Saturday, March 30, 2013

Today, You Are Quiet

Today, you are quiet.
Hidden in the grave,
Behind a stone in the white washed tomb--
A respite from the lashing,
An escape from the mocking,
A break from the suffering.

Today, you are quiet.
Lying in peace,
Wrapped in white linen stained with your blood--
Blood that ran freely yesterday,
Now dried dark flakes of crimson
On your brow hands and feet.

Today, you are quiet.
Yesterday, you cried out--
"Behold!" to your mother,
"Amen!" to the criminal,
"Abba! Forgive them!" to your Father
And it was finished.

Today, you are quiet.
Waiting for your Father to respond to your plea.
Tomorrow, with one breath from you
The angels will shout,
All of nature will sing,
Women will run and tell,
Villagers will whisper,
Disciples will ask, "Could it be?"
You will say, "Touch and see!"

But today, you are quiet.

-Hope Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter @HopeNote

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Miracle of Miracles

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I am reading the works of Karl Barth, the 20th Century theologian.  In one of his essays about the Word of God, he describes Easter.  He doesn't define it in the literal or traditional sense (i.e. Christ raising from the dead, the resurrection, etc.) but he uses several different words and phrases to describe the meaning of Easter - WHAT Christ's resurrection MEANT to the world, to man, in the scope of eternity - the Big Picture.  I found his images to be moving and fresh and being that it is Good Friday and Easter weekend, I thought I would share them with you and mix them in with some of my own.  Karl's words are in bold.

Easter is the dawn of...

A New Time.
A New World.
"Behold I Make All Things New!" (Rev. 21:5)
To everything there is a time, but to everything there will also be an eternity.  The last day of man is the first day of God. For though our time is in God's hands, His time is not in ours.  

Easter is a demonstration of...
The sovereignty of God who was, who is and is to come.
Intelligence in Motion.  Always working to reconcile all He made to Himself... (Col. 1:20)
Easter is Faith in Action - The Creator will sustain what He has made!  

Easter is...
A movement of our being toward the "Perfectly Other" (Ready for the New World? We are now no longer bound by death!)
And A new body (Phil. 3:20-21)
Easter is Forgiveness.
Today we remember Jesus' death, but we don't remain stuck on today, focused only on the cross. The cross did not defeat him. The grip of the grave did not hold him. It could not.  If it could have, than how could He be God, ruler of and over all? His death, if it ended there would not have been enough to save.  It is in his dying AND rising to life that we are forgiven.
This fact of forgiveness is more astonishing than the raising of Lazarus.  Therefore it is...

Blessed Good Friday & Easter to all,
Twitter: @HopeNote

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stream of Consciousness

I had a friend in high school who was a hippie writer. She lived with her family in a two-story colonial house in downtown Santa Cruz and although she didn't know I thought of her as a hippie, she definitely called herself a writer so she would have been proud of atleast have of my description of her.  She had long blonde hair with brown streaks and only washed it about once a week but somehow it was never dirty, just organic, natural, earthy, as she called it. Whatever it was, it didn't hinder her popularity to steer clear of shampoo.  She was very popular. We went to school together and were practially best friends even though I was a tomboy who mainly wore jeans and sweatshirts and played every sport that had a ball.  She wore loose fitting, layered clothes that had whimsical patterns that looked like they belonged on a eco-friendly Hollie Hobbie.  She was not athletic - no, actually she was a total klutz, atleast that is how she appeared, but I couldn't be sure because she was what I called an "intentional dingbat."  In softball during P.E. she would hit the ball and run to third base on purpose because she thought that boys would think she was prettier if she acted like she knew nothing about sports. I'm so voluptously feminine I have no idea what base I am on!  I loved sports so I found this annoying. She loved boys and found it cute.

She also loved to write.  There, we had something in common.  She wrote more than I did, though.  I was a "budding" writer and she was a full blown rose.  She'd write and write and write and when she did, she would describe her writing as "Stream of Consciousness."

And to top it all off - her name was Heaven.
No, I am not kidding. Now you probably understand why I called her a hippie.

Heaven would write profusely in a purple cloth journal with a pencil or a Papermate eraseable pen she carried around with her, because this was before personal computers.  The next best thing to pencil and paper was a Brother type-writer and while it was fun to use the correction feature and watch the ribbon jump up and white-out your misspelling, those suckers were cumbersome and they weren't great for "Stream of Consciouness" type writing.

