Sunday, June 23, 2013

Little Ears

Parents, please be careful.

What you say to your children, sticks.
Your words will ring in their little ears. For years. For their whole lives? They might act like they are not listening, or don't care, but they do.You might think they are too old, too stubborn, too far gone to even pay attention to what you say anymore. But even the most defiant have ears, no matter how old or obstinate they are.

My parents' words still matter. A LOT. And I'm over 40. Last night, I gave my parents a few of my articles to review and I was so nervous you'd of thought I was submitting my doctoral thesis to a Harvard professor. OK, pretty close. My Dad is a professor and my Mom a retired teacher, but I'm more nervous about what they will say as my parents, than as professionals. I'm not a fragile snowflake, I won't melt into oblivion if they point out where my writing could be better (It certainly could be!) but their words will matter enough to either propel or deter writing. Why?  Because they are my parents and it matters what they think! Yes, even at 40. Even with healthy self-esteem, a good job and enough writing ability to know that I'm not Hemingway, but I can put a semi-interesting sentence together.
Yes, parents, your child is like a dry sponge and your words like water. They suck 'em up and store 'em.

I've got a lot of good stuff stored. As I drove away from my Mom and Dad's house this past Thanksgiving with a belly full of turkey my Mom yelled, "I miss you already!" as she waved from the driveway. I will not forget those words. I have other "word gifts" from her that I keep close to my heart. I remember my Mom telling me in my early twenties, "Even as a child, you were a leader."
What? I'm a leader? Thanks Mom. I thought I might have some leadership ability, but if you think I'm a leader, I must be.

My Dad has told me some things that have stuck, too. A few years back while having a few laughs on a vacation in the mountains of Big Bear, he said I have "the quick Horner wit." I guess the Horner family heritage includes snappy humor, and for some reason the women of the family seem to take it to an extreme. Evidently, my Aunt Ruth was a real hoot. She created funny moments as wild and memorable as her Irish red hair.
Yeah, I guess I can be pretty funny. If you say so, Dad.

One time while at Payless Shoe Source as teenager, my Mom told me I had "expensive feet."  This was after I had tried on about nine different pairs of dress shoes, none of which fit. They were all too small or too wide or both. I didn't know exactly what she meant, but I thought maybe she meant my feet deserved to be wrapped in elegance, not stuffed inside a made-in-China plastic Payless shoe? Macy's is right next door Mom, let's go! Then she explained that because my feet were long and narrow, it would be hard to find shoes that fit. Most woman wear a size 7 or 8 and have wide feet, she explained. I wore a size 10 and had slender, narrow feet. Great. Thanks for the heads up, Mom. I would be forced to work three jobs just to afford heels for my giant, canoe-like feet.

I also remember my Mom blaming herself for my poor posture.
"I always used to slump at the dinner table," she said. "And I remember you looked over at me, you were about eight or nine, and you imitated me. I tried to tell you to sit up after that, but you continued to slump."  She seemed so remorseful. I was an adult when she told me this and I sat up a little to try to bring the smile back to her face. I tried to remind her that I was not going to be dining with royal family anytime soon and I am sure the people at work don't mind if I am hunched over my Panera Bread panini. Don't worry Mom, it just means that, I, "the slumper" will have to rely on my quick wit at the lunch table to keep people from focusing on my rounded shoulders and hunchback spine.

I also remember being in the church parking lot of First Baptist Church of Reseda, about seven or eight years old, waiting for Sunday School to start. My Dad walked up to me, tapped me on the chin and told me, "Keep your mouth shut. You'll catch flies." I asked him years later why he said that and he replied that as a small child, I had the habit of standing around with my mouth slightly open, like a hungry frog. His words worked. I snapped my mouth shut and was conscious of it from then on. I remembered his words long enough to inquire about what he meant as an adult. When I opened my mouth to finally ask, a whole swarm of flies flew out, but he didn't seem to notice. (Not really of course, but like my Aunt Ruth, I couldn't miss an opportunity like this for a sarcastic outburst.)

Even when parents are WRONG about their children, children believe.Think about all the kids on American Idol who sing about as well as an old Beagle with a sore paw and yet TRULY believe they can sing. They are indignant, even outraged when Simon, or Paula or whoever this year's half drunk celebrity judge is tells them they suck. Why? Nine times out of ten they will say because their MOM or DAD thinks they can sing. "My Mom told me in the waiting room I sing great!" Big fat tears of entitlement slide down their cheeks. "In fact, my Dad said I sound like Whitney Houston!"
Actually, kid, I wish you DID sound like Whitney Houston. The CURRENT Whitney Houston. Silent.
So now I have to wonder about all things my parents said to me that I believe. I hope my Mom was right about the leadership thing. I hope she wasn't just trying to bolster my fledgling self-esteem or keep me from dropping out of college. If not, my staff are in trouble. And you'd tell me if I wasn't as funny as John Stewart, right? Right?!

Ah, the staying power of words, especially parents' words. I used to run a support group for teenage girls. Through the years and tears, the girls would share their troubles and trials, and I noticed much of it included what their parents had said to them. Some would come in to the Monday group and share what they had heard over the weekend at a family party. Some words went back to when they were in grade school, or just out of diapers.
"We wanted a boy, but we had you."
"Maybe your Dad and I wouldn't fight all the time if you did a little more to help around the house!"
"You weren't supposed to be born.You were an oops baby."
"You're fat."
"Your nose is too big."
"Why can't you be more like your brother?"
"Maybe Dad wouldn't drink if you got better grades and weren't out all weekend long."
"That boy doesn't love you. How could he? Look at you! Fix your hair and put on a dress!"
"Do you know much I have had to sacrifice for you?  You think I want to be poor and fat and cleaning up after you like a maid? I do all this for you and what thanks do I get?"
They can repeat these words verbatim. Like a song on a loop, it plays over and over. Trying to re-load their emotional Ipods with new music is very, very difficult, if not impossible.

