a whole different world: stereotypes and not judging

I’ve recently had the opportunity to facilitate small groups at a local college and meet some people I probably wouldn’t have ever met otherwise. Because I am working on my degree in counseling, I have been vested with the authority of “counselor” there and, even for just 20 minutes, I am entrusted with people’s lives and stories. They have shared with me some experiences that feel worlds apart from my own.

One such time was last week, meeting with a young black man who lives in what is known as a dangerous neighborhood near where I facilitate the groups. We are so different. Yet he somehow felt comfortable sharing his experiences and some of his feelings with me. That fact alone amazed me. I was worried he wouldn’t trust me or would think it ridiculous that his program director suggested he talk to me. But he opened up right away. Given what he shared with me, it would be so easy for a person from my background to judge him. I did my best to just hear him in his story and see him as the person he is.

While we spoke, I had to focus so hard to understand him, as our dialects are so different. Sometimes it felt like he was speaking a language I only partially knew. I wonder if he ever feels the same about me, or if he had to learn “my” language at some point? He also used vocabulary I wasn’t altogether comfortable with, including the “n” word. I wonder what that means to him?

He spoke of baby mamas and the kids he already has and another on the way, different women for these kids, spoke of wanting more kids but especially a boy. Spoke of his intense desire to stay in these kids’ lives, of his efforts to continue to communicate with the mom. I thought of how easy it would be for me to judge him for impregnating all these girls and not staying with them. Of what this looks like to me, an outsider. But if I’m really trying to understand him, I can’t at the same time be judging him. If I’m really trying to hear him, I can’t have my mind be distracted by thoughts of criticism, of how he should change, of how he should become more like me and hold my values. I don’t know how the moms feel, how their families feel, how the kids feel. I don’t really understand why this is a source of pride for him, to have these kids scattered about, because that’s not really part of my culture. But he wants these kids. He wants to be in their lives. That’s something worth encouraging.

He spoke of a “package” he had to pick up after this. I wondered if that was simple code for drugs. I wondered if it was naive to not simply assume that. I am naive. I’ve never used drugs; I don’t think I’ve even seen drugs of the illegal variety [well, illegal except in Colorado]. (yep, all street cred I ever possibly had just flew out the window). But that’s my background. I don’t know for sure what the package was. If it was drugs, I don’t know if he’s a user or just a dealer. I am aware, however, of how much more lucrative it can be for people to make a living selling drugs like that than working a “normal” job. I’m also aware of racism and school-to-prison pipelines and how crack (a “black person” drug) is punished so much more harshly than the more expensive cocaine (a “white person” drug). I’m aware of the generational effect of poverty, of assuming that this is what life has in store for you because it’s what is in store for everyone around you, of the difficulties of getting ahead for people in such poor urban areas. I wonder, regardless of what’s in the package, if he’s doing the best he can, or at least what he knows to do, given his circumstances.

And through it all, I was aware of being in the presence of just another person. This young man, speaking in ways I had a hard time understanding and about topics so unfamiliar to me: he’s just a person. I felt warmly toward him, knowing that at our roots we share in basic human emotions like fear, anger, sadness, happiness. That we want to love and be loved. That we have dreams of what we might do in our future, which might be realistic and might not be. I was grateful for our 20-minute exchange, for getting a glimpse into a life so very different from mine.

And at the same time, I’m all too aware that it’s only 20 minutes, that it’s far easier to try and assume the best about someone you don’t know very well, than to try and engage in dialogue and really understand each other. My glimpse was just that: a brief and momentary glimpse. Is there a way that our cultures might collide again?

It’s become clear recently that all too many times, when these cultures collide, violence and death can result. We do not know the other. We do not understand the other. We mistrust the other. Apparently, we sometimes think that it is best if the other were to die. Maybe we feel unsafe, maybe we can find a way to “justify” it, but the end result is the same: the Other is dead and we remain. Our feelings of righteousness and and wanting to feel safe have won out over the other person’s right to their own safety and life.

This man does not deserve to die because someone else feels unsafe around him. He has feelings. Kids. A girlfriend. People who care about him. He has a right to life as much as you or I. 

