Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Trash Can Fire on the 405!

While I was driving yesterday, I had the radio tuned to the local news channel.  On came the local traffic report:
"Traffic is slow on the 405 South folks.  A trash can caught on fire. Lots of looky-loos and rubbernecking going on." 
I said out loud, "No lady. The trash can did not CATCH on fire.  It was SET on fire."
No one else was in the car with me, but that didn't stop me from talking out loud.   Just for the record, I heard you're not crazy if you talk to yourself; it's when you start arguing with yourself that you need the men in white coats to come and take you away.  Well...they may be on their way because I argued with myself.  A bit. In my head.
Wait a minute.  Let me think about this. Can ANYTHING actually just CATCH on fire?  Does it have to be SET on fire?  Nothing just ignites into flame, right? Or am I forgetting something? Let me think here...Oh yeah! What about spontaneous combustion?  You know, those gasoline mop-up rags you leave in the garage near the sunny window?  One hot August day and POOF! insta-flame, right?  That wasn't SET...or wait, was it?  Actually, it wasn't set by a human, but it was SET.  It took flammable material plus heat to equal fire.  The fire was "set "or started by those factors.  Replace the hot garage with a cold garage or rags that are dry and oily with rags dripping wet with plain ol' water and you get no flame, no fire, nothing.  So SOMETHING cannot come from NOTHING. Fire does not start on its own.  A trashcan on the 405 does not "catch fire" - it is SET ON FIRE -- usually, by a ill-tossed cigarette or wayward teen or destructive pyromaniac or some kind of heat plus combustible material combination.
And then as I continued to think more about this, sifting and sorting the concept around in my mind, something else I had heard on the news today popped into my head.  Once again, I spoke outloud.  In my car.  Alone.
OK, before you think I am crazy and have me committed, let me explain why I am getting fiesty with Bill Nye, just in case you are out of touch with the news lately.
Bill Nye the "Science Guy" recently made a video that told parents to stop teaching their kids creationism.  Here's a quote from the video:  "I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world that's completely inconsistent with the world we observe, that's fine. But don't make your kids do it. Because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need engineers that can build stuff and solve problems," he said.  Nye ends his video by saying there is "no evidence" for creationism.
I didn't launch into a debate with Nye in my car over Creationism.  (Keep the straight jacket on the hook.) I did find it personally offensive that Nye implied that kids who are raised to believe in Creationism will grow up to be ignorant scientific fools who stare blank-faced into petrie dishes and fail IRS audits, but I didn't rant and rave.  I just yelled out "How about that Bill Nye Science Guy!" And here's why I was taking ol' Bill to bat:
I suddenly made the connection between a trashcan "catching" on fire versus a trash can being "set" on fire and how that could be an analogy for evolution vs. creation.
Evolution assumes that something came from nothing.  "Catching on fire"
Creationism assumes that something was created by Someone.  "Set on fire"

Take the Big Bang Theory for example. Read about the Big Bang Theory Here
Here's how Wiki describes the theory ---The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe.[1] According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the Universe to cool and resulted in its present continuously expanding state.  OK, but where did the Universe come from?  How did it start?  Where did all that "expanding stuff" and heat come from?  Trace it back, back, back and eventually the universe has to start somewhere with something, right?  How did that something get there in the first place before it all came together into a giant BANG-up moment?

Creationists say God created the world and mankind.  God is the only being, the only "thing" that has always existed.  He was not created; he has no beginning and no end. He created the universe, gave it a beginning, and set it in motion.   What about the evolutionists?  What do they say about how it all got started?
Here's an article with some evolutionary ideas about how the earth began: How Did Life on Earth Get Started?
By the way, it is important to note that the scientists in this article, the ones who are probing these tough questions and running these in-depth experiments, obviously did not grow up being taught Creationism by their parents.  Evidently, these scientific experts must have been fed a steady diet of evolutionary theory as children which stimulated their brain and drove them toward careers in science, physics and engineering.  They are literate, voting, tax-paying smart grown-ups now. Meanwhile, the "Kids of Creationists", let's take Johnny for example, dropped out of Biology 101 at the local community college after he set fire to his hair with a bunsen burner.  He now lives at home with mom and and dad and delivers newspapers a few days a week, but holds on to hope that "God has a plan."   When relatives and friends ask what happened to Johnny, his Creationist parents reply, "He set his hair on fire in science class!  Who knew hair could burn?  And what is the point of using a bunsen burner anyway?" (Although it should be noted that one of Johnny's Aunts, the lone evolutionist in the family, tells it a little differently.  She insists "Johnny's hair caught on fire in science class" and leaves it at that.)

Basically, the Scientists in this article believe that something can come from nothing.  And here's an article that explains how that works:  Nothing Comes From Nothing
Bottom line, this scientist says that not everything is "cause and effect."  She says if you go back, waaaaaaay back to the starting place, "the beginning" you will either get to God (Creationism) or matter/energy (Evolution).  I'll let her take it from here...
If the big bang or God caused the universe, what caused them? Yet if the creation of the universe is also the creation of time, then it is meaningless to think in cause and effect when they are not applicable if time does not exist. Neither God nor the big bang require a cause according to the quantum factor which allows “effects to occur that have no cause.” (p. 102, Davies), at the subatomic level. Bizarre, certainly, but conceivable.
Conceivable?  Hmmmmm...the jury is out.
Bizarre.  Yes.
But maybe I just can't understand complex quantum physics because I was raised by Creationists.    Bummer.  So since I am working with a scientifically stunted brain here (Thanks Mom and Dad!) I will move from the world of science to one I am more comfortable with - music.  I will use a song from the Sound of Music to make my point about the concept something from nothing:  (Go ahead and sing it if you know it!)
"Nothing comes from nothing.  Nothing ever could."  Wow, that's pretty profound there Sister Maria.  

One final point to ponder...If I told you that I knew for a fact that the trashcan on the 405 just burst into flame without anyone or anything setting it; if I insisted it just created its own combustible material and ignition source and burst into a ball of flame at 11:11 AM this morning, would you believe me?
No, you'd think I was crazy.  And since I argue with Science Guys who are not in my car, I just might be.  But why is it Bill Nye thinks we're stunting our kids mental growth and tax-paying ability when we tell them that this big, beautiful, efficient and amazing planet was created by God and didn't just burst to life out of nothingness?  If I can't believe that about a trash can on the 405, why should I believe it about our entire universe?  Doesn't it take at least as much faith (if not more!) to believe that all this something came from a whole lot of NOTHING than to believe God started it all?  Don't you need a good dose of faith in order to believe that "effects can occur without cause"? 
I'm going to stick with faith in a divine Creator.
Bill Nye can be thankful I don't have any kids.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Deny the Sun, But You'll Still Want the Sunlight

