Friday, May 30, 2008

A Party of a Dedication!

Since I'm on the Citizens Advisory Council for VÍA Metro Transit, I received a mailed invitation to today's dedication ceremony for a new transit center on the South Side. Students in the Alamo Heights ISD are suffering Final Exams; thus, I don't have any more sub-teaching jobs, so I went to this dedication. It was in mid-morning, and when I left early to do an errand en route to the party, the windiness made it sufficiently cool that I donned a suit coat as well as dress shirt, slacks and tie. My coat lapel sported a lapel pin celebrating VIA's 30th anniversary, which had been given to me in March by the company. It gave me one more reason to "dress up" a bit more than I might have in this unusually hot and humid end of May.

The new Transit Center, which doesn't open to the public and for use by bus lines 'til 9 June, is beside IH 35, across the Interstate from South Park Mall and just northeast of Zarzamora. It's also going to be the training facility for VÍA operators, with that activity to be housed in a separate building. A few weeks ago it was announced that the new facility was to be formally named the Senator Frank L. Madla Transit Center and Training Facility. The late State Senator -- whose untimely and tragic death is covered in my posting of 28 November 2006 -- represented the South Side.

As I approached the main building, inside which the party was to take place, I saw that indeed its silhouette or general outline was like the building at Kel-Lac Transit Center, opened a few years ago and after I began serving on the CAC. Unlike Kel-Lac, where the outside walls are covered with horizontally-corrugated metal paneling which give it the look of a cubical approximation of a Quonset Hut, the Madla Center facility has good-sized rectangles of a tile-like material, mostly snow-white but with a few in some bright color like red or blue.

When I entered I saw a great crowd -- almost wall-to-wall -- who were enjoying the lovely sound of a teenage mariachi group dressed in black and silver charro outfits. From the program I found out that they were from South San HS, which is probably the closest high school, being just a few blocks beyond the other side of the Interstate. I realized that I had inadvertently entered thru what was effectively the "back door" for the ceremony, and that programs were across the room at the other door (effectively the "front door"). So I passed thru the crowd, received a program (a half-size sheet) and found a place to sit. This was on one of the curving blue-painted metal benches that will provide seating for waiting riders when the transit center begins serving the public. There were also several chairs brought in and set up for additional seating -- but still there were plenty of folk who had to stand.

The mariachis finished and VÍA Public Affair's Priscilla Engle commenced the formal program by introducing the Madla family, VÍA Board and Administrators and local elected officials present. Then Father Flanagan, Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of San Antonio prayed the invocation and the blessing on the facility. He was rather long-winded and a bit repetitive, but I attribute this (at least in part) to his advanced age. Then VÍA Chairman Eddie Herrera gave the first speech. He, like subsequent speakers, paid tribute to the late Senator and his support for public transit, and lauded the facility and its importance to the South Side: it's the first such transit facility on the South Side (unless one counts the one beside McCreless Mall, which recently became history, as did the mall). Herrera also pointed out that Leo López, who just ended his term on the VÍA Board and was present in a white guayabera (rather than his usual Board meeting apparel of suit and tie, regardless of outdoor heat), was responsible for the suggestion that the new transit center for Madla's South Side be named in his memory.

Other speakers included the two County Commissioners present: Tommy Adkisson (Precinct 4) and Sergio "Chico" Rodriguez (Prec. 1). Commissioner Adkisson is a tireless supporter of VÍA and of improvement in the transit and traffic infrastructure of Bexar County.

Also present and speaking was State Senator Leticia Van de Putte. When I first read her name on the program I frowned. During the first year or so that I lived here she and Mike Villarreal led a small group of Democrat legislators who fled the lege's session in the Capitol, sneaking to New Mexico so as to prevent a quorum for voting. It was their cowardly tactic for preventing votes that they knew would go against them due to the Republican majority. And I'd hated this cowardice, considering it unworthy of heirs of The Alamo defenders' heroism! Thus initially I wasn't happy about her presence. But I mused that I ought to leave aside my animosity for the time being and listen to her words of dedication without prejudice. Senator Van de Putte's speech actually was very good! So good it turned around my attitude toward her!

City Councilman Cortez, in whose district the Madla Transit Center is located, also spoke. I had seen him, and he me, only a few hours earlier, when I addressed the Council during "Citizens to Be Heard". Only today the Councilman lacked a necktie! So after the program I couldn't help but greet him with, "Didn't we see each other just a few hours ago? Only now you look kinda naked!" as with a grin I pointedly stroked my tie. He grinned back.

Another speaker was the late Senator's son, Frank Jr. When he finished, he and his mother unveiled a plaque on the wall, which proclaimed the facility's naming after the Senator, whose bas-relief portrait was on the plaque. Then we were invited to enjoy some more performance by the mariachis from South San, and to partake of refreshments. These latter were pastries of various kinds, and chunks of fruit. CAC Chairman Bill Martin joked with me, that he KNEW the food was why I had come. Years ago he'd taken note of my frequent trips to the cookie table at VÍA Board or CAC meetings! I wasn't the only butt of Bill's humor, tho': he also remarked that today was the first time he had seen Leo López sans suit and tie!

After sufficient refreshment I enquired about the training facility and if it were available for touring. I was told that yes, it was. So yours truly almost zipped over to "inspect" it. You see, dear reader, education of all types is "in my blood". I was delighted and not surprised to see that the two rooms inside come equipped with projectors at the center of the ceiling. At Alamo Heights HS I had noticed that this year the classrooms there were likewise equipped with these projectors and accompanying screens near the wall, which can be used to show videos, DVDs or Power Point. I'd say that the Sen. Frank L. Madla Transit Center and Training facility is "state of the art".

