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Original Sin Debate

The inspiration for this post began as a conversation with my youngest daughter. We were driving home the other night she told me that the Religion teacher assigned a research topic with a written report. Her research assignment was original sin.

She then admitted that she chose the topic. Original sin has long been a topic she feels strongly about.

“The relationship between God and man has been broken by original sin. Man could not pull himself up by his own shoe-strings, and thus the only hope of restoration was from God’s side. Yet it was from our side that things had to be put right. It appeared hopeless. But God found the answer. For in Christ he himself became man, and as man reconciled us to himself.”
– John A. T. Robinson (Honest to God, P. 78)

I am willing to bet this notion, outlined by former Bishop John Robinson, is familiar to us all. After all, the Bible is the word of God. The Bible holds God’s moral codes set down for the Church from the beginning of time. God’s word is then interpreted for the Church through God’s anointed servants within the Church hierarchy. Those Church leaders explain that the Cross represents salvation, as salvation is attained by Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross.

Bishop Robinson originally wrote these words as a challenge to our Church leadership. These notions are outmoded Christian concepts that are really only acceptable to more traditional members of the Church. Bishop Robinson was asking for the Church leadership to acknowledge that other less traditional members of the Church need a voice and a platform for greater spiritual growth.

This would include my daughter.

“For many Christians, the significance of the Incarnation is that it ended with an atoning death, one that cleansed impurity, carried away sin, or purchased salvation… Some concept of the incarnation precedes all their atonement concepts, but does not supply the actual content of their atonement reasoning… These notions may be common, but they turn out not to be essential to Christianity…”
– Stephen Finlan (Problems with Atonement, pp. 3-4)

Original sin is a normal conversation in my family. I realize that other families avoid religious topics but that is not our way. All three of my daughters have been discussing theological topics, such as original sin, since they were in Junior High. The original sin doctrine felt wrong to my youngest daughter, even then.

Because she had two older sisters my youngest was exposed to Scripture study earlier in her education. She remembers expressing some concerns about original sin as far back as the 4th grade. She had been taught that the poem of Adam and Eve was not literally true, but actually a story drawn from much older Babylonian myths.

That is why my youngest chose original sin as her research topic.

“the first man was scarcely self-conscious, knew only privation and the wearisome struggle to survive. He was far from possessing the full endowment of reason, which the old doctrine of paradise attributes to him. But once the picture of paradise and the Fall has been broken into pieces, the notion of original sin goes with it, to be followed logically, it would seem, by the notion of redemption as well.”
– Joseph Ratzinger (Faith and the Future, p. 17)

Adam and Eve never existed and the Fall of man was a myth, yet the Church continues to explain Atonement as if the Fall of man were literal. The quote from Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was written to say that we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater when we acknowledge that Fall, original sin, and redemption are myths.

As Catholics we don’t have to believe this way. My 10th Grade daughter can separate myths from her faith. Catholics, even in Junior High, can understand that Adam and Eve and the Fall of man is a retelling of an ancient Babylonian myth and still be believe in God.

We pray that the Church will allow traditionalists to hold onto their more literalistic interpretation of original sin and at the same time allow non-traditionalists to accept that there is no need for original sin.

I don’t know how the teacher will respond to my daughter’s research paper, but she has had practice broaching controversial theological topics in school.

When Catholic Church leaders allow room for a traditional and non-traditional response to original sin all of us will be more faith filled.

God bless,


Do Not Judge (Matthew Kelly – Rediscover Jesus)

“Judgement is one of the major obstacles that prevent us from loving others as God commands us to.”
Matthew Kelly (Rediscover Jesus, p. 76)

Fr. Leo asked each adult to take a copy of the Matthew Kelly book during Christmas Midnight Mass. His instructions were to read the book and take the opportunity to become reacquainted with Jesus.

If I understood Fr. Leo correctly the Parish will run a worship program based on the book. Just for that reason I thought I should read the book.

I particularly enjoyed Chapter 16. It is titled “Do Not Judge.” This chapter topic is a major part of my faith reconstruction. I struggle with judging and although I know this is a universal struggle for all humans and I must get this under control for my salvation.

Matthew Kelly writes that we should focus “on reducing the amount of judgement” and we can expect “peace, joy, and incredible spiritual growth.”

I say YES, and…

A tool every Catholic will want to include in their toolbox is the discipline of contemplative prayer. Through contemplative prayer we can tap into non-dual thought. It is dual thinking that drives us to judgment.