Photo by Patricia Condon, 2012

I am currently listening to an audio book by A.W. Tozer entitled The Attributes of God. (Link to Book)  In section 3, he makes this statement:
"You might deny the sun, but you'll still want the sunlight."  Or as I heard it:
"You might deny the Son (Jesus) but you'll still want the light (love/connection/peace) of the Sunlight."
He was making this point:  You might not want to admit you need God, but you do, and until you admit it and bask in the Sunlight you are craving, you will seek "these rays in other ways."
It's why we have so much "entertainment" around us.  In one weekend, you can go to an amusement park, watch a 3-D movie, see a live band, and read a Harry Potter novel.  All of these we call "entertainment."  They an escape for the mind and in some cases the body.  We can go to Hogwarts school.  Fly on screen with Batman.  Scream your head off on Batman The Ride.  We can get away from it all and feel pleasure, peace, and welcome distraction from all that worries and perplexes us.  We can forget our suffering - forget about that little pit of anxiety inside our heart of hearts that never seems to go away, like a cup that we pour and pour and pour into, but it never gets full.  Why doesn't it ever go away; why doesn't that cup ever fill?  Because, according to Tozer, it can only be filled with one thing (whether we admit it or not) - GOD.  As Saint Augustine put it -"Everyone has a God shaped hole in their heart."  Deny that hole or try to fill it up with "entertainment" and we find it only fills partially or temporarily; it never quite satiates our ultimate desire, never quiet soothes our suffering, never quite settles our restlessness.  The light of the big screen is pale compared to what we are really seeking.  We need the eternal Light.
Separation from this Light is how Tozer, and CS Lewis, define hell.
Tozer says, (paraphrase) "Even if there is no fire in hell, we will still suffer terribly because we would be ultimately, eternally separated from God."
CS Lewis describes hell as the ultimate "turning inward" away from God.  You turn in and in and in until you are a prisoner trapped in inside yourself in a cramped space that is desperately dark, frightening and lonely.  And the doors are locked from the inside but you can never, ever get out.  You will crave the sunlight, crave its warmth, but you'll never see or feel it again because there is no Sun in your world and no hope of it ever appearing again.  I grew up in Baptist churches, so I heard all the "fire and brimstone" and "gnashing of teeth" stories about the physical suffering that supposedly goes on in hell to torment sinners.  My fear of that pales in comparison to the thought of being literally stuck for all eternity turned inward, in complete darkness, without any hope of ever seeing the Sun again.
Thank God it doesn't have to be that way.  The Sun has come; He is here; his light, his warmth is for all.
Our planet reflects this truth...
When night falls,
Flowers close up.
Birds go to roost in trees.
Animals rest.
People sleep.
When the sun comes up in the morning, so do we.  We lift our petals, arms, snouts and beaks toward to the sun.  We stretch and smile and go about doing what God created us to do.  We were made for the Light.  We are drawn to the Light.  We can rest in the Light.  A flickering screen, buzzing bulb, or even a fancy lamp won't do.  We need the Sun.

Isaiah 60
I John 1:5

Hope A. Horner, 2012
Twitter: HopeNote

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lesson Learned!

When a bicyclist runs into you at full speed--wow, that hurts.
I should know because it happened to me a few days ago.  It was 4:45 in the morning (Yes, 4:45 AM!  What can I say?  I am an early bird.) I was jogging on a narrow sidewalk across a bridge that runs over a dry riverbed.  Next thing I know, I look up and I have a bicyclist baring down on me at arm's length.  I twist quickly and literally shoulder and him right off his bike into the roadway.  He went flying.  His bike went flying. Once I stopped staggering forward, I turned to see him bounce and land face down in the middle of the road.  I had to drag him out of the roadway and on to the curb.  Then I had to go back into the road for his bike.  My fear was a car would come and swerve to miss the bike and then...? He lay on the curb moaning and gasping in pain for what seemed like an eternity.  I kept asking him if he was OK, did he want me to call an ambulance -  he did not answer my question. He just cried out in pain.  I felt nauseous and rubbed my sore shoulder wondering what I should do.
Once he could talk, (but still not stand) he said over and over again, "No, don't call an ambulance.  Please.  I am so, so, sorry.  I know it is my fault.  I saw you and I should have slowed down, but I thought I could get around you.  I am so sorry..."  He complained of severe back pain and said he was seeing stars.  I got him to his feet, but he remained hunched over like an old man with scoliosis. 
I told him I accept his apology.  I didn't say much more than that.  I was in pain, startled, and completely high on adrenaline.  I was also full of all the "what ifs"....
What if he had hit me head on at that speed?  I could have been seriously injured or killed!
What if he had slammed into the railing?  He is not wearing a helmet! 
What if he had flown on to the hood or windshield or under the tire of an oncoming car?
What if I had been jogging with my dog when this happened?

I helped him hobble up to a wider part of the sidewalk near a trail entrance. I wheeled his bike up there too, and with two bent tires and a thrashed frame, it moved along like the shopping cart I always seem to get at the 99 Cent Only Store.  You know the one that veers and pulls like a untamed colt?
I leaned it down on the ground next to him.  He was still in A LOT of pain.  All I could see was his face.  He was about 19 or 20, covered head to toe in black clothing including a black beanie. He kept apologizing, moaning.  He was still complaining about his back hurt saying he landed on the edge of the curb and that he was really, really sorry and he knew it was his fault.  He said I could go if I wanted to.
I told him, "Look I am not sticking around so I can call the cops or a lawyer.  I am sticking around because I am worried about you."
He paused, looked at me and then asked, "Are you OK?"
I said no, but I would be.
He seemed to calm down a bit at that point.  I think he thought I was going to be really mad or threaten him or chastise him or rant and rave, call a lawyer, call a cop, point at my shoulder than at him, try to talk some sense into him like an angry mom or an outraged citizen.  Not for one minute did I feel like doing that.  It was really strange.  And it is not because I am a saint or superhuman, it just didn't seem right.  I did tell him that this could have been a lot worse and yes, it was his fault.  I reminded him though that I accepted his apology.
He made a phone call to work and said he would not be in.  So that was where he was headed in such a hurry!  Me? I was just out for my usual morning jog.  Then he called a family member to come pick him up.  After he was done, we just stood there in silence nursing our wounds.  The sun wasn't even appearing on the horizon yet.  We just had the streetlight above us and the flashing lights of the passing cars. 
I said "I think we almost did this yesterday."
He didn't look at me.  He kept his hand on his back and remained hunched over his bike.
"Were you the guy who blew by me yesterday going up hill?"
Yesterday, I had been jogging up a hill and a bicyclist had come up from behind and blown by me on my right, scaring the heck out of me.
He nodded and replied, "Lesson learned."
I didn't say anything at this point.
Lesson learned indeed. If this doesn't slow him down, nothing will.  Well, at least for a few weeks.  Until he gets his bike repaired.  Until he is able to walk normally again.  Until his back recuperates.  His mind forgets.  His muscles relax.  His emotions simmer down.
By then I will have a reflective jogging vest.  I ordered it that night on Amazon.  But I still will have to be on the lookout because...We never learn, do we?
Like this bicyclist, I have made some pretty reckless decisions over the years.  I have hurt others with those decisions and even bumped myself up quite a bit in the process.  Some of these stupid decisions I've made several times which means that well, like him, I never seem to learn.  I would blame it on being young, being brave, being entitled, being naive, being abused, just having a good time, or go to my usual scapegoats---blame it on something or someone in my childhood.
THE TRUTH IS I AM THE PROBLEM.  I am the downhill reckless biker in my life.  I am the crazy kid without a helmet dressed in all black riding in the darkness at break neck speed.  I am the one who sees the jogger, and takes a chance anyway. 
I am the CHIEF of SINNERS.  (Sorry, Apostle Paul and John Bunyan, I know you both thought you held this title.)
I have known better and done it anyway.  Hail to the chief!
I have known better, done it, hurt others, and then done it again.  Double hail to the Chief!!
I have known better, done it, hurt others, hurt myself, blamed something or someone else, then done it again!  Triple hail to the Chief!!!
OK, I'll stop there. This is not about beating myself up.  This is about me getting real with myself and stating the truth.  The closer I get to God the better he looks and the worse I look.  I see a lot I don't like.  A lot I want God to work on.  A lot I need forgiveness for. 
Luckily, I am all ready forgiven by someone who came into the world to save sinners just like me. I can be free of the burden of guilt and stop repeating the same mistakes over and over. I can stop blaming others and start "getting real" about my own shortcomings - not in a guilt ridden way, but in a way that says, "God slow me down before I hurt myself and someone else!"  Thank God he does. He saves, cleanses, renews and redirects me.  He drags me out of the roadway and puts me back on my bike.
Reckless Bicyclist's Prayer: God, help me to know when I  make a reckless decision that breaks your heart and help me to say "lesson learned" and change permanently through the strength you will provide to do so.  Help me to slow down!  Help me to stop blaming others.  Help me hit the brakes BEFORE I crash, flip, bounce and lay face down in the pain and shame of my reckless decision.  'Cause wow, that hurts.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Too Intense!

