Monday, March 31, 2008

Dos iglesias unidas/2 churches united

Domingo el treinta de marzo había una adoración dominical uniendo dos iglesias biligues de los Discípulos de Cristo. On Sunday the 30th of March there was a special Sunday worship uniting two bilingual Disciples of Christ churches of San Antonio.

Back in January the younger congregation, Spanish Christian Church, had hosted my congregation, Mexican Christian Church, in their facility. They don't have their own building but rather meet in Woodlawn Christian Church (Disciples) off Fredericksburg Road in the Deco District of the city.

And now, this past Sunday, it was Mexican Christian's turn to host a joint meeting. Spanish Christian's praise music team came over early and set up drums, guitars and mikes on the platform behind and above the communion table. We had about half an hour of praise singing, then continued in an order of worship similar to Mexican Christian's usual Sunday order of worship. There were also a few special songs added to the service. Brother Orta, the Spanish Christian pastor, did the invocation, pastoral prayer and benediction. Christian and Evelyn Torres, newlyweds who had joined MCC last Fall, read the scriptures, and Pastor Liz Sanchez gave the sermon.

Following Worship we all adjourned downstairs for a fellowship dinner. There was lots of delicious food (a usual happening at church dinners, as well as at Emmaus events). Aun mejor, fue simplemente el platicar entre los miembros de las dos congregaciones, mientras almorzábamos. (Better yet, was simply the conversing between members of the two sister congregations while we were eating.)

Now, events or happenings such as THIS are what engage me as a disciple of the Nazarene! I have strong loyalty to my personal congregation, yet thrill to have fellowship with brother and sister Christians of another church, or even other denominations! Unity in the earthly Body of Christ, that's what I long for! A unity based on mutual love, the agapé love of I Corinthians 13, and on our common search to live out the essential teachings of our Risen Leader! May we Christians never forget, and always strive to fulfil, the clause of Jesus' "High Priestly Prayer" in which He besought ABBA for the same oneness among His disciples as existed between Him and ABBA (see John 17).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hermano Julián López

This past Monday, el día después de Pascua, a longtime and faithful member of my Westside church went home para quedar con Jesucristo. Hermano (Brother) Julián López was only a few years older than yours truly, and had serious health issues for as long as I've attended la Iglesia Crustiana Mexicana, Mexican Christian Church. But now he is free of these and his weak mortal body and enjoying the eternal bliss of being in the Lord's presence.

Hermano Julián probably made as big an impression on me as anyone at the church. His love for the congregation, for neighboring Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, for the Westside and most of all for his -- and our -- Lord were very evident. After I began attending Mexican Christian Church I would travel by bus across San Antonio early on Sundays, to get there in plenty of time. I'd arrive before all the others -- except for Julián. He was always there before me, and greeted me with his customary smile. He usually had the coffee already brewing. Sundays when he didn't, I would make it. There came to be a tacit competition between the two of us, to see who could make the best pot of coffee for the church. I concede that Julián probably won that contest.

And there was no doubt that Julián was "king of church bell ringers". He delighted in ringing the church bell at the start and the end of each Sunday service. He would ring exactly twelve times, one for each of the Apostles! Once Julián ended up in the hospital for his second leg amputation it sort of fell on me to get the bell rung. But I hardly felt like a worthy successor to this "king of church bell ringers"!

Wednesday evening Mexican Christian Church (Disciples) hosted a visitation and prayer service for Hermano Julián. Since he was also active in the barrio senior citizens center and in Guadalupe Church there were lots of folks present. Several of us presented songs for or stories about Julián. I myself sang two: "I Am the Resurrection and the Life" and "Pues Si Vivimos".

I'm sorry that my bilingual brother in Christ has gone home to be with Jesus -- only in that I won't get to hear him ring the bell again or compete with him in the matter of "gourmet" coffee making. But I'm glad that he's now in that perfect place where he's not in pain, and his being is whole. Que descansa en la paz y la gloria de Cristo, mi hermano y amigo.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My S.A. Eye Doctor

This morning I had my annual eye exam by my ophthalmologist. He is Dr. Wendall Baumann. Should you have need for an eye doctor, I highly recommend him. (But be warned: he's very popular!)

