Pope Francis – The Surprising Choice For the New Pope

I am about half way through the book that I mentioned the last time. I want to report to you what I found so far.

But before I do that I want to put out one major criticism of the book. The average word length of a sentence probably exceeded fifty words, and I swear some exceed a full page in length! That makes it difficult for me to read as he just doesn’t seem to want to come to the point in his thoughts. I checked out some of his columns in the New York Times and found them to be the same. Since it is very contrary to my “get to the point” style of writing I often find myself running out of proverbial breath before getting to the end of a sentence. Regardless of that I am committed to finishing the book and to try to hash it down to it’s basics. 🙂

The biggest revelation so far from the book is that the Catholic church, like the US in general, is in the middle of a pretty dramatic struggle for control. The progressive and conservative type agendas pretty much mirror what we find in our current political processes. It seems that each side is convinced that the other side will mean the doom of the church.

What lies at the deepest level of this divide is on fundamental disagreements about the purpose of the church, the authority of the Bible, the nature of the sacraments, the definition of sin, the means of redemption, the true identity of Jesus, and finally the very nature of God. In other words, almost everything. The conservatives are primairily about preserving the traditions and practices of the past at all costs and the liberal wing was primarily about helping the poor and the downtrodden and putting the words of Jesus into practice in today’s world. The liberal wing sees the conservative wing as more ready to exclude than to include and the conservative wing sees the other as “throwing the baby out with the bath water. That sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it?

The part of the book about the ordination of Pope Francis was very interesting. Those of you who were around in the 1960s probably remember how the US political conventions used to be. No one was the inevitable nominee going into the convention, but eventually the field was eventually weaned down to one person. The way of Francis was apparently chosen very much mirrored those conventions.

Remember this papal conclave took place in 2013 when the church was going through the sexual predator scandal. The conservatives tried to handle the scandal by turning inward in a protection mode and of course that proved to only make the situation worse. During this papal conclave it seems they saw that things had to change to prevent a dramatic meltdown. It took five ballots before they selected a Francis by the required two-thirds majority of 203 cardinals voting. I’m sure there was a lot of hand-wringing going on during those sessions.

Since Francis was the first pope to be chosen from outside of Europe and outside the inner circle there must of been a serious level of panic among the conservatives about the very future of the church. Almost all the cardinals who voted in that election were installed into office by very conservative popes, so the conservatives assuredly held the majority in the conclave and could have selected one of their own. But they, I think wisely, didn’t.

Next time I will talk a little about the general view of the Jesuit and Franciscan orders and how the conservatives viewed them and then I will finally get to the first days of Pope Francis.

About Pope Francis

One of the primary reasons for looking into the Jesuit order is that I am fascinated about how different the Pope Francis is from those who proceeded him. That is, at least those in my lifetime. He just seems so focused on Jesus, and I wonder why? Since he is the first Jesuit to become pope, I thought I might gain insight into him by studying the order he came from.

One of the first things I discovered from other sources is how massive the Roman Catholic Church organization is. I never dreamed that the hierarchy was so complicated. They call organizations like the Jesuits, orders. Different orders are for purposes of being. The below chart gives you an idea of the complexity. If you look down the list you will find the Jesuits among the “Clerics Regular” with an identifier of “S.J.” .

I googled about everything imaginable to try to find just how big the hierarchy is, but to no avail. I suspect it rivals our federal government in size and complexity. I know there are around 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, that is second only to Islam. About 20% of US citizens are Catholics.

They call the unique purposes of each order their “spirituality”. They see orders as different ways of living in a relationship with God. All spiritualities within the Christian tradition have the same primary focus of a personal union with God. Each order has an emphasis on love and charity, and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God. It’s too bad that this type of tradition was not carried over to the Protestant Reformation. But that is another story. The reason for the different orders, as shown above, is that each emphasize a different aspect of service.

