Saturday, July 28, 2012

Humming Over the Piano Strings

Got nothing to do today?  Got a piano?
Try this...
Walk up to the piano.  Open the top and expose the strings.   Lean over the strings and hum a note, any note.  Watch as the corresponding piano string will begin to vibrate.  That's right, hum a "C" note and run your fingers along each string until you come to the one that is vibrating.  Guess which one is vibrating?  The "C" note you are singing.   OK, so maybe Disneyland, heck the local park, would be more exciting than doing this, but it is a neat little trick for a lazy Saturday.

It also exposes the way Satan works his neat little tricks.

Uh oh, I said the Satan word.

Insert picture of little girl spitting split pea soup here--------->
(Oops, looks like I just got pea soup there, my bad.)

I listened to a Pastor recently who used a piano metaphor to explain how Satan works.  First, this esteemed Pastor had to overcome the mental hurdle he felt many of his audience members and listeners (including me) had about the words "Satan" and "The Devil" --- that maybe, just maybe, Satan, devils, demons, etc., are NOT real -they're  just a bunch of Hollywood horror characters or figments of religious superstition or hyperboles of hysterical silliness.  Pitchfork.  Horns.  Red Cape.  Put those aside.  That is movie nonsense.
First, he said, Read Ephesians 6.  "We wrestle against powers, principalities, rulers that are not of this world..." 
Second, he argued, if you believe in God and he can't be seen, is it really that silly or that much more "superstitious" to believe in his polar opposite - Satan? 
Anyway...I believe.  However, I am not one of those crazy folks who is always chocking everything up to the devil or looking over my shoulder every few minutes to see if a demon is following.  You will not hear me say "The devil made me do it."  (I can sin all on my own, thank you.)
Finally, after he had sufficiently helped his audience over many of their mental hurdles, he used a vivid piano metaphor to explain how Satan, the Liar of Liars, works to deceive, to trick, to tempt, to ruin. Here is my paraphrase of what he said...

Satan leans over my piano strings and hums.

My heart is like an open piano with the strings exposed.  Satan didn't create the strings.  They are already there.  Every human has them.  They are a part of our human nature.  Common strings include: (My list, not the Pastor's)
Middle C = Pride (Original Sin!)
D = Deceitfulness / Discouragement / Depression
E = Excuses / Enemies / Ego
F = Faithlessness / Fear / Failures /Failing to forgive
G = Glamour / Glory / Greed / Get while the gettin's good
A = Anger / Addiction / Allure / Activity / Aspiration
B = Blame, BE-ing focused on ME (Selfishness)

Whatever note he happens to hum, the corresponding string in my heart vibrates.  Here is how it sounds in my heart when these strings are vibrating...

Look at him!  I would never do that! I don't need God! I am great just how I am! (Hum Middle C)
God could never forgive me. I can't forgive myself.  I am worthless.  A failure. (Hum D)
Even though this might be "wrong" I deserve this! A little bit won't hurt, just once... (Hum E)
I've really messed up my life.  God doesn't love me. I'll never forgive you! (Hum F)
I'm not really stingy, I'm just thrifty!  I earned this - it's all mine! (Hum G)
I have a right to be angry.  I want more. I need more...I'm too busy. I must be beautiful! (Hum A)
Me, Me, Me, Me, Me - What I want matters most, Yes, it really is all about me! It's your fault, not mine! (Hum B and slide to Middle C)

My Mom taught me piano when I was very young.  The first song I ever learned to play went like this:
Middle C, Middle C
Right Hand, Left Hand
Middle C
Basically, you just play middle C over and over with different hands.  It's a real monotonous sort of beginner's sonata meant to build your confidence and dexterity.  Sad to say, I never really got too far past that level of playing because I discovered the guitar.  (Sorry Mom.)  Anyway, Satan knows I have this string and am able to play it with both hands, so he often leans in and hums Middle C to help me get started.  This really reaks havoc with my spiritual life because as soon as it starts to vibrate, it just resonates with me and I take off plinking and pounding my way through my usual one note song of ME, ME, ME.  ME, ME, ME, Right Hand, Left Hand, ME, ME, ME.

I don't have a small kiddie piano.  I have a room-filling, concert hall grand piano kind of heart.  Not even a baby grand here.  Elton John would disappear behind my piano.  Billy Joel would have to beat it into submission. 

So what can I do?

1) I can be aware of my strings. 
My vices.  My temptations.  My nature.  My shortcomings.  Not so I can wallow in how bad I am (that would be another string called self-pity), but so I am AWARE.

