2014 Emerald City Comic Con – Days 2 & 3!

The Evil Queen (Regina) of Once Upon a Time. A new favorite television series that takes well known fairy tales and puts them together in fun, neat ways.

The Evil Queen (Regina) of Once Upon a Time. A new favorite television series that takes well known fairy tales and puts them together in fun, neat ways.

Well, after nearly a week, here is the concluding post to the ECCC weekend!

Last year I recall thinking that coming to the convention alone was enjoyable, but not the best way to take part in the event. Everywhere you go there are fans of various stories gathered together and conversations abound both recalling favorite scenes and discussing the features of the convention.

This year I went to my folks, from whom I honestly inherited my geekery, and pitched the idea of the three of us going. I knew it would be a bit of a hard sell, since the huge variety of nerddom would far outstrip the particular interests of any one person. My mother was pretty reticent, remarking that she was only really interested in seeing and potentially meeting Star Trek actors. It was too bad, really, but she wasn’t up for much else.

…..so I mentioned that Nichelle Nichols, John de Lancie, Dwight Schultz and Michael Dorn would be at the con! As a huge fan of TNG & DS9, she was especially excited about Michael Dorn. In the space of about 5 seconds, she was suddenly insisting on going!

When my father came home, we told him about her decision to come – and he protested that he wanted to go from the beginning but didn’t want to leave her home! So our party grew to three. From there I called my brother and invited him & his fiancee to join us. Since I was the only one to get the whole weekend off, we agreed that Saturday was the day for the five (five!) of us to go together. Tickets were bought and plans made.

All seemed set until about a month ago, when my mother called with the unfortunate news that her organist substitute was unexpectedly and unavoidably unable to take her place: she would have to bow out and play at her church for Mass that evening. The commute involved made coming even for a little part of the day unfeasible. She was upset at missing the convention (and meeting & seeing some of her favorite actors), but there was nothing to be done.

Or so she thought.

I hatched up a plan to go behind her back. See, she works at Star of the Sea in Bremerton, and I happen to part of a friendly fraternity of folks who run parishes! The pastor there is someone I have a lot of regard for and who I was pretty sure would be amenable to some behind-the-scenes meddling. So I called up Father Lappe, who quickly & kindly agreed to go without accompaniment at the Saturday evening Mass so she could come! Her choir director took on the extra load, and gave her the good news the weekend before.

In a neat aside, we obtained a signed photo from Alan Tudyk (‘Wash’ from the series Firefly) for the choir director as a thank you. I actually got to meet him in the course of things, which was awesome! Turns out his grandmother was Catholic and we had a neat little conversation about Pope Francis. I probably wouldn’t have had that chance if it weren’t for this whole drama of invitation, cancellation & favor!

Anywho, long story shorter, the weekend was even more wonderful for the opportunity to share it. And if you think that this priest is a nerd, you ought to spend several hours with his family!

Check out photos of the final two days, complete with a running commentary, over at my Flickr account. And notice the photos of some of my parishioners – perhaps next year you’ll join us in the fun!

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2014 Emerald City Comic Con – Day 1!

2014-03-28 - ECCC Day 1 - (04) Picachu Deadpool Today marked the first day of this year’s Emerald City Comic Convention. I suppose it’s no surprise, but it was a blast!

Pictured right is a character who I don’t have much attachment to….but this rendition makes me smile. Deadpool is hardly the fluffy type, so to see him with a Picachu hat – well, that’s just fun. I was delighted to see this cosplayer back this year (turns out he’s local to the area!).

I was thinking about why a comic convention holds so much appeal. As I was walking around today, I couldn’t help but think ‘this is my tribe’ – a collection of people coming together around stories that we all love & enjoy.

Last year I wore my clerics throughout the convention. This year I’m wearing my cassock to the convention. (I made a Lenten resolution to wear my cassock through the season) Like last year, it prompts some great conversations. ‘What character are you?’ quickly morphed into pleased surprise that yes, priests also enjoy the things they do. A nice reminder that we have more in common than not.

One of the great treats of the convention is meeting & hearing from artists and actors. I am delighted to have a chance to meet the folks behind (web)comics that I have been reading for years. Three of those artists are at ECCC this year – Ryan Sohmer, Lars DeSouza and Alina Pete. Ryan & Lars are authors of several web comics at Blind Ferret Entertainment (though a few are not recommended, sadly). My favorite is ‘Looking for Group’. Alina Pete is the author of ‘Weregeek’, which is thoroughly enjoyable and a great treat.

