Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A memorable Memorial Day (observed)

A very clear memory I have of my boyhood in Boise is how Memorial Day, which then was always 30 May and a school holiday, we Grahams would go out to Cloverdale Cemetery and decorate the grave of Grandpa Graham. Funny, that an annual Memorial Day visit to a cemetery would form such a strong and pleasant memory. I suppose this was so because it was always a peaceful day and a peaceful place, and the visit was routine.

It was only well into my adulthood that I learned that Memorial Day's purpose was more specific than simply honoring all the dear departed, but rather was for honoring those who had died in combat service to their country.

Monday morning I attended the ceremony at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. It was my third Memorial Day visit in my five and a half years of living here. Of the three this A.D. 2007 ceremony was definitely the best! I heard terrific singing by the Alamo Metro Chorus, aka Sweet Adelines, who include Alamo Heights Christian Church's choir director and another choir member. Then I listened to a very inspired and inspiring message by recently-retired General Ricardo Sanchez! He was commander of forces in Iraq at the time of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and unfairly took some of the blame for it. So he never got the fourth star on his shoulder (he'd have been the first Hispanic four-star general) that he so truly deserved!

Anyhow, Gen. Sanchez began by saying that he had been requested to speak at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France, on Memorial Day two years earlier. One night just prior, he awoke, got up, sat down and wrote what he was about to share with us. His creation was a prose-poem, "When a Soldier Cries". I found it to be a wonderful expression of the the feelings of the average soldier who faces combat. Truly the General's words were very expressive and heart-touching!

So, after the ceremony adjourned I went up and congratulated him on it, expressed my admiration and my conviction that he should have received that fourth star, and saluted him. Then I visited the graves of Gen. Robert F. McDermott (retired head of the US Air Force Academy and of USAA) and CMH earner José López and paid my respects to these exemplary men who died just last year.

In this way I observed Memorial Day as it was intended to be observed. But I admit that I also celebrated the holiday as so many Americans do exclusively any more, by having outdoor fun. In my case, I went in mid-afternoon to Six Flags Fiesta Texas (surprise! they gave me the day off!) and enjoyed the park for a few hours. I rode the train, of course (more than once), and also Roadrunner Express and the Boomerang. Best of all, I watched four music shows, including both "new" country shows and another new one called "Encore! One-hit Wonders". Odd name, that last, since if the artist had merely one hit, he, she or they didn't have and "encore" hit!

The newly-revised traditional country music show, "Down Home Country", is FANTASTIC! It features a series of hits by well-known women in country music (Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline) and a salute to old-time gospel standards (including one of my very favorites, "Unclouded Day"). And naturally, an early hit released by our next-door neighbor, golden-voiced George Strait!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Gloria a Dios en el Westside

This morning I traveled to the Westside, to Mexican Christian Church, where I had consented to provide music for a funeral. Or rather, a memorial service. How appropriate it was to attend such a memorial service as the observed three-day Memorial Day weekend was about to commence! It was pouring rain -- a true "gullywasher" -- when I went out to catch the first of three buses to get from home to church. But by the time I was at the church the rain had eased considerably. And by the end of the service it had stopped. Therefore, we had good attendance.

I had been asked to do "Amazing Grace" and my choice of a second song. My choice was "Pues si Vivimos", the first verse of which is basically Romans 14:8 (in Spanish) set to music. When I began "Amazing Grace" I started out a capella, and didn't add guitar 'til the second verse. My initial experience of this beloved hymn was Judy Collins' entirely a capella recording of it, at my very first church camp, back in the summer of A.D. 1969.

And who was the deceased being memorialized? He was Jesse Ybarra, born and raised on the Westside. His family were members of M.C.C., and he spent many years working as a social worker at the nearby MCI/Inman Christian Center. The Center was begun about a century ago as an outreach ministry of the Disciples of Christ (my denomination) to the poor and destitute Mexican-Americans of San Antonio's barrio. He served in the armed forces during WW II and earned the Bronze Star -- a significant fact considering the approaching holiday. In mid-life Brother Ybarra moved to Riverside, California, where he worked in a similar institution. He died last month and was buried in Riverside.

After the memorial service, the Inman Christian Center held a reception in one of their buildings (but not the main one with which I'm familiar). And at this reception I found out WHY there had been a memorial service HERE for Bro. Ybarra. Attendees had been encouraged to share any memories of the deceased, and there were several middle-age to elderly men who had plenty of memories! Turns out that Jesse Ybarra had started a group at the Center for boys of the barrio, called "Las Palomillas", and these representatives of that group had high praise for what Jesse and the Center had done positively in their lives, to get them going down the right road: the road to good and productive citizenship instead of joining the gangs.

It deeply touched my heart to hear these old chicanos speak about their growing-up years on the Westside, and various incidents pertaining to their interaction with Bro. Ybarra and/or one another! How I wish I'd had a tape recorder going to capture these stories!

