Monday, December 31, 2007

Endings and beginnings '07 to '08

As the year draws to its end, and in a few hours we'll start the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Eight, or A.D. 2008, here are some musings about the year past, i.e., A.D. 2007.

It's been a "different" year, I suppose. . . heck, I don't "suppose", I know it!

How's it different, you may ask? Well, having a wedding in the family and thru this gaining a daughter-in-law -- THAT'S truly "different"! Regarding that, I took my FIRST trip out of the Lone Star State (see my post "My Summer Adventure, a Wedding, 27 June, about this) since daughter Sarah graduated from high school in Clarksville, Tennessee, in 2004. And even before son David wed Allison in June in Lincoln, Nebraska, "baby" brother Patrick gets assigned to renewed active duty Army service at Fort Sam Houston, here in San Antonio. His move here in February with wife LaRae FINALLY gives me family right smack here! Hooray!

Well, not so fast! Due to other Army influences on family, i.e., its deploying my (step-)nephew Zane to Iraq for his second tour there, the day after Christmas, again there was no family with whom to spend Christmas Eve or Day. For the seventh straight time! 'Nuf said about that sad situation. . . .

There were several "little" differences, mainly in certain aspects of recurring events. For example, having my brother and sister-in-law with whom to share birthdays (his and then mine, in March), the San Antonio Rodeo and Stock Show, a couple of Fiesta 2007 events, and the Missions games in quest of the '07 Texas League championship (which they won, see 17 September 2007 posting). I'd gotten used to taking in such delights solo, but I assure you that they're much more fun in the company of family!

One event not shared with family that was new to me was the Weinachtsfeier or German Christmas Party of the San Antonio Conservation Society (see 14 December post). Come to think of it, being a member of the Society was a difference, putting into reality something that should have been the case early on in my sojourn in S.A. I mean, me with my heart-felt love for history and culture and equally deep love for this city, I should have sought membership long before I did!

And then, there was my other "family", of Brothers in the Bond of Lambda Chi Alpha. Certainly participating in the historic first-ever tri-Zeta "White Rose Gala" with area LCA alumni and the three local chapters was VERY different! I'd never been to a shindig like this before, not even the "Crescent Girl Ball" of my own undergrad experience of the fraternity. The CG Ball was, after all, just us from the Idaho chapter plus a very few alumni. See my post of 14 April 2007 for details on the White Rose Gala.

Another difference involved my work at Fiesta Texas. After such a fun, fun, FUN summer of '06 working as Conductor and Depot Agent (Stationmaster) on the Fiesta Texas Railroad, work in the theme park in '07 was a real downer. The radical changes that Six Flags administration made regarding the train ride (abolishing our distinctive "railroad crew" uniforms and forcing everybody trained in this ride to also train on other rides and be ready to spend up to four hours in the hot sun without relief) drove away the older gentlemen -- all very experienced and wise about running the train as engineers and firemen, and all cherished co-workers of mine.

And the changes eventually drove me away, too. Only to find I'd gone from the frying pan into the fire! Working at the turnstiles into the park turned out to definitely NOT be for me! Thus, I ended up working three different positions in three different divisions of the park, instead of one (as in previous seasons).

Furthermore, even tho' I did get to see the "Lone Star Spectacular" laser and fireworks show several times (see 27 August post), I didn't really get to enjoy the re-named water park (not comprehending the significance of the mammal to Texans, new CEO Shapiro ordered that "Armadillo Beach" give way to "White Water Bay" -- "ho-hum!") or its wonderful wave pool Lone Star Lagoon, much if at all. And it seemed I was spending all my time at work, on the bus to & from, or sleeping in my efficiency. That is, not much time for other activities. Still. . . I did make that out-of-state trip on a long grey dog wearing a bus, to a wedding, as mentioned above!

And then there was "Holiday in the Park", the first "winter holidays" opening for Fiesta Texas since Six Flags took over the park. My Christmas Eve and Day may have been blue, but the remainder of the holiday season was full of the lights and songs in the park -- and indeed in the whole city -- which lifted my spirits!

And now, dear reader, may you have an uplifting and blessed A.D. 2008!

