On the Feast of St. Peter and Paul

1

Today is the feast day of St. Peter and Paul and, with no offense to St. Paul, I’m a big fan of the original “Rock.” At the Mass today we read when St. Peter was the first to proclaim Jesus as Messiah, and in honor of that event I share this excerpt from my novel, Between the Savior and the Sea:

They were almost six months away from the Passover feast and Jesus was concerned. He knew exactly what would await him there, but that’s not what he was worried about.

The apostles weren’t ready.

They had shown little progress over the past twelve months. He had prayed that one of them, any of them, would understand who he was. But so far, his prayers to his Father had gone unanswered.

He led them north and they came upon the city of Caesarea Philippi. It took them about a week to get there, and they were tired from the rugged terrain.

The sun was still high in the sky, so Jesus knew they could make it to another town by nightfall. He told them to sit down and eat. Though happy for a chance to rest, Jesus could see the apostles were not comfortable to linger here. Caesarea was to the Gentiles what Jerusalem was to the Jews. It was their holy site, and people traveled thousands of miles to offer sacrifice to their gods.

Jesus looked up at the huge rock wall that the city was built against. In one part of the cliff, a large cave opened up into a bottomless pit. The Gentiles thought it was a gateway to hell. King Herod’s father built a large and beautiful temple dedicated to the god Pan and set it against this opening, so that sacrifices from the temple could easily be thrown into it. Jesus heard the cries of goats and lambs echo off the rock as they descended into “hell”, followed by the cheers of Gentiles who felt their god was appeased.

Statues of Greek gods were everywhere, especially that of Pan. He had cloven hoofs and played the pipe, dancing with a look of mischief on his face.

“Who is Pan the god of?” Simon asked.

“Shepherds and sheep,” Bartholomew said.

Almost as if on cue, a shepherd passed by followed by thirty or forty sheep, heading into town toward the temple.

“I have a feeling many of those sheep won’t make it back alive,” Philip said. The others laughed.

Jesus watched the flock closely as it passed. “I tell you the truth, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a bandit. But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock. The sheep hear his voice, and one by one he calls them and leads them out. They will never follow a stranger, because they don’t recognize the voice of strangers.”

He turned to look at his apostles. Blank, confused expressions were on their faces. Will they ever understand?

“I am the gate,” he said. “All who have come before me are thieves and bandits, and they have come only to steal, kill, and destroy. But I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. Anyone who enters in through me will be safe and find good pasture.”

He looked at the statue of Pan that hovered over them in a portico against the wall. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said, “and the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. I know my own, and my own know me.”

The apostles nodded as if they understood, but Jesus wasn’t convinced. Do you really know me? he wondered.

It was time to find out.

“Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked.

Judas immediately spoke up. “Some say that you are Elijah…” It seemed as though Judas wanted to say more, or maybe wanted Jesus to react to the statement. When he didn’t, Judas looked around at the others and awkwardly sat down.

“I have heard people say you are John the Baptist back from the dead,” Philip said.

“One person thought you were Jeremiah, if you can believe that,” Little James said. Some of them laughed.

“What about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say that I am?”

An uneasy silence fell over the apostles.

Bartholomew stood and bowed to him. “You are a great prophet,” he said. “If I may say, one of the greatest in all of Israel. And we are honored to serve you.” The others nodded in agreement.

It was a bold proclamation and Jesus took it graciously. He looked around to see if anyone had something else to say. Everyone was still except for Judas and Simon. Judas looked anxiously around. Simon looked flushed and sweated profusely.

Jesus sighed. The greatest in all of Israel, he thought. At least they are getting closer. “Let us go,” he said. Jesus stood and turned to gather his things, and the others began to as well.

 

From the moment Jesus asked the question, Simon’s heart began to race. But he didn’t dare speak. His face grew red and he felt sweat roll down his back. When the others began to gather their things, Simon’s heart screamed to him: SAY IT!

He could bear the voice no longer. Simon stood up and burst out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

Everyone froze, including Jesus who was turned away from him at that moment. Simon gasped for air, only then realizing that he had been holding his breath since Jesus asked the question.

