Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Ear Ticklers!

If you know me, you know I am a music freak.  I listen to a wide variety of tunes and have also recorded a few alt-folk-rock albums of my own.  (Shameless plug: or download them on itunes or Amazon.)
This past year, I listened to a lot of great music and thought I would post my TOP TEN ALBUMS of 2012 on this, the last day of the year.  Some of these albums were released in 2012, but some are ones I discovered in 2012.  I listened to all of them over and over and over - until the tape broke as we used to say in the 80's. (Man, I'm old!)
I listed them below with just a few notes of commentary so you can decide if you might want to check them out yourself.  All of them can be found on or itunes.

Here they are in no particular order...

1) The Republic Tigers - Keep Color
Once you listen to the first song on the album "Buildings and Mountains" you'll be hooked on this sing-along rock group.

Product Details
The Head and the Heart
2) The Head and the Heart - Self Titled
Super wierd album cover (see photo on right), but this folky singer songwriter group will haunt you and enthrall you with their subdued style and heavenly harmonies.

3) Casting Crowns - Come to the Well
There are days I wonder if I would still be a Christian if it wasn't for this group.  This album SPEAKS to me.  "Jesus Friend of Sinners" makes me cry.  Every time.

4) The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
Folk music at its best.  Lots of harmonies, nostalgia and strong lyrics that make you wish you could lay on your back under an oak just out of reach of the warm spring sun.

5) Pinback - Information Retrieved
Where have you been all my life?  This is what I shouted when I discovered this amazing rock group.  Evidently, they have been right down the street in San Diego.  A very unique intricate enveloping sound that keeps me coming back for more.

6)The Wailin' Jennys - Firecracker
These 3 girls make harmony sound easy and bluegrass sound cool.   Is this much talent legal?  And, is this the best name ever for a band or what!?  Very clever ladies, very clever.They would be AWESOME to see live.  Maybe I'll get my chance in 2013?

7) Young the Giant, Self-Titled
OK, I am not too old to enjoy some good pop rock.  I know, I know - their hit song is titled "Cough Syrup" but it goes down really easy.  There's real talent here and just like NyQuil - it's sort of addictive.  I can't stop listening to this album.

8) Crooked Still - Some Strange Country
This obscure band plays bluegrass that would make a West Virginia banjo player proud.  Not to mention fiddles, guitars and harmony... Lyrics so poignant you'll play some songs back to really listen. (Did they just mention the cross?) Beautiful stuff from a group that really should be higher up on the radar.

9) Dwight Yoakam - 3 Pears
Product DetailsI don't know why I like this guy so much. I am not big on "whack-a-doo" country, but Mr. Bakersfield is such a good song-writer, he pulls me in and I find myself humming the tunes on this album all throughout the day.  If you liked his hit "Fast As You" from awhile back, you'll love this album, too.  Ah, sucker...

10)  Maná - Exiliados en la Bahia (Greatest Hits)
All their hits in one place!  Music heaven (Yes, there will be Spanish music in heaven folks! God se habla español. OK, I don't know that for sure, but I can hope!)  This Mexican rock band is a talented as they come and they have such a full, rich, melodic sound that even if you don't speak one word of Spanish you can still fall in love with this group. 

That's it!  Happy listening and Happy New Year!

-Hope Horner
Have you checked out my new Realistic Mystic Podcast?
Twitter:  HopeNote

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Crunchy Knees

I tore my lateral meniscus.  When I was running, I yinged when I should have yanged and did myself in.  Now I can't even walk without pain.
I went to see the Orthopedic Surgeon at Kaiser Permanente last week and he said I may never run again.  When he saw the look of shock in my eyes, he dampened it down a bit and said, "Well, not fore sure, but your knees just might be too crunchy for you to run on.  You might have to look into another sport.  I mean, surgery works for some people, but think about it.  Have you ever watched a marathon?"
I nodded my head.  I had just volunteered to help at one less than a month ago.
"Ever notice how you have a lot of 20 and 30 something year old running, but then the pack thins out once people hit their 40's and 50's?"
I nodded again.
"Well," he said, "after awhile, at some point, you are going to have to give up running."
"Yeah, but I didn't expect it to be at 40!"  I must have looked like I wanted to cry because he patted my knee and said, "I'll do what I can.  Don't worry.  We'll get an MRI and take it from there."
He turned and began to type notes into the computer.  I figured he was probably typing:
Patient has a crunchy knee and is in total denial about getting older.  I prescribe a REALITY CHECK.  STAT!
He finished his notes and began to fill me in on the stretches I could do (yeah right) and a possible Cortisone injection (a needle?!) and other options.  While he was talking, I pictured all the old people I saw running around my neighborhood.  I could see the short Middle Eastern gentleman who always ran in his "dad shorts" you know the white cotton ones with pockets that come down to just above the knees?  He had to be AT LEAST 55.  Then there was the cute balding guy that was so skinny we could run side by side on the sidewalk if we wanted to and still have room for another person. He was at least 50 too.  And I remember seeing people run by in the marathon, I know I did, that had to be old enough to have GREAT grand kids!  OK so there weren't LOTS of them and they looked like they were about to collapse at any moment, but STILL!  C'mon!  I'm only 40!  Crunchy knees?! I'm done running? Already?  I take glucosamine for goodness sake!  And fish oil!  And calcium!  Oh, and Vitamin D!  If I took any more vitamins and supplements, I'd be getting YOUNGER!  I should be CREAMY!  Not CRUNCHY!
After his pep talk and recommendations, the surgeon gave me directions on how to find the pharmacy.  Then, out of the blue he gave me a big hug.  I was taken aback.  I think he felt bad for me.  Or maybe he was hitting on me (I did have one pant leg up) and I should have filled out a form in the nurse's office, but either way, it was nice to get a hug.  I staggered down the hall with my crunchy knee and picked up my pain medication.  On the way, I passed lots and lots of people with crunchy knees, arms, feet, hands, necks and backs.  They leaned on crutches, nurses and family members.  They crunched along slowly and cautiously in lines that led to doctors, physical therapy, and medication that would make them less crunchy, or at least make them feel less crunchy.  I picked up my bottle full of 800 milligrams of magic and thought, "Maybe if I take 1 of these anti-crunch horse pills I'll be able to run through the pain?"
I tried.
You bet I did. And...
No can do.
I like to describe the pain of a meniscus tear this way.  The pain is like an angry mother that yells, no-- screams -  "STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!"  and you must obey.  It is not a nagging pain.  It doesn't shoot or burn or throb.  It is not something you can "run through" or ignore.  It is a pain that demands you to:
I remember  right after I injured myself, I was in so much pain that I could not take ONE STEP MORE. I was hunched over in the street, in tears, about a block from my house.  I tried to take a step.
I tried again with more of a drag-step.
STOP RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
At that point, tired of Mom yelling, I seriously contemplated crawling back USING MY LIPS.  Instead, I dragged my bad leg behind me like a monster in a horror movie, whimpered like a wounded dog, and humped along back to my house where I collapsed on the couch.
Sounds a bit dramatic, but then I talked to others who had torn something or the other in their knee, including their meniscus, and I didn't feel like such a wuss.  They remembered the feeling.  They didn't power through.  They gave in.  They gave me the face that said, "Yeah, that hurts.  Big time. Glad it's you this time."
So it is me this time.
And here is my challenge.  In the midst of my crunchiness, I am trying to pray all the following (and mean it):
1) God, help me to run again.  And if I can't run again, help me to be OK with it.
2) God, help me not to hate the people I see running. Especially the ones who are older than me.
3) Thank you that I am healthy overall.
4)  Thank you that even with a bad knee, I am still healthy enough to ride a bike.  (I have to combine prayer #4 with prayer #2 because riding a bike around town exposes me to so many runners that if I am not careful it can be quite a bitter ride! Cue the music from the Witch's bike ride in the Wizard of Oz.)
3) Yes, God, I believe that you can heal.
4) Thank you for health insurance.
5) Thank you for the doctors and staff at Kaiser. They are SO NICE! Seriously, it's almost scary.
6) Help me to be able to accept that I am getting old and be OK with it.

