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 Little Ukulele Boy

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 4.02.37 PMDid you know in Hawaii that the story of “The Little Drummer Boy” is re-told as “The Little Ukelele Boy?” Probably not, because I just made that up.

But if there was a story about “The Little Ukulele Boy,” it would star Kyle Heimann.

Kyle is the answer to the question, “Who did that amazing artwork on your latest CD?” He’s also half of the dynamic duo of POPPLE, a wonderful Catholic evangelistic ministry that travels around the country sharing their gifts and talents to bring others closer to God. Simply put: this is a guy worth supporting.

Kyle is doing a Kickstarter project to raise some money for a CD that would feature his ukulele playing—and he’s very good at it. If that sounds interesting to you, and you’re able to support a really amazing guy, then you can check out his page by going HERE.

A Great Advent Book for Kids

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Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 3.40.47 PMI don’t normally do this, but sometimes you come across something too good not to share. And when it’s made by people you know, that makes it even more special.

Theresa and Charles Pobee-Mensah just wrote a book together called, “Bible Characters for Advent.” Some of you will remember Charles because he played bass for many years at the Steubenville Conferences with me. I bumped into him a few weeks ago and in the normal chit-chat about what’s been going on lately he mentioned this book which was just coming out and that he’d give me a copy for me and my kids. I didn’t know what to expect… I mean, I knew he was a great bass player, but a children’s book author?

All I can say is, wow. This is a fantastic book!

The book is called, “Bible Characters for Advent” and it looks at 25 people from the Bible that played a major part of salvation history. Simply illustrated and insightfully written, “Bible Characters for Advent” is written like an Advent calendar, focusing on one person per day. That makes it a great read for people (like me) with smaller kids. I can slip it into their evening bed-time stories and still have time for Dr. Seuss. Each person is described very simply, with only a few sentences and a big picture, so it’s easy for little kids to grasp.

But’s its genius lies in how the authors tie each Old Testament person to Christ. For example, when it talks about Joseph being sold into slavery, it states, “When Jesus was on earth many people treated him unkindly to0, but Jesus always forgave them.” Or when the book talks about Elijah it mentions, “Like Elijah, Jesus performed many miracles and reminded people to turn their lives back to God.”

St. Augustine wrote that, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old is unveiled in the New.” “Bible Characters for Advent” does a great job of showing, in a fun and simple way for children, how everything in the Old Testament was fulfilled in Christ—and isn’t that what Advent is all about? I think if St. Augustine wrote a book for kids, he would have written something like this. And that’s the highest praise I can give any book :)

It was just released over a week ago and you can get it at Amazon HERE, where you’ll also see it’s gotten a bunch of 5 star reviews, so I’m not the only one who likes it!

I’m fasting from myself

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20130607-201541.jpgWhen people ask me about my music, my usual joke is, “I’m a big fan of me. I have all my CDs.” The truth is that I rarely hear my own music unless 1) my kids ask for it, or 2) it comes up on my iTunes shuffle. But there is a third category: unless I’ve just recorded it and I’m in the process of mixing it. Then I listen to it all the time.

Well, I’m happy to say this week I approved the final mix and today it’s off to the manufacturer. My 15 year old son is happy about that too, because when I announced it at dinner he commented he was getting sick of it. Kids say the darndest things, don’t they? Hope he wasn’t expecting to get a car for his 16th.

Seriously, though—I don’t blame him. The last week was focused on adjusting small things that make a big difference to me but probably not a huge difference to others. Were this purely a commercial venture I would have said, “it’s fine” at the first mix, with the attitude, “nobody will notice.” But for me, it’s art. It’s prayer. And it’s worth all the effort I can give it.

But a time comes when “the perfect becomes the enemy of the good.” I realize I’m listening way too closely and I’m just looking for things to tweak. I play it to some friends I trust who say it sounds great. So I hit the “send” button.  And then I fast from listening to it.

Because all I want to do is listen to it. After all, some of these songs have been in my head for many years! It’s amazing that in these few short weeks they’ve come to life and sound as good as they do. But in about three weeks, numerous boxes from Disc Makers will arrive at my doorstep. I’ll open the box, and there will be the project I’ve put so much time, energy, money, and prayer into. And I don’t want to be sick of it by then. I want to have a similar level of enthusiasm as someone who supported the CD through Kickstarter or picked it up at an event that I played at, who rip off the cellophane and put it in their CD player or listen through their phone. To put it simply, I want to share in that experience with everybody. Because previously I’ve been listening to how prominent the bass levels are or if I should add or remove a harmony to a song. But then, I’ll just listen to the music.