"What you writing Heaven?"  I asked her one summer day as we sat on the smooth maple hardwood floors in her living room.  She was laying on her side leaning on one arm writing away in her journal.

"Nothing really."  She looked pretty intense for "nothing."  Her hand clenched the pencil hard enough to wrinkle her knuckles to match her nose.  Sheer off-white curtains blew inward toward us from every window downstairs.  The warm sea breeze made me immediately space-out.

Heaven sat up quickly. "Listen to this."  She said.  It sounded like an order.  An inspired order.

You can take all of this away from me
The jumping, the watching, the yellow honeysuckle smell of summer
I will still find my own
My own way
My own will
To swallow up all my memories of you
With big gulps of sun spent air and open forest play
Where giant snails like yellow bananas crawl on patchy, wet green
I can roll there and commit myself 
To nothing
Not to you
Not to the world
Not to my own senses or my belonging 
Just be
Where I can't be taken.

She looked at me.  I gulped.  I was speechless.  While her poem was beautiful, I had no idea what to say. My mind got stuck on the yellow bananas. We had seen a few banana slugs the day before when we were walking in the woods near her house and I am sure that is why they had showed up in this poem. They were memorable for sure. They looked like large banana-peel colored shell-less snails.
Heaven looked at me eagerly. Best to ask a question in times like these.

"What does that mean?"  I tried to ask as gently as possible so it wouldn't sound like a judgment.

She leaned back down on one arm and sighed.  She seemed slightly disappointed.

"I don't know."  She said.  Her voice sounded other-wordly. "I just write stream of consciousness."
I wanted to ask another question--"What the heck is 'stream of consciousness;?" but I didn't dare.
I was a pretty smart girl and a poetry writer myself. I had managed a 3.7 GPA so far this year and it would have been a 4.0 if it wasn't for algebra.  And I had scrawled enough poetry in my Hello Kitty poetry book in elementary school to make my parents worry I was going to grow up to be a writer.  But "stream of consciousness?"  This was the first time I heard that phrase.  It was an intriguing one.  I liked it.  It was kinda hippie, but cool. Like something a real writer would say. I said it out loud.

Stream of consciouness.  

It didn't help me understand her poem, but I liked the way it sounded when I said it.  Heaven nodded and went back to writing.  Wow, Heaven, I wish I could come up with this stuff.  I guess you have to live in Santa Cruz and not wash your hair everyday to be that in touch with your writing chakra, not squeaky clean living in Watsonville, the mid to lower class agricultural town I lived in just about 20 miles south.  Good ol' Watsonville - Home of Martinelli's Apple Cider, a decent Motel 6, and enough strawberry fields to make it the perfect destination for a Strawberry Shortcake family reunion.  Houses were humble and they certainly did not have fancy hardwood floors. They had carpet and if you were lucky, it was clean when you moved in.  Our carpet was clean, but it was also Christmas green.  I thought for sure my parents would hate it and put something else in, but they actually liked it. I thought it was horribly tacky; I love Christmas decorations, but I do not want to look at kelly green carpet all year long any more than I want to look at the neigbor's spray on fake snow "Merry Xmas" stuck on his front window since last Christmas because he was too lazy to take it off.  It stayed up all summer and baked into a white crust on to his window. I'm stuck with it just like my Irish vomit colored carpet.

"You want to go get an ice-cream?"  Heaven closed her book on her pencil, sat up and hugged her knees. Her blue eyes sparkled.


We sprinted for the door and Heaven shouted at her mom that we were going to the 50's Diner on Main Street and would be back later.  We loved this place.  It was just a few blocks away, kind of behind the Pacific Garden Mall and it had little jukeboxes on the tables.

When we got there it was packed and we had to wait a few minutes to get a booth.  We finally took our seats and I threw a few quarters in the jukebox and as usual, chose a couple of songs by Sam Cooke. Cupid draw back your bow...Sam sounded like an angel I thought. Heaven could care less about choosing songs. She liked everything I chose. She would just talk over them anyway - chattering like a bird about schoolwork, friends, her family drama, the boys who annoy her and the ones she liked, whether she would have a date for the prom.