You know, dear reader, the Westside doesn't have a great reputation, being stereotyped as the poorest, most deprived, most crime-ridded section of this city of San Antonio. But when I hear tales of growing up on the Westside like I heard this morning, and like I've heard on Sunday mornings at M.C.C. (especially from Brother Villarreal who grew up on Guadalupe Street across from the church), I just KNOW that there is good here in the barrio! There are blooms rising above the trash, diamonds shining amid the dull coal! I remember a few years ago, when I often attended the evening service at Soldiers of Christ Church (another little Westside church), that Hermana Cabrera who usually preached -- and preached with PASSION -- would often utter a grito (cry or shout): «¡Gloria a Dios en el Westside!»

To which I say, in my heart, «¡Sí!»

The S.A. Conservation Society

This past Wednesday afternoon I attended a general meeting of the San Antonio Conservation Society. This group began in the early 1920s, when some high society ladies organized in order to prevent destruction of historic buildings of San Antonio. They lost their first battle (to preserve the old Market Building), but early entered into the fruitful effort to not only preserve the remains of the Mission San Jose compound but also to reconstruct it.

Being the lover of history and historical structures and locations that I am, for as long as I've known the story and mission of the S.A. Conservation Society (it also champions environmental issues, hence "Conservation" in the name), I've felt that I ought to become a member. But I held back, thinking it was "only" well-heeled upper-class ladies. However, last year I attended a Society meeting to which I'd been invited, and found out that it's diverse, and dues are low. So I applied for associate membership, was accepted and attended my orientation in February.

On Wednesday the meeting was held in the "River House" building (earlier an indoor private pool) behind the mansion of the historic Steves Homestead, a property owned and managed by the Conservation Society. Guest speaker was City Manager Cheryl Scully. She spoke about the progress and changes in city government since she arrived from Phoenix about a year ago.

The Conservation Society also held elections, in which associate members cannot vote. But even without the right to vote, I appreciated being at this meeting. One of the Board of Directors and elected to office in this election is Roberto Hinckson. After I had met him at the first Society meeting I attended, I chose him to be my sponsor for membership. He's a really nice fellow with a gentle and cheerful spirit, and always dresses sharply. At this meeting he was wearing tan slacks, a plaid shirt of white and two shades of blue, and a necktie that was solid light blue -- the dominant shade of blue of the shirt! He looked terrific.

I had seen Roberto and other members on Saturday morning the 19th, at Joske Pavilion in the local version of NY's Central Park, Brackenridge Park. There the S.A. Conservation Society was celebrating "Historic Preservation Month" thru various activities. These included a couple of re-enactors and a quick review of the history of the Joske family and this attractive pavilion. This had been a delightful event! I was just as glad to attend Saturday morning as I was to attend on Wednesday evening.

Monday, May 21, 2007

San Antonio elections

Two Saturdays ago (the eve of Mothers Day) elections took place in San Antonio, surrounding communities, and indeed thru-out Texas. There were five bond proposals up for voters' approval or denial, and all the S.A. City Council members and the Mayor had to run for re-election or step down due to term limits. So, even tho' it wasn't a general, Presidential, election and early voting numbers weren't spectacular, I certainly more of my fellow registered citizens cast their ballots.

The matter of term limits irritates me. Some time in the recent past (before I moved here in January of A.D. 2002) an ordinance was forced into the city charter, making mayoral and councilmanic terms a mere two years. Making matters worse, members can be re-elected only once. The current City Council and Mayor are very conscientious about governing this huge city, and they've done basically a very, very good job as public servants! And we CANNOT re-elect all of them! This is a terrible shame! What were they thinking about, those who set those foolish term restrictions in place? Corruption and a "good-ol' boy" situation -- that's what they must have been thinking of and seeking to fight. Oh, well and good, but WHAT good can any elected official really do of a lasting nature in a mere two years, or if re-elected one mere time, four years?

Ah, sigh, let me get off my soap box, dear reader. My own councilman (and fraternity brother), Chip Haass, could not run for a third term. The two men running to succeed Chip both struck me as excellent candidates for the District Ten spot on the Council. I chose to cast my vote for the younger, Rey de los Santos. The other candidate, John Clamp, won. But I'm not sad that my choice didn't win, I just wish the percentages for the two had been closer.

As for Mayor Phil Hardberger, he won re-election in a landslide over six opponents. That he got almost 80% of the vote isn't surprising, it's a measure of how good and effective he's been as our Mayor. And all five bond issues passed, too, after the Mayor had devoted his campaigning energy to these rather than his own re-election.

