On the Trinity

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Arthur Roberts reflects on a request: “At Christmastime a collegiate granddaughter asked, ‘Grandpa, I’m puzzled about the Trinity; why is it important?’ You can understand that any professorial-type grandfather would enthusiastically engage in a theological dialogue!”

Arthur wrote this reflection and shared it with pastors in January 1998 – part of a 12-year project to encourage ministers and ministry leaders in Northwest Yearly Meeting. Arthur passed away last December, but many of his Reflections have been preserved through the Digital Commons at George Fox University. And this quarter, fourteen of Arthur’s essays have been edited for Fruit of the Vine, a publication that exists partly because of Arthur’s work in 1961.

“So how did I answer her?” Arthur continues. He pointed out that the doctrine of the Trinity is a way of acknowledging the limits of our understanding. We don’t know what God is. Or how. But in the Trinity, we learn to see or experience God: “The three ‘faces’ of God show us the activity of God.” This activity is revealed to us in three ways: “sense perception, reason, and intuition.” Then, when we worship God together, we can “affirm with reverence and awe the creation (the cosmic journey), the human experience in space/time (the outward journey), and the human psychic experience (the inward journey).”

At this point in the essay, Arthur turns his granddaughter’s question on us. “What does affirming the triunity of God mean practically in the life of the church? It means a godly concern for and stewardship of the creation now groaning under a load of sin; a godly concern for kingdom events historically, in your home, community, and the world; and nurturing the personal inward life of the Spirit.”

My mind moves to the massive floods felt in so many parts of the world over the last two months, something I’m especially sensitive to after a weekend of heavy rain in western Oregon. I wonder what a “godly concern” requires of me. I wonder what it requires of us.

This might be the point Arthur intended to make in response to his granddaughter’s question. Why is the Trinity important? It helps us to remember that we are not God. It helps us to remember that we don’t know God, we can’t control God, and we certainly don’t own God. It helps us to pay attention to what God is doing. It urges us to move forward together, joyfully joining God in the celebration of God’s “kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” 

Eric Muhr

Fire and forgiveness

I have an image of a tree-covered mountain, rising above Cascade Locks on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. Weeks after I took this photo, the area was devastated by the Eagle Creek fire, which spread to 48,831 acres and is now 50 percent contained. On my way home from a friend’s wedding in Idaho last week, I drove past this scene. Everything has changed. The mountain – once covered in green – now has angry brown and orange splotches of fire-damaged forests. But the fire didn’t take everything. There are many surviving trees, and the gorge remains a place of intense and overwhelming beauty.

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Flo Harvey writes of a time when someone lied about her “to a trusted friend and colleague.... The hurt and the strain destroyed my work relationships and ended a close friendship.” Flo left a job she loved. She was hurt and angry. “Forgiveness was long in coming.” 

Someone we know – playing with matches – gets a little too close to the tinder-dry parts of our lives, and we’re devastated.

Flo writes that she was devastated for a long time: “Holding on to something can be damaging.... Clinging to hurts, unmet expectations, and disappointments – revisiting them over and over again.” She found herself “unable to step into mercy, forgiveness, and restoration.”

This kind of response makes sense to us in the aftermath of a fire. Everything we’ve worked for is destroyed. Everything we love has been taken from us. But those tender, tinder-dry places in our lives, hardened by fire, can be softened by forgiveness. “I pray often,” Flo writes, “that I will learn to let go of offenses and forgive.”

Letting go of offenses lets us “hold on to God’s grace.” The psalmist writes: “We went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”

Next spring, the Columbia River Gorge will be covered in green and bursting in blossoms. I’ll be taking pictures, trying to capture its intense and overwhelming beauty.

Eric Muhr

On community

This week’s Fruit of the Vine is a collection of short reflections from me. I’d like to include Saturday’s reflection here:

Sometimes I wonder what early believers talked about as they broke bread from house to house. The Scripture makes it clear that they prayed and ate and praised God, but I wonder if they also talked about what kind of a community they were becoming and why.

I was in a group like that once. Most of us attended different churches on Sunday mornings, but we all got together on Sunday afternoons to sing, to wait in silence, to talk about where we were seeing God at work. Mainly, we were just curious about what God might be doing. There was one conversation in particular that keeps coming up in my memory, a discussion about what the church could be.

A woman spoke of her desire to be part of a place where people seriously struggle with what it means to believe instead of simply showing up for the social connections or from a sense of duty. Another shared his vision of creating a place that was open all the time – a kind of community center – a place where people gather to seek counsel, to come together with friends, to discuss and take action on issues of social justice. A third talked about an increasing individualism in society that competes with our desire to be known. We long for community but struggle with commitment.

And I wonder – what about you? If you’d been with us, what might you have shared? What do you long for in a faith community?

I’d like to know.

Eric Muhr