Tuesday, October 31, 2006

All Saints -- and all "spooks", witches, etc.

Today, the 31st day of October, presents a holiday that seemingly rages as popular as any other holiday on the American calendar. It's generally called "Halloween", which is Old English for "Day before (eve) All Saints (Day)". All Saints Day honored all the departed saints, when the medieval Church established it on 1 November. The day before, or 31 October, was its eve, just as 31 December is the eve of New Years Day.

Actually, the medieval Church started this holiday as an alternative to a pagan Celtic festival celebrated on 31 October, called Samhaim. (In the same way, Christmas began as an alternative to a pagan Roman festival for Sol Invictus, the "Unconquered Sun" god; nobody knows WHAT DAY Jesus really was born!) Most, if not all, of the trappings of Halloween, except for the very name, derive from Druid witchcraft. Even the jack-o-lanterns were originally turnips carved to house the malevolent spirits of the dead. When certain Irish whose Catholicism was only skin-deep and who retained some of their Druidic witchery, immigrated to America, they considered that pumpkins made a great alternative to turnips to carve into fearful faces for those malevolent dead!

But I digress. As you know from some of my earlier blogs, the dominant ethnic cultures here in San Antonio and south-central Texas are the German, the Anglo-Celtic and especially the Hispanic. Hispanic meaning of Spanish or Mexican mestizo origin. And in the cultural tradition of old Mexico even more important than Todos los Santos (All Saints)on 1 November is Día de los Muertos the next day. This "Day of the Dead" is the Catholic Church's "All Souls Day" and honors all the dead, sainted or not. In Mexico it's traditionally observed by taking food, flowers and candles to the cemeteries and keeping a kind of festive vigil at the graves of family members.

Here in these United States the Mexican-Americans, in their efforts to resemble other US citizens (the "melting-pot" syndrome) backed away from distinctively Mexican customs such as the 2 November Day of the Dead. But now again chicanos or Mexican-Americans are widely celebrating Dí­a de los Muertos, only (alas!) with Halloween additions. One element of Dí­a de los Muertos that does NOT derive from Halloween or its antecedent Samhaim of the druids, is use of skulls or skeletons, called calaveras. About a hundred years ago there came to be a whole genre of calavera artwork, showing skeletons dressed in sarapes and sombreros and engaging in various activities. In Mexico they even make candy skulls, which children eat on 2 November, just as Anglo children eat candy canes on Christmas. Another major element is the building of household altars, ofrendas, that in addition to Catholic souvenirs such as crucifixes and pictures or statuettes of Our Lady of Guadalupe, will have photos of deceased family members and favorite items of theirs that have been kept. They also will set out favorite foodstuffs of the dearly departed.

Now, all of this, and more, came to mind as I substituted for a Spanish teacher at Alamo Heights High School on Monday the 30th. Her lesson plan for two of the classes was to show a video produced right here in San Antonio, by the Institute of Texan Cultures, covering observation of Dí­a de los Muertos, S.A. style. Some aspects featured were already familiar to me, particularly the sight of Castroville Road across from San Fernando cemetery lined shoulder-to-shoulder with vendors of floral decorations to buy and take across the street to the graves. In this way 2 November for chicanos is much like Memorial Day in May for other Americans.

One of the persons featured in the video was Father Virgil Elizondo, who at the time of filming was rector of San Fernando Cathedral. (He now teaches at Notre dame University.) He is quite the author, and one of my favorite books of Elizondo's is The Future Is Mestizo. In it he describes growing up Mexican-American in the Westside barrio, and he celebrates the great contributions of the mestizo (mixed indigenous and Spanish ancestry) people. In this film he likewise celebrates what it means to be Mexican-American in the context of observation of Dí­a de los Muertos.

Someone in the video mentioned that customs for the holiday among San Antonio's chicanos differ from those of interior Mexico. The differences weren't really explained (at least not satisfactorily). But another person did mention that S.A. Mexican-Americans are now borrowing elements from Halloween. Now, to me that's not a good borrowing! Yes, I'm Celtic in my ancestry. But for that very reason I know well the pagan and occult origins of central aspects of the American observation. It's NOT a good thing to celebrate witches, or symbols of Druidism or the occult. When one researches the terrible and truly frightful practices of ancient Samhaim and one knows that there IS an evil in this creation that is more cosmic than merely the sum of individual human sin, it's no longer cute to think of costumed kids out begging for candy!

Calaveras or skeletons are different, since these occur in numerous cultures, including the Mesoamerican civilizations that Spaniards conquered in the Sixteenth Century. And the Latin-indigenous emphases on remembering deceased yet still beloved family members, and on not fearing death but rather viewing it as an aspect fo the progress of life, are good and healthy things our Spanish-heritage (mixed Latin with indigenous) neighbors can introduce to and share with us Anglos (and Germans, Afros, etc.)

So, I'd say let's forget the 31 October observation and its "spooks", witches, jack-o-lanterns, etc. Let's have a harvest festival instead. And let's remember and honor the sainted dead on 1 November and our departed relatives on the Second, that is, el Día de los Muertos.

Friday, October 27, 2006

San Antonio's Museums

Some time back I promised that I would have a word about this city's many museums. (See 18 September posting.) I suppose that now is as good a time as any to cover these houses of history and other things.

I say "now" because my previous posting was about "The Alamo", the most recent movie version of the world-famous battle. And as you might suspect, the place has a museum. The official Alamo Museum is a small one, and intertwined with a gift shop. But there ARE exhibit cases in that newer building. And outside is a wall of sorts that purports to give the history of this hallowed ground, from its founding as Misión San Antonio de Valero. Also, the old church building displays a few artifacts, and the other significant remaining portion of the original enclosure, the missionary's convento, later called the Long Barracks by the Texians, also has displays. Lots of them. So-o-o. . . , The Alamo is museum-like, all over. Of course: it's a historic site -- THE most historical site in Texas.