To finally come to the point of this post, it ended up that the book I chose to start out this discovery did not provide the evidence I was looking for. Instead it was mostly an invitation to join the church. There was info about the Jesuit’s founder but not that much about the order in general.

So, moving forward I have decided to do a direct study of Pope Francis to try to determine what he is about. The main thing I have learned so far is the he has got a lot of conservative Catholics upset with his non-conventional ways. There are a lot of books out there about that. I did finally find one that is more balanced than the others and that is where I will start the next time. The book is entitled To Change the Church – Pope Francis and the future of Catholicism by Ross Douthat. The author is a columnist for The New York Times. More about him on the next post in this series.

Can God Make A Rock That He Can’t Lift?

I was going to try and make a couple of posts that attempted to explain the difference between religious beliefs and philosophy of religion, but that just got too complicated and technical so I decided to keep it simple by just looking at examples. Let’s tackle some of the hardest philosophical questions first. Why not?

Is God Omnipotent?

Some religions, but not all hold on to the belief that God is omnipotent. Philosophers has a lot of difficult questions for that belief.

“Can God make a rock he can’t lift?”

If the answer to the above question is no, then God is not omnipotent. If the answer is yes, then God, is not omnipotent. These are the type of philosophical questions that challenge any religion that might hold God’s omnipotence. When it comes to Christianity the omnipotence of God is brought out in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus said nothing is impossible for God.

When I gave this “rock” question to my wife she said “Why even think about that?” Even after 33 years of marriage, she still doesn’t understand I question everything and I don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t think the same way. 🙂

What About Evil??

Another similar question is how evil can exist in a world controlled by an omnipotent God. This question was put forward before many religions were established by the philosopher Epicurus (341–270 bce)

Epicurus provided a pithy formulation of the problem: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then why is there evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

I’m sure the existence of evil in the world as well as tragic, seemingly senseless deaths makes many question the very existence of God, or at least a god who supposedly watches out for each of us. The Abrahamic religions are the most ambivalent to philosophy, and given these types of questions I can see why.

How Many Different Religions Are There?

Changing subjects, they say that there are about 4200 different versions of religion in the world with Christianity and Islam being the two largest two and making up about half the world’s population. Many of the other religions are more philosophical in nature. The prominent ones being Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. These religions seem to comfortably coexist with philosophy.

Some religions regard God as a unity, whereas others take God to be triune. Some religions take God to have been incarnated in human form, whereas others recoil in horror from any such suggestion. Some religions hold that there is but one God, whereas other religions are polytheistic, positing many gods, each with its own jurisdiction. Some religions conceive of God as a supernatural being—an entity that is distinct from cosmos, whereas others identify God with the totality of all that there is.

Source: Reference #1

I need to do some more study on those religions outside the number 1 and 2 spots to see why they handle philosophical questions so much better than Christianity, Islam, or Judiasm.

Next time I want to study some more about Hinduism, in particular Gandhi’s version. To whet your appetite here is a quote from him about religion:

“I believe in the fundamental Truth of all great religions of the world. And I believe that if only we could, all of us, read the scriptures of the different Faiths from the stand-point of the followers of those faiths, we should find that they were at the bottom, all one and were all helpful to one another”

Getting Started with Philosophy of Religion

Where does one start with this topic? To me, all these types of serious discussions start with Wikipedia. They seem to always give me a good high-level view of the topic at hand.

Philosophy of religion is “the philosophical examination of the central themes and concepts involved in religious traditions.

The philosophy of religion differs from religious philosophy in that it seeks to discuss questions regarding the nature of religion as a whole, rather than examining the problems brought forth by a particular belief system. It is designed such that it can be carried out dispassionately by those who identify as believersor non-believers

Source: Wikipedia

Editor’s Note: Since I don’t want to keep repeating it several time throughout our discussions, I am shortening the phrase “philosophy of religion” to POR.

In addition to the quote above what I have learned so far tells me that POR is very different from religious studies in that where philosophy generally tries to be both critical and comprehensive, whereas religion is comprehensive but almost always excludes any critical assessment.  Most religions do attempt to offer at least their general view of all of life and the universe and to their answers to most, if not all, of the most basic questions.

