Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pet Peeves Revisited

Some things just bear repeating.  I've touched on this issue before, but...sometimes a week comes along where all you can do is just laugh at the foolishness of it at all.  Whether we're talking free book seekers, magazine editors who seek donated articles only to turn around and try to sell them online, or the classic dysfunctional committee, daily annoyances can get the better of us if we're not careful.

As I said in the earlier post, sometimes some quiet reflection helps to quietly put things in perspective.  In addition to trying to offer up our daily struggles to God, it also helps to see the humor in daily life.  When you feel like your pet peeves are overpowering you, just imagine what your neighbor probably thinks of you--and smile.  When all else fails, pink flamingos on their lawns are always a good alternative...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Technical Digression / Resetting iPhone Password

I recently inherited an iPhone 4, and I had no idea how to change its Apple password--necessary to install updates and acquire new applications.  I stopped by to ask at the local Mac Store, and the young clerk assured me that it couldn't be done.  That being the case, I thought I'd explain how simple it was to actually do.  I'm doing this for people like myself who find a legitimate need to do this, but I'll also end with some suggestions to improve overall device security.

I'll begin with mentioning that the relative from whom I inherited this device left no password information, except a few cryptic security phrase notes in his wallet and a couple references to password reset when I searched the iPhone itself.  He was a security expert, so I didn't have much hope in coming up with the correct password through trial and error.

When attempts to crack the password the traditional way were unsuccessful, I eventually received a message inquiring whether, or not, I wanted to reset the Apple password.  I indicated that I did and, since his e-mail still resided on the device, I requested to reset the account using his e-mail.  The e-mail arrived moments later, and I created the new password.  That was indeed thankfully easy.

Bear in mind that the Apple password is not the same as the pass code or screen lock.  Fortunately, this iPhone had no screen lock, or my job would have been much more difficult.  On earlier iPhones, however, this can be broken by selecting emergency call from the lock screen, then navigating away.  I don't know whether this particular vulnerability remains in the later models.    

Should you wish to make your iPhone more secure, you may wish to consider requiring a screen pass code.  In addition, I recommend registering your device through Aps such as Find iPhone.  

If you have many electronic devices on which you've stored important family information and records, it's strongly recommended that you retain your passwords somewhere with the rest of your important papers.  Should something happen to you, it makes the settling of your affairs a little simpler.

(By the way, changing the device name can easily by right-clicking on it within iTunes.  I suggest also that you create a new Apple id, then sign-out of the old, and sign-into the new.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Interview of Carlos Espinosa (Holy Wood Acting Studio Founder)

Max, StellaMaris, Karla, and Carlos Espinosa

Today's interview features Carlos Espinosa, founder of the Holy Wood Acting Studio in Los Angeles.  He offers a unique and fascinating look into what it means to be an actor and artist for God in today's world.  Thank you very much, Carlos, for taking the time to answer these questions so honestly! 

1.  What can you tell us about Holy Wood Acting Studio?  What do you see as its mission?

Even if they not know it, actors are called to be leaders.  Leaders tend to be the center of attention which is a huge peril for them and his/her followers if the first are not properly instructed and trained. We can see the devastating effects on many actors after they have just a little success doing what their vocation is telling them to do. An actor that fulfills his call in its entirety would be guiding the audiences to the light, to a happier life towards God. This is the mission, to train future actors to be torches of light to the world and by that being the happiest persons on earth.

2.  What prompted you to start the business?  How is your faith reflected within this vocation? 

My son Max worked for an actor and they were always approached by many who wanted to be actors and actresses but didn't know where to be trained. We saw that there is no place anywhere that trains actors (or any other activity) that forms the person before the actor, so we did it and trough prayer and discernment; a very effective program was created.

3.  Has the field and business of acting changed a great deal in the last twenty years, or has it remained much the same--as everything around it has changed? 

Acting has been a magnet for people who understand its immense power to guide masses. So, this God given craft has changed and developed into a more driven ability and its artist must convey a message that most of the times is not the best for the families and the world. 

4. There seems to be a tendency among some Christians to look at the field of acting and drama with suspicion.  Why do you think actors are often negatively stereotyped by those of faith?  What can be done about this? 

Holy Wood Acting Studio is the answer to their prayers, because God keeps giving His children His own power to create beauty and fill the hearts of many with hope and joy but up until today there was no other place where a talented person could get a proper training to avoid the cause of that rightful suspicion which is the dangers of bad-managed fame, power and money. 

5.  Being a great actor isn't enough for the successful performer these days.  He/she also needs to be an expert promoter, business person, negotiator, etc.  Do your students sometimes question the value of learning those kinds of life and business skills necessary to achieve (and maintain) success later in their careers? 

