Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Poker Playing Priest

Ok. I have to brag. The “Poker playing priest” is a friend of mine. Seriously. He actually taught me how to play Texas Hold’em. What? You haven’t heard? Well, crawl out from under the rock and allow me to fill you in. A few weeks ago I got a call from Fr. Andrew Trapp, a priest who was ordained (made a priest) two years ago and spent his first year in ministry at St. Gregory the Great, here in Bluffton. When Team Catholic’s priests and youth ministers were not out leading young people on mission trips, retreats and lock-ins we’d sometimes gather and play poker (we didn’t have money, but we’d wager things like, “winner gets a free pass at nap time on the next mission trip”). Fr. Andrew’s a meticulous poker player. Before, when I’d occasionally play with friends I’d fake it by just looking for matching colors and shapes in my hand. However, Fr. Andrew would have none of that, he insisted on making sure we understood the lingo and now I know a full house beats a straight.

I digress. So Fr. Andrew has since been moved to a parish in Myrtle Beach that is attempting to raise funds for a new building. Father called and explained that he had figured out a way to aid in the fundraising and proceeded to explain the elaborate process of qualifying for the Pokerstars.Net Million Dollar Challenge reality show. He had to finish in the top ten in an on-line tournament that 10,000 participate in. If by some chance you do that, you can post a youtube audition video and if they like it they’ll interview you and maybe pick you to be on the show for a chance to play in several rounds against various celebrities and pros. If you win that you win a spot at a table to play for a million dollars.

I was half-listening when he finished with, “and last night I finished fifth in the on-line tournament”. “What?!” I was not expecting him to have already finished baby step number one to a million dollars. To make a long story short, with the permission of the Bishop, he made a youtube video that had just the right combination of paintball and poker to pique the interest of the directors and after winning on the first show, the building fund is 100,000 dollars richer. (To see highlights from this epic journey, youtube “poker playing priest”). He returns to the show in December for a chance to win a million dollars.

What I find so cool about this story, besides a friend being on T.V., is how Father Andrew has shown that Christians—even spiritual leaders—are not confined to reading the Bible and praying all day. In fact, much can be accomplished when Christians seek to engage the world where the world least expects it. Father Andrew clearly explained on his website ( that he did not have to spend any money to win, nor did he use his church’s time (like other workers, priests get a certain amount of time off each year). What he also shared is that he had many interesting conversations with the cast and crew of the show. His goal was first to represent the priesthood well and then, hopefully, win some cash.

I see this as such a great example of “what would Jesus do?”. Looking at the life of Christ, he did not just hang out in the religious spots. He also hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes—he didn’t just chat with them on the street, he partied with them at their homes. While we have to share the Gospel in ways that we’re comfortable, we should be constantly evaluating our skills and talents to see what new places Christ is calling us to go. We can be quick to think that certain people or places are beyond the need for Christ— we think He came for our Sunday School class, but not those we play bunko or golf with. The reality is that we need to take the Gospel outside of Sundays and look for ways to bring Christ to the world… where they least expect it.

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