Archive for November, 2008

Funny quotes from the Bilhorn Family Thanksgiving

From my sister-in-law, Anna:

Anna: Andy, I thought of you the other day.

Andy: Really? Why?

Anna: Caleb [my nearly 2-year-old nephew] said his first three word sentence.

Andy: Oh really?  What was that?

Anna: Mommy, I poo.

Grandpa Mer sharing stories of being at Schurz High School when his Dad (Great-Grandpa John Chester) was his principal.  Jeremy (my brother) has just become a principal in his high school this year.

Mer: It was hard having my Dad as a principal.  Most teachers didn’t want to rock the boat with Dad, but one did – Dad assigned her husband to a different district and she took it out on me by giving me my only “B.”

Jeremy: That’s sad.

Mer: Well, there were certain benefits.  We would buy 10 bottles of milk with a dime – Clem [his brother] and I.  And we’d split five bottles of milk each with five sandwiches at lunch.  Then we’d stack the bottles real carefully on the end of the table, and as the last one walked out would kick the leg of the table and the bottles would go crashing down.

Jeremy: Grandpa! 

Merlyn: Yeah, I was a little rebellious.  But I did end up marrying the lunch attendants daughter.  I had to tell him.

At the dinner table (four generations of first born men at the table):

Jeremy:You know how John George (great-great-grandfather) died?

Andy: How?

Merlyn: He had a hernia moving a pot-belly stove.

Dave: Really?

Jeremy: Yeah, he died young at 53.  Moving really heavy objects – you know, objects that resemble the big woodpile out the door there?  The ones you’ll be moving tomorrow.

From visiting my Grandma Lois in the hospital:

Grandpa Mer: (stuggling to get his scarf on in shoulders) Well, it only hurts when I try to stand or try to sit.  But once I sit and once I stand I’m fine.

Dad: You’re still in rough shape, Dad.

Grandpa Mer: I’m in great shape for the shape I’m in.

As we are leaving the hospital:

Grandma Lois: How is your knee, Dave?

Dave: It’s still there.

Grandma Lois: You take care of that knee.  I’m still your mother and I can tell you that.

Grandpa Mer: You know, at our 22nd Anniversary, she told me “I’ve been married to you now for 22 years – now I’ve taken care of you longer than your mother.  You listen to me now.”


Paradox: With Thought

Life is a paradox.

If you break down paradox into it’s roots, it’s para – alongside of, or with; and -dox – thought.

Paradox. With thought.

Interesting how when we think of paradox – what Webster defines as “a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true” we don’t think of it as “with thought.”

Does anyone else find these events paradoxical?

Sunday, November 16:

I sit in my boyhood church in Southern Wisconsin and listen to the pastor speak on Psalm 23 – The Lord is my shepherd.  I’m tired, but I make it through and think about the Psalm throughout the day.

I drive to my grandparents after the service and sit a spell with my grandmother as we talked through her upcoming biopsy to determine if she has cancer.  We spoke and I held her hand in mine, and she looked at me with those blue Icelandic eyes, and told me how happy she was that she has had such a full and rich life and how she couldn’t ask for more.  The lump rises in my throat and I hold back tears.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want…

Then she asks, “Andy, how’s your love life?”

Precious.  I smile and laugh.  For her I’ll divulge details anytime.

I take the backroads and drive with the windows down to take in the fall air.  It’s cold, but I love the smell of the fall.  It’s the only season I truly believe is worth exporting in the Midwest.  I arrive at a celebration of my mother and sister-in-law’s birthdays.  My brothers and new brother-in-law watch the Packers thrash the Bears.

This is a good thing.

I also get another good thing – with my 2 month-old nephew.  He decides to snuggle his little head in my arms.

I think he decided he liked me.

That or he had gas.

Or, since he’s my nephew, it could be both.  He is a Bilhorn.

I drive home to Chicago and think to myself I’ve seen the span of life on my ride home.  Four generations in one day.  I couldn’t ask for more.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

Monday, November 18

Maybe I should have asked for more.

