And so it begins…


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”

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.

The Creed

When you recite the Creed, are you being real or are you being a robot? Do you even know what you are saying? Is there a difference between believing there is a God and believing in God?

The Word of God

Hey, here’s a new film by Outside Da Box that I wrote the script for. What do you think?

An amazing man, on and off the pitch

Professional soccer is one of my favorite sports to watch and it’s hard to find better soccer than the English Premiere Leauge (come on, La Liga, you only have two real teams. And Serie A has as much credibility these days as professional wrestling.)

I’m a Chelsea fan. For those of you who don’t know, Chelsea is a team in London. Apparently, being a Chelsea fan is like being an Philadelphia Eagles fan—it’s not something you’d wish on someone you care about. While in England, I saw someone wear a t-shirt that said, “A.B.C. Anyone But Chelsea.” That just about sums up most people’s attitude toward the team.

The reason I root for Chelsea is because the first (and only) English soccer game I went to was a Chelsea home game and, like a baby who bonds with the breast it’s first fed from, I was immediately hooked.

But one of the biggest reasons I love Chelsea is Didier Drogba.

On the pitch, fans both loved and hated him. He was an amazing forward, scored spectacular goals, and was usually the man to bury it in the back of the net for the big games. But he was also highly emotional, prone to flopping (for you non-soccer fans, that’s going down with a fake injury) and inconsistent with his focus. But when he was on, he was on. When Drogba was healthy and disciplined, there was no striker like him.

A spectacular player. But that’s not what impresses me the most about Didier Drogba.

Droba is from the Ivory Coast in Africa. It’s a country that had been ravaged by 27 years of civil war that only ended in 2002. That was when Drogba joined the national team. Though the war was over, there was much unrest, corruption, and fighting. The country was a powder keg waiting for someone to light a match. But one of the things that kept that country together was the national team and it’s leader, Diger Drogba.

After winning a 2005 game in which the Ivory Coast qualified for the World Cup for the first time in history, Drogba grabbed a camera-man during the on-field celebrations and spoke to his beloved country:

“Ivorians, men and women, from the north and the south, from the east and the west, you’ve seen this. We’ve proved to you that the people of the Ivory Coast can live together side by side, play together toward the same goal… We promised you this celebration would bring the people together. Now we’re asking you to make this a reality. Please, let’s all kneel.” The entire team knelt as he continued, “The only country in Africa with such wealth cannot sink into war like this! Please, put down your weapons, organize the elections and things will get better.” (Quote taken from this article.)

He has used his popularity to bring peace to his country. He has used the wealth he gained from soccer to build orphanages and hospitals for children. When asked about his life after soccer, he said, “I want to help with a lot of things: my charity, the hospital. I hope to keep learning. For me it’s important to open my mind. I love to meet people and listen to their stories, their experiences.” The journalist interviewing him commented, “In 15 years as a journalist I have never had an interview with an athlete that felt more like a two-way conversation.” (This is the whole article.)

Two weeks ago Chelsea won the title, “Champions of Europe.” It was to be Drogba’s final game in a Chelsea jersey, and fittingly enough his last touch of the ball was to drive the ball into the back of the net for the game winner. At 34, his talents are starting to wain. He’s off to China where’s he’s getting big money (much of which will be spent in the Ivory Coast) and will dominate the field, just as he did in the Premier League. Will he still flop? Will he still let his emotions get the best of him? Will he still be unfocused? Sure he will. But in the grander scheme of things, in a world where professional athletes are treated like gods and many of them fall into immorality and materialism, Drogba’s legacy will not be as much about the goals he scored but the lives he saved.

My good friend, Gene Monterastelli (who really taught me to love the game) summed it up best:

“He can lack focus. He can flop and moan. He can do amazing things with a silly little ball. And somehow lets opportunity slip by him on the pitch. None of that will ever matter. If we could all be so bold as to take advantage of the opportunities and platforms we are given in the name of love and peace.”

A thought on Memorial Day

A veteran is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America” for an amount of “up to and including my life.” 

I celebrate today with sincere gratitude for all who served and even died for the sake of my family’s freedom, and I pray for all those who are active in the military.

