Monday, February 24, 2014

Lizard Jumping: My Spiritual Reality

I received a card recently from someone who wrote these words inside: "Your spiritual life has a reality to it."  I took it as a compliment because I think I know what this person meant. Before you think I am getting a big head, let me explain.
I think this person meant that I don't try to pretend to be some great Christian with  her head in the clouds. I don't put "Never drive faster than you guardian angel can fly" bumper stickers on my car. (Has that won "Worst Bumper Sticker of the Year" yet?! I mean, for goodness sake, just floor it and you'll leave Gabriel in the dust!) I don't go around telling people to "Trust God" after they've lost their house in a fire or their baby boy.
I don't quote Bible verses, watch Christian TV or wear a cross around my neck. (Except for the pewter Celtic one that was brought back for me from Ireland by a dear friend.) When it comes right down to it - I'm just down to earth about my faith. For me, it's really all about Jesus. And I don't mean that in a charismatic-Jesus-freak creepy Christian talk kind of way. I just mean, the man who was God on earth - Jesus. Who was/is he? Why did he come to earth?  Did he really rise from the dead? The rest of it--all the rules, the preachers, the service styles--they're all details I don't want to fuss over. They might feel real and important, but they're not what my faith is REALLY all about. They are a temporary, manufactured reality that we humans have made about the eternal reality--Christ.

I am listening to an online course at Stanford University about the legacy of Charles Darwin to coincide with a book I am reading called Monkey Girl. ( Get It on Amazon Here ) I'll be honest, between the course and the book, Creationism is starting to feel like a bunch of bunk. The earth created in 6 days? Hmm. A naked couple lives in a garden with a snake and a forbidden tree? Yeah right! Two of EVERY kind of animal on the ark? No way! I can't get my three dogs to get along for 24 hours! And I'll be brutally honest again (I'm on a roll!) - I don't even understand evolution! I know virtually nothing about it other than what I have learned lately. Growing up, I never learned anything about evolution. I was home-schooled and went to private Christian schools (Don't hold it against me!) so I never learned about evolution, natural selection, survival of the fittest...none of it.  According to Bill Nye the Science Guy this is why I never chose a career in the field of science and also why I don't vote. Obviously, he knows neither about my high school Bunsen burner incident (sorry Mrs. Dunlap) or my voting track record (perfect). (To read more about this topic, check out a past blog entry of mine: Trashcan Fire on the 405! )
Reading the book and listening to the online course helps me understand evolution, but it also helps me understand why I never learned about evolution. The Christian circles described in the book are the same ones I grew up in - the ones who thought of Darwin as the anti-Christ. According to them, he turned us all into humanists, naturalists, atheists and has ruined public school education (with help from the teacher's union of course.) I don't believe this, but that is what a lot of people said in the 60's and 70's when the battle over what could be taught in school was raging. I wasn't around in the 60's (It's a shame because I  missed seeing so many great rock bands live) and too young in the 70's (glad I missed disco) to really remember much about the debate between evolution and creationism, but I do remember learning nothing about evolution except that it was stupid. Oh, and then along came "Intelligent Design"--a kind of a sneaky compromise by Christians to get some mention of "The Designer Upstairs Who Shall Remain Nameless" into the science curriculum.  I know none of the science books I lugged home from school everyday had any mention of evolution. I remember it being mocked in school and church, but that's about it.
"YOU might have come from a monkey, but I didn't!"
"The reason why you need billions of years for evolution to happen is because if it happened in a few thousand years no one would believe it!"
"Sure, pigeons can change colors over time but they don't become dogs!"
"The picture of a lizard jumping off a cliff year after year, now that's a good one! Jump. Splat! Jump. Splat! Then all of a sudden---it sprouts wings and Jump...Fly!  Ridiculous."
And honestly, it did sound ridiculous at the time. I mean, how would I know? To me "natural selection" meant choosing the least dry piece of pizza in the cafeteria. Turns out it means every man for himself. Do everything you can to survive so you can procreate and pass on your genes. (I wrote a little bit about this too in a past blog if you care to naturally select this link: The Wildebeest Was Pushed! )

