Saturday, July 26, 2014

Put Down Your Finger & Back Away from Your Opinion

Opinions are like belly buttons. Everyone has one.
I come from a very opinionated family. We have opinions about our opinions. We like to "go on the record" or like the people in the old Saturday Night Live skit: "Talk Amongst Ourselves." I could chalk it up to our Irish blood, but that would probably be a cop-out. I mean You can tell an Irishman, but you can't tell him much is really true, but the reason why people in my family bring a bean casserole AND an opinion to get-togethers is more than just heritage. My Dad especially loves to "debate the issues" and discuss what the "moderns" think about the latest hot topics. He likes to hash them out, debate them, throw opinions around and then decide (usually based on the Bible) what is TRUTH.
This week I spent time with him in San Diego. In between the breathtaking views and lunches on the shore, we talked about everything from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to immigration. That last topic he tried to avoid.
"I really didn't want to bring this one up because I figured..." He said. His voice trailed off at the end with reluctance.
"Because what?" I asked.
"Because I know how you probably feel about this."
"You do?" I asked.
"Well, we can't just open the border and let everyone come in who wants to come in. That is just unsustainable."
"Who said I wanted to do that?" I asked, puzzled.
He was making a big assumption. He knows I work with Latinos. Have for years. He knows some of my closest friends are Latino/as. He knows I speak Spanish, enjoy Tapatio on just about everything and have never met a Mexican dessert I don't like, but how did he know how I felt about immigration? He didn't. He just assumed based on what he knew about me.

"So what's your solution?" he asked after he could see that I was slightly perturbed at being pigeon-holed.

I told him that until the border is secured, illegal immigration will always be with us. I shared what I liked about the Dream Act and Rubio's plan to give people who are already here a chance to become citizens. And I said I think it is heartless to stand out in front of buses full of refugee children and families from Central America shouting that they are not welcome in "our town." No matter how you feel about immigration politically or ideologically, I think it is important to remember this is a human issue.

He nodded. "As a Christian he said, I feel compassion for these people. It's difficult. But reality...reality says that we just can't take in everyone who wants to be here, just open our borders and let them all pour in."

"So reality trumps Christianity?' I asked with a twinge of sarcasm.

"No, no, I just, I'm not sure if there is a perfect solution for this. This is a very difficult one." His voice trailed off.
Don't get me wrong - my Dad IS very opinionated, but he is a sensitive, good man who tries to do right by God. And this IS a very complicated issue.
Ever notice how PEOPLE complicate things?
If you are distant from the real people involved in the "issue" (like immigration); you don't know anyone the "issue" affects, it is really easy to have an opinion. But as soon as you get to know someone, wow, things get a lot more complicated, don't they?
Opinions come easy when they are about people you know nothing about.

My opinion about immigration is formed by my relationships with people who either were or are illegal immigrants. I care about them. I love them as sisters and brothers in Christ. I work with them. I am friends with them. They matter to me. A LOT. I've heard their immigration stories - the ones they tell of being brought here as a baby, toddler or teenager by parents fleeing drugs, corruption and destitute poverty. I've been to their weddings, graduations, quinciƱeras, births and funerals. I've been in their homes and at their churches. I've had carne asada in their backyards and tres leches in their kitchens. (Read the stories of three immigrant teens I interviewed: Crime of Opportunity- Book is free with Amazon Prime or only $2 otherwise.)
I am thankful for my relationships with my Latino/a brothers and sisters because it helps me put down my big white pointy finger of judgment and back away from my opinion and re-consider. It doesn't mean I don't have an opinion or never make judgement calls, it just means I don't throw either around like a political wiffle ball. I realize there are PEOPLE behind this "issue"; there are many lives affected by whether or not immigration reform passes, so I tread carefully. Sensitively. I try to show humility and compassion. Maybe the way I see it isn't the only way? Or the right way? Maybe I should walk a mile (or thousands) in their shoes? Maybe it has become too easy for me to extend my pointer finger and make a broad statement of judgment? It doesn't mean we can't talk things over, disagree or seek solutions (in fact, we should!), but it just means we ought to do so carefully and lovingly. After all, people around us are watching and listening. And when we spout off in an arrogant manner about the issues, especially as Christians, the rest of the world learns about God.

