Thursday, December 28, 2006

My Family

Recently it came to my attention, that I seldom mention my family in this blogsite. One reason for this omission, among others it being the most important, is that my blog IS about San Antonio (and south-central Texas), and none of my blood relatives live closer than Georgetown and Cedar Park, north of Austin. I live in San Antonio by myself, solo.

However, that's no reason to not include anything about my family. So here is the scoop on the Grahams.

My mother and father, Thelma (nee Sansom) and Frank, still live in Boise, where for the most part I was raised. They divorced the year after I moved to Texas the first time. Both of them are well into retirement; in fact, my last visit to Idaho was for my dad's retirement party in A.D. 1994.

I'm the oldest of three children. My sister Debbie now lives in Berkeley, CA, where she's studying for the Episcopal ministry in one of their seminaries on the Bay. She's a year and a half younger than me, but while we were children, folk often considered us to be twins! Our "baby" brother, Patrick, is an EMS medic in Pocatello, Idaho. He served one tour of duty in the US Army, and now is about to re-enlist. He is married to LaRae, who by a previous marriage had a couple of children, including Zane. Zane just returned to the States from a tour of duty in Iraq, with the Army.

That's my family of origin. As for my immediate family, I married Ellen on 19 August A.D. 1978. I had met her at TCU in Fort Worth, during my first sojourn in the Lone Star State. She was born and raised in Tampa, Florida, and had received a Bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt University. Her mother's family are Tennesseans, so our marriage was at the family church, Martha's Chapel UMC, in rural southern Montgomery County, near Clarksville. Ellen had just received her Master's in psychology from TCU when we wed. In the late '90s she added a PhD from TSU in Nashville; she was the first to receive a PhD in psychology from that institution. Doctor Ellen Graham's birthday is 22 October.

After I commenced my tour of duty in the US Army, we had a son, David Dwight, born on 14 November A.D. 1981 in Darnell Hospital on Ft. Hood Army post in central Texas. David is the only native Texan in the family. The Lord blessed him with two great talents: drawing (he had an earlier career goal of being a professional cartoonist) and acting or drama. Currently David tours with the Christian drama ministry the Covenant Players. He's engaged to marry another CP trouper next summer. She is Allison, from Nebraska.

Ellen and I lost another child, Rebecca Ruth, to stillbirth in 1984. Then our youngest, Sarah Elizabeth, was added to the family, on 30 June A.D. 1986, at Baptist Hospital in Nashville. Sarah began studies at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, but is currently working full-time at Convergys, an outsourcing company (phone work) for which I worked about a year when it first opened its branch in C'ville.

I confess that I was far from a model father or husband. This would sum up a significant portion of why the other three are still in C'ville (David currently being on Christmas break from CP) while I'm sojourning here in S.A. Ellen and I separated a couple other times in the late '90s; this one goes back to the end of 2001. I was in a 7-month unemployment crisis when it began, and came to S.A. in search of work after all possibilities in C'ville seemed to be exhausted.

As for the family located closest to me, they would be Uncle Chuck, my dad's oldest brother, and Aunt Alice (a native Texan), who after he retired from the Army a Major General spent a few years in the Atlanta, Georgia, area before moving to Georgetown. This move not only put them in Aunt Alice's home state but also close to their eldest, my cousin Susan, who lives with her husband and children in Cedar Park. My guess (without consulting a road map) is that both towns are about the same distance from here, altho' Georgetown has the advantage of being right on IH 35 north of Austin.

So there's the scoop on my family.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

S.A. Xmas traditions - Part Two

Whoops! When I posted about distinctive Christmas traditions to be found in San Antonio, I forgot several! So, here are some more, for this day after Christmas. "Xmas", BTW, is simply an abbreviation for the name of the holiday. Some folk think it's part of the effort to take Christ out of Christmas. But the "X" is actually the Greek letter chi, and thus the first letter in the title "Christos" or Christ ("the Anointed One" in English, and ha-masshiah in Hebrew). In fact, if you have ever noticed in historic Christian art something that looks like a capital "X" and a capital "P" together, THAT is the "chi-rho" monogram, representing the first two letters in the Greek word.

Also, it may seem like the first item on my previous list was a Christmas tradition that's universal, that is, lights and lighted decorations. True, but I was calling attention to Christmas lights of a fashion one will not find elsewhere. What other city (at least in these United States) has a Riverwalk like San Antonio's, or a Tower of the Americas with red, white and green lights shining in a ring at its top? So, my first item herein will also be something found universally -- but I experience it with the flavor of the Alamo City!

Cantatas and caroling. Singing is a VERY important part of the Advent-Christmas scene for me. After all, I greatly enjoy singing -- that's why I'm in the church choir. We at Alamo Heights Christian Church (Disciples) have a choir cantata every year, before Christmas. Since the Fourth Sunday of Advent this year was also Christmas Eve, we sang the cantata on Sunday the 17th. Janis Erwin, our director, actually tailored a printed cantata, to conform with what we had in the way of voices and other talent. So, on one song we had handbells, and on another a flute for instrumental accompaniment. We had one solo, by Kathy Huth, singing "Mary, Did You Know", a profound song about the meaning of the birth of the Messiah, composed by Mark Lowry.