At work, we have a phrase:  "Talk straight."  In other words, say it like it is.  Talk in realities. Be straightforward. I guess that is what I try to do spiritually and why this person said my spiritual life has a reality to it. This is what I try to do in this blog--speak straight about spiritual stuff, some of which I wish would have gone extinct with the dinosaurs. So with that in mind, let me "talk straight" about my spiritual reality...
My spiritual reality is thisWhen it comes to religion, my reality waivers.
What denomination is most in line with my faith? Baptist? Lutheran? Methodist? None? How did it happen exactly--the beginning of earth? Did the Garden of Eden really exist? Did the flood actually happen?  And what about the rituals of the church? Baptism? Communion? Confession? All necessary? How should they be done? What style of worship service do I prefer? Are female pastors OK?  Do gay people go to heaven? Is everyone going to heaven? What about the miracles in the Bible - are they real? Can you take the Bible literally? Should you? The religious wavering and wondering goes on and on...You can read my past blog entries from a few years ago and see there was a time when I was trying to figure it all out. I still have times where I like to "wrestle" with my Guardian Angel (when she's not flying next to my Nissan mouthing the words SLOW DOWN), but not like I used to. I left behind the "matter of fact" faith arguing awhile back. It's exhausting and counter-productive to argue over religion. It makes me tired and scares the neighbors. So while my religious reality waivers...
When it comes to Jesus, it doesn't.
He lived. He came. He served. He died. He lives again.
I don't understand it all. Some days I don't know why he even bothered, other than I know it comes from a heart so full of love that he burst out of his comfort zone to be with us and to make it possible for us to be with him. I might not know exactly how I got here or why I walk upright and birds fly, but I know WHO is walking with me and who cares when a sparrow falls (Matthew 10). I know he wants me to love others, EVERYONE, not just the ones who fit into my reality. And it's not like he asked me to do that without first doing it himself.

So "Love like Christ" is my spiritual reality. Just get up, be loving like Christ, and stop freaking out over the religious details. It's hard enough just to be loving some days, isn't it? I don't live this spiritual reality every day, but I'm trying..trying and failing and getting up and trying again, sounds like reality, doesn't it?  Or maybe that lizard who eventually learned to fly?
So yeah, I guess my spiritual life DOES have a reality to it.
Thanks for the compliment, Dad.

- Hope A. Horner, 2014 - Blogging Outside My Lane
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Saturday, February 15, 2014

What's On Your Lawn?

Every time I jog by this one house in my neighborhood there is something on their lawn.
Today, there was a big yellow plastic pair of binoculars--some kind of kid's toy. Maybe Alice in Wonderland or Dora the Explorer? Sometimes there will be a bike or a ball. Other days, lawn equipment - a stray shovel, gardening glove or bag of mulch. I can tell they have young kids and like to garden, but I can also tell they are disorganized, in a hurry, or forgetful, not messy though, because their yard is never a mess--there's just always one thing left out from the day before. I jog early in the morning, so whatever it is, it has sat out on the lawn overnight. I imagine the family gets up in the morning and settles in around the kitchen table. Mom looks out the window and shouts over the Cheerios at the appropriate person:
"Dylan! Go out front and get your bike off the lawn!"
"Honey! You left the rake out!"
"Crystal! Someone is going to steal that doll if you keep leaving her out there like that!"
Or maybe mom just sighs and goes out to get whatever has been left for dead and drags it back to its appropriate spot inside the house or garage. In my experience, moms do a lot of sighing and dragging. God bless them.
I have come to expect something on their lawn every morning when I run by this house. Hmmmm....What'll they leave out today? When I saw the over-sized yellow binoculars this morning, I had to smile. They really looked funny just sitting out there in the middle of the green expanse--like a movie prop left behind or a piece of space junk fallen from the sky. I am sure I am not the only one who notices that these folks can't seem to get that last item into the garage before the sun goes down. I bet they're known for it. And it got me thinking...
What am I known for?
I guess I could ask, but would people really tell me the truth? The good, the bad and the ugly? Maybe, but probably not. They might say the good, but they would probably leave out the bad and try to put some lipstick on the ugly. Nobody wants to hurt anyone else's feelings.
So I wonder, what AM I known for? What have people come to expect when they are around me? When they listen to me? How about you? What are you known for? At work? In your family? In your neighborhood?

