Archive for the ‘By Jonathan Stepp’ Category

A Final Word

Trinity FlameThis post will be my last for Trinity and Humanity. I’ve been writing here for 8 years, I’ve enjoyed it very much, and now it is time for something new.

I don’t yet know what that new thing will be. This blog – and its predecessor e-newsletter The Adopted Life – began as an extension of my pastoral ministry in GCI. Since my ministry in the Episcopal church began four years ago I’ve had a desire to focus my energy on writing in places and ways that will be an extension of that ministry as this one was of my ministry in GCI.

I’ve also started to wonder about blogging in general. It has certainly been a great outlet for me to form and test my thinking. And I know from the comments I’ve received that it has been helpful to others. But after years of writing I share some of the doubt implied by the Teacher who said “of making many books there is no end” (Eccl. 12:12). I sometimes wonder how much the world needs yet another blog post. For those who must write in order to think, or even to live, it doesn’t matter if the world needs another blog post – they must write anyway. For those, like me, who need to talk in order to think or live, writing is just icing on the cake.

So, I take my leave of you. I’ll still pop up in the comments section from time to time on some posts and if I do find a new place to blog I’ll send word back to all of you about where to find me.

As I close this chapter, let me take a moment to summarize what I’ve been trying to say for the last 8 years: God is loving, inclusive community as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through the Son’s incarnation as the man Jesus, all of humanity – including you! – has been adopted into God’s life to share forever in the freedom, love, and joy that the Father, Son, and Spirit have always known. Live your life by that and don’t ever forget it.

~ Jonathan Stepp

Theology from The Princess Bride



Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

I first heard that line from The Princess Bride when I was 15, watching the movie for the first time at summer camp. As a teenager it struck me as odd. I had not yet experienced life as pain and I questioned whether such an observation was really true.

I have seen the movie many times over the years and it has become one of my favorites. I no longer question that line, however. It is exactly right.

A good portion of our consumer economy is premised on the idea that pain can and should be avoided. We are bombarded with the message that medication, alcohol, food, cars, and a host of other products can remove the pain. We are bombarded with the message that the “winners” in life have no pain because they are successful and can acquire the right products to avoid ever having to feel pain. The “losers” in life, by contrast, are jacked up and out of luck.

This is a profound lie and we all know it, if we’ve lived long enough. Pain is integral to existence, it permeates our day to day to life and it can threaten to derail our lives if we are not careful. Jesus knows this better than most. He prayed that the cup of pain would pass from him – as we all do – but he also prayed that God’s will for his life would be done – as we all aspire to do.

Life is pain. So now what? Will we run from it, self-medicate it away, and try to shop it out of existence? Or will we follow Jesus in the path where he trusts the Father and relies entirely on the Spirit? As the Book of Common Prayer says:

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

~ Jonathan Stepp

A Thought on Spiritual Disciplines

chimney-top-mtnDo you ever feel that your spiritual exercises are producing little in the way of results? However we might measure or define the word “result” we’ve all experienced times when prayer, participation in worship, meditation, or other spiritual disciplines seemed hollow and rote. I recently came across this quote regarding contemplation, but I think it applies to all the spiritual exercises:

[Any spiritual exercise] . . .is a skill, a discipline that facilitates a process that is out of one’s direct control, but it does not have the capacity to determine an outcome. The gardener practices finely honed skills . . . But there is nothing the gardener can do to make the plants grow. However, if the gardener does not do what a gardener is supposed to do, the plants are not as likely to flourish. . . In the same way a sailor exercises considerable skill in sailing a boat. But nothing the sailor does can produce the wind that moves the boat. . . Gardening and sailing involve skills of receptivity. The skills are necessary but by themselves insufficient. ~ Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land, pp. 53-54

God is not a tame creature that can be called upon to perform. God is like the wind or like a garden – we pray, we come to worship, we meditate – and when the wind blows or the seed sprouts these spiritual skills make us ready and receptive to receive what God is doing. We can’t tell the Father, Son, and Spirit when to show up, but we can follow the pattern of Jesus’ life of spiritual exercise to be ready when they do.