If a future actor wants to succeed, he needs to know how to move and effectively ascend the ladder of the hard world of acting, and he needs to know it as much as the best (or more).  The business of acting is one of many of our classes and each and every one of the teachers and coaches are not only experts in coaching, but also have worked many years in the movie industry. Passion, is a must and that is our fuel so needed for the talented one also.

6.  I interviewed Sean Astin last summer, and one of the things he remarked on was the thankfulness he has just to find good work.  It seems that an actor's life is often feast and famine.  If this is true, how do you teach a student to prepare for periods of professional and private hardship? 

Personal Growth and Development is a class that teaches them how to love themselves as much as God loves them, and that is the key to have a sound and really strong confidence. When you have that, you not only never worry for the mountain of rejections you may face, but you feel that those, and all the problems they may encounter, are but a preparation for a greater mission.  The bigger the challenge, the greater the mission, and you experience that He, Your Father provides all your needs (including difficult exercises of faith, hope and love, of course).

7.  Was there a particular point in your life where you made a conscious decision for Christ, a "Second Conversion?"  (As converts from the Evangelical tradition, this is an area of interest.  I'm going to try to usually ask this question in the future interviews.) 

My wife and I were rescued by Jesus for a second time (from being lukewarm Catholics) and by the Grace of God His Spirit grants us His passion of Love for Jesus almost 20 years ago. My son Max and daughter Karla have had their own passioned affair with Our Lord and God Jesus.

8.  Technology has so changed the face and voice of media over the past decade, or so.  What do you see as some of the greatest challenges for actors in coming years? 

I see that if an actor focuses his/her life in a disciplined life of prayer and study, the effect of the technology which is so great especially on un-educated people will be used by them to make a bigger success for Jesus, for them, for their families and the for the world.

9.  Is there a saint or two for whom you share a special affinity or appreciation? 

We try to see Our Lady in the same way Jesus was seeing Her when He was a baby... totally dependent, abandoned, and confident on Her. St. Padre Pio makes his rounds of checking everyday though...

10.  Has your friend Jim Caviezel ever stopped by Holy Wood Acting Studio to talk or work with students?  Are there well-known actors and actresses involved in the process?  What do you think about actors as role models? 

I met Jim only once in a dinner party, and he hasn't come (yet) to our facility.  The culture of celebrity is way too strong to even grasp by our minds, so we try not to look for it nor depend upon it for our support. If an actor wants to endorse us, it's is a blessing, but if not we know that we always count with the full support and love of the Only Real Celebrity.

11.  What would you say is the hardest thing for your students to learn or accept? 

Humility (the hardest for me too!), which we understand it as the source of real power and real authority over ourselves and over others. 

12.  Suppose that there is a young man or woman reading this who would love to pursue an acting career, but they don't know where to begin.  What advice would you offer them today? 

To read every page of our web site where everything is explained in detail and to call 310-428-6165 for further information, but before that... to pray, pray, pray!!! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Internet Ramblings

Ever thought about how the internet has changed communication?  I don't mean speed.  We all know it's fast, but what's the tradeoff for that blazing speed?  Take the publishing field, for instance.  It's very common to send an e-mail to an editor or fellow writer and for the response to take so long (if at all) that one almost forgets what the original question was about.  If you're like me, non-responses are a pet peeve.  In my day job, they are easy enough to understand, but I tend to be more irked by them as a writer.  (Suggestion of the day, use an "out of office" automatic reply to tell senders when to expect a response.  It's courteous and informative.)

The thing is, though, that more than likely the person can't manage their e-mails and Farmville simultaneously.  So, while we let petty annoyances build over such silly things as unanswered e-mails, there's probably a good chance the person hasn't even seen the message--or whatever else you may be waiting for the person to address.  For all you know, then, there is no reason at all to let yourself be annoyed by it.  Want to feel better?  Just imagine the fellow staring blankly at a growing e-mail inbox.  It works for me.   (Pink flamingos on their front lawn are also always a nice touch.)

I know I've trudged along some of this dusty trail before with the "Connection Illusion," but the internet's effect upon how we communicate greatly interests me.  I don't know the statistics, but the anecdotal evidence certainly suggests that writing quality for students within the halls of higher education is becoming poorer.  Between e-mail, instant messaging, and Facebook, it seems that it's hard to write is a decent sentence it is.  LOL.    (Joke, people.)  

Researching topics is another interesting area.  Do young people even know how to write a research paper without the internet?  I know when I looked it up on Google, it said that...  Oh, never mind.

Anyway, that's it for today.  Sorry it was such a rotten post, but I have to check my Facebook.

Update:  Please visit my friend's Deborah King's blog on this general issue, too.  See also "Why I Left Facebook."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nook Book Update

Happy to announce that my short story entitled "Stars Within the Glass" is now available through Barnes and Noble.  Hope you can take a look at this Nook Book!  It's also available at iBooks and at Lulu.

