Bett for Ham

When the Broadway musical Hamilton started becoming all the rage about three years ago, Melanie was immediately hooked on it and started listening to the soundtrack constantly. I resisted at first (“I don’t like hip/hop or rap!”) but I couldn’t help hearing it and the discussing it with Melanie and then before I knew it, I didn’t just enjoy it, I was dissecting the lyrics and exclaiming the musical and playwriting genius of Lin Manuel Miranda.

Soon enough our dream was to be able to somehow go to New York and get the priceless, impossible tickets and see Hamilton with the original Broadway cast. Of course, it was never going to happen. But we consumed all things Hamilton: We watched the #Ham4Ham YouTube videos, read blog posts and articles about it, watched every news special about it, Melanie read the biography that inspired it and then bought the book that accompanies it. We even watched the bootleg YouTube videos of the play itself before they got taken down. In short, we were hooked.

Eventually, as we knew it would, the announcement came that the show was going national. Permanent performances would go to Chicago and San Francisco, too far for us. But the national touring company was going to come through Boston! I immediately got on the mailing list for the local Broadway show promoters. At some point last year, they announced that initial ticket sales would be done by lottery and so I signed up and waited… for months.

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To Kentucky and Back Again: Week 2

This is part 2 of my blog post about our big road trip in September 2018. For part 1, click here.

We headed out from the AirBnB in Nashville right on time, just a few minutes before our check-out time of 10am. It was a bit of a mad rush to pack and clean up, but we got it all done and were on the road heading east. We made good time and had good sunny weather along the way, listening to the beginning of Swallowdale. Again, the countryside we drove through was beautiful and sometimes breathtaking. I can’t how often on the whole trip one of us would just point out the window and say, “Wow, look at that.” It was helped by the fact that apart from the rain on the first day and clouds on the last day, we had amazing weather the entire trip, sunny and warm.

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To Kentucky and Back Again: Week 1

When Melanie told me months ago that her dad’s family was planning a family reunion in Kentucky this fall, my initial reaction was that we wouldn’t be able to manage such a trip with all our kids. But as we talked about it, the idea became more plausible.

We left our home on Tuesday, September 11 at about 4:45am. Our first stop would be Pittsburgh, where our friends Chris and Emily Chapman had graciously offered to host us for a night, but in order to make it in time for dinner, we had to leave extra early, so it was up at 3am for me to finish the load up and then out the door in pouring rain, which followed us west in Connecticut, letting up to gray skies in New York and Pennsylvania. Once everyone was awake, we continued listening to The Hobbit on audiobook (which we would finish a few days later in Kentucky). We stopped somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania to switch driving because I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, which left Melanie in the driver’s seat going through Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, because of all the rain they’ve been getting, there were many streets flooded out and so Waze took us through the terrible rush hour traffic through the South Side, up and down the Heights, into the West End, and finally around and through to their house. (I cannot emphasize how many twists and turns.)

Finally, we were at Chris and Emily Chapman’s home, which was as beautiful as we saw in the photos and they were very welcoming. Even though they have a newborn baby, just hosted 150 people for a baptism, and Emily was going in for surgery the next day, they welcomed us in as houseguests for the night. They also ordered a ton of food to feed us dinner, which was so generous.
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Desperately Seeking Bishops

It’s no surprise we have a crisis in leadership in the Catholic Church. Apart from the Scandal that took off in the public consciousness in 2002, the past few months have re-emphasized for us that we lack effective leadership at all levels of the Church, from top to bottom. Wherever you look are men who are often, at best, personally faithful but lacking in other necessary skills.

If we were to start fresh today, what would we need in a Catholic bishop? If we were to look at our seminaries, what should we cultivate in the our future priests and bishops?

First and foremost, they should be faith-filled and holy with a zeal for Christ. That should be a given and really ought to be the minimum we expect from our priests. And in their holiness and zeal, they would strive to follow Christ in the Church’s laws, doctrines, and disciplines.

Second, our bishops need to be leaders, not managers. We need men who will have the ability to lead their priests and laity, to energize them, to marshal them, to impassion them. We don’t need managers, fundraisers, or bureaucrats. We don’t need glad-handers or movers and shakers. We need men who are charismatic and impassioned, who have backbone, and who have clear vision and focus on a singular mission and priority: the salvation of souls. Everything else must serve that goal.