"Duh Heaven!  Of course you are going to have a date for prom!"

Heaven was one of the prettiest girls at school.  For one, she had long blonde hair.  Sometimes I think girls can have a beagle for a face, but as long as they have blond hair guys will like them.  I have a nice face and don't wear have as much make-up as Heaven, but my shoulder length dark brown hair didn't exactly allure the hunks my way.  I didn't care, but Heaven did.  She was as obsessed with boys as she was with her "stream of consciousness" writing.

"Duh?  What do you mean 'Duh'"?

"Oh Heaven, you know you are going to get asked to the prom."  I rolled my eyes.  The waitress appeared and took our order for two tall root beer floats.

"I don't know anything!"  She said with usual dramatic flare.  She really should have been one of those actresses from the old silent movies. She knew how to fling her arms and scrunch her face in ways that made words superfluous.

I saw an opportunity to ask her a question.

"What is 'stream of consciousness'?"

She stopped wiggling and giggling and  leaned forward on her elbows. I saw that one of her elbows went into a plop of water that she had spilled on the table during all her gesticulation.  It wouldn't have been a big deal, except she was wearing a brown leather jacket.  I pointed at her elbow and she yanked it back like it was on fire.
She dabbed at her elbow with a napkin and got a serious look on her face.

"Stream of consciouness."  She said it out loud like she was about to make a speech on the topic, "It means you write whatever comes to your mind. You just let the pen go and whatever you think of you just write. Write it as it comes, baby."

"Oh."  I said.  She smiled at me like she was pretty proud of her definition, but then I realized she was really smiling at the root beer floats that the waitress coming up behind me was about to place on our table.

"Yum!"  She squealed and grabbed a spoon.  Heaven liked to "eat" her root beer float, one spoonful at a time.  She would scrape off a little bit of  ice-cream from one of the perfect round vanilla balls floating in the rootbeer, then spoon out a little puddle of rootbeer along the side of the glass and then lift it carefully to her mouth and slurp it down.  I tried to do the same thing, but after awhile there wasn't enough ice-cream left to work with and trying to scrape off a piece of vanilla turned into more like bobbing for vanilla and too much work for the return, so I just used my straw.  Heaven persisted, pinning what was left of the ice-cream to the bottom of her glass and then scooping out the vanilla floaties.  She was very focused. We didn't talk much, but that was OK, we were focused on our treats and plus, we had been friends long enough to be comfortable with silence.

Then behind me there was a clang, then a thud.

I turned to see a man on the floor.  He had been up on one of the stools at the counter and now was lying on his side, like a large sack of flour.  His stool had somehow managed to stay upright.  The two people on either side of him jumped up and leaned down toward him.  A woman gasped. The man on the ground didn't move.  He was wearing a white collared shirt and kacky pants and the bald patch on the top of his head was pointed my direction. Another man jumped up from a table by the from door and ran over to him.

"What the heck?" I said out loud.  Heaven was speechless and wide-eyed.

The waitress behind the counter where he had been sitting immediately got on the phone.  Our waitress headed her direction.  The man who had gotten up from the table attempted CPR, pumping on the man's chest and blowing into his mouth in short bursts. The man on the ground looked dead. His cheeks puffed with each breath, but other than that, his body didn't move. His arms were out as his side, palms up, and his shoes pointed in two different directions on the end of his splayed legs.  His large belly protruded up like a cushion for the man performing CPR to rest on.

"Oh my gosh."  Heaven said, holding out the last word.  "Is he dead?"

"I don't know. Looks like it."  I slid down to the end of our booth to get a better look. Nobody was eating.  Everyone was staring and there were muffled whispers, nervous chatter, the sound of the phone being hung up and then a baby began to cry. The mother took the child outside and some people used her exit as a chance to escape themselves. I felt a little sick to my stomach.

"What do we do?"  I asked, but I wasn't really expecting an answer. There was nothing to do. Everything that could be done was being done. Everyone else was just supposed to stare or go on eating, or  look concerned.  Most did the latter.

