Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dreaming on the First Floor

Last night I had a very soothing dream. I dreamed that someone, who I will allow to remain nameless because they do actually exist outside the dream world, met me at my work and told me that the "tough stuff" I have been going through over the last few years was "ridiculous." He said he could understand why I would be hurt. This person, who happened to be a very important man, said he could not believe how it had "all gone down." He told me he was surprised that I had held up so well. He said he noticed I had quietly "gone off the radar" and missed seeing me. Then he gave me a big hug and told me to "bounce back" and "continue doing great things." As he said this last line, he was holding my shoulders and looking me right in the eyes. It was a very powerful moment. Then he disappeared out the front door of my office building as quickly as he had appeared. I stood there, in my office, speechless. I felt relieved, validated, soothed.
Then I woke up.
I am one of those people who can remember most of their dreams.That's always been true. Even as a child, I remember waking up from vivid dreams and being able to recall and retell them, some I can even remember all these years later. I remember one where a giant sized ball of tightly wound yarn and a huge shiny
needle were in the middle of a big empty room, just sitting there, looming ominously over me like something in a sewing museum. I would stare up at the giant strands of yarn and marvel and feel slightly anxious.
I remember one dream where I am running down a long pier made entirely of dark jagged rocks that stretch out toward the ocean. I teeter as I run too close to the craggy edge, the ocean waves crashing way below. The pier was always very dark, the rocks black, wet, drenched in sea water and foam and the time of day was always the very late afternoon, right before the sun goes down. I had this dream many times and the giant sewing kit dream more than once. And of course, like all good kids, I had the dream of being chased by dinosaurs. One night, while running from a T-Rex as fast as I could (Where was that cave? The Land of the Lost folks always found it!), I woke up with a thump and pain in my mouth and realized I had fallen out of the top bunk of my bunk bed and bit my tongue. At least the dinosaur didn't get me.
Dreams can be strange. But the one I had last night was very soothing. I know dreams are something that MY brain makes up so it should come as no surprise that this very important man said words I needed to hear. He validated my suffering. Something about that was, and is, very healing. To just have someone say, "I hear you and you have every right to feel that way" can be so reassuring. I try to say those words when I am listening to people who are struggling -- try to help them feel not so "crazy" for feeling the way they do, because let's face it, with rare exceptions, we have all felt "that way" haven't we?
Lately, I have not felt in touch with my spiritual side. I have felt a bit discombobulated and lost due to a variety of things including the "stuff" that this VIP man in my dream was trying to help me get over. 2013 wasn't a bad year by any stretch, but it was challenging to say the least. I cried as hard as I have ever cried a few times, but also shared quite a few hearty laughs and celebrated a number of successes. I guess that is how life goes, but I really was glad I had that dream last night, before the end of the year, to help me put a little more "closure" on a rough patch from the past year.
The other day, I picked up a little book by Andrew Murray entitled "Abide in Christ." (Get it here for $1!) It is about 50 pages long and divides up nicely into 31 readings. I read the introduction and preface yesterday and plan to read one chapter each day in January. The book is about how Christians starve on the first floor while the second floor is full of food. In other words, we don't know how good we have it, how loved we are, how Christ wants to bless, comfort and heal us, so we writhe around in our misery, starving and weak, on the first floor of our troubles instead of abiding in Him. If we only knew. If we only reached out.  Seeked. Asked. Knocked. I am sure I found this book for a reason. I'm not a spooky mystic, but I do believe that many things happen for a reason. Like soothing dreams. And small books at Thrift Shops strategically placed at eye level.
Maybe I will find this book to be like the kind man in my dream last night? Maybe while I have been down here on the first floor eating Top Ramen, there has been home-made lasagna on the second floor? Maybe while I have been trying to lift a heavy box all by myself on the first floor, there has been endless pairs of helping hands on the second? Have I been running from dinosaurs on the first floor when there has there been a safe haven just above me?
That's what Mr. Murray is going to try and tell me in his little book. Maybe that is what the VIP man in my dream was trying to help me understand? Don't disappear. Don't struggle alone. Don't just dream on the first floor. Come to the Second Floor.
Now if I could just figure out what in the world that giant yarn ball and sewing needle was all about? Maybe I missed my calling as a seamstress?
Yeah right.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013 - Feel free to post, print, forward and share!
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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Your Music is Scaring My Dog

The other day I took my dog out in the car with me to run errands. We pulled up next to a monster truck at a stoplight and I heard a screeching noise next to me. My dog whipped her head out the window to see what the clamor was. We both heard what sounded like zombies singing along with a drum machine. My dog literally cocked her head (think RCA dog), pulled her head back inside and hunkered down in her seat. I couldn't have agreed with her more. The music was scary. Picture the movie World War Z - one of those zombies trying to "sing" its heart out - a guttural, screaming, primal-I'm going-to-eat-your-face type sound all on one note, if you could call it a note. Then picture a frantic, methodical "tic-tic-tic" drumbeat that sounds like someone is holding down the fast-forward button.
Or a simple way to put it:
This guy was blasting "Angry Teen Music" from his over-sized, knobby-tired truck.
And my dog was petrified.
The light changed and we managed to pull away, and I found Jackson Brown on the radio. "Running on Empty" seemed like a lullaby. She settled into the seat next to me to lick herself and all was well.
Later that week, I heard something else that scared me. It didn't scare my dog, but my guess is if she had heard it and understood it, it probably would have.
I heard that at the Church of the Nativity in the Holy Land, a lot of fighting goes on. Inside. The church is shared by three different Christian orders - Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics. Each one has a "section" of this holy church. This is supposed to be the church that marks the spot where Jesus was born, but it is also the spot that marks where division thrives. The religious folks are very territorial about their section of the church. If a Greek Orthodox is sweeping his corner of the church and accidentally runs his broom on the Apostolic side, a fight may break out. Broomsticks have been raised and lowered on the heads of rivals. Sometimes, Palestinian police have to break things up. If someone were to walk in in the middle of the brawl, it would look like robed janitors duking it out with cleaning supplies. Funny, when you think about it that way, but also very, very sad.
And scary.
This type of things scares folks away from God. It makes me cringe to call myself a Christian. Truly embarrasses me. Why would I want to be associated with the Christian religion when they can't even get along inside the very church marking the spot where Jesus was born?  And it is not like an Orthodox is sneaking over to spray graffiti on the Catholic side of the church, or a Apostolic holy man is peeing in the Orthodox corner of the church -- nope, they are cleaning it!
Hey!  Keep your broom on your side, buddy! 
Don't even THINK about dusting on the other side of this line!
Get your OWN Windex Holy Father!
Yes, even when cleaning up, they must stay in our corners. Even on the very spot where God's Son lay down his wee head in the manger.
How this must break God's heart.
To see this debacle. This despicable act. This division.
And how it scares people away--just like a monster truck with screaming zombies blaring out of it's speakers. The clack of broomsticks as they clash in mid-air, the insults, the hatred, the yelling, the anger--all of the fighting that goes on in this sacred church and in other Christian churches and communities--makes others, non-Christians, want to run, drive, jet-away from Christianity as fast as possible. Can you blame them for burning rubber to get away from the noise as soon as the light turns green? Certainly not.
I struggle not to run myself.
I try to focus on the Christians who were the first ones into the Philippines after the typhoon.  The ones who show up as doctors and nurses and caretakers in foreign countries and here at home to care for the sick, homeless, runaways and single moms. I try to smile when I see the new Pope spending time with the poor, humbling himself enough to downgrade his living quarters. I think of the kind Christians I know who have changed my life for the better, been there when I needed them and shared words of encouragement at just the right time. (You know who you are!!)
But sometimes, it isn't enough to get the shouting zombies out of my head.
I need to look at the One who's birth we celebrated yesterday. The King who comes as a tiny baby and can't even find a decent place to lay his head his first night on earth. The child who grew up to challenge the religious leaders of the day. What did he do when he saw religious hypocrisy?
He threw over tables and grew angry.
He exposed hypocrites for what they were.
He pointed at the "high and mighty" and said, "Don't be like that."
He also lived, loved and reached out to the outcasts and the lost.  He soothed wounded hearts and healed broken bodies.
He didn't scare people away. He allured. Children wanted to sit in his lap (and he didn't have to promise them their favorite gift for Christmas.) "Sinners" wanted to eat with him and he obliged wholeheartedly. Bumbling buddies became devoted disciples. Doubters became faithful even unto death.

