Speaker: Cynthia Lapp
Today is Trinity Sunday which, for the Christ-centered, look-to-the-bible Anabaptist tradition, is kind of tricky. Because the trinity doesn’t really appear in the bible. Okay, it is in the passage from Matthew that we heard, sort of, as a coda.
Of course there is the “Father” and creator in the bible. No disputing there is the Son, Christ, all over in the New Testament. And the Spirit is everywhere, in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, it does blow where it will. But to put them altogether and call them the Trinity? That is a later addition that second and third generation Christians developed; the trinity got codified as the creeds were formed in the third century. Yet the Trinity has become a defining part of Christianity, distinguishing it from other monotheistic religions. Most Jews and Muslims can’t make sense of it: what does it mean that God is three but one. Maybe we can’t make sense of it either.
I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of the doctrine surrounding the Trinity. Somehow the Holy Trinity is supposed to model how there are different aspects of the whole, (some theologians would correct me, they are not “different aspects.”) Let’s just say it is three different names and faces of the One. The Holy Trinity models relationship: that God is in relationship with the different parts of Godself, modeling how we are to be in relationship, with God, with each other. Or as our opening hymn says it, “One God in community, calling Christians to embody oneness and diversity.”
In this country, at this time, when individualism is lauded – and modeled – by the highest office, we must remember and recognize that our faith is about relationship. We must reclaim the Holy Trinity tradition that teaches that relationship is at the center, that God is relationship, in relationship, because every day we are enticed by another trinity, an unholy trinity. This unholy trinity calls for our attention and encourages each of us to put ourselves first, as individuals; it demands that we discount and deny the reality of our relatedness. The unholy trinity tells us that dependence and interdependence are signs of weakness, signs of failure. This unholy trinity is not about equity, or working together or seeing pieces of ourselves in the other. It is three different things that each demand our allegiance and ultimately tear down unity and relationship, trying to convince us that there is no oneness.
There are probably any number of unholy trinities we could name. The three that seem most destructive and present to me right now are White Supremacy engrained as systemic racism, unfettered capitalism and climate change. Any one of these is dangerous on its own and wants our allegiance. This unholy trinity encourages people to take as much as they can and seek protection at all costs. All of these tear down community, lead people to live in fear, to look over their shoulder and look out for themselves first.
Racism and White supremacy are the bedrock of this country. We might not think of it that way. We like to think that this country was built on democracy. But this country is built on stolen land and a false narrative about the primitive nature of the indigenous peoples. This country wouldn’t be this wealthy if it weren’t for the stolen labor of enslaved Africans who were treated and as animals. We live everyday with the legacy of white supremacy that dehumanized and destroyed families – and continues to dehumanize and tear families apart. White supremacy engrained as systemic racism means that the justice system is not just, that police are most often not accountable, that public education is crumbling. White supremacy is so engrained in this country’s institutions and systems of organization that many, maybe most, white people are blind to it. We cannot see it – though we swim in it, we breathe it. But black and brown people, people of color, see it and they can’t breathe.
Like White Supremacy, Capitalism demands that we look out for ourselves and those closest to us. It demands that we think of ourselves first and others last, if at all. Capitalism wants us to believe that there is not enough so we should work hard, and keep working harder, to get as much as we can. Capitalism tells us lies about distribution and quantity. It fights hard for its own existence by saying that “those people” just don’t work hard enough. It is their fault that they don’t have enough. It’s okay, “those people” will be content living on what trickles down, the scraps thrown out by others. Capitalism is a close cousin to white supremacy though it would never want to admit that relationship.
Then there is climate change which is new on the scene, though we might have seen it coming if we had been paying attention. It was predicted decades ago but it was so dire that we just didn’t want to believe it, some still don’t want to believe.
Climate change is related to white supremacy and capitalism though it wouldn’t want to claim the connection. But there is a reason that pipelines go through Indian Country and poor Appalachia, and new super highways go right through poor communities – without entrance ramps. Climate change denies our relationship with the planet that birthed us – but it rolls on because big corporations, who have been granted personhood, will not take responsibility for the interconnectedness of land, air and sea, people, plants and animals. Climate change causes mass migration across the planet but our commitments to white supremacy and capitalism prevent welcome to the migrants. Climate Change makes us afraid of the future, it drives us to build walls and hoard more for ourselves.
This unholy trinity, white supremacy, capitalism and climate change, is made up of systems that push individualism. But we know that one person can not end white supremacy. One family cannot change capitalism. One community cannot reverse climate change. These complex systems have been built over hundreds of years and reinforce each other in the most sinister and dangerous ways.
But the Christian tradition has something that has been around even longer: the Holy Trinity, the Three in One in relationship, dynamically intertwined and connected, equal and egalitarian. The Holy Trinity encourages relationships, is relationship.
The Trinity models interdependent relationship across difference. The Holy Trinity models relationship between the creator in heaven, and Christ on earth, two very different zip codes and the Spirit that will not be bound by any zip code at all. What might it look like for us to reach out beyond our own zip code, to build relationships of friendship and equity, across what we are told is supposed to divide us. How might we pursue justice by seeing our interconnectedness across race, and economic capability, and species?
Last night I stood on Route 1 in front of the “Justice Center” with a group of predominately white people to shout, that Black Lives Matter. Several police officers I know looked on from behind, while other supporters created a convoy of vehicles that drove around the block for an hour, honking their support. It was a group of white people, who benefit from capitalism, protesting white supremacy, and enthusiastically generating more carbon emissions. The unholy trinity is so intertwined in our lives it is hard to know where to start untangling.
One of the more mystifying relationships that I have been developing the past few years is with the Hyattsville police department. The past several weeks have been especially confusing. Right now, the country is focused on police violence with the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The protests in response to that violence have yielded further proof of police violence and the militarization of police across the country. How can I build relationships with people who are part of the system that perpetuates injustice and violence? With a department that has on its record the shooting of a black man in the last year?
It is only possible if I see the individuals within the department. The unholy trinity would have me erase the individuals by denying the possibility of relationship. If I want to try and live into relationship across difference, then Romans 12 gives some very concrete advice: Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, cling to what is good. I have found the chief of the Hyattsville Department, Amal Awad, to be a genuinely, good person, though we both try not to be clingy.
The advice in Romans is for a church, but I have experienced the next phrase when I relate to the chief – outdo one another in showing respect. As we try to understand each other across race, even support each other as women working in jobs that are usually occupied by men, are the chief and I building a relationship, a friendship? I think so. Will it make any difference? I hope so. It makes a difference to me.
It is not the total picture and perhaps it is too simplistic, but it seems to me, that if we have any hope of dismantling the individualism that is perpetuated by white supremacy, capitalism and climate change, we must start by building relationships, relationships where trust and respect, equity and care are at the center. This means taking risks and making mistakes, and expanding our imagined reality. It is not easy. We will not see the end of this unholy trinity in our lifetime; this is a multigenerational project. We will need to pass on the encouragement and imagination to continue dismantling the systems of the unholy Trinity: the lie of self-sufficiency, the lie of white supremacy, and the lie that the earth is ever and always at the disposal of humans.
Let’s also pass on The Holy Trinity, God in relationship, God of relationship, God through relationship. One God in community, oneness in diversity.