Bob and Bob Strike Back

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Bob and Bob Photo (600dpi)

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!

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!

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. 

Crazy. Busy. Good. (With cool video at the end!)

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Life. Is. Crazy. But in many ways, crazy good. Bobby just got out of surgery yesterday for his leg. Those who have followed by blog might remember that in February he broke his femur because of a weakened bone. So they put a rod in his leg to augment it. Not fun, but we’re grateful that the surgery went well, and thanks for all your prayers.

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I’ve also gotten back on the road. I had the chance to speak to the youth ministers in Arlington and Richmond. I shared the Gospel with the folks at St. John the Apostle in Virginia Beach, VA and at Holy Spirit Parish in Kennewick, WA. And I spoke at a men’s conference in Greensburg, PA. Hello to everyone I’ve seen over the past three weeks! It was a blessing to be with you!

School is back in session, and I LOVE teaching at Franciscan. But that keeps me busy, as you can imagine.

“The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice” is getting nearly done and it sounds AMAZING. I can’t wait for you all to hear it! Thanks to the over-the-top generosity of my Kickstarter backers, I was able to fly Katie Rose from California to help with the vocals. What a difference she made! And it’s always fun hanging out with her.

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Aidan is over two months old and is COMPLETELY adorable. If you doubt me, take a look:

And, in all my spare time, I’m still writing video scripts.

 
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This is the latest video in the VCat series, “Forgiveness of Sins.”

I wrote it as a spoken word piece and originally I was going to be the one doing it. But then someone knew of Fr. Anthony, a priest from New York who also does hip-hop. When you see how well he does it, you’ll laugh thinking of me doing it! He owned the material so well, my first impression was that he must have ad-libbed some of it to fit his style and personality. But then, as I pulled up the script I wrote, I realized that it was almost verbatim to what I had written.

I was pretty humbled by that, as I’m sure this guy could improv stuff better than I could write it (and you can hear some of that at the end of the video.) As always, I’m just grateful to be working with the amazing people at Outside Da Box who make such great films.

So life is crazy busy, but also crazy good. Hope you enjoy the video.

Hey, Youth Ministers!

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SowerLast week was the St. John Bosco Catechetical Conference and it was such a joy to see people from America, Canada, England, Ireland, and even Australia come together to celebrate the faith and be equipped to pass it on more effectively.

Of course, the group I got to hang most with are the youth ministers, and my gratitude for all of you who endured the difficult schedule. It was a blessing to share what little time I could amid the numerous workshops, worship music, and baby at home.

The conference made me realize that I’ve been a bit deliquent on putting articles I’ve written for the “Sower Magazine” on my website—hadn’t updated that since last year! So here are the most recent ones, and if you’d like a full list of articles, you can check them out HERE.

“Proclaiming the Bad News to Teenagers,” April 2013. Talking about hell can pose a challenge for those who work with young people today. But if young people don’t understand the horrors of hell, they can never appreciate what Christ went through to bring them to heaven. Or to put it another way, the Good News isn’t really good unless the bad news is really bad.

“Thinking Win/Win with Your Volunteers,” October 2012. Attracting volunteers to your ministry is a daunting challenge, but it can be done. One way of doing that is to think “Win/Win.” A ministry that is as concerned with the positive experience of its volunteer as it is with it’s ministry to young people becomes a dynamic and enticing environment that attracts both youth and adults alike.

“Will You Love Me?” April 2012. When St. John Bosco famously said, “Love, and they will follow you anywhere,” he wasn’t talking about relational manipulation. He was speaking the truth. Teenagers, then and now, desire true friendships and respond to real love. One thing is sure: postmodern teenagers feel more than they think.

“Not Young Adults, but Emerging Adults,” January 2012. What is a “young adult?” Christian Smith, author of Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, suggests the term young adult is a misnomer. He proposes we call this age group emerging adults.

“Saints and Superheroes,” October 2011. Movies and stories about superheroes are all the rage with young people today. As catechists, we can use those stories to point them to the real superheroes—the saints.

In other news, the Kickstarter campaign is going great! Thanks to everyone’s support, we’ve gotten past the minimum goal and are pushing towards an even better product. More on that (with new music video) tomorrow.