Santa Monica in August - photo by Hope Horner

"Too intense man! Too intense!  Take it to the street!"
The scraggly middle-aged woman yelled at the young man singing and playing guitar on Santa Monica beach. He had straight dark hair and a Bob Dylan vibe.  She had knotted grayish brown hair and a crack house vibe.  He pounded his guitar, blew into his harmonica and belted out choruses about love; at least I think he was singing about love in its various forms, but I couldn't be sure.  I wasn't really listening to his lyrics, just trying to take in his overall sound and the cool air coming off the ocean.
Meanwhile, this dishelved, worn sandal of a woman wasn't having it.  She had just given a hug to a tall, bare chested African American weight-lifter on the hill who was standing around with his buddies admiring the scenery (and by scenery I mean females).  She hugged him for too long.  At first, I thought they were boyfriend and girlfriend reuniting after a long separation, until she turned around and headed my way. I could clearly see by her eyes and her mumble lips that every brain cell in her head was dripping with alcohol or some sort of narcotic.  Once near the singer, she slurred her loud chastisement, her arm flailing at him like it had a mind of its own -
"Too intense, man!  Too intense! Take it to the street!"
He kept right on playing.  Didn't miss a beat.  She stumbled away grumbling and cursing.
You gotta love Santa Monica.  Or not.  This really is a city beach.  It's as though the heart of L.A. got scooped into a can and then dumped out on the sand -- some landed on bikes, some fell into roller blades, others landed with a beer in hand, some with a pack of bummed cigarettes, some with crystal meth.  There are Korean tourists, L.A.P.D. officers, street performers, teenage field trip goers, dog lovers, exercise freaks, snake handlers, ice-cream sellers, senior tour groups and families visiting from Ohio. (You can always tell the out of state families.  They're the ones who are actually IN the ocean water because they don't know that Santa Monica is not one of the cleanest beaches in L.A. County to say the least -- not to mention, dang it, they drove all the way out here in a Mini-van with no air conditioning and, "I don't care if the water's cold Susie - YOU GET IN THAT WATER!!!)
Yup, from tourists to locals - Santa Monica is quite the place for people watching. When I was there yesterday, about every fifth person that walked by caused my head to spin.  1,2,3,4...WHAT was she doing?  1,2,3,4...WHAT was she wearing?  1,2,3,4..WHAT was his problem? 1,2,3,4...Wait, what WAS that?
So seeing this inebriated woman cuss out an aspiring seaside singer really didn't surprise me.  But what she said did.
"Too intense man!  Too intense!  Take it to the street!"
By "street" I think she meant up to the 3rd Street Promenade, which is a commercial street full of shops and eateries, about two blocks away from the beach.  There are street performers there.  In fact, on Friday and Saturday nights, there are LOTS of street performers there -- Dancers, singers, piano players, jugglers - all with boom boxes and donation boxes.  When I was there in the middle of the afternoon, there was a family performing.  Dad was sitting on a stool controlling the music and microphones while his son and two daughters were belting out Adele, Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson songs.  One of the daughters had a pink ribbon flag and she was whirling it about.  They were pretty good, but it felt really exploitative.  The son kept urging on the audience to participate with these stilted, over-practiced, cheerleader lines like, "What we do, we do for you!  Join us, won't you and make our sound complete! Now put your hands together people and let's DANCE!"  His smile was as strained as his pre-pubescent vocals. Dad would turn some volume knobs and shift his weight.  The daughters would turn up their vocal vibrato.  The son would turn up his smile.  I turned away.  I really thought these kids should be at a friends' house eating Doritos and playing way too many video games.

Back the beach...
This "too intense" folk singer was undaunted by his new critic.  Despite her 80 proof advice to take it somewhere else, he kept right on singing.  Intensely.  His hat had a few bucks in it and I added to it.  He had a nice sound, perfect for the beach, I thought and plus, he had been able to smile and play his way through her nastiness.  Good guy.  You'll do well in the bars.  This is good training, actually.

Now, for some reason, I can always find a spiritual connection with everything I hear.  Call me crazy.  Call it intense. I call it the "Longview."  There's the opposite view - the "Shortview" -- the world can be just the world, a dog just a dog, a friend just a friend, a beach just a beach, a homeless woman's words, just words, OR they can take you somewhere else in your mind and heart.  They can make you think beyond what is right in front of you and sometimes, well, actually A LOT of the time, that is what happens to me.  What happened when I saw this scene yesterday, when I heard those words, "Too intense man!" and thought about it a little bit more, I considered what she meant in the "Longview."
She did not appreciate his passion.
She thought he should take it somewhere else.  Like somewhere where it would be appreciated...  Somewhere where other people are just as passionate and intense, where it would be appropriate to sing that loud and pound that hard on your guitar.  This was too intense for the beach.  This whole performance, this display of intensity -  was WAY too much for her.
And I thought...that is kind of what it's like for me as a Christian.  I don't have anyone yelling at me to take my passion somewhere else -- "Too intense Hope!  Too intense!  Take your Jesus back to church!" but I do have that voice in my head.  I write a blog (like yesterday's) which is really personal and passionate (and intense) and I think, "Too intense Hope! Too intense!  CHILL OUT! Take it down a notch, wouldya woman?  My gosh!  People are going to think you are a  Jesus freak or something!  Why don't you just run out right now and get yourself one of the "What Would Jesus Do" bracelets for goodness sake?!  And a NOTW sticker for your Nissan! I bet you vote Republican too, right?  And I bet you think you are perfect and sinless and holy and the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket if they don't think like YOU!   Too intense, man! Too intense!  Take it somewhere else!"
None of the above describes me.  But that is the screaming voice I hear.  That is my drunk female critic who wishes I was somewhere else.  She keeps me quiet when I want to reach out to someone and share hope and love and how God had changed my life.  Too intense!  She is what keeps me quiet in various groups when I feel really passionate about something I've read or learned or discovered spiritually and I want to share it, REALLY REALLY want to throw it out there, but am afraid to because I don't want to sound like a Bible-Thumper or a CS Lewis quoter or a Book Nerd.  Too intense! So I just blog it.  Ah, yes, I retreat to the safety and comfort of the written page.
Lately, I have been reading and re-reading John Chapter 17.  It is an entire Chapter of Jesus' prayer before he leaves earth.  I know I use this phrase a lot in my blog and good writer's avoid cliches, but too bad, because I can't think of any other way to describe what this chapter does to me ---
Jesus flat out says HE IS ETERNAL LIFE! 
He says: Knowing him = Eternal life. (John 17:3)
He doesn't say he is the way to eternal life or the door to eternal life, or that he is the prophet that points to eternal life, nope, he says, "KNOW GOD, KNOW ME, KNOW INTERNAL LIFE." 
You want to know what else "blows me away"?  The Amplified Bible.  Why didn't someone point out this translation sooner!!?!  You mean, I grew up with the NIV and the KJV and I missed out on this jewel!?!  Here is the John 17:3 in the Amplified Bible (a version that uses multiple English words to try to capture the original meaning of the text):
"And this is eternal life: (it means) to know (to perceive, recognize, become acquainted with and understand) You, the only true and real God, and (likewise) to know Him, Jesus, as the Christ, the Annointed One, the Messiah, Whom You have sent."
WHOA! Does that verse blow you away like it does me?  There is a powder keg in those words and I feel like I am reading them while holding a match.  They make Jesus a whole lot more than just a nice guy full of platitudes.  He says who he is (eternal life) and he says it plainly and then he offers himself to us so we can have it, too.  Really?  WOW!!  Pound that one out on the guitar!  Sing it loudly!  I can't keep it to myself!
 "Too intense, man!  Too intense!  Take it to the street!"

