Posts Tagged ‘trinity’

Along the west shore of the Susquehanna River, tucked between the Juniata and Sherman’s Creek, almost hidden in the shadow of Cove Mountain, lays the borough of Duncannon. This is where you will find me on the first day of the week. There I gather with others of a similar mind about what has taken place on this day.

Genesis starts off from the beginning telling us how eventful the first day was. We go from “darkness was over the surface of the waters” to “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” Needless to say, this move from darkness to light is a significant one.

Perhaps no day has ever been more eventful than one described by the Gospel. John takes us from “they saw that He was already dead” to “the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there” to “on that day, the first day of the week… Jesus came and stood in their midst.” At the risk of understatement, it is quite a move from death to life.

We are reminded again of the unpredictability of the first day when Acts reports that people “from every nation” began to “hear in our own language.” Again, just to highlight the obvious. It is quite a move from isolation and division to community.

So we gather on this day and in this place with expectation. We realize that surprise is always a possibility. We believe the miraculous can occur on any day, we are simply acknowledging a serious precedent for unpredictability on this day, the first day of the week. A day the Trinity has already been extremely active. When I think of what has already taken place on this day all I can say is “wow.”


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“Trinity confronts us with something we cannot manage. We do not meet this God on our terms. We cannot reduce the mystery of God to something we can use or understand. Instead, we discover a lively, revealing, demanding presence. In the Trinity we are faced with the reality that we are not in control.”

from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now

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“Trinity gives us a fuller picture of God. Yet – whether Speaking Creator God hovering over the waters, Son of God rising from the dead, or Holy Spirit descending from heaven with a rushing mighty wind – there is still an element of mystery. Trinity reminds us we will never know all there is to know about God.”

From Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p. 110

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The Shack has become a religious phenomenon. At the same time it is a lightning rod for claims of heresy. Even before the movie was released there were responses to the book titled Finding God in the Shack and Burning Down the Shack. You can probably tell which is for and which is not. Despite the potential of being burned at the stake, Layne and I attended the movie over the weekend. I had read the book a few years ago and tend to enjoy an imaginative narrative so I suspected that I would enjoy the movie as well. I don’t often say this, but I think I preferred the movie over the book.

The movie presents a theme of invitation that I particularly liked. Jesus invites Mack, the main character, to walk with him. The Spirit invites Mack to join her in the garden. “Papa” invites Mack to join the Trinity for a meal. I especially liked that scene where we see the Trinity at fellowship with one another. A picture of perichoresis. We do not often see good pictures of the Trinity at fellowship but here at least is an attempt. The general theme of the movie is an invitation to forgive.

Some highlights for me include the part where Jesus first arrived at the shack. I enjoyed the garden that was portrayed as a beautiful mess. That is, until we saw the view from above and realized it was actually a work of art. I enjoyed when Papa tells Jesus to show Mack some of his handiwork. I was expecting them to walk to the wood shop where Jesus had been working on something. Instead he took him outside showed him the sky, including a shooting star.

I like how the movie demonstrates the involvement of God in the lives of people. I suspect this is one reason many are attracted to the story. People want to have an encounter with God. The Shack presents a passionate God who is not without emotion. Here human pain is embraced by a deeply loving Trinity. Yet, I suppose one of the problems people are having with the movie is the way that God is portrayed. The Shack is an attempt to portray a story with imagination. Sometimes we forget that movies are a form of art (and a form of making profit). They are not intended for theological instruction. While theology may show itself in a movie, we should not be going to the theater to get our theology. Having said that, I like that The Shack reminds us that we have not got the Trinity figured out.

Here are some reasons to not see the movie;

  • You are certain you will like the book better
  • You think theaters are always too loud
  • You always wait for the blu ray

In other words, don’t stay away for theological reasons. I hope you never choose to go to the theater for theological reasons. Hollywood stinks at theology. If its theology you are looking for, read Barth’s Dogmatics. Go ahead and try to make a movie about Dogmatics. I doubt anyone would want to see it. But people are going to see The Shack which gives us an opportunity to talk about things we like to talk about with people who may not ordinarily be interested. I do like that The Shack is a catalyst for an important conversation.

