Jesus was not a priest: Jesus did not ordain anybody.

Jesus was critical of the Jewish priesthood.

Jesus’ theology was more in line with the Pharisees – rabbis (married teachers who believed in life after death) than the priests – Sadducees (married Temple officials who believed in accepting money, animal sacrifice, reserving the best portions of the offerings for themselves and did not believe in life after death) Jesus did not ordain anyone at the Last Supper because there was no priesthood yet and no sacraments yet.

The Last Supper was not the First Mass but possibly a Passover meal, however not the same as a contemporary Passover Seder. There was no church, no sacraments, no priesthood at this time. They were followers of Jesus gathered together for a meal that turned out to be the last one they shared.

The four Gospels are not biographies but theological reflections and as such they tell us sometimes more about the context, audience, and concerns of the author than the historical life of Jesus.

Paul was not an Apostle.
Paul was a Jewish Pharisee/Rabbi in training, not a priest.
Paul never met Jesus.
Paul’s letters were written earlier than the Gospels.
Paul was the reason that Christianity survived and flourished not Peter.

Peter was never the leader of the first community of Christians in Jerusalem.
Peter was married (he refers to his mother-in-law) as were the rest of the Apostles, excepting perhaps John who was the youngest.
Peter was never the leader of the Church in Rome, therefore cannot historically be claimed as the first Pope.
The term Pope simply meant leader in the sense of Bishop in today’s terminology.

 Who was Jesus? A Jewish rabbi, prophet, the Messiah of prophecy, a crazy man? The Gospels reflect a growing faith in Jesus as more than a rabbi/healer (Mark), but someone who God created specially, “Son of Man,” “Messiah,” “Virgin Birth,” “Son of God,” (Matthew and Luke), or even the pre-existent Word of God, present at Creation (John).

The New Testament didn’t really settle the issue of who Jesus was and how he could be God. The debate about the nature of Jesus continued in the early Church and was so acrimonious that factions actually set about killing each other. How could Jesus be God and Man, he had to be one or the other. And how could the immutable, perfect, unchanging God be present fully in an imperfect human body and, change, suffer, and die? And if Jesus was God doesn’t that make two Gods, Creator, Father God and Jesus his Son?

There was no immediate answer to these questions. Belief in Jesus identity as God was not settled by John’s Gospel, by any means. It took the church hundreds of years and multiple councils.

The first Council of the Church was not Nicea but Jerusalem, at which the main issue was the inclusion and circumcision of non-Jews. Jesus was not being worshipped as Divine yet, but was being remembered as the Messiah.

The Council of Nicea was convened by the Emperor Constantine, an unbaptized pagan who claimed authority over the church in order to deal with the opposing factions and resulting unrest in the Empire.

Beliefs/later deemed heresies about Jesus that developed in the second through fifth centuries included:

  • Docetism:  Jesus did not have a real body, it was a vision, unreal, so he didn’t really die, because God can’t suffer and die and we think Jesus was God. So Jesus was not really human.
  • Adoptionism:  Jesus was a righteous man who became the Son of God by adoption. He was not pre-existent, therefore was not there when God created the universe. A man cannot also be a God, and there was only One God, the Creator.
  • Arianism:  Jesus was a demigod—less than God, more than man. Jesus was created, finite, and could sin. Because a man could not be God. It took 18 church councils to resolve the issue. It was finally condemned in 325 at the Council of Nicea.
  • Apollinarianism:  Jesus had no human mind or soul, having instead a divine mind. Jesus had all the other parts of a human however: spirit, body, and animal soul (the animating force but not the intellect or spirit). If Jesus was God and Man in One Person, there could only be one Mind/Spirit in charge. Condemned in 381 at the First Council of Constantinople.
  • Monophysitism:  Jesus had only one divine nature and no human nature. The divine nature absorbed and nullified any human nature. Jesus is both divine and human, but not “fully” human. Condemned at the Council of Chalcedon 451.
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As a chaplain I have increasing numbers of patients and/ family members who do not claim to be religious but are nonetheless searching for something to provide meaning, direction, purpose, or value in their or their loved one’s suffering and dying. “I’m not religious but my wife is.” To which the patient responded, “Well, not really. I haven’t gone to church in years. I’ve been looking for something, I guess. But what do I do now?”  She was told she had just weeks to live.

