Archive for August, 2008

An Emo-Ref 30th: When worlds apart come together.

I’m writing you looking out the balcony at my home for the week – I can’t give the details of my whereabouts for safety concerns, but I can tell you I’m in Egypt and it must be one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The view is glorious.

A quick update from the conference: students from 12 Arab nations are gathered around this conference. We’re tackling some really tough issues – and I’m amazed at their faith. It’s true, two-handed faith that doesn’t take easy answers or pithy sayings. I love this kind of faith.

One student I spoke with just fascinated me. He lives in Lebanon, and in the past three months six of his friends have been killed from random acts of violence. He looks at me, deep into my eyes, and I can see honest and genuine hurt that we men don’t often show unless someone really knows. He tells me that it will get worse with the upcoming election.

I wince.

But I ask him how this affects him, and he gets quite personal. He tells me more that he doesn’t even know how to plan for a future – to buy a home, to raise a family – because he doesn’t know how much longer he will last. The effects of violence are devastating. He works 14 hours a day, five days a week, and makes under $300 a month.

If you do the math (some of you already are) he earns $.50 an hour. The corruption in the government drives up the price of gas and other necessary items for survival – food, water, clothes, etc. He is barely making ends meet to pay for gas and his phone.

As I ask more questions, there is just this feeling inside of me that looks at him and knows that he has seen far too much for a 21-year-old man. I ask him if he would leave his country if he had the chance. He said he would in a heartbeat.

Every part of me wants to tell him to stay, to fight the good fight, that in the end God wins and righteousness and justice will prevail. I want to tell him that God honors those who are faithful, who choose to stick out the hard times, and that his present cynicism will be overcome by hope and we can celebrate victory today for what was already won in the past that has determined the future. I want to be clever and pithy and say faith is knowing that at the end of the song, God wins; hope is the decision to dance to the music today.

But today I can’t tell him that – because, more often than not, I wonder the same things and argue with God about them in my own life. I’d love to tell him that this is different for the people of God, but I’d be lying through my teeth. I’d love to tell him that the church would save the day, but I have far too much experience seeing the body of Christ look more like an ugly whore than a beautiful bride.

How can I say anything different to him? I tell him that I pray God will be with him; really, it’s the only thing He seems to promise.

It’s something when you are hearing stories like this in the news; it’s another when you see them in front of you, a young man who has learned to tell this story well enough in his non-native tongue because he knows it matters.

When the worlds that you thought were worlds apart come near, the world in which you live can never be the same.

I’m getting emotionally-reflective (emo-ref) on this last day of my 20’s and enter my 30’s on the 30th. So forgive the navel-gazing thoughts. But I wonder, at times, what my life would have been like if I had never encountered the worlds I have in the last 30 years.

I wonder what would have happened if I wasn’t a Bilhorn. If I wasn’t the middle child in my family. If Grandma never moved in when I was 1. If Dad’s promising business ventures were amazingly successful. If Jennifer wasn’t killed in the car crash. If I wouldn’t have gotten the scholarship that took me to IIT and instead decided to go to school in Milwaukee. If I went through with my overanalyzed thoughts on not joining my fraternity instead of trusting my gut. If I didn’t take that job with IPM. If the West Side of Chicago was still a scary place because I never chose to live there. If I didn’t come on staff with InterVarsity. If I didn’t take the risk to go to Egypt last summer.

I wonder a lot these days – not just in the past, but in the future as well. I wonder what decisions I will make that will reap lots of consequences like I have so far – enough to prompt me sitting on a balcony in a place I had only studied in my world history textbook, writing a blog entry about a man I never intended to meet, and reflecting on events that if you told me would happen when I was 15 I would have said you were crazy.

(I ask people more often now if they think I am crazy…and one responded, “Andy, crazy people don’t ask if they are crazy.” True, but neurotic people do…and they also make up words like “emo-ref”…)

This morning I reflected on Jesus’ comments to those who called out his disciples for not fasting compared to John the Baptist telling his disciples to not. I would have skipped over it, but it came up again in this evening’s seminar that I listened through my new best friend in Egypt: my translator. I asked God to speak to me today, so I figured this might be more than coincidence.

Jesus, in typical cryptic form to weed out the superficial folks, tells one of those weird parables that tends to make no sense to 21st Century Americans. He says,

No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ “

Cryptic, eh? Jesus is calling the old religious institutions like old wine in comparison to what he is bringing. The old religious system of rules and regulations just doesn’t fit his new way of living. Fasting doesn’t work with celebration – there is indeed a time for it, just not now. And the old system just doesn’t work for the changes that are coming. New wineskins = new system. Old wineskins = old system. New wine doesn’t fit in old wineskins. Jesus doesn’t fit in old religious system.

