Some of you may have heard of Brooks’s law, which has to do with the time it takes to complete a software project. It’s similar to the general law of diminishing returns in economics. Professor Fred Brooks of the University of North Carolina first proposed the law in 1975; it holds that “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”[1] Each additional worker must be trained and adding more workers increases the need for intercommunication between them so that, at some predictable point, the efficacy of adding more members to a task group is cancelled and doing so lengthens, rather than shortens, the schedule.[2]

I didn’t know about Professor Brooks and his law until I started researching this sermon, and I only learned about it because in the early pages of his book he cites the Anglican theologian Dorothy Sayers and her theology of the Trinity. I will come back to Ms. Sayers and her helpful analogy for the Trinity, and later I’ll return to Brooks’s law, but first I want to share with you some of the metaphors for the Trinity, that peculiar understanding of God that we Christians hold and that we focus on each year on this, the first Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost.

In internet conversation with some of my fellow clergy on Wednesday and Thursday, I asked them to list some of the metaphors or similes they had used, or heard others use, to try to explain this mysterious doctrine. Here are a few:

  • The Trinity is like Rock-Paper-Scissors: there are three options, but at the end of the day, it’s all one game.
  • The Trinity is like an egg. In one egg you have the white, the yoke, and the shell composing one full egg.
  • The Trinity is like H20. Water has three states: solid, liquid, and gas. Although the water changes forms it is still H2O. Just as water is comprehended in three forms so too is the Trinity in three persons.
  • The Trinity is like a man who may be a father, a husband, and a son. Although he is one, he has different roles to different people. The Trinity is like this man.
  • The Trinity is like Neopolitan ice cream or spumoni: three flavors, one ice cream.
  • The Trinity is like Elrond, Galadriel and Gandalf, the three bearers of the elven rings of power in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. (I asked the priest who came up with that one to dig deeper with it, but I really didn’t understand where he was going . . . so I’ll leave it to you Tolkien readers to tackle that one further.)
  • The Trinity is like a three-stranded rope: the three strands make the one rope, but can be untwisted to exist and be appreciated separately.
  • The Trinity is the lover, the one loved, and the love which flows between them and out from them into the world. (This one was proposed first by St. Augustine of Hippo, and reminds us of those familiar verses in our gospel lesson: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”[3])
  • The Trinity is like the three dimensions of space, the x, y and z axes; any three-dimensional object has all three – width, breadth, and depth – each dimension can be separately appreciated but none can exist without the others.
  • The Trinity is like the shamrock leaf which has three lobes and yet is one leaf. (Legend has it that St. Patrick converted the High King of Ireland using this analogy.)

Of course, all of my colleagues pointed out that even the language of our liturgy which names God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is metaphorical. And one (retired Ohio priest Greg Sammons whom some of you may know) reminded me of Mrs. Sayers’ wonderful book the Trinity entitled The Mind of the Maker[4] which he said is “an extended metaphor that was so fresh and original in her time that it caught the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury.”[5]

Written in 1941, Sayers’ book is 229 pages long, so I can’t really give you the whole of her metaphor. I went looking for a good summary of it and that’s when I found out about Prof. Brooks and his law. In a chapter of his book in which he says “all programmers are optimists,”[6] he summarizes Mrs. Sayers’ theological metaphor as follows:

Sayers, in her excellent book, The Mind of the Maker, divides creative activity into three stages: the idea, the implementation, and the interaction. A book, then, or a computer, or a program comes into existence first as an ideal construct, built outside time and space, but complete in the mind of the author. It is realized in time and space, by pen, ink, and paper, or by wire, silicon, and ferrite. The creation is complete when someone reads the book, uses the computer, or runs the program, thereby interacting with the mind of the maker.

This description . . . Miss Sayers uses to illuminate not only human creative activity but also the Christian doctrine of the Trinity …. [7]

Sayers’ metaphor, like our traditional liturgical metaphor, has a characteristic that most of those other inadequate metaphors my colleagues and I listed lack, and that is that it is active and engaging. The liturgical metaphor draws our attention to the three-way interpersonal relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Sayers’ metaphor makes us see that we are invited into that relationship in the way that a book invites us to read it, a computer invites us to use it, a program invites us to run it.

One last metaphor suggested by one of my clergy friends is this: “The Trinity is like a dancer, the music, and the dance.” When I considered that, I immediately thought of my daughter and my grand-daughter. I have seen each of them dancing to their own music, twirling about in the back yard humming a tune of their own devising. I don’t know if all little girls do this, but Caitlin certainly did when she was little and Eirnín definitely does it now. Seeing them, I just want to go out and take their hands and dance along with them. Their dance invites me to dance along. This metaphor reminds me of my favorite theological word, perichoresis, that Greek word which means “to dance around,” and describes the notion that in every divine action, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dance together through all of Creation. We are invited to slow down and enter into this dance, led by the Spirit to become children of God crying “Abba! (Daddy!) Father!”[8]

So that’s all lovely and helps us, I hope, to grasp in some small way the doctrine of the Trinity, that (as I said earlier) peculiar understanding of God that we Christians hold. But as with all of our doctrines and dogmas and theories, the real issue for us to deal with is, “What does it mean for us in our everyday lives?” Of what possible import to our busy and hectic lives is this mysterious doctrine? That is the question I was contemplating as I drove from our home to the church office on Friday morning thinking about what I might preach today.