Later that day (the 17th) I went to nearby St. Andrew UMC to join in an old-fashioned caroling. It started just after four in the afternoon, so the sun was still up and it was warm -- not the slightest chance of snow! That, however, didn't take away the enjoyment, as several folk of all ages climbed up on a pickup-drawn flatbed trailer and sat on the rows of hay bales. The pickup pulled us slowly around the neighborhood, as we sang many of the traditional favorite Christmas carols. And we made sure to sing the one that fits SO WELL in San Antonio: "Feliz Navidad"! Afterward, there was a brief "old-fashioned" Christmas program in the church's fellowship hall, of music, singing and scripture readings, and then refreshments.

All-Christmas Music on the airwaves. Yeah, this is another one that's not exactly unique to San Antonio. But still, it IS Texas-flavored, if you know what I mean -- and if you don't, it's ANOTHER reason for a visit to the Lone Star State! FM 101.9, generally airing soft rock music, dedicates the entire month of December to "all-Christmas music" and I seldom listen other times of the year, but LOTS during December! And another popular station I listen to, KKYX-AM 680, will also occasionally air Christmas songs. Usually of country music stars, but sometimes of other pop artists.

This year I seem to be paying more attention to Christmas ballads, recitations or other songs that tell a story about Christmas. For example, the late Grandpa Jones of Grand Ole Opry radio and Hee-Haw television fame has a recitation about one Conrad (or Konrad), an old cobbler with no family left living, who gets a message from the Lord that He will visit his lonely cobbler shop and home on Christmas Day. Conrad does get visitors -- first some friends with whom he shares the good news of the impending visit, and then three individuals, a beggar who needs shoes, an elderly woman who needs to sit down and rest from collecting firewood, and a little girl who's lost. Conrad graciously helps each one, and then notices that the day has gone, without a visit from the Lord. But when he prays in complaint, the Lord responds that His shadow had crossed Conrad's threshold three times -- for He was the beggar, the widow and the child! Get out the kleenex! And get it out on another I heard at least twice on 101.9 -- about a little boy who wants to buy shoes for his mother on Christmas Eve. The shoes are just her size and style, but please hurry and sell him them, because his mom's been ill a long while and is about to die. And the boy wants his mother to look beautiful "when she meets Jesus tonite". Let's hear it for Christmas songs! And for radio stations that air them!

Los Pastores. Like la Gran Posada, this is a very old Christmas tradition of Spanish origin. It's an example of the "morality plays" that entertained and taught average folk during the Middle Ages. In Spanish it's called una pastorela, or a play about shepherds. With singing, dialogue and dramatic action it tells an imaginative accounting of the shepherds and their journey to Bethlehem to see the Christ Child, of whom the angel had told. On the way various demons seek to impede their pilgrimage. Finally, the Archangel Michael goes into battle with the chief devil himself, Luzbel (Lucifer), and defeats him, so that the shepherds can pay their homage to the Christ Child. Thru the dialogue and the action, various moral points are taught, such as perseverance.

The best-known presentation of Los Pastores is done between Christmas and Epiphany (6 Jaunuary) at Mission San José, where it's performed by the Guadalupe Players, under the sponsorship of the San Antonio Conservation Society. But the Guadalupe Players also perform la pastorela in churches and at private residences that have requested it in fulfillment of a vow. I've seen Los Pastores performed at the mission several times over my years in Texas, and a couple of years ago I was invited to a home on the Westside to watch it there. I once read an analysis of la pastorela, that stated in detail that there were differences in the play when it was performed at a private home, at a church and at the mission. The script is the same, but the setting gives a distinct "feel" at each locale.

The enactment at the mission is oriented to tourists or new and curious residents of the city, of course, and so the emphasis is less on religious devotion or on doing a spiritual act, and more on performance itself. It's supposed to give viewers a taste of something that took place at the old Spanish missions in their heyday (the 1700s), something that the Franciscan missionaries taught the indigenous converts (of the Coahuiltecan tribe) in order to emphasize Christian teachings and make the new faith more real to them. However, 1) the script that is used is less than a century old, and was dictated to Father Carmelo Tranchese by a man who had experienced it in Zacatecas or some other part of north-central Mexico. And 2) the masks and robes or capes worn by the shepherds and the demons MAY resemble ones worn back in the 1700s, but under those costume parts the actors wear jeans and other contemporary garb, as does the audience, who sit close by, under a large tent roof, well-lit by electric lights; a professor from UTSA narrates and comments, using a microphone with loudspeakers. In other words, the realism of what MAY have taken place in the mission's heyday is quickly lost!

Nevertheless, Los Pastores, wherever in San Antonio one may see it performed, is a Christmas tradition that you, dear reader, ought to experience at least once. Yes, Christmas in this city shares many elements with all the rest of the country (and other northern countries) -- but it also presents elements that are distinctive, either due to the unique nature of our city or to its origins as a Spanish-frontier city and its continued proximity to the border with our southern neighbor, Mexico. And, as I've pointed out, much of the distinctiveness of Christmas observations here promotes the REAL REASON for the season: that we celebrate and remember that God gave us the very best gift He had to give, His very own Son, Jesus! CHRISTmas is about Christ!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

San Antonio Christmas Traditions

Since I've affirmed, time and time again, that San Antonio is a community who likes to party, you should not be surprised, dear reader, that we also get into the festivities of Advent and Christmas. Especially when one considers that the dominant faith in this city is Catholicism and the majority ethnic group is chicano or Mexican-American, and another prominent ethnic group is der Deutsche or Germans.