Final Weekend of '07

"Fast away the old year passes. . ." the lyrics go in "Deck the Halls". And indeed, the just-finished final weekend of the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Seven seemed to fly by! As if "Father Time" couldn't wait to get to Ought Eight!

Perhaps one explanation for the swift flying of the hours is that I was engaged in one of my favorite creative activities: preparing and then delivering a sermon. Choosing as my text the "Epistle" reading from the lectionary, the Letter to the Hebrews 2:10-18, I titled my message -- that is, the message the Lord gave me -- "Para Destruir el Imperio de la Muerte / To Destroy Death's Power".

Now please, dear reader, do not consider me vain about the correction above. I take sermon preparation seriously, and continually pray over it. I firmly believe that, from the salient features of a text that leap at me upon first reading, to the conclusion that gets crafted, I am submissive to God's working, so that the words of the message are more His than mine! It's really a very humbling experience!

That the sermon's title is in both languages (español and English) should reveal that the message is bilingual. Indeed, I again deliberately prepared the message as a code-switching exercise. The gist of the message is that the Babe of Bethlehem nació para morir; es decir, Jesus' purpose in being born on this Earth was to "give his life a ransom for many" (from Mark 10:45, my favorite Scripture verse) by dying for us on Golgotha. And delivering it Sunday morning at Mexican Christian Church (Disciples) was a true delight!

Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings I worked, as usual, at Fiesta Texas and its "Holiday in the Park." Let me tell you, being outside in Los Festivales (the first theme area entered past the turnstiles) before, during and after sunset is exquisite! As the sun sinks beneath the western horizon, the lights decorating the trees and edges of buildings become bright and beautiful. And the Christmas songs likewise lift the spirit! One of these may be titled "Welcome to Our World" -- the lyrics are indistinct, as the woman who sings it lacks the clear voice of a Karen Carpenter (two of whose songs are also in the recorded repertoire). From phrases of this soft lullaby that I've been able to hear, I gather that it's a welcoming to the Baby Jesus. I sure do hope I can find out more about the song!

After signing out of work Sunday nite I went to Take-a-Break, the employee cafeteria, to eat the "special", chicken cordon bleu. The meat portion of the dish was small and nothing to write home about, but the veggies (cheese potatoes and peas and carrots) sort of made up for it. Then I passed thru the interior door, into Sangerfest Halle to enjoy yet again the show "Happy Holidays". This one features a live band, mainly fellows from the country music shows band of Sundance Theater during the regular park season. I don't find the song repertoire notable; it's mostly very contemporary songs of Christmas. But still some are fun to sing along to, and the park's show brochure encourages singing along. What truly impresses me about this show is the frequent costume changes the four guys and four gals go thru during it! Having acted in a musical (as a volunteer cast member) years ago, I know the demands of making a quick change of costume backstage in order to speedily return front-and-center!

Once the show ends, I change back into my street clothes and exit thru the employee entrance. After the bus picks me up a foursome boards at the "Guest bus stop". They may be a mother and three sons; two of the young men wear Penn State shirts. Since Penn State won the Alamo Bowl the nite before, I congratulate them on the Nittany Lions football team's victory over the Texas A & M Aggies. Then I ask what part of Pennsylvania they're from. This commences a very nice conversation all the way to downtown, about Penn State and its terrific coach Joe Paterno, about San Antonio and their positive impressions of my hometown ("home" since January A.D. 2002, that is), and about comparisons between Fiesta Texas and Hershey Park and another themepark in their home state.

Downtown I get off the bus (the Pennsylvanians will get off closer to their hotel) and board the "line-up" bus to head home. Two or three stops down the line a couple get on -- and HE's sporting a Penn State shirt, too! Once again I give my congratulations and then query them on what part of the Keystone State they're from. Their home is Pottstown, which has connections with my Mom! So once again I enter into a delightful conversation. And when again I disembark, as for the earlier foursome I wish for them a safe trip home and add "Y'all come back soon now, ya hear?"

Monday, December 17, 2007

La Gran Posada

From my last posting you may have guessed, dear reader, that this Christmas of the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Seven, I'm revelling in Christmas customs of a Germanic origin. Well, yes. . . after all, many Christmas customs of these United States came here from Deutschland, to include the ubiquitous Christmas tree. I remember reading even that Martin Luther, the German clergyman who began the Protestant Reformation, commenced something to do with the holiday trees! I think perhaps it was the idea of putting lights on an evergreen (candles in his time, of course), to have it symbolize the "Light of Heaven" come down to Earth.