Let's not let the screaming religious zombies drown out the soothing music of the "reason for the season."

Hope A. Horner, 2013
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Email author on gmail at hopeh1122

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Warm Associations

What if you received a Christmas card with this line in it:
"I look forward to the warm association we will continue in the coming year."
What if it came from your neighbor? A co-worker? Your pastor? A friend? Would you be OK with the words "warm association"? What if it came from your sister? Or Mom & Dad?
Not so good. Kind of cold, huh?

This line was in a Christmas e-card I received from my workplace financial advisor. It was blasted out to hundreds of employees wishing them the joys of the season and all the best for the new year. The words "warm association" really caught my eye. Yes, we are associates. I see you a few times a year by appointment only and you tell me if I am on track with my retirement financial planning and investments. We chat about the weather outside, the conditions of the market; you recommend this or that and I nod, not being a numbers person and say, "Sure, that sounds good."  Basically, my money stays right where it is and you say you're glad to see me and I'm looking good and I return the compliment and then I walk out of your tiny temporary office at my work location while the next eager employee, just years from retirement, rushes in with her portfolio in hand. NEXT! Time for your warm association!

If I sent a Christmas card to a family member and wrote, "I look forward to our warm association in the coming year" they would think I was either joking or rude. I am known for being a jokester so they would probably look for the cheesy "Christmas letter" to go along with my card. You know the one that brags about everything the family has accomplished in the past year and conveniently leaves out all the negative?

Hello Friends, Family and Warm Associations,
Seasons Greetings! Wow, didn't 2013 go fast? We wanted to update you on all the things God blessed us with this year, or at least those few things we can fit in these fourteen single-spaced typed red and green pages! 
Our little Jimmy climbed Mount Everest! Twice! We're thankful that we sent him to those private climbing lessons in kindergarten even though we had to refinance our 6 bedroom, 5,500 square foot house in Brentwood to do it. Our eldest, Sally, graduated from high school this year (VALEDICTORIAN JUST LIKE HER MOTHER!!!) and got into Harvard, but she is just going to have to be OK with med school at Stanford because we want her close. We agreed that if she would stay close, we would allow her to use our late model (2013) Audi A8 as a "transportation car" to get from point A to point B. (Point A=Standford, Point B=Our beach house in Carmel!) 
It wasn't just the kids who had major achievements this past year! This past summer, Bruce and I took that European language tour we always dreamed about. (This trip is only for those who can speak fluent French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and of course, English with the Queen's accent.) We plan to do the Asian one this summer, so if you speak Mandarin, Japanese and Thai feel free to join us! We plan to leave in March after a short 7 1/2 week trip to the Seychelles.

May God bless you as much as he has us,
The Jones Family
PS) Would you believe won Publisher's Clearinghouse? All those subscriptions to The Smithsonian and The New Yorker really paid off!

One year, I actually did include a joke Christmas letter in with my Christmas cards to family. I don't remember all I put in the letter, but I do remember that it was quite sarcastic and good for a laugh. I didn't do that this year, nor did I write "I look forward to our warm association."
But the card from my financial advisor did make me think.
Is my life just full of warm associations?
There are so many people I love in my life and I would say I am an openly loving person, although not hugely affectionate or overly demonstrative. I know people who, do to traumatic negative love experiences (i.e. lack of love from parents in childhood, betrayal by a significant other, etc.) are not able to love fully. I am not one of those people. When I love, I love, and have no problem saying the words "I love you" and meaning it.
But I am also so busy, so driven, so independent, so happy to be left alone, that I can fail to connect in meaningful ways with important people in my life. Sure, I call, I write, I check in, I go to lunch, I hug briefly, send Christmas cards and gifts and then get back in the fast lane or disappear into my quiet cove. Part of it is my job, which keeps me quite busy, and part of it is my personality. I am like my dogs. I need attention for a little while, but then for God's sake, just cover me with a blanket and leave me alone on the couch. And give me a book or my laptop so I can write. (That last part is me, not my dogs. My dogs can't read or write, but if they did, you can bet it would be in my Christmas letter!) Don't get me wrong --I love being around people, and have a great time when I am with them, but I am one of those folks who also thoroughly enjoys being alone. I relish my quiet time. I'd trade a rockin' holiday party for a quiet night browsing at Barnes & Noble in a heartbeat. At work, I laugh, network, joke and "play well with others" but I prefer working on projects alone or in small teams. And I dread workplace lunches.
Really? We all have to eat together in the party room at Mimi's Cafe? You mean I have to spend $20 for a salad and a water and repeat, "No I haven't seen the latest episode of "The Real Housewives of Miami" for an hour?
OK, so it is not that bad, but you get my point. I would rather take that hour to munch on a home-made turkey sandwich by myself in the break room while I prop up a book with my free hand. There might be one or two other people in the room. Fine. As long as they are reading, too. Or meditating. Or humming quietly and strumming a guitar with their eyes closed.