2) I can stop the humming. 
While I can't stop the one who hums, I know Someone who can.  When the humming begins and I can turn my heart over to God.  He can take my pathetic one note sonata and turn it into a Chopin masterpiece.  If I let Him play.

Reminds of the story in Genesis 41 when Pharaoh (Eygptian King) asks Joseph to interpret his dreams.  He had heard that Joseph had this amazing ability.  "Tell me what they mean!"  Pharaoh demands after a night full of bizarre dreams.  Joseph replies, "I can't, but God can."  God had the power.  He would use Joseph.  Joseph, a humble servant of God, knew this.
In the same way, I can't stop the humming, but God can.  "Greater is the MASTER MUSICIAN (Jesus) that is in me, than the HUMMER (Satan) who is in the world." (Super duper paraphrased version of 1 John 4:4.)

So God, please stop the Hummer before he reaches my piano.  And if he does reach my piano and begins to hum a note, please slam your hand down on the string to stop the vibration.  Then sit down and make music out of my heart instead -- play it the the way it was intended - compose a fresh, beautiful song of love for You and others.

Hope Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

Friday, July 27, 2012

You Gotta Hear This! (Keller)

Am I justified by ME or justified by my faith in Christ?  What in the world does "justified by faith" even mean? 
And if I am justified by faith, how does that change how I live?  What I hang my hat on?  How I respond when the the hat holder falls off the wall and my hat gets crushed?

I am pretty sure that until I heard this amazing sermon by Pastor Timothy J. Keller of Manhattan's Redeemer Presbyterian Church, I had no real idea what "justification by faith" even meant.  Now I do.  Wow.  Taken from the book of Romans, Pastor Keller makes "justification by faith" real, understandable and applicable.  He takes it from the "out there world" of theology and brings it into the "right here world" of reality.  Keller bases this sermonly squarely on the Bible and quotes CS Lewis to Chariots of Fire to back up his points in poignant and pertinent ways. 

Take a listen!
Click on the link below to download it for $2.50:

OR GET IT FREE on your computer or Apple device through iTunes by going to the Redeemer Presbyterian Podcast and clicking on "Justified By Faith."
You can use this link: P

I also recommend his sermon entitled: Arguing About Politics - absolutely blew me away especially in light of all the nastiness right now in the political world with the election approaching.  So far, I am just a few sermons in to Keller's more than 20 years of preaching and find them very enlightening and engaging.  The two I mention above are standouts so far.

God bless,

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Is Your Dog a Modern Dog? (Burnside)

I have a new article published on!
This is an adaption from a blog entry I posted awhile back.  Click link below to view article:


Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Sound of Music

Like most everyone, I have seen The Sound of Music on TV many times.

"The hills are alive with the sound of music. I know I will hear what I heard before! My heart wants to sing..."
Just TRY not to get that song stuck in your head all day!  If that doesn't work, then these two words will definitely get fans of this play in a 24 hour song loop: LONELY GOATHERD.

The whole opening scene (the one pictured to the left) just enraptures me.  The singing, the spinning, the peaceful smile on Maria's face, the lush green hillsides, the mustard colored flowers, and towering snow-capped mountains. 
I really hope that the soundtrack of this wonderful Rogers and Hammerstein masterpiece is playing when I arrive in heaven.  And if heaven looks like Austria in early summer, that would be fine by me.

Last night, I saw the play live and had an epiphany. After all these years, I finally figured out why it is entitled "The Sound of Music."  I never understood that title before.  Why in the world was this musical called THE SOUND OF MUSIC?  I thought maybe it could have been called, "The Problem of Maria" or "The Von Trapp Family Singers" or "Edelweiss" after the beautiful, white Austrian flower that the family sings about near the end of the movie.  But The Sound of Music?  What does that even mean?  Music is a SOUND, I know that, but how does that even fit with this play?  I think I finally just decided that because the movie had so many memorable, wonderful songs the creators just decided to name it what it would be known for - MUSIC. 
But last night, as I sat in my seat with program in hand, I figured it all out...
Before Maria, a nun, arrives at the Von Trapp family castle to take over the care of the seven children living there, it is a quiet place.  There are breathtaking views, luxurious furniture, fancy dinners with plenty of guests, but it is a sterile, stern and reserved place. The father of the children, a widower, is a Navy Captain and he runs his family like he runs a ship.  TIGHT. He blows a whistle to signal them to come.  He makes them march.  They stand in a straight line for roll call in drab, perfectly clean, pressed uniforms. Oh, and there is absolutely, positively, NO SINGING by anyone at anytime in the castle.  However, when Maria shows up with her guitar and Do Re Mi in her heart, suddenly, it's not just the hills that come alive with music; it's the castle, the home, the children, and finally the very heart of CaptainVon Trapp.
It is the SOUND OF MUSIC that changes everything.
Let's back it up even a little earlier in the story.  At the abby where Maria comes from, singing is not allowed without permission from the head Mother.  Nuns are only to sing certain songs at certain times.  Of course, Maria, can't keep a good song down.  She sings, whistles and carries a tune with her wherever she goes around the abby.  A few of the more pious and stuffy nuns don't like it, but most find both Maria and her singing amusing and delightful, as heard in the greatest nun anthem of all time "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?"
Once again, THE SOUND OF MUSIC is what brings places and people to life.

