Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Rosa Parks

Today being the final day of February and thus the final day of "Black History Month", I consider it fit to honor the memory of Rosa Parks.

You may ask, dear reader, "What has Rosa Parks to do with San Antonio?" True, her civil rights activism was to the east, in Alabama. However, she could be considered the ultimate bus rider, anywhere. Or, since she has left this earthly life, she could be the patron saint of all us bus riders, everywhere.

And it just so happens that VÍA Metro Transit is honoring Rosa Parks, on all their buses. Seating on the VÍA buses is blue. But since the start of this year the first window-side seat facing forward behind the driver carries bright yellow pads on the back and the sitting part. The yellow back contains an inscription to the effect that the seat is dedicated to the memory of Rosa Parks. During this month I've noticed an increasing number of buses that now carry in the above-the-windows slot for advertisement posters, a poster that explains the significance of Rosa Parks, "1913-2005 civil rights pioneer". Its text reads as follows:

"The unique seat located below is dedicated to the memory of Rosa Parks. Her refusal to move from a bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 sparked a bus boycott and helped usher in the civil rights movement, changing public transportation and American society. as you sit here, remember her courageous stand."

Next to this writing is a well-known photo of Rosa, sitting beside and looking out a forward bus window, while behind her sits a white businessman, who is looking at a 90-degree angle from Rosa's gaze. By his natural gaze in place of staring directly at Rosa, he's signaling acceptance of Blacks as equal, ordinary, average riders on the same bus!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. . .

Or this could be "back at the old quarry. . ." or "back at the park. . . ."

Saturday, a beautiful day weather-wise, was a training day at Fiesta Texas. The theme park (or amusement park) where I've worked for the past three summers is inside an old quarry way out to the north-northwest of San Antonio. (Hence, the first quoted phrase above.) Six Flags requires everyone, no matter how many seasons they've worked at a park, to do orientation and re-training each year. And this time re-training was very necessary.

You see, there had been numerous changes to procedures, to the uniform etc. One of these changes came last October (during the park's "Fright Fest") I found out, and essentially broke up the train crew. The break-up apparently is going to continue this year, even tho' the new Lead, Jose, assured us vet train crew members who showed up today, that he will put us on the train for the most part during our work hours. What's bad about this is that the train is unlike any other ride in the park: operators MUST ride the ride to run it, and it doesn't involve merely pushing one of two or three buttons to start or to stop. Therefore, it takes involved training and more experience than most other rides.

Nevertheless, I'm willing to consider operating a few other rides, specifically, Kinderbahn, the kiddie truck convoy (on which I was trained in the morning), Der Rollshcu-coaster, the kiddie coaster, and perhaps the Twister. What I DO NOT want anything to do with is Superman Krypton Coaster!

Why not Krypton Coaster? I hesitate to have any responsibility for the super-thrill rides like it or The Rattler. I know very well that they are SAFE, and chances of an accident or of riders getting injured (as long as they, too, follow the directions) are slim and none. But still. . . I just DO NOT want even "slim" chance of injury hanging over my head! (That's why the "kiddie rides" and the train are more my cup of tea.)

What I want to do THE MOST is to simply sit on the back seat of the train and speak to the rider-Guests as Conductor, or cover one or the other of the depots as Stationmaster. I'm a "people person" and those two positions are where I can SHINE for our Guests!

Ross, one of the train vets who showed up today, when he came back from lunch break was sporting the new polo shirt that is to be part of the uniform this year. On its back is printed "Please pick up trash. . . my family comes here, too!" We all agree that this is patronizing if not demeaning or downright offensive for our Guests to read. Let's hope the corporate management of Six Flags parks comes to its senses before the the '07 season is in full swing!

And then at Der Pilger Bahnhof or at Whistle Stop 39 on Fiesta Texas Railroad, you'll hear me cry, "All aboard!"

Friday, February 23, 2007

Today in History: the siege began. . .

Today, the 23d of February, was a crucial event in the history of San Antonio and Texas. On this date in A.D. 1836 the Mexican general and dictator-president Antonio López de Santa Anna entered this city with thousands of troops and invested the fortress and former mission of The Alamo.

On Jerry King's "Today in History" on KKYX-AM 680, I heard that on this date a few years later (1847) the US Army under General Scott defeated General Santa Anna in la batalla de La Angostura near Saltillo. In US history textbooks this is usually called the Battle of Buena Vista, for some reason. Today there are major streets in both Nashville and San Antonio that carry the US version of the name! And finally, on this date in 1861 Texas seceded from the Union, and thus came to fly the sixth of its flags -- that of the Confederacy.

Both of the later events impacted this city. However, the '36 event had immediate effect. Thirteen days after the siege began (it being a leap year), on 6 March the fortress fell, with all the defending men being slain. Women, children and a slave were released, to spread the terrifying news of what Santa Anna was capable. (Santa Anna was an accomplished terrorist well over a century before such currently-infamous terrorists as Hussein and Bin Laden!) And then a month and a half later at San Jacinto near today's Houston, Texian leader Sam Houston led the rebels to victory, with cries of, "Remember the Alamo!" (And also, "Remember Goliad!" or "Remember Labadie!" -- see my posting of last 23 October.) Their victory was over the same Santa Anna -- making San Antonio and all Texas free of that dictator!