Now, to the major museums. Among the two biggest, best-known museums in San Antonio are the Museum of Art, and the Witte Museum. There is also the McNay Museum, but I have never visited it, so cannot honestly comment.

Between the "big two" I would most often probably name the San Antonio Museum of Art as my favorite. It's located in the old, old Lone Star brewery on the north side of downtown, on the banks of the San Antonio River. (The brewery had been relocated to the banks of the river below or south of downtown, but even that is closed now, and the beer is brewed in northern Texas.) When the museum occupied the building (1970s?) it retained the old architecture,a modified castellated outline, very attractive. In A.D. 2005 it built and opened an "Asian (art) wing" -- which isn't a wing new from the ground up but rather a third story (or fourth, or both) on top of the lowest portion of the original building. It's not the first contemporay-architecture additions the museum has made to the facilities, but the Asian wing really stands out. And I don't like it! It simply clashes with the style of the original brewery.

But en'uf 'bout what's on the outside. It's what's INSIDE a museum that really counts. Right? There are several halls specializing in artwork from various continents, civilizations or styles. Ones I like the most include the Ancient Egyptian, Greco-Roman Classical, Pre-Columbian American and Colonial Latin American. (There's also a contemporary Latin American floor, but I'm not much into contemporary or abstract art.) And the Museum of Art features traveling exhibits, in a hall behind the entrance lobby. Recently this presented "Retratos: 2000 Years of Latin American Portraits." It was a fascinating multi-media exhibition, from Mayan and Nazca ceramic portrait pieces thru colonial Spanish Baroque full-size full-length (as well as miniatures), to 20th Century masters. A very fascinating portrait paring was of a Mexican woman, one portrait in her young adult years by Diego Rivera and another a couple decades later by Rufino Tamayo. The former (the Rivera) was the publicity portrait for the travelingThis was close to being my very favorite of all exhibits I've ever seen in any museum -- and I've been in lots, to include the Met in NYC -- either permanent exhibit or traveling/special.

BUT WAIT! There's the Witte! I truly enjoy visiting this museum on Broadway beside historic Brackenridge Park (at the headwaters of the San antonio River) in April or early May. At that time the Witte will present an exhibit on some factor or other of San Antonio's annual party-to-end-all-parties, Fiesta. Other exhibits, of a more permanent nature, also focus on regional displays.

However, THE BEST exhibit I've ever seen (and HEARD, as you will find out) was a special exhibit a few years back, called "Corridos de la Frontera/ Ballads of the Border". Now, dear reader, know that corridos or Mexican ballads are very dear to me; as a graduate student at Vanderbilt University I did a term paper on the corrido as chronicler of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917). During that research so many years ago, I became fond of certain of these usually lively and often lovely ballads.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I shall Remember "The Alamo!" (movie)

Early Saturday, before going to the San Antonio Founders Day celebration, I went to the South Texas Blood Center to donate platelets. As compensation for the over hour and a half that platelet donation takes, a donor gets to watch a movie of her or his choice on a little TV at their station.

After checking available titles, I chose "The Alamo". This is NOT the well-known ("classic"?) version directed by John Wayne (and starring him as David Crockett), but rather the version made a few years ago, after my arrival here in Texas in '02. This newest version was filmed in central Texas (near Austin), starring Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston, Billy Bob Thornton as Crockett and Patrick Wilson as Travis. It was touted as being more historically accurate and fairer to both sides of the world-famous battle. Well, this devotee of history had great desires of seeing "The Alamo" in the theaters, but never made it during its short run.

Yeah, SHORT run; here in Texas this newest cinematic version of the battle didn't do well. I suspect that "The Alamo" bombed because Hollywood went for historical accuracy, based on the best documentary research. This means that it flew in the face of certain very key details of the legendary, mythic version of the battle which is so dear to native Texans. But I, who love historical accuracy, actually deeply appreciated this sincere endeavor -- strange thing to say about Tinseltown!

Indeed, I enjoyed the movie from start to finish!

One very controversial scene shows a captured Crockett, hands bound behind his back, before the victorious Santa Anna. He says something defiant to the Mexican dictator-president, who upon being given the translation into Spanish by a sub-commander, in rage orders Crocket's death. Now, having researched the documentary evidence, I suspect that Crockett, who really WAS captured (along with others), was put to death at once as soon as Santa Anna learned that any defender was yet alive. And hence, no such verbal confrontation occurred. But still, the scene made for a good story, and one that was doubtless intended to assuage native Texans (for not using the myth that Crockett went down swinging his rifle "Old Betsy" to club attackers, having run out of ammo).

For me, the best scene is the one based on the legend that Colonel Travis tells the assembled defenders that no further help will come and they are doomed. Please keep in mind that Travis in his pre-Alamo life was something of a scoundrel. He was the LEAST admirable of the "big four" leaders among the heroic defenders (the others being Bonham, Bowie and Crockett). He came to Texas to escape consequences of something like an adulterous affair back in South Carolina (or wherever he was from). But even I have always liked the legend that Travis drew a line in the ground with his sword and invited any who would stay to the death to cross over and join him. (The myth goes on to relate that all but one man crossed the "line in the sand" -- even a cot-ridden Jim Bowie who asked to be carried across.) This is a great picture, and very inspiring -- but again there isn't documentary, near-eyewitness evidence. The "line-in-the-sand" is first mentioned many, many years later by a non-witness writing about the battle. And this movie omits it.

