An Octet of Baleful Reveries – Avaritia, Gula & Superbia

The California based band Thrice came onto my musical radar after hearing, and falling in love with, their song Black Honey. My wife got tired of hearing this on my personal heavy rotation, and finally asked me one day why I liked it so much. The descending guitar/vocal bit was what first caught my attention, but as I listened to it more I found that the references to several of the Seven Deadly Sins kept me coming back to the song.

[As an aside, I just found out that the lead singer for Thrice, Dustin Kensrue, was actually a pastor and worship leader at Mars Hill (until he resigned in 2014). Makes me want to listen to the rest of their songs to see if I can discern other Christian messages in there :)]

The seven capital (“head,” most deadly, most important) sins are derived from an earlier list of eight evil thoughts that were codified by Pope Gregory I around the year 600. The standard list is:

  • Pride
  • Greed
  • Gluttony
  • Lust
  • Sloth
  • Envy
  • Anger

This particular song, in my not so humble estimation, exemplifies gluttony, pride and greed.

Gluttony technically refers to eating and drinking to excess, but can be expanded to over-indulgence in anything. Greed (avarice) also has to do with excess – the desire for power, material things, or an attitude of stinginess. Pride (usually seen as the worst sin, or the root sin) is inordinate love of self, the ultimate expression of selfishness that elevates personal whims and desires above all else.

The song lyrics hit all of these; to begin:

I keep swinging my hand through a swarm of bees
I can’t understand why they’re stinging me
But I’ll do what I want
I’ll do what I please
I’ll do it again till I’ve got what I need

The song begins with the singer swinging his hand through a swarm of bees because he wants honey. He continues to do so, even when they sting him, but then says that no matter what he’s going to keep doing it until he gets what he wants.

It goes on to say:

I’ll rip and smash through the hornet’s nest
Don’t you understand I deserve the best?

That attitude of “I’ll do whatever I want because I deserve the best” perfectly exemplifies the trio of deadly sins – a disregard for what others may want or need due to an excessive focus on personal needs, even if those needs are unimportant.

The song finishes up with this:

Then I
See them coming after me
And they’re following me across the sea
And now they’re stinging my friends and my family
And I
Don’t know why this is happening
But I’ll do what I want
I’ll do what I please
I’ll do it again till I’ve got what I need

In the song, even though the bees are hurting both the singer and his loved ones, he continues with his self-destructive behavior because he still wants to fulfill his selfish desires. With no time for reflection, he’ll never understand why bad things keep happening to him – but it doesn’t matter, as long as he gets what he needs.

This Lent, whether you’re Catholic or not, Christian or not, a believer or not – we can try to root out these attitudes / affectations in order to help ourselves, our families and our communities become havens (I’m binge watching at the moment – had to sneak it in there!) of peace and loving service.

Blessings & Peace,

An Exegetical Journey into the Symbolism of Vehicular Tuning

An appropriate song for coming in from the winter of my discontent 🙂

The more I listen to this song (and this band) (and watch the video) the more I like it (them) and the more symbolic and theological the lyrics get (in many of their songs). This song in particular was the musical gateway drug that prostrated me at their lyrical altar. (Which is technically not true – the first song that registered in my consciousness was Stressed Out, but that was brief and I didn’t really explore their work until after becoming addicted to this song.)

It begins simply enough – sparse snippets of music as a young man (in a bit of distress) sits on the floor of his restroom. But once the lyrical sniping begins, the theological erudition that comes through is stunning.

The first line that resonates deeply with me is “Sometimes quiet is violent.” Think about your home, your office, your school, your neighborhood – wherever you spend your time. Think about the people that are around you, the electronic gadgets that inundate you, the noise and activity that constantly distracts you. I think many (if not most) people are suffering from information and sensory overload. We take in so much (reading, listening, socializing, watching, having fun, etc.) that there’s precious little time left for actually thinking about and reflecting on what you’ve done, or where you want to go (in life – not your next fun destination). Silence is a rare commodity, and when we encounter it, it seems . . . weird. Unsettling. Boring. There’s no stimulation, we’re alone with our thoughts, our history, our sins, our fears, our worries, our anxieties, our hopes, our dreams, ourselves . . . and we don’t know how to handle it.

