Monday, May 26, 2008


During Season 6 of “American Idol,” most people got to know Phil Stacey as the devoted husband, father and Naval Petty Officer who had a talent for singing country music. The “Idol” experience was made even better for this minister’s son by the common bond of Christian faith he shared with fellow contestants like Chris Sligh, Melinda Doolittle and eventual winner Jordin Sparks. Phil’s faith is now shining through on his highly-praised debut country album which has grown in popularity every week since its early May release date.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Phil on an episode of “Christopher Closeup” (full podcast available here). Here are some excerpts from that interview:

Tony Rossi: When some people hear the word vocation, they automatically think of life in a form of religious ministry…Do you see your music career as a vocation also, as a different way of serving God?

Phil Stacey: Sure…Whatever you’re called to do, there’s a purpose for everybody…My Mom is a nurse and she feels that it’s her ministry to go in and pray with patients who want to be prayed with, and to share experiences …where the doctor’s report wasn’t what (the patient) wanted to hear but God brought them through.

I don’t think I’d be where I am today if it wasn’t for the fact that…my wife and I, we surrendered our lives to the will of God years ago. We just said we want to go where God wants us to go. And there’s been times when we wanted to jump into something that…For example, I was here in Nashville in 2002 about to sign a record deal. And it was everything I ever wanted but I just couldn’t get a peace about it. I knew it wasn’t what God had for us at the time and that was when I ended up going into the military…For some reason I had a peace about it. And now on the opposite side, it just totally prepared me for what I’m doing today. If you surrender your life to God, you’re in great hands. You take turns where you have no idea where the Lord is taking you at the time (and) you’re like ‘Are you sure about this God?’ Because of our own personal mentality, we don’t see the big picture. And I’m saying this today knowing that tomorrow I could vanish and never be heard from again…But I believe I’m here because God put me here.

TR: How did (your Mom and Dad) give you a foundation of faith that’s really grown and held strong into adulthood?

Phil Stacey: “I think everyone of us as Christians has seen some form of hypocrisy in the church…I think one of the great things is that I had parents who weren’t hypocrites, who very much were demonstrators of the love of Christ. Even through times when we wanted to rebel and go off and do everything that we weren’t supposed to do, they constantly showed us love. And they prayed for us and they prayed with us. We had family devotions. They just set a great example for us. Another thing is that they didn’t try to brainwash us into believing what they believed just because they believed it. They were very encouraging of us to get into Scripture and ask questions…and really pray about it and discover what God had for us as individuals and not as preacher’s kids. There were times when (my brother, sister and I) distanced ourselves from the church per se in a time of discovery but God always pulled us back. God was always there in the picture, our prayer lives were never dropped...It was just a time of figuring out what exactly we believed.

TR: What made you decide to enlist in the military (after 9/11)?

Phil Stacey: “It was a Garth Brooks song called ‘The Change…’ The song is about – there is so much evil around me, but I’m not going to give into that, I’m not going to change. I’m going to be a force for good. I’m going to be what God initially made me to be. I remember that song touching me in a powerful way…It re-emerged as a single after September 11 and, immediately, I just started crying…After the song was over, I turned off the radio, looked at my wife and said ‘I think I need to be in the military.’ And she said, ‘Okay.’ I wanted to be part of the solution to a terrible situation.

TR: At The Christophers, we use the motto “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” When you encounter times of darkness in your life, how are you able to light a candle and move toward a brighter future?

Phil Stacey: In seeking God’s will for our lives, so many times we get so focused on the destination…that we don’t realize it’s actually about the journey. The journey has high points and it has low points; it has mountains and it has valleys. When you find yourself in the midst of a valley, you can rest assured in knowing that there is a river of life on the other side…No matter what this life throws at you, we’re promised the ultimate reward in heaven of just being in the presence of God forever. For me, anytime there’s just a dark situation around me, I know the Psalm…’The Lord is our refuge and strength, a very present help in the time of trouble.’ I take comfort in knowing that the Lord is my shepherd.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


David Cook earned a well-deserved win on "American Idol" this week and accomplished the impossible as far as I'm concerned. He made me like the winning Idol song (video below) which, in the past, I've found okay but overly schmaltzy. Credit goes to Cook whose voice prevents any song from sounding schmaltzy, and also songwriter Reggie Hamm for a good composition in "Time of My Life."

David Cook also deserves credit for being as gracious as he was in winning. His complimentary words for fellow competitior David Archuleta at a time when he could have just been focused on himself were a definite sign of maturity. And not only that, Cook invited all his former competitors in the top 12 onto the stage prior to his final song so they too could share in a final moment of glory on the show they all worked so hard on.

It's one of life's ironies that the high point of David Cook's professional life is happening at the same time as the lowest point in his personal life - his brother Adam's battle with brain cancer. We should all pray for Adam and his family during this most difficult time in their lives.