The fact is, we want stories that speak to both head and heart. So when evil and forgiveness and the work of God are presented in The Shack it surprises me that some of us are not more interested. The criticism reminds me how much easier it is to criticize something we feel is wrong than it is to demonstrate something we believe is right.

Should The Shack be taken seriously – yes. Should The Shack be taken literally – no. Is it an exaggeration – yes. Will it prompt people to think and talk about God – yes.

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The New Testament Gospels give a Trinitarian picture at the baptism of Jesus.  A heavenly voice declares Jesus as Son as the Spirit descends like a dove.  The Gospel of Matthew gives another such picture in its conclusion.  Interestingly, baptism is again the context as Jesus commands us to make disciples in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Trinity provides language that allows us to see ourselves differently than what we see in our mirrors each morning.  In the context of baptism, we are named.  We are given identity.  Eugene Peterson, in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places says, “if you want to know what makes me tick… study me in the company of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  He goes on, “From the moment we are newly named, we know ourselves in a new way… We suddenly acquire ears to hear Thoreau’s different drummer.”

Trinity gives us a fuller picture of God.  Yet – whether Speaking Creator God hovering over the waters, Son of God rising from the dead, or Holy Spirit descending from heaven with a rushing mighty wind – there is still an element of mystery.  Trinity reminds us that we will never know all there is about God.  Peterson calls it “A not-knowing in the presence of the God who knows us.”  He goes on to say that with God “there is always more, much more.”

Elsewhere, in Eat This Book, Peterson cautions us about a rival trinity “holy needs, holy wants, holy feelings” that poses a threat to all of us.  This rival trinity comes announcing the certainty that we are sovereign of our lives.  It creates a false identity.  It does not get rid of God.  It simply uses God the same way it uses everyone and everything else.  Even God is in service to our needs, wants, and feelings.  It creates the false impression that we can tame this Trinity.

Trinity confronts us with something we cannot manage.  We do not meet this God on our terms.  Trinity reminds us that God is more than an abstract principle or simple information.  We cannot reduce the mystery of God to something we can use or understand.  Instead, we discover a lively, revealing, demanding presence.  In the Trinity we are faced with the reality that we are not in control.

The church has a lively picture of Trinity in the word perichoresis.  Karl Barth says “The divine modes of existence condition and permeate one another mutually with such perfection, that one is invariably in the other two as the other two are in the one.”  This picture presents us with an emphasis on relationship and communication that sounds like a well-choreographed dance.  In fact, perichoresis literally means “dance around.”

Peterson calls on this picture and describes it as partners moving “with and between and among one another, swinging and twirling, embracing and releasing, holding on and letting go.  But there is no confusion, every movement is cleanly coordinated in precise rhythms (these are practiced and skillful dancers!), as each person maintains his or her own identity.  To the onlooker, the movements are so swift it is impossible at times to distinguish one person from another.”

Trinity stresses the fellowship of God’s own self.  Such fellowship is built-in from the beginning.  Barth suggests that this relational Trinity also desires relationship with creation.  In fact, he suggests that we are created to be in conversation with the Trinity.  We gather in the name of the Trinity.  We are baptized in the name of this Trinity.  We receive our identity from this Trinity.  What can I do but be attentive to this mysterious Trinity?  To listen in the presence of Trinity?  And join in a conversation that has been ongoing since creation began?  How else can we respond to this mysterious, un-tamable, lively, creative, relational Trinity?  This “peri-choretic” God?

Trinity is a phenomenon of creativity, communication, and relationship.  This is the way that God is.  We are welcomed into the Trinitarian dance.  Trinity reminds us that we are not spectators but participants in the activity of God.  Peterson says that “there is always a hand reaching out to pull us into the Trinitarian actions of holy creation, holy salvation, and holy community.”  May we be pulled in.

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