Afterward I got a ride on a charter bus (one of VÍA's own), up IH 35 to the VIA Admin Building. During this I enjoyed pleasant conversation with other riders, who all had some formal connection with VÍA, most being administrators or employees. Bill Martin also rode, and then gave me a ride home. Thus went yet another party in "Party City" San Antonio! I justifiably call this dedication a "party" because there were entertainment and refreshments both solid and liquid.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day (Weekend) in S.A.

When I was a boy growing up in Boise, I remember well, Memorial Day was always on 30 May. (This was before the Monday holiday bill was passed by a Congress more interested in catering to their leisure-craving, pleasure-seeking constituents than in seeking to ensure that we Americans might remember WHY certain holidays were being observed.) Public schools always let out on 30 May for Memorial Day, and Dad, Mom, sister Debbie and I would go get Grandma Graham and go decorate Grandpa Graham's grave in Boise's Cloverdale Cemetery. Cloverdale is like Arlington and other national cemeteries, in that all tombstones are alike. Due to the family custom, it was only well into my adult years that I discovered that Memorial Day wasn't really for remembering all the dead but rather for honoring the military dead, especially those who died in combat.

Considering the all-too-often-forgotten true reason for the holiday, it's not surprising that Memorial Day is observed with fervor in San Antonio. This city is often called a "military town" due to its crucial Army post, Fort Sam Houston, its two Air Force installations (that used to be four) including Lackland AFB, the "Gateway of the Air Force" where all enlistees get their basic training, and its large military retiree population. Well, all this and the historic fact that a military post of some sort has existed here since four days after the initial Franciscan mission was founded, since on that day el Presidio de San Antonio de Béxar came into existence to defend that mission.

So, don't be surprised, dear reader, that I participated in a Memorial Day-oriented event. It was the Tobin Endowment Concert on Fort Sam, featuring S.A.'s own world-class Symphony. My brother Patrick came and got me in mid-afternoon and took me to his quarters. While my sister-in-law LaRae was preparing other food items, he grilled beef for fajitas out on the front porch.

During this food preparation, we had a video tele-conference with our sister Debbie in Berkeley, California. She'd just received her M.Div. at an Episcopal seminary there and Mom was visiting her. On our end we were three: LaRae, Patrick and me. And on their end, way out west, they were three: Debbie, Mom and Teresa, Debbie's friend.

Adding to the excitement of this unprecedented "family reunion" of sorts, was that the Phoenix spacecraft landed on the planet Mars, and we all followed the landing on television! Here we watched the Science Channel coverage; we could also have viewed it on the NASA Channel -- Patrick and LaRae get hundreds of channels thru Fort Sam. The folk in Berkeley had some other channel on; it was interesting to compare notes on what each network was covering. It was touching when the Phoenix spacecraft had landed safely, and the scientists and engineers in Mission Control cheered wildly and hugged one other. This reminded me of my boyhood, when we'd all follow televised coverage of, first the Mercury space flights, then Gemini, then the Apollo moon voyages. There WAS a striking visual difference. Way back then, on our black-and-white screen were white males in white dress shirts and dark ties; now we were seeing a mixture of genders and races, all garbed in dark blue polo shirts.

After the excitement of the Phoenix landing and of the Graham family tele-reunion (or family e-reunion) we three on Fort Sam devoured beef fajitas and accompanying items. Yum, yum! Then, as the sun approached the western horizon, we went to the same area of the very-long MacArthur Field where this year's Fiesta Fort Sam had taken place. We found seats on low, aluminum bleachers at the edge of the field just as the program commenced.

Emcee Joe Pags, a WOAI radio personality, greeted everybody and introduced a couple of officials who spoke briefly. They were US Senator John Cornyn and County Judge Nelson Wolff. Then the Conductor took over the program and led the San Antonio Symphony in an eclectic musical celebration. Much of it was patriotic music, since this WAS a Memorial Day concert. And since this IS an Army post in a military city (as explained in my second paragraph), the Symphony presented the anthems of the five armed services. Members and veterans of each branch were invited to stand up and sing during their anthem. Being used to these commencing with the Army's, as happens in Fiesta Texas' "Lone Star Spectacular" -- which I'd seen for the first time in '08 just last Saturday night -- as soon as I heard musical notes coming from the stage and the Symphony, I stood up. Only then I realized that what they started with this evening was the Navy anthem! I'm glad that in the darkening dusk nobody could see my reddening face!

We heard Sousa marches and "America the Beautiful", and the finale was Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture". Yes, dear reader, the one with booming cannons, or howitzers as we call them in the Army. And wow! the fireworks show was even more spectacular than those I'd see at other Fort Sam events!

Thus, even tho' I had to work at the theme park on the observed Memorial Day, I still remembered. And celebrated -- with family! And some unusual elements (the Mars landing and the video tele-reunion)!

A "Christian" who's a Christian!

Last Friday was truly a busy day for yours truly (no pun intended). After returning from the TDCJ security re-training in Dilley, I changed my clothes and went to the Muledome at Alamo Heights High School. This was the site for the formal retirement ceremony for the AHISD Superintendent Dr. Jerry Christian. I was late arriving, and cannot speak for what activities I missed. (These were probably performances by various student groups.) However, I did get to witness the farewell speeches and presentations of various officials, including the honoree himself.

