Donny's Ramblings


Wrestling: Protestant vs. Catholic – Start Here

On August 28th, I posted the following message on my Facebook page:

Growing up, it was implied (not by my father, but by others in our denomination) that being Catholic meant a person was going to hell because they couldn’t possibly be saved. Because of this, a Protestant Church would NEVER invite a Catholic speaker to share. Imagine my surprise when in 2008 a Catholic group called OFWC Media (with – thanks Anastasia Northrop) asked me to be part of the documentary they were making regarding the threat of pornography! I couldn’t believe they’d invite a Protestant to participate in a documentary intended for a Catholic audience. Spending a lot of time with them, I asked many questions. I found this to be a fascinating experience.

Since that date, I’ve been invited by several Catholic groups and spoken to several Catholic parishes, Catholic sponsored University events, been on Catholic radio, made a CD at the request of Catholicism’s biggest group of apologists… the list goes on.

I always ask questions. That’s just my nature. When in Toronto to speak at York University, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, sipping scotch and speaking with a Priest named Fr-Carlos Martins, pelting him with questions, raising objections and generally being my argumentative self, albeit in a respectful manner. I continued that trend when asked to other Catholic venues, with both laypeople and the clergy. I’m sure I drove some of them mad.

A few years ago I began noticing something: although the Protestants and Catholics I’ve been around most all speak English, we’re not speaking the same language most of the time. We’re not using words in the same way. As a Protestant, I might read something written by Catholics that raises alarm, and end up criticizing certain beliefs to my Catholic friends, but what I’ve come to realize is that we – Protestants and Catholics – often understand the exact same words in FAR different ways. It turns out, in the end, that we’re in agreement on at least 95% of theological issues, a realization I could not understand until I’d sat and read more books than I care to count right now, and spoke to Catholics who were once Protestants. As funny as it sounds, a translator was needed to put things into words I use and in ways I understand.

I now reject the idea that I was taught growing up: being Catholic doesn’t damn a person to hell. In fact, I’ve never attended services that are so consistently focused on Jesus and what He did on the cross. That happens to be what EVERY-SINGLE-MASS is about. I find so much about the church to be SO-INCREDIBLY-BEAUTIFUL.

I feel a burning desire to work within the Catholic Church. It’s something that I keep trying to push away, mostly because if I were to “convert” there would be so many Protestant doors that close to me, and certain family and friends will be incredibly disappointed. In fact, one of my aunts who knows about the work I’ve been doing with Catholic groups has already stated that I’m heading to hell. Knowing this response won’t be unique, I’ve looked for every reason to reject the pull I’ve felt. But I must admit that unless something really major happens to change my mind, I’ll likely “convert” during Easter Vigil 2014. The new Pope and many of the priests I’ve spoken with all agree that the Church is in desperate need of revival (Protestant term, I do believe). For revival to happen, workers are needed. I really want to be one of those.

This is the first post in what may become a series of posts in which I address topics with which I’ve wrestled.  I invite public feedback, either here or on Facebook.  Each of these posts will be linked to on my Facebook page, either as a link within the blog post itself or as a link in the first comment, as that seems to be where most people decide to get involved in discussion these days.

To start off with, here are some of the things I was taught as a Protestant:

  • Catholics are going to hell (this has been said from numerous pulpits, and often left at that assertion with no particular reasons to back it up)
  • Catholics worship Mary
  • Catholics Worship Idols
  • Catholics see Mary as a co-redeemer with Jesus, Queen of Heaven, and Mother of God
  • Catholics pray to Mary and the Saints
  • Catholics think they can buy their way out of hell
  • Catholics think they can pay to get relatives out of hell
  • Catholics don’t think Jesus’ payment on the cross was sufficient, and instead think we must do good works to be saved
  • Catholics think Baptism isn’t just an important symbol of our relationship with Jesus, like a wedding ring is to a bride and groom, but rather a requirement to be saved
  • Catholics believe the Pope is Infallible
  • Catholics believe priests can forgive sins when only God can do so
  • Catholics believe tradition is as important as the Bible
  • the list goes on and on… feel free to add to it on Facebook or in the comments area and I’ll come back and add some to this list

So… these are the things I plan to blog about.  I’ve honestly been scared to voice this struggle in public, because many of my Protestant friends simply refuse to associate with Catholics, and I was afraid that if I made it clear how drawn I am to the Catholic Church many would choose not to associate with me.  Unfortunately, that has indeed proven true in some cases.