Jesus turned and Simon did not know what to expect. He looked as surprised as the others. Then Jesus bowed his head and put his hands together over his mouth as if in prayer. He opened his arms wide and looked radiantly into the sun as if to say: thank you. Then he turned his gaze upon Simon.

“Blessed are you!” he cried out. “Simon, son of Jonah, you are a blessed man!” And he walked up to him and gripped his shoulders. Simon stood as one dead, unsure of what was going on. “My Father spoke to you, didn’t he? You didn’t get this from any man, but my Father in heaven.”

The Father? Was that the voice he heard on the boat?

Jesus hugged him and Simon found the strength to return the embrace. Jesus looked around at the others and then toward the large rock face that dominated Caesarea’s landscape. “You are no longer to be called Simon,” he said to him. “I say this to you, you are Peter, the rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.”

As if to compete with the sacred moment, the wail of an animal was heard, followed by the cheers of those who had thrown it into the pit. Jesus looked toward the temple of Pan and proclaimed, “And the gates of hell will not prevail against this church!”

He then turned his attention solely toward Simon, who fell on his knees before Jesus just as he did when he first called him on the boat. But this time, no words could come to his mouth.

You are the Messiah, Simon said to himself, reviling in the wonder of it all.

Jesus put his hands on Simon and blessed him. “Peter, I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound there, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Simon looked up at him in amazement. He wasn’t completely sure what was happening, but knew in his heart that his life would never be the same. Jesus looked at him with such joy and love that Simon wished he could gaze upon that face forever. His mind had thousands of questions, but his heart had never felt such peace.

Jesus raised him up and they embraced again. Simon turned and looked at the others. They seemed frozen in shock.

“You are the Messiah…” John said.

Jesus smiled and nodded.

John jumped up and down. “You are the MESSIAH!”

Jesus held out his hands to silence him. “Be quiet and tell no one about this. There is more for you to know. But here,” he said as he glanced around at the surrounding statues, “is not the place. Let us go.”

15 Years Ago Today…

4

15 years ago today, I got married to my best friend. I can confidently say it was the second best decision of my life.

The first one, obviously, was to follow Jesus.

And so today Jennie and I are doing what every couple should do to celebrate 15 years of marriage. We’re moving her mother from one apartment to another. Not very romantic per se, but still an act of genuine love.

In honor of our anniversary I’m happy to repost our story of the Pledge Card, which a few of you have asked for since I moved to the WordPress site.

The Pledge Card

I consciously gave my life to Jesus when I was 14 years old. I didn’t know all there was to know about the faith (still don’t) but I knew a few important things: I shouldn’t steal stuff, I shouldn’t lie, I should go to Church every Sunday, and I should save sex for marriage. So I made a commitment to stay a virgin until I got married.

Sounds noble, right? Well, in the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that at that age no girl had even remotely desired to sleep with me. I was the freshman in high school who shows up and you wonder who let the sixth graders in. Girls didn’t find me attractive and I didn’t like them much either (being a fan of a lot of D&D and fantasy books, my ideal woman was an Elven princess who knew karate and was good with a knife—a standard most 13 and 14 year old Catholic school girls don’t live up to).

As time went on, I did attract some girlfriends (playing guitar helped) and I entered the exciting world of male/female romance.

How did I do? Not well. My sincere apologies to those who had the misfortune of dating me.

The biggest thing that hindered positive relationships for me was I understood virginity but hadn’t a clue about chastity. Chastity is the virtue of sexual purity. I might not have had sex… but I wasn’t sexually pure either. And so I really made a mess of things, hurting myself and the women I dated.

A turning point came in 1994. I had just graduated college and was dating a wonderful Christian girl. I had it in my mind that she might be THE ONE and we had even entertained some conversations about marriage. We both loved the Lord and prayed together but were clearly confused about the chastity thing.