And so. . . for the next two months the residents of San Antonio and indeed of all Texas shall remember The Alamo!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Miércoles de Ceniza

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, or Miércoles de Ceniza en español. I had a substitute teaching assignment at the Alamo Heights Junior School. While I was sipping coffee in the teachers lounge, I heard a regular teacher speak of how on an Ash Wednesday some years back a teacher had told a student to go wash their face -- not realizing that the ashes on the forehead were from having gone to an early morning Ash Wednesday service. And when the teacher found out the reason for the "dirty forehead" that teacher felt terribly embarrassed!

Interesting. Nowadays more than merely Catholics or traditionally "high-church" Protestants are observing Ash Wednesday. Indeed, I've observed the holy day and the holy season into which it leads, Lent, for years. It's a great way to refocus from the celebrations and festivities of Christmas and the New Year, to the fact that not only does time move on and carry us mortal humans thru good as well as bad, but also WHY our God became one of us, in the man Jesus of Nazareth.

Typically in Ash Wednesday worship, the leader (the priest or pastor or whomever) will hold a bowl of ashes, often burnt at least in part from the previous year's Palm Sunday leaves. The congregants line up to approach the leader, who puts thumb into the ashes, then marks a cross on each forehead. This is generally done while the leader says something like, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you must return." At Alamo Heights Christian Church we held a similar service in the evening, except we included communion and omitted the words quoted above.

Traditionally observers of the Lenten season will give up something for Lent. All Catholics must also give up eating meats other than fish (and chicken?) on Fridays of Lent, and their Church encourages them to fast. Giving up the meat is why Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday" in French") is in certain languages called "Carnival", which comes from carni vale, that is, "farewell to meat" in Latin.

For a few decades a new Lenten custom has been growing: in addition to giving something up, add some good habit to ones daily life. So, this Year of Our Lord 2007, in addition to giving up my usual sweetened coffee and tea and all soft drinks, and Shipley Donuts, I shall daily (or most days) do some significant brisk walking, as the doc has instructed me to do to lower my cholesterol and otherwise improve my health. "Significant" as in a good distance and walking at a good pace for at least twenty minutes. Since both Alamo Hts. Jr. School and the High School have tracks, I can do this at lunch or during my teacher's conference period any day that I'm subbing.

I also plan to meditate regularly on the seriousness of the themes of Lent and Holy Week. I shall "fix my eyes on Jesus", as the Letter to the Hebrews commands us to do (Heb. 12:1), specifically how He "suffered so much from the hands of sinners" (verse 3) -- and just WHY the suffering of the only perfect and sinless man who ever lived. He suffered and dies that horrible death for you and for me! He "gave His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

I hope that you, dear reader are already among us "many". If you are not, I pray that you shall be. Soon!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Presidents Day

San Antonio doesn't make a big deal about this holiday; after all, the city has just finished the Rodeo, and the nearby border town of Laredo has a huge multi-day "George Washington Birthday" festival. Also, I had to work on the holiday, because the Alamo Heights ISD chose to use Presidents Day as one make-up day for the two-day ice-storm closing back in January.

No problem! I enjoyed the substitute-teaching assignment at the high school. Funny, I remember that earlier I had considered wearing the closest thing I have to a patriotic necktie (dominant blue stripes,small red stripes and tiny gold stripes), but when I got dressed Monday morning it skipped my mind and I wore a green shirt and golden-yellow tie! Then in the evening, when I attended the monthly VÍA Citizens Advisory Council meeting, another Council member, Isidro Gutierrez from District Ten, was present, and I asked him for a lift home. He agreed, and when we got to his car after the meeting Isidro had to clear out the front passenger set (a common situation whenever I bum a ride). The most prominent item that he threw in the back seat was a necktie he had worn earlier -- star-spangled red, white and blue. That was when I remembered my earlier intention to also wear patriotic around my neck, which I had forgotten!

Well, I may not have honored the actual holiday in the manner I had intended, but I was patriotic in a Texan sort of way, on its eve. You see, Sunday evening I had taken Patrick and LaRae to see The Alamo. He had visited it during his first Army tour in S.A., but LaRae hadn't ever been to the city before, let alone laid eyes on its and Texas' most famous landmark. And she simply HAD to see The Alamo!

So see it we did, in a beautiful evening. When the "Shrine of Texas Liberty" closed for the night, we strolled down the fairly new "Paseo del Alamo" that leads down from Alamo Plaza to the Riverwalk-level floor of the Hyatt Hotel. El Paseo takes the walker down wandering, decorative steps, over flowing streams and past waterfalls, and presents a striking mural picturing major S.A. historical landmarks (with The Alamo at its center, of course) on a wall close to the hotel doors.

After we came out on El Paseo del Río, the main Riverwalk, and Patrick took more photos with their digital camera to supplement those he had just taken back in the old mission-fortress, he broached the topic of an evening meal. I gave a few suggestions (even tho' I consider the Riverwalk restaurants to be generally over-priced), and we ended up at The Original Mexican Restaurant. Next to this eaterie had been The Kangaroo Court, which had cheesecake to die for. But alas! it had closed some time after 2003 (when I had last eaten at Kangaroo) and replaced with a convenience store. A convenience store, of all thing, on the Riverwalk! "Yech-h-h" to the store and a mourning "boo-hoo" to The Kangaroo Court and its cheesecake.

