The Deeper Meaning of the Good Samaritan

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This morning’s Gospel reading is the famous story of the Good Samaritan. After mentioning that we must “love our neighbor as ourself” a scholar asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus tells the story of a man who was beaten by robbers and left by the side of the road to die. A priest and a Levite see him but stay away. But a Samaritan man has pity and helps him.

Jesus then asks the scholar, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37.)

The thing most people get from this parable is that we should help people in need. But there’s a deeper meaning that Jesus is communicating.

The context of the parable is, “who is my neighbor?” The Law said you were to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18.) Look back at the question Jesus asked the scholar. The neighbor was the one who “treated him with mercy.” Jesus is the neighbor we are to love as we love ourselves.

And then, by telling the scholar to “go and do likewise,” Jesus shows that the poor are our neighbors also. And by loving those in need, we are also loving God.

The Catechism says, “There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God” (CCC 1878.) It later emphasizes that the Ten Commandments, “must be interpreted in light of this twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law” (CCC 2055.)

We begin by the one on the side of the road, helpless and dying, and are saved by Jesus, the Good Samaritan, the Good Shepherd. This is our love of God. Then, once healed, we are to “go and do likewise” by helping those in need. This is our love of neighbor. And Jesus tells that, “whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40.) Which brings us full circle back into the love of God.

This is what I was attempting to convey in the latest VCAT video, “Love God, Love Each Other.” I know my previous post was about who made it, this post is about the “why” it was made.

May we all “go and do likewise” today!

Bob and Bob Strike Back

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I’ve had the blessed opportunity of collaborating with my friend Bob Lesnefsky, aka “Righteous B”, for almost 15 years now. We first met while he was helping with the Steubenville Youth Conferences. He became a youth minister in a neighboring parish to where I was doing youth ministry and we often ran combined retreats and events. For many years we travelled around the country doing improvisational comedy (some of the best memories of my life!) We’ve also collaborated musically. I’m proud to have been a part of his first studio recording when we wrote “Set Free” together, the theme song for the 2002 Steubenville Youth Conferences (back when we had theme songs). He and I were also in a band, albeit briefly, called “Backyard Galaxy”.

So when I wrote a hip-hop song to go along with the first “Morality” video of the VCAT series, he was the first person I thought of doing it. Of course, he did more than record it. He took the lyrics I wrote and, well, made them much cooler. Look, I listen to bluegrass, okay? I play the friggin’ accordion. Rap is not my thing. But he is awesome at it and he took my idea and ran with it. He also brought Born, who is one of the teens who is a part of his Dirty Vagabond ministry. You can hear him laughing at the end. I invited Taylor, who sang with me this summer, and the next thing you know we had a pretty cool song.

Dan Bozek recorded it at his studio and brought a friend of his, Harrison Wargo, who made a great beat. And then it was sent off to Cory Heimann at Likable Art who put it all together to make this:

Call Waiting: Discerning Your Vocation

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I’m excited to say we’ve come to the end of another year of videos in the VCAT series. Last year we had twelve videos on the creed, this year twelve on the sacraments. We’re half way there! As I travel around the country, it’s great to hear how many people are using these in ministry.

This last video took a look at discerning a vocation to the priesthood. There are a number of “vocation” videos out there already, so I wanted to do something different.  I tried to capture the kinds of fears and distractions that I’ve known teens to have over the years. My hope was to be subtle: have the audience figure the message out, even though the main character didn’t. It’s always tricky with these catechetical videos to not be too preachy and yet still have solid content that’s helpful. Did I hit the mark? I’ll let you tell me :)

Kudos to my friend Bob Perron who came up with such a great name for the video!

Get Up and Walk

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Sometimes I write scripts and something special happens.

I originally wrote this script to introduce the “sacraments of healing”: Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. We decided to tell the famous story of Mark 2:12 because it includes both the forgiveness of sins and a physical healing. This Gospel story beautifully shows how the two go together.