Seems to me that if a person has an issue or area of concern they shouldn’t abandon but rather get in there and try to do something about it, but maybe that’s just me.

Let me list a couple of rational reasons that I’ve pondered while wrestling with my draw to the Catholic Church:

  • The Catholics Church gave us our Bible as we know it today (except for the few books Luther removed).  They canonized it in the 4th century.  If Catholics are wrong, how can a Protestant believe they gave us an infallible Bible?  Seriously, this is something I have a hard time wrapping my head around.  If Catholics are satan incarnate, heading to hell, how can we possibly trust the Bible they put together for us?
  • Almost all Christians were Catholic, right up until Luther broke away in the 1500s.  Do you really think Christians were sent to hell for 1500 years after Jesus physically left the earth?
  • If Catholics don’t put an emphasis on Jesus, why in the world does every single Mass focus on what He did on the cross?  By “every single Mass” I mean just that:  every single Mass (service, to my Protestant friends) ends with a focus on Jesus dying for our sins, which provided a way for us to be forgiven and reconciled with God.
  • The priests with whom I’ve conversed, and many of the laypeople I’ve met, are just as close or closer to God as any Protestant I’ve ever met.
  • Catholics don’t pray to Saints… they ask Saints to pray for them, just as Protestants ask each other to pray.
  • Catholics don’t worship statues, they instead use them as a reminder of important things, similar to how a person keeps photos in their house as a reminder of important loved ones.
  • Every time I ask a Catholic priest, informed layperson or apologist a scripture
  • If it wasn’t for the Catholic Church, scriptures wouldn’t have been preserved (yeah, this kind of repeats point one) and abortion wouldn’t be fight against as hard as it is now.  I list these together because these two things are very important to me.

That list, too, goes on.  But I’ll close for now, because the whole purpose of this series is to discuss these topics.  Where do you think I should start?


Comments can be left on this article, or posted on Facebook here or here.


Conversations with Ted Haggard – A Prelude

Last week I had the privilege to sit down with Ted Haggard, who was in town to attend a Pastor’s conference at a local church. In the coming days I’d like to share with you several things I discussed with him.

Ted Haggard Tweet Last Wednesday

One of Ted Haggard's "Tweets" from Last Wednesday (screencap from my iPhone's 'Tweetie' app)

Going into our conversations, I had my B.S. detector turned way up. If Ted tried to sugarcoat any of his actions, if he tried to downplay anything, if he was disingenuous at all, I’d be the first to scream it from the rooftops. But I can tell you this, dear Constant Reader, the Ted Haggard I met with was a very warm man, humbled by his own sin nature and holding nothing back. I saw a man who loves Jesus, a man who was at times sad, at other times upset, and above all, didn’t make excuses for his actions. To be honest, I saw a man who I identify with.

So often we put religious leaders on a pedestal, and if they fall we are hurt on a deeper level than we’d be if most others in our lives were to fall. Some of us are angry and resist extending forgiveness. Some of us scream of hypocrisy. Still others celebrate the comeback of fallen leaders like we would that of our favorite NFL team, down in the 4th quarter, but who miraculously pulls off a last second victory to win a conference championship for a place in the Superbowl.

And why is it that the comeback of a religious leader is so celebrated by some, you might ask? Perhaps it’s because we see someone who isn’t the closest thing to God in the flesh, as we’d formerly esteemed him or her, and who is, after all, one of us. Perhaps it’s something else entirely. Whatever it is, I’ll admit that I am one of those who has been heartened by watching Ted Haggard’s recovery with the support of his amazing wife and biological family, especially so after speaking with him in person, asking some tough questions and receiving real, honest answers.