But dear reader, don't worry, be happy! The Original Mexican Restaurant acquired the recipe and/or rights to that cheesecake to die for. I had a slice of it, unenhanced, and Patrick and LaRae shared one enhanced with caramel. You should have heard the "m-m-m-m"s of delight coming from us as we ate the scrumptious dessert! Even tho' the evening air was cooling quickly following sunset, it was still a wonderful way -- certainly a tasty way -- to end a visit to The Alamo and the eve of Presidents Day.

Monday, February 19, 2007

S.A.L.E. -- yee-haw, pardners!

Late Saturday we finally made it to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. "We" is Patrick, LaRae and myself. S.A.L.E. refers to the Stock Show ("Livestock Exhibition"), barns of which are a part of the grounds; other major elements are the midway rides, various tents as well as permanent buildings for exhibits or live music events, the Freeman Coliseum (original home of the Rodeo) and the AT&T Center (formerly named SBC Center and current home to the Rodeo as well as the NBA Spurs). When we reached the ticket booth, we discovered that only a few individual, scattered seats remained, & none in the least expensive category. I was very disappointed, especially after Patrick & LaRae chose to skip the Rodeo since they couldn't sit together. I'd looked forward SO MUCH to enjoying something like the Rodeo with folk I knew!

Let me confess that it was my mistake (at least in part). This year Sat. nite was Rodeo Finals, the Championship round, formerly held on Sunday. Therefore, I should have anticipated that there would be a sell-out or near sell-out. But sell-out didn't come to mind, alas!

Once we had tickets (all three for Stock Show and me also for Rodeo), we enjoyed together some of the Stock Show grounds during the almost two hours before I had to go enter the AT&T Center for the Rodeo Finals. We saw a comedy shoot-out show outdoors, and some other outdoor activities before we entered a food tent, bought a little supper and took the food outside. That way we could bask in the fine evening weather while munching.

The Rodeo was terrific to see! Such exciting competition between man and beast! Or in the case of barrel-racing, between women on beasts! This was, after all, the Finals, and I remember that the one time I had attended the Finals before it was most exciting.

I got the most enthused at the steer tie-down, because two of the competitors hailed from Decatur, where we (my wife & I) had lived in '80-'81, another from Chico, a tiny village in the same county, and a fourth from Weatherford, seat for an adjoining county. They might as well have labeled this the "North Texas Event", I guess. For awhile, one of the Decatur cowboys held first place in the round (Saturday's round, as opposed to all competitions). But alas! none of the four won. Still, it was exciting, and mention of those towns ignited sweet memories of my long-ago residence in North Texas.

Featured musical entertainment for the Finals was Montgomery Gentry, a duo who came to attention in the early 1990s. They're okay, indeed, so talented as to be one reason I had focused on attendance on the final Saturday, even back in January. But I'd made arrangements to meet the couple from Idaho at ten. Bull riding had just finished then, but I honored our arrangement and left the arena without hearing Montgomery Gentry. And I still considered that the competition in all events had made it a worthwhile evening!

When I joined up with Patrick And LaRae, she showed me a picture they had bought at the Stock Show. It was a matte-edged copy of "The Soldier's Creed" with three names custom-added at the bottom: Patrick's, his step-son Zane and LaRae's son-in-law. All three are on active duty, since Patrick has "re-upped"; Zane returned late last year from duty in Iraq, and the third soldier has just returned to his wife (LaRae's daughter and Patrick's step-daughter) in Germany from HIS tour in the war-torn land.

My time at the Rodeo grounds was over for the day, but not over. The next morning, Sunday, final day of the Stock Show, I returned for "Cowboy Church". It was my third year to attend the worship on its final Sunday. I choose that Sunday because Susie Luchsinger sings at it. She's Reba McEntire's sister, and sings every bit as pretty as the famous Reba. Only, instead of pop-country music Susie sings exclusively Christian music, mostly Southern gospel and Christian country (or "Country-gospel").

Alas! Susie was absent, because her father-in-law had just passed away. So the featured preacher, Brother Ikels of the Country Church in nearby Marion, had asked a woman from The Country Church to fill in; she did a fine job! And Brother Ikels' message was an excellent exhortation to us to give God our BEST in everything!

After "Cowboy Church" I hung around the Stock Show for a few hours, and got my picture taken with my favorite deejay, Jerry King of KKYX-AM 680. Just a few years ago Jerry was inducted into the Country Deejay Hall of Fame, located in the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. His claim to fame? Jerry was the first deejay to broadcast a song recorded by George Strait! The song was George's first hit, "Unwound". Jerry and I have had a good friendship ever since I came to San Antonio and began to win prizes on his weekday morning "Today in History" on KKYX. I think I have to confess that probably one reason I like Jerry so much is his distinctive connection to my favorite singer of not only country but of ANY style of music! But also I will insist that Jerry is a friendly ol' guy himself; he really doesn't need any help from George to endear himself to anyone!

So, when you're in the San Antonio area on a weekday morning, tune in Jerry King on KKYX-AM 680. You most likely will hear not only lots of different classic old country hits from lots of different artists, but perhaps your favorite George Strait song!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

75 Things to Love about Texas

No, dear reader, I'm NOT about to list any 75 things! This is actually the title of a cover article in Texas Monthly from April of A.D. 2006.