Wow, their God seems really angry.
God doesn't like immigrants.
God must be pro-American.
Guess you have to be a Republican to be a Christian?
Wow, why are Christians so opinionated about everything?! 

Like I said, opinions are like belly buttons. We all have them. But it seems like most of us have "outies" when maybe we should take some time to go "innie" and quietly and humbly consider the human and spiritual impacts of the issues before we speak. But of course, that's just my opinion.

Hope Horner, 2014
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Saturday, July 19, 2014

5 Steps to 3 Ways You Can Do 2 Things Better

The title to this blog is confusing, isn't it?
But did it capture your attention?
It probably did.

The last two months I have been writing for GovLoop - an online network of government professionals who share tips and techniques for providing top notch government programs, leadership and services. Writing for GovLoop was a challenge. I had to come up with 12 articles in 12 weeks, but believe it or not, that was not the challenge.
The challenge was creating the right title to get people to actually READ my article.

When my first few articles posted on GovLoop, I noticed the editor had changed my titles. For example, I wrote an article entitled "Change or Die" which was changed to:
"How Can You Make Real Change? Use the 3 R's!"
Wow, big difference. Was this my article?
Then I wrote one about management mistakes entitled "Leadership Achilles Heels", and that was changed to "7 Common Leadership Mistakes." Hmmm..noticing a pattern here?
Finally, I got with the program. For my last few articles, I started using numbers and/or the word "You" in the titles. In fact, the article I wrote last week about why employee evaluations fail was a real struggle. Why? I had 6 reasons why they fail and I REALLY wanted to get to that magic number 5! I tried. My personal editor-friend (Let me just give a shout out to Karen Guthrie right now!) said in her usual candid and professional manner: "Ah, Hope? You really have six reasons here, not five. Nice try though!" Anyway, I have one more GovLoop article which comes out this Monday and it was all I could do not to give it the title you see at the top of this blog:

5 Steps to 3 Ways You Can Do 2 Things Better (in Government)
Now, that would be funny.
But it would probably be the last time I ever wrote for GovLoop. Or anyone else for that matter.

I don't blame the GovLoop editor for changing my titles. She actually taught me a lesson - the most important lesson of all in writing - WRITE FOR YOUR READER. Government employees, heck, PEOPLE only have so much time in their day. They want simple solutions. Easy to read advice. Get-to-the-point guidance. If your title doesn't interest them, they will never take the time to read your article or story, so make your title an "attention grabber", make it personally RELEVANT to your reader. I am very thankful GovLoop drove that message home because it will improve my writing.
I also learned that sometimes things just aren't that simple. They can't be packaged into 3 neat little steps.

  • 3 Ways to Say Thank You to Mom for All She's Done Your Whole Entire Life
  • Make The World a Better Place in 5 Easy Steps
  • Drought-Schmought: Learn the California Rain Dance in 5 Minutes!
  • 30 Minutes to Peace in the Middle East 
  • Want to Be Close to God? Just Do These 3 Things Now!
The last one in particular doesn't work. (I am tempted to try to the California Rain Dance. We're so desperate for water in California that the State is asking us to water our lawns with SPIT. In 3 Easy Steps of course!)
I cannot be closer to God in 3 Easy Steps.
I can't be closer to anyone in 3 Easy Steps. So why do I think it would work with God? Just bing-bang-boom and God is all mine! Can you guess what those 3 easy steps would be?  Hold on, let me try Googling this and see what comes up... 
Alright - here are the results...
Oh, oh. Evidently it takes more than 3 steps.  
My Google search came back with 10, 7, 8 steps to getting closer to God, but not 3. Evidently, that is too simple, but with just a few MORE steps I CAN get closer to God. And you guessed it, here are the most common suggestions...
Repent, Pray, Read Your Bible...

Sorry, I've done all the above and I can't say that it has made me closer to God.  Maybe the second one a little bit, but the other two? No. Could be me. Maybe I'm doing it wrong. As for "repent"--that one I have particular trouble understanding how that makes me feel closer to God. Admitting my failures and screw-ups (again!) will make me feel closer to God? Maybe what the author meant by that step, "Repent" (sorry I didn't have time to read the entire article - too many steps!) is when I realize how forgiving God is, when I truly understand how he is always there to take me back like the prodigal daughter, THAT will make me feel closer to Him? I guess "Repent" just isn't the right word, at least for me. As a recovering Baptist, I hear the word "Repent" and I think: "Repent of all your sins if you want to be close to God, otherwise you cannot be in His presence or you will burn up like a dry, diseased California Eucalyptus tree after 3 years of a massive God-inflicted draught." That doesn't exactly facilitate closeness with God now does it?

