Trinity - a UU Prototype?

Unitarian Universalists (UUs) may not know it, but there is a renaissance going on when it comes to Universalist theology. It is happening outside the seminary and has a refreshing Contemplative and Eastern Orthodox slant. Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, Robin Parry, Brad Jersak, Rob Bell, etc. - these are all authors/thinkers/leaders in the resurgence of Universalist thought. Of course, the resurgence of Universalist theology is Christian-based with a notable absence of UUs. As has been noted in UU circles, UU's theological voice has been significantly diminished and absent in the realm of not only Universalist theology but liberal theology in general. The public theologians mentioned above are taking up the slack.

UUs might take issue with the Trinitarian focus of the burgeoning Universalist conversation. Just the first word in UU - Unitarian - makes Trinitarian Universalism difficult to contemplate (though there is a unitary in the Trinity, depending on how you look at it).

Interestingly, UU rejection of Trinitarianism is not universal (in the small "u" sense). There are a number of Trinitarian Universalists walking among General Assembly this very minute. There are also Trinitarian churches within the UUA, most notably First Church Providence.

That said, here is my thesis: the Trinity presents a prototype of modern UUism and its core identity as a pluralistic religious community.

The Trinity basically teaches that God is the primary example of e pluribus unum -- out of more (a closer translation of pluribus is “more” or "a plural"), one. Out of more than one, out of a plural, One. We see this idea in Christianity for sure, but also in Buddhism as well as Second Temple Judaism and Greek Philosophy.

Modern UU is an experiment in e pluribus unum. We are an experiment in pluralistic religious community. A typical UU church is made of humanists, earth-based traditionists, theists, Jesus-followers, Buddhists, etc. This plurality is united in community. Different persons of different faiths join in common unity and common purpose - that is at basis of the UU tradition today.

If UU equals pluralistic religious community, then Trinity is an ontological example -- an essential, basic example -- of UUism. If UU equals pluralistic religious community, then Trinity presents an eternal paradigm for UUism. The Trinity is the UU prototype. 

It doesn't end there. The Trinity's elements offer UU a uniting of our various sources. In God, Christ, and Holy Spirit we have three avenues to the Holy.

1.) God would include our strict-monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Islam, and traditional Unitarianism, as well as the prophets and mystics (Kaballah, Sufism, Transcendentalism) deriving from those traditions.

2.) In Christ, we of course have the Christian and Jesus-based traditions without which there'd be no UU. We could also include in this element of the Trinity the influential teaching known as the Cosmic Christ and the Christian mystic tradition from which it sprang. Jesus being a human being, and a proto-humanist, I'd argue, humanism has a home here too. 

3.) In the Holy Spirit we have a wellspring of representatives outside the Western and monotheistic traditions. The more humanistic World Religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, etc.) and the Earth-based traditions have a home in the Holy Spirit. 

As for Universalism, because of the work of grace and compassion - the work of the Holy Spirit - manifested in myriad forms, we are all included in the expansive Beloved Community. Or in the words of Fred Rogers (yes, that Mr. Rogers): "I believe that at the center of the universe there dwells a loving spirit who longs for all that’s best in all of creation, a spirit who knows the great potential of each planet as well as each person, and little by little will love us into being more than we ever dreamed possible. That loving spirit would rather die than give up on any one of us.”

What's more, Trinity not only offers us a foundation for pluralistic religious community, it also offers us a spiritual practice. The Trinity for centuries has been the basis of contemplative practice. Through contemplative practice and meditation we enter the intra-relationship of the Trinity, the realm of God.

Lest anyone think invoking the Trinity amounts to invoking traditional Christianity, there is this: The UU Trinity would place a greater and more expansive significance on the Holy Spirit than traditional Christianity in any of its forms. Unlike Christianity as its traditionally understood, the Holy Spirit offers, and will in the end give to all, entry into the realm of God. In this expansive Trinitarian-Universalism, Judeo-Christian traditions and non-Judeo-Christian traditions find union.

This union of the Trinity offers a profound example of  a"More-Than-Christian" tradition. In addition, it has deep roots and a long lineage, Christian and not (see Neo-Platonism and "Rabbi" Philo of Alexandria).

I end with how this connects to us as a religious community. I recall a verse that we often overlook. In Matthew 18, Jesus says, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there among them.” Here we have the embodiment of the second person of the Trinity saying that where there is a community of 2 or 3 invoking my name, I am there with them, amid them. There is no such thing as a church or a community of one. 

Just as the diversity and unity of Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit makes God God, the diversity and unity of 2 or 3 people makes church church. The diversity and the unity that defines the Trinity mirrors the diversity and unity of the religious community we know as a church. Let me say it another way. The goal of a religious community should be to mirror the diversity and unity of God.

Gathering together, seeking the diversity and unity of God and seeking to make it real in our lives, both our individual lives and our collective, this is what makes the Beloved Community, the Beloved Community.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting thoughts! This is a wonderfully creative way to think of the Trinity. I also identify myself as a Trinitarian Universalist.

    Thanks, Don!