And I thought, there is something about this title that relates to my FAITH.

Isn't RELIGION a lot like the Von Trapp castle before Maria?  Isn't it a lot like an abby minus a rebel singing nun?
Religion, as we traditionally think of it in the churchy, negative sense, is the dry, sterile, rule-focused, orderly, mainly MIND-FULL, law abiding way of approaching God. It is about getting in line.  It is about the way I look, doing what I'm told, following the rules.  It deadens the heart, crushes the spirit and seeks to control the mind.  Needless to say, it is not on the list of A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS!
But this lifeless, sterile, inert religion comes alive just like those hills when it becomes what it is meant to be -  life giving!  When it is filled with LOVE that translates into helping the poor, the widows and the orphans then it comes alive. (See James 1:27)  Like a song I can't keep down, it fills my heart and my life and stirs the hearts and lives of those around me! It isn't all MIND; it is HEART.  It isn't all MANNERS; it is SERVICE. It isn't all ANSWERS and pious hand folding; IT is ACTION and getting hands dirty.  Rules and regulations suck the life out of me, mute me, burden me, obligate me and guilt-trip me, but the freedom song of knowing I am alive in Christ, I am His and He is mine enraptures me, energizes me and empowers me.  I am reminded of a line from the love song between Maria and Captain Von Trapp:
"And here you are standing there loving me, whether or not you should..."  Maybe those are Jesus' words to me?  And nope, Jesus, there wasn't anything I did in my childhood or since then to deserve your love, but yet, YOU LOVE ME.   Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
That's a song I can't help but sing! 
Yes, THE SOUND OF MUSIC changes everything.
So sing loud!

Hope A. Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter:  HopeNote

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Comfortable in the Castle

I love the quiet.  My solitude. The time alone to think.  To read. To ponder.  To write.  I love to sip my Pepsi Max while I look out my window on the world.  Ahhhhh...It's so comfortable in the castle.
Ah, yes, and it is so easy to look down on others from the castle, too.
I mean, look at all those people out there?  Look at those good for nothing, sinful, people doing whatever they want, stuffing themselves full of all the best things money can buy!  Why in the world do you need that much tinting on your Mercedes?  It's only a C class!  Why must you be so loud all the time?  Why don't you get a job?  Why don't you get a life?  Why don't you go back to where you came from?!  You're ruining our country.  Draining our resources.  Taking our jobs.  Oops, hold on a minute there, it looks like I need a little more Pepsi Max.