The answers offered by religion are rarely subject to the careful scrutiny of reason and logic. Many times religious beliefs defy logic and seem to be unreasonable.  Religion has its basis in belief.  Philosophy, on the other hand, is a critic of all belief and belief systems. 

To sum it up, theological discussions occur within the context of a particular religious tradition, whereas philosophical discussions aim to transcend the boundaries between traditions so as to treat all of them as objectively as possible.

Most of the posts going forward will be gleaned from what others say of the subject. I will try to limit my personal thoughts and feelings about what I have reported until the end of the post and they will be identified as shown above

Summing up my initial feelings about what I said here, I pretty much only have personal experiences with Christianity so that is the framework from which I currently think. I hope, via this series, to be able to broaden my view of spirituality in the coming months.

I don’t know but I suspect that most Protestant denominations pretty much detest philosophers from trying to logically think of what their religion is about. I know many Lutherans think of the Catholic church as the “enemy” and the Pope as almost the anti-Christ. And they think of most outside of Christianity even worse. That is not a good starting point for Coexistence, is it?

I need to spend some time either validating that belief or dispelling these negative feelings.

The Philosophy of Religion

When I decided I wanted to study the philosophy of religion I had no idea what I had bitten off! I now know that it is one of the major branches of Philosophy. I knew Socrates had things to say about it 400 years before Jesus, but I never dreamed how far it went from there. Since almost every culture that has existed has either taken on an established religion on invented one of their own that fact shouldn’t have surprised me.

Where to begin was the question that temporarily overwhelmed me. Of course, the first thing I did was Google it and then I went to Wikipedia for a little more nuanced answer. After reviews about a dozen books on the subject, I chose the one showing in the header above. After reading a few pages I was convinced that I needed to keep it simple. But, since that is a life mantra for me it was not a hard decision.

So, going forward for as long as might take, I will be pulling quotes from this book for further thought and discussions here. Before I do that I want to get some personal background straight with you. If this is your first time here you probably have no idea of where I stand on this subject but the title of this website should give you a clue or two. If you want to know more about me click on the “About” button at the top of this page. If you don’t have time to do that I will give you a very short version here.

I don’t pretend to be a philosopher or theologian. I don’t really pretend, at least not anymore, to be very religious. I have been through a couple different versions of Christianity but am not aligned with either of them.

What I do believe is that Jesus of Nazareth was as close to God as anyone who has walked this earth. The lessons he was teaching are meant for the ages, yes even two thousand years later.

I want to forewarn you on a couple of different things before we get started. I am a simple guy who likes to get to the heart of the issue without a lot of blah, blah, blah, so I don’t hold back what is on my mind. You may find that threatening or just maybe refreshing, depending on your baggage on this topic. I am studying this topic because I think Jesus’ words can stand up to any scrutiny or criticism some would throw at them.

To maintain a level of diversity, I want to let you know I will be interweaving a secondary topic as well as occasional snippets on Progressive Christianity. The secondary topic will look at current denominations, and sub-denominations to try to find those who base their beliefs primarily on the red letters. That part of this series will start with the Jesuits in the Roman Catholic church. Where it goes from there, I don’t really know yet. Of course, the current pope is the first of that order to hold that rank so quite a bit of attention will likely be paid to him.

I think this will be an interesting series, so I invite you to stick around and give me your thoughts on what I have discovered.

Moving Forward on RLL

I have been struggling lately with how I will approach my study of the Red Letters on this site. One of the primary causes for putting it into a four-year hiatus was that I was just tired of lamenting how so many versions of Christianity strayed, sometimes very severely, from the path of Jesus’ words and teachings. Starting it up again I seemed to be heading down that same route and that is not where I wanted to go. It is time for CHANGE.

