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.


3 Responses to “An Emo-Ref 30th: When worlds apart come together.”

  1. 1 Robert August 30, 2008 at 9:29 am

    It is quite humbling to see what other people live through. Sometimes, I can’t help but feel guilty. I try to convince myself that I worked hard for the opportunities that I have. But so much of it is winning the sperm lottery. I have seen many people here living as people have lived for thousands of years.

    I try to keep that thought as motivation to try to keep fighting that good fight (figuratively, not literaly). It is hard though.

    Travel and meeting new people is so enriching and enlightening. But it also challenging. Challenging to your perspective, your world view, whatever you want to call it. It is challenging to live while your view is constantly changing. That’s part of the experience though right?

  2. 2 dreamstatecheung September 1, 2008 at 5:50 am

    It’s ironic that the new wineskins are not new at all, but what we’ve always had, just the way we look at it is different. This world is still a hell hole, but we hope in Jesus and He keeps us from cynicism and skepticism.

    I think though that today, God is calling us to fast, weep and mourn for this world, yet we as Christians are just playing around. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a Christian in the middle east. I went into Chicago to try my hand at street preaching and a thousand fears filled my mind and this is only America, the land of religious freedom. It’s really cool to hear about what you’re doing.

  1. 1 Home sweet Home? Reflections on another year of life… « Less is More Trackback on August 31, 2009 at 1:53 am

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August 2008

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