Friday, August 17, 2012

Who Are You?

I know a lot about God.

I popped out of the womb into the lap of devout Christian parents.  Heck, while I was still in the womb, I probably heard muffled hymns sung by the Bill Gaither Trio and hummed along and then froze in my amniotic fluid at the sound of Billy Graham.
At around five years old, I converted, "asking Jesus into my heart" at the dinner table over my Macaroni and Cheese. (At least that is what my parents tell me.  I don't remember this moment.) Growing up, I went with my family to the "First Baptist Church of Whatever Town We Lived In" regularly -- once on Wednesday night for Bible study, twice on Sundays for the morning and evening services.  I wore Holly Hobbie dresses and white, folded down socks with my heels.  Every year on Easter, I always wore the very special dress I had picked out for this very special day.  One year, I added a white rabbit-fur hand muff my Mother had given me to my Easter outfit.  I buried my hands inside it.  It was California and 80 degrees on Easter Sunday.  I didn't need a furry hand muff, but it seemed fancy.  And appropriate. It was Easter after all. 

On almost every Sunday before the evening service, we ate dinner in the church cafeteria which was down in the basement of one of the big brick church buildings.  The buttermilk ranch salad dressing at 1st Baptist Church of Reseda was awesome.  I was baptized at that church.  Don't remember exactly how old I was, but I do remember going under the warm water at the front of the church and then returning to my seat with wet hair as "Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul" was being sung heartily by the congregation. I avoided people's eyes, but I could see they were smiling at me.
In my early years of elementary school, I was in a group called "Whirlybirds", the Christian equivalent of the Brownies.  Instead of badges, we earned little plastic "trinkets" for good behavior; each tiny toy had a loop at the top, so they could be sewed on to a special "Whirlybirds" beanie.  I never wore the beanie.  It was red and white, had a green plastic helicopter on top and with all the trinkets sewed all over it - it was really gaudy.  Not to mention I was born with "The Horner Head" which in my family means my head is so big it does not fit well in most caps, especially not in this tiny skull cap they considered a beanie.  What should have come down to my ears, sat on my head in a way that made me look like a Jewish man. 
Once I got into 4th-6th grade, there was "Pioneer Girls" - yes, you guessed it, the Christian version of the Girl Scouts.  We lost the beanies (thank God) and moved on to red and blue vests.  Mine fit nicely.  We earned small, round patches for helping our neighbor in the yard, old ladies across the street and Mom around the house.

During my "Pioneer Girls" days, my church assigned me a Christian mentor called a "Prayer Pal."  Mrs. White was her name.  Betty White.  She was about 80 years old, widowed, had a large, white perfect perm, was super sweet, and honestly, I have absolutely no recollection of ever praying with her.  This is probably not surprising since I was very young and my biggest prayer request was probably something like, "Please ask God to help me hit a home run in my Bobby Sox softball game on Saturday" or "Please don't let Dad get rid of our dog Goldie even though he ate a whole in the garage."

My summers were full of God, too.  There was Vacation Bible School (VBS).  This meant I got to hear a lot of Bible stories, memorize verses, smear paint, break crayons, scatter glitter, and cut construction paper into strips to make place mats.  As a teen, it was in VBS where I discovered groups like Petra, Carmen, Michael W. Smith, the Imperials and Degarmo and Key.  I really liked Petra.  They rocked.

For several summers, when I was about junior high age, I also went to BMA camp - Bible Memorization Association camp. Yes, that is a real camp.  Here's how it worked:  If you memorized enough verses during the year, you got to go to camp in San Diego where you got to memorize more verses.  I'll never forget the "entrance exam" for this camp.  You had to sit at a picnic table at the front of the camp with Dolly, a mentally disabled, ill-fitted denture wearing, drooling, earnest Christian, who would ask you to recite verses to her out loud.  You had to know ten by heart to get in to camp.  I was always petrified.  What if I only remember 9 and then my parents have to take me home?  This was a long drive to get here!  Why can't I remember 1 John 1:9!  Can I recite John 11:35 instead? Maybe John 3:16?  Please?! Dolly, have mercy!  Luckily, Dolly was very sweet and wasn't paying too close attention, so I always got in.   Once in, BMA camp was an adventure.  The campsite seemed to go on forever in all directions. There were hills and trails and pine trees.  In one spot, there were big, gray boulders all piled up on each other and I used to jump around on them like a mountain goat.  There was Martinelli's Apple Cider in the snack bar, a freezing cold above ground pool that was in the middle of no where (creepy!) and small log cabins with wooden bunk beds.  They were scattered around the camp, but close enough together so that everyone could hear the trumpeter play Revelry in the morning and Taps at night.  Even with the rock jumping, the leather jewelry making and honestly the best camp food I've ever had, I was so miserable, self-conscience and homesick, I don't think I went to the bathroom for the entire week.  (Except maybe in the pool.) I did have one friend at camp that made things a little better.  Her name was Karen and she was from Garden Grove.  She loved to jump on the rocks.  We wrote letters to each other between camp sessions. We used fancy stationary and had perfect penmanship.  See you next year at camp!  Stay in touch! Gotta boyfriend?

Then in high school, my parents sent me to a different camp -  Hume Lake Christian Camp up in the Sierras.  It was beautiful.  Huge.  Well maintained.  A professional camp for Christian kids.  I hated it.  Except the year that Joel Weldon was the guest musician.  He was great.  I wanted to play the guitar and be on stage with him.  He had so much passion for God and he "kept it real" and didn't talk to us like we were a bunch of dumb kids or just throw around a bunch of "Jesus lingo."  His voice was soothing, friendly and his music was personal.  While I sat with hundreds of other teens in the camp auditorium each night listening to him sing, I could feel my batteries recharging. I was so drained because I hated every minute of being away from home, not to mention all the swimming, rowing, tug-o-war, water relays, and horseshoes.  Then, after Joel, and before lights out, we had "Come to Jesus" campfires under the stars -- big glorious bonfires with sparks and pops!  We'd sing Kum By Ya and What a Friend We Have In Jesus.  Someone would read the Bible and rile us up about becoming a Christian if we weren't one, being a better Christian if we were one, or about taking our "fire for Christ" down the hill and staying "lit for Jesus" back in our home towns.  I wanted to go home.  I couldn't wait for it to be over.  I wanted down off the mountain.  I didn't bring the fire with me.
Once at home, it was just like I was at camp only without all the homesickness, mosquitoes and campfires.  There was a lot of praying, singing, Bible trivia games and study.  My parents read the Bible out loud and Christian classics too, like Pilgrim's Progress and the Chronicles of Narnia.  We took turns praying around the dinner table.  Occasionally, we even had communion at home.  Always grape juice, never wine.  The body of Christ was usually store-brand white bread.

My schooling was overseen by God, too.  No "secular" public school for me.  I was home schooled by my father who has his teaching credential in English and a PHD in Theology.  My Mom was my homework helper, french tutor and piano teacher.  She got her degree from Bob Jones University and used to tell me stories about how school administrators went to great pains to keep boys and girls separated.  Boys walked on the blue lines painted on the ground around campus, girls on the pink she said.  They had "date nights" where a boy and a girl could sit in a room and talk while a chaperone listened in nearby.  I wasn't shocked, only amused.  I could picture her at this Bible belt college in her ankle length dress, New Testament in hand, "walking the line." Johnny Cash would have been proud.

