Archive for April, 2009

Working Together: The Whole Word to the Whole Campus

This was completed several months ago, but it was recently released by 2100 Productions, InterVarsity’s Multimedia company (who are simply awesome).

This is part of a training cirriculum we are using with students across the country in helping building authentically multiethnic ministries in colleges and universities across the country.



Reasons of the Heart, Part 1

From Reasons of the Heart, From John Dunne

“Now my soul is troubled” even Jesus can say, even in the Gospel of John, when he is facing death.

“Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out,” he says, though, when he goes through fear to courage.

One goes through fear to courage, it seems, through desperation and despair to hope, through sorrow to joy, through conflict to peace, through circumstances to heart’s desire.

The way to necessity is the way of circumstance and conflict and suffering and guilt and death.  The way of possibility is the way of “going through.”

“God is how things stand,” for the one who sees only the way of necessity.

“God is that all things are possible,” for the one who sees the way of possibility.

What is God we can ask, for one who actually does “go through?”

What’s wrong with the world? I am.

I thought that as I aged I would become more wise and understanding of how to deal with evil in the world.  There are times when I wish I was more tolerant of evil for my own sanity.  Case in point – an older gentleman at my church decided to tell a university student to stop talking on his cell phone in a very curt and rude manner today at the worship service at my church.  Me? Let it go?

No way.

I tracked him down, and sternly told him that was not acceptable behavior (all while quivering in anger and fear at confronting someone at least thirty years my senior as his “elder”) for becoming a welcoming community.

Wouldn’t it just be easier if I could accept evil? Why don’t I just let it go and make my life easier?

G. K. Chesterton, when asked to write an essay by The Times of London on the subject, “What’s wrong with the world?”

Chesterton gave this simple response.

Dear London Times,

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G. K. Chesterton

As much as I and other folks like Bono in today’s New York Times still expound on the problem of evil, and the church’s lack of response, the problem will never be addressed in full until we come to understand in our minds, hearts, hands, guts, and soul that the problem lies first and foremost within us.  Bono lauds Buffet and Gates – but they give out of their abundance, not sacrificially.  What if Buffet and Gates chose to give sacrificially in solidarity with those who they seek to serve – like the woman who gave her two copper coins?

The values that I and other staff have had for becoming agents of justice and righteousness in the world have infected many of our students.  One of the blessings that I have seen over the years is that many of my students have been involved in the global engagement summit at Northwestern University – a way they can engage the campus, partner with those who are far from God in engaging God’s purposes.

Sometimes I wonder if what we are seeing is an authentic revival of the activism we saw in my parent’s generation in the 1960’s that could truly change the world.

At others I cynically wonder if it’s just youthful optimistic high from an overdose on the self-esteem movement that will crash at the experience of real evil – the kind that etches it’s way into your mind and heart like a tattoo that can never be removed.  Students who I have taken among the poorest of the poor suffer often suffer from depression because the despair they encounter is contageous.

Sometimes I wonder if they will cope in the same way we saw those 60’s Hippie’s that today drive the SUV’s, built the big homes, ran businesses like Enron and Arthur Andersen, and now blame others for our planet’s problems.

Those are the days when I want to throw in the towel, and wonder if it is really worth it…am I just enabling a faith that is a “college thing” that will die once students hit the real world and the hot idealism is tempered.

This is why I need hope as much as any – for giving up means I’m just as much a part of the problem.

Today was especially impactful – when the liturgy of my church gives words when I have only groans.

O Risen Christ, you asked for my hands, that you might use them for your purpose.  I gave them for a moment, then withdrew them, for the work was hard.

You asked for my mouth to speak out against in justice. I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.

You asked for my eyes to see the pain of poverty.  I closed them, for I did not want to see.

You asked for my life, that you might work through me.  I gave a small part, that I might not get too involved.

Lord, forgive my calculated efforts to serve you – only when it is convenient for me to do so, only in those places where it is safe to do so, and only with those who make it easy to do so.  Father, forgive me, renew me, send me out as a usable instrument, that I might take seriously the meaning of your cross.

Then later we sang from Christ is Alive:

“In every insult, rift, and war, where color, scorn, or wealth divide,

Christ suffers still, yet loves the more, and lives, where even hope has died.

Christ is alive, and comes to bring good news to this and every age,

Till earth and sky and ocean ring with joy, with justice, love, and praise.”

The hope of Easter is that Christ is alive.  Hope is only needed when it seems absent, and that the hope of all was killed made hope disappear.  But the resurrection proves that death doesn’t win in the end and that my job is just to hold on, be faithful, and not give up.  The setbacks of today will be pushed forward with or without me,  just as he will make all things right in the end and judge justly. Or as Fydor Dostoyevsky says in The Brothers Karamazov,

“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

Saturday: Waiting

Last night was much about waiting in the Emergency Room for a diagnosis of my friend – it was very difficult.  But one of the things we did to pass the time was talk about when he lived in Israel and experiencing Easter there.

The big thing in Jerusalem is not Good Friday, nor is it Easter Sunday. It’s Holy Saturday.

Holy what?

Exactly – here in the west we don’t celebrate Holy Saturday…because what would you do on this day? Nothing. Jesus didn’t die, nor did he rise again.

Which is exactly what those in Jerusalem are doing (or did) right now.  They gather together and await the flame to be passed from person to person to person and then walk out together.  It’s their belief that the Spirit came on this day and arose Jesus from the dead on Sunday.  The fire represents the Spirit.

But really, I think this day typifies what it means to be a Christian.  Philip Yancey, one of the most influential authors in my life, ends his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, with this profound truth:

The other two days have earned names on the church calendar: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yet in areal sense we live on Saturday, the day with no name. What the disciples experienced in small scale – three days, in grief over one man who had died on the cross – we now live through on cosmic scale. Human history grinds on, between the time of promise and fulfillmentCan we trust that God can make something holy and beautiful out of a world that includes Bosnia and Rwanda, and inner-city ghettos and jammed prisons in the richest nation on earth? It’s Saturday on planet Earth; will Sunday ever come?

That dark, Golgothan Friday can only be called Good because of what happened on Easter Sunday, a day which gives a tantalizing clue to the riddle of the universe. Easter opened up a crack in a universe winding down toward entropy and decay, sealing the promise that someday God will enlarge the miracle of Easter to cosmic scale.

It’s a good thing to remember in the cosmic drama, we live out our days on Saturday, the in-between day with no name. I know a woman whose grandmother lies buried under 150-year-ld live oak trees in the cemetery of an Episcopal church in rural Louisiana.  In accordance with the grandmother’s instructions, only one word is carved on the tombstone: “Waiting.”

Waiting is hard for me, but I’m learning. I’m learning to believe in hope, and to perservere that hope is certain and Resurrection Sunday is comin’.  That the not-yet of the Kingdom will be now, and that someday all sad things will be made untrue.

I’m waiting.

Unexpected Goodness: Good Friday

I’m blogging from the emergency room.  My housemate is feeling some severe abdominal pain, and we both think it’s appendicitis.  We’ll see what the diagnosis brings.  But it was certainly unexpected, to say the least.

So was the last ad on the waiting room television: “Viva Viagra.”  Is it me, or is that just weird to see in an emergency room?  Or the Hannah Montana film preview?  Unexepected, to say the least.

Good Friday is my favorite church holiday of the year.  It seems appropriate that something unexpected happened on the day – because it’s unexpected that we could ever call this day good.

Think about it for any length of time – why do we call this day good?  It is only seen as good in retrospect – but I wonder what it would have been called by those who experienced it as it happened.