Then I went to a conference where I heard a speaker give an amazing talk about what chastity really was. It was not a restriction—it was a gift! God desires us to live in purity so we can have the greatest expression (and experience) of love. As I looked back on my life, I realized how things were at the worst when I was at my most unchaste. Chastity was there to protect beautiful relationships, while sexual activity confuses and destroys them.

I was thrilled to hear the truth. I felt so liberated! They passed out “Chastity Pledge” cards and I hastily filled one out, putting my name and the date on it. I got an extra one for my girlfriend, bought her a copy of the talk on cassette (yes, that’s what we used back then) and mailed it to her with great excitement. She also loved the message and we committed ourselves to a pure and chaste relationship. I was more convinced than ever that she was THE ONE.

Six months later we broke up.

Sexual activity is like a drug and when we got “sober” we realized that there were things about each other that were downright annoying. I was thankful to realize this, at least in my mind. But my heart was furious. I desired love. I thought she was THE ONE. And that stupid card blew it!

18 months later, I’m dated another girl with bright blue eyes and curly hair. I finally understood with her what it meant to have a chaste relationship and I wished I had been that way with every relationship I had! One day, after a few months of dating, we were praying together when I opened my bible and the Pledge Card fell out.

Though I had not forgotten my commitment to be chaste, I forgot the card was there. I remember feeling embarrassed to see it. I’m not sure why. I wasn’t embarrassed about my commitment to chastity—this girl had the same commitment. Maybe it was because it reminded me of her, THE ONE. I signed that card thinking it would bless and protect the relationship I had with the girl I thought would be my future wife. Instead, it destroyed it.

My new girlfriend picked up the card and it looked as though she was going to cry. She reached in her bible and pulled out her chastity pledge card. “Look!” she said. I nodded. She had a Pledge Card, too. Lots of people had.

She could tell I was missing her point. “Look closer,” she said, handing me both cards.

I looked at them. They weren’t just both pledge cards, they were the exact same card. From the same conference. On the same date.

When I was in one corner of the room, committing myself to God and my future spouse to stay pure for my marriage, she was in another corner of the room, pledging the same thing.

We were married a year later.

Our God is a God of faithfulness. “‘Yes, I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future full of hope.’” (Jeremiah 29:11) When we give Him the most intimate parts of our lives, He gives us His most intimate blessing. So, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

 

Proving the Existence of God

6

Just got through a weeklong retreat for priests, deacons, and seminarians and then dove into another amazing conference for high school students. Very busy, but very blessed!

You might think the topics covered at a retreat for priests and a conference for high school students would be pretty different from each other (they usually are.) But this year they shared a common talk: the proof of the existence of God.

My good friend and colleague Dr. John Bergsma talked to the priests, deacons, and seminarians about the importance of fighting the “new atheism” and rejecting the stereotype that to follow Jesus is to be superstitious instead of scientific.

Sean Forrest gave a simpler but similar talk to the teenagers on Saturday night. “How many of you have been told that science has disproved that God exists?” he asked the audience. Almost every hand went up.

“How many of you worry that they’re right?” he asked. Many hands answered yes.

Sean did a great job of walking the teens through some basic apologetics on proving that God exists. He used the famous analogy of finding a watch on the ground and how foolish it would be to think it just “evolved” that way. Clearly something that complex had to be made by someone. And how much more complex are we?

I knew of that argument and I think it’s a great one. But John’s talk to the priests threw out some crazy things I had never heard before.

For example…

Sir Fred Hoyle was a English mathematician who calculated that the chances of a single enzyme to be “randomly” created was one in 1020. That’s a 10 with 20 zeroes after it. He said that the probability of that occurring by chance is as likely as a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a fully functional jumbo jet.

Many astrophysicists and cosmologists agree on what they call the “fine tuning” of the universe: a group of cosmological constants that are so precise that if there was even the smallest change then there would be no possibility of life in the universe. One of those “cosmological constants” is the perfect ratio of protons to electrons. The universe could not exist if there was a 1037 deviation of that balance. According to Dr. Hugh Ross, the best way to visualize it would be the following:

Cover the entire North American continent in dimes all the way up to the moon, a height of about 239,000 miles (In comparison, the money to pay for the U.S. federal government debt would cover one square mile less than two feet deep with dimes.) Next, pile dimes from here to the moon on a billion other continents the same size as North America. Paint one dime red and mix it into the billions of piles of dimes. Blindfold a friend and ask him to pick out one dime. The odds that he will pick the red dime are one in 1037.

