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Friday, September 30, 2011

Welcome to Gracieland!

 Click on the Gracieland card below to read the debut episode of our new webstrip.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Meet the stars of Gracieland!

Our Gracieland rollout week continues! Meet some of the stars of the new strip today, with more to come tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gracieland Creators Q and A

Today, we post a Q and A explaining the origins of Gracieland with creators Ellen Toole Austin and Jimmy Gownley

Q: What inspired the creation of Gracieland?

Ellen: Jimmy was helping me create the AGOG website and my Mother-in-law suggested 
that we combine our talents and create something for Catholic kids.

Jimmy: I remember very clearly getting the call from Ellen. My favorite moment was when she suggested we do a "comic type thing." It was hilarious, because she couldn't QUITE bring herself to say "comic strip" or "comic book.

Ellen: Since most of my memories from high school involve Jimmy rambling on about things like Cerebus and Zot, I choked on my own words when I suggested the idea.

Jimmy: Which was mild really considering my first reaction to her suggesting it was to have an aneurysm. But once we both got used to the idea, it started to sound like fun.

Ellen: It is difficult for me to believe that less than a year later, I have a Scott McCloud book on my nightstand.

Q: How did you go about the actual work of developing the idea?

Jimmy: The first step was to create the characters. Obviously, this is the most important part of creating a new property, because people need to love the characters. But it can also be the most fun. One of the weird things about this particular project is that it was accomplished almost completely on Skype or over the phone as we live like five states away from each other.

Ellen: This was a totally new experience for me. This stuff is second nature to Jimmy. What struck me was how easy it was for me to catch up. The characters quickly took on lives of their own.

Jimmy: Actually, that was very surprising. Comics are an odd medium, and collaboration is always tricky. But it was unbelievably smooth, really. My main concern was to make sure that Gracie was not just a Catholic school version of Amelia McBride. I think we accomplished that. Gracie feels very much like her own person to me.

Ellen: Gracie was the focus from the beginning and she is very much her own person. I thought it was neat to see Anthony develop in the background only to emerge in his own way through Gracie's story.

Q: So tell us about these characters. What can we expect from them?

Ellen: Gracie is a free spirited second grader who gets into trouble quite a bit. Yet she has a sweet side and always wants to do the right thing. Plus I love the glimmer in her eye.
oh, and the band-aid

Jimmy: For me, the neat thing about Gracie, and the main difference between her and Amelia is that Gracie isn't quite as... ahead of the curve let's say... as Amelia is. But my favorite character might be her brother Anthony. Most of my characters tend to be boisterous eccentrics, and I love that he's a much more gentle and mild little boy.For me, the neat thing about Gracie, and the main difference between her and Amelia is that Gracie isn't quite as... ahead of the curve let's say... as Amelia is. But my favorite character might be her brother Anthony. Most of my characters tend to be boisterous eccentrics, and I love that he's a much more gentle and mild little boy.

Ellen: Anthony is so sweet. As the mother of a son, he stole my heart but mostly because he loves baseball. Since the series will encompass the whole family and some of Anthony and Gracie's friends, I think that most people will find a character they relate to, both kids and adults.

Jimmy: Plus there's a dog, Donut. I resisted doing a "funny animal" for my whole career, but the thing I like drawing best in Gracieland is her dog, Donut. That's the type of thing that can only come out of collaboration... something that pushes you outside of the comfort zone of what you would normally do.

Q: Can you tell us about how a Gracieland strip is created?

Jimmy: Sure. The first thing we did was to just brainstorm a list of Catholic School things. We decided we really want to focus on that aspect a lot in the webstrip. Once we had the list, we whittled it down to the ones we thought would be the most fun to work on, and which would give us a chance to show off all of our characters. Then we would just take a topic and start looking at it through they eyes of these characters. Tossing scenarios and dialog back and forth between Ellen and myself. The whole time we're doing this, I'm doing sketches and taking notes. By the end of that process, we have a fully scripted and roughly sketched comic strip which I then take and do the finished art for.

Ellen: We are also working on a series of Gracieland books but publishing can be a slow process. We wanted to find a way to get the characters out quickly so we thought of the webstrip. People can follow Gracieland on while they wait for the next book to be published.

Question: When will people be able to meet Gracie and her friends, and how often will new strips be published?

Jimmy: The first one premieres Friday of this week, and there will be a new one every Tueday after that.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Check out this week's podcast by clicking the Gracenotes link above. This week we unveil our first Gracieland webstrip right here on AGOG.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sightseeing week: Montserrat

Today we visit the beautiful church at Montserrat. Click on the youtube link to view A Gift of Grace's  guided tour of this amazing place

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sightseeing! Chartres

Click the above link to watch A Gift of Grace's custom tour of the beautiful church in Chartes, France.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Let's Go Sightseeing!