I never celebrated Good Friday growing up – Maundy Thursday was great because it was when the Lord’s Supper was instituted, and we would arise early for the sunrise service for Easter Sunday (complete with a great potluck afterwards)

My church celebrates Good Friday in a very solemn way – with a Tenebrae service of darkness.  The service is at dusk, and the last sunlight is softened by the blue stained glass as darkness comes. The seven last words of Christ are read, with seven sets of seven candles lit throughout the sanctuary, With each word that is read, one of each candle set is darkened until complete silence and darkness sets in.  Through sad, mourning songs, my soul opens up in pain and I truly feel deep sorrow.

Kinda like my housemate right now – who is in a lot of pain.

I’m hoping that it isn’t appendicitis – but if it is, the pain led to a deeper understanding of the weight of what was real.

I wonder if the pain that was felt on the first Good Friday (when we didn’t know yet it was good) by Jesus was more about the physical suffering or about being abandoned by his Heavenly Father.  How could goodness be found in such tragedy?  The weight of what was real was Jesus screaming on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For the first time in all time, the Son of God became God-forsaken.

There dying as a criminal between two thieves, bloodied and humiliated, was the God of the universe, who endured pain and shame until he committed himself into the hands of his loving Father.

How could this Friday be good? Because, as Jurgen Moltmann sais, “God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with him.”  The older I get, the closer I hope that day is.

On Feet and Maundy Thursday

I have a toenail fungus.

I finally got embarassed to the point of getting it fixed when a certain friend pranked me with a pedicure, and I felt so bad for the nail technician (or whatever you call the person who hacked away at my blocks of feet.)

It’s kinda gross – the nail gets all yellow and thick.  I finally went in about three weeks ago to get medication for it, and there is a sad side effect to the drug. Since the drug slightly effects the liver, I’m not able to enjoy adult beverages.  So, no tasty malt beverages for 3 months.

Feet are an interesting thing.  One of the common faux-pas I had in Egypt was crossing my legs and exposing the bottom of my foot to the person next to me.  It’s basically the equivalent of giving your neighbor the finger in the Middle East.

More than once I caught myself doing it, and learned how to apologize in Arabic real quick.

What is it with feet, anyway?  I was at a baby shower yesterday, and the father-to-be noticed that the first three cards all had little baby feet on them.  They are cute…

…until they look like mine when you get old.  All calloused with toenail fungus.


It makes me think even more about what happened on Maundy Thursday.  Maundy is a derivative of the latin mandum, or command.  It’s when Jesus washed his disciples feet and gave them the commandment to wash one another’s feet.

If you’ve never participated in a footwashing, it’s a trip.  There is nothing like looking at someone when you are sitting and they look you in the eye and wash your feet.  I remember clearly in Cairo when one of my students went out of her way to wash my feet.  I was speechless, and there is something that gets me everytime when I read John 13.

Why would Jesus ever stoop so low as to do the offensive task of washing his disciples feet? The line that gets me every time – “he loved them to the end.”

I’ve read each of the gospels probably close to 100 times. Maybe more. I’m still fascinated each time I read that line.

He loved them to the end. To the end of washing the feet of those who would deny him and betray him.

He loved them to the end. To the end of enduring their stupidity, yet welcoming them back and restoring them from their guilt and shame.

He loved them to the end.  To the end of allowing them to doubt and leave and return and believe.

He loved them to the end.

An Open Letter to Betty Brown (House Rep – TX)

Hi Betty,

My name is Andy Bilhorn.  You don’t know me because I’m from Chicago, and you live in Texas.  We’ve never crossed paths – and I don’t really go to Texas much, so I don’t imagine we will. But I’m sure it would be nice to meet you.

I heard about you in the news because you’d like some of our fellow Americans of Asian descent to change their names in order to make it easier for voting purposes.

You know, something somewhat similar happened in my family over 170 years ago.  My family name was changed five generations before mine when my family emigrated from Oberammergau in the south of Germany in Bavaria.  It used to be Puehlhan, but a circuit court judge in Mendota, Illinois thought it would be easier for the folks in the states to say Bilhorn rather than butcher the German umlaut.