I first met Wendall in the Summer of A.D. 2002. In seeking an Emmaus Reunion group to join, for weekly prayer, accountability and support, I found one that included him, meeting each Monday at lunch time. During the academic year we met in the Skyline Room of the student union on the Trinity University campus. This was on the second floor of the hilltop structure, giving diners a glorious view of downtown San Antonio! And the food was a delicious and inexpensive buffet. But the best part was the fellowship with four to six other men.

At the time I was a waiter at Jim's Restaurants, and Wendall was an Air Force ophthalmologist, rank of Colonel and actually stationed at the US Army's Brooke AMC (hospital). Since that time -- truly the "good ol' days" -- the Reunion group has dissolved (and I now meet in the Mama's Café men's Bible study instead) and Wendall has retired from the military and gone into private practice. As soon as I heard him share that he was about to do this, I asked to become one of his earliest clients.

Wendall lives in a house facing Primrose Street near its Broadway end, while Alamo Heights Christian Church (Disciples) is at the North New Braunfels Ave. end, on the other side. The back edge of the lot is Castaño Ave., across from Alamo Heights High School. There are many lovely houses on Primrose, but long before I knew Wendall lived there I though his home, a pretty stone two-story cottage, was the most attractive (and the only one I'd feel comfortable residing in).

Well, one evening just after Wendall had retired from the Air Force I was walking down Primrose to go to something at AHCC(DC), and I noticed in passing his house that there were two plywood storks with babies in the front yard, one pink and one blue. These I interpreted that my friend had become a grandfather, even tho' I'd never known of such yard storks being used by anyone than the parents. The next time I spoke with Wendall the storks and the male and female babies they represented came quickly into the conversation, and I found out that he was indeed a new dad! It seems that he and his wife had been trying to have children for years -- and finally succeeded! Doubly succeeded!

Shortly I got invited over to the Baumanns to see the twins. The house was as winsome inside as was the outside of it. And of course the babies were adorable! I was back for a visit soon afterward, but now it had been over a year. I reminded Wendall of this when I went in for my eye appointment this morning. Indeed, even tho' the exam resulted in good news (no further deterioration in my vision), the best part of the visit was just talking with my dear friend, reminiscing over the old Reunion Group days, commenting on the house, and of course the babies. Now I'm looking forward to another visit in the near future!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Resurrection Day

Earlier postings of this month of March of A.D. 2008 related incidents connected with my birthday and those of my dad and brother.

Well, yesterday was ALSO my birthday! That one back on the Eve of the Ides of March was simply the day my Mom gave birth to me, in the US Military Academy hospital at West Point, New York. Yesterday was the Sunday when we Christians celebrate the greatest event of all history -- the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ! On Resurrection Day of A.D. 1969 toward the end of Worship in Red Rock Christian Church (Disciples) in Boise, Idaho, I responded to the Invitation arose from my seat and walked forward to state my faith in the Nazarene as the Christ, Son of God and my personal Savior! Or to put it otherwise, I was "born again" (or born from above) on Resurrection Day of 1969.

On this Resurrection Day of this Year of Our Lord (2008) I experienced tremendous celebration of the risen Savior -- all thru the day!

This commenced as usual with Sunrise Service at Alamo Heights Christian Church (Disciples). Due to the new earlier start of Daylight Saving Time this year the service actually began close to sunrise. But with the overcast sky we didn't have many sun rays visiting the lobby where the service is held. Nor shining upon the cross of rugged old wood, covered with chicken wire. When we go up to receive the Lord's Supper we place fresh flowers into the chicken wire, which thus converts the centerpiece into a floral cross! Very impressive!

When the service ended we adjourned downstairs to Kirtley Fellowship Hall for breakfast. Then during the following Sunday school hour the choir practiced the cantata "Jesus Is Alive" one final time. And then we sang it in the regular-time worship. It has five songs with brief narration before each. The final two are medleys (which gives eight song in part or in whole). The first I had difficulty singing the harmony, but on the second, "Come to the altar", the harmony came easily, and I really enjoyed singing it. The third song is "Via Dolorosa", which is mostly a very moving soprano solo, with a bit of choral inclusion. The "Cross Medley" of the fourth piece is Dottie Rambo's Behold the Lamb", the "Above All", then the refrain of "The Old Rugged Cross". Every time I practiced it and again when we sang it during the Worship I almost choked up on the refrain of "Above All".