Our first meeting took place last Monday morning.  I turned on my Sony digital audio recorder and we spoke for nearly three hours. Early Tuesday I received a Facebook message from Ted asking if I would call him on his cell and discuss meeting yet again for a follow up interview, as there were some things on his heart that he really wanted to make sure I shared with those who read the article I write about him. This second meeting lasted nearly two hours, and like the first, I took my pastor along to contribute to the conversation. In fact, I’m sure you’ll be able to read some of Dr. G’s thoughts on his blog at some point.

I’m requesting that you come back and read about these conversations, and invite a friend to do the same. Invite your entire email address book, all of your twitter followers, your Facebook friends, every person still on your MySpace friends list, and your entire church congregation.  I’ll have the first article up no later than this coming Monday afternoon – hopefully sooner – and intend to follow it with others. Regardless of your thoughts on Ted Haggard’s crisis, I know you’ll find something of interest.  I look forward to sharing this experience with you.

See you then!


Progress Report: I Still Let Christians Bother Me

It’s 1:30am and I am nowhere close to tired.  Perhaps that’s because I slept in until 1pm after chatting with a friend into the wee hours of the morning.  I don’t remember the last time I was still awake after 4am, as was the case yesterday.

So I’m gonna write a bit, something I haven’t done nearly enough lately.

I still let Christians bother me.  On Sunday night I listened to a message where the speaker said something about how often times the longer a person serves God the further that person gets from the people He wants reached, and that is so damned true, isn’t it?  We get caught up in our iGroups, our church families, our speaking engagements… I remember the honeymoon days, just a bit over two years ago, when I finally encountered and surrendered my life to a living God I’d heard about all my life but had never truly met.  Those days were amazing.  Church politics was something I wanted nothing to do with, and would ask that people leave me out of such discussions.  When I went to this one particular church in town I was ignorant to the fact that almost every aspect of their ministry required the transfer of money, soon to even include paying to “volunteer” one’s service (can you believe that?).  The reason I was ignorant is because I simply went to church to receive from God, and purposely sat in the front so nothing would distract me from that end.  But now I let such things bother me.  Again.  I forget the fact that if God once used a jackass to deliver His message He can surely use money hungry clergymen, in spite of themselves.

I’ve seen myself become more “churchified” and less raw.  And raw, my friends, is where I want to be.  When I called my dad in September of 2006 to tell him I’d given my life to God he told me to remain true to myself as well.  I haven’t done the best job doing so, ’cause if I had I wouldn’t find myself watching my mouth so much, lest I offend the fragile sensibilities of Brother So-and-So.   If you’re one of those who has followed my blog these last few years you may remember the blog post I wrote about Christian Parroting.  Well my friends, the saints still go marching in, speaking an entirely different language than the rest of the world.  And Brother and Sister stick-in-the-butt still think that’s the way things should be.

And I get caught up in all of that.

Instead of ignoring legalism when it raises its head, I argue.  Instead of shutting out problems within the church, I listen.  Instead of spending time with God, I attempt to prove His existence to those who have heard the message and chosen to walk away from it.  And why?  Mostly because I’m argumentative by nature, a battle that wars within me which I’ve not yet won.

Seminary is great.  I’m learning a lot.  My mind is being rewired.  But God please don’t let me become just another typical Christian, wrapped up in my own little bubble world acting nothing like Christ, who is the  MASTER at reaching into the gutter pulling out the stinky and washing them clean with love.  I really need to get my hands dirty again.  May I never become “religious”,  instead simply love and pursue you intently,  letting that love change everything about me.  May I never forget the message that reached me.  May I stop arguing with people who have already been rescued over topics that aren’t reaching those who have not.  May I motivate myself to get off my lazy ass and walk that trail every single day like I used to do, rather than when it “fits my schedule”, because along that trail the two of us have some amazing conversations.  And from that place, all other aspects of life flow smoothly.