I know I am not the only one who feels this way. There is a new book out that I just finished recently (See what can be accomplished when you just say "no" to Friday night parties!):  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain  Get the Book for $3 Here
She shares how introverts, often overlooked, are good "barometers" of what is really going on in an organization because instead of bouncing off the walls and chatting away at the water cooler, they are paying attention, listening, observing, watching and absorbing. For this reason, they should be included in the decision making process and can be very good leaders. They are usually respected for being cool headed, sensitive and possessing good listening skills. This is a good thing, but it can also mean that introverts have few close friends and mainly just "warm associations". I guess as we get older that tends to happen anyway; we lose the junior high need to be surrounded by friends and constantly pelted with "Xs and Os", but I want to be careful that I'm not disconnecting with others because I am "too busy." I do REALLY love my friends, neighbors, family and co-workers. I am not afraid to show it. I just need to slow down a bit and let it show more often. Yeah, work will get in the way sometimes and alone time is OK. But if the people who really matter turn to mere "warm associations" then I will be really missing out on the true joys of season. LIFE is but a season after all, and there can be a chill in the air, so it's time to turn up the heat on those "warm associations."
Not with my financial advisor though. That would be weird.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
Follow on Twitter - @HopeNote
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Contact author at hopeh1122at gmaildotcom

Saturday, November 30, 2013

You Too, Annie

My Mom calls the GPS system in the car "Annie." I know it drives my Dad crazy. A "woman" who gives directions is probably hard enough for him to swallow, but then to have my Mom give this mystery woman a name just makes things worse. He puts up with it though.  He is just happy that GPS "Annie" gets them and their emerald blue Ford Focus where they need to go, especially when they are out of town. My Dad is pretty good with technology, maybe about a C+ (and I don't mean the programming language for those of you who are A+), but he still uses his keys to tap the screen of the GPS to input data. I am not sure if it is because he doesn't know that he can simply use his finger on the touchscreen or if he uses his keys because, frankly, he uses his keys for everything. He cuts open Frito-Lay chip bags with his keys.He slices open CDs. Saws through plastic zip ties on new purchases. He opens just about everything with his keys because, like most men, they are always jingle-jangling in his front pocket. So he just pulls them out and taps them on the touchscreen until the satellites align and Annie gives her first command.
"Continue on North Harbor Drive for 3.3 miles."
"In 100 feet, turn right on Nibitz Blvd."
"You have arrived at your destination."
My Dad pulls into the parking lot and coasts into the first open spot.
"Thank you Annie!" My Mom squeals.
I can almost hear my Dad mumble in his head,"Annie's not real, honey; Annie's not real. You don't have to thank her."
But he keeps his mouth shut.
Because he is kind.
And it makes my Mom happy.
Oh, and thanks to "Annie" they get where they are going.
And darn it, if that isn't what love is? -- Keeping your mouth shut when your partner is happy over something you think is silly.
And keeping your eye on the big picture.
If my partner wants to name the GPS device after a curly red head who had a hard knock life - fine. She's smiling and we're where we're supposed to be.
I'm glad I'm here.
I'm glad you're here.
I'm glad we're together.
Both of us, ur...ALL of us.
You too, Annie.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
Feel free to forward and share. Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Painting the Titanic

My great grandfather painted the Titanic. He wasn't the only one of course.The luxury liner was constructed in Belfast, Ireland and he was one of many Irish who spent years hammering, sawing, sanding and painting the boat to life. He ultimately died of a rare form of blood cancer, which my aunt, the family historian, said was probably due to the lead based paint he was exposed to for many years.We can't know for sure if that is what caused his death, but one thing we do know is that he spent years painting a boat that now sits at the bottom of the ocean.
Think about it.
All that painting was in vain--wasted time & energy. The countless hours of aching shoulders and cramped hands lifting a brush to those hard to reach places, ensuring just the right shade, making sure no spot was missed--all for not. He might as well have painted the Titanic bright neon green with orange polka dots or drawn little squiggly lines all over it. Heck, he could have tagged it up graffiti-style with big fat bubble letters. What did it matter? Sure, people would admire it from the harbor as it pulled away and those on  board would eat, sleep and party in it for awhile, but ultimately, that big, beautiful boat was going DOWN. Though he didn't know it at the time, he was basically painting a fish play toy--a giant, fancy metal coral reef. Today, the "unsinkable" Titanic sits at the bottom of the sea near Newfoundland--split in two, it's colors faded, covered in mud and surrounded by total darkness. No one can see the black, red, gold and white my grandfather painted on the stern, the bow, in the Captain's room and on the balconies.
What a shame.
Yesterday, my neighbor and I stood in my garage talking about death. Don't worry, it wasn't the first thing we talked about, but since our dear friend and neighbor is dying of cancer, our conversation eventually headed in that direction. She warned me that she likes to talk about it, not in a morbid way, but in a "circle of life" kind of way. I said I didn't mind. We talked about how this whole world is really meaningless if this is all there is. I mean, if all life is about is getting up every day and trying to make the best of it by acquiring as many toys as you can, isn't that a little bit like painting the Titanic?  Let's say you have all the "creature comforts" this life can give--you have money in the bank, two cars in the garage, a big house on the hill and a tennis club membership. Then you die tragically in Belize in a naked hang gliding accident or you die not so tragically - you die of old age. Whatever it is - YOU DIE. So who cares about all your goodies? As the old saying goes - you never see a U-haul truck behind a hearse.
So trying to make myself as happy as possible in this life is a little like painting the Titanic. My ship is going down. Why am I trying to fill it up with stuff and make it so pretty? If I live for something bigger, better, above all this - then even when I die, my handiwork lasts. This is why we are all driven to make a difference, leave a legacy. We want proof our life counted for something. It's a little bit like scrawling "I was here" on the world. The thought that "my music will live on forever" or "my name is on that building" or "I found the cure for x disease" - is what drives us to do something that will stand the test of time. We want to paint a ship that isn't going to sink.
But it is so easy to get caught up in decorating and furnishing the Titanic.It's so alluring! It seems so permanent! So enormously important! We invest our time, energy and money to make our ship as fun, comfortable and pleasurable as possible. We want smooth sailing! There's nothing wrong with comfort and happiness, but is that the focus of my life? What am I doing that is going to stand the test of time? Who am I living for? Am I talking to people about my faith and giving them hope, or am I just letting them paint the Titanic right alongside me? Am I acting like my ship is never going down? Is my ship the only one that matters? Am I dancing on my party yacht while others are bailing water out of their rowboats? Or am I helping? Serving? Praying? Loving? Sharing? Giving?
Not enough I am afraid.
I'm covered in little wet drips of red, black, white and gold. I have splatters on my jeans, stains on my fingers and flecks in my hair just like my great grandfather. I have made a pretty boat.
It's time to put down the brush.