Parents don't even have to be speaking to their children directly. Even comments you make to other people. At parties. In the car. At church. At the grocery store. On the phone. They hear them and they store them away.
I've worked with kids for years. I hope I've made more deposits than withdrawals in their memory banks. The other day I ran into one of the girls who was in my teenage support group many years ago. She was a young adult now and was picking up groceries from the supermarket. We stood in the crowded shopping center parking lot and she said, "I'll never forget when you said..." I held my breath for a minute. Gosh, I hope this is good. I hope my words healed and didn't scar. "...when you told me that you could see me going to college. No one else ever said that. Now that I am in college, I think about that."
Phew. Thank goodness. 
I hope most of the words I have put into the minds of young people are like this, but I am sure there are some I would wish I could take back. We all get tired, impatient, frustrated, forgetful. Words slip. Ones we can't take back, but wish we could.
We chatter while little brains are forming.
We criticize as self-image is coagulating.
We jab when confidence is coalescing.

God, make each of my words a gift to all those around me. May they build up and not tear down. May I speak the truth in love...
Especially around little ears.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122.
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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Our Lady of Perpetual Room Service

I say it's high time churches started looking and acting more like motels than hotels.
What's the difference?
Well, for starters, motel room doors are on the outside of the motel as opposed to inside, making the people there more accessible. And the check-in process is less intimidating.You don't have to check in with over-groomed Pious Pierre at a fancy, black marble concierge.You just pull up, lurch inside the "Office" and get your room key. Sure, motels have a higher ratio of roaches to people than hotels, but I'm talking about the accessibility and approachability of the people, not the bugs.

Sometimes it seems like churches are more like hotels. Their doors are on the inside. You might be able to sneak in once, but if you want to get a room (i.e. stay), you better look and act a certain way, or at least fake it in the lobby. The sign might say "Come as you are!" but that's only for first-timers. After that, you better come as WE are - in other words, you can stick around as long as you look, act, think and believe exactly like the rest of us.
OK, technically you have to check in at a motel too, but it's easier and less intimidating. You can pay cash for your room. You might be paying with drug money, or getting a room for a "nooner", but they still let you in. You might even get a room without ever having to check in, if you know someone already there.You just pull into the parking lot in your beat up Chevy and call your friend.
"Hey, which room are you in?"
"162. Near the pool."
Then you wander around, acting like you belong there, carrying a large brown bag full of items that clink, until you find the room and then knock on the door with your foot.
And just like that...
You're in.
Of course, there's no room for you to sit anywhere except on the bed, there's hair in the sink and the room smells like a foot, but you're in.That simple.

Sometimes Christians are as hard to reach as the rock star who's passed out in luxury suite 203 in the Hotel Las Vegas. Between our mega churches with their intimidating Staples Center facades and auditorium style seating, and the smaller more modest sanctuaries with their vast array of "smells and bells" and overly perky Sunday Seafood Socials, it's a bit much for the weary traveler just looking for a place to find some consolation and comfort.
I just want to learn more about God, pray and meet nice people. Really. Singing is a bonus. (As long as it's not in that upper octave that only dogs and dolphins can hear.)

So what if churches felt more like motels? I don't mean they should be small cramped spaces stocked with mini-soaps and scratchy white towels, but what if they stopped trying to look like the Hyatt? Dropped some of the pretentiousness?
Come as you are! 
Meet up with a friend who is already here!
No dress code. 
Pets allowed. 
Clean and comfortable. 
No hovering, over-dressed people in the lobby. Just friendly, down-to-earth folks who love Jesus, free cable, buckets of ice and overpriced candy bars from vending machines. (And if you're a Lutheran, a well stocked mini-bar.)
I think we'd have more people in church and more people finding their way to Christ.

Do you remember the first time you thought about going to a new church? What were your worries? If you're like me you wondered:
Do they allow people like me in? (This is a valid question if you are a divorcee, homosexual, homeless, hooker, current or former drug addict, or a Democrat.)
What is the dress code?  And what if I don't own a skirt or a suit?
How long is the service? (If I wanted to go to church for 6 hours on a Sunday and all week long, I'd join a monastery!)
Do I have to stand/kneel/genuflect during certain parts of the service? What does genuflect mean anyway? What if my knees won't flect?
What if I don't know all the words to "Amazing Grace?" The Apostles Creed? Pilgrim's Progress?
It's quite overwhelming.  Some people will call and ask these questions. Others ask friends who already go to the church (always fearing that they'll be corralled into going if they show any interest). Me? I'm a church spy.
First, I check the church out online. I peruse their website. Read the "About Us" page thoroughly. If the church has an "app" then I know it is probably a mega church. If possible, I listen to or watch a few sermons on YouTube. Eventually, I go off-line and sneak in the back of the church on a Sunday morning and sit in the last row and just watch. And listen. I don't wear a disguise or a hidden microphone or anything, I just try to blend in. Bow my head when asked. Stand. Open my hymnal. Sing. Luckily, I know all the old hymns. (I was raised Baptist after all! Yes, we can sing, just not dance. Or sway.) I take note of how people are dressed. How you act toward each other. Whether or not there are people there who look like me. I pay attention. When church members approach me, is it only during the offering? Does the pastor really connect with people and God or does it feel more like a Tony Robbins "pep rally"? Am I welcome to join in on communion without a church membership card or a public statement of faith?
In other words, do I feel out of place here or do I feel like I fit in?  If I feel like I am in a big fancy hotel with a lot of big fancy people who sing big fancy songs and pray big fancy prayers than I am probably going to move on to the Methodist Motorlodge. Or the Catholic Comfort Inn. Or Motel 7.
Bottom line, people want to feel comfortable and welcome at church. They want to be greeted, not sized up. Fancy is nice for vacation stay, but when it comes to God's house, I think all the gold and glitter just scares people away. Let's put our doors on the outside and come out of our rooms and help wandering travelers find peace and rest, no matter who they are or what they have done. Even if the show up in flip flops and a Marijuana T-shirt with lots of baggage, let's come out and welcome them to our motel with open arms. OK, maybe not open arms right away, let them hide in the back for a minute and then offer them a firm handshake and some coffee from the bathroom coffee maker. You know, like a nice, simple motel? And for the ones still out there on the road who have yet to join us---let's keep the light on for them.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
Follow on Twitter @HopeNote
Email on gmail at hopeh1122.