But silence is necessary. Silence is important. Silence is part and parcel of growing in wisdom and grace. Silence allows us to listen to the still, small voice of our Creator. Silence allows our soul and spirit to expand, to encompass more than just the sum total of our bodies and minds. Silence lets us touch the Divine within and without, around and between.

But when we aren’t comfortable with silence, it can become torturous . . . violent. Thoughts and emotions and memories that we keep at bay with the busyness of life come bubbling to the surface. Half buried treasure troves of ourselves that we don’t want to focus on come into the forefront of our mind. (Or, as the song so eloquently says: There’s no hiding for me, I’m forced to deal with what I feel, There is no distraction to mask what is real)

But when we can embrace silence . . . we come to know ourselves, and we can begin to wrestle with those parts of us that we try to hide. We start the rewarding journey into our own psyche, delving into the eddies and whirlpools of our dreams and desires. We start to find a calmness and peace whether alone or with others, and we begin to carve out time to focus on the great works of love and learning and service. (Again to the muses: Peace will win and fear will lose) (and a bit more: Faith is to be awake, And to be awake is for us to think, And for us to think is to be alive, And I will try with every rhyme, To come across like I am dying, To let you know you need to try to think)

Or, as one of the walls in our home says: Make time for the quiet moments as God whispers and the world is loud.

As this new year begins, may we do our best to be filled with fire as we sit in silence.

Blessings & Peace,

An Interlude

“How do you feel,” the instructor asked.

It was a dangerous question. They weren’t supposed to have feelings. Not here, not now.

“It feels . . . like I want to let them use my things. Like I want to share with them,” he answered hesitantly.

“No. No, you should not feel that way. You should want to protect your things. No one should be able to take your things from you. You must be strong to hold on to them, to protect them. You are not to feel that way again.”

“Yes, master.”

Blessings & Peace,

Photo by azmichelle

Jesus Saves . . . and Takes 1/2 Damage

I was introduced to tabletop role-playing games through Dungeons & Dragons in sixth grade (thanks neighbors!).  As a not-very-well-coordinated kid who was not sporty and loved to read fantasy and science fiction, the game opened up a whole new world for me. My imagination got to soar, I met new people, and some of my best friends to this day are ones who I share this hobby with. I still remember my very first wizard (Basic D&D – Red Box – old school!) named Arion (yes, stolen from the DC comic character – my character’s symbol was the double Star of David as well). Heading out with 4 hit points and one magic missile spell made for a very squishy character, but I loved playing the game, which was an almost weekly occurrence at that point. After finding out that some of my friends at school played as well, D&D became a weekly (or more than weekly) ritual that I looked forward to. I read as many books as I could get my hands on, and soon moved on to Advanced D&D. I played all through my high school life, adding other games along the way: Call of Cthulu, the Marvel RPG, the DC RPG, the Middle Earth/Rolemaster RPG, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten about.

I stopped playing in college (no ready made group of friends to play with + lots of reading & course work + ministry involvement + more freedom = no time for RPG’s), but started up after getting married and finding out that my wife used to play as well. Since them I’ve gone through AD&D, Player’s Options: Skills & Powers, 3rd Edition, 3.5 Edition, a bit of Pathfinder, and have been playing 4th Edition for a while now (while I’ve bought the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook, my heart still belongs to 4E) 🙂

A few years ago at school a parent asked me if there was any group or extra curricular activity at school that their child could join. Said child was not sporty, loved to read, was interested in board and card games, and had a really good imagination. Hmm . . . lightbulb moment! I told the parent about the game that I played, said parent liked what they heard, and I accepted the quest to tackle the solo boss encounter Principal: Starting a Gaming Club. 🙂

Our principal at the time was hesitant, but after thinking about it I was given approval to go ahead and start the game. And the rest, as they say, is history. This is my fourth year running a gaming club – students play 4th Edition D&D (with me as the DM [Dungeon Master – the person that crafts the story the player’s are experiencing – I control the game world and all of the reactions of the game world to the actions the player’s take] most of the time), with some students playing collectible card games like Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon, or Magic: The Gathering, and a few students playing the Star Wars miniatures game.

