Love: Trinitarian Love

​For much of my Christian life, the Holy Trinity has been simultaneously a central doctrine and a marginal attraction.  I would never hesitate to say, “I believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” but either out loud or to my self I quickly added, “but it’s a mystery we will never understand.”  The second phrase kept me from exploring the first one.

Of course, the Trinity is mystery, and we will never understand it.  But thankfully, a few years ago I came to see that it is a mystery intended to draw us into it, like a magnet draws iron filings to it.  I am grateful to Richard Rohr’s book, ‘The Divine Dance’ for opening the door to my knew experience of the Trinity. [1]

Simply put, the Trinity is the paradigm for everything. [2]  It is Reality revealed and expressed. As such, it is the revelation of love.  We see this in some key ways

First, the Trinity is the union of love that we explored in the last post.  Every person in the Godhead is loving itself in the other two persons because they all “are” in the others.  In this dimension it makes no sense to think of the separateness of beings in the Trinity because it is one Being. [3]. With respect to love, this means that love is singular–or as Jesus put it, the second great commandment is “like unto” the first one.  The love of God, neighbor, and self are not three loves; it is one love in three manifestations.

This is very significant because it prevents a gradation of love.  There is an odd spirituality which affirms a love for God without a corresponding love of others.  St. John squelched that idea in his first letter when he wrote, “Those who don’t love their brother or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20). “  The Trinity says there is only one love, and it is either present or absent, real or imagined.

Second, the Trinity is the purposefulness of love.  Love is one, but not the same in every case.  We say of the Trinity that the Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Spirit sustains.  Theologically, it’s not that distinct.  But it is a revelation that love is not a generic, one-size-fits-all thing.  It manifests differently in order to achieve different purposes.  

Like the Father, some love creates, generates, and ignites.  Like the Son, some love redeems, restores, and renews.  And like the Spirit, some love sustains, preserves, and guides.  We do not have to overthink or overplan these differences.  All we have to do is love.  Love achieves its own purposes.

Third, the Trinity is the joy of love.  We must not overlook the fact that one of the early metaphors for the Trinity was a dance (perichoresis).  I have never been to a dance that lacked joy.  In fact, a dance floor is one of the most joyful places we can ever be. [4]

Some non-Christian religions use the metaphor of dance to sound the note of joy better than some Christians do.  The fourteenth-century Sufi mystic, Hafiz, wrote of 

“the God who only knows four words

And keeps repeating them, saying:

‘Come dance with Me.’ [5]

I can only ask, how does religion in general look as a dance?  How does Christianity look with a dancing Trinity?   How does love look when it only knows four words, “Come dance with me” ?

In these ways, and more, the Trinity is the lens through Whom we look to see the nature and expression of love.  And because we are made in the image of God, we can manifest this kind of love in our humanity.

 

[1] Richard Rohr, ‘The Divine Dance’ (Whitaker House, 2016)

[2] Rohr’s book develops this idea in a wide variety of subjects.

[3] This is why Christianity is a monotheistic religion.  

[4] Amazing, isn’t it, that with this understanding of the Trinity, any Christians could have been against dancing.  The prohibition comes from a “ joy stealing” spirituality rather than a joy-infusing one, and may reveal the person’s lack of restraint more than it does dancing itself.

[5] Part of a longer reflection in “Matthew Fox’s Daily Meditations,” October 6, 2019.

Posted in Love

Along the Way: Dreaming

​For the first time in our nation’s history, Martin Luther King Jr. Day falls in the midst of a presidential impeachment/trial process. [1]. The juxtaposition of these two things shapes my thinking as we observe MLK Jr Day today.

On the Day of Pentecost, Luke used the words of Joel to describe what was happening.  The passage Luke cited includes the words, “Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17 from Joel 2:28 CEB).  For some reason, I assumed that Luke meant young adults would look forward as visionaries, while older adults would look back as dreamers.  Reading Luke’s words for the first time, decades ago, I was young.  So naturally, I located myself in the first sentence, and I wanted to be a visionary.

But now I am an elder, dreaming dreams.  And I have come to realize that dreamers are not those who look back.  Looking back is about memories, not dreams—it is to become nostalgic and long for “good old days” sanitized by time to appear better than they were.  That’s not dreaming.