I turned back around in the booth and Heaven wasn't even looking at the man. She was leaning over her journal, pinning it down on the table with one hand, writing furiously with the other.  I knew better than to interrupt her when she was in "Writer's Mode" as she called it. What is she writing about? Since I couldn't ask, I thought, "Well, she just went from a la mode to Writers's Mode!" I chuckled to myself, pleased with my cleverness.  See I am a writer, too.  Maybe not like Heaven, but I come up with some good stuff once in awhile.  One of my poems, and it wasn't even one of my better ones really, ended up winning 2nd place at the County Fair last year.  Big red ribbon.  I decided to wipe the self-congratulatory smirk off my face when an older woman in the booth next to me looked at me like she couldn't believe I was actually smiling at a time like this. I looked away ashamed and back at Heaven.  She was still writing.

Stream of Consciousness.  I thought.

Wait a minute. She's doing "Stream of Consciousness" while some poor guy lies unconscious right over there? How can she write in a time like this? WHAT would she write in a time like this?  I like to write when it is quiet or when everyone else is busy with something else like watching TV or doing homework or something, not in the middle of a 50's diner during peak lunch time hours sorrounded by a bunch of chattering tourists and screaming babies. That is why I picked Sam Cooke on the jukebox.  He seemed to simmer everyone down a little.

But not Heaven.  When writing calls, she answers.  Even in the midst of total chaos.  Even if someone is dead just a few feet away.

Stream of consciouness.
Write whatever comes to your mind.
Write it as it comes, baby.

So I did.
And here it is.
All these years later.

I'm forty one now.  Heaven is long gone. I have no idea what happened to her, no idea where she lives, no idea if she went on to be a published writer or a hemp dealer. I am sure she is writing.  Somewhere.  Somehow.  She is probably using a computer now, though. Or maybe not.  Maybe she is still chewing on her eraser, still using those little sparkly plastic callous gards and scribbling away inside a purple notebook with a rubber band closure. Or maybe she has changed her name and is some famous author and I have actually read one of her books, or one of her short stories or articles, but just didn't know it.

Maybe she is married and has seven kids with names like Flower and Brighton and Ken-Po and writes a "Mom blog" with make-up tips, 15 minute dinner recipes and insight on how to go shampoo free without showing it. Maybe she still lives in her parents' house in Santa Cruz and takes her kids to the diner for root beer floats. Maybe when they get there and sit down, she tells them the story of the man falling backwards and the nice CPR guy and the ambulance and the Santa Cruz Sentinel headline the next day that read: "Michigan Tourist Dies in Diner" or maybe she makes up a happy ending - the one she wrote up that very day inside her journal at our booth and her kids scream "Mom you ALWAYS tell us this story! Give us a quarter for the jukebox, PLEEEEEEEEEESE!"

But here I go again.  Just writing whatever comes to mind.  I'm really going Stream of Consciousness here.
Heaven would be proud.

-Hope Horner, 2013
Twitter:  @HopeNote

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Hole in the Wall

Maybe you've heard this song?
Sometimes I can't help the feeling that I'm living a life of illusion
And oh, why can't we let it be
And see through the hole in this wall of confusion?
I just can't help the feeling I'm living a life of illusion.

It's a Joe Walsh song I heard this morning on the radio. As soon as I heard the line, "And see through the hole in this wall of confusion" I thought --
That is exactly why I love THEOLOGY. 
I am currently reading different theology books, but mainly I am stuck on Karl Barth. Wow. He has some really heavy stuff and yet, oddly enough, I am able to wrap my head around most of it. Granted, sometimes I have to read a section, uh...a SENTENCE, several times to get the full meaning, and even then, I am not sure I am exactly getting the meaning as Barth intended, but I do feel like I am able to see through a hole in this wall of confusion.

Theology is the hole in the wall.

Here we are in this world of illusion.  
We all know none of this is going to last. We know we're not here forever, that life is short, but we try to hold on to it.  We try to slow down the hands of time. (Except on Mondays, during a root canal, or at the DMV.) Time marches on. Whether I like it or not, my favorite dog is going to die someday. She just is. I hate that. I wish I could stop it, but I can't. Instead, I have to push that reality out of my mind and live in the world of illusion that my little Cinnamon is here to stay. (She's not as wimpy as she sounds. That's just the name she came with.)
Oh and you, Mom. You'll be here forever, too, right? It's OK if I don't call as much as I should.  It's OK if we're not as close as I wish we were. Welp, I better stop there because tears are coming to my eyes. Back to the world of illusion. It is much more blissful in that little make-believe world I have complete control over.
And then in the middle of this life of illusion, along comes THEOLOGY. The study of God. The study of God's relationship to man. His revelation. Our purpose. Our meaning. Our NEXT.
Theology: The hole in the wall of confusion that runs between this world of illusion and the real world - God's world.  Where we look for answers to the big questions.
Who is God?  Why did he put us here? How does he communicate with us? Why do we love? What is real?  What is truth? What happens when we die? 
Theology looks through the hole in the wall to the other side. Studying it helps me understand this side and what's coming. And who's in charge of it all.