So short, our time together, yet I still think about him. I wonder what it will take for us to accept that others have different ways of life, for us to listen in non-judgment for just a minute, or step over the boundary that separates us and actually engage with someone so different from us. I confess, without this opportunity, I probably wouldn’t have. But I’m grateful I had the chance to meet him. And I pray for myself, and all of us, that we have chances to encounter other worlds and people who are different from us, and take a moment to try and see.

a mosaic of self

I have been doing a lot of traveling over break, visiting old friends that I haven’t seen in ages. I’m not the best at regular phone calls and keeping up with people, so it’s a good thing these friendships are the kind where you can pick up wherever you left off and things feel just like last time. This sense of comfort and familiarity is a lovely thing. Particularly in today’s culture, when so many people move around to totally new places: for work, for love, for scenery, for fun: it is nice to be back with people who have known you longer than the year or two you’ve been living in a new place. However, those same friends have also missed some of the latest things in your life, in your growth. I often don’t realize what they’ve missed because in that time of reuniting, we are transported back to the times we were together. Sometimes it’s directly, through the “Remember When?” game, or indirectly, through the patterns that the two of us have established together. Kind of like couples, friends can develop “scripts” and “roles” together. You act this way, and I act this way. When you say that sort of thing, this is how I respond. We generally don’t even realize we do this.

However, this has caused me to reflect on whether or not I feel like my real “self” in my old friendships. Perhaps it’s just my rosy backward-looking glasses, but didn’t I used to be so much more silly and carefree in college? Now I feel more serious, more thoughtful. Didn’t I laugh so easily back then? Wasn’t I so adventurous that year I lived in Boston, when the city was my oyster and the T could take me almost anywhere I wanted to be? Where did that girl go? And who am I now?

Likewise, I see myself “be” different people when I am talking to different people. With my roommates, I can be goofy, using silly voices and talking about ridiculous things. Is that me? With one friend, I am slowly drawn to excitability, feeling like a contrast to her animation until it finally infects me too. With another, I am steadfast and hardworking, stable and consistent. Is that me? With another, my more nurturing, but also sensitive and emotional, and easily hurt, side comes out. Can that be me, too?

In my current life, I often feel “overly responsible”: the type of person willing to do not only their own tasks, but probably other people’s tasks as well, if need be. (By the way, this is not ideal for me nor for the other person, whose own sense of agency I can take away when I do things for them). With my family, I sometimes feel “under responsible”: fuzzy-minded, letting them decide what’s going to happen, just going along for the ride. Is it just regression when you return home after being away?

I realize I’m not an open book. I share certain information with certain people. Some people are for discussing romantic relationships, but only as far in as I allow. Some people are for politics, or science. Some for daily life happenings. Some for religion. Some people I allow in to hear my real thoughts on spirituality. I am a fragmented glass, a mosaic of color. My colors look different depending what part you focus on. A different light reflects depending what angle you stand away from me. I seem to be divided, yet I am one person.

Who am I? I wondered today, feeling almost deceptive with the many faces I can wear, even though I’m not trying to intentionally deceive anyone, yet genuinely confused as to which is my “true” self. Then the phrase “true self” rang a bell, and I suddenly realized: it’s just personality. Who are YOU? My personality is like my exterior, my shell. It’s the way that I interact with the world. There are a lot of protective and defensive mechanisms I use to feel secure, and I developed certain habits in order to win praise, affection, or a sense of okay-ness from other people. That’s not my real self. My real, true self is not my personality. My personality is not all bad – I can be funny, sweet, helpful, kind – but it’s also not everything I am. And sometimes, the sharp edges of my mosaic-piece personality cut my own, or others’, fingers. I am beyond the faces you see. I am beyond the faces I see, the things I know about me that other people don’t, the contradictions that don’t even make sense to me. I am beyond the attachments that lead to hurt feelings or joy, jealousy or security. My core essence is rooted in something far beyond the way I always think about myself.

Think of it this way. Through a glass mosaic, or a stained glass, the colors are mixed and beautiful. But the colors only do their thing because of the light that is behind it. The true self is like that white light (which is really all the colors on the spectrum) that shines and illuminates all else. The mosaic is made of disparate glass pieces that can be beautiful, but are not in themselves illuminative. I need to stop confusing the glass with the light. It’s just personality. My true self is like that illuminating light.

Splash Image

http://artglassmosaics.com/home.html

Mosquitoes, monks, mysteries, and the Milky Way: Are you there, God? Part 2

I have been pondering lately about God, or the idea / being / [what word is even adequate to describe that which?] we call God. One of the questions I went into my retreat with was about conceptualizing “God out there versus God in here, in me.” Maybe you know what I mean … or maybe this question makes no sense. What I’m trying to describe is a God-image of Outside, transcendent, Other (the God-image I grew up with) versus Inside, mystical, Self. Even with mystics, there is a similar difference mystical union (person’s soul can be united with God, but they are two different entities coming together: more commonly found in Christian mystics) versus mystical identity (person’s deepest self, it is discovered, is God … and right there, some of you probably will stop reading, as it sounds a lot like heresy to you. I hope you keep reading anyway.).