Zombie Outbreak Reponse Team Interviews

I saw this on the back of an SUV the other day--

First thing I did was take a picture and text it to my 12 year old nephew with the words, "I think I found you a job!" He's going through a zombie phase like the rest of the world. The second thing I did was think, "Wow, I would love to be on the interview panel that gets to interview and select the next Zombie Outbreak Response Team (ZORT) member. What fun!" 

Here are the top ten interview questions for ZORT candidates:

  1. Are you alive? Prove it.
  2. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Stick to the parts of your life where you saved the world.
  3. Do you prefer the living or the dead?  Explain your answer without offending the living or the dead.
  4. Describe your experience as it relates to hunting down dead people and ripping their heads off.
  5. Here's a situational. You are at work, minding your own business, when suddenly 900 bloody, hungry zombies start lurching toward you. How would you handle this situation?
  6. Have you ever seen the music video Thriller?  If you were Michael, what would you have done differently?
  7. Have you ever worked at a Halloween Costume store?  What did you like or not like about it?
  8. Can you lift more than 200 lbs? 250? 300? How much can you throw?
  9. Can you drive a forklift over dead bodies?
  10. Describe a time when you had a conflict with someone who was dead, angry and wearing a dirty business suit.
I would then ask the ZORT candidate to look at all the members of the interview panel and figure out which one of us was dead. (I would have planted a zombie interviewer on the panel beforehand.) If he or she chooses me as the zombie, not only does he/she not get the job, but I would know it was time for a facial and some new clothes.

-Hope Horner, 2013
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122.  
Follow on Twitter @HopeNote
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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Relax. You're Not That Interesting!

Maybe Rockwell had it right?
You know why we are so paranoid about "Big Brother" or Alexa listening to us?
Because we're stuck on ourselves. I mean, really, who cares what I am doing besides me and a few scattered people that share my DNA or real estate?
Evidently, Google, Apple, Facebook, WalMart and Amazon care.
According to the news this morning, they are all "following" me and they are pretty good stalkers. They watch where I shop, what I buy, when I visit grandma and how often I go to the beach. Never mind the government! The government not only watches--following me with "eye in the sky" type cameras and undercover surveillance--it listens in on my phone calls, or at the very least keeps track of them. They know when I call my sister. My Mom. My doctor. And if I ever say the words: "Islam", "Jihad", "CIA", "FBI" or "Hillary" they scramble to hit the red record button. Knowing this, if I do happen to say one of these words while talking on the phone, I quickly follow up with, "Hi guys."
I'm not worried.
At all.
Look, I know some people are paranoid about our information being sold, used against us or that big businesses or people in power could use what they've learned about our traveling, eating and buying habits to manipulate or control us, but I am just not that paranoid. I guess I just don't think I'm all that interesting. I figure there are several hundred million people ahead of me on the list with the title: "People of Interest."
Not that I don't have fascinating moments at times.
Sometimes, I get up later than 4 a.m.
I've been on Romper Room.
I saw Kobe Bryant at an IHOP.
I am lactose intolerant.
Go ahead. Use any of that against me. Just keep in mind Big Brother, I was only ten when I was on Romper Room. So what if I put the wrong hand over my heart when I led the rest of the kids in the Pledge of the Allegiance?  It was a honest mistake. I love America. Really, really, REALLY love America. Can't you see the flag outside my door? Oh that's right, you can.

Yesterday, I almost bought Stephen King's new book at WalMart. That would have really thrown off WalMart's tracking system! I never buy horror books, but I saw an interview with King on the Today Show and I was curious, so I almost bought it. Can you imagine what would have happened if I had? I bet alarms at Walmart corporate headquarters would have gone off as I swiped my credit card and authorized my transaction. A technician manning the Monitor, Oversee & Manipulate (M.O.M.) system in a hot, crowded warehouse in Bangladesh would have shouted into the intercom: "Red Alert! Red Alert! (or is it Read Alert?) Hope Horner just bought a Stephen King book! We thought she was a Christian! Adjust! Adjust! ADJUST!" Then in a dimly lit back room without ventilation, guys making twenty cents an hour would discuss an action plan before taking their twelve minute lunch break. "Let's see. Her last ten purchases were books about Jesus, Saint Francis, and Cesar Milan, you know wholesome topics. Something is wrong! We will have to adjust our manipulation tactics if in fact we can determine that her identity has been hijacked by a horror loving heathen! Quick! See if she ever read Pet Cemetery or Carrie!" Then after their gruel, they would take a collective deep breath, cough into bloody handkerchiefs, adjust M.O.M.'s stalker settings and place a note on my account: "May be backsliding. Or could be a gift. Stay tuned."
I decided to check the book out from the local library instead, where they track everything I read.
What? It's called the Summer Reading Program. Calm down.