I’ve had memorable moments and lots of fun playing with my students these last few years. And I’m proud to have introduced them to another outlet for their creative imagination, as well as helping them to practice strategy and good sportsmanship. For the D&D game specifically I handle character creation (through the online Character Builder), but I have a worksheet (homework!) that they fill out to help me create their character. I’ve made unicorns (a re-fluffed Minotaur sorcerer), anime characters I’d never heard of (hybrid characters are your friend!), stealthy ranger/rogues, Shadow Hunters, superhero clones, and fighters who deal massive damage (one of my favorite quotes from the uber-damage dealing fighter after he was hit by a monster: “Thanks for the massage”). I’ve had groups run away from giant trolls, blast evil spellcasters off of rope bridges, track down supernatural infections, destroy evil crystal creatures, and travel to small pocket dimensions to rescue trapped goddesses. I’ve seen groups laugh together, argue over what to do, plan cohesive strategies that worked (and some that didn’t), hide during PvP battle, and generally enjoy getting to collectively tell stories as we played. It’s been a constant source of joy for the last four years, and I’m grateful for my past and current principal that they continue to encourage our kids to creatively use their imaginations by playing these games. I’m also proud that our local Catholic High School started a small RPG club last year, as some of my kids graduated and moved over there for their high school education.

If you’re interested in gaming with first time RPG’ers (4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons), whether at school or at home, you can download the worksheet I use here (in PDF format). Enjoy, have fun, and let me know if  you start playing and how it goes!

And lest I forget, the title is an allusion to an older game mechanic – sometimes, when enemies were targeting the characters with different powers, the player would roll a dice (a key component of most role playing games), and if they met or exceeded a certain number the character would take half or no damage from the attack. Christian gamers created bumper stickers, t-shirts, etc. with the logo as a way to express their faith and their enjoyment of role playing games. Now you know. And knowing is half the battle. G.I. Joe!

Blessings & Peace,

Photo by Jennie Ivins

The Ways of Prayer

He worships while he grooves,
she prays and barely moves,
but they’re both reflecting pure devotion.
– Strong Love by the Newsboys

I was a sophomore in college in 1992, the year the Newsboys released their Not Ashamed album. I loved the techno-pop, Jesus Jones feel of their music, and the lyrics of many of the songs resonated deeply with me as I was deepening and broadening my faith. This particular stanza sent shivers down my spine when I heard it then, and now, twenty-four years later, it still evokes a smile from me, as it speaks to me of one of the great mysteries of life – the many and varied ways that we respond to the Creator’s presence.

In Catholicism, for example, you can find people praying in all sorts of ways: we can celebrate Mass in our native language or in Latin; we can celebrate Mass with chanting and organ, with choir and piano, or with drums and guitar (and trumpet!); we can pray in the style of the Taize Community or in the style of the Charismatic renewal; we can pray through building a home for Habitat for Humanity or by feeding the hungry in our community; we can pray through a rosary or through lectio divina; we can pray in the style of different Religious communities or  with the words and prayers of the saints; we can pray in the timeless words of our Traditional Catholic prayers (Our Father, Hail, Mary, Glory Be, etc.) or in our own heartfelt words; we can pray together or alone; we can pray through the wonder of creation or through the intellectual stimulation of reading a good book; we can pray through the sacraments we celebrate or through the loving embrace of a spouse. And every single one of those prayer forms is a part of the grand universal faith we call the Catholic Church.

Apart from Catholicism, once we start looking at the way our religious impulse manifests itself in all of the world’s religions, we start to see the many and varied ways that our body, mind, soul and spirit call out to the One that created us. And we find that God delights in the variety of ways we use to reach out and listen to the still, small voice of the Divine within and around and above us.

May our devotion to our God deepen this Lenten with whatever ways of prayer we choose to practice.

Blessings & Peace,

Photo by dtcchc

A Battle

Pain blossomed across her torso as her opponent’s dagger sliced through her robe and bit deep into her skin. She gasped as she felt blood well up from the wound.

She managed to stammer out: “You . . . you used a real weapon . . . protocol demands that only . . .”

“Protocol?,” he sneered. “Protocol for my faith demands that we win at any cost.”

“Your ‘faith’ is a perversion of the Truth!” she shot back, as she eyed her opponent warily.