So, currently I am still walking on a very crunchy knee.  MRI scheduled for this week.  Maybe doctors will be able to get the hitch out of my gate?  Until then, I'll take my pain meds and I would appreciate your prayers.  Oh, and one more thing... I do ask that if you are a runner and over 40, please stay away from my neighborhood at least for the next month of so until my faith is stronger.  Unless you have crunchy knees and are trying to inspire me.

-  Hope A. Horner
Follow on Twitter at HOPENOTE
Check out my NEW Podcast:  Realistic Mystic on iTunes or at the top of this website

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lifting Little Prayers

For some reason, I have this idea that my prayers need to be long and well thought out.  I need to make sure to cover all the prayer requests I know of, and to use the "prayer language" I grew up with which includes a certain way of beginning -- "Dear God" or "Dear Heavenly Father" and then moves on to asking for forgiveness and then quoting Scripture, than Thanksgiving, and then close it all out appropriately with "In Jesus name, Amen."  And I must do this with reverence, with head bowed, usually while seated, and at home or in church. Certainly not while running or driving in my car or working out at the gym.  I could blame my Baptist upbringing on this rigid idea of prayer; that's an easy place to start, but not entirely fair.  There are probably multiple factors.
Lately, I've been trying something different.
I have been praying simple prayers.
Little prayers.

This week my prayers have sounded like this:
"Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief."
"God, this day is yours.  Guide me through it."
"God, give me the words to say or shut me up."
"God, encourage me."
"Lord, help me to be a channel of your grace."

One line and then straight to Amen.

Usually, before I pray, often in the mornings, I think, "OK, I've got to section off a good chunk of time and not be distracted and make sure that I pray for everyone I can remember who is sick or suffering and then also make sure that I pray for my church and for my neighbors and the poor and of course MYSELF, oh goodness, there is a lot to pray for there, where do I even begin..." and by then I am so tangled up and concerned, that I think
I do believe at that point, without sounding like a "Devil see-er"  that the "dark side" or "the evil powers that be" (OK, now I sound like a Sci-Fi fan) - are really hard at work.  I can hear their little gravely, cackling, conniving voices...(Forgive me, I have a vivid imagination)
"Yeah, Hope, why pray? I mean, really!  You didn't give yourself enough time.  And there is so much to remember.  Do it later, or hell, don't do it at all.  God expects more from you.  How can you come to him like this?  For badness sake, your still in your sweatpants?  I mean, look at you?  And you know that half way through your prayer, your mind will wander or the dog will bark and you will just give up.  So really.  Why bother?"
And sometimes those little devils win.
Other times, lately, they haven't.
Because I have been OK with my little prayers.
I pray when I think of it.  Maybe 5 minutes, maybe 5 seconds, maybe 5 words -- sometimes in the morning, sometimes while driving, sometimes spoken only in my head in the middle of a meeting. 
And you know what?
God hears my little prayers.
He has been answering them in miraculous ways.  
He has helped my unbelief.
Guided me.
Shut me up.
Encouraged me.
And given me opportunities to be a channel of his grace.

Now, I'm not saying that long sessions of prayer, or pious prayer is not important.  I'm just saying that I am not there yet.  And I am not going to let my little prayers go "un-lifted" just because I'm not sure they meet "minimum word count" in my own legalistic mind.

I am going to lift these little prayers and lift them often. Maybe someday I'll be ready for heavy lifting, but for now, I'm a lightweight.  The good news is God listens and responds in BIG ways to little prayers made in faith.

-Hope Horner
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bumper Sticker From Hell

I am not kidding you.  A few days ago, I actually saw a bumper sticker that read:

There is no television in heaven.  
But there is a rerun of your life.  Will you want to see it?  
I love you Jesus.

It was in simple black and white.  I think it was home-made.  Let's hope it was a small production run. This bumper sticker made me want to scream.  Or cry.  Or both.
Are you kidding me? I don't even know where to begin with this one.  Actually, I take that back.  I do know where to begin: 
This bumper sticker is from hell.
It will not save a single soul or turn any hearts toward God.  Why?

1)  You just told people there is no television in heaven.  Most Americans would rather watch basic cable in hell, than go to a TV-less heaven.

2)  You just told everyone that their life is being recorded. Great.  All my mistakes played out in slow motion right in front of Moses, Saint Paul and Mother Teresa.  Just send me to hell now before the scene from my college dorm room starts.

3)  You just told people that when we get to heaven we will have to watch videos.  Of other's lives.  Can you imagine how long it will take to get into heaven?! Just think of how much time it will take God, or whoever he delegates this important job to - to pop in every one's VHS tape or DVD or pull up their YouTube video?   It will make getting through customs at LAX on September 11th after a trip to Afghanistan look like a breeze.  I picture myself standing in line fourteen miles out from the Pearly Gates when I hear this announcement come over the heavenly loudspeaker:
"Thank you for waiting. We are currently reviewing the videos of those whose last names start with (automated voice kicks in here) "B." 
Great, Tony Zendejas just decided he'd rather go to hell.

4) Lastly, you just told everyone that you love Jesus.  Really?!? How can you love a Jesus who is evidently recording every one's life so he can play it back in front of them when they arrive in heaven and point out how many times they screwed up?  
"Well, well, well. Will you look at that?"  Jesus stands with his hands on his hips.  Sweat breaks out on my brow.  "What in the world was that all about, Hope? You really blew it.  And we're only up to July of 1985 on the video! I hope you feel really, really guilty.  In fact, Saint Peter can you hit rewind on that?  I'm not sure she feels bad enough yet."
Is that the kind of Jesus you love?
Is that the kind of Jesus anyone wants to love?
Is that the kind of Jesus you should be displaying on your bumper?
Thankfully, that is not the Jesus I know and love.
And this is why this bumper sticker made me angry and sad and shocked and well, almost a traffic hazard on Newhall Ranch Road.  I wanted to get a picture of it.  I couldn't get my phone out of my purse and then a big delivery truck got in the way so I settled for a glance at the driver. She looked to be about my Mom's age, dirty blond hair in a disheveled heap on the top of her head and well, how do I say this....she looked like someone who would own 23 feral cats and cultivate their catnip in a egg carton on the window sill while watching Anne of Green Gables on VIDEO...but still.  Whether she is "all there" or not...
The bumper sticker on her car really is from hell.
Because it honestly makes people prefer hell over heaven.  If they don't know better.  Now, I know Jesus is not recording my life to play it back for me as a a way to castigate me before I enter the pearly gates. He says he has cast my sin as far as the east is from the west and my scarlet colored sin has been cleansed to the color of snow and I take His Word for it. (Psalm 103:12 / Isaiah 1:18) He did it all when he died on the cross and rose again - conquering death, sin and hell.  He took all the sordid, sinful and shameful scenes from my life and hit "Delete."  And when I add a few new scenes now and then, ones that I am not proud of, his death and resurrection covers those too. No recording.  No taping.  No reruns. Jesus does not own a VCR, a DVR or Tevo.
So maybe the bumper sticker should say:
I love you Jesus.
And leave it at that.