Imagine you are walking down the street and you come to a huge gray wall with a baseball sized hole right in the middle at eye level.  How could you NOT look through the hole? Unless you have absolutely no curiosity that hole would call your name and you'd peek. I know it calls mine. My peeking turns into peering as I read the works of Augustine, Luther, Kierkegaard, and Barth. The hole in their wall was really BIG. They could see a lot on the other side.  When I read what they've written, when I really focus and try to take in the view as they describe it, it feels as though my pupils dilate or the hole in the wall crumbles open a little bit wider.
And I catch my breath.
Because the view is breath-taking.
Startling, really.
Whoa!  I whip my head back.
But then I must look again.
The view goes dark like when the time runs out on one of those antique nickel picture viewers. (Not the girly ones. I never looked in those and I am not THAT old.) When this happens to me it means one of two things has occurred:

1) I have just seen something amazing. I've traced a pathway with my eyes to a dangerously high perch overlooking jagged rocks. God's righteousness. My sin. The brutal, eternal price paid by Jesus on the cross. Whoa. The profundity of it causes me to pull back, to look away. The view isn't just the "easy on the eyes" panorama of the roses and rainbows of God's love.

2) My brain is tired and it's time to read a O'Henry short story or do a "Fast & Easy" word puzzle. My brain can only take in the view for so long and then I have to step away. "TMI!" as the kids say. Too Much Information! But someday, I will be able to take it all in.
Someday, this wall of confusion between the world of illusion and the world of God comes crashing down like Jericho, and I, we, will walk through to the other side. What a glorious day that will be!  When that happens, the jagged rocks and cliffs will be gone or maybe we'll have really fancy hiking shoes and no fear?
For now, I'll stick to reading the great peekers of the past, the ones who peered long and hard through the hole, who tried to crawl through it or at least scrape at it to make it wider. The ones who's sharp minds and eloquent words lead me to the hole and then point at it and say, "Look through here!"

Take a peek. It's an amazing view. Sometimes the view is fuzzy, but even still, it is strangely beautiful, not of this world. It is different, distant, but real and accessible.  I've discovered some of what's on the other side of the wall is here on this side in smaller, less brilliant forms, like postcards from the other side that say "Wish you were here." I've come to realize how much of God is on this side and how much more of Him is yet to come.

That is why I love theology. I get to see through the hole in this wall of confusion - the one that divides me from the God who came and will come again. I get to take a peek.
What a view.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
Twitter: @HopeNote

Monday, March 18, 2013

All Lit Up

I recently flew from Los Angeles to Spokane to visit family.  As I flew up the coast in the window seat passing over Oregon and then Washington, I looked down at the frozen lakes and snow capped mountains below. The puddle-jumper plane that took me from Seattle to Spokane flew relatively low so I had what felt like a close-up view of the rugged winter wonderland.  For the most part, it was barren. Occasionally, I could see a small house or structure on a mountaintop.  I couldn't tell exactly what it was - a house - a cell tower - a barn - I could just see that there was something there that wasn't snow and wasn't a tree and since it was early morning, sometimes a flicker of light would emanate from the structure to confirm life.  It reminded me of the verse in the gospel of Matthew where Jesus says to his disciples they are "The light of the world--like a city on a mountain - glowing in the night for all to see." (5:14 NLT)  Instead, I thought to myself as the plane buzzed along, we Christians tend to be other kinds of lights, don't we? A few came to mind...

Well, well, well - will you look at that guy?  Quick, honey! Shine a light on that sinner so he knows he is wrong and will see the light and turn from his ways!  Point it right there on that dark spot! Whoa! Careful darlin'!  Don't let it shine on us for goodness sake!  Keep it pointed on him. Ah, yeah. Will you look at that  _______(Fill in the blank with your choice:  cheater, homo, tree-hugger, druggie, sinner, fool, drinker, liberal...) Maybe now he will see the light and turn from his evil ways?