. Crucified. Laid behind the stone.
. You and alone.
. Lie a rose, trampled on the ground,
. You took the fall and thought of me
. Above All!

And then there was the "grand finale" -- the title piece, "Jesus Is Alive". It's quite a triumphant celebration in song of the reality of the Resurrection to eternal life of our Savior. Just this past week I had listened to Dr. John MacArthur on "Grace to You" (aired on KDRY AM 1100) speak of the Resurrection from God's viewpoint, and what all the emptying of the tomb on the third day means for Christianity and the Gospel. If there were no resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene, then there really is no Christianity and no Good News! This is why the bodily Resurrection is so vehemently attacked. But those who seek to invalidate the Gospel by proving that Jesus didn't rise from the dead usually end up being converts to the very faith they set out to attack!

And so we sing, "Hallelujah! Jesus is alive! Death has lost the victory, and the grave has been denied. Jesus lives forever; He's alive!"

Later, in the evening of Resurrection Day, I rode the bus over to the Westside, where Mexican Christian Church, la Iglesia Cristiana Mexicana, held the final evening of a week-long tent revival, una campaña de carpa. Evangelist Jorge Marín conducts these tent revivals usually twice a year in the church yard beside Guadalupe Street. This time the revival "happened" to coicide with Holy Week. Great timing!

I myself felt led to participate this final revival evening, by testifying to the tremendous reality of the Resurrection, particularly as follow-up to the Nazarene's death by crucifixion -- the ransom for all who put their trust in His power to save! I also sang a couple of songs, including my favorite "cross song", which is "The Old Rugged Cross." It was a windy evening (and the tent had no side flaps, just a roof upheld by thin poles), yet by using weights I was able to keep my music open before me as I picked guitar and sang.

Another song I sang was "Un Día a la Vez", the Spanish version of "One Day at a Time". (I first heard the Spanish version right here in Mexican Christian Church, during my first visit here, and quickly grew to prefer la versión española to the English!) Later, two women independently sang the same song, using accompaniment CDs. I was strongly impressed by this "coincidence" of threefold singing of the same song! So after the third, I asked Hermano Marín if I could briefly witness. I informed those present that this threefold repetition of "Un Día a la Vez" was no mere happening. Rather, it was God calling us to faithfully seek His presence and guidance and power ONE day at a time, or each day of life!

Now dear reader, just this very day I came to the sharp realization that I needed His help un día a la vez. At the breakfast at AHCC (DC) in mid-morning I'd eaten two heaping platefuls to break my customary Maundy Thursday to Resurrection sunrise fast. TWO heaping platefuls! Then, after the second worship I had the gall to tahe the bus to Picante Grill and ahve Sunday dinner! Picante grill was the first Mexican restaurant that Patrick and LaRae tried out upon moving here. A few days ago Patrick had mentioned that they still preferred it above all others (except perhaps for one close to Fort Sam). I wanted to order an enchilada lunch plate (two enchiladas rather than the tree on a dinner), but the waitress said that due to it being a holiday lunch dishes weren't available. So I chose a taco salad. But I only ate less than half of it. I just sat there, looking at the remains. I had to assure my waitress, "Please do not think this is a reflection on the food; it's about the tastiest taco salad I've eaten. Rather, it's a reflection on my gluttony!"

Yes, let me be honest. I'm a glutton, and I need to do something about it. Pray for me, please. Thanks!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Events of March

On this first day of Spring in A.D. 2008, I'm reflecting upon what an eventful month it's been so far. And with a third of the month to go!

Dad's visit and the three birthdays -- his, brother Patrick's and mine -- were the hi-lite of March, of course. And actually, this wasn't done with when I last posted. On my actual birthday, Friday the Fourteenth -- which could also be called the "Eve of the Ides of March", but let's not go down that road -- Dad, Patrick and LaRae picked me up and took me downtown. They wouldn't tell me our destination (nor did they divulge it when Dad asked), but my suspicion of what it was got stronger and stronger as we went along. Sure en'uf, we went to El Mercado and Mi Tierra. It was the same restaurant I'd been taken a year ago! They didn't seat us by the remarkable mural wall in the final dining room, but I did order the Monterrey Plate of cabrito (goat) again. Yum, yum! -- to both the food and the companionship!

