Thursday, March 17, 2011

One Leaf or Three?

by Susanne Dietze

I’ve gotta say, I like Patrick. He’s most famous for teaching about the Trinity using a shamrock as a visual aid, asking, “Is it one leaf or three?” “It is both,” was the people’s reply. Much like God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Holy Trinity, One God.

Oxalis acetosella
Image by wikipedia
That story may just be a legend, but the truth is, Patrick was a man who knew what he believed. He understood Scripture, theology, and his faith. And he knew how to talk about it in such a way that others understood.

Can the same be said of us?

Patrick died over 1500 years ago, but many things in the world haven’t changed. Some folks, like the Druids who enslaved him as a youth and to whom he returned to share the Gospel, are hostile to Jesus. Others, believers and non-believers alike, struggle with big issues for which they have no basis of understanding. Have you ever talked with someone who blamed God for taking away their job or snatching a loved one to heaven because He needed more angels? Or who can't accept that Jesus is God and consider Him a prophet or decent guy? Unfortunately, Christians can’t always answer these types of questions, because they often don’t know the Bible or our theology any better than the secular culture.

And boy, does our culture misunderstand and misrepresent us. In her essay, “Psalm 23 And All That” (Christianity Today, Feb. 7, 2000), Frederica Matthews Green recalls reading an essay in a well-known magazine where “the author asserted that the Bible ranks hope along with faith and love (good so far) in the 23rd Psalm (uh-oh). It’s a dumb mistake, but it wasn’t hers alone; editors, proof-readers, even fact-checkers comb every word in a magazine of this stature. But everyone no doubt had a dim memory of something like this being in the bible, and so it was rubber-stamped into print.”

Matthews Green notes this type of Bible blooper isn't a one-time thing. Even the 1980's anti-hunger anthem "We Are the World" nods to the Bible and gets the imagery totally wrong. (Jesus was tempted to turn stones to bread, but He didn't do it, Mr. Willie Nelson.)

Matthews Green continues, “Often we are blocked by the other’s determined misunderstanding of what the Bible says or Christian faith teaches. (For example, secular America is nearly unanimous in agreeing that what Christians worry about most are sexual sins, because the only way to get to heaven is by doing good deeds.) In no other field of study would people lean so much on understanding they hadn’t updated since early childhood, but here unwarranted confidence abounds.”

Childhood-level knowledge, she suggests, does no good for our faith, or for the world around us. Asking tough questions and grappling with theology is an important part of maturing in the faith. Christianity is full of big questions, but it’s important to ask them, to keep learning and growing, and to know the Bible and what we believe. Adult questions and issues require mature understanding.

Patrick knew Scripture, theology, and his audience well enough to articulate the Gospel in a productive way.

Saint Patrick stained glass window from Cathed...
Image by wikipedia
I don’t have any shamrocks growing wild where I live (nor does McDonald’s offer those yummy Shamrock shakes anymore) but now, the very idea of one directs me to think of the triune God, described by Patrick in his “Confession,”

"For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe....And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance....and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name."

This was the message he shared with the folks of Ireland. And because of his example, I’m challenged to be better able to articulate the Triune God – and other tenets of our faith – with those around me, to know what I believe and why I believe it, so I can pass it on.

(To learn more about Patrick's life and his example of evangelism and releasing prejudices, please read Niki Turner’s marvelous post here.)

My favorite secular St. Paddy's Day tradition involves potatoes...Do you celebrate any fun customs?

Susanne Dietze has written love stories set in the nineteenth century since she was in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others to the glory of God. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and spending time with family and friends. Her work has finaled in the 2010 Genesis Contest, the 2009 Gotcha! Contest, and the Touched By Love Contest, 2008 and 2009. You can visit her on her personal blog, Tea and a Good Book,


  1. A good reminder. It's sad to know that Christianity is still so misunderstood.

    When I was growing up I couldn't figure out why St. Patrick's Day was a big reason for people to spend the day in a bar. hmmm. I guess I still don't know.

    I did see someone on FB sharing that they'd had their annual Shamrock Shake, Susie. Apparently they're still out there somewhere!

  2. Ooh, ooh! We have shamrock shakes here. I will have one in your honor today.

    Ah, the sacrifices I make to further a sense of sisterhood with my fellow inkies.