It's a fun week of sightseeing a cross Europe, and it begins with today's podcast! Come join us, won't you?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday Reflections

Am I never satisfied?

Have I given up my voice?

Have I surrendered my voice to please other people?

Have I given up my passion for something of lesser value?

What is my voice?  What makes me special?

How can I use it to make the world a better place?

What can I learn from Zechariah?

Does my voice build up or tear down?

Do I praise or complain?

Do I speak my faith or my doubts?

Do I truly understand the power of my words?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ask Ellen: If the Sabbath is Saturday, why do we go to church on Sunday? -Tom, PA

Thanks for your question, Tom.  In the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is on Saturday.  We know Jesus was a devout Jew so He would have observed the Sabbath on Saturday.  The Christians began to observe the Sabbath on Sundays after Jesus’ Resurrection.  The Bible tells us that Jesus rose from the dead on the “first day of the week” (Luke 24:1).  This was Sunday.

The Christian tradition has kept to observing the Sabbath on Sunday since its earliest time.  Catholics can choose to keep the vigil (Saturday evening) in observance of the Sabbath on Sunday and that is why we go on Saturday.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Speak Your Faith

Yesterday we talked about Ariel giving up her voice to become human.  God knows the power that our voices have.  When they are used properly they can change the world.

We see the power of the voice in today’s Biblical Character Study.  Today we meet Zechariah.  Take a look at Luke 1:5-24 and 57-80.

Zak was a holy man and was also ancient.  While doing his job in the Temple, an angel appears and tells him that his wife (also ancient) was going to have a baby.  Not only that, this baby was to prepare the way for the Messiah (John the Baptist)

I have always felt sorry for Zak.  He is stunned and simply asks “How can I know this?”  This doesn’t go over well  He expressed doubt.  The angel Gabriel then tells our pal that he will lose his ability to speak until the baby is born.  Ouch!

God obviously knows the power of our voices.  And he can even take that away if we use it negatively.  What do you use your voice for?  Does it build up or tear down?  Does it praise or complain?  Does it speak faith or doubt?

The story concludes with the birth of John and Zechariah’s voice is restored.  But he has learned his lesson.  The first thing he does is speak blessing to God.  He proceeds to prophecy about the Messiah.  This is a man who now understood the power of his words.

Yesterday we focused on not allowing others to take our voices or willingly giving them up to please other people.  Today we see what can happen if we use our voices negatively.  God may not physically take your voice away but people will stop listening.  If all you do is grumble, complain and live in fear, people will move on.  If you are a positive person who is uplifting to be around, your voice will carry.  Learn from Zechariah’s mistake and use your voice to speak your faith.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Part Of Your World

The Little Mermaid is willing to give up the things she loves the most for the love of a guy.  Look at today’s clip and then come back.
In a nutshell, Ariel is sick of her merworld.  She has everything she needs under the sea but she wants more.  She finds a guy and makes a bargain..her voice to become human.  In true Disney fashion, it all works out in the end.

But that isn’t real life.  The real issue here is dissatisfaction.  She wants what she can’t have.  Don’t we all?  And at what price?  Ariel has a gorgeous voice.  Yet she trades it for what she thinks she really wants.  It is tragic really.  What have you given up for something of lesser value?  Your hopes?  Your passion?  What?

The sad fact is, true love wouldn’t ask you to give up what you love most.  God wants you to use your skills and passion to make the world a better place.  He doesn’t want you to give up your dreams and sit on your hands in a pew.

What is your voice?  What makes you special?  How can you use that to make the world a better place?  When you find it, find me cause I will want to be part of your world.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

Who Wrote the Book of Love?

Who Wrote the Book of Love?

If John wrote Revelation, and Paul wrote most of the Epistles, who wrote the Book of Love? Pat, ND

What a great question! Pat, your Biblical knowledge is acute. John is believed to be the author of the Book of Revelation. As you might recall, I am finishing up a class on Johannine Literature, which studied his Gospel and Revelation in depth. It was excellent! Sorry for the advertisement!

Paul is the author of most of the epistles. Coincidentally my next class is Pauline Literature. What are the chances! (Pretty great considering I choose when to answer your questions.)

The Book of Love? Well by that I assume you mean the Bible. I mean it is a love story from start to finish. God’s love is evident from “In the beginning” to “It is finished.” If you want to read a great love story that stands the test of time, this is it. If you want to read about a man who loves his Bride enough to die for her, this is it. If you want to read about the ultimate “happily ever after”, this is it.