However, REMEMBER: this is San Antonio, Texas, the primary cultural root of which is chicano, Hispanic, Mexican-American (or whatever you wish to label it). My deepest love for all the diverse heritage of this city remains for that which sings or speaks en el español. And so, despite my new-found delight in Weihnachten (German Christmas), my favorite Christmas customs will remain those of Mexican origin. Such as drinking that wonderful Mexican hot chocolate, champurrado, and illuminating pathways with luminarias.

AND. . . I proclaim again my favorite Christmas tradition of all. From any cultural or national origin. La Gran Posada. Please read my description of this event, in last year's posting (23 December).

This year the re-enacted quest of Mary and Joseph for posada en Belén (shelter in Bethlehem), accompanied by a few hundred "fellow peregrinos (pilgrims)" singing villancicos (Spanish carols), had some special twists! For one, the first stop to sing the Posada song was at the brand-new Museo Alameda in El Mercado. Of course, even tho' the museum's representative gave us a nice speech, he still followed the adentro (inside) singer's stanzas and turned us away. Just as in earlier years' Gran Posadas, folk at Mi Tierra restaurant toward the other end of El Mercado had turned away Joseph, Mary and comrades.

Several minutes and a few more villancicos later, as the crowd was departing from the steps of City Hall, where the Mayor's wife, Mrs. Hardberger, had turned us away, a young lady stepped alongside me. She introduced herself as a reporter from the newspaper. She asked me journalistic-type questions about my participation in La Gran Posada. I gladly answered, delighted to share my deep love for San Antonio and her costumbres de Navidad (Xmas customs). At one question I intuitively observed that for me, "La Gran Posada IS Christmas!" A moment later, the reporter having bid me farewell and "Merry Christmas", I had a feeling that THAT remark would be in the next day's Express-News report on 2007's Posada. And it was! (See page 8A of Monday's paper; they misspelled my name, BUT quoted me verbatim.) Sometimes yours truly DOES say something worth quoting -- if I do say so myself!

We had our next-to-last stop in front of the fairly new Justice Center instead of the historic Bexar County Courthouse; construction has blocked off most of Main Plaza, which has the Courthouse on its south side and San Fernando Cathedral on its west. However, County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson gave the traditional greeting -- even while turning us away. Then, due to the curb in front of the Justice Center and that beside the Cathedral property, several strong chicanos lifted the cart topped by a full-size burro which "Mary" rode and beside which "Joseph" stood, down to the street and then up to the other sidewalk. Someone remarked that it was the first time they had seen a flying donkey! ¡Un burro volando! ¡Qué maravilla!

And as for San Antonio and its Gran Posada. . . ¡Qué felicísimo! Once we peregrinos entered San Fernando Cathedral and sang a couple more carols and "Feliz Navidad", it was time for kids to swing sticks at candy-filled piñatas in the Cathedral's courtyard and everyone to take refreshments in its café. For me the latter was a cup of champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate) and a small pastry.

As I departed this party ending La Gran Posada, I encountered Father David García, the cathedral's Rector. I congratulated him on his new assignment, just announced in the Express-News, to be the priest overseeing the old Spanish missions of San Antonio. He will take the place of Father Baltasar "Balty" Janacek, who passed away earlier this year. I told Fr. David that he had big shoes to fill, for Fr. Balty had a true passion for San Antonio's crown jewels! However, I shall pray for the Lord's help for him to fill those shoes, and I'm confident he shall fill them. For Father David's passion for lo mexicano is already evident in his advocacy of my favorite Christmas tradition of all traditions, La Gran Posada.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ein Weihnachtsfeier in San Antonio

Weihnachtsfeier is Deutsch (German) for "Christmas Party". And I attended a hum-dinger of a party yesterday evening, here in San Antonio!