I wrote it as a period piece. The film’s producers were going to try to recreate the look of Galilee 2,000 years ago. Quite a challenge!

But then the movie, “Son of God” came out. And the fear was that the script I wrote was going to look too similar to that film. So Becky Groth took that script and modernized it to be a contemporary look at the Gospel story. I think the end result is pretty cool and more fun than a “straight” retelling of the story, especially because those versions already exist. This is something new, makes you look at the story from a different way, and I’m proud to share the story credit on it.

I like this video because it’s punny

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Puns make me happy. Why else would I release a CD titled, “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice”? Truth is, I get excited when I come up with a pun because I don’t think of myself as a very good “punster”. This script I wrote has some good ones in it. The kind that make you hurt.

More importantly, it also has a good message. I wrote this for the VCat series on sacraments. Its an overview of the sacraments of service: marriage and holy orders. Its a challenge to write scripts like these because you have to find the right blend of entertainment and education. I think it really came together well and is one of my favorite videos Outside Da Box has made so far. Great job, guys!

Feel free to share with your friends or anyone you know who could use it for ministry. That’s why we’re making them!

An amazing summer!

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In June and July, I was blessed to do 12 conferences! Six of them were Steubenville youth conferences (I hosted three and led worship for three). I even got off campus this year by hosting the first Steubenville Toronto conference. It was a truly amazing and incredible experience.

One of the most exciting things for me every summer is the band I get to play with. All amazingly talented, all wonderful people. They are (left to right) Andre, me, Ally (the secret band member—she ran lyrics for us), Dan, Emily, Taylor, Andrew, Kevin, and Nick. They were fantastic and exceeded all expectations.

More than a few people asked about the blog and the lack of posts over the past months. First of all, I’m glad you care! The simple answer is that I’m in full writing mode to finish my dissertation, so things like blog posts have taken a back seat. But I’ll try to not be too silent. See, I’m posting now! That’s a start, isn’t it?

Hope everyone is having an amazing summer!

The Mercy of God

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Though I’ve been delinquent in updating the site, Outside Da Box and the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston are doing a great job by creating new videos every month to help teens understand a different element of the Catechism, and I’ve the honor of writing the majority of those scripts. I really loved this last one they did. It’s a “whiteboard” video about how to go to Reconciliation, and the emphasis is that it’s not just about confessing your sins—it’s about what you do before and after that is equally important. I hope you’re blessed by it!

But one of my favorite scripts ever brought to life was the “Palm Sunday” video I wrote for Outside Da Box a couple years ago. And since that’s coming up this Sunday, it seems a good time to re-post that as well.

Feel free to share these around the Interwebs! And have a blessed Easter!

The Good, the Bad, and Theology of Noah

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NoahI had the chance to see the movie Noah with my new friend Jon Blevins while I was in Manitowoc, WI, this past weekend doing a parish mission at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. My love and prayers to everyone who attended: I had a blast sharing the Gospel and getting to know you.

Jon and I decided to go see Noah, not so much because we wanted to, but because we knew teens would watch it and ask questions. After seeing it I’ve come across numerous blogs that think that it’s either wonderful, awful, faithful, or heretical. For anyone who cares, here’s my two cents on Noah.

The Good

Visually, the movie was stunning. There’s a five minute scene where Noah tells his family the story of creation and it blew me away—sure to be playing at every youth group in the world once it comes out on Blu-ray. The rock monsters were awesome. Yes, theologically wacky, but I have a special affinity for rock monsters and I personally think every movie should find a way to include a rock monster in it. Especially rom-coms. But I digress. Some great action sequences, and Russell Crowe is a stud and fun to watch in pretty much anything he does (unless he’s singing a monologue on a ledge).

The Bad

It was loooooong. At the end I was kind of hoping God would wipe everyone out so I didn’t have to keep listening to them talk. For an eco-friendly pacifist, Noah was really good at killing dudes, which stuck me as a bit odd. The rock monsters were awesome. Oh, I already said that. I thought the last half of the movie faltered in it’s pace and emotional drive. The stuff heading up to the flood was pretty riveting; once they get on the boat it I felt it floundered.