    I love the point that you make about Christians often going through life with their childhood understanding of God still intact. I don't suppose we're the only faith that does such a thing, but it's sad to know that truth is so undervalued.

    Not trying to start an argument! I just thought you all might be interested in knowing how my theology differs from yours.

    I have to note also that I'm a dissenter. My denomination don't believe in a trinity of persons. But rather that God is absolutely one. However, he took/takes on many roles. Including robing himself in flesh, to be born of woman and sacrificing himself on the cross of calvary. It's my belief that Father, son and Holy Ghost are different ways God manifests himself to the world, just as he is also Prince of peace, Wonderful counselor, Jehovah Jireh. We believe they are different ways he has revealed himself, not different beings.

  3. I want a shamrock shake!!!

    You know, I think Lisa makes an interesting point. Sometimes I think Christians get stuck on things, like the triune God, that are hard for our physical, earthly minds to grasp anyway. I know I always have in the back of my mind that Revelations talks about the seven spirits of God. Maybe we don't quite have the whole picture yet. But I do really like the Shamrock image, it sort of shows "out shoots" of God's oneness.

  4. I am totally jealous that you guys have Shamrock shakes and I don't! Growing up, March was the only time we ever got to go to McDonald's. Mmm, minty goodness.

    Deb, I'm sure there'll be segments on the news tonight about people drinking green beer.

    My favorite little St Paddy's tradition which has nothing to do with Patrick is a dish called "Rumpledethumps." It's mashed potatoes baked with nutmeg, cabbage, and cheddar cheese. It is absolutely delicious. No corned beef for me -- I can't stand it!

    Does anybody eat anything green or Irish today?

  5. Good morning, Lisa. Thanks for having a shake for me today, sister! Those are so fun. I noticed that Jamba Juice (smoothie store) has a green smoothie of some sort today so maybe I'll head over later.

    Thanks for sharing your beliefs and thoughts. Theological issues can be rough to work through but they are important to discuss; how else will we know how to talk to people when they ask us?

  6. Hi Dina. So are there no shamrock shakes near you, either? If so, I feel your pain. Sad times.

    I agree that we can't totally understand God; He's holy, other, great -- I now have a praise refrain in my head that's based on Ps 139:6: "It is high, I cannot attain it. Such knowledge is too wonderful to me."

    Personally, I enjoy the struggle. Perhaps it's because of my husband's ministry, or maybe it's part of my calling (I think it's both) but I get asked a lot of questions. Muslims have asked me how Jesus can be God, something they can't accept. I've been asked why it was sin for Eve to eat an apple. Many in our world do not know the Bible at all and I think it's our responsibility to know what we believe and be able articulate it to the best of our abilities.

    The shamrock image is sort of fun, but I hadn't seen a real-life shamrock until recently. Some of the varieties are really lovely plants. I just read an article about them; apparently, they grow like weeds in certain climates. Alas, my climate is nothing like Ireland's...

  7. I appreciate your thoughts! I am always reminded of a comment from Karl Barth that theology needs to be done with humility because we are finite and fallen beings wrestling with the Infinite, but also done with confidence because this One has revealed Himself in the Word, both written and Incarnate.

    I like to celebrate Patrick's life by remembering his legacy of Christian community and his life of forgiveness and mission - and a good Irish drink!

  8. I think once an idea is out there (Jesus turned stones into bread when tempted) people believe and repeat it so much it takes on a reality of its own. My own personal unfavorites are: "the Bible is really just a guideline on how to live your life" (it's so dismissive and patronizingfp, I think) and "most of the stories in the Bible are just fiction, made up to give us guidelines". I heard that one in the most outrageous, unbelievable setting - a Bible study. I won't tell you who uttered it. As my son says *facepalm*.

    Susie, I love potatoes. Cabbage, not so much. Bleh. I have funny story about cabbage, but I won't bore you with it today.

  9. So sorry for the typo. I really do know how to spell patronizing. Ah the joys of little tiny keyboards.

  10. Hi Karl! Thanks for coming by. Great Barth quote. Humility, but with confidence. That's something I'm going to try to work on.