Are you the lady who drives too fast in the complex? 
The man with the perpetual scowl? 
The busy executive? 
The firefighter who grills a mean burger on the 4th? 
The overbearing mom?
The soccer coach who HAS to win? 
The religious rule follower? 
The co-worker who's always late? 
The dedicated volunteer? 
The boss who cares? 
A good listener? 
The "If it ain't one thing it's another" stress ball?
Sports obsessed? 
Pay-check collector? 
Hot head? 
Helping hand?

I was at the grocery store yesterday and everywhere I went inside the store, I seemed to bump into this same lady. The same moment I went to pick out bananas, she went to pick out bananas. When I turned down the vegetable aisle, boom, there she was. We both wanted avocados. Then organic carrots. Finally, it got so awkward, I said with a smile, "I promise I am not following you!" I laughed nervously. "You're probably thinking why is this lady always where I want to be?" She smiled back and said, "No, no, not at all--don't worry about it. I am not one of those kinds of people.You're fine." This started up a great conversation about the prices and selection of produce at this particular store, juicing, jogging, organic apples and then a friendly parting, at least, until we both ended up in the cereal aisle reaching for the same box of Kashi. Then it got ugly.
You really ARE following me, aren't you? She said with raised eyebrows. Her eyes went dark.
Yup. I said without blinking and without taking my hand off the last box of Kashi.
She tightened her grip on the box. I tightened mine.
Then with a growl we both pulled until there was Kashi Kibble all over aisle 7.
Luckily, it never happened that way. We were both friendly and courteous all the way to the register, where, of course, we ended up in the same checkout line.
I don't want you to think I am following you.
In other words, what do you think of me? 
We worry about that don't we? It is ingrained in human nature to worry about what others think of us.Worry doesn't help, but what about concern? I am concerned that my image may be this, so therefore I am going to do that or say this. I don't want you to think I am a supermarket stalker, so I am going to make a funny comment about it. I'll put that out there, so you'll think this of me.
Some people put things on their lawns intentionally. They set up birdbaths, plant roses, post American flags, political signs, sports team paraphernalia, and unfortunately, some even park rusty classic cars. They want you to know what they like, who they're voting for, what team they cheer on and how proud they are to be a part of a certain group or organization. They tell you up front what to think of them before you walk up to their door to sell those overpriced, but delicious chocolate almond candy bars for your daughter's softball team.
What do I put out on my lawn? Nothing. I don't have one. I have a front porch because I live in a town home. (I am not complaining. For years I had a front lawn and I do not miss mowing, seeding, weeding, cleaning up after stray dogs or paying a gardener.)  But I am known for something, even without a front lawn.What is it I wonder?
I believe I may have the image of being busy. And I am. But does that tell people I am too busy for them? Sometimes I am sure it does. And that is not an image I am proud of. What can I do to change it?  Slow down. Prioritize. Cut out the things from my life that take my time away from what is truly important. I am not the type of person who sits around watching soap operas and old re-runs so I don't have a lot of time to cut, but I am sure I can find something. And I am sure that I can do my best not to make people feel like they are only a speed bump in the road of my life. Or an interruption. I don't want them to "drive by" my house and see a sign on my lawn that says "Come back later." (Unless of course they are sales people. I swear, if the Kirby vacuum people show up at my door ONE MORE TIME!!)
Might be worth it this week to ask around and see what's on my lawn. See what the neighbors are talking about. What the co-workers say when I am not around. What kind of impression I give to friends and family based on what I put out there--the way talk and act toward them on a daily basis.
Maybe I'll get the truth and they'll point out what's on my lawn. Or maybe I'll just have to go out there and find the gnome myself.

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
Twitter: http://www.twitter/hopenote
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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Creepy Christian Talk: Is Casper in Church?

Attention Christians: This is CREEPY!