Gratitude

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HSY2 19It’s been an amazing few weeks for me and my family. If I could sum up what I’m feeling in one word, it would be: gratitude.

I just finished my fourth and final youth conference of the summer. I always struggle to find words to express that experience: awesome, life-changing, unforgettable. Even though the theme and the content is consistent, every weekend is unique. The teens are different each conference and the group takes on its own “personality.” Some like to rock. Some are more contemplative. Others are hesitant but then they jump in.

IMG_2362These past few weekends gave me the opportunity to see a lot of amazing young people who are trying to boldly live their faith. I love taking pictures and signing autographs, but it’s the small conversations with someone who has been really touched by something I’ve said, sung, or written that warm my heart and encourage me to keep doing what I do.

One of my most special moments was when I met three teens who made me this amazing t-shirt! If you can’t see, it’s got the “at the intersection of Catholicism and culture” sign from my blog, a bow tie on the neck, and “Between the Savior and the Sea” at the bottom. On the back it says, “All for the Love of God,” has their names, and they also wrote “35 Day Spiritual Workout since 2011!” So thank you Jenny Schmid and Sarah and Michelle Sherman for such a thoughtful gift. I’m thrilled to have blessed your life!

Speaking of the 40-Day Spiritual Workout, I’m told that almost ten thousand teens have signed up and are doing it right now! That’s amazing!!! I’m praying for all of you who are growing strong in your faith through it, and so grateful that something I did is blessing so many.

You never know how what you do can impact somebody. I was blown away when I was being interviewed by Mark Newman, the founder of Cross Roads Radio, when he said that my music was one of the major inspirations for starting that station! Wow. (If you haven’t checked them out, you really should! Click HERE for great music.)

Since I’m on the topic of music, I’m thrilled that my kickstarter project for “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice” is 87% there! It’s been fun to play the music live (new video coming tomorrow) and get such great feedback. I feel pretty confident it’s going to be successful and the thought of creating a CD debt free really blows me away. A few months ago I despaired that it wasn’t going to happen (the money I had saved up had been eaten by medical expenses.) And now, thank’s to the goodness of God and the generosity of folks like you, I’ll get to record music that blesses lots of people. Especially my family!

But the music is only as good as the musicians and I’ve been blessed all summer to play with not only amazing musicians but incredible people: Andrew, Amanda, Andre, Dan, Emily, Kevin, and Matt. They’ve also been super helpful with creating the music videos I’ve been posting every week to promote the album. Thanks guys!

Not only do I play with amazing people on stage, (see how much I have to be grateful for?) I also get to hang with some of the coolest folks in Catholic ministry. Some are friends I’ve been connecting with for years, others are new friends I look forward to doing more ministry with in the future. I was on the phone with a friend of mine who used to speak at conferences and is now full time in homeless ministry. He said, “I don’t miss speaking at youth conferences, but I do miss the community of it.” Though I travel around the country throughout the year preaching and singing, I’m usually the main event. The conferences are a cool time where I’m part of a great team of people who do the same thing I do. It’s really special, and I’m so thankful to be a part of it.

IMG_2364As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this is my 20th summer doing youth conferences. They have been a source of God’s blessing for me. That’s what brought me to Steubenville in the first place, where I met my wife, got me involved in national ministry, and now I work here! If you would have told me 20 years ago that I was going to end up moving to Steubenville, get a Master’s degree, be a college professor, speak nationally and internationally, write books, and lead worship for over ten thousand people each summer… well, I don’t know what I would have said. It would have been more than I could have hoped for.

But all that pales in comparison to the blessing that is my family. Yesterday was my oldest son’s 15th birthday, and a week ago was my youngest son’s birthday. Being a husband and father is, by far, the second greatest blessing of my life.

The first? That’s easy. Being loved by God.

“How can I repay the Lord for all the great good He has done for me? I will offer a sacrifice of praise and call on the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 116:12, 17.)

The summer’s not done yet! I’ve got three more great adult conferences that I’m looking forward to and I’m excited to see how the “Gospel” CD will turn out. But this seemed like a great moment to praise God for everything He’s doing in my life and thank all of you who support what I do with your encouragement and prayers.

I’m so grateful!!!