If you are looking for a practical application to bring peace, joy, and incredible spiritual growth it is non-dual thought. We have all been indoctrinated into dual thinking as part of growing up. Unlearning this is not easy, but to rediscover Jesus we need to work toward increasing our non-dual thought.

When Fr. Leo mentioned the Matthew Kelly book I rolled my eyes. I had a bad judgmental attitude about the book before I even held a copy. Just like a self-fulfilling prophesy, my judgments were confirmed when I read the book.

I struggle with dual thinking, so much so, that I still wince when I read Matthew Kelly’s book. I continue to scream at what I believe are incorrect statements written by Matthew Kelly, however, all of my fuss is now contained within my head.

Well… my wife might disagree because there has been a rant, here and there, that she witnessed. I am getting better. I recognize my weaknesses and dual thinking.

I find peace through my contemplative prayer. The Holy Spirit guides me in non-dual thought. As such, I can say that Matthew Kelly’ book is what it is. It is neither good nor bad. I will take away the lessons I need to be a better Christian and the rest I will leave as they are.

I find that Matthew Kelly and I are in agreement on some important aspects of Jesus’ teaching. My judging nature was holding me back from God. No amount of confession and absolution could resolve the dual thinking specter that created a wedge between God and me.

People who struggle with dual thinking should spend some time rediscovering the teachings of Jesus. I recommend spending time in contemplative prayer. I also recommend reading Fr. Richard Rohr.

“The inner life of quiet, solitude, and contemplation is the only way to find your ground and purpose now. Go nowhere else for sustenance.”
Richard Rohr (Falling Upward, p.164)

God bless,

The Hunt For a New Parish

Dear surfers,

My wife, three daughters and I have been on a search for a new Catholic Parish. In our 30 years of marriage my wife and I have been members of three different Parishes. This is an average of one new Parish every ten years. For the next decade, hopefully more, we will belong to a new Parish. Luckily, we live in the Detroit area and there is an embarrassment of riches regarding Parishes to choose from.

The struggle with finding a new Parish revolves around our family faith development. We need to find a place that is the right fit. This will not be easy.

I have been experiencing faith deconstruction for more than a decade and the older more traditional Catholic Parishes are holding back the process of my faith reconstruction.

My wife has been traveling on a similar faith journey, but she was always more progressive than me.

My children are from the “none” generation and the old traditional Catholic piety is not something they appreciate. They specifically dislike the treatment LGBT people receive from some of the Catholic institutions and traditional Catholic priest homilies.

The new Parish must be the right fit but like any good relationship it is a two way street. Our goal is to find a Parish where we can fully participate in the community. We volunteer our time in music, worship, and education ministries. We have a fair amount of experience and a lot to offer.

The new Parish we are looking for will need to be closer to our faith experience and help us grow. In order to meet our needs the Parish will need to share many of the faith values cited in the “twelve theses” recently presented by Bishop John Shelby Spong.

The Twelve Theses

Understanding God in theistic categories as “a being, supernatural in power, dwelling somewhere external to the world and capable of invading the world with miraculous power” is no longer believable. Most God talk in liturgy and conversation has thus become meaningless.

2.Jesus – the Christ.
If God can no longer be thought of in theistic terms, then conceiving of Jesus as “the incarnation of the theistic deity” has also become a bankrupt concept.

3.Original Sin – The Myth of the Fall
The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which we human beings have fallen into “Original Sin” is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

4.The Virgin Birth
The virgin birth understood as literal biology is impossible. Far from being a bulwark in defense of the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth actually destroys that divinity.

5.Jesus as the Worker of Miracles
In a post-Newtonian world supernatural invasions of the natural order, performed by God or an “incarnate Jesus,” are simply not viable explanations of what actually happened.

6.Atonement Theology
Atonement theology, especially in its most bizarre “substitutionary” form, presents us with a God who is barbaric, a Jesus who is a victim and it turns human beings into little more than guilt-filled creatures. The phrase “Jesus died for my sins” is not just dangerous, it is absurd.

7.The Resurrection
The Easter event transformed the Christian movement, but that does not mean that it was the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ deceased body back into human history. The earliest biblical records state that “God raised him.” Into what, we need to ask. The experience of resurrection must be separated from its later mythological explanations.

8.The Ascension of Jesus
The biblical story of Jesus’ ascension assumes a three-tiered universe, which was dismissed some five hundred years ago. If Jesus’ ascension was a literal event of history, it is beyond the capacity of our 21st century minds to accept it or to believe it.