Occasionally, I get out of the castle on Monday afternoons to sit in a room with ten teenage girls.  It's a support group I run with a co-worker of mine.  We help the girls work through their issues, bring in guest speakers and do special projects to encourage their personal growth.  One session from awhile back stands out.  We were discussing the girls plans for the future, what they would like to do when they graduate --their dreams, hopes, aspirations.  Several girls expressed an interest in going to college.  A few wanted to be lawyers and doctors, a few teachers.  None wanted to be pregnant, addicted, gang affiliated and broke. This was the point of the program - to help them be succesful and to help them work through the issues that may keep them from success.  I think it is worth mentioning that I was the only white girl in the room. Every single other girl in the group that day, including my co-worker, was Latino.  She was Nicaraguan and the teens were all Mexican.
All of a sudden in the middle of our group session, as one girl was sharing her dreams of becoming a veterinarian, another girl across the room started crying.  Her head dropped and she sniffed loudly.  Her name was Martha and she was one of the quieter girls in the group. 
I asked her if she was OK.  She nodded, but looked away.  Big, fat tears sprung from her eyes.
"Martha, what is it?"  I asked in a soft voice.
"Nothing.  It's just that I am so FRUSTRATED!"  Her voice raised to a yell at this point and startled everyone in the group including me.  She kept going, "I am so freakin' FRUSTRATED and MAD AND I DON'T KNOW, JUST PISSED OFF YOU KNOW?"
"Why are you so upset Marthat?"  I wanted to know.  She had all of our attention.  Her outburst was totally out of place.
"BECAUSE I CAN'T FRICKIN GET A JOB!  I CAN'T FRICKIN GO TO COLLEGE AND YOU, YOU ROSA!" She pointed at the girl in our group who wanted to be a veterinarian, "YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS LIKE BECAUSE YOU ARE HERE LEGALLY!  I AM SO JEALOUS OF YOU! I HATE IT!  DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS LIKE TO LIVE EVERYDAY IN FEAR?  DO YOU KNOW?!"  She choked up at this point and then began to sob.  To my surprise another girl jumped in. 
"YEAH, YOU CAN'T EVEN GO TO SCHOOL WITHOUT LOOKING OVER YOUR SHOULDER!  I HATE IT!  MY UNCLE WAS TAKEN LAST MONTH AND HE WAS LIKE A FATHER TO ME!"  Now, she began to sob loudly.  This was a girl's group, so crying was something I was used to, but this was different.  This was SORROW.  This was weeping.  This wasn't just sadness.  This was HOPELESSNESS. For the next twenty minutes the girls in my group vented about their fears.  About half were here in America legally and about half were not.  The half that were not, were all brought here when they were very young.  A few were brought as babies.  They told of little brothers being drugged with cough syrup or some mysetery pill to keep them quiet as they passed through border patrol.  They talked about staying with strange people in hotel rooms until they could connect with a coyote on the Mexican side of the border (someone who would bring them over for a price) and then staying with strangers or distant relatives on the American side until they could connect with family somewhere in the states.  Some didn't even remember their journey because they were the ones drugged with the cough syrup, asleep at Mom's breast, or just two young to remember.
Their stories, they sorrow, BROKE MY HEART AND CHANGED ME FOREVER.  In fact, it made me write a book featuring a few of the immigration stories of the girls in my group.  They willingly and freely told me about their experience of being brought to this country.  They told me about their fears.  They told me about how hopeless they felt and how it wasn't "fair" since when they were brought here they were so small, so young, so powerless.  All they had ever known was America. Several said they would have no where to go, no on to go to, if they were sent back to Mexico.  They said they loved America and had dreams for themselves.  I watched their faces change from excitement to dejection as what they wanted to do crashed up against the rocks of reality everytime they remembered that they weren't here legally.
Good grades in high school?  Graduate with honors?  Why bother.
College? University? Trade school? What was the point. 
Good job? Career?  Dream on sister! Better hope you are good with the Windex and Pledge. 
Who is that following you?  INS?  Police officer?  Nope, just a man in a business suit, but just to be sure, you should probably turn the corner here.  Actually, go back to your house, and find your mattress in the living room and lie down.  Maybe this will all be over someday.  Until it is, maybe you can escape this pain, this feeling of worthlessness now, with a little alcohol, a little weed, an older boyfriend, a group of tatooed, trouble making friends.

That day, the group discussion ended with Martha asking question after question through her tears and sobs.  Why should I go to college?  Why bother?  What good would it do for me to have an advanced degree if the best I can hope for is selling tamales or buttered corn on the street corner?  Why should her brother to pay to go to auto repair trade school if the best job he can get would be to join his Dad as a gardner?  I didn't have answers to her questions.  But she wasn't looking for answers, she was looking for light at the end of the tunnel.  I simply told her that she should just continue to do what is right, to stay on the right path, to stay out of trouble and in school and hopefully someday, this will all change.  (And thank God, it looks like that has happened.)  What else could I tell her?  Well, I did tell her that I wanted to tell her story.  That it should be heard.  That people should know how she, and other girls in the group feel.  So I wrote the book.  I wrote it for people like me who live in a castle.  One with a view.  A real high, comfortable, myopic, detached view.

I wrote this blog entry from inside the castle this morning, where it is nice and cool. My chair is padded and comfortable as I lean over my laptop.  I slept well last night in bed.  I had a nice big bowl of Grapenuts this morning.  They were very crunchy, hard to chew, but much easier to swallow than that lump that was in my throat that day when Martha spoke.

