Monday, October 29, 2007

An Awesome Weekend!

Over the year and a half (plus) that I've been keeping this blogsite, I've entered more than one entry about a very memorable weekend of events. The weekend just past is different, somehow. "Wonderful" or "memorable" or similar words just don't fit the bill to describe it. I choose "awesome" because the hand of the Lord working on me and thru me was SO EVIDENT!.

Actually, it commenced ordinarily en'uf. Sort of. I.e., "Friday nite lites" took place, only I didn't attend any football game, not even the Mules playing at home in Heights. You see, I got socked with a fierce cold in mid-week, after we had a "blue norther" blow thru on last Monday. Altho' I was feeling much better by Friday afternoon and the weather had also recovered to "perfect football weather", I didn't want to risk a relapse should a biting wind spring up. So I stayed home and listened, mostly to the Mules' romp over the Memorial Minutemen (55-0), but also to the Rockets' win (at their home stadium) over Robert E.Lee H.S.

For three days I prayed for the Lord to relieve me of the cold, and for as many I prayed for His Spirit in my sermon preparation for Sunday the 28th. I had been asked to preach at Mexican Christian Church, even tho' it wasn't a Fifth Sunday, because there were a special event the day before at the church and another just a week or so earlier elsewhere, that occupied the Pastor's time. As usual, I went first to the lectionary readings; the Gospel reading was Luke 18:9-14, Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in prayer at the Temple. Humility is a subject of which I cherish to preach, but nothing notable had come to my mind by Saturday morning. THEN that changed in a hurry!

Before dawn I hopped into a van driven by my brother in Christ and in Kairos ministry, Paul Smith, and loaded with other men, to head southwest down IH-35 to Cotulla. This small county-seat town beyond Dilley was to be site of the third Team Formation meeting for us on Kairos Weekend #2 for the Dolph Briscoe Prison. If you've been reading my blog all along (or at least for a year), you know what an awesome event Weekend #1 turned out to be! And I've all confidence in our Lord, that He will use us to make #2 just as much a "Wow!"

Meeting site was the Methodist Church in Cotulla, home church of Jim Daniel, Lay Director for Kairos Briscoe #2. It was a distinctive structure, white with green gables and trim, and an arcade (arched walkway) with courtyard (un patio, in Spanish) behind it between the sanctuary and the fellowship where we met. Interesting! Kind of a Spanish style , at least in layout.

Theme for this formation meeting (I had missed the other two due to work schedule) was "Humility". This was no mere coincidence, because all thru the session ideas for the sermon with the same theme kept coming to mind. Also impressing on me was pondering of "Lord, what have I to contribute? I know my limitations and faults and so do You." The response of the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:13) cropped up: "I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me." It's NOT about me; Kairos is about being Christ's arms and legs (and voice) for the 42 Candidates who will experience Kairos Briscoe #2. As we departed for the journey back home I felt refreshed and ready to go and serve on the weekend (15-18 November).

After being dropped off by Paul & company at my room and going out briefly to run an errand, I popped a movie DVD into the laptop player Mom had given me. I needed to finish watching this one because it and the other movie were to be due on Monday. The two movies are the Western classic "The Magnificent Seven" and its Japanese original "Seven Samurai", by renown director Akira Kurosawa. I had seen the Western several years ago, probably on a movie-classic channel such as AMC. That it had a Jap precursor leapt out at me at that viewing. I'd read comparison/contrast of the two in my on-again-off-again research into the Westerns, or "oaters", genre of films. So when I saw that both movies were available in the S.A. public library system I requested both.

By this point (Sat. eve.) I'd already seen "Seven Samurai" and about half of "The Magnificent Seven". One thing that astounded me -- despite my years-earlier viewing -- is the theme music of this Western; its lush orchestration not infrequently enters my mind while I'm walking somewhere on a sunny day. I had considered that the music playing in my mind was either from the Marlboro commercials or from TV Western "Gunsmoke"! So the source being "The Magnificent Seven" took me by pleasant surprise. Just as pleasant as the music itself! Isn't it remarkable, dear reader, that the usual theme music for Westerns (silver-screen or TV) features vivid orchestra music rather than the perhaps-expected solo guitar and/or harmonica?

In case you know nothing of this classic Western or its Jap original, the plot for both is that a village of farmers (in remote Japan in the one and borderland Mexico in the other) is suffering depredations from a large gang of bandits led by a merciless chief. In desperation these peace-loving farmers turn to professional fighters to resist the bandits. In Japan it's the Samurai, traditional warriors of that society. In the Western version it's hired gunmen, led by Yul Brynner. (This last caught me by surprise on that earlier viewing of the Western; Brynner will ALWAYS be for me the actor who played exotic Oriental monarchs, the King of Siam and Pharaoh Ramesses -- and it was strange to see his bald head in a Western!)