I do thank you, my Father, that you’ve placed amazing people into my life (especially BG, who really makes a lot of sense), and I also thank you for those who kicked my butt so much at the beginning of this journey.  May the butt kickings return.  They really did me a lot of good.


Thank God for Evolution

Put this on your reading list, fellow Christians:

“Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World” by Michael Dowd

This book is on my reading list, as I feel it should be for every Christian who discounts evolution or for those who, like me, believe in Theistic Evolution and would like more information to use in our discussions.

Evolution and Creation are NOT mutually exclusive, my evolution-rejecting friends.

At the beginning of this book there is a list of the “Author’s Promises”. I decided to share four of them with you:

To those of you who have rejected evolution… I promise that the secular version of evolution you have rejected is not the version of evolution presented in these pages. Indeed, if the understanding of our collective past and the vision of our common destiny outlined here do not inspire you to be more faithful in all your relationships, to find new ways to bless others and the world, and to awaken eagerly each morning to a life filled with meaning and purpose, then please continue to reject evolution!

To those who accept evolution begrudgingly (like death and taxes)… I promise that this book will provide you with an experience of science, and evolution specifically, that will fire your imagination, touch your heart, and lead you to a place of deep gratitude, awe and reverence. You will also find here effective ways to talk about evolution to any friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors who are biblical literalists or young earth creationists.

To devoutly committed Christians… Whether you are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, Anabaptist, or New Thought, and whether you consider yourself conservative, moderate, or liberal, my promise to you is that the sacred evolutionary perspective offered here will enrich your faith and inspire you in ways that believers in the past could only dream of.

To agnostics, humanists, atheists ad freethinkers.. I promise that you will find nothing here that you cannot wholeheartedly embrace as being grounded in a rationally sound, mainstream scientific understanding of the Universe. I also promise that the vision of “evolutionary spirituality” presented here will benefit you and your loved ones without your needing to believe in anything otherworldly.

Other “promises” are listed, but these are the ones I wanted to include for this blog post.

You can purchase the book on amazon by clicking the image above, or you can visit the official website here.


“Atheist” Richard Dawkins Open to Possibility Of God, Just Not the Term ‘God’ ?

I found the third paragraph in this article of particular interest:

And, although he resisted calling it God, he said that he believed in the possibility of a transcendent “gigantic intelligence” existing beyond the range of human experience. He added that his main target in The God Delusion was fundamentalists.

Sounds like a simple twisting of semantics to me.

In my opinion, and as I expressed in an email to Carrie in regards to this article, it doesn’t matter the label one uses, be it Allah, God, Diós, Dieu, Deus, Krishna, the Great Spirit, or something totally different… it seems to me that Richard’s problem is simply with the tendency of Christian fundamentalists to define who God is, or to assume they know what God wants, and not with the possibility of God’s existence. If that is the case, and the definition of an atheist is someone who denies the existence of god, Richard Dawkins cannot accurately be described as a true atheist.

What say you?


"Atheist" Richard Dawkins Open to Possibility Of God, Just Not the Term 'God' ?

I found the third paragraph in this article of particular interest:

And, although he resisted calling it God, he said that he believed in the possibility of a transcendent “gigantic intelligence” existing beyond the range of human experience. He added that his main target in The God Delusion was fundamentalists.

Sounds like a simple twisting of semantics to me.

In my opinion, and as I expressed in an email to Carrie in regards to this article, it doesn’t matter the label one uses, be it Allah, God, Diós, Dieu, Deus, Krishna, the Great Spirit, or something totally different… it seems to me that Richard’s problem is simply with the tendency of Christian fundamentalists to define who God is, or to assume they know what God wants, and not with the possibility of God’s existence. If that is the case, and the definition of an atheist is someone who denies the existence of god, Richard Dawkins cannot accurately be described as a true atheist.

What say you?