Here are some of the significant and distinctive, unique traditions of the end of the year, here in S.A.:

The lights. San Antonio is famous for El Paseo del Río or Riverwalk, and the way it's decorated from Thanksgiving thru end of year. At first, seeing the lights of the Riverwalk trees only from street level, I didn't think much of them. However, once I actually went down onto the Riverwalk, walked under the trees and got a fresh perspective, I became more enthusiastic. Especially when at times the riverside sidewalk's edge is lined with luminarias, paper bags weighted down with sand and each containing a burning votive candle. (This custom came out of Mexico.) Also well-publicized is the lighting of the University of the Incarnate Word. On that campus all the trees are strung with colored lights, and some of the buildings' rooflines have white lights. Beautiful! And folk talk about going out to the northeast suburban city of Windcrest to view home Christmas decorations. I did see Windcrest several Christmases ago, but I fear that nowadays it's probably overdone. I prefer to ride the bus(es) thru the Westside and the neighborhood west-northwest of St. Mary's University, and see those decorations, especially front-lawn Nativity scenes.

Other light-style decorations here include the ring of lights atop the observation deck of the Tower of the Americas, and the flood-lit upper levels of the classic Tower Life Building. Both of these shine in the traditional Christmas colors of red, white and green.

Champurrado and tamales. Tamales are an ancient tradition de los mexicanos y chicanos para la Navidad. I've known about these corn-husk-wrapped food delicacies for years -- and hadn't liked them. But upon my arrival in San Antonio and my voicing my dislike to Hispanic friends, it was suggested that I really ought to try chicken tamales. And yes, chicken tamales ARE deliciosos! But a couple of Advents ago I got introduced to something even more delightful: champurrado. This is a Mexican hot chocolate drink, which includes spices (of course) and a little corn meal, which gives some sips of it a gritty texture. I can see why some of my chicano friends say you have to develop a taste for champurrado, but well, I developed the taste at first sipping! Alas! the drink is very hard to find, since apparently it is a homemade item.

Nacimientos. These are Nativity scenes (or creches) set up inside Mexican-American homes. They are more elaborate than the typical creche in an Anglo-American household. Of course, one has to be invited into the home to see un nacimiento, so it's good to have lots of chicano friends! The fact that el nacimiento is so prominent in the home serves as visual evidence that for Hispanics the birth of Jesus remains "THE REASON for the Season". Even tho' I firmly believe that Jesus was born at some other time of the year (most likely October or April) -- those Bethlehem shepherds would have had their flock in barns and NOT in the fields during a Palestinian December -- I do like to celebrate Christmas on 25 December. And I will remind anyone and everyone that the first syllable of "Christmas" is CHRIST!

La Gran Posada. This is my FAVORITE Christmas tradition of all traditions. Note that I say "Christmas" and not just "Navidad", so herein I'm affirming that THIS is my FAVORITE tradition regardless of cultural origin. I've participated in la Gran Posada three years in a row, and delighted in it every time! The crowd of several hundred gathers at dusk in Milam Park. This park, on the north side of el Mercado (the Mexican Market), was the first cemetery of San Antonio. Thus we are in a place of darkness and death. A young woman and man are chosen to represent Mary and Joseph, and the "Mary" rides on the back of a donkey built on a cart, while "Joseph" stands beside her. They make their way thru the streets of downtown San Antonio, like Mary and Joseph seeking lodging (posada) in old Bethlehem. The crowd walks with them, singing villancicos (Spanish carols). Some of these villancicos are just the Spanish versions of carols English-speaking Americans sing all the time. Others are unique to the Iberian-American cultural celebration of Navidad. My favorite is "Campana Sobre Campana" or Carol of the Bells (of Bethlehem). At various points the traveling group will be met by a small group at the door of a prominent landmark building (e.g., the Spanish Governors Palace or the Bexar County Courthouse). The "Posada" carol is sung: the travelers (afuera or outside) sing the verses of Joseph, requesting posada (lodging), and the group at the door (adentro or inside) singing the refusal of the innkeeper. Finally, we arrive at San Fernando Cathedral. There the entire "Posada" carol is sung; it ends with the adentro people (the supposed innkeeper) finally welcoming Mary and Joseph to come inside. Lights suddenly blaze out all over the Cathedral and Main Plaza -- because we have arrived at the place of light and life and faith! We sing a few more villancicos in both English and Spanish, and then there are piñatas for the kids and tamales and champurrado for everyone!

So, dear reader, I wish you: ¡Feliz Navidad y un próspero Año Nuevo! "Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year!"

Monday, December 18, 2006

AHHS Mules! '06 State Champs! ! !

"State Champs!" Oo-oo-ooh, that tastes sweet on the tongue when you say it. And I was saying it lots all day Sunday -- and still saying it today. The Alamo Heights Mules are the 2006 Texas State Champions in 4A-Division I high school football!

The championship game between the Mules and the Bulldawgs of Copperas Cove was everything I prayed it would be. E.g., there were no injuries. However, I forgot to pray that it NOT go into overtime -- and it didn't exceed regulation time. BUT it WAS one lo-o-ong game Kickoff happened at 6:20 PM Saturday and the final play came about 9:50 -- three and a half long hours later!

