The Will/s of the Trinity

This was sparked by thinking about the concept of Trinity while revising Tertullian and the Nicene creed and so on for my church history exam. During the revision process I realised I don’t like church history (though it may be that I actually don’t like exams. That’s more likely.) I like writing blog posts though, so lets do that instead.

I’m going to ignore all this proceeds from stuff. Don’t care. I’m also going to ignore who’s subordinate to whom1 because… because.

We’ll start at human persons. That’s easy. A body. I am a person, you’re a person. We’re different persons in different physical person-spaces. Done.

But wait a minute, what about conjoined twins? To some extent they share a body. So we need something else.

How about distinct wills? That works. Except for Christianity. The will of the members of the Trinity is the same, so how are they still to be seen as distinct persons?

Back to our conjoined twins. They walk somewhere. They are, together, walking. Each of them is walking, they are both walking, the walking they are each doing is the same walking, but they are still distinct persons, with distinct wills, doing the same walking distinctly. Walking.

There’s not an appreciable difference between the unity of action and the unity of wills in this example. They have to both intend walking for the walking that they are both doing to happen, and for them to each both be walking they have to both want to be walking. They can’t walk independently, but that doesn’t make them the same person.

An aside on unembodiedness

Let’s consider people without bodies, whether they be unembodied because of some kind of nirvana-like daniel-from-stargate ascension, or because they are an AI named Jane that exists in a galaxy-wide computer network, or they’re a Peretti-esque angel, or a Pratchett-ish god, or whatever.

I’d like to group persons by their ability to act on the physical.

  • Normal embodied things - Humans, goats. These affect the world in the area they inhabit.
  • Very powerful embodied things - Superman, the Doctor2, Galactus. They can affect the world, around them in ways no-one else can, but they too are constrained to the limited area they inhabit, so basically they follow the same rules, this is merely a difference of degree, not of kind.
  • Abstract things - ‘2’ness or ‘the concept of a trinity’. These can’t affect the physical world. Or the non-physical. They’re completely and entirely impotent except when wielded by the mind of any of the potent beings in this list.3
  • The incarnationally potent4 - the ships of Ancillary Justice, demonic possession. These unembodied beings can affect the physical world, but to do so in the manner they do they must become embodied, and thus also have the restrictions of a physical body (or bodies. You should definitely read Ancillary Justice).
  • The universally potent - able to affect the physical world in any location simultaneously (or at any time, if your model of time allows).

If you’ve followed me this far we can see that unity of distinct wills is still required when we go up a level from conjoined humans walking to universally potent beings doing anything. As they could affect any part of the universe, they could do everything and also counter everything done by any other similarly powerful person, everything they do do must be done in unity, their wills must be aligned5.

In Christian understanding, this is not just a pragmatic unity and it’s not a grudging political bargaining of goals in some kind of cosmic minority government. Instead, the perfect love exemplified in the Trinity is behind this unity of wills, and is the reason our shadowy made-in-the-image-of-God reflection of this unity is our loving relationships.

Now that I’ve written some words about the nature of the Trinity I’m probably 6 kinds of heretic, but this was fun6.

  1. though I hope I got the who/whom thing right. 

  2. Time-travel to be everywhere at a single moment is cheating, and would probably be one of them universe implodey paradoxes (not that that’s stopped him before). 

  3. I apparently lack the imagination to believe that there is a real existence of abstract objects. Some philosophers and occasionally whacky sci-fi authors like it, but for me: Does Not Compute. Abstract is abstract, and there is a very real and not imagined distinction between the real and the imagined. To move from abstract to real requires creation (whether that’s the Creation of Life, the Universe, and Everything, or any given painter painting a painting). 

  4. I am unreasonably proud of this phrase. 

  5. This doesn’t require the universe to be the body of the being/s. If you prefer, think of the physical as the path being walked on. 

  6. Though people have been burned for less. Yay Church history. 

Veneration and Worship

I’ve been at school for about a month now, and I’m finally changing my mind about something, all based on learning a alternate definition of one little word: “Veneration”. It’s so exciting.

I’ve always assumed that veneration was synonymous with worship (perhaps a little weaker, but still ultimately the same idea). This is borne out in many of the uses of the word (other synonyms include: deify, idolize), however there is another.