God’s Back… (plus JR Mahon and NEOChurch)

Just moments ago I wrote an email and sent it to a few friends. I wasn’t going to share it here, but have changed my mind. The subject line was God’s Back. In the body I wrote:

Believe me, I realize God didn’t go anywhere… that I’m the one who neglected my relationship with Him. The subject/title of this email simply reflects how I feel.

Months before I moved to Corning I felt God wanted me to stay in Redding. I moved anyway, because I was convinced that if I did so my relationship with Wendy would be restored and I’d have a family again. It turns out nothing could be further from the truth. At this point in our lives, Wendy and I can only stand being around each other for a few minutes. Thinking, or hoping, something is going to happen does not always make it happen.

In Corning, my spirit began to die. It didn’t fade completely, of course, but it sure dimmed quite a bit.

It’s only been a few weeks since I’ve moved back to the city I never should have left, and the difference within me boggles my mind. I feel God again. I feel like we’re communicating again. I walk with Him each morning along the Sacramento River trail, and the conversations we have sometimes make me cry. Inside I’m at peace again. Things I’ve worried about aren’t such a big concern.

In Corning, I knew He was there, but just couldn’t seem to reach Him as often or as deeply as I’d like.

Now I’m home, and He’s thrown a welcome back party inside my spirit.

I just wanted to share that with you.

– Donny –

JR Mahon, formerly a Pastor with and now the Executive Director for NEOChurch, was one of the friends to whom I sent the email. When he replied I clicked on the link in his signature to visit the NEOChurch Website. I then read the latest blog entry he’d written. I hope you are as touched by it as I was. It’s titled Great First Sunday and reads:

I was reminded Sunday why we do what we do… After a GREAT first NEOsunday service for which we are all very proud of and grateful, we had lunch. In Christian circles thats what you do after church, eat like there’s no tomorrow.

There was a guy sitting at the end of my table at lunch. I had watched this man show up early, help set up NEO and sweat if ya know what I mean while helping. I watched him lift things, move things and generally be helpful to anyone who needed a hand. He looked liked us, acted like us and worked like us. He was a blessing.

There he was again at lunch, at the end of a full table of people minding his own business until I started up. “Hey man where do you live?” I yell across the table. He smiled slowly and quietly made his way over to my chair. Bending down to talk with me he says, “I’m homeless, kinda in between things right now.” Imagine that, a homeless dude helps us move into our new church and I’m yelling across the table were do you live! Idiot!

We talked for about 15 minutes… his life, my life, our ups and downs, the next steps, the faith it requires to conquer sin in our lives. This guy had no air about him, no entitlements, no preconceived notions about us or his situation, he was a part of us and yet knew things most of us would never know or want to know. Like how to get a bed in a mission or simply survive day to day while rebuilding his life and faith and yet he showed up to NEO. He served so the Gospel could hit peoples ears and eyes. I’ve done a lot of church over time but this one moment had me speechless. He brought his faith to NEO. Not his cash. great car, stellar career, influence or great theological knowledge just his appetite to help and serve. He was real and in big need of a God who can and will take care of him every second of his life. I shuttered and looked at myself. Do I have the same appetite?

My new friend showed me faith… faith, that says showing up affords opportunity to serve. Nothing more, nothing less. It was pure in it’s lesson, and smacked of the bitter truth in my life. God is like that John Mellancamp song, “Hurt so Good” or in my life “Sucks so Right”

So… we started NEO on Sundays… all the build up, all the work, all the conversations about lighting, plasmas, children’s ministry, 23 year olds in Jesus costumes, steel things, coffee, greeting, rent for the school and sound systems couldn’t hold a candle to me and a homeless guy sitting at the same table enjoying each-other because God gave us saving grace. Thank God!

See ya all Sunday and thanks for making NEO home.

What an inspiring story.


Here are a few photos, taken with my iPhone, from the Sacramento River Trail, along which I walk at least 6 miles each morning:

On My Morning Walk

Sacramento River Trail, Redding, CA