(You know the yellow light that we can see, but bugs can't?)

It's 9 p.m. and Craig and Cathy Christian are sitting on their back porch sipping tea.  The crickets have begun to chirp as the sun creeps behind the mountains.
This is nice, isn't it?
All this light without all the "bugs."
Yes, it ia nice to be able to see the porch clearly and even out on to the lawn, but not have the hassle of all those "bugs" coming around.
It's amazing they are not drawn to this light.
It is, isn't it?  How is it they are unable to see the light like we can?
You mean the yellow light of truth as we see it?
Hmmm. Don't know. 
Do you think we should change the bulb so they can see it? You know, put it one of those bulbs that attracts them to our porch?
You mean one of those ECU-bulbs?
Don't you mean ECO-bulbs?
No ECU-bulb.  The ECU-menical bulb.
Oh, that one. No, I don't think so.  It's really bright, honey. Makes my eyes uncomfortable. And plus, isn't that bulb only for the Universalists? The Evangelical Lutherans? The United Church of Christ folks? And some of those pew-hopping Charismatics?  You know, the liberals.  Not to mention all the regular folk.  The ones who don't even bother to darken a church door.
Yeah, I think you're right. I'd have to look at the package the bulb comes in. Hold on, I'll go get it.
Don't bother.  Let's just enjoy our light.  Maybe tomorrow night we'll have the neighbors over for tea.
Which neighbors?
The Johnsons.
Oh, thank God.  I thought you meant the Levines.
Oh, heavens no.  They definitely can't see the light.  They don't even believe light bulbs exist! I mean the Johnsons, honey, the Johnsons!  They complemented our bulb the other day.
Really? Sounds good then. We'll invite them. Want some more tea?
Sip. Slurp. Sigh.
Do you think the homeless can see this bulb?

Two huge beams of light shine up into the night sky like giant flashlights, crossing each other at a various intervals, big round circles bouncing off the dark, low hanging clouds.  They attract all kinds of attention.  The lights do their job. They shout: Come here!  Check this out! Look at what we got!  Something is happening here!  Something BIG is for sale! You gotta see this!
So people come.  They can't resist.  They're curious.
The big circus lights draw them like zombie shoppers to our Easter and Christmas revelries, our 10-course potlucks, our picnics and pageants, our craft shows, merry musicals, coordinated VBS camps, and Awana Olympics.  We stack park and take tickets. They comment on how wonderful the casserole is, how much they love the singer with the Whitney Houston voice, how the handmade creche would look absolutely wonderful on their mantle as we pack it in tissue paper for safe carrying.  Our Sunday morning band includes Fender electric guitars, Remo drum sets and a bass player who's as nimble as Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.They plop down in our pews for a few moments, and if we're lucky, their plop down their money.  Then they hurry back to their cars and head home with a full stomach and a creased glossy program.  We clean up, de-brief and plan for next year.
Hey, Mary did you catch the name of that nice fella in the blue shirt who sat in the third row with his wife and kids? And what about the lady with the messy hair?  You know, the one who came to the craft show and asked if we had a pantry?  What's her name?  Anyway, how many we get this time at SpiritFest? Maybe we should do a raffle next time?
They're gone now, but they'll keep an eye out for the lights. They wouldn't want to miss our NEXT BIG THING.  We'll be sure to use the lights to let them know when we are at it again - to let them know our smiles and signs and volunteers are all ready.

