Archive for September, 2008

Childhood Dream: Brew Crew playing in October

My cousin and I talked yesterday about our beloved Brew Crew making the post season yesterday.  We were raised avid Brewers fans, and as such we were raised with very low standards when it came to baseball.

In case you didn’t know, the Milwaukee Brewers are in the playoffs for the first time since 1982.  For those of you doing the math, that is 26 years ago.

They don't shower with champagne in Miller Park...

They don't exactly shower with champagne in Miller Park

I remember reading in Mrs. Connor’s fourth grade class room the 1988 Baseball preview book during D.E.A.R Time (Drop Everything And Read).  I still remember reading one sentence over and over again – the author predicted that he would be sitting in Milwaukee watching the World Series at County Stadium with a bratwurst in hand. Obviously it didn’t happen – I remember watching Orel Hershiser instead that post season help the Dodgers win against the heavily favored Oakland A’s.

Low standards were something that we kind of expected in Milwaukee growing up.  When I was a kid, the Brewers were in the American League, but we still got to watch two amazing ball players – Robin Yount and Paul Molitor.  After Yount retired and Molitor left to Toronto (where he won a World Series), the Brewers then proceeded to be miserable year after year, and breaking .500 was a dream for us.

What was worse was that the Baseball interim commissioner at the time was Milwaukee’s very own Bud Selig, who brought further shame on our reputation for baseball by not adequately handling a baseball strike in 1994, tore up the rivalries we had developed for 25 years by moving the Brewers to the National League (I’m glad for it, but at the time it made me very confused living next to Comiskey Park), and then poorly handled the baseball steroid scandal.

Yes Cub fans, there are other organizations on the planet that rival your futility…

I know you Cub fans whine about not winning the World Series in 100 years, but at least the Cubbies have played in October in five times since Milwaukee was last in the post season – 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, and 2007.  The Brewers haven’t even won a World Series – granted they’ve only been around since 1972 – only 36 years of existence.  Getting to the post season once every five seasons or so is kind of nice, really…at least you have hopes to dash.

But not this year – both Milwaukee and Chicago have hopes that can be dashed equally.  I know Cubs fans have more experience in this, but we both have our histories.

What I wouldn’t give to enjoy a Miller Park Bratwurst with secret stadium sauce and sauerkraut on an October day in Milwaukee watching the Crew take on the Cubs in the NLCS.  Wrigley North, sheesh…what they pass as a sausage at Wrigley is shameful…

The fastest meat on the street.

The fastest meat on the street.

October baseball is comin’ back to Milwaukee…let the sausage race begin.


Hellooo, Jerry: How the Law Works

I spent a good amount of some this summer working on an unexpected chore. In February, the Building Inspector assessed the building I manage with 8 pages of building code violations.

Ugh.  His name was Jerry – from there on I referred to him as, Hellooo, Jerry.

The owner and I and my roommate weren’t really wild about this at first – but push came to shove and the list had to be addressed. Something had to give – and it wouldn’t be the inspector. And he announced his revisit would be in August.

My home is an old building, with old building problems, but in order to save some money for the owner I told him I would try my hand at the repairs. One I just couldn’t do – I didn’t want to try my hand at replastering the ceiling. But the rest seemed managable for a moderate home repair person. I’m a beginner, but I figured with some time I could probably learn most of what needed to be done.

Some of them were as simple as turning a screw driver. Some were kinda fun, like when I had to replace some windows by busting out the old ones.

I pretended I was breaking and entering.

Then some were a little more complicated. Like learning more about home electricity. Yes, I did shock myself a couple of times. 120 volts running through my body kinda tickled…

Electricity is really interesting. We take it for granted, but learning the basics of a home wiring system gives a new appreciation for how everything in your home gets power. Grounding wire, GFCI receptacles, hot wires, circuit breakers – all combine to produce one of two results: pass or fail.

So when Jerry would come by, and tested all of those receptacles and outlets I replaced, there was one of two responses: pass or fail. There was no middle ground.

It reminded me of my days when I would work on my engineering problems at IIT – first I’d look at the problem, look at the example given in the text, try the problem set. Then I’d see if I got the answer right by looking in the back of the book.

Typically, I didn’t get it on the first try. Back to square one.

So then I’d labor through some person’s attempt to write an engineering textbook, get frustrated on how poorly and boringly it was written, look at the example again, and then retry the problem. I’d check the answer again in the back of the book, again.

Repeat this loop until success, then recopy onto a nice sheet of graph paper with pretty lettering and simple sketches that look, oddly enough, like the example problems.