As I watched the conclusion of "The Magnificent Seven" I could understand why it is considered a classic of the genre. I saw why it's also a pivotal film produced between the "golden-age" oaters (think, "Stagecoach" or "Shane" or a Randolph Scott flick) and the "spaghetti-westerns" of director Leoni and actor Eastwood, which became the death-knell of the Western. But what most kept leaping at me was that HERE was an opening illustration for my sermon of the morrow. Lift up those Mexican farmers as paragons of humility; they KNEW their limitations (when it came to combat) and were NOT too PROUD to ask for help (from professionals).

And so, Sunday morning I went to Mexican Christian Church and preached. And what a joy it was! Especially the cold symptoms were largely under control (at least until I went to give the closing benediction). I'm certain that a smile brightened my face all during Worship.

In my sermon one item was the upcoming Kairos Weekend retreat at Briscoe (remember what I said was the theme of Saturday's meeting?) and how anyone and everyone could assist. I laid out my Prayer Chain sign-up, and the cookie instructions. And got a few signers out of the typically small number of attendees. Later on this day, while riding the bus, it came to me that being a fourth Sunday it should be the monthly meeting for Emmaus people at Laurel Heights UMC. So I went by that church, and indeed it was Emmaus meeting day, plus youth-group meeting. So I got to address TWO more groups on this Lord's Day, about Kairos Prison Ministry, Weekend #2 at Briscoe, and the needs with which they could help.

Wow! What a way to end an AWESOME weekend!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Football + Music = busy weekend

Here's hoping that you, dear reader, aren't getting tired of my various postings about weekends loaded with activities. E.g., my second-most-recent posting is titled "Crowded Weekend. . . ." On the other hand, I might confess that I'm getting tired of writing these! "Tired" from all the activity available in this city whose middle name is "party" that is.

Considering that it's autumn now, the season not only of falling leaves but of "Friday Nite Lites", i.e. my beloved sport of high school football, it's no surprise that autumn weekends are so busy for me. And Friday nite I was at one exciting high school game while listening to an even more exciting one on my radio. Before my eyes the defending 4A Division I State Champs Alamo Heights Mules were opening District 27-AAAA play by hosting Fredericksburg. Ahead 10-7 at the half the Mules let the "Battlin' Billies" (billy-goats, that is) from the Hill Country get ahead 14-10 early in the third quarter after an interception near our goal line. But AHHS roared right down the field on the ensuing series, to regain the lead. We never gave that lead up again, but "Freds-town" kept it close to the end. Final score was Mules 24, Billies 17. Time for some cabrito!

Meanwhile, in my ears I listened to the Judson High Rockets come from behind at home in nearby Converse. Down 10-0 at the half, Coach Jim Rackley's team took the lead early in the third quarter, only to see visiting District 26-AAAAA rival Madison regain it. With a late field goal Judson tied the score. And then on the very final play of the game the Rockets' place kicker again drilled the pigskin thru the uprights, for a 20-17 Rockets victory! Whew!

The next day, Saturday, the Lanier HS Voks, the "Pride of the Westside", faced Sam Houston HS in Alamo Stadium. It was again a close game, with the winner in doubt 'til the "bitter end" one might say. But my Voks notched another victory in their quest for the District 28-AAAA title and/or a playoff spot.

However, much as I support the Voks and enjoy sports events in picturesque Alamo Stadium, I wasn't there. Instead, after clocking out from work at Fiesta Texas I went to the Take-a-Break Café (the employees cafeteria) and had the "special" for supper, while watching part of the LSU at Kentucky football game on the big-screen TV. LSU, one of my least-favorite football teams in the Southeastern Conference, was ahead when I began to watch. However, the University of Kentucky Wildcats, my next-favorite SEC team after Vandy and Georgia, scored a quick touchdown to come within six points of the Number One ranked Tigers. Later I heard that the Wildcats went on to defeat LSU in triple-overtime! It was one of two upsets of Top Ten teams that day, and one of a spate of upsets to this point in the season! Can you say, "parity"?

When I was done eating supper I took the bus downtown to historic La Villita and the International Accordion Festival. The first year I lived in San Antonio and learned about the festival I smirked, considered if Urkel (sp?) would be there, and then attended it and discovered what an amazingly versatile instrument the accordion is, and how many, many genres of music use it! On Saturday nite I went to the Arneson River Theater beside La Villita and enjoyed a group from San Francisco with FOUR accordions, called "Those Darn Accordions". The "Weekender" section of the Friday Express-News had commented that one might consider four squeezeboxes to be "overkill" but that the group actually began with many more than that! The article went on to say that their beginning consisted of musicians who played other instruments grabbing the "stomach Steinways" and going into places to perform informally -- until they would get kicked out. Hm-m-m! Sounds like even in "anything-goes" 'Frisco the squeezebox gets no respect!

