Saturday, May 24, 2014

Baby in a Bathtub: An Image of a Joyful God

I just had a silly image of God pop up in my mind. It didn't fit with my conservative Baptist upbringing because it is childish and goofy. But I couldn't help it--former USC Philosophy professor Dallas Willard made me think of God this way. Anyway, here is the image:

God is a baby in a big, white, four legged bathtub. He's splashing around, flailing his arms with joy, smacking the water with his hands, making the coo-ing, chirping noises babies make. Drops of water fly over the side of the bathtub and fall down to earth in big, fat, drops.

Pretty silly, huh?

I am reading Dallas Willard's book The Divine Conspiracy ( Get the book here! ) and this is the passage that spurred on that image:
"We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly, he is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of his love and generosity is inseparable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness."

God, joyful? Really? I never pictured him that way. Then again, I never pictured him as a baby in a bathtub either. Or having an "interesting" life. I didn't really think of God as being morose and boring, but I am not sure I ever thought of God as joyous or interesting. Willard goes on to say that God loves us, which I know, but he explains that most Christians think God loves us like this:
"...God loves us without liking us--through gritted teeth..."
Yes, now THAT is how I pictured God. I am pretty sure that the Bible I got at my baptism had a picture inside the front cover of God gritting his teeth, smiling back the pain of having to send his Son to save our miserable souls.(It was right next to the full color picture of Jesus knocking on the door of my heart. Remember that one?) I'm kidding about the "gritty God" pic, but not about the image I had of God in my mind then (gritting his teeth) and now (happy baby in a bathtub).
So I am only 50 pages into this book and so far my mental image of God has changed.
has an INTERESTING life.

But wait, there's more...

GOD THINKS CREATION IS AWESOME!  AS IN "TOTALLY AWESOME!" "RADICAL!" "GNARLY"! (Sorry, I'm from California AND a child of the 80's.)
I knew God thought his creation was "very good" (Read Genesis 1) but I pictured him saying "Very good" more like a placated parent after his teenager has FINALLY taken the trash, not the "Very good!" of a father who just watched his daughter ride a bike without training wheels for the first time or the "VERY GOOD!" of a coach whose athlete just nailed the perfect gymnastics floor routine to win gold.
God revels in the beauty of his creation and it gives him joy. He is interested in all of it...very, very interested. So maybe my image of God as an exhilarated baby enjoying a bath isn't far off.  
And those drops that splash up and out over the edge?
They land on me sometimes...
I went to visit my sister in Florida recently and she took me to a beach near Boca Raton. When we got out of the car and walked across the parking lot, I couldn't see the beach because of a large sandy berm. We trekked up it with our beach chairs and towels and when we finally got to the top, I could see all the way to the horizon. I stopped in my tracks.
"Oh my gosh! Look at this! Are you kidding me?" I exclaimed. The ocean water was light blue; the sand a warm cream color and the sky an emerald blue with just a few wispy clouds. White crested waves were splashing off red rocks and people were looking for fish with snorkeling gear. It was gorgeous! I'm from California so I've seen beautiful beaches before, but STILL. This was TOTALLY AWESOME DUDE. I just stood there smiling like a kid on Christmas babbling about how incredible the view was. My sister giggled. She had seen this view before so some of the affect had worn off, but she could appreciate my seeing it for the first time. That was a little drop of beauty that flew out of God's bathtub and hit me square between the eyes.
Here's another one.
I walk my dog everyday. She is a whippet (a small greyhound) so she needs a lot of exercise or she eats the couch. I take her on a leash around my neighborhood and then down to a park that has a long, wide, open green space. When I get there, if no one is around, I unhook the leash from her collar. She bolts away like she is never going to come back, and jumps and leaps and runs in what seems like nine directions at once. She is THRILLED. I get this feeling inside me I can't explain when I see her run free-- a drop of joy falling on me from God's bathtub. I love to see her so happy - to see her doing what she was meant to do, what she loves to do--RUN. Lucky for me, she also loves to EAT, so she comes back for one of the doggy treats I carry with me. If I didn't smell like bacon, she would probably be near the Mexican border by now.

I think God is pretty fed up with my old, inaccurate images of him as a bored, disgruntled, but gentle old man with a big heart. So he is changing the way I see him. He has thrown some pretty good descriptions of him in front of me lately including these:

"We know we do not feed provide the earth. You water our gardens. You break up the clods and make them soft with rain (or bathwater?)" 
-Thomas Becon

"Think of yourself as a gardener. You want to cultivate a garden in your soul that will delight the Lord? How will this garden be watered? There are four ways...draw water from a well. This is hard work. You could use a water wheel with could have your garden near a stream or brook...but wouldn't it be best of all if rain (bathwater?) fell from heaven?  You could let the Lord water your garden." 
-Teresa of Avila

And then I read this:
James 1:17  "Every good and perfect gift comes from above..."
Like drops of bath water maybe?