The Idol finale was, overall, a lot of fun. From Brooke White's duet with Graham Nash on "Teach Your Children" to Carly Smithson and Michael Johns dueting on "The Letter" (videos below), it was a great night of music for fans of the series. I would have appreciated hearing a solo or duet by Kristy Lee Cook instead of the endless and shameless plug of Mike Myer's new "Love Guru" movie, but my little Catholic media job doesn't give me any power in the Idol universe. So instead, here are a few highlights from the show for your viewing and listening pleasure:

Time of My Life - David Cook

Teach Your Children - Brooke White & Graham Nash

The Letter - Carly Smithson & Michael Johns

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I haven't had time to write anything original for a while so today I give you some words from the always quotable Father James Keller, founder of The Christophers, who wrote the following (condensed somewhat by me) in his book You Can Change the World:

"Long before they die, those who disregard others in furthering their own selfish interests begin to pay the penalty. They are never completely at peace. No matter how much of this world's goods they may possess, they seem forever ill at ease, restless, dissatisfied never to have caught up with the rainbow they are pursuing...

Those, however, whose lives are motivated with the vital purpose of doing all they can for others actually begin to live some of their heaven on earth. Nothing daunts them. They develop a gaiety of heart that carries them through the most trying circumstances...

You will be, in short, another Christ. And more and more, you will be able to say with the apostle Paul, 'It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me...'

A remarkable transformation will take place in you, and often surprisingly quickly, once you make within yourself the simple adjustment from dull, narrow concentration on self to the stimulating, vitalizing interest and concern in the general good of all...

Where in the past your approach to life was one of selfish timidity and fearful caution, you will find yourself charged with Christ's daring, bold yet prudent launching out...

More literally than anyone else, you will experience the real joy of living. Life itself will take on a new and exhilarating meaning. You will have the fun and thrill of knowing that, in however small a measure, you are building, not destroying; spreading love, not hate; light, not darkness. You will be fulfilling...the purpose for which you were created: to love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself."

Thursday, May 15, 2008


To hear screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi expound on the glories of "Battlestar Galactica," former "American Idol" finalist Phil Stacey reveal the role faith played behind-the-scenes at the show, or former "America's Next Top Model" contestant Leah Darrow discuss the darker side of the modeling industry that led her to more deeply embrace her Catholic faith, go here for free podcasts. And if you like what you hear, subscribe!

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Having been present for the deaths of two of my grandparents, I have experience with the emotions that go through you at a loved one's end of days. Movies and TV shows often describe the passing of someone as "peaceful" or "beautiful." Personally, I find the wrenching apart of body and soul gut-wrenching and horrible. These were points in my life where my faith was an act of will, not a matter of "feeling" connected to something greater. The prayer "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief" was a common refrain of mine during those experiences. That's why last week's episode of "Battlestar Galactica" - appropriately entitled "Faith" - resonated with me.

In one plotline, President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), who is undergoing chemo for cancer, visits with a woman who is near the end of her life because of the same disease. Roslin recalls that her own mother was a fervent believer that the gods would lead her happily into the next life when her end came. Instead, her death was filled with much suffering and all she saw as she passed was darkness, not light. The woman to whom Roslin is talking points out that it was Laura who likely saw only darkness because of her loss, not her mother.

The woman then tells Roslin about a dream she had that she was being taken across a river on a boat and saw all her loved ones who had died welcoming her on the shore. This dream brought her comfort and was the reason she began believing in the recent teachings of Gaius Baltar, a seemingly-reformed Judas who now believed in the one true God. While she's talking to Roslin, the woman goes into convulsions that appear to contradict the peaceful and contented end she was talking about. But later on, Roslin has a dream where she accompanies the woman who had died to the shore where her relatives are waiting. Roslin then sees her own relatives, led by her beloved mother, waiting on the shore for her. It's not Roslin's time yet, but she wakes up feeling comforted about what is to come.

In another plotline, a cylon skin-job is shot and killed. As she's dying, someone notes that she is looking past everyone to something else. Even though this cylon is supposed to be less than human, she appears to be moving on to a different life and world promised by her God.

At the end of the episode, belief in things unseen, mysterious, or completely implausible is the connecting thread for everyone. For me, this was the richest episode of the season so far in that it dealt with other elements like forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, and the endless cycle of violence that an eye for an eye will lead to.

But it was the look at death that made this one stand out for me. Starnge as it is to say about this usually dark TV series, I found this episode comforting, and think it will remain one of my favorites.


The other day I saw a commericial promoting the fact that the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee would air on ABC May 30th at 8:00pm. And I thought to myself, "AWESOME!!!"

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


"I think my faith makes me quicker to say I'm sorry."

That statement was made by Darrell Miller in the new DVD documentary "Champions of Faith: The Bases of Life" which I watched in preparation for an upcoming "Christopher Closeup" interview with executive producer Tom Allen. The film is an inspiring look inside the spiritual lives of some of the most successful players, coaches and managers in Major League Baseball.

The reason that quote jumped out at me is because I often see Christians portrayed as being sanctimonious, as thinking they're better than everybody else. To be fair, there are some Christians who act that way. But there are many others who strive for humility which, in my opinion, is the cardinal virtue for a rich spiritual life. If you're not humble, you have no room for God because you're too full of yourself. That's when religion is reduced to its lowest common denominator of just following a strict set of rules.