20 Years Later

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It was the summer of 1994 when I first set foot on campus at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. I had been hired to speak at a Steubenville Youth Conference, something I hadn’t even heard of until a few months before. At that time I had been playing concerts and working at an improv comedy club in Orlando, Florida, “The City Beautiful.” So pulling into the polluted air of “The City of Murals” was quite a shock. “I could never live here,” I thought.

And somewhere up in heaven, God laughed.

That was the first summer Steubenville had two youth conferences. Other locations for youth conferences hadn’t started yet. I was there to help a group of students called the “Work Crew” (which later became “Young Apostles”) and do some comedy to lighten the mood of the weekend. I and another friend dressed up like friars—I was Brother Steub, he was brother Ville, and together we were Brothers Steub and Ville. We kept saying things like, “Back in Vatican I, before there was a sequel, we didn’t kneel on grass. We knelt on broken glass! And we loved it!” Oddly enough I got asked back the next year. And the next. And I’ve been involved in youth conferences in almost every different role a guy can do (speaking, hosting, entertainment, giving workshops, speaking at men’s sessions, I even spoke at a women’s session once, and leading music)  for the past 20 summers. It has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.

That first summer, I heard our blessed Mother speak to my heart while I was praying the rosary. She told me to drop everything and move to Steubenville. I didn’t hesitate—I knew God’s will was always the best. I thought it was to do youth ministry, but God had even more planned for me. I completed my Masters in Theology and met my wife, who I married in the campus chapel in 1997. And after 7 years of youth ministry in Latham, NY, Franciscan asked me back to be a part of the faculty to teach about two things I was passionate about: Scripture and Youth Ministry.

I took over the music ministry for the on campus conferences in 2005. Once again, it was something I never expected to do. I had done plenty of concerts before, but lead an entire weekend of worship? I had spent the previous years hosting conferences and really enjoyed doing that. But once again, I knew God’s plan was the best, and I’ve been so grateful to play music that has blessed tens of thousands of people!

This summer the conference office wanted to audition a new worship band and asked if I wouldn’t mind hosting the conference instead of playing it. I love doing music but I was thrilled to have a chance to host again—I hadn’t done it in eight years. And by God’s providence, that was the first conference that my oldest son was attending. Jon Niven (the musician for that conference) invited me on stage on Sunday AM to play one of my “classic” songs: Behold the Lamb, the theme song from 1997. For me, it was the perfect ending for that weekend, and a great moment of nostalgia as I thought about the 20 years I’ve been blessed to sing and speak from that stage.

I few years ago, I got over the shocking revelation that I had been doing ministry longer than all the teens in the room had been born. I don’t feel old at all—I feel young. I love sharing the love of God with young people, using every talent I’ve been blessed with.

I got asked a number of times, “which do you like better, hosting or leading worship?” Do I have to choose? I’m thrilled to do them both. But I have to admit, there is nothing more exciting for me than to tell people about how Christ died for them and be the person who gets to invite them into a deeper relationship with Him. I had a chance to do that this summer, and I’m grateful for the friendly folks at steubenville.org who caught it on tape:

I know that many people are blessed by the Steubenville summer conferences, but I can’t imagine anyone more blessed by them than me. Praise God!

Rockin’ at the Steubenville Youth Conference

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Last weekend I had the chance to worship with two thousand teenagers from across the country to came to Franciscan University for the first summer youth conference! It was an amazing weekend, and I was so grateful to be a part of it!

For those of you who were there, I’m praying for you. To have a strong spiritual life, you can’t rest on the “high” that you felt from spending the weekend with so many other people your age—you’ve got to dive right in. To help with that, I created a 40-day devotional called, “40-Day Spiritual Workout.” You can get it as a free iPhone app HERE, or you can buy the book HERE. You’ll also be able to sign up for daily emails through steubenville.org—that’s still under construction right now but hopefully will be available soon.

And for those asking about some of the new original music I played this weekend, it’s off my new CD, “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice” which I’m fundraising through kickstarter.com. Please help me by clicking HERE.

On Sunday (hence me wearing my Sunday best,) Keith jumped on stage with his camera and caught a little bit of  us playing “Days of Elijah.” Hope you enjoy!