So why am I thinking about a magazine issue that's almost a year old? Well, first, I saw it toward the end of last calendar year in the faculty lounge at Alamo Heights High School. And yesterday WAS the Valentine's holiday. Emphasis on "love" -- pretty four-letter word -- and on wearing at least a little red.

The Texas Monthly article was enjoyable reading, both when I first laid eyes on it, and at re-readings. After all, this city that I love is the heart of this state that I love. (Enthusiasts for Waco, Austin, Abilene or Brady might argue that their particular city/town is "the heart of Texas" based on geographical data, but how many times have I read or heard that a native Texan has two homes, wherever (s)he lives and S.A.) Here are just a few of the 75 items the article listed, being the ones which most caught my eye, along with brief comments by myself and/or the contributor of the item.

1. Bluebonnets. Sort of naturally, the State Flower (pun intended) was Número Uno on the list. The writer, Mimi Swartz, commenced with a few minuses, e.g. that bluebonnets don't smell all that great and that they are cliché. But who can spurn these flowers which appear for only a very few weeks of the early Spring, creating gorgeous blankets in varying shades of blue on roadsides and pastures?

4. Friendliness. "Being glad to see you -- no matter who you are -- is something our mamas taught us from birth. The wide smile, the firm handshake, the slap on the back -- it's the way Texans meet the world, the social grease that makes living here so pleasant and easy. . . ." To which I'd add an Amen! (Mimi also contributed this item.)

9. The humidity. A few of the items seem to be spoofs, if not outright sarcasm, and this one by Sarah Bird is one of these, probably the latter. Who could truly love the humidity so endemic to the South Central and Southeastern USA?

11. Nachos. In a display of "State Items" of Texas, such as State Flower and State Tree, I saw this tagged as the "State Snack". Of course! nachos were first created here, in one of our border cities. (Years ago I read that the inventive cook was named Ignacio, for which the diminutive is "Nacho".) "They are as Texan as the Alamo," writes contributor Patricia Sharpe.

12. The three bells at Mission. . . Espada, San Antonio. Our (S.A.'s) own Jane Jarboe Russell, columnist for the Express-News, contributed this. And I could not describe the "love"-liness of that little old Spanish mission better than she. Her paragraph is rather long to copy here, so I invite you to find a copy of this Texas Monthly issue and read it for yourself!

14. The sky. This contribution displayed several photos of Texas sunsets, startling cloud formations and one time-lapse of the starry night. The sunsets reminded me of the frequent and gorgeous evenings which blessed me during the two years in Devine. Which have occurred only a little less frequently here.

16. Larry McMurtry. His novels are neither the art nor the size of James Michener's. Certain aspects of them displease me: the profanity even tho' it's realistic, the cynicism, the fascination with violence and/or sex (usually weird or perverted). Nevertheless, I've read Horseman, Pass By (made into the film "Hud") at least once, and The Last Picture Show just about every November.

18. Medina to Leakey on Ranch-to-Market Road 337. This is indeed a most beautiful drive, thru one of the most picturesque portions of the glorious Hill Country. As contributor Brian D. Sweeney writes, "take this drive on a Sunday afternnon in October. Trust me." To which I might add to continue westward to Camp Wood for more scenic views!

19. The county courthouse. I can still picture the red Romanesque Wise County courthouse in Decatur, and several others built during the heyday of courthouse building (the late 1800s).

43. Farm-to-market roads. Where these are still rural, and not overwhelmed by urban sprawl from S.A. or Austin, etc., they are fun to travel along. Contributor Paul Burka states that they take one into serene areas of the state "and best of all, along the rivers and ridges of the Hill Country." Trust him, he's correct!

58. Code-switching. " 'Me da un Whataburger with no cheese y también una orden de french fries, please.' The hybrid language of Mexican Americans is often referred to as 'Tex-Mex' or 'Spanglish,' but neither label does justice to its richness and complexity. While most people believe that speakers who switch languages within a sentence are linguistically deficient, language specialists argue the opposite. . . ." As would yours truly. I mentioned code-switching in an earlier posting, along with my code-switching poem which describes my A.D. 2002 in San Antonio.

So there you have them: just a few -- eleven to be exact -- of 75 reasons to love Texas. Come try 'em out, dear reader! But warning! you just may fall in love. . . .

Monday, February 12, 2007

The kinfolk are here! ! !

My "baby" brother Patrick and his wife LaRae arrived in San Antonio yesterday. Yippee! Finally I have blood kin living in this city!

They took an unusual route to get here from Pocatello, Idaho. Or at least so I tho't. (Patrick tells me that they used Mapquest to set up their itinerary.) They dropped down south thru Utah, then spent their first nite in Farmington, New Mexico. Then they proceeded south thru NM to El Paso, Texas, and hit IH Ten east to Fort Stockton, where they spent their second nite, Saturday. By the time I got home from church mid-afternoon on Sunday and called LaRae's cell phone number, the couple was ALREADY in San Antonio! Now, I was under the impression that Ft. Stockton was close to El Paso and thus about 500 miles from here.

So I asked, "What did y'all do, fly?" But then, when I consulted my Texas road map I discovered that Ft. Stockton is not much more than 300 miles west of S.A. and really little more than half way to El Paso.

So much for my intuitive knowledge of the vastness of the Lone Star State!

Anyway, after I gave Patrick and LaRae a couple hours to deal with arrival tasks and settle into their motel room, we got together and went to have supper at Jim's Restaurant #1. This is the Jim's that was my final Jim's at which to wait tables. It happens to be near the motel where the couple is staying.

