Advent Readings 2020

Craig in AlaskaBlog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

Advent has many meanings. Advent is a time for waiting. It is a time for preparation. Advent is a time of expectation and anticipation of the coming of our Lord. In the November/December 2020 edition of Presbyterians Today, Jason Whitehead describes Advent as an opportunity to reset. He writes, “The Advent season is perfect for exploring the possibility of a reset. This season has always been about the Savior sent to reset the world. . . This year, though, we need to be intentional in the spiritual practice of resetting our lives.”

For the past several years, I have used Advent as a time for aggressive reading and inhaling four books over the four-weeks of Advent. My hope is to read stories, concepts, and ideas that make me pause and look for God’s work in my life. By observing the story of others, my hope is to become a little more sensitive, a little more open, a little more empathetic.

And that is my hope for you as well as I leave my role as the Presbytery Leader. The presbytery is pivoting and calibrating a new direction. During this time of transition, the Vision Team is advancing the mission of this great presbytery. So, I asked the members of the Vision Team to share books they have read and would like others to read during Advent. Some books I’ve already read, and others I look forward to diving into.

Here are the book titles with authors:

  • To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Jeff Shaara
  • Doing Theology with Humility, Generosity, and Wonder: A Christian Theology of Pluralism by Damayanthi Niles
  • The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Hondo: A Novel by Louis L’Amour
  • Diary of a Pastor’s Soul: The Holy Moments in a Life of Ministry by M. Craig Barnes
  • Mankiller: A Chief and Her People by Wilma Mankiller and Michael Wallis
  • The Upswing: How American Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again by Robert D. Putnam, Shaylyn Romney Garrett
  • Unchartered: How to Navigate the Future by Margaret Heffernan
  • Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
  • Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

Reading expands us. By stretching out a bit further, perhaps we can discover ways to touch one another with kindness and care as we seek to be Christ’s body of diverse people.

Happy Reading!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

GLPby 30 Days of Thanks Giving

Blog Post by
Vision Team Moderator
Elder Barbara Bowyer

Of Thanks Giving

November has got to be one of my favorite months of the year. The weather is beautiful, the last days of fall are showing off their vibrant colors, and a there is a noticeable chill in the air. I especially love to walk in Forest Park and kick my feet through the leaves underfoot, making the most wonderful crunching noise. The holidays are on the brink of erupting. My life is filled with many happy memories. The point is: it is November. AKA Turkey month. AKA the time of year when stores put up all the Christmas decorations (if they hadn’t already done so!).

But this year is different. Large gatherings of family and friends are discouraged as COVID continues to ravage our community. Residents of local nursing homes are continuing to feel isolated as visitations are curtailed or stopped. As we enter this season of Advent, it is easy to be downcast, to think we have lost so much. But we have much for which to be thankful. If you are reading this, you have access to technology that allows you to stay connected. If you are reading this, you were given an education that taught you to read. If you are reading this, you have been given the gift of sight. If you are reading this, you are most likely to be a member of Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery and one of its member churches, part of a community that cares for one another during these uncertain times.

How, then, should we respond? I would offer that we need to focus outward and offer the gift of “thanks giving” to others. The challenge is to give something to someone; the gifts can be anything given to anyone…money, food, old clothes, crafts, your time, or even kind words. You can start the 30 days any time; perhaps you will choose to start right away or wait until Advent begins – the choice is yours. You can see my Thanks Giving calendar below for ideas, but you are encouraged to make it personal for you and your family.

30 Days of Thanks Giving

  1. Think about someone from your past that you are grateful for. A teacher. A pastor. A youth leader. Write them a note and tell them why you are thankful for them.
  2. Pay it forward. At the coffee shop? Going through the drive-through? Pay for the next group of people in line.
  3. Give away some clothes that you wear. Give to a local thrift store or the homeless person you regularly pass on the way to work.
  4. Write a thank you note to a health care worker for their tireless efforts in serving others.
  5. Give a big tip to your waiter and waitress. Tell them why they are good at their job.
  6. Drop your loose change in a Salvation Army red kettle when you see one.
  7. Do a chore that a co-worker or spouse normally does.
  8. Send a letter to a friend or relative in another city and tell them something going on in your world and why you are thinking of them.
  9. Write a note/send a card to a shut-in from your church. Have the children draw a picture to include with the card.
  10. Slow down and pay a sincere compliment to someone today.
  11. Give $10, $20, $50 or $100 to some random person you sense has a need today.
  12. Send a text message to someone today with an inspiring Bible verse.
  13. Make cookies for your neighbor.
  14. Draw a picture for your friend, co-worker, or spouse of one of your favorite memories.
  15. Purchase and give a toy to a local toy drive.
  16. Go on a long walk, and notice—really notice—all the little things that God has done in creation for you. Write God a thank-you letter.
  17. Clean out your closet or clean out a desk drawer and give away those things you have been thinking you would use someday but never have.
  18. Say thank you to someone and look into their eyes when you do it.
  19. Tape change to a vending machine.
  20. Buy a bird feeder or make a pinecone bird feeder and feed the birds.
  21. Support a local or national nonprofit with a cash gift of any amount.
  22. Write a thank you note to your pastor.
  23. Write a positive Facebook post about all the good in the world because of the things God has done.
  24. Support a small business in your area.
  25. Write a thank you note to a teacher and enclose a gift card to a favorite restaurant of coffee shop.
  26. Put a $1 in the next tip jar you see.
  27. Donate a favorite book to a homeless shelter.
  28. Buy some canned goods and donate them to your local food pantry.
  29. Let someone go ahead of you in line.
  30. Adopt a grandparent at a local assisted living facility and send him/her a card. If you have children, have them draw a picture to include.