After homeschooling, I went to private Christian schools from 4th grade through my sophomore year of college.  I loved my Christian high school.  It was an international boarding school in Northern California and I had friends from Alaska, the Virgin Islands, Korea and all points in between.  I was on student council, played year round sports and wrote for the newspaper.  We didn't take Bible classes at this school - we stuck pretty close to traditional high school curriculum, but we did have Chapel every Wednesday in the gym.  Before and after the Scripture lesson, aspiring singers would belt out Amy Grant and Sandy Patty hits.  One time, the wife of the principal sang a lenghty, opera style song entitled "Throw it Down Moses."  The lyrics told the story from Exodus 4 of God commanding Moses to throw down the rod. Moses was being defiant. He did not want to throw down the rod.  Mrs D's voice was high, passionate and shrill as she sang out God's commandment over and over -- "Throw it Down Moses!" "Throw it down Moses!" On and on Moses refused and God commanded.  The song seemed as endless as Moses' stubbornness.  We shifted our numb butts in the metal bleachers. Finally, I turned to my best friend Jackie and said, "For goodness sake Moses THROW IT DOWN ALREADY so we can go to lunch!" 

My senior year I went to Mexico on a missionary trip with my Spanish II teacher and classmates.  We shared Bibles and The Jesus Movie to locals in Rosarito and Tijuana.  I remember homes made of scrap metal and cardboard, dirt roads, chickens and skinny dogs, lots of hills and really sweet Coca-Colas.  I gave a Bible to a boy named Juan who wanted to be my boyfriend.  I came back with a colorful hand made blanket and a Rolex watch with what I soon discovered had painted on hands.  It was 11:00 o'clock all day, everyday.  Well, for $10 at least it was right twice a day. And looked cool.

My high school days also meant more music by Petra, only played a little bit louder in a Walkmen, and at one point in the late 80's - along came Stryper. I could never quite get in to this heavy metal Christian band.  Something about big-haired men in makeup and leather singing about Jesus just didn't sit right with me.

My comprehensive Christian education continued into college.  With it, came Christian classes, Christian textbooks, Christian counseling, Christian uniforms, Christian curfew, and required Christian church attendance.  Each Monday, I would file into the school gymnasium for Chapel service with hundreds of other appropriately dressed college students, find my name on a clipboard, and "sign in" indicating that I had gone to two church services that past Sunday. Chapel was three times a week at this conservative university.  My freshman year was spent almost entirely on Bible classes like Old Testament and New Testament studies. I will spare you the details of my experience at this college because I don't have many.  I have blocked out most of my time there and the memories that do remain are not pleasant.  Let me cut right to the chase.  When I entered this conservative Christian university, I signed a document that said I believed certain things and would behave certain ways or I would be disciplined and eventually expelled.  There was no smoking, dancing, fornicating, cussing...the list went on and on.  I agreed to go to church, attend Chapel regularly, and go to my classes.  I would be in bed at a certain time and not hang out in places of disrepute.  I lasted almost two years.  Then one day, the dean of the school called me into her office to tell me that I was being expelled.  I hadn't lived up to the code and even though they tried to help me, she said, I had refused to change, so therefore, I was never to set foot on campus again.  She pulled out a book the size of War and Peace that contained "notes" about my "case" -- all the ways I had broken the rules, all the counseling sessions, things my room-mate(s) had seen and heard me do and now, she said, it was time for me to go. Her final question to me was, "Would I prefer to call my parents and tell them the news or would I like her to make the call?" Oh, that's awfully kind of you to offer, but I'll take it from here, thanks.

My last two years of college I went to Cal State Northridge. It was great. I took a class called "Women in Religion" and it blew me away to hear a teacher talk about the apostle Paul as a misogynist. I took another class --philosophy-- from a teacher who was a transsexual in progress.  SHE was becoming a HE right before my eyes and spoke openly about her/his "transformation." I stared at her throat and wondered if an Adam's apple would suddenly appear.  I wondered where her boobs went.  I noticed the inflections of her voice diminished as the baritone increased. Wow, I was really in the world now I thought.  When David Duke came to campus, or Rodney King was acquitted, the school erupted into violent, noisy, angry student protests.  People shouted and hooted and cursed and picketed.  Columbus Day at CSUN was fun, too.  I learned the man who discovered America was a murderer and a fraud.  At least that's what was written in chalk all over the campus sidewalks.  Even with the occasional political uproar and the 1994 earthquake, my time at CSUN was peaceful and easy going. I commuted, barely studied, worked part-time, joined softball leagues, played guitar, made new friends and graduated with good grades. I stopped going to church.  I started going to dance clubs.
It was during this time that I tried many different things to help me forget about God and the words of the "Christian Counselor" from the first college, who told me I was disgusting and going to hell because of my "lifestyle."  I think deep down I believed her.  This God I knew all about, well, he knew all about me too and despite all my badges and books, camps and campfires, he was pretty much disgusted with me too.  Turned out this counselor was a hypocrite in every sense of the word.  I held on to that for along time.  I held it against God, too.  If this God, who all my life I had heard, read, sang, talked, painted, even flannel-graffed about -- didn't love me then well, I didn't love him either.
Out of college, through my twenties and early thirties, I was flat out sick and tired of God and sick and tired of Christians and sick and tired of all the religion, religious people, religiosity, the religious religion of religiosity - AAAACKKKKK!  Cut me loose!  For goodness sake, Petra SUCKS!  Stryper is an embarrassment! (Sorry guys!)  I want REAL heavy metal.  I want Rated R movies.  I want to smoke. I want to see the inside of a dance club.  Have a drink!  Dance! Kiss! Get caught kissing while dancing and drinking and smoking in a dance club. 
So I did.
And it was a just a hell of a lot of fun.
For awhile.
Then it became just a hell of a lot.
Then it became just hell.
And I wanted out of hell, but I didn't want to go back to the hell of religion either.
So I wandered and searched and cried, self-destructed, self-repaired, wounded, healed, questioned, rested and writhed...I flailed and hid.  I kept a perfect smile on my face while around others, especially my parents.  I knew how to put on a good facade.  God's people taught me that.

It has only been the last ten years or so, off and on, that I have started to find out for myself who exactly this God, this Jesus is. Who is this person who supposedly loves me so much he died for me?  And wait, does he really love me?  Why? Who exactly did I commit my life to just a few years out of diapers? Who in the world is Jesus and why did I allow him "into my heart"? Is he even really in my heart or just in my head? Just in my past? Just in my parents' head? Their past? Is he in my DNA? If I hadn't been raised in the Jesus commune, would I even want to commune with Jesus? Do I even WANT to love him? Now that I don't have to, do I want to? Why would I? Should I? My life is my own now, my parents don't make me go to church. Do I even want to go? Why do I want to go? Is it guilt that propels me? Habit? Security? Is God just like the Wizard of Oz and once I pull back the curtain and look for myself, I'll find some tiny man in a nice suit with a megaphone and a bunch of heart-warming promises of a better life?
Eventually, I was rescued by real Christians.  They didn't rush in to save me.  They just loved me where I was.  They were there for me in my despair; in my darkness, they were a light of hope.  They said God loved me.  I didn't believe them right away, but they met me where I was.  They could meet me there, where I was, because they had been there too. They had been in despair.  They had doubted; heck, some still doubted, but they loved anyway  They loved God. They loved me.  Some were friends.  One was a boss.  One was a pastor.  One was a cancer survivor.  All were human. I started to see my world, Christians, this God, in a new light. 

And so here I am. 40 years old. Still wrestling, but not running, not flailing.  Don't misunderstand me. I am thankful for my Christian upbringing. My parents are wonderful, humble, loving Christians and I respect and admire them immensely.  They made enormous sacrifices so that I could get a top-notch Christian education and participate in countless activities.  It's just that in the last decade or so, I've figured out that my upbringing taught me a lot ABOUT God but it never really helped me get to know him personally.
It's kind of like this - I know where all the books are in the Bible; but I realized I have no real, personal understanding of the love story they contain.  I can't see the tree, for the forest.  For awhile, I thought maybe I need to chop down some of the trees in the forest.  Throw out some of what I know.  Throw out all I know.  Or maybe I need to weed through all of it - all the books, sermons, lessons, songs, and search for the Truth.  Maybe I need to mull it all over, think about it, study it...Then I realized, no, that's not it. That's the religious part of my faith kicking in again, that's what I'm good at.  Maybe I need to let go.  To be still.  To listen.  To be open. To rest and be receptive. That's where I've been for awhile.  That's where I am now.