    Speaking of Irish drinks and food, one St. Patrick's Day I was a 6th grader attending camp, and everything we ate that day was dyed green, from milk to scrambled eggs to margarine to mashed potatoes. I shudder to think of all the food coloring we ate that day.

  11. Suzie, my parents were told the same thing in a Bible study, that the Bible is mostly fiction, written to inspire us and give us direction.

    That is not my opinion, however.

    I don't know what it is, but the cabbage in Rumpledethumps tastes delicious. But we all eat cabbage ok at my house. My kids really love sweet and sour red cabbage. How could they not? Their surname is German, after all.

    Rumpledethumps also has broccoli and leeks in it. Nice and green. But my kids eat it. They also will eat a cauliflower casserole I make at Halloween, which I call "brains in a bowl" (which we eat alongside "Bugs," twice baked potatoes with shrimp legs). Maybe it's the names that my kids like, who knows.

    If that's the case, I need a new name for "salad" b/c kid #2 hates it.

  12. Suzie, I have typos all the time and I don't have the excuse of a tiny keyboard!

  13. Susie, I love you, but I don't know if I could eat at your house. Potatoes with shrimp legs? On the other hand, my husband would probably love to eat at your house. He loves shrimp, cabbage and cauliflower. I only eat vegetables that are raw, with the exception of green beans and corn. And I'm probably the pickiest eater you'll ever meet. I used to work with a navy corpsman who used to say, "I only eat food that is white or brown." He's a touch pickier than I am.

  14. LOL, I won't cook brains or bugs for you, Suzie! How about chicken? I can do chicken! I'd cook (or leave raw) anything for you!

    I know it sounds like we eat weird, gross-named veggie dishes every day. We're pretty standard around here, though, spaghetti and tacos and stuff like that.

  15. Thanks, Susie! I love tacos. Mmmmm. In fact, now that you mentioned them, I want some. ;-)

    And whatever you cook, I promise to be polite and eat it. (Hence my funny cabbage story)

  16. Mmm, now I'm hungry for tacos *and* a shamrock shake. I guess I need to go to the store b/c my lunch options are pretty grim.

    I can't wait to hear the cabbage story!

  17. Well Suzie, your fans are clamoring for the cabbage story!

  18. time to start banging our forks on the table! We want a cabbage story!

  19. Oh, you guys are too funny. I was hard at work, doing a study on cancer treatments. I'm on my way home now. Give me half an hour. :-)

  20. Never been a fan of corned beef, cabbage, or even shamrock shakes. But my oldest plays fiddle (mostly Irish, some Scottish, a little American) in a ceilidh band, so March is often a busy month for us.

    I've tried to wrap my mind around the Trinity most of my life. I think I fall somewhere between the shamrock (3 in 1) and something similar to Lisa's (for example, I am both a mother and a daughter, and yet I am still one). But I often think those are just ways our finite minds try to comprehend infinity. Someday, when all is become clear, we will probably be amazed at how little we understood.

  21. Okay, I hope you won't be disappointed. Suzie's cabbage story:

    I started going to the church I still attend, almost 28 years ago to the day. I was very shy. Over-the-top shy. (Remember Her-Shyness?) I would barely speak if there was more than one person in the room.

    So, my husband was going out of town to work for two weeks. I'd never been alone before, and my son was four months old. This very sweet older couple at my church invited me to come to dinner after church. He was an elder and she was a very proper woman. The epitome of Emily Post. That alone was enough to strike terror in my heart. But they were so sweet and insistent, how could I say no? I might have been shy, but I never wanted to hurt anyone's feelings. So I packed up my baby and went to their house.

    The first thing I noticed when I walked in their house was the smell of cabbage. I shuddered, but pasted a smile on my face. it was the longest dinner of my life. Not only was there cabbage, but turnips and rutebegas. And yes, she served me up a nice big portion.

    The only thing that saved me was the corned beef. I could get a bite or two down at a time...until I ran out of corned beef and still had a huge plate of cabbage and turnips. It probably took me a half hour after they were finished eating to finish myself because I was determined to be polite and eat every bite. It still makes me shudder to think about it.

    Does anyone besides me know how hard it is for a shy girl to make small talk while trying not to reveal how hard it is to swallow the food that was so lovingly prepared?

