“Bad theology is like pornography–the imagination of a real relationship without the risk of one.”
And with that, William Paul Young’s forward to The Divine Dance sets the table for what follows. And propels us into the very substance of our faith. We explore what it is we’re seeking. And why it is we expect more from our tradition that it is able to give.
As the forward to a much longer book, it introduces the context and the substance succinctly.
The book is The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell. But its substance is likewise embodied.
This is the crux and part of its central theme: that our talk of theology, and the Trinity is too limited and wrong by half.
1. Our traditions around the Trinity are limited.
We talk about the Trinity like it’s a turf battle or a matter of right thinking. East vs. West. Catholic vs. Protestant. Get it right. Understand it intellectually. Win the battle. Conquer your opponent. Cast them into the outer darkness. But it’s always been about relationship.
For most of us, faith is an intellectual exercise. It’s something to comprehended. But we ignore the rest of the equation: that we have bodies, experiences, and differences.
Instead we institutionalize our differences and enshrine them as intellectual foundation and doctrine.
Rohr weaves the breadth of traditional teachings, and in so doing, he highlights both their strengths and shortcomings. And he finds our relationships with God and one another are the main issue.
This is our weakness because we want more to be right than be in community. Right. Powerful. In charge.
But it isn’t about being strong, but being vulnerable. That God is revealed in weak wisdom rather than only through strong power.
“Let’s admit that we admire strength and importance. We admire self-sufficiency, autonomy, the self- made person. This is surely the American way. This weakness of God, as Paul calls it, is not something we admire or want to imitate.”
“Maybe this has been part of our resistance to this mystery of Trinity.”
Because we’ve made faith about what we think. In our brains, it’s quantifiable and understandable. And certain.
“We like control; God, it seems, loves vulnerability. In fact, if Jesus is the image of God, then God is much better described as “Absolute Vulnerability Between Three” than “All-mighty One.”
God reveals the divine, not in physical substance, but in relationship. And relationships take work.
2. It’s the relationships, stupid!
Just because God is three, doesn’t mean we know what to do about it.
“Separation will normally not look like sin, but will often resemble propriety and even appropriate boundary-keeping. “I have a right to be upset!” the righteous soul says. No one ever “deserves” our kindness; in fact, what makes it kindness is that you are not even asking that silly question.”
Eastern Orthodox iconography reveals the natural next step. In the divine dancing, God is not singular, but in relationship. We are so defined. We are a reflection of God and we are in relationship, not only to God, but each other.
In other words, then,
“Your life is no longer your own. You are instead a two-way reflecting mirror.”
But our traditions have failed to make our traditional beliefs manifest in our lives. Instead, opting for hierarchy and a sneering, domineering God.
“Most Christian art and church design and architecture reflects this pyramidal worldview, which shows what little influence Trinity has had in our history.”
We’re wrong and have been. But we’re learning. About God and creation.
“What physicists and contemplatives alike are confirming is that the foundational nature of reality is relational; everything is in relationship with everything else.”
So we must turn instead to that divine relationship, to the incarnate one (Jesus) to understand our relationship to God and creation as part of a network or a web of cosmic interconnectedness.
The Trinity stands as a constant rejection of isolation and the cult of the individual.
“The ego wants to be self-made, not other-made, which is our whole problem with grace. If grace is true, dear reader, and if we’re all saved by the mercy of God, then why do we constantly try to create certain cut-off points?”
Who is in? Good enough? Right thinking?
But if mercy is mercy, then all these cut-off points are more than moot. They are destruction.
Grace is enough.
“Our egoic selves don’t know how to wrap around this reality; it feels like a loss of power because–darn it all–there’s nothing I can do now to pull myself up and make myself a step ahead of the rest of you!”
But that isn’t relationship! Or the nature of God as revealed in Christ and the Holy Spirit! It isn’t only about me! And what I do to make God happy! It isn’t about winning!
“God does not love you because you are good. God loves you because God is good.”
3. Experiencing God.
What holds us back from experiencing the mercy and love of God in the fullness Rohr argues for is our slavish devotion to our own minds and the individualistic impulses of our culture. But this also has a profound impact on our faith, churches, and religious affiliations. We aren’t often likely to embody our best faith when these other modes are in operation.
“We must take this very seriously and know how it operates in us, with us, for us and as us. The failure to access our own operating system has kept much Christianity very immature and superficial, filled with secondhand cliches instead of any calm, clear, and immediate experience of reality. It has left us argumentative instead of appreciative.”
To pursue a more mature faith, we must take to our belief like life-long learners and experiencers.
It takes inner work and outer relationship.
We have to do the work to see, for instance
“God’s justice, revealed in the prophets is always restorative justice,”
but instead of seeing justice restoring our relationships, our culture bathes us in retributive justice. It deals out more pain in the name of right and wrong. But God’s justice restores and builds us up. We fail to even see the difference. In justice and in our response. In the very relationships at stake.
“To forgive, you have to be able to see the other person–at least momentarily–as a whole person, as an image of the Divine, containing holiness and horror at the same time.”
We must embrace that all this is relationship: with God and humanity. And the core of this relationship is love.
“God cannot not see his Son Jesus in you.”
God only sees the Son and is filled with loved. So God can’t hate you. It’s impossible.
But to keep that view of God–the wrath-bringer, we’ve had to repress God the Father and station him far away from us in the clouds. Distant and angry. Nothing at all like the revealed God in Christ. Nothing at all like a parent who is good.
We want it all to be easy.
So we draw lines, keep it in our heads, and ignore the ways our culture erodes relationship. And all this destroys our theology and our faith.
“By and large, what human beings want is resurrection without death, answers without doubt, light without darkness, the conclusion without the process.”
Sin compromises relationship.
“God is essentially saying “It is you who cannot afford to be unloving…you’ll be outside the flow of grace that is inherent to every event”
“We are not punished for our sins–we are punished by our sins!”
Relationship hinges on vulnerability.
Our cultural demand for power is constantly eschewed by a Christ of vulnerability. Something the church has never embraced.
“The Christian God’s power comes through his powerlessness and humility. Our God is much more properly called all-vulnerable than almighty, which we should have understood by the constant metaphor of “Lamb of God” found throughout the New Testament.”
God’s goodness leads to mercy–rather than the demonstration of our goodness leading to blessing from God.
“You cannot earn something you already have. You cannot achieve something that is already freely and totally given to you.”
God is love.
“As long as we thought of God as a Being, or what I am calling a noun, then this Being could clearly choose to be loving on occasion, but also not loving.
“But what if the very shape of Being is first of all communion? The very nature of Being is love…
“God does not decide to love, therefore, and God’s love can never be determined by the worthiness or unworthiness of the object. But God is Love itself. God cannot not love, because love is the nature of God’s very being.”
In The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr shapes a theology which is both fresh and completely traditional. A Roman Catholic mystic with deep Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and pre-Constantinian tendencies, Rohr’s vision of the Trinity is both challenging and affirming.
He speaks to the depths of my soul and the struggles I have with the weak tea which passes for theology in our churches. And he replaces that weak tea with a picture of faith in relationship so profound, spiritual, and true, my heart awakes.
I give The Divine Dance my highest recommendation.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.