Faith and Community: A New Appalachia
The Brazilian liberationist Leonardo Boff says that “to live out trinitarian faith as communion…” is to form “a living and open community” that would lead to a conversion of societal institutions, such as the church, which then leads to social transformation.
And once the church is evangelized in such a way, then the real goal of beloved community becomes a reality through a mutually interdependent, interactive movement of God, church, and community working in concert to actualize the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven – the merger of faith and community where all work together to raise up the lowly and place everyone on equal footing.
Where the common good is common and concrete, not abstract and out of reach.
Such a vision, rooted in the concept of a triune God who exists as community, has the potential to radically alter the reality of a region and a people who’s strong, deeply-rooted sense of community has been muted by generational trauma, oppression, and a carefully-orchestrated campaign to rob us of our somebody-ness and numb us to the somebody-ness of those who are considered “other.”
My hope is that such a conversion of our faith communities in these hills and hollers will be realized, and along with it a renewed sense of identity rooted in a relational God.
An Appalachian Re-visioning of the Trinity
There exists within ancient Celtic religious tradition the idea of thin places, spaces where heaven and earth meet, where the Divine encounters humanity, providing the opportunity for transformational change. In a region where Scots-Irish heritage runs deep, Appalachia is well prepared of just such an encounter, a move toward a thin place, where the Three-in-One God gives a fresh revelation of the Divine Presence – a fresh understanding of God With Us who makes all things new.
It’s my opinion that the orthodox Christian conception of the Trinity as God in three Persons is the starting point for such an unorthodox relational change, because it is in our understanding of God as person that has the capacity to change the understanding of our relationality with humanity.
If we truly believe that God is communal in nature, sharing the same essence and substance, and humanity is the Imago Dei, created in the divine image of this communal, intra-relational God, then that forces us to change our perspective on both ourselves and our fellow human beings.
The Trinity forces us to ask the question, “what is a person?” The message of the Black preacher to his enslaved hearers was “no you’re not what they call you, do not identify with that. You are a child of God.” How do we as Christians affirm the humanity of everyone? To grasp this truth is to be changed.
For the Appalachian who has been exploited, marginalized and in effect enslaved by outside interests for well over a century, the message of the Black preacher resonates: “You are a child of God, created in the divine Image. You are not what they call you. You are not what they think of you. Do not identify with that.”
For the Appalachian that exploits, marginalizes, and embraces hatred of the “other,” mistrust of the outsider, and seeks isolation from the world, the message of the Black preacher resonates: “You are a child of God, created in the divine image, along with all of humanity. They are not what you call them, not what you think of them. They do not identify with that, because they share the divine image with you.”
And we, all of us, are meant to be in relationship with one another – intimate communion – just as the God in whose image we are made is in intimate communion with God’s Personhood. So, it is here that we “seek to find in Trinitarian doctrine, in our beliefs about the very being of God, the foundation for the unity of humankind.”
If we somehow, some way can grasp this concept that individual and communal differences are to be embraced rather than loathed, then space is created for divine diversity to take shape, and we come to see the trinitarian conception of God existing as community as a conception of the fullness of God’s reign.
Through the avenues of worship and community, two bulwarks of Appalachian life, are where this re-visioning can and must begin. It is here where the hope for a new Appalachia can take shape, foster, and grow – where the vision of Beloved Community is born.
Our faith communities are the petri dishes where this good news ferments, to be unleashed into our neighborhoods, towns and cities, among our families, neighbors, and friends. There, in deep intrapersonal relationships, we must recapture an understanding of the true essence of divine community, how God intended humanity to interact with one another – to be a reflection of the mutuality of God, the Eastern Fathers’ notion of the eternal weaving together of the three Persons of the Godhead, paralleling that of our own mutual existence with one another.
Changing the Narrative
James H. Cone once said that “Jesus’ resurrection makes it evident that God’s liberating work is not only for Israel, but for all who are enslaved.” The Appalachian people have been enslaved for far too long by those who have sought to exploit us economically and socially marginalize us.
Because of our own marginalization we have been enslaved far too long to projecting that marginalization onto others who are different and viewing them as somehow being less than human – be it due to differences in ethnicity, religious belief, or political ideology. We have been enslaved far too long by poverty and addiction, fatalism and fear.
Ours is a complicated story. But the narrative can change. God is in the business of doing re-writes, adding new chapters to old books – giving second chances and new beginnings.
It is in a fresh, vibrant re-visioning of what it means to be created in the image of a triune God where this new narrative begins for us who call this forgotten region home. By reframing how we speak and think about the trinitarian God we serve and how we interact with our fellow human beings, a new, beloved community can be actualized – a glimpse of the kingdom, God’s reign present on earth – God For Us present among us.
Through a renewed sense of faith and community, such strong symbols of Appalachian culture, we can discover that the Divine and humanity are not separated by time and space – by heaven and earth – but are deeply intertwined.
It is then that real liberation comes.
Rev. Brad Davis (he/him) is the founder of The New Society, a grassroots Central Appalachian kingdom movement. A native of one of the nation’s most economically and socially exploited regions, Brad’s passion is connecting its people to a holistic, therapeutic, liberating message of salvation he calls the Holler Gospel. Click here to read more of Brad‘s work.
 Quoted from Holy Trinity: Perfect Community (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000).
 British Council of Churches, “The Forgotten Trinity, vol. 1,”
 Quoted from A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990).
Feature image credit: Clinton Weaver via Pond5.com