The ability to define and to separate good from evil can no longer be achieved with appeals to ancient codes like the Ten Commandments or even the Sermon on the Mount. Contemporary moral standards must be hammered out in the juxtaposition between life-affirming moral principles and external situations.

Prayer, understood as a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history, is little more than an hysterical attempt to turn the holy into the servant of the human. Most of our prayer definitions of the past are thus dependent on an understanding of God that has died.

11.Life after Death
The hope for life after death must be separated forever from behavior control. Traditional views of heaven and hell as places of reward and punishment are no longer conceivable. Christianity must, therefore, abandon its dependence on guilt as a motivator of behavior.

12.Judgment and Discrimination
Judgment is not a human responsibility. Discrimination against any human being on the basis of that which is a “given” is always evil and does not serve the Christian goal of giving “abundant life” to all. Any structure either in the secular world or in the institutional church, which diminishes the humanity of any child of God on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation must be exposed publicly and vigorously. There can be no reason in the church of tomorrow for excusing or even forgiving discriminatory practices. “Sacred Tradition” must never again provide a cover to justify discriminatory evil.

No Catholic Parish can agree to all of these theses today, but the closer we get the more opportunity there will be for my family to grow our faith. Growing our faith is the goal.

We hope your Parish helps you grow in faith, as well.

God bless,

Matthew Kelly

I want to take a minute to speak to you about faith, struggle and Matthew Kelly.

My family and I are auditioning new Parishes in the Detroit area to find one that suits our growth in faith. We discovered a Parish that we like and we are seriously giving consideration to becoming members.

During Midnight Mass this Christmas the Parish handed out a book by Matthew Kelly titled “Rediscover Jesus An Invitation.” The Priest suggested that every adult take a copy and use the book to come to know Jesus better.

I am in the midst of reconstructing my faith and I still struggle with those old dual thought deconstruction concerns of my past. I refused to take a book. We still have four copies, so I decided to consider some new non-dual thought philosophy and give the book a quick read.

My hope was that I might be able to see the book in a non-judgmental way and move past those old exclusionary thoughts I struggle with. What I realized is that I still have a lot of work to do.

I was not able to read the book without judgement. I discussed my concerns with my wife and we even went to the Matthew Kelly Website and watched him explain the book in a Youtube video. It was all of no use.

Reconstructing my faith is going to be a struggle for a long time. I am certain many of those reading this will be struggling with their faith. I encourage those folks who are in the midst of struggle to keep going in the face of adversity.

I will be praying for all of you. Have a look at the book. Try to understand that this is Matthew Kelly’s Jesus. It may not be your Jesus, but if you read it with a non-judgmental mindset it may help you to rediscover Jesus for yourself. I was not able to do this, but I will keep trying.

God bless,

Learn to Love by Loving

“You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; in just the same way, you learn to love by loving.”

St. Francis de Sales

Basil, rosemary, marjoram, hyssop, cloves, cinnamon,
lemons, and musk, joined together unbroken, form a very
agreeable perfume by the mingling of their various scents,

but not nearly so good as the water distilled from them, in which the sweetness of all these ingredients combines more
perfectly into a very exquisite perfume, that penetrates
the sense with a much keener delight than when their fragrance is inhaled in the other way.

Even thus love may be fostered in unions in which both corporal and spiritual affections are mingled together,

but never in such perfection as when minds and hearts alone, separated from all sensual affections, are joined together
in pure spiritual love. For the fragrance of affections thus commingled is not only sweeter and better, but more vivid, more active, and more solid.

Love of God, book I. ch. 10.

Homily: The Resurrection of the Lord [B]

you say: okay, so what? I’ve head that type of story before. What does it matter to me? Why should I care? And that’s when Paul would answer: yes, Jesus has been raised from the dead and God is concerned with bodies. God is concerned with justice. God is concerned with cleaning-up the mess of the world. Here is what we are doing, do you want to join us?
John Dominic Crossan

The readings for the The Resurrection of the Lord cycle B (John 20:1-9) can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that John’s Gospel developed many characters. Some of these characters were introduced at the beginning, like Nicodemus. The last character John introduced was the disciple whom Jesus loved, or the beloved disciple. This disciple plays a prominent role in Sunday’s Gospel reading. The beloved disciple was the first to believe in the resurrection.

Since the beloved disciple represents the ideal model for a follower of Jesus we are expected to emulate the beloved disciple and carry out the work of Jesus. In order to emulate this model of a follower of Jesus we are expected to believe in the resurrection.