Holding a dagger in his left hand and his Consecrated Blade in his right, he paused in his assault as he continued lecturing: “Truth is a matter of perspective. Even good and evil are such . . . limiting concepts. Power, on the other hand – power is pure, and holy. Power is right. Power is adulation. And in the right hands, power is . . . victory.”

She raised her shield just in time, as his Blade snaked out at the word “victory”. But she was nearing exhaustion from the battle, and bleeding badly. Her Blade and Shield were wavering, while his burned brightly in the morning mist. She continued to block his attacks, but with each blow her arms felt more and more like lead. Any second now, and she would move too slowly to parry or block.

At least, she though, he stopped lecturing her as if she was a novice, and not an ordained Priestess of the Way.

And then it happened. His Blade pierced her Shield and hit her soul, causing her to black out and fall. He stood a moment, savoring the impending victory. As he lifted his arm for the killing blow, however, an bolt of emerald energy hit him from behind, sending sparks of pain shooting through his body. Her companion had awoken at last from his magically induced slumber. He grinned, silently saluted his opponent, and reached for his Temple, pulling himself back to the place of his Power. He knew they would meet again.

Blessings & Peace,

Photo by magia3e

Salmon Pattie Recipie

Cooking / Prep Time: 30 mins – 1 hour (depends how many you make at once)
Servings: About 5-8 for each can, depending on the size and thickness of the pattie

Must Have Ingredients

  • 1 Can of Canned Salmon
  • ½ a pack (not box!) of crackers (multigrain, plain, your choice of brand – we use gluten free crackers now)
  • You can also use other crunchy items – potato chips, Cheetos, croutons – experiment for different flavors and textures!
  • 1 Egg (premixed in a separate bowl for better results) (2 eggs if you like the taste and want a creamier finish)
  • Salt/pepper/lemon & herb seasoning
  • 2 lemons
  • Large Mixing Bowl

At your discretion ingredients

  • Chopped / minced garlic
  • Chopped / minced onions
  • Chopped / minced mushrooms
  • Anything else you feel like throwing in



  1. Preheat a large skillet on medium-high heat
  2. Drain the salmon can, keeping about 1-2 teaspoonfuls of liquid in the bowl where we will mix everything.
  3. Empty the salmon into the aforementioned bowl
  4. Using a fork, flake the salmon into small pieces
  5. Take your crackers and crush them in any way you like (I prefer just using my hands, but you can put them in a bowl and crush them with a blunt object of some sort)
  6. Add oil and/or butter to the skillet (I prefer a mix of olive oil with dairy free butter)
  7. Add the crackers to the salmon and mix lightly
  8. Pour the egg into the same bowl and mix all ingredients together well (I use my hands – you can use whatever favorite mixing implement you have)
  9. Add a bit of salt, pepper or whatever other seasonings and optional ingredients you want to use – mix well one more time
  10. The oil should be nice and hot by now
  11. Shape the salmon into small balls, then smoosh (yes, that’s a technical cooking term) them into flat patties (size is up to you)
  12. Lovingly put them into the oil (it’s hot – be careful!), and cook about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until they are golden brown (I like adding a bit more seasoning to each side as it cooks)
  13. Take out of oil and let rest for a few minutes (they’re tired!) inside of some paper towels (to soak up excess oil)
  14. Spritz with some freshly cut lemons wedges and enjoy!
  15. They make great salmon burgers, or you can pair them with some Jasmine or Basmati rice, or any other side dish you like 🙂

Blessings & Peace,

Photo by jeffreyw

Weapons of Mass Damnation

Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man. – Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition

Listen, and take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up. – The Message

In Jesus’ time there were very strict rules concerning what could and could not be eaten: certain foods could not be eaten at all, others could only be eaten if prepared for cooking a certain way, some foods couldn’t be prepared/eaten if they were paired with other food, some food could only be prepared in certain containers, etc. [Editor’s Note: Kosher is the word we’re looking for here :)] [Editor’s Additional Note: This still applies today for observant Jews]

If dietary laws weren’t followed, consuming offenders had both religious and sometimes corporal punishments to contend with (currently there are no religious or corporal sanctions I’m aware of, except for maybe feeling a bit guilty). Jesus was trying to get the point across that pin point accuracy in following external requirements in no way indicated a heart full of mercy, service and compassion; judging others according to their slavish and razor sharp adherence to dietary laws was not the best way to judge how accurately or faithfully a person was trying to follow the will of G-d. (There were also economic factors at play – if you were wealthy it was much, much easier to follow all of the dietary laws, both because you could read (or knew others who could read) the Torah & Talmud and because having wealth meant you could afford to buy the utensils needed to cook and eat Kosher)

So Jesus was saying that looking at a person’s (this is one of those times where I’m pretty sure I’m using actions towards other people was the best metric to use to judge their religious life.