Nevertheless, one DOES SEE a very moving scene in which Travis assembles the defenders, except for the very ill Bowie who remains in his room, and tells them the grim situation. He starts out by saying that "Texas gave me a second chance." In this he is referring back to the wreck of his life he had left behind in the USA. At once I considered how I too had made a wreck of my life, back in Tennessee, and how in coming to Texas and Saint Anthony's city (he the patron saint of lost items) I also had been given a second chance. Then Travis encourages the doomed defenders to "picture Texas, as each of you would like Texas to be" -- and to fight and DIE for THAT Texas! Oh, how readily I could picture the Texas of my ideals! How quickly I'd give my life for such!

I found myself identifying SO-O-O closely with THIS Travis. And I found myself in tears as a result. His story was MY story, in a way. In this movie Travis never takes out his sword to draw the line. I really ached for him to draw that line -- historical accuracy be spurned -- but I managed to do without it, thanks to that very inspirational speech!

It was also good that the movie continues on after Crockett's execution. In rapid scenes one sees the "Runaway Scrape" as Texians (the name immigrants from the USA gave themselves) flee eastward before Santa Anna. One sees Gonzales, the "Lexington of the Texas Revolution", set aflame, and Santa Anna riding thru the ashes, nothing left for his taking. One sees a couple of scenes which vividly capture the tension bordering on rebellion, of Houston's soldiers who are itching to turn and fight Santa Anna, while Houston keeps his own counsel and continues to lead the eastward retreat. Until he has the Mexican dictator where he wants him, at the banks of the San Jacinto River near today's Houston.

Just before the battle there, Houston makes an observation -- again, I'm unsure of its historical accuracy, but it certainly fits the situation and Houston's character. He speaks of the British commander Wellington who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, and how he doesn't consider himself the equal of Wellington. But he adds that Santa Anna DOES pompously call himself "The Napoleon of the West", so let San Jacinto be his Waterloo!

And in inciting the Texians just prior to the charge, Houston shouts, "Remember the Alamo!" I could have wished he had also shouted the other rallying cry, "Remember Goliad!" Or, as I read in a recently-published book, the Texians probably hollered, "Remember Labadie!", their mispronounciation of the name of the former Spanish presidio (fort) rather than the name of its nearby village. Over twice the number of Texians as were at The Alamo were massacred in the presidio of La Bahia near Goliad, on Palm Sunday A.D. 1836, a few days following their surrender -- again at Santa Anna's cruel order. But, the massacre at "Goliad" didn't figure much in this movie, so to have Houston also cry for them to remember that one, too, would have been superfluous.

Yes, my review is that this movie was a VERY GOOD film. I'm glad I saw it -- and on San Antonio Founders Day, to boot! Now I shall remember "The Alamo!" The movie (most recent edition) as well as the heroic battle!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

¡Viva la convivencia!

Wow! What a day it's been so far! And it's far from over!

Actually, before I get into today, a couple of words about ayer (yesterday). After holding my breath (almost literally) for several days, hoping to survive financially 'til my AHISD paycheck, it arrived in yesterday's mail. Instead of doing my usual M.O. and going to a nearby UPS Store to "quick-post" it to my USAA account, I chose to go to a neighborhood bank, so I could deposit it with a little cash back for this weekend. BAD mistake! OR to use Emmaus terminology, I encountered an obstacle to grace -- i.e., sin -- called greed at the best and lack of trust in God at the worst. And I stumbled mightily!

As a result, I was one and a half hours late to the Northwest San Antonio Emmaus monthly gathering, billed as "Rekindle the Flame" for the 29 recent Pilgrims of Men's Walk #1327. I was too late for food and fellowship, and to be present for the introduction of the folk of Walk #1327. But I was there for the entire worship service! And I even saw a man sporting the nametag used on my Pilgrim Walk, #327!

Also, on my headset radio, after the gathering adjourned and I headed home, I learned that the Alamo Heights Mules had beaten their arch-nemesis the Boerne Greyhounds! Finally! After so many years! AH 41, Boerne 14. Whoa, Mules!!!

NOW, for today. ¡Viva la Convivencia! is a slogan used last year at San Antonio Founders Day. In Spanish it means, roughly, "Long live 'live and let live' ". Convivencia is used by historians of la patria, España, as a term for the tolerant spirit of neighborliness that prevailed in much of Spain during parts of the Middle Ages, when Christians, Muslims and Jews allowed one another leeway to exercise their respective faiths. And indeed during those times of convivencia a Spaniard of one faith might greatly assist a neighbor of a different faith with little heed to their religious differences. The great Spanish Christian hero El Cid even had FRIENDS among the Muslims!

So-o-o-o, convivencia is a very appropriate term for the tolerant attitude that flourishes in the Alamo City. Yes, small incidents of racism happen, even here. But overall there is a civic spirit of "live-and-let-live", and indeed of "let's all celebrate everyone's particular cultural heritage!" ANY excuse for a party. Right, San Antonio?

As last year, so this year's Fouonders Day celebration commenced with a concert in Mc Creless Auditorium, featuring as headline performers the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio and the Children's Chorus of S.A. Before the musical presentations, Dr. Felix Almaraz of UTSA speaks in character, dressed in a Franciscan robe fashioned like one of the 1700s, as Fray (Friar) Olivares, the founding missionary of Misión San Antonio de Valero which later became The Alamo.

The orchestra played two pieces at the start of their portion of the program, that I greatly admired. These were "Danzon No. 2" by Marquez and "Hill Country Theme" by Paxton. The Children's Chorus capped off their set of four great songs by singing a terrific song about our city, titled simply "San Antonio". It was composed when the composer visited The Riverwalk. The indoor program climaxed with Beverly Houston singing a couple verses of "America the Beautiful" accompanied by the orchestra, the chorus and us the audience.