Here I am God.  Who are you?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


When I've fallen flat in pain & grief,
When I'm face down in my misery,
Lift me up; I ask you please;
But not to stand on my two feet,
Lift me only to my knees.

-Hope Horner, 2012

Twitter:  HopeNote

Monday, August 13, 2012

Standing in Perfect Peace

How can I find peace amidst the chaos of life? Amidst the turbulence of my own thoughts?  And not just "passing peace"for this moment, but "perfect peace" for all time?   I don't want a flash of two fingers - (Peace, man!) I want the whole hand of God wrapped around my heart and mind.
According to Isaiah 26, I need to "keep my mind on God" - trust, commit and lean on Him.  In other words, peace comes THROUGH and IN my relationship with God.  When this relationship is out of whack, so am I.  What throws it out of whack? Psalm 24 describes what can hinder my relationship with God.

Verses below are my paraphrase, extracted from the Amplified Bible.
Isaiah 26:3
Whoever has his mind stayed on you, Oh God,
You will guard him and keep him in perfect peace.
Because he commits to you
Leans on you
Hopes confidently in you.
So if you want perfect peace...
& Hope in the Lord forever--
The Rock of Ages.

Psalm 24
Everything in the world belongs to God.  Every person in the world belongs to Him.
He made the sea and he made the mountains.
Who can stand before God?  Who can face his holiness?
Only those whose hands and hearts are pure,
Only those who worship God and put nothing else before Him,
Only those who never tell lies.
They will receive God's blessing
and have a right relationship with their Savior.
They are the ones who can seek God.
They are the ones who worship the God of the whole world.

May we all find perfect peace in the God who made us, loves us and forgives us.  Today & always!

Twitter:  HopeNote

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Wildebeest Was Pushed!

"Survival of fittest" is not what we think it is.
Today I heard a prominent biologist explain a scene from an episode of  "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" to make this point.  If you grew up watching the show as I did, you may remember this moment:

Wildebeests approach a shallow river in the heart of the Serengeti.  On the other side is green grass; their food source.  To get to the grass, they must cross the river which is infested with crocodiles -- hungry, BIG crocs who are licking their lips at the site of the wildebeests piling up on the embankment like confused tourists.  The crocs slap their tails and writhe in anticipation.  The water churns.  The wildebeests hesitate.  Suddenly, "Grandpa,"  an old, feeble wildebeest, stumbles out from the pack and plunges into the river.  The crocs pounce in a feeding frenzy.  As they devour him, the rest of the wildebeests race across the river and make it safely to the other side.

Did you see that?  Wasn't that amazing?! That one old wildebeest, Grandpa, just sacrificed himself for the whole pack!  He knew he was the oldest, the frailest, the one whose time had come and so he threw himself into the chomping jaws of the predators to save his fellow wildebeests!  He made himself a sacrifice! He ensured the others - the healthy, the virile, the young would survive and the wild, proud wildebeest species could live on.  
Ah, no.  As it turns out, that's more the Lifetime Television for Women version. (Sorry ladies.)
The biologist explains despite what "Wild Kingdom" narrator Marlin Perkins says about grandpa's heroism, this isn't what happened at all.  You missed something. You saw the story, but not the WHOLE story.

The Wildebeest was pushed!

First, I laughed out loud.  (I immediately thought "Just like Humpty Dumpty!") Then, I thought:
Really?  Grandpa was PUSHED into the river?  He didn't jump in to save the pack? What?
No!  It can't be! This story was so heart warming!  Couldn't we just leave it at that?  I mean I practically had my blog entry written at that point - you know "The Sacrificial Wildebeest"!  Does anyone want to guess what that blog entry would be about?!

Nope, sorry, no animal sacrifice here. Play back the video and you'll see.  Cue it up just a little bit earlier - to the part right before where the wildebeest appears to jump into the water. 
What is that other Wildebeest doing?  Hey!  Wait a minute!  What are ALL those young, virile, wildebeests doing to Grandpa?  By Golly! (got to use a classic Grandpa expression here) They're pushing him forward toward the water!  They're pushing him IN!
Yup, with a kick here and a butt there, Grandpa gets jockeyed up to the front of the pack by the young'ins and then plop!--- into the water and waiting jaws of the crocs he goes.  No final goodbyes.  No dramatic speech.  No tears.  Just a nudge, a plop and a chomp.
Kids these days.

The biologist clarified why "Wild Kingdom" got it wrong.  Until it was debunked in the 1960's, scientists used to believe that survival of the fittest meant that "animals behave for the good of the species."  The theory said animals' group behavior was directed in ways to increase the chances that the species would survive.  Instead, as the Grandpa video and years of scientific research showed, evolution is not about individual animals making sacrifices for the benefit of the species, it is about "individual selection."  What does that mean?
 It means animals are instinctively, naturally selfish.  Their life depends on it. They look out for themselves and behave in ways to optimize their own chances of being able to replicate (reproduce) themselves.  It's not about survival of the fittest in the species sense, it's about survival of ME (fit or not) in the individual sense. Instead of "taking one for the team" for the good of the species like we all thought Grandpa was doing, when we look closer we see it was all about Junior making sure HE survived and every Junior in that pack behaving in the same way.  It's all about ME.  If I survive, I get to pass on more of MY DNA to the next generation. 

OK, NOW can you sense what this blog is going to be about? If not, I'll get right to the point:
I am a wildebeest.
So are you.
We don't have to believe in evolution to know that intrinsically, naturally, genetically WE ARE SELFISH.   I can tell you for sure that I am a Wildebeest.
Heck, even the media treats me like a Wildebeest.  The front page of this month's MONEY magazine exclaims, "Europe's Pain, Your Gain!" Television ads stroke my wildebeest ego, reminding me that it really is "All about me."  They tell me "this time is my time" so I should "get mine" "take time for me" "get what I deserve." (I hope that last one doesn't happen!)  Oh, and let's not forget, I am a glamorous, vain wildebeest (although I do have quite a few bad hair days) so I am continually needing to "cultivate my self" and "bring out the beauty that is me."  Yes, this 'beest is really a beauty! 
Cue a gorgeous young woman with husky voice caressing a beauty product. 
Hey you! Yeah you -Ms. Sexy! We designed this product with YOU in mind -- you beautiful, cool, discerning, professional, sophisticated...
OK, sure every once in awhile I put down the mirror, dial down my ego and do something nice for someone else.  I'm not the only one. There is a lot of charity in the world, a lot of kindness, a lot of benevolence.  I am not a nasty wildebeest.  I am nice.  Caring. Thoughtful.  Loving.  And for goodness sake, I would never, ever...EVER push Grandpa into the river!
But unfortunately, history would argue with me.  I don't need to go far back in time to see just how ugly it can get.  A lot of people have gone into the river over the years, some in groups, some one at a time.  I want what I want and you don't fit into that paradigm, or you get in the way so PLOP! - into the river you go!  I may not have personally thrown anyone or any group into the river, but I have certainly pushed and nudged people closer to the river's edge.  I've put ME first at the expense of others.  And I have to look back and wonder -- how many times have I stood by and watched others go into the river and either pretended not to notice or used it as an opportunity to get myself to greener pastures?