Martin Luther King Jr. helped me stop misunderstanding Luke’s words, and enabled me to realize what living in God’s pentecosts (decisive moments in history) means.  He was a young man when he stood before the nation and declared, “I have dream.”  His words were forward looking.  Dreaming was not about looking back.  Quite the contrary.  Dreams are prophetic imaginings of new way.

 Later he reminded us that dreams are not just for the young. They are within all of us at every age. When Luke wrote that elders would dream dreams in God’s Pentecost, he was saying that people of all ages can be filled with the Spirit and imagine a new way.  Dreams and visions are not directional (backward/forward), they are transformational.  Martin Luther King Jr. helped me see this.

Yesterday in her ‘Sunday Paper,’ Maria Shriver captured what Martin meant as she wrote, “Each of us can decide at any moment to no longer simply be an observer, and instead to rise up out of our comfort zone and march, or imagine, or go within, and come back out with an idea that will surely help others.”  [2] People young and old can be filled with the Spirit, can be given the strength to love, and accept the call to rise up and call out evil through the nonviolent and prophetic pursuit of the common good. [3]

This year, I am experiencing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an invitation to recommit myself to “no longer be an observer, and instead to rise up out of our comfort zone” to speak and act as disciples of Jesus whose eyes have seen “the coming of the glory of the Lord.”  Today is a fresh opportunity to join the growing number of people young and old who are crafting new wineskins  to carry God’s wine that we call the Kingdom of God, beloved community, etc. Today is a day to reenlist in the movement King personified and Micah 6:8  summarized  as doing justice (practicing fairness, equity, and inclusion), loving kindness (embodying God’s hesed, shalom, and compassion), and walking humbly with God (as servants).

We are living in a Micah moment in history—a time when many of our leaders have failed us (see Micah chapter three), a time when the Holy Spirit is once again turning to the people en masse, to mobilize for “the practice of the better” (Richard Rohr’s description) that turns the words of St. Francis’ prayer into actions,

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

    to be consoled as to console;

    to understood as to understand

    to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


 [1] MLK Jr Day and the impeachment/trial of Bill Clinton occurred close together in 1999, but they did not overlap.

[2] Maria Shriver’s ‘Sunday Paper,’ 1/19/2020.

[3] King’s book, ‘Strength to Love’ is a moving and instructive description of how we are called to live in perilous times.  Walter Brueggemann’s book, ‘Journey to the Common Good’ is another powerful word about the same thing. 

Posted in Along the Way

Love: Amazing Love

Every language has a word or words for love.  The biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek are no exception. The two main words are hesed and agapé.  [1]  In both words, love reaches its apex as “love for the sake of the other.”

This kind of love includes altruism, philanthropy, etc.  But it is not defined by these ideas.  They reflect a commendable desire to live unselfishly, and that would be a major step forward for some people.  But hesed and agapé do not merely describe an other-orientation , they describe a sense of oneness with others.

Our being created in the image of God (that we noted last week) is a good place to focus our look at God’s amazing love.  It is love based in actual likeness.  But it is not a love based on our merit, but rather on our essence.  If that were not so, God’s love would be spasmodic and conditional.  Instead, hesed and agapé are continuous and gracious.  We refer to this as steadfast love.

God’s love says, “You are mine’” and in addition to the idea of our being a cherished possession of God, it means we are beloved children of God.  In a very holy sense, God sees God’s nature in us, and it is a real seeing because we are made in the image of God.  This means that God’s love is amazing, not because it is transactional or obligatory, but because it is a genuine Heart-to-heart relationship—a Lover/beloved relationship.

Part of the amazing nature of this love is that Jesus said we could love others the way we are loved by God.  It’s the second great commandment: , “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  Of course it means loving others the way we like to be loved (as per the Golden Rule), and it includes the psychological truth that our capacity to love others usually reflects the extent to which we love ourselves in a healthy way.  But again, there is more goung on in Jesus’ words than that.