That judge was Abraham Lincoln.

But don’t worry, I’m not comparing you to him. But you can be like him in some of your actions if you learn a little more about what it’s like to be a minority in this country in this century.

I’ve wondered why I actually know something that happened five generations ago in my family.  Most people I know don’t know their great-great-great grandparents names, let alone what happened surrounding the development of their name.  I know in large part because I am proud of my family – because we’ve made it a point to keep that story in our family.  I’m sure you’ve benefited from those in your family who have gone before you as well.

I think we would both agree that helping Americans preserve their heritage is important.  We’re a better nation because of it.  So why are you asking a large number Americans to change their names?  For the sake of voting? Why not ask a much smaller minority of voter registration folks to learn a few Asian last names? Wouldn’t that be easier?

Though you may have the best of intentions, the way your words are received by Asian Americans today is as an assault on their identity that they aren’t “American” enough.  It’s probably what happened with my great-great-great grandpa too. Since he was white, and the rest of the nation was mostly white, that was pretty easy to pass as an American.

But that was before the civil war – and Betty, the times are changing.  Sure – your district is 80% white – that’s great.  But the rest of the state is very different.  Your state already has no particular ethnic group as the majority – so what is, “normal” in Texas, anyway?  What is “standard?”

I ask because it’s a real question now that is hard to answer.  The rest of the nation will catch up with Texas in the early 2040’s when we have no ethnic majority, though experts think that could even change to the 2030’s. I know you’ll be in the grave by then, but I ask this question because you are propagating the assumption that people that look like us are “standard” and then I have to go and talk to my Asian-American friends who aren’t seen as “standard” and try to live in harmony with them. They are hurt by your dehumanizing comments, and even though they are well-intentioned, they hurt America.

To be honest, we live in a world where good intentions aren’t good enough.

Here’s what is worse – your words put those of us who are white who are in relationships with Asian Americans feel guilty by association and then your words make things difficult between us.  The easy thing for me to do is to say you are some dumb white woman who just doesn’t get it.

But if you were elected as a representative, I’m doing my best to suspend that judgment and hold you in high regard.  I do think you need to understand those whom you serve.  You should ask someone other than me since I’m a white guy from Chicago, but you should definitely ask someone.

So, Betty, here are couple ideas you can check with people who know more than me about Asian Americans than I on what you can do to undo the damage you did. You need to start by saying just two small words: “I’m sorry.”  A sincere apology would go a long way.  So would asking for forgiveness.  Don’t be political about it, don’t be overly dramatic – just say you’re sorry.  But only if you mean it.  The media is telling us that you don’t want this to be a big deal about race.  It’s too late for that – you already did it. Make it right by saying you are sorry.

But there’s more – you need to make good on your intent on serving Asian American voters.  You know that Asian Americans are very underrepresented in elected public offices? After your words, I can see why – it doesn’t seem like a welcoming place for them.. And it would be helpful if you included them in your census report in 2010 rather than lumping them in “other.”

Wouldn’t it be great if you were seen as working towards making public service more inviting towards Asian Americans?  Ask some of your fellow Asian Americans in politics what needs to happen for that to work.  Because if you were to do that, it could go a long way in not only undoing the wrong you did with your hurtful words, but it would help our democracy better serve it’s people in all it’s diversity.

So, here’s your chance to make some lemonade out of lemons.  But it means being humble, teachable, contrite, and finding creative solutions.  You know – like President Lincoln.  We have big enough problems right now facing our country.  If you did that, it could go a long way to making things better.

If you don’t, and do nothing, especially by not apologizing, then you’ll leave the next generation with a bigger mess to clean up. And trust me, it’s hard enough already.

Please choose option the former rather than the latter.  We need it.


Andy Bilhorn (Puehlhan)

April 2009
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