-Hope Horner, 2013, from
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Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Low Down on Bible Downloads

"If you think reading Scripture from an iPad rather than a printed Bible makes it lose it's magical mojo, you might worship the Bible.”
This came out of a recent Sojourner's article entitled "The 10 Things the Church Can't Do While Following Jesus." One of those 10 things the church can't (or shouldn't) do was "Worship the Bible." Click Here to Read Article
In other words, the Bible is not God. The Bible is not supposed to be worshiped.The Bible is not magic. It's just words in print. Some say "inspired" by God, some say God's words. But not something your worship.
I agree.
And I don't.
I agree that the Bible is not to be worshipped. I agree that some Christians can turn it into an idol - treating it as God or as important as God. The Bible is not God, but I just can't feel completely comfortable treating it as "just printed words." And for that reason, I do not feel completely comfortable reading the Bible from my iPad or iPhone. And it bothers me (more than a little) when I see it read from a smart phone during church. Not that I think the Bible loses its "magical mojo" from being on an LCD screen instead of on paper, but I do find it well, irreverent. Slip-shod. Flippant?
Call me Old School. Uptight? Brainwashed by Baptists?
Maybe, but I guess I see it this way...
I don't believe the Bible has magical mojo whether you read it straight from a thousand year old papyrus you personally dug up in Turkey (Although, that would be AWESOME!) or from a downloaded  "Bible App" on your cell phone. But I do think there is a difference.
I just think of the Bible, the actual printed book, deserves at least as much respect as our American flag.
There's no magic there either. Technically, it's a piece of cloth with red and white stripes on it and a blue box full of stars. We make millions of flags every year in various sizes. They come in cloth, plastic, paper, and bumper sticker form. The flag is a thing
But we all know it is much more than that.

The flag is special because of what it represents. People died for what that flag represents.LOTS of people died. And today, having just celebrated Veterans Day this past week, we remember and recognize those who fought and died for our freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness. So we treat the flag with respect and reverence because of what it represents. We don't let it touch the ground.  We don't like to see it burned unless it is being "retired." We keep light on it at night. We lower it to half staff to symbolize grief. We see it and treat it as more than just a thing.
Isn't the book - The Good Book--the Bible, at least as special as the flag?  Shouldn't it be regarded, respected, admired and treasured? Isn't it more than just a book? I think so--not because it is magic, but because of what it represents - because it is God's words in written form. People took great care to write it down, copy it, pass it along, preserve it, hide if it they had to. Now we have a million ways to read it, but back when all there was was stone, papyrus or leather, you treasured a book. Especially a book that carries God's story inside it.

Look, I have a Bible app on my cell phone and it is great for quick reads when I am stuck in the waiting room of my dentist's office or need to look up a verse quickly on the go.  But when I "read the Word," study it, or when someone in church reads the Bible, I love to see that big, thick black Bible come out, not their iPhone5.
I'm not saying the Bible loses its power when read from a device. It's the words that have the power, not the stuff they are printed on.  I'm just saying I don't think the fact that I prefer to read the "Good Book" as opposed to the "Sacred Screen", means I worship the Bible.  It don't think it loses its magic because I don't believe it ever had any magic to begin with. I just love "The Good Book" and am not going to feel comfortable calling it the "Good App" anytime soon. I love the thin paper that crinkles when you turn the page. The gold lined pages.The pictures of Moses parting the Red Sea or Jesus sitting with children on his lap. The built in bookmark with the gold cross on the end. I love the old editions, their binding falling apart from so many readings, their edges bent. It took me a long time to be able to highlight or write in my Bible and even now, I only have one that I write in.  Why? Because I worship it?  Nope. Because it isn't Huckleberry Finn or Moby Dick.  It's not magical, but it is special.  Would you draw on the flag? Why not?  It's just a piece of material!  
Why does it say Holy Bible on the cover?  Holy isn't magical.  Holy is "set apart" and yes, this book is "set apart" from the rest of the books in my collection. When we hand a war widow the American flag after she loses her loved one, we hand her the ACTUAL FLAG. We don't hand her an iPad with a downloaded flag on it. We don't give her a printout of the flag on 8x11 paper. We give her the real deal. When I go to church, I want to see the Bible. When I read the Bible I want to hold it in my hands.  It doesn't have to be leather, but it does have to be real. It is after all God communicating with us through many people over many years.
That's not magical.
It's a miracle.

-Hope Horner
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Twitter:  @HopeNote

Saturday, November 2, 2013

I'm Burning My Contract With God

I'm canceling my contract with God.
Ripping it up.
Throwing it out.
No, wait. Maybe I'll set a match to it. Burn it up. Yeah, that it's. I'll torch it.
Look at that flame! 
It's over. I am no longer going to obligated to God, nor He to me.

Sounds terrible,doesn't it? Sounds like I am turning my back on God. "Leaving the flock" - as they say in Christian circles.
But don't worry. I AM going to cancel my contract, but I am not turning away from God. I have decided to enter into a covenant with God instead.
No, not a convent. That's for nuns. I mean a COVENANT.
What's the difference between a contract and a covenant?
Love is the difference, my friends.

I did a google search (i.e. research!) on the difference between a contract and a covenant and there were several sites which explained the differences and the similarities. Each talked about how both contracts and covenants are binding, how they require a signature or an oath, how they spell out what each party is responsible for and what is at stake. Several described the difference as: "Contracts are for business and covenants tend to have spiritual or religious overtones." Another said, "A contract is made in my name; a covenant is made in God's name." I could see there was a difference, but it didn't seem that big of a deal. UNTIL, I heard a sermon by Pastor Timothy Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC.  Listen to Sermon Here
He described a covenant relationship as one built on love. He described the incredible scene in Genesis 15 where God makes a covenant with Abram (Abraham). This involves animal sacrifice and walking "through the pieces" and other ritual languate that is foreign (and slightly disturbing) to me, but in the end, God says "I will be your God and the God of your people." God promises to bless Abram and give him descendants that number even more than the stars in the sky. Pastor Kellar explained how this covenant was built on unfailing love - God loved his people and even though He knew they would not always love him back or walk in his ways, he entered into a binding relationship with them, one that said he would "never leave them nor forsake them."  God's love was guaranteed.

Is it because he expected something from them? I do this, you do that?
No. That's a contract.This was a covenant.
It was because he loved them. He wanted to bless them. He WANTED to be in a relationship with them--to see them flourish in His love. He did ask for something in return - obedience (or love shown outwardly in action), but the covenant would not be canceled if they disobeyed. (If that were true, the covenant would have lasted about 5 minutes! Think of all the times the Israelites turned their back on God, failed to trust him, disobeyed his commandments, even scoffed at and killed the very people He sent to deliver his message!) Sure, sometimes God left them to their own devices - to pay the consequences for their bad choices, but he never truly left them. I get the sense that he was always there, waiting, in sorrow, tears falling, for his people to turn from their ways and come back to Him. He was broken hearted. He was angry. He was fed up. He had entered into a contract - God! Lord! Holy Mighty Creator of the Universe! And these little peons had turned their back on HIM? He was betrayed. His people spit and stomped on the covenant.
And yet, his love remained.
Finally, He sent His son, Jesus.The final sacrifice had to be made to ensure that the people God loved, ALL people, could stay in covenant with him. We needed reconciling. Reminding. Renewal. The old covenant had been dishonored, destroyed. Not by God, but by his people - in the wandering away, the rebellion, the disgrace - the same way we live today. Jesus' final sacrifice on the cross restores the covenant, restores our love relationship with God. We broke the covenant with God and Jesus keeps it. We get the benefits (as though we kept the covenant) and the covenant is good forever. Never expires. Never fades. That's because death's contract is canceled--you know, the one that says, you die and stay that way? The one that says we get what we deserve? Hopelessness and despair are no more.  Death is defeated. The covenant of love remains - the one that was always there, but we ignored. 
How do we enter into this covenant? Accept it by faith. It is a gift freely given by God.  We don't earn it or deserve it. It is given graciously, lovingly, willingly by our Father in Heaven who wants nothing more than to be in a covenant relationship with us. No dotted line to sign on. No lawyers. No fine print. No one reading some legal language real fast at the end of a commercial. And nothing we can do to earn it. Just the greatest gift ever from the God of the world - one that he holds out with pierced hands and says:
So, I am canceling my contract because I don't need it. I wrote up that contract anyway. It came from my legalistic religious upbringing, my misunderstanding of God, my insecurity, my lack of understanding of Scripture - I thought I had to "get right" when in fact God "put me right!"  I was busy trying to fulfill my end of "the deal" and failing miserably, wondering if God was going to give up the contract with me all together when I realized the contract was all my doing. I was so busy working on the contract, I missed the covenant.
Look at the story of Abraham:
"Abraham entered into what God was doing for him and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own."  (Romans 4, The Message)
And then I read Romans 5 (The Message):  
"By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us--set us right with him, makes us fit for him--we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus.  And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand--out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting praise..."