And then it was time to process across San Pedro Avenue to the park, for exhibits and fun! There were re-enactments, impersonators -- such as one of Fray (Friar) Antonio Margil, a Franciscan missionary, founder of Mission San Jose and a great hero of mine -- and more live music. This latter included the Heart of Texas men's barbershop chorus of San Marcos. Their harmonious singing was almost matched by their striking shirts resembling the flag of Texas!

What a gr-r-r-reat day it's been so far. . . .

Friday, October 20, 2006

S.A. Founders Day: tomorrow/mañana

Yesterday evening, as on many Thursday evenings, I found myself at the closing portions of the weekly San Antonio City Council meeting. I was there specifically to hand over some information to a Council Member, Elena Guajardo, who like me has been involved in Kairos Prison Ministry, and who had offered to assist me with the very first Kairos Weekend to be held in the Dolph Briscoe Unit outside Dilley at the beginning of December. After giving her the info she needed, I stayed around for the ceremonial recognitions-proclamations and the Citizens to Be Heard.

There were several recognitions last evening. The most notable proclamation was to a group of folk in a variety of historic costumes, about two dozen (maybe three), who represented that which will transpire on Saturday at the location of the founding of permanent settlement for San Antonio. The location will be San Pedro Springs Park and McCreless Auditorium across San Pedro Avenue, on the San Antonio College campus. The event is San Antonio Founders Day.

Founders Day is a fairly new celebration for this city whose middle name is "Party". But it's long overdue for a celebration of this type! It recognizes not only the Franciscan missionaries and accompanying Spanish troops, their families and other settlers from interior Mexico who established Misión San Antonio de Valero on 1 May A.D. 1718 and Presidio y Villa de San Antonio de Béxar four days later. It also recognizes the Canary Island settlers who arrived in March of 1731 and founded San Fernando de Béxar between the mission and the fort (presidio), both of which by that year had been moved from the vicinity of San Pedro Springs to the current sites of Alamo Plaza and Plaza de Armas (Military Plaza, or City Hall), respectively. And furthermore, Founders Day recognizes the other some 20 ethnic groups who have had a strong hand in making San Antonio what she is today: the eighth largest city in these United States, one of what are called the "four unique cities" thereof, and a city of remarkable cultural diversity amid civic unity!

Oh, and also THE city whose middle name is "Party"! (See my posting of 23 August for further comment.)

As you may guess, I attended this celebration of those who made San Antonio what she is, last October. And I'm eager to be there again tomorrow. A childrens choir and a childrens orchestra will entertain in McCreless Auditorium, after which everyone will go in procession across San Pedro Avenue to the park where there will be exhibits and mor entertainment. San Pedro Springs Park, BTW, in addition to being where the city truly began as a permanent settlement (the Coahuiltecan tribes previously had a movable encampment, or ranchería, called Yanaguana), this picturesque and historic public space is the SECOND-OLDEST such public space, or park, in the USA, after Boston Common!

Monday, October 16, 2006

"Dad" & "Mom" come a-visiting!

Yesterday, Sunday the Fifteenth, a couple whom I esteem highly paid a visit to San Antonio. They are Jim and Joanne Spiller.

While I was serving as a chaplain in the US Army, A.D. 1981-1984, Jim Spiller was the highest-ranking Army chaplain in our denomination, the Disciples of Christ. When I moved to S.A. in '02 and joined Alamo Heights Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I discovered that Jim & Joanne were members, very active members! They both sang in the choir, which I shortly joined. The Spillers both had been on the Walk to Emmaus, so I saw them at Care Bexar monthly gatherings. Also, I house-sat for them while they took an Alaska cruise to celebrate their 50th in '02.

For these reasons and the fact that the Spillers are sterling role models, as church leaders and as a Christian couple, I informally adopted them as my "Mom" & "Dad". My real parents are are still quite alive, but they're far away in Boise, and Jim & Joanne were right here in S.A.

Then, late in '02 the Spillers moved away to Maryland, to live closer to two of their real children, along with the grandkids. (Another daughter and her family live in Houston.) I was very sad that they were moving, but I understood. And they promised to return in visits to Texas.

Well, Sunday was one of those return visits. "Mom" was already in town, and I saw & hugged her in the morning at church. Then she & I picked up "Dad" at the S.A. International Airport. He was flying in from El Paso, where he had been attending an Army unit reunion, for which he conducted the memorial service Sunday morning. I went into the baggage claim area, to see if I could find him. From behind I spotted a well-dressed gentleman sporting a baseball cap such as is typically worn by Army veterans. I went up and tapped him on the shoulder; it WAS Jim! We hugged each other, and as we parted and continued our joyous greeting, I saw that "Dad" was sporting a beautiful necktie: dark blue with a diagonal red pinstripe about every two inches, with little American flags between the stripes. Well-dressed AND patriotic!

We three hit the road, U.S. Highway 281, north thru Bulverde and into Comal County. A couple who also sing in the choir, Bob and Liz Jones, who live in S. A. but also have property in rural Comal County due north, had invited the Spillers, the choir and a Sunday School class to a get-together at this, their "goat ranch". Pastor Bruce and wife Lizzie and Associate Pastor Marta "Marty" Peña (with her girls) were also invited to this shindig. As folk arrived, we were taken to the nearby pen to view the dozen or so goats and one guardian burro, named "Dumpling". The burro is attractively colored and deligthful. But she DID try to eat my necktie!