I understand the worry that this is a slippery slope--one minute these companies are watching us buy our 423rd box of super tampons and the next minute we're wearing silver helmets and talking like Yoda while advertisements flash on our retinas. But I just don't think we have all that much to worry about. I really don't. And here's how you can join me in worry free living despite all the tracking and monitoring going on:
  1. Stay boring.
  2. Do not name your daughter Hillary. Or Pentagon. 
  3. If you buy fertilizer or nails and especially if you buy them together online, make sure you take pictures of your child's fort and/or your new garden and post them both on Facebook. Tweet about how awesome you are at home improvement projects.
  4. Say hi to the government when you use your phone. Be friendly. And speak up! Most of the time they are asleep when you're talking. (Sorry, casserole recipes and who you saw at your son's soccer game in pants that were too tight just isn't that fascinating to anyone else besides you, despite what your family members and friends may say.) 
  5. When on the phone or talking in public, don't use words found in government de-briefing documents like "opposition forces" "military presence" "politically expedient" or in the case of our new president: "really, really, great guy." Not because you may end up on a government watch list, but because it will bore your friends and family.
  6. Every once in awhile buy a Stephen King book and then follow it up with the purchase of a New Testament. Eventually, the trackers will give up. Or they'll take you off their lists entirely.
  7. Stop worrying. Amazon is our friend. WalMart wants to be helpful. Apple aims to please. Ads tailored to our needs are great time-savers.Custom coupons save us money. Emails from China for male enhancement supplements just means you need to adjust your spam filter.
Everything fine, will be, my friends.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013 / Follow on Twitter @HopeNote
For print use, contact author on gmail at hopeh1122.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The "Now" That Got Away

Ever notice how time stretches?

Evolution, for example, is such a complex process we need BILLIONS of years to get it done. It would sound pretty ridiculous to say that the earth, animals and human beings evolved in 7 days. 
Yes folks, we went from Bang to Bob in a week!  
Not very plausible. But throw a few billion years in there and somehow it sounds more believable. You just can't rush a good thing.
Unless God had something to do with it. But if you tend to go more Big Bang then Big God, you need to stretch time to allow for explosions, dust particles, and random atoms to all settle where they are supposed to and become everything from water to walruses. But time can also be shortened. Christianity, and to some extent Buddhism, tell us to put time in perspective when we encounter suffering here on earth. When it feels long, remember it is short. Stop focusing on this life and your suffering. In relation to eternal life, your time is but a dot on the eternal timeline of life. 
In other words, when time drags on because life is rough, remind yourself how short this life really is and that this is not all there is. 
Bottom line is we talk a lot about time.  
Time is of the essence!
Life is short.

Time flies when you're having fun.
Today felt like a really long day.
Wow, where did the time go?
Or to quote a renowned philosopher:
"Time makes lovers feel like they have something real, but you and me, we know we've got nothing but time."
-Boy George circa 1986 A.D. from the song "Time (Clock of the Heart)"

Time, time, time.
We're so caught up in it, bound by it; we order our lives by it.

A few years ago someone said to me,"You know when you look at your watch, you're not really looking to see what time it is. You're looking to see how long before your next appointment, meeting, or meal." It changed the way I looked at time. I mean how often do you really look at a clock, your watch or cell phone (I through that last one in there so I don't sound old) just to see what time it is?
"Oh, it's 2:25.  Isn't that nice. Glad I checked."
It's more like:
"Oh my gosh, it's 2:25! I got five minutes to get to my meeting!"
With that in mind, here's how my day breaks down:
If I look at my watch before noon, it is to see how far away I am from lunch.
If I look at my watch after noon, it is to see how far away I am from dinner.
Any other time I look at my watch, it is too see how much time I have before the start or end of a meeting.

I read this article the other day in the The New York Review of Books:
Time Regained by James Gleick And it made me re-think time again. The article was a review of the book: Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe by Lee Smolin.
To summarize the article in the most basic way possible it is about whether or not time is real or just an illusion and how that affects scientific study of the universe. According to HG Wells book The Time Machine, time is nothing but a fourth dimension (after length, breadth and thickness.)  Mathematician Hermann Minkowski announced in 1908 that without space, time could not exist. "Henceforth, space by itself, and time by itself are doomed to fade away into mere shadows and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality." in other words, time doesn't exist unless it has space to exist within. Space gives time its meaning.  I was here. Now I am here. Therefore, time has passed.  But does time exist if things or we don't move or change in space? Does time exist on its own? Some scientists and physicists say no. Time is only an illusion.
Lee Smolin, the author of the book Gleick reviews in the article says yes, time does exist: "The fact that it is always some moment in our perception and that we experience that moment as one of a  flow of moments, is not an illusion." Smolin clarifies however, that only the now exists. He says: "All (and only) things that exist now are real. Past things were real once, but have ceased to exist. Future things don’t yet exist; they will become real only when the time comes."
Here a few excerpts that got me thinking:

In an empty universe, would time exist? No, it would not. Time is the measure of change; if nothing changes, time has no meaning. 

No observer has access to the now of another observer. Everything that reaches our senses comes from the past.  

You can try this last one with your friends. Ask them to identify your "now." They will pause, then point and say, "Now!"  To which you reply, "Nope. You missed it. By the time I heard you say "Now!" my now had already passed. Sorry, try again." Allow a look of smugness to appear on your face. After all, you are conducting an important scientific experiment. This could be the start of a long, prosperous career in the field of physics, one that leads you to discover new secrets about the time-space continuum or dark matter.
Or if you prefer, you can simply laugh and say: 
Neener, neener, neeeeener! You can't catch my NOOOOOWWWW!

Whether we stretch time into billions of years of evolution or shorten it to a week and put it in God's hands for creation it is still well, time. It's how we mark our days. It can be spent, but not borrowed. It can be used, but not stored up. It can seem to be longer or shorter depending on whether we are happy or miserable. We can think about it, mark it and remember it-- whether it exists or not, it is a part of being human. Time may be our construct or God's creation depending on how you look at it. It may end permanently at death, when we stop moving in space,or it may never end, as in eternity.Or maybe when we get to the next life, it won't matter? But for now, there are people and places I will see and visit today that I may never get a chance to see or visit again and I want to make time count. Not just for me, but for the ones I meet and the One who holds time in his hands. Even if my time is just a speck of dust on a vast ocean. Even if this moment of perception--my time--has no actual matter, it matters.
Now if you'll excuse me, I just looked at the clock and it is five minutes before my morning run so I gotta go.