Of the five Council members who could run for re-election, only Elena Guajardo lost. I was somewhat sad about this, because she volunteers in Kairos Prison Ministry and always struck me as just as conscientious as the others. However, Elena had a couple of things working against her. She's openly lesbian (but that didn't seem to keep her from initial election) and early in her service on the Council a man sent her an e-mail complaining about a night club on Fredericksburg Road in her district and then committed suicide after his company, Zachary, learned from her that the e-mail was sent from a company computer terminal. The e-mail mess is a tragic situation, and because I didn't know details or Elena's side of it I didn't hold it against her. But apparently several of her constituents did, since she hadn't ever spoken up about her side of the matter, or apologized for "causing" the man's death.

The merry month of May. . . .

It's been a while, dear reader, since I posted any new posts here on my blogsite. As I mentioned, I considered that a year's time was what I came to plan for this blogsite to cover. But I also said that I'd contribute new postings occasionally.

Well, much has happened this month (my title is a phrase from song lyrics in a musical -- I want to say from "Camelot"). Especially this past weekend, in mid-May, has been very busy and eventful. Here is an account of some of the happenings.

Friday evening, the 18th, I attended the monthly gathering of the Northwest San Antonio (NWSA) Emmaus Fourth Day Group, or community. NWSA was the sponsoring FDG of the Walk to Emmaus, Men's #1327, on which I served as a clergy Team member last October. Getting to the church which hosted the gathering was something of an adventure. It's St. John's UMC on Bandera Road. I had wanted to ride the bus on Bandera Road from Loop 410 in, to Culebra, where there is an HEB store. On the way in I would look for the church (by a telephone call I had determined the general neighborhood), to know exactly where to get off the bus, then buy food to contribute to the gathering, at the HEB. But as time and the VÍA buses went, I ended up not being able to be on Bandera Rd. before buying the food and then taking the bus out toward Loop 410. And I missed setting eyes on the church! (It sits back from the road, and from the road isn't readily recognizable as a church.) So I ended up getting off the bus closer to the loop, and walking up a hill for half a mile to find the church. But it was worth the hike! The NWSA gathering was abundant with food, singing, and just the joy of the Lord! And I discovered that the current pastor (but soon to retire) is Kenneth Sellers. He was the Spiritual Director for both the first Walk to Emmaus AND the first Kairos Weekend on which I served as a Team member! (At that time he was a UMC pastor in Del Rio.)

Sunday evening was almost deja vu, as I attended the monthly gathering of my own Emmaus FDG, Care Bexar, at Bulverde UMC. But before I went there I went to Alamo Heights UMC for the Baccalaureate service for the Class of 2007 of Alamo Heights High School. The church was packed, like it was last year, for the AHHS Baccalaureate. The music, both congregational (including "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee", whose melody is basically Beethoven's Ode to Joy) and special (performed by the AHHS Varsity Choir), was uplifting. The message, given by the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, was inspiring. And I caught myself shedding a few tears for these young folks who are about to receive their diplomas. After all, I've known almost all of them thru subbing at the school, and I love them all.

There was a reception after the Baccalaureate, in the Christian Life Center of AHUMC. Since it would be a short while 'til my ride arrived I went in there, and looked around for the serving line. I noticed several people moving to the opening into the adjacent parlor, and I followed, thinking the parlor was where the refreshment table was. Wrong! They, mostly men and graduating boys, were gravitating into the parlor to watch the NBA playoff game on the big screen up in a corner! You see, while we had been worshipping with the graduates in the sanctuary, our Spurs were playing the first game of the Western Conference championship at home against the Utah Jazz. It was already well into the fourth quarter and our hometown "boys" were well ahead. With 20 seconds to go and the spurs leading by eight, I had to leave, to be ready for my ride to the Hill Country. Go, Spurs, go!

As I say, the Care Bexar Emmaus monthly gathering, up in the Hill Country in Bulverde, was almost deja vu of the NWSA gathering of Friday. Same abundant food, about the same number of people (150-200), same joyful spirit among frineds and brothers/sisters in Christ. The major differences were two: at Bulverde the gathering all took place in the church's gym (Friday we ate in St. John's UMC's fellowship hall and worshipped in the sanctuary), and instead of using the green-cover "Songs" book (it's the one by Johann Anderson, and is employed on Walks) the Bulverde rock band had lyrics projected onto the wall above them. I only knew one of the songs, and all the songs were very rock-music style, with Old Testament-inspired lyrics. I considered that it was more like a Jewish synagogue service, if those folks use rock music!

But I don't want to complain. The order of worship was pure Emmaus, and the Fourth Day speaker was very moving in her description of her spiritual journey and her love for the Bulverde church she'd found after her move to the San Antonio area. So what if the music was unfamiliar and not exactly Emmaus style? So what if the worship wasn't in the Bulverde UMC sanctuary with its breathtaking view of Cibolo Creek? I'm still very glad I was there! A monthly Emmaus gathering is ALWAYS a blessing! Thank God for Emmaus!