As I drove through our neighborhood the bins of garbage and recycling were on the curbs. Everyone along our street is served by the same trash pick-up company; we all have a big green bin for trash and a smaller beige bin for recyclable plastic, card board, and metals. When the lids are closed, you cannot tell what is inside those bins. But, frequently, there is an untold story evidenced by something along side. Friday, an old upholstered recliner here, a baby car seat next door, a broken exercise cycle down the street, and a doll house around the corner.

As I drove past, I wondered what stories are involved in those discards. What conversations did that chair overhear? How many naps did it cuddle? Why is the car seat on the curb? What happened to the baby? Did the exercycle break because it was well used . . . or did someone break it in frustration with their lack of physical fitness success? And the doll house . . . what scenes of domestic bliss (or, perhaps, conflict) did some child act out with Ken and Barbie and Christie and Midge?

None of my business, I suppose. Still, the imagination does wander.

Especially Friday morning when the news alert on my mobile phone told me of a father in Nashville, Tennessee, who forgot his one-year-old daughter in her car seat in his truck, accepted a ride-share to the airport, and left town on a business trip. Later in the day, the child’s mother went to collect her at the day care, only to find she had not been dropped off. Police investigated and found the child dead in the hot cab of her father’s truck.[9] What, I wondered driving past the bins, will be placed on that family’s curb? A neighbor driving by on their “trash day” will likely know the story of that broken trio, that suffering trinity of father, mother, and (sadly) deceased child.

We live in strange bubbles. We know more about many of our neighbors than we may want to know because of our internet connection . . . and yet there are so many unknowns because we seldom speak. Today, we may be connecting, but we aren’t relating; we have connections, mechanical or structural associations, but not relationships, which are organic, emotional, perhaps even spiritual.

Many of those analogies for the Trinity suggested by my clergy friends reflect that; they are more mechanical than organic, more structural than spiritual. They feel limited and don’t ring true as models for God; we understand them, but don’t resonate with our souls. We understand them because we live in a mechanical world with a lot of structure, and we know there’s something wrong with it.

We talk of structural or systemic sinfulness and we try to remedy it by fixing the constitution of society; we try to re-configure its form or composition. What we need to work on are our relationships! A father who can forget his baby daughter because he’s in a hurry to make a flight and take a business trip is affected by that structural, systemic brokenness, but his failure of memory results from the sinfulness of broken relationship! Our malaise is much more organic and spiritual than it is structural. The debris on our curbs is the stuff of raw emotion.

The pick-up service was already at work Friday morning. Other baby seats and doll houses, other recliners and exercise equipment already tossed into the grinder of the garbage truck I passed as I left our neighborhood and turned onto the highway to join other commuters, the refuse of relationships, the litter of emotion, the detritus of the spirit being mashed and macerated by the truck’s mechanical systems. I wept for that broken family trinity; that father, that mother, that (sadly) deceased infant girl who, unlike my daughter and my grand-daughter, will never be a dancer in her backyard modeling God the Holy Trinity: the dancer, her music, and her dance, inviting her father into her childlike perichoresis.

Prof. Brooks’s law is a description of an observed phenomenon, that adding workers to a project which is running late creates more delay. Brooks explains that the reasons for this are easy to understand; they derive from the need for interpersonal communication. As Brooks describes it:

The added burden of communication is made up of two parts, training and intercommunication. Each worker must be trained in the technology, the goals of the effort, the overall strategy, and the plan of work.

Intercommunication is worse. * * * Three workers require three times as much pairwise intercommunication as two; four require six times as much as two. If, moreover, there need to be conferences among three, four, etc., workers to resolve things jointly, matters get worse yet.[10]

In other words, interpersonal relationships overpower the mechanical task. Instead of the mechanistic defeating the organic and the emotional, like the garbage truck grinding up the detritus of human life, the human relationships overcome the simple structural connection. Brooks, focusing on rush-to-make-a-flight, hurry-to-complete-a-task, mechanical efficiency, sees this as a negative. As those who are invited to slow down and enter into the relationship of dancing love at the heart of the Holy Trinity, we must see this as positive and redemptive.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dance through all of Creation, spreading God’s love throughout the cosmos, calling as God called in Isaiah’s vision, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And we answer, “Here we are; send us!”[11] And that is what this esoteric, mysterious, impossible to fully understand doctrine of the Trinity has to do with our hectic everyday lives. As the dancing Trinity redeems us and invites us into the divine relationship, this doctrine encourages and empowers us to slow down, to be aware of, to examine, and to overcome our brokenness, both structural and systemic, as well as personal and spiritual, by forming, strengthening, and redeeming our human relationships. Amen.


This homily was offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on Trinity Sunday (First Sunday after Pentecost), May 27, 2018, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons used for the service are Isaiah 6:1-8; Song of the Three Young Men, 29-34; Romans 8:12-17; and St. John 3:1-17. These lessons can be found at The Lectionary Page.)



[1] Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering (Addison Wesley, New York: Anniversary Edition, 1995), page 232. (Return to text)

[2] Ibid., pages 17-19. (Return to text)

[3] John 3:16-17 (Return to text)

[4] Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (Methuen & Co. Ltd., London:1941). (Return to text)

[5] Facebook comment posted Thursday, May 24, 2018. (Return to text)

[6] Brooks, op. cit., page 14. (Return to text)

[7] Ibid., page 15. (Return to text)

[8] Romans 8:14-15 (Return to text)

[9] Lindsey Bever, He went out of town on business, The Washington Post, May 24, 2018, available online. (Return to text)

[10] Brooks, op. cit., page 18. (Return to text)

[11] Isaiah 6:8 (Return to text)