I don’t have a specific date yet but we’re on track for the first or second (more likely the second) week of November. I have a gig in El Paso on November 15th, and that will be the first place the disc will be available. Hopefully it will be up on iTunes by that time, but Apple doesn’t give specific dates to independent artists like myself.

It’s coming. It sounds awesome. I looks amazing. And I am filled with gratitude for all those who supported this project. 

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.

I Got By With A Lot Of Help From My Friends

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IMG_2935Regular readers of my blog (as well as Facebook friends and Twitter followers) know that for the past two months I’ve been fundraising for my newest CD, “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice.” It ended at 11:59 PM last night and the final total is $12,275—over three thousand more than I had originally asked!

The word “grateful” doesn’t seem like it conveys enough emotion for how I feel right now, but it’s the best I can come up with. Other words: jubilant, humbled, thrilled, excited…

By hitting the $12K mark, everything I could have hoped for the CD is coming true. Better musicians. Extra songs. Upgraded packaging that will include a lyric booklet. This went from the “CD I can’t afford,” to “the best CD I could ever make!”

And it’s all because of your support. People gave big and small, posted links to the project on their Facebook and Twitter pages, told friends about it, and prayed for it’s success. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I should probably add, “overwhelmed” to my word list.

I feel like the steward at the Wedding of Cana. My wine had run out. And so Christ showed up and gave something even better than I could have done on my own.

I’m so excited to get into the studio and begin to share this music with you. But I know that for most of you, you weren’t supporting a project. You were supporting me and my family. And that’s what makes this “success” so special.

So again, from me and my family, thanks.

Psalm 95

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 8.59.18 AMThis is the one “true” accordion song off the upcoming CD. What you hear is what it is (except I can play it better—it was a challenge to do a good take between napping baby, loud kids, etc!) Just a boy and his accordion, praising the Lord.

The words are from Psalm 95. Those of you who pray the Liturgy of Hours know that it’s the standard psalm to start the day. It is so rich in it’s imagery and message. It doesn’t just praise God and submit to His guidance, it begs that we wouldn’t be like the hard-hearted Israelites who saw all of God’s works and still wouldn’t obey. No wonder the Church prays it every morning!

I always have great reasons to sing a psalm of joy, and one of those reasons is that last week we made the minimum goal of $9,000 for the Kickstarter campaign to fund my new CD, “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice.” It’s going to happen! Currently, the project is at $10,400, which really blows me away. That means I can fly in my good friend, Katie Rose (who sang with me on “Nowhere Else To Go” and “I Shall Be Healed”) to lend her incredible voice to the CD. At $11,000 I’ll be able to add more music, and at $12,000 I’ll be able to add a lyric book to accompany the CD, which would be very cool.

The campaign ends one week from today, so if you’d like to contribute, you can do so by going HERE.

Thanks again to everyone who has made this project happen. You did it! And now, let’s praise the Lord…

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.

Prince for a Pauper

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Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 5.17.43 PMThis is another instance of how the idea behind the song ended up nothing like the song itself.

Believe it or not, the inspiration for this song came from wanting to write something beautiful about the liturgy. But I imagined it to be, well, more liturgical. To be clear, this song might be about the liturgy, but it is certainly not for the liturgy!

I was at Mass one day and the words of the Eucharistic prayer really spoke to me: “May you see and love in us what you see and love in Him.” At Mass, we participate in Christ’s perfect prayer and sacrifice to the Father.

“For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son” (John 3:16.) Hardly a fair trade! The Father gave the Prince of Peace for lowly paupers like us. I started getting so excited about this incredible act of love that my brain went from “reverent worship” to “excited punk rock.” And that’s how this song came to be.

I’m hoping to record this song on my next CD, “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice,” but I need your help. There’s two more weeks of the fundraising campaign and we’re almost there! So if you can, please make a donation to create the CD. You can get an autographed CD, exclusive T-shirt, or even your name in the CD insert!

I want to thank the many people who worked hard to make this video. First of all, there’s my amazing band: Amanda Enriquez and Emily Mislan on background vocals, Andre Villenueve on keys (he’s just there to look good,) Matthew Fox on violin, Dan Bozek on bass, Andrew Laubacher on guitar, and Kevin Mahon on drums. Thanks to the people who ran the cameras and Kelly Butler who put it all together. But the folks who  make the video rock are the 2,200 amazing teens who really got into it! Thanks everybody!

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!!!