(Maybe that’s why engineering textbooks were so poorly written…the intent was to observe carefully for real, pertinent information and learn to sift through vague instructions, fluff, poor teaching, superfluous information, and a lack of direction. In retrospect, it was great training for the real world – I get lots of superfluous information every day that I have to sift through to determine what really matters.)

One class I had in concrete design, the professor put his books on the table the first day of class and simply said,

“If you don’t do your job right, people die.”

Kinda intense, huh?  Yeah, but it was worth intensity.  Sid Guralnick then proceeded to talk about American engineers who had their license revoked for substandard design and building failures.

Needless to say, he had everyone’s attention.  I never fell asleep in that class.  I respected his teaching more than anyone because he wanted everyone to know that what we did mattered. In the end, you knew if you were right or wrong, and it wasn’t very subjective. Either the problem was right, or it was wrong. Partial credit was good for the classroom, but if you didn’t design a column properly, a building could collapse.

A partial building collapse is still a collapse.

When I got back a grade on a problem set, it was clear to see where I had gotten things right and wrong. When Jerry would come for inspection of my home, things were either up to code, or they weren’t. It was that clear.

But in my world now, such clarity is a dream. When I watch football or baseball, as I did today, it’s so nice to instantly know the outcome of a play or a pitch. We don’t leave a sporting event at the end of the game wondering, “gosh, I wonder who won?” It’s all nice and clear.  At the end of the game, we know who won, who lost, who performed well, who failed, and the talking-heads can generate more words regarding all of those things than I could think in 10 years.

This week I took a huge risk in speaking at our first large group on…Leviticus.  Lots of things die in Leviticus – animals, plants, and one-year Bible journeys.  Because most people wonder what the heck is going on with all of those sacrifices and rituals.

And it typically makes us all scratch our heads and we move on to something nicer.

But it’s in these rituals, these symbols, that God chooses to give physical manifestations of spiritual realities.  The Old Testament Law works in lots of ways – many Christians choose to ignore understanding it because they say, “Well, I’m under grace, not the law.”

That’s true in part, but not in full.  Any study of the law ultimately points to grace – that something else takes the punishment of our sins.  We’re given a way out – that something else takes away our sin.  The law was a shadow of the things to come – a present physical manifestation of a future spiritual reality.  But the law is great for teaching real lessons – that our sin is costly, our sin matters, and it is messy, and something outside of ourselves has to make it right.

The law points out our need for grace; it’s the great teacher that shows how we fall short, how we need something else, how we are unable on our own.  Disregarding Leviticus only makes us ignorant of the depth to which God tries to teach his people with real, everyday things.

Inspector Jerry reminded me that left to ourselves, we’d easily fall short of the standards required for what is right and good.  So it is also true with the law of God – that we do fall short of those standards, but realize what is needed to make those standards is outside of ourselves and found in Jesus.

My New Nephew: David Judah Bilhorn

David Judah Bilhorn

David Judah Bilhorn

I have a third nephew now to join the other two rascals (John Lukas, Caleb Aaron).

David Judah was born on September 6, and he looks remarkably like his father.  Poor guy. 🙂

His parents are my brother Josh and his wife Opala.  They are very proud parents.  And I’m a proud uncle.

Being an uncle is one of the best things because you get several of the benefits of enjoying kids without the costs.  We took my other two nephews, Caleb and Luke, to the Shedd Aquarium the day before David decided to arrive, and it was just awesome.  Going to museums is so much more fun with children, because you begin to see things through their eyes again.

Chesterton has this brilliant insight on kids:

“God is strong enough to exult in monotony.  It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon.  It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but he has never got tired of making them.  It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

You know, maybe Peter Pan was more right than we thought…maybe I’ll try to help my nephews stay as “lost boys” for as long as they can.

A Mandate for Man Dates: Figuring out Masculinity in the church

My friend Chase posted this article on a term I started using about four years ago – the Man Date, or Dude Date.  The authors claim to have invented it; obviously they haven’t been hanging around me.

They should get out more. 🙂

I ask male students on “man dates” for a living.  It’s awkward.  What do most young men think when a campus minister like me asks them to grab a bite or coffee?  Exactly.  Awkward turtle.

Typically my day involves some sort of “man date.”  We can dress it up spiritually and call it discipleship, or if you are hip and postmodern you can call it “spiritual formation.”


But it’s just not normal until I have explained it to most guys and they eventually get it.  Then I tell them to have man dates as well, and they realize how awkward it is in our culture.  Eventually they get it.

Tomorrow I’m doing something that I have considered for a long time, but now just finally am doing it.  We’re launching the first men’s ministry with InterVarsity at Northwestern with an event called, “Dude Food.”

Why launch a men’s ministry?