If you’re one of those people, thank you.

Reflections on “Unholy Night”

Maybe some of you have seen previews for the upcoming movie, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” It is based on a book by Seth Grahame-Smith who also wrote the novel, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” As you can tell from those titles, Grahame-Smith likes to take a familiar topic and add crazy mayhem to it.

So I was interested when I heard about his latest book, “Unholy Night.” It’s the story of the three wise men… or maybe I should way it’s the untold story. In Grahame-Smith’s book, they weren’t “wise men” at all. They were thieves who unwittingly found themselves in Mary and Joseph’s stable as they hid from Roman soldiers. One thing led to another and they decided to accompany the Holy Family to Egypt, protecting them from Judean soldiers, Roman armies, and even the undead.

To state the obvious, it’s not very Biblically accurate.

Grahame-Smith takes a lot of liberty filling in the gaps of what is not discussed in the Bible and a few liberties with what is. But more significant than what he got wrong was what he got right. Mary and Joseph are portrayed as people of extreme faith who truly believe that their child is the Son of God. I thought he treated them reverently and respectfully. It is clear that there was something special about their child. Since I don’t have a high expectation of Christian themes being accurately portrayed in a secular book, I was quite pleased by the general direction of that storyline.

And then there was the violence. Lots of violence. These kind of depictions seem to be part of Grahame-Smith’s “signature” as an author. I thought of giving some examples… but they’re just too gross. Speaking of gross, one notably disgusting and creepy character is King Herod. He’s about as vile and despicable as a person could be—and probably a pretty accurate account of who he was in real life.

But aside from the violence (which might be hard for many to put aside) the novel also takes a look at what it means to have faith. The protagonist of the book is Balthazar, also known as the “Antioch Ghost” because of his clever thievery. He had long since given up his “childish” belief that God existed. He thought Joseph was a fool for believing Mary’s “virgin birth” story and that the two of them were fools to think there was anything miraculous about their child. But then things start to happen that make him question his belief…

I don’t want to spoil what happens for those of you who might be interested in reading the book, but don’t expect a tidy “Christian” ending where everyone accepts this baby as their personal Lord and Savior. Different characters in the story react differently, just as they do in real life. That’s one of the things I liked about it.

This book sits right at the intersection between faith and culture, but it does so more from a cultural perspective than a faith one. But here’s my question to you, dear reader: Is it ever appropriate to use the Holy Family in a work such as this?

Yes, the author portrayed Jesus, Mary, and Joseph with reverence… for a novel that was focused more on “kill your enemies” than “love your enemies.” I’m glad that Grahame-Smith didn’t have the Holy Family partake in the violence they were surrounded with. And though his story created a lot of violence, you could argue that much of the violence was already there. The Bible is filled with it. Innocent babies were slaughtered in Bethlehem when Herod heard about the newborn King.

As a Christian, I’m concerned that the book uses a sacred story as a vehicle for a novel filled with graphic violence. But if I wasn’t Christian, I might think that, amid the other violent books I hypothetically read, this one had a really cool faith element. So is this an example of inculturation of the Gospel message or manipulation of a sacred event?

I’m inclined to think it’s more the latter than the former but I can’t blame the book for that. It’s clearly not the author’s intention to bring us deeper into the mysteries of the Christian faith so it would be unfair to judge it by missing a mark it never aimed for.

So that’s my “reflection” on the book. Here’s a brief review.

Without going into all the caveats about the subject matter that may or may not offend a Christian reader, I thought that as a story it was pretty good. Good but not great. Unfortunately, it lets down a bit at the end. Though the idea of using Biblical characters in this kind of story was clever, the book gets bogged down by trying to make too many connections to the New Testament. I’d give it a three out of five.

Behind the Scenes with Zombies Vs Jesus

The behind the scenes video of “Zombies Vs Jesus” (to be released sometime in June) was just posted. It amazes me how much work goes into a three minute film! What I also love about this video is seeing people who are passionate, not just about making a cool film, but doing ministry that will impact people’s lives. It’s worth the three minutes to watch it… even if you don’t like zombies.