Annually, a big event for the San Antonio Conservation Society is this German Christmas Party, celebrated in the Steves Homestead mansion, built 1876. The front balcony is hung with gracefully curving Christmas garlands, and poinsettias and a Santa statuette grace the front porch. And inside the historic home of Edward and Johanna Steves there are plenty of Christmas trees of all sizes and decorating. Late in the party I discover that one of the smaller trees, set on an antique table, was done in an old style, of painting feathers green and wrapping them around a small stick to form the branches (the feathers bushed out as they were wound). These were hung with some decorations that had belonged to Johanna Steves (the Homestead's initial "lady of the house"). A couple were of tin, such as an angel and some "icicles"; they were definitely ornaments that would have gone back to her life time (died 1930s). Other ornaments were of thin glass, many with hollows in them lined with silvery fluting. These immediately caused me to remember ornaments I hung on our family Christmas tree as a boy!

There was food everywhere, in almost all the main-floor rooms: cookies, finger sandwiches and fixin's for other small sandwiches (using small croissants), cakes and other pastries and fruit. Yum-m-m, yum! For liquid refreshment we had coffee, wines white and red -- and a superb eggnog with had added ingredients of ice cream and Jack Daniel. M-m-m, hm-m-m!

As I surveyed the large crowd in attendance -- probably 90% of the ground floor space not already occupied by furnishings had folk standing -- I could tell that this is definitely the best-attended member meeting of the year for the Conservation Society. And as I noticed how many were garbed in Christmas apparel items (sweaters, ties, etc.) I decided to roam the crowd and count how many men were wearing, like me, a Christmas necktie. I probably counted a few ties twice so let's just say, dear reader, that it was in the lower twenties out of about 30-35 men.

In one of the front rooms, which had a floor-to-ceiling Christmas tree in a side bay window and a grand piano, there was singing. A couple of Afro-American fellows, including a talented piano player, and two Anglo young ladies regaled us with Christmas carols and songs. None in Deutsch, alas! But on the ornate center table of that room were printed booklets that contained scores with lyrics of popular carols, and we of the crowd got to sing along. And I lu-u-u-v to sing!

This evening Weihnachtsfeier was simply a supreme delight for yours truly. As I sat eating some goodies next to another male member of the Society "tied" for Christmas, I mentioned that I could have come last year, having been granted associate membership, but that the date had somehow passed me by. (Easy to do in the busy month of December, right?)

"Well, you'll have to make up for lost time, then," he suggested.

"I'm doing my best!" was my reply.

Fröhliche Weihnachten! Merry Christmas, y'all!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Saturday "showtime"

This past Saturday I had several things in mind to do. Things didn't go quite as I planned -- they went better!

It began Friday nite, when I opened my mail. The newsletter from Alamo Heights Christian Church (Disciples) had a notice that there would be a memorial service for Ed Zink the next day at one. I had been told about Ed's passing away and the Saturday service at choir practice -- but hadn't written this down when I got home and had forgotten. Until I read the newsletter. It was one more thing to do, but one I very much wanted to do.

You see, my first Christmas as a San Antonio resident Ed, an elder emeritus at AHCC and one who faithfully attended Sunday worship (even while needing aid of a walker), invited me to spend Christmas (or Christmas Eve) at his home. His son Jeff, a "special" guy who lived with Ed and also a member of the church, was there, along with sister Deniece and a large dog. Ed loved dogs. The house, on an acreage north of Windcrest, an incorporated suburb in northeastern Bexar County, was a charming, older rural home. It had been a true delight to spend the day with the Zinks!

Before attending the memorial service I did errands, including checking my e-mail and doing brief Web surfing. At "Voices", a blog of my fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha, a regular contributor had posted about the significance of Thanksgiving for him personally. His was such good reading that I came to this, my blog site, and copied off my post about Thanksgiving '06 to contribute as a comment (or reply) at his "Voices" posting. I inserted a couple of phrases to make my words of a year ago more inclusive our our common Brotherhood -- for which I am always thankful!

After doing the blogging and other errands I returned home, quickly changed into a suit and tie (apparel I seldom wear on Saturdays) and took the bus to AHCC for the Ed Zink memorial service. Both his son and daughter were there (Ed had been buried in Ohio), as were several folk with whom he had worked years earlier in the geological engineering field and the oil industry. The service was nice and for the most part uplifting. still, my head leaked a little, as we listened to a poem about Ed which our Pastor read and written by a sister (who wrote poems about all family members!). It described a special kindness Ed had done for her during an illness. I'm glad I was at the memorial service, to give my respects to the memory of this brother in Christ who had done me the kindness of sharing his home and family during my first S.A. Christmas!

Then it was back to the efficiency, to change back out of the suit and tie and resume work on some agapé I was preparing for Men's Walk to Emmaus #1413. This was a Walk for which I had wanted to be on the team before the Lord pointed me in the direction of doing team work on Kairos Weekend #2 at Briscoe. However, this Walk featured David McNitzky as Spiritual Director (SD also on my Pilgrim Walk, #327), and would be the final Walk presented by Care Bexar before my Fourth Day Group goes inactive. So I yearned to go to Candlelight and contribute in other ways. While I made my agapé, I listened for the phone to ring with a call from Sharon, a former Lay Director for Care Bexar with whom I'd spoken earlier concerning getting a ride to Candlelight. I also took just a few minutes to phone other possible attendees for Candlelight -- only to find out that every one of them had other plans -- holiday season plans -- for the evening.

After I got the call from Sharon, and had discussed and then dropped the idea (her suggestion) of using VÍA bus routes to get across town to be picked up on the way to Kerrville, I got an unexpected call from Howard, a Pilgrim from Walk #1005 ,the first Walk on which I had served on a Team. He was going, too, and arranged to meet Sharon and me at my place.

Then I returned to hurriedly finishing the agapé, colored index cards with a packet of Splenda sweetener taped to the middle. Above the packet I wrote "A 'Walk to Emmaus' with Jesus is simply", and if one lifted the packet one read "Splenda" under it! That way, should a Pilgrim or Teamer wish to actually use the sweetener in their Sunday morning coffee, the agapé card would still make sense! Agapé often include such puns, and when I tho't up this one I considered it very good. Agapé, to refresh your memory, dear reader, is Greek for "unconditional love" -- the highest love, divine love -- and in Cursillo movements such as Emmaus and Kairos the word signifies deeds done or items given to express God's love for the retreat participants. I finished the cards just in time, as first Howard and then Sharon arrived!

Now consider: I'd invited Howard or given him permission to ride along with Sharon and me without asking her first. So I was nervous. But. . . God is good -- all the time! All the time -- God is good! The journey to and from Candlelight at Mt. Wesley was a wonderful time of conversation, and dining at a Mexican restaurant in Kerrville before arriving at the camp. When we arrived we saw that some of the camp's live oak trunks were decorated with those nets of Christmas lights that have become so popular. It was a beautiful and appropriate display of light!

And Candlelight itself was beautiful, delightful and a blessing! The numerous Emmaus community members present were treated to a fine Emmaus worship with a rousing sermon from one of our Emmaus clergy. When Team and Pilgrims of #1413 joined us, it truly seemed like we were in Heaven! I was delighted to see four Team fellows in total whom I knew, including not only David but also William Clarke (co-Team member onWalk #1327). It truly seemed that my head threatened to leak a good one! This Candlelight for the final Care Bexar-sponsored Walk was that special for yours truly!

So. . . whence the "showtime" in my title for this post? Well, honestly, most of the activities on this Saturday contained an element of entertainment, so in that general sense the title fits. But I give it the added significance that for all I experienced this day I needed to set aside time to SHOW some heartfelt thanks to Abba our celestial Daddy and God, for SHOWING his goodness -- all the time! And particularly on this Saturday of Saturdays!

And so, "Thanks, ABBA!" O en español -¡Muchísimas gracias, Papá celestial!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Holiday season: family, lights, sounds

This holiday season of A.D. 2007 is turning out to be different yet still special (or memorable) for yours truly. By "holiday season" I mean everything from Thanksgiving Day to the end of the year/ New Year's.

To include today, St. Nicholas Day. In some cultures and countries around the world this day of 6 December is THE DAY for gift-giving (alternatively, Epiphany or 6 January serves for gift-giving). St. Nicholas, who definitely WAS a REAL person (as in "yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus"), became renown for his generosity -- and hence he's the patron of gift-giving. I like this idea of 6 December (or 6 January) being the gift day, because it keeps the focus of 25 December on the coming of God to Earth as the firstborn baby of Mary of Nazareth, delivered in humble surroundings in Bethlehem. Let me add that Spanish-speaking areas are among those which do the afore-mentioned gift-giving (on today or 6 January).