-Hope A Horner, 2014
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Saturday, May 17, 2014

From the Writer's Nook

I am one of those people who loves to write. You know, the kind of person that non-writers can't stand? The conversation usually goes like this:
Ugh. You LIKE to write? 
You mean you actually enjoy it?
They just shake their heads in disbelief, mumble something about barely getting through English class in high school and wonder what other forms of punishment I inflict on myself.

I told someone recently about an essay I am having published in an upcoming book entitled Mixed Blessings. She responded by saying, "I hate smart people like you who can write."  We laughed and I responded by saying: "You're smart too. You're just a stupid writer."
No, no, NO! - I didn't say that. I just said thank you and told her she was better at certain things than I was, which is true.
But me?
I write.
Some people call it a gift. And you know what? It is. Writing is a gift--like a massage or a long, hot bath or a vacation--it allows me to go somewhere else and escape into something I love. It soothes and rejuvenates me. Don't get me wrong, it isn't all palm trees and foot rubs--there is a lot of frustrating work involved and it can be exhausting too, but at least I don't have to tip anyone or worry about airport traffic.

Author Stephen King in his book On Writing, talked about how he used to disappear into his basement to write because he did not want to be disturbed.  His wife knew better than to interrupt him when he was down there clattering and dinging away on his typewriter. He would write feverishly for hours and then emerge when he was done for the day. I don't have this luxury.
First, Stephen King is in Maine and I am in California. They have basements in Maine, but out here in California? No such thing. In fact, I'm not sure I would even know what a basement was if it wasn't for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. The closest thing I have to a basement is my garage and there is no way I am sitting out there with the garden tools, exhaust fumes, and probably a spider the size of Atlanta with an evil grin. So I have what I call my "Writer's Nook." It sounds fancier than it is. Basically, I have a small round wooden cocktail type table in my kitchen that has a laptop, some obsolete pens and a desk lamp with a $10 bulb. Nothing fancy. I don't have inspirational posters or a photo collage of famous poets up on the walls. There's no view of the mountains or fluffy bear rug. It's just me, my Asus laptop and view of the GE Profile fridge. And my time alone to write? My "Do Not Disturb" hours?
3-6 a.m.
Yeah, you read that right. Actually weekdays, it is more like 4:00 to 4:30 because I have to go out for a run, and get ready for work so I only have a few short minutes to get the sleep out of my eyes, fire up the laptop and type. On the weekends, I get up early and write for several hours. I am an early bird anyway, but that is the only time I have to myself, when I do not have any other obligations and also when it is quiet --with the exception being one of my dogs scratching the door to go outside for the fourth time in ten minutes.
So my "Writer's Nook" is just that--a little escape from the world in the middle of my kitchen in the wee hours of the morning. As long as I have my laptop, Pepsi Max and a good idea, it feels like a gift.
Now, if you'll excuse me I have to let my dog out.

-Hope A. Horner
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Saturday, May 10, 2014

When Bowie Sounds Like Brooks

Recently, I talked to a woman who could not enjoy music. She could hear it, but she couldn't differentiate the tones. She was middle aged with reddish brown hair, her glasses dangled on the end of her nose as we sat in a large, busy room together. She explained that her hearing loss started in her thirties--sounds slowly fading, the world getting quieter and quieter until suddenly at age 40--
She said she had a cochlear implant about ten years ago which brought sound back to her world, but she wasn't hearing as well these days because the implant was due for an "upgrade." It sounded like something you did on the computer or your smart phone. She explained that once her doctor changed her current implant to the latest model, she would probably hear music clearly again. For now, music didn't sound so great. She said that she had been listening to David Bowie in her car that morning and thought, "Bowie doesn't sound right--it doesn't even sound like him." I jokingly said, "So when David Bowie starts sounding like Garth Brooks it is time to upgrade, huh?" She laughed loudly and said, "Exactly!"
You would never know that she went completely deaf and now only hears thanks to a device implanted deep in her cheek that picks up sound waves and sends them to her brain where each vibration can be decoded as a certain word or note. The only reason her brain can do this, she said, is because she USED to be able to hear just fine. She said if she had not gone in right away to have the implant, over time, her brain would have forgotten what these signals meant and her understanding of the sounds around her would not be as good as they are today. Even though she warned me about her hearing when we first sat together, she spoke clearly and seemed to hear quite well. We were about to judge an essay contest and she wanted me to know that she might not be able to hear everything I said because of her hearing issue, and also because we were in a noisy environment which she said makes hearing even more difficult. She explained that all the background noise just blends into "white noise" and makes distinguishing any actual words difficult.
I thanked her for sharing her story with me and we finished judging the essays. She headed out with a friendly wave while I sat and thought for a minute...

