Archive for January, 2009

A Prayer of Remembrance

dsc_0046Dear God,

Thank-you for the gift of Lois Hanselman Bilhorn. We are blessed in the fullest sense of the word.

Her tenderness, her persistence, her elegance, but most of all her unconditional love have helped us to understand and know you more.

And as we leave here, may we remember:

When we are tempted to be coarse, may we be tender as Lois was.

When our courage wanes, hope is bleak, faith is small and we want to give up, may we persist in faithfulness as Lois did.

May our elegance be not simply superficial, but beauty that is marked first by substance and depth.

And may we love others unconditionally as Lois did, knowing that you are love and we ultimately know true love is found in you.

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Help us to follow Lois

And those who have gone before us

As we follow you,

Until all sad things are made untrue.

In Jesus name we pray,

Amen.

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Neither Riches nor Poverty: Food and Friendship

Several years ago I was impacted when a friend of mine transformed the way I look at the world through a simple prayer at a meal.  He prayed something along the lines of, “God, thank-you for the privilege of having the opportunity to choose what we have to eat today. We ask for you to provide for those who don’t have food.”

Another of my friends prays, “God, thanks for providing and help us to fight for justice for those who don’t have.”

It’s true. In our consumerist society, when food is plentiful and more Americans are on diets than ever, we often first think of poverty in terms of providing food and other resources.

But as this thoughtful video shows, it’s not really just about food and resources.

Over the last year as I eat with friends, I’m often asked to pray for the food (even the non-religious folks think this is still appropriate).  I have learned that we become who we are in large part because of those we call friends and family.  I now thank God for food and friendship, and to provide both for those who don’t have today. And if we tell the truth, there are more friendless people with full stomachs than we’d like to think.

Breathing, Winter, and Resting in Peace

It’s been really cold this week in Chicago – if you don’t go outside, or are in a warm weather climate, you can just check people’s facebook status updates to find out what the windchill is outside.

The extreme temperatures always seem to challenge me to see how tough I am.  I like going out in the really cold (safely, of course) and breathing deeply.  As I breathe in through my nose, the frigid temperatures freezes it’s contents.  [Boogers, to use the technical term.]

I breathe out, and this cloud of CO2 exits my mouth and wafts in a white cloud away from my face.  As a kid waiting for the bus outside, I would try blowing rings in the frigid air.  Sometimes I still try this as I walk in the cold – still to no avail.

As I”m walking to my office, I get a call from my Dad that if I wanted to see my grandmother one last time, I should head up north to Wisconsin sooner rather than later.  I also get word from my mom that our long time neighbor, Kay Richardson, just passed away as well and her funeral is on Saturday.

I drive the all too familiar route I’ve driven hundreds of times before, and first stop at the visitation for Kay.  I mowed Kay’s yard and sat with her and helped her in her house for a few years as she wasn’t doing well.  I stop at her visitation and greet my neighbors – tears, laughter, and grieving.  We joke around – the neighbor who has been around the shortest has been there for 39 years. She’s the “rookie.”

But I can’t get Grandma Lois out of my mind.  “I need to see Grandma,” I say to myself.  I do my best to be fully present there, but my mind is elsewhere.  Something on the inside tells me I need to go.

I drive through the backroads to her home, looking at the snowscaped cornfields and forests.  It’s winter in Wisconsin – the drifts on the cornfields look like white waves of an ocean.  The wind blows snow across the road, sending the frigid temperatures down even further with windchill factors that have closed school the last couple days.

I think about the seasons of life – how the rhythm of life is governed by suns rising and setting, seasons coming and going.  And Grandma is in the winter of life.  The sun is setting.

I arrive and am of course greeted by family and folgers.  Grandma’s sister-in-law, my Aunt Ruth, greets me warmly and hugs me and says she’s glad I can see her one last time.  I see my cousin Michelle and Uncle Red – the one who gleefully tormented my brothers and I as kids and we loved it.  But we aren’t full of glee now.

I sit with Grandma, and she is a shadow of herself.  She can barely speak, and the words only come in small numbers.   She’s a tough woman – you wouldn’t know it because she’s so sweet, but she’s tough as nails.  But even she can’t tough this one out.  Last night, she said, “I need to get out of this body.”

Breathing is hard for her – it’s like she’s breathing the heavy cold air of winter, with each breath getting heavier and heavier.  Her entire body moves with every breath, and she’s in pain unless the morphine is in.  I pray for her to have the opportunity to go home soon.

I tell Grandma  how grateful I am for her persistent love and tender care.  Loved is the best word I can use to describe what it meant to be her grandson.  It’s the only word worthy.  I say a few other things I’ve always wanted to say, and she squeezes my hand. That’s all I needed.

I hold her hand for some time, and say goodbye.