I tended to bounce between outside versus inside. When I was in need of help, or asking for something, I tended to direct my question or thought toward “Outside God.” “Oh God oh God, please let me get to work on time, oh God, please heal this patient, oh God, our world is falling apart, please help!” However, when talking about my beliefs, or meditating, I tended to think of things in terms of “Inside God.” I would tell my CPE group, “God is everywhere, God is in everyone. There is no where God cannot be, and God is not “out there.” (This concept of God is also known as “panentheism,” which is different from “pantheism.” Basically, panentheism says God is in everything. Pantheism says that everything is God.) And one of my biggest spiritual practices I developed this summer was trying to sit quietly, reflecting inside, and listening to the truths that were coming out of me … not any outside source. Yet it felt that in practice, my prayers belied my stated beliefs.

So what does this have to do with mosquitoes and monks… and the Milky Way?

While camping, I was reading Wherever You Go, There You Are, and was really looking forward to practicing mindfulness and being in the moment and being still while enjoying the great Kentucky outdoors.

Ha ha ha.

As it turns out, the Great Kentucky Outdoors are a sticky, humid, hot, mosquito- and gnat-filled mess in the middle of August. I couldn’t lay down in my hammock to read or just look at the leafy tree tops without feeling like my skin was being eaten alive by hungry blood-suckers. I couldn’t go on a hike in the woods without gnats buzzing in my ears, flying in my eyes [read here for a poem dedicated just to that experience], and creating such a nuisance that I couldn’t hardly look around me or hear the birds singing or the wind in the trees. And please don’t get me started on the spiders and the spiderwebs … I didn’t know I was afraid of spiders. Now I do know.

So because I had such a lofty goal that I felt I was completely not achieving, I did what any normal human does: I berated myself. “I’m feeling so miserable! Why can’t I just be in peace? Why can’t I use the difficult circumstances as an even better opportunity to practice mindfulness? And anyway, I still have it so good, I have an easy life, it’s my choice to go camping, and I’m complaining about bugs??? Really??” I did not feel very mindful, yet alone holy or in touch with my God-self.

Then I went to the Abbey of Gethsemani (where Thomas Merton lived as a monk!!) for a 5 day retreat. It was amazing! A shower, a toilet, and running water! Air conditioning, and a bed! A patio overlooking a garden! It was so pleasing to me, even while I smiled bemusedly at myself about how enthusiastic I was about human pleasures- luxuries, truly, for so much of the world- luxuries so many have never experienced.

As many probably are, I was fascinated by the monks, particularly the young ones: knowing that these young men were about my age, and were either exploring the possibility or had already committed to a lifetime of being single, of celibacy, of rising daily at 3 a.m., of prayer and study and physical labor and lack of electronics and communication. To turn your back on all that the world has to offer, to live a life of such simplicity (and to give up partnership and intimacy, for the rest of your life???), trusting that your asceticism will draw you closer to God? I understand in theory, but in practice, my emotions were in a state of disbelief while I was there.

After several days, I can’t say I fully understood, but I understood a little better. It was a beautiful thing, to slow down life enough to the point where my most natural inclination was to turn toward reflecting, prayer, and God. There is something so sweet in the stillness of doing nothing: nothing that will gain you any attention or notoriety, nothing that will make an impact on the world, nothing that seems to really “matter” to anyone else. Because that question, of course, is the biggest cry of my generation: “I want to do something that matters! I want to make a difference!” And we run about in a state of interior distress, like a bubbling ocean, desperately trying to find a way to matter in this world, all the while feeling quite uncomfortable in our own skin. Even while I was there, I still experienced that feeling of discomfort in my skin, of being quite sure that I did not deserve this sweet state of nothingness, of justifying my “nothingness” by reassuring myself that when I got home I was definitely going to do “something.” But when I was not occupied by those concerns, I had moments of just being, when I knew that just being really was okay… at least for this moment.

My most favorite routine while I was there was to get up early (which for the monks, is simply their normal routine, at 3 a.m.), sleepily listen to their chants and scriptural readings in the Vigils service, then pour myself a coffee that had been cooking in the carafe all night long, wrap myself in a blanket, and shuffle out to the garden. I’d find the darkest spot that still had as open a view as possible of the night sky and lay down on the sidewalk, still warm from the sun’s rays the day before. I would constellation hunt, which wouldn’t take long (I don’t know many constellations, and the sky was usually not that clear), then let my mind relax to be in awe of the universe.

I love the night sky. I don’t like being cold, and Indianapolis has much too much light pollution and cloud coverage, so I don’t view the night sky as much as I’d like. But when I go camping, I am in awe of stars, and the unimagined possibilities I behold.