Psst...  A certain seagull reminded me to mention a particular children's tale by the name of Tristan's Travels.  It can be found at select independent bookstores, as well as online at Rafka Press and Amazon!  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Parting Thougts on the Occupy Movement and Higher Education

It's not my intention to stay on this topic too much longer, but I'd like to raise a few more points today.  One of the frequent gripes of the movement is the cost of higher education.  While I agree with the complaint, I differ with them on their approach for rectifying it.  I do want to point out that I agree that something is wrong with the higher and higher costs for attending universities.  Our daughter is at this stage now, and the costs are indeed stunning.  Why the dramatic increase in tuition--far outpacing inflation?  I'm no economist, but I suspect that the "education bubble" has much to do with rising healthcare costs as well as the willingness for some students and families to take on huge debts to finance education.

This touches on a personal pet peeve.  Lately on social media, I've seen several versions of a photograph of young person holding up a handwritten sign praising his own sound financial and life choices.  These choices usually boil down to living below one's means and attending public university instead of an expensive private university.  Besides the self-congratulatory or prideful tone, I object to this dismissive characterization of all private universities.  

Don't get me wrong.  There's nothing wrong with a good public university education, and I'm sure there are many cases where it's better than private.  Still, there's a sense in these kind of exchanges that private education is being viewed something like a name brand vs generic product, and that's where it needs to be pointed out that education is more than a retail commodity.  Yes, there is a commonsense cost/value awareness that needs to be taken into the equation, but university is more for the learning and less about the diploma--isn't  it?

Our daughter, for example, is looking for a solid Catholic education.  She looks forward to learning more about her faith from professors--not student teachers.  Private schools by and large (especially Catholic or Evangelical) offer a much deeper education in these areas.  If smaller class size is important, private schools are also the way to go.  If you have a pair of binoculars you enjoy using to watch your professor in the large lecture hall, go for it! 

Lastly, I've been hearing from any number of people that it's possible to attend private university for less than public if you're successful with your aid search.  As I understand it, there's often more aid available for the private universities than the public.  So, don't dismiss a family's sacrifice for a private education, if the student is looking for more than just the diploma.  Education is too important to compromise.  (If your family is looking for a good Catholic university in the Pacific Northwest, may I suggest University of Portland.)

Lastly, below is a response to a friend's concerns with regards to my last blog post.  Without her permission, I'm not comfortable mentioning her by name or linking to her thoughtful essay, but I thought I'd offer this--for what it's worth.

You make some interesting points. While I agree with some of your individual suggestions, I don't concur with your conclusions or logic. I think the central and simplest perspective is to analyze what is meant by social and "economic equity." That's just Socialism by a different name. Striving to address legitimate social justice issues such as poverty, homelessness, and lack of opportunities are laudable goals, but it's entirely different than "economic equity," which suggests (to me anyway) a redistribution of wealth to take everyone to the same standard. 

Since that involves the taking of assets not otherwise belonging to you, I see that as a breaking of the 7th Commandment; whether, or not, the government is doing the confiscating and redistribution, it is morally comparable to theft. If that's all Occupy Wall Street is about, that's just as greedy as the people they are supposedly protesting. While consumerism itself is not a good thing, economic activity and prosperity are. They represent the livelihood of individuals, families, and communities. While we may wish for a simpler--agrarian, for instance--life, that bell can't be unrung. (See my "Connection Illusion" blog post for more.) Instead, we as Catholics need to constructively engage our culture and demonstrate the love of Christ--not Socialism. (You might want to read the CCC, Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 7.) 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Occupy Wall Street's Retreat from Relevancy--& Suggestions!

I have to admit I turned and watched the Occupy protesters as I drove past their little camp in downtown Salem earlier today.  They're an interesting bunch, and in some ways I feel a real ambivalence towards what they're doing--or trying to do, at least.  For several years early in our marriage, we were so poor that we made church mice look filthy rich.  Even at the worst of times, though, I think the idea of protesting our situation would have seemed pretty silly to me.  Instead, I worked three pretty rotten jobs to hold things together, and I was always looking and competing for that dream job.  I suppose it's the fact that I've survived with little myself that I don't have a lot of patience for complainers--especially complainers who can't seem to say anything of consequence regarding their movement or its goals.

If they're complaining about not having jobs, it's just possible they might have more luck if they put down those signs and actually began looking for work. I am not saying it will be easy process, but it's a good starting point.  

My impression is that (1) they can't articulate what they're actually protesting against except in vague generalities, and (2) the union involvement in the Occupy movement belies their claims for financial accountability.  (Let's face it, unions aren't exactly the poster children for accountability or financial transparency.)  

So, I figure that this would be an opportune moment to put on my rain-soaked sweater, dirty jeans, and smelly dreadlocks (clip-ons) to really give these misguided folks some thoughtful advice for turning things around, not just achieving numbers but aiming for meaning, too.

