Have you realised quite how simple it is to understand the Trinity?

Think this is my first proper blog – forgive the deviation from poetry, but I thought I’d share something with you. 


 I was reading work by Robert Jenson yesterday which provided one of those moments that was suddenly rich and epiphanic. I’m currently working on an essay about the Trinity that will hopefully satisfy my lecturer, and this is taking me into all the detailed peculiarities that often confuse and confound. The great dilemma is always, how is God one and three, and does that make any sense to anyone really? I realise for some this must seem a pointless exercise, but for me as well as an academic activity it is also a form of devotion. Since my discovery of theological study I have cherished it as one of the ways in which God shares God’s-self with me, and this leads me on to the words by Jenson that were so significant for me yesterday:

 

Pastors often suppose the Trinity to be too complicated to explain to the laity. Nothing could be more misguided. Believers know how to pray to the Father, daring to call him “Father” because they pray with Jesus his Son, and so enter into the future these two have for them, that is praying in the Spirit. Those who know how to do this, and who realise that just in the space defined by these coordinates they have to do with God, do understand the Trinity.

  Robert Jenson,The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel, p. 47/8

 

 

What Jenson says cuts through so many, undoubtedly heretical, sermons scrambled out by preachers on Trinity Sunday as they do their best to show they “understand” the Trinity. The truth is we are always living the great paradigm of faith seeking understanding, but God is already for us as Father, Son and Spirit before we get even remotely close to making sense of it. I think I’m coming to understand how the language around the Trinity is in part the churches ongoing attempt to make sense of how we experience Jesus.

 

As the early followers experienced Jesus Christ as more than a human being, as God-again, they sort to find a way to speak of him, and to speak of the God they knew to be the only God. That way of speaking was shaped by the experience of the bible and the interface with the Hellenistic world, but at the forefront was an experience of how Christ met his sisters and brothers and genuinely interceded for them. They spoke of being adopted by the Father, and Paul interpreted that adoption as made possible and perfect by the Spirit. It is in this dynamic way that the Spirit draws us into the divine relationship that God is. God does not withhold but has chosen to draw us with his Son, and by his Spirit, into God’s-self

 

It is interesting in theology that we recognise we cannot presume to understand how God is in God’s-self, and yet there is a paradox because at the same time we rejoice at already knowing who God is, because God, in each moment of prayer, draws us into that communion of love which is God. Suddenly, through theological discourse, I’m led to consider that in prayer I am being invited into the very holiness of the community which is God. I don’t think I have ever been so excited by prayer, but then I may just be a little slow, and a little odd, or completely wrong.

 

Do others feel the complexity of the Trinity just leaves them ignoring it?


Do you think that Jenson’s idea of prayer as understanding is true and helpful?

 

 

Rant

OK I know the golden rule that you shouldn’t e mail etc when you are in a bad mood. Well today I have been pushed over the edge. Having read endless drivell from one particular pastor over many months I finally broke.

 

 

The fool takes the stage,

begins to parade,

what he thinks is right,

be it crass and absurd,

he talks with authority,

self appointed as one,

who stands over the text,

he’s the master, not son.

 

He waves his penis,

to prove his own worth,

then it’s tucked to the left,

he leans right and is curt

as he cuts off suspicion;

a circumcision of mind,

he rants and he raves

and won’t be denied.

 

He speaks to the men,

He’s their father and lord

Oh sorry that’s God

but just let them conform

to a stereotype

he has written himself

claimed from a bible

he never really heard

 

Boys now stand up

and women bend down

your husband has spoken

now give him the crown

Cos the pastor is right

He tells you to hanker

after the god he’s designed

but the pastor’s a ………

 

Let God stand before us,

in unprecedented grace

who valued each woman

did not treat her as slave

but listened to sermons

of crumbs and in oil

the grace filled moments

that men couldn’t spoil

 

 

Nativity/Pieta:

 

Following on from last week’s poem on the Annuciation here is another (rushed) new one on the Nativity. Forgive what seems a dark telling – it is probably an over-reaction to the latent nativities from schools and cards that plague my memory.

It often seems to me that Nativities are pregnant with everything but the reality of incarnation!

 

contracted strains

declaring pain

that will not ease with words;

nor does promise,

diminish,

the threat unfolding here

 

choral angels

witness

this woman’s waters breaking,

panting, pauses,

cries, and shouts:

the glorias of the evening

 

fingers fumble at the air

lips sip at life:

a baby suckles

at the body

of the girl

who cried in strife

 

nativity telling,

the first staging here,

of the pieta foreseen;

holding the baby,

Madonna-our Lady

knows; so let it be.

 

so men discard

on Christmas cards

the anticipated danger

Mary giving birth

to God,

so inciting threats of murder.