Hope Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter: HopeNote
Visit to read Crime of Opportunity:  The Voice of the Immigrant Child
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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Evolution of Love

Some of the most comforting words I ever heard were:
"God loves you where you are."
When those precious words were said to me about 15 years ago they came just at the right time.  I wasn't sure God did love me.  I was pretty sure he didn't actually.  And this person who said them to me had been on her own spiritual journey for quite some time and was used by God to transplant those words of grace and hope into my life at a time where quite honestly, I was at the end of my rope and wondering if life was worth living.  I was in despair and needed God to come to me where I was.  He did.
But since then -- I have evolved. 
Now, I don't want God to love me where I am.
What if I am face down in the pig's trough like the prodigal son who wandered away to "live the good life"?  God please don't leave me here in desperation!
What if I am in the wilderness, wandering around in the dark in rebellion to God's will for my life?
God please bring me out of the darkness!
What if I have my head so far up....well you know where?
And what if I am somewhere pleasant, sunny, wonderful and pleasurable, but it exactly where I am NOT supposed to be?  What if I am somewhere, doing something God never intended for me to do?
God turn me around and set me on the right path!
This is what I mean by the evolution of love.
First, I just wanted, needed in fact, God to come to me and love me where I was, as I was.  My heart was pleading, "God do you love me?"  I needed to hear, I needed to FEEL his love say "Yes, I do."  And I did, in that moment when those words were shared with me and in the days to come after that by the many loving people who rallied around me during some dark times.  God was there with me. His love reached me where I was and I am so thankful for that.
But now, as I grow in my faith, I want God to lead me.  I want him to grow me.  I want to be changed, developed, renewed, MOVED.  I don't want to stay here and just be patted on the head by God.  I want to be used by God.  Sure, I still need the reassurance of his love constantly because doubt is never far from my mind and faith is fleeting, but please God, don't leave me where I am, as I am.  Love me right here and then lead me, prod me, poke me, push me, carry me, HOUND ME, whatever you need to do to make me into the person who knows you more clearly, loves you more dearly and follow you more nearly.  Send me out of my current place, in the empowerment of your love to reach out to others where they are with the same message of hope and acceptance I receieved so many years ago.
God loves you where you are!
And he loves you too much to leave you there!

2 Corinthians 5:17
Prodigal Son: Luke 15:11-32

-Hope Horner
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Gospel of YET

"YET while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
Hard to believe.
For a variety of reasons actually.
It's hard to believe that Christ died, Jesus was sacraficed, for me, a sinner.  He did not become a sinner, he became SIN.  This perfect man who was without sin, God incarnate, bore all of my sinful ugliness upon him in one final moment on the cross.  No wonder he cried out to God, "My God why have you forsaken me?"  God, his Father, couldn't even LOOK at him he was so ugly, so full of my disgusting debauchery, so full of the ugliness of the whole world.  Just picture all of it on Him.  Don't just picture the little stuff on Him - the petty thefts, the disobeying of parents, the lying...picture the BIG STUFF on him - the stuff even hardened, tatooed, gangster San Quentin prisoners HATE - the rapes, child molestations, the brutal wife beatings - all of that sin was all over Him.  All the ugliness of the world he carried on Him and it died with him, so that even the worst of the worst, could come stand before God BLAMELESS and have eternal life - if THEY BELIEVE and have faith.
Isn't that a little hard to believe?
OK, isn't that VERY hard to believe?
You mean if a child molester believes, repents, turns to God, he finds salvation?  Really?
Super duper hard to believe.
And here's something else that is hard to believe.
That I need a Savior.
I am not a child molester, a rapist, a murderer.  THOSE people obviously need saving. We all agree they need help.  They need forgiveness.  Me?  Little ol' me?  I mean I might be dishonest now and again, a little selfish here and there, time to time a tad sarcastic, but I wouldn't say I need saving for goodness sake!
Jesus, had to die for ME?  I mean, in my case, he probably could have just been put on a really long time-out or something.  That would have covered it.  You know the "special quiet time in isolation" the teachers use in Kindergarten to punish talk-back Tina or Bully Billy?  I think that would have been enough to cover my sins.  Hard to believe Jesus had to DIE for ME.  Do I really need a SAVIOR?  That is so dramatic. C'mon, really?
So hard to believe.
I'm doing well overall.  A few things here or there about my life and my way of living kind of suck, but overall, I really can't complain.  Actually, now that I think about it, I would prefer not to be saved. I think I'm pretty good on my own. Yeah, I'm good without a Savior, thank you. 
You see, that's the gospel of YET.  "YET WHILE I WAS STILL A SINNER, Christ died for me."  God knew better.  He knew then and he knows now that I need a Savior, whether I recognize it or not.  Whether I accept Him or not.  Whether I believe Him or not.
You see, God knew that when I sin just once, even in what the world calls a "petty" or "small" way (Think blowing a stop sign in the middle of nowhere), it means from that point on, HE CAN HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. One little lie, one little slip of the tongue, one little nasty thought and POOF - I'm a sinner. My perfectly clean clothes, immediately soiled, stained, dirty, dingy.  And well  God, being just and holy, can't just let me waltz into eternal life looking like that. I can't show up to the final wedding party in a old raggedy t-shirt that says "I'm with Stupid."  My sin is like that - it covers me in ugliness and keeps me from a perfect God and from perfect communion with Him.
Luckily, Jesus, took care of all that.  He's literally got me covered.  He took my ugliness, my raggedy nastiness on himself and took it all to the cross once and for all.  And OK, now that I think about it, I have done more than just be petty with my sinning.  Denial and a selective memory helps me "cover up" some pretty crappy things I have done over the years even if they weren't criminal.  And who do I think I am saying that my sin is less sinful than someone else's?  All it takes is one and I am a sinner! There is a price to pay for this sin!  God couldn't just let me get off scott free, he could have made me pay the price.  He could have kept his back to me, his eyes averted and let me suffer eternal separation from him.  Instead he offered his Son as a sacrafice and looked away from his own Son for that painful, terrible moment on the cross when Jesus was covered in the sins of the world, right before Jesus cried out in triumph "It is finished."  What is finished?  You, Jesus?  (Nope, we know he rises again.)  What was finished was sin and death.  What was finished was his suffering.  What was finished was his fulfillment of the will of his Father that He be a sacrafice for me, for the world.  Mission complete.  And when it was all over, God could look at me again because he doesn't see ME, my ugliness, my sin, instead he sees JESUS, his perfect Son.  My disgusting, grimy T-shirt is gone and I am "clothed in Jesus' righteousness" and I am spotless in his eyes.  I am welcomed by God, loved by God, forgiven by God, reconciled to God.
Wow, guess I did need a Savior after all.
It's hard to believe.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In the Downtime