My companions to attend the game were Howard, a friend from Emmaus (Walk #1005) and AHHS '74 alumnus, his dad who was a member of the AHISD Board years ago, and Jimmy, '74 classmate and longtime friend of Howard's. Howard's elderly dad is very hard of hearing and walks distances with difficulty (he has both cane and walker). So it was arranged to drop off him, Jimmy and me beside the Alamodome, and Howard then go park the car. A 'dome staffer met us with a wheelchair for the elder Mr. Haring, and took us to seating for handicapped near a 25-yard-line (but high up and near an exit tunnel to concourse level). By cellphone commo between Jimmy and Howard, the later was easily able to locate our position in that crowd of over 16,000.

The Mules stormed to a 17-0 lead by first quarter's end. But the Copperas Cove Bulldawgs retaliated with two scores before Heights kicked another field goal just before the half, to lead 17-14. The halftime show, like pre-game, was colorful and entertaining. During the AH portion, the dance team, the Spurs (NO connection with our local NBA team!) performed costumed as Santa's elfs or helpers. The Cove marching band was HUGE -- but then, CCHS had been a 5-A behemoth last year!

In the third quarter Alamo Heights surged to a 33-14 lead. And they continually dominated the field. Final stats showed the Mules leading in such areas as first downs, 26-14, and total yards, 518-247.

However, the Bulldawgs refused to roll over and die. Well, I had prayed that BOTH teams play their best, and the CC Bulldawgs HAD been state-ranked in 5-A football in '04 or '05. So our opponents from up north beside fort Hood Army post fought back, with two scores, to narrow hometown Heights' lead to 33-28.

So here we were in the final quarter, getting nervous! Cove seemed to be on its way in for a go-ahead td. But they hiked the ball way past the Bulldawg quarterback, positioned in shotgun formation. Mules defenders swarmed over the fumble! And then with about 5 minutes to go, I commented to my partners that altho' Heights' offense shone with substantial passing, NOW was time to grind out the clock with runs and short passes. Coach Byrd must have read my mind (or me, his?) because grind out the clock AHHS did! With half a minute left, star qb Giovanni vizza ran the ball into the end zone for the coup de grace against Cove.

Final 4-A Division I championship score: Alamo Heights 40, Copperas Cove 28.

And the celebration began! Team, coaches & cheerleaders swarmed into a huge cluster on the Alamodome field. At one point on the big screens, I could see the trophy being lifted high by a Mule. At another point I spotted AHHS Principal Dr. Linda Foster in that crowd.

We foursome up in the stands had to await an Alamodome staffer with the wheelchair, to escort the elder Mr. Haring out following the game. But that was all right. Jimmy and Howard were occupied with greeting and hugging classmates of '74 and other alumni. And I was simply reveling in the feel of "State Champs!" Once the wheelchair arrived we exited the 'dome and three of us waited on the curb while Howard went to get the car and fight the departing traffic jam to come back and pick us up. But we had fun talking with folk, from both sides of the game. I was quick to compliment CCHS fans for the good game the Bulldawgs had played. Once we returned the elder Mr. Haring to his home, Howard, Jimmy and I drove past the school and down Broadway, where several fans were celebrating on the sidewalks while the continuous stream of cars returning from the game slowly drove past, sometimes honking in victory. And we celebrated with drinks and nachos at Good Time Charlie's!

My alma mater Borah High School (Boise, Idaho) was mythical state champs all three of my years there. And I loved it and was proud! BUT THIS is different -- there's NO "mythical" about this Texas championship. The AHHS Mules are the REAL DEAL!

And what a year '06 has been for the Mules football team! Opening game was a loss to 5-A Georgetown, then the Mules won a close one over another 5-A school, Clark. And then they handily defeated two other 5-A schools and wrapped up the season by trouncing every opponent in District 28-AAAA -- including archrival Boerne and nemesis Kerrville. Finally, there was the playoff run, beginning with a blanking of San Antonio's Fox Tech (winner of 27-AAAA) 46-0 in Alamo Stadium, Tech's home field. The Mules marched on for two strong wins in the Alamodome, and that trip to Round Rock north of Austin, and their stunning 42-14 upset of Lamar Consolidated, a Houston-area school that was not only undefeated but had not trailed in an '06 game!

AND NOW, with Copperas Cove the final victim, Alamo Heights High School is Texas State Champions in AAAA football! State Champs! ! !

Saturday, December 16, 2006

AHHS Mules - Go! Win State!

When I was in high school in Boise, Borah Class of '72, the Borah Lions football team lost only one game (my senior year, to our archrivals), and was mythical state champions all three years, plus the previous year when I was still a ninth-grader in junior high. And the football team even went over to Honolulu and beat Hawaii's best high school team. But let's not ignore that word "mythical". Idaho didn't have a formal playoff system, to determine a bona fide state champ.

BUT NOW the Alamo Heights H.S. Mules are about to play in their first ever state championship game! This evening the Mules will play in the Alamodome downtown, against the Copperas Cove H.S. Bulldawgs. Copperas Cove is one of the "bedroom communities" beside Fort Hood Army post in central Texas, about a two hour plus ride due north of San Antonio. Sadly, while I was stationed at the post, Cove was the only local military town I even began to like, and I attended a couple of the high school's football games, and rooted for them. So I keep thinking, "if only Heights was playing ANYONE but Copperas Cove!"