Isn't that beautiful? Contracts make you nervous. Covenants make you feel like singing.
A contract is full of rules about what I must do, what I owe, what I have to commit to - - I better read all the fine print!  There is nothing for free and no one gets to benefit individually. It is quid pro quo, baby.
Not with God.  Not with love. Not with a covenant.
Love says, "I do this for you because I love you."
Love says, " I would do anything for you, even die for you, because I love you that much."
Love says, "Be with me forever."
Love asks for nothing except, "Won't you love me, too?"
To which I respond, "Yes!"as the pieces of my old contract smolder to ashes in my hands.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Neutering the Gospel

A friend of mine is in a Bible Study group that she describes as "extremely stressful."  When she said this I was puzzled.
"Your Bible Study group is stressful?
She nodded. We were sitting in the comfy seats and lowered lights of a small downtown theatre house waiting for a play to start.
"There is one lady there who just doesn't like me and she refuses to speak to me."
"What on earth for?" I asked. My friend is quiet, unassuming - she is about as meek and mild as they come. I could not imagine someone not speaking to her, unless of course they had no idea she was even there.
"She's mad at me because I spoke up last week at Bible Study. The lady leading the group was going on and on about how God GIVES us the faith to believe, you know that old Calvinist thing about predestination? And I just had to say something."
"What did you say?"
"I had to tell her that the noun 'it' in that verse is neutered."
"Neutered?" I knew they neutered dogs but I didn't know they did that to nouns.
She explained. "You know that verse that says: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not works, lest anyone should boast.
"Yes," I replied. This was a very well known verse in Ephesians.
"Well, the lady who leads our group was saying that the 'it' in that verse referred to faith. That God GIVES us the faith to be saved. I told her that the 'it' referred to the word salvation in the verse, not faith. The Greek word 'it' is neutered, meaning it is neither male nor female, so it couldn't be referring to the word faith."
The lights went out in the theatre cuing us all to be quiet. A tall man in a tuxedo walked out on stage to remind us to turn off our cell phones and enjoy the show and we never got to continue the conversation. I I never did get to figure out whether faith was a feminine word? Was grace a masculine word? Or was it neutered too? Maybe faith was spayed?
I just shook my head and patted her shoulder in the dark and whispered, "Bible Study should not be stressful." 
This was the same friend who was worried that her daughter was attending a very "liberal" church. 
The same friend who left not one, but TWO churches over Calvinism in the past few years.
The same person who said, "John MacArthur has changed over the last ten years. He is not the same man he was 10 years ago. He is a full blown Calvinist now."
The same person who objected when a woman read the Bible in front of church. I asked her why she objected and she quoted Corinthians and I Timothy verbatim. She left that church, too.
I don't give her name to protect her identity. I can tell you she has had a profound influence on me, and is a dear Christian woman whom I love, but I am starting to get more and more discouraged by what I consider to be her basic flaw.
She's neutering the Gospel.
Here's how I see it: When Bible studies are stressful because members disagree over the meaning of a particular verse, something has gone terribly wrong. When you have to know whether or not a noun has had it's tubes tied to understand the Bible, you've probably missed the point all together. When Bible study is stressful, you're focused on a word, not The Word.
I can hardly get myself to church for this very reason. I have so many scars from my days of Bible studies (where lots of word neutering took place) that I can't read the Bible without thinking there is something there I am not quite grasping, something I am missing, something above and beyond my understanding and so why even bother?  
Then I miss the whole point all together.
I miss out on God.
Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th Century theologian said:

The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

In other words, we make the Bible complicated so we don't have to follow it. Or we make the Bible so complicated that we fail to follow it.
When a group of women who meet on a Wednesday night start arguing over whether a word is neutered or not, to the point that the following week one won't speak to the other, we have missed the point. We miss the verses that are easy to understand. The ones that don't need a veterinarian.
"Do all things in love." I Corinthians 16:14
"Be at peace with all..." Romans 12:18
"Be kind and compassionate towards one another..." Ephesians 4:32
And finally the very words of Christ: 
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another By this all me will know that you are my disciples, if you hvae love for one another." (John 13:34-35) 
These verses are straightforward. I don't need to know Greek. I don't need to delve deeper into the meaning behind the words, to find out if they are masculine or feminine or have been under the knife. I just need to read them and live them, which as you know is easier said that done.  It is much easier to study them. To dissect, deliberate, and debate them. And in doing so, we neuter the Gospel. We slice and dice it to the point that it is no longer fruitful.  It's message of love does not multiply.  Nothing comes out of it except bickering and divisiveness.
Bring me some anesthesia.

-Hope A. Horner,
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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Shuffle On

My neighbor told me he was ready to die.
I hadn't heard from him in a while and I knew that he was battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma among other things and I wanted to see how he was feeling so I sent him an email. This was his email back:

I was thinking of bringing you up to date on my condition because I might need your help picking up my mail. Tuesday I went in to have a PET Scan done. The results were not good. My oncologist called me yesterday to tell me that there was a problem with one of my lymph glands and that my cancer has returned. I suspect he is going to recommend surgery to me. However, I think I have had it with surgery. I'm in the process now of researching hospice care.  I'm 84 years old and no one needs me for anything. My children are doing very well. I don't consider what I'm doing now as living, I'm just existing and I'm ready to go.
No one needs me for anything..
I am ready to go...
Those last two lines boomed like thunderclaps in my head. This was the first time I had ever heard someone say they were "ready to go." Questions like lightning followed. If we are no longer "needed for anything" does that determine when it's time to go? Is that how you know? Why do we fight to stay alive, subjecting ourselves to surgeries, medications, therapies and treatments just to survive? Is it solely because we know, or believe, others need us, depend on us? When no one does, it is time to let go and head to the next world?
I immediately put away my phone (I was reading my email on it) and drove home with these questions swirling in my mind. I knocked on my neighbor’s door. After what seemed like quite a while he tottered to the door and seemed a bit surprised to open it and see me standing there.
"You know I just can't hit reply to that email." I said with a twinkle in my eye. We had always had a friendly, playful banter between us.
He made a low chuckling sound. He didn't look well. His eyes were sunk deep in his face; there were dark circles underneath them, and he was holding on to the door for support. He began to cough.
"Can I come in?" I asked.
He motioned for me to come inside.
Once inside, I turned toward him. "Can I hug you?"
He said, "Sure." and gave me a hug. He was frail, but solid, and at well over 6' it was a little like hugging a sturdy tree.

