Episcopal Diocese of Albany, NY
Business Office: 68 South Swan Street - Albany, NY 12210 - (518) 465-4737
Christ the King Spiritual Life Center: 575 Burton Road - Greenwich, NY 12834 - (518) 692-9550

The Holy Trinity - A Concept Past Its Prime?

by Bishop Dave Bena

So there I am - another Coffee Hour Reception - and I'm eyeing the deviled eggs (my nemesis). As I close in on the table, someone pokes me in the ribs.

"Good sermon, Bishop," a man, maybe sixty years old, steps right in front of me, blocking the deviled eggs (I hate this guy). "I'm Dobber Dobber, uncle of young Dibber Dibber, whom you just confirmed. Yes, very nice service; nice sermon; so glad I could be here for it. Came all the way down from Vermont to be here."

"Uh huh," I reply in a kind but panicky state (How do I get round him to the deviled eggs!?). "Where do you go to church in Vermont?"

"Well, I don't go to church as often as I should. Too stuffy, if you ask me. And the language you use - too arcane, totally past its prime in our post-modern society. Don't you agree?"

"Some of our words are past their prime, I'll give you that," I respond as I try to maneuver around him. He'll have none of it as he moves to stay in my face.

"Which words give you the most trouble?" I continue.

"All that Trinity mumbo jumbo," he responds, warming to the conversation. "Why can't you deep six all that stuff? Wasn't it written by a bunch of Greeks centuries ago? Who needs it? I like what other churches do. They downplay the whole Trinity business. And they move away from that sexist, patriarchal phrase - you know, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I much prefer Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer - says the same thing without offending people who have been hurt by their fathers and people who have been hurt by male dominance. Don't you agree?"

(I hate it when someone posits a controversial statement and then asks, "don't you agree?") "I really don't agree, Dobber Dobber. We've had 'Father, Son, and Holy Spirit' for a long time and it's served us well in a variety of cultures. It's even in the Bible. The phrase doesn't mean abusive fathers or male dominance. I think it unwise to change a time tested phrase just because someone may think of an abusive father when they say it. Most of us think of a kind, nurturing father when we use it. I have actually heard of people being 're-fathered' as they visualize the beautiful, loving God as Father. And as to male dominance: the simple fact is that Jesus was a man. He called himself the Son of God and the Son of Man. That doesn't mean he pushed male dominance. He in fact lifted the status of women in his earthly ministry."

"Well, I guess we all have our own opinions about things," the man speaks curtly as his wife takes charge of him and moves him away from the table (Thank you, Dear Lord)

As I start piling deviled eggs on my plate (Better not take too many of these hummers - an extra mile of jogging for every three eggs. O.K., I'll just have six), I begin to worry that I have not listened, loved and prayed enough for this gentleman. I find that I am worried, actually, because a lot of people today don't know what to make of the theological word "Trinity." And they are also unsure of why we address God as "Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Maybe that guy is right. Maybe Trinity is a concept past its prime. But as I down my third egg, logic gets hold of me. Wait a minute! What we need to do is TEACH the concept correctly, not abandon it.

After talking to people at the Coffee Hour, having my photo taken with some Confirmands, and finishing my six eggs, I say good bye and thank you to the host rector. On my way home, listening to Prairie Home Companion on radio, I mull the whole thing over in my mind. Let's see: Trinity: the coexistence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the unity of the Godhead; One God in three divine persons. Hmmm... Those words DO sound a bit past their prime. But how else can we describe God? The New Testament is chock full of references to God as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. The Old Testament hints at God as Trinity. God obviously wants us to understand Him in that way.

I stop at a convenience store for a soda. (That pizza under glass looks VERY interesting. NO. Stay away from it!) Defeating Satan's temptation, I take my diet soda to the car and continue my journey home. How do I explain "Father, Son and Holy Spirit - One God" without putting everyone to sleep on the one hand or spinning into heresy-space on the other? Not easy. I guess the best I can do is to say that God is so complex that He has to show himself to us in a simple, relational way. He is, first of all, our Father - He made us for Himself and He endowed us with His image. He is the best Father we can ever imagine - the best our minds can conjure up when we think of an earthly father - affirming, nurturing, caring, and demanding - all balanced carefully to show us His love for us as His children. As to 'Son,' God sends the very best to save us from the consequences of our sinful nature. He sends His Son - God the Son. God becomes human, lives among us, teaches us how to live a quality life, and dies for us on a cross. Then God the Son defeats death, so that we can have victory over death. Jesus Christ is what God looks like because Jesus Christ is God the Son. And then we have 'Holy Spirit' - God working in our lives, God active in the world today. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (and the Son) to empower us for faith and ministry. The word 'Spirit' comes from that great Hebrew term which means 'the breath of God.' Just as God breathed life into the first human, He breathes new life into us through His Holy Spirit, baptizing us with power to make a difference in His world. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit - one God in a rollicking, enthusiastic relationship of love - Divine Love. This Love pulls us into the relationship, calling us, saving us, sanctifying us.

I pull into the driveway (I've got to get busy with this lawn. Every other lawn on this street is green - mine's brown. Where's the green spray paint?) and the realization comes to me that the 2006 Diocesan Convention will focus on the Trinity this year. What a great weekend to highlight our God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

So, dear brothers and sisters, come to Convention this year with an intent of learning more about God than you ever thought possible. Learn about our God as the Holy Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Don't you agree?

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