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

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Catholics Need Not Apply

Today a friend of mine said she has no idea where she is going to send her daughter to high school. Her daughter currently attends a Christian junior high in the area where she lives.
"What about the Christian high school in the area?" I asked. It seemed like a logical suggestion.
"My daughter can't go there. We already checked into it and you have to be a Baptist."
"What?"  I asked. I want to made sure I heard her right. "A Baptist?"
"Yeah. We looked into the admission policy and it says you have to be a Baptist to go to that school. We're Catholic, so obviously that isn't going to work."
"Are you kidding me?" I was shocked that this high school was so exclusive.
She said she wasn't kidding. I could hear the disappointment in her voice. I tried to lighten the moment by telling her a joke.
Saint Peter greets a group of Christians who have just arrived at the pearly gates with a hearty "Welcome!" and tells them he is going to take them on a tour of heaven. They are all very excited to hear this. He leads them around their new heavenly home, showing them the golden streets, large banquet hall and the magnificent choir of angels. The group of Christians point and chatter excitedly with each other along the way. Near the end of the tour, Saint Peter motions for them to move in close together. He leans toward the group and lowers his voice. "OK, folks, as we pass through this next section of heaven, I need you to be very, very quiet. Please do not make a sound as we pass through this area."
The Christians all look puzzled. One Christian piped up and asked "Why do we need to be so quiet?"
Saint Peter lowered his voice to a whisper and leaned in even closer to the group--"Because the section we are about to go through is where the Baptists live and they think they are the only ones here."
My friend laughed loudly at this joke. I did too, even though I have heard and told it many times. But then I thought...really? Is exclusiveness funny?
Is it funny that her daughter can't go to the only Christian high school in the area where she lives because one group of Christians say she does not fit into the right denominational category? It isn't like her daughter is from an entirely different faith community, like Buddhist or Muslim or something! I understand a school wanting to maintain it's faith tradition, but for goodness sake to not let Catholics in to a Christian high school? Wow. I went to a Christian high school and we had plenty of Catholics....and Baptists, Pentecostals, Agnostics, and now that I think about it, the guy who thought "flirting" meant trying to run me over with his bike at lunch time was a Unitarian, which to Baptists basically means "Satanist." Not exactly sure if that meant these non traditional protestant parents "lied" on the school admission application, but I know I went to school with a diverse group of Christians and my school had the word "Christian" in its name.
I checked into the high school my friend mentioned and reviewed the school admission policy online.  As it turns out, you don't have to be a Baptist, but you DO have to be a protestant.  I thought it was curious that my friend had said "Baptist" instead of protestant, but I wasn't surprised.  My guess is when she read this and thought "What a narrow-minded exclusive group of Christians!" the first word that came to her mind was Baptists. (A spiritual Freudian slip?) I don't blame her. I was raised in the Baptist tradition and I am still trying to get over it.
I also read the school's "Statement of Faith."  It was certainly a statement, but I wasn't able to find much faith in it after the first sentence. Here are a few excerpts:
  1. We believe that salvation and the gift of eternal life can only be attained by accepting Jesus Christ as personal Savior by faith in His substitutionary death and the shedding of His blood on the cross. His payment for sins reconciles believers to God and is a gift to be received, not earned by works. To accept Christ as Savior, individuals must admit their own sin, recognize that only God can forgive sins, ask God to forgive them, believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for them, and then ask God to save them. They then become a child of God and are secure in their salvation forever. Those who accept Christ will enjoy heaven forever, while those who reject Christ will suffer eternal and conscious punishment apart from God. (1 Cor. 15:22, Rom. 3:23, Rom. 6:23, Jn. 10:9-10, Jn. 14:6, Jn. 3:14-15, Rom. 5:1,10, Eph. 2:8-9, 1 Jn. 5:13).
  2. We believe that Jesus Christ Himself will someday return bodily as clearly stated in the Bible. We believe that His return at the Rapture is imminent and will occur before the Tribulation Period (as in the order described in Revelation 4-20), and that His Second Coming to earth will occur before His Millennial Reign. (Jn. 14:1-6, Matt. 24:27,30, Matt. 25:31, 1 Thess. 4:8-18, Rev. 7:14, 20:1-6, Dan. 9:26,27)
There are also eight other statements that include their beliefs on when you should be baptized, the inerrancy of the Bible, the role of the Holy Spirit, etc.  All are full of big theological words like substitutionary death, condemnation, redemption and absolute Deity. I grew up hearing these words and have studied theology so I know what they mean, but I tried to imagine some "newbie" Christian parent reading the statement and thinking, "Well, I am not sure exactly what all this means, but I'll go ahead and sign it. Thank God we go to that big Baptist Church on the hill because that means my little darlings McKenzie and Harley can get a quality Christian education! Poor Mrs. Ramirez is going to have to take her kids over the hill to go to school since there's nothing in this statement about worshiping the Virgin Mary like they do."
As I mentioned, I am a former Baptist in recovery. Part of my recovery involves joining a Lutheran church where it is refreshing to focus more on grace and what God does, than on my free will and what I do. Just look at statement #1. There is so much I HAVE TO DO!  I have to accept, receive, admit, recognize, ask..! And if I do, then when statement #2 happens (the 2nd coming of Christ), I won't get left behind! I'll be safe forever because I did the right things! Baptists certainly believe in grace and that salvation is a gift, and certainly I know some wonderful Baptist Christians, but their pendulum seems to swing a little bit more toward my will, my actions, my response than God's will, God's work, God's gift.

In statement #2 I have to do something, too--I have to make sure to GET THE ORDER RIGHT. Jesus is going to come back before the tribulation period, not after, or in the middle of it, but before. Evidently, I have to understand and agree to the timing of his return and millennial reign in order for my kid to go to this school. Somebody, get me a timline and a tutor, I am lost!