While Liz and some other ladies finished preparing the evening meal, Jim, Bob, myself and others congregated on the spacious front porch, chatting about memories of military service or church, and enjoying refreshments and snacks, including a delicious (multi-)fruit punch and "Scoops" chips and picante. Supper featured further scrumptious items, built around turkey, both oven-roasted and smoked. Dessert was pies of several sorts. Some of us ate at a table set up on the other end of the front porch, others feasted inside.

Afterward, we all circled up inside the magnificent two-story great room; it has a limestone fireplace and the second-floor master bedroom overlooks it, separated only by a wooden balcony rail. Each of us in the circle took turns sharing some high point(s) of the year so far, and low point(s) or challenge(s). I delighted to share about the engagement of my son David with a girl who also is involved in Covenant Players touring drama ministry, my FUN summer work on Fiesta Texas Railroad, and my recent service as clergy on men's Walk to Emmaus #1327. I also quickly confessed my numerous health issues of this year (now mostly gone or under control) and my concern for the troubled state of my beloved Emmaus Fourth Day Group (or community), of which I'm Spiritual Director, Care Bexar.

Shortly afterward, it was time for final hugs and "good-byes" for "Mom" and "Dad". They were to spend the nite at the Jones' "goat ranch" home and then Monday or Tuesday be back on the road again.

The Lord Jesus bless Jim & Joanne Spiller. After all, they've been a major blessing in my life and hence I "adopted" them as my "Dad" & "Mom"!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"Fri. Nite Lights" at Midnight

Last night I think I witnessed THE LONGEST game of high school football I ever witnessed! Truly the "Friday nite lights" burned in Alamo Stadium 'til close to midnight. This is much longer than usual on a high school football night!

The Lanier Voks ("Pride of the Westside") fought a lo-o-ong, hard gridiron battle against the Sam Houston Cherokees. Located in far eastern San Antonio, the latter high school takes in students from what might formerly have been the ghetto (if S.A. was considered to have one). So the Cherokees have a strong football team every year. Oops! I forgot: the "politically-correct" agenda has forced SHHS to change the mascot to "Hurricanes". Last nite, one SHHS fan word a green-and-orange tee shirt which proclaimed "ALWAYS a Cherokee!" You bet! More power to ya! Let's hear it for opposing the politically-correct agenda!

Meanwhile, the Lanier Voks reign as defending District 28-4A champs and were undefeated so far this year in District games. Houston had one District loss.

The game was tied 6-6 at halftime -- an omen of what was to come. Lanier pushed its lead to 20-6 with two lightning-quick touchdowns in the third quarter, but Houston came back in the fourth to tie the game 20-20 and send the contest into the first overtime. Neither team scored in the first, and both teams scored equally in the next two. Finally, in the fourth overtime, the Hurricanes failed on a two-point conversion, the Voks scored and made their two-pointer to end victorious 43-41 about an hour and a half after regulation time had expired.


Elsewhere, the Alamo Heights Mules paid a visit to their District 27-4A foes Fredricksburg, up in the Texas Hill Country. The Mules stomped on the Billies (as in "billygoats" I think). Also, the Devine Warhorses and the Decatur eagles, both ranked #7 (the former in the Express-News area poll and the latter in the state-wide AP poll) also did some stomping to keep their records bright for district championships and playoff trips. Devine defeated Pearsall and Decatur bested in-county arch-rival Bridgeport.

But at least none of those games were marathon-length like the Voks' contest in Alamo Stadium was! Oh, and I didn't stay for the overtimes. I'd bro't my headset radio, so I caught the last VÍA bus going past the stadium, and listened to the finish of the hard-fought battle.

Go, Voks, Go! And go, "Friday Nite Lights!" Just don't go over-long again!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Terrific Teachers, Awesome Students!

On Wednesday (yesterday) I had a sub-teaching assignment at Alamo Heights High School. It turned into one of the most delightful assignments I've had as a substitute teacher!

For one, the teacher was in her room when I entered; she was going to be on campus, but involved all day in another responsibility. I always appreciate it when I can speak directly with the teacher for whom I'm subbing. Ms. Banda quickly filled me in on what she was leaving me as far as lesson plans, students' class agenda, overhead transparencies, etc.

The classes were an English I (Freshman) class and the rest were English II. Ms. Banda had some rather interesting projects for both courses, and the students kept pretty busy doing their class work. The classroom is a south-facing second-story room, so it gets plenty of natural light, and Ms. Banda (according to the students) has never turned on the ceiling lights. Indeed, when I entered and before I realized she was still there, I automatically hit the "on" switch for those lights, which prompted complaints from students already in the room and a request for Ms. Banda as she was leaving to please turn them off. You see, she uses "mood lighting", soft light from lamps placed around the room. Cool!

The classes went fairly well. A couple of them were talkative during the opening minutes, while they were supposed to be doing individual work on a "Warm-up" and I was trying to take attendance. In both cases I quipped, "When Ms. Banda says 'Warm-up' she's not referring to your vocal cords!" And later in one of those classes a couple of boys got involved in throwing wads of paper. I remarked, "This isn't Lackland Air Force Base, so I don't want to see any flying objects! Okay?" And I didn't see any.

As one of the morning classes was leaving after the dismissal bell, one girl was left in the room, as she had an elaborate set of school supplies to get together to take with her. As she left we exchanged pleasantries. She said, "Have a nice day" or something similar. I replied, "I am! This school has terrific teachers and awesome students!"

Now, THAT reply was straight off the top of my head. But it was also from the depths of my heart. I truly enjoy sub-teaching at Alamo Heights High School. So, I MEANT what I said about the teachers and the students!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Día de la Raza

Today is Columbus Day, in the English-speaking Western Hemisphere. Among the Spanish-speaking, including those in these United States, it is "Día de la Raza".

