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Actor uses humor to teach kids about sex, sin and video games

Special Report Writer
Bloomingdale, Ohio

Doug Barry drew a big laugh here when he told a tent full of teens that "women are like crock pots; men like microwaves."

Barry is funny. But he wasn't talking only about sex. He was also talking about scandal.

"Clothing can be scandalous. ... What you're wearing, girls, may not help guys look at you in a holy way," Barry said. He moved swiftly from seductive attire to wearing shorts and jeans to Mass. If invited to the White House, "would you dress like that? Would you wear a baseball cap?" Barry pitches his question at a baseball-capped boy, then turns his own cap backwards.

He slouches down the aisle in front of the teens: "I've just received the Author of the Universe in the eternal sacrifice of Calvary. ... The guardian angels are lying prostrate on their faces before him. ... And I'm walking back from communion like it's a catwalk."

Barry, his sidekick, Ed Vizenor, and Tammy Splonskowski, all of Lincoln, Neb., are part of RADIX, named after the Latin word for root. The nonprofit Catholic music and drama ministers perform 130 to 180 gigs each year. Last month RADIX made its fifth visit this year to Catholic Familyland, where it entertained and instructed youth from 4 to 20.

"There's lots of fluffiness and tons of confusion" among today's teens, Barry said, noting that some have never heard of mortal sin. But he and Vizenor fixed that. No youngster left without knowing the commandments, what happens when you break them and how to examine your conscience. Nor did anyone depart without going to confession.

RADIX employs laughter to instruct. Some examples:

  • "God speaks to us through the Holy Catholic church, the magisterium, tradition, scripture, the clergy, but not fortune cookies, horoscopes or astrologers."
  • "Damn is not part of God's name. Have you ever heard 'Buddha damn it,' 'Mohammed damn it' or 'Allah damn it'?"
  • "Satan knows theology better than we do. He's coming at us with candy-coated video games, books, comics, MTV, magazines." In answer to a preteen's question about a video game, Barry said, "Would Jesus Christ be playing Mortal Combat with the Pharisees?"

Some have compared Barry's antics -- he acts with his neck, knees and nose, as well as his eyes and voice -- with those of Robin Williams or Jim Carrey. Barry said he doesn't intentionally try to copy them. The actor no longer goes to movies and has given up watching MTV, Jay Leno and David Letterman.

At 22, Vizenor is a decade younger than Barry, who's married with three preschool children. A guitarist and singer, Vizenor is using his ministry to discern whether he's being called to the priesthood. He has entertained thousands of kids, including three gatherings of up to 2,500 teens at Franciscan University in nearby Steubenville, Ohio.

Both men believe it is essential that Catholic youngsters have a prayer life rooted in the sacraments, the rosary and praying before the Blessed Sacrament.

Barry urged teens to remain chaste in their hearts and minds as well as in their actions, noting that "the subtle selling of sex is everywhere." Why is sex outside of marriage always wrong? No one knew until Barry told them: "It breaks God's design."

While French kissing may be a mortal sin, abortion, euthanasia and suicide "are always, always mortally sinful," he said, but added that "only God can read every heart."

On drinking, he was emphatic: "Getting drunk is a mortal sin if you know and give full consent, and helping people get drunk by being the designated driver is mortally sinful."

Barry said he does not touch issues of the death penalty or "just war" theory with teens. "They're just too complex."

After five years of working with youth, he finds them troubled over relationships, entertainment, astrology and "New Age" phenomena. His advice to youth: "Become a saint. It's God's will, so cooperate with his teaching."

The call to sainthood will be more attractive, he believes, if youngsters can see life as an adventure. "Go your own route, but remember you're not the first to go there."

Finally, "look at John at the foot of the cross and know that there is no need to run away."

National Catholic Reporter, October 3, 1997