Three, Two, One…

So I’m at my colleague group this morning and we’re doing what we do: talk about the scripture readings for this Sunday, talk about what we may or may not preach about, bounce ideas off of one another, but also we’re doing what we do: talking each other down from the ledge of killing particularly annoying, destructive, and toxic parishioners as an act of charity for the rest of the community.  (It’s the killing that is the act of charity, or so we sometimes assume.)  One of my colleagues in particular referred to a parishioner as ‘Grendel, Eater of the Dead.’  But this is besides the point, because we’ve already acknowledged that this Sunday we’re all asked to do the impossible: Explain the Trinity.

You see, last Sunday was Pentecost, which means that this Sunday is Trinity Sunday.

Ah, the Trinity.  Every metaphor you can think to use to explain what it is falls short – some fall short sooner than others.  Sometimes we just take refuge in our actual experience of God: It’s mystery. It’s ineffable, meaning there literally are no words that explain it sufficiently.  We can describe the effects and affects of that momentary encounter, but that’s all shaded and colored by our own understanding of the world – our culture, our history, our baggage, our issues.

I was sitting pretty, thinking and talking and taking a few notes on my customary index card, but all the while I thought I didn’t have a gig this Sunday.  I don’t mind preaching on the Trinity, but ::cue snicker and giggle:: I didn’t have to!  After the meeting I actually checked my calendar and realized that I did have a gig (for which I’m grateful, as I do enjoy paying my bills, ykno?) and so now I’ve got to do some hardcore thinking about this whole Trinitarian-Unitarian thing.

There was a lot of conversation, some of it blissfully heretical (because really, what is a theological conversation without a little fun-loving heresy? Honestly, people.  Everyone needs to have a favorite heretic. Mine is Pelagius…) but the place I came to (with a little help from my friends) that feels the best today goes like this…

God is Love.  (And already I can hear the objections.  I know.  We could also define God as the Ground of All Being, and that’s nice too, but let me run with this, first.)  But what if…  love is relational, right?  I mean, love in a vacuum is nothing.  Love needs a subject and an object and is itself a verb.


It makes a simple declarative sentence.  It is the basis of our relational being.  And if God is love, and love is relational, then perhaps God is relational… and this is a thought that others have also considered, and considered from angles different than the one I’ve just taken.  God is relational – meaning, God is in relationship with God, even as God is in relationship with us.  Subject, Object, Verb… or if you will, Father, Son, Spirit.  The Father is the lover.  The Son is the loved.  The Spirit is the love.  (Are you feeling the love?)  And God models for us the way we need to be in the world.  We need to be the lover, we need to be the loved, and we need to be the love itself.

It all kinda sounds like The Summary of the Law, doesn’t it? (‘Love God with everything you’ve got, and Love your Neighbor as Yourself.’)  But then, that’s kinda the point of the Summary of the Law, when you think of it; it’s the summary of all that is important.

What does this mean for our lives?  Well, it may mean that we can’t leave off loving Grendel, Eater of the Dead, though please understand that love doesn’t mean ‘being nice’.  ‘Being Nice’ often means ‘being socially acceptable and avoiding conflict like the Black Plague,’ which honestly has nothing to do with love.  Love means being compassionate.  Love does not mean being a welcome mat.  Love means being non-judgmental.  Love does not mean avoiding the natural consequences of our actions.  Love means standing in the midst of conflict and conflagration and all the while being calm and non-reactionary.  Love balances.  Love imbalances.  Love reels in.  Love lets go.  Love is not black and white.  Love hangs out in the grey areas, and the gray areas.  Love comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.  Love stands a calm counterpoint to the toxic, but refuses to let them spew their toxicity on others, unchecked.  What does this mean for you?  I have no idea.  You tell me.  What is your life like?

Subject, object, verb; it’s an imperfect metaphor, like all the different understandings for the Trinity, which itself is perhaps an imperfect way of understanding the Ineffable Experience that we for convenience sake call ‘God.’  But you know, subject-object-verb is working for me, now.  Or to quote the Reverend Jack Sparrow…

“I feel we’ve come to a good place; Spiritually, Ecumenically, Grammatically.”


  1. Subject, Object, Verb is a great framework to approach it.

    Of course, that implies Orthodoxy is correct about omitting the filioque clause in the Creed …


    Oddly enough, traditional Chinese physiology reflects the metaphysics of Pneumatology, and higher level studies in Tai Chi are intimately connected with this. (If you want to know more, read the last section on a series of articles I wrote years ago:

    • When we were discussing this in our clergy group, we briefly discussed some of the orthodox understandings of the Trinity as well. ::nods:: Yep. We’re down with it.

      And as for the filioque clause, I agree, but then there’s only one line in the entire creed that I’m absolutely, unrepentantly, totally, completely fine with. Everything else I have some sort of objection to.

      (The line is: ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life.’)

      Thanks for the link!


  2. One of the greatest difficulties in understanding the trinity doctrine is historic. There is not a hint of controversy in the New Testament, in the gospel accounts, in Acts, in the epistles of Paul, etc., about the Holy Spirit. Yet, if the New Testament Church was teaching that the Holy Spirit was a distinct person, that would have been just as controversial with the Jews as the idea that Jesus Christ is God.

    I am sure the Jews did not view the Holy Spirit as a person. They knew the Holy Spirit exists of course, because the Old Testament speaks of the “Spirit of God”. The Jews in the time of Jesus did not think of God as more than one person, which is one reason many of them did not want to accept Jesus as “God”. To them, this was blasphemy, the same as teaching another God instead of only one God.

    Yet, we do not read in the New Testament about any controversy between the Jews and the early Christains about the Holy Spirit. I think this is evidence that there was no controversy, that both the early Church and the Jews understood that the Holy Spirit is the power of God acting in His creation, not a person, and that the idea of the Holy Spirit being a person, like Christ or like the Father, was a later invention. (You did say, “what is a theological conversation without a little fun-loving heresy?”, right?)

    On the subject on Pentecost, it certainly represents the coming of the Holy Spirit and the start of the New Testament Church, but it means more than that. As I point out in my article, The Secret Meaning of Pentecost, it connects with the Old Testament concept of first fruits and shows that the Church is only the first fruits of souls, the small early harvest, and that there is a greater harvest to come. It helps us understand that every human being who has ever lived and died without hearing the gospel will still have a chance for salvation. It also helps us understand why God allows so much suffering in the world today.

    Part of the answer is given in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 37.

      • Part of the problem is linguistic. When the Gr. Pneuma (“breath”, the term used for the “Spirit”) was translated into the Lat. Spiritus, its meaning eventually became transposed with Animus into post-Latin understanding. Animus is an individuated being (akin to “Soul”), whereas “Spiritus” is an undefining aspect of one’s existence (life force). So we can say someone “gave up the ghost” or “their breath left them” and in one way both refer to death, but are utterly different. So when we inaccurately treat the term “Holy Spirit” with the underlying meaning of “Holy Ghost”, when in fact this is a significant error. (It may also be a big reason for the debate over the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed.)

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