Yes, there are around 40,000 different versions of Christianity, but focusing on that fact is not very productive in my mind. So, I have decided to take a different path going forward at least for the time being. Instead of lamenting what Jesus’ church has become, I will focus on what I think are some the best examples of those who live by his teachings. For me, the first example of that is the Jesuits in the Roman Catholic Church. This series might widen to include the Franciscan order because right now I don’t understand the significant difference between the two.

What instigated this new direction was Pope Francis. When I study his words and particularly his actions I began to see how closely my spiritual beliefs aligned with his. He is the first Jesuit Pope and that has brought out some strong opposition especially among some here in the US. I just read in Sojourners Magazine (March 2019) issue how US right-wing billionaires are attempting a takeover of the US Catholic Church primarily because of Pope Francis’ emphasis on Jesus’ words. They believe he is just too hostile to our version of capitalism and that is very threatening to them.

For this series, I will be posting about what I am learning about the Jesuit order and their teachings.

The second prong of my new approach for this site is to look at those who have serious concerns about religion in general.

When I spent a couple of decades in an Evangelical church I was strenuously told to just believe on faith what they told me to believe. Don’t ask questions. Of course, questioning everything is a core part of my nature so there were several conflicts over the years. The last one resulted in the clergyman telling me I was no longer welcomed. They just couldn’t handle my questions, so as not to pollute the other members with doubt I was told to I need to leave.

I think that the words of Jesus can stand up to any questions brought up about them. So, as well as studying Jesuits, I will also be looking at the philosophy of religion. It will be an interesting series I think.

I hope anyone who comes by here in the next few months might want to learn along with me. I will be open to your thoughts as long as they conform to my “Code of Conduct” as shown in the header above.

Where we will be heading at the completion of this series, I have no idea. I suspect what we find in this series will naturally grow into something else. But who knows?

Some Mainline Thoughts on Progressive Christianity

I”m still not really in the camp with Progressive Christianity. Maybe I should just stick to the phrase “follower of the teachings of Jesus” Here are some comments that tend to push me in that direction. It is from a webinar on the subject from the Church of Christ version of Christianity.

1)  You sometimes hear progressive Christians say things like, “The Bible is not from God, but is only a human book expressing people’s experience of God.” Or you’ll hear, “This is what the apostle Paul says, but what did Jesus say?” The assumption behind both is that we get to judge which parts of the Bible are true and authoritative based upon our 21st century, Western sensibilities…

2) Progressivism challenges core doctrines of Christian orthodoxy. The Scriptures teach that Jesus was crucified to atone for our sins, but progressives tend to argue that Jesus’ death was merely a martyrdom. The Scriptures claim that Jesus is divine, but often progressives only emphasize the humanity of Jesus–unitarianism grew up with Western liberalism. The sinfulness of humanity is generally downplayed by progressives, who tend to think that all people are basically good and not really in need of salvation…

3) Progressivism is attractive to formerly biblical Christians because it offers a sort of “halfway house” that allows them to remain largely religious and socially responsible, but relieves them from the responsibility of holding to what they consider to be antiquated biblical teachings such as miracles, the authority of Scripture, sexual holiness or the sinfulness of humanity…

4) I do think that this is our time. We face a sort of “rendezvous with destiny” moment. If we fail in this moment, North American Christianity will soon be no different from that of Europe — irrelevant...

Source: The Christian Chronicle

I guess the topic of religion has, like the political sphere, become Left vs Right thing now which is predominately driven by fear. One version of Christianity sees another as a threat to their existence so they dig their trenches and demand that they are the owners of truth. Maybe it is just not worth the time and pain to hang on to the word “Christian” anymore. The right-wing Christian world has become very pretty similar to right-wing Republicans now. Both those worlds are very black and white now. There is simply no room for those of us to see fifty shades of grey.

I say I am a follower of the teachings of Jesus but don’t put my faith on the belief that the Bible is the only truth or that it is entirely true. In other words, my following Jesus has little or nothing to do with whether the Bible is from God or from man.