There is so much wonder. So much awe. So much glorious vastness, and I am reminded that I am here, so small, that the issues that consume my day-to-day living are merely set here on Planet Earth, concerning me and a few others, and meanwhile this glorious universe goes on spinning.

I had an image, while laying on the warm, hard sidewalk, of my little heart bursting forth out of my body, seeking connection with All-That-Is that I experienced in viewing the night sky. And All-That-Is’s heart- its connecting spirit- was bursting forth from the night sky, reaching down to me. Our spirits connected in this vastness. I belonged, and I was part of this.

And I had what felt like a very profound yet incredibly “duh!”-like and simple realization. This glorious universe, this majestic night sky: I did not create this. And to go with it, I am not the only one in this world. I realized I had felt limited by thinking about
“God inside,” as if “God inside” had to be limited to only my inside. Instead, when I ask about “God Inside,” I need to remember I am asking about everyone’s God inside.

This question of God Outside versus God Inside is not an either / or question. The Spirit inside me is the Spirit inside you. It is also the Spirit that created – or that embodies – the galaxy.

So for a moment, as we were suspended in the night air as stars glimmered millions of light-years away, and I felt Presence beyond yet within me, I held my answer. Yes. God inside, God outside.

Ode to a Gnat

Oh gnat, I hate you

with a perfect hate

a hate I wish were lovingkindness

so I’ll write an ode instead.

 

The gnat

buzzes in my ears, hovers around my face, lands on my skin

and I have come to see

that this is the expression of the gnat’s love for me.

 

Oh gnat, why must you torment me so?

Would that you were burning down below!

But the gnat’s love goes unrequited

Could I return it, he’d be so delighted

 

So instead, he speaks the only way he can:

Buzzing in my ears, he says: “I LOVE YOU!

I LOVE YOU! Did you hear me? I LOVE YOU!”

Buzzing in my face, gazing into my green eyes,

looking woefully at my zipped tight lips,

thinking maybe being swept up my nostril with my breath

is a good last attempt for unity

 

But the most telling sign

a true Romeo to his beloved Juliet,

or Ophelia drowning in her pond,

he sees my eyeball, swimming in its

glorious pool of mucus-y eyeball goo,

and with one last “I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU!”

he dives in,

to die in glorious union

with his beloved.

being held in our pain

Recently, I posted on Facebook that I have been crying a lot this summer and doing a lot of growing and learning. After doing this, I wondered to myself, “Gee, would that make some people worried about me?” Help! There’s water leaking out of my eyes! Call the plumber! Can we talk about crying, about sadness, about tears, without others becoming concerned for us? I sure hope so.

I recognize I’m a bit biased in this: I’m in a counseling program, and I’m currently doing what’s called Clinical Pastoral Education at a local hospital. I serve as a chaplain, but CPE at its core is an intense self-examination, learning to see your own “stuff,” your own “baggage,” so that you can work it out and learn to be more present for your patients and clients (and also just be a healthier human being). Crying is very much allowed in group and is considered to be a normal, healthy thing. But sometimes I am jolted back to the reality of our culture and realize that for many families, in many situations, crying is shamed and holding sadness and grief for extended periods of time is found unacceptable.

I worked in a daycare for a year before coming to seminary, and it was one of those unexpectedly healing times: I truly think of it as a balm for my soul. Something that was particularly healing was the compassionate holding of the emotions of the children, and allowing them to freely express their feelings, to bawl their eyes out until they had nothing left to give. We didn’t tell them “c’mon now, don’t cry,” or “be a big boy now.” We definitely didn’t tease them with, “you’re not going to cry now, are you??” or use the classic, “If you don’t quit crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!” It breaks my heart to hear an adult give a child those lines.

Sometimes, as I held a sobbing child in my arms (regardless of what for: whether they missed mommy or because another kid took their favorite toy; the emotions are real), I would feel a strange sense of wistfulness and longing. Grief, you might say, because we can also grieve the things in our lives that we never had the chance to have. I wish I could have been held like this. I wish when I was little, someone had told me it was okay to cry and had sat with me until I did cry and I would have known that nobody felt weird about it. I don’t know about you, but in my family of origin, we didn’t really cry with each other when we were sad. So when I cry today, in some ways, I’m making up for 20-some odd years of shutting down, of numbing all the feelings that I’d felt.

I’m learning about grief in this summer internship and it strikes me: Grieving, when “properly” done, is really hard to do. Not because somewhere inside, we don’t know what to do or don’t feel things, but because collectively, we as a society don’t allow grieving to happen. It takes a long time. Too long. It’s messy. It’s repetitive. It requires patience and listening ears and steadfast support of loved ones. It requires you to offer yourself grace, of being okay with the sad feelings, even if they happen over and over again, and to not judge yourself for it. Grieving requires us to reach deep down into our wells of compassion, for self and for others.