I get the news that a student at NU has been found after a week in down the lake in Montrose Harbor.  Sadly, the death was self-inflicted.

That same day, I get a call from the father of a former student I mentored for two years who also took his own life.  He has arrived from Hong Kong and tells me he is going to be in Chicago and would like to grab dinner.  I say of course.

I hesitate for a moment, and then tell him of the recent student death.

He thanks me and decides to go to the upcoming funeral.

…he leads me beside still pastures.  He leads me beside quiet waters.

Wednesday, November 19

I’m asked to speak on Following Jesus in the midst of doubts and questions.  I reopen one of the more difficult chapters of my life story for students to see how God is able to heal the deepest sense of loss.  I talk about when Jesus’ best friend died, and how he wept.  I don’t talk about the happy ending, but I linger in the midst of the tragedy.

John 11 is probably the most well worn chapter in my Bible.

I talk about the healing that comes when we are honest with Jesus to the point of it really mattering.

I get a call from my cousin – the initial tests on Grandma Lois are positive and upbeat.  Looks like everything is OK after all.

…he restores my soul…

Saturday, November 22

I am reading for my upcoming class (700 pages in one day – new record) and stop and dwell in my new favorite author – Frederick Buechner.  Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale.

I read about the gospel as tragedy – that before there is good news, we must first encounter the bad news.

I find the words in his book are nearly the same I spoke from John 11 on Wednesday.

I pause and get goosebumps.

I then walk to dinner with the father of my former student, and we speak plainly about recovering from tragedy.

Our wounds are still healing.

…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…

Monday, November 24

I drive to a set of meetings and my colleague’s 10 month old boy catches my eye.  He distracts me and I was welcoming a nice distraction.  He sees me, starts crawling toward me, and I pick him up and we go for a walk.

He reminds me of my nephews.

I think about Grandma Lois and I wonder how she’s doing.

I think about the father of my former student and I wonder how he’s doing.

The little dude smiles at me – and I smile back.  He doesn’t have gas.

But the Packers sure stink – they get thrashed by the Saints on Monday Night Football.

This is a bad thing.

Tuesday, November 25

I’m cooking dinner for good friends down the street who have a 2-week-old newborn and she’s beautiful.  She’s biracial, and born just after Barack Obama was elected president.  Perhaps the nation will be ready for Cora – because if she’s anything like her parents, then a new way of thinking will be required for this child.  She will break the mold, right Myron & Alyssa?

She embodies the hope of a new world.

…Your rod and your staff, they comfort me…

I get to hold her, and she’s perfect.

She smiles at me.

I think she has gas.

I get a call from my cousin telling me that what was first good news is now bad news about my grandmother.  It turns out to be cancer, and the initial diagnosis was wrong.  She does have cancer.

I cancel a coffee date, much to the chagrin of my grandmothers curiosity.

I reread John 11.

I have 1000 friends on facebook – but I feel very alone…and that’s not a bad thing right now.  I’m OK with being alone with Jesus in John 11.

There’s a knock on my door – the downstairs neighbors and their 5-year-old son bring a loaf of pumpkin bread and wish me a Happy Thanksgiving.

I smile and find another reason to celebrate through the offering of a small child (coaxed by his mother, of course.)

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

I am about to travel to Wisconsin to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Will the Psalm continue?  Will goodness and mercy follow?

I hope so.  Because sorrow and joy have certainly been bedfellows in the last ten days.

It’s a paradox – it requires thought and reflection.

Life’s a paradox.

Watchdog Renaissance & Hometown Pride?

I get the NY Times in my inbox everyday and I usually get about 20 minutes of reading time in.  I read good news and bad news everyday.

Today’s good news from the NY Times is that we may be seeing a reporting renaissance that could spur on more folks who do the same.  The journalism industry seems to be reinventing itself with the increased accessibility of publishing through the internet, so there are several strategies moving forward.  Having a low overhead, not-for-profit approach that is based on journalists recapturing the integrity of their profession is a great way we could see watchdogs back in the news room.