Superintendent Christian has something in common with yours truly: a weight problem. Thanks to the speeches and to a slide show of his life (from baby pictures on!), found out that we two had more significant things in common!

In my four plus years of working in the AHISD as a substitute teacher I had developed a deep respect for the Superintendent. Indeed, from the first time I met "Dr. C", as he's affectionately called around the School District, I held one of those sensations that once in a great while I get upon meeting a certain person for the first time: that this person is very, very good at what he or she does and is someone well worth knowing. To be sure, I'd long ago concluded that the excellent reputation of the school district was due at least in part to great leadership, of the "Super" as well as of the School Board.

But on top of such esteem I also harbored a strong sense that with this man "Christian" wasn't just his family name, that it was his heart's faith, too. And such turned out to be the case. His successor is Dr. Kevin Brown, formerly the capable Director of Personnel for AHISD. Kevin, I think it was, in his speech this evening in the Muledome, made mention of Jerry Christian's faith and how it had informed his work as Superintendent. Other speakers may also have referred to the faith element in the retiree's life and work. But when "Dr. C" himself was speaking, placing much emphasis on his family -- all of his children, grandchildren and siblings were in attendance -- he remarked that a highlight of his life had been when he baptised his own son! Well! can I relate to that or what? You see, I'm blessed to remember that I immersed both of my children, and likewise those two baptisms are highlights of my memories!

So the two of us share not only a love of public education and a love of eating but also a faith in Christ. But wait! there was more! One of the slides in the slide show pictured "Dr. C" playing an acoustic guitar. Well "me too" on that talent (or hobby at least)! And during his speech, the retiree stepped away from the podium and to a nearby piano, to play us one of his favorite songs while he sang it. And once again, me, too, on this talent (or hobby at least)! However, I admit that I haven't played the piano much since the lessons ceased toward the end of my seventh grade year. I know I wouldn't have sounded as good on the ivories as did Jerry Christian this evening!

All in all, the retirement ceremony was a memorable celebration of memories. In which we of Alamo Heights honored one who had provided memorably excellent leadership for an excellent school district.

Re-training for Kairos (prison security)

When one serves as a volunteer in prisons, as I do with Kairos Prison Ministry, the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice requires that the volunteer go thru a course every couple of years. This course of a few hours refreshes one's knowledge of procedures for prison volunteers and for their relationships with inmates. I did this refresher training on Friday the 23rd, in the Dolph Briscoe Unit.

For a short time I was concerned about getting to Dilley for the training. You see, several days earlier I's arranged with Ross Hoover to get a ride with him to it. But then when I got home Thursday evening and checked my phone messages I heard one from Ross, that he wasn't going to be going after all; he'd just become a grandfather and was driving to Houston instead for the "blessed event"! Well good for him -- but not so great for me; immediately I began making phone calls to see if anybody going to take me along with him. And thus I missed the AHHS Choir's spring concert, which I'd eagerly anticipated all semester. "Oh, well!" to this latter, and "Not to worry!" to the former.

You see, the result was that I got a ride with Ed Palow, who was my roommate on Kairos Briscoe #1. We're both ordained clergy of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and are decidedly on the conservative end of the theological spectrum among Disciples clergy. Indeed, Ed considers himself as affiliated with "Disciples Heritage", a group that seeks to maintain the original focus of the leaders who commenced the Restoration Movement that became the Churches of Christ (noninstrumental), the "independent" Christian Churches and the Disciples of Christ. Anyhow, the two of us carried on a non'stop conversation all the way to Dilley (about one and a half hours, about Kairos, the recently-retired Area Minister of the Bluebonnet Area (CC-DC) John Callison, and several other areas of mutual interest. Among other items, I shared my impressions of the Closing for Kairos Torres #19 (see the previous posting). Then we ate at Millie's, a café that I'd recently been told was where the Dilley locals went for breakfast, and then would go to Pacho Garcia's for lunch or dinner.

And then, when the two of us arrived at the Briscoe Unit, we discovered that the refresher training was to commence at ten, and not at nine (as the most recent e-mail had suggested). But Chaplain Jerry Satterlee came out to the sally port (the front gate) to meet us anyways. I introduced him to Ed, who hadn't been at Briscoe in a very long time and thus had never met the new chaplain. Chaplain Jerry led us into the administration building and into a room to the right, where the training would take place. The three of us talked awhile, and then the chaplain excused himself to see to other things prior to the training. Ed and I continued chatting and sort of watching the television that was on in the room.

Eventually about a dozen other volunteers arrived; we were not all Kairos but we all did have connection with the chaplain's office. Also arriving was Captain Owens, who taught the security course. For most of us it was a refresher course, but a couple of fellows were getting the info for the first time. So it was lengthy and detailed, and numerous questions were asked for clarification. This was okay with me. It had been at least three years since I'd had any security training, so it was a heavy-duty refresher class for me! Indeed, I found out that one activity I did innocently was questionable by TDCJ rules. I won't be doing this again!

When the training was finished about a half dozen of us went to Millie's for a late lunch. And then Ed and I hit the road (Interstate Highway 35) north back to San Antonio. And all the way we were carrying on further conversation. . . .

Monday, May 19, 2008

"I was in prison. . ."

". . .and you visited me."