Ryan & Lars led a panel today, as their company (Blind Ferret) celebrates 10 years. Between teasing their fans, mocking each other and otherwise leading us in a great time, they had some neat stories to tell. One thing that stuck out was Ryan’s remark that his stories express a piece of himself, put out there in the hopes that we might relate. It’s an important truth about stories and one I was glad to be reminded of.

This year there are a number of Star Trek actors who are here in Seattle. Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek: TOS, ‘Uhura’), Dwight Schultz (Star Trek: TNG, Reginald ‘Reggie’ Barclay), John de Lancie (Star Trek: TNG, Voyager, DS9 ‘Q’), and Michael Dorn (Star Trek: TNG, DS9, ‘Worf’).

(Tomorrow I’ll tell you about how this plethora of Trek made for a fun time for my whole family!)

If I’m really lucky, I’ll have a chance to go to all of the panels with the four Star Trek actors here this year. So far I’ve been able to hear Nichelle Nichols & Dwight Schultz. The stand out impression, among many other good ones, is that Star Trek actors have a real sense of pride in their part in Gene Roddenberry’s dream of the future and an appreciation for the love fans have for it and them.

In short, I continue to be really impressed by the quality of the real life people behind the characters I grew up with. Patrick Stewart was a gift to hear last year (I have a friend who would have titled him a ‘honey man’). Dwight Schultz was a surprise treat today and Nichelle Nichols, well, I could go on & on!

Rather than inflict that on you, I’ll simply invite you to mosey on over to my Flickr account, where I’ve posted some photos with commentary for your enjoyment (assuming you’d actually enjoy that!). I’ll try to update it each evening, though I might not get Sunday in until later in the week – apparently I’m expected to return to the parish once this is over!

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Preaching the truth of marriage, with love

I was on Facebook not too long ago, looking through the News Feed and came across this image (right). How God sees sins

I thought it was an interesting point, because a lot of times we tend to focus on one sin or another. Not that some sins don’t deserve more of our attention, aren’t bigger struggles or more grave. But of course the reality is that every sin is offensive of God, all of us have committed sins, all of us are in need of mercy. How important it is to recognize this, recognize that we’re sinners and then appeal to God.

In today’s day and age, there is a lot of focus around sexual sins. And I don’t mean to minimize sexual sins or in any way say that they’re not more important than others. Except to say that sometimes we highlight them, dismiss them or have confusion around them.

Today I wanted to speak a little bit about marriage. It’s been a hot topic here on the west coast, especially here in Washington, particularly this year. You might recall that in the beginning of this month, there was a lot of hubub here in the archdiocese because of a school – Eastside Catholic up in Seattle – where they had a vice-principal with same-sex attractions who married another man. He was asked to resign, as this isn’t consistent with the Church’s teachings.

Eventually it hit the media and there were protests, excitement, concerns – and a lot of confusion. What do we believe? Why do we believe it? And why is it important in the larger scheme of things?

I’d like to start with what the Church believes, right out of the Catechism. This is what the Church has to say about complementarity, about marriage, about man and woman:

“God created man in his own image… male and female he created them”;He blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply”;“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.” (CCC 2331)

Further ahead the Catechism goes on to say:

Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out. (CCC 2333)

We’ve always believed this. This has always been a teaching of the Church – that man and woman are complementary, that they are fundamentally different.

One of the exciting things of the modern times is that science lets us get a little more insight into this – particularly the science of DNA. Any one of us could take a strand of hair and give it to someone who didn’t know the donor. By looking at the cells, at the DNA contained therein, just by looking at the XX or XY, the gender of the person can be determined. Our sexual identity is written into our very cells.

As any married couple will tell you, men are very different from women, women are very different from men. The way we look at the world, approach things, handle things – its complementary. We need each other.

Of course, its also written in our physical makeup. The way we interact physically, particularly in marriage – marital union – ultimately can only be fruitful between man and woman.

These things are important because oftentimes when we talk about marriage, or when it’s discussed in society, it’s framed as if it is an arbitrary thing – ‘oh it’s a man-made institution, we just have to re-define how we look at that’. And while yes, man does participate in the institution of marriage, marriage enshrines what already exists in nature, in creation.