(We now return to our regularly scheduled programming. Cue the Nugget of Uncleanliness! You might want to binge read that before moving on)

So our middle school protagonist was not doing well. Adults and kids had let them know, with both words and actions, that the NoU (Nuggets of Uncleanliness) were anathema and not to be tolerated. Tears were shed. Battle lines were drawn. Alliances were made and broken. Armchair theologians (heh – that’s me!) were quoting esoteric texts. Angels and saints waited with baited breath to see what would happen.

It should be noted that all of the kids involved were under fourteen years of age (why is this important? shame on you! Read here first, then come back)  except for one (and that one wasn’t a huge eater of NoU’s). Even if this was a Friday during Lent on the campus of a parochial school, they were well within their rights to eat NoU to their hearts content. But they were confused. Perplexed that one platter of NoU (Weapons of Mass Damnation!) (WoMD) could cause such panic.

What to do?

I ate a NoU (WoMD) dipped in Chick-fil-A sauce 🙂 (I’m not the biggest consumer of Chick-fil-A food – I much prefer anything made of cow – but that Chick-fil-A sauce has got to be what angels dine on in heaven)

And we talked about it. About how hospitality and compassion were kind of important. About how treasuring another person’s feelings was important. About how knowing their faith, and the rules that went along with their faith, were important, too (because then they could have proudly proclaimed that they were OK eating NoU. [Is the plural of that NoUs? NoUses?]) About how Jesus would never belittle a child over something so trivial (didn’t he get in trouble for something similar?) (Yes, yes – I know the context of the story is a bit different – just go with it for now). And about how our love for people must be greater then our love for rules.

And then we all feasted together on Nouses. And went about our meeting. And went about our day and ensuing weekend.

And I think heaven rejoiced that the heart of a little one which was crushed like dry bones came back to life that day.

I’m Catholic, and I do my best to follow the rules. In my role as teacher and minister I do my best to teach others the rules, and explain why it’s important to follow them. But if I’m trying to focus on the more important stuff, especially with the kids I work with, then I need to temper my own legalistic tendencies and work with them to see that there will be times when people (created in the image and likeness of God sound familiar? temples of the Holy Spirit? earthen vessels filled to overflowing with God’s presence? one of a kind collectible entities fashioned by the hand of their loving Father?) must come first.

Blessings & Peace,

PS: I spoke with the parent of the child in question that same day. Said parent thanked me for championing their child. It’s a good memory for me 🙂

Photo by my_amii

Dramatic Pause {In which a Large Number of Brackets (TM) (C) are used at once}

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this Lenten aside.

The (Western) (Latin Rite) (Roman) Catholic Church asks its members (14 years of age or older), during the season of Lent, to abstain from eating flesh meat (does it walk? does it fly? does it live on land? don’t eat it! {so cannibalism is definitely out} {hmm . . . so are zombies, I guess}) on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. Furthermore, on those same days, adults (18+)  are asked to fast. Fasting, in this case, is pretty specific – one regular meal, plus two smaller meals that together don’t make up a regular meal (see? and people complain when they have to learn algebra in school – it could literally save your soul!), as well as no snacks in between meals.

[As an aside to this aside, Canon Law {<I’m running out of brackets to use!> the body of laws that governs the Catholic Church} says that every Friday should be a day of penance of some sort – the traditional sacrifice is no meat {all year long!}, but here in the US our Bishops asked for and obtained permission for Catholics to substitute another penitential or charitable practice {meaning you can take me out to eat on Friday – it’s charitable because you feed the hungry AND penitential because you have to listen to me talk!}]

Catholics who are 59 or older are exempt from these regulations; those who have very physically demanding jobs or who have health/medical/medicinal requirements that make fasting and abstaining impractical or dangerous are asked to substitute other forms of penance. It’s also good to note that these are minimum requirements imposed on us for our spiritual health. Just like doing one push up a day is good for your body (but not the greatest), Catholics are encouraged to add their own Lenten disciplines (what many Catholics call “giving something up for Lent”).