This quote (Matthew 25:36c), from the Lord Jesus' parable of the judgment (of the sheep and goats), is the inspiration for those of us who volunteer in Kairos Prison Ministry. Yesterday afternoon I participated in a Kairos event at the Torres (prison) Unit near Hondo. And as you know from my previous posting, I participated in another Kairos event Thursday evening in the Briscoe Unit near Dilley.

The event to which I refer was the Closing ceremony for Kairos Weekend #19 at Torres. (As you can see, Kairos has been ministering in Torres a few years longer than in Briscoe.) To attend one of these, you need permission from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), which is gained thru an application for clearance. I filled out one just in time (at the deadline), then received my clearance letter. Then at the Northwest San Antonio Emmaus meeting Friday night I obtained a ride to Closing. This ride was with a couple with whom I've done Kairos service; they picked me up at Mexican Christian Church right after Sunday worship concluded. We drove west to Hondo, and had Sunday dinner at Hermann Sons, a very popular Hondo restaurant with Kairos volunteers who are involved in Torres.

Now, it had been quite a while since I last entered Torres for Kairos. In the meantime I'd been in the Briscoe Unit countless times. therefore, I was having some sense of disconnect. You see, the two prisons have identical layouts, but with different details in places. For instance, in the administration building at Briscoe, there is a portrait of Gov. Dolph Briscoe on the wall to the right as you enter. There's no portrait on the wall in the same building at Torres. Instead, further in on the right is a framed front page of The Devine News, of when Torres was opened. I lived in Devine when Torres opened, but even tho' I cannot remember the article about the prison, I do remember the photo of the buck and two hunters who bagged it that was beside it!

Then, when we entered the gym, I noticed, first, a couple of inmates of the Torres Kairos community whom I remembered, and second, that the arrangement of seating was flip-flopped. The only seats remaining the same were those of the Outside and Inside Teams. The Candidates' seats were facing toward the door AND the outsider visitors, instead of the other way around (us facing the Candidates and the door). The inmates, including their music team, was at the back of the gym.

The Candidates entered, did their intros by Table Families, and got to do "open mike" expression of whatever was on each one's heart about the weekend retreat. I quickly forgot any disconnect, any seating rearrangement, and even Briscoe. I was lost in remembrance -- vivid remembrance -- of my attendance at Closing for Kairos Torres #8! It was that Closing and my profound impression of it, that "hooked" me on doing volunteer service in Kairos Prison Ministry!

The Candidates' testimonies were just as impressive this time around. Even more impacting was the "Fourth Day Talk", spoken by an inmate whose initial Weekend was just a year ago. His was a terrific exhortation, not only to the new guys but to the veteran Kairos community gathered at the back of the gym. And then Chaplain Yates gave his brief Talk. More exhortation. I tell you what: if one of these 42 guys didn't ""get it" about the necessity of perseverance he had to be deaf!

Following all these elements of a standard Closing for a Kairos Weekend, we outside visitors got escorted back to the sally port. Then came the Team, the Outside ladies first. We all circled up in the parking lot just outside the sally port, as usual. But before we launched into singing "surely the Presence (of the Lord Is in This Place), I asked for a moment to lead us in prayer for the Candidates and the Kairos community of Torres.

And then we all hit the road for home, leaving our new Brothers in White, along with the older Brothers of the Kairos in Torres, in the gracious, powerful hands of ABBA, our God and Daddy.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Spirit's "work week" in San Antonio

The Hebrew word ruah and the Greek word pneuma both have the fascinating triple meaning of breath, spirit and wind. Keep this in mind when you read John 3:8 -- Jesus the Nazarene was making a play on words to Nicodemus with this statement!

This past Sunday was Pentecost, when Christians remember the birthday of the Church in the giving of the Holy Spirit, fifty days after Christ's sacrificial death and unprecedented resurrection. Because it was also Mothers Day, at Mexican Christian Church (Disciples) the church holiday was observed a Sunday early -- see previous posting here.

For this reason, the significance of the church holiday sort of went by me, with the emphasis on the Holy Spirit. And to be frank, I'm an heir of the Restoration Movement de-emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Because the New Testament does not speak of the Spirit as a "separate but equal" aspect of the Deity (equal to Father and Son) and actually does NOT have the word "Trinity" the early Restorationists stayed away from such theological speculation. One founder of the movement that became the Disciples of Christ and also the non-instrumental Churches of Christ even deemed the Holy Spirit to be the "energy of God"! So, for two reasons then, the Pentecostal focus on the Holy Spirit went by me this year. But come Wednesday He "caught up" with me (or I with Him)!

You see, dear reader, the Holy Spirit was a major theme in both Bible studies I attended Wednesday morning. At "Mama's Men" (the men's group that meets for breakfast at Mama's Café on Nacogdoches Road) refrained from our usual page-long study guide. Instead, we had an open discussion on the work of the Holy Spirit in everyday Christians, and the gifts of the spirit (Greek charismata), and how Christians can so easily block the work of God's Spirit and the operation of His gifts, by our preconceived or inherited concepts of HOW God acts and WHAT forms the divine working in a believer's life may or may not take. Then, at Mexican Christian Church's study a few hours later the guest teacher led us in an exploration of New testament passages that tell us about "The Personality of the Holy Spirit".

Later I faced a choice, to go to the evening worship at Alamo Heights UMC, but thinking I couldn't make it in time (starting at 6:30) due to getting wrapped up over-long in an afternoon activity. Or, to just "joy-ride" around on VÍA buses and perhaps get off at some place and grab a bite to eat (and perhaps a beer). But I could clearly sense the divine, all-wise Spirit prompting me to persevere in getting to AHUMC. He suggested an alternative route: up Broadway by bus and then west by foot on Basse Road to the Church (along the way I could stop at the Subway and get my favorite sub-sandwich, a "Veggie Delight" on 6-inch wheat bread, with read vinaigrette).