-Hope Horner
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

New "Realistic Mystic" podcast:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Save a Stranded Starfish

You've probably heard this story about the little girl, the beach and a starfish, but just in case you haven't here it is:
A young girl was walking along the beach early one morning. The tide was receding, leaving numerous starfish stranded on the beach. The girl began picking them up and tossing them back into the water.
Engrossed in her task, she didn't notice the crusty old fisherman sitting quietly watching her. He startled her with a gruff, "What are you doing?" to which she smiled and enthusiastically replied, "I'm saving the starfish."
He laughed at her and launched into a scoffing ridicule. "Look ahead of you down the beach," he said, pointing to the seemingly endless expanse of sand and surf. "There are thousands of starfish washed up on this beach. You can't hope to save them all. You're just wasting your time. What you're doing doesn't matter."
She picked up one starfish and looked the fisherman square in the eye: "It matters to this one," and then she tossed the starfish back into the ocean.
Little did she know, a shark was waiting out in the water and with one gulp, swallowed the starfish whole.
OK, maybe you didn't recognize that last line.  Does this ending sound more familiar?
And she tossed it back into the ocean where it hit a rock just below the surface and died instantly.
Or it sank to the bottom of the sea, lived a few more months and then died a natural death, slipping into oblivion.  Just one more dead starfish.
You say that's not the ending you're used to?
Oh, that's right.  The story ends with the little girl throwing the starfish back into the water.  Period. That's it.  And the point of the story is that what the little girl did MATTERED to that ONE starfish.  And the larger point, the life lesson, is that even if we can help only one, it still matters.
Well, I hate to by cynical about this great story.  It's one I really like.  And I'm all for helping people and animals, including starfish, but I thought about this story a little more and I wondered:
What good is it if I help someone in need if they die without knowing God?
What if I help them get over their addiction, help them out of their poverty, soothe their pain, but in the end they die and miss out on salvation?
Isn't it a little bit like tossing a starfish out into the ocean only to have it land in the open mouth of a shark or on a sharp rock?
So they don't die stranded, addicted or miserable, but they die faithless? Hopeless? God-less?
Now, don't get me wrong here.  I am not saying that we shouldn't help people.  I'm not saying leave someone stranded.  I'm also not saying we should only help people just so we can "save" them (i.e. get them to become a Christian). I just mean, isn't the most help -- the best help I can give a stranded fellow human being is to share the eternal hope and peace that comes with knowing and loving God? 
I had to ask myself - Am I relieving others pain by listening, sharing and giving (as I should), and yet allowing them to remain in complete ignorance about the ultimate pain reliever - trust in God?  My helpfulness is good.  God expects me to help the poor, care for widows and orphans and yes, to be kind to dying starfish.  He expects me to show nothing less than LOVE toward others, even those I don't like or agree with!  Remember the Good Samaritan?  I am supposed to stop and help, even go the extra mile.  I should not pass by a stranded starfish.  But do I just toss the poor little fella'  back into the water?  Does the starfish know who created the water?  Does the starfish know, after I leave, that this Creator of the water, the waves, the wind --will ALWAYS be there?  Even if the shark is hungry or the rock is jagged or the waves are rough or the water is deep - He is there.  And He offers more than just a temporary fix, or in this case a temporary "toss."  We may need a hand up, a handout or a healing from an illness.  And yet, there is a bigger, more profound healing we all need, isn't there? We can overcome sickness, but we can also overcome DEATH thanks to what Christ has done.  And when he reaches out his hand and we take it, we get more than a handout, he helps us rise to a new life.  Not just a better life. A new life.  Like being tossed into a whole new ocean - an eternal ocean of grace and peace. 

OK, I'm talking about other stranded starfish. What about me?  I know God.  I love God.  I am a saved starfish, but not a perfect starfish.  Several folks have found me stranded on the beach in dire straights.  I was DONE.  Finished.  And they tossed me back into the water.  I thank God for them.  And I thank God for the gift of salvation I accepted as a child, because it meant when they tossed me back into the water, whether Jaws or a jetty was waiting, I would still be OK.  I would be with God - - whether the end came the instant I hit the water, or many years later.

So I'm all for inspiring stories and I really don't mean to be morbid, but sometimes my brain just takes me places and well, this blog is where I share that journey.  Glad you made it this far.  I'll leave off with this Starfish Prayer:
God, help me when I am stranded, but don't take me off the beach if it is there I learn to depend on you. Remind me that In the water or out, you are my God.  
And Lord, may I share who you are with others, both through my kind acts of charity toward them and in the courageous words you will give me.

- Hope A. Horner
Twitter:  HopeNote  (Look for the little red book icon.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Realistic Mystic?

You may have noticed that I added a new podcast to my website called "The Realistic Mystic."
So what the heck is it?
It's a little bit church, a little bit monastery.
It's a little bit preacher, a little bit monk.
It's a little bit Bible, a little bit journal.
It's a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n roll.  (Wait, a minute that's something else. Wrong podcast, sorry.)
In a nutshell...
The Realistic Mystic features short readings from the written works of C.S. Lewis and Thomas Merton.  I find both these great men of the faith to be challenging and enlightening.  I hope you will, too.  C.S. Lewis focuses a lot on knowing the truth and Merton on experiencing it.  Both perspectives encourage me to think about and to feel my faith.

I'm starting with Lewis and Merton, but plan to branch out.  The two of them have such a depth of material to choose from it seemed like a natural choice.  Plus, they are two of my personal favorites and pretty well known.  I hope you will enjoy listening to their insights and inspirations as well.

I hope to get The Realistic Mystic podcasts out there regularly, so check back often or follow me on Twitter at HopeNote and don't miss a thing. As always, I welcome your input and suggestions and wish you all the best on your faith journey!

Thanks for listening.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Best Lamp Ever

I really don't have much to write about.  I just wanted to show off this lamp I saw at the Goodwill yesterday.
Yes, that is a parrot perched in the middle of a bed of fake plants.  And yes, the entire lamp is made out of white macrame.  What is macrame?  Woven coarse yarn.  A lost 70's crafty art.  A hobby for those with the patience of Job and the dexterity of a concert pianist. You can literally macrame anything.  My grandma proved it.  We had macrame pot holders, plant holders, Christmas decorations, basket covers, dolls...Every Christmas we could count on a macrame'd gift from Grandma.  I seem to remember an owl theme to a lot of the stuff she gave us.  It would probably fun to macrame in the beady eyes.  Who knows. I guess it should really be called MACRO-me.  I am kind of glad it went the way of MICRO-me because the stuff is well, just, flat out TACKY.  (What do I know?!  Maybe you want to revive this "art"? Find out more about macrame here: )

This lamp just arrived at the Goodwill.  The tag said it had only been there a few days.  It stopped me in my tracks with it's garish intricacy and of course, the flowing tropical fauna.  Wow!  Are you kidding me?!  I laughed out loud in astonishment as I stroked the course white weave of the basket with my fingertips.  I wanted to reach inside and pet the bird, but resisted.  There were others around.  In fact, one of the employees looked at me when I was giggling and smiled.  I bet he had seen this reaction quite often from customers.  This lamp was really something to behold.  A relic of the past.  A tribute to the mildly talented and ridiculously patient.  Where WAS this thing before it came here?  Was it actually in someones living room?  Hanging in the front window of Grandma's 1950's ranch house in Pasadena?  Or was it in her son's garage, stuffed in a box and now he had to move it out to make room for the new Harley?  Is that how this family heirloom got here?  Someone actually had the courage to turn in Grandma's macrame masterpiece?  I mean my Mom latch-hooked a Garfield pillow for me when I was ten and I wouldn't dare give that away to the Goodwill.  I don't use it, but still.  I'm afraid that on her deathbed she'll ask me if I still have it and I would hate to have the last words she ever hears from me be: "No, sorry Mom, I donated Garfield."   