  22. A ceilidh band? How cool, CJ! I love that stuff. Do they have a CD?

    My Rumpledethumps turned out awesome, by the way! Cabbage and all!

  23. Oh Suzie. It wasn't just cabbage, but turnips and rutabagas too? I've never had a rutabaga. What did it taste like?

    I'm sure I'm spelling rutabaga wrong. I should've looked back to see how you spelled it.

    Rutebega. Ok.

    How sweet of those folks to invite you over. The hospitality is so gracious! But that sounds like quite a dinner.

    I guess that's why I often serve one particular chicken recipe when people come over. It works, everybody seems to like it, and there's nothing too weird in it.

    Thanks for sharing the cabbage story! Super fun :-)

  24. Hmmm I love cabbage, corned beef and turnips. Actually, I just wrote a scene using creamed turnips. My sil served them at Thanksgiving. Mmmm hmmm. You guys just don't know what's good for you.

    And speaking of green food, the kids were talking about green eggs and ham one morning so Nelson added green food colouring to their scrambled eggs. Yup, you guessed it - not that appetizing. LOL

    In the CAF, everyone was Irish on St. Paddy's Day and yup, one of the biggest parties of the year. Everything was green from hair and moustaches to tongues. Ick.

    And yet, when our Sask Roughriders play football and everyone wears green and has watermelon helmets on their heads, it looks perfectly natural. Heh.

    This post reminded me of the heroine in Gina's medieval. :)

    Anita Mae.

  25. I like turnips too, Anita. I don't know how to do anything with them other than cut them in chunks and put them in stew or soup, however. I'm curious about your creamed turnips. We just received four from a friend.

    I haven't read Gina's medieval. Now my curiosity is really piqued.

    Hope you had a good St. Paddy's day. Spring is just days away... Not sure I'm feeling it yet. I'm so cold I'm wrapped in a blanket.

  26. St. Patrick's Day at our house this year included slow-cooked corned beef with potatoes and cabbage. Yummy!
    IMHO Christianity is more misunderstood than any of us want to think. We have a young man in our youth group who attended Christian school as a child. The experience was so traumatic he turned to Buddhism as a teen. After a year's worth of ministry, he surrendered his life to Jesus just last week. He was never introduced to a God of love, a Savior of mercy, or a spirit of grace.
    We got close to a foot of snow today... wishing spring would be less of a tease!

  27. Oh, Niki, I'm praising God for that new soul. How wonderful!

    Susie, I don't know how to spell rutebegas/rutebagas. I just know I don't like them. To me, they taste similar to turnips.

    Before I go to bed, can someone tell me what a ceilidh band is?

  28. Ceilidh band -- Irish or Scottish dance band. They play traditional Celtic music on traditional instruments.

    The one my son is in is a group of teenagers who mostly play fiddle. They also have one who plays tin whistle, and when they can get them, they add a guitar (or 2) and a bodhran (Irish drum). They performed a few years back at the Virginia International Tattoo (at Scope, a venue that seats 12,000 people) and they played with the Virginia Symphony two years ago in March (for their Irish Spring Fling concert). Mostly they do smaller venues. They opened for a group for a folk music concert in January in Virginia Beach -- and they've been invited back next year to headline their own concert.

    If you saw the movie Titanic, there's a scene down in the lower class section of the ship with an Irish band and lots of dancing. That's a ceilidh band. (The concert with the Virginia Symphony featured the music from that scene.)

  29. Ha! Look what I found. This is from the Virginia Tattoo. He's in the group in the middle of the floor. Of course, once the bagpipes join them, you can't hear them at all. 150 'pipes against 8 or so fiddles = no contest

  30. Thanks for the explanation, CJ. How very awesome for your son. That is so cool. Thanks for sharing the youtube, too. Wow.

  31. Niki, I loved your story about our brother in the Lord. Thanks for sharing. What a blessing! And wtg saints who ministered to him!

    Your post on St. Patrick last year was so awesome -- it's the best, and I should know, I re-read it again a few times this month.

    Thanks, Niki. Glad your dinner turned out well!

  32. CJ, that is so cool! Thanks for the link! Please tell your son how much I enjoyed it.


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