The Sound of Austria

Fr. Dave calls in from Austria and I learn how sensitive he is to asking about The Sound of Music. I call in from New Hampshire and we have a great conversation about the importance of leisure and spending time with family and friends. We conclude by sharing about our prayer lives and Fr. Dave gives some great advice on how to grow deeper in prayer.

Summer Vacation

This week, I was the one who wasn’t in Steubenville! I called in from Grantham, New Hampshire (where my mom has a place) while Fr. Dave called from in his spartan dwelling in the Holy Spirit Friary. My surroundings inspired a brief conversation about summer camps and vacations.

From there we talked about popular headlines in the news: abortion, transgender athletes, critical race theory, etc. Fr. Dave said the heart of all of those issues are a lack of understanding what a human person really is. I talked a little bit about how important it is that we do a good catechesis on creation. People need to know we were not made by luck, but by love.

We concluded by talking about yesterday’s feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. It is easy to underestimate the significant divide between Jews and Gentiles in the time of the early Church. They are a powerful example of how the Holy Spirit can bring together two very different groups of people and unite them in the Body of Christ. It is so important that we don’t approach each other as topics to debate but as people to love. We pray at the end for the grace to be able to do that.

Next week Fr. Dave will be in Austria. Let’s hope his background is more interesting!

Apple Podcasts I Google Podcasts I Podbean

Our Need for Healing

This is one of my favorite podcasts I’ve ever recorded. I got to talk to Sr. Miriam Heidland, who is an amazing woman of God, and I got to do it in front of an amazing audience of priests and deacons at the Priests, Deacons, and Seminarians conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville. A couple of weeks ago I got to do my first live podcast (for “They That Hope”) and it was great to get a second shot at it, since I learned a lot! I pray you are very blessed by this episode, even if you aren’t interested in the diaconate!

Listen at Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/speaking-with-deacons/id1551646012

Google Podcasts: https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly9zcGVha2luZ3dpdGhkZWFjb25zLmxpYnN5bi5jb20vcnNz

Spotify: https://speakingwithdeacons.libsyn.com/spotify

Cheese Packers

As we finished this week’s episode of They That Hope, my friend and guitar player John Paul Von Arx came into the studio.

“Hey, can you turn the camera off for me?” I asked.

He looked at my iPhone on the tripod. “It wasn’t on.”

Crap.

I’ve been recording the video for They That Hope since January, and I guess I should be more surprised that I haven’t made this mistake already. Fr. Dave looked at me and asked, “what should we do?”

I shrugged. “I guess no video this week.” Most people listen to the audio anyway. But then I remembered that some people like to listen through YouTube, even if there isn’t any video to watch. So my plan B was to record an apology, put up a static image, and leave it at that.

And then… plan C. A good friend of mine does video animation. You can check out his stuff at http://willmacmotion.com. I told him I had an “animation emergency” and needed his help. He jumped right in! If you don’t know this, animation is a lot of work. We originally hoped to have the lips move with the audio, but for a 40 video that would have taken a lot more effort and time than we had. So, using the original show artwork, he made us move a bit and it is WAY more interesting than looking at a picture. Thanks, Will!

Here’s the title and description of the episode. Hope you enjoy it!

Cheese Packers

Fr. Dave and Bob share their thoughts on the Priests, Deacons, and Seminarians Confer… uh, Retreat, the bishops’ upcoming statement on the Eucharist, and the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

Certificate of Courage

Fr. Dave and Bob tell stories of courage and cowardice, discuss the importance of religious liberty, and reflect on what it means to be restored in Christ.

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/they-that-hope/id1533311457

Google Podcasts: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkLnBvZGJlYW4uY29tL3RoZXl0aGF0aG9wZS9mZWVkLnhtbA?sa=X&ved=0CAYQrrcFahcKEwig3bX8kt7uAhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQAQ

Podbean: https://theythathope.podbean.com

Paradigms of Parish Renewal

Renewing a parish isn’t about changing what we do, but changing how we think. In this episode, Dcn. Keith Strohm shares five paradigms for parish renewal that are essential to move the Church from maintenance to mission. 

Deacon Keith Strohm is the former Director of the Office for the New Evangelization and a deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago. A well-known international and conference keynote speaker, he has helped tens of thousands of men and women hear the Gospel message and encounter the mercy, love and power of Jesus Christ. Deacon Keith has extensive experience in creating and sustaining processes and programs of evangelization and formation at the group, parish and diocesan level that focus on the making, maturation and missioning of disciples of Jesus Christ. He is the Executive Director of M3 Ministries and a long-time teacher and collaborator with the Catherine of Siena Institute. Find out more at http://m3catholic.com.

A Labor of Love

I’ve got something that I’m really excited to share with you that I’ve been working on for the past few months. It is a new podcast called, “Speaking With Deacons”, which I hope will give inspiration and insight for those who are ordained to, in formation for, or just curious about the permanent diaconate. In the first episode, I share about how I feel God has called me to be a deacon and I think you will be blessed by that (even if you are not a deacon). Future episodes (they will be released every other week) will feature interviews with deacons, hence the title of the show. It will be about hearing their stories and getting their advice. These interviews are part of my own journey to becoming a deacon, as I know I’ve got a lot to learn! So I invite you to be a part of that journey with me. 