The religious right clings to the idea that if you want to claim Jesus then you have to also accept all the baggage that was piled on him by others after his ascension. I just don’t buy that logic in any way shape or form.

I am beginning to question whether I really want to try and dialog here anymore. It seems the divide between left and right is now also core part of the Christian domain. Is it really worth the effort? I will have to contemplate and pray on this some more I guess…

Progressive Christianity

When I put my RedLetterLiving blog in hiatus five years ago there was what seemed to be just a ragtag group of theologians and clergy that thought as I did. Following the Red Letters was what Christianity was all about to them and to me. Everything else is a distraction.

Now here we are five years later and I have joyfully discovered that many of this ragtag group has joined together and found scores of others who joined them. They are becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Christian community. That very fact makes my heart sing!


The featured header above is a snapshot of their website I will certainly be studying this new organization (new as least to me) in the coming months. Currently, this is the list of 64 people and their blogs that claim the Progressive Christian mantel. I prey that this list grows daily.

Pastor Ken Storck: Pastor Kenn’s Study
Brent Livingood: Faith, Photography and Words
John Smallman: Our Spiritual Destination
Wade Gilliard: The Aggressively Progressive Christian
Andrew Walton: One Eternal Presence
Philip Gulley: Grace Talks
Diana Butler Bass
John C. Robinson: Conscious Aging

Matthew Distefano: All Set Free

Rob Bell: The RobCast

Eric Alexander: Christian Evolution

Jim Adams: Better than Believing

Jim Burklo: Musings

Sea Raven: Gaia Rising

Jann Aldredge-Clanton: Changing Church!

Progressive Christians Uniting

The Rev. Chuck Currie: Views from a United Church of Christ Minister

Rick Herrick: Rethinking Christianity

Phil Snider: Writer, Speaker, Pastor, Husband, Dad

Religion Dispatches

Rachael Keefe: Write Out of Left Field

Mark Sandlin: The God Article

Dr. Kendra Weddle Irons: Ain’t I a Woman? De/Constructing Christian Images

Naomi Kirstein: Skywoman

Ian Lawton: Aussie Heretic

Ashley Goff’s: God of the Sparrow

Jeremy John: Glass Dimly

Andy Walton: One Eternal Presence

Alison Rockey: I Alison

Lauri Lumby: Your Spiritual Truth

Nathan Schneider: The Row Boat

John Shuck: Shuck and Jive

Rev Chuck Queen: A Fresh Perspective

Michael Dowd: Thank God for Evolution

Chris Glaser: Progressive Christian Reflections

Ron Cole: The Weary Pilgrim

Larry Hollon: Faith Media + Culture

Rev. Steven F. Kindle: Same-Sex Marriage in the Church and Nation

Natural Spirituality – Loving Forum for Spiritual Harmony & Growth

Patheos- Faith Forward

Well-Fed Spirit: Spiritual formation & wellness resources

Deepening Faith: Youth Ministry Basics

Sharon Delgado: Progressive Christian Social Action

Stonyhill Nuggets:   Insights and Spiritual Practices, by Dick Rauscher.

Fr. Daniel Kostakis: The Body Is Many… 

Joseph Holub: Spiritual Trails 

Rev. Deborah Dean-Ware: The Unsilent Church

Colorado Confession by Ron Letnes

Kelly Isola: Tranformation Through Wisdom & Compassion

Gary Russell: The Profane Economy

Frank Lesko: The Traveling Ecumenist

Brandon Robertson

Mike MorrellOpti-Mystic Meditations on Spirit, Culture and Permaculture

Bill AulenbachPeace Love Joy Hope

Anne Bailey Campbell: Leap of Grace

Anna McCarthyJust a Jesus Follower

Fr. Dick Rentoholyheretics

Joanna HoldenOhMyGod! – A Blog for Progressives

Tom RodriguezThe Liberal Christian Blog

Church of the Beatitudes Blog
Conatus News

Samaritan Safe Church Blog

Father Kenneth Lasch

Rev. Aaron Maurice SaariTheo-Logical

Rev. Roger WolseyThe Holy Kiss

The Christian Label

In order to be called ‘Swiss cheese,” you must have so many holes per cubic inch. In order for a wine to be called “Bordeaux”, it must be made in France. There is no such requirement for anyone or anything to take on the label “Christian”.