Anyway, my point is twofold:  (Now You Can Understand My Point in 2 Easy Steps!)
1)  Being close to God cannot be reduced to "Easy Steps"
2)  Most things cannot be reduced to "Easy Steps" 

Even though we like our advice and self-help packaged in bite sized chunks, it just doesn't always work out that way. Life is complicated. People are unique, different, complex and interesting. God is all of those characteristics and more, but He is also a God who wants to be found, to be understood, to be loved. Remember the children Jesus let sit in his lap? Remember how he asked us to be like them? He wants us to trust Him and be open to his love - not trying to figure out all the steps we need to take in order to be the right kind of Christian or to climb the staircase to God. In fact, there are NO steps to God. He is right here, right now.
Mother Teresa said she feels closest to God when she is serving the needy. I agree. She didn't provide steps to do that. (I can see it now--"Mother Teresa's 3 Easy Steps to Loving the Unlovely!") She didn't make it sound easy. She just did it.  And she did it every day, for a long, long, time lovingly and generously, in places and for people it was desperately needed and even then, she admitted (read her letters) she didn't always feel close to God. If Mother Teresa can feel far from God sometimes, than my guess is it isn't simple to have and maintain a close relationship with God or to always feel him near. There are so many reasons why. As I heard a pastor say this morning, "We don't always want what we know we should want." I want to be close to God, but then again sometimes I don't. Complicated, huh?  My point exactly. Doesn't mean I give up on God. Just means I don't try to reduce Him or my faith journey to some trite religious step-by-step formula.
Honestly, I am tired of all the "easy steps".  I want to rest like one of those children who sits with Jesus and I am starting to do just that. I pray simple prayers. I tell God the truth. I listen. I question Him. I plead. I look to see how I can be a blessing to others. I ask Him to help me. I fail. I apologize. I get confused. I try to be OK with it. I don't try to package up my faith into a perfect little formula that guarantees me heaven. It doesn't work that way. Because it's just not that simple. There are no easy steps.

Except in government. ;)

PS) You can check out my GovLoop articles here: 1 Click Step to Hope's GovLoop Articles!
Hope A. Horner, 2014
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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rolling into Heaven as a Bloody Stump

I grew up believing that the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount were a list of things I should do.
Blessed are the meek...(OK, I need to be meek.)
Blessed are the pure in heart. (OK, I need to be pure of heart.)
Blessed are the peacemakers..(OK, I need to be a peacemaker.)
And so on...

Of course, I failed miserably at following through on that huge list, and as I now know, thanks to Dallas Willard's book The Divine Conspiracy, I also failed in my interpretation of it. As it turns out, the Sermon on the Mount is not a list of things for me to do or be. It is not a bunch of "rules for living." It is a glimpse into what things are like in God's kingdom. Jesus preached this "sermon" to a crowd of ordinary townspeople who were wandering, wondering, seeking. Jesus was telling them what things are like in HIS world.
Dallas Willard puts it this way: " the sermon on the mount we are not looking at laws, but at a life: a life in which the genuine laws of God eventually become one is actually being told that they are better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted and so on...they are explanations and illustrations that show the present availability of the God's kingdom through a personal relationship with Jesus...they single out cases that provide proof that God is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope." This is very different than what I was taught in Sunday school and at private Christian schools. When I read this, I felt a profound sense of relief. It's as though the eyes of my soul read it. It's amazing how you know the genuine "Good News" when you hear it.