Now, those are just some of the variables. The chances of each one happening individually are unbelievable… but what are the chances of them all occurring?

One astrophysicist suggested the chances would be 1 in 10229. That number is absolutely impossible to visualize, since there are only an estimated 1 in 1088 electrons (the smallest particle of matter in an atom) in the known universe.

It’s not just mathematically improbable. It’s mathematically impossible.

Many of these scientists were atheists who came to believe in the existence of God through their scientific research.

John said, “If you worked in the field of cosmology, or read in the area of cosmic origins, you know that the real problem is not the fact that the universe looks as if there was no God. It’s the fact that the universe, the more we learn about it, is so finely tuned and highly designed to allow us to live that it’s an embarrassing argument for theism.”

It reminded me of something written in the book of Wisdom:

For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works. (Wisdom 13:1)

It is obvious that we were created by a divine intellect. And it is Christ who revealed fully to us Who that is.

We are not here by chance. We are here by His choice. Not because of luck, but because of His love.

FOR MORE INFO: You can read more about some of the above statistics by going here. John also suggested the documentary “The Privileged Planet” which has some great insights into “intelligent design.” One other book that some of you might like (it’s written at a high academic level) is Fr. Spitzer’s book, “New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy.

Miracles!

6

Two weeks ago I played music for the Catholic Charismatic Conference at Franciscan University. The main presenter was Damian Stayne, a great preacher with a powerful healing ministry. He lives outside of London and he’s a Chelsea fan, so that made him okay in my book.

Saturday night he led a healing service. It’s hard to describe in words what I saw. People who were deaf in one ear or the other could hear again. People who had bad knees could kneel for the first time in years. People who came in on crutches were running around the fieldhouse.

I was talking to one of the members of my band afterwards and he asked the question that was probably on many minds that night: “How much of that was real?” How many people had a psychological experience instead of a divine one?

My response: is there a difference?

We live in a world of science that tries to explain away anything that appears miraculous. The beauty of nature is just a result of a big bang. The miracle of life is really just a sperm connecting with an egg and chromosomes fusing together. We’ve limited our definition of “miracle” to “that which defies our scientific understanding.”

But I think that’s a lame definition of what a miracle is.

A miracle is an action of divine intervention. Which means we’re surrounded by miracles every day. Our very lives, our very breath, is a miracle.

I know that biology can explain how the cut on my arm can completely disappear in a week or so, but that doesn’t make it less miraculous. I know that physics can explain how the earth is in orbit around the sun, but that doesn’t make it less amazing. No, I don’t buy into the medieval explanation that clouds move in the sky because the angels push them around, but that doesn’t make them less beautiful, or me less grateful for a sunny day.

Did some of the prayers that night have the effect of a placebo and just trick the mind into healing itself? If so, so what? Does that make God less present? Didn’t He create the mind that way?

Everything is a miracle. But even using the more narrow definition that the world has for things miraculous, there were plenty of those “miracles,” too. How else can you explain the woman with advanced Multiple Sclerosis who can now walk without her cane?

Though many were healed, there were many who weren’t. “Sickness is a result of the sin of the world,” Damian said. “You can look that up in the Catechism. God doesn’t cause people to be sick, but He can use sickness to lead people closer to him.”

So I looked it up in the Catechism and found it at 1505 under the “Anointing of the sick.” It’s not to say that only really sinful people get sick, but that sickness exists because of humanity’s sinful condition. “Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life,” the Catechism says. “Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.” (CCC 1500-1501)

The CCC notes that, even with His many miracles, “Jesus did not cure all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the kingdom of God.” (CCC 1505) Some people take an all or nothing approach to God’s power. If He doesn’t heal everyone then they won’t believe. They will overlook the blessings in their life because of the problems in someone else’s, or they won’t believe the blessings in other people’s lives because of their own problems.