My new learning was that to properly venerate a symbol is to worship the signified by honouring the signifier1 and that that is good.

This resolves (or at least defines) my wrestling with honouring and enjoying beautiful architecture and music and ritual and (as the cause for this change of mind) the history of the use of icons in the Eastern Orthodox church.

The same pitfalls remain: we can so easily transmute good veneration into worship or deification of the symbol be it art/ists or song/writers or architect/ure or ritual. As it’s about the direction of the heart rather than any external difference of action, it’s invisible to anyone but yourself whether your own worship is to or through, so we can’t judge the legitimacy of others’ worship.

This is the same for an Eastern Orthodox church building filled to the brim with icons and gold, or a youth megachurch filled with moshing and lasers and bass solos, or even the person standing on the side of a mountain, alone at sunrise.

Jesus said, in the context of being asked by a Samaritan to judge between the worship methods of the Jews and the Samaritans:

But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. John 4:23 (NET)

The tool or place or style of worship is not what defines it as true worship or not (though much of the history of the Church would indicate otherwise), it’s absolutely about the direction of the heart. and using whatever tool or symbol or method you can to worship God.

  1. If you’ll allow me to throw semiotics terms in there, I don’t get to use them often enough. 


I read this description of the Progressive Christian Worldview from the perspective of a conservative with great interest and recognition. It’s actually pretty good and highlighted to me the central difference in our worlviews.

When confronted with something that is grey, the conservative response tends to be: “I’m not sure what the loving thing to do is so I’ll defend what I believe to be correct”. For progressives it is “I’m not sure what the correct thing to do is so I’ll defend what I believe to be loving.”

That’s same response is visible in any of the major church/political issues throughout history: gender-hierarchy, homosexuality, racism, slave-ownership, war/pacifism, killing heretics and muslims, death penalty, etc.

That’s not to say that progressives don’t believe in there is one truth, however we’re less likely to be sure we own it, tempering our specific interpretation of scripture with humility, particularly when belief or the defense of that belief can be shown to be hurting people.

This is especially visible when we see staunch defenders of “biblical truth” throughout history have tended to be shown to be defending the unconscionable.

Wrong side of history

I don’t like the wrong-side-of-history retort. Everyone is already on team: social change or team: change is scary; the progression of history is already seen as either an enemy or a friend so describing change as impending is just unhelpful. And of course all social change is black-and-white always improvement.

Ultimately it’s just a self-righteous brag for team: social change.

Breaking the law?

My impending move overseas has me shrinking my physical possessions as much as possible.

One thing I certainly don’t need is all these scratchably shiny plastic discs. They’re safer and smaller and quicker as mere data on my various computery things.

Getting them there fantastically simple with The Little App Factory’s Ripit, however it is somewhat legally questionable.

All my CDs live on my computer and phone and iPad and backblaze and iTunes Match. Legally. I think.

All my DVDs now live on an external hard-drive. Apparently less legally - according to a googled forum post and Consumer. When I read through the copyright act it seems far less obvious than our dear friends at consumer would have us believe.

Even if my ripped DVDs are qualify technically as infringing copies (not clear to begin with), it still doesn’t appear to me they are criminally infringing copies (I’m not distributing them in any way, and the economic consequence of any such “infringement” is effectively zero1). If something isn’t criminally infringing is it infringing at all? I’m certainly not doing anything unreasonable, unfair, or unethical.

This is the first time I’ve read actual legislation so I’m probably entirely wrong and opening myself up to completely unreasonable fines and jail time.

I just realised wonderful unintentional ironies in the discs visible on the various piles. The Creative Commons licensed Ghosts I-IV by Nine Inch Nails, The Forbidden Kingdom - a tale of inspiration from dodgy copies of Kung Fu movies, and, of course, Pirates of the Caribbean.

  1. The only consquence I can see is that Air New Zealand will miss out on the ~$200 I won’t need to pay for an additional bag. 

I don’t understand gender

This post is almost entirely from and about my own perspective. I hope it doesn’t mean I’m self absorbed, it’s meant to reflect I don’t feel I have the right or understanding to properly address anyone else’s perspective.