Even tho' this is a holiday tied to a SPECIFIC event in history, the date -- 12 October A.D. 1492 -- that Christopher and his crew of three ships of Spaniards discovered the New World, it has fallen to the "Monday-holiday" syndrome that caters to American love of leisure and laziness. So, for example, the Alamo Heights ISD had a school holiday on Monday the Ninth in observance of the historic date. Well, I think that's why it was a holiday; the teachers still had workshops. And actually I was glad to have the day off to rest up and catch up from my participation in the Walk to Emmaus #1327.

Columbus Day, or Día de la Raza, is an important day in history. Probably next to Christ's birth, death and resurrection, which split western history into Before Christ (B.C.) and "In the Year of Our Lord" (A.D. Anno Domini in Latin), Columbus' discovery in A.D. 1492 had the most impact on human history.

Alas! in this current age of the "politically correct" agenda, emphasis had been on the negatives of the A.D. 1492 connection of the New World with the Old. True, terrible things came out of the mariner's exploit. He himself mistreated the natives, and of course in ensuing generations a huge percentage of the indigenous died from the ravages of European diseases against which they had no immunity. They died as well from mistreatment at the hands of the Europeans. And because they thus could not bear the slavery imposed on them, the Europeans took to hauling black Africans across the Atlantic to be their slaves.

Nevertheless Cristóbal Colón (his name's Spanish version, by which he went much of his later adult life) desired noble goals. BTW, one of those goals was NOT to prove that the world was round; most educated folk of the time already KNEW the Earth was a globe. The most-publicized goal was to set up a trade route for Spain and Europe WEST across the Atlantic Ocean to the Spice Islands and the other riches of the Orient. But another major goal of Colón was to open a road across the sea for the spreading of the Gospel, the Good News of Christ, who had after all died for ALL PEOPLE, regardless of residence, race or language. Consider that the Italian navigator's personal name means "Christ-bearer"!

The spiritual goal was one which caught the attention of Queen Isabel, and one which we Western-Hemisphere Christians today should remember with gratitude.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

#1327 - some final musings De Colores!

Yep, dear reader, please allow me a few final remarks about Walk to Emmaus #1327. And then I'll trust that if you've been on a Walk or on Cursillo you know "the rest of the story" (as Paul Harvey would say). And if you haven't been, that my sharing impels you to get busy applying to go on a Walk!

I've mentioned (e.g., see 25 June post) that the talk I gave was "Sanctifying Grace". This is the fifth and final Talk directly concerning God's amazing grace; they are the five done by clergy. It's also the twelfth Talk of the fifteen, and comes on Sunday morning, about the hour churches with two morning worship services are having the first service (the time specific will have significance in the next paragraph). Like all the speakers I dress up in suit and tie (women speakers dress equivalently) and pray with a prayer partner in the Mt. Wesley chapel before being taken across campus to the conference room to do my Talk. My prayer partner continues to pray during the Talk.

So into the room I enter, carrying the hand-held cross that EVERY speaker has carried to & from his/her Talk. And I'm wearing borrowed shoes! I forgot to pack dress shoes, so Chris Rollins, who's doing the fifteenth & final Talk lends me his. They're size 11, a bit large for my 9 1/2 or 10 feet, but that's perfect. Upon arriving at the podium, the first thing I do is step beside it and easily slip my feet out of Chris' shoes. (At the end of my Talk I briefly explain my action and the significance of my many shoe-less moments during this Walk; see 9 Oct. post.) Then I tell my opening personal illustration -- my nervousness during my first entry into a prison to sponsor an inmate for a Kairos Weekend and how the ease of the intro meeting exemplified God's sanctifying grace in my life -- and introduce myself and topic, thus: "My name is Glen Alan Graham; my SERMON this morning is Sanctifying Grace."

The Talk/"sermon" goes smoothly -- why not, it's being prayed over -- except for one little glitch toward the end. This unexpected "bump" is due to my following to the letter MY printed instructions for the Talk, which varied from material Bruce our Lay Director had. But okay, not to worry. It was probably of spiritual benefit to someone or some. It was beneficial to me, because it kept me humble and acquired for me a wallet-size "Order of Reunion - Service Sheet" card. Not long after my Pilgrim Walk I had lost my original copy of this card, and had not acquired a new one while on Men's Walk #1005. So I was very glad to have one again!

One last thing. You may have figured out by now that I'm an emotive guy, who gets moist eyes at touching events, happy or sad. Former singer and songwriter for Southern gospel group Heavenbound, Jeff Gibson, on a live album of the group's said in affirmation of audience tears of joy, "My grandaddy always said that if your head leaks it won't swell!" Mine leaked plenty during the Walk #1327. Almost every time we sang the centering song I would tear up, since it called to memory my own Pilgrim Walk, #327, one thousand Walks previously, which employed that SAME centering song. And when on Sunday at some point we sang "Here I Am, Lord" I teared up again, remembering how in my first Fourth Day Group, Koinonia, at every monthly gathering we'd sing that song no matter what others we sang. Also, the choir at Alamo Heights Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) sang "Here I Am, Lord" as anthem on my first Sunday at the church back in '02. I had tears of joy that day at the memories of my earlier Emmaus experiences in Texas, joined the church and resumed my journey to Emmaus that was temporarily interrupted after moving to Tennessee.

My resumed journey to Emmaus had led to THIS point, Mt. Wesley Methodist camp in Kerrville, where it all began at the end of October A.D. 1993, and to THIS Walk #1327. Ain't God good??? Yep, "All the time!"