Friday nite there was a community pep rally in the AH football stadium. At Borah we had some terrific pep assemblies during and after our 36-game win streak. But AHHS's pep rally last nite was AWESOME!

The entire west (home, pressbox) side of the stadium was filled with students, parents and other supporters. We all were treated to rousing speeches by local entertainment personalities, an alumnus from a '70s football team, and Coach Byrd. Also treating us with an appearance was the Spurs' Coyote, who led the crownd in the cheer "Win. . . State!" Then, after performances by the dance team or cheerleaders, two screens went up, the lights went out, and we saw hi-lites of the playoff run of the Mules. Behind the screens, visible in the gap between them, was a stairstep of the names of the four teams so far defeated, topped by Copperas Cove. Those names became lit up, and we heard the recording of the song "And Another One Bites the Dust". Each time the singer sang the title phrase, a red "X" appeared thru the name of one of the schools, in the order they were defeated, and finally a red "W" thru Copperas Cove! Then the team, cheerleaders and a couple other groups were called to go over thru the dark stadium to an opposite corner, where in Homecoming-bonfire fashion a hollow outline of the State of Texas came ablaze!

How exciting! And may the championship game be that exciting, too!

Saturday morning's newspaper, in covering the pep rally (on the front page, no less!), commenced by mention of the mantra "We Is The Key!" Until the playoffs (or perhaps late during the season) I had not paid much attention to this slogan, considering it just a tauntingly deliberate grammatical error for whatever or whomever. But then I realized that 1) it specifically referenced the football team, and 2) the pronoun -- first person plural -- was the true subject, as tho' it were a noun! That is, "we" forms the subject as opposed to "I" or any other pronoun. Put another way, it reads, "Putting all of US together as ONE is the secret to success". What a "mantra of unity", as the article reflected! And of course, as the article went on, this unified teamwork by the Mules had led the alumni to their own mantra: "How about those Mules?"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Today is one of the "big three" national holidays in Mexico, holidays which set our neighbor to the south apart, and during which Mexican citizens AND Mexican-Americans or chicanos celebrate lo mexicano. The other two holidays are Diez y seis or 16 September -Independence Day, and Cinco de mayo or 5 May. This blogsite has covered both holidays.

TODAY is right up there with them -- if not above them! Unlike the other two, this one is a holy day -- a spiritual remembrance and not simply historical. Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe -- Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. On this date only a few years after Cortez conquered the Aztec Empire and converted its city Tenochtitlán into México, a humble native convert who had been given the Christian name of Juan Diego had his third encounter with Mary the mother of our Lord. She told him to pick some roses that were miraculously in bloom on the hill Tepeyac north of Mexico City and take them to the first Bishop of Mexico, Fray Juan de Zumárraga. Juan Diego wrapped the out-of-season blossoms in his humble native cloak or tilma. When he opened it to present the roses, there on his cloak was the very image of the woman who had appeared to him! It is said that Fray Zumárraga and all others present fell on their knees at the sight of the miracle of the roses and the image. The Bishop at once obeyed the order sent from Our Lady by Juan Diego, and had a church built on Tepeyac Hill.

That's the short relation of the story of why Mexicans and many Catholics thru'out the New World consider and cherish Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patroness of Mexico and all the New World. Now dear reader, I'm not one for stories of apparitions of Mary; I'm honestly skeptical about most of them.

But not this one. For one, she appeared to a mature man rather than to an impressionable young girl or girls. A skeptical bishop was converted to belief that the Mother of Christ had appeared to this man, a native convert. The cloth on which the image appeared, composed of material that normally decays after a couple decades is STILL whole -- centuries later! AND the cloth image of Our Lady even survived a bomb blast by atheist Mexicans during the troubles of the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th Century!

For such reasons and others, I accept that the mother of Jesus DID appear to Juan Diego. I suppose that the strongest reason for accepting that Our Lady of Guadalupe is real, is that conversion of the just-conquered natives (who were depressed at the conquest and destruction of their ancient culture) proceeded rapidly onc word of the vision got out. After all, she had appeared to an indigenous man rather than to a Spaniard, and she appeared looking much like an indigenous woman. That latter doesn't bother me at all, because I know that a typical First Century Palestinian Jew such as Mary of Nazareth would resemble more a typical, swarthy native American woman than appear like a western European -- Mary was DEFINITELY NOT a blue-eyed blonde! Neither was Jesus!

Indeed, I find the image of Guadalupe rather attractive, and very much in line with the woman described in the book of Revelation, who was opposed by the evil dragon. And so, I have had a copy of the famous picture and I like to attend Mass on 12 December. I don't give Mary the homage and acclaim that devout Catholics do, but I appreciate their calling my attention to her as a model Christian. Read her story some time, in Luke 1 and 2 -- especially her wonderful and inspiring (also inspired!) song, the "Magnificat"!

Monday, December 11, 2006

AHHS Mules - to State Champs Game!

After I returned from Dilley and the Kairos Instructional Reunion Saturday, I simply stayed put in my efficiency. I could hardly wait 'til 7 PM, when the football Mules from Alamo Heights High would start playing a semifinal playoff game against Lamar Consolidated HS of the Houston area.

