A Parable about a Man and a Moose

A few years ago I was invited to be a part of an “Evangelization and Outreach” task-force that Franciscan put together. Barbara Nicholosi, a scriptwriter from LA (among other many talents), was brought in to discuss how we might create different kinds of media to evangelize youth and young adults. She made a simple statement that had a profound effect on me: “The best parables never mention God.” Up to that point, I hadn’t noticed that the majority of parables that Jesus told were about sowers, seeds, lost sheep, fathers and sons, and fig trees—but not specifically about God.

We decided in that task-force to create media that would be more of a parable than a teaching. There is nor shortage of “teaching” media in the Catholic Church, and I’m not remotely saying it isn’t important. But Jesus used both teaching and parables, and the latter is often missing in Catholic media today.

From a media standpoint, it is WAY easier to teach than to tell a story. Media focused on teaching can be done with a simple set, a few chairs, and educated people talking about a subject (like we have on the EWTN show, “Franciscan University Presents”). Telling a story means scripts, actors, directors, production schedules, location shots, makeup, audio, soundtracks, etc. It would take more time and money to make. It was also a bigger risk: the “enjoyment” of the story would be subjective, as tastes can differ drastically from one person to another. I was really proud that Franciscan took the leap.

The first fruits of this effort is called “Judgmental Moose”. The concept was to tell a parable about the seven deadly sins using the stuffed head of a moose as a “Jiminy Cricket” type of “voice of conscience”. The audience was young adults and we went for a fun, quirky style of story telling. We have two more series in the works… but more on those as they get released.

I’m really excited about the final product. It was a huge learning experience! I had no idea how much work and how many talented people were necessary to do something like this. I’d love to hear your feedback on these videos, and please share them with others!

 

I’m Alive Again!

Jesus has risen from the grave! And so have I!

Yes, this has always been true in the spiritual sense, but “resurrection” has meant for more me this year. As many of you know, I’ve been toiling away at my dissertation for the past four years, and more intensely this past year, and even more intensely these past few months. In January I submitted what I thought was my final draft—but apparently it was way short of what it needed to be. So since then I’ve been spending every extra hour in my office and every minute of the day focused on writing the dissertation.

I’m thrilled to share that on Holy Wednesday I offically submitted the dissertation. It was strange waking up on Holy Thursday and realizing there wasn’t anything else I could do about it. By the time Easter came around, I felt like I was alive again.

This process has caused me to strip away things in my life, one by one. It began with things I enjoyed but didn’t need to do (like this blog). Then it moved to things that were more important but not immediate, like working out. I cut down social time with friends until I barely saw anyone these past few months. With the exception of watching the new Star Wars a couple of times I essentially stopped going to movies or watching TV, and any book I read had to do with my studies. By the end, even time with family had to be cut back—a painful choice! But I was comforted in knowing that 1) I was doing this for my family (keeping my job, promotion, etc.) and 2) it was only temporary (though it didn’t feel that way!).

The one thing I clung to and that got me through was prayer. “Seek first the Kingdom of God” was my mantra, especially as I was continually tempted to ditch Mass or prayer time to squeeze in a few more moments to finish a thought or read another source. I was certainly not perfect in that focus but that, above all, is what got me through.

Now that the dissertation is behind me, I feel like I can breathe again. I’m spending more time with my kids. I’m hanging out with friends (the first Geek Night of 2016 was last night). Started running (though my brain thinks I can run farther than my body agrees with, at least for now). I’m catching up on all the emails I’ve not been answering these past months (sorry if I owe you one). And I’m watching Daredevil on Netflix with my boys without feeling guilty about not studying. Life is good!

Thank you for all your prayers during this time. I’ve got one more hurdle: I’m defending the dissertation in England on July 2nd. However, things are out of my hands now. Not that they ever were! That’s something I’ve learned through all of this.

I’m alive again! Hallelujah!

My Thoughts on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

I have had many ask about what I thought about the new Star Wars movie, so I’ll take a brief break from my dissertation work to share a few thoughts. Here is my spoiler free summary: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fun, action-packed, and wonderful return to the Star Wars universe. New characters and clever plot twists breath life into what is, at times, a too familiar story. 8 out of 10.

Okay, that’s as much as I can say without spoilers. Personally, I tried to avoid any spoilers about the film so I could just enjoy it, and I’m glad I did! I highly recommend you see it that way, too. So if you haven’t. go go see the movie and come back later.

For those of you that have, here’s what I thought…

This genre of “space opera” is great for the director, J.J. Abrahams’s style of filming. His movies have wonderful casting, look, and pace, but he has a tendency to leave gaping plot holes that frustrate some people (like me). Thankfully, this movie played to his strengths, not his weaknesses. It also helped that the Star Wars universe is so established that he could point to the canon of what has been done before and build on it. Lucas gave him such a low bar with the prequels that almost anything would be a welcome improvement.

This movie isn’t just better than the prequels, it really stands on its own two feet—something the prequels didn’t do. The new main characters that were introduced were fun, dynamic, and engaging. Rey was wonderful. It was great to see a female character in such a strong position. Loved Finn! I really appreciated in this movie the moments of humor that endeared the audience to these characters. That was missing, not just in the prequels, but even in the original trilogy. It felt like it took a good page from the kind of snappy dialogue that Joss Whedon has become famous for.

The look of this movie was fantastic. Abrahams really captured the vibe. It felt we were back in a far away galaxy a long time ago. The score was excellent though I have to say it wasn’t as striking as Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace. I didn’t leave humming a new melody line as I had from previous Star Wars movies.

Some great plot turns. Really fascinated by the story of Kylo Ren. As I said, I avoided all spoilers so had no idea he would be Han and Lea’s son and, by that relation, the grandson of Darth Vader. When they were standing on the bridge I kept thinking “will he? Won’t he?” and then he did. Having Finn be a storm trooper with a conscience was also a nice twist.

The action was incredible. Loved the monsters in the freighter, the space ship battles, and the lightsaber battle at the end.

Overall, a great movie!

So… why an 8 out of 10?

A great sequel (or prequel) needs to walk the line between giving the audience what they liked about the previous film but also give them something new to cheer for. The Force Awakens gave a lot of new things to like. But it came to the final battle: small X-wing fighters against a planet-size weapon that destroys other planets? We’ve seen that in A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. I have to say, when they were standing around a graphic of the planet and talking about how to destroy it, I was really disappointed. On one hand, you could argue this was a homage to the original trilogy done over thirty years ago. And perhaps, if I hadn’t seen it since then, I would agree. However, I saw those movies on Sunday. When Po flies into a trench (A New Hope) and then into the area where he starts blasting away (The Phantom Menace, Return of the Jedi) it was too familiar. All these decades since Star Wars was first released and we can’t come up with something better than the original movie did? I was far more invested in the Kylo Ren/Finn/Rey battle since I didn’t know exactly how that would turn out, unlike the spaceship battle where I had seen the conclusion two (three counting Phantom) times before.

Han and Lea have the ULTIMATE PARENTING FAIL. When your son becomes a mass murderer and stabs you with a lightsaber, your last thought has got to be, “Maybe I should have spent more time at home…”

Not a fan of the last shot of the film. I was so hoping Rey would use the line Po had with Kylo Ren at the beginning: “Is one of us supposed to say something?”

And then there are the unanswered questions Abrahams is famous for. This is less a critique and more a concern, because we’ve got two more movies to unpack things. But Abrahams track record isn’t great here, so I think it is worth mentioning. The obvious one: how did the rebellion get so small? I looked like they were operating out of a MASH unit. What happened since Return of the Jedi when it looked like the Empire was destroyed and the Rebellion in charge? I liked learning about where Storm Troopers came from—I wish there were just a couple more moments like that in the movie, and perhaps they will come in forthcoming episodes. Of course, this is part of what Star Wars is about: say what needs to be said in the opening text crawl, then dive into the action. As I stated before, a perfect fit for this director.

My biggest concern going forward is what will happen to Kylo Ren. Will the third movie end with him being a good guy and saving Rey from Supreme Leader Snoke? I hope not, but after seeing the “Death Star” battle, again, I fear that is where we are headed.

Those are my thoughts. I haven’t read other reviews so perhaps there is something original in what I’ve said or maybe everyone else is saying the same thing. I would put Force Awakens on the same level as Return of the Jedi, and under Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope. That’s one of the best things I can say about a movie! I’m willing to forgive some of it’s problems because I’m so in love with the Star Wars universe and so happy to have it back! I can’t wait to see it again.

You can’t unsee this.

In 2010 I was part of a video project called “CateQUIZ’em!” where we created a number of short films about chastity. This is one of them. To be honest, I had forgotten it existed! But that is the power of recorded stuff. It always comes back to haunt you. This has to be one of the strangest videos on chastity ever produced. See what I looked like before glasses and bow-ties.

Cool Catholic Graphic Novel

I was doing a gig in Venice, Florida where I met this amazing guy named Andrea Molinari (yes, it’s a guy’s name). We have a lot of things in common: we love Jesus, Catholicism, our family, role-playing games, and comic books, just to name a few.

Well, he just got a set of comic books published and they are really incredible. Here’s the synopsis:

After Professor Lawrence Miller’s teenage son Val’s tragic death from a drug overdose, he cannot shake the sense that his son’s soul is lost and wandering between heaven and earth. Grieving and deeply disturbed, he commits suicide, pursuing his son into the afterlife. Lawrence’s soul awakens and immediately encounters his deceased father who has arrived in order to help him transition. Lawrence rejects his father’s offer, choosing instead to stay in the ‘seam,’ the middle ground between heaven and earth, so that he can find his son and seek retribution. Lawrence embarks on his search for Val, beginning at his son’s grave. Lawrence begins to wage a brutal campaign of retribution against those responsible for the drugs that killed Val. His existence becomes a terrifying conflict between his unchecked anger… and his instinctive knowledge that he has lost his way.

It is daring story-telling, certainly dark. I love the supernatural element of it. Sometimes I feel that Catholic (or Protestant) story tellers aren’t willing to play with the supernatural genre which is so popular with audiences today. For example, from a theological perspective, can a person have supernatural powers and encounter living people from the afterlife? Yeah, probably not 🙂 But the “Catholic” elements of the story lie not in the narrative details but in the themes the story brings forth: redemption, forgiveness, and hope in the face of despair. Really great stuff.

I’ve included links below to check it out. Might not be your “cup of tea” as my British friends say, but if you are into this kind of stuff it is certainly worth your support. We need more of this out there!

Amazon. Comixology. Drive-Thru Comics.

 

Idaho

Discerning God’s Will

Would you like to hear how you might better discern God’s will in your life with a bunch of 80’s references thrown in? Of course you would. Check out this podcast hosted by my good friend, Matt Leonard:

http://matthewsleonard.com/the-gospel-accordion-to-bob-rice/