~ Jonathan Stepp

Hate Your Family?

simon-cyreneWhoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. ~ Luke 14:26-27

Jesus says that the way to belong to a family is to hate your family and the way to enter into the life that Jesus offers is to hate life itself and to take up a cross – that is, to embrace death by execution – in order to follow Jesus. Luke has already said, back in chapter 9, that Jesus has “set his face” toward Jerusalem because the time has come for him to die. And now Jesus is telling us, his followers, we must also set our faces towards this destiny, take up our cross, and follow him.

The temptation comes now to try to wriggle out of it – does “hate” really mean “hate”? Does a cross really signify death? Is Jesus really God in the flesh speaking to us or are these perhaps merely the suggestions of a somewhat mentally unstable self-proclaimed prophet? And here’s where Luke becomes a really annoying writer. Just in case it isn’t clear, he drives the final nail in the coffin and quotes Jesus saying “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Darn it! Jesus, I can hate my family, but don’t tell me I’ve got to give up my golf clubs, my car, or my playstation 4! I don’t think any of us are really in the process of giving up all our possessions.

Or are we?

In a very real and legally binding sense we are all in the process of giving up all our possessions. We are all in the process of leaving our family. We are all on a narrow road towards a narrow door – a doorway called death, through which we may pass but none may come with us and none of our possessions – not even the clothes on our back – will be coming with us.

When you think of it in this way – and this is certainly not the only way to think of what Jesus says here – but when you think of it in this way there is actually a sort of very dry humor in this gospel lesson. It’s almost as though the following conversation is taking place outside a movie theater:

A 12-year old boy walks up to the ticket window and says “What’s a ticket to Star Wars worth?” and the clerk says “about 197  million dollars, that’s what it cost them to make the movie.”

“What?! I don’t have that kind of money.”

“Oh, well, what do you have in your pockets?”

“Six dollars, a golf ball I found, and a piece of string.”

“Good news!” the clerk says “we just set the price at six dollars, one used golf ball, and a piece of string.”

What Jesus is offering us is of staggering, unbelievable value – beyond anything we could ever afford to achieve. Jesus is offering us life – and not just existence, but an actual life that is worth living, a life that fulfills the very purpose for which we were created – and even though the value of that life is beyond all measure or estimation, Jesus lists the price as exactly the one thing we that we happen to have: the price is one death, no more no less.

And in his graphic description of that death in today’s parables, Jesus is just reminding us that it’s going to happen to us whether we want it to or not. There’s no escape, there’s no dodging it, there’s no getting around it. We’re going to have to turn away from family, give up our possessions, and go to the cross of death with Jesus. The question is not “whether?” but “how?

Will the cross be forced upon us or will we take it up ourselves? Will we be dragged to Jerusalem or will we, like Jesus, set our faces toward it? Will we embrace the family of God or worship our families instead? Will we be dragged kicking and screaming into the Kingdom or will we count the cost, see the value above all else, and follow Jesus willingly into the Kingdom? Because one thing is certain: the only thing worse than crucifixion is fighting against crucifixion.

~ Jonathan Stepp

Religious Animosity

St. Bartholomew displaying his flayed skin in Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment."

St. Bartholomew displaying his flayed skin in Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment.”

Yesterday was St. Bartholomew’s Day and it got me to thinking about religious animosity. Bartholomew was one of the 12 and the New Testament tells us very little about him, but ancient tradition held that he was a missionary to Armenia and suffered martyrdom there when his skin was flayed from his body. A millennium and a half later, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, Roman Catholics in Paris launched a massacre that went on throughout France for days and killed thousands of Protestants.

So, on a day remembering how religious animosity cost an Apostle his life, religious animosity cost thousands more their lives.

Trinity and Humanity is founded on the idea that God the Holy Trinity has united all of humanity to the Divine nature through the incarnation of the Son as the man Jesus. If that idea of union between divinity and humanity has any meaning it must, at least, mean this: religious animosity must end. We cannot believe in the God who has redeemed the world through Jesus Christ and at the same time hate Muslims, slander Jews, and laugh at Hindus, Wiccans, and Atheists. We cannot believe that Jesus brings humanity into God and then ignore the profound humanitarian crisis of Muslim refugees from places like Syria.

We cannot say we love Jesus and then endorse actions that express hatred for our Muslims brothers. If we are all included in what Jesus is doing then there is no place for animosity against, persecution of, or even neglect of those with whom we disagree theologically.