First, remind everyone how terrible a proposition President Obama's stimulus package really was.  Second, point out the foolish and over-reaching pursuit of Obamacare in the midst of this Great Recession.  Third, while their hearts might have been in the right place, the latest round of banking and credit card regulations have really added insult to economic injury for the American people.  Yes, Bank of America corporate leadership may need a good spanking, but the most significant thing you can do is to...close your account.  President Obama's misguided policies have created an ecomonic environment of uncertainty and speculation.

It's unfortunate that these protesters can't recognize the irony and humour of the situation (as suggested in the photograph I shared above).  They're protesting corporations and capitalism itself while simultaneously reaping the benefits and innovations of both.  The power of social media, for instance, is being put to great use by these Occupy organizers.  While they've achieved the flash mob status, there not sure what to do now--or what demands to even seek.

On the other hand, the few protesters that can successfully articulate what they're looking for too often betray a Socialist mindset.  Read the following quote, for instance, from Occupy Portland chat forum.

Why do we care if the people are behind us? I am against "democracy" as a political system for this very reason. We, a minority know that this empire needs to be brought down so why do we care if we are in the minority? Why do we care about trying to convince the majority to be on our side. Are we trying to convince people or change the political structure?

After all, socialism has such a fine track record of economic success and environmental stewardship, doesn't it?  It's sad...a good protest is such a terrible thing to waste.

In conclusion this evening, I'd like to share a wise observation Father Robert A. Sirico of the Acton Institute made recently on EWTN's World Over.  The following is his response when he was asked about the moral obligation of "economic equity."

...I don't think economic equity is the real question.  What we care about most is the vulnerability of the poor.  It's not the gap between the rich and the poor; it's the floor.  That is, how well are the poorest and most vulnerable people living?  So, the fact that Warren Buffet has less money than Bill Gates is not the moral dilemma.  The Gap is not the moral dilemma, and I think they're focusing on the wrong question.  The question is not how do we distribute money, but how to create it...

By the way, be sure to read my second post on this general topic.  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Top 10 Blog Recap for Singing in the Wood

I was shocked to realize today that my blog has existed now for longer than a year.  Granted, its present format  is younger than that, but I'm still pleased (and a bit surprised) that I've managed to keep it going this long. While I'm sure its continued existence may only annoy any number of good people, here's to another great year ahead of us!

In a sort of belated birthday extravaganza, I thought I'd post the top ten most popular blog posts first, then I'd share ten of my personal favorites.  (That's not to say some of the most popular group might otherwise be in my personal favorite list, too.)  It's hard to say what makes a post one of my favorites.  Sometimes, my favorite is because of the topic, but it's also often because of the wonderful feedback I receive from my readers.  While I may not have a great many regular followers as yet for my relatively new blog, it's always exciting to note the far-reaching locations where visitors originate--from London to Spain and all across the USA.  I appreciate my readers very much, and I hope the content continues to appeal and interest you in the year(s) to come!  Lastly, I'd also like to extend a special thank you to those people who have graciously given of their time to facilitate the interviews I've shared here: Sean Astin, Raymond Arroyo, and Lino Rulli.  More coming...

Most Popular Blog Posts

Some of Karl's Personal Favorites

"Honorable Mentions"

* Links updated and corrected on November 1st.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stances of Grace, Living the Faith

I happened across a new book by Michael Novak and William E. Simon entitled Living the Call: An Introduction to Lay Vocation.  After reading an opinion piece on Fox by its author, I was reminded by similar notes I sounded years ago in an essay I penned called "Stances of Grace."  Mr. Simon's new book on living the faith looks to be very timely indeed, and I look forward to reading it.  I hope up you will pick-up a copy (or get it via Kindle, as I did) and share your thoughts!

I hope you enjoy my essay below.  It should be perhaps noted that as a writer sometimes I will "recycle" elements from previously unpublished works within published essays.  Other than very simple references, I don't believe "Stances of Grace" has been used before in this way.  Should I be in error, I hope the publisher will excuse any writer oversight!

"Stances of Grace"

We are often reminded of the need to live each day for Christ—not just during Sunday Mass alone.  The idea being that we too often compartmentalize ourselves; our church and spiritual lives on one side and our secular lives on the other.  As a recent convert to the Catholic Church, the merging of these two distinct halves has been something I have personally struggled with, and I believe that the Eucharist has been instrumental in helping me to slowly, and with faltering steps, become the whole person God intends me to be.  While it’s easy to observe the necessity that we, the Body of Christ, must carry the Church from the inside to the outside of our church walls, it is more challenging to identify how exactly we bring Christ to the world through our daily examples.  