Hearing Darrell Miller say that his faith makes him acknowledge his weaknesses and sins was refreshing. Voices like his that are confident in their faith, yet kind and humble in their presentation, should be more prevalent in our culture.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


For three months, former New York Giants defensive lineman and 1986 Super Bowl champion George Martin rose at 4:00am on Saturdays and Sundays, walked thirteen miles to a state park, and then walked the fourteen-mile length of that park. It was Martin’s way of training for a challenge unlike any he’d faced during his many years with the NFL. You see, George Martin had decided to walk across the United States.

This decision wasn’t some bizarre manifestation of a mid-life crisis. It was a way to raise awareness and money for rescue and recovery workers who tried to save lives during and after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Exposed to toxins during that time, these first-responders have recently faced severe health problems and ever-increasing medical expenses.

Aware of their plight, George Martin chose to help. During an interview on the radio program 'Christopher Closeup,' he said, “In my estimation, a golf outing or a dinner banquet just didn’t rise to the level of exposure that we were looking for. And so being a country boy and always having a love of the outdoors and always having the desire to walk across country, I figured it was time in my life at 54 years old to accomplish this.”

Christening his task “A Journey For 9-11,” George set out from New York on Sept. 16, 2007 and is currently in Arizona nearing the end of his trek. His experience so far has been incredibly life-affirming.

George grew up an African-American in the South and often heard the message that he was “less of a human being than his white counterparts.” Though hoping for the best, George wasn’t sure what to expect considering that the news today is constantly full of stories about how divided this country is.

When asked if he saw the division and animosity often talked about in the media, George said, “I think that is probably one of the biggest misconceptions that I’m glad to eradicate through my experience on my journey for 9-11…As an African-American male walking across this country, I have received nothing but warmth, nothing but generosity, nothing but a sense of charity from everyone I’ve come into contact with…So I can tell you – yes, there are divisions within this country but they are the exceptions, they are not the rule. The rule is that, for the most part, people are warm and embracing and have a charitable nature about them, and they have been so receptive to our cause, A Journey For 9-11.”

George isn’t afraid to acknowledge God as the source of his courage in taking the leap of faith to walk across the country. He said, “Were it not for my belief in the Almighty, I don’t think that I could ever have embarked upon this journey… The thing that sustained us was that we believed with God’s help, with His grace, and with His mercy, this would be a successful endeavor.”

Ultimately, this journey is not about George Martin. It’s about helping those who helped others – and about redefining the way we see heroes in our culture.

George concludes, “I think when you attach the term hero primarily to professional athletes and celebrities – and you see the chaotic situations that are happening…among athletes and the perpetual moral decay within the community of celebrities – I don’t know why you would ever admire or look up to someone who perpetually goes into drug rehab or who conducts themselves in a manner that’s not befitting to what you want your kids to grow up to be. I think that term ‘hero’ should be reserved for those individuals like those first-responders and those rescue and recovery workers –individuals who are selfless in nature, individuals who give in order to make our lives better, individuals who make the ultimate sacrifice at times – those to me are the people who should be deemed heroes.”

(For more information on "A Journey For 9-11," click here. To listen to the full interview with George, go to

Friday, May 2, 2008


I haven't had time to read Anne Rice's newest book in her "Christ the Lord" series yet so I refer you to Happy Catholic's review of the book.

If I were to excerpt all the sections that presented new, stirring, and inspiring ways to consider Jesus as fully human and fully God, I would have to include about two-thirds of this book. Time and again I was astounded at Anne Rice's mastery of delicate subtlety in conveying a truth in her meditation of Christ among us as he comes to his ministry.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Unfortunately, last night was the end of the road for "American Idol" contestant Brooke White. It came as a bit of a surprise since it was the first time in a few weeks that Brooke seemed totally relaxed and just enjoying herself. Regardless, I hope the future holds great things for her since she is a very talented singer, songwriter and musician.

On Ebay, I recently found the independent album Brooke put out a few years ago called "Songs from the Attic." I was impressed by her writing and singing skills even at that early stage of her career (the songs "Free" and "Change" are particularly outstanding both musically and lyrically). Now with several more years experience under her belt and a host of new topics to write about, the future should be a creative goldmine for this up-and-comer.

If I had to add one critique about Brooke, it's that she appears to sell herself short. This comment she made about her voice in Entertainment Weekly's exit interview jumped out at me: "This little raspy thing I have has taken me years to accept. Some days I wish I could belt out notes."

If you listen to the Itunes download of "You Must Love Me," you will definitely discover that Brooke can be a belter of notes too. That may not be her natural comfort zone, but I think Brooke has grown as an artist over the last few months and can definitely step out of her comfort zone successfully whenever she wants. Plus, she makes every performance completely believable because she puts all her heart into it.

So here's to Brooke White for making this one of my favorite Idol seasons in a while. Her career has only just begun.

And for a blast from Brooke's past, check out her music video for the song "Free" here.