Instead of a spotlight, bug light or a search light, I want to be a night light.  A city on a hill.
Because if I hear one more person say that they would be a Christian if it weren't for all the Christians, I'm going to scream.
Or cry.
The problem is, we are not very good at confessing.  We are better at professing.  We like to be right more than righteous. We'd rather preach, than listen. We prefer to shine our own glaring light of preference and opinion at the expense of the souls around us.  We're comfortable in our own light.  We'd rather perform than serve, talk than listen. We forget we are being watched.  Constantly.  We are that city on the hill, whether we want to be or not.  You can't miss us up there on the mountain-top, all lit up in the darkness, shining like a beacon.  My hope is to send less folks screaming back down the mountain or walking away wondering why they even bothered to come all this way.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
Follow on Twitter @HopeNote

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Rightousness of God

I picked up a small, dusty paperback at a bookstore in Simi Valley, and I am now working my way though it.  OK, let me rephrase that. I am not "working" through this book. It is not "work" to read this book. It is pure pleasure. But I must admit the book is definitely working ME over.  Here it is:
The Word of God & The Word of Man by Karl Barth (pronounced Bart) Click Here for The Book on Amazon (Evidently it is a rare find!) The book is made up of several addresses by Barth.  Read More About Karl Barth Here

The first address, or essay, in the book, "The Righteousness of God" literally made me cry. I know I am sensitive. I am not ashamed to say I am a sucker for words. I am especially sensitive to the words of the Gospel when I hear it beautifully and powerfully explained in a way that is eloquent or convicting.  This essay by Barth is so profound and moving I decided to put some of his words here this blog.  I actually recorded it, too, because I tend to learn better by listening and I really wanted this to soak in.  (You can listen in too, by clicking on Part One / Part Two at the top of my blog or by going to my "Realistic Mystic" podcast on iTunes.) 
So here it is - a few excerpts. I could literally quote the whole, short essay; it is THAT remarkable, but I'll put some of the highlights below: (Any EMPHASIS below is mine as are the questions which I inserted for clarity.)

The Righteousness of God by Karl Barth

The deepest surest face of life is that GOD IS RIGHTEOUS.  Our only question is what attitude toward that fact we ought to take.

We shall not approach that fact with our "critical reason."  "Reason" sees the small and the larger, but not the large. It sees the preliminary but not the final, the derived but not the original, the complex, but not the simple.  It sees what is human but not what is divine.

There is above this warped and weakened will of yours and mine, above this absurd and senseless will of the world, another which is straight and pure, and which, when it prevails, must have other, wholly other issues than these we see today.  Out of this will, when it is recognized, ANOTHER LIFE MUST GROW.  Out of this will, when it emerges, A NEW WORLD WILL RISE.  Our home is where this will prevails; we have wandered away, but we can return.  There is a will of God which is righteous.
If only we might stand in the shining presence of this will, not doubtfully, but with assurance!  If only instead of merely guessing at it as men who can only hope and wish in in it, we might contemplate it quietly and take enjoyment in it!  If only we might approach it, come to know it and HAVE IT FOR OUR OWN!  The deepest longing is born of the deepest need: "Oh that You would rend the heavens, that You would come down!"

Pride. We are inwardly resentful that the righteousness we pant after is God's and can only come to us from God. We come to our own rescue and build ourselves a tower of Babel.
We are (also) apprehensive of the righteousness of God because we feel much too small and too human for anything different and new to begin in us and among us.  This is our despair.
...because we are so PROUD and DESPAIRING we build a tower of Babel.  The righteousness of God which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, changes under our awkward touch into all kinds of human righteousness.

Morality (thrift, patriotism, charity, goodwill, efficiency at work, care of family...)
State and Law (institutions, capitalism...)
And Religion: 
There seem to be no surer means of rescuing us from the alarm cry of conscience than religion and Christianity.  Religion gives us the chance, beside and above the vexations of business, politics, private and social life, to celebrate solemn hours of devotion--to take flight to Christianity as to an eternally green island in the gray sea of the everyday.  There comes over us a wonderful sense of safety and security...It is a wonderful illusion, if we can comfort ourselves with the midst of capitalism, the housing problem, prostitution, alcoholism...the church's preaching, the church's morality and the "religious life" go their uninterrupted way...WHAT IS THE USE of all the preaching, baptizing, confirming, bell ringing, organ playing, all the religious moods and modes...the efforts to enliven church singing and the unspeakably tame and stupid monthly church papers and whatever else may belong to the equipment of modern ecclessiasticism (religion)?
WILL SOMETHING DIFFERENT COME FROM ALL THIS IN OUR RELATION TO THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD?? ARE WE EVEN EXPECTING SOMETHING DIFFERENT FROM IT? ARE WE HOPING THAT SOMETHING MAY HAPPEN?  Are we not rather hoping by our very activity to conceal in the most subtle way the fact that the critical event (submitting to God's will) has not yet been done and probably never will?  Are we not, with our religious righteousness, acting "as if"  in order to NOT HAVE TO DEAL WITH REALITY?  IS NOT OUR RELIGIOUS RIGHTEOUSNESS A PRODUCT OF OUR PRIDE AND DESPAIR, a Tower of Babel, at which the devil laughs more loudly than at all the others?