But I think that people who think that way don’t have a divine perspective on life. They don’t realize that every miracle of healing is temporary. Yes, Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb. But Lazarus eventually died again.

I know a young woman who was diagnosed with sever Leukemia. We prayed like crazy that she’d be healed. Know what? She went to the doctors and they couldn’t find a sign of the cancer. We rejoiced at her healing! But almost a year later, she wasn’t feeling well and visited her doctor. The cancer was back with a vengeance. She died within two weeks.

Did God heal her? Yes. Temporarily. Every healing is temporary. We have this idea in our heads that we’re all supposed to live until we’re 90 and than anything less of that is a cruel injustice that deprives us of our “right” to live. But that’s not reality.

God is more interested in eternity. He provides healings, not to prolong this life, but to grant us deeper faith for the next one. I guarantee you that nobody in heaven brags about how long they got to spend on earth.

In light of the miracalous healings (are there any other kind?) I experienced that Saturday night, Damian’s explanation of why sometimes healings don’t happen carried a lot more weight. He wasn’t giving an excuse on why nothing happened; he tried to delve into the mystery of why some things didn’t happen. He shared how his own wife has benign tumors in her brain that causes minor bouts of epilepsy. He’s prayed for her everyday, but the tumors remain.

Though God does not cause sickness, Damian suggested that we can use our sicknesses to glorify God and “poke the devil’s eye with a stick” by using it against him. The devil would like to use sickness and sin to pull us away from God. But God bore our infirmities upon the cross so that, through His suffering, we could be drawn to Him. And our sufferings are an opportunity to “make up what is lacking in the body of Christ.” (Colossians 1:24)

Miracles are all around us. God does amazing things in this life to give us hope for the next. He answers our prayers: sometimes with a “yes” and sometimes with a “no”, but always for our own benefit. We can become obsessed with feeling good in this life; Jesus is obsessed with us experiencing eternal joy in the next. Let us pray fervently, accept humbly, suffer faithfully, rejoice gratefully, and hope expectantly, so that we can live eternally with the One who loves endlessly.

When allergies attack

6

Last weekend was the first high school youth conference of the summer. It’s something I look forward to all year. The first half of the weekend was amazing!!! And then…

Allergies.

So on Saturday afternoon I went for a run. That’s right kids—you can’t get this kind of a physique without constant exercise. It was super hot out and I pushed myself (because why would you spend time exercising and not push yourself?) It felt great. Came inside, had a glass of water… and sneezed.

Oh fudge, I thought. But I didn’t use the word “fudge.” (Not a big fan of fudge, personally.)

Another sneeze. Then another. Then another. I went into a sneezing fit that lasted for about a half an hour.

This happens to me a few times a year. The last time it happened, interestingly enough, was at NCYC. Coincidence? (The writer shrugs.)

I tweeted my plight and the twitterverse was helpful with their prayers and advice on all things sinus. I tried it all. I then tweeted:

I barely made it to the team dinner, where I spent most of it lying down on a row of chairs with an ice pack on my head (it was more like an iceberg. I asked for a cold compress and they gave me enough ice to chill a keg.) My good friend, Jackie Francois, was so concerned for me that she took a picture and posted it on the internet, because that’s what good friends do when someone is suffering.

My allergy attack calmed down a bit as I headed over to the field house where the conference was. My nose was like a slow dripping faucet all night long. It’s times like those I’m glad I have a beard because it acts as a natural sponge for my sinus excretions. Too much information? (The writer shrugs.)

The evening itself was an incredible experience of God’s grace. Or I was high with all the sinus medication I was on. I’d like to think of it as a “both/and.” I felt much better by Sunday, as you can see  below (this pic courtesy of Stephen Lanahan, who was kind enough to also tweet that I was one of his favorite professors.)

That’s right people, bow tie and sneakers. Did I mention I play accordion, too? Hard to imagine I even got a date, let alone got married. The headless giant I was talking to was Jim Beckman who did a great job hosting the weekend.