Now on to two pet peeves of mine. (Please note that this is not Catholic teaching, just my 2 copper pieces.)

Peeve #1: In my head, Lent is not an excuse to go crazy with seafood on Friday. Many times I hear people talk about Lent and it’s “We went to Red Lobster and I ordered the Admiral’s Feast last Friday for dinner; for lunch I had two double filet-o-fish because I was so hungry.” (Please note that I am not affiliated with Beyonce, Justin Timberlake or either of the aforementioned restaurants). If anything, Lent is a great time to eat simply (so that others may simply eat, to complete the awesome bumper sticker). For us (my wife and I, as our son has abandoned us for this “college” thing that all the kids are into right now) that means some white rice, maybe an egg or two, or some warm corn tortillas with butter (actually, that last one sounds pretty indulgent) for our dinner. Breakfast is two small corn tortilla egg tacos (with none of that sinful bacon or chorizo thrown in there). I challenge my kids at school to eat simply on Fridays during Lent as a way of practicing for their eventual 14th and 18th birthdays. I challenge myself to do the same.

Peeve #2: Giving stuff up for Lent – I like that Pope Francis (the cool Pope!) is encouraging us to not only give something up (no more Coke for me this Lent!) (actually, that’s a lie – I hardly ever drink Coke) (remind me to tell you my caffeine story some day) but to do something this Lent. Work on erasing a vice from our life. Practice one (or more) of the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy (so apropos during this Year of Mercy!). Pray more. Read Scripture more. Attend daily Mass. Talk to that relative you haven’t spoken to in years (over some slight that can be forgiven). Come over and mow my lawn. But do something that will help bring forth the light that burns within us and can shine so brightly that others can begin to see the endless depths of love and mercy that God has hidden within our bodies, minds, souls and spirits.

I’ll finish my story tomorrow 🙂

Blessings & Peace,

Photo by wallyg

The Nugget of Uncleanliness

Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders
but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?

At the school where I work I’m the faculty adviser for an extracurricular group know as the Worship Committee. This is a group of 6th – 8th grade students who assist me in maintaining the religious atmosphere of the campus and working with younger students to get them ready to serve at our weekly school Masses, among other assorted tasks. We usually meet every Friday after school to plan, argue, and, sometimes, Get Stuff Done (TM) (C). Snacks are usually involved, as Middle School kids need a steady supply of calories and carbs to keep their energy levels going. 🙂

Last year during the Season of Lent a student volunteered to bring snacks on a particular Friday. It turned out that their parents were not available on that Friday afternoon, so another family member was asked to provide snacks. As can happen sometimes, the family member was focused on getting food for hungry kids to eat, and the fact that it was a Friday during Lent (where meat eating is not allowed) wasn’t anywhere near the forefront of their thinking. They defaulted to getting a Chick-fil-A nugget platter, as it was fast and portable, and then, not knowing of the coming storm, dropped it off for their unsuspecting student to inflict upon the rest of the gathered community.

[As an aside, it should be noted that while the kids are ready to go right after school, I have a responsibility to fulfill in my dismissal duty – so during the first 10-15 minutes of the meeting another staff member helps out by gathering the kids, getting them settled in our cafeteria, praying the meal prayer with them, then making sure no one is killed as they descend upon the snack like ravenous zombies straight out of the Walking Dead 🙂 But I digress.]

I came back to a house divided – there had been remarks made by kids and adult about the presence of chicken in our hallowed halls on a Friday during Lent. There were aspersions cast upon my kids, myself, and the whole structure of our Worship Committee. The child who had offered the nuggets of uncleanliness as a small repast was crushed that their fowl tithe was the cause of such consternation.

What to do?

Stay tuned tomorrow for the conclusion of our poultrous conundrum!

Blessings & Peace,


Photo by my_amii