I am hoping in the future months to gather or create resources for such people and I will share them here. I also ask for suggestions from any readers. If you or someone you know fits in this category, how are you or they making sense of life and death? Perhaps I need a new blog to attract people with this issue. But I’ll wait and see.

For the time being, check out some responses here:


How do I process my grief?
Does suffering have any meaning?
Do we live in a random chaotic universe?
Is it time to re-evaluate my understanding of “God”?

This book is for anyone who has suffered a loss – of safety, of one’s home, of health, of a loved one or a relationship, or of one’s faith … and found themselves asking, “Why?” And then wondering, “Who am I asking?” and hoping they were not alone.

traces of hope

As a progressive Christian I …

1.  Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life;

2.  Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;

3.  Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:

  • Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
  • Believers and agnostics,
  • Women and men,
  • Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
  • Those of all classes and abilities;

4.  Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;

5.  Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;

6.  Strive for peace and justice among all people;

7.  Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;

8.  Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

Today’s Gospel was from John chapter 12. One verse caught my attention.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”



In the homily we were reminded of the process whereby a seed grows. It has to be in the right temperature and level of moisture. Then its protective shell has to soften and crack open. Only then can the seed send out a root and a shoot and make food and grow. The hard shell has to be broken.

Two things came to mind as I listened. The first is the obvious prophecy of Jesus’ death and the beginning of the church. Without Jesus’ death would his words have taken root? Without his death would others have been willing to die for their faith? Secondly, I reflected on what happened to bring about his death? He became vulnerable, he let down his defenses, he opened up and spoke the truth that was within his heart.

I recently re-watched a TED talk by Sociologist Brene Brown. She spoke about her discovery that vulnerability is the basis for living a whole life, for being what she calls a whole-hearted person.

“And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

According to Brown in order to be whole-hearted people we have to live with authenticity, “we have to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee, to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love this much? Can I believe in this this passionately?”

Let us hope that as we learn to become more vulnerable, more open, more whole-hearted, we will not be asked to die for the truth the way that Jesus of Nazareth, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero and so many other martyrs did. But in this season of Lent let us at least stretch enough, and soften our shells enough, to allow growth to happen.

Over the past few years I have used the opportunity offered by this blog to reflect on many questions about Catholicism – my faith home. Along the way I have left my career as a Catholic religious educator and more recently I have left my home in the Catholic Church for a new faith community in the United Church of Christ. It would be inappropriate to continue to comment on the Catholic Church as if I were a member, and so I will be changing the blog’s name to Christianity in the 21st Century.

I have a new book coming out that tells the story of my faith journey and my journey through grief and loss, if you are interested in my full story.

A Mother – protecting her children (the membership) from historical truth and theological insight, and the responsibilities of independent thought. Trying desperately to keep her babes from leaving the nest.

A Lioness – protecting her cubs (the clergy) by hiding them from attack, redirecting attention away from them, retaliating against their attackers.

A “Uriah Heep” – whose only concern is to protect and gain control over the moneys taken in by the business. Motivated by greed, and putting on a face of insincere humility.

A model of the Church of “Bishop” Francis? – I remain hopeful.

“Why do we call God THE Place, HaMakom? It’s a metaphor. As physical beings, we sometimes best understand difficult concepts from a physical frame of reference. If you think about the meaning of a “place”, you may agree that it is more than just a geographical location. A place is a space which is capable of containing something else. When we call God HaMakom, we mean that everything is contained within God, while God is not contained in anything. As our Sages say: “God does not have a place, rather God is The Place … of the Universe” (Genesis Rabba 68:9).” Rabbi Paul Kipnes

God is the place…

Despite my recurrent atheistic leanings, born out of profound personal issues with Catholicism, I seem unable to escape God. My mind rejects the concepts of God proposed by Christian theology and other varieties of paternalistic theism, but I continue to encounter God. As Rabbi Kipnes suggests, we have to come out from behind our climate-controlled barriers, and when we do we can’t help but discover that there is something more than, greater than, deeper than, older than, human enterprise and human achievement. And I’m not talking dinosaurs!

