Thursday, January 24, 2008

3 days & 3 ways of brotherhood

The three days of Monday thru Wednesday past were days of profound experiencing of brotherhood for yours truly! When I use "brotherhood" I intend it in the old-style, generic significance. You see, the first incident, on Monday evening, involved both genders in sweet Christian fellowship (or "brotherhood").

At that time I boarded a van whose other occupants were Jay and Chrissie Smith and two women passengers, all members of the Northwest San Antonio Emmaus Fourth Day Group. We were all traveling from University UMC in far north-northwest S.A., down IH 35 to Pleasanton, Texas, where First UMC would be hosting the semi-annual Joint Gathering of the San Antonio Area FDGs. On the way there and back we had great conversation, mainly about Emmaus and other Christian ministries or programs we are involved in.

At Pleasanton, the "Birthplace of the Cowboy", we had a great turn-out from most of the FDGs. One man appeared looking sharp in a dark suit and red necktie; he said he had come directly from work to the gathering. Well, turned out that he, Dennis, was both guitarist playing in the group supplying the music AND our "Fourth-Day Speaker!" When the Lay Director of the local Brush County FDG introduced Dennis he commented that he'd told him that dress at gatherings was casual. As tho' the speaker had done wrong by "getting cleaned up!" Well, during the "food & fellowship" I told Dennis that I was glad he'd dressed sharp; that when I gave my first Fourth-Day Talk I likewise wore a suit and tie and carried a handheld cross -- just like the fifteen speakers on the Walk (the 3-day Retreat)!

On Tuesday, I had my second experience of brotherhood. After a brief time on the computer terminal, during which I posted a contribution on a new blog started by VÍA, I rode bus with my best friend in San Antonio, Joe Tovar, as he drove bus on Zarzamora Street. When we got to Palo Alto College, the southern terminus for Route #520 and the spot where I first met Joe, I gave him a printout of what I had posted on the VÍA blog. You see, my comment had been how the bus company had literally given me my best friend in S.A.

Tuesday evening I began the third type of brotherhood in three days -- and it was the one that would continue the third day. Brothers in the bond of Lambda Chi Alpha. For I took the bus out to UTSA for the Phi-Upsilon Zeta's "formal Zeta" chapter meeting. Only, when I walked into the lecture hall where the meeting was held, I saw at once that only the alumni advisor, Brother Rob Mendiola, had on a necktie! This was definitely not going to be a "formal" Zeta! Bro. Rob informed me that the undergrads had changed it from "formal" before he could warn me. Not that I minded being suited and tied for it; I enjoy dressing up!

And I was glad that I came, ties or no ties. I found out, among other things, that L.C.A. is now the largest fraternity on campus, and is in some so-called "Inner Circle" of Zetas (chapters) of L.C.A. around the nation. Cheers! I also got to contribute my two cents to remedying the Zeta's one shortcoming: low grades. I told a couple of the officers that I would gladly tutor any Brother in Spanish, History or English.

Next evening I went to the Valencia Hotel downtown for a Lambda Chi Alpha alumni meeting. Now dear reader, much as I may enjoy rubbing elbows with "actives" (i.e., undergrad Brothers), I prefer gathering together with my brother alumni. And here we were, together in a ground-floor meeting hall at the Valencia!

Having followed signs toward the Siena Room I found an open door at the end of a hallway, to an unlabeled room full of men. But just inside the door was a shelf where guys had placed certain personal items, including an elegant business folder (the kind with padded leather or faux-leather) imprinted with that familiar Cross and Crescent! As I was signing in I saw the Brother I most looked forward to seeing here: our Grand High Alpha (International President, for non-L.C.A.s) Dr. Ed Leonard. When I walked up he greeted me, smiling and extending his arms for a bear hug of brotherhood. Yes, it was so good to see this particular Brother in the Bond again!

The first time I met Brother Dr. Ed was at the Founders Day Barbecue in A.D. 2006 (early March, just before I commenced this blog spot). At that time he was Grand High Delta of the fraternity. He has a charismatic personality, if anybody I know in any official position of authority has charisma! He wore a polo shirt to that shindig that had stripes of our Brotherhood's colors: purple, green and gold. (When I remarked about the colors he informed me that he'd actually purchased it at a Mardi Gras in New Orleans, his wife's hometown -- that was when I first knew that the three colors were those of N.O.'s famous festival as well as those of L.C.A.!)

Now, this evening at the Valencia Bro. Dr. Ed was sporting a necktie in the fraternity's colors. In fact I'd seen Brothers, live and in photos, with exactly that same striped tie. He informed me that one could obtain such neckwear via the fraternity's Web site.

During the meeting I saw other local Brothers whom I already knew well: Alumni Association officers and alumni advisers and High Alphas of the San Antonio's universities' Zetas. These last had also been invited here and during the actual "business" portion of the gathering they each gave brief reports on their respective chapters. There were also short speeches by the three Brothers who are officers from Indianapolis. (Our International HQ is in that Indiana city, just like my denomination, the Disciples of Christ -- fascinating "coincidence"!) Some of their words referred to a "True Brother Initiative" that the brotherhood has undertaken in the past year, to enhance both education of the new associate member (L.C.A. was the first social fraternity to eliminate "pledgeship" with its demeaning and often harmful hazing) and to reinforce the on-going experience of brotherhood as an initiated member and then as alumnus. When I had read information about the T.B.I. a few months ago I got excited about its potential to enhance the fraternity I hold so dear!

There was also a generous helping of humor during this meeting, as one would expect from dear friends -- Brothers united by the unique bond of our teachings and Ritual. Indeed, on a more serious note (sort of), the undergrad reps from our three local Zetas were invited to stand with the youngest of the officers from Indy and conclude our meeting by leading us all reciting the Creed of Lambda Chi Alpha.

Good ending to a gr-r-r-reat gathering of Brotherhood -- one of three in three days! Plus the one-on-one get-togehter with my best friend in S.A.!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

San Antonio and MLK Jr.

Yesterday San Antonio staged its annual Martin Luther King Jr. March thru the East Side, honoring the memory of the slain civil rights leader. I did not participate in this, billed as the largest (in number of participants) in the nation. Haven't marched in previous years either -- choosing to focus my "marching support" on the César Chávez March in early Spring.

However, I did attend Sunday afternoon's MLK Memorial Interfaith Service, for the first time. I had received a flier about this special worship from Nettie Hinton, an Afro-american lady who served with me on the VÍA Citizens Advisory Council. (Her term recently ended, but then I'd seen her at another meeting, to organize opposition to digital billboards -- she's quite the activist.)

I wish I'd known that Nettie was a member of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, host church for the worship. Had I known, I could have phoned her (off the CAC member list) for directions to the church. All I knew from the flier was that Holy Redeemer is at 1819 Nevada, and that Nevada is one of the "state-name" streets running west-to-east south of East Commerce on the near East Side. When I called the church's phone number three times Sunday morning all I got was a recording about the Mass schedule.

So I went early by bus to the East Side, the closest thing San Antonio has to a ghetto neighborhood. I did a walking search around St. Phillips College, for first Nevada Street and then Holy Redeemer Church. Turned out the church was very close to the college, a historically Black junior college and now one of the campuses of the Alamo Community Colleges. Holy Redeemer, an historically Black Catholic parish, has a beautiful and traditional sanctuary in red brick, to which a larger sanctuary space has been added in back, with semicircular seating.

I became very glad that I'd persevered in my search for the church, because the MLK Interfaith Service was, in two words, inspired and inspiring! In the "Black tradition of worship" which I learned about while a seminarian at TCU's Brite Divinity School, it was long -- almost two hours -- and sort of "multi-media" in that it contained elements of dance as well as song, litanies, brief addresses from public officials, and a sermon or message. This last was given by Cary Clack, an Afro-american column writer for the San Antonio Express-News. Cary is one of three E-N columnists whose writings are in my opinion very good, enjoyable and informative reading! His spoken message this day wasn't as electrifying as the man whose memory we were celebrating. But then, Martin Luther King, Jr., was a very gifted speaker! And I did appreciate some of the words Cary had to say regarding Brother King. A major theme of it was to remember that King wasn't all that popular at the time of his death (even among Afro-american civil rights activists). Also, we mustn't let Dr. King's memory become a sanitized, frozen icon for the current on-going struggle for civil rights for all.

Earlier, one of the speakers mentioned a fascinating tidbit or research data. Seems that three separate genetic researchers had separately determined that no one human is more than 50 cousins removed from any other human! "So turn to your neighbor and greet them with 'hello, Cousin!'"

I should point out that this white bread (i.e., yours truly) wasn't standing out like a sore thumb, surrounded by a sea of black African faces! There were several other whites or Anglos, a few Hispanics and numerous Sikhs and other Indians. A true mosaic of races and ethnicity, reflective of the diversity of San Antonio!

When I had scanned the order of worship handout, I noticed that on the back side of the folded paper were the lyrics for "We Shall Overcome", which all would sing at the closing. It's natural to connect this particular song with Brother King. However, years ago I had learned that Dr. King's favorite song was "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" by Tommy Dorsey. I happened to enjoy that hymn, too, and knowing his preference for it caused me to cherish it even more. Therefore, I considered that we ought to have included it in our program.

The San Antonio Choral Society made up for this omission with a song they sang. Their song's title wasn't printed in the order of worship, but as soon as they began singing it a whirl of emotions surged thru me: peace, nostalgia, thanksgiving, longing. . . . For the song was "There Is a Balm in Gilead". While I was a University of Idaho student I'd purchased a vinyl LP album which on one side had the Vandal Marching Band and on the other the Vandaleer Choir. One of the choir's numbers was "There Is a Balm" sung a capella, and the recorded rendition was identical to the S.A. Choral Society's live singing now! Even to a solo female (soprano, I think) on one particular verse!

Remember how back in September I "died and went to Heaven" when I was at a Ray Price concert with my brother Patrick and Price sang "Crazy Arms"? Well, this was a very similar feeling! This one had the added benefit of being a peaceful expression of trust in our Heavenly Father (rather than being a pop country bemoaning of unrequited love). It also had a minus, sort of, of causing intense longing for Idaho (which upon my first sojourn in Texas in '76 I had called "God's Country"). I was close to tears for the mountains and pines of my raising -- HERE, in a MLK service in the Alamo City!

Following the service there was abundant food in the nearby fellowship hall. I got to thank Cary Clack for his well-written columns in the newspaper and his speech/sermon here. And I got to speak with my friend and sister Nettie. . . well, "cousin" according to that one speaker before Clack -- but she IS my sister-in-Christ. When I told her how much "There Is a Balm in Gilead" had blessed me (she's one of the singers in the S.A. Choral Society), she informed me that that a capella version comes from the Tuskegee Institute, another historically Black college. (I'm certain that my alma mater got the song from that source.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Good Ol' So. Texas So. Gospel Music

It should have been evident early on at this blogsite, that yours truly enjoys singing and music. Music of nearly any genre! And my favorite genre? Dear reader, that would be Southern Gospel music!

Alas! Southern Gospel isn't as easily accessible here in South Texas as it was back in Tennessee. However, in the past two weeks I've had opportunity to let it bless my appreciative ears on two occasions.

First, annually on the nite that ends the old year and commences the new, Ashley Road Baptist Church holds a New Years Watch Night service. From about six 'til after midnite this little church on the South Side (off Roosevelt Street and not far beyond Stinson Airfield) is alive with the music of several local Gospel groups. Such as, New Life, a mixed group that employs a variety of instruments in accompaniment (including pedal steel guitar), or Frank 'n' Joe, a chicano father-son act (daddy Frank sings lead and son Joe accompanies on piano or keyboard and lends harmony).

An hour plus break commencing about ten gives artists and audience time to retire to the fellowship hall for a late supper of New Years food (think: black-eye peas, tamales, etc.) in addition to plenty of the typical church potluck fare. Then it's back to the sanctuary for the featured group's singing us up to the New Year. In most years that I've attended the Watch Night this group has been The Telestials, from Hendersonville, Tennessee. However, they were absent this time -- apparently lured away by some mega-church that made them an offer they could not refuse.