This I did, and wow! once more the Holy Spirit was the theme in the AHUMC worship! I was particularly impressed -- no, amazed -- with the sermon delivered by Associate Pastor, Donna Streib. You see, her words were an excellent follow-up on our discussion that morning at "Mama's Men"! I literally get goose-bumps when I witness such amazing working of the Spirit in my life and/or the lives around me! Speaking of which, two other of "Mama's Men" were also present, and afterward the three of us shared our thrill at the words we had heard.

But don't go away! The next evening I witnessed the Holy Spirit at work in the Briscoe (prison) Unit's Kairos Prayer & Share. Ten of us volunteers showed up for it, along with Chaplain Jerry Satterlee (he's been at Briscoe only a few months; it's his first service in a prison chaplaincy). When we entered the prison gym were were greeted by 142 inmates! After announcements and the singing of two or three Kairos songs, the leader told us that we were going to do the Prayer & Share a little differently this evening, and according to the Kairos Manual. That is, the inmates would circle up in small groups of about ten for sharing and praying intimately, while we volunteers would move about the room, just to make sure each group was "on task". We would no longer be participating each in a small group. I was intellectually-spiritually comfortable with this change, even if I sensed some emotional longing for the opportunity to share in a small group. (But then I have "Mama's Men" and the Thursday Emmaus Reunion group at Jim's to do that!)

After about 45 minutes of the small-group activities we closed as usual, with everybody -- volunteers and inmates (and this evening one prison chaplain) circling up for a closing prayer and the singing of "Surely the Presence" three times. Before, the circle had often been large but was still a circle, both while the P & S was still in the chapel and after it moved to the much larger gym. But this evening we were so many that we were a square -- we all had our backs against the walls of the gym! This looked awesome! And once more, THIS, too, was the work of God's Spirit!

God bless the Kairos inmate community in the Briscoe Unit, and God bless Chaplain Satterlee!

But don't go away yet! Friday evening I attended the Northwest San Antonio (NSWA) Emmaus FDG gathering. It was at St. John UMC on Bandera road, and began with food and fellowship in the fellowship hall. Lots of good food, lots of great fellowship! then we adjourned to the sanctuary for a business meeting and worship (the latter using, as always, the order of worship in the Emmaus "purple book", the pocket-size booklet each person is given on a Walk to Emmaus). Our "Fourth-Day Talk" was given by an African-American brother, and boy did he preach in the "Black style of preaching!" This style, which cam be heavy on the tugging-the-heart-strings and also repetitive, nevertheless usually affects me spiritually as well as emotionally. And I certainly felt affected this evening! Indeed, as we prepared to go forward to receive the Lord's Supper my shoes came off. (They frequently do while I serve on teams for Walks to Emmaus or Kairos Weekends). Once I had received the Body and Blood of our Savior and Lord, I knelt at the altar railing. My shoulders were gently quivering and my eyes were threatening to leak a good one! Someone passing by noticed this -- the Spirit guiding him or her, I aver -- and this person gently placed a hand on my right shoulder, for just a second. But this was sufficient for me to be affirmed.

Thank You, Holy Spirit of Almighty, Immortal God, for Your working in grace in the lives of all disciples of Jesus who are open to your working -- and Your working in lives that aren't so open! May unity and love prevail among us! May we who love Jesus truly be molded by the Spirit into the earthly Body of Christ!

Mothers Day in S.A.

This beautiful, busy Spring week began with the Sunday which is Mothers Day in these United States and in San Antonio. Now please know, dear reader, that chicanos or Mexican-Americans hold the mother -- la madre -- in highest esteem. And chicanos are the majority of the populace of this seventh-largest city of the USA. Therefore, the holiday is observed with greater fervency here than in cities where Mexican-Americans are a minority or non-existent. This is well expressed in that most revered symbol of lo mexicano (things Mexican): Our Lady of Guadalupe, the special apparition of the mother of nuestro Salvador in old Mexico! (Her image is as ubiquitous in S.A. as that of The Alamo.)

Thus it should come as no surprise that Mothers Day was a BIG thing at Mexican Christian Church (Disciples), on the Westside. A big thing with a Latino twist! So, each mother present received red roses. The men sang Las Mañanitas to the mothers while I accompanied on guitar. Las Mañanitas is the "early-morning song" most often associated with a man, accompanied by instrument-playing friends or a mariachi band, serenading his lady-love at dawn on her birthday.

Later, after eating Sunday dinner at Grady's Bar-b-cue on Fredericksburg Road, I returned to the Westside and Guadalupe Plaza (a block east of the church). I attended a special musical tribute to mothers. Several chicanas, probably all mothers themselves, sang in «Serenata de Oro: Canciones Para Mi Mamá». (In English: "Serenade of Gold: Songs for my mom.")

Upon entering the plaza I was puzzled that despite the permanent and fine stage on one side, a temporary and low platform had been set up as a stage in the middle of the circular space that extends from that permanent stage out to the low, grassy "steps" that bend around that central circular area. These provide informal seating ("festival seating"). Several folding chairs had also been set up in rows at right angles to the permanent stage and facing the temporary one. This effectively took away any opportunity for the central circle to be used for dance performances or dancing by the audience. At many events in Guadalupe Plaza I'd seen dancing by flamenco or folclórico dance groups and/or members of audiences.