In the downtime,
When the struggles come,
You are still mine
Though it seems some -
Times I run away
With my eyes closed
Toward the sunrise
Toward God only knows.
It is then, when
Your love it hunts me down -
Where I've been
Matters far less now,
Than where you'll take me
After you pick me up;
How you'll break me
After you lift me up.
Because you want me
Only for yourself!
Your love it haunts me
Won't leave me to myself.
Like kitten crawling
To curl up in my lap;
A gentle calling
Which stirs me from my nap -
Your spirit cuts
Through my cluttered mind,
Captures my thoughts
In the downtime.

Hope A. Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

Sunday, July 8, 2012



You are not my crutch.
Sure, it looks like I need someone to lean on,
Someone to help me take the weight off this nagging, nasty ache, but -
I'll hobble through this pain on my own. 
No, really -- Don't even take me under my arm.
Don't try to assist me.
Thank you very much, but
See? I have one good leg.
I can hop toward what deadens my pain,
I can make it to what soothes, satiates, calms.
Really. I'm almost there.
I might fall to a crawl these last few steps
But please don't gasp when I do,
Don't lean down with a helping hand.
I mean, no offense, but God helps those who help themselves, right?
OK then.
If I stumble, I will pull myself up
And keep on keepin' on!  One hop at a time.
You know, Jesus,
It's not that I don't appreciate the help you offer.
I don't resist you JUST because you made me so independent, so strong, so self-sufficient.
It's also because I am not sure you can handle the heaviness of my shame,
The weight I carry of knowing this injury is self-inflicted.
So this limp is mine to bear.
Anyway, Onward and upward! 
Take it as it comes! Roll with the punches! Suck it up! Buck up! Tough it out! Power through! Push on! Keep on! Soldier on!
Wow. I sure am tired.
But I can do this.

-Copyright Hope A. Horner, 2012.  
Email hopeh1122 on gmail
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Monday, July 2, 2012

I Want it All!