So why can’t we redefine marriage? Because we can’t re-define what man and woman truly are.

There’s a great interview with Archbishop Cordileone, the archbishop of San Francisco in California. It was last year, but his words were particularly good. He was interviewed by USA Today and the interview asked ‘what’s the big threat of re-defining marriage, the harm in changing the definition?’. He answered in this way:

A society that is careless about getting fathers and mothers together to raise their children in one loving family is causing enormous heartache.

To legalize marriage between two people of the same sex would enshrine in the law the principle that mothers and fathers are interchangeable or irrelevant, and that marriage is essentially an institution about adults, not children; marriage would mean nothing more than giving adults recognition and benefits in their most significant relationship.

It’s that last sentence that really strikes to the core of the issue. I don’t know how many of you have watched the television show Bridezilla – I’m not even sure if it’s still on the air. But it sort of epitomized what is often wrong with a marriage, inasmuch as one or both spouses become monsters, when it’s all about me in marriage.

Marriage is all about the two becoming one, joining together and ultimately the fruit that comes from that, especially in children. Marriage is ultimately not just about love, certainly is about love, but not only about love but also about that family that comes forth.

A lot of us are fans of a show that is still on the air – Downton Abbey. It’s got a lot of praiseworthy aspects to it, though I recommend that parents screen a few episodes before allowing children to watch it.

In one of the episodes in the very last season (2013), there was an episode about Thomas, a main character of the downstairs staff. From the very beginning of the series he is introduced as having same sex attraction – that’s made clear from the very beginning. In the time that the show was set in, that was illegal in Britain. To have same sex attractions was to be shunned, to live them out made one a criminal.

Thomas’ attraction and lifestyle becomes public knowledge towards the end of the last season. There was a lot of hubbub among the characters, and one of the other characters has this conversation with Thomas:

Carson (to Thomas): “I cannot hide that I find your situation revolting…. You have been twisted by nature into something foul….”

To which Thomas replies:

“I’m not foul, Mr. Carson. I’m not the same as you, but I’m not foul.”

I remember watching that episode and just sort of being rocked back, by that little exchange – by the ugliness of the statement made by Mr. Carson, and then the firmness of that response. I remember wanting to say ‘Good for you, Thomas!’, because what he said is so true.

How often is the conversation defined or at least the perception given, that we are judging people, that we are casting them out, that we’re saying they’re not worthy of God. ‘Your kind aren’t welcome here.’ How often do people have that impression of us when we talk about same sex attraction, when we talk about marriage.

I know this isn’t our intent – I hope it isn’t our intent! It certainly isn’t what we believe. We believe that God’s grace is for all.

How important it is for us to be able, first of all, to engage in the conversation and then to do so in charity. Today is the feast of the Presentation, and there is a prayer a the very beginning of Mass that is often used. In that prayer Christ it referred to as coming first to fulfill the law – but second of all to meet the people.

And that’s what its really about – Christ coming to us. We weren’t willing to go to Him, so He approaches us. How desperately important it is for us to make sure that even as we are presenting the Truth of the Church, we are making sure that we are inviting all to come receive Christ, who so much wants to meet them.

God sees top down, every sin. I don’t want to say every sin is equal – but every sin is an obstacle. And He can overcome each and every one. May we ask the Lord to help us have the courage to bear the light of Christ, to preach the light of Christ – but also to bear it with love. That all of those who need to hear the Gospel, which includes us!, might be able to hear it. That all who hear it may be able to accept it because it is given in love – and ultimately it is an invitation to know the Lord, who is our friend.

(This was originally given as a homily on February 2nd, 2014)

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Unconditional love and the invisible ‘but’ of contraception

As we listened to this Sunday’s Gospel (3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A), it wouldn’t be unreasonable to wonder at the actions of these two sets of brothers. All four are career fishermen, yet when Jesus – Who was most likely not well-known to them (if at all) – calls them to follow Him, they go. Leaving everything behind, their nets, the boat, the fish – even their father in the case of James & John.

Imagine if a stranger were to walk up to you at your workplace and invite you to literally follow them away. I think I would at least ask ‘where are we going?’. Yet these future Apostles don’t even ask for time to grab their essentials; they just go.