So, my Wildebeest brothers and sisters, I acknowledge my selfishness.  That's one thing I can do that those African grass eaters can't.  I can also contemplate.  Confess.  Change. And I can consider Christ -- a humble, sacrificial, loving servant as my example for living.  God knows this scraggly, faithless, selfish beest needs a Savior to help it cross the river. 

Hope Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter: HopeNote

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"Happy & Love"

The Shedding Sultan of SoCal

Happy and love. Love and happy.
These are the words I would use to describe my dog Carmela - - a dog with only two emotions.

She truly was happy to love and loved to be happy. She never growled at a soul.  Never bit.  Never misbehaved. (In fact, she tattled on those who did.)  She never complained.  Even when you stepped on her paw, even when her face was swollen from a tooth abscess, even when she drank tainted rain water and got deathly ill, even when her kidneys were failing and her health was fading --- she still wagged, instead of whined.  Despite her blindness, she still forced light to shine from her clouded eyes.  She still lifted her dry nose in love when I approached.  She was still "love and happy."  Right to the end.

The end was yesterday.

The end came for my Carmela, the chihuahua terrier mix that I rescued off death row from the West Valley Animal Shelter.  The last few weeks, my "Grr" (short for "girl") that I once joked was "as wide as she was tall" - was refusing to eat, refusing to drink, weak, disoriented, ill and fading fast.  Yet still she refused to complain.  But I knew it was time.  I would not let her languish any longer.  Her "happy and love" could not sustain her anymore. She was ready. 
I'm not sure I was.
She went downhill fast.  A week ago, I told "happy and love" that if she needed to go, wanted to go, she could.  I told her I would be fine without my "sentry."  I said, "Go ahead and go, Grr, it's OK."  For the first time in her life, she did not obey me.  A dog who always did what she was told, in this case, she defied.  She pressed on.  In the last two weeks, she got thinner and weaker, but she seemed to save up her energy during the day to be able to extend just a little bit of "happy and love" to me when I came home at night.
Then, when "happy and love" was more than she could do, I knew.
It was time to let her go.
She would not complain.
She would not whimper.
She would not whine.
She would just go quietly, peacefully and I would let her.
I will remember her, not as she was at the end, withered and weak, a shadow of herself, but as the Carmela I remember from the first day I saw her in the kennel - the golden, glowing, chubby Chihuahua mix with that "happy and love" face, radar ears, "pack-a-day" bark, and a tail that never seemed to rest.  From that first day in the pound, when she was surrounded by stressed out, barking pooches and cold floors, she was peace and warmth.  She was then, and until the very end, the dog who brought "happy and love" into my life.

(a.k.a."The Piglet" Wigglesworth DeVille" "Grr" "Carmela-Hoo")
Happy & Love

"Loving Sisters"


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Blaring Approval

Sometimes wanting God's approval isn't as important as wanting the approval of others.  Well, it shouldn't be that way, but if I am honest that is often how it works.
God's approval sounds like an old audio recording played off in the distance somewhere and meanwhile the approval of my friends, my family, my co-workers sounds more like I'm front row at a rock concert.
Wow!  Look!  They love me!  They really love me!  They show it - I feel it!  They say it - I hear it!  I can look in their faces, into their eyes!  I can see that note they left, read that certificate on the wall and know, really know, that I am valuable.  ENCORE!

When I was moving a few years ago, I found an old cassette tape in the bottom of one of my desk drawers.  Lucky for me, I am still "old school" enough to have a stereo with a cassette player so I popped it in. It was a recording of some songs I had written in very early twenties.  My performance was earnest, but terrible. My guitar sounded like I was playing on one of those small, plastic toy guitars given out at the birthday parties of 8 year olds.  My voice was soft and hesistant.  The lyrics of the songs, were, well, earnest, is the best I can say.  Really, really earnest.

Sometimes this is how I think God's voice of approval sounds in my ears.  Old fashioned.  Soft.  Earnest, but weak.  Instead of hearing a symphony of love, I hear just that "plink plink plink" of a cheap, plastic guitar.     God whispers...I kind of like you a lot.  Thanks for doing my will.
Meanwhile, the love and approval of those around me sounds like Iron Maiden blasting out of a summer window in an alley at midnight.  I can not only HEAR it, I can feel it.  Yeah!  Blast it!  Give me more!

So, today, I am subjecting what I feel to what I know because what I feel is often wrong.  (A valuable lesson I picked up on awhile back, but one that is hard to follow.)  I know God loves me deeply, passionately, LOUDLY.  His approval is all that matters and I have it.  He is not timid in his love for me.  It is not an old, worn out love. It is a love that cost Jesus his life.  It is a love that changed my life and my eternity.  The only reason it sounds way off in the distance is because of where I AM, not because of where God is.  I pray that I seek his approval more than the approval or anyone else, no matter how loud their approval is, no matter how good it feels to be needed, loved, wanted, validated, important.  Even when I don't feel like it, I KNOW I am valuable because I am a child of God.  The love that I naturally seek from others, when it comes, I should consider it a blessing, not a destination.  While it may elevate my spirit, comfort and soothe me, it should not fill me up entirely.  The music of the world's approval might be loud, but it is not the music my soul needs.  That is a melody that only Jesus can play. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Finding Perfect Peace

Where does time go?
This is one question I seem to ask myself more and more the older I get.
Where DOES time go?
No where, really, but wherever it goes you can't get it back. And it seems to take your peace of mind with it.
I'm sitting in my favorite childhood park as I write this blog entry.  It's a park I've been to many times-- as a child with my family and now, as an adult, I still come back to it several times a year.  The trees tower overhead, creating a magnifiscent canopy of shade.  A gentle creek runs through the park and cascades down a man-made waterfall into a giant pond full of chubby mallard ducks.  It is cooler and calmer here.  A monarch butterfly lands on a dry tree stump right in front of me as a gang of spoiled ducks  takes off from the pond flying so close to the surface, I can hear their wings slap on the water.  As I type, just a few yards away from me, kids are playing in a creek the same way I used to.  They are kicking and splashing and jumping from rock to rock and they don't have a care in the world.
Ah, the good ol' days.
Remember those days?
Back when your biggest worry was running out of cherry Kool-Aid.  Or the sun going down before you could get in that last game of tackle football on Johnny's front lawn.  Or not having enough quarters to get into the community pool.  Or having enough quarters (2 in my day) for the pool, but not having enough courage to jump from the high diving board (AFTER you got all the way up there!)
Oh, to have those worries again! Now I have my job, health, mortgage payment, family, and the price of gas to worry about.  I want my creek back!

The other day I was watching an episode of TED Talks and saw a neuroscientist describe her experience of having a stroke many years ago.  She had a stroke fairly young. As the stroke was ravaging her brain, she described long moments of silence, where her mind no longer functioned normally and she felt like she was outside herself, outside of her mind, at complete peace, in a place without any fear or worry, no memories or baggage of any kind.  She waved her arms above her in a sort of universal embrace as she described this mesmerizing moment to the crowd, tears streamed out of her eyes.  Her face glowed.  She wished everyone could find that place without having to have a stroke.
She called this place NIRVANA.
Of course, her entire stroke experience was far from one long blissful moment.  She described "brain freeze" type pain, searing and sharp; and most of the time she couldn't read, talk, and couldn't lift her arm to dial the phone.  She finally got help from a friend and made it to the hospital.  Her recovery took 7 long years.
So that's what I need to be at peace?  To find perfect calm I need to take a hike from reality, get out from within my own mind?  I need to create my own "peaceful now" by detaching from my own mind and memories?  Hopefully not via stroke, but maybe LSD?  Pot? Alcohol?  Yoga?  Meditation?Hypnosis?
Sure, I could find temporary nirvana in any of those, but there'd be a few side effects to go along with it.  We all know about those nasty little warning labels.  As for me, I am most worried about the side effects of Yoga.  I've watched classes.  Seen videos.  I like the breathing exercises, but I am pretty sure I wouldn't be able to walk for a week after just one session. I remember a friend trying to talk me into taking a Yoga class with her.  I wasn't interested.  She pleaded, "C'mon, you gotta try it! It's so relaxing and good for you! There are all these great stretching moves like the "down dog" and the "up dog"!"
I replied, "What's "up-dog"?"  We both recognized what I had just said and burst out laughing.  (Ask my question again and you'll get the joke.  If you're under 50, watch MTV or have kids. )
So maybe Yoga would make me more limber and peaceful or maybe some kind of medication or libation could loosen me up a bit, but I am not going there.
I'm going to God.
In fact, God is here and I am learning to pay attention to his presence.  Today, he is in the breeze and the birds that circle around me.  He is in the laughter of the kids that play in the water nearby. 