I have thought about this a lot over the years.  I lean on the egalitarian perspective rather than complementarian in scripture – although I’m typically an equal opportunity offender.  I can argue either way if you want me to, and I bet I’ll win.  I know both sets of scriptures, and read books from both sides of the issue, and my conclusion is that both positions can be justified biblically.  I choose one because I believe in God’s purposes of redemption include the junk of our genders, and that the gifts he gives for the sake of the church aren’t specified by gender.

[Besides, anyone who says women shouldn’t lead in the church has neglected to observe that without women “serving,” (that’s Jesus’ code word for leading, by the way,) 99.6% of our churches wouldn’t run.  To be honest, if as much energy was put into developing young men as there is writing about this issue, I don’t think we’d be the position we are in: a lack of young male leaders in the church.]

Why do we lack male leaders?  Why do all campus ministries ask the question, “where are the men?”

I’ve swam in several Christian Communities over the years, and I’ve made several observations that answer the question, “Where are the men?”  I know that women often feel a double standard in this – that men are able to lead because they just decide to show up, and that is wrong. I hope to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem in this.

But the problem is that less and less men are showing up – and that’s bad for both genders.  Why don’t men show up?

1. We are misjudged. I’m smarter than I look – it isn’t hard. And I know when I enter a church I get this feeling that I’m being labeled as one of four things: a potential husband, a project to fix, a patriarch for the young boys in the church, or a predator trying to pick up chicks.  And I’ll be honest – I know men who are like each of these four “P’s.”

Now, we need potential husbands for women and patriarchs for our young boys.  And men do have their issues that need to be fixed – but we are more than our issues, and women would be advised not to take on projects as boyfriends.

[The predators I could do without.  They are just creepy.  If my sister was still single and dated one, I’d probably want to beat the crap out of him – in the name of Jesus, that is.  I confronted on playa in a church as he worked his way through the circuit once and just said that needed to stop.  He didn’t like me very much.]

But all in all, we need to be seen as persons in need of real relationships that go beyond sports scores and superficiality.  More men I know need this than ever, but they don’t have a venue that understands them well enough to engage them in it.  Why?  That leads to number 2.

2. We are misunderstood. Most young men have to deal with some level of anger in their lives.  And while I understand both women and men have to deal with anger, but men’s anger is considered dangerous – because sometimes it actually is.  Especially in the Christian community where we are expected to be “nice guys.”  And nice guys don’t get angry.

Ever listen to the music most young men listen to?  I don’t care what genre you pull from, I bet you that at least half of the demographic deals with anger (or sex…but that is another topic for another time.)  From hip-hop to hard rock, you’ll see that many young men are working out some kind of anger.

Why are video games so popular among young men?  We get to work out our anger, and often times we do so in a way where we shoot something and win.  It’s the same with sports – they are controlled safe place that can be mastered as opposed to the uncontrolled world around us.  And that world of uncertainty and messiness stresses us out.

But unlike women, who are more developed relationally, the stress from our lives is only compounded through out inability to connect with other men – as evidenced by the uncomfortableness of the “man date.”  So where does that leave us?  Number 3.

3. We don’t feel like we belong. When we walk into a church or a fellowship, sitting in a circle talking about our feelings is not exactly what we are looking for.  I have learned to do this because this is what it takes to be heard in a Christian community, but it is certainly learned behavior.

When I was growing up, and if I hurt something, I can still hear the adage from my coaches in my head, “Rub some dirt on it and you’ll be fine.”  Many of us were taught that when something hurts, you suck it up and deal, ignore the pain, and get back out there.  When other people start talking about their pain in life, which is a very common occurence in the church (and should be), men’s natural inclination is to either flee or tell others to fix the problem – rub some dirt on it – both of which are not really accepted in the church, and for good reasons.

But most of us don’t know another way…until we are taught.

This is why I’m trying to figure out a new way of doing ministry to men – enacting a mandate for man dates, if you will. I’ll take suggestions, if you have them.

I mean, if it can work for Fight Club, it can work in the Kingdom, right?

Good Grief

Last night I spoke at UW-Whitewater InterVarsity’s meeting entitled “Epic.”  About 70 students gathered, and I was originally going to speak on the power of the gospel.

But then tragedy struck Mike Chaloupka, and I changed my plans.

The scary thing is that I have a file for a couple of previous sermons I’ve entitled, “On Grieving and Mourning.”  For one who works in campus ministry with university students, this is not a topic we expect to have to do often.  Nursing homes, maybe.  College campuses?  No.  I feel much more at ease talking about something simple like sex.