Loving your neighbor “as yoyrself” is recognizing the oneness between yourself and another person in the same way God recognizes the oneness between ourselves and God.  We love others “as ourselves” because in a genuine (though indescribable) way, they are us!  Buddhists have a word for it: interbeing—an essential oneness that everyone shares with everyone else.  Bringing the word alongside Jesus’ words that say the same thing, we find that love is amazing because it exists and expresses itself because of a radical oneness in the whole of creation.  How we love anyone is how we love everyone.  And how we love anyone is how we love God (1John 4:20-21).

That’s amazing love.


[1] This post is not a word study on love.  For that, I recommend William Mounce’s ‘Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’ (Zondervan, 2006), 424-429.

Posted in Love

Along the Way: What’s Going On?

We are living through an intense time of polarization, with resulting fragmentations of all sorts and sizes.  Every day adds new impetus for asking, “What’s going on?”  The depth and breadth of our conflicts makes a blanket answer impossible.  I limit my frame of reference in this post to the fractured state of contemporary Christianity in general, and how it is expressing itself in my denomination—the United Methodist Church.  Even on this smaller field multiple factors are in play, which also go beyond the scope of a blog-length post.  But this more specific context does provide a basis to ask, “What’s going on?” in a way that can face us in a helpful direction.

In Christian circles, one of the allegations is that we have differing views due to varying commitments to the authority of Scripture.  And that plays out along this general line of assertion: conservatives believe in the authority of Scripture, and progressives do not.  Right now, that assertion is being used to attempt to answer the question, “What’s going on in the United Methodist Church? ”  The marketed assumption is that conservatives are the “true Bible believers” and everyone else is less so, or in some cases, not at all.

The problem with that allegation is this: it isn’t true.  And….conservatives who are honest about it know it’s not true.  Across the theological spectrum, Christians affirm the authority of Scripture with equal devotion.  Conservatives simply do not have the corner on that market.  To make the authority of Scripture the answer to the question, “What’s going on?” is a straw-man allegation which ends up misleading people and obscuring a larger perspective with respect to the question.

A more accurate response to the question has to do with the fact that we are living in a pivotal moment, a time of fundamental change—what some have observed in history as axial ages.  We can see this from the Bible itself, where God said about a time roughly 2,700 years ago, “Look I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?” (Isaiah 43:19)   This biblical passage was written during the very time called the axial age by Karl Jaspers, a period of time running from the 8th through the 3rd centuries BCE, with “new things” happening everywhere.  Isaiah’s words are a sign that Scripture recognizes the dynamic nature of history and the unfolding nature of revelation. [1]

A full description of our new axial age is beyond the scope of my knowledge, and of this blog. [2]. As before, our new axial age is transforming things in multiple fields of knowledge and in numerous places. Suffice it to say that it is this larger reality (not the authority of Scripture) which provides the backdrop for exploring the question, “What’s going on?’  Simply put, we are living in a time of awakening, and the end of our polarization—or the perpetuation of it—hinges on whether we are those who accept this, or reject it.  It is not about the authority of Scripture, but rather about the belief that God is doing “a new thing,” and God’s question to the people of Isaiah’s day is now the question God is asking us, “Don’t you recognize it?” [3]

Our new axial age is, as they all are, simultaneously a recovery and a discovery.  In our case, it is a recovery from a nearly 600-year period of analytical rationalism that has served us well in many respects, but has failed us in others—one being the separating of things to the extent that egotism and ethnocentrism have room to create falsehoods based on superiority and expressed in conflict.  Truth is couched in right/wrong categories which eclipse its both/and dimensions.  Dualistic thinking takes charge, and we take sides where someone has to win while designated “others” must lose.  We descend into sectarianism where, in fact, everyone loses.  Nationalism and other forms of groupism define and control us. For the past 600 years (the “Enlightenment era”) we have been on this downward spiral, reaping the whirlwind in terrible ways today, and bringing us to tipping points which threaten our future.

 But our new axial age is also a time of discovery—of “treasures old and new” as Jesus put it when teaching us about the Kingdom of God, in contrast to the fallen kingdoms of this world (Matthew 13:52).  In fact, he taught that it is our call to be the kind of people who keep both old and new things together.  We are called to be nondual thinkers who live a unitive consciousness.  We are called to bring separated things together.  We are called to pour Kingdom wine into new wineskins.  We are called to rediscover Wisdom and consecrate our knowledge to its advancement.