You stay classy, San Diego.

But then, if watchdogs do their job right, they uncover stuff we aren’t all that excited to have made public.  Which leads me to my next point – the NY Times took the liberty of exposing my hometown for regular underage drinking as it talked about the Wisconsin drinking culture.

I don’t know how people in Edgerton are responding, but I think some of us are slightly embarrassed that our town makes the National Press for…underage drinking.  Of course, just one look at our team song and you can see why our nickname isn’t exactly the most healthy…

We are loyal Edgerton

Loyal and True

Though the odds be great or small

We’ll be cheering you


We are loyal, Edgerton

To the fair name

Fight, fight forever

Tobacco City win this ga-a-ame.

Please Pray: Grandma Lois

Most of you who know me know you can’t talk with me for more than 10 minutes without me talking about my family.  While we certainly aren’t perfect, I feel very blessed.

But today was a hard day.

I visited my Grandma Lois today as she’s been having some health problems.  The doctors discovered an internal growth, and she will be having a biopsy on it on Wednesday to determine if it is cancerous.

Grandma Lois could win an award for the sweetest woman on the planet.  As I sat with her today, I had to fight back tears.  We spoke of several things – and I got the sense that I was speaking with one who was ready for her next stage in life – death.  Sitting in her curlers, holding her hand, I just couldn’t help but look in her eyes and be so grateful to her for being the matriarch of my family.

It takes a lot of courage to be a matriarch in my family. And Grandma Lois is certainly a strong woman – anyone who can raise five children and be the wife of my pastor/engineer grandfather should win multiple awards.

Grandma Lois is my last living grandmother.  We lost Great-Grandma Meriel in 1999, and Grandma Kathryn in 2002.  I’m so sad to think that the days of having a grandmother are coming to an end.

I simply don’t know who I would be without such amazing women in my life.

A New Way of Struggling

From “A New Way of Struggling” by Susan W. N. Ruach

To stuggle used to be

To grab with both hands

and shake

and twist

and turn

and push

and shove and not give in

But wrest an answer from it all

As Jacob did a blessing.

But there is another way

To struggle with an issue, a question-

Simply to jump


into the abyss

and find ourselves




being led

slowly and gently

but surely

to the answers God has for us-

to watch the answers unfold

before our eyes and still

to be a part of the unfolding

But oh! the trust

necessary for this new way!

Not to be always reaching out

For the old hand-holds.

More clever art.

I wish I had thought of this idea.  Not only would you get to see the world, but you would have such a good time.

Some of you have probably already seen this already…I’m kinda behind in YouTube watching.  Like I don’t do it much.  This is one that most people have seen before.

To read more about the creation of this, check out this article.

The song is sung in Bengali, and the translation is this:

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth
and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

Stream of Life
by Rabindranath Tagore

Reporting or Storytelling? When watchdogs need glasses…

Today is election day.  It’s taken on a more personal nature as my aunt is running for office once again after losing in 2006.  My aunt is a Republican and lost the 2006 election initially by 9 votes (it became 39 after a recount) in what was basically a lack of voter turnout.

So voting matters.  It really does.

It’s been interesting for me on this election day.  I got my daily email from the New York Times, indicating how the election is epic in nature and giving me a full viewing guide for the election (with popcorn included). I feel like I should be waiting for the violins and trumpets in the soundtrack to this dramatic adventure of an election – because, if you are listening or watching or reading, you know that this is an historic event.

(You know something is important when we place the object “an” in front of “historic” because it is so distinctively different and draws attention.)

Given what little media coverage I have subjected myself to, it has made me ask a lot of questions to the nature of reporting and the media.  After reading a recent confession from Michael Malone of, I felt like someone came out of the closet and confessed the sins of how journalists have had to play dirty themselves and result to tabloidism and thus abuse their power and position in order to resuscitate a dying industry.  My journalist friends have even felt shame on themselves from what was once an honorable profession.