Theology

This was a big-budget, Hollywood movie, so I didn’t expect it to nail the Biblical story, and to be honest I didn’t mind the creative license the director took in adding new characters, new story lines, etc. I’ve read a few blogs that really hated against some of the theologically questionable things in the movie, like the rock monsters, which were awesome. Here are the things from a theological perspective that bothered me.

I didn’t like how the movie changed what the Bible says about one of Noah’s sons, Ham. In Scripture, Ham is cast out because he rebelled against his father. He becomes the father of Canaan, whose offspring become the enemy of the Jewish people. But the movie created story lines where you felt that Ham was actually doing the right thing most of the time and there was no sense of him being banished. Really, the movie made you blame Noah for being so thick headed as to alienate his son. I didn’t appreciate that.

There was a complete disregard for human life and an over-sensitivity for animal and plant life. In the beginning of the movie, Noah comes across some kind of armadillo/dog-thing that was wounded by hunters. The dogadillo dies and Noah kills the three guys with little effort (seriously, where did he get that kind of training?) He shows no remorse for the loss of human life but is really torn up about the animal. I know the hunters were “bad”—but how about a guy who regrets the taking of any life, even if necessary? In Scripture, the story wasn’t about saving all the animals as much as saving humanity and creating a new covenant with Noah. In one of the greatest moments of biblical irony, the first thing that Noah does is sacrifice some of the animals in thanksgiving to God. The Noah of the Bible was not a vegetarian/animal rights activist who taught his kids that people who ate meat went against God’s plan. I’m eating a hamburger as I write this, by the way.

What happened to 40 days and 40 nights? In this movie, they were on that boat for at least 8 to 9 months, as the girl got pregnant right before the flood and gave birth on the boat. Or did people magically have shorter pregnancies back then? That bothered me not just from a biblical perspective but also as a plot point, ‘cause that was a long time for the bad guy to hide and keep eating the other animals. I imagine he wiped out a number of species over those months. I was so hoping they would show him eating a unicorn.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mark Hart, the Bible Geek, for correcting this. The flood lasted 40 days. Then there was 150 days before the water subsided. So the timeline was about right, but I still think it was weird to have the bad guy not discovered for so long (which obviously wasn’t a part of the biblical story).

But the biggest problem for me was the lack of God’s mercy. God was vengeful, not loving. One could argue this was part of the Biblical story: didn’t He wipe out almost all of humanity? Well, “almost” is the key word here. In a world that had completely rebelled against God (say that again with a deep, movie trailer voice), He was willing to not give up on humanity in spite of their sin. He caused the flood and saved Noah and his family to establish a covenant of peace (symbolized by the rainbow.) That’s the key element of the story, and that was completely missing here.

I really liked many elements of Fr. Barron’s review of the movie but I was surprised when he wrote, “At the emotional climax of the movie, Noah moves to kill his own granddaughters, convinced that it is God’s will that the human race be obliterated, but he relents when it becomes clear to him that God in fact wills for humanity to be renewed” (my emphasis). That wasn’t in the movie I saw. In the movie, Noah was convinced that God wanted all humanity wiped out, including his own family, and when he couldn’t bring himself to kill his grandchildren Noah was distraught because he thought he had failed God’s plan—so much so he later isolates himself in a cave and gets drunk.

Yes, there’s a little conversation at the end with Hermione that suggested that perhaps his “failure” was actually God’s will all the time. But it was a nuance, a brief whisper amid the message the rest of the movie shouted from the beginning. The overall theme was that man was made for nature, not nature for man. This focus contradicts not just the main point of the Noah story but the entire Creation narrative. I found it disturbing that one of the only voices in the movie that suggests that nature was made for man was the bad guy (and said while biting the head of an animal).