Our new axial age is recovering/discovering the oneness of all things.  The physical sciences at the micro level (atomical and genetic) and macro level (astrophysical and cosmic) are revealing the universality of all things in ways we’ve never known before.  We are called to be co-creators with God in furthering the trajectory of God’s eternal plan, “to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). 

This unification does not ignore differences, but  it refuses to turn them into conflicted hierarchies. It does not ignore evil, but it interprets it differently than fallen-world ideologies do. It’s energy is expended in creating community and living for the common good.  It is rooted in love (hesed/agapé) where restoration, not retribution, is the spirit and aim. It refuses to create “others” based on some notion of superiority.  It seeks to live in a common human family that understands loving is more difficult and messy than labeling.  It calls for the end of in/out thinking.

“What’s going on?” is not answered by an assertion of the authority of Scripture by one group against another.  “What’s going on?” is addressed by the recognition in our day of what others before us (like Isaiah) have recognized—that there are times when God does a new thing, and when God is doing so, we are called to join in.


[1] For more about the Axial Age see, (1) Mark W. Muesse, ‘Age of the Sages: The Axial Age in Asia and the Near East (Augsburg, 2015), and (2) Karen Armstrong, ‘The Great Transformation’ (Anchor, 2006).

[2] I may write more about this.  If I do, I will use the same title (“What’s Going On?”) with a numbering system, so you can immediately spot sequels.  They will be included in this “Along the Way” category if you want to re-read them.

[3] My initial exploration of this question resulted in my book, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing: Living in God’s New Pentecost’ (Cascade Books, 2013).

Posted in Along the Way

Love: God is Love

Three words sum up the essence of everything: God is love.  They not only tell us who God is, but also who we are, and who/what everyone and everything else is.  At the creation level of cosmos and cells, love is seen in the law of attraction. [1]  In our humanity we see love in the imago dei, which gives us an existential likeness to God.  In short, love saturates all of life, revealing Reality as it is meant to be.

But true as this is, we must not leave love in the abstract.  When we say that God is love, we are not simply declaring a grand idea, we are describing a glorious relationship.  Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann sees it in the name of God we call Yahweh.  Through this name God reveals the relational essence of the divine nature, entering into our lives with mercy, grace, faithfulness, forgiveness, and steadfast love. [2]. Yahweh is the name of God through which we see God’s love (hesed).

At the outset of this series, the realization that God is love is the centering vision.  It locates us at the Source.  To acknowledge that God is love is the transforming vision.  It means that nothing other than God has the final say in our lives (Romans 8:38).  To believe that God is love gives us hope.  It brings the present moment into our lives to be a redemptive force in whatever ways we need to be free. [3]

In the course of this series we will move around the circumference of the circle of love, noting one thing after another.  But no matter where we are standing, we will be making our exploration in relation to one Center: God is love.. As they say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.


[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin saw the union of creation and theology in the word love.  He wrote about it in nearly all his books, especially ‘The Divine Milieu.,’  Ilia Delio has made Teilhard accessible to us through her Omega Center.  Her book, ‘Compassion’ (St Anthony Messenger Press, 2011) traces the theme of love through Sts Francis and Clare.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Theology of the Old Testament’ (Fortress Press, 2009), 215 ff.

[3] This is Paul’s affirmation in Galatians 5:1.  St. Ignatius of Loyola made freedom one of the hallmarks of his understanding of the Christian life.  Father James Martin’s book, ‘The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything’ (HarperCollins, 2010)) is a good guide into the life of freedom.

Posted in Love

In-Sight: Incarnation

​Having recently celebrated Christmas, the Incarnation has been front-and-center in our faith.  In the birth of Jesus, the Word became flesh, and lived a while on the earth full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  The coming of the pre-incarnate, eternal Christ (second person of the Holy Trinity) was the perfect fusion of spirit and matter.  In Jesus, heaven and earth were united as never before, or since.

But the incarnation was more than unique and historic, it is also universal and timeless.  The Bible teaches that Jesus was the new Adam (Romans 12:5-18), now often referred to as “The Human One.” [1]  In Jesus we see how humanity was meant to be, and was, before the fall. [2]  Christlikeness is the one-word summary for the definition of life as God wills it to be for us.

