Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Gospel Music

One of the pitfalls of moving to a different country is that words often mean something different to what you think they mean. A trolley is a form of transport that runs on rails down the street, rather than something you put your shopping in. That's a cart. Which doesn't carry as much of a connotation of "horse and" as it does in the UK. And I was recently gently informed that "jugs" more usually refer to a part of the female anatomy than to something you put milk in. I will have to get used to saying "pitcher". Isn't that what you hang on a wall?

After a few years here, we are mostly au fait with the local lingo, and manage to turn up at the right place and avoid offending the natives. However, on Friday night, Graham found out that there was a gospel music concert going on at a local church. Our Americanism detector did not light up, and the predominant picture in both our heads was something like this:



Big choir, bright colours, high-energy songs. Dancing, swaying, drum-playing fun, right? Isn't that gospel music?

Um, maybe. But not Southern gospel music.



Southern gospel music involves four men in dark suits singing in close harmony about trusting in Jesus. Think barbershop quartet meets old-style revival meeting. If you close your eyes it's very easy to imagine yourself in a crowded tent with sawdust on the floor, being exhorted to repent of your sins by a fire and brimstone preacher. Wikipedia informs me that southern gospel started around 1910, and it looked as if some of the audience in the concert might have been in at the beginning. We were noticeable for not having grey hair and a walking stick.

This is not, you understand, to say that it was bad music. When there's just three or four of you singing, each of you has to be good, and some of these people were very good (a lot better than the group in the video). But there was a certain repetitiveness about the subject matter and musical style that grated on the nerves after a few hours. And yes, it was a few hours. Two and a half, to be exact. Non-stop gospel music. When they sang "God bless the USA" and the entire audience stood up with their hands in the air we thought surely it must be over, but it turned out that there were another two groups to go. Finally it ended with a song about heaven, written, improbably enough, while getting a sausage and egg biscuit at a drive-through.

No, the American meaning of biscuit. Think scone. And sausage isn't quite the same either. But your mental image of egg is probably about right.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Snow falls in Texas, too

Well, I know all my neighbours to the east are heartily sick of snow already, but snow in Texas is about as common as cowboy boots in London, so you're just going to have to grit your teeth and listen to me rave about it for five minutes. If it makes you feel better you can always do the "12 inches? That's nothing! Bunch of wusses!" routine. We always enjoy mocking the locals when it rains and the news stations send reporters out to stand there damply telling us how wet it is. But significant snowfall is outside of our comfort zone, too, so we're happily staying off work and panic-buying cat litter or whatever it is you're supposed to do.

So, yes, the photos. It was very wet snow, so venturing out was a rather splashy business enlivened by occasional plunges into ankle-deep liquid slush. Nevertheless, I sloshed my way down W 7th St, determined to extract maximum enjoyment from the situation. This guy didn't look too impressed.


The snow stuck to the trees something chronic, and many of them couldn't cope. They looked very sad and droopy.


Most local businesses were underpopulated, and the staff had nothing better to do than play in the snow. I liked the use of maraschino cherries outside one bar.


In normal life, these are sun loungers. Today they are snow loungers.

The Methodist church over the road looked like a Victorian Christmas card. It just needed a robin in the foreground but I couldn't find one to pose for me.

The apartment complex boasts a hot tub among its amenities, and the combination of hot water and cold snow was irresistible. Tiptoeing through icy slush in flipflops and a swimming costume was a test of the will, but once we got there it was great. We weren't the only ones with the idea; a few others had set up an ipod (carefully sheltered by a chair) so we relaxed in the warmth and music, with snowflakes settling on our heads. Goodbye Texas, hello Iceland!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

New church

The sign caught my eye first. In blocky orange and black writing it said: THE HOUSE COFFEE BAR. It was attached to an unassuming building lurking in a spot where I was sure there had never been a coffee shop before. I ventured a little closer. The big metal dumpster sitting outside confirmed that this was still a work in progress, but there was a little piece of paper tacked to one window. I leaned in to read:

We believe in ventis, extra shots and real conversation. We believe that love never gives up. We believe that church is more than a building. We believe the fulfillment of being the church is far greater than the feeling we get going to church. We believe that pretending only fools the pretender. We believe to love is to know that you're alive. We believe in getting it done. We believe in real people, real stories and real change.


Ah-haa! Not only a coffee shop, but a coffee shop with a church. Or maybe a church with a coffee shop. Either way, this was interesting. And it was just over the road from our apartment.

Well, you know what these churches-with-coffee-shops are like. They have ways of drawing you in. Put your nose around the door and before you know it you're having dinner with the pastor and agreeing to get up at 6:30 am to minister to caffeine-hungry commuters. It's a slippery slope, I tell you.


Actually, it's been fantastic. It's been the kind of church I was hoping to find but wasn't sure it existed in this part of the world. They call themselves City Life Center and started meeting just last year, the outworking of a vision of a few Canadians. The irony of migrating several thousand miles to found a church in a city already over-populated with churches is, I'm sure, not lost on them. On the face of it, it is not the most obvious thing to do. However, it is doing things a little differently than most churches around downtown. For a start, it meets on Saturday evenings (and the irony of leaving my job so that I could go to church on Sundays just as I found a church that meets on Saturdays was not lost on me!). Where other churches have lofty sanctuaries and white-robed choirs they have a carpeted conference room and a sound system that could blow your ears out. You get a coffee break in the middle of the service and personal prayer, should you need it, at the end. And you get a small group of people with very big hearts.



The House Coffee Bar is by way of a community outreach. The church is part of the Assemblies of God denomination, who helped them out with some funding, so they were able to get some nice interior design in place. No squashed raisins or spilled juice on the floor here. The clientele tends towards businessmen with their laptops and young professionals from the nearby apartments. Also with laptops. They sit at the dark wood tables peacefully sipping their vanilla lattes and tapping away for hours on end.


For those of you who have experienced the controlled chaos that is Cairns Cafe in full flow, you will appreciate that it is another world. Yet, at the same time, eerily similar. In another city, on another continent, there are still never quite enough volunteers, ordering the right amount of product is still a headache, and customers still appreciate a friendly smile and a place that feels like home. In this new environment I am a volunteer, not a manager, which means I get more fun and less headaches, and I am gradually unravelling the mystery that is an espresso machine.



More to the point, perhaps, Graham and I are gradually unravelling the mystery that is the Christian faith, and learning how we can live it together, here, now. This place is helping. A lot. And that can only be a good thing.