dark green oval leaves (rather than the typical oak-leaf shape, but these DO bear acorns) all thru the winter and lose the old ones just before the new leaves sprout in spring. They are especially plentiful in parts of San Antonio adjacent to the Balcones Escarpment and the Hill Country. In fact, some book I read about San Antonio pushed the tree as THE tree of S.A.

Palm. I'm not sure that palm trees are indigenous to the immediate San Antonio area, but they definitely are native to the lower Rio Grand Valley to the south. In fact, the first name Spanish explorers gave that river was Río de las Palmas. And there are certainly numerous palms around here! Plus fairly old neighborhoods with names like "Las Palmas" or "Palm Heights". When palm trees are properly cared for, they have a distinctive beauty that compensates for their not being a very shady tree.

Hackberry. Well, I'm not sure I "appreciate" THIS tree! I had considered that a large tree near my room at La Fiesta Apartments was a weeping willow. But then I remarked about a very similar tree in the yard of a fellow church member, and was informed that the tree wasn't a willow but rather a hackberry! The main difference that I can detect between a hackberry and a weeping willow is that the former has multiple trunks of large size growing up out of the ground (a willow tends to have a single trunk). From what the church brother said, I get the impression that the hackberry is a difficult tree to kill off. The next tree has a similar reputation.

Mesquite. This small tree (some would classify it as a shrub due to its multiple trunks) strikes me as an attractive and emblematic plant of the South Texas area, at least in the spring. Then its new leaves of pale green in bipolar pinnate shape look very delicate - a natural lace if you will - against the ragged, rugged, deeply-scored dark brown and usually very twisted trunks and branches.

Huisache. Smaller than the mesquite and more definitely a candidate for classification as a shrub. Indeed, every element and proportion of the huisache seems to mark it as a shrunk version of the mesquite. However, it bears bright goldenrod-yellow balls of flowers which at once distinguish it (for me) from the other.

Mountain laurel. This is another plant that I might have classified as a shrub, but I recently saw a photo of the largest (oldest?) laurel in the city, and it definitely looked like a tree, size-wise. There is a beautiful Mexican song called "Los Laureles" about these laurels, which are very beautiful and fragrant with blossoms in early spring. I only wish the laurels bloomed for a longer season, as do the myrtles (which are still in bloom thru'out the summer).

Trees! I delight in trees, and I remember the poet's words, that "only God can make a tree." And what a work any and every shade or fruit tree is! Thank you, Lord and Creator!