Our attitudes often betray the essence of who we are, or who we are in danger of becoming.  I remember one episode recently when I was driving to an evening Bible study, and I noticed that the car behind me was tailgating.  I tried to ignore the driver until he pulled alongside at a light down the block.  As I glanced over, I was stunned to recognize a friend.  This fine and upstanding gentleman apparently did not think twice of expressing his own frustration at being late for some appointment by behaving in a discourteous way towards a person he mistakenly assumed to be a stranger.  We are all guilty of thoughtless and selfish behavior at times, but how do we take the church outside when we feel frustrated or angry with our fellow man?  We all have pet peeves, and, when those internal buttons are pressed, we feel the need to express our displeasure.  In fact, sometimes a restrained anger can serve a legitimate purpose. 

If we don’t oppose what’s wrong, for instance, we are simply condoning it.  Remember Christ and the temple moneychangers.  Our Lord wasn’t any too pleased, and He expressed himself in a definite and concrete way.  It’s when we feed and nourish those feelings of anger that the likelihood of achieving any lasting good from the situation slips away, and we place our soul in peril.

Sometimes a mnemonic aid can help when trying to learn or apply a difficult concept. My daughter, for example, use to find it helpful to learn her multiplication tables by putting them to music.  The melody helped her to connect the dots and more quickly retrieve the memorized information.  Is there a way to apply something similar to our spiritual lives?  Perhaps one way to do so is to recall the variety of physical stances one takes during Mass: standing, sitting, kneeling, waiting in line to receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord, and greeting our fellow parishioners. If we think of the church every time we find ourselves in a similar physical position, then we're beginning to take the church from the inside to the outside.  

When I find myself becoming irritated while waiting in line, my mind may recall waiting in line to receive the Eucharist.  Since Christ died for all of us, it’s true that every person we meet within our hectic daily schedules is someone for whom His blood was spilled, and, therefore, a fellow member or potential member, of the Body of Christ.  As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Weight of Glory, there aren’t “ordinary people”.  We all have everlasting souls.  Cultures and civilizations will vanish, but that grocery clerk you may be inclined to snap at has the profound gift of an eternal soul and may be in heaven with you throughout eternity.  If we can apply a kind of internal reverence to our daily lives, we are offering those routine activities up to Christ, and we infuse them with deep meaning.  In this way, we are also acknowledging that we our identity is greater than what our daily life may trick us to think.  That is, our identity should not be tied too closely to our work or vocation, if our work is secular in nature.  When we understand this, we are transforming the mundane to the eternal and creating stances of grace as we strive to live Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 10:31: “whatever you do, do for the glory of God.”

A second, but related, approach to engaging our culture and society is to use our specific gifts and talents to create a better world, doing works for God.  In this way, we are also being imitators of Christ.  At times, though, there seems to be a puzzling tendency among some Catholics to engage only in the superficial issues.  There is frequently a strong inclination among some well-meaning Catholics, for instance, to take on issues dealing more with environmental stewardship, social justice, or simple political correctness than the pure and simple ministry of Christ--or controversial issues such as abortion.  It sometimes boils down to something akin to a misplacement of cause and effect.  Take, for instance, the issue of environmental stewardship.    

It is certainly a valid concern in this day and age, but how is this issue often handled in our parishes?  Wouldn’t we understand environmental stewardship more clearly if we first examined the life a great saint—such as Saint Francis?  This saint’s love of nature was hinged on the fact that it was (and is) created by God.  In other words, nature points to God.  If we have a solid spiritual foundation, this connection is quickly grasped.  As Saint Augustine wrote in Confessions, “There are many, in fact, who find your creation pleasing, because it is good, but what they find pleasing in it is not you.  They choose to look for happiness, not in you, but in what you have created.”  In a culture where environmentalism might be described as a kind of religion in and of itself—even if it’s a religion purporting to abandon all religions--I think we would be wise to ensure that we are preaching Christ first and foremost. 

There is a possibility that some Catholics view issues such as abortion more along the lines of "fundamentalist" causes instead of Christian causes. I am not saying that we should stop talking about hot topics such as Global Warming, but I suggest that we also stand united with our separated brethren to ensure that our voices are raised in unison against the real evils of our day.  Some of our other causes may simply be clever distractions foisted on us by the enemy.

My wife and I sometimes sit and watch those who receive the Eucharist at Mass and meditate on the mystery of it all.  The believer who approaches the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ is a sinner, but the person returning to his pew becomes a little more like Christ.  If you will permit another quote from Saint Augustine, he wrote the following concerning the Eucharist in Confessions, “I am the food of full-grown men.  Grow and you shall feed on me.  But you shall not change me into your own substance, as you do with the food of your body.  Instead you shall be changed into me."  In our efforts to carry the church to the outside world, we should strive to preach the saving story of Christ daily in our clearly expressed thoughts, words, and deeds.  In this way, we are working and cooperating in the saving work of Christ by being examples of His boundless love to a lost and fallen world.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lino Rulli ("The Catholic Guy") Interview

I'm excited to share today's blog interview of...  Lino Rulli, Emmy-award winner for "Generation Cross," bestselling author of  Sinner, The Catholic Guy's Funny, Feeble Attempts to Be a Faithful Catholic, not to mention the great host of the "Catholic Guy" on Sirrus/ XM Radio.  Lino is the latest person to graciously answer far too many e-mailed questions from yours truly.  A big thank you to Lino for taking the time from his hectic schedule to provide such thoughtful answers--on far too many questions!