The next night I spent with my small group and we watched a video by a trendy hip young pastor called, “Breathe.”  We’re skeptical at the depth of the content with which we will go.  We learn the Hebrew word for God is made of four letters in Hebrew – YHWH, or what we say as Yahweh.  But these four letters said in succession sound like breathing.  We also learn the Hebrew word and Greek word for Spirit is the same worth for Breath.

I think of Grandma trying so hard to breathe.  I think of my breathing the cold air on my walk to the office. Breathe in, breathe out.  God is present with us – like breathing.

My friend in my small group tells the story of when he saw his father’s final breath on his deathbed.  He said it was longer – like he kept exhaling well beyond the point of a typical exhale.  And it was unmistakeable.  The spirit of this life had left him. He was now resting at Jesus’ side.

I imagine my Grandma and her last breath.  I sense it will be soon.

As I drive home, I call my mom and ask on my Grandma’s condition.  It’s not good, she says.  My Dad is on the way in to see her.

Just minutes later, my dad calls as I’m in the checkout line of the grocery store.  It’s the call.  The breath of this life has left her, and she’s now asleep at Jesus’ side in no pain, no crying, no cold of winter, no heavy breathing.  She’s at peace.

Lois means, “more desireable” in Greek.  As I talked with her for the past two months, it’s clear that her life was one to be desired – it’s rare to see a life so well lived.  Sweet, tough, tender, persistent, and loving.    She loved us even when we weren’t loveable, foreshadowing a greater love that we found in God.

Thank-you, Grandma.

How to Make a Real Inaugural Statement

Whether it’s Rick Warren giving the invocation, Gene Robinson praying, Oprah, and whoever else is going to be at the historic celebration, it’s the final cost in the coffers of costly candidating celebrations.  The costs of predefined celebrations are as follows:

  • Cost of Democratic National Convention: $120 million
  • Cost of Republican National Convention: $82 million
  • Cost of Inauguration: $40 million
  • Fed Government allocation for inauguration security: $49 million
  • Cost of 2008-09 Political Celebrations: $291 million

What can we do with $291 million? Well, I suppose we can feed the US Political Economic Machine.  I’m sure some political economist can arrange the numbers to show me how good this is for the American economy to spend this kind of money on self congratulatory parties.

$291 million could sure write a lot of nice thank-you notes like this one to our child laborers.

But what kind of inaugural statement would it make if we tackled a few of the bigger problems on the planet?

Need ideas? I have some.  Tackling these problems would make for change we can believe in, and would be an historic occasion.

What does an elder do, anyway? How does one “eld?”

My background growing up in church was anything but formal.  It started in Fulton Church, the church my grandfather pastored and I grew up in.  When he arrived there in 1962, they rustled up everyone and their brother and had all of 22 people show up for his first service.  7 of them were Bilhorns.

There they all showed up – some in their boots from milking, others who got a little more dressed up.

The church grew, but it kept it’s down-to-earth flavor.  Proof? Dad still plays the banjo once a month to lead singing in church.

Yes, a banjo.

During my student years at IIT, I had great experiences two racially and socio-economically diverse churches on the West Side of Chicago, and another phenomenal experience being a part of the Hyde Park Vineyard in it’s early planting years.  All of which where pretty raw in nature – and I suppose it was that that attracted me most.  I’m not one who cares a whole lot about things that glitter.

So if you had ever told me that I would grow up in a church in the country, mature in the church in the hood, and I wondered what was next.  When I moved to the North Side of Chicago and was to select a church, it took me a good eight months to find a place.

Boy was I surprised when I felt a tug inside when I started attending a Presbyterian Church in Evanston.  I attend a men’s breakfast to find out more about the church, and this retired Presbyterian Pastor named Lou decides to pray for me as I am launching a new season and career in my life in ministry among college students.  I tingle a little bit and sense that for some reason I was called to be here.

I could barely spell Presbyterian, and didn’t really even know what it meant.  The only thing I knew about being a Presbyterian is that they had the nickname, “Frozen Chosen.”    But I walked into this beautiful, ornate sanctuary with stain glass windows that I could stare at for hours, there was something that just drew me to the beauty.

There was more than just the church building.  Presbyterians follow a liturgy and the church calendar – something at first I thought was completely inauthentic at first.  But as I read prayers of confession, as I learned to follow the church calendar, I learned more about rhythms and seasons and what once seemed like confining wrote prayers have become freedom to give words to my deepest feelings.  A sense of beauty in architecture, art, music, literature, and rhythm have served as a firm foundation despite having transition all around me all the time.

On Sunday, I was installed as an elder of the Presbyterian church where I worship.  I was a little surpised to be asked, because I’m much younger than the other elders and taking a job that defined me as old is not what first came to mind.  But as I prayed, thought, talked with friends, I realized how much I do love my church and what a privilege it is to serve in it.