The Avengers and Catechesis

I assume that most of you have seen The Avengers since it’s broken about every box office record it could. Personally, I thought it was the perfect comic book movie: a great blend of humor, action, and epic story telling.

I remember sitting next to someone at a movie theater a few months ago when an Avengers trailer came on. This person turned to her friend and said, “It looks just like the Transformers.” The tone of her voice made it clear that it wasn’t a compliment.

I wanted to turn to her and say, “This movie is nothing like Transformers!” But then tried to see the trailer through her eyes: Lots of explosions, big city buildings getting knocked down, and huge creatures fighting each other. Yep, that’s Transformers alright.

I didn’t like Transformers, either. So why was I excited about this movie and she wasn’t? The answer was simple. I wasn’t going to see the movie because I wanted to see New York City destroyed. I wanted to see what was going to happen to the characters.

WIth a big budget and a good special effects team, any studio can make movies where things blow up. But the novelty of disaster films has worn off. How many times have we seen Grand Central station destroyed? Yes, the final battle of The Avengers is pretty spectacular from a visual point of view. But that’s not what makes it exciting.

What makes it exciting is that Bruce Banner finally finds a way to control the Hulk. The Black Widow has a chance to do something good to make up for her past. Iron Man learns what it means to sacrifice for the sake of the team. We don’t just root for the bad guys to get destroyed, we cheer for the heroes who have discovered something in themselves and have made the right choice. To put it simpler, we get excited about what they do because we know who they are.

This is a great lesson, not just for any story teller, but for anyone who wants to pass on the faith. Msgr. Eugine Kevane once wrote that “catechesis is about being acquaintanced with persons.” The most effective way to catechize is not by teaching topics but by talking about people.

The person we should talk most about is, of course, Jesus Christ. And our faith is filled with amazing stories of men and women who have conquered their own personal demons to do something great for God. Isn’t that the same kind of drama we saw in The Avengers?

In passing on the faith, don’t just talk about the what. Talk about the who. I imagine that every Christian knows what Jesus did on the cross. But do they really know who He is?

That was one of my few critiques with the movie, The Passion of the Christ. It was a lot of what but only a little who. As a result, many Christians who knew Jesus had a powerful experience watching the film, but people who didn’t know Christ thought (to use the words of a non-Christian I know who saw the film,) “it was just a movie where a guy got the crap beat out of him.”

The Gospel has been rightly called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” A great story has great characters: the incredible love of Jesus Christ, the struggle Peter has to know what it means to follow Him, the betrayal of Judas, the sorrow of His mother. The main reason I wrote my novel, Between the Savior and the Sea, was to try to make that drama come more alive in a contemporary literary genre. Because as I travel around the country (yea, the world) sharing Gospel stories, that’s what people respond most to.

I imagine that many people look at Catholicism the way the woman next to me watched the Avengers trailer: a montage of images and people that didn’t make any sense unless you already knew the characters. It’s up to those of us who pass on the faith (which, by the way, is all of us) not just to talk about what we believe, but Who we believe, and how we’ve been inspired by the stories of others who have done super-heroic things through the grace of the One they believed in.

Chris Padgett is the worst Jedi ever.

Those of you who know me personally or follow me on Twitter (isn’t that the same thing?) know that every other week I have “geek night.” It’s something I always look forward to. It’s when a bunch of my friends get together and do a roleplaying game. A few weeks ago, we did one of my favorite RPGs: Star Wars. Both Bob Perron (a regular) and Gene Monteracelli (special guest player) were a part of the fun.

I happened to be the game master that evening and Chris Padgett played Winter, a human Jedi. Winter has a lot of skills. He can use a lightsaber. He can use the Force to sense if someone is telling the truth. And he has a very high “acrobatics” rating which Chris tries to use in every encounter.

I now insert you into the story of the game…

Winter and his companions enter the atrium, expecting a meeting with Darga the Hutt. But the doors suddenly shut behind them. The adventurers hear a whistle blown in the distance and four large carniverous birds with razor sharp claws attack! One of Winter’s companions recognizes the whistle—it is used to command the birds. Winter realizes that if he can take out the person blowing the whistle he can stop this attack before anyone gets hurt.

