Pair’s ‘Bearded Wisdom’ podcast shares faith, humor at U of I . . . and beyond

Shawn Reeves, left, director of religious education at St. John's Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign, and Heath Morber, director of music, have a rapport that makes their new podcast, "Bearded Wisdom," easy to listen to. (Provided photo)

CHAMPAIGN — It’s not often that talk about baseball cards leads to a deeper discussion about faith, but somehow Shawn Reeves and Heath Morber make it work during their new podcast, “Bearded Wisdom.”

“Providing insights on Catholic culture and faith,” the podcast is part of Catholic Illini ministry at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center. Reeves is the director of religious education, which includes the RCIA process, while Morber is director of music, overseeing five choirs with five different types of music.

“It’s my job to get everything set up. Heath comes in with the talent,” Reeves says with a laugh.

To find “Bearded Wisdom” follow St. John’s Catholic Newman Center on Facebook or subscribe through services like iTunes or Soundcloud.

“Just my wit and good humor — that’s all I’m bringing to the show really,” Morber replies with another laugh.

As the interview continues so does the laughter as the two men demonstrate the rapport that makes the podcast so easy to listen to.

“We try to throw humor and some stories in there, because these are weighty issues but they’re important issues. They have significance,” Reeves told The Catholic Post. “So we want people to be exposed to them, but perhaps in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them.”

In the first 10 episodes — plus a Thanksgiving mini-episode — the bearded ones have addressed such topics as “Expressions of Prayer,” “God’s Will, Vocations, and Heath’s European Travels,”  All Saints Day, and the Catholic understanding of Tradition. They’ve also taken “A Look at Mary” and talked with Father Robert Lampitt, head chaplain and director of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, to help their listeners get to know him better.

They haven’t shied away from sharing their own conversion stories either — Reeves from a non-Catholic tradition and Morber from the perspective of a cradle Catholic (“even if a nominal one”) whose “little conversions” have brought him to where he is today.

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When they started, they told listeners they would try to keep their conversations to 30 minutes or less, but they stopped making that claim after two episodes.

“We do come in with a simple plan that we think will be around the 30-minute mark,” Morber said. “But we also understand that if a conversation is really flowing and good stuff is being shared, we go five or 10 minutes over. It’s not the end of the world.”

The goal, he said, is to keep it concise enough that students can listen to it as they walk back and forth from class.

Reeves had been thinking of doing a podcast and when his wife, Tracy, suggested it to him he knew it was something he should pursue. Since Reeves and Morber have known each other for 17 years and worked together for many of them — their offices are across the hall from one another — it seemed like a good fit.

“I was excited to hear about it because it was something I was thinking about, as well,” said Father Lampitt. “I think both of them are gifted. I think they have the right personalities, the right talents for this.”

He added that Reeves and Morber are great resources for the students and the podcast gives them more exposure.

“I’ve recommended it to the students — ‘You should listen to that episode about discernment’ or ‘There was a great one about prayer. You should listen to that,’” Father Lampitt said.

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Reeves and Morber sat down to brainstorm topics for the semester and each week they decide who will take the lead. That person is in charge of making an outline with the questions that will be asked. They meet a few days prior to recording the episode to refine the outline.

“So any given week we know what we’ll be recording and what we’ll be recording the following week,” Reeves said. “We usually record at the beginning of the week and then I’ll edit and upload it. At the end of the week we’ll discuss our plans for the next week.”

“It’s good for me to have those few days to ponder ideas,” Morber told The Post. “I’ll write out a rough outline of what I want to say and then I’ll expand on that. Shawn does not . . . . It’s all in his mind.”

“Typically my contribution is something that is almost always something that is so deeply ingrained in my soul or something that I’ve spoken about so often that there is complete fluidity and it comes out in the conversation,” Reeves explained, adding that he does reflect on each topic ahead of time.

While they hope to teach about the faith, it is done informally through their personal stories, experiences of the faith and what they find profound. Sometimes that happens through pop culture references, too, such as ’80s music or sitcoms from the early ’90s, they admitted.

“It’s also good to remember that we have chosen topics that we thought would be fun to talk about,” Morber said.

“We’re not going to have a topic on the discussions of the Fourth Lateran Council. That’s not going to happen,” Reeves said.

There’s that laughter again.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To find “Bearded Wisdom” follow St. John’s Catholic Newman Center on Facebook or subscribe through services like iTunes or Soundcloud.

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