Who knew you could go deaf smack dab in the middle of your life?
One minute you are rocking out to David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" and the next minute you're wondering "What's happening to the world?" when Bowie starts singing in a whisper, then doesn't sing at all.

And what about that "White Noise" - the blend and blur of all the racket going on in the world? Pretty soon you don't hear anything anymore - it's all just NOISE. Everybody is so loud. Everybody sounds the same. David, Garth, John, Paul, George, Ringo...Manny, Moe & Jack. It's like the sound of the TV turned on full blast, but with no signal.

Her story inspired me to do two things:
1)  Be thankful I can hear.  There is so much I love to listen to -- wind chimes, music, ocean waves, the voices of those I love, bird chirps and dog barks--AND NOW...even a blaring ambulance siren because it means I CAN HEAR.

2) Pause and try to hear through the white noise to what is really there. The din of the world can make us numb; it can all just blend together into a big wave of noise that goes crashing in one ear and washes out the other. But in that giant wave, are PEOPLE--The cries of those drowning in the wave of humanity. The whimpers of the broken-hearted. The screams of those who might give up or lash out in their fear. The shouts of those who need help. The sighs of the lonely, hopeless and helpless. Listen for them. Hear them. Help them.
Because when Bowie starts sounding like Brooks, it's time for a hearing upgrade.

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Warning: I'm Special, You Might Not Be

I hate bumper stickers.
They're tacky and opinionated. And one sided. You don't get to have a conversation with a bumper sticker. It just gets to be in your face while you sit in your car waiting for the light to change. I especially hate "Christian" bumper stickers. I sat behind one at stoplight yesterday that read:

WARNING: In case of rapture,this car will be unmanned.

I made a "hrrrumph" noise when I read it. Kind of like the sound I make every time Dallas Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo does something I expect him to do--like blow a last minute play or fall down when he is trying to scramble away from a tackle. This was not the first time I had seen this bumper sticker and unfortunately, it won't be the last. So what is my problem with this bumper sticker?
I have lots of problems with it, actually. And they have nothing to do with "post-pre-ami-millenialism" or any of those other huge words Baptists use to knock the Methodists down a peg or to pinpoint the exact time when Jesus will come back to "take all his good people home."

Here are my TOP 5 problems with this bumper sticker:

1) How NICE of you to tell everyone that your car is going to be a careening weapon of death as it veers driver-less into oncoming traffic or on to sidewalks full of pedestrians while you get beamed up to a nicer, more peaceful place to hold hands with Jesus.

2) How HUMBLE of you to brag about how SPECIAL you are!

3) How THOUGHTFUL of you to presume that the world needs a WARNING about how special you are.

4) How CONSIDERATE of you to make everyone else feel fearful or anxious about how special THEY MIGHT NOT BE.

5.) How HELPFUL of you to make the rest of us Christians look like HEARTLESS, ARROGANT, CRAZIES.

Thanks to ALL OF THE ABOVE, you will now scare more people away from the faith instead of letting your bumper serve its sole (not soul) purpose of STOPPING ANOTHER CAR WHEN IT HITS YOURS FROM BEHIND. (Oh, and you do realize that you just placed a strip of sticky paper on your car's butt to tell the world that you are a special?!)
Warning: Do not make this into a bumper sticker. It's creepy.

Let's face it. When people who were not brought up in very conservative protestant churches read this bumper sticker they think: "Just another Christian who thinks I'm going to hell and they're going to heaven." Why don't Christians think of this before they speak, write, make a poster or slap a bumper sticker on their car?  I don't mind you bragging about your honor student, but please stop the bumper bragging about how forgiven you are or how raptured you are going to be and just drive safely and politely.

OK, I have to ask. What's going to happen to this bumper sticker when driverless cars are the norm? They're not that far off! Pretty soon, we'll just sit somewhere in the car (maybe in the back window like our dogs?) doing our nails or playing Angry Birds while our Google Gas-free Gazelle GT takes us to our destination. I'm not kidding! Check out this link: Driverless Cars! When this happens, the rapture bumper sticker will have to change! Maybe it will read like this:

WARNING: In case of rapture, the special person in this car is going to disappear, so once this car gets to the mall, it will stay there.

Hmmmm...Kind of a let down, huh? Definitely not as dramatic as an out-of-control empty car mowing down sinners in a crosswalk, but still, it makes the point about how special this person is and how well, special you AREN'T if you don't believe what he or she does.Ugh. Did I mention I hate bumper stickers?
Although, there might be ONE I would put on my bumper:

WARNING: If you put a dumb "Christian" bumper sticker on your car, I will blog about it at!

-Hope Horner, 2014

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#bumperstickers #rapture #progressivechristian #patheos #hopehorner