I asked my 17 year old nephew what he wanted to do for a living, now that he is one year away from college. 
"I want to make lots of money and I don't want to work 9 to 5."
"OK, but what do you want to DO?"  He was leaning back on the couch in my living room.  I was sitting up.
"I might want to go into Psychology."
"Really, why?"
"Because you get to make your own schedule and you can make lots of money."
Based on his motives, I felt I had to shed some light on his career choice.  "Then you shouldn't go into psychology. That career should be left to people who have a passion for helping others with their problems, not just for those who want to be rich and have a cushy schedule."
"Well..." he backed off his answer a little bit at that point.  We've been close for years so I can "say it like it is."  I enlightened him further.
"Are you aware that you practically need a PHD in that field?  It's not a trade school type career my nephew.  You go to school for a LONG time and then, when you get out?  You have to do like 175,000 hours of counseling for a measly stipend so you can get experienced enough to get your license."
He shifted a bit in his comfortable repose.  "Yeah, I don't know.  I just don't want to struggle."
Bottom line with my nephew is he wants the benefits without doing the work.  He wants to find "easy street."  He wants to have all the reward, without the effort.  To be honest, I was disappointed with his answer.  He is smart.  He loves animals, music, building things with his hands.  He is well spoken, sensitive, and athletic.  He has a lot going for him, a lot of God given gifts, but he is well, dare I say it? - Flat out lazy.  Like most teens, he watches TV and sees rich people living a life of luxury and HE WANTS THAT. NOW.  He sees Justin Bieber and probably thinks, "That baby faced punk puts a video of himself singing and playing piano on YouTube and now he's a millionaire?  Why can't I do that?  I want to get rich quick, too!"  I want more for my nephew that just riches and a kick-back work schedule. I want him to find his purpose - God's purpose for his life.  His answer shows however, that he is taken in by the allure of the material wealth and is using that as his bottom line.  If I have lots of THIS, then I won't have to worry about THAT.  Whatever I do, I don't care if I have a passion for it I just want to be wealthy, secure, comfortable.  He actually said, "I don't want to struggle."  I had to resist telling him my entire life story of how I worked my way up the ladder at work, starting at less than $5 an hour...but I did tell him that I struggled, and that most people struggle, in the beginning.  But I eased off.  He has only been here one day and I didn't want to send him screaming back to New Jersey away from his crazy, lecturing, know-it-all, OLD aunt.  (40 is probably more like "ancient" to a 17 year old.)
I could be upset with him or I could realize that I am exactly like him a lot of times, when it comes to my faith.
I want the end results, without having to do the work.
Why do I have God in my life?
Because I want peace.
Because I want comfort.
Because I want to go to heaven.
Because I want love.
Because it helps me live a better life.
These are all great, but they are also all RESULTS. They are the REWARDS of a life lived for Christ.
Do I expect the rewards without putting in any work?
Now, this is not to say that I need to do anything to receive God's free gift of salvation (I just put all the Lutherans at ease), but I do need to DO SOMETHING if I want to grow in my relationship with Christ.
It is the main reason why I do this blog.  It helps me "work out" my salvation and my hope is it is a blessing to others.  It is not because I know it all.  It is because I love to write, and I love God.  Writing is work - but it helps me work through my thoughts and my faith and usually I come out at the end of my blog entry with a better understanding of God and my faith journey.  This journey requires work. The journey has benefits, sure, but it requires the work of prayer, of reading the Word, going to church, serving others, listening, being still, asking for forgiveness, seeking truth.
Honestly, it would be so much easier if I could just get to the peace and happiness part without having to put in any effort at all.  In other words, just give me the benefits of Christ now because I don't have time to really work at getting to know him.  I want God like I want ice-cream.
"Yes, hello God.  I'll take a large scoop of your peace and a scoop of your love on a sugar cone, please.  No sprinkles."
Instead, as it turns out, I've got to churn the butter, sugar and whatever the heck else is in home-made ice-cream to get to my Rocky Road.
Salvation?  That I already have.  Eternal life?  Signed, sealed, delivered.
Peace, passion, a clean heart, a new mind and life like Christ?  STILL CHURNING.

So, my nephew, we are more alike than you think.  We want happiness without sacrafice.  We want our peace of mind delivered on a silver platter while we sit fat and happy on the couch being fed grapes by a beautiful person.  We want a video on Youtube that skyrockets us to success.  You want it here on earth from your job, I want it all from God.
We both should know better.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hail Mary Full of Grace

"Hail Mary Full of Grace."

It's a phrase I've heard many times.  I am not Catholic, but have many Catholic friends and co-workers.  Even though I was raised in protestant churches and am now a Lutheran, I have been to more than one mass.  Even without all this, I have certainly seen more than one movie where someone is in a life-threatening situation.  "Hail Mary full of grace" is the devotional of the desperate, frantically recited through trembling teeth, as sweaty, nervous fingers massage wooden prayer beads.
Hail Mary,
Full of grace.
The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women.
Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Even hearing these words over and over and knowing the story of Jesus birth, I have never really understood why Mary was said to be so "full of grace."  What in the world does that mean?  Is she really FULL of grace?  I mean, I know she is pregnant with Jesus and he brought grace to the world through his death, so is that what that phrase means?  Some protestants would say this prayer is just one more way that Catholics overemphasize the importance of Mary by stuffing her full of undeserved grace and honor.   I wasn't sure. Fortunately, this past May, Minister Peter J. Gomes cleared this all up for me.

Gomes served as the minister at Harvard University's Memorial Church from 1974 until he passed away just a little over a year ago.  His sermon entitled "Hail Mary, Full of Grace" was a life changer for me. In fact, after I finished reading it in a small paperback collection of his sermons, I wrote "life changing" at the top of the page, I was so moved by it.  (You can get the book here:Sermons & Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living or check your local library. Or if you're my neighbor or friend, ask to borrow it!)