It is high time for us to confess freely and gladly:  this god, to whom we have built the Tower of Babel is not God.  He is an idol.  He is dead.
We have not begun to listen quietly to what the conscience asks when it reminds us, in our need and anxiety, of the righteousness of God. We have been much to eager to do something ourselves.  Much too quickly we have made ourselves comfortable in temporary structures.  WE HAVE MISTAKEN OUR TENT FOR OUR HOME...We have prayed, "Thy will be done!" and meant by it, "Thy will be done, but not just now!"  We have believed in eternal life, but what we took to be eternal life and satisfied ourselves upon was only temporary.  And for this reason we have remained the same as we were.  And unrighteousness has remained.  And the righteousness of God has disappeared from our eyes.  And God himself has become to us dubious for in his place has stood the questionably figment OF OUR OWN THOUGHTS.

There is a fundamentally different way to come into the relation with the righteousness of God.  This other way is NOT by speech, nor reflection, nor reason, but by BEING STILL, by listening to and not silencing the conscience when we have hardly begun to hear its voice.  When we let conscience speak to the end, it tells us not only that there is something else, a righteousness above unrighteousness, but also - and more important - that this something else for which we long and which we need is GOD. He is right and not we! He righteousness is eternal righteousness!  This is difficult for us to hear.  HIS WILL IS NOT A CORRECTED CONTINUATION OF OUR OWN.  It approaches ours as WHOLLY OTHER. There is nothing for our will except a basic re-creation. Not a reformation, but a re-creation.  For the will to which the conscience points is purity, goodness, truth and brotherhood as the perfect will of God.  In its presence, the first need is for HUMILITY.
We ought not to put our most fruitful moments to second-best uses in the belief that it is the way of piety and wisdom to pursue men's thoughts rather than God's.  We ought to apply ourselves with all our strength to expect more from God, to let grow within us that which he will in fact cause to grow, to accept what indeed he constantly offers us, watching and praying that we may respond to his originating trust all in him.
In the Bible this humility and this joy are called FAITH.  Faith means seeking not noise but quiet, and letting God speak within--THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD, FOR THERE IS NO OTHER.

In the place of despair, a child-like joyfulness will come: a joy that God is so much greater than we thought...Joy that from God much more is to be expected for our poor, perplexed and burdened life with our idealism, principles, and our Christianity, than we had dared hope!  MORE TO BE EXPECTED!  The old fetters are broken. The false idols begin to totter. FOR NOW SOMETHING REAL HAS HAPPENED--the only real thing that can happen:  GOD HAS NOW TAKEN HIS OWN WORK IN HAND.
The inner way, the way of SIMPLE FAITH is the way of Christ.  He is the love of God, glorified---from him we received many different truths, but the simplest of them all we have least comprehended--that HE WAS THE SON OF GOD and that we, if we will, may go with him by simply believing that the FATHER'S WILL IS TRUTH and MUST BE DONE.  One may object that this method is childlike and inadequate.  I grant it.  But this childlike and inadequate solution is the beginning of the vast plan of God.  
It remains to be seen whether the quaking of the tower of Babel which we are now experiencing will be violent enough to bring us nearer to the way of FAITH.  
Opportunity offers.
We may take the new way.
Or we may not.
Sooner or later we shall.

-Karl Barth

Note:  This essay is one of Barth's earliest works and just one of many in Word of God and Word of Man.  He acknowledges that many of his theological ideas move from the "foreground to the background and vice versa." He recommends reading the entire book as a whole to get the full picture.  I'm on it Karl.

Are you more of a listener than a reader?  Lucky you.  Go to the top of my blog and click on "Part One" of Karl Barth and you can listen to first half of this essay.  The second half is there too.  It's called "Part Two." (Fancy that.) If you can live with the dog collar jangles in the background and my occassional flub-up, you'll love it.

Hope A. Horner
Follow on Twitter:  @HopeNote