I met my neighbor, James, about five years ago when I first moved in to the neighborhood. He was a tall, lanky African American gentleman, long retired from public utility work, divorced, with three kids. He loved toffee peanuts,Obama, jazz, and MSNBC, especially “The Ed Show.”
It all started with apples.
A little while after I moved in, we chatted it up near the community mailboxes. He told me he wasn't feeling well and was battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma. His eyes looked tired and he had lost a lot of weight. His denim overalls were hanging off him making him look a little bit like a scarecrow. I went home and grabbed two granny smith apples from my fridge and wrapped them up with cellophane and a bow and placed them outside his door with a note that said, "An apple a day..."

The next evening I had a note on my door that said, "Thanks for the apples. I do feel better after eating them."
After that, we made a habit of leaving little "porch surprises" for each other. I'd slip a card under his door. He'd put a note on mine. I left him a stack of jazz CDs. Toffee peanuts, DVDs, books, magazines, oranges, chocolates and other treats went back and forth. Eventually, we exchanged emails and he'd update me on how he was feeling and I would tell him about the latest with our local Homeowner's Association. One day, he asked me about the tree I had recently planted in my backyard. He could see it over his backyard fence and was curious.
"Pineapple guava," I told him. "It grows tiny little pineapple like fruit that is just delicious. Plus, it doesn't get too big, more like a shrub with fruit."
He liked it and went out and bought one for himself. He planted it on the property line closest to mine and it grew like a weed up and over the brick fence between our two yards. Both of our pineapple guava trees bore fruit by the second year and we exchanged stories about how the birds were always the first ones to sample a taste of the sweet nectar.
A few summers ago, I bought him a bird feeder and he bought me a bird identification book. I started marking off all the birds I had seen in my backyard and the surrounding area and sending him emails to let him know. He'd tell me what the sparrows were up to in his backyard and how the jays were trying to bully the little birds away from his bird feeder. We went back and forth like this for years - little gifts, little emails. He helped me fix my fountain and hang bird feeders. I picked up his mail and swept his porch. I brought him more apples. He brought me Chinese food--the best Won Ton soup I have ever had-- if he found the strength to make it to his favorite restaurant “Paul’s Kitchen” in downtown L.A. He had a gate installed in the wrought iron fence in his backyard and allowed me to use it so I could take my dogs out on to the walking trail that ran behind our homes. He said he loved to watch the dogs hop through the gate, their tails wagging with excitement about walking somewhere other than the hot pavement of our busy townhome complex. Sometimes we would just sit in his backyard and talk about the hummingbirds, our family trips, the fires raging through Southern California. I recommended he watch the movie "Lincoln" which he did and he let me borrow "The Help" which moved me to tears. At first, I think we may have been a little bit suspicious of each other. Who is this middle-aged white girl from next door and why is she being so nice? Who is this old black man from next door and why is he being so nice? I think one of the saddest things about the world today is that when someone we don't know very well does something nice for us, it seems strange, suspicious, possibly even manipulative? Luckily, both of us ignored this modern axiom and continued to be kind. As a result, our porch exchanges eventually turned into friendship. I met his kids. His daughter invited me to Santa Fe to see the hot air balloon races. I didn't want anything from him and he didn't want anything from me. We were just being kind. Friendly. Neighborly. He was an old black man. I was white, middle aged woman. Deal with it, America.
So when I got his email that he was ready to go, I had to go to his door. No gifts in hand, just me. I couldn't just hit reply. How do you respond to that in an email?  I don't think you do.
After hugging him, he walked slowly and carefully to his favorite black leather recliner and I sat down on his couch. His place was immaculate as usual. My couches were covered in dog fur and cereal drool and his looked fit for a queen. MSNBC was on and the talking heads were bantering about the government shut-down finally being over. Once he got settled and took a few deep breaths, he began to tell me more about his health condition. It was not good. He was very weak, tired, having a hard time breathing, not in any pain, but miserable none the less. His cancer was back big time. He said he had already talked to his kids about not undergoing surgery and how he wanted to "shuffle on" as he described it. I just sat on the couch, my hands folded, nodding my head. What do you say?

So glad to hear you are ready to die.

That makes sense. Time to move on.

No! Don't die!

I didn't say any of the above. I just listened. It was one of the most awkward moments I have ever had. Finally, I swallowed even though my mouth was like a desert and said, "Well, I am glad you were able to talk to your kids. And I understand your wishes, but I would be really sad to see you go, James."
"Well, thank you, but I am ready for whatever comes next."

As if my head wasn't already spinning enough, that line really threw me. I paused to consider it, then repeated it out loud..."Whatever comes next."
He looked at me when I said this and I continued, "You seem like someone of faith to me. You are so kind. So you probably know what comes next."

He just kind of chuckled and looked away, outside, toward the bird feeder and pineapple guava tree. He took a deep breath, coughed and then turned toward me. He smiled. We had never really talked about faith or religion, but he seemed so full of faith, so Christ-like that I just assumed he was a man of faith and knew what the next life held for him. I had never encountered such peace in the faith of death and it was startling. He was ready to "shuffle on." Was he just putting on a brave face?
I sat quietly, overwhelmed with emotion, fearful and yet, calm. A coughing spell overtook him and it took him a while to settle it down. Once he caught his breath, he continued on about the great life he had had and how he just didn't want to end up in one of those "old folks homes" hunched over in a wheelchair or confined to a bed. He hoped to stay home or go somewhere comfortable and have someone take care of him before he passed. I said I understood and hoped that could happen. I said I was happy to help in any way I could. My head was spinning with the magnitude of this conversation. I thought to myself: I must be getting old if I am starting to have these types of talks. Time for a gold chain and a red Corvette to remind me I am alive!  I could have said that out loud and James would have laughed. He has a great sense of humor.

We talked for a while longer and then I said, "Well, James, I am going to get out of your hair and let you get some rest. I am happy to get your mail or anything else you need, no problem. By the way, have you tried for your groceries? They'll deliver them right to your door." He seemed very interested in this and as I let myself out, he followed me and told me how he was going to check on that first thing. I knew he would. James was an Internet savvy senior and he was the only person I know who got up earlier than I did.