I wondered what it really meant to be an elder as I walked into the service – but that day I seemed to get my answer. I walked in and sat down and one of my students saw me after being abroad for the fall.  Another friend from a group I met with weekly sat next to me with her 2-year-old son who decided to give me the silent treatment.  Another friend from longer ago was visiting back at the church after he moved away and we spoke briefly on his new location.  A friend who I knew when was single, crying that she wasn’t dating anyone, got married a couple years back and announces to me that she’s pregnant.  I give her a big hug and we agree that celebration is in order.

I stand and walk to the front of the church during the installation of elders and go through my vows.  The remaining elders, past and present, come pray for me, including Lou.  He puts his hand on my shoulder and says, “I got your back, Andy.”

I smile, and realize later the irony in the scene.  It was Lou’s prayer that God used to touch my heart, and now as I’m being ordained to lead in the church, Lou is once again the one praying behind me.

After the service, I continue to talk with friends in the church.  Others greet me who have never met me and assume I’m important now that I’m an elder.  Hardly.  If they only knew…

What does an elder do, anyway?  How does one “eld?”

I know the qualificaitions from the Scriptures, but as I sit and think about it, it’s really it’s more about who I am than what I do.  And as I reflect on my conversations the folks in my church, I remember it’s genuine friendship that is essential in following Jesus.  Pursuing God in the company of friends is one of the greatest gifts we have as we have the opportunity to truly know others and be known.  We need each other.

Whether it’s in the country in Fulton with banjos, the underserved west side of Chicago with hip-hop, the diversity of Hyde Park unplugged, the slums of Cairo and Mexico City with clapping of hands and singing, the villages of Uganda with hand drums, or among the over-educated in the North Shore with a pipe organ and liturgy, I’ve seen that the church is at it’s best when it loves Jesus enough to have authentic friendship where we know others and are truly known and fulfilling God’s purposes in the world.

However one “elds” that is what I hope to understand better in the next few years.

Out with the old, in with the new? New Feet, New Year.

2008 felt like one of the longer years in my life.

When I was driving back to Chicago from Wisconsin, I called my good friend Sandra and realized that while I love being with my family, this particular year wasn’t a very “restful time.”  It’s especially so in this year that has been more weighty, impending, and ominous with the sun setting on the life of a cherished member of my family.

So, when I was talking with Sandra, she texted me the next day and said that she thought I could use a break and asked me to come over early to her husband and her’s new year’s party.  Karl knows my family well also – he was a student of my brother Josh and was a housemate with him his first couple of years out of school.

Sandra gave me directions to her new place on the west side of the city, and I drove to meet her.  She told me to meet her at the public library, and as I came outside of the door she greeted me, saying, “You know, there are times where I am stressed out and just need to be in a place that feels like home – where I can be myself and be among others like me.  Because life is just sometimes hard, you know?  So I thought I’d help you find a place where you can relax like I relax, and feel at home.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.  We started walking, me fully expecting to go to pub of sorts where I could grab a Guinness and enjoy another in a long succession of great conversations with my friend and partner in ministry.

Was I in for a surprise.

Sandra stops short into this trendy, refurbished building with all of these voices…but these voices aren’t deep like the droan you hear in a bar.  And the lighting wasn’t dark, either.  And the smell was what was most jolting…and then I realized I was in for something totally unexpected.

“Welcome!” I saw a woman who looked like a Hispanic Lucille Ball, who greets me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

(That’s not normal pub ettiquette, in case you didn’t know.)

I look at Sandra, probably with the look of a scared dog in my eyes.  I can feel my face turning red because I’m embarrassed.  Why?

I realize I’m in a beauty salon, surrounded by probably 20-some Hispanic women.  I’m the only white guy in the joint.

(The song from Sesame Street runs through my head, “One of these things is not like the other, which one is different – do you know?”)

And Sandra signed me up for a pedicure behind my back.  She said, “Andy, there was no way I could get you to do this yourself, so I surprised you. SURPRISE!”  A devious-yet-innocent smile comes across her face…

I got totally punked.

I think to myself, “Somewhere my father is hurting and he doesn’t know why.”

Do I have to turn in my man card for this?

I regain my composure.  I think to myself, “OK, Andy, this is just another cross-cultural experience.  Everyone is speaking Spanish, and you can pick up about half of what is being said. Almost everyone around you is a woman, so just smile and nod.  Just remember to have an open posture…ask questions…you know, all those things I’m supposed to remember in the approaching differences diagram… like a good cross-cultural student.”

That was a lot easier when the coffee and rice pudding came. I can do this.

So, for the next hour, I get a pedicure (I’ve since learned that this is abbreviated, “pedi”).  I have ugly feet.  They’re calloused and mangled…not exactly worth looking at. The poor woman pedicure giver-er…

But I must say, this woman did a phenomenal job on my feet.  They felt lighter as I got them out of the little foot-bathtub-thingy, and I realized that this woman sanded off my callouses…I must have lost a pound in the process.  And my ugly feet got a little less ugly.

So, here’s to a new year – to great friends, funny pranks, and losing the callouses from the hard walk of life that keep us from seeing what really is.


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