I travelled to New Mexico this summer – it had been a wish of mine since moving to the States over thirty years ago. I wanted to see deserts and mountains and pueblos and I was not disappointed. I even saw the Rio Grande River Gorge. Not quite the Grand Canyon but just awesome to me.

I admit to an overly romanticized view of the culture of the Native Americans. I want to believe that every long-haired Native American man is a Shaman and can impart wisdom about life and finding God; I want to believe in the spiritual power of burning sage. Truth is, the man may just be old. Nonetheless, in the Taos pueblo I discovered that the community there, though baptized Catholic, still maintained the ancient religious traditions of their people. And these traditions demanded regular attention to, and respect for, nature. For the families whose turn it was to prepare and lead the ceremonials that year, a certain amount of time had to be spent living in the pueblo itself, with no electricity or running water, reliant on the river and on oil lamps and wood burning stoves. These conditions meant that there was an intimacy with nature not usually experienced in modern living.

So I come back to Rabbi Kipnes’ point again, that to meet God we must be open to nature…the place of God, the place that is God. And in fact in New Mexico I felt myself to be in God’s place – every day we drove out into the desert and through the mountains. One day we visited a Trappist monastery in Abiquiu and we joined in afternoon prayers. When the monks stood up after prayer was over and placed their hoods over their heads my stomach lurched and I felt panic rising – too much black, too many men in black. But I raised my eyes to the wall of windows in the front of the chapel and the mountain rock face it revealed, and I focused on that beauty and solidity and breathed slowly until the chapel cleared.

God was present to me that day, not in the chapel, not in the monks or prayers, but in the mountain. God shared the strength of that mountain with me as I struggled with a panic attack and with tears and with a throat threatening to close up on me. I breathed and prayed in thanks to God for simply being there and helping me breathe.

God as that place, God in that mountain – that is a God I can believe in.


John’s description of his “revelation” is at once brilliant and breathtakingly painful in the way that Truth has of striking us in the heart. John has witnessed some changes for the better and acknowledges those, but these are changes in the hearts of State Legislators not in the hearts of Catholic Bishops. I recommend you read the entire article and share it with others. Then I recommend you research the Statute of Limitations in your own State. We have the power to bring about change through the legal system, power that we don’t have in the Church. This is one arena where there is indeed “Hope for the Future.”


Click here to read: “I Was Once a Victim,” by John Salveson, class of ’77, ’78 M.A., Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 2013


Slowly, eventually, I figured out the reason for the lack of progress within the Church. It really was simple. I had long believed the Roman Catholic Church considered the child sex-abuse crisis to be a moral issue. So I expected clergy to care about the victims and to do the right thing.

But the simple truth I had learned over time was this: Much of the Catholic leadership does not view this as a moral issue. They view it as a risk-management issue. The focus is on managing settlements, keeping the topic out of the media, telling the faithful everything is taken care of and, most of all, doing everything humanly possible to ensure none of these cases ever make it into a court of law.

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The latest blog post at “Another Voice” reminds us of some basic historical truths about the papacy that very few Catholics seem to know, and very few Church officials would be comfortable admitting. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Pope Frances gave a statement on the history of the hierarchy that incorporated these facts.

When thinking about the history of the papacy in the Roman Catholic Church, we need to be clear about a few historic realities.

The historic Jesus did not appoint anyone pope. He did not appoint anyone a bishop nor did he ordain anyone. Contrary to what one often hears, flowing unctuously from episcopal lips, no one at the Last Supper was ordained by Jesus nor designated a bishop. Ordination came much later in the early Jesus Movement as a kind of quality control mechanism: to protect Christian communities from incompetent or deceptive leaders. So the plan, anyway…..

And Peter? Contemporary biblical scholars and historians give us a rather clear picture of the young man. Peter and his wife belonged to the group of young men and women (probably in their late teens or early twenties) who were Jesus’ close disciples. Jesus recognized Peter’s leadership qualities and designated him as the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Peter could also be stubborn and head-strong. Jesus and his friends called Peter by his nickname “Rocky.”

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Traces of Hope

From Faith to Doubt to ... Hope? A search for meaning after tragedy and loss.

The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf