Monday, December 24, 2007


Merry Christmas from

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I've always enjoyed Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegone stories so in honor of the season, here are links to a couple of essays Keillor wrote about Christmas.

We sat in a sort of triangle, two couches at a right angle, a line of chairs, a window looking out at the snow on Amsterdam Avenue, and talked about the rather improbable notion that God sent Himself to Earth in human form, impregnating a virgin who, along with her confused fiancé, journeyed to Bethlehem where no rooms were available at the inn (it was the holidays, after all), and so God was born in a stable, wrapped in cloths and laid in a feed trough and worshipped by shepherds summoned by angels and by Eastern dignitaries who had followed a star.

This magical story is a cornerstone of the Christian faith and I am sorry if it's a big hurdle for the skeptical young. It is to the Church what his Kryptonian heritage was to Clark Kent -- it enables us to stop speeding locomotives and leap tall buildings at a single bound, and also to love our neighbors as ourselves. Without the Nativity, we become a sort of lecture series and coffee club, with not very good coffee and sort of aimless lectures.

On Christmas Eve, the snow on the ground, the stars in the sky, the spruce tree glittering with beloved ornaments, we stand in the dimness and sing about the silent holy night and tears come to our eyes and the vast invisible forces of Christmas stir in the world. Skeptics, stand back. Hush. Hark. There is much in this world that doubt cannot explain.

There are people who feel "excluded" by Christian symbolism and are offended by the manger and the angels and the Child, but there have always been humorless, legalistic people. Complaint is an American art form, and in our time it has been raised to an operatic level. To which one can only say: Get a life. When you go to France, you don't expect a stack of buckwheat pancakes for breakfast or Le Monde to print box scores. You're in France. Now you're in America. It's a Christian culture. Work with it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Podcasts of "Christopher Closeup" interviews are finally available online. If you'd like to check out interviews with actress Genie Francis (General Hospital) or singer Michael W. Smith, visit:

Friday, December 7, 2007


If you've been following the hubbub (or is it a brouhaha?) about "The Golden Compass," read what author and film critic Jeffrey Overstreet has to say at As opposed to the torches-and-pitchforks approach to movies that offend Christian sensibilities, he suggests a more rational way to counter the movie and its message.

Should Christians be afraid of The Golden Compass?
Mercy, no. Let's not be afraid. Discerning, yes. But not afraid.
God is not threatened by Philip Pullman. And people who stop to think through Pullman's story, and how he "refutes" Christianity, will see what a feeble "attack" against Christian beliefit really is. Pullman has painted a picture of the church—represented by "The Magisterium" in his stories—that basically reflects only those ways in which the church has abused power. And he has used that selective reflection as an excuse to write off Christianity as a whole. That's sort of like condemning the entire produce section in a grocery store because a few of the apples were bad. (And "Magisterium" is not something Pullman just made up. It's a very real word referring to the church, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. So he's not trying to cloak his intentions here.) It's interesting to note that Pullman's dismissal of Christianity skips over one little detail: Jesus. Pullman's story never makes any attempt to explore or refute the claims and ministry and person of Christ. He has, in effect, set up a "straw God" rather than a "straw man," and his fans are congratulating him for knocking down Pullman's flawed perception of God rather than the God of Christianity. He's not really undermining Christian belief as he thinks he is; he is undermining the abuse of authority, something altogether contrary to the gospel.
Okay, maybe we shouldn't boycott and complain. But what should Christians do?
These recommendations come from my humble opinion, and you're welcome to disagree.

Essentially, don't behave in ways that the Magisterium in Pullman's books would behave. You'll just make his stories more persuasive, by confirming for the culture around us that Christians only really get excited when they're condemning something.

Instead, respond with grace and love. And truth. Admit that, yes, Christians have committed grave sins in the name of Christ, and that those shameful misrepresentations of the gospel have made many people fearful of, and even repulsed by, the church. But Christians have been called to serve the oppressed, proclaim freedom for the captives, bring healing to the sick, to seek justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly, and to bring good news of "great joy." And by God's grace, many are living out that calling. They paint quite a different picture than what Pullman has painted.

Monday, December 3, 2007


If you only had minutes to live, what final message would you want to share with your loved ones?

That’s the question at the heart of the new Hallmark Channel film “The Note” premiering Saturday Dec. 8 at 9pm Eastern/8pm Central.

“General Hospital’s” Genie Francis stars as Peyton MacGruder, an advice columnist who fails to connect with her readers because her own heart is shut tight due to mistakes and pains from the past. Peyton’s problems, however, pale in comparison with what’s going on in the real world at the time – namely, a plane crash that kills everyone on-board. While jogging near the beach one day, Peyton discovers a note in a plastic bag that has washed ashore. After some investigating, she deduces that it’s a final message from a father on the doomed airliner who wrote it when the chance of a crash became real. Peyton sets out to find the person to whom the note was written. In the process, she faces the demons from her own past that have haunted her for years.

In her role as Peyton, Genie Francis conveys the pain of a person who needs to deal with guilt and tragedy, but who’s tried to suppress it instead. Her depth and maturity are no doubt shaped by the struggles she’s faced in her own life, from drug addiction to self-image & self-esteem problems. Like the talented actress she is, Genie taps into those feelings and delivers an outstanding performance that should touch anyone who’s ever found themselves in a similar situation.

The payoff in the film, of course, hinges on the content of the note. There’s quite a buildup so I wondered if the filmmakers would be able to deliver effectively. The substance needed to be more than a simple “I love you,” after all. I’m happy to report that “the note” does deliver on its promise. The words are few but they speak volumes that are especially appropriate for the Christmas season. It’s a message from beyond the grave that anyone would welcome, and that allows all the characters to move forward with confidence, courage, and humility.

“The Note” does suffer story-wise from some divine coincidences that usually only take place in the movies. But it’s overall effect is positive due to characters and situations that I came to care about.

Reminiscent of stories by Nicholas Sparks and Mitch Albom, “The Note” leaves viewers with a greater appreciation for their loved ones. It also encourages them to think about their lives and relationships in a way that can lead to new beginnings in this season when we celebrate the birth of the Christ-child and the promise He brings.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Everyone deals with career frustrations. Actor Jonathan Jackson recently faced a huge one.

The winner of three Daytime Emmy Awards for portraying Lucky Spencer on “General Hospital,” Jonathan has also co-starred in major films like "Tuck Everlasting," "Insomnia," and "The Deep End of the Ocean." He planned to continue that trend with his latest project “The Dark Is Rising,” a fantasy film based on the novel by Susan Cooper.

Jonathan moved his wife and two children to Romania for three months so he could play the crucial role of The Walker in this big-screen adaptation. But while the film was being edited, the producers decided to rewrite the whole script and wound up editing out Jonathan’s character. (Editor’s note: They also wound up changing the title of the movie twice indicating a definite problem behind-the-scenes.)

During a recent interview on the radio program “Personally Speaking with Monsignor Jim Lisante,” Jonathan admitted, “That was a hard blow for me...It’s been an interesting journey of faith just to give that to the Lord and trust there’s a reason and purpose behind it.”

Jonathan’s Christian faith has led him to believe that taking his anger and frustrations to God is a normal and necessary thing to do – “I think God really wants our vulnerability and our honesty. So when I go to him in that place, what I get is a kind of transference from Him which I think manifests into faith. So faith…is a choice but it’s also a supernatural gift that God gives when we go to Him…and say ‘This hurts, this is hard, I don’t understand, but I’m going to come here and be honest with you and ask for help.’”

Asking for God’s help was something that came naturally to Jonathan at an early age. He started working on “General Hospital” when he was eleven years old, but never fell into the familiar trappings of drugs or self-absorption. He credits the Hollywood environment for pushing him toward a life of faith, not away from it. Jonathan recalls, “There was a polarizing thing that happened to me in moving to Hollywood at such a young age. It kind of put me in a position…to really choose what kind of a person I wanted to be because there definitely were things available to me in my teenage years that were much more available in Hollywood than they were in Washington where I grew up for the first ten years…In the end, I think it was a bit risky being thrown into a dark spiritual environment like that, but it ended up doing a great thing for me. It made me run to God and say, ‘This is the kind of person I want to be so I’m going to need your help here because I obviously can’t do this on my own.’”

Jonathan also credits his parents for giving him and his siblings a firm foundation of love and faith. He says, “A lot of people can talk…about God. Then there are those people that the love of God is just alive in their hearts. The things that they do are coming from a response to that intimate relationship. Looking at my parents…that was just the kind of people they were. They had such a gratitude in their hearts for everything that God had taken them through..There was just a real genuine love, not just for other people, but for each other. And you can’t overemphasize enough the importance of a father and a mother loving each other in the relationship and what that does to the kids – to look at daddy and mommy and say that they love each other, and that they have a covenant together that’s going to be forever. I know the kind of safety that put in my heart is absolutely incredible.”

Jonathan wanted the same kind of relationship when he eventually got married so he felt sure that he would never marry an actress. Then God and His inimitable sense of humor led him down a different path.

In 2002, Jonathan married actress Lisa Vultaggio who he had met on “General Hospital.” Today, they are the parents of a son and a daughter. So what was the initial attraction? Jonathan says, “(Lisa) started coming to home groups and Bible studies that we were having...every weekend for over two years. There was no romantic thing going on there. We were a group of about twenty young people just seeking the Lord…I got to see (Lisa) fall in love with Jesus. From week to week, I would look in her eyes and see something different. It was a powerful transformation. She’d been through a lot of struggles in her life so the kind of rebirth and redemption that she had was just epic and beautiful. That was definitely the thing that drew me to her heart.”

Next to God, family, and acting, music is another passion close to Jonathan’s heart. He’s a member of the rock band Enation along with his brother Richard Lee, and their friends Daniel Sweatt and Michael Galeotti. The group’s goal is to create music that reflects the heartbeat of God. Jonathan says, “This last album we made was called ‘Where the Fire Starts.’ That title comes from…a lyric in one of the songs…‘Don’t Lose Heart.’ And the lyric is, ‘I know where the fire starts / It starts with the dream / I know where the dream goes when it passes through the fire.’ The idea is that when God gives us a dream, that dream gets taken through the fire…Look at Abraham and the dream that God gave him, and the process of faith he had to walk through. All of us, I think, walk through that fire. This album was about that process of when God gives you a dream and then you get taken through the fire of that dream - who do you run too, how do you get through that, and what happens to your heart and your faith in that process?”

Jonathan Jackson’s heart and faith have survived the challenges of making his dreams come true. And though his recent experience with “The Dark is Rising” was extremely disappointing, the dark will not overtake him. Instead he moves forward confident that, with God at his side, even better things are still to come.

(Enation's newest album "Soul Story" will be available Nov. 30.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

OF JILTED BRIDES AND JAR JAR'S DADDY humor columnist and my good e-friend Mary Beth Ellis has recently published some funny pieces about "The Bachelor" finale and George Lucas (mind you, those were 2 separate columns. George Lucas was not this season's Bachelor - though that's a version of the show I might actually watch). Here are a couple of excerpts from those columns which I hope you check out:

‘The Bachelor’s’ choice? Nobody!
What if “The Bachelor,” after an entire season of “he chooses his bride” hyping, doesn’t choose anyone?

For once, a bachelor gave “The Bachelor” a great big one-finger salute — and it wasn’t by slipping a big old diamond on the left hand of a tooth-whitened real estate agent from Tampa. Brad didn’t issue a proposal, or a promise ring, or even an “I love you — I’m just not in love with you.” He rejected both finalists.

In a show that has rarely been little more than an opportunity to knock back the womens’ movement a good 40 years one rose at a time, this season’s edition of polygamy on parade promised an “unprecedented” ending. Rumors swirled over a request to date both, an instant Vegas wedding, an “actually, I’m gay.” Not many expected that Brad would stone-cold drop the final two. Bachelors have upended the “I’d like to see where this amazing incredible journey takes us” wheelbarrow before, but to stand before each with “I have to say goodbye”? Ouch.

Can Lucas be trusted with ‘Star Wars’ universe?
One of my readers alerted me to this story after I published yet another article agonizing over the vastly disturbing direction the Star Wars universe has taken since the release of the prequels and the much-maligned Special Apostasy Edition of the original trilogy. He was a missionary in Africa at the time, and he sat down amidst the social unrest, the poverty and the rampant malaria to type very earnestly about the horrible injustice that is the insertion of Gungan celebratory footage in the last scenes of “Return of the Jedi.”

“Personally,” he concluded, “I've decided that George Lucas underwent some sort of serious personality alteration during the 80s that adversely affected his artistic judgment, even to the point of not being the same man. Obviously, the man who invented Indiana Jones was, in some metaphysically substantive way, different from the one who thought that it was a good idea to have Anakin Skywalker use The Force to feed his girlfriend a fakey orange.”


In honor of Thanksgiving, I'm posting a video of the song "Why Me, Lord" written and performed by Kris Kristofferson. Because of the title, you might think it's a lament to God complaining about why bad things are happening. Instead, it's a song about being thankful for the blessings you've been given and the importance of giving back to those in need.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


In general, Christians who are conservative tend to bash television as a morally bankrupt wasteland. I often get the feeling that these people don't actually watch much TV - and if they do, they seek out shows that are deliberately controversial or that revel in pushing the envelope so they can have something to complain about. The example I always cee cited is "Sex and the City." I've never actually seen an episode of the show - only clips on Awards programs. From what I've seen and read, the show is too crass and vulgar for my tastes. I stopped watching the sitcom "Two and a Half Men" because I found it to be filthy. I have no problem with funny, well-written sex jokes (the sitcom "Cheers" pulled them off well). Even Shakespeare enjoyed bawdy humor in his plays, and those are considered great literature. But there's a line. Like the traditional definition of pornography says, "I'll know it when I see it."

As a Christian with conservative leanings myself, I want to take a few minutes to defend television. It's a medium I've always found entertaining and, at times, enlightening. My tastes aren't always particularly highbrow so this will not be a post extolling the virtues of "Masterpiece Theatre" (not that there's anything wrong with that). But I enjoy mainstream broadcast television. So here are the shows on my current "watch list" and what I like about them. Feel free to add your own suggestions:

- "Heroes" and "Chuck" - both shows deal with characters who have special talents or responsibilities thrust upon them and do their best to meet these responsibilites for moral reasons.

- "30 Rock" and "The Office" - though I'm lumping these two sitcoms together because they air together, they are somewhat different. "30 Rock" is a satirical, often hilarious look at the workings of the television world. The jokes are more hit than miss, but some episodes have fallen completely flat. And sometimes they push the envelope too far like last week's scene with Pete and his wife in bed together. But when this show is on, it's hysterical. An even better and funnier workplace comedy, in my opinion, is "The Office." Its characters are also exaggerated for comedic effect, but they also integrate moments of relatability that make them seem real instead of just caricatures. For instance, there was an episode last season in which Pam (Jenna Fischer) had an art show and invited everyone from the office. The only one who showed up was her boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) who tends to be a likable comedic dope a lot of the time. But when Michael shows up saying he wanted to support Pam's work, she's genuinely touched - and so is the audience. Integrating poignant moments into a sitcom isn't easy. The show that did it best for me is "Everybody Loves Raymond." "The Office" does a nice job of it too from time to time so that, along with the steady laughs, make this the best sitcom on TV.

- "Lost" - this complex, multi-layered island mystery engagingly deals with themes like human nature, relationships, philosophy, faith, and sacrifice. It also contained the best priest-character in Mr. Eko that television has seen in a long time. I'm guessing that the fact that executive producer Carlton Cuse is a practicing Catholic has some impact on this show's mature treatment of spiritual themes.

- "Pushing Daisies" - this whimsical, funny, sweet detective show offers great stories and performances. See other posts for my full opinion.

- "Battlestar Galactica" - probably the best-written show on television today. It addresses modern issues like politics, war, and faith in a sci-fi setting that may turn some people off. But it's their loss. They should put aside their pre-conceived notions about sci-fi and give this show a look on DVD.

- "American Idol" - this show probably has more Christians on stage every week than any other. By my count, 6 of last season's top 12 were Christian. I know it's fashionable to look down on "Idol." It subjects us to 4 weeks of horrible singers at the start of the season, while others complain that none of these contestants are "real" singers. Well, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood could argue that last point. But ultimately, this is a talent show. It's not a new concept, just one that's been repackaged for a modern audience. It does what it does incredibly well and deserves the success it's had.

- "Dancing with the Stars" - the most purely entertaining show on television. When it first started, I thought the concept sounded totally cheesy. I only watched because I had taken ballroom dancing lessons on-and-off for a couple of years and knew how much fun it could be. But would that fun translate into an enjoyable TV show? Absolutely! When couples dance well, there's a sense of joy and electricity that ignites the live audience and comes through the screen. There's also an amazing amount of stamina and athleticism involved in performing these routines that make them fun to watch. Maybe DWTS is a little cheesy, but it always makes me smile - and that's enough to keep me coming back week after week.

So there's my take on television. I also enjoy books, films and music. But since TV is often seen as the bastard stepchild of "the arts," I wanted to offer a different take. Feel free to add your own.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


As someone who believes that the writers currently on strike should be fairly compensated for their work (not to mention the fact that I will sorely miss my favorite scripted shows if the strike goes on too long), I'm posting this blog entry from a blogger named Teresa. It offers an idea of what ordinary people can do to make their voices heard to The Powers That Be.

1) I'd like to think that I work in an industry where writers get the respect they deserve. Very often, Hollywood will be really deferential to actors, directors, and producers, but treat the writers like the red-headed stepchildren. It's really inexcusable, considering that without the writers, the entertainment industry would be far less entertaining. They're not asking for anything unreasonable, and they should not be denied the opportunity to earn a living in this industry that's already making other people so much money.


2) I WANT TO BE ABLE TO WATCH "LOST" IN FEBRUARY! As many of you know, I'm a big fan. If the AMPTP doesn't cut the shenanigans, give the writers what they deserve, and end the strike in time for episodes to be written for the long-awaited fourth season, I'm going to go to L.A. and punch every producer in the face. Smile (I'm sure many people reading this have a show they feel this way about!)

Some of you are members of one union or another. Some of you, like me, are artsy-types who are not members of a union yet, but hope to be someday. All of you watch TV and go to movies. I read that the WGA was welcoming non-union supporters to picket with them. While I don't have time for that, I thought I would send a letter to the AMPTP expressing my support for the writers as a viewer. Thought I'd get other interested parties to do the same.

If the spirit moves you, and you'd like to extend your support, you can contact the AMPTP here:

You can either send an e-mail via their online form (quick and easy!), send a letter to the mailing address on the page to the attn of AMPTP president, Nick Counter (nothing has the knives-out poetry of angry letters stacked on a desk!), or call the phone number on the page and leave a polite message with Nick Counter's assistant (depending on how concerned you are about the whole thing). It doesn't have to be long. It can be something like this:

Dear Mr. Counter,

I am a television viewer and movie-goer. It is the job of your organization to make and keep me happy so that I continue to go out and buy things, thereby keeping your advertisers happy and those in your industry gainfully employed (and also happy). What would make me happiest at the moment would be if you treat the WGA fairly and give the writers what they want and deserve to successfully end this strike. The entertainment industry needs its writers. It also needs its audience. The longer we have to sit through re-runs, the less likely we'll be to keep coming back - especially when we have On Demand cable and Netflix and YouTube to keep us warm. I'm writing this note, as one of the many viewers you are trying to court, to express my support for the writers. Thank you.

(your name here)

Or something like that. In fact, feel free to steal that and alter it for your own purposes. Smile Feel free to forward this e-mail to anyone you think might be interested, too, as there is power in numbers. Post the links I've included in your blogs, on your networking sites, or on any relevant message boards you visit. I would love the writers to know that it isn't just fellow union members who support what they do, but the average viewers across the country who enjoy the stories they tell, and want to keep them coming. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I attended a great 'Theology on Tap' talk in New York City last night featuring Lino Rulli, an Emmy Award winning TV host/producer who now hosts "The Catholic Guy" show daily on SIRIUS satellite radio's The Catholic Channel. Based on what I've read, Lino's got the most popular show on the channel because he combines his self-deprecating and offbeat sense of humor with an actual knowledge of Catholic theology.

The theme of Lino's talk last night was why the Church's message isn't heard in the mainstream media. As someone who works in mainstream media, he has some interesting and relevant insights. One of the problems he sees is that Catholics (and sometimes Christians in general) have an 'Us vs. Them' mentality. They often think there's some large conspiracy by journalists and such to portray Catholics or the Church in a bad light. Not true, says Lino. In some cases, there's a genuine ignorance of what the Church actually believes. But often he's discovered that when he's revealed he's Catholic in various workplaces, other Catholics revealed their faith to him too. Some were practicing, others weren't, but he didn't encounter hostility because of his faith.

Lino acknowledged that some journalists disagree with the church's stance on political issues like abortion or gay marriage, and will therefore approach a story about the church with some bias. He also admitted that this was a problem of human nature because when a group he disagrees with gets in trouble, he may take them to task also. The church, however, isn't well-served by approaching these people with an 'Us vs. Them' mentality. If we constantly speak out with anger and condemnation, we come across as un-Christian and even hypocritical. Lino discussed appearing on a radio show in which the host launched into a 20 minute diatribe against God and religion. Then he questioned Lino about certain things the church believes. After Lino explained these church beliefs or teachings in a rational, even humorous way, the host's response was, "Well that makes sense." By the end of the interview, this vehement atheist acknowledged that there might be more to this religion thing than he thought. That doesn't mean this radio host is going to become a Bible-thumper anytime soon, but he may have more of an open mind the next time he hears someone talking about their religious beliefs.

In terms of news coverage, Lino pointed out that the church makes news for bad things it does because everybody gets covered for the bad things they do. Newspapers and broadcasts in general cover bad news because that's what gets ratings. The Church, which is about Good News, can therefore have trouble getting positive stories on the air. A priest simply doing his job without scandal isn't a 'story.' Lino did point out that viewers can have an impact on positive coverage by letting station managers know when they like something instead of just complaining when they don't. He cited as an example a positive story he once did about a particular group that then sent an email blast to all its members telling them to contact the station offering compliments and thanks. Within hours, the station manager was inundated with so many positive notes that he promised to do more stories like it in the future.

My favorite part of Lino's talk dealt with how to approach things in our culture that seem to slam Christianity. The example he used was "The DaVinci Code." While he saw the story as a piece of crap, he didn't offer the kneejerk verbal assaults on the film like others in the Christian media. Instead, he attacked it with humor. He pointed out how ridiculous the premise was because the book suggested that a bunch of Italians kept a major secret about Jesus for hundreds of years. Lino said he's Italian and he knows Italians can't keep their mouths shut long enough to keep a secret for a few minutes, much less a few centuries. People and journalists were open to this argument because it was funny yet real. And it showed that Catholics can display a sense of humor.

Lino is an entertaining and insightful speaker and host who relates well to a young adult audience because he is one of us. He doesn't speak over peoples heads, but rather speaks to them where they are in life - because he is there also. If you ever get the chance to listen to him, you should definitely take the time. Chances are he'll leave you with something to think about - and laugh about.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Billy Ray Cyrus has seen great highs in his career – from the superstar status he achieved after “Achy Breaky Heart” became a hit in 1992 to his current role as the on-screen and off-screen Dad to Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus. But Billy Ray’s journey wasn’t always an easy one. The one thing that got him through the challenging times was his Christian faith.

Billy Ray’s grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher in the family’s hometown of Flatwoods, Kentucky while his Dad sang in a gospel quartet that performed throughout Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. During an interview on the series “Christopher Closeup,” Billy Ray fondly recalled that his earliest memories in life are “of traveling with my Dad’s gospel quartet, going up some hollow in Bear Creek, West Virginia, and seeing…my (grandfather) preach and my Dad’s quartet coming out and singing songs. And then they’d always call me to get up and sing.”

Life became more difficult after Billy Ray’s parents divorced when he was six years old. He was able to handle the break-up fairly well because of his grandfather’s influence that conveyed the love and power of God.

After his grandfather died when Billy Ray was twelve, the youngster became more troubled. He said, “I think I rebelled somewhat…I look back on some of the juvenile delinquent, hoodlum things I did as a teenager and think ‘I must have been a very angry young man.’ But you know, God moves in mysterious ways…I always prayed through it all that God would give me the wisdom and the vision to do the things on this earth that I was supposed to do, to be the man that He wanted me to be. I just feel so fortunate that God never gave up on me. He just kind of stayed beside me even when I didn’t know or appreciate the fact that He was there.”

Billy Ray decided to follow his passion for music and worked hard to establish himself as a singer in the country music field. But this too was no easy task. He said, “By 1990, I had reached a point where for ten years, I had traveled from Los Angeles back and forth to Nashville many, many times and been turned down by every record label. (I was) just going nowhere…I played five nights a week, four sets a night in this little club up in West Virginia and had done it for years and years. All my other buddies I’d grown up with had either passed away, were in prison, or were doctors and lawyers. So here’s me playing in this club, and I’m thinking ‘This is getting embarrassing.’ (Then) my inner voice told me to go to Flatwoods, Kentucky on a Sunday evening. I just got in my car and took off…to my (grandfather’s) church – hadn’t been there since I was probably twelve-years-old when he died…There was this little country preacher in there (saying), ‘God loves a desperate man.’ He was pounding the pulpit saying ‘When you’re desperate, you don’t get down on your knees and say now I lay me down to sleep…You cry and you plead and you say God, I’m desperate! I need your help!’

Billy Ray continued, “I found myself as a thirty-year-old man walking right back up the exact same aisle where I had spent 11 to 12 of the best years of my life…I got down on my knees and I prayed the most desperate prayer. I said ‘God, I’ve always felt and believed that you wanted to use my life, but I feel like I’m at the end. I don’t think I can keep going.’ The devil sent every messenger and every demon he could throw at me that night…But the next morning I got up and that voice from that desperate prayer was saying ‘Call Mercury Records, call Harold Shedd.’ So I call his secretary, go through this desperate story. She agrees I can see this guy for five minutes because I’m sure I sounded like I was ready to commit suicide…So I drive 325 miles to Nashville to see this guy…and I said (to him) ‘Harold, this is the best thing I got. This is a song I wrote about a Vietnam veteran called Some Gave All.’ I finished the song and the guy stands up and says ‘I’m gonna structure you a little deal.’ And I’m sitting there going ‘What did he say?’ ”

That song evolved into Billy Ray’s first album “Some Gave All” which launched him into a successful music career. And Billy Ray Cyrus gives all the credit to God for answering that desperate prayer in a Flatwoods, Kentucky church.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


I want to highlight this recent musical moment from the TV series "Pushing Daisies." It features the wonderful Kristin Chenoweth showing off her Tony Award winning singing chops. Her character Olive Snook suffers with unrequited love for Ned who is in love with Chuck, the girl he raised from the dead. Olive could simply have been portrayed as jealous and bitchy but thanks to the writers and the talent of Chenoweth, she is sympathetic, likable, assertive and fun. In this clip, she pines for Ned in a way that made me smile.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Though the new TV series I've seen this Fall season is limited (Pushing Daisies, Chuck, Bionic Woman, Back to You), the best of the bunch so far is "Pushing Daisies." It's about a pie-maker named Ned who has the ability to raise the dead simply by touching them. However, if he doesn't touch them again (and thereby return them to dead status) within 60 seconds, someone else dies in that person's place.

Ned was able to follow these rules until he brought Chuck, his childhood sweetheart, back from the dead and couldn't bear to let her die again. Now, though the two of them are deeply attracted to each other, they can't make any skin-on-skin contact because it would send Chuck back to the great beyond. It's a great premise because, as most great storytellers know, couples who are destined to be together are more interesting when they're kept apart. It forces them toward a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other that's not just based on sexual attraction. Eventually there comes a time when the couple needs to get together or risk viewers and readers getting tired of the endless back-and-forth. Hopefully the writers on "Pushing Daisies" will be able to maneuver around this question for a while so that the show and the relationship between Ned and Chuck stay as interesting as possible.

The Daily News also weighs in on this aspect of the show here.

EXCERPT: sells big on prime-time TV, which is one reason it's so fascinating to watch "Pushing Daisies" (ABC, 8 p.m. Wednesdays), whose whole premise is that the couple at the heart of the show can never even touch each other.

No, this didn't come about because some Bible Belt group, fed up with Eva Longoria's behavior on "Desperate Housewives," sued ABC and won a settlement requiring equal time for abstinence.

It's even more startling than that. This is ABC gambling that viewers will watch a show in which they know upfront that the charming, good-hearted, immensely likable boy and girl at the heart of the show will fall in love and yet never be able to so much as kiss or hold hands.

Their problem stems from the fact that Ned (Lee Pace) brought Chuck (Anna Friel) back from the dead, which he can do with just a touch. Once he'd done it, he realized this was a girl on whom he'd had a long-distance crush since forever (think "Ed"), and now it turns out she likes him, too, especially since he brought her back to life and all.

So it would be all be good, except Part Two of Ned's gift is that if he touches that person a second time, he or she dies again.

Bad for Ned, Chuck and ABC.

So "Pushing Daisies" becomes the chastest love story this side of Minnie and Mickey Mouse.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, now acknowledges the Bible's influence on her books here.

It deals extensively with souls — about keeping them whole and the evil required to split them in two. After one hero falls beyond the veil of life, his whispers are still heard. It starts with the premise that love can save you from death and ends with a proclamation that a sacrifice in the name of love can bring you back from it.

Harry Potter is followed by house-elves and goblins — not disciples — but for the sharp-eyed reader, the biblical parallels are striking. Author J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books have always, in fact, dealt explicitly with religious themes and questions, but until "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," they had never quoted any specific religion.

(SPOILER ALERT! The rest of this story discusses the conclusion of "Deathly Hallows.")

That was the plan from the start, Rowling told reporters during a press conference at the beginning of her Open Book Tour on Monday. It wasn't because she was afraid of inserting religion into a children's story. Rather, she was afraid that introducing religion (specifically Christianity) would give too much away to fans who might then see the parallels.

"To me [the religious parallels have] always been obvious," she said. "But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Is there anything funny about a sixteen year old girl getting pregnant? Actually, there's quite a bit in the soon-to-be-released film "Juno" (opening December 14).

It's about a smart/smart-mouthed Minnesota teen named Juno MacGuff who finds herself pregnant after her first sexual experience with a shy, nerdy classmate (Michael Cera). Her first inclination is to abort the child and she even goes to an abortion clinic for the procedure. But an encounter with a friend from school - along with the clinic's comically bizarre atmosphere - results in Juno rushing out and soonafter deciding to give her baby up for adoption. After searching for prospective parents in the local Penny Saver, Juno decides on Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) a seemingly-perfect, well-off suburban couple eager to adopt a child.

"Juno" manages to walk the fine line between edgy, witty, crass, and heartfelt. One of the film's strongest points is its three-dimensional characterizations. These aren't just stock characters but rather people with whom the audience can identify. The reaction of Juno's parents (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) to her pregnancy news is particularly poignant. They're shocked but supportive in a way you hope parents would be in that type of situation. Even Juno's school friend who is the lone Christian protester outside the abortion clinic could have been portrayed in the stereotypical way, as if she were someone to be looked down on and mocked. Instead, she's goofy but genuinely sincere in a way that makes a valid point and gets through to Juno.

Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman also make the most of their roles as a couple whose veneer of perfection shows cracks as the story progresses. The cracks, however, make them more human. Garner especially stands out as she conveys the longing of a woman unable to have biological children. Though she initially appears to be a hard-nosed June Cleaver, her character's vocation to motherhood eventually comes shining through. I'm used to seeing Garner kicking-butt-and-taking-names in "Alias" or being girly-silly in "13 Going on Thirty." But as Vanessa, she conveys a maturity and sensitivity that takes her to a new level as an actress. I'm guessing that giving birth to her own daughter gave her an enlightening perspective on this role.

Ultimately, "Juno" is carried on the more-than-capable shoulders of Ellen Page who plays the title role. She is the endearing outsider created out of the Freaks-and-Geeks mold who combines snarkiness with vulnerability and a growing maturity as she tries to find her identity in the world.

Whether or not it was writer Diablo Cody's intention, the movie contains aspects that many will consider pro-life. Yet I hesitate to see that label put on the movie because it goes beyond that. This isn't a movie that has an agenda; it simply tells an engaging story. There isn't any sermonizing about pro-life or pro-choice. The characters choices and experiences speak for themselves. "Juno" conveys the positive and challenging aspects of one teen's journey through an unplanned pregnancy - how she can't bear to dispose of the life inside her and comes to make the selfless, beautiful choice of delivering the baby because there are many loving people in this world who want it. In one sense, Juno's experience is idyllic because she has the unwavering support of family and friends to get her through. To me, that makes the film pro-life in a larger sense because, if real teens who got pregnant actually had the same kind of support, there's a greater chance they wouldn't choose abortion.

Based on those factors alone, this is a film that could be embraced by a Christian audience. However, I think that audience may take issue with some of the frank sexual dialogue among the teens. These are high schoolers who are sexually active and the film does mine some laughs out of that fact (it's PG-13 so there's no actual nudity, just talk). While there's no sermonizing about either birth control or abstinence, screenwriter Diablo Cody brings her own teenage sexual ethics to the story. Like it or not, that was the experience of her and her friends in high school. In my opinion, if parents are concerned about that part of the story, they should definitely see it with their kids, talk to them about their attitudes toward sex, and make it an occasion for teaching. But since the film's overall message is so positive, I think the film is worth seeing. Frankly, I think the film will attract a teen audience regardless of what parents say so it might be a good idea to see "Juno" anyway. It should be a charming, funny, poignant experience no matter your age.

To see the trailer, go here.


Though "Friday Night Lights" is probably the most critically acclaimed show on television right now, it suffered from anemic ratings during its first season. (I haven't managed to fit it into my viewing schedule though maybe I'll check out the DVD's in the future.) The show may now be trying to draw in Christian viewers through one particular character. Based on this piece on "National Review Online," this isn't a matter of pandering to a religious audience. It's integrating a part of life that's important to many people into a show about life in rural Texas. And it even seems to be done in a respectful way.

This season, one character experiences what the producers call “a religious conversion.” In short, Lyla, who has suffered and sinned as much as any character on the show, joins a church and becomes baptized. For the first few episodes she is insufferable, boldly proclaiming her faith and sneering at Riggins’ hedonistic lifestyle. This constitutes an ironic twist in the story because she was his secret lover when her boyfriend, Street, was in the hospital. Now Lyla has turned away from sex and partying for a new found faith, but hasn’t yet found a way to lovingly convey that to others. However, by the third episode this season, she softens and begins to better reflect the love of her new Savior. Part of the action takes place in a church, portrayed beautifully. It’s a place evangelicals would recognize, full of fervent worship and a passionate message about God’s love and grace. Lyla’s journey to faith is messy, but faith, church, and Christianity are treated with respect by the show. And this respectful treatment of Christianity is intentionally done. Executive Producer and Director Jeffrey Reiner, a self proclaimed New Yorker, announced that the producers went to Texas and met many people as research for the show, saying:
One of the characters is going to find God. And I think a lot of shows would use that to kind of poke fun at it, but I find that I meet the preachers, and I meet people somebody might call kind of weird or zealous. But they're not, you know, and we just end up meeting them as people.
Maybe it’s a revelation into the mind of many people in Hollywood that Mr. Reiner was surprised to find Texas Evangelicals normal, but hats off to him. He was willing to go, to explore, and to create an excellent show that addresses and respects Christianity. Moreover, he created a show that realistically depicts the struggle and the beauty of family life, as well as the toil of high school years lived without parental love and support. In doing so he glorifies what others shows scoff at, and in doing so he offers something remarkably fresh and original. Hollywood would be a better and more interesting place if others followed his example.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


I received a press release today for a new thriller by author Tom Grace called "The Secret Cardinal." It deals with the repressive and dangerous situation faced by the Catholic Church in China. The story, which is fictional, sounds like it fits into Tom Clancy mode. It is, however, inspired by true events - specifically Pope John Paul II's secret elevation of a Chinese bishop to Cardinal in 1979. For more info on the book or some history of the situation faced by Catholics in China, you can visit the book's web site here.

Inspired by true events, masterful storyteller Tom Grace delivers his most provocative novel yet. In The Secret Cardinal, ex-Navy SEAL Nolan Kilkenny returns in an adventure that races from the grandeur of the Vatican across the vastness of Asia, ultimately involving China, the Mafia, and the conclave of cardinals that will elect the next pope.
When Kilkenny is invited to Rome to consult on the functioning of the Vatican Library, he is still grieving the death of his wife and son and welcomes the distraction of the seemingly simple assignment. But Pope Leo XIV has a startlingly different task in mind for him. In a private audience, Kilkenny learns of an unreported atrocity committed against the underground Church in China and its link to Yin Daoming, the long-imprisoned Bishop of Shanghai who has served thirty years of a life sentence in a Chinese laogai for refusing to renounce the Church of Rome.
The aging pope then reveals the dangerous truth about Bishop Yin, a secret that he has kept for over twenty years. Decades of diplomacy have failed to end China’s persecution of the Catholics loyal to the pope, or to free Bishop Yin. The pope wants Yin free and asks Kilkenny to devise a plan to accomplish this seemingly impossible task.
With help from the U.S. president, American Special Forces, and the C.I.A., he assembles a team of ten men and one woman that will use some of the most advanced weapons, aircraft, and computer technology to execute this extraordinary mission.

Monday, October 8, 2007


"I'm spiritual, not religious" is a common refrain in today's world where people often view organized religion as a negative thing. While organized religion does have some problems, it's also more necessary and beneficial than some would have us believe.

Lutheran theologian Martin Marty offers his thoughts on this topic in the book "The Life of Meaning," a series of interviews compiled and edited by Bob Abernethy and William Bole of the PBS series "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly." Here is an excerpt:

I appreciate the spiritual search of the nonchurched, nonsynagogued people as being full of imagination, discovery and satisfaction for the individual. But I once saw a bumper sticker that said, 'Spirituality doesn't make hospice calls.' Spirituality remains, normally, individualistic. You may gather for a retreat, and then you disperse...The people who are handling the homeless and dealing with addiction and trying to improve senior care and who care about the training of the young - they have to bond together. If they don't do it in old-fashioned churches, they'll do it new-fashioned churches. But I don't think it adds up to much unless there is some development of community, some bonding...

...I'm interested in public religion. And if somebody tells me, 'I'm on a spiritual search,' and they describe what they're on and it has no consequence, I think, 'Hmm, that's interesting.'...I love that they're doing it. I think it's a wonderful thing for the soul. But does it help the nation go deeper in its search for a way of addressing the profound issues of the day? I think it's bound to be superficial unless you have a community, the weight of a tradition, and the negative weight as well, and the grace that's mixed with it

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Supporters of the traditional family (a married husband and wife with kids) are often maligned as being unnecessarily old-fashioned and out-of-touch with the modern, smarter way of doing things. So here is an article by Mort Zuckerman from the New York Daily News that supports the traditional family through actual statistics and facts.

You will hear a lot about the American family in the election campaign. For most of us, that calls up an image of a man and wife and two or three children.
Forget it. Predominant as the social pattern for several hundred years, that American family has lost its place. Households of unmarried couples and households without children outnumber "American family" households. And only about 20% of families fit into the traditional structure with father as the only breadwinner.
Here is what has been happening: In the 1950s, 80% of adults were married; today, roughly 50% are. Why? Partly because people are delaying marriage. Second, divorce rates have more than doubled since the 1960s as marriage evolved from a sacrament to a contract. Third, millions more cohabit before marriage. Fourth, births to unmarried mothers, white and black, have risen from 5% in 1960 to about 35% today.
So the new American family is a household with fewer children, with both parents working, and with mothers giving birth to their children at an ever older age, having fewer children, and spacing them further apart.
This is not good news. Twice as many married people indicate they are very happy as compared with those who aren't married. But it is the children who are most affected. The stable family of two biological parents - surprise, surprise! - turns out to be the ideal vessel for molding character, for nurturing, for inculcating values, and for planning for a child's future. Marriage, or the lack of it, is the best single predictor of poverty, greater even than race or unemployment.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


It turns out that Ron Hansen, the author of the book "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" on which the current movie is based, is also a Catholic deacon. You can read more about him here.
The Ford story, like all Deacon Hansen's novels, has a Christian theme. His characters cope with the forces of good and evil and his settings dramatize the moral struggle.
"A lot of people would be surprised you could find a Christian idea in a story about Jesse James, but I think it's implicit in the text," he said. "A lot of times it's about recklessness, ambition, ego and how those can really ruin your life, and I think a lot of times there is this sense of peace and redemption operative in most of my books."
Deacon Hansen cited the influence of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola on his storytelling. "One of the exercises is you are who you follow – Christ or the evil one?" he said.
Born into a Catholic family in Nebraska, Deacon Hansen attended Catholic grade school, a Jesuit-run high school and graduated from Jesuit-run Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. His twin brother was a Jesuit and a sister was a Dominican nun.
His mother and father were converts to Catholicism. His father's father had been Mormon, and his mother became a Catholic while living in an orphanage run by Dominican nuns.
While working on his 1991 novel, 'Mariette in Ecstasy,' about the phenomenon of stigmata, Deacon Hansen returned to school for a mid-career refresher in the faith. In 1995 he graduated from the University of Santa Clara, also a Jesuit school, with a master's degree of arts in pastoral ministry with an emphasis on spirituality.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Here's a prayer to St. Therese on her feast day that has helped me on a number of occasions:

O Little Therese of the Child Jesus,please pick for me a rose from the heavenly gardensand send it to me as a message of love.
O Little Flower of Jesus,ask God today to grant the favorsI now place with confidence in your hands…..(request)
St Therese, help me to always believe, as you did,in God’s great love for me,so that I might imitate your “Little Way” each day.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


I just watched my favorite baseball team, the NY Mets, suffer what the statisticians say is the worst collapse of a baseball team in major league history. No team with a 7 game division lead in mid-September has ever lost their spot in the playoffs . Until now.
Interestingly enough, the Mets broadcasters - Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling - said that part of the problem was "hubris." Anyone who's ever taken a literature class probably knows that hubris is defined by Webster's as "exaggerated pride or confidence." According to Cohen, Hernandez and Darling, some of the Mets were quoted this week as saying "Sometimes we're so good, we get bored." That statement reminded me of one of the only quotable lines in "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith," a movie not known for its sparkling dialogue. The line was "Twice the pride, double the fall." This is a fall that both the team and fans should remember for a long time. I know that whenever I get cocky, something happens that knocks me back to reality. The Mets have got 5 months to deal with that reality and hopefully come back smarter and better.

On a positive note, Cohen, Hernandez and Darling have become an insightful and entertaining broadcast team, and at this point, I will miss their work more than I'll miss watching the team play. I also admire them for not being afraid to criticize the team that employs them when it's well deserved. These guys will hopefully have many more years together.

I know many Met fans will hate me for this, but for the next few weeks, I'll be rooting for the Yankees. Sorry.


If you're dissatisfied with the way religion is covered in the mainstream media, here's an enlightening article from "Our Sunday Visitor" that does a great job at explaining why the MSM often get things wrong.

According to Raymond Arroyo, veteran journalist and host of EWTN's "The World Over," one of, if not the greatest, problem in the mainstream media's religion reporting is the reporters themselves. Many, he said, have little or no religious training, view faith as a mere curiosity and can't understand the significance of what they're covering. They also, he said, lack basic knowledge of religious history and doctrine.
Arroyo recalled one journalist for a major network approaching him at the papal conclave in 2005.
"He said, 'I know they call this the Holy See, so when did the water recede?' And he was being serious," Arroyo told Our Sunday Visitor. "Most journalists are stone dumb when it comes to theological matters. And this is a complex beat. You're dealing with thousands of years of history and laws. It's hard enough for me to get it right as a lifelong Catholic."
On top of that, Krista Tippett, who hosts the weekly National Public Radio program "Speaking of Faith," believes most journalists approach religion assuming that it's subjective and, therefore, not to be taken seriously.
"It's not that most people sit down and decide that," she said. "But the bias is there, which means journalists aren't taking the time and care to do the research and analysis they would for other stories."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


My father's been in the hospital with pancreatitis since Saturday so I haven't had time for blogging. In the meantime, here's a link to an interesting blogpost about a popular book series.


Stephenie Meyer has taken the book world by storm. The first two novels in her Twilight series – 2005's Twilight and last year's New Moon – have over 1.6 million copies in print. Her highly anticipated third novel, Eclipse, was released on August 7 with a 1 million copy first printing and first day sales of 150,000 copies. Though billed as young adult, Meyer's books are a hit with teens and adults alike, evoking the inevitable comparisons to J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. But what is it that makes Meyer's books so successful? The answer may surprise you.
Revolving around the relationship between human Bella and her vampire love Edward, Meyer's books have many elements of a successful YA novel: passion, danger, romance, rebellion (not to mention vampires and werewolves). But, despite the company they keep on the shelves, the Twilight novels mark a departure from the typical YA novels that have helped the category to explode in recent years, stirring up quite a bit of controversy in their wake. And understandably so, as many YA novels have strong sexual content even though they are targeted to teens and are of course being read by even younger readers. The popular Gossip Girls books, for example, have been described as "sex-saturated" by New York Times columnist Naomi Wolf, and recent YA titles such as Doing It, The Anatomy of a Boyfriend, and Restless Virgins make it clear what kind of content the books contain. Their age ranges? Fourteen and up.
But the overwhelming success of Meyer's books shows that both teens and adults may be growing tired of the constant stream of sex being sent their way, as the Twilight books contain no sex scenes or explicit content. In fact, they have strong abstinence themes, as well as quite a bit of chivalry and romance, with a twist of morality. And, to their readers, that makes them extremely sexy.

Monday, September 17, 2007


- I thought the presenters were great! Instead of the stilted, poorly-written, squirm-inducing presenter-banter usually featured during the Oscars, the Emmys presented funny bits by comedians or comic actors to introduce categories. From Brad Garrett and Joely Fisher to Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, these presenters were actually consistently entertaining to me as a viewer.

- Some people like to knock Ryan Seacrest but he's damn good at what he does. Hosting a live TV show - and making it look effortless - is no easy task. Ryan did a good job.

- One of my favorite acceptance-speech moments was Thomas Haden Church who won for the cable movie "Broken Trail" dedicating his award to David and Lynn Angell. For those who don't know, David Angell was one of the creators of the sitcom "Wings" on which Church got his start playing dimwitted mechanic Lowell. David Angell and his wife Lynn were killed in one of the terrorist plane crashes on Sept. 11, 2001. Invoking their names was a classy thing to do and a sign that Church remembers the people who helped him along the way.

- Sally Field could have had a memorable acceptance speech if she'd just stopped talking after making her point about mothers and war. But she had to keep going even when she couldn't remember what she wanted to say. It took away from her moment and turned it into heavy-handed sermonizing which got cut off on TV anyway. Sometimes public figures should be remembered that making a point and then being quiet can still be very effective.

- Hollywood worked Al Gore into another Awards show?

- And James Spader as Best Actor in a Drama?? Even he seemed embarrassed. I don't even watch "The Sopranos" and thought James Gandolfini deserved to win. (Kudos to Spader though for making a funny acceptance speech.)

- My favorite winner of the evening was Terry O'Quinn who plays John Locke on "Lost." His character has been compelling from the very beginning and he deserves this great recognition.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


Becoming successful is a consuming passion for many actors. But “General Hospital” star Jason Gerhardt (Cooper Barrett) has a different set of priorities.

Jason’s original plans were to attend college and become either a politician or an investment banker. Though he did some modeling while in school to help pay the bills, he got a job with Sprint in Kansas City after graduation and planned to pursue his Masters degree. Then the acting bug bit.

As Jason recounted on the radio program “Personally Speaking with Monsignor Jim Lisante,” his reaction was somewhat unusual – “I prayed for God to take (the desire) away…but He never did. I wanted to make sure that my heart was right especially going into this kind of business. I’d…looked at it as kind of a frivolous profession. It’s just not me to go ‘hey look at me.’ Most of the people that I had met who wanted to get into this profession were more of those types of personalities.”

Since that desire never went away, Jason followed what he saw as God’s plan and became an actor. Though he ‘consulted’ with God on this major life decision, Jason wasn’t always so spiritually minded. That changed when he started attending the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Jason’s parents had gone through a nasty divorce while he was finishing high school so he arrived at college having gone through an emotional ringer. He joined the gospel choir, not because of any particular religious reasons, but because he enjoyed the energy and power of the music. One night, the choir was singing the hymn “The Storm Is Passing Over” when Jason was suddenly hit with an awareness of God and how much his life was in need of a relationship with his creator. While admitting he wasn’t a goody two-shoes during his college years, Jason found himself growing increasingly closer to God, and feeling the love, peace and joy He brings.

For Jason, living his faith beyond church walls is about being real. Regarding his evolution as a Christian, he said, “The more I’m centered in reading God’s word and praying, (I realize) it’s not that everything goes fine and that everything is beautiful and wonderful and all that. It’s that even amongst all the crap that might be going on in your life..., there’s always a sense of peace when you connect with the Father. It’s the joy and the love that he gives so abundantly even through all that stuff. You can always tap into it. It’s learning to tap into it more often rather than getting so busy and wrapped up in everyday life. That’s the maturity that continues to happen in my life.”

Jason also realized that others may be in a different spot on their journey of faith, and that it’s important to meet people where they are - “That’s the delicate balance in just sharing and understanding…Maybe (some people are) real ticked off at God because certain people have died in their life and they think God is to blame. So you’ve got to be sensitive to that and know that it’s okay. Sometimes that anger doesn’t mean they’re that far away from God. It actually means they’re closer, they’re thinking about it.”

Jason has a longstanding commitment to children’s ministries because he realizes that many kids today are motherless or fatherless or that they’re in families where they’re not taught that they’re children of a God who loves them and wants them to do wonderful things. His passion for helping kids only increased when he and his wife Chalae had their daughter Madyson. Jason notes that being a father has shown him the true riches of life. And fatherhood, he adds with a laugh, completely changed his idea of a good time on a Friday night. With a second child on the way in the Fall of 2007, Jason can look forward to many more of those good times.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


Mark Shea's blog has an insightful take on Harry Potter which, according to the blogosphere, is still stirring up significant controversy. Here's an excerpt from Shea:

One of the most common complaints about the books is that they seriously teach children a belief in magic and, in particular, introduce them to traffic with the demonic. A quick Google shows that plenty of ignorant Christians make fools of themselves leveling this charge (an activity that does much to persuade millions of normal people that the Church is, yet again, an island of irrelevance in an ocean of pain, bent on crushing one of the few joys that most people can agree on out of some perverse loathing of pleasure). As somebody who is involved in Catholic evangelization, I think this matters, not for the sake of the Harry books, but for the sake of the faith. When Christians run around shouting "Wolf!" and there is no wolf, it matters because sooner or later there will be a wolf and when he comes nobody will listen to us because we were the nutters who saw the hand of Satan in a Procter and Gamble logo and the killjoys who accused people of being dupes of the devil for the crime of enjoying a few diverting novels.

The simple fact is this: the books are not occultic. Magic is not real. The Latin doggerel spells don't work. There are no Blast-Ended Skrewts or giant spiders named Aragog. Ford Anglias don't fly and Whomping Willows do not exist. The book does not teach children to invoke demons. The magic of Harry is, as John Granger points out, "incantational", not "invocational", *exactly*, like the magic of Gandalf. You say the magic words and the door opens, whether it is the door to Moria or the door to the Gryffindor common room. No principalities or powers are invoked in Harry. Indeed, if any words are "invocational" they are the words occassionally uttered by characters in Middle Earth in which the Valar are called upon for strength and aid. Yet nobody accuses Tolkien of promoting the worship of false gods. That's because we understand Tolkien's fictional cosmos and it's rootedness in Catholic thought. I'm suggesting we trying to understand the same about Rowling's little cosmos too.

The reality is this: the use of magic in Harry Potter has exactly as much to do with the occult as it does in The Lord of the Rings or Narnia. As my friend Greg Krehbiel point out long ago, if your kid becomes involved in the occult because of HP, that's a comment, not on HP, but on the quality of catechesis in your home. That's not to deny that some people do use HP as an excuse for involvement in the occult. It is however to deny the next unjust charge: guilt by association.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Flannery O'Connor is an acclaimed Catholic author whose Southern gothic stories ooze sin and salvation, grace and redemption. Follow this link to read about how O'Connor's faith made her art possible (and thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet at Looking Closer for originally highlighting this article):


O’Connor is concerned that many people treat art as valuable only for its propositional “meaning.” If we read fiction or poetry and we look for “the point” instead of immersing ourselves in the experience, we ruin our faculty for truly enjoying it. We will see or read or listen to great art and only think of it as a cipher to be broken. The pleasure of the art will be replaced by the pleasure of “figuring it out.” Sure, there is sometimes deciphering to be done, but that is not the point of a story or a poem.

Here is O'Connor's exhortation:

"I realize that a certain amount of this what-is-the-significance has to go on, but I think something has gone wrong in the process when, for so many students, the story becomes simply a problem to be solved, something which you evaporate to get Instant Enlightenment....

Properly, you analyze to enjoy, but it's equally true that to analyze with any discrimination, you have to have enjoyed already. (108)"

Fiction and poetry provide authors a unique way to glorify Christ that more overtly intellectual genres, like theology, simply can't. These genres that aim directly for the heart and soul—rather than aiming at the heart through the mind—do not argue for belief, they show what it looks like and make you feel it. Theology, devotionals, and other books in the “Christian Living” section of the bookstore talk about belief explicitly. Their goal is to explain truth as clearly as possible. Fiction and poetry, on the other hand, tell the truth, but tell it slant. They offer an author a way to give his beliefs flesh and blood by enacting them in the confusion of the real world. In fiction, belief is not what you look at, but what you look through.

Friday, August 31, 2007


A lot is being written about the spiritual and emotional disconnect from God that Mother Teresa endured for practically her entire ministry to the destitute and dying in Calcutta. Some writers who doubt the reality of God and relevance of faith have jumped on these revelations as proving their point - i.e. even one of the most devout Catholics of our age doubted the existence of God and heaven.

How should the rest of us who struggle to live by faith adjust to this news about Mother Teresa? I recommend the words of Christian author/theologian C.S. Lewis from his great satirical book "The Screwtape Letters." The book is composed as a series of letters from an older devil named Screwtape to a younger devil named Wormwood. In the letters, Screwtape offers Wormwood advice on how to lead people toward hell (and in turn shows readers how to avoid the devil's pitfalls). The following passage is particularly appropriate to Mother Teresa's dark night of the soul and how we can all view her struggles - and our own:

"(God) cannot tempt to virtue as we do to vice. He wants (human beings) to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks around upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

Monday, August 27, 2007


One of the Catholic Church's most debated teachings involves its opposition to contraception, even after a couple is married (a stance held by both Catholic and Protestant churches until the 1930's). Having read a number of articles about the reasons behind this teaching, it's still not an easy concept to grasp. But as I've often found, 'stories' - fiction or non-fiction - can clarify ideas much better than a sermon or article.

Such is the case with the P.D. James novel "The Children of Men." Most people will be familiar with the title because it inspired a movie version that was released in 2006. While the movie was good (even better in certain ways than the book), it unfortunately ditched many of the book's Christian social themes. "The Children of Men" is not churchy, preachy, or hit-you-over-the-head Christian. Instead, P.D. James - a devout Anglican - manages to seamlessly integrate Christian ideas into the story in a way that non-believers might not even notice.

The story begins in the United Kingdom in the year 2021 during an era called "Omega." Humanity is on the road to extinction because the world has not recorded one single childbirth since 1995. Though scientists worked tirelessly to discover the cause behind this sudden lack of fertility, they remain clueless 26 years later. Hopelessness and madness have spread throughout England reulting in a jump in violence and lawlessness. Under the guise of security, the British government has become so tyrannical and all-intrusive in people's lives that law enforcement has achieved what one character calls "a refinement of cruelty." And since the government would want to control any woman who might miraculously give birth, they subject all healthy females to time-consuming forced examinations of their fertility every 6 months.