“Anything can label itself as being “Christian,” so we must always look to the person of Christ to guide us,

Source: Stephen Mattson

The Ku Klux Klan is the most glaring example of an organization claiming the Christian mantel. They used a cross as the symbol of their hateful organization. Sadly a hundred years ago there were thousands of so-called Christians belonging to the KKK and I suspect many are still in that evil organization.

But as Stephen Mattson says in the quote below, there are also well-meaning people who are imperfect Christians who have acted very un-Christ-like throughout its history.

Christianity is represented by imperfect Christians trying to represent a perfect Christ. This explains why everything bad about Christianity can be traced back to Christians, but everything good can be traced back to Christ. So it’s time we stop glorifying Christendom, and start following God instead. May we love God and love others to the best of our ability, even if it means giving up our old trappings of “Christianity.”

I have done enough studying to know that a lot of un-Christ-like things happened when the Church was pretty much in charge of the world during the Middle and Dark ages.

Today we have the likes of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. who have turned Christ’s church into a political PAC for a very unChristian and unstable person in the Oval Office. They even claim that God is directly responsible for putting him there. Talk about imperfect Christians!!!

We need to get back to making Christ the center of his church once again. It should be all about Jesus instead of man-made fabrications. Thankfully the Progressive Church movement is trying to do just that. They are growing stronger as each day passes. We all need to continue the fight to re-establish Jesus and his teachings as the head of his church. The sooner the better, before it is too late.

The Church needs to find its way back to the path of Jesus

About Starting Up Again

Before I get started on anything that requires serious lifting here, I want to look back a little to remember where I have been. Many thoughts crossed my mind while trying to decide whether to start posting here again. I think the top one was “Do I have the emotional and physical energy it will take to do this again?”

During my first five years here between November 2008 and April 2014, I was pretty deeply involved in the subject. I read about fifty books from a myriad of authors, all of those reviews still reside here among the 550 archive posts. I started out with some serious questions and after five years of study, I was pretty much disappointed with the answers I found. It just seemed to me that the vast majority of Christ’s churches have seriously veered off the path of the teaching of Jesus. Many had also put “what to believe” far ahead of “how to act”. When that became obvious I quit blogging here or even thinking much about it. But, what did surprise me during this hiatus, is that the site continues to get a significant number of weekly views, so that tells me I must have done something right.

When I came across John Pavolovitz and his blog “Stuff that needs to be said” it rekindled my spiritual flame. Here is a little about him from his blog of which I am now a regular reader.

John Pavlovitz is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. In the past four years, his blog Stuff That Needs To Be Said has reached a diverse worldwide audience. A 20-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. In 2017 he released his first book, A Bigger Table. His new book, Hope and Other Superpowers, arrived on November 6th.

Source: Stuff that needs to be said

I must admit that the flame had never completely gone out as I continued to call myself a “follower of the messages of Jesus” and occasionally wrote cloaked posts about that over at my main blog RJsCorner. As those posts have become more frequent, I decided that maybe it was time that they should reside here again.

Going forward, as in the past, I will be somewhat blunt in my words of criticism, but I hope to also show my increased optimism of how so many congregations and theologians seem to be returning to their roots. There is much to talk about here on what has happened in the last five years.

I think the success of this blog in its first five years was due to the fact that I am just a regular guy who addresses these issues, and that makes me more approachable by other average folks to come and share their thoughts. No “Theologian Speak” here.

I hope some of you come back regularly to give me your thoughts, maybe some moral encouragement, and to just let me know I am not alone with my views of Jesus and his church.