But it is only through grieving, (“you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you must go through it!”) that we can healthily get to the other side. Sure, we won’t do it perfectly. We’ll still end up with “baggage” that we’ll need to keep unpacking in the future. But please, I ask of you: when you suffer a loss, any kind of loss, allow yourself to feel it. Big or small-death of a loved one, lost a job, broke up, moved, kid graduated high school, or any number of small losses we encounter in everyday life- these losses are real. Even happy things- I got married, I retired- include losses: losses of singleness and freedom, loss of purpose and structure to your day. It’s okay to miss those things too and to feel sad about them.

Do what you need to do. Journal. Talk to a friend. Take a bubble bath. Run. Cry. Just don’t be afraid of the tears. And in the end, it’s lovely to be “held” by someone, just like I got to hold those crying preschoolers: we cry on people’s shoulders, we make phone calls and pour out our hearts, we make plans to spend time with people who know and understand our pain. But don’t forget that we can “hold” ourselves too. Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Accept your pain and don’t try to rush through it. Because you deserve to be treated well and loved… by yourself.

How to talk to a fundamentalist

I grew up in a conservative church and am familiar with Christians who would be classified (by themselves, or by others) as fundamentalists. I admit, I’ve spun far off from this galaxy, in terms of my own belief system. So even though I remember the language and the pattern of thinking, it still catches me by surprise when I meet or talk with someone who still lives within that framework. Wait, you think what? Where is your sense of logic? It can feel like our different belief systems come clashing together all of a sudden.

This has become more relevant for me because I’ve been in a context recently where I’ve been spending a fair amount of time with a self-described fundamentalist. I forgot just how aggravated I could get about theological things until the small group I’m a part of (which includes the fundamentalist) got into some heated conversations. We just differ so very much in our theological beliefs. The language we use to talk about things is so different. Grace, brokenness, spirit, soul, the afterlife, prayer, meditation… these are loaded words, or loaded topics. I have often felt like he takes my free-form, floating ideas that I try to express and squeezes them into a fundamentalist box so that they become comfortable and understandable to him. Perhaps he feels that I take his neatly boxed ideas, stretch them apart, and throw them to the wind… I don’t know.

After a particularly trying conversation, where all parties probably left feeling frustrated and unheard, I tried to reflect on what would help these exchanges to go better. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

1) Recognize we are all fundamentalists. I need to recognize myself as a fundamentalist as well. Yes, my fundamentals may be extremely different from your typical “fundamentalist.” But we both hold to our beliefs with tenacity and consider them a fundamental base from which we operate in our everyday life.  Additionally, I’ve seen the following pattern too often: that liberals decry conservatives for being intolerant or exclusivistic in their beliefs. ‘You must believe this way!! You are so narrow minded!!’ Is it fair to demand they change their beliefs… or is that, perhaps, intolerant?

2) Don’t take anything personally. Basically, nothing anyone else does or says is because of me. Maybe this seems obvious, but think about how often we take personally the things that others do.  We do a lot of projecting: that is, imagining onto someone else that which we can’t or refuse to see in ourselves. By blaming someone else for my irritation, by making them the cause of my anger and unhappiness, I try to make myself feel better by not holding myself responsible. So in this case, what my fundamentalist friend is saying that really aggravates me or even causes harm is about him (for example, Really? In your belief system, only your kind of Christians are “saved?” Really? So what are you thinking about ME, then??). These are his beliefs, his need to see the world a certain way. But hey, I can choose to not let this bother me! It’s okay if he believes I’m not coming to heaven with him… because this was NEVER ABOUT ME. Imagine the surprises awaiting all of us when we die!

3) Approach with humility. I admit, I have a strong emotional connection to theology and spiritual issues (just glance through this blog). So when someone starts pushing my theological buttons, man, something in me wants to come out swinging. Let’s take the basic example from above of who is “saved.” Seriously?? You are that convinced that you are the only ones who are right??? I want to denounce with logical, cohesive arguments designed to persuade someone to the light- the rational side- MY right side!! Or failing that, I want to present an emotional argument. Don’t you know how many people you are hurting when you believe the things you do?? But when the approach is made that forcefully, both sides just keep on building the Great Wall in between their positions. People become defensive and we can’t listen to each other. What would happen if we gently, humbly, tried to hear and understand people from exactly where they are? What if we tried to lay aside our presupposition of being right while we do our best to truly hear the other out?