Still, some days earlier I had told AHHS Track head Coach Bobby Newton that my birthday celebration would begin a day early this year. This was because the Mule Relays track and field event held in AHHS' Orem Stadium would be on 13 March (usually it falls on or near April Fool's Day). As in most years when I've helped Coach Newton with the track meet, the weather was pur-r-r-fect! And once again I showed off my skill of handling the stop watch (for timing race competitors). It's a skill born when I was manager of the track team at Borah HS (my alma mater in Boise) and honed while managing the Vandal track team at University of Idaho. Both the teams of the AHHS Mules, boys and girls, finished second (both behind Steele HS from northeast of S.A.).

One unusual thing about my actual birthday this year was that it didn't fall during Spring Break. Most universities and school districts (like Alamo Heights ISD) chose to have the break later than customary, to coincide with the very early arrival of Palm Sunday and Holy Week. In the last couple of years I've had no problem working at Fiesta Texas amusement park on my birthday. But this year I got to substitute teach at Alamo Heights High School, both the day before and on my birthday. But whoa! the theme park also wanted me to work, clocking in at 2:30 PM, when I would still have been in the classroom! Hey, Fiesta Texas, 'nuf's en'uf!

Three days following my birthday was the annual day when everybody sports green clothing, Saint Patrick's Day. It being Spring Break (as well as Holy Week) Monday, I worked at Fiesta Texas, where there is no green in the general employee uniform. However, one of the tiny flags in the Six Flags logo in the uniform cap I wear is green. And should that have been insufficient amount of the appropriate color, I also sported a plastic shamrock peeking out above my name tag. This I obtained at Alamo Heights Christian Church; on Palm Sunday the after-worship snacks featured cupcakes iced in either green or white, with a green plastic shamrock stuck in each. Hm-m-m-m, so where were the palm branches? (Oh, well, I guess all the provider could scrounge up at the HEB bakery was St. Patrick's Day cupcakes!) So I had some green, despite Six Flags' uniform colors' lack thereof. Erin go braugh! Heh, heh!

St. Patrick's Day and the day following the weather was sufficiently threatening and the resultant visitors to Fiesta Texas low in numbers, that I got to clock out early, which was fine with me. And then we actually got something falling out of the sky. But it wasn't the pure rainfall we so much need. It was "mud rain"! The next day vehicles that had been parked outside, VÍA bus stop benches and similar items were covered with little dots of dust. Strange storm, strange aftermath!

And so today is the first official day -- or, first calender day -- of Spring. And with all that's happened so far during this March of the Year of Our Lord 2008, we've STILL got a third of the month to go! Including this up-coming most significant weekend of any weekend -- regardless of whether it falls in March or April. So stay tuned. . . !

Monday, March 10, 2008

March: the Month of Birthdays

My last posting here concerned a birthday celebration at the end of February. It was for a famous San Antonian (José Antonio Navarro) who would have been 213 years old were he yet alive.

By contrast, March is THE month for birthday parties for the living! Certainly for men in the Graham family. And so. . . my Dad flew here from Boise, arriving late Monday evening the Third. His birthday was the next day -- 75 candles. My "baby" brother Patrick's is tomorrow the Eleventh -- 41. And mine is Friday the Fourteenth -- 54!

Now it had been in my thinking that we should probably have a joint celebration of all three. And that became sort of imperative when Patrick drew 24-hour duty ON HIS BIRTHDAY! (Hey, Army! that's cruel & unusual punishment and unconstitutional!) So the "main event" so to speak was yesterday (Sunday the Ninth). But before the "main event" there were other frolics.

First, on Dad's day LaRae and I took him to the Medical Corps Museum (AMEDD) on Fort Sam Houston. It's close by the old Brooke Army Hospital. In addition to inside displays covering the development of military medicine over the nation's history, we saw some static displays outside, of various wheeled ambulances and medical helicopters.

In the gift shop a shirt caught my eye. It was "medical maroon", with golden threads spelling out BAMC, along with the words (Brooke Army Medical Center) and the military medical symbol (caduceus). I considered that this might be a great gift from me to Brother for his birthday. LaRae affirmed my supposition, so I purchased the classy shirt.