I didn't test the lamp to see if it actually lit up.  At first I thought it might just be a plant holder and then I realized, much to my amazement that you could actually TURN THIS THING ON.  I really wish I would have tried to power it up, but it probably needed a bulb anyway, like most lamps at the Goodwill.  How much light would this thing actually give off?  Sure, some light could stream through the macrame leaves at the top, but I imagine you wouldn't want to use a really bright bulb unless your smoke alarms are working. Or maybe you do?  If you could get away with a 75 watter and not set the whole thing aflame you might be able to read beneath, uh, I mean NEXT to it.  Plus, all lit up - WOW, that would really be a conversation piece now wouldn't it?  The conversation beginning of course with the question, "Uh Grandma?  What the heck is that thing?!"   My parents had a similar lamp, about as tall, made from thin, round shells all strung together. They were those transparent shells and they cascaded all the way down the lamp like a fancy dress.  It was definitely a conversation piece.  It hung in their living room between the fireplace and the recliner and when people would come over they could hardly take their eyes off it.  For many years, the lamp bought my Mom extra time to heat the dinner rolls.
This lamp tops my parent's for sure.  You might not be able to tell from the picture, but it is taller than most people.  You could hang this lamp in a castle stairwell and the macrame tassles would tickle people's heads as they walked under it.  Whoever buys this lamp will need a ladder to hang it.  A sturdy one.  This lamp is heavy.  It might be a glorified pile of tangled yarn, but it is fully loaded with a long dangling power cord (wrapped up near the top of the lamp), a large fake plant in full bloom and of course, that darling tropical bird.  Lucky for you, Polly does not want a cracker.  She just wants to be left alone above the plastic flora and fauna.  She wants you to admire her gold crest and beak as she sits, or in this case leans drunkenly on her macrame perch.  Maybe give her a little overhead light now and then. As I moved in yesterday to take a closer look at her, I swear I heard her call out to me from behind the white macrame bars of her cage...
"Help me!" 

I don't remember the price.  $20?  $30? What is a fair price for this much macarme nastalgia?  Is there an official price guide for macrame?  Do you calculate it by the inch?  The color?  The intricacy of the knots?  If there is blood from the knotters finger-tips on it does that make it worth more?  This might be more Vietnam than Victorian era, but this is a rare find.  I don't know if it still at the Goodwill store where I saw it yesterday.  I had to leave it behind.  I was trying to find an ugly Christmas sweater for a holiday party.  No luck. Maybe I could wear this lamp instead?

-H. Horner
Twitter: HopeNote

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Vivid Fragments

I have memories from my childhood that are so pointless, so mundane, I wonder what glue holds them in my brain.
Of course I remember where I was sitting in my pre-algebra class the morning the space shuttle blew up or the night that I was rushed to the hospital with acute appendicitis unable to stand up straight no matter how hard I tried, or the day my brother roller skated into the back of our parked Volkswagen hatchback, the tailpipe piercing his hand. I remember those days for obvious reasons.  Pain and shock are great memory etching tools.  But I also remember some pretty mundane, unremarkable events with crystal clear vividness, complete with their original sights, sounds and smells.  They are from 25+ years ago and they stick with me.  Here are a few that are memorable, with no right to be that way.

I am drinking grape Shasta soda sitting on a hill with my family in Waverly Park in Thousand Oaks waiting for the 4th of July fireworks to start.  I can feel the thick grass poking my legs and the smooth, sugary lukewarm cool of the soda going down my throat as I sit in the near darkness waiting for the show to begin. We are staring silently at the lights down the hill, the ones coming from the area of the mall, where the fireworks will be set off. I don't remember exactly what the year was, but I know it is one specific year and one specific moment.  It is not a conglomerate of all my 4ths on this hill.  It is this one time. 

I remember the day my foot slipped off the pedal of my ten speed bike as I was peddling furiously and it swung around and caught me in the Achilles tendon.  I remember exactly where I was on Moorpark Road when it happened.  I remember the exact spot. About three feet before the curb.  Weeds on my left. Cars going by on my right.  The pedal slipped many times before and after that moment, but I don't remember those times.  I remember THIS time.  This time didn't hurt more than the other times.  I didn't crash my bike or cry or even pull over.  I just remember saying, "Ack!" and then riding on to Burt's Pharmacy for my 10 cent candy.

I remember showing up for soccer practice at Conejo Creek Park, walking out to the field with my light green plastic water bottle with the yellow top, the water inside frozen.  The grass was barely visible - trampled low, more yellow than green and there were dust pits all over the field.  There was a giant one in front of each goal.  I remember the exact field we were practicing on, the first one, closest to the parking lot and I remember that one of my team-mates was playing a song on a boombox by the 80's pop group "ABC."  No, it wasn't "How to be a Millionaire."  We all remember that one.  It was "Fifteen Story Halo."  It was never a hit.  I don't remember getting there or practice, I just remember this moment of walking up.  Maybe a fragment in time of about one minute?  Vivid.  Why so vivid?  I don't know.  But I have a lot these.  Here are few more.  They're not boring (at least I hope not!  If they are, you've probably stopped reading my now!) but they aren't exactly riveting either.   This is precisely why I find the fact that they are memorable so baffling.

I remember riding in the back seat of my best friend's mom's light blue Cadillac. I had been in it many times, but this one time I remember specifically.  We were headed down Victory Boulevard in Reseda and Amy Grant was in the tape deck (cassette, not 8 track) and "Lead Me On" was playing.  The seats were a soft velvety blue.  Her Mom was driving the speed limit.   Nothing exciting happened.  No accident.  No argument.  No getting stuck in the drive-thru car wash.  I just remember sitting there at that specific moment as we cruised down the road through the heart of the San Fernando Valley.  Listening.  Running my hands on the velvet square near the door handle. Squinting in the bright sun piercing through my window. We had just left a sewing/fabric store...I forget the was on Sherman Way near Lindley Avenue.  When we were inside the store, the song "That's What Friends Are For" was playing.  I don't remember the store, or what my friend's mom bought, but I remember the song.  OK, so two memories and two songs... Maybe music helped solidify them in my head? 

I remember another time in a car.  This time it was my parent's yellow 1972 Pinto.  (You remember the kind that would blow up if you rear ended them?)  We did get rear-ended in that car (it didn't blow up thankfully) and of course I remember that time.  My sister and were in the backseat rating movies on a scale from 1 to 10 inside a notebook.  Everything in the back window --books, paper, pencils--came down on top of us. My brothers head hit the dashboard.  My Dad got a bit of whiplash. That would stand out in any child's mind.  But I remember a time when we were riding home from school.  We were almost home, rolling along on Calle Jazmin, just a few yards before we would turn on to our street, Calle Clavel.  I remember passing the cream colored house on our right and thinking to myself, "I am going to be 10 this weekend. I am finally going to be double digits."  That moment of recognition while sitting on hard vinyl in the backseat of the bomb on wheels is etched.  Permanently.  No music this time.
Even the ones with music, those memories are well...hardly worth remembering.  They are not weddings or birthdays or my first cat dying or a family member's illness.  I have those.  These are just un-remarkable points in time that have flashed and burned into my mind and for no apparent reason that I can discern.  They are like the pictures you accidentally take with your camera when you are grappling with it in your hands and trying to position it on your subject.  Oops! Didn't mean to take that one folks!  OK, everyone, let's try that again!  These days, you just hit delete and move on.  Or even back in the day when you had to WAIT for your pictures, you would get the pictures home and just laugh at the random shot you took of some lady's behind at Sea World.  I can't delete the random memories in my head and just save the ones I want.  They're permanently in my hard drive.  They appear to have no real reason to remain, no real common thread, no lesson, no warm fuzzy, no warning.  But somehow they all fit together to form my past.  They are a menagerie of simpler times.  Ah, yes, the good old days.  Where my greatest worry was forgetting my new O.P. jacket at church.  Or getting a cramp in my side after drinking too much water at halftime. Or stepping on a bee hiding in the clover when playing in the sprinklers.
These vivid fragments remind me I have so much to look back on and be thankful for.  Even the memories that don't seem to mean much, are happy ones.  I don't have memories of angry fists, or looming shadows or loud voices like so many others do.  I had a childhood that was full of memories worth cherishing.   I am eternally grateful to my parents for all they provided.  We grew up "poor as church mice" as my mother used to say, but I would never know it.  We may have worn donated clothes, drank powdered milk and relied on the generosity of church folks and family members for school supplies or summer camp, but our house was rich in faith, opportunity, creativity, music and laughter.  Teachers by trade, my parents taught the students in their classrooms and their children.  I have distinct memories of all they taught me - love of language, reading, music and God and the ways they demonstrated their work ethic, talent, sacrifice, and faithfulness to God and each other.  On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for them and for all the memories worth keeping. Even the ones that just seem to be taking up space.