When Patrick and LaRae showed up at my efficiency to pick me up, I was rather surprised that Patrick wasn't THAT much taller than me. I had remembered him being close to six feet tall, but he's 5' 9", or not more than 3 inches taller than me. As for LaRae, the sister-in-law I had never met, she turned out to be a pleasant lady with dark, curly, fairly short hair. Both of them wore letterman's jackets, with US Army on the back. Patrick also sported a well-kept brown cowboy hat. (I say "well-kept" because he told me that he'd had it over a year and yet it was in great shape.)

Patrick had two items for me from Dad, back in Boise -- boxes of Idaho Spud Bar candies. Yum, yum! It was fun to chat with the two new arrivals. Patrick had resided in San Antonio before, upon entering the US Army the first time, to be a medic. LaRae, on the other hand was experiencing the Alamo City for the first time, and from her remarks I could tell that she was suffering a sort of "culture shock" very similar to my first entry into Texas (mine being in Fort Worth in 1976). LaRae was raised in tiny Preston, Idaho, and I'm sure Pocatello is the largest city she's lived in 'til now.

When Patrick was here before, it was from August to December, and he remembers seeing the Christmas decorations on el Paseo del Río, the Riverwalk, which he visited more than once during those months. But as I told him, he missed out on the BEST of S.A.'s annual shindigs. The Rodeo (running its final week right now), the Texas Folklife Festival, and of course Fiesta.

Boy, am I gonna have FUN showin' them about town! In fact, when they dropped me off back at my room, I assured them that I'd be delighted -- indeed honored -- to serve as their tour guide to San Antonio -- any time!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The neighborhood military space

My previous post concerned "sacred spaces" of San Antonio. More than once in earlier postings, I celebrate this city's origin as a mission station. Other people will emphasize that S.A. has been a military locale "from the beginning". And it cannot be denied that five days following the founding of Misión San Antonio de Valero the presidio or fort to protect this mission was established (along with the small community or villa for the soldiers' families and the handful of other families settling here with them). To this day some form of military post or presence indeed has remained here.

The oldest of the remaining active military establishments in San Antonio is Fort Sam Houston, an Army post founded in 1876. This Army post sits just a couple miles south of my residence. Among its characteristics, "Fort Sam" as it's affectionately called is THE training center for medical personnel for the US Army. Soon it will be THE training center for all military medical personnel for all branches, if I understand the recent news correctly. AND. . . my "baby" brother (13 years younger but much taller than I), who has just returned to active Army duty, will resume his service as a medic at Fort Sam. Hooray! I shall finally have blood family here in the Alamo City!

This historic and still very important Army post includes an old building compound, the Quadrangle, with a tall clock tower in the center. The fighting Apache leader Geronimo was briefly secured in the Quad on his way to more permanent imprisonment after his second capture. I remember visiting the Quad years ago to see its historic edifices, along with the deer and peacocks, and once I even attended a chaplains Christmas party in the Quad. It stands beside the gate at the southwest edge of the post where North New Braunfels Avenue used to enter Fort Sam before proceding north for a half mile (approximately) to another gate just a few blocks south of the S.A. Botanical Center.

Since 9-11 both gates on North New Braunfels Avenue have been permanently closed and blocked. This has been deleterious to the many small businesses on the avenue between the south-ward gate and IH-35. It also forced VÍA Metro Transit to re-route a couple of routes (closing of another gate to the northeast a year or so after I moved here in effect eliminated VÍA bus service onto or even near Fort Sam).

So there has been agitation for the Army facility to reopen the New Braunfels Avenue gates and/or other gates blocked due to 9-11. This past Thursday evening the local Metropolitan Planning Organization hosted a workshop meeting near the fort, for the neighborhood. An MPO is a government-enacted entity that is supposed to oversee planning and funding of the infrastructure of a given major urban area, especially the transportation factor. This meeting was held at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, on the west-bound access road of IH-35 a few blocks west of the New Braunfels intersection with the Interstate. Specifically, the meeting was in the church's community center building. Too bad it wasn't in the sanctuary. I say such because the sanctuary building is a beautifully-proportioned golden-brown brick classic Romanesque structure. It features twin corner steeples, flanking a rose window above a triple-arch main entrance. I always enjoy laying eyes on St. Patrick's whenever I ride the express bus from Randolph Park & Ride to downtown!

Even tho' the MPO meeting/workshop took place in the community center rather than the sanctuary (for obvious reasons, and my sentimentality isn't going to change that), I was glad to attend. We were given a brief presentation covering the many changes at Fort Sam in the past few years, focusing on the recent BRAC (Base Re-alignment And Closure) decision to move certain major command units of the US Army to Fort Sam and to enhance its medical aspect. To the current (or recent) 22,000 active Army personnel positions on post will be added over ten thousand new positions. (My brother Patrick's position MAY be one of these new ones.) This means that there will be MUCH MORE TRAFFIC entering and exiting the post for duty. So it looks like the command will HAVE to re-open closed gates as well as current plans to widen currently-open gates.