Recently, while listening to the very excellent GCN Radio, the episode Transparently transgender with Lisa Salazar gave me pause. Everything she was saying about how she felt about her gender identity as a trans woman made no sense to me. Not in a ‘how could you!’ way, more that she completely invalidated my entire concept of gender as being socially constructed, mostly negative, and ultimately transcendable.

I’ve previously assumed that people making bold statements about man vs woman or masculinity vs femininity or etc are completely missing the point; No we’re actually not all from either Mars or Venus, we’re from Earth and we’re pretty much the same, excepting (usually negative) societal expectations.

Lurking on /r/AskTransgender helped me to point my distrust and it’s-all-just-a-social-fiction in more of the right direction, though I still can’t truly understand the experience being transgender the same way colour-blind person can’t experience redness as distinct from greenness.

You could say ‘gender is social and sex is intrinsic’ as I learned in my design theory class, but in this analogy that’s basically saying ‘the lighter colour is green and the darker colour is red’. It is a simplification that often works (based on my talking to colour-blind people), but it’s nowhere close to being correct all the time.

I don’t and can’t know what it would be like to be able to experience the green of a male-gender distinct from the red of a female-assigned-at-birth-body or vice versa, it’s all the same continuous grey mush to me.

Gender roles/norms

This is the part my that makes the justice-fairness-anger burn and caused me to throw any description or prescription of any gender in the ‘dangerous and unhelpful’ bin1. Which I’m beginning to understand is dangerous and unhelpful in itself. I don’t think gender roles or norms should be prescriptive or restrictive, or something one should measure themselves against. at all. ever.

I frequently feel like I’m being made to feel like I’m doing being-a-man wrong2. Almost everything that I hear about manhood, or masculinity, or Wild at Heart, or whatever guns-cars-booze-yay that gets posted to Facebook just makes me angry. Because I’m know I’m a man, and can’t respond with ‘I am not a man’, all I can say is: I reject your definition of man and substitute nothing in particular of my own because I have no idea and don’t think it’s important3.

Gender presentation/expression

This is the part that’s always thrown me about discussions of gender (and the tiniest bit of sexuality questioning) because the idea of wearing women’s clothing or clothing styles doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. I don’t mean to say I cross-dress - for all my anti-authority anti-tradition ideologies I pretty much live colouring inside the lines. Dresses just seem like a cool thing to wear and women’s fashion is so much more interesting than men’s.

As for the physical body and gender: If you look for sex-distinctive facial characteristics of other races than your own then it’s easy to be misled. Sex-distinctive build characteristics in very skinny, very fat, and very muscular people can also misleading or missing. That there is some archetypal male and female figure is an unhelpful fiction and can’t be good for those more distant from that fictional archetype.

I don’t think it’s that important to have hard distinctions in men’s appearance vs. women’s appearance ether for myself or in the ways I find people attractive.

Gender identity

This is the part where I am reduced to tautology. I am a man because I am a man.

I don’t feel strongly aligned to men as a category. I don’t feel any more comfortable or welcome at men-only church than women-only church events4. Whenever there’s a cry for men to “stand up and be men” I shrink back because I don’t want to be part of standing up and being man because I don’t like what that looks like.

Being a man is not something I’m uncertain about; I know I’m not a transgender woman. However, I don’t think I’d be distraught or have my whole sense of who I am turned upside down if I woke up tomorrow and I was suddenly magically a woman5.

I don’t know how much of that is a strange kind of empathy, how much is genuinely having only a weak identification with my own gender, and whether my identification with my own gender is actually much stronger than I think it is because it’s invisible and indistinct to me.

In summary I don’t understand gender, and what I thought I understood I now understand even less. Rereading, I realise I concluded every section with some variant of ‘It’s not important’, however I want to stress that the distinctions are not important to me rather than unimportant universally.

  1. I approach anyone talking about manliness, masculinity, or whatever with a great deal of suspicion and prejudice. Possibly unwarranted in some cases, and that definitely hurts me trying to understand gender and transgender people and so I’m trying to keep that prejudice confined to the places where it’s useful. 

  2. This sentence must remain as awkwardly constructed as it is. 

  3. For an example see the second half of my post on masculinity 

  4. I’ve been to a couple of women-only events when there were zero women who volunteered to run the sound desk. 

  5. Excepting difficult conversations. 

Who is it ok to hate?

