The Trinity reminds us that we need one another

The Trinity is a complicated topic, and almost impossible to wrap our minds around. But, as with all of our theology, we don’t want to overthink it.
Our Faith

“Tio BrandonAndy!”

That’s what our niece has called me and my husband, Andy, since she was 2. She calls us “Tio” because she speaks Spanish. And she calls us BrandonAndy because she can’t think of one of us without thinking of the other.  

When I show up to Ellie’s house alone, she looks at me and asks, “Where Tio BrandonAndy?” Last December, when she called Andy to wish him a happy birthday, she sang “Feliz Cumpleaños, BrandonAndy!” When Ellie thinks of Andy, she thinks of me. When she sees me, she imagines Andy, even if he’s not physically in the room with us. When Andy reads her a book, she somehow hears my voice. When I hold her up to a mirror and ask her where Andy is, she points to my face. 

Today, Ellie is a curious 3-year-old, and she tries to make sense of the world the way that most curious 3-year-olds do. She starts with what she experiences: Andy and I are always together, always with each other. If one of us shows up to her house, the other is close behind. Then, in her own toddler way, Ellie tries to extend that knowledge in different directions: Brandon and Andy are not two different tios but are one big event called Tio BrandonAndy.


I am using the word event instead of thing because the word event gets closer to what Ellie thinks about us. Ellie knows that Andy and I are two different people with two different bodies and two different voices. But she also knows that when these two different people get together with her to play, read books, and eat ice cream, something fun happens. And it’s that experience of fun she calls Tio BrandonAndy.

Tio BrandonAndy is less of a thing—like some sort of Mr. Potato Head made up of another Mr. Potato Head’s parts—and more a description of what we do for each other and for Ellie. What we do for one another is this: We give one another the opportunity to be. And then we invite Ellie into our to-be-ing. In other words, we invite Ellie to participate in our Tio BrandonAndy fun. She knows that when Tio BrandonAndy show up, we read books, eat ice cream cake, and dance to Latin music.

Tio BrandonAndy offers us a helpful image to understand the Trinity. Every time Ellie calls us Tio BrandonAndy, she reminds us that we need each other to be who we are. And this isn’t just true for me and Andy—none of us would be who we are without the other people around us, people who love us, care for us, and tell us jokes.

Think of your parents: Who would they be without you? Of course, they would exist without you, but they wouldn’t be parents if you didn’t exist. Without you, they wouldn’t be who they are. Now think of who you are: You’re someone’s kid, someone’s godchild, someone’s niece or nephew, and someone’s best friend. But you couldn’t be any of these things by yourself. You need parents if you’re going to be a child. And you need a little brother if you’re going to be a big sister. If you take those other people out of your life, then you wouldn’t be you—at least not the version of you that you currently are.


Just like we can only understand who we are in relationship to other people, we can only understand who God is in relationship with others. In fact, God exists only with others. God needs relationships to be who God is. God is never, ever alone. Even before God created the world, God was keeping God company. Before God had a sun to wake up or squirrels to feed nuts to, God was playing tag with God. God was rocking God gently to sleep with a lullaby. God was dancing the tango with God. God was loving God.

Theologians call this the Trinity—the idea that God only exists in relationships. According to Christian theology, the relationships that make up God are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is therefore a Trinity of persons—yes, that’s the clunky term theologians use—who are always working together to gently invite the world to become more and more loving.

The concept of the Trinity is a tricky one, but scripture can help bring it into clearer light.

Consider Jesus’ earliest followers: They believed that there was only one God, but they also believed that they experienced this one God in Jesus. They believed that when they looked at Jesus, they saw God’s face. They believed that when Jesus told them jokes, God was laughing with them. They believed that when Jesus healed people or forgave people, God was the one doing the healing and forgiving. They started to realize that Jesus and God’s actions were so completely in sync that it made sense to think of them as the same actions.


How can it be, Jesus’ followers wondered, that God—who is everywhere!—is also somehow right there, with them, in this specific person? And although they didn’t have the exact words, they realized something profound: The God dancing the tango with God before the world was created is the same God dancing with and in and through this Jewish man named Jesus. God loves dancing with others, and it’s actually God’s love for dancing that makes it possible for God to continue an eternal dance in Jesus.

Dancing is always more fun with more people. Have you ever been to a wedding reception? Sometimes there are only a few people on the dance floor, but then a popular song comes on, and one by one, people run to the dance floor, until pretty soon everyone who came to the wedding is dancing together. Well, that’s what God wants for the world. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been dancing together forever, and they hope that all of creation—people, but also butterflies, mountains, and planets—decide to join in their fun. Jesus is like the first person to take to the dance floor: He shows us that it’s possible to dance with the God who is always dancing with God. And then he invites us to join them.

The Trinity is a complicated topic, and almost impossible to wrap our minds around. But, as with all of our theology, we don’t want to overthink it: It’s enough to know that God is always a God who is with others. And because we are created in God’s image, we are at our best when we are with others and enjoying others. In fact, there isn’t any other way to be.

Ellie knows this. That’s why she calls me Tio BrandonAndy. Because even 3-year-olds know that we need other people to be who we are.


This essay is part of the new column Childish by Brandon Ambrosino, which aims to bring kids into theological conversations. You can read more of Brandon’s columns here.

Image: Unsplash/Ruthson Zimmerman


About the author

Brandon Ambrosino

Brandon Ambrosino holds a doctorate in theology and ethics from Villanova University, where he wrote a dissertation teasing out the theological implications of camp theory. His writing has appeared in the New York TimesBoston GlobeBBC, Politico, and many other outlets.

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