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A Time for Prayer and Fasting

“Prayer and fasting is all well and good, but what can I do that is really effective?” I’ve been seeing variations on that sentiment in recent days, accelerated by the revelations in Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s testimony as released last week. His earth-shaking accusations against many top Vatican and US bishops, including Pope Francis, who he called to resign, because of their alleged complicity in covering up immorality and abuse, has left many Catholics reeling.

Social media has been awash in hand-wringing and people asking, “What can we do?” Because we don’t want this all to be swept under the rug to disappear in the next news cycle. We want our Church to be cleansed and the rot to be cleared out. We want the truth to come out and allegations examined. If the Pope is innocent of these accusations, we want to know it. If he’s guilty, we want him to make reparation.

Some have called for the withholding of donations to dioceses or parishes, which has some consequences. The assumption is that it will cut down on bishops’ lavish lifestyles. For one thing, by and large, most bishops don’t live lavishly. And for those who seem to have cushy perqs, they often get those from specific donations from large donors and foundations. The people who get hurt in that scenario are people like the director of religious formation or the diocesan accountant or the receptionist at the chancery or the person who goes around teaching confirmation kids about the Church’s message of chastity because they’re the low hanging fruit in the budget. “Fine,” they say, “I will direct my donations to my parish.” Well, the bishop will just demand a tithe from your parish to support his ministry. “Then I will put restrictions on my parish donation, so that it can only be used for local things.” The person you’re hurting in that scenario is your pastor who still has to pay the bills and satisfy the parish’s obligations while juggling all these restrictions and the bishop’s demands.

What’s really behind this desire to withhold money is a desire to be effective. As regular laypeople in the pew we don’t feel like there’s anything we can do to fix the Church or hold misbehaving bishops accountable. Read More and Comment

My Solar Power Odyssey with Tesla and National Grid

You’d think in this time of “green” everything and climate change, in a state where liberal do-gooders hate oil and coal and love solar, that it would be easier to go solar. Last September, I wrote about our solar power struggles to that point, but little did I know that our struggles were only just beginning.

To recap: In February 2017, I responded to a Google promotion that connected me with several different solar providers who provided some initial information. I selected Vivint, but we hit a snag and so I turned to Solar City (which has since become Tesla). That was in June, 2017. We had some back and forth over the summer getting the system designed and paperwork completed and by September, we had a signed agreement.

But then we hit a snag. National Grid wanted us to pay to upgrade the local transformer for more capacity. Since the Tesla business model is to lease the panels to me at a fixed rate and then sell excess electrical power back to the utility to offset nighttime draw from them, the local transformer has to be able to accommodate more power than usual. And because there were already several solar installations in my neighborhood, my installation would put it over the top. So National Grid wanted $3,500 for the new transformer. From my point of view, the new transformer benefits National Grid (upgrading their infrastructure) and Tesla (so they and other solar companies can sell more installs in my neighborhood), so why should I be expected to subsidize multi-million and billion dollar corporations? So I told Tesla that they had to pay for it and if they didn’t, I was walking away.

Tesla agreed without much hesitation, but then National Grid said it would take 12-28 weeks to get it done. Care to guess how long it took? Yes, six months. Which seems to be par for the course as in everything having to do with the utility took the long end of the estimate or more. (You can see my previous blog post on this situation here.)

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As For Me and My House: A Reflection on Staying Catholic

I believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. I say those words every Sunday and I still believe them, including that the Church is holy. Yes, she is full of the rottenness of men, the stink of sin rising to the very top. But she is still the Church.

In today’s Mass readings (the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018), we hear from St. Paul (Eph. 5:21-32) that Christ loved the Church and loves her still, despite her flaws and sin. He doesn’t just love her, He died for her, to sanctify her, to cleanse her. He loves her so as to become one with her, to make her part of His mystical divine body. Just as the Old Testament prophet Hosea stayed faithful to Gomer, his wife who was also a harlot, so much more so will Christ stay faithful to His Church, even as she is unfaithful to Him and stinks to high heaven of sin.

After all, where else can we go? Even as I read last night the riveting and earth-shattering testimony of Archbishop Vigano, who names names and demands that Pope Francis and other high-ranking Vatican officials resign their offices for their failures to protect the Church from predators and underminers like Theodore McCarrick, I wept for my Church. And yet it never entered my mind that I would leave. This morning, my family was there in our parish, sitting in our regular pew, to celebrate Mass. And we heard Jesus challenge His disciples (John 6:60-69), after they have received the hard teaching of the Real Presence in the Eucharist from Him, “Do you also want to leave?”