All in all it was an incredible conference experience. I just hope I’m more conscious for the next one :)

If you were there last weekend, comment on your favorite part. I’d love to hear about it.

Any Given Sunday

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I wonder what Bob thinks about the readings for this Sunday’s liturgy?”

Have no fear… Any Given Sunday is here.

Any Given Sunday is a project started by my friend, Bob Perron, who is the director of youth and young adult ministry for the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (in West Virginia.) Every week, he features an inspirational writer/speaker who reflects on the upcoming Sunday readings. And this week he asked me to do it.

So I did! You can check it out here and I’d encourage you to bookmark the page as every week it provides great insight on the readings for the Sunday Mass.

Radiant Joy

These past few days, I was blessed to be a part of the Catholic Youth Ministry Training Convention, sponsored by Life Teen. The theme of the conference was “Radiant Joy.”

What surprised me about my experience at the conference was that it was so… restful. It shouldn’t have been. I flew to Arizona right after finishing a weekend conference (which was preceded by a week of intensive sound-checks and practices to prepare for it) for a quick two day trip. I had to give two workshops (both at 7 AM each day) and an afternoon keynote. Since it was being videotaped, I had to put extra time in my powerpoint presentation—something that took numerous hours of work. All told, it had all the makings of a hectic weekend.

But it wasn’t. It was anything but. It was wonderful, restful, and joyful.

Much of that was due to the conference itself. The folks at Life Teen are the most hospitable, professional, and altogether excellent folk a person could hope to work with. The liturgies were beautiful, the prayer was intense, and the speakers were inspiring.

One of my favorite talks was given by a friend I hadn’t seen in years, Tom Wilson. He gave a talk about how to guard your joy, or more specifically, to unguard it. He encouraged us to share our joy with the world and not hide it under a bushel. He talked about the importance of a sense of humor when approaching life and how humor is a sign of a healthy spirituality. It reminded me of a quote from St. Teresa of Avila: “Take God very seriously, but don’t take yourself very seriously at all.”

Tom also clarified that having a sense of humor is not about being funny. Funny people tell jokes and have a quick wit. But people with a sense of humor have a balanced perspective on life. To have a sense of humor you have to be humble. He quoted C.S. Lewis: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”

There is often a stereotype that to be more holy you have to be more solemn. But that is not the example of the saints. Those who seek and find holiness are radiant with the joy that only God can give.

Then Mark Hart followed by inviting us to pray for deeper joy in our lives. He gave two great quotes from two great saints. “The only reason to take this life seriously is if it’s the only life you have,” said St. Francis. And Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Joy is the net by which we catch souls,” “starting with our own,” Mark added.

Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Happiness is often based on happenings, meaning that it depends on if things are going well. But joy is a state of being that isn’t hampered by the negativity around us. Tom shared a personal story about his wife who, coming out of her fifth surgery in her struggle with breast cancer, was still able to make jokes. Where did that humor come from? Her love of the Lord.

My gratitude to everyone at Life Teen for letting me be a part of that experience. And I was so blessed by the participants at my workshops and the people I got to connect with between sessions. May we all continue to radiate the joy of Jesus Christ.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire…

…or at least that’s what it feels like. Literally. I left 90 degree weather in Steubenville, OH yesterday to be in 100 degree weather in Phoenix, AZ.

They’ll tell you it’s a dry heat here, as if that makes any actual difference. My allergies don’t seem to care. As opposed to blowing my nose in Steubenville and getting a mucusy discharge, I blow my nose here in AZ and it’s like oatmeal. You’re welcome for that image.

But the one fire that’s been constant is the Holy Spirit. Last weekend the Catholic Charismatic Conference was really amazing. Powerful worship, great speaking, and healing miracles! I’m sure I’ll talk about that in an upcoming post. Thanks to everyone to came out, especially those who were so encouraging of the worship we led. It was awesome.