We are not, and will never be, the perfect fusion of spirit and matter that Jesus was, but we are a fusion of spirit and matter—what the Bible calls “living souls” (Genesis 2:7).  In our humanity we are holy, as God is holy in deity. Far from being a wild idea, this “likeness” to God is what it means to be made in the image of God.  St. Thomas Aquinas described it in these words, “Grace renders us like God and a partaker of the divine nature. Divine virtue gives deification itself, that is, participating in the Godhead, which is through grace.” [3]

This is a grand truth, but we must not allow it to hang in the air as a dangling doctrine, and even worse, we must not let it deteriorate into wishful thinking or, still worse, into sentimentalism–which is precisely where the world leaves “baby Jesus” during Christmas.  The incarnation of Jesus is the revelation that our humanity is not only to be gentle and meek, but also strong and courageous–that is, pastoral and prophetic.

Jesus show us what the full range of human holiness looks like, and the revelation becomes an invitation.  This is complicated, but we must not let that prevent us from receiving the message which comes from Jesus’ incarnation to us: we are human, and that glorious reality is a vision which is meant to invite us into fullness of life—life in Christ.  The new year is a fresh invitation to become what we are meant to be, God’s beloved children.  The incarnation is meant to recur in us.  It is one way God says to us, “Don’t forget who you are.”  Jesus is the living reminder.


[1] Adam is the word for  humankind–before being represented in maleness and femaleness.  As the new Adam, Jesus revealed in his flesh the nature of humanity irrespective of gender.  By calling him “The Human One” we see his example to be applicable to people of all genders.  The Common English Study Bible has good articles about “The Human One,” and uses this translation in place of the traditional rendering “Son of Man” to more clearly describe Jesus’ humanity as an example for all people.

[2] This is impossible to put into words because it is Mystery.  Adam was not the Christ in the technical and full sense of the word, because humanity and deity are distinct.  But being fully human, Jesus revealed what we can call a pre-fall humanity—a humanity which is possible for any of us.  We never become God (that’s heresy), but we can be “like God” (that’s biblical—Genesis 1:26-28).  

[3] Quoted in Matthew Fox’s Daily Meditation, December 23, 2019.

Posted in In-Sight

Love: Introduction

​Decades ago, a popular song said  “Love is a many splendored thing.”  Indeed it is, and I have been blessed to know this throughout my lifetime.  This coming April, Jeannie and I celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, and every year of our courtship and marriage she has shown me what love is..  She has given me love in every way a human being can.  And she has been a means through whom I have experienced the love of God..  I have decided to make “Love” the 2020 theme series here on Oboedire, and I dedicate this series to Jeannie, the love of my life.   

Our desire to be loved is the deepest desire, and I believe it is so because we are made in the image of God.  When we open ourselves to this Reality, we find that the love of God not only becomes alive in us, it flows through us to others.  Each week, over the course of this coming year, we will follow the flow of love from its inward manifestations to its outward expressions.

We find ourselves in a love-starved world.  Individually and collectively we hunger for love.  So, this series is more than a sentimental examination of a beautiful idea, it is a call to be lovers of God and others as a means of shining light and giving life.  Our souls and our planet depend on love in order to survive.

The need for love is particularly acute in our country right now.  The past few years (actually, decades) have strained our will and capacity to love.  The national renewal we need is a renewal of love.  It is not an exaggeration to say that our problems, challenges, and sins are manifestations of a failure to love. We are once again in a great need for strength to love. [1]

I hope you will join me on this love journey.  If you know others who would benefit from it, invite them to do so.  It’s easy and free to subscribe to Oboedire by entering an email address into the ‘Sign Me Up,” box on the righthand sidebar. 

When the early church was just getting started, the elder apostle John is said to have had only one message whenever he spoke to the community, ‘Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).  I hope this series brings an increase of love to you and a fresh outpouring of love through you. 


[1] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s book, ‘Strength to Love’ (Harper & Row, 1963) made the three words part of our national vocabulary in the 1960’s.  His book remains on my desk to this day, and I read from it frequently as a way of seeking a fresh inpouring of strength to love in my life.

Posted in Love