He fends off one of the birds with his light saber and runs into the dark forest of the atrium, Jedi senses keenly attuned to any movement.

“Okay,” said Chris. “So I want to use my power of the Force to see if I can sense where this person is.”

“Roll a d20,” I said. (A d20 is a twenty-sided die for you non-gamers out there.) “I’ll let you see something if you roll a ten or above.”

Chris rolled the die. “Crap,” he said. “I rolled a three.”

Winter could see nothing in the darkness as he wandered the atrium, lightsaber in hand. Meanwhile, his companions were getting severely hurt by the carnivorous birds that flew in and out of the shadows.

Just then, a blaster shot came out of the darkness and grazed Winter’s shoulder, barely missing him.

“I use my acrobatics to dodge the shot!” Chris said.

“It already missed you,” I explained.

“But now can I see where the person is?” Chris asked.

“Yes, their blaster shot gave away the location.”

“I run towards them!”

Winter, honing in on the location where the blaster shot came from, ran towards the mysterious person. Meanwhile…

“No meanwhile, I want to catch up to this person now.”

“You’re too far away.”

“Not if I do an acrobatic leap!”

“Chris, you’re in a dark indoor forest. There’s no way you can reach the attacker this turn. Just wait for the next one.”

“No! I’m going to do it!”

“You’ll need at least an eighteen to make it.”

Chris stood up. “I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna do it!” The other players began to clap in a slow rythym as Chris shook the d20 in his hand.

“COME ON, BABY!” he said as he cast the die upon my wooden table.

It was a one.

Winter actobatically lept into the air… and got caught in a tree.

“NOOOO!” Chris cried. “I can’t believe this is happening!”

Meanwhile, the carniverous birds attack the wookiee…

“I want to get out of the tree,” Chris said.

“It’s not your turn. And you’re losing a turn because you’re trapped.”

The birds make numerous attacks the other heroes. Two of them go down. Winter, the not-so-acrobatic Jedi, finally gets out of the tree and spots the person behind the attack. It was Kaylar, the female gang leader they humiliated outside of the spaceport.

“Is she close enough to reach?” Chris asked.

“Yes, she is,” I said.

“I jump in the air—no, wait. I run up to her, put my lightsaber against her neck, and tell her to call off the attack.”

Winter sprints towards Kaylar and points his lightsaber at her neck. “Call off your attack,” he says. Kaylar dropped the whistle and the birds disappeared into the darkness.

“Why are you attacking us?” demands Winter.

He can see the anger in Kaylar’s scarred face in the glow of his lightsaber. “It is because you humiliated me by the spaceport,” she says.

“Liar!” Winter screams as he—

“Wait, you want to… what?” I ask.

“Cut her hand off!” Chris says. “Make her tell me the truth!”

“But she’s defenseless!”

“Do it!” Chris said.

Winter slices Kaylar’s hand off. She screams in agony and collapses on her knees.

He points the lightsaber back into her face. “Enough of your lies!” he says. “Tell me the truth!”

“I did tell you the truth, you moron!” Kayla says, cradling the charred stump where her hand once was. “You humiliated me at the spaceport and I wanted revenge!”

“Is she really telling the truth?” Chris asked.

“Why don’t you use your Force power to check,” I suggested.

Chris rolled the d20. “I got a seventeen,” he said.

“Good,” I said. “Because that was such a high role, I’m going to let you realize two things.”

Winter the acrobatic Jedi closes his eyes and uses his knowledge of the Force to discern whether Kaylar was telling the truth. In doing so he realizes two important things. First, he senses that Kaylar was, in fact, telling the truth about her reasons for attacking. And second, that he just cut the hand off a defenseless prisoner.

“Move your Force meter down by two,” I told Chris. “You’re going to the dark side.”

“But how was I to know she was telling the truth?” Chris asked.

“I don’t know… maybe use your Force power before cutting appendages off?”

“I just got excited,” Chris meekly said.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Chris Padgett is the worst Jedi ever.