God's blessings to all and Happy Thanksgiving.

-Hope A. Horner, 2012
Twitter:  HopeNote

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Is Jesus Really Something to "Try"?

The bumper sticker in front of me said:
 Try Jesus.
Red background.  Big black letters.  No cross, no Jesus face, just red and letters.
I stared at it.  Something was wrong.  Not the sticker itself;  it wasn't crooked.  It was perfectly placed on the lower right edge of the bumper of the silver car in front of me. It was the statement that bugged me.

Is Jesus really something to TRY?
Try this drink
Try a slice.
Try this on for size.
Try this just once.
or You've tried everything else, now TRY JESUS!
Maybe the pot or the crystal or the heroin didn't keep you in the happy place long enough?  The vodka didn't drown out all the unhappy moments like you'd hoped?  Or maybe it was sex or drugs or shopping, or work, or pain pills or gambling or pornography or partying or the house-cluttering collection of creepy antique dolls - you tried it all and well, you're no happier, no better off and still looking for that place called peace.  You tried, you really did.  Well, friend maybe it is time now to:
Try Jesus.
Trust me.
Try him.

Yup, as a Christian, that bugs me.  It's not that I don't think people can find hope and healing in Jesus and rise above their addictions, toil, despair and pain and find rest, healing and peace in Him.  Many do.  He's helped me and continues to provide the strength everyday to ignore the monkeys that cackle from the trees along my path, the ones who are always looking to jump down on to my back.  It's just that as a Christian, I don't TRY Jesus.  Actually, if I am trying Jesus in any way, I am probably TRYING HIS PATIENCE because I am usually TRYING TO IGNORE HIM so I can do things my own way.

Look, I know this bumper sticker has a good heart.  It really does.  It is a nice, friendly, fun-loving bumper sticker that always remembers your birthday and puts the toilet seat down.  But still.  I think it's sentiment is a little misplaced.  Jesus is not something I try.  Jesus just is.  Jesus has always been.  He is life.  He is mine, not for the trying, but for the loving.  He doesn't want me to try.  He wants me to surrender, to believe, to love and to live for him.  He is not a cosmic vending machine. 
Want happiness?  Press G8 for Jesus! 
Oh no!  I accidently pushed G9!  I guess I'll have to settle for the Cool Ranch Doritos.  I'll try again tomorrow. Could have been worse -- those Flaming Hot Cheetos were G7.

Jesus is not someone I try.  He is someone I trust and love
Imagine being on your first date.  The person across the pile of spaghetti from you says (with a little bit of red sauce on their chin):  "I know you've tried all the others.  Now try me baby!"  It wouldn't just be the red chin and the garlic on their breath that would turn you off.  See what I mean?  When it comes to a person, you don't TRY them.  And when it comes to the God-incarnate person of Jesus - even less so.
Jesus may be the last one I choose, but he is not a last resort, a final try.  He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  (And all points in between!)  He is King.  Savior.  Holy God.  In fact, maybe Jesus shouldn't even be on a bumper sticker?  But if he must...May I suggest the following instead of Try Jesus?

Acknowledge Jesus.  (Hey, it's a start!)

Love Jesus.  (Easy to say, hard to do!)

Worship Jesus. (Pentecostals love this one.  The Methodists ask "OK, but do I have to lift my hands?")

Praise Jesus.  (This one might cause people to think you're a really holy-rolling pew hopper, so only put this sticker on your car if you live in the South or go to a charismatic church.)

Obey Jesus.  (Not a best seller.)

Try Jesus.  Then stop trying and let grace take over. (A hit with the Lutherans.)

Or how about a bumper sticker that just says:

People will see this one and ask, "What about him? Wait, that's it?! Just JESUS?  What is that all about?"  And the discussion begins...suddenly, hopefully, people are talking about Jesus. (Unless you're driving 50 mph in the fast lane.  Then, they're talking about YOU.)  They're not wondering if they should TRY him.  They're wondering ABOUT him.  I've been told about Jesus for many years and I still wonder about him.  I wonder, I think, I contemplate - who is this God-man who came to earth to save me? And then as I study, as I listen, as I pray, I realize:
I'm really glad Jesus is so much more than a bumper sticker. So much more than just something I "try."
But I still think you should give him a try if you're wondering.

-H. Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Look Around

Ask a young person how far they want to continue with their education and they will tell you they want to go to college.  But when you ask them, "How far do you really think YOU'LL go?"  They will respond:
"I probably will be lucky to graduate from high school."
That is if they are black or Latino.  And/or live in an impoverished neighborhood.
That is what I learned from a Harvard sociologist who had studied the problem between what kids hope for and what they think they will actually achieve.  She and her colleagues have fancy names for this issue.  Their studies contain big academic words I don't understand stuck in between more common words like "poverty" "socioeconomic" and "personal identity."  There is a simple way of describing why there is a gap between what these students HOPE to achieve and what they actually BELIEVE is going to be true for them. The gap happens because they:
When you ask the first question (Do you want to go to college?  What do you want to be when you grow up?) They IMAGINE; they DREAM; they ASPIRE.  They picture themselves with a cap and gown at a college, working as a doctor or a veterinarian or a lawyer or a teacher or in some other career.  Then when you ask them to tell you how well they really think they are going to do, to consider their future REALISTICALLY, what do they do?
And what do they see?  They see their current condition, their present environment, their circumstances -- they see they share a bedroom (or a living room) with a sister and an auntie, the fact that Dad is gone, Mom works two jobs at minimum wage, no-one in their family has ever made it past 10th grade, all their older brothers and uncles are in the local gang, or they look in their wallets and don't see an driver's license or a green card and figure WHO AM I KIDDING WHEN I TALK ABOUT HARVARD OR CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE?! HECK, EVEN COMMUNITY COLLEGE?!  I MEAN REALLY -THAT'S NOT MY DESTINY! YOU WANNA SEE MY DESTINY?? LOOK AROUND!!! 
And this looking around shuts down their imagination.
Dashes their hopes.
Kills their dreams.
Snuffs out their ambition.
Shuts down their drive.
Hey, for these young people, survival is enough.  Just getting through the day takes all their energy and there is nothing left over for pursuing what to them seems like a pipe dream.  
This is not to say that all Latinos and African-Americans live in poverty or in bad neighborhoods or that all kids with economic or personal hardship give up on their dreams.  Of course not.  But studies have shown that kids in tough neighborhoods do have this disparity between what they dream and what they believe. I have worked particularly with many Latino youth over the years and have personally witnessed this disparity, this lack of "seeing beyond the present circumstances to something better" and it breaks my heart.
For many years, I ran a weekly support group for teen girls, most of whom were Latina. I had an brainstorming activity I used with the group called "Dream Killers."  I would ask the girls to tell me their dreams and each girl's aspirations would be written up on a large pad of paper on an easel at the front of the room --dreams of going to college, of living in a big house on the nice side of town, having a loving husband, getting a job as a doctor, teacher, lawyer...Their eyes would light up as they shared their dreams.  I remember Stacie, a 14 year old bubbly girl in my group saying she wanted to be a "VETRINARIUN." She loved animals and was getting good grades.  I told her that I could see her being a great "Vet."  (I used the word "Vet" so she would know she could use it in the future instead of having to say the full word which even on a good day is pronunciation challenge for everyone!)  She beamed as though she had already opened her own practice. My "bet about this vet" is that no one had ever told her that her dream could come true.
Then we talked about DREAM KILLERS.  I asked the girls, "What can kill your dreams?  What can keep these dreams from happening?"  They thought for a moment and then responded:
Making bad choices!
Dropping out of school!
Your friends!
Getting pregnant!
Your family!
Most of the answers were shouted out enthusiastically.
Not a single one of the young ladies, in every group I ever held, ever said that the biggest dream killer in their life was THEIR OWN PERCEPTION---none of them realized that their own perspective/belief about their future had life-altering power over their success.  I am didn't bring it up either because at the time I was unaware of this gap.  But I do remember asking the girls many times, "How many of you can picture yourself graduating from high school?"  A few heads would nod.  Then I would ask, "How many of you can picture yourself pregnant before you graduate?"  A few heads would bow, a few would blush and a few would shout out, "No way!"  When I would ask the shouters why they objected, they would usually say something like, "Because I see what my sister did, having a baby really young and how hard it is..." or something along that line.  In other words, they LOOKED AROUND and this time, their eyes settled on a bad example - an older sister who was struggling, raising a child alone, trying to scrape up money for formula and diapers.  Many of these girls could also look around and see their brothers in gangs, friends dropping out, exhausted moms fighting with alcoholic dads.  This was all they could see.  This was the only life they knew. So they would settle for retail jobs at the 99 Cent Only Store or filling drive-thru orders at Carl's Junior even though they were capable of so much more.  Or they would clean houses alongside Mom even though she risked so much to bring them to a country where they could achieve more than settling for a wad of cash passed under the table for vacuuming rugs and scrubbing floors.  I could see the same almond eyes that glossed over with hopeful imagination of being a "Vet", go dim and dark when they would LOOK AROUND.
My heart broke then and it breaks again now thinking about it.
I want to change the scenery.
When these young men and women LOOK AROUND, I want them to see others just like them who have made it - those who despite the odds, went on to finish high school, then graduated from college or found a rewarding career.  I want to these precious young people to be surrounded by people who believe in them, support them and listen to them.  Role Models. Mentors.  Leaders. All creating a landscape of love.