That next morning, I got up early and read my email. There was one from him:
I placed an order on It wasn't easy, but I got it done. It's going to be delivered tomorrow between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m.. I really, really thank you for telling me about Von's delivery service.

My pleasure, neighbor.
James shuffled on the morning of Sunday, April 6th, 2014. When I saw his son on my porch I knew what the news was before he announced it. I had seen James only a few weeks before in his home care house in the San Fernando Valley and he didn't look well. The friendly nurses had made him very comfortable, but he was fading fast. He made it to his 85th birthday and then let go. He went the way he wanted to, peacefully.

God, thank you for James. Thank you for his kindness. His friendship. For the way he reminded me that there comes a day when we all must "shuffle on" to the bigger, better place God has prepared for us. I hope our porches will be close in the next life so we can continue to share apples, birdseed, and pineapple guava. I know James has shuffled on, but not out of your hand.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Shockingly Pink

I hate pink. 
OK, maybe hate is too strong of a word, but I am not a big fan of the color. I prefer blues and greens and even purple, but not pink. But this week, I got something pink that I really like. It was delivered to me at work in an interoffice envelope and it was quite shocking actually. I was surprised to receive it. I sat at my desk for a few seconds after I opened the interoffice envelope and just stared at it and laughed.
It was a pink notepad.
Big deal, right?
Well, it was to me.
The day before, I had been in a meeting with a group of people from another division where I work. I got to the meeting room early (surprise, surprise) and got my notes ready. I had a pen, my cell phone and a bunch of handouts. A few minutes later, two people from the division walked in and sat down across from me in the meeting room. One was carrying a pink notepad. She set it down on the desk in front of her along with a pen and her cell phone and looked up at me and smiled.  I smiled back and said, "I like your notepad. Breast cancer awareness month, right?" 
She said, "Yeah, thanks."  She fidgeted with it a little.
The notepad was bright pink, not the standard white or yellow, so there was no missing it. It definitely made a statement and reminded me that we need to rid the planet of breast cancer. She wrote all over it during the meeting, as I scrawled a few notes on handouts and on my standard yellow pad. The meeting was short, thankfully, and I wandered back to my office afterwards and got busy with other projects.
The next day I arrived at my office early, grabbed the mail out of my inbox and opened the one large interoffice envelope in the stack.
Bam! There it was. Pink notepad.
As I mentioned, I was surprised. I sat at my desk for a few moments and smiled at this unexpected gift. I hadn't asked her for one. I hadn't even hinted that I wanted one. Not to mention I barely knew her. I actually had to ask a co-worker what her name was after the meeting because for the life of me, I couldn't remember. So it wasn't like we were office buddies. We weren't even acquaintances. Yet, she took the time to send me this shockingly pink notepad just because I mentioned I like hers?
How nice.
How thoughtful.
How kind.
I sent her an email to thank her and she sent me a happy face :) reply.
Her simple gesture reminded me how much the little things matter. How the simplest little act of kindness can literally make a HUGE difference. I felt a lift in my spirit from that moment on. The world seemed a little nicer, calmer, more fun to be in. The whole "Random Act of Kindness" thing or "Pay it Forward" theme has become trite, but let's face it, it really is true that the littlest kindness goes a long way.
I wonder what kindness could do to cancer?
If we were all a little kinder to each other would it make a difference in our health? Could it take our stress down a notch? Relieve the pressure of a bad day? Set us off on the right foot at the beginning of the day so that we feel more motivated to take better care of ourselves and each other? Would it give us hope - help us believe in better days ahead? Strengthen our resolve to sleep, slow down, take a break, laugh, give a hug?
Maybe. And that could have far-reaching implications.
Blood pressure drops.
Sleep is more restful.
Less road rage, flip-offs and fender benders.
Less need to drink, smoke, overeat.
More smiling. Breathing. Loving. Helping.
All of which would lead to healthier lives. OK, so maybe it wouldn't rid us of cancer, but it wouldn't hurt. I know I felt special staring down at my new notepad. Even if it was pink.

Let's all do something shockingly pink today and see what happens.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
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Saturday, September 28, 2013

238 Minutes I Can't Get Back

There a certain things you just have to do as an American.
You have to see a Yankees Red Sox game.
You have to mow someone else's lawn. Usually, when you're a teenager.
You have to say the Pledge of Allegiance with a Boy Scout leading it.
And you have to watch the movie "Gone With the Wind."
I've done all of the above so I guess I am an official American.  And I enjoyed all of it, even the lawn mowing, except for "Gone With the Wind."
What a complete waste of time.
OK, don't get me wrong.  From a cinematic perspective the movie is amazing when you consider that it was filmed in the 1930's. The set, the long horizon shots, the way they use lighting and pan the camera is groundbreaking.
But I just can't like anyone in the movie.
Especially not Scarlett.
In one word...she is DESPICABLE.  She connives, manipulates, whines, cheats, gloats, pouts, rages and pities herself.  She plays hard to get one minute and pathetically desperate the next.  The whole town hates her, even many of her family members and she is still unrepentant. She is shameless, heartless and directionless. All she wants is a man. All she wants is the man she can't have. All she wants is money. All she wants is money she can't have.
I almost liked Rhett--but he is a "ladies man" as well as abusive and cocky. But there is one thing I like about him --he tells Charlotte who she is and is not afraid to say it in the plainest terms. He calls her a "child" at one point and he is right, except that I would have used the word "brat" or maybe even something harsher, but I have to keep in mind that is was the 1930's so probably "brat" would have been pushing it.
In the end, he grabs his stuff and leaves Scarlett and when she pleads and sobs and begs him to stay, asking, "Oh Rhett, what will I do?" he delivers his famous line: "Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn." Then the movie ends with her staring off into the distance, a nostalgic look in her damp eyes, saying that she is going to go home to her farm "Tara."
Good riddance.  And for God's sake don't follow her there with the cameras.  I am done with Scarlett and Rhett, and this whole technicolor movie.
I know for some, this harsh review might seem sacrilegious. I know how people feel about this movie.  The lady at the front the counter of a store I was in yesterday managed to squeeze in a comment about her favorite movie being "Gone with the Wind" before she bagged my stuff.  It's amazing how much this movie is ingrained into our culture and how it truly is a piece of Americana. I don't know why I hadn't seen it (Baptist censorship?) up until a month ago when I started watching it a little bit at a time. I knew some of the lines even though I hadn't seen the movie, just from people quoting them over the years at opportune times.  But I can honestly say that even though it took me over 40 years to finally sit down and watch that movie (and almost that long to get all the way through it) - I'm NOT glad I watched it and yet I am.  I'm glad I have finally seen this classic and can therefore be considered a "true American" but I am not glad because it was four hours of despicable people doing despicable things (with rare exceptions) and in the end, really nothing gets resolved and you are left with no one to cheer for.
Call me crazy, but I like to cheer others on and I think most Americans are the same. We like movies that remind us there is some good left in society. That there is someone or some THING to cheer for and get behind. That's why we like underdogs and long shots. That's why we like the no name guy who wins an Olympic bronze. We love it when we're down eight races to one and come back to win it all like we did in the America's Cup the other day.  We have books like "The Little Engine That Could" for our kids. We tell our teens to "never give up." As adults, we like when our friends and family check something off their Bucket List. (Usually this involves skydiving from a ridiculous height after the age of 50 and then posting the wind-blown wide smile on Facebook.)