What I hope for most from this is that the Quadrangle will again be easily accessible and access to the parade ground for the Fort Sam Fiesta celebration will also be easier. Even more, I long for VÍA bus service to be resumed along Harry Wurzback past the National Cemetery. Do you know? I still haven't fulfilled my resolve to visit the grave of the late General MacDermott, retired head of USAA? (See my posting on 1 Sept. '06.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sacred Spaces

My sister Debbie, the seminarian, last year had shared how her school held some sort of seminar or program, about "Sacred Spaces" or places. Sometimes such locales are called "hallowed ground" or "holy ground". Very soon all San Antonio will focus on its most famous "hallowed ground". "Hallowed" because there on 6 March A.D. 1836 after being besieged thirteen days, over 180 men gave their lives so that their families and neighbors in Texas might be free. This "hallowed ground" is of course The Alamo.

As we remember that famous siege and sacrificial battle I shall share more about it as "hallowed" in that way. Right now I wish to assert that this famous old building (now surrounded by the skyscrapers of downtown S.A.) received its original hallowing -- became a "sacred space" -- over a century earlier. Long before it became a fortress known as "The Alamo" because of a military unit stationed there, this was Misión San Antonio de Valero. This mission station where Franciscan friars (Spanish frailes) preached the Good News to natives of the Coahuiltecan bands and taught them the ways of civilized Christian life, was the origin of what is now the eighth largest city of these United States. Valero served its spiritual purpose for many years before The Alamo served its few years of military purpose.

Thus, for two reasons -- the spiritual being the most important -- The Alamo would certainly be on my list of San Antonio locales which serve as "sacred spaces" for me. But I'd list several others first.

Allow me to begin with Misión San José y San Miguel de Aguayo. The "Queen of the Spanish Missions" has always radiated holiness for this unworthy disciple of the Nazarene. Just that it was founded by the great "Apostle of Texas", the Venerable Fray ("Blessed Friar" in English) Antonio Margil, would be reason en'uf for such hallowing in my spiritual heart. But also, I've been out to the old mission compound for so many events, both overtly spiritual happenings and subtly spiritual occasions.

I should include also at least two of the other missions: San Francisco de la Espada and Purísima Concepción de Acuña. At the first, which is still out "in the country" just as it was at the height of its service as mission station, I always get a strong sense of its original purpose and the life ways of that long-ago era. I haven't been to any worship (Mass) or other event at Espada, but I have been at Concepción when Los Inocentes was in Christian concert there. Los Inocentes is a musical group (quartet or quintet) associated with the Cathedral.

Which brings me to San Fernando Cathedral, often called the spiritual heart of San Antonio. Also its geographical heart, from the fact that settlers from the Canary Islands laid out their new villa ("town" or "community") by using the front doorstep of the yet-to-be-built church as the starting point for measurement. When I first became acquainted with the Cathedral in the early '80s I didn't think much of the building. After all, I was already enthralled with the antiquity of the old Spanish missions and the thrilling saga of their work to spread the light of the Gospel here. And San Fernando was dingy and drab by comparison, calling to my mind that such was what old cathedrals in Europe probably looked like.

However, when I moved here in A.D. 2002, the Archdiocese had a restoration and improvement project under way. When it was finished in a year or so San Fernando Cathedral had a bright, freshly cleaned exterior and a well-lit and rearranged interior. All the original Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and statues of saints and Mary were still there, including the statue of King Saint Fernando, clad in medieval mail armor as well as his royal crown. (He is remembered for his holy life and for his successful battles to drive back the Moors during Spain's Reconquista.)

Joining these is a new retablo at the back of the church, in the remaining portion from colonial times. Dear reader, if you ever visit San Antonio -- or if you live here, the NEXT time you're downtown -- please DO NOT MISS this retablo! The most spiritually impressive work of Christian art I have ever laid eyes on, it features the crucified Christ in the middle (alas! with European facial features and long straight hair of tradition rather than the swarthy looks and short curly hair of a typical Jew of His time). And at the four corners around El Crucificado are the Evangelists (writers of the Gospels) as life-size men in richly colorful robes each accompanied by his traditional symbol (e.g., Mark has his lion head beside him). Just looking upon the retablo puts me in a worshipful mood and by itself makes the Cathedral a sacred place! It's truly my "second spiritual home" in this city!

My FIRST spiritual home, and thus the most sacred place in San Antonio for me, remains the two Disciples of Christ churches between which I split my worship times. Mexican Christian Church on the Westside is housed in a building that resembles an old mission, albeit more in the style of the California and Arizona missions. The roof-ceiling of the sanctuary is held up by rafters of dark wood decoratively carved and lightly accented with paint. It's beautiful! High above the communion table is a bas-relief of an open book (the Bible) with the words Dios es amor ("God is love") -- all white accented with deep gold color.

The other church, the first one I joined upon my arrival is Alamo Heights Christian Church. Having been build in the 1950s it reflects the prevailing contemporary style. I don't generally like '50s contemporary in architecture, but something about the proportions and colors of the sanctuary of AHCC(DC) does appeal to me. And then there's the "Prayer Chapel", off over there by the church office. This small room (the pews would seat no more than 40 or 50) shows a more traditional style. The focal point is the western wall (opposite the door), where stained glass windows in which red and golden yellow dominate flank a fireplace-like feature. This Prayer Chapel has a home-like, intimate atmosphere that brings out the worship in me. For such a beautiful and sacred spot to be so little used is truly a crime! This is probably THE MOST SACRED place in San Antonio for me. (Leave aside that the church technically is within the city limits of Alamo Hts.; S.A. is just across North New Braunfels Avenue!)