You will have noticed frequent use of the Spanish phrase De colores, particularly at the end of each posting about Walk #1327. This was inherited from Cursillo, naturally. It means literally "of colors" or more loosely "colorfully". It's an allusion to the great varieties of experiencing the one grace of our awesome God. Every Talk concludes with the speaker saying "De colores" and the normal speaking-voice response of everybody else,

De colores.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

#1327: more intensity, more fun

As I reviewed my post of yesterday that describes Walk to Emmaus #1327, I considered so many things about the Walk that I didn't get around to sharing on this blog. Of course, to share it ALL would take thousands of words, not to mention removing all element of surprise, as I explained at the end of yesterday's posting. Nevertheless, I simply HAVE to share a couple of further items, of a serious, intense nature or humorous.

One of the benefits of being clergy on a Walk is that there is an intense moment on the third day, when all laity on the Team leave the conference room. The Pilgrims have each been handed a bag with Agapé Letters ("love letters", so to speak -- see 9 October posting for "agapé"). Significant people in the life of each Pilgrim are contacted and requested to write affirmative letters to him about his Emmaus experience. His Sponsor is REQUIRED to write one, and his spouse, parents and church pastor are strongly urged to write also. If a Pilgrim appears to have received fewer than average letters, some of us Team members fill the gap by writing to him ourselves. The reason the clergy remain in the room is that Pilgrims can get very deeply affected by what they read and may need someone to talk to. Our one African-American Pilgrim was Ron Brown, whom everybody on the Walk called "Preacher" because it came out at "New Best Friend" that he was called to go into the ministry. Well, "Preacher" was the first Pilgrim I saw getting emotional over his "love letters". Not agitated emotional, just visibly moved, as to moistened eyes.

I mentioned Candlelight early in the posting yesterday, and that I had been to several, at places in addition to Mt. Wesley. Candlelight is an event during the Walk when Emmaus folk who aren't on the Team get involved directly with the Pilgrims (and Team) in a very special way. Most Emmaus folk will tell you that Candlelight was the most significant one thing of their Pilgrim Walk, that it was "like Heaven". For me, the Dying Moment and Closing were somewhat more significant, appreciated and "heavenly", but I do understand where my fellow Emmaus brothers & sisters are coming from. Actually, Candlelight for #1327 WAS more moving than I was expecting, because some people were there whom I hadn't expected! I'm not going to say more, lest I spoil the surprise for some future Pilgrim. But if you MUST know details and don't care about losing the surprise, e-mail me at valle4gris@yahoo.com.

Now, to the humorous. Mike Solano was Spiritual Director for #1327. Mike did an awesome job as SD! But Mike is definitely NOT some sober-sided clergy hidden away in some monastery. He has his humorous side! All during the Walk Mike was working on turning a stuffed macaw parrot into a stuffed rooster (the rooster with multi-colored tail feathers is a popular symbol for Emmaus and Cursillo). To make the coxcomb and the wattle, he used the feet of the macaw, then replaced these with clear plastic cups shaped like margarita glasses that he cut with scissors to resemble the clawed feet. There was some defect in the plastic that clouded these cups and made them look dirty. I overheard a piece of a conversation between Mike and someone else, about this defect. Mike explained that it was "burnt toe jam". Now, my friends, once in a great while I overhear or am told words that will make me fall out laughing -- laughing so hysterically that tears come to my eyes and a headache to the back of my head. This was one of those times! "Burnt toe jam!" Haw, haw, haw, haw. . . !

During the final team formation meeting, Andy Smith (see 25 September for more about him) did his Preview Talk. His was the "Obstacles to Grace" Talk and at one point he said, "God is good!" Now, I have been conditioned (particularly thru my work in prisons with Kairos Prison Ministry) to immediately respond "all the time!" and await the leader saying "all the time" to which everybody else responds "God is good!" So without thinking I blurted out the respose when Andy said, "God is good." After the meeting that day, Mike took me aside and cautioned me to NOT do that (I'd done it to another speaker also, during his or her Preview Talk) because it clearly distracted Andy (and the other speaker). Well, during his actual Talk (on this Walk), when Andy said, "God is good", my lips began to part to utter the conditioned response -- and the Spirit checked me just in time! Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mike to my right turn his head and look directly at me with a look of "I dare you, and see what happens if you do!" But it was with a smile on his face.

Thanks, Mike! And thanks, "breath" of God (a.k.a. Holy Spirit)!

De colores.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Walk #1327 -- the BEST EVER!

I've posted twice (on 24 June and 25 September) about men's Walk to Emmaus #1327. Well, this past weekend the Walk took place, the 1327th for either men or women in southwest Texas. It was at Mt. Wesley Methodist camp in Kerrville in the Hill Country. Since watches, cellphones, laptops and all other electronic commo devices are banned from walks to Emmaus, I haven't been able to post anything for some days on this, my blogsite.

But I didn't mind! My whole being was absorbed in the business of service on the Team presenting this Walk. And what a tremendous blessing it was!

As I've mentioned before, I was a Pilgrim (first-timer) on Walk #327 -- exactly 1,000 Walks ago (here in SW TX), back at the end of October A.D. 1993. And I was on the Team for Walk #1005, in August of A.D. 2002. Both those walks were here at Mt. Wesley also. (There are several sites in the region, and in every state, for a Walk to Emmaus, and I have attended Candlelight for walks elsewhere in addition to Mt. W.)