That is where "Gone With the Wind" really let me down. I had no reason to raise my pom-poms. The nice folks (like Ashley's wife) spent ten minutes on screen out of 238 because Scarlett hogged every frame with her jealous tears, angry outbursts and insatiable desires. I don't need every movie to be like Forrest Gump, where you know exactly who to root for (Run Forrest! Run!), but if I am going to spend four hours on a movie, I would at least like there to be one person in it that makes me feel a tad inspired. I'll even settle for an animal to cheer for.
Maybe I'll watch Finding Nemo this weekend.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Step Out of the Comfort Clogs

"Why walk a mile in someone else's shoes 
when you can walk a thousand in your own?"

I heard this on the radio yesterday.  It was an ad for shoes and while I know the advertisers were trying to be "cute" with their little play on words, I thought to myself, "What a terrible way to put it." How incredibly selfish. Your tag line basically says:
Don't worry about how anyone else feels, it's all about you.
Empathy is overrated.
I know they were just trying to sell really comfortable shoes, but still it really, really bothered me. I was on my way to work and found my eyes watering and had to compose myself.  I sat at the stop light wondering: Do we really live in a world where you can come up with tag line like this for your product without a second thought?  I pictured the marketing group sitting around a large table in a cramped meeting room trying out different slogans for their new line of clogs. Jane, a marketing pro and senior executive says:
"Hey I got it! How about this:  Why walk a mile in someone else's shoes when you can walk a thousand in your own?"  She looks around excitedly.
Blank stares look back. Finally, someone speaks up:
"No, Jane. We here at Comfort Clogs are not going to use that one."
"But why?" Her protest borders on a whine. "It's a great tag line!"
"Because it'll make us look like heartless, self-centered schmucks."
She drops her arms to her sides and rests her chin on her chest. After a few moments of remorse she responds:
"You're right.  Let's go back to our usual slogan "Our Shoes Are Great" and call it a day."
Meeting adjourned.
It didn't work that way, obviously. The tag line was a "winner." I am serious when I say it caused my eyes to water. OK, I wasn't sobbing like a fool over a shoe commercial, but that terrible sentiment did make me cringe and then tear up. It was so depressingly selfish that I couldn't stand it. Maybe it's because my 18 year old nephew is living with me and so I see the world differently now. I worry about the world he is growing up in in a way I never did before. Or maybe it is because I am tired of hearing all the anti-immigrant sentiment being thrown around in the news by people who's only contact with a Mexican person is every other month when they pay their gardener.
Or maybe it is because of what is going on in Syria and how many Americans are responding to it.
"Oh well.  Let them solve their own problems. We're not the world's police."
You are aware that people, children, are DYING, right?  While bombs may not solve the problem (Do they ever?) certainly you can't possibly be that cavalier and callous when you see the faces of innocent children covered in chemical burns?
Or maybe you haven't walked a mile in their shoes, you've only spent time in your own Bruno Maglis?

Later on that same day, as I sat at my desk at work, a helicopter flew over my building.  The thump-thump-thump of the blades made me stop typing. It seemed really close, almost like it was going to land on the roof. Then I thought about how if I lived in a lot of places in the middle east, including Syria, I would probably be under my desk at this point, covering my head, like I was in some kind of an earthquake drill, only this time, I would be worried about bombs or sarin gas or bullets ricocheting around. I took a deep breath and thought,
"Get back in your own shoes, Hope." (As you can see, I am sarcastic even with myself.)

My how the world would change if we tried to walk a mile in other people's shoes.  Even if we didn't physically cram our feet into their Crocs, Nikes or Payless Pro Wings, at least we could visualize being "in their shoes" in our hearts and minds. We could pause before we speak. Think from our hearts instead of just from our political platforms. Maybe then, we would respond to tough situations a whole lot less politically, dogmatically, or casually, and instead respond with compassion, sensitivity and curiosity.  I am not advocating for an emotional knee-jerk response mind you, mistakes can be made there as well, but in a way that says, "These people are not "THEM"...they are human beings just like me. Cut-downs, hunger, sick babies, chemical burns -- hurt them as much as they would me."

I always laugh when I see the fundraisers that support women's causes where men have to walk in heels. These poor guys topple around, groaning and slipping and rolling their ankles like a circus act. Meanwhile, the ladies laugh and nod there heads and say things like, "Aren't you glad you don't have to wear those to work?" (Meanwhile, they're all standing around on a Saturday in heels that no one forced them to wear, but still, let them have their moment.) The guys always agree these shoes are a pain in the a...ankle, but they still love the ladies to don them on Friday nights along with those really restricting, see-through leg covering thingy-s you always see sexy women wear, what are they called again? Oh yeah, nylons. Anyway, the point is to get these guys to "empathize" with what women have to go through. For about an hour it works. But then the guys finish the "race" and go put on a few bandaids and their big stinky Nikes and the day goes on. While they were literally "stepping into someone else's shoes", for awhile, there is a big difference between that and wearing the shoes all day. There is a big difference between fasting for one day and what a hungry child in Chicago goes through on a weekly basis when her mom runs out of rice and macaroni by Tuesday. And there is a BIG difference between holding your breath for three seconds as a helicopter flies over your building and hiding in fear wondering if the building is going to blow up around you.
It literally takes BEING that person to really understand. That is impossible, I know. But can't we try? Can't we think just for a minute about how it feels to be someone else? How it feels to be called a name? Left out? Starving? Scared? Alone? Can we imagine what we would do if we were in that situation? How we would feel? Can we see past skin color? Sexual orientation? Religious beliefs? Tatoos?
Can we try on their shoes? Walk a mile?
Most of the time we stay in our own shoes, dust them off when they get a little dirty and keep moving along our merry way. I'd like to get out of my Comfort Clogs more often and try to see things from the viewpoint of someone else who walks on rocky ground with no shoes at all. I want to walk a mile in your shoes, or at least try--not just jog along through rose gardens while you struggle to take another step in a barren desert. I don't want human beings to be treated like mere stastistics, a "drain on the economy", "illegals" "foreigners" or "those people over there" or whatever label we give you that says "You stay on your journey and I'll stay on mine and never the two shall meet." 
I want to pause. Think with my heart. Show compassion. Get out of my comfort clogs and walk in your shoes. And I pray that despite the influence of self-centered marketing campaigns and heartless political bantering, we can all do the same.

-Hope Horner, 2013
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