Please know, dear reader, that when San Antonio lost one of its two daily newspapers in the early 1990s, it lost the better one, The Light. And earlier in the week the Express-News gave another evidence that it is the lesser of the (former) two papers. In the Sports section their "Fearless Forecasters" picked Lamar Consolidated to beat Alamo Heights -- every one of the forecasters! I was furious, livid! Setting aside that I already am a confirmed fan of the teams from the high school at which I sub-teach, I prayed for the Mules to win -- just to spite those "foolish forecasters" and their utter lack of faith in the local team!

And spite the nay-sayers the Mules did! Alamo Heights led 21-0 at halftime. Later I learned that this was the first time Lamar Consolidated had even been behind in a game, and they didn't know how to handle being behind! The Lamar Mustangs attempted a comeback early in the second half, closing the AHHS lead to 21-14. But on its ensuing possession, the Mule team took the pigskin in for another td. Later Alamo Heights' talented football boys added another td, and another. Final score Lamar 14, Alamo Heights 42.

Put THAT in your pipes & smoke it, you E-N "Fearless Forecasters!"

AND NOW it's on to the STATE CHAMPIONSHIP in 4-A Division I! The AHHS Mules have NEVER competed in a state championship football game. May they win this one, Saturday in the Alamodome, by overcoming the Copperas Cove Bulldogs!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fall-out from #1 at Briscoe

In my two most recent postings I shared some of the marvelous Kairos Weekend #1 in the Dolph Briscoe Prison Unit near Dilley. But if you've been reading my blogsite all along, you know there is much, much more to Kairos Prison Ministry than just the three-day weekend retreats. (In the same way, there's much, much more to the Emmaus or Cursillo renewal movement than just the "Walk to" retreat!)

As I've mentioned, Kairos actually commenced in Briscoe with the weekly "Prayer & Share" meetings -- but they allowed us to conduct these only on first and third Thursday evenings. Well, this past Thursday was, of course the first Thursday in December -- as well as being the first one following that awesome Weekend! And what a Prayer & Share it was!

Generally Paul and Chuck and I ride to Dilley together for the first Thursday P & S, but THIS time we had a fourth man in Paul's car. He was Ed Palow, my motel roommate for Briscoe #1, a fellow table family clergy (he St. Mark & me St. Luke), and fellow Disciples of Christ clergy. It was de-e-e-lightful to have Ed along, too! Especially when he got a call on his cellphone from Buzz, a member of his church, San Antonio Christian, who had served with me on the Team for Walk #1327. He handed me the phone at one point to I could chat with Buzz for a few minutes.

P & S is held in the Chapel, at Briscoe as at Torres. We had a full house! But first, Ed wasn't on the primary entry list for P & S, and so almost didn't get in. However, "the Major" who had been involved with Briscoe #1 was still about the prison, so Ed DID get clearance. This made us seven volunteers going in for P & S. Seven: the Biblical number of perfected completion!

The music team was already in the Chapel practicing to lead singing to open the P & S meeting. So there stood Eduardo "Banana Man", who had sat at my left at St. Luke Table Family. Hugs all around! Soon I was also greeting Alex, our St. Luke Family Steward and Isreal who "is real" in his faith, and so on.

When I took los hispanohablantes apart for the small group prayer time, we totaled twelve (including me) and I delighted in pointing out that this was the number of the original Apostles (who are often called simply "The Twelve" as a result). AND that one of the teachings of the Kairos Weekend is that we are ALL apostles -- ones SENT to spread the good news message about the God who loves us and His Son who died to show that love! Then I shared with them that I wanted to sing una canción navideña with them, and led the singing of Noche de Paz (Silent Night). I noticed that the sharing tonite was more from the heart than it had been in some months; thanks to the Weekend experience in which at least half of them had participated.

Then came Saturday! The Kairos manual calls for an "Instructional Reunion" to be conducted the Saturday following a Weekend, to show the inmates who were candidates how a monthly Reunion goes, and how to do Prayer & Share. While Paul & I had been on the road for the Thursday P & S we arranged for Paul to pick me up very early on Saturday, to get us to Dilley & the Briscoe Unit by 8:15 (it's and hour and a half drive from S.A.) But when a vehicle pulled up to pick me up, it was Tom's tall white pickup truck! Thomas Becker was Lay Director for Briscoe #1 and would also conduct today's Instructional Reunion. Tom is rather young to be such a leader for an Emmaus or Kairos event (lay directors are often retirees). But let me tell you, dear reader, Thomas or Tom has a great maturity & leadership skills -- way beyond his age! God is using young Tom, for His glory and the blessings of others! So, Tom, Paul & I had a delightful drive down Interstate Hiway 35 to Dilley.

We had just over 20 volunteers assembled at the gate of Briscoe to go in and do the Reunion. Dozens & dozens of cookies were left over from Weekend #1, and we supplied sandwiches, chips & beverages, so we didn't want for food, any more than we had on the Weekend itself. And when we got to the gym door and the guard opened it, there were the brothers in white inside, in two lines, clapping & cheering. Just as we had clapped & cheered each time they had come to the gym for a session of the Weekend! Wow!

The heat was malfunctioning in the gym, so it was cold. But our hearts were warm as we listened to & discussed five short Talks, prayed together (usually in pairs or threesomes) and sang. The Spirit of the Lord kept us warm! It was a very good event!