I was joking with my friend Gene (who helped me set the podcast up) that this podcast is the the definition of a “niche” market. Of the 14K active permanent deacons in the US, the majority are over 65 and may not know what a podcast is or how to listen to one! But that’s okay. It is a labor of love. 

The #1 reason people listen to a podcast is through the recommendation of someone else. So please, if you know someone who is a deacon or is considering it, mention this podcast to them. And to God be all the glory!

Here’s the five minute clip on YouTube:

And here is the full 30 minute episode:

And the here are the major links to the audio podcast:

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/speaking-with-deacons/id1551646012

Google Podcasts: https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly9zcGVha2luZ3dpdGhkZWFjb25zLmxpYnN5bi5jb20vcnNz

Spotify: https://speakingwithdeacons.libsyn.com/spotify

They That Hope… now on video!

So excited to be able to share videos of They That Hope! This will hopefully (no pun intended) be a weekly thing. In this episode, Fr. Dave and I talk fashion (or lack thereof), the inauguration, the importance of Christian Unity, and the witness of St. Paul. Also includes a funny story about how Fr. Dave got “iced” out of his car. And yes, there is the obligatory mention of how well the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are doing.

A Night of Hope… and Healing

The “Night of Hope” that was live-streamed last evening from Franciscan University exceeded our wildest expectations. There were 30,000 individual viewers, over a million page hits, and many who didn’t watch it last evening are now watching the video and sharing it with friends.

It was a powerful event. If you haven’t seen it I’d encourage you to check it out. Sr. Miriam Hiedland was wonderful, Scott Hahn was insightful, and Fr. Dave was inspiring. My worship team sounded pretty good, too 🙂 It was humbling to be a part of such a great team.

On a personal level, it was a healing moment for me. These past few months have been tough. I feel dumb to complain about it. On one hand, I still have a job and my family is healthy. On the other, losing numerous speaking and music events have been a blow on a number of different levels: financially, emotionally, and even spiritually.

Every summer, my year “crescendos” with great worship music, travel around the country, and re-connecting with other friends in ministry. As I go from weekend to weekend, I see God working in the lives of thousands of people. I’ve spend the past 25 years—over half of my life—spending the summer at youth and adult conferences. When I got the call that the summer conferences were cancelled, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I have mourned the loss.

So I was thrilled to be invited to lead worship for the Night of Hope. Like everything this year, it was a bit surreal. From my perspective, I was playing to a chapel of about 80-90 people wearing masks and sitting apart from each other. Yet I also knew on the other side of the camera were tens of thousands of people from around the world.

Unlike leading worship at a live conference, I couldn’t see what God was doing. But I knew He was doing something. I just had to keep praising Him with confidence knowing that other people were being blessed by it, even though I couldn’t see their faces (and even the few I could see were wearing masks). And then it hit me… that’s what these past few months have been about, haven’t they? Hoping in what we do not see.

St. Paul wrote, “Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees?” (Romans 8:24). Though some of the team later (lovingly) made fun of me for my “hindsight is 2020” comment, I still stand by my cliché: I think we will see God working more clearly when we look back on this time than perhaps we can see right now.

Last night gave me a glimpse of God’s glory. It gave me hope. I still don’t know what is going on, how long it will last, or why things are happening as they are. Like everyone, I’m worried about a second wave, riots in cities, losing more job opportunities, and potentially having to homeschool my children again. But I have confidence in the One who made heaven and earth and calls me by name.

The Rant of Skywalker

Yesterday was May the Fourth, and today we celebrate the Revenge of the Fifth. So it seems like a good time for me to share my definitive conclusion about the latest Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker. Also, Tim Hepburn (my drummer) just asked me what I thought about it, and I figured he’d want it in writing.

I saw the movie four, maybe five times in the theater. I purchased the Visual Dictionary which was supposed to answer some of the many unanswered questions that lingered after the final questions. I paid attention to interviews with the creative team behind the movie to see if I might glean more information about the story they were trying to tell. I just finished the novelization of the movie yesterday.

I feel like I’ve seen and read everything there is to learn about Rise of Skywalker and have come to this conclusion: The Rise of Skywalker is the worst Star Wars movie ever made.

It was actually hard for me to come to that conclusion. I’m a huge Star Wars nerd and, by default, I usually love everything that comes after that trumpet fanfare and opening logo. I’m also a generally optimistic person and look for the good in everything. So I kept thinking it would get better if I watched it a few more times, or thought about it more, or read the book.

But the more I read and the more I watched, the worse it got. Perhaps there is more information out there, but at this point, it would not make it any better. I have no doubt it is the worst Star Wars movie that has ever been made.

However, I don’t think that it is the worst movie with the name of Star Wars attached to it that was ever made. That distinction goes to Attack of the Clones. From a cinematic perspective, Rise is a better film: it looks better, has great pace, and the actors give some great performances. However, Attack of the Clones, with all its faults, at least advances the storyline. Obi-Wan finds the clone army. Anakin and Padme fall in love and get married. The Clone Wars begin.