The chairs were filling with madres and their families, and more folk arriving sat down on the grassy surrounding curves. Three o'clock arrived. . . and went. . . and quarter after the hour came and went. . . . Just before the half past las chicanas, artistas musicales, comenzaron el espectáculo.

Due to the very late start -- beyond "fashionable" --I only got to hear the first song or two. Then I left this show to go elsewhere and then return for the finale. You see, since the show commenced so "later than fashionably late" I presumed that it likewise would last longer than the publicized 6:00 ending time. This turned out to be the case. . . .

In the meantime, I rode to the '09 ZIP area of the metropolis, that is, to Alamo Heights. One of my fellow "oh-niners" (residents of the 78209 ZIP, that is) had invited me to visit. This was my eye doctor, Wendall Bauman (see 25 March posting). I spent some time with them -- actually more time than I planned -- getting re-acquainted with wife Lori and twins (boy and girl) Wendall and Kendall. And the dog Prince, a black Labrador retriever.

I gave Wendall a photo I had had taken of the two of us during my last eye exam visit. I had autographed the back with a message of thanks to my brother in Christ and eye doctor, for his being such a good role model of a Christian man, husband and father. After awhile I remarked that I had never seen their ample backyard except from the bus passing along Castaño Street that runs between their lot and Alamo Heights High School. And the view was from an angle, since the rear side of the lot has a high stone wall. So we adjourned to the back yard -- everybody took advantage of the nice weather to get outdoors. The kids and Prince were particularly grateful to be out and about, I'm sure!

After several minutes outdoors I said farewell to Wendall, Lori, Wendall (Jr) and Kendall, and Prince. I took the bus back to Guadalupe Plaza to enjoy the ending of «Serenata de Oro: Canciones Para Mi Mamá». As I entered the "plaza" I saw and heard that a good-size mariachi band was performing. All of them were female, except for one guitarrón player (this is an oversize guitar with rounded back, held horizontally like a dobro). I forget how many songs I heard in this finale, but I clearly remember two: «Perfidia» and «El Son de la Negra». With the former I heard for only probably the third time lyrics being sung -- and I didn't really LISTEN to them! If the very name of this instrumentally lovely piece distresses me, I certainly didn't want to deepen the distress thru listening to "downer" lyrics about betrayal and perfidy (and presumably, unrequited love)! With the latter I entered more into the rendition, instrumental and sung; after all, this song has been titled "the national anthem of mariachis", by no less an authority than the leader of a mariachi band that used to perform at Fiesta Texas.

Oh, yes! Once the Mothers Day/Día de las Madres tribute was finished, I hopped back on to the bus and headed back to my side of town. This time my destination was Good Time Charlie's, on Broadway at Mulberry. While I enjoyed a supper of chicken-fried steak at the place reputed by some to have the best CFS in town, I enjoyed the Spurs playoff game on the good-size television screen in the nearby corner. Wow! the beloved NBA boys of San Antonio played purty-near perfectly! As they demolished the visiting New Orleans Hornets in this Game 5 of the 7-game series I kept thinking, "if the Spurs played this excellently in EVERY game, they'd have won the series already, and would easily win the whole enchilada!" However, our Spurs are nothing if not inconsistent in how they play from game to game -- more inconsistency than I have consicously observed in any other pro team.

But, hopefully, our roundballers will be able to retain their talent of Game 5 when they return to New Orleans -- a city where I believe they've not won a game this year! But after what I witnessed tonite, I have confidence that the boys WILL get it together en'uf to not only put away the Hornets but also take for the second year in a row (and the fifth in less than ten) the NBA crown.

Can you say, "dynasty?" I can! Go, Spurs, go! ! !

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Music under the Stars" at the Mission

Thursday evening (the 8th) Patrick, LaRae and I attended the San Antonio Missions home game in Nelson Wolfe Stadium, against the Midland Rockhounds of the Texas League (AA level). It was a great night for a baseball game, and the Missions' home field is a top-notch park. The game went well -- until top of the fifth inning, when the visitors pounded out 8 runs. So we left, and even tho' on the radio we heard the home team never give up trying to come back, they still lost.

Great consolation came the very next night, courtesy the OTHER type of S.A. mission. What I mean is that I went to Mission San José, for my second "Music Under the Stars" concert. (My first was two years ago.) This is presented by USAA, the insurance and financial firm headquartered here,that serves the US military, dependants and vets. Employees of USAA (United services Automotive Association) have formed musician and singing groups, and perform in public. This evening we were entertained (for free) in the mission compound by the USAA Jazz Band, The USAA Concert Band and the USAA Chorus.

The three amateur musical groups gave us a wonderful evening of entertainment! True the weather wasn't quite as picture-perfect as it was two years ago. But that didn't lessen the crowd, much of which was families. Hundreds of lawn chairs was set up under the trees and on the grass in the large open area enclosed by the mission compound's walls. Other folk spread blankets or sat on the permanent benches scattered around the compound, as I did.

In addition to the musical show, a few people got to speak. Most notable of the speakers was Father David García. He is about to retire from being Rector (head priest) of San Fernando Cathedral and become the archdiocesan clergyman in charge of funding for upkeep of the church sanctuaries at the four missions in the San Antonio Missions National Park. In his speech Father David was quite energetic and enthusiastic. So much so that the emcee or someone made mention of the clergyman's electric spirit!