In my service on #1005 I was introduced to the concept that THAT particular then-upcoming Walk would be THE BEST Walk ever. At first glance I poo-poo'ed the idea, remembering how wonderful #327 had been for me as a Pilgrim. But I found out, when we actually did #1005 -- it WAS the best ever (to that point). In fact, I was so overwhelmed by the holiness of the Dying Moment which took place on the second day, that I considered the story of Moses' encounter with Yahweh at the burning bush, and how God told Moses to remove his shoes because he stood on holy ground. The Holy Spirit told me, "You think this likewise is a holy moment and holy ground? Then why are your shoes still on your feet?" My shoes came off in a heartbeat!

Please, dear reader, do NOT get the idea that a Walk to Emmaus is that intense thru'out the three days, or that it's like being in a monastery chapel. Far from it! Emmaus people KNOW firsthand that being a Christian is FUN, and even humorous at times.

On the first evening (Thursday) there are brief introductory comments by the Lay Director and the Spiritual Director, to orient the Pilgrims to the Walk. There is also a game of "Meet My New Best Friend" in which participants pair up and ask each other a few simple get-acquainted questions. First question is name -- an easy question, since everyone is wearing nametags. Final question is to tell me an interesting fact about yourself. Then, each of the pair gets to introduce his "new best friend" to the whole group. And the "interesting facts" are often either humorous in themselves or in the manner in which they are told to the group.

What was even more a laugher was when Bruce Bray, Lay Director, in briefly telling the Pilgrims what to expect, came to the subject of food. Now, on a Walk there are three square meals daily -- in fact one could almost call them three cubic meals (or "round-ing", ha, ha), and the conference room where the Talks are given has a "food agapé" table, always well-stocked with food of all sorts. So Bruce, who is 6 feet tall or taller and pushing 300 pounds, confessed that "my being on walks to Emmaus has made me as big as I am; in fact, some folks call it the 'Walk to Enormous'".

I wish he hadn't said that last, because whenever I looked at the "food agapé" table those words "Walk to Enormous" sprang to mind so fast I almost got mental whiplash!

Agapé, BTW, is the Greek word used in the New Testament for unconditional love based on the will rather than feelings, like God's love. It's the love Paul describes in I Corinthians 13. In Emmaus we also use agapé to label small deeds done or small items given, that express unconditional love. For example, whenever the Pilgrims and Team return to their sleeping quarters following a session in the conference room, we find "pillow agapé" -- little objects or cards with little objects which will have an appropriate Scripture verse or an encouraging phrase (and usually the name of the small group or whomever made and provided it).

My "new best friend" was one of the Pilgrims, named Travis Simon. He told me that his French ancestor upon coming to America, dropped the final "e" from the family name. So I took to calling him "See-MONE" during the Walk; he took it in good humor. What I shared as his "interesting fact" was that he was born in California, but after marrying a girl from Texas and then living in his home state, the wife talked him into moving to Texas. As I said, "Those of you who are native Texans know that you can take the Texan out of Texas, but you can't take Texas out of the Texan!"

Being one of the clergy on the Team (even tho' I do not hold a clergy job, I retain my ordination with the Disciples of Christ, and do occasionally preach), I sat at the "extra" table. All the Pilgrims, along with Table Leaders and Assistants, sit at tables labelled with names of the four evangelists or St. Peter, St. Paul or another saint. We at the "extra" table (in addition to the clergy also the Lay Director and assisting Team members) don't do the responses to the Talks that the Pilgrims' tables do, so we're called St. Elsewhere.

But we at St. Elsewhere DO join in on the general group activities, particularly the singing. Before each Talk there is singing of rousing praise songs like "I Saw the Light" and more tho'tful ones like "Awesome God", before the "centering song" is sung to focus everyone's minds & spirits on the upcoming Talk (see 24 June post). I found out during team formation meetings, that the music team would lead us at least twice in "This Train". So I offered to bring my train crew cap and whistle from my summer work on Fiesta Texas Railroad. Man, I had FUN throwing on that cap and blowing the whistle and saying, "All aboard!" when the music team started that song! One time I made sure I was at the front, near the musicians. As we got into the first verse of "This Train" I started making motions with my forearms like the rods of the train wheels, choo-choo'ed on over to the nearest table and invited the Table Leader to "get on board" (along with his Table Family) by getting behind me, putting his hands on my shoulders and following me. By the end of the song the entire room was doing this "conga line" around the tables!

Didn't I say we Christians have FUN???

Still, the Walk to Emmaus has a serious, Godly purpose. It is to renew the Pilgrim's faith and deepen his (or on a Women's Walk, her) relationship with Jesus. Thru individual renewal, the Emmaus experience renews the local congregation and equips congregational members who return from the Walk to be leaders in the local church. The Talks may have humorous anecdotes supplied by each speaker, but the overall outline is very serious while also being educational and uplifting, encouraging.

And then there are the intense experiences that take place away from the conference room, in the chapel and other places. One of these is the Dying Moment I mentioned above. Now, on THIS Walk, my shoes came off well before the Dying Moment. But they also came off then, as well as often later, including during my Talk. I told someone sometime on that final day, that I might as well have gone barefoot the entire time!

Well, I could go on and on. But then if you, dear reader, get opportunity to go on a Walk or Cursillo or similar 3-day retreat with follow-up, you will miss out on the element of surprise that's present in a few of the activities. Surprise which heightens the sense of discovery of oneself and one's relationship with an awesome God and Savior and with the Body of Christ which is the Church. And also, to be honest, some of those special and intense moments were between one or two other persons and me and Daddy God. And I'd prefer to keep these that way. (Jesus taught His disciples to call God "Abba", in His language of Aramaic "Abba" is a term of endearment similar to a little child's "Daddy" in our English.)

De colores. And "thank You, Lord, for the awesome experience of the Best Walk Ever, #1327! Amen and amen!"

De colores.