Gomes says in the opening words of his sermon:
"We children of the reformation simply do not know what to do with Mary."
I know I don't.  I know I can place her as the Mother of God, but other than that I have no idea of her significance.  I don't pray to her.  I don't think about her.  My mind goes straight to Jesus.  I think most protestants are like this.  We think of Mary as being special simply because she "happened" to be the Mother of Jesus, God's Son.  Could of been me, we think, if I had lived at that time.  Could have been anyone.  She's not sinless for goodness sake.  We don't need to hail her.  These are all typical sentiments thrown about by a lot of protestants who wish to "put Mary in her place" after they feel she has been far too esteemed by the Catholic church.  When I read Gomes sermon, I had a whole new appreciation for Mary and realized I had pushed her too far away from "Hail Mary" to "just the girl next door who finds favor."

Gomes explains Mary's "special-ness" like this:
Mary was not chosen by God because she was special.  She was special because she was chosen by God.
In fact, Mary can't believe God thinks she is special.  See Luke 1:38 where she calls herself "the handmaid of the Lord."  She may not think of herself as anything special, but God has plans.  He tells her these plans through the Holy Spirit and she accepts them. She was not expecting to be expecting.  She was not the Bethelehem "Virgin of the Year."  We really don't know much about her.  That is the point.  Her life turned special; it became extraordinary when she submitted it to God.  We know about her NOW because of what God did THEN - He used her to bring Jesus to the world.  Ah, correct me if I'm wrong, but that is pretty darn special.

Gomes goes on to use the example of Mary to question his audience.  Do we think God will only use the special, those with unique qualities?  Nope. God chooses who he chooses.  He can make great leaders out of the lowly.  God takes nobodies and makes them somebodies.  Not somebodies as in "sensational celebrities", but somebodies as in "amazing contributors to God's kingdom." He can do this with anyone, anytime.  He is God, after all.
"Any god can make good out of the exceptional and the extraordinary.  It is our God who makes something out of nothing, who takes nowhere and makes it somewhere, who takes nobody and makes them somebody."

So how is Mary FULL OF GRACE? 

Here is how Gomes beautifully defines it:
"To be full of grace is to be both disposed to the will of God and enabled to perform that will.  Such grace is never earned, never prepared for, it is always the gift - the unmerited and frequently unexpected gift--of God.  Hail Mary, gifted and enabled one."
And for those who find Mary's submissiveness to be so "old-school" so "anti-feminist" Gomes explains:
"Mary is no more submissive in the perjorative sense than it is for Bach to write the music he was given to write, for Rembrandt to paint with the gift that was given him or for Mother Teresa to do the work she was called to do...It was the triumph of the divine vocation within her, not submission and resignation but willingness to discover how God could and would her her life in fulfillment of the divine plan of which she was so vital a part."

Mary is full of grace because she knows her place in the universe.  She is full of grace because she serves God's purposes.  She heard and believed the wonderful gracious voice of God that said, "Mary, I have something special I need for you to do."  God works through her and does so powerfully. She literally becomes full of and bares God's grace!  She may not have thought SHE was special, but she knew God was.  Some of us write music. Some of us paint.  Some of us have a mind for math.  Some are extraordinarily patient.  God can use us all. When we submit our talents, treasure and time to him, he will use it all for His purposes -- no matter how insignificant we feel or ill-timed it seems.  HIS GRACE gives us our significance and makes the timing work out all right in the end. 

Gomes closing thought to his congregation is this:
"We dare not confine Mary to a passive role in the annual Christmas display...for in her call from God and her response to that call, she becomes the mother of not only Jesus, but of our vocation, of our calling as well..."

With that, Gomes really drives it home, doesn't he?  I can honestly say that this sermon made me cry. And remember, I was READING it! (It must have been amazing to hear it preached.) I was actually in a public park when I was reading this sermon so it was not a real convenient place to cry.  I had to use a dirty fast food napkin I had in an old book bag to control my tears, but I didn't care.  God's words were flowing through Gomes.  His preaching was an act of God's grace that was extended to me that day, just as Mary's birth of Christ was a gift that was extended to us all.  It was a truly beautiful spiritual moment in my life, that beautiful, warm sunny day in the park, when I realized that I too, could be full of grace, simply by submitting to God's will for my life.  Wow. 
Hail Mary,
Full of grace.
The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women.
Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

RIP Rev. Peter J. Gomes (1942-2011). See you in heaven my brother in Christ.
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