Look, I'm a white woman who didn't grow up rich, but certainly didn't live in a tough neighborhood by any stretch of the imagination.  My parents are highly educated.  I have a degree and a great career.  When I first started my support group I wasn't sure it would work.  In the beginning, I got looks from the girls like, "Who the heck is this white lady?  Is she here to lecture us?  What the hell does she know about what it's like to be me?"  I saw a lot of hard faces, arms folded across chests and lips closed tight.  It took me quite awhile to build trust with the girls in my groups, but after awhile I did, and they stopped seeing my color. They saw that I cared for them and listened and valued them and the color faded.  Then they poured out their hearts to me and to each other. I often described that first "break-through" session as feeling like I had taken my finger out of the hole in an emotional dam.  Years and years of hurts and wishes and struggles would come pouring out with the simplest question.  They were STARVING for someone to just listen.  They would rarely miss a session and complain when it would end.  They would tell the new girls who wanted to join the group a little bit about me.  Give them the inside scoop on the "Wera."  "Yeah, she's white, but she's more like a burrito.  White on the outside, brown in the middle."  It would make me laugh.  I was blessed just to know them.  Blessed to be given the opportunity to listen and help in whatever way I could. They taught me so much.  In fact, they changed my life. I can't help but LOOK AROUND and see so many just like them who struggle to hang on to their dreams while the scenery around them says, "Give it up sister!" I remember Stacie and Ines and Juana and Edith and their faces propel me to do more to help. I want young people in tough neighborhoods to LOOK AROUND and see people who are willing to lead, love and support them so they can turn what's in their hopeful hearts into reality.  I can do more.  I can't do it alone.  There are so many who need support. Just LOOK AROUND.

-Hope A. Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote
Dr. Ruth N. Lopez Turley

A Rice Professor (and Christian) shares her journey out of poverty and provides more information about this topic:!/v/1264

If you want to help, a good place to start is here: 
Waiting for Superman
Big Brothers-Big Sisters

Monday, November 5, 2012

Makes My Head Holler!

Today I was in a yogurt shop and I heard the lady next to me say:
"I really wish they wouldn't make these yogurt cups so big."
I almost ripped her face off.
Lucky for her, my hands were full because I was holding one of those perfectly over-sized cups filled to the brim with Red Velvet yogurt.  I just shook my head and went to the counter to pay for my 92 ounces of deliciousness.  Look, I am an easy going person, but there are just a few things that people say that make me want to scream.  Usually, they involve some kind of needless complaining.  I am like my Dad in that way.  He has zero tolerance for complaining.  I have never, ever heard him complain or whine in my entire life.  Even if he doesn't particularly like something, he will find a diplomatic way to say he doesn't like it, if he says anything at all.  As a child, when I would say, "I can't!" in that nasal whiny voice that all kids master within 2 weeks of being able to speak, he would reply, "Do it whether you can or not."  If I said "I'm bored!" he would reply, "Than you're boring."  He didn't scream.  He would calmly let me (and my brother and sister) know he had heard enough and we would stop complaining.  I don't scream at people either, but when I hear certain things I do let out a scream inside my head.  Here are a few things that people say that make my head holler:
These mashed potatoes have too much butter. (Not possible!)
This dessert is too chocolate-y. (Definitely not possible!!)
I'm bored. (Well, then YOU must be boring! Thanks Dad.)
I don't like dogs. (Are you human?!?)
I don't read. It's boring/makes me sleepy/not my thing. (It shows!)
I can't go anywhere without my cell phone! (Get a life!)
I didn't have time to vote. (Then please leave now.  Oh, no not the room...the country.)

I'll end there since tomorrow is election day.  Get out and vote.  Pet a dog.  Have some butter loaded mashed potatoes and follow it up with a super rich chocolate brownie at the bottom of a giant sized yogurt cup that fills up both your hands so you have to put your cell phone down.  Then grab a good book. You won't be bored.  If you are, please keep your mouth shut.

-Hope Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Faith Without Exercise is Dead!

I believe in God. I really do! 
I have faith.  
I say it loudly. Earnestly.
The Apostle Paul is not impressed.
"Good for you! You believe! Yipee! You have faith!" He throws up his arms sarcastically and then leans in toward me.  His voice is just above a whisper: "You believe in God, huh Hope?  Well, so does the devil!"
I know, I know.  Belief isn't enough.  Faith without works is dead. Got it.
I've heard the "faith without works" verse from the book of James a million times. (James 2:17)  Not as much since I became a Lutheran (The book of James is not a Lutheran favorite.  Luther called it the "epistle of straw."), but still it pops up almost every time someone mentions faith and works in the same sentence.
There is another small book in the New Testament that has a lot to say about faith and works:
2nd Peter.
Turns out Peter has a lot to say about what a LIVING FAITH is supposed to look, feel and sound like. He describes faith as something I "exercise" in order to "develop" certain characteristics.  Here is Peter, straight from the Amplified Bible:

"...Employ every effort in EXERCISING your FAITH to develop VIRTUE (excellence),
and in exercising virtue develop KNOWLEDGE
and in exercising knowledge develop SELF-CONTROL,
and in exercising self-control develop STEADFASTNESS (perseverance),
And in exercising steadfastness develop GODLINESS,
And in exercising godliness develop BROTHERLY AFFECTION,
And in exercising brotherly affection develop CHRISTIAN LOVE." (2 Peter 1:5...)

