Amusement park theology

51ErBZc24ML._SY355_This is a repost of something I wrote two years ago. Call me a lazy blogger, it is true. That said, I am always interested in what I had to say before, because sometimes it does not ring quite a true as it did in my past. At other times, it rings more truly. This is post that reflects the latter.

For a long time I understood the Trinity as God the Father as an old man with a white beard, God the Son as Jesus who was blonde and blue eyed, and the Holy Spirit as a Dove. That was easy! Maybe not so fast…

The Trinity often gets watered down, expressed poorly, or worse. True enough we can’t so easily express what the Trinity is, and it is a bit too facile to keep saying that the Trinity is simply some mystery of God. Of course the Trinity *is* the mystery of God, but are we invited by God to dive deeper rather than walk away with a pat answer?

Perhaps the trap is to either get too heady or theological. I may have done so with my throwing in of the term perichoresis in the original post, but I will leave it, but it is about dynamic being held in dynamic movement in the end, not big words. Ultimately the invitation of God – of the Trinity – is into deeper and dynamic relationship. It can be like falling in love and it can be like a ride at the amusement park. Whatever God or Trinity is, constant motion, dynamism, and movement seem to be required. Now that speaks to me, that’s why I keep saying yes. That’s why I keep going “wheeeeee!” What a ride!

PlaylandParkway 136x93When I was a little girl, my father, loved to take us to a local amusement park, Playland. This old fashioned park was shown to the world in the Tom Hanks movie, Big. I can easily recall the excitement of seeing the Playland Parkway sign, letting us know that we were almost there! Wheeee! Let the fun begin!

When I was about 11 years old we headed there one day, to meet up with another family who had a daughter about my age. She wanted to go on a ride that terrified me. And no – I had never been on it, but just the thought of it sent me reeling! It was called the Round Up at that time. It iis the one where you stand up and hold on, but when the ride gets going, centrifugal force holds you in place. My dad liked this ride, but I would never go on it with him. However, not wanting to act like a baby in front of another kid, I changed my mind that day.

zerogravityActing brave, I got on, and my fear was so great. The other girl was yelling “wheeeeee”as we took our places. I remember little else of that day, except that my fingers were wrapped so tightly around the bars that it was hard to unclench my fist when the ride stopped! The idea that I was in this spinning machine and that I was held in by nothing other than centrifugal was probably one of the scariest moments that I remember! And while I’ve seen that ride in many other amusement parks, I have never gone on it again.

When we think about the Holy Trinity we often get caught into thinking about something static, a “thing.” Who understands the Trinity? I’m inclined to author Anne Lamott’s way of seeing, when she said, “I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity; I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees.” True enough, but we are invited into relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so we might want to give the Trinity some thought!

How can free ourselves from seeing the Trinity as some static “thing?” One way in which I am constantly amazed is by considering the dynamism of the Spirit. Last week we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. It was not a stand-alone feast, everything is connected, of course.

God is not a “thing,” just as the Holy Trinity is not a “thing.” On the first night of class, my Trinity professor in grad school, Rev. Dr. Anthony M. Barratt said, with his British accent, “the Trinity is not some sort of divine blob!” He got my attention with that one and I have been thinking more deeply about the Trinity since.

It was only a few years ago that I first heard the term perichoresis used in conjunction with the Trinity. It is a Greek concept, and I am thinking of making the joke, that it is “all Greek to me.” It was hard to understand at first, but when it was framed as a dance of sorts, the word began to make sense.

Students-ride-the-round-up-at-Hullabaloo-hrWhich brings me back to Rye Playland. Perhaps my first real experience with perichoresis was on the Round Up – and it terrified me. Now when I think of the Trinity, I imagine this energy moving in a way that is hard for my brain to imagine, but I can feel it. When I think of this movement that I feel between the three entities of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is energy, animation, love in action. If you ask me, that can be a terrifying thought if we cannot surrender to it. As much as I claim to love God, I am pretty controlling, and surrender is no simple task.

580px-Shield-Trinity-medievalesque.svgToday I can begin to imagine the Trinity, a bit like the Round Up. You get in, the whole thing begins to spin, it turns on its side, the floor drops out, and you totally let go – held in and held up by this powerful force. What I was unwilling and unable to surrender to at age 11, invites me still. At age 56, what imagined “Round Up” of God do I feel too much fear to surrender to?

The Trinity is God’s love expressed in motion. Forget physics, forget amusement parks, forget everything that we might know… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a perpetual dance, or perichoresis, that holds us up and in. There is no danger of falling off or out because this ride is not going to stop, this is our life.

Every moment of every day, God invites us to this dance. Will we accept the call? I don’t know about you, but I think that this summer, I’ll see if I can find the courage to get on the ride, whatever it may be called. The Trinity has me held up and held in, carried always by the power and grace of God. What is there to fear? Wheeee! Let the fun begin!

(Here is one of my favorite versions of one of my favorite songs about the Trinity. Enjoy!)


4 thoughts on “Amusement park theology

  1. Fran,
    Rye Beach Playland! Every summer my parents would take me and a friend to Playland. was there really a beach there? We never got to it. The rides and games were all we girls cared about. That was almost 70 years ago and I still remember the thrill of seeing that same sign that thrilled you as we approached the park.
    As to the Trinity – If we are in Christ, we are part of the Trinity. Let Jesus lead in that dance and we won’t get too dizzy to enjoy the ride.
    Anne Lysher


  2. I have a conflicted relationship with the trinity. Part of me rejects it as polytheism. Part of me shrugs and says, “it doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t really matter. Whatever.” Part of me thinks there’s something really important here, and I’d better understand it. And part of me says I’m not supposed to understand it, but I’m supposed to try. God in three persons is a paradox that serves to remind us that God is not simply the greatest among many beings – something we can fit in our heads and mesh neatly with our overall view of the world. Trying to comprehend the trinity serves to remind us that God is not comprehensible. He’s not the sky fairy or the flying spaghetti monster.

    Maybe if we all remembered how little we understand of God, we’d stop arguing with such confidence about what God is like. We’d stop judging each other for coming to apparently wrong-headed conclusions and appreciate each other as the loved and loving children we are.


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