And now I’m at the Catholic Youth Ministry Convention (CYMC) powered by Life Teen in Scottsdale, AZ. All I have to say is… dang. These guys know how to put on a conference! Just gave a 7AM workshop (and people showed up!) and I’m gearing up for an afternoon keynote and another workshop tomorrow AM before heading back home to start prepping for the High School Youth Conference this weekend on campus. Some people like to burn the candle at both ends. Me, I just dip the candle in gasoline and light it up.

It’s so great to be here in AZ and see so many friends who I’ve done ministry with. Yes, I’m very busy—but I’m also very blessed! And as long as the “fire” that drives me is that of the Holy Spirit and not my own ambition, I know I’ll do all right.

20120611-093337.jpg

And so it begins…

1

20120608-170731.jpg

An empty stage. An empty field-house.

That’s all about to change.

This weekend is the “Charismatic Leaders” conference at Franciscan University, the first of nine conferences the University offers each summer (four of those are youth conferences.) I’m blessed to lead worship for all of them with an amazing band made up of students and alumni. Over the next two months, we’ll get to play to ten to twelve thousand people playing music that ranges from sacred Church hymns to contemporary Christian rock.

It’s been a busy week getting everything ready, but the mics are hot, the guitars are plugged in, the drum kit is in tune (yes, drum kits need to be tuned,) and the monitors are balanced. Now all we need is an audience… many of whom are already on their way here.

You can expect to get highlights from all the conferences right here on my blog, as God always speaks to me a new way every summer, with every conference.

I’m really excited!

Green Lantern and a new definition of “reality”

8

Green Lantern is gay.

And no, that’s not an opinion of the Ryan Reynolds movie.

This week it was revealed that Green Lantern is a homosexual. For those of you don’t know, Green Lantern is a comic book character with a power ring that can create solid constructs (a sword, a car, a large fist, etc.) based on his imagination to create and his willpower to create it.

Headlines have said,  “Green Lantern comes out of the closet” but that’s not entirely accurate. He was never in a closet—the subject was just never addressed. DC Comics (who publish Green Lantern) did a reboot of the super-hero universe and they decided to make this new incarnation of Green Lantern gay. This ends a few months of speculation after DC leaked that one of their major superheroes would be homosexual. There were lots of geeks talking about which one it might be. Me, I thought it was going to be Aquaman. There was always something fishy about that guy…

People concerned that a gay Green Lantern will encourage homosexual behavior, especially among young people, clearly haven’t watched an episode of Glee which is seen regularly by way more people than will read the comic. But GL being gay is a culturally significant statement, especially at a time when the popularity of the super-hero genre is at an all time high.

It’s not that Green Lantern is the first homosexual superhero (or villian) in the comic book world, though he is certainly one of the first “A-list” superheroes to be so. Marvel comics made news a few weeks ago when they announced that one of the X-Men (Northstar, a Canadian superhero who was one of the first heroes to be portrayed as a homosexual back in 1992) was getting married to his boyfriend. But in researching this blog I discovered that the first comic book homosexual marriage has already happened in… Archie Comics? (To which the world replied, “They still make those?”) But neither of the couples in Archie or Marvel has the kind of popularity that Green Lantern does.

The New York Post interviewed James Robinson, the head writer for Green Lantern:

Robinson, a British writer who lives in San Francisco with his wife, is no stranger to gay characters – he wrote DC’s “Starman” comic in the 1990s, a groundbreaking title that starred a homosexual superhero. He said the only agenda he’s pushing is reality.

“It’s a realistic depiction of society,” he said. “You have to move with the times.”

In my opinion, I think Robinson is being honest. Though I’m sure everyone at DC Comics are happy for the publicity (look for the Green Lantern logo to be quickly embraced by the gay community) I don’t think this is a publicity stunt. People who are homosexually active are a part of life and the writer wants to portray “reality.”

But it’s obviously not a real reality. It’s a reality where people have superpowers and wear tights. And though there are real homosexuals in the world, it’s rarely they are portrayed in a “real” way.