4) Be realistic. I’ve quickly found that in order to persuade a fundamentalist of my position (or anything close to it), I would have to dismantle their entire theological position. With fundamentalist Christians, you usually have to start with a particular “literal interpretation” method of reading the Bible, and that is an enormous “box” to unpack in the course of one conversation. So let’s face it. This is not going to happen! And do I really want it to? First, it presumes that I’m right (see guideline #3), and second, they have this position for a reason. It is serving some useful function for them: as all of our belief systems do. Perhaps it brings a sense of security to their world. Perhaps they had their own intellectual wrestling journey and landed here. Perhaps they had an emotional experience that convinced them of truths in the Bible. I need to respect that. I would hope for the same respect for my beliefs.

 

Well, readers, what do you think? How can we best get along with people who are very different from us, especially in ways that push our buttons? I invite comments from all points on the spectrum.

Enneagram crash course, Quakers, and type 9’s

Lately I have been wondering about the kinds of people who fit best into the Christian church, but also pondering the chicken-and-egg scenario: do those who fit best do that because they were naturally that way, or does the church change people-modify people- so that their personality fits better within the church? Since I’m me, I’ve been thinking about this within the context of the Enneagram.

Crash course on the Enneagram (look it up if you’re interested for more info at www.enneagraminstitute.com), though I intend to write more posts later on the types: The Enneagram is a personality typing system with spiritual roots and a whole lot of complexity. There are 9 basic types that are mapped out in a circle with complex lines between them. Each type has a core “sin”/ “passion”/ “issue that it gets stuck on” (if we’re avoiding religious language). This issue can be its greatest weakness, but it also its greatest source of strength once it is worked out. I put the passions in bold so that they stand out. If you recognize your type easily, the passion can definitely have an “ouch” feel to it… but you may also feel very confused about why that passion would result from that type. Don’t worry, I intend to have later posts getting more into that!! (Also, to cite my sources: I use Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso & Hudson, Personality Types by Riso & Hudson, and reference an Enneagram workshop I went to a couple of years ago that was super informative- if you start to get into the Enneagram, I recommend going to a workshop if you can!) The 9 types are divided into three different instinct centers:

  • The Gut / Body / Instinctive Center (Types 8, 9, and 1): underlying feeling is anger
  • The Heart / Feeling Center (Types 2, 3, and 4): underlying feeling is shame
  • The Mind / Head Center (Types 5, 6, and 7): underlying feeling is fear

Here is a picture so you can see how the types connect. (yes, the lines mean something, but that’s for another day!).

Enneagram-TypesName

Type 1: The “Reformer.” Need to be perfect, right, morally upstanding, self-controlled; can be moralizing and want to impose their superego’s standards on others. Resentment

Type 2: The “Helper.” Need to be needed, to be loving, giving, generous, try to earn love by giving love. Have a hard time letting others take care of them. Pride

Type 3: The “Achiever.” Image-oriented, want to be successful, doers, driven, ladder-climbers. Need to look good / achieve (in any given field, including homemaking!). Vanity

Type 4: The “Individualist.” Introspective, self-absorbed, moody, trying to self-actualize and be true to themselves; amplifies feelings and bases identity on feeling states. Envy

Type 5: The “Investigator.” Need to know (they try to gain security through the knowledge they gain), inquisitive, intellectual, withdrawn, limited energy for others. Avarice (similar to hoarding, greediness)

Type 6: The “Loyalist.” Seek belonging, being part of something bigger than themselves, very committed, anxious/worry about the future, can be either phobic/contra-phobic (acting recklessly to prove to themselves they’re not afraid). Anxiety

Type 7: The “Enthusiast.” Seek to fully experience life through lots of experiences/ keeping busy, avoiding pain, always looking toward what’s next, fun-loving but have trouble settling into the moment. Gluttony

Type 8: The “Challenger.” Need to be in control/ not be controlled, independent / reluctant to rely on others, forceful personality, confident. Lust (not sexual, but lust for control or power)

Type 9: The “Peacemaker.” Need to not make waves, easy-going, self-effacing, doesn’t want to bother others, find peace within through having peace outside, can ignore uncomfortable truths. Sloth  (not the same as laziness… see below)

To not exclude myself from this exploration of religion and personality types, I will start with my own type 9, the “Peacemaker.” 9’s “passion” is slothfulness- not to be confused with laziness like we think of it, though that can be part of it, but more a reluctance to take your life by the horns and realize that only YOU are the person who can fully live your life. 9’s, I’ve noticed, tend to be interested in peacemaking endeavors and politics. At their best, they stand up strongly for what they believe in, bringing people together, doing reconciling and mediating work. They are often interested in spirituality, but as the Wisdom of the Enneagram (an EXCELLENT book!) put it, they are too eager to go towards the “white light” and try to skip past all the difficult, yucky parts involved in really deep spirituality.