This past week, I had something happen to me which, awhile back, would have gotten me tied up into a ball of knots that even the best Yoga instructor would have been hard pressed to stretch out of me.  Someone was insensitive and inconsiderate and maybe even a tad passive aggressive toward me. I let it go.  I spoke up calmly about what happened (God does not equal doormat), but I didn't let it rattle my cage.  I just said, "God, help me with this one.  See me through.  Give me patience."
He did.
I found peace in the midst of chaos.
I found my favorite childhood park in the middle of life's freeway.
I got into a "down dog" pose without a groin pull.
I didn't have to lose my mind to lose my fear or worry.
I found God.
Right then.
Right here.
Right now.

-Hope Horner, 2012
Twitter: Follow at HopeNote

Friday, August 3, 2012

Died in Vain?

Galatians 2:21
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be earned through the law (good works), than Christ's death was in vain!"

In a perfect church-lady soprano, the soloist rang out--
"Lord, may I live my life in a such a way that you did not die in vain."  (Hold "vain" note out...longer....longer...hold it, hold begins to vibrate...
Wait, what was that she just sang?
I sat up in my seat.  I was at a funeral for a friend I had known through work.  The service was long.  Very long.  I was trying to stay respectfully awake.  When family members would speak, the crowd would come to life again, but as soon as someone got up to sing or lead us in a hymn, everyone seemed to doze off.  We sang EVERY LINE of at least four hymns (from what I recall) and each one was sung in a way that matched the tone of the service - slow, somber, lifeless. And to top it off, we actually had a conductor at the front of the church, waving her wand at us to ensure we sang along and stayed on beat.  If there was a beat.
But I was suddenly awake when she sang that line.
If I don't live my life in a certain way, Christ will have died in vain?
The song went on to talk about loving others, living right, serving God, etc., in order that Christ's death was not in vain.  At least, that was how I understood the message of the song.  Simply put, unless I get my act together and DO SOMETHING, God's death in all for not.
My first thought?  The one that startled me awake and made me shift uncomfortably in my chair?
Hey, I'm just being honest.  That's really what this blog is all about.  I blog it as it comes.  And in this moment at the funeral, when I heard this line, that's what came to mind - loudly and arrogantly, but thankfully, only in my mind.
Another hymn began.  I wasn't even trying to follow the conductor.  The hymnal was heavy in my hand, but all could think of was...
I can do nothing to add to or take away from Christ's death! I cannot add or detract value from it!
I can do nothing to add or take away from my salvation!
Well, yes and no.  Or Maybe.  Work this out with me a bit, won't you?
I'll be honest, I can't fully wrap my head around the full of meaning of this song nor remember every line, but what I do remember, doesn't seem quite in line with what I believe.  Christ's death fulfilled God's plan for salvation.  Nothing man can do can change that.  Nothing man can forget to do or fail to do, can reverse or alter God's plan of salvation or make the gift of Christ's salvation less powerful, valuable or render it pointless.  His death can never, ever be in vain, or "all for not" based on something man does or doesn't do.  He died. He rose.  He saved. Complete.  Valuable.  Priceless. Perfect.
I can decide THE GIFT is not for me.  Sure, He gave His life, but it doesn't change mine.  I don't buy it, believe it or accept it.  But doesn't that just mean MY LIFE is in VAIN and NOT the Gift? I can choose to ignore, deny, denounce what Christ has done for me or I can reach out and take hold of that precious gift of forgiveness, love and believe it with my whole heart. I can live in such a way that reflects how appreciative I am for this gift.
So, let's say I deny Christ's gift of salvation (I say, "Sorry Jesus, you and your gift are not for me!  I can do it on my own!  Don't need God!  I'm good - thanks a mill', but I'll take it from here.  Not really sure you exist anyway, so I'll just be over here doing my thing, being as good as I can...")
Then my gift sits unopened.
Then what Christ did (died & rose again) was in vain because I didn't accept the gift? Because I didn't live a life full of good deeds to make it worth God's while?
What if I DO accept the gift?  The gift doesn't change!  It doesn't suddenly become valuable because I accepted it.  Jesus death and resurrection do not "suddenly have power and meaning" because I did something (believe/accept it/do lots of really good things).  However, my LIFE suddenly becomes valuable, powerful and eternally meaningful BECAUSE of the gift!

I Corinthians 15 helped me a little bit, especially verses 9-10 (but read the whole Chapter to get the context):
"For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am (Paul), and His grace toward me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I , but the grace of God which was with me."  Did you catch that?  Paul is saying (at least as I read it):  "I was a very bad man who persecuted Christians.  God saved me.  By the GRACE of God, I am preaching the good news, laboring for Christ more than anyone else so his grace toward me is not in vain, but yet it's not really me, it's the GRACE of God with me that allows me to do the work."
I like JB Phillips translation (as usual!) of this same passage:
"...the grace he has given me has not proven a barren gift.  I have worked harder than any of the others -- and yet it was not I, but this same grace of God within me."
So whatever works Paul did, it was grace that enabled him to do them.  Even his greatest works.  All his works.  Apart from Christ, he and we, can do nothing.(John 15:5)
So how can the gift be in vain until I do something, if even my "doing something" is possible only through and in Christ?
I guess the bottom line for me is while I do believe I must ACCEPT in faith the gift of salvation through Christ, I am not sure I believe that I must do something to make sure it is not in vain.  My LIFE could certainly be in vain, if I chose to live only for myself.  My talents could be in vain, if they are only used for my personal pleasure and entertainment and not for God's purposes.  Any gift given to me by God, I can waste.  Hording my time, money, toys, talents, treasures is totally pointless since I can't take any of it with me! But the gift of God's Son?  I just can't believe I can do anything to make it "all for not".  If I don't accept it, it still holds its value.  Any good works I do now, even my greatest works, don't give value to the death and resurrection of Christ.  I can only do good works with his help anyway.
I know this is as clear as mud.  I am still trying to wrap my head around it.  I am sure I will read this two days, two months, two years from now and think, "Huh? What was I thinking?" (Maybe even two hours from now!)
I do know one thing.  Nobody wants to die in vain.  Funerals prove that.  The funeral I attended featured a table in the lobby that displayed all the awards and medals this person had won for "giving back to the community."  He was a mentor, a great father, a community advocate and friend to the poor. The table showed he hadn't lived in vain.  He hadn't wasted his life in front of the TV or behind a desk.  He had made a difference, left a dent, had an impact.  His 67 years weren't in vain.  He used them well. I am not sure he found God, although it seemed he may have near the end. I am not one to judge what his life was worth or where he is now.  There were young men in the audience who he mentored for years and they could probably speak better to how much his life meant.
No matter where I land on the question, no matter whether I understand it or not, I know I don't want my life to be in vain.  God gave up heaven to come to me with the gift of salvation.  He saved me from myself.  May He grant me the grace to make the time he gives me here on earth count for HIM.  Not that I can add to God or anything He's done for me, but because I want to live a life that shows just how thankful I am for the gift.