On Easter we can expect to hear from the pulpit a message of the resurrection. Val Webb, in her sermon Examining Doubts at Easter, tells us that “we are finding we need to tell the Easter story and the transformation of Jesus’ followers in different language and ways.” She says that “many people have trouble today with the resurrection as a condition for belief.”

What I needed was someone to assure me that my doubts were valid — for a clergy person one Easter to address my questions from the pulpit, not simply repeat the biblical soup story as if there was nothing to question, or avoid the discussion altogether to avert the anger of some literalists in the pews.
Val Webb

If we are concerned with the physical resuscitation of the body of Jesus we have missed the point John was making. If the resurrection, in order to be real, requires us to see the physical body of Jesus in order to believe we are not emulating the ideal model of a follower of Jesus.

The beloved disciple is truly our model for being a follower of Jesus. When we read the Gospel carefully we will notice that the only thing the beloved disciple saw was an empty tomb. If there were no other resurrection stories recounting visitations of Jesus it would not matter to the beloved disciple. The empty tomb was enough. What does belief in the resurrection really mean?

Val Webb tells us that “what we can be sure of is that some transforming experience happened to the disciples and Paul after the death of Jesus that forced them into a new way of living, a call to new life.” This experience after Jesus died that transformed the disciples is the real resurrection.

We experience the resurrection when we follow the teachings of Jesus. When we love our enemies and turn the other cheek we are experiencing the resurrected Jesus in our lives and that resurrection is then reflected back to others. As long as we continue loving our neighbors as we love ourselves the resurrection of Jesus is real.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that the resurrection of Jesus, while not physical, is real. Don’t become distracted by arguments for or against the physical resuscitation of the body of Jesus. Allow the message of Jesus to transform your old life and call you into a new life with the resurrected Jesus.

Death did not stop Jesus from transforming our lives, and through us our world. The kingdom of Heaven on Earth is within our grasp and within our control. This is the reality of the resurrection.

God bless,

Homily: Second Sunday of Lent [B]

…not just as another preacher, but rather as the next step in the history of the Jewish people—truly, the successor, or even fulfillment of the law, represented by Moses, and of the prophets, represented by Elijah.
Rev. Samuel J. Smith

The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent cycle B (Mark 9:2-10) can be found here.

The Transfiguration story brings to mind different things for different people. For scripture scholars the Transfiguration ends Jesus’ Galilean ministry and begins His journey to Jerusalem. The scripture scholars also note that form criticism identifies that the Transfiguration story was written to be used in the liturgy of the synagogue, specifically for the Jewish Festival of Lights. Jesus is the new Temple and the light is a reminder of the cleansing and return of the light that dispelled the darkness of the Temple in Jerusalem. The disciples of Jesus came to this understanding and Mark built it into the story of the Transfiguration.

I like to think about the “aha” moment when the realization, recognition, and comprehension of Jesus reached a new understanding among His most devoted followers.

This Sunday we are asked to focus on our growth in faith. We are asked to remember the “aha” moments in our faith life.

Think about that time we had our first realization and understanding of Jesus. Think about those feelings and how the disciples of Jesus felt when they reached the moment of the Transfiguration.

To help us reflect on our faith the Rev. Dawn Hutchings has provided a setting. She explains that the “transfiguration of Jesus includes all the elements of a perfect love story. Jesus and his best buddies travel up to the top of a mountain, just like ever other hero of the day, travelled up to the top of a mountain, and when he got there, they had such a great time, it was amazing… Jesus was the one they’d been waiting for all their lives, Jesus was the one who could lead them, and just like the leaders of old, just like Moses and Elijah before him, Jesus had what it takes to move them out of the hell they found themselves in… Let’s pitch a tent and just stay here.”

However, our faith must continue to grow. We can’t be expected to remain in one place forever. The deeper we delve into our faith the richer our experience. The Rev. Dawn Hutchings puts it best when she says that “even though it sounds appealing to stay up there on the mountaintop with Jesus, frozen in time, just the way he was when we first met, there is so much more to the Christ experience…”

This is a time in our Lenten journey to deepen our understanding of Jesus’ message. We need to ask ourselves where is Jesus leading us? As our faith grows we become better at understanding the words of Jesus and better at translating those words to the community around us.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that as we remember Jesus and His teachings it is helpful to recall how it all began for the disciples and for us. Those feelings bring back strong emotions and during Lent we can rededicate our faith to living the words of Jesus.

I pray that our shared faith experience will lead to building the kingdom of heaven on Earth.

God bless,