The same goes with heterosexuals. How many sitcoms show characters sleeping with one person or another, never dealing with the emotional or physical consequences of their actions? Over the past decade, we (media consumers) have all come to accept and expect a faux-reality of storytelling. Female lawyers are always hot. Crime investigations usually lead to a strip club. Sexual partners can be changed as quickly as clothes. People actually laugh at the dumb jokes written for the Disney Channel.

Sexually active people almost never get STDs (even though the CDC estimates that 19 million people get them each year.) Matters of faith are rarely dealt with. It is often the unspoken assumption that God doesn’t exist (as much as I loved The Hunger Games, notice how nobody facing their imminent death said a prayer for help or mercy?)

And here’s something you’ll never see from this “reality”: Some people with homosexual attractions can be freed from them through therapy.

There is still a lot we don’t know about where homosexual impulses come from. It could very well be that some people are born with them. But it is also the case, often unsaid, that many people develop homosexual attractions through the conditioning and experiences of their childhood.

As I’ve traveled around the country, often speaking on men’s issues, I have met a few men who, because of things in their past, ended up being homosexually active. These men gave their lives to Christ and went through counseling. And now they are happily married now and grateful for people who spoke the truth to them. (An example of one man’s testimony to this can be found here.)

Statements like those above are abhorrent to the gay community and I understand why. To say someone can be “cured” of homosexuality infers that being gay is a disease. They believe that homosexual attractions should be embraced, not questioned. It should be accepted, even celebrated, by society. People who think otherwise are close-minded and bigoted. People who suggest homosexual inclinations can be “cured” should be silenced. Homosexual activity should be seen as normal as heterosexual activity.

But it’s not. The truth is this: homosexuals cannot have “sex,” at least in the classic definition of it. They can simulate it, but not replicate it. They can engage in “oral sex” or “anal sex” but not “sex.” It is clear that the male and female body were created for each other—they have complimentary genitalia that can bring about a positive result: the creation of life. Such complementarity does not exist between members of the same sex.

And yet we don’t think about people involved in homosexual activity as “virgins” (as we might with a heterosexual person who hasn’t “gone all the way”) because as a culture we’ve redefined what “sex” means. And because we as a society have become used to having a false definition of sex (thanks in part to the unreal reality portrayed by the media,) many now push for a false redefinition of marriage.

Here is a key part of the Church’s argument against gay marriage. It’s not that marriage is a right that homosexuals are kept from receiving. Marriage is a reality that homosexuals can’t do. Humanity’s understanding of marriage preceded civilization and the government doesn’t have the “right” to change it.

I have said in a previous post how I feel that there are those in the Christian community who have much to atone for in the way they have dealt with people with homosexual attractions. And while I certainly feel that people shouldn’t be bullied or discriminated against because of their homosexual attractions or the decisions they make because of those attractions, that doesn’t mean I have to accept it as a “good” nor vote for policies that condone it. Loving and treating people with homosexual attractions with dignity doesn’t mean we need to accept homosexual activity as good.

Of course, as a Christian I’m operating with a different definition for the word “good.” The way the world often decides right and wrong is simple:

If you enjoy it and it doesn’t hurt anybody, then it’s good.

That is different from the Christian foundation of morality, spoken by Jesus:

Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

How did Christ love us? He loved us enough to speak the truth to us. Jesus accepted people where they were but loved them too much to let them stay there. He said what needed to be said, even though His words caused Him to be rejected and crucified. People who preach what Christ preached shouldn’t expect any different reaction.

Why not just “live and let live?” The answer is because that wouldn’t be the loving thing to do. Truths revealed by God are not restrictive. It’s just the opposite: “the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) There are many men and women who are trapped in homosexual behaviors and are told there is no hope for anything different. But that’s not true. There is hope. It can be a difficult road and everyone’s journey is different, but there is hope.

Using his power ring, Green Lantern changes reality using his imagination and willpower. It’s fitting that he’s the first major superhero to be gay because that’s exactly what advocates for homosexual behavior are trying to do. We who have received God’s Word can’t stay silent lest we allow fiction to masquerade as fact and abandon people, created for truth, to live in lies. It’s hard to speak that truth in love because many will take it as hateful, but we have a responsibility to try.