Elder Barbara Bowyer
Vision Team Moderator
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy


Tears for Kamala

Craig in Alaska

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

My father is a veteran of the Korean war. My grandfather is a veteran of WWI. My grandfather was only 16 when he served. He lied about his age because he wanted to be in the armed forces. Like other little boys, I often asked my father what he did during the war. He would never tell me. I only knew he had nightmares about being chased by the enemy. My dad would also have his army buddies over to the house. Once he asked me to come in and tell them the story of what I would have done had I been in the war. My 5-year-old self demonstrated how I would have shot the enemy down and been a hero. They all laughed, and my story became part of their fun evening. I was unaware that my natural desire to be a hero was not even a possibility for the black men in my father’s kitchen.

Years later I learned that when Blacks were allowed to serve in the military, they were often humiliated and given subservient tasks. My grandfather probably shoveled the manure left by the horses as the soldiers went off to battle. My father finally opened up to me in his 70s and shared that he was a dental assistant in a MASH tent that was overrun by the enemy. He never saw the front. He never fired his weapon. He did the cleaning up of the mess the white dentist left behind, then ran for his life when the enemy advanced.

After enduring the racial hatred and hassles of serving our country in the armed forces, most African American men were not even allowed an opportunity for glory or heroic activities that shape the myth of war. Instead most were humiliated. There were exceptions of course. Buffalo soldiers of the Indian wars and the Tuskegee airmen of WWII come to mind. But to lead, command, and achieve honored status with medals and the conferred dignity that follows were often denied the black soldier.

I have lived during the time of military change. Although it was the first government agency to racially integrate (at the direction of President Harry Truman in 1946), true equality for soldiers of color was evasive until recently.

And this is why I cried when I saw Kamala Harris on the stage as the first woman of color vice president of the United States. In that moment doors were opened that have been closed to women since the founding of this nation. After three attempts by previous women, she is the first woman vice president. And she’s a black woman. And she’s an Indian woman. Speechless.

Now little girls can dream and become a fuller part of what this great nation is. Now little girls can imagine being in the most powerful positions in the land because a path has been opened. Some young girl will be able to ask her mother, auntie, or grandmother about what she did while she was in the White House. And she will share stories of pride, honor, and grandeur. These stories, like the heroic tales of soldiers, were formally held tightly by white men only. Now these stories are being opened to all populations of the United States.

I am aware that war is anathema to many Christians. I too am a peacemaker. I know that being in the White House doesn’t carry the meaning it had before 1968. However, having full access to the archetypes that define a nation (fearless warrior, courageous hero, decisive leader, etc.)  is part of what it means to be people of that country. All Americans should have access to the many dimensions of work, education, geographic and social location. This is part of God’s freedom for us and part of what it means to be a just and righteous society.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Reformed and Always Being Reformed

Craig in AlaskaBlog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

If you want to know what wakes me up at 3:00 am, it is a congregation that is trying to do something (call a pastor, sell land, build an addition, etc.) and they can’t because they are waiting for the presbytery to take action; they are waiting on the presbytery to do its work. When the presbytery becomes a bottle neck or a hinderance, we have lost our way.

A new structure will be introduced on Saturday that will help streamline decisions and actions of the presbytery. It will allow the Vision Team to set the direction and yearly mission while other teams execute the mission with freedom and decisive action. It will make sure commissions and constitutional committees report to the presbytery gathering as required by the Book of Order so that the body is informed and can respond. The new structure flattens the hierarchy so ideas can flow up and down, as well as across teams and the presbytery. In this way we continue to learn from one another as we do mission and ministry together.

As Barbara Willock and Diane McCullough wrote in response to my blog last week, learning and communicating is the core of what it means to be a presbytery.

One of the new features of the structure is this statement, “All Teams are reassessed every two years to determine progress and their need for enhancement, reduction or redesign in the third year.” This statement of automatic assessment and even change if necessary is a reflection of the reformed motto, “Reformed and always being reformed, according to the Word of God.” The new structure of the presbytery will be a constantly changing structure as we determine what is working, what is not, and what needs to be done about it. This simple phrase provides flexibility to respond to current needs, instead of being stuck with a design for needs which may no longer exist.

Will it work? I don’t know. We will see together. I often emphasize to the current team moderators that there is no such thing as failure; only opportunities we can learn from. Walk with me as we learn and grow and take this spirit of change and challenge into the future of the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy!

Rev. Craig M. Howard