The absence of the Tennesseans could have been a "downer", since I like their sound and cherish an old hit of theirs, "Help Wanted". But I just focused on the gospel sounds being offered by the locals. New Life was filling in for the former featured group. For about five or six minutes right at midnite, Pastor Anthony Shipp led us in "praying out the old year and praying in the new". New Life was then supposed to do one or two more songs. But there was a Spirit in the place, and we all just kept on praising the Lord 'til one a.m. with Gospel singing! (At Southern Gospel concerts, the audience -- at least some of us -- often sing along with the artists, on familiar songs.)

This past Saturday morning I rode VÍA buses to Fiesta Texas for the employee rehire party. I chose to take a "scenic route" rather than the most direct route (but still arriving in the neighborhood when I intended, just before the party was scheduled to start in Sangerfest Halle). On the way, at Vance Jackson and Wurzbach I saw Oak Ridge Baptist Church with its peaceful campus covered with live oaks. I remembered that in Friday newspaper's "Weekender" section it had been announced that on Saturday afternoon this church would be hosting a "South Texas Southern Gospel Festival" with several groups.

So, after the rehire party I took the bus(es) to the church. (The rehire party, BTW, involved a deejay who among other selections played the "Cotton-eyed Joe" and a country-music line dance number -- it was fun to watch these & would have been even more fun to dance to but I was in serious rehire conversation at the start of both.) When I arrived at Oak Ridge church and found my way into the sanctuary, I discovered that I had missed the first two groups, but was in time for the rather late lunch break. And the festival was scheduled to continue until after six in the evening.

Well, I'd considered attending the festival for only awhile. But each of the five featured groups was very good -- and I stayed around for all the second round. (Thus I got to hear the two groups I'd initially missed.)

One of the groups that was new to me was the Robby Wright Family, a husband and wife and their two daughters from North Texas. One of the daughters wrote a couple of their songs, and they were good; indeed, she has a gift in this! Other songs they sang came from standard repertoire for Southern Gospel singers. On these I considered that the Robby Wright Family sounded just as good as the "big" family names in national Gospel music, such as The Hoppers or The McKameys.

One of the two groups with whom I was already familiar is David's Song, from northeast Texas (one lives nearby in Louisiana). This trio is all "David" by first name, and they all wore dark suits and red shirts and neckties. They sounded as sharp as they looked! I especially felt blessed by their piano player, who was originally from San Antonio. And I was pleasantly surprised when they sang "Boundless Love", an early major hit by the Cathedral Quartet As a trio arrangement they didn't at all sound bad -- even tho' I missed the bass part. Be aware, this baritone isn't exactly fond of bass singers (naturally). Nevertheless, I did cotton to the late George Younce of The Cathedrals, and particularly liked his part on this song. But even without that fourth part, David's Song did them proud, I'd say!

The other familiar artists are The Moodys, a father-daughter act I had heard a few years earlier at Western Hills Christian Church. They're from nearby Universal City. After a few songs, dad John Moody told about how "doors opened" recently for him to go to Iraq and visit with our troops over there. He was insistent that our news media was not giving us the entire picture of what's going on in the Middle East. (I'd known about this journalistic bias toward exclusively the negative and the anti-American for some time). He showed a slide show (DVD or video) which presented phrases like "I am your brother" and "I am your sister" and other family relations, each followed by a picture of a soldier of that gender. Then there were several statements which he said soldiers had made to him during the visit, such as "I miss you" or "I'm doing my job here, don't forget me there!" All of this was backed by soft instrumental music.

I felt convicted! For a long time I had fervently prayed for our troops over there, their families here and our Commander-in-Chief. But I hadn't been doing such praying much as of late. Time to get back down on my knees on behalf of our military (and the people of Iraq)! And dear reader, if you're a "prayer warrior", please get down on your knees, too, for our troops and their families and the peace-lovers among the Iraqis!