Q & R: Social Trinitarianism … why?

Here’s the Q from a reader in Switzerland:
Your thoughts and writing in the book ‘Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road’ strongly resonates with my journey of discovery of trying to learn what it means to follow Jesus. But I was puzzled by chapter 15 and because I have tried in vain so far to even come close to embracing trinitarianism I have got to try and understand why even in your mind and heart it is still a concept that has meaning in understanding Jesus and God.
Reading about social trinitarianism, I felt like stepping from one confusing theoretical concept into another. A person who is not a person, a being as communion… You are brave in your thinking and writing, painting a new Christianity that is strong and refreshing. Braver than I am, who rarely speaks out. So why do you still embrace the concept of the trinity? Jesus never said he was God, always spoke of God as separate, as his father. What compels you to continue to think in terms of God as trinity with the result that you have to resort to conceptual gymnastics?
Please understand I am honestly looking for understanding although I am content to embrace the mystery of God over trying to capture what should not be caught. I admire your work and I would not have reached out if I did not think you may have something of value to share.
Here’s the R:
This is a huge subject – one that I can’t come close to doing justice to in a blog post. So let me first recommend Chapter 45 of We Make the Road by Walking. That’s probably the clearest place (in just a few pages) that I try to address this subject, along with Chapter 15 of Why Did Jesus? I also highly recommend the book on the Trinity coauthored by my friends Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell.
In both passages, I do not minimize the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity has been horribly abused by Christians. For example, in WMTR, I wrote, “Sadly, too often our forbears wielded a warped and jagged understanding of the Trinity as a weapon. In so doing, they reinforced violent, static, dualist, hierarchical, and exclusive understandings of God,” even though, I believe, meditation on and practice of the Trinity actually subverts violence, stasis, dualism, hierarchy, and exclusion.
You might think of it like this: both eastern and western religions struggle with an important question of human existence: the relationship between the One, the two, and the many. The One is what holds everything together, and monism absolutizes the one. The two highlights tension, contrast, dynamism, and struggle, and dualism absolutizes the two. The many transcends the two with complexity and difference beyond good and evil, and pluralism absolutizes the many. Christianity has occasionally been monist, has often been dualist, and has lately shown some pluralist tendencies. The teaching of the Trinity, rightly understood and practiced, seeks to hold the one, the two, and the many in harmony.
If you make the One absolute, you relativize the two and the many, and sadly, this kind of monism easily becomes authoritarian or totalitarian in the hands of politicians. If you make two absolute, you easily find yourself in a fundamentalist mindset, dividing everything into the righteous us versus the evil other. And if you make the many absolute, you can easily lose both unity and moral distinction. I see the teaching of the Trinity as (among other things) a Spirit-guided attempt among people who had absolutized the One, the two, or the many to rediscover diversity with unity and goodness, to see that the One, the two, and the Many are all inherent in ultimate reality, because God is One, God is gracious and good (not evil), and God’s oneness contains diversity.
Social Trinitarianism has been (among other things) an attempt in recent decades to de-hierarchialize the Trinity, with the Father as dominant boss over the Son and the Spirit. By emphasizing the relationality (or sociality) of God’s being rather than the hierarchy, theologians have been trying to redress a balance that had tipped (as is so often the case) in the direction of authoritarianism and patriarchy.
Now if you get to that same place by another route, I certainly won’t criticize you. And, given the history of how the teaching of the Trinity and so many other features of so-called orthodoxy have been abused by authoritarian/imperial/patriarchal powers, including white supremacists and colonizers, I can’t blame anyone for distancing themselves from the whole enterprise. But in the Spirit of the Trinity, I believe things that have beauty, goodness, and truth at their core should be redeemed rather than simply rejected.
After all, give us human beings time (and money and power), and we’ll pervert anything good. If we simply reject everything that ever gets tainted, we’ll quickly become new examples of  fundamentalistic dualists who lose the balance that we humans so desperately need – psychologically, intellectually, socially, politically, and even ecologically.
Which brings me to one last thought: our environmental crisis,  thanks to those currently in power, still waits to be addressed with the urgency it deserves. But to address climate change and other facets of our ecological crisis will require real change in policy, which will require deep change in our politics, which will require radical change in values. But values won’t change unless at our deepest levels of being we embrace a view of the universe that learns to simultaneously hold the one, the two, and the many … because the environment is a true unity that contains a real duality of good/evil, wisdom/foolishness, greed/generosity, etc., in the context of the glorious diversity of God’s creation. For more on this subject, see EcoCiv podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ecociv-podcast/id1445620544?mt=2
Those are a few of the many reasons why I continue to speak of the Trinity today. That doesn’t mean I endorse or use all the language of this or that “school” of Trinitarian thought. Nor does it mean that I believe this or that version of Trinitarian thinking is necessary to be considered a follower of Jesus or a believer in God. It simply means that I am trying to hold and practice this teaching in a way I find to be honest, humble, and healing, and in that spirit, I offer it as a gift to others. I hope that’s helpful to you in your own journey of faith, hope, and love!