1.  For those who may not be familiar with your new book, Sinner, what made you decide to tell your story?  What do you hope readers take away?   

What made me write the book was...well, the advance! Money makes a person do crazy things: like write a Catholic book. And I really hope readers take away the reminder that we're all sinners. We're all struggling. Hopefully they can have some laughs at my expense and realize they're not the only ones who aren't perfect.

2.  What's its release date, and will it be available in Kindle format?

It was released September 1 and is a paperback, kindle, audio cd, and audiobook. No excuses to not buy it! It's everywhere...

3.  I really enjoyed reading the preview of a portion of the first chapter ("Monkey Boy") on Amazon.  As a guy who played McGruff the Crime Dog as well as Reepicheep in the late 1980s, I think I can sympathize with the costume...  Did the monkey suit work give you an introduction to performing in front of people that appealed to you--or did that really come later?

Yeah, it certainly helped. But more than anything, it gave me an example of the need to be different. My dad took a different path in life, and that encouraged me to try and do the same thing.

4.  When did you decide to pursue a career in 


I always loved media. Just before graduating college, I decided to get "serious" about Catholicism - and thought that a practicing Catholic shouldn't be involved with trivial media stuff. But a few years later, God literally put me back into the media world. So it seems like He decided for me.

5.  As the Catholic Guy on Sirrus XM Radio, you've had the opportunity to visit many exciting places.  What are a couple of your favorites--Rome?  On the opposite end of the spectrum, any places where you probably would like to avoid a second visit?

Rome is the best. I'm Italian, though, so I might be biased. The show has brought us a lot of cool places, but you can't beat Rome. I can't think of anyplace I wouldn't visit again!

6.  Are you exploring any new directions or format changes to your show in the coming years?

I'm a big believer in the idea that if you're not changing, you're stagnant. So I don't have any specific directions or format changes to announce here :), but I'm always working on it.

7.  Do you plan on writing more books in the future?  Any topics of interest?  Ever considered fiction?

I've gotten a few publishers contacting me to write another book, so with any luck I'll be writing again soon. I don't think I'd do fiction, however, because I think life is stranger than fiction. 

8.  What were some of the highlights that will stay in your memory from World Youth Day Madrid?

The Saturday Night Vigil, nearly 2 million people, the Pope is there, and a rainstorm hits! We had an absolute blast out in the rain. Then, it stops raining, the Pope continues talking, and we're having Eucharistic Adoration. 2 million people praying. Complete silence. Then, after the Pope left, it started raining again. It was great.

9.  What do you see as one of the major challenges facing the Catholic Church in the United States at this time?

Wow, that's a tough one. I think the major challenges facing the Church is credibility and a sense of being relatable. A lot of people are turned off by Catholicism, and we have to try to win 'em back... 

10.  Was there a particular point in your life as a young man where you made a conscious decision for Christ, a "Second Conversion?"  (As converts from the Evangelical tradition, this is an area of interest.  I'm going to try to usually ask this question in the future interviews.)

I've had a few times in my life where I've had a "Second Conversion" like experience, but the truth is I'm a guy who was born and raised Catholic, and I need to be converted every day!

11.  Have you spent much time in western Oregon?  Any upcoming visits to our neck of the woods in the near future?

I've been to 6 of the 7 continents. 48 of the 50 states. And never Oregon! Sorry. Would love to visit sometime.

12.  I remember listening to one of your shows in late June when you were talking about co-ed dormitories at Catholic universities.  We recently visited a school in the Seattle area with our daughter where men and women were rooming right next door to each other.  It seems to run counter to common sense as well as Catholic morality and modesty, creating an environment where the occasion to sin is present unnecessarily.  I just don't see why we have to burden our kids with these temptations.  Do you think more and more Catholic institutions of higher learning are taking a second look at this?

I think the idea of Catholic identity is becoming more and more important at all sorts of Catholic institutions. And that's a good thing. Some things, like co-ed dorms, are just a crazy idea. 

13.  Technology has so changed the face and voice of media over the past decade, or so.  What do you see as some of the challenges for print and broadcast media in the future?

Media is becoming more and more splintered, and it's a challenge to build and maintain an audience with so many options. I think the biggest challenge is having a sizable audience - and making money! Everyone likes making money.