Sometimes, to be honest, I question if that’s what I’m doing. The white light thing. I like my spiritual practices of journaling with my mug of coffee, of meditating. Of getting out into nature, of noticing the ducks and the muskrats, of thanking God for sunsets and sunrises. My spiritual practices that can be so intellectual, seminarian-style reading books about the Bible or Jesus or Buddhism or centering prayer, finding ways in my mind to tie these things together. Am I just being slothful? Am I doing what comes easy, what is comfortable? What are the ways in which I stretch myself? And the big questions: is this wrong? Is this right? Is this just who I was created to be? What is the balance between stretching and contracting that will allow me to be my fullest self?

The first time I went to a Quaker church, where the service was spent in silence punctuated by comments and stories from people who had clearly thought deeply about what they were about to say, but were completely content with the stillness and quiet, I said to my partner: “I think I found a church with my personality type!!” It was such a lovely, exciting feeling; this sense of belongingness (even with strangers). “Others think like I do? I thought I was the only one!” I’ve only spent half a year with the Quakers so far, but I hope to spend more time there. I want to see Quakers at their 9-ish best, working for peace, reconciling, mediating. Deeply centered in themselves, with a strong identity that calms and guides others.

Quakers are famous for being against slavery when it wasn’t cool, for being anti-war when it seemed all others were for the war. But that aside, in what ways do Quakers, if we are still comparing them with 9s, settle into slothfulness? Of not fully taking on their calling in this world? Of slipping into a comfortable silence every week and going home, content enough with the way they contacted God and happy to keep that inside? I don’t know enough yet about Quakers to say much about what the average Quaker does… but I hope to learn, to observe myself and them, with clear, unflinching, nonjudgmental eyes.

I want to be aware of the ways that they, or any spiritual group or denomination, are blinded by the hums and rhythms of their natural personality.The way that we can start to assume, when we are surrounded by people who think and act just like us, that this is the right way to be, or sometimes even the only way to be.

So that is some of what this series on the Enneagram and denominations is going to be about. Maybe you’ll see yourself in a type. Maybe you’ll see your church in a type (or multiple types). Are those the same type (that is, do you “fit in”)? Different types? What are the ways that your church or your spiritual practice enclose you in a safe way, and what are the ways that are limiting or blinding? I’d love to hear your continuing thoughts!

Religious Refugee: Why I’m not home yet

I was talking with some Quakers recently, and they agreed that “we tend to collect a lot of religious refugees.”

That’s a kind of neat way to say something that is probably true, I thought to myself, not yet thinking that was one of those religious refugees.

When asked about my faith tradition, I usually offer a run-on sentence something like, “Well, I was raised in the evangelical nondenominational tradition, but I have wandered from that and my faith has been liberalizing since college, and I usually go to a Quaker church now, but sometimes I go to a UU church” [the last part I may add depending on whether or not I’ve decided if my listener can accept the fact that I have attended a UU church].

And though (again, depending) my listener may not feel too comfortable with that, I do feel fine with the religion, or lack thereof, that I have settled into. I don’t feel any animosity towards the tradition I came out of, and I have made peace inside and out regarding my past. I’m “there,” right? I’m not a refugee. I’m not wandering in the desert wishing I could just go home. I may not be in the promised land, but I’m totally peaceful about where I am.

Wait a minute. Or am I?

Then why am I so defensive if I perceive that someone thinks I don’t take spirituality seriously? Why do I still feel the need, or desire, to qualify that I still do spiritual practices even if my church setting today looks very different from what I came out of?

Why, even though I accept in myself that I cannot speak the “evangelical language” (Jesus as son of God, Lord, or Savior; repenting for my sins; being ‘saved’) with a sense of integrity or wholeness, does my throat constrict and heart beat a little faster when someone speaks it to me? Why do I think that they are somehow trying to proselytize me even when I know that they know me well enough to probably accept me as I am?

Why do I feel such a strong need to “prove myself” with knowledge of biblical scholarship or theological issues (not that I know all that much, but enough to “puff up” dangerously depending on my context!), or become offended when someone thinks I must not know very much about these things because I’m “just” a counseling student or I’m not in a denomination? (and is there something going on besides a general desire / prideful need to feel “smart”?)

Why do I still sometimes cry when I cannot take communion or when I feel I have lost a major point of contact with someone so close to me?

Like many others, I too love reading Rachel Held Evans’ blog. (Here is her latest post about heart-breakingly deciding to leave the evangelical position because she is exhausted of trying to force it to change: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/what-now-world-vision). I love what Christians who are passionate about Jesus, the Bible, social justice, community, and loving people talk about and do when they are together. So much so that I sometimes pine to be one of them again. But I can’t. I appreciate their outcomes, but I cannot join them. I’ve been told: “You’re more of a Christian than most Christians I know!” But I’m not. I care about God, I deeply want to be in touch with God, I want to be the person God (whoever/whatever God is) created me to be, I care about social justice, I care about doing the right thing. I have some sense of mission and purpose. Those things do not make me a Christian.