However, I enjoyed "Those Darn Accordions" very much, especially when they did a humorous yet touching tribute to Lawrence Welk. The tribute presented the story of his progress in live entertainment with the accordion and mentioned several (perhaps all) the regular musical and singing artists oh his TV show -- one of my cherished memories from childhood.

I left the venue early in the evening, with the jolly sounds of the squeezebox still ringing in my appreciative ears, so I could get sufficient sleep. I wanted to be ready to sing in the choir at Alamo Heights Christian Church (Disciples) Sunday morning. This was the final Sunday for Janis Erwin, our dedicated, accomplished and inspiring choir director. We choir members had suggested that she choose the anthem for this final Sunday of her service. She chose "Make Your Life a Song to God", and as I practiced the lower-voice line before the rest of the group showed up, I mused that the message and happy tenor of this song were most appropriate for Janis' final Sunday.

. Make your life a song to God; sing loud and string and clear,
. Make your life a song to God for ev'ry-one to hear.
. Jesus will put the melody into your heart. . . .

The song leading into the pastoral prayer was changed from the one we had practiced on Wednesday, to "Come and Find the Quiet Center", words by S.E. Murray and set to the tune Beach Spring, based on a traditional American melody.

. Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead,
. Find the room for hope to enter,
. Find the frame where we are freed,
. Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes to see
. All the things that really matter,
. Be at peace and simply be.

Sort of post-hippie lyrics, but still a good theme is expressed here: quiet and silence are all the more important in this chaotic, noisy, angry society in which we now live. The third and final verse also has a surprising and catchy phrase about "the Spirit's lively scheming". That word "scheming" usually has a negative intention when applied to a human, but combined with "lively" it may just apply to the divine Spirit -- and in a positive way!

There was a "farewell" reception for Janis right after worship, in the church's spacious lobby. Lots of visitors and irregular attenders were present. In the former category were Lynn and Neena McChesney; he was one of my roommates on my Pilgrim Walk to Emmaus, Men's #327 back in A.D. 1993, and now volunteers in Kairos Prison Ministry, in the Torres Unit near Hondo. In the latter category would be Janis' husband, Dr. Bill Erwin, who hasn't been at church much (at least those Sundays I go to AHCC rather than Mexican CC) since his term as Elder ended.

From Church I returned home briefly, to exchange a few things before heading back downtown to La Villita the Accordion Festival. In mid-afternoon, the great Santiago Jiménez, Jr., took the Arneson River Theater stage with his accordions (like most accomplished, veteran squeezebox performers he's got more than one) and his backup band that includes that other essential instrument for conjunto music: the bajo sexto (a twelve-string guitar). Santiago Jr. belongs to a famous dynasty of conjunto accordionists, which includes his father Santiago Sr. and brother Flaco (who was at my first Accordion Festival, back in '02). He was terrific: as he played old polka standards older chicano couples got down to dance in the wide section of the Riverwalk between the Arneson's bankside seating area and the edge of the San Antonio River. (The Arneson stage is on the other side of the river -- unique for a performance venue!) And on one song the audience joined in on the chorus lyrics. This reminded me of when I was at Mission San José for the likewise legendary Little Joe y la Familia, and the audience would sing along on songs they obviously had known and loved for years. These chicano neighbors of mine truly love to sing!

Sad to say, Santiago Jr., que tiene 64 años, suffered from the heat of the midafternoon sun and had to cut short his time on that stage. Later we were told that he was actually taken away in an EMS vehicle. Truly, the Festival's organizers should have scheduled him for the evening, when the hot sun would have been low, if not behind the riverside trees!

Before and after the legendary conjunto star I heard from a Native American family band which includes accordion. They're called "Southern Scratch" and hail from the Tohono O'odham Nation of southern Arizona. Their tribal reservation abuts the USA-Mexican border, so it surprised me not that their musical style sounded a lot like conjunto! They call their music "waila" (pronounced "wide-ah"), which they said means "popular dance music" in the Tohono O'odham language. (The nation used to be called the Papago Indians.) In English it's called "chicken scratch", which leads to the second word of the family band's name. That term was the white man's way of describing the natives' dance motions -- or by another telling the natives' way of describing the white-eyes' movements! But either way, it includes the jolly vibes of the squeezebox and is very danceable!

Hail to the accordion!