The only storyline that Rise attempts to advance is nonsensical gibberish that hits the nostalgia button any time your brain attempts rational thought. It is a type of pornography in that it only provides the briefest plot necessary to get to the action scene.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the novelization. I’ve read the novels for all the new trilogy, and I really enjoyed The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi books. They added depth to the characters and the story. But Rise read like a desperate attempt to explain away plot holes so big you could fly the Death Star through them, and by doing so revealed just how poorly written the movie actually was.

Let’s take one example, perhaps it’s most egregious. In The Force Awakens we encounter Ray, a woman has incredible power in the force but doesn’t know who her parents are. In The Last Jedi we learn that her parents were “nobodies”, and you don’t have to have a “bloodline” to be active in the force (which is what the “dark side” kept saying you needed). Personally, I thought that message was one of the best things about the movie.

The Rise of Skywalker awkwardly backtracks on that narrative and instead, Rey is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine! There were a lot of questions about this, the most obvious being, “who would sleep with this guy?” We were told to wait for the novel, it will explain everything!

Here is what happened, according to the book. The body of Palpatine you see in the movie is actually a clone that he sent his mind to as he was falling down the shaft in Return of the Jedi. But the clone wasn’t ready (darn!). So his followers kept trying to create a clone strand off the faulty Palpatine clone that might survive. One strand was promising, and this was his “son”. However, his “son” couldn’t use the force. At some point, his son had a child (with a non-clone?), Rey. But they didn’t want the Emperor to have her, so they left her on Jakku so the Emperor wouldn’t get her because, obviously, she would be a great human body for the Emperor to take over when she got older.

Of course, none of this was in the movie… or even makes sense. How does the human child of a force-impotent father become so strong in the force? How did her parents meet and have a child in the first place? Why did they not want the Emperor to have her (she would be the Empress, after all)? How did they escape from the Emperor’s grasp in the first place? Remember, this “son” was the only hope for the Sith existence, so you’d like to think they were, I don’t know, paying attention to him?

It feels like for every question that Rise brings up the writing team provides an even more complicated answer, hoping you’ll get tired and give up asking. There is so much about the movie you have to read a book (or books) to understand… and then you still don’t.

For example, what was Finn trying to tell Rey before he thought he was going to die? Not that he loved her, of course. That he was “force-senstive”! It is in the book! Silly audience, why would you think Finn loved Rey just because it was alluded to in the previous two movies?

Oh, and that kiss between Rey and Ben at the end of Rise? Did you think that was romantic? Foolish viewer. According to the book, and this is a direct quote, “And then, wonder of wonders, she leaned forward and kissed him. A kiss of gratitude, acknowledgement of their connection, celebration that they’d found each other at last.”

A kiss of gratitude! Of course! So, is that what the two women were giving each other in the final celebration? (Actually, no. The book also informs you they were married but didn’t like public shows of affection, which is why you didn’t know it until just then.)

There are just so many problems with the movie. How did the Emperor build ten thousand Star Destroyers, with an estimated compliment of about 50,000 people in them each (so that would be half a billion people just to run them, let alone build them) in a part of the Universe that was inaccessible (don’t get me started on the red “maze” they had to fly through… this is space, right? You can’t fly around it?). Since when was C-3PO’s memory backed up by R2D2… and why would that be a thing? Does some other droid back up R2’s memory? And what happened for those many years when R2 shut down because Luke went into hiding?

GAHHH!

The first movie of the trilogy, The Force Awakens, left a lot of unanswered questions. I was okay with that… it was the first movie of the trilogy. The last movie is supposed to answer questions, not raise new ones. It is supposed to resolve lingering storylines, not rehash previous plot points that had already been told, like the Emperor on a throne trying to get a young Jedi to turn while a battle rages in the distance. It was done better 35 years ago—a fitting epitaph for almost everything Star Wars (except the Mandalorian?).

I thought Force Awakens was a bit too much like A New Hope, but at the time I was happy to see an enjoyable Star Wars movie and really liked the potential of the new characters. I thought The Last Jedi did some really intriguing things and had some incredible moments, so I was excited to see what happened next. Rise was poorly written nonsense that seemed to try to cater to those who didn’t like The Last Jedi and in doing so pleased nobody.

I have friends who hated The Last Jedi and enjoyed Rise. I think it would be hard to find someone who likes both since the storylines, and even philosophy, are at odds with each other. Perhaps a reader might say, “The Last Jedi was the worst Star Wars movie, and Rise tried to redeem it!” Well, did it? No.

The movie isn’t without its good moments—I was happy to see Ren become Ben Solo (one thing everyone can agree on: Adam Driver’s performance was the best thing about the sequel trilogy). I suppose if you want to eat popcorn and watch a sci-fi movie that reminds you of Star Wars, you might enjoy it.

But even a part of your brain starts asking… does this make sense? Perhaps you assume that it would make more sense if you were a more avid fan.

Let me tell you, as an avid fan, it doesn’t. In fact, it makes things worse. That is why, for me, The Rise of Skywalker is the worst Star Wars movie ever made.

Happy belated Star Wars day, everyone.