I chose to call this "fall-out from #1. . ." because in inmate slang a prisoner will sometimes mention that "I fell out at (a certain city)" and by this indicate where he was arrested or "fell out" of being a free citizen of society. Hopefully, participation in Kairos will help these fellows to "fall out" of the chains of past habits and attitudes (which got them incarcerated) and into the freedom Christ offers by His truth revealed in Scripture. His is a freedom NOT bound or limited by the fences and bars of any prison! To God be the glory!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

St. Luke Table Family

At some point Wednesday or Thursday, during the final Kairos team formation and preparations in Dilley's American Legion Hall, our director, Tom, insisted that HE did NOT choose who was on the team nor what ourr assignments were. It was the Holy Spirit! And I firmly believe the same to be true for the membership of each of the Table Families. God knew EXACTLY which three volunteers and which six Candidates and which one Steward would make the best mix to compose, not just a set of ten individual around a table, but rather a FAMILY of brothers in Christ who really opened up to and loved one another.

And what a family we were at St. Luke! The other two volunteers were our leader Dale Vickers and assistant Dale Miller. It was the latter's first Kairos, but he clearly related well to the inmates and they to him. Dale, Dale and Glen (Alan). . . Hmm-mm! Now don't you try to tell ME that THIS first-name match of us three -- in Celtic tongues Glen means "valley" or "dale" -- was mere coincidence or just Tom's random selection. No siree! This was a "God thing"!

Our Steward was Alex(ander) Alonso, a rather tall Hispanic with a ready smile and a true servant's heart, who had been transferred only a month or so ago to Briscoe, from the unit where he'd been a Candidate on a Kairos Weekend. To my right was Isreal, a Hispanic, and to my left another Hispanic, Eduardo, who is very active in chapel and the music program at Briscoe. To his left was C.J, a mulatto with a cheerful smile and sunshiny personality -- despite missing his lower left leg. Across from me sat Homero and Jeremy; the latter had the look of a "skinhead" but a gentle spirit. And next to Isreal -- he DOES spell his name that way, he's not the country but he "is real" in his faith -- sat Jimmy, an Afro-American who missed out on a little of the Weekend because his wife had come from Dallas for visitation and couldn't have postponed it, because her next opportunity will be next year.

Eduardo was ravenous for the salads at the lunches and dinners; he also craved the plentiful bananas. So we took to calling him "Banana Man"! He was also an Army veteran, who had been stationed in Germany (where he had picked up some Deutsch) and also at Fort Hood as a tank mechanic with the Second Armored Division -- at about the same time I was a Chaplain for the 62d Engineer battalion across the post! Small world!

There is an exercise the entire Team for a weekend does on Thursday before the inside team leaves for the prison. It's the Prayer Circle. One almost has to be there and do it understand the dynamics and the awe of a Prayer Circle! We sit in a circle of chairs, count off, and then half stand up and take positions behind the chairs that still have occupants. By an orderly system, we move around the entire circle of chairs, until each Team member has been prayed over by all the others and has prayed over all the others. The standing member bends down by the sitter's ear and softly prays thanksgiving for that person and affirmation and blessing on them. Then the standing one moves to the next sitter and prays. And so on. . . .

Folks, this Prayer Circle exercise is powerful! POWERFUL! We really ought to do it in our local congregations, Emmaus/Cursillo groups and other fellowships and ministries. I'm fully convinced that if we did prayer circles universally, that old evil adversary of ours wouldn't stand a chance!

I've confessed to being an emotive sort, so you can guess my head leaks frequently during the team's Prayer Circle. There were further tears falling on Saturday, when St. Luke Table Family went apart, into a corner of the dining area, to offer up prayers. Some of these brothers in white had deep remorse for broken relationships (especially for broken relationships with their sons), or other burdens. We were all -- volunteers and inmates -- limp, wet rags by the time we concluded our prayer time.

But the best was yet to come! Somehow I forgot, until we did it Sunday morning, that there is a second Prayer Circle exercise! In this one, each Table Family does the circle, and the other groups (e.g. kitchen-dining crew, music team) also form circles. Because these are multiple small prayer circles it takes much less time than did the first Prayer Circle involving only the Team (and one huge circle). It was not one whit less moving a time, dear reader. Most of us teared up again. A couple of St. Luke Family members didn't just put their hands on the shoulders of the one they were praying for, they slipped their arm around the sitter and gave him sort of a hug from the backside.

And if I could I'd form one huge bear-hug, embracing the entire Table Family at once! I love these brothers in Christ! May God be with and richly bless each and every one -- volunteers, candidates, steward -- of the St. Luke Table Family!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Kairos Briscoe #1 - WOW ! ! !

Dear reader, for almost a week I've been unavailable to post on this blog, or even check my e-mail. You see, I was in prison. And I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else!

Do you remember my earlier postings about my clergy service on the Team for Men's Walk to Emmaus #1327? And how I made mention of my participation in Kairos Prison Ministry? (See, e.g., 18 September post about "San Anto - Always something to do".) Well, Kairos is a version of Emmaus (or Cursillo or other 3-day renewal retreat with "4th-Day" follow-up), tailored to the prison environment, for Candidates from among the inmates.

In September of A.D. 2002 I had attended the Closing Ceremony for Kairos Weekend #8 (the 3-day retreat) in the Torres Prison Unit outside Hondo (west of San Antonio). When I heard the joyful praise singing of the brothers in white (Texas inmates wear all white) who had already been on a Weekend, and then the powerful, moving testimonies of the candidates as to what that Weekend had done for them, I was "hooked"! I could not get on a team fast en'uf, so that I could witness this three-day transformation first-hand!