BUT. . . let me back up! I just defined the "holiday season" as commencing with Thanksgiving Day. And this year for the first time in seven I got to spend this very family-oriented holiday -- can you sing "over the river & thru the woods to grandmother's house we go'? -- with blood relatives! Yep, I was over on Fort Sam with "baby" brother Patrick, his wife LaRae and he youngest son, Zane, and his new wife, Misty. And my sister-in-law is a TERRIFIC cook! I cherished every minute of being there in Patrick's quarters celebrating Thanksgiving Day with family!

Now, don't get me wrong. I appreciate that the "Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner" is put on in the Convention center, for folk who don't have family with whom to celebrate. I've been there and deeply appreciated and enjoyed it -- but nothing can beat family (in the blood relative sense) for spending such holidays as Thanksgiving.

You will notice that I do not call it "Turkey Day". Indeed, I get livid with anger whenever I hear anyone call it such. The day IS NOT about eating turkey and stuffing ourselves with other special foodstuffs! It's about giving thanks! (See my posting of 27n November 2006 about this.)

Now I'm beginning to enjoy the Advent-Christmas season. For details on why observing these holidays of December in San Antonio is so special, see my postings of 23 and 26 December 2006. Yep! this "Party City" has so-o-o-o many ways and means of observing holidays of December -- to include, let's not forget, Our Lady of Guadalupe Day on the 12th -- that it took TWO postings to cover even the ones with which I'm most familiar.

The lights shine brightly again, on the Incarnate Word campus, at Fiesta Texas for "Holiday in the Park" and the Riverwalk. And elsewhere. See my posting of 23 December A.D. 2006 for details. May all these Christmas lights of S.A. reflect the light of Christ shining on the world! Especially on this city that Spanish Franciscan missionaries founded on 1 May A.D. 1718 as a mission station for spreading the Gospel and civilization among the native Coahuiltecans.

Best of all, I look forward to spending Christmas or Christmas Eve with family here in San Antonio! (They will be brother Patrick, his wife LaRae & Dad's flying in from Boise.) For the first time in six Christmases! Family will make this Christmas of A.D. 2007 extra special!!!

FM radio station Q-101.9, lite rock, is again playing only Christmas songs, and even KKYX-AM 680, classic country music, has broadcast a couple of Christmas tunes, of country & Western artists, of course. One "country Christmas" song that really gets to me is "Conrad's Christmas Guest". It's a recitation by the late Grandpa Jones of Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw fame, with soft background music, about an elderly cobbler (I'd imagine a German fellow in a small town over in Germany). He gets excited because he dreamed that the Lord told him He would visit him on Christmas Day. For further details about "Conrad's Christmas Guest" see my posting of 26 December of last year. Here let me add that the moral of the story is that "love is the greatest gift of all". Amen!

Too, in many public places the sound systems are broadcasting the "songs of the season". The places include, of course, Fiesta Texas -- opened again this year for "Holiday in the Park" (after several years absence of a winter season). Most of the "songs of the season" broadcast in the park are secular; a couple are of the humorous genre, such as "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." On a more sentimental side, Guests and employees will hear the late Karen Carpenter (of The Carpenters) sing "Merry, Christmas, Darling".

On the other hand, in Texas State Square toward the rear of Los Festivales Mexican-theme area (one goes left to the Spassburg German area or right to Crackaxle Canyon's Western theme) there's an instrumental-music show blaring in loud volume at intervals. All the music is recorded Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I think. Strings of light on the square's colonnade, "light trees" atop it and a huge structure resembling a wrapped gift in the center, shine out and change colors in choreography to this music. Some songs played are spiritual, such as "Ring Christmas Bells".

Finally, let's not forget that malls and grocery stores alike are spreading holiday cheer also, via the recorded music -- Muzak? -- that permeates their buildings!

. Ring Christmas bells, merrily ring. . .
. Tell all the world, "Jesus is King!"