One of the things that struck me when I read the whole statement of faith, all 10 bullet points, was all the ways that Christians divide. If you want to be in our group, go to our school, you have to agree with our belief on:
When and how baptism is done,
What church to attend and how often,
Whether or not communion is a remembrance or a sacrament, 
The exact timing of Jesus' return...
Each one represents a denominational divide in the Christian church, some divisions within divisions. It reminded me that Jesus' prayer in John 17:20 still needs to be prayed today:

"I do not pray for these (the disciples) alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their word (us!) that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent me." Or simply put-- "Heavenly Father, may we Christians be one so that the world may believe in the One sent by God - Jesus."

Then I started thinking...What would happen if this Christian high school let ANYONE in?  What if it started by letting the Catholics in (still playing it kind of safe) and then just opened the doors and let in anyone who wanted a Christian education?  What if the high school's statement of faith read something like this:

1. This school is committed to spreading the good news about Jesus Christ who came to earth as God to save everyone many years ago.  Through him we find forgiveness, peace, love, meaning and eternal life.

2. If you come to this school you will learn about God/Jesus in addition to the typical school subjects like math, science and English. 

3.  By attending this school, you agree to listen to the teachings of Christ, read the Bible and be a part of the discussion.  We welcome your questions and comments and we hope you will be amazed by Jesus and drawn to Him. 

4.  You agree to allow us to pray for you and your family.  We will pray for God's will to be done in your life and that you will come to realize and accept the wonderful gift of salvation that Jesus provides and experience the positive change that comes with knowing and living for Him. 

5. Teachers and faculty agree to be a reflection of Christ. We can't wait to share with you how Jesus has made a difference in our lives and how He wants to make a difference in yours! We will be mentors, role models and peacemakers and we pray you will be, too. Together, we will change the world!

I know, I know --definitely too open-minded for the Baptists and probably too narrow for the Lutherans. Maybe my statement of faith is too inclusive, but isn't that what Jesus' prayer is all about?  And who knows how much time we have before we will see him face to face (pre, mid or post millenial reign) and he will ask us, "So, did you exclude others or invite them in? The "least of these" you turned away was me, you know." (Matthew 25)

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Word Windows

Since elementary school I have written poetry. Back then, it was in my Hello Kitty notebook and it was about Mom, Dad, holidays, love and well, chickens because my neighbors had a chicken coup. Who new chickens could be so inspiring? Today, I write in a Italian red leather journal (Thank you Darlene!), on random restaurant napkins, and in tiny spiral notebooks that I keep tucked in my purse and car just in case inspiration strikes. Chickens no longer inspire, but people, mystical experiences and great views do. Now it is time to corral all these paper scribbles and get them online. So I started a poetry blog.

I thought about posting poetry here on, but I thought it would be best to keep this site for words stretched into complete sentences and coherent thoughts (or as close as possible!) so I will keep posting essays, stories and reflections here and as always, your comments are always welcome and appreciated.  But if you'd like some poetry to go with your essays and short stories, please check out:Word Windows Poetry Blog

If the link doesn't work, you can copy and paste the following into your browser:

Got a poem of your own or a classic you recommend?  
Submit your poetry to me by emailing me on Facebook at and I'll post it for you.
Or email me using the last 9 bold characters in the web address above followed by
Your poems need not be polished or rival Robert Frost. Mine certainly won't, but hopefully, they will be interesting and inspiring.

Thanks for your support!

Click Here to go to Word Windows Now!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Strange Occurrences

This is what the little plastic sign on the dresser in my hotel room says:
This is a non-smoking room. When smoking occurs during your stay a $150 Cleaning Fee will be billed to your account.
Notice it does not say:
If you smoke in this room, you will be charged a $150 cleaning fee.
Smoking is not permitted in this room.  A $150 fine will be charged if you smoke in this room.
NO SMOKING IN THIS ROOM. Period. Those are the rules. Smoke and you will be charged $150. Yes, that means YOU. No amount of whining will help you. 

I could have handled any of the above.  The only one I couldn't handle was the actual sign.  It was just so....friendly. PC. BS. "You" is no where to be found on the little plastic sign put out by the hotel. That would be too forward, too "in your face." Heaven forbid we tell YOU that if you smoke in a non-smoking room YOU will be fined. YOU be held responsible. YOU will be accountable. Culpable. Maybe I am reading too much into everything (wouldn't be the first time), but it just seems so typical of the lack of responsibility we show for our actions these days. We can apologize without admitting fault - just say you are sorry others misunderstood you. Make excuses when you break the rules. Blame others, your childhood, the economy, your mother, anything, but for goodness sakes don't feel bad about anything you did or own up to your actions.  Now even our signs are changing. "Don't smoke or YOU will be fined $150" turns into "When smoking occurs during your stay..."
When smoking occurs??  How does smoking occur? I have to laugh when I think about the possibilities.
Am I going to come out of my bathroom to find the maid sitting on the bed in my bathrobe having a long toke on a Marlboro? Or maybe smoke occurs some other way? Maybe the mini-fridge going to go on the fritz, knock and ping and then smoke? Is the 1982 forty watt blow dryer tethered to the bathroom wall going to give up the ghost and smoke up the whole bathroom? Who knows. But evidently, smoke OCCURS.

In the room next to me is a middle aged couple with the brooding teenage son with big, red BEATS headphones that never leave his ears. He appears to be sulking his way through a family vacation. His parents' forced smiles make me think they are from the mid-west, not because mid-westerners smile a certain way, but because the forced up-turn of their lips scream "Darn it, we drove this far and WE ARE GOING TO ENJOY OURSELVES!" They went out the other night and left the son behind in the room.  As I stared at this mealymouthed sign, I pictured the father's conversation with hotel staff after he returned home from a night out with his wife.