Change is required – on the inside, not just on the out. New wine is really good; but it requires change.

Change and the presence of God are the only constants I’ve come to bank on in this life. To adapt to change, I think I need new wineskins as often as I change my underwear – daily. Cyncism must be replaced with expectancy; skepticism must by supplanted by hope. If God is indeed good, new wine, and we are in need of change, it’s not only the environment around us that will change; it’s the stuff within us. It’s the stuff within me.

The difference in change is that we have the choice to change what’s inside; we don’t have a choice on what’s around us.

My friend from Lebanon gets this – he is outside, playing soccer like a madman. I imagine him scoring a goal, celebrating like a madman despite the circumstances to which he will return. It’s a bit of heaven breaking into a hell-filled world. He’s chosen to hope.

Will I?

So, here’s to choosing new wineskins for some new wine for a thirtieth birthday celebration. Small problem, however – I’m at a student conference in a Muslim country, you can probably bank I won’t be enjoying any wine today…so drink a glass in my stead and celebrate the opportunity to change.



Out to Egypt I have called my son…

My Luggage

My Luggage

When I left Egypt last year, about 13 months ago now, I wondered when I would return.

Note when, not if.

When I was at the airport saying goodbye to all of our friends, I didn’t necessarily think that I was saying goodbye forever. In fact, I felt like I should have been much more emotional since I really had such deep feelings for them.

Turns out my instinct was right – I would return to Egypt. I’m sitting in my living room, with two carry-on bags, getting set to make my return to Egypt. I’ll be serving at the conference with the Middle East and North Africa with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES).

When I was asked to go, I went primarily because I knew I wanted to return to Egypt. So I asked God if he didn’t want me to go, he should stop me.

Gently, of course.

So here I am, sitting in my living room, with an empty fridge and a brand spankin’ new passport…singin’ leavin’ on a jet plane by John Denver (don’t ask me why…it’s just in my head…)

Have you ever been on a trip, knowing that something would happen, but you didn’t know what was going to happen? I love this feeling. It’s this weird sense of wonder, anxiety, curiosity, fear, expectation…all in one. I love it. Love it love it love it.

Pray for the folks in the Middle East and North Africa. It is arguably the most difficult place to be a Christian on the planet, where heavy restrictions, fear, and isolation lead them to fear that they are “a minority of a minority of a minority.” Even those who are ethnic minorities in our country, I’m not sure if we in this country can comprehend the amount of fear they live under.

When I am among people who are oppressed in the world, whether it be my neighbors on the West Side of Chicago, poverty in Latin America in Belize and Mexico City, my experience among those ravaged in Uganda by the Lord’s Resistance Army, my time in the Garbage Village of Mokattam, what continually draws me to wonder how often those who are oppressed and poor have so much to teach me of who God is.

As one who has straddled many different worlds, I continually love to see how the poor educate me on the nature of faith. I like to think I’m brighter than your average bulb, but I’m humbled by real, authentic, genuine faith. We have resources abundantly that we can consume whenever we want – whether it be food for eating, knowledge for learning, or entertainment for enjoying – it’s around us all the time.

When I limit myself to just these two suitcases right in front of me, traveling gives me the opportunity to simplify enough to be able to hear Jesus in fresh new ways.

Would you pray for me?

I need ears to hear, a heart to feel, and a mind to know, and the guts to act.

A Dangerous Benediction

Francis of Assisi is one of those men who is amazing when you read more about him. I heard this prayer of the Franciscans from Craig Groeschel at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit, and it captures a lot of the difficult truth that I and many others have experienced over the years as we seek to develop authentic followers of Jesus who show the depth of God’s love in a shallow society.

It’s a dangerous prayer, but one that is important to pray.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain in to joy. And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

There’s something to this benediction that is severely dangerous. Praying for discomfort, anger, tears, and foolishness sounds absolutely ridiculous. Until you begin to realize that it’s the only way to engage the more difficult climb of life. Benediction literally broken down goes “bene-” which means good, and “-diction” which means speech.

I think when Jesus challenged the one who called him good with, “Who do you call good?” I might say the same thing about this Franciscan “good speech.” It is good, but do we want it to be?

August 2008
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