Wow, that is a lot of exercising! I'm out of breath just READING it all.  I can tell I am totally out of shape spiritually.  My faith is under-developed.  I feel like I am still in the warm-up stage, you know, the KNOWLEDGE part near the beginning?  Once in awhile I might put in a wind-sprint or two of self-control, but it doesn't last long. It's a lot of work.  Sometimes I even flex a little bit of my brotherly (or sisterly) affection, but I do tire quickly of all that neighborly lovey-dovey stuff, especially with those folks who are so hard to LIKE, let alone love.  It is SO much easier to just stay on the couch and let my faith relax.  Chill out. Veg.
These verses are a challenge to my spiritual laziness. One of the things I noticed about the exercise list above is how they all build on each other.  Exercising my faith starts a chain reaction.  Like a muscle moving, each exercise is independent, but works along with others.  They all work together and the ultimate result, the culmination, is CHRIST-LIKE LOVE.  That is really where all this faith exercise leads.  Physical exercise perfects the body.  Exercising my faith perfects my love - my love of God and of others.  It doesn't save me.  It doesn't make me better than anyone else.  It doesn't get me into heaven ahead of anyone else. (Just because there is exercise involved doesn't mean this is a race!)  Jesus already did all the work involved in saving me.  And like I said earlier, I believe it.  And Saint Paul is right -- the devil believes it, too.  Difference is, he doesn't exercise his faith. He exercises his power to wreak havoc. Stir up doubt. Kick-up fear. Encourage laziness.  He spends time trying to weigh me down with guilt, selfishness, pride and other vices to make my faith exercises nearly impossible.  Like sand bags, he loads them up on my shoulders.  This makes me just want to sink into the couch and sulk.  To blame.  To give up.  To complain.  The last thing I want to do is get up and exercise.  Forget that!  These sand bags are so heavy.  They're not really there of course, I just believe/feel they are.  I need God to remove them.  I've tried to remove them on my own and they are pretty hard to cast off.
Sometimes when I'm exercising my faith, you know, jogging around the track of life, exercising my SELF-CONTROL, heading toward STEADFASTNESS...all of a sudden-- AAACCCK!!  My foot catches on something in the road and I go flying face first on to the pavement.  What the heck was that?  I look back.  What?!?! Who put my SARCASM out in the middle of the road?  I thought I had moved that out of the roadway?  Ugh.  Guess I didn't move it far enough.  Actually, maybe that is the problem - I moved it out of the way instead of giving it to God so he can CAST it away.  I can't do it on my own.  I have tried dragging these temptations, vices and negative traits out of the roadway and they just keep getting dragged back out into the road ahead of me to trip me up again.  I need God's help to see them, avoid them, remove them and eventually defeat them (and to defeat the one who keeps putting them out in front of me.)
I am currently reading a book of spiritual short stories.  The introduction is by Peter J. Gomes, former professor and Chaplain at Harvard University. (He died this past year. RIP!)  He explains how America is the place people run to for freedom. He explains freedom in two ways - freedom FROM and freedom FOR.  People have come to this country seeking freedom FROM religious oppression (among other things) and freedom FOR the right/ability to express their freedom in new, unique ways.
When I read this, I was immediately struck with how this relates to my spiritual life and the whole faith vs. works debate that ensues when that verse in James is quoted.  What Jesus did on the cross gives me freedom FROM death/punishment/separation from God and also gives me freedom FOR living the life God created me to live.  I am free from the chains that bound me and therefore free to love as Christ did.  Doesn't mean my "works" will always match the "good work that He has begun in me" (Philippians 1:6), but it does mean that my works don't give me freedom, they are the expression OF my freedom!  So..I exercise my faith not to build myself up or earn a place in heaven, but because I have been created and empowered by God to love Him and others in a world-changing, peace-making, God-empowered way that shows the world...I AM FREE! COME EXERCISE YOUR FAITH WITH ME!  WE'RE FREE!

-Hope Horner, 2012 
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

Unprofitable Servant (What? You Mean It's Not About Me?)

I read this prayer by A.W. Tozer this morning and it felt like I was reading a foreign language.  Not because of the author's use of old English words like "Thy" and "Thou" but because the prayer itself was so humble and self-effacing.  How often do I pray for my own success and take credit for my own achievements?  How often do I secretly wish that others (the ones I don't like or disagree with) wouldn't do quite so well or would flat out fail?  (Look at all the reality shows which play up when people lose, make a mistake, trip and fall and how we are urged to have a nice, long laugh at their expense.) Or during the political season where the candidate's goal is not only to build themselves up, but to tear the other person down?  Then here's Tozer talking about praying for the success of others and not focusing on his great attributes (of which he had many) but instead focusing on being a humble servant of God and giving God the glory. Refreshing indeed!
Here's the powerful prayer by Tozer:

"Dear Lord, I refuse henceforth to compete with any of Thy servants. They have congregations larger than mine. So be it. I rejoice in their success. They have greater gifts. Very well. That is not in their power nor in mine. I am humbly grateful for their greater gifts and my smaller ones. I only pray that I may use to Thy glory such modest gifts as I possess. I will not compare myself with any, nor try to build up my self-esteem by noting where I may excel one or another in Thy holy work. I herewith make a blanket disavowal of all intrinsic worth. I am but an unprofitable servant. I gladly go to the foot of the class and own myself the least of Thy people. If I err in my self judgment and actually underestimate myself I do not want to know it. I purpose to pray for others and to rejoice in their prosperity as if it were my own. And indeed it is my own if it is Thine own, for what is Thine is mine, and while one plants and another waters it is Thou alone that giveth the increase." 
The Price of Neglect, 104-105.

Amen (So be it) Tozer, AMEN!

-Hope A. Horner
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote and never miss a post!

A.W. who?  )

Sunday, October 21, 2012

You Gotta Have Faith (An Atheist & Christian Agree!)

I finally heard an Atheist and a Christian agree on something.
Actually, on more than one something.
First, they agreed that they both need FAITH.
The Atheist said he has faith because he can't prove everything. (There are mathematical equations, for example, that can't be proved, but we know are true through experience.)  He also said that even though he didn't believe in a Creator, the universe still needs a starting point and well, that takes faith.  Whether you believe God or gasses started it all, you gotta have FAITH.  Why?
Because neither can be proven.  Some things exist outside the bounds of science and reason.  These things require faith.
Well, good, that settles it.
Nope, actually it doesn't. There are still a lot of Atheists and Christians batting this age-old topic, and each other, around.
But for a few moments, it was really nice to hear them agree on something.
But wait, there's more!
The other "something" the Christian and the Atheist agreed on is that  suffering is not always explainable.  Pain is just flat out a real crappy part of life on this planet.  Both of these gentleman were pediatric oncologists (children's cancer doctors) so they had seen a lot of suffering both by sick young patients and devastated parents.  Is there anything worse than a child dying?  Any greater suffering?  Any bigger reason to doubt that God exists?  Why must we suffer? Why? Why? Why?!  Where is God in all this?
Both the Christian and the Atheist doctor agreed that there is no way to wrap your head around why there is so much pain and suffering in the world. They both agreed that there aren't and shouldn't be any pat answers. The Atheist can't explain suffering fully by chalking it all up to science, synapses misfiring or out of control cells or simple cause and effect.  The Christian can't explain it all by saying God's ways are not our ways, or pointing to original sin or by regurgitating some other jaded church axiom.  In fact, they both agreed that when a parent loses a child to cancer and looks up at them with big, red, tear filled eyes that beg "Why?" the best answer is: "I'm so very, very sorry."
I found their agreement on these topics inspiring.  How nice to see them drop the dogma and just say look, it all boils down to FAITH and we just can't know everything. That doesn't mean God isn't real but it also doesn't mean that evolution gets it all wrong either.  So let's stop insisting we KNOW.  Christians please stop beating your chests and pounding your fists and screaming about how right you are! If you don't believe you came from apes, than stop acting like one!  And Atheists?  Stop acting like you can prove everything and you're soooo much smarter than people who believe in God.  It takes just as much brain power to explore theology as it does biology. And both require FAITH so we have at least one thing we can agree on, right?