So I think you are asking me, “Who wrote the Bible?” The answer is….God. God inspired human authors to record His message. The authors were able to use their own skills and talents, but the message belongs to God.

The Monotones had it right:

It was someone from above who wrote it. And it goes a little something like this:

In the beginning God tells us He loves us

He invites us to live in paradise where we will never be apart from Him

He shows us the meaning of romance by offering us everything we truly need

We break up with Him…through sin.

But He always gives us just one more chance.

That is who wrote THE book of love.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Relief Pitcher

Moses was an excellent starting pitcher. He led his team through a rocky season to say the least. He threw some great fast balls like the water from the rock. He threw some curves too. Lets not forget breaking the Ten Commandments. He was strong through many, many innings. He endured the boos of the crowd. Remember his fans were sick of their ballpark fair. No peanuts and cracker jacks for these folks. They had manna and quail. They let Moses know each time his pitches wandered outside of their comfort zones.

But our ace got tired. I would say tired of his team, his fans and some shaky calls. Mostly I think of his tired arm as he held up his banner to win victory over his enemies. That would make any pitcher’s arm tired!

So what is God to do when His starting pitcher gets tired? He made a call to the bullpen and found a trustworthy rookie named Joshua to come in and save the game for Moses. Joshua threw some perfect pitches and led his team into the Promised Land. He trusted his manager (God) to make the right calls and brought home the victory..or in this case brought the people home. I can just imagine the celebration at home plate as the walls of the stadium (Jericho) fell around them.

God teaches us an important lesson in bringing in this relief pitcher, Joshua. He shows us that even His starting ace, Moses needed help and could be replaced. Lest we think we are more valuable than Moses, what does that mean for us? I think it means if we are called to start the game, we go in like Moses and pitch out hearts out. If we find ourselves on the bench watch the game carefully and wait for the bullpen phone to ring. If it does, answer it and take over for someone who has gone before you. It is the only way we can win the game.

We should also keep in mind that none of us or what we contribute is irreplaceable. I certainly am no Moses. Even Moses got worn out. But as long as we are in the line-up, lets throw some strikes!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Go Out Swinging

I like…baseball. You might even say that I love it. I like the game itself but I love the Philadelphia Phillies. Being a Phillies fan has not always been as easy as it seems the last few years. They were awful for a very long time. My son who is a huge Phillies fan has no idea how this can be true. But I bet some of you reading this remember it well. It was really just a series of losses strung together year after year.

I remember when they won the World Series in 1980. My dad was so happy. He, also a lifelong Phillies fan, had suffered through many more terrible seasons than I had. Then they won again in 2008. This was special because I have groomed my own children into Phillies fans. My father was taught everything baseball from his grandfather. It matters to my cousins too. We are all rabid Phillies fans. Why?

I think it connects us as a family. We know that we are all interested in the score no matter where we are. On the days of big games or big trades, a series of phone calls will circulate through the family. Before a big game, like a playoff, my Aunt will call to be sure the “flag is up.” This is code for making sure I have a cocktail to enjoy while watching. Our love of the Phillies keep us close even though we all live in Pennsylvania, Maine, Maryland or Virginia. I love that!

I think we like the game too. It is a thinking game and slow enough for me to follow. I like that I can see the strategy of winning played out before my very eyes. I like that there is no clock. The game can last 20 innings but it won’t end until someone wins. It is the one thing I enjoy that I don’t wonder what time it is. I like that I can watch my son play baseball and know what to expect…most of the time. There is nothing better though than thinking it is over just to have a rally start.

What does this have to do with faith? My faith also connects me to those same family members. We will be welcoming a new addition to my extended family soon and we will all gather. This time for a Baptism. I promise you even though it won’t be during the regular season, someone will mention the Phillies. I think I should start to approach life and my faith the way I watch baseball. I should slow down enough to see all the connections around me. I should forget about the clock and just learn to play. And I should keep playing until someone wins, even if it is not me. I should study God’s strategy as He brings me in for the next play. And I should live life knowing it isn’t over until the last man is out. And even then, I want to go out swinging.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cafeteria Christianity

Jacobs says, "'Cafeteria Christianity' is a derisive term used by fundamentalist Christians to describe moderate Christians.  The idea is that moderates pick and choose the parts of the Bible that they want to follow."  

One of the most interesting points that Jacobs makes about his year long journey addresses this issue.  "The year showed me beyond a doubt that everyone practices cafeteria religion.  It's not just moderates.  Fundamentalists do it too.  But the more important lesson was this: there's nothing wrong with choosing." (p.328)

What are your thoughts?

Do you practice Cafeteria Christianity?