From rock star to devout Catholic teacher, Dan Lord learns joy
How many high school guys’ ambitions go something like this?
Check out Dan Lord’s blog at http://thatstrangestofwars.com.
See Hallie Lord’s blog at http://moxiewife.com.
Form a band with some friends. Write songs. Record them. Sell a bunch. Go on tour. Reap a little fame and much adoration of fans.
So it went with Dan Lord.
In the 1990s, he and an Alabama High School buddy formed Pain, a quirky punk rock band that became known for its upbeat lyrics and melodies, including a horn section, and Lord’s semi-hyperactive antics.
Lord was the lead singer and songwriter and, to hear him tell it today, ego-in-chief.
“It was fun,” recalls Lord, now a Mount Pleasant resident who teaches at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist downtown. “The problem was me.”
Pain got radio play, worked for the Cartoon Network and The WB and sold CDs all over the world. It toured feverishly and built an enviable fan base.
Then it played a show in 1999 on a stage near pop heavyweight Train. Despite having rhyming names, they shared little in common.
If Train was a heavyweight, Pain was a bit more middleweight.
Still, Pain was playing for a good 1,000 enthusiastic fans. Fans who, therefore, were not at the Train stage, where the crowd looked too thin for its handlers’ liking.
And so, Lord says, Train’s people pulled the plug on Pain’s show — literally, in midsong.
The crowd erupted with boos. Lord’s infuriated band members wanted to kick a little Train handler behind. Lord, who was using over-the-counter pseudoephedrine to stay pumped up, normally would have joined in the fury.
But he didn’t.
Nor did he explain why.
How could he tell his bandmates that he’d recently made a few promises to God?
God shut out
As the new millennium approached, the band was talking with music label representatives. Pain stood on the cusp of bigger success.
Lord should have been happier than ever. Instead, he was restless and unfulfilled.
He also felt a nagging tug, a pull toward something larger than himself. It was a bit odd, all things considered.
Not that he had rejected his faith. He’d just let it fade away.
“I got caught up in the world, and the teachings of morality in the Catholic Church didn’t really harmonize with that,” he says.
Then he read a few words that St. Augustine wrote around the year 398: “Restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.”
Thee? It was a reference to Jesus.
Lord’s heart was not resting much with Jesus.
“I was so consumed with myself,” he recalls. “I had totally shut out God. I was turning into a dead man inside.”
Yet the phrase lingered in his thoughts and tugged him back when he tried to dismiss it.
Was God calling him to something else, something more?
Lord felt guilty. As lead singer and songwriter, if he left Pain to pursue some vague God calling, he would be writing the band’s final act.
Was he being selfish?
After eight years together, he sat down with his bandmates.
“It was a painful conversation,” he recalls. “The problem was that it came out of nowhere for most of them.”
At 30, Lord packed up and moved back to Alabama.
After touring for enthusiastic crowds, Lord went into a sort of seclusion back home in Mobile.
That’s where he met the Very Rev. Paul Zoghby, who would become his mentor. One day, he went to the priest’s office.
“I think maybe the Holy Spirit is calling me to be a priest,” Lord admitted.
Zoghby’s suggestion? Go to Mass daily and say the rosary. For six months.
Then see if God is still calling.
So Lord did. He also took a maintenance job to pay bills.
Suddenly, the former traveling rocker kept a regular work schedule, did manual labor and followed orders. He had no car, so he walked to Mass daily. He prayed the rosary.
“God was purifying me, slowly,” he recalls.
Every day, he prayed: What do you want me to do?
Call to teach
Meanwhile, he had fallen in love. Hallie Lord noticed him at a Pain show in California and went to its party afterward.
“While he is extremely cute, it was more than that. I loved him from the first moment I saw him,” she recalls.
A college student, she moved to Alabama, too. She went to school and lived in her own place.
Then he mentioned the priesthood.
“At first, I was hurt and furious and confused,” she says. How could he claim to love her but still talk about leaving her for the priesthood?
A San Francisco native, she had grown up where Christianity was viewed as suspect at best. Yet Catholicism began to root and grow in her as well. After much prayer and some heated discussions with Lord about everything from contraception to homosexuality, Hallie decided to convert.
She also realized that the man she loved needed to discern his own calling.
“I came to understand that this was something he had to do,” she says. “It said a lot to me about his love for God that he would abandon everything we had together to answer God’s call.”
Later, Hallie mused, “You should be some kind of teacher.”
Dan Lord paused. A teacher?
As his thoughts rolled around the notion, it felt right.
What is joy?
Lord went back to school and earned a master’s in theology. Then he taught theology in Catholic schools. The former songwriter also began writing fiction.
In 2001, he and Hallie married.
They moved to Cincinnati, where Lord taught theology at a Catholic college and became editor of the Catholic Exchange, an online religion news portal. He also started a blog called “That Strangest of Wars.”
Then an editor from Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic publishing house, asked him to write a book about joy.
Sure, he was happy. But joyful?
“I didn’t want to sound like a guru,” he says. Because he wasn’t one.
Instead, he set out to offer a solid theological definition, not a bubbly surface version of the term.
He culled church teachings. He researched scriptural references.
And he found Jesus’ directive in John 15: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things have I spoken to you that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”
“Choosing Joy: The Secret to Living a Fully Christian Life” was released Nov. 15.
“Joy is not a flag Jesus plants in us; it is a fruit Jesus grows in us,” Lord writes.
At 42, Lord has embraced another challenge. He is the new director of religious education and evangelization at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Broad Street, the diocesan seat.
In August, Lord moved his family to Mount Pleasant. It’s no small family.
He and Hallie today have five children under 10. In addition to a baby boy due in March, their family includes a 2-year-old girl, 4-year-old girl, 6-year-old girl, 8-year-old boy and 9-year-old boy.
As Hallie writes on “Moxie Wife,” her Catholic blog, “Simply put: We’re crazy blessed.”
“He is such an inspiration to me,” Hallie says. “He was always a kind-hearted guy, but he has turned into a man who is never afraid to follow the call of God wherever it may lead him, a man who is endlessly selfless and pours himself out for our family ... a man who loves God with a tenderness and fierceness that is awe-inspiring.”
Among other things, Lord teaches religious education classes and still edits the Catholic Exchange. He recently gave a talk about his “reversion.” jokingly entitled “How God Ruined My Life.”
Or, as he writes in “Choosing Joy,” “The only way to acquire joy, the only way — and there is no other way — is to completely abandon yourself to God’s will.”
This former rocker should know.
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