Honest, I have found some good, lovely things in the communities I’ve wandered to. Quakers are notorious for being forerunners and prophetic in social justice issues- the earliest activists in the anti-slavery movement, and are now (from what I’ve observed) very vocal and pro-active about saving the earth from human destruction through climate change. They also are raising awareness about the new systematic racism occurring in our criminal justice system (“The New Jim Crow” is a book I’m intending to read). I’ve pitched my tent next to the Quakers, hoping that I can set up a sturdier structure in there one day. Maybe I am waiting for them to clear out some square footage and give me a personal invitation to build. And some UUs that I’ve met are not only socially aware but even manage to get out of their intellectualizing heads and do spiritual practices. (sorry if I’m offending anyone…the pool I have to draw from is limited.)

But considering the ways I still react to encounters I have in the Christian world, maybe I am something of a religious refugee. No one kicked me out of Christendom- I kicked myself out, over a gradual process. I listened to myself, I listened to what I learned, I listened to what makes sense and what my intuition told me may be possible. I did not necessarily listen to what people told me I could or should believe. And I probably won’t go “home” again, if “home” means returning to my roots. “Home” is someplace else, and sometimes I’m still trying to figure out what my new mailing address will be.

I need to reference a book I’ve read at least once per post , so here it is for today: James Fowler wrote about 6 stages of faith in a book aptly named Stages of Faith. Stage 4 is the intellectualizing, doubting stage, where you no longer believe any of the “myths” you once did and you rely on the rationality of your mind. Stage 5, on the other hand, is often a return “home” to a religious tradition (often the one you were raised in, in some form [perhaps with a conservative->liberal shift], but maybe a whole new one), able to see it with new eyes, with symbolization, with an understanding of something universal found in the particularities of your faith- and that somehow, that universalism must be expressed through particularism. By the “particular,” I mean the idea that to be spiritually rooted, we must practice in communities and hold actual beliefs and be accountable to others and God.

I think I’m somewhere in the middle (perhaps we can call it 4.5). I don’t rely only on my intellectual, rational capabilities to figure out faith. I believe in and crave mystical, contemplative experiences of God. I believe in the universalism of the particularity in my head, if not always in my heart. But I haven’t yet figured out how to non-defensively interact with – to be specific – the evangelical tradition from which I came. How to truly, deeply understand the universal aspects of their particularism in a loving, compassionate, humble (HUMBLE!!) way.

So for now, I suppose I am a religious refugee. Who knows when I will truly reach my Canaan. Canaan, for me, is more of a state of mind and heart than an actual location. I will take shelter in the Quaker tradition for the time being, which may include the rest of my life. There, I will wait until my heart softens enough to embrace with lovingkindness all traditions, even that one that I secretly harbor some kind of resentment towards, because I’m not a part of it any longer. In the land of Canaan, I have a soft, humble heart. I hear with open ears and believe beyond what is possible. I see that of God in everyone and everything.

Somewhere, maybe on the horizon and coming into view, my Canaan awaits.

how can you long for what you already have?

Longing. Desire.

You know what I’m talking about. I know you’ve experienced it, if you’re human. And I’m not just talking about the “I want his/her hot bod next to mine” kinda feeling. I’m talking about the feeling that seems to emanate from the very core of your being,  the one that asks “what else is there?”, the one that lives for the possibility that there IS more to live for, the feeling of knowing something is lacking but being unable to express exactly what that is.

This feeling, I think, must also encompass hope. As C.S. Lewis says, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity). We hope that there is something out there that can meet our desire.

Different psychologists talk about this feeling of unmet longing in different ways. Some (Freud) say it’s just our biological drives for pleasure and aggression that provoke longing (or in his way of thinking, anxiety, when our urges go unmet as they often do).

Some (Fairbairn) think that since our parents didn’t perfectly meet our needs (physical or, just as importantly, emotional) when we were infants, we end up internalizing concepts of what we wished our parents could have been for us. It’s the infant equivalent of, “well, if you’re not ACTUALLY going to be here for me, I’ll make you be here for me in my MIND!” We idealize people as adults too. On the flip side, we can also actively reject others in a “you’re not gonna reject me because I’ll reject you first!” type of attitude. Then we go around our whole life long trying to connect with people using a mold based on those fantasy connections. No wonder we long, because we are seeking something that didn’t exist