On Friday the Seventh, Uncle Chuck and Aunt Alice came down from Georgetown, Texas, and the six of us Grahams lunched at Paloma Blanca. When my son David visited me on his way to begin drama ministry with Covenant Players in '04, Howard Haring and family (see 14 Dec 06 posting for info on him) treated us to dinner at Paloma Blanca, an elegant Mexican restaurant on Broadway in Alamo Heights just south of City Hall. Well, we all ordered scrumptious plates. Mine was enchiladas de pollo en mole (chicken enchiladas in a Mexican chocolate sauce, mole). Yum, yum! We also had photos of us taken by the wait staff. (Perhaps I can learn how to post such photos on this blog, eh?)

Saturday I had to work at the Fiesta Texas ticket booths. As soon as I got sighed out in late afternoon, I phoned Patrick et al., and learned that they planned to dine at the County Line, on The Riverwalk. Since the next VÍA bus would get me downtown to that area (Riverwalk) about five, I suggested that I simply meet them there at the restaurant.

And so it was. I had to lug my overcoat along with me, because it had been at or below freezing when I left my efficiency to go to work that morning. But by late afternoon it was a very pleasant day. So I was glad that the other three (Dad, Patrick and LaRae) had gotten seats at an outdoor table in front of the County Line, right beside The Riverwalk. As I had ordered my favorite Mexican plate at Paloma Blanca for Friday lunch, now I ordered my fave off the County Line's menu: beef ribs. They serve three of the big whoppers, plus two sides (in my case, I ordered pinto beans and cole slaw). Best of all, perhaps, is that the County Line serves loaves of fresh bread as appetizers, one wheat and one white. The bread is terrific -- I swear I could make a meal just out of eating the C.L. bread! LaRae surmised that it's made with honey. Probably so....

Well, the "big" birthday celebration was Sunday afternoon and evening, in Patrick and LaRae's quarters on post. We exchanged birthday cards and gifts. Patrick was indeed pleased with the BAMC polo shirt! Dad gave each of us, his sons, a Hewlett Packard laptop "notebook" computer. A good portion of the late afternoon and into early evening was spent getting mine set up and then me getting familiar with my new "toy".

And "toy" is an appropriate word, I think, because at one point I commenced a game of computer solitaire. I'd gotten hooked on this in the mid-1990s, when I was an adjunct instructor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. You see, I really enjoyed watching the computer "shuffle" the deck when you won a game! But... THIS computer was different for playing solitaire! Indeed, it took several tries before I won a game, and then the "shuffling" wasn't all that engaging. PLUS, this computer's program doesn't let you change the back of the cards, etc. Oh, well....

All the time that we (Patrick & I) were dealing with hi-tech, the big-screen TV was on the GAC ("Great American Country", as in music) cable channel. Shortly they began a show celebrating country music of A.D. 1996. Now, that year just "happened" to be the year I worked at Grand Ole Opry Tours in Nashville. In our lobby (where I did most of my work as Tour Coordinator, selling tickets) were two large TV sets in the upper corners of the ceiling, set constantly to CMT, the country music video channel. We workers plus guests got to watch all the videos which were popular that year, such as Leeann Rymes' "Blue" and Alan Jackson's "Itty Bitty". And here this GAC show was showing them again! Talk about a trip down memory lane! I didn't even have to shut my eyes to picture myself back behind the counter at GOOT, watching these songs for the first time!

I kept wishing that they would show the most engaging video of that time, for me. It was "Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)" by John Michael Montgomery. A good portion of the images on this video were of three Amish farmers versus three Jap businessmen in a livestock auction barn, and it was hilarious!

Well, they didn't show that video, but the did show a more deeply cherished one: "Go Rest High on That Mountain", written by Vince Gill (upon his brother's untimely death, if I remember correctly), and sung by him, Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless, gathered around a single floor-stand microphone (just like in the olden days, "golden days" of radio). It's a beautiful song, with deeply touching lyrics, sung with strong feeling. Truly it caused my head to leak and my heart to long to return to the hills and hollers of Tennessee, the "greenest State in the Land of the Free!"

Here are the lyrics:

"Go Rest High on That Mountain"

I know your life
On earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain
You werent afraid to face the devil
You were no stranger to the rain

Go rest high on that mountain
Son, you work on earth is done
Go to heaven a shoutin
Love for the father and son

Oh, how we cried the day you left us
We gathered round your grave to grieve
I wish I could see the angels faces
When they hear your sweet voice sing