I didn’t mind that the director made changes to the story of Noah—I am disappointed that he changed the message. When you look at the pollution of the planet, it’s clear that in many places humanity has not lived up to God’s command of being good stewards to what was given to us. We should repent of this and need to do a better job protecting the earth, not just for the earth’s sake, but because the first victims of pollution are usually the poor and the marginalized.

Creation is a gift from God to man, not man a poison to creation. God created the world so we could know Him through it. And even when we sin and turn away, He reaches out to us. He didn’t make us like the plants, trees, and animals. We are more than just another part creation—we are His children, made in His image and likeness.

There were parts of the movie that spoke to that. But more often than not, I think that message was lost and replaced with something more culturally palatable. And that’s why, even with some inspiring moments and awesome rock monsters, I walked away disappointed with Noah.

As always with my blogs, feel free to respectfully disagree in the comments. Biases against rock monsters will not be tolerated. 

Eros and Agape in Disney’s Frozen

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Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 6.19.20 PMThe Friday of Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally a “movie” day for us. This year we split the family: 12-years-old and over went to see the new Hunger Games, 11-years-old and under went to see Disney’s new animated movie, Frozen. Having seen Hunger Games already, I took the little ones to see Frozen.

I really enjoyed the movie. It had some great music and the look of it was beautiful. But what stunned me was the message that the movie conveyed.

If you haven’t seen it, there’s some SPOILERS. Sorry, no way to talk about the ending without giving the ending away. And the ending came as quite a surprise to me!

Let me recap the story: it’s a tale of two sisters, Elsa and Anna. Elsa has the power of ice and snow (hence the film’s title, Frozen.) When they were young, Elsa accidentally hurt Anna with her power, so she kept it (and herself) hidden from her sister so she wouldn’t hurt anyone else. Anna, who doesn’t remember the event, wonders why her sister becomes so distant, especially after their parents pass away (being parents in a Disney movie is like wearing a redshirt in Star Trek.)

They become teenagers. Elsa is to be crowned queen and the castle is opened for the first time in years. Anna, young and eager, meets a handsome young prince and immediately falls in love. She wants to marry him! At this point I was rolling my eyes, thinking, “yeah, that’s a healthy relationship.” Thankfully, Elsa agreed and wouldn’t give her blessing. Emotions get high, Elsa’s power goes out of control, everyone realizes she has this power (some think her a witch) and off she runs into the frozen wilderness. Her sister goes to find her.

In the adventures that follow, Anna’s heart get’s frozen and can only be healed with an “act of true love,” which Anna thinks must be getting a kiss from the prince she wants to marry. And if that’s what happened, it would be standard Disney fare.

Because Disney movies are generally about eros. That’s a Greek word for romantic love, the love between husband and wife. Snow White is cured by a kiss from the prince; Sleeping Beauty is the same. Most Disney movies end with a marriage and the romance between the male and female protagonist plays a central role. Actually, the majority of stories told today focus on eros. Our society seems to think it’s the highest form of love.

But Jesus told us otherwise. When He spoke of love, He used the word agape, not eros. When He said, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34,) He used the word agapeAgape is the highest form of love. It’s not about emotion—it’s about self-sacrifice. As Christ Himself said, “No one can have greater love (agape) than to lay his life down for his friends” (John 15:13.) That kind of love isn’t often shown.

Which is why I almost fell out of my seat at the dramatic conclusion of Frozen.

Anna was about to die. Her “true love” was running toward her to give her the saving kiss she thought she needed. But her sister was in danger. Instead of waiting for the kiss, she ran to her sister’s aide and sacrificed her life to save her. And that’s the act that heals her heart. It wasn’t eros that was “true love,” it was agape!

I looked at my six year old daughter. “Wasn’t that amazing?” I said.

“Yes,” she answered. “I loved the snowman! He’s funny!”

Okay, so maybe six-year-olds don’t get the difference between eros and agape. But someone at Disney did. And I’m so glad they decided to make a movie that shows that true love is more than just a feeling—it’s the laying down of your life for another.

And the snowman was funny, too.