Service on Kairos #9 and #11 and attendance at various "4th-Day" follow-up Kairos activities had been such a blessing. I came to dearly love both my brothers in white (Monty and Kelly with whom I served as "chapel crew" during #9 are particularly close to my heart) and my fellow volunteers. When the TDCJ permitted Kairos to enter the Dolph Briscoe Unit outside Dilley (between S. A. and Laredo), I got involved at once. Kairos Prayer & Share began in July of A.D. 2005 on first and third Thursdays. (P & S is supposed to be a weekly small group prayer exercise, but for whatever reason Briscoe only allows twice monthly).

As soon as I learned that the dates had been set for the first Kairos weekend for Briscoe, I signed up for the Team. Then I began to pray. After returning from Walk #1327, I prayed all the more fervently: that ABBA, Daddy God, pour out His gracious Spirit so powerfully that we volunteers individually would become vessels and together a unified vessel for His amazing grace to reach the 42 Candidates. And that He make this THE BEST first Kairos weekend retreat ever, anywhere!

And ABBA heard and answered our prayers! True, we actually ended up with 41 Candidates (a Steward's name erroneously got on the Candidate list). And NO Chaplain working in Briscoe (he'd resigned in October). BUT laying aside such little difficulties -- this was the first Kairos in the unit. . . Briscoe #1 was AWESOME!

Here are just a few ingredients of the "proof in the pudding". All elements of agapé were outstanding: the hundreds of dozens of homemade cookies (EVERY inmate in Briscoe received at least one dozen, in a ziplock bag delivered to his cell), the colorful and uplifting placemats made by children to grace the meals (lunch and dinner) served during the retreat, fliers and posters sent by Cursillo-style groups (to include Kairos communities within other prisons) to express the unconditional love (agapé in Greek) of ABBA God. We even had a flier written in beautiful Portuguese da uma comunidade do Cursilho no Brasil (from a Cursillo community in Brazil)!

And then there was the Prayer Chain! Each paper link on the chain is signed by someone who agreed to pray for the half hour indicated on the link, for the Kairos weekend experience and for God's blessing on the candidates. When the first portion of the Prayer Chain was drawn from a bag on Friday, it was quite long (tho' it was only for the first two days) and contained dozens of links signed by men in white who are the Kairos community inside the Torres Unit! You see, each link's volunteer also writes his or her city or country on the link. That's right, "or country"! Now, I was used to Kairos weekends getting prayer and agapé support from Canada and even Great Britain. But THIS, the very first one in the Dolph Briscoe Unit, had links from INDIA, too! Praise God, and Lord bless those Indian Christians, who had completely filled someone's prayer chain packet!

There'd been some concern, on this Briscoe #1, about matters which are of no concern on later weekends (#2 and subsequent). For example, how would the men in grey (officers, guards) respond to a Kairos weekend actually going on in their prison? Well, whatever reluctance or indifference there might have been on Thursday vanished by the setting sun on Friday; attending officers were actually singing Kairos praise songs and vying to be escorts! How about Stewards? There are usually at least 20 of these weekend retreat veterans serving on any given Weekend. By end of October we were aware of only a half dozen inmates in Briscoe who had experienced the Weekend elsewhere and could thus serve as stewards. However, someone ferreted out a few more, so we had a dozen, including that one who'd been mistakenly listed as a Candidate! Praise the Lord, bless these servants in white!

No one dropped out after Thursday evening's opening get-acquainted session! Ricky Passmore, who saw the first Kairos weekend in Torres as a candidate (yes, he WAS a criminal BUT NOW Ricky pastors a church, volunteers in Emmaus and Kairos, and wears cowboy clothes as clean and sharp as George Strait's), gave both a Talk and a meditation. I'm certain that the Candidates and the Stewards related very well and listened closely to this honest ex-offender. Ricky's meditation on Sunday was a verbatim script, like all the meditations (I recited "I chose You" and later "Who Is This Jesus?"). But after reading his, Ricky felt led to set it aside and just speak from the heart on "Sending Us Forth". Much of what he said was exhortation, like what I'd heard the chaplain give during Closing on Torres #9 and #11. Thus we actually didn't want for a chaplain. Nevertheless, there was a frequent expression by the inmates of an aching desire for a chaplain to come to Briscoe. They sometimes talked like sheep without a shepherd.

Early in Team formation concern was expressed that we would have few visitors come to Closing Ceremony for Briscoe #1. I'd sent an e-invitation with TDCJ application attached to Arlie Lammers, my roommate on #9 and #11 and likewise a Disciples of Christ clergy. BTW, my roommate on Briscoe #1 was also Disciples clergy, Ed Palow. Saturday I asked our liaison for Closing applications how many we'd received, to be cleared by TDCJ; he said about 125 and I almost hit the ceiling for joy! He added that Arlie and his wife were among them. And there they sat, on the front row at Closing, and further back others I recognized. One that greatly surprised (and delighted) me was Eunice Van Hoosen, we served together as clergy on Walk #1327.

So. . . it was a gr-r-r-reat Closing to a fantastic and blessed first ever Kairos Weekend at the Dolph Briscoe Unit outside Dilley! THANKS BE TO GOD! And TO GOD BE THE GLORY! ! !