    

 

 

HIV and Telling Stories Differently

I don’t normally post anything here but poems; a sort of laziness really. However, following a conversation on Twitter (thanks to @JamesPrescott77 and @boudledidge) this morning, and with World AIDS nearly with us, I have reproduced part of piece I wrote for Epworth Review. I offer this for your reflection:

Three visitors call on the home of Sarah and Abraham.[1] They bring a promise and a threat: a promise of life and history, a narrative that keeps a future for Sarah and Abraham and their descendants. And yet they also bear another story, a promise of death and destruction to two cities. Both of their promises become true in the context of the biblical narrative and yet to what extent their promises become normative for the lives of women and men through the world can only be contextually determined.

Let me tell the story differently.

Three visitors arrive at the home of an elderly couple. They have been married for many years but they have never had children despite their hopes. Their land will one day pass to other kin, or strangers, because they do not have a child who will hold and care for their land, and keep their name upon it. These visitors, though, bring a word; a word of hope it seems. The three visitors tell the father and mother of no-one, that they will be the father and mother of a great nation; they will have descendants greater in number than the stars, or the grains of sand in the desert places. Such words seem impossible. Such things do not happen for people as old as Abraham and Sarah.

But this is not the end of the news they bring, for there is another word that must be heard. What is that word? These three visitors who have enjoyed the company of Abraham and Sarah have a journey to complete. God has sent them to bring judgement on two cities that have turned themselves against God and his ways. These cities have given themselves up to decay and they will be wiped from the face of the earth; they will be the dust as their bodies crumble, and decay in the earth. These three visitors are challenged by Abraham: surely if there are innocent people there you will not destroy? The bartering over life continues until there is accord and, glimmer of hope arises before them on their departing horizon.

Two of the travellers arrive in a city but their night, there, is a night of hate, abuse and threats of murder. In the home of Lot and his family, they are berated by men who come to seek them, who want their bodies for sex. Lot offers his daughters to the crowd, to save the men from rape. Better an innocent daughter is raped to appease the cries of the crowd than these men are subjected to the demands of the city’s men.

But it is too late, the judgement is set. The lives and the cities will be forfeit, wiped from the earth; these will be the dust of the desert earth.

Are the women, the wives and the daughters of these baying men guilty in the eyes of God? Are they not counted amongst those that were needed to bring hope to the city and deliver it from destruction?

Would you really want to welcome these visitors?

HIV un-holy trinity

You wandered in, talked of life,

before creeping up on unexpected hosts

infected husband, daughter, wife,

and left a trail of mounting ghosts

whose innocence was not discussed

as you traded lives, with chosen sons,

who bartered, begged, and reasoned

‘til the cities fell at your behest

and bodies became just dust and sand

lying in the desert ground.

 

Let me tell you a parallel narrative. She is 13 and living in a small town. Families here are not what they once were. There was a time when there were couples and children everywhere; grandparents, parents, children, uncles and aunts all side by side. But then visitors came to the town. No-one saw the visitors at first; they were very discreet. They were carried here with some of the men after they returned from months working away. The visitors made their home amongst the villagers, but while they were always there no-one ever saw them. They hid in the most subtle ways and just got on making new acquaintances and settling in to people’s lives and no-one seemed to mind. The villagers fed the visitors, but did not notice any more food being eaten; they sustained the visitors but did not even notice what was being taken. Then some of the men became ill. As they tired the visitor’s faces began to show on the bodies of the men. Lesions started to trace the identity of the visitors and slowly the men began to die. It did not take a long time for the women to realise that the visitors had made their home within their bodies too. They’d never invited them to stay, but they had forced themselves upon them, infected their lives and now children were fading too.

In a generation a town had seen its people becoming the dust of the desert and now there were no longer grandparents, and parents and children and aunties and uncles in abundance. Now there were spaces and dust where bodies had once moved. Now there were men who called for the bodies of virgins, so when Lot offered his daughter, just 13, there was an uncle in the crowd who wanted her. A virgin, and negative, she would be his redemption, his salvation and safety, but he is sick and she will be soon.[2]


[1] Cf. Genesis 18.1-19.28. While I will not address it directly here, as reader, you might want to read on to the end of chapter 19 as it implies a complexity of incest that is woven in the early Hebrew narratives. To what extent such stories become formative narratives for myth and superstition around HIV and AIDS is unknown and I do not wish to attempt to address that connection here – only to raise it as a question.

[2] For work on the abuse of girls, infection of wives by husbands in Africa see: UNDP & UNAIDS, Factsheet: UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS, Geneva: New York, June 2001 which highlights, ‘Many men accept the myth that virgins can cleanse a man of HIV and AIDS so girl-children are subjugated to sexual violence in public and in the home, by both strangers and relations.’ p.15-16. This is a contributing reason as to why in Southern Africa young girls are four times more likely to be get HIV and AIDS than boys of the same age. (Source Dube, 2008). The UNDP Report goes on to say that 80% of women in stable relationships are infected by their spouses who are not faithful. p.22. This report, and others, are drawn on by Dube, M.W., The HIV and AIDS Bible: Selected Essays, Chicago: University of  Seranton Press, 2008; A further source is Cimperman, M., When God’s People Have HIV/AIDS: An Approach to Ethics, Maryknoll: Orbis, 2005 who covers again the statistcal information in Ch. 1.