Among the USAA Jazz Band's instrumental offerings were a couple in which a lady with a beautiful singing voice (soprano) sang lyrics. One was the 1960s' pop hit "The Girl from Ipanema" which celebrates a beauty on the famous beach of Rio in Brazil. Later in the program the jazz instrumentalists played «Perfidia». I knew this beautiful, sweetly-flowing piece for years, long before I ever learned the name of it. And when I learned that name, I was shocked! Such a sad name for such beautiful music! The name is a cognate; it means "perfidy" or "betrayal" in English.

In the second half of the show some numbers were straight instrumental, done by the USAA Concert Band. But on most songs the USAA Concert Choir provided vocals. I suppose that due to this being a different choir from that of two years ago ("Lift Every Voice" Choir) the selection was more varied. That is, it wasn't all gospel songs. But they did sing a few songs with spiritual content. They also sang a song about New Orleans, many of whose residents evacuated to our city upon the destruction of their own by Hurricane Katrina. (And some of whom chose to permanently reside here.) There was also a salute to the five armed services in the playing of the anthem of each branch. Of course I sang out loudly on the first one, for the Army! "Over hill, over dale, we will hit the dusty trail, as the Army goes rolling along!"

All during the concert I kept marveling how THIS show could only have taken place in San Antonio. All the distinctive elements -- the old Spanish mission as venue, the performances by people from a major employer (only the medical professions, the government and the active military surpass USAA here) that has strong military connections (in a "military city"), the audience of residents of varied ethnicity and language, arranged solo, in couples and especially in families, under a lovely Spring evening environment -- all this IS the city I love so much.

Thank God for San Antonio! God bless San Antonio!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cinco de Mayo en San Antonio

Hoy es lunes, el cinco de mayo. I don't state this as merely an exercise in beginning Spanish (meaning "Today is Monday, 5 May."). You see, dear reader, it's also Cinco de Mayo (notice the caps), a Mexican holiday that's actually celebrated more north of the border!

Much Cinco de Mayo activity in San Antonio is centered in el Mercado. And I did pass thru Market Square briefly Sunday afternoon, just to scope out the celebration. A couple of stages were featuring live musical performances, and some food booths were set up. But it wasn't nearly as busy or crowded as it was during the ten days of Fiestalast month. Thank goodness! While I was there at el Mercado I chose to take advantage of free admission (for the holiday?) to el Museo Alameda, and viewed a couple of new exhibits in this still fairly-new museum (an affiliate of the great Smithsonian).

The Westside also has a share of Cinco de Mayo observations. And so late in the afternoon I returned to the Westside, to Guadalupe Theater, for the final of a series of concerts presented around town for Cinco de Mayo by the San Antonio Symphony. These talented professional musicians presented several pieces, mostly Mexican, but also one from Spain. And the program was augmented by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center's dancers. They danced traditional Mexican dances to acouple of the numbers, and a Spanish flamenco to another. And the student mariachi group of the GCAC also performed in the middle of the show's schedule! They did four numbers (all new to me, but all performed just fine): Bonito, Tú Solo Tú, El Rey, and Sergio el Bailador.

This entire Cinco de Mayo show was wonderful! In the midst of my great delight of listening to these live performances I couldn't help but think again of the words of that David Lee Garza Band song "Who's that Gringo?": "I may be white on the outside, but in my heart I know I'm refried!"

And don't you know! As I left the Guadalupe Theater after the symphony's Cinco de Mayo concert I ran into an old acquaintance who like me is "white on the outside, but in her heart she's refried". This is Patti Radle, former City Council member, who represented District 5, which basically is the Westside. Indeed, she and her husband live just a few blocks south of my church. When she first ran for the Council position many predicted a decidedly Anglo woman couldn't win in the heavily Hispanic district. But they also said that Art Hall, and Afro-American, could not win in District 8 of the heavily Anglo far north Loopland! And both Patti and Art not only won initial election but also re-election!

San Antonio citizens display more "color-blindness" than they're given credit by conventional wisdom!

Area Church Assembly

The church denomination of my membership, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), might be said to have a "modified congregational" polity (church organization). The basic organizational unit is the local congregation, such as Alamo Heights CC(DC) or Mexican CC(DC). Equal to (and supposedly NOT greater in authority) are Regions and the General Church. The latter is mainly offices and ministries located in Indianapolis; Regions are co-equal with states, portions of states or 2 or 3 states. This Region, The Southwest, is so large and contains so many Disciples that it subdivides into Areas. We -- AHCC, MCC and myself -- are in the Bluebonnet Area of the Southwest Region.

The Bluebonnet Area extends from the Austin vicinity and the Hill Country thru Del Rio, Victoria and Corpus Christi to the lower Rio Grande border. The Bluebonnet Area Assembly for 2008 occurred Friday and Saturday (2 and 3 May), mainly in the Disciples Ministry Center. This facility was and still is home to Woodlawn CC (DC), a shrinking congregation. Spanish CC (DC), a rather new congregation for folk of Spanish surname -- Puerto Rican, Cuban, Mexican-American, etc. -- also uses the building.

The facility is roughly a rectangle enclosing un patio (a courtyard). The side paralleling Elmendorf Street (west) is the sanctuary. It features stained glass windows, each with a Christian symbol (similar to AHCC but more "structured") and a cathedral ceiling supported by dark wood trusses (similar to MCC). The Area offices occupy the Gramercy Street side (north), and a small chapel and offices for the two congregations the third side. The back side has Harris Hall, a long and comparatively narrow fellowship hall. The courtyard/el patio is charming, despite the contemporary-modern architecture that encloses it, as it has a well-kept lawn shaded by trees and banana plants.