Theo Faron, the story's protagonist, is a man detached from loving relationships of any kind. He describes himself as having ensured "that there are no unexpected visitors in my self-sufficient life." When Theo is called on to protect the first woman in the world to become pregnant in 26 years, he undergoes a moral awakening that leads him down some dangerous paths.

The film version of "The Children of Men" emphasized what happens to societies when civil rights are suspended. The book, however, focuses just as much if not more on the "life" issues involved.

Recalling the evolution of the infertility problem, Theo says, "We thought that we knew the reasons - that the fall was deliberate, a result of more liberal attitudes to birth control and abortion, the postponement of pregnancy by professional women, the wish of families for a higher standard of living...Most of us thought the fall was desirable, even necessary. We were polluting the planet with our numbers...When Omega came it came with dramatic suddenness and was received with incredulity."

Described in these terms, the story seems like an all too plausible scenario. In a society that has largely divorced sex from procreation, no one ever followed that attitude about reproductive choice to its logical if unlikely conclusion. Now, Omega has arrived and the despair is overwhelming.

There is a marked increase in suicides by middle aged people who would "bear the brunt of an ageing and decaying society's humiliating but insistent needs." Also, every reminder of children (schools, toys, playgrounds) has been removed from the public landscape "except for the dolls, which have become for some half-demented women a substitute for children."

People's attitudes toward sex have also changed in an unexpected way. Theo says, "Sex has become among the least important of man's sensory pleasures. One might have imagined that with the fear of pregnancy permanently removed, and the unerotic paraphernalia of pills, rubber and ovulation arithmetic no longer necessary, sex would be freed for new and imaginative delights. The opposite has happened. Even those men and women who would normally have no wish to breed apparently need the assurance that they could have a child if they wished. Sex totally divorced from procreation has become almost meaninglessly acrobatic."

The lack of children has also resulted in an inability to feel romantic love in its fullest and most meaningful form - "We need the comfort of responsive flesh, of hand on hand, lip on lip. But we read the love poems of previous ages with a kind of wonder."

In a culture like ours where sex is often viewed as purely recreational, this fictional world gives us points to ponder. Maybe there's more truth to the church teaching on sex as "mutual self giving" than people realize. Perhaps a greater openness to children would be a good and beneficial idea for our society.

I've always thought that the church's moral rules were ultimately designed to keep individuals or societies from engaging in behaviors that would ultimately harm them. The problem is that the church often does a lousy job of explaining the reasons behind those rules in an understandable, relatable way. With that in mind, "The Children of Men" should be required reading for anyone interested in how "culture of life" issues can affect our world.

The Kingdom - Trailer

Being a fan of Jennifer Garner since her debut on "Alias," I wanted to highlight her upcoming movie which has been getting some good buzz and seems to return Jenny to butt-kicking mode.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Comedian Bill Maher has long made it known that he pretty much hates religions of all kinds but especially Christianity. Now Maher and Larry Charles, the director of Borat, have traveled around the world filming a documentary that mocks religion. My problem with Maher and others like him isn't that he doesn't believe the way I believe; it's that he thinks he's smarter and better than me because he doesn't believe what I believe.

I am well aware that religions of all kinds attract their share of wackadoos and loudmouths. Plus, the religious spokespeople who make it on TV news reports tend to be the types who generate attention, not necessarily make intelligent, rational arguments. But I'm firmly convinced that the majority of people of faith are decent and loving. They are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters who are trying to build a good life for themselves and their families. They demonstrate their love for God through personal prayer & practices, and are motivated to leave the world a little better than they found it. But Bill Maher ignores these people. His documentary, being a comedy, will of course focus on the freaks and present them as average, ordinary and typical.

I think people of faith need to be prepared to counter some of the negative publicity that will come with this film's release in 2008. It doesn't require screaming and boycotts because that will just prove Maher's point about how ridiculous and irrational religious people are. Instead, collect three stories about people whose faith has motivated them to do something positive for the world around them, who relied on God to help through difficult times, whose faith stories are worth sharing. Then when local newspapers start covering the film, send them your stories and request equal time. If they get inundated with these requests, attention will be paid. So give it some thought. You have months to prepare.

In the meantime, here's a piece reacting to Bill Maher's appearance on Larry King by Fox News commentator Father Jonathan.

If Judaism or Christianity actually taught even a fraction of the absurdities Bill Maher apparently thinks they teach, I would send him my resume and petition him to bring me on as a co-producer of his upcoming documentary, “The Absurdity of Religion” (title still indefinite), as announced last night on "Larry King Live." I, too, would want to reveal the fraud.

I suspect we would make perfect business partners — a publicist’s dream team. My work as an adviser on the set of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” my role as an analyst for the FOX News Channel and the fact my home/workplace is a stone's throw from the Vatican might partially offset Mr. Maher’s reputation as being somewhat biased toward things religious. Together, we would laugh our way all the way to the box office and perhaps liberate a few paltry-minded believers along the way.

But there’s one problem: Not a fraction of Bill Maher’s statements about Christian and Jewish beliefs coincide with what, in fact, Christianity and Judaism say of themselves.

Unlike in Bill Maher’s world of comedy (where he truly excels), in theology, truth is not optional, opportunistic or malleable. Things are, or they aren’t, but they can’t be both.

Because Mr. Maher has decided to step out of his field of expertise and into mine, in a genuine spirit of dialogue, I would like to clarify a few things here that he has managed to jumble. You will notice that I am assuming the best — that Mr. Maher simply doesn’t know what Christianity really teaches.

• If Christianity really taught that God took out a pen, wrote a book for us, called it the Bible and dropped it from the clouds, I, too, would doubt. But Mr. Maher, Christianity doesn’t teach that. As history shows, human beings wrote the Bible and, according to Christian belief, their writing was divinely inspired. Christians don’t suggest they can prove such inspiration with material evidence (the only kind skeptics would accept), but they consider faith (the assent of the heart) capable of grasping some immaterial, spiritual realities — like this one. On another note, from a purely historical standpoint, I think you would agree that 2,000 years of continual belief should be given some weight. In all this time, nobody has proven the Bible is NOT inspired, and therefore, by the same standard of material evidence, we should all agree that nobody can say Christians are definitely wrong about inspiration.

• If Christianity really taught that the man in the jungle who has never heard the name of Jesus is going to be damned forever to hell, I, too, would doubt. But Mr. Maher, Christianity doesn’t teach that. We are responsible to God in as much as God reveals himself to us. Christianity teaches that the saving grace of Jesus Christ is bigger than our date or place of birth. Christians believe God gives all of his children, in ways often unknowable to our little brains, the opportunity to accept or reject his love.

• If Christianity really taught that God created cancer, child abusers and earthquakes to torture his own children, I, too, would doubt. But Mr. Maher, Christianity doesn’t teach that. The evil in this world is not willed by God. Christianity teaches both physical and moral evil is a result of a world that is out of wack as a result of the misuse of our own human freedom. Like a good parent, God allows us to make mistakes and to live with the consequences. And even so, he doesn’t abandon us. He promises to bring forth a greater good out of every instance of evil. Ask someone with faith who has suffered great pain or loss and they will surely tell you how God has made good on his promise.

• If Christianity really taught that God sometimes commands us to kill the innocent in his name, I too would doubt. But Mr. Maher, Christianity doesn’t teach that. This would go against the very nature of God as all-loving and all-just. I am equally as scandalized as you are when I see religious people, in our checkered past and present, mistake their own pride and ignorance for the voice of God and march off to holy war. As Pope John Paul II said, “War is always a failure of humanity.”

• If Christianity really taught that people with homosexual tendencies are all going to hell, or that somehow they are not God’s children, I, too, would doubt. But Mr. Maher, Christianity doesn’t teach that.

And the explanations about what Christianity says about itself, and how this differs from Bill Maher’s subjective understanding, could go on and on. I only hope that when he travels, as promised, to the Holy Land and to the Vatican with his team of investigative journalists to do “research” for his new documentary about the absurdity of religious belief (to be released, of course, in the Easter season), he stops by my place, or the place of any of the more than two billion Christians and Jews who will explain why his vision of their religion, is, well … rather absurd.

God bless, Father Jonathan

P.S. A personal note to Bill Maher: I spend quite a bit of time in New York City. In the case it doesn’t work out for us to meet up at the Vatican during your travels, let me know and we can work out something on your side of the Atlantic.