14.  Is there a saint or two for whom you share a special affinity or appreciation?

Blessed John Paul II and Blessed John XXIII. JPII because he was a hero for so many of us, and I got a chance to meet him. I was there at his funeral and there at his beatification. And John the 23rd, because he was Italian and had a great sense of humor.

15.  We recently were dealing with a family member battling a serious illness, and I was curious how your faith helps you personally handle those more difficult times in your life?  For instance, what does redemptive suffering mean to you?

I'm sorry to hear that. And as for faith helping during difficult times, I'm not great with redemptive suffering...but when I have nowhere else to turn, God is there. And I find comfort in that.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Call to Christian Unity

Several years ago, I received a strange envelope from a penitentiary to the east. Enclosed was a long handwritten letter from a man identifying himself as a former priest who was now serving time in prison for an undisclosed crime. He wrote me in response to a religious article of mine which he had come acrossOne could hardly miss his deep grief as reflected in the furious cursive of his pen. His writing betrayed a longing to be accepted again and to regain that lost connection to the Church. This former priest views himself as an outcast from the Church and the community due to his acts of grave sin. After all, sin, by its nature, separates not only man from God (and man from the Church), but also man from man.
The letter brought home the image of the Christian body as a single family, united in its belief in Christ and yet gravely separated. This separation originated in the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Their choices made sin a reality in the world. Sin, by its very nature, pushes us towards disunity. In Mary, we clearly see Eve’s opposite. Where Eve’s disobedience opened the world to sin, Mary’s obedience and cooperation paved the way to its redemption. Perhaps we should see the history of the Church in the simpler terms of a family in crisis? One of the early examples of the broken unity within this family concerns the actions of Martin Luther. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes in the section entitled “Wounds to Unity”, Martin Luther raised many important concerns that deserved substantive dialogue—from corruption in the sale of indulgences to the allegations of misuse of the church’s mounting wealth.
Many saints of the past have also spent their lives struggling to change attitudes or practices within the Church they loved. Several centuries earlier, Saint Francis worked tirelessly for the poor, and Saint Thomas Aquinas labored to remind us that faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. The difference between the endeavors of the saints and those of Martin Luther hinges, in part, on the nature of pride and the sin of separation. The saints paid as little attention as possible to self, or “brother ass”, as Saint Francis called his own body in jest. 

Instead, the saints always worked to place the good of others ahead of themselves and to promote unity at every turn. Martin Luther, on the other hand, concluded that starting anew was better than laboring to correct the problems present within the Catholic Church. When pride creeps into our minds, it transforms otherwise laudable goals into a dishonorable agenda or even a personal crusade. Those demanding reform within the church lost touch with the vital place unity holds within the Christian family and failed to see unity itself as a reflection of God’s loving plan. Martin Luther moved ahead against the Catholic Church, bringing profound separation to bear against the faithful. Turning his back on biblical passages calling us to unity, such as 1 Corinthians 3:1-23 and John 17:11, he pressed harder and harder until the very fabric of the Christian family tore. It continues to tear today.
While it is true in a sense that the sin of pride continues to echo afresh with each new denomination, it is also important to keep things in their perspective. It was that initial split from the Catholic Church which Catholics find particularly egregious—after all, it was separation from the one true Church. The new denominations springing up constantly are simply the logical consequence of churches struggling for moral direction. We can’t necessarily fault each Protestant denomination for breaking with its parent church. In fact, we might find their motivations to be nearly above reproach. Take, for instance, the Free Methodist Church. This denomination broke from the Methodist Church over such issues as slavery and the sale and renting of pews. The founders wanted a place that welcomed everyone—poor or rich, slave or free.
When asked to comment on the nature of Christian unity, a Free Methodist pastor from north Seattle, Mark Nordvedt, shared the following. “Jesus called for unity but not at the expense of biblical truth and biblical morality. If one compromises on the authority of the Scriptures, the Bible, you are lost on a sea of subjectivity and relativism and lose any basis of belief or action upon which to be united.”  Whether he realizes it, or not, this pastor’s simple observation highlights our similarities more than it exposes our differences. Despite the doctrinal challenges that keep us apart, the desire to fervently follow Scriptures is shared by Catholics and Protestants alike. If more Catholics could simply articulate the beauty and fullness of our faith and traditions and demonstrate God’s love within their own lives, our churches would be overflowing come each Mass. If we are like members of a broken family, then perhaps what is needed is the calm love of an older brother or sister to convey what the Catholic Church is all about. Our separated brethren already have that passion for Jesus, and He certainly wants them to come into the Catholic Church, to learn to know Him better.
It should come as no surprise that the broken family of Christ often carries over to affect the family life found within many of our homes, sin begetting sin. The separation of family members on the grounds of religious intolerance mirrors the broken unity of the Christian faithful worldwide. If the Christian church is seen as the “Body of Christ” as explained in verses such as 1 Corinthians 12:27 and Ephesians 1:22-23, then how can this separation be the better choice?  As if there were any doubt as to the answer, we have the beautiful message of John 17:22-23.
22        The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,
23 I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.