Yesterday Brendan Eich, the new CEO of Mozilla was forced out, primarily because he’d made donations to opposing same sex marriage. This last week I saw so much vitriol about him in my twitter feed from generally-mild-mannered individuals. Would the causes he supports really have that much affect on his CEOing, or Mozilla’s work environment, over strong organisational support of the LGBT community?

A few weeks ago Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist god-hates-fags church died. This man is almost-singlehandedly responsible for my and many others’ inability to be neutral on these issues, and I’ve never even met him. I’ve always known that whatever it is I believe it is not that. And so I sought out books like Torn, and blogs like Registered Runaway.

Just last week World Vision US decided they would change their hiring practices to include gay Christians in same-sex marriages. World Vision US claimed they didn’t want to take a stance on an issue that isn’t clear in the wider church. They emphasised they weren’t being forced to.

The next day because of massive outcry and calls to boycott they reversed the decision. They were forced to give in to the ‘christian agenda’ instead. And they folded.

I cried when I read these posts.

Clearly in the secular world it is there is list of people and groups whom it’s allowed, deserved, or even completely invisible to hate.

Equally clearly, in a conservative Christian context there a similar but occasionally opposing list.

For those of us (Christians who affirm same-sex marriage) it all seems insane and can’t we all just get along?

Yet I’ve recently realised that I too have my own list1.

I don’t know what the correct response is. I don’t think there should be space for ‘Yeah, but it’s ok to hate this person/group because they’re _________’. I need to remember the people we’re disagreeing with are still human, still worth having grace for. Still redeemable.

I’ll leave you with this.

  1. With charities-that-give-in-to-financial-pressure, people-who-vote-with-their-wallets-with-charities-in-ways-that-have-nothing-to-do-with-the-work-of-the-charity, and the very sexist Mark Driscoll featuring prominently 

Unnecessary barriers

Why am I going to study theology

This September I’ll be moving to England to study theology at the London School of Theology.


  1. My relationship with Jesus will be stronger and deeper with this time of focus.
  2. I always want to know how things work, or how they might work. It’s probably why I work with computers.
  3. I want to spend more time in and around Europe and the Middle East - London is a lot closer than Wellington.
  4. I want to learn more about Islam so that I can have coherent conversations with my Muslim friends.

My main reason for going is this:

  1. The ultimate goal of my life is removing unnecessary barriers.

In my political views1, in my economic and social views, in my attitudes towards UI design, and API design. It’s how I want to improve my writing - to learn to write clearly and efficiently, but with enough fun to keep boredom from being a barrier2.

Unnecessary rules

I spend a lot of time thinking about ethics and morality and law, the rules we have and make and which are necessary and which are not.

This battle over which rules applied universally and which were just unnecessary barriers to a life following Christ is woven through most of the New Testament3.

I want to have a deeper understanding of ethics and morality and law.

Unnecessary intellectual challenges

There are so many questions and answers floating around Christianity, as well as so much misunderstanding and misinformation, either wilful or non.

These questions and their sometimes unsatisfactory answers can be unnecessary barriers to being open to a life following Christ.

I know there are better answers, I don’t always know how to articulate them, or how to extricate the actual question being asked out of people’s general barrage of imprecision.

I want to be able to clearly and satisfactorily answer people’s tough (sincere) questions.

Unnecessary intellectual requirements

I’m not going to theology school to be a professional theologian, to talk about ivory-tower theologianny stuff with other theologians all day.

Programming has trained me to ensure my logic is sound and clear. Design school trained me to present things attractively and simply in new ways. I feel like combining this skills and learnings will enable me to do … something?

I want to be able to explain these complex ideas about God and life, and why they matter clearly and simply.

Unnecessary infighting

One of my friends recently posted this to Facebook:

How can #Calvinists & #Arminians #Cessationists & #Continuationists and #egalitarians & #complementarians work together for the #Gospel ?

It prompted a bit of (positive) debate, but ultimately reminded us that these things don’t matter as much.4 Though so often this spills out as a kind of narcissism of minor differences/which local sports team do you support - this isn’t useful, helpful, productive, constructive, etc.

One of the reasons I was attracted to LST is that it is cross-denominational. Hopefully they will embody the universal Church well.