The Holy Spirit is kind of creepy. My Mom calls Him the Holy Ghost. Now, that is really scary. I mean no disrespect whatsover to the Third Person of the Trinity.(Look, I'm even capitalizing it.) What I mean is, as Christians, sometimes we use language that scares people. I believe Holy Spirit is one of those. It's different when you're in church or at a Christian retreat or sorrounded by Christians.You can say Holy Ghost without startling anyone.You can say blood of the lamb and no one gets grossed out. You can ask Jesus into your heart and not sound crazy. (Except to the Lutherans who will tell you Jesus invited himself in long ago and is sitting on the couch with his feet on your coffee table.) But outside Christian circles, our religious talk is creepy. Think about what Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit sounds like to someone who doesn't speak the language. Someone non-religious. Someone who is not a Christian or is unfamiliar with Christianity and all the code words.
Chris Christian walks down a busy city street with Judy Jesus after church: Wow, I really felt the power of the Holy Ghost in that service today!
Peter Pagan overhears and says to Will Withoutfaith: Did he say Holy Ghost?! What?! Who knew Casper was sacred? And he was in church? Someone call Ghostbusters!

Just think of what these phrases sound like to someone who does not speak "the language":
  1. Baptized by fire
  2. Partake in the body of Christ
  3. Drink the blood of Christ
  4. Your body is the temple of God
  5. Wash you of your sins
  6. Speaking in tongues
  7. Jesus died for your sins
These are just a few. You can probably think of others. Taken in the same order, here is probably what non-religious folks think when they hear the above:

1. Ouch!
2. Eew!
3. Eeeww!
4. What?
5. Huh? Do I have to get wet?
6. Cool.
7. No! Why?! I didn't ask him to!

I saw a blog entry that said Christians need to "earn the right" to share their faith or invite someone to church. In other words, stop saying hi and then immediately launching into a church invite or faith sharing session. Especially if you are going to use the above creepy language.You'll scare them. The blog went on to say that Christians should get to know people first before they launch into their faith story. I agree and want to take it a step further...
It is NOT my job to get someone to church or to get someone to come to God. God does that. My job is to LOVE them. If they ask me, "Why are you so loving/different/kind?" I will explain, elaborate. He loves you, therefore I love you. If they want to know more, I'll share. If they want to know more still, I'll invite.
I'll even take this concept one step bothers me when Christians use service ONLY as a way to try to "lead people to Christ" or get them to their church.
"Come have a hot dog at Saint Mark's!"
Of course, the hotdogs are inside the church (or at least Mrs. Johnson's secret recipe double fudge brownies are) and when you reach out to get one an elder slaps handcuffs on you and immediately asks if you would like to say the "Sinner's Prayer." Or you just spent two hours boxing food for the homeless when the CEO of the Christian charity closes in prayer and says, "And God you know we send this food to Africa not because we want to just feed people beans and rice, but because we want to feed them spiritually."  Hey fella, Jesus said if they ask for your windbreaker, give them your winter parka. He didn't say give them a earful of Christian dogma and a tract about the end times. (Matthew 5)
Imagine someone is loving toward you and then you find out they have an alterior motive? Doesn't feel so much like love now does it? You mean you were only loving me, helping me, spending time with me because you want to fill a church seat? Or because you want to convert me? That rings hollow to me. That is not love.
So if I don't lead people to God, God does, does that mean all missionary work should stop immediately? Quite the opposite. Missionaries don't spend their whole day speaking to the natives in Christian gobbely-gook in between long bouts of Kumbaya and Amazing Grace sung in four part harmony. They LIVE their faith by loving those they go to serve including building homes, churches, wells and health centers for those who need them, and educating, treating and feeding those they come in contact with. (If they don't, then I would say they are missing the mission.) Missionaries don't bring people to God; They bring God to people. God does the rest.

Even though I am not a big fan of "Christian lingo," I am also not advocating that we make Christianity more "cool" or "modern" sounding. There is no other word for Holy Spirit that sounds less spooky--just be careful using it around newbies. I am advocating we be cautious with our language, not change it to be more hip, more 2014, more relevant... dude. In other words the "creepy" list above does not need to become:

1. I'm a girl on fire like the Hunger Games!
2. Join me in a small snack while we have deep thoughts about Jesus.
3. Oh, and have a drink.
4. Man, your body is radical because God made it. 
5. Jesus said "Outie" to all your mistakes.
6. I speak many languages, not sure how, but it is totally amazing hombre!
7. See #5.

