Years ago one of my favorite articles in the NY Times Magazine was “On Language,” written by the late William Safire. One Sunday, back in 2008, Safire wrote an article on the word “Wackadoodle.” Have you ever used wackadoodle in a sentence? Well, Safire stated that it’s become quite a popular word.
Safire quotes examples of a well known pastor being called a wackadoodle, a state legislator being labeled a wackadoodle for some of his beliefs and public statements, as well as Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise being called wackadoodles.
Safire defines Wackadoodle, its an adjective and takes its first syllable from wacky – that is, ‘far-out, eccentric, off the wall’ possibly from ‘out of whack.’ The doodle ending means “simpleton” and has its roots in the term Yankee Doodle.
Today, Trinity Sunday, has reminded me of Safire’s article and the word wackadoodle. Perhaps my thought process makes sense to you? I mean the Christian understanding of God in three persons can seem a bit “far out,” “eccentric” or “off the wall” and trying to explain it can make the best of us feel like simpletons.
In the fourth century a huge debate was held by various Church leaders from around the world at a church council meeting in Nicea. Just imagine all the rising stars in Christianity having a verbal slug-fest over the degree to which Christ was human and or divine. In trying to figure that out they also needed to articulate Christ’s relationship to God. And further more they needed to define the Holy Spirit’s relationship to God and to Christ?
From this gathering a version of the Nicene Creed was written. However various church leaders argued over the creed and various other for another hundred years until a final statement was agreed upon. Now the Nicene Creed stands as the traditional understanding of the Trinity. Many people in the 21st century find its language and its teaching to be antiquated, they don’t like the male gendered language and they don’t like the paternalistic nature of it. But for now it is the church’s orthodox teaching on the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We pray it every Sunday as a reminder of the historic Christian understanding that God expresses God’s self as the creator, and as Jesus who is the Word of God made flesh, and as the Holy Spirit that remains active in the world inspiring creation to seek and follow God’s desire. God is a God of relationship. Historically this relationship manifests as God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. In action this relationship manifests as God the creator, God the redeemer, and God the sanctifier.
These are all big theological concepts that may leave us more confused than not, much like Nicodemus in his conversation with Jesus. I remember being frustrated in seminary because I wanted one concise definition for words like redeemer, sanctifier, and salvation, but every book I read seemed to use these words in different ways. Today, every Christian tradition has its own variation, its own understanding of what these words mean and of what God is doing in the world.
Twenty years after seminary this is what I’ve come to understand. We can imagine God as a creator, who inspires new life, new hope. How is it that Jesus redeems us? Some say that by his birth, the “Word made flesh” is what redeems us by giving us a living, human example of how we are to live and love as God loves us. Some say it is his death on the cross that redeems us, taking away the sin of the world in that one brutal act, the death of an innocent person. Others say it is in the resurrection that we are redeemed. The resurrection of Jesus by God is the supreme act of responding to the injustice of the death of an innocent person by bringing new life into the world. All is forgiven. Sanctifier is one who makes holy. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us and the whole world and makes it holy. Holy, because this is God’s creation, we are God’s created beings, we are holy. Salvation is the action of the Holy Spirit guiding us to live as God desires. Jesus teaches us that salvation happens in this world by the way we love as God loves. We are saved from living a life of despair when we anchor our lives in God, and, though prayer, living a life in community, and loving as God loves, we acquire hope and this hope fills us with peace. This is God’s grace.
Images of the Holy Spirit are present throughout the Bible, described most of the time as the breath of God, or as a woman, or as wisdom. Church councils in the fourth and fifth centuries had huge arguments over whether Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit or whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son. In the end the Nicene Creed says one thing, the Apostles Creed, which we say at morning prayer or evening prayer and at baptisms, says the other.
From Isaiah we get the language for the Sanctus, which we sing or say in the Eucharistic prayer, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God…” an image that is Trinitarian in the three fold acknowledgment of God.
In his letter to the Roman’s Paul is struggling with dualism, body versus spirit, in a good old Greek philosopher’s way, using the thinking of Plato to argue that the Spirit is better. Early Christian writers adopted Platonic thought and made further developments in arguing that the flesh, our bodies, are bad and only the spirit is whole and good. But the truth is we are both, body and spirit, and they can’t be divided, despite Plato’s philosophy. What we need to do is find a balance between the drives and desires of our earthly bodies, which are a gift from God, and our spiritual lives, which keep us connected to God. Seeking that balance is what brought me back to church. Maybe balance is one reason why you come, too?
The Gospel of John gives us the great story of Nicodemus. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and leaves more confused than before. Nicodemus represents us and our struggle to understand God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Throughout this Easter season we have reflected on the ways God calls us to be in relationship with God and others.We are to work for justice. We are to be working for equality of all people, respecting the dignity of every human being, loving others as God loves us. This love is action oriented, it’s healing the broken relationships we have with our family and our friends. We even called to heal our relationships with people we’ve never met, but for whom are actions impact their quality of life by the food we eat, the water we drink, the clothes we wear, the money we make.
Trinity Sunday is a call to become aware of the impact our lives have on the world around us. We are called to be spirit led and transformational, bringing new life and hope into the world. And there is nothing wackadoodle about that.
A reflection on the readings for Trinity Sunday...