Other places here likewise are "sacred spaces" for me. Were I to choose church membership solely on the beauty of the church building, I'd be in Laurel Heights UMC. The building is a gorgeous example of English (Tudor) Gothic, complete with dark wood features in the sanctuary (which sports an equally lovely pipe organ). My first attendance at a Care Bexar Emmaus monthly gathering was there! And then there's Western Hills Christian Church. Were I residing on that side of town (it's northwest of the medical center district, up in the Hill Country spread of the Alamo City) WHCC(DC) would most likely be my church home. Its attractiveness and sacredness derive at least in part from the fact that I had been there, along with others from my church in Devine, back in 1994 for an area praise and worship event. Like AHCC(DC) it's contemporary architecture, and yet again like AHCC(DC) it still manages to appeal to me -- and to my sense of the sacred, I suppose.

Even two parks, Brackenridge and San Pedro Springs, serve as sacred spaces. The former is where I took walks during my initial weeks here, and the spiritual and mental healing commenced. The latter, the second-oldest public space in these United States after Boston Common, is probably where or very close to where la misión and its protecting presidio ("fort") were first founded in A.D. 1718.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

My journey of faith

Well, since in my last blog I related how I preferred evening church to the Super Bowl, I might as well describe my journey of faith in Christ. I shall try to keep it short and simple (K.I.S.S.), and cover only the hi-lites.

I was reared in a nominally spiritual family. A strange detail of this familial background is that my paternal grandma was raised a Quaker, married a Methodist circuit rider (occasional circuit, that is), and while she was caring for my sister and me (up to when I started seventh grade) she was a Bahai!

My "born-again" experience came on Resurrection Sunday in A.D. 1969, when I was in the ninth grade. A new best friend I had gained that year had invited me to his church, Red Rock Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The ninth-tenth grade Sunday School class studied the history and practices of the Disciples of Christ and the Restoration Movement out of which the denomination originated. The movement began circa A.D. 1800 on the American frontier as an endeavor to reunite all Christians on the basis of simple faith in Jesus the Nazarene as the Christ, Son of God and Savior, and using only the New Testament as the rule of faith and practice. I was drawn to this message of unity in love, and of faith founded on simplicity. And then the Spirit drew me to come forward that Resurrection morning in '69, to state my confession of faith, leading to immersion in Red Rock's baptistry.

A few years later, when I began studies at the University of Idaho, my faith was still at the "baby-Christian" stage, and I still didn't "get it" that there was NOTHING that I must do (nor anything that I had to NOT do) in order to gain entrance into Heaven and God's eternal glory.

BUT THEN came my initiation into Lambda Chi Alpha. The social fraternity's ritual is firmly based on the teachings of the Bible, and at its heart the initiate re-enacts one of the Christ's key teachings. Thru that graphic re-enactment I came to see a key truth of the New Testament teachings that somehow I had overlooked! My entire grasp of and application of the Christian faith took a major step forward.

Thus one might say that Lambda Chi Alpha is why I'm here in Texas, actively participating in Christian endeavors such as congregational worship and the Emmaus spiritual renewal, and serving the incarcerated thru Kairos Prison Ministry. In my later years at the University I served the Lambda Chi Alpha chapter as Ritualist, which means that I arranged and oversaw the ritual each time we initiated a new set of brothers (always toward the end of fall semester). And thru my Army ROTC studies I heard the call to enter the military as a chaplain.

That's why I came to Texas the first time, to get the further schooling (seminary) needed for denominational endorsement to serve as military chaplain. So I worked on earning a Master of Divinity degree in the seminary at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. See my final post of last year and my first post of this year, for details of how my life, family and faith developed during those years. Let me affirm that what I experienced outside the seminary walls had a greater impact on my faith understanding, and for the better, than the courses I took there!

The Army decided to keep me in Texas for my service as active duty chaplain. Fort Hood wasn't a sterling introduction to military life. Hence, I was very glad to get a transfer to Tennessee. But there, in 1984 and following, I suffered some of the worst setbacks one could endure. The Army denied my application for career-long service, then we lost our second child to stillbirth, and three weeks later the church I was serving asked me to resign as pastor. I'd been preaching there since my enforced departure from the Army. Oh, and the house we'd been purchasing and then vainly attempting to sell foreclosed. (What did THAT matter in the dark shadow of the stillbirth?) A few years later I was the pedestrian in a car-pedestrian accident. Then I embarked on this continuing series of jobs, not finding one that lasted. Top this all off with A.D. 2001.

When I think back on all the troubles and sufferings of these years, I'm rather surprised that I kept my faith. But that I continued to believe wasn't thru any effort on my part. It was the work of God!

Finally, the two most significant further developments in my journey of faith have transpired near San Antonio. In October of A.D. 1993 I went on my Pilgrim Walk to Emmaus, Men's #327, near Kerrville in the Hill Country. Thru this "short course in Christianity", an intense three-day retreat for spiritual renewal, I came to see even more clearly the amazing grace of our wonderful God. A grace that is expressed in so many marvelous ways, or as the song says, de colores. This de colores grace continues in evidence thru all the "fourth days" of my walk of faith since the three-day retreat.