I comforted one and told him I know what it’s like – I work in Christian Ministry on a secular university campus.  Shame really only has one redeemable characteristic – it can cause us to confess, repent, and receive grace we don’t deserve.

I do a lot of confession on campus.

I later read up on media coverage through the independent (at least I still think it is) Pew Research Center on how the Press has reported the 2008 Presidential Election.  I think they did a good job, but I’m not an expert in this area and would welcome anyone’s criticism of their conclusions.  They measure coverage as either positive, negative, or neutral.  And the numbers show that Obama received twice as much positive coverage and half as much negative coverage.

This was the case in previous elections as well – that whoever is perceiving as winning gets more favorable coverage.  In other words, the American press loves winners.

The second conclusion they drew was that the press tends to instantaneously reinforce and echo every event.  And this is so easy to see: Joe the Plumber, Acorn, number of homes, “spread the wealth,” etc.

And like echos, the press generally caricatures things more and more as things progress, and things begin to snowball.  According to the Pew Research Center data, the story of this election is the snowball effect of John McCain.  And in order to appeal to an increasingly postmodern society, one that focuses on story and not necessarily facts, the press tries to grab market share will entertain the audience through storytelling.

Thus we live in an era of soundbites – not thoughtful research.  And reporting becomes storytelling, and those who are watchdogs need to get glasses, get lean, and get busy.  Otherwise the watchdogs become lapdogs.

And don’t get me wrong – I love lapdogs.  Our old cocker spaniel, Molly, was the best lapdog.  Scratch her right behind her ear and she was instantly your best friend.  In her early years she was very protective and wasn’t afraid to ward off enemies…like barncats, woodchucks, skunks, and women with too much perfume.

But Molly got old, fat, blind, and deaf.  I still loved her, and she still loved me, but her role as a watchdog was worthless.

And we can’t afford for the press to be worthless.

So, back to my aunt running for office.  She authored and passed 11 bills into law in her first two terms as a republican state representative with a democratic governor – more than any representative in the first two terms in the history of the state.  She lost in 2006 because of poor voter turnout and she happened to be a republican in the 2006 election.  She’s my aunt, and she’s awesome.

And I’m totally biased.  I admit it.  I’m certainly not a journalist – geotechnical foundation design and structural analysis didn’t exactly teach me much on how to interview people.

Her opponent has only written three bills in his entire first term and passed none.

I know we are supposed to be thankful for high voter turnout.  But what about when the electorate is uninformed?  Or even worse, misinformed by propaganda that is allowed because our press has become a lazy lapdog?

Case in point – my brother tells me he saw a picture of my aunt’s opponent photoshopped over Obama’s picture saying, “Vote for Change!”

Um, aren’t you the incumbent?  How is voting for you change?  Oh, that’s right, you’re just riding on the wave of popularity and are aligning yourself with the presidential candidate who has received twice as much positive news coverage and half as much negative news coverage.

Thus begins the thought process for most folks:

  • Obama = Cool.
  • Andy’s Aunt’s Opponent = Obama.
  • Andy’s Aunt’s Opponent = Cool.
  • Cool = good.
  • Vote for Andy’s Aunt’s opponent

When the press doesn’t do it’s job well, it’s not difficult to take advantage of a misinformed electorate.  That  is not the intent of the Obama campaign – but the Obama campaign would be stupid to not take advantage of the opportunities given to them.  And it’s not hard to see they were given one.

And by the way, that’s also not a legitimate reason to vote against Obama.  In a democracy, registered voters can only vote for people, not against them.

The bigger question is this – will the media allow itself to be subjected to the same level of criticism it gives?

Maybe this is why I loved what happened last election in 2004 with Jon Stewart on Crossfire.  We need more people who can expose poor press practices for what they really are.

November 2008
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