One wonders if they already the devotion that we come to know of the Apostles in the successive stories of the Gospels and the letters – but there already had to be some devotion. They unconditionally follow Christ. Undoubtedly this grew over time, but the immediacy of their response speaks to the devotion they already had.

We have a similar invitation in our own lives, to be like the Apostles. As we read through the New Testament, we see them grow in that devotion. There are a lot of characteristics that we can attribute to each one of them and ways we can model our lives after them, but it all starts with devotion.

Unlike the Apostles, we are able to walk with Christ in the flesh in this life. Still, we are called to follow Him with the same devotion. There is a particular vocation in which we get to model this in – this is in marriage – and the opportunity to give ourselves entirely to our spouse.

One of my favorite movies – the animated movie ‘Up’ by Pixar – has what I think is perhaps the greatest depiction of married love that I have seen in film. It takes place in the first 15 minutes of the story – I highly recommend it (bring tissues, you’ll need them). Suffice to say that Carl is devoted to his wife, to giving himself entirely to her before, during and to the end of their marriage.

Today I’d like to speak about one of the things in our society that adds an extra bit, an artificial bit, to that phrase of ‘I love you’. And last week as we were talking about the gift of life, the message of God is “God loves us”. Jesus came to say that – you are a son or a daughter of my Heavenly Father; you are loved. In marriage we echo that message: “I love you”.

But there is a modern evil, of contraception, that adds another word to that phrase. “I love you”, then in parenthesis, invisible, unspoken: “but”. ‘But I’m afraid of children…we’re not ready….we can’t afford it….but I don’t know what this means…. et cetera”.

There’s a lot of confusion about contraception – it’s a pretty hot-button topic in today’s society. We see it in the news a lot, especially with the new insurance mandate.

I want to first start with ‘what does the Church teach’? Because some folks will give you different answers. Does the Church say we can use it, can we not use, can we sometimes use it, what about certain circumstances?
To start, we should know what the Church says about the morality of contraception:

“every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil (CCC 2370)

Those last two words are key words in the Catechism – ‘intrinsically evil’ – which means there is no exception, there is no time when we are permitted, when it is morally licit to use contraception.

That’s a pretty big deal to say that. Is the Church behind the times, is it just saying ‘here’s a rule for rule’s sake’ or ‘we don’t like technology; we like our candles and incense, don’t bother us with the latest development.’?

I want to answer that: no! Not at all.

The Church looks at contraception and sees that this is something that subverts the message of ‘I love you’. It takes away. And to understand how that is, we need to understand what is the message and meaning of marriage. If the message of marriage is ‘I love you’, the meaning behind that is of union and procreation.

The Church teaches that we believe that marriage has those two purposes. To be able to say ‘I love you’, be united as one and also to be fruitful – that that love might result, not necessarily result, but might be open to resulting in children. But there are other things as well. Because when contraception enters in, when that ‘but’ comes in, there are other effects, other ways that marriage will suffer.

Pope Paul VI wrote an awesome document – quite some time ago – about contraception when it was first coming out. He warned that if contraception becomes the norm, there are things that will happen to our society that we don’t want to happen:

Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection. (Humanae Vitae, 17)

Isn’t that a powerful prediction? To think that he saw that there would come day when women are no longer revered as lovers, as ones who could be honored just by their virtues as women.

Now men, I don’t mean to unduly single us out, but I think it’s fair to say that probably the biggest cause of the degradation of women is us. Whether it is in objectifying women through images or videos, whether it is through not valuing them as much because – after all – we can always use protection or take the pill. Pope Pius saw this in writing this document.

He goes on:

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. (Humanae Vitae, 17)

This is exactly what has happened in our society. Effective this month [January, 2014], the HHS mandate – which you’re no doubt aware of – came into effect. And now every insurance company in the United States is required to cover abortificients and contraceptives. You might have seen that the Little Sisters of the Poor recently filed a lawsuit. A group of nuns – nuns, mind you! – being asked to provide abortificients and contraceptives in their insurance.

The Supreme Court ordered that this be stayed for the time being, but it has yet to have its day in court. We’re in pretty dire circumstances when it comes to contraceptives in our society.

