Saturday, March 27, 2010

Houston part 2/St. John the Divine

I don't remember if I noted how large Houston seemed; how the huge number of freeways, on-ramps, toll roads and so on seemed doubled from when I visited there 12 years ago. One of the highlights was speaking at St. John the Divine my last night there. Thanks to a long-standing relationship with the rector, Larry Hall, I was invited to be a speaker in their Lenten speakers series on Wednesday nights. St. John the Divine is larger now than it was when I worked in Houston; 4,500 members and one of the top five Episcopal churches in the country.
There was lots of remodeling there since I last saw it and they asked me to speak on how Redeemer affected the city of Houston. The conversation with the two pastors (Larry Hall being the one to your right, my left) was on all sorts of things, including my personal walk with Christ, my "Quitting Church" book, etc. It was a most pleasant gathering; catered dinner, place cards, lovely tables, Eric and Stevie helping with the book table and a chance to chat up some of the church leaders while tossing dinner into Veeka's mouth.
It was a lovely evening; the kind I don't often get! I thought it so ironic that here I got such a nice reception in Houston and was treated like a queen while certain Anglican churches in the DC area - regarding my newest book - won't even return my calls! Which is why a speech I gave today on Capitol Hill at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church was so nice. For Lent, about 70 people ordered copies of my book and studied it. Imagine! Like a college text.
It is so lovely in DC right now as all the cherry blossoms are out. Everywhere you drive, there are cherry trees. Which is why I don't like to leave the area at the end of March. It's the nicest time to be here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Trip to Houston, part 1

So much happened this past week that I'll split it into two parts. There was some mixed reaction to my presence at Church of the Redeemer as not everyone there was wild about "Days of Fire and Glory" but no one had any qualms about the most popular member of our entourage: Miss Veeka. I showed up at Redeemer my second night in town to explain how my book came about. I'd say 80-100 showed up, which is a fabulous crowd for a Friday night event there and a few folks even drove in from Austin. Sending out all those personalized invites brought results! A few people from Redeemer's long-ago past, such as Charles Meisgeier, the University of Houston scholar who researched the place years ago, put in an appearance as did people I had not seen in two decades.
Fortunately some of the folks who were unhappy about the book when it came out finally read the thing and changed their minds 180 degrees after they saw the complexity of the story and appreciated the massive amount of work it took to put the book together over a four-year period. For two full summers and a 3-month stint in 1994, I worked on the book full-time, which didn't do much for my bank account. Those were the days before the Internet and before no-cost long distance calls, so you can imagine how expensive and time-consuming it was to do fact-checking.
Redeemer, as it turns out, is barely making it financially and its staff had to all take pay cuts recently but all the same, the folks there are really hoping the book can bring some needed healing to the place. I got lots of help from former members Eric and Stevie Sawyer who drove in to handle the book table, which was a godsend as I was embroiled in conversations the whole evening after my speech. But the person who was the star of the show was Miss Veeka, shown here with a banner as she joined the dancers in the aisle.
I returned Sunday morning just to be there and soak up the memories and talk with as many people as possible. Another photo shows Veeka seated in the arms of the rector, Nan Doerr.
I met with other friends around Houston and reintroduced myself to the wonderful local Mexican food. Monday, Veeka and I trapised up to Brenham, about 70 miles northwest of us, to try to find some bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush. Unfortunately, because of a cold winter, the flowers were late by several weeks, so the photo here of Veeka standing in a field of blue were the ONLY bluebonnets I could find up there. We had a great time visiting a museum on the Brazos River that told the history of Texas as an independent country between 1836-1846 including many factoids I'd never known before. Sort of wish I had gone there many years ago when I first moved to Houston.
The one part of the trip that did not work out was getting any kind of media attention from the trip. I contacted TV and radio places to no avail. Either I got ignored or was told by one anchor that if my work was not related to that of the Osteens (the ruling family over Houston's largest church), she was not interested. The local media are fixated on this church: Lakewood. Finally near the end of my trip, one network affiliate expressed some interest, so I am hopeful. The Houston Chronicle ignored me; some bitternesses run deep, apparently.
Houston had changed a lot since I'd been there 12 years ago for a short visit. One way were all the new freeways and tollways west of town, which confused me quite a bit. Houston is the LA of the south in terms of all the road concrete out there. I was also amazed at the super-low housing prices. I could afford a lake-front mansion down there.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Coming to Houston we are, a mere three days from lift off when we jump on friendly Continental Airlines for our direct flight to Houston so I can make two book appearances and see lots of friends. It's been 12 years since I've been there, so I am mapquesting directions on how to get everywhere as I have quite forgotten how to get about the city.
For those of you who've not gotten my Facebook invites, I am appearing at Church of the Redeemer at 7:30 p.m. this Friday to talk about the book and then at 6:45 p.m. Wednesday the 17th at St. John the Divine Episcopal. The former is in the East End and the latter is in the far more ritzy River Oaks area. I'm hoping to touch base with lots of friends and of course show off Veeka who is pictured here in yet another of her ballet classes.
I also hope to get lots of face time with Texas botany such as its redbud trees and Indian paintbrush and bluebonnets. That's the main reason I'm showing up in March - to see all that - although I've been told Texas had a cold winter so everything is running late. Well...I didn't want to miss all the flowering trees up here in Maryland at the end of March, so I chose the second week of the month to head south to the Bayou City.
Things up here are doing fine although one of our associate publishers just quit the paper which put quite a chill into the newsroom which is still half-empty. I just came back from New York 10 days ago where I was doing research on a series I'm working on. Wouldn't you know it but I arrived just in time for a foot of snow. Then I drove to Virginia Beach last week to speak at Regent University and got MORE snow down there - even though they didn't see any of it in DC. That white stuff just follows me around.