No, no, no. This is just as creepy and disturbing as the church language. What's the alternative?
Let's just be real.
Let's get rid of the Jesus jargon. Let's just share,when the time is appropriate with people who know we really love them, the impact that our faith has had on how we live, feel, think and act. Let's even share the bad days. The times when our faith seemed absent, when God seemed distant, when we pushed him away. Let's show our wounds and our doubts. Give until it hurts. Care for the helpless and inspire the hopeless. And reach out in love. In fact, let's love like crazy.
Just please don't talk like it.

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Questions for Siri

Today I asked Siri a few questions.
For those of you who don't know Siri--she's the "woman" on the iPhone you can ask to do various things for you like "Open email" or "What is the weather going to be like today?" and she responds like a real person, only without all the questions and whining and back seat driving. Every once in awhile she is unresponsive (probably takes lots of coffee breaks), but on average she is pretty reliable.
Today, I asked her how she was doing.
She said, "I'm fine. Thank you."
I asked, "Siri are you real?"
She responded: "No comment."
I laughed out loud. I had to keep going.
The movie Bruce Almighty was on TV so I asked, "Siri, are you a Christian?"
"It's all a mystery to me."
I laughed at that one. This was fun, but I had work to do around the house. The lawn needed mowing and the rain was coming this week, so I thought I better do it now. I chuckled as I put my iPhone down on the kitchen counter-top. I debated asking Siri to do the dishes for me.
Later that day, because I was so tickled by her first answer, I decided to ask her again. "Siri, are you a Christian?" No joke, this was her answer the second time around:
"I would ask that you address your spiritual questions to someone more qualified to answer. Ideally, a human."
Wow, Siri, I would have been totally fine if you would have said:
"Nope, I'm a Jew."
"Heck no, sister.  I'm an atheist piece of plastic."
I promise I wouldn't have thrown you across the room.
If you had responded that you were a Satanist, well, my response may have been a little different, but you would probably still be sitting safe and sound in your protective cover like a dear, dear friend of mine who reads all my personal emails and scans my vacation pictures.
After all, like you said, you are not a human.
Why am I even talking to you? (Those of you in the blogosphere are probably wondering the same thing.)
Well, because I was curious how you would respond.
And when your second answer came back and told me to direct my spiritual questions toward a human, I felt well, foolish at first because a device was telling me what to do, but then I thought...
Girl, I HAVE directed my spiritual questions toward humans!
FOR MANY YEARS! And I am still as confused as ever.
Ask one Christian and you'll get one answer. Ask another and you'll get another.
Is the Bible infallible?
Are Catholics Christians?
Do you have to be baptized to be saved?
Can non-believers participate in communion?
Can you be gay and Christian?
Is dancing OK?
What about eating meat on Fridays?
Female pastors?
So, Siri, don't tell me to ask a human. I'm tired of asking humans and listening to all the dogma and the religious mumbo-jumbo and the "don't do this" and the "please do that."
I liked your first answer better.
It's a mystery.
It sure is.
And I am fine with that.
I know that I don't believe Jesus was just some loving, nice guy who taught great things about love and then died a terrible death.
I believe he was God come to us.
I believe he did not stay dead.
I believe he has me in the palm of his hand. I believe he has the whole world in his hands, just like that Sunday School song says.
Hey, wait, that makes me wonder. Should I ask Siri if she believes the world is 6,000 years old? OK. Here goes...
Siri, do you believe the world is 6,000 years old?
Waiting for her response....
"It really doesn't matter what I believe." 
What?! But Siri, it DOES matter!  For goodness sake, stop being so wishy-washy! Choose a side sister!  What'll it be!?"
Then I remembered I am talking to my iPhone. And the answer doesn't matter. Who cares? 6,000, 60,000, 60 billion.  Does it REALLY MATTER?!?!
No, Siri, don't answer that one. I'm just talking, ur, yelling to myself. Back to the blog.
I don't know about all the religious fine print. I am not a theologian, nor do I want to be. I don't have all the answers to the big questions and you know what?  I am starting to care less about all that stuff. I want to be comfortable with the mystery. I want to get back to the basics.
Jesus changed everything.
I want him to change me.
Change my heart.
Make it loving.
Toward him.
Toward all.
Even mealymouthed Siri.
Whoever she is.

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
Contact Hope on gmail at hopeh1122.
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