Yet there is a reason for hope, and it starts again with that invitation from Christ: ‘Come, follow me’. I imagine that there are at least three ways to approach this. There are some of you who are saying ‘oh yes, I’ve got this – the Church’s teaching? I’m there, I believe it!’. To you, I would urge beefing up on what the Church teaches. Learn what we believe and how we teach it. Because there will come people who want to know why the Church believes what She believes. And pray for them – pray that you might have the right words and that the might be willing to hear them.

There are those reading this who perhaps struggle with this teaching, perhaps for whom contraception is part of your live right now. And you wonder why the Church is teaching what it’s teaching – ‘Father, that’s not convincing…tell me more’. To you I would like to offer the invitation, come talk to me or to any priest. Come read about what the Church teaches. This document of Pope Pius is an excellent start and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how he explains our faith in this matter. And also pray: ‘Lord help me understand – help me accept’.

There is of course a third thing we have to address, and that is that society wants to impose this on us. And I think that all of us, no matter what side we might be on, can recognize that this is a breach of religious freedom. We know this to be wrong, we believe that God has passed our faith on to us. And so I urge all of us to pray – Lord help the world to let us practice our faith, and to see it for what it is: the Truth.

When we consider the Apostles, we don’t really know why they left so quickly – why they followed Jesus so quickly. It could be that they knew that they had to leave everything behind and they were ready to do it. It could be that they had no idea but were willing. It could be that they were tired of fishing and wanted to try something new! In any case, they desired to follow Christ in the end – and they gave themselves entirely to him.

What marks the life of an Apostle? Ultimately, it is the joy that comes of that wholehearted conversion – that unconditional giving of themselves to our Saviour. May we ask the Lord that we might likewise give ourselves fully to Him. And if we are blessed with marriage, that we might likewise give ourselves fully to our spouse, holding nothing back. That we too might respond to Christ in our vocation and in our lives, ‘Come, follow me’ – and that we might discover the joy of being His disciples.

(This was originally given as a homily on January 26th, 2014)

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Why I’m quitting social media

In 2004, Facebook opened its doors and shortly thereafter, a group of us at seminary decided to check it out. I’ve had an account nearly the entire time and gradually moved to open Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram accounts. What started as something kind of neat between friends grew to a way to find or be found by old friends, keep in touch with relatives and in the last few years, interact online with people as a priest. Over the last nine years, this has often been a positive experience.

On the same token, there have been some things that have come to bother me more and more about social media’s darker side:

Social media builds a weird illusion of friendship. On Facebook, to link to someone else’s account is to ‘friend’ them – which one can either ‘confirm’ or ‘ignore’ (formerly ‘accept’ or ‘reject’). Many times rejection is interpreted as personal insult or acceptance a sign of a great bond….usually when neither is the case. Being ‘friends’ on Facebook has taken on a significance that almost never accurately reflects the depth (or lack thereof) of the real relationship. Even worse, it many times takes the place of a real friendship.

It’s an odd reality that despite having tens, hundreds or even thousands of ‘friends’ among social media networks, people can feel more lonely than when they started out. Yet stretched thinly across tens, hundreds or even thousands of ‘friends’, intimately close with none of them – it seems less odd after all that loneliness would result.

Being so connected seems to cater to two sides of the same coin. On one hand, there is a sort of one-upmanship of being in the know – about our social media ‘friends’, the latest meme or hot topics. On the other hand, there is the desire to put ourselves on display. While it isn’t necessarily always the case, how often is what we post really about drawing attention to ourselves?

It seems that many of the discussions online are thinly veiled efforts to prove that we’re right and ‘they’ are wrong. And of those conversations, how often they end up being misunderstood, blown out of proportion or simply fail in charity because of the inability to communicate in person. Freed from the accountability of looking the other in the eye or seeing them as a person, words are hastily typed out in frustration, pain and anger.

How much time do we spend on social media vs the time we spend with other people in person…..and which do we value more? Are we treasuring comments and ‘likes’ online more than moments with the people around us?

So what’s next? For me, its closing my accounts and focusing on being more present to the people in my parish, the family and friends around me. It means taking time to call those folks who are farther away and sitting down to write a letter to or two!

It also means accepting that until I reach my eternal reward, most friendships are passing joys – treasured while they last, fondly remembered when they have concluded and joyfully anticipated as we look forward to a reunion in heaven.

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