Late Friday afternoon I entered the main door, on Gramercy next to the sanctuary. I verified my registration and with packet and name tag I crossed el patio to Harris Hall. Folk were already in line receiving their dinner plates, dished out by volunteers in the kitchen. I quickly saw Disciples of the Bluebonnet Area whom I knew, including from my two congregations, AHCC and MCC. After I sat down a gracious, middle-age Afro-American woman passed me, and I read her name as "Lois Hodrick". Immediately I considered that she was the mother of one of my roommates at Brite Divinity School. And "sho 'nuf" she sat down next to a gentleman whom I recognized as Clarence, my former roomie -- even after 30 years! Wow! talk about a reunion!

A much more recent former "roomie" was also there: Arlie Lammers of Kerrville and Kairos Prison Ministry. And these two are just the beginning of beloved faces whom I got to greet! One I knew I had seen but could not put a name with (and whom I didn't take opportunity with which to get reacquainted) sang in a beautiful tenor in the post-dinner worship service. As soon as he opened his mouth I remembered that he was Hermano David Figuerado, Pastor of a Hispanic Disciples congregation in Robstown (near Corpus Christi). He had graced the last anniversary observance of Mexican Christian Church with preaching and singing! And now he was gracing all attendees at the BBA Assembly with that magnificent tenor!

Saturday I returned in time for breakfast. At first this was merely donuts, coffee and a little fruit (think: watermelon chunks). But after awhile folk arrived with milk, orange juice, fruit, MORE donuts. . . and finally that South Texas dawn staple, the breakfast taco (courtesy Taco Cabana). After considering dressing up for this second and final day of the BBA Assembly, I chose instead to wear my Kairos polo shirt. Then I noticed at least half a dozen Brothers wearing suits and ties, including Arlie. Oh, well!

During this Saturday session of the Assembly, we had more Worship -- after breakfast and a closing one after lunch -- workshops on various church-related topics, and a quiet area for clergy (to meditate or just rest). This latter was upstairs above the fellowship hall, in the church library. After I helped for a little while to man the refreshment table en el patio (MCC was in charge of the table), I wandered in to the clergy area. No one else was there, so I looked around at the books. I was delighted to see a new book (new to me) by one of my favorite Christian authors: Max Lucado. The San Antonio pastor's title was "3:16, the most important number"; it was an in-depth inspirational reflection on the most-translated and best-known verse in the Bible, John 3:16. Good book!

Closing Worship was, among other things, a farewell to our Area Minister, Dr. John Callison. This Assembly is his final activity in this capacity, as he will immediately leave S.A. to re-enter the pastoral ministry at a Christian (Disciples) church north of Houston. So there were parting gifts and parting words -- all positive and appreciative -- for John. I myself made sure to one-on-one thank him for being the first friendly face I saw when I arrived in San Antonio in January of A.D. 2002. Back then he was very gracious, to return to the Greyhound depot after I was late arriving due to being bumped off my scheduled bus in Dallas. I wanted to be sure he understood my deep gratitude for his instrumental part in my arrival here!

And so, a good Assembly came to an end. As did a good area ministry! May our Lord bless both the Bluebonnet Area and its most recent former Area Minister now and in the future!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Happy Birthday, S.A.!

«Te saludo, San Antonio. ¡Feliz cumpleaños, mi ciudad!»

Yes, dear reader, today is the 290th birthday of the city of San Antonio. I celebrated, I suppose you might say, by attending the opening of the S.A. City Council meeting. I wished to make some comments during the opening of the meeting, regarding certain issues on the Agenda, along with comments on the related topic of no digital billboards. But I also devoted a few word, twice, to the significance of the date, 1 May.

On this date, in A.D. 1718, Franciscan friars founded Misión San Antonio de Valero. Years late, this mission that was the first permanent settlement here became a fortress known in Spanish as el Álamo, after a military unit that was stationed there and their source back in central Mexico.

Four days after the mission's founding, the Captain commanding the accompanying soldiers proclaimed the foundation of the protecting presidio (fort) and its adjacent village (for families of the soldiers and a few civilian settler families), San Antonio de Béjar (or Béxar). A few years later both la misión and el presidio/la villa got moved to better nearby locations, by el Marqués de Aguayo. This Spanish nobleman and rancher was appointed governor of Coahuila and Texas by the Spanish viceroy. Miguel de Azlor Virto y Vera -- no wonder he was usually referred to by his title of nobility! -- was sent to drive the French from far East Texas (the remote boundary of the French Louisiana and the Spanish Texas was uncertain and debatable). He succeeded in this effort and others to cement Spain's claim to its northeastern province of its Nueva España. And being a personal friend of the Venerable Fray Antonio Margil, he got included in the name of the mission that this tireless missionary founded near Misión San Antonio de Valero. This new mission's full name is Misión San José y San Miguel de Aguayo.

And so, already within its first decade of existence the new frontier settlement of San Antonio was well on its way to enlarging its presence and firming up its permanence. The first century was a difficult one, but since Texas became one of these United States, this city has continued to grow and prosper as a business center and a tourist target.

And in just ten years we can celebrate the city's tricentennial! I can hardly wait! ¡Viva San Antonio!