How does Peter respond? He doesn’t say, “O Lord, I understand what you’re teaching me. I know what you mean when you said we must gnaw upon your flesh to have eternal life. Those other guys just haven’t given it deep enough thought.” No, what Peter says is, “Master, to whom shall we go?” To whom, indeed. Peter is admitting he doesn’t understand and perhaps even that what Jesus just said is troubling, but that he also knows deep down to the roots of his being that Jesus is Who He says He is, that He is the One who has come to seek and save the lost, that He comes from the Father. And that’s good enough for him.

It’s good enough for me. I won’t leave, no matter what priests, bishops, or popes do, because the “words of eternal life” aren’t from them. They are not “the Holy One of God” that Peter proclaims. And, sure, Peter doesn’t quite live up to his promise in that moment, denying Christ at the cross, but he comes back and is forgiven. So, I too, may be shaken by the events to come, the revelations of misdeeds and sin, but I won’t stray far. I will come back to the Way.

Because, as Joshua says in the first reading (Joshua 24:15), “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” My first loyalty is to the Lord, not to men. And we will serve the Lord in whatever way He calls us, in whatever way restores His Church and advances the kingdom. The alternative is to proclaim I will not serve (“non serviam”), but that way is the way of hell, literally.

“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord… therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24: 16, 18). Whatever may come, my house will serve the Lord, will stay faithful, will cling to the Sacraments, even as we do what we can to support the housecleaning to come in the Church.

In Response to IRL, by Amy

It’s an odd feeling to find myself even in partial disagreement with my friend Amy Welborn, and I am now doubting myself, but I will press on nonetheless. Amy is writing this week about technology and today she writes about the Church, evangelization, and technology.

To be sure, there’s much I agree with. Like her, I believe that parish and diocesan websites are vitally important and need to be done better. Parish websites, first and above all, need to make it easy for people to get the information they came for, usually the Mass times, including the holy day of obligation Mass times. They also need to be kept up to date. The worst failing of parish web sites is out of date content and the second worst is the failure to put new content up. I have held that every parish needs someone whose primary job is to go to every meeting possible and otherwise to badger the staff for stuff to put on the web site (and in the bulletin). Read More and Comment

Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World

Mysterious World

There’s yet another new SQPN podcast I’m contributing to that I want to share with you: Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World. As the title states, the show features Jimmy Akin, the Catholic apologist, author, and national radio host1, and me discussing the weird, the strange, the unusual, the unexplained from the twin perspectives of faith and reason. Whether it’s paranormal activity, government conspiracies, natural oddities, miraculous events, or something else out of the norm, we’ll be discussing it on the show.

If you’re over a certain age, think of it like Leonard Nimoy’s “In Search Of” or “Unsolved Mysteries,” starring Robert Stack, but from two Catholic guys.

In contrast to other similar shows, we are neither completely skeptical nor completely credulous and we always include our Catholic worldview. And if you know Jimmy at all, you know that he excels at rational, logical explorations and explanations and brings his encyclopedic knowledge to bear on whatever subject he’s discussing.

The first episode is about ghosts and you might be surprised at our conclusions. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be talking about transhumanism, Bigfoot, and Area 51, just to get started.

Please give it a listen, let us know what you think, subscribe to the feed, and share it with friends and family. Plus like, share, comment, retweet, and/or give it an iTunes review! We appreciate all your help in spreading the news of our podcasts.

As a reminder, since earlier this year I am the CEO and executive director of the StarQuest Production Network, a non-profit apostolate that explores the intersection of faith and pop culture through the medium of podcasts. You can find all our shows at SQPN.com.

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Keep in mind that it costs nothing to subscribe to SQPN’s podcasts. If you are unfamiliar with how to listen to a podcast, you can learn how at SQPN.com/listen.
  1. He also co-hosts the Secrets of Doctor Who and the upcoming Secrets of Star Trek podcasts with me and Fr. Cory Sticha

The New Censorship

Bill of Rights

I find the mass banning of Alex Jones of Infowars from nearly every online media platform to be chilling. Sure, the case can be made that InfoWars is the source of a lot of crap online, conspiracy theories and lowest common denominator misinformation that contributes to our dark times. That’s what makes it so easy to overlook the seriousness of the current situation.

This past Monday, Apple, Facebook, Google’s YouTube, and even LinkedIn all banned Jones’ InfoWars from their platforms. Twitter is expected to follow suit. This effectively muzzles Jones, preventing his video podcast from reaching the mass audiences he’d been reaching before. Sure, he still has his web site—for now—but without YouTube, he’ll have to put together a complex and expensive streaming video solution to replace it.

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