"Hello, front desk, can we help you?"
"Yeah, hi, this is the Johnson family in room 223."
"Yes, how can we help you?"
"Well, uh, smoking just occurred."
"What, I'm sorry?"
"Smoking just occurred."
"You're smoking?"
"No, we're not smoking, but it occurred."
"It did?"
"Yeah, my son."
"Your son is a smoker, sir?"
"No, but he was here, in the room, and smoking occurred."
"Oh. You know there is a $150 dollar cleaning fee if smoking occurs in your room."
"I know. I saw the sign. That's why I'm calling."
"Oh. Well, we can charge it to your card, sir, after you check out."
"Yeah, go ahead. After all, it occurred. By the way, do you charge anything if drinking occurs?  We think that may have also occurred in our room."
"No sir, there is no charge if drinking occurs in your room."
"What about if a wet bathing suit on the bed occurs?"
"No charge."
"And if a circuit breaker blowout occurs?"
"No, sir."
"Well, I just want to check on a few more things because it appears that a lot has been occurring in our room while my wife and I were out."
"Sure, go ahead."
"Is there any charge if sand in the entryway occurs?"
"Barf in the closet?"
"What if bottles under the bed occur? And what about lipstick on a pillowcase?"
"No sir."
"Oh, OK. That's good. And one last thing. Is there a charge if my dog occurs on the rug?"
"A dog?  Sir, pets cannot occur in this hotel. Your signature occurred on the check-in paperwork, remember?"
"I'm sorry I don't remember that occurring?"
"It sure did. When check in occurred. There was a line that said, "If a pet occurs in the room, a pet occurrence fee will be charged."
"Oh. Well, my dog occurred."
"Then, I'm sorry, but there will be a fine."
"Really? He's little. Just a chihuahua. The occurrence is barely worth mentioning."
"Sorry, sir, there will have to be a fine."
"I thought it was a fee?  Fine sounds very harsh. Like I did something wrong."
"Well, technically we call it a "cleaning fee" but really it is a fine."
"Oh. Kind of like the fee for the smoking occurring?"
"Wow, sounds like there are going to be a lot of fees occurring on my credit card."
"Yes, sir. We'll be happy to have that occur when check-out occurs. Ah, sir?"
"Is there anything else that you can think of that might occur in your room?"
.......LONG PAUSE...........
"Actually, there is."
"What is it, sir?"
"Early check out."

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
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Saturday, June 1, 2013

The One That Got Away

"Oh my gosh, I know this kid."
I was reading a breaking news alert on my office computer. I recognized his name right away. I scrolled down to his picture.
"Yup, that's him."
It was Chris from the after-school program I supervised in the early 90's--only now he was all grown up and in a lot of trouble. He had shot a gun at police and managed to escape for a few days before being arrested. The article described him as a homeless drug addict with multiple arrests.
When I knew Chris, he was only ten or eleven, but he showed signs of trouble early. When I took the kids out to the playground for foursquare and jump-rope, he'd sneak back into the classroom and take the teacher's pet rat out of the cage until one day, it escaped. Another time, he and a friend pried open the air conditioning control box in the classroom and broke the glass case surrounding the mercury. I had no idea that mercury, once no longer encased in glass, turns into a silver ball that rolls around like something out of a Terminator movie. Nor did I know that it was a bio-hazard, but luckily we got it taken care of without anyone getting hurt. Chris did more than his share of teasing, taunting, fighting and cussing back in those days. He was rambunctious, angry and moody and I was a new youth worker still cutting my teeth. I may not have pictured him growing up to shoot heroin and police, but I could tell that he was headed in a bad direction.

And it bothers me that I lost him.

Sure, it wasn't my job to "save" or "rehabilitate" the kids in my program. This was a recreation program, not social work. We'd play Connect Four and Uno. We'd add fractions and practice spelling words. We'd draw, weave lanyards and listen to music. If you misbehaved you got a time-out or sent home, but in the midst of all the backpacks, pencils and behavior refereeing, I grew to care about the kids, even Chris, despite his mischievous ways and angry outbursts. As I sat at my desk reading the news of his arrest, I wished I could have, would have, done more. This last outburst is going to cost him much more than a 15 minute time-out or a conference with his mom - it means he'll spend many, many years in prison. I shook my head and felt a pang of sadness. I wondered what, if anything, I could have done back when Chris was just a little trouble-maker running around on an elementary school playground, before he was the glassy eyed man in the mug shot on my computer screen.

I remember another kid from my after-school program. 
I'll call him Richard.
Richard was bright and sensitive, with thick, brown wavy hair and a lively personality. He had two things in common with Chris--big brownish yellow "cat" eyes and warning signs of trouble to come.
Chris, as I've described, was a mischievous trouble-maker.
Richard was gay.
Yes, even at 10.  He didn't call himself gay, and he may not have even know fully what it meant or who he was, but I knew it. The other kids in my program knew it, too, and as a result, Richard was teased mercilessly. They never missed an opportunity to call him "fag" or "homo" or other vicious names I can't repeat here. Unfortunately, for Richard, my program was chock-full of Chris types who loved to play sports, punch shoulders, tease girls and wrestle in the grass. Richard on the other hand wanted to read, play educational games on the computer or hang out with the girls and talk. So the boys let him have it. I spent many after-school hours putting an end to the name calling and comforting or distracting Richard from the taunts. I'd draw cartoons with him, listen to him talk about his Dad who lived in New York. He'd tell me about the "You're the Doctor" software he had installed on this home computer and fill me in on how his latest heart surgery was going. He told me he wanted to be a "paleontologist" not because he liked fossils and dinosaurs, but because he thought the word sounded important. Richard had a big vocabulary and a big, sensitive heart that he wore on his sleeve. One day, during a basketball game outside on the playground, Chris blew by Richard for a lay-up and as he passed yelled "C'mon Fag!" This wasn't the first time Chris had called Richard that name, but it triggered something in Richard I had not seen before. Usually he just acted like he hadn't heard anything. This time, his face turned red and he shouted "Shut up!" so loud his voice went hoarse by the second word. I grabbed the ball, did one hard dribble with both hands and told everyone to go inside. They listened. I am sure I had fire in my eyes. Once inside the classroom, I told them all to sit down. I was sweaty and angry.
Have you guys ever looked up "fag" in the dictionary? They all sat staring at me, motionless. 
Well, if you do, you'll see "fag" means a piece of wood used to light a fire, like a match. How in the world did a word that means "match" ever come to mean a gay man?  My voice was loud, maybe too loud, but I continued on.
Because it comes from a sick time in history. Remember how they burned witches at the stake in the Middle Ages?  They just stared. At this age, they were studying California history and building mission replicas, but they were going to get in this time machine whether they wanted to or not.
Gay men were used as kindle wood in the middle ages to start the fires of those being burned at the stake. They set them on fire first and then used them to set fire to the witches or other people they were burning.  It's sick and disgusting. What a terrible thing to do! I couldn't tell by looking at them if they were shocked, fascinated or didn't believe me.  
Look it up if you don't believe me.  None of them moved.
From now on I never, ever, ever want to hear that word again!  
My lecture probably went over their head, but they shut up with the fag word after that. Later, I found out the story I had shared about the origin of the word "fag" was really just an urban legend, but it worked, at least when I was around. However, Richard kept hearing the word in other places. I know, because he had an older sister who used to come to the program and talk with me for a little while before walking him home. She was really worried about him. So was I.
One day in late spring near the end of my time coordinating the program, I sat outside with Richard on the curb of the school waiting for his Mom to pick him up.  He was the last one to leave that day.
"I want you to call me when you turn 18."
He looked at me with a puzzled look on his face. 18 probably seemed like a hundred years away.
"Why?' he asked.
"Because I want to see how you are doing."
He tucked his knees up under his chin and wrapped his arms around his legs. He stared down at the gravel for a few moments. Without lifting his head from his knees, he turned his face toward me. "How will I know how to reach you?"
"Just call city hall and ask for me. Or go by and see the owner at the sports card shop where I work on the weekends. He'll know where I am. Or look me up in the phonebook or something."
His Mom's maroon Honda pulled up in front of us. He grabbed his back pack and stood up.
"See ya!" he called over his shoulder as he got into the car.

For years, I continued to work with youth in various capacities--day camps, prevention programs, mentoring groups...the days passed and I forgot about Chris and Richard. Until one day, my phone rang.
"Hello?"  I answered from my home office.
"Hello, Hope?"
"Yeah?" I didn't recognize the voice.
"It's Richard." (He said his last name as well.)  "Do you remember me?"
 I pushed away from my computer. I felt goosebumps forming.
"Richard? Of course I remember you Richard!  Oh my gosh, how the heck are you?  You must be 18!"
He laughed and said he was OK. His voice was much lower, but still pleasant, like someone about to tell a joke. He described his saga after leaving the elementary school where I worked. As predicted, he had a very rough junior high, an even worse high school, until ultimately his mother pulled him out of the school district and sent him to another high school out of the area. He finished there, but in the meantime made some bad choices and as a result had some physical and emotional scars. He described himself as emerging from a very dark period in his life.
"I am so glad you called and that you are doing OK. I have to admit I am a bit in shock. I can't believe it. I wasn't sure you would remember to call."
 "Oh, I remembered!" He laughed nervously and then there was a long pause. "You know, there were times I wanted to kill myself, Hope, but I didn't because I knew I had to call you when I turned 18. I was like, oh man, I gotta call Hope in another year so I guess I better just stick around for a little bit."
"Really?" My voice was thin.
I had goosebumps on my goosebumps. My eyes watered. I cleared my voice.
"That's exactly why I wanted you to call me Richard, that's why I told you to call me when you turned 18. I knew you were going to have a rough time and I was worried about you. I wanted to make sure you made it though. I didn't know what else I could do; I knew I couldn't be there, so I thought maybe if I tell you to call, maybe if you remember that you have to call, maybe you'll check back in all those years later and I'll know you are OK."
He was silent for a few moments.
"Why were you so worried about me?"
"I was worried because I knew you were gay, Richard, maybe even before you did, and I know how kids can be, how the world can be. You were having a tough time in my program and I just had a feeling that junior high and high school would be a really hard time for you."
"It was. It sucked. I hate this valley. How'd you know I was gay?"
We laughed.
Our conversation lightened up and turned to the old after-school program days. He asked if I kept in touch with any of the other youth leaders or if I remembered the day that it hailed and we had to hunker down inside.
"Hey, I still have that card you made me in the program."
"What card?" I used to spend time drawing with the kids, sketching cartoons like Ren and Stimpy or SpongeBob and then giving them away, but I couldn't immediately think of what I had made for Richard all those years ago.
"Remember the 'Richard President of the United States' card?" he asked.
"Oh yeah! Wow, you still have that?" I had created this card in the afterschool program and given it to him because even at 10, Richard looked and acted presidential. He was smart, had perfect hair and charisma. Plus, I wanted him to feel good about himself in the midst of all the teasing that was going on. I wanted him to know someone thought he was cool, even though he couldn't nail a jump shot.
We ended our conversation by deciding to meet up for lunch. To this day, we still keep in touch on Facebook and he is doing well overall.
Chris is headed up river.
He's the one that got away.
In Matthew chapter 4, Jesus tells two of his disciples, Peter and Andrew, to follow Him and he will make them "fishers of men." Jesus wanted his followers to bring others to Him. He wanted them to reach out. Sometimes, I feel like a "fisher of youth" as I meet young people in my community who are tossed about in rough waters. I try to cast a wide net of love and encouragement, share the hope that keeps me from capsizing. Some get in the boat, some get away, some come back years later.
I'll keep fishing.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
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