The very triune nature of God points to the fundamental unity of the Trinity. We simply need to offer ourselves humbly before Christ in an effort to discern what we can contribute towards the reconciliation of our spiritual family.  
Though mankind today may view itself as the perfected result of thousands of years of evolution, the sobering reality is that it has been falling towards moral entropy since the Fall of Man. This descent is a frightening thing to witness. Just as the sin of Adam, separated man from God and man from man, the sin of separation, as well as pride, has made the chasm between God and man just that much wider and deeper. Like the profound truth reflected in Michelangelo’s famous painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, God continues to stretch out His arm across the gulf to reach man below. Sadly, man too often ignores the hand of his savior. Even non-Catholic writers seem to recognize that something is missing. C.S Lewis wrote the following on November 10, 1952, as it appears in Letters to an American Lady.
Though you have taken a way which is not for me I nevertheless can congratulate you -- I suppose because your faith and joy are so obviously increased. Naturally, I do not draw from that the same conclusions as you, but . . . I believe we are very near to one another . . . In the present divided state of Christendom, those who are at the heart of each division are all closer to one another than those who are at the fringes . . . Let us by all means pray for one another: it is perhaps the only form of "work for reunion" which never does anything but good. God bless you. © William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

A good place to begin in the dismantling of the fences between Catholics and Protestants might be avoidance of terms that polarize rather than unite—especially when the terms themselves offer little in the way of illumination. Generalizations and labels are not the way to build dialogue. The key to communication is to build upon our commonalties and not accentuate our differences. If Catholics are properly catechized, they should have no problem explaining how our traditions have grown closer over issues like the profound gift of sanctifying grace. They might also mention how Catholics often work together with Protestants to battle such cultural tragedies as abortion and pornography. It’s also worth noting that some of the present divisive issues were of little or no concern to Martin Luther—for example, infant baptism or Mary’s place of honor within the Catholic Church.

One illustrative example of an area of frequent confusion between Catholics and Protestants  might be the debate concerning faith (or grace) and works. The Protestant is likely to confuse the Catholic position (perhaps on account of never having heard it clearly articulated) and incorrectly assert that the Catholic believes in earning his way to heaven through works. While the Catholic believes no such thing, the Protestant may point to traditions and rituals which, when not understood in their historical and religious context, may confuse non-Catholics. The reason I selected this particular example, however, is because the truth is so easily reached by a careful reading of Scripture as well as an application of both common sense and logic.
As Saint James makes abundantly clear in his second chapter, works are a reflection of the grace within. Many subscribe to a false and misleading dichotomy regarding faith and works; they’re as inseparable as the flame is from the candle. If faith doesn’t have an effect upon works, it’s not a real or substantive faith. Paragraph 2001 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it in the following way.
The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace. This latter is needed to arouse and sustain our collaboration in justification through faith, and in sanctification through charity. God brings to completion in us what he has begun, "since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it: 
Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without him we can do nothing.

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, there’s an enlightening account of Christ’s miraculous curing of an epileptic boy after His disciples were unable to do so. When privately questioned later, Christ explains to his disciples that their inability to cure the child was because of the need for serious prayer. It’s interesting to note that the King James version refers to “prayer and fasting.”  This is an example of our cooperation with God requiring a commitment of time and energy (works) before the desired result can be achieved through Christ. It doesn’t mean, of course, that the prayer and/or fasting brings about the cause of the change; God remains the mover, but we should understand the critical part that our actions play within our own spiritual and prayer life. Saint Paul reminds us of this in his letter to the Colossians (1:24-27).
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,
25 of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,
26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.
27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
As a recent convert from the Evangelical tradition, I urge Catholics to take a fresh look at both evangelization and the studying of their own faith to help them bring Protestants back home. Whether it is explaining the simple differences in vocabulary which often raise barriers to effective communication, or simply taking the time to thoughtfully discuss our positions, this will accomplish much for unity. It was Pope John Paul II’s tireless ecumenical work that first caught our attention years ago. Slowly, it dawned on my Protestant family that the pope was indeed right. In the same loving spirit so evident in this great pope’s book entitled Crossing the Threshold of Hope, we must do everything in our power to encourage our separated brethren to return home, and we should demonstrate that there is less separating us today than they may guess. We need to bring the message to them and pray for Christ to work upon their hearts. In the name of Christ, let us do everything we can to facilitate a reunion of our broken family at Christ’s table. Whether Protestant or Catholic, we all follow the same Good Shepherd, and it’s time this separated family came back to the house of their fathers.

Coming up next...hope to publish Lino Rulli's interview next week, or so.