What it boils down to for me is this: I put my faith in Creator God not Creative Gasses.  I want a Nurturer, not just Nature.  I believe in the un-created Creator; the One who does not need to be created - The Un-Started Starting Point - but I am not saying I  can prove it.  I am just saying I believe it.  And you know what? Now that I think about it, the very fact that I can believe - that I can have faith - is astounding to me.  I mean, what is belief anyway? And faith? Just chemical reactions in my brain?
The Atheist gave a few reasons why humans have faith or specifically, why they seek out God.  He believed we naturally have a "God-sized hole in our heart that needs to be filled" because it was essential for our survival as a species to bond with others and form trust based groups (i.e. religious groups). So essentially (and probably too simply put) it is in our DNA to find reasons to connect with others.  He also said that human beings artificially constructed God (the divine filler of this vacancy in our hearts) to create the "someone is watching us" mentality which ensures that people will well-behaved even when no one else is watching.  This ensured our survival.  If "the man upstairs" is watching then we better think twice before we steal our neighbor's sheep or sleep with his wife.  People are better behaved if they run a little paranoid.  Less destruction and devastation ensues.  Species live longer.
Sure, this is plausible.  But so void of all the passion and love and joy that goes along with finding out that God does fill that hole in my heart just perfectly.  That he was meant to be there and WANTS to be there. And then, once he is in that spot, he changes my life so completely that I WANT to do what is right not because I feel his steely eyes bearing down on me from afar, but because I love him.  Which makes me wonder... I know what my brain looks like on drugs thanks to Nancy Reagan (Remember the frying pan and the egg in the 1980's?) but I have no idea what my brain looks like on God.  That's OK.
I just know that I have a brain,created or evolved, that wants God, needs God, feels God and loves God.
And yes, it takes faith to believe that God has always been here, is here with me now, and someday I will see him face to face.
That reminds me.  The Atheist and the Christian agreed on one more thing. (See there is so much to agree on!) They talked about the end of life.  Even though the Atheist didn't believe that God would be there at the end, he said that he never tries to change his patients minds by telling them no one is waiting.  He said that would be heartless. He said he knows it is heartless to say that "not because I believe in God, but because I am a human being and I can empathize."  He said religion, in general, is good.  (Except when used for violence/oppression.) I thought it was weird to hear an Atheist say religion was good.  He explained. When your child dies, you want to believe that their suffering is over.  That you will see them again.  That they are being delivered into God's hands and not just put into the earth. You need hope.
So once again the atheist and the Christian can agree.
We all need hope.
And of course I agree with that!

-Hope A. Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote and never miss a post!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

When my Dad said he liked a U2 song, I about fell out of my chair.  I was in my twenties at the time and it was totally unexpected.  This is a man with a doctorate in Theology who's biggest venture into the world of "secular" music is The Carpenters and the soundtrack to Chariots of Fire.  When I was a child, I remember once in awhile he would put on a Johnny Cash album--never on Sundays and always with caveats.   Johnny was a drinker and paid a price.  Johnny was rebellious and got in trouble.  Just love that baritone voice though.  None like it!  Don't take your guns to town son, leave your guns at home...I fell in to a burning ring of fire, I went down, down, down...

When I was in high school, he found a Bad English cassette tape in my room.  Remember the song "When I See You Smile?"  I had bought the album for that song, but as it turned out, I really liked the whole album and listened to it constantly on my Walkman. Bad English lived up to their name.  They were rocky and rebellious and the band members were slick and had big hair.  My Dad approached me in the living room with the cassette in his hand.
"Do you know what that four letter word is?" he asked me with a scowl on his face as he pointed to the song title "Heaven is a Four Letter Word."
I thought about it for a moment.  I could hear the line from the song in my head:  Hey girl, haven't you heard?  Heaven is a four letter word?
"Love?" I offered up innocently.
He sniffed. "You're very naive, Hope.  I guess that's a good thing."  He snapped the cassette closed and walked away.
"Well, I might be naive, but YOU need to get your mind out of the gutter!"
Thank goodness I didn't say that. I would still be grounded. Or dead.
So, several years ago, when he announced he liked a U2 song, I held my breath.  I wondered which one...
Could it be Sunday Bloody Sunday?  (He is Irish.)
It's a Beautiful Day? (He is optimistic.)
Where The Streets Have No Name? (Possible.  Isn't this about heaven?)
"I really like the song Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. Now, I don't agree with Bono's message, but I really like the song.  It is very haunting - the guitars, the chorus.  It's just a really good song."
I nodded and said, "Hmm."  My response sounded like I was agreeing, but not whole-heartedly just in case it was a set-up.  Maybe he was trying to figure out if I had traded in my Sound of Music album for the Dark Side of the Moon?  Maybe this was a test to see if I had I gone "Amy Grant" musically, in other words-- crossed over without bringing the cross over?
I stayed quiet.  My silence was more out of shock than anything else.  My Dad listened to a U2 song?  What happened to the Bill Gaither Trio?  Sandy Patty?  Mozart? And what did my Dad mean when he said he "I don't agree with Bono's message..."? I didn't ask.  I just tucked that comment away. But if I had to guess what my Dad meant it would be this:
Bono may not have found what HE is looking for, but my Dad has, namely - he has found God.
Then today, I heard the song on the radio and that lingering question popped up in mind.  I heard my Dad in my head saying he liked the song, but didn't agree with Bono.  Good song Bono.  Really good.  Your voice is perfect.  Guitars are great. But your message is well, not so good.  Actually, it's bleak.  Hopeless. Directionless.
Bono lifts his silvery sunglasses and looks my Dad square in the eyes. (Oh no! My Dad and Bono are arguing in my head!) With the same calm intensity Bono uses to raise money for children in Africa he says:
Yes sir, I know, the song is pretty depressing.  You got that right. But was there ever a time when you felt like me?  EVER felt hopeless?  Ever wondered Have I really found what I am looking for?  Is God really there?  Is he listening?  When I die, will he really be there waiting for me? I wrote that song when I was doubting, struggling, you know, yearning.  You mean you never doubt? Never have, never will? 
Bono had a charity fundraiser to get to in Bangladesh, so he didn't have time to stay and hear my Father's answer.  He slipped his glasses back down on to his face and slinked off to his private plane like a jaguar.
I am sure my Dad would say he has had doubts.  He is human! And he has definitely suffered tragedy, the kind that makes you question God.  He and my Mom lost their first child at birth and I am named accordingly (Hope). I've just never heard my Dad share his doubts or struggles along his faith journey.  He has always been so faith-full and trusting and believing and well, certain. I do remember once, he told me that for a few years he went through what he called his "mystical years" reading Thomas Merton, John of the Cross and others.  It was probably the 1960's and mysticism was as close as he was going to get to a mental trip, since alcohol, acid or Woodstock were not an option.  Sure, my Dad looms larger in my mind spiritually than he probably is.  He is AMAZING.  (But doesn't every little Daddy's girl think that?)  He knows the Bible so well he could probably write it down verse for verse.  He's preached, prayed, and proselytized.  He's taught Sunday School and written a "How To" book for other Christians. He's sung, played piano, organ, and I think even banjo at church functions inside the sanctuary and out.  He's been the voice of God in countless school plays (There is the Johnny Cash baritone voice and then about two octaves lower there is my Dad's baritone - a.k.a. the voice of God.)  Don't misunderstand me - he is not pompous, stalwart, stoic or judgmental.  He just appears to me to be spiritually superhuman.  Impenetrable.  Unshakable.  And sometimes I wish he was more human.  Sometimes I wish he would let his spiritual hair down.  Shake in his faith boots just a little? Sometimes I wish he would admit that he hasn't always been sure he's found what he is looking for. That he feels like Bono does sometimes. That he feels like I do sometimes.
I know I am God's child. I know he loves me.  I know he holds me in the palm of his hand.  I know, I know, I KNOW! But sometimes the knowing doesn't satisfy the longing.  Sometimes I hear or see or read or watch something that makes me say - Whoa!  What if this is all just a big, long, perpetuated Sunday School story that really isn't true?  Have I really found what I am looking for or is what I've found just an illusion? A manufactured man-made myth? Then I read the Bible and a verse will pop out at and say, "Hang in there Hope."  Or someone will say or do something that brings me back into the fold.  Like a lost sheep, I am led back with a loving hand. And I believe again.  I hope.  I trust.  I find what I am looking for.
But sometimes it is not that simple.
Sometimes I have to admit I feel like Bono.
And sometimes I wish my Dad would admit that he does too.

-Hope Horner
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well yes I'm still running

You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for...
Music and Lyrics by U2

Follow Hope on Twitter at HopeNote and never miss a blog entry!