The other development is my involvement in prison ministry. When I arrived here five years ago, as I've mentioned before, had someone told me that soon I'd be going to prison, often, and looking forward to each trip into prison, I'd have said, "yeah? and I've got some ocean front property in Arizona I'd like to sell you!" But then came my attendance at the Closing for Kairos Weekend #8 in the Torres Unit near Hondo in September of A.D. 2002. And I was hooked!

Last nite these two -- the renewal movement and the prison ministry -- in a way merged, and in a Disciples of Christ church to boot. About all that was missing of crucial elements was a Lambda Chi Alpha aspect. The first Monday of each month there is a Disciples Emmaus gathering in northeast Bexar County. This is for Disciples of Christ members who have been on a Walk to Emmaus. Last nite's gathering was at Rolling Oaks Christian Church. The Fourth Day speaker was Thomas Becker, the lay director for Kairos Briscoe #1 back at the start of December of '06. He testified about his faith journey, and then shared some of the awesome working of God during that first Kairos weekend we presented in the Dolph Briscoe prison Unit. Once again I was impressed with how this young man (young compared to me; Thomas is in his thirties) is such an effective instrument for God's grace!

If at the end of earthly life I can look back and see that I had half the positive Christian impact on folk that my brother in Christ, Thomas, is having, I think I will be able to affirm that "I have run the race", as Paul wrote in II Timothy 4:7b.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl - so what?

So yesterday the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl no. something. So what? Quick! Off the top of your head, what team won Super Bowl XXII? How about S.B. XI? or XXXIX?

My point is NOT that interest in an NFL game is wrong. Far from it! After all, I had great interest in and attended the Texas 4-A Division I H.S. Football Championship. If you're a fan of the Colts, you'll probably remember this S.B. for years. If your team won one of the earlier three, you may remember. That's okay. I just get tired of how a professional sports contest gets the most attention of any annual event in these United States. More than Independence Day or Christmas! I simply want to urge that everybody KEEP it in PERSPECTIVE! No recreational activity should be the end-all and be-all of one's life! Not even if it's your livelihood. (Pay attention, Peyton Manning!)

So what does THIS posting have to do with San Antonio? Two things were going on here during that football game Sunday. One of these had my interest and the other also had my participation, in place of the Super Bowl.

The one thing is that right now San Antonio is in the midst of its annual Stock Show and Rodeo. While I was growing up in Boise, Idaho, a major annual event for the Graham family was the Snake River Stampede in nearby Nampa. I always looked forward to attending this rodeo, which in my youthful and provincial mind was THE BEST rodeo around. After moving to Fort Worth (1976, my first sojourn in Texas) I took in its Fat Stock Show and Rodeo (what a name). At first it was weird to see a rodeo indoors, but I've gotten used to it. (Dad told me that even the Stampede is under a roof now.) I've been to the Rodeo here several times, both while we lived in Devine and since becoming a San Antonio resident. You might say that going to a rodeo, wherever, brings out "the West" in me! I love 'em, and had I the funds I'd go multiple days. I could have gone yesterday, and I shall go some time during its couple week's run.

So what DID I do on Sunday? That is the "other thing" hinted at above, of course. I did what I always do on a Sunday: I went to church. More than any rodeo event, more than any football game, worship is my favorite group activity! And yesterday's was outstanding, including a backdrop of beautiful weather.

In the morning Mexican Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), my church on the Westside, had a few regulars absent, but also hosted a few guests. As usual I led the opening praise singing with my guitar. Later, Sister Liz Sanchez "popped one" on me by calling on me to lead the prayer time. No problem! I sensed the guiding "wind" of God's Spirit working on in & thru me. Then Sister Liz's sermon was very good, too.

In the evening (at Super Bowl time) I was disappointed to discover that nearby St. Andrew UMC was no longer having its "Near God" evening worship. So I took advantage of this to attend another church that I occasionally had visited for Sunday evening worship. This church on Lanark near IH 35 north is Texas Baptist Church.

Texas Baptist is very fundamentalist, as in accepting only the 1611 KJV as God's word. On the other hand they use a fine hymnal, containing numerous Southern Gospel standards and hit songs. The evening worship begins with singing a half dozen or so songs out of it, with only the first song not being requested by folk in attendance.

Bro. Keith Bell is a pretty good preacher, even tho' more fundamental than I. However, last evening TBC had a guest preacher -- a missionary the church supports. He was dynamite, and dynamic, as he preached on II Timothy 4:6-8. In that passage, the Apostle Paul, knowing that his departure from this life is at hand, summarizes his ministry, that he had fought the good fight, run the race and kept the faith. With strong exhortation this missionary, who confessed that he was an ex-con, urged that EVERYBODY get involved in ministry of some sort, tot he point that at the end each could look back in that same way. During the altar-call time I actually went to him and asked him to pray with me, about my ministry in prison. He being himself a former prisoner, I knew he would understand my strong drive to minister to the incarcerated.

And THEN, when I sat down again, I realized that someone was playing an instrumental rendition of "Here I Am, Lord". Wow! did this serve as confirmation of my prayer's desire!

. . .I, the Lord of wind and rain, I will tend the poor and lame.

I will set a feast for them, my hand will serve.

Finest bread I will provide, 'till their hearts be satisfied.

I will give my life for them; whom shall I send?

"Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard You

Calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me.

I will hold your people in my heart!

I will go, Lord. . . I will hold Your people in my heart.