I want to have a deeper appreciation for those views I don’t hold, and to work and live with people who differ.

Unnecessary cultural baggage

It’s not just rules and laws that are sometimes un/necessary barriers, but rituals and practices and structures - do we need to do Church the same way as twenty-first-century pop-culture, or nineteenth-century rural America, or sixteenth-century Germany, or the first-century Roman empire?

I don’t want to throw babies out with their bathwater, and I have to fight against my own aggressive anti-traditional bias, but I think these are good questions to ask.

I want to have a deeper understanding of the essentials of Christianity, and how to wrap Christianity in various cultural contexts.

I’m so excited.

  1. My political views lean toward the socialist - removing barriers to access and to means, rather than the libertarian goal of removing regulatory barriers. 

  2. Boredom with what I’m write is mostly a barrier for me. 

  3. Especially Acts 15

  4. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for talking about various doctrines, and I will argue at length for an egalitarian view. 

You don’t have a boyfriend, you have a girlfriend

I saw a meme recently posted to Facebook: a picture of a gear stick and the text, something along the lines of “If your boyfriend’s car doesn’t have one of these, you have a girlfriend.”

It bothered me. A lot. In part because I usually have a lot of respect for the person who posted it, but also because it’s not a completely alien idea, but something I’ve seen many times.

I want to explain and explore why this bothered me.

  1. It expects men to value something inconsequential to a culture that has some very confused values already.
  2. It implies that if a man is deficient in some manner then he is therefore not a man, he is a woman.

Number 2 is the one that I think is really dangerous, because people actually believe that. Maybe they won’t admit it, but it is definitely there in the language people use: you hit like a girl, stand and fight like a man.1

Regardless of whether 1. is valid or not, please, don’t fall into the trap of thinking along the lines of 2.

A deficient man is not a woman. A woman is not a deficient man.

Now I don’t think anyone reading this actually thinks that a man becomes a woman if he doesn’t live up to some standard of masculinity, but the idea that a man is acting like a woman by falling short of some definition of manliness: that I’ve heard said.

It should be clear this is nonsense. I’ll say it again, just so we’re clear:
A deficient man is not a woman. A woman is not a deficient man.

Ok. moving on.

Now, you might say that 1 is not going to confuse anyone because obviously it’s a joke, and no-one really thinks that their manliness is tied up in how they control a mere mode of transport.

You’d be wrong - car advertising has successfully indoctrinated our culture into believing that the kind of car they drive is core to their identity, and woe and shame to any man who drives a girly car, or a family van.

This should also be self-evidently ridiculous. It should be clear that any given man’s value is not tied up in the kind of car you drive. I hope.

I refuse to propagate the idea that by refusing this (or any particular) definition of manliness I must be a woman or gay. In fact, there have been times when I’ve thought ‘maybe I’m gay’ because I don’t fit the definition of manliness that is expected. Which is not helpful to me, or to my understanding of actually gay people.

I’m done with ridiculous definitions of manliness.

  • As a man, I don’t have to be addicted to sex and have only aggression and uncontrollable desire for all of my female friends.
  • As a man, I don’t have to love and worship aggression and violence and patriotism and military and power.
  • As a man, I don’t have to bend nature to my will and love the great outdoors and killing things that live there.
  • As a man, I don’t have to value myself based on my car or my job or whatever.

  • I refuse to feel like I’m a lesser man because I play sport with women who are better at it than me.2
  • I refuse to feel like I’m a lesser man because I work in an office rather than a manly trade.3
  • I refuse to feel like I’m a lesser man because I have some aesthetic appreciation.4

What then is a good definition of what makes a man a good man?
Love sacrificially. Care indiscriminately. Forgive quickly. Share whatever wisdom you have.

Obviously this isn’t just for men. This is a good goal for any human people. Men and woman and those that aren’t contained by the gender binary.

  1. Disregarding how problematic equating masculinity with aggression and violence is. 

  2. Ultimate frisbee and indoor netball in mixed teams. Awesome. 

  3. The gender-inequality in the programming industry makes this especially odd, but I’ve noticed that I often feel embarrassed or apologise for my soft indoor job. Odd, because it’s not like I’m the only man with an job inside. 

  4. Basically this means I like bright colours and though I try not to spend money on clothes I don’t need, I appreciate style.