Mr. Willard goes on to share the passage that comes right after the beatitudes where Jesus says "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off...if you eye causes you to sin, gauge it out..."
Ouch. Ever notice how no one actually does this? I remember hearing this in Sunday School as a child and being afraid of Jesus. Wow - Jesus must really mean business with this whole sin thing. He would rather me cut off a hand than keep sinning with it. Guess I better stop stealing cookies out of the cookie jar or I'm going to have to lose a finger or two.
Again, I totally missed the point. And the more I read this book, the more points I realize I have missed. Let me put it this way:
I basically grew up learning how to be a Pharisee. I learned how to change the outside of me--my actions and appearance--while my heart stayed the same. I was taught how to put on a good show--to dress, speak, and act like a "Christian." I went to Christian schools, attended church several times a week, went to Bible Camp, Hume Lake Christian Camp, even had the Bible read to me at home every day, was baptized before I knew why I was wearing white and getting all wet in church, and I can't even remember my "conversion moment" because I was probably still thinking about whether or not Mighty Mouse was going to save the day when I allegedly "asked Jesus into my heart" at the breakfast table over my Captain Crunch.
There is no "before I met Jesus" moment in my life. Who can remember anything before the age of 5 anyway? So all I did was adapt a lifestyle. I copied my parents. I went along with their plan. I joined the club. I bought the music. I listened to my pastor, my teachers, my church "Prayer Partner" - Mrs. White who was as old as the hills and smelled like baby powder.

So I was primed and ready to take Jesus' words literally.  
Jesus says "Blessed are these people" then I need to be "these people." Jesus says if my eye causes me to sin it should be gauged out - then I probably need to do that, but it sounds painful, so I will settle for just feeling guilty about where my gaze lands and repenting. And I will not get out the band saw to cut off my hand when it steals, but I will get out the Bible and remind myself of how much God hates sin. I will feel cut off from God because God hates sin. I sin therefore God must hate me when I act like this and until I do this, he will not forgive me. I must change. I must get back on track. I need to...I must...I will...

One of my favorite movie scenes is in Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail. A knight's who's arms and legs are cut off by "King Arthur" is hopping around as a bloody stump on the ground, still antagonizing the King who cut off his appendages. (Sounds gruesome, but the scene is so ridiculous and unrealistic you have to laugh.)
"C'mon! You pansy"!" The knight yells after King Arthur cuts off both is arms.
"Come back here! I'll bite your legs off!" The knight, now a stump shouts after he loses both his legs.
The King, incredulous, says,"You bloody bastard you have no arms or legs!"

That knight with no arms and legs is me.
My arms and legs have all been cut off out in order to assure that I am and remain a "Christian." They were removed over the years by other Christians who told me they had to go if I wanted to be a part of this Jesus group. I did some cutting, too.
"Hope, you're going to have to get rid of that."
"Christians don't do that."
"Baptists don't dance or drink." 
                                               "If you're like that, then you can't possibly be a Christian."
Chop. Chop. Chop. Chop!
The last chop was the hardest to take, my final leg, but I figured I was hopping around anyway, so maybe rolling would be easier? Plus, how can you sin when you are just a bloody stump?
My heart hadn't changed. And Jesus knows it. I know it. 
This bloody stump thought she was ready to roll right into heaven!
Only that is not how Jesus would have it. He wants to change my heart. He wants to change me from the inside out. He wants to restore me, heal me, rebuild me--starting with my heart, my thoughts, my desires, my attitude. He wants me to flunk out of Pharisee school.

People look on the outside, but God looks on the heart...
When I finally realized and admitted I was a Pharisee in the finest form, my first inclination was to get to work on my heart. Step up and begin working on that inner change. To read this, or do that, or say this or pray this - STOP!  I realized I was headed to Pharisee grad school. So, I am doing things differently this time by not DOING ANYTHING. Instead, I am asking God to do everything--to change my heart. I've told him that I can't do it on my own. I told him that I want my heart to change, but that I CAN'T do it, and in some cases, in those very dark places - I do not WANT to change if I am truly honest with myself and Him. He knows this, but it is good for me just to admit it, to release my grip on my own life. I'm tired of holding on to it. It's heavy! It's full of people just like me, who stagger along blindly with missing limbs and gauged eyes; those who insist on wearing this and saying that and praying like this; the ones who carefully follow all the rules, roles and rituals; the stumps who roll in to church and want the bells and smells a certain way and the people around them to look, vote, dress, think and act exactly as they do. Meanwhile, our hearts are like empty tombs--so pretty on the outside, but dark and stinky on the inside.

I'm not going to roll into heaven as a bloody stump.
I'm not looking to roll into heaven anyway.
I'm looking for Jesus.
And those who seek Him, find Him. That's just how he rolls.

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
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