By his martyrdom St. Bartholomew points us to the reconciling cross of Christ and calls us to begin living the Kingdom now – a Kingdom where our natural tribalism around our belief systems is washed away by the love of God.

~ Jonathan Stepp

Most Naturally an Atheist

I don’t believe in God and

I don’t know anything about God.


But I keep having this experience –

in liturgy, in family, in bread, and wine, and life –

where an unseen Spirit (like fire or wind)

speaks to my heart of a man named Jesus,

who died and yet is alive.


This Jesus believes in God

and knows God

and through the Spirit

Jesus keeps sharing with me

his faith and knowledge of God.


He shares with me his knowledge

that God is a good and faithful Father,

and he shares with me his faith in the Father;

And that is all I have: the faith of Jesus in the Father

shared with me through the Spirit.


And that is enough.

~ Jonathan Stepp

How do we worry less?

Credit: Paul Noth and "The New Yorker"

Credit: Paul Noth and “The New Yorker”

Jesus tells us, “your heavenly Father knows what you need . . . so do not worry about tomorrow.” How do we do that? Seriously, I’m asking – does anyone have some good techniques for shifting your mind from worry to faith in God’s love and care? I’d love to hear what works for you.

~ Jonathan Stepp

Easter Hope

RefugeGod is our refuge and strength . . . therefore we will not fear, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea. ~ Psalm 46

Notice what the Psalmist does and does not say: he says that God is our refuge and strength but he does not say we will live in a world without earthquakes, tsunamis, disaster, pain, and death.

This Easter week we do not put our hope in the magical thinking of a “health and wealth gospel” which promises escape from pain and perpetual postponement of death. We put our hope in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is the God of refuge and strength in the midst of pain and death. The God who – in the person of Jesus – shares with us in pain and death and walks the road to the cross ahead of us so that we may share in his resurrection.

May Easter Hope give you peace and quiet confidence in the midst of your struggle: our God is with us no matter what happens.

~ Jonathan Stepp


I Must See Jesus

Trinity FlameYou search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. ~ John 5:39

This happens to me all the time: I’m looking for something, I’m tearing my office apart, or searching under every cushion in the sofa, or roaming through every room in the house, and I can’t find it. Then one of my kids says “oh, here it is, Dad, it was right in front of you the whole time.”

In this sentence from today’s gospel reading, Jesus says that something like that can happen to us in our spiritual lives if we’re not careful. We can learn the Bible backwards and forwards, and know all the stories, and we can cite chapter and verse of all the rules, and yet we don’t see the one to whom those very stories and verses are pointing us.

To my way of thinking this is how you get Christians enslaving people, waging wars, hating refugees, and elevating moral codes about sex above the inclusive love of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

If there’s someone you want to hate, or abuse, or reject, or dominate for your own selfish purposes, then you will be able to find a Bible verse – maybe even a whole chapter! – that will back you up on it. But you won’t find Jesus backing you up on it.

Loving Father, you have given us the Scriptures as a witness to the faithfulness of your Son Jesus Christ; grant that we may be so filled with your Spirit that we may see clearly in them the one to whom they testify and in whose name we pray. Amen.

~ Jonathan Stepp

Doubting Zechariah

ZechariahThere’s something I find interesting about the story of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer. When Gabriel tells him that he will have a child in his old age he doesn’t believe it – but it still happens anyway. In fact, Gabriel says “oh, it’s going to happen, whether you believe it or not, but just for being so doubtful, why don’t we make you mute for a while.”

We might have thought that Zechariah’s lack of faith would derail the whole plan. We might have thought that Gabriel would say, “forget it then, I’ll go find some other old priest that does have faith.” But that’s not how it plays out. That’s not how God works.

The Father, Son, and Spirit, aren’t counting on our faithfulness to bring Divine plans to fruition. God knows we won’t always be like Mary and that we’ll often be like Zechariah. The plan moves forward anyway, because it’s God’s plan and not ours.

Of course, our lack of faith can make our participation in God’s work more difficult (I’m sure Zechariah’s muteness became quite a burden over the ensuing months) but it is the faith of Jesus that is working out the Father’s plan for us, and Jesus’ faithfulness never fails.

~ Jonathan Stepp

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