Anyway, I would rather reorganize my sock drawer or reinstall windows on my computer than talk about mourning and grieving.  I’m bad at it.  I like to stuff it – like my socks.  But like blogging, if I do it regularly and ongoing, it actually helps.

I was told by a friend that grieving is like a walk along the ocean.  Sometimes you just see the waves coming closer.  Sometimes you feel the waves wash lightly against your feet.  Sometimes it comes in strong, and your knees and bottoms of your shorts get wet.  And sometimes it hits like a huge wave, and it knocks you off your feet and sucks you in.

And there is no telling which one is going to come.

That’s about as accurate a description I can give to grief.  Everytime I have to speak on it or console someone else, afterward I end up reliving all of my previous grieving experiences – some are pleasant, some aren’t.

But inviting students to mourning is hard work – because we want everything to be all better.  We want to move quickly to resolution and make sure everything is alright.

Last night I invited Mike’s students to look at the death of Jesus’ best friend, Lazarus, in John 11, and how he responded as a model for grieving.  It’s interesting to see that Jesus didn’t analyze his symptoms, he didn’t give five steps on how to grieve, he didn’t

He did two things: he got angry, and he wept bitterly.

It’s OK to be angry at death.  Jesus was.

It wasn’t meant to be that way – our planet is broken, and we broke it and it breaks us back.  Jesus was angry at how the messed up world and death took his friend.  In fact, he was downright pissed off.

It’s OK to weep bitterly.  Jesus did.  It means that one who loves much loses much, and if the solution is to sanitize the situation and not to love at all then we’ve lost the point of the life.  To live is to love.  The day we stop loving is the day we start to die.

Which is exactly why Mike was such a great man – because he risked living through loving.  And he did – he lived and loved.  And the beauty is, he’ll be lovin’ forever.

Why me?

Most of you know this, but my brother Josh is also on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  In a matter of 36 hours, his first child, David Judah, entered this world, and one of his spiritual sons, Mike Chaloupka, left this world to be with his King.  Mike came on staff with InterVarsity this summer, and was staffing a new student outreach event when he was tragically hit by a car while crossing the street.

That’s just not fair.

And guess who was scheduled to speak at the UW-Whitewater InterVarsity chapter this week?


Why God?

Unfortunately, I have more experience in this area than I’d rather have.  Three years ago I had to navigate mourning the death of an InterVarsity student who I discipled at Northwestern.  Standing in front of a crowd of students and inviting them to mourn is one of the most difficult things to do.

Going inside, doing the hard work of mourning his tragic death was even more difficult.

A year ago, I was the first person to speak in the pulpit after the pastor of my church left after 26 years.  “Big shoes to fill” was an understatement.  And the church was in mourning of his departure, and here I am, this young punk, trying to speak in front of a congregation that has lost the one who has led them in mourning for 26 years.

I don’t understand why God calls me to such messy situations sometimes.  They just make me tired.

But I know what it means to be faithful, and sometimes showing up and speaking the truth from God’s Word is what that means.

Pray for Mike’s family and friends as they mourn.  Pray for me as I try to show them how Jesus mourned the death of his best friend tonight.

Mourn with those who Mourn: Mokattam Rockslide

Rockslide at Mokattam

I’ve got much to share with you about the conference I was recently attending in Egypt with the IFES, but that must pause for a much more urgent matter.
Less than 72 hours after my visit to Mokattam, a rockslide has killed at least 20.  Lots of things come up for me in this – part of me really wishes I was there, another part of me was grateful to not have to endure such suffering.

I’ve heard back from my friends that all seems to be OK with them, but nonetheless it’s a preventable tragedy.  Governments turn blind eyes to slum communities like Mokattam because it’s the easiest way to deal with the issue.

“We are following the case step by step and providing the care and comfort for the residents,” Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said in a statement. “We would like to remind people the danger of building informal housing in dangerous areas.”

The former engineer in me winces when I hear things like this.  When tragedy can be averted through simple bricks and sticks, my blood boils.  When I walk through Mokattam, my old skills flash back to me in thinking in how to build trenching for sewers, provide safe water, even using solar heating to do so.  And others have done the same.

But my anger burns on this…when those who are powerless and marginalized lack justice by those who receive power through a corrupt system live in luxury and rule incompetently and refuse to repent because of losing status…yeah, I need to stop writing now and put my anger before God.  Because that is the only place where it can be used for good.

Please pray for those who mourn in Mokattam.

Please pray that someone takes action to care for the marginalized through simple policy efforts that allow for justice to be had by all.  Pray for engineers who will be mobilized to provide plans for civil services like water and sewage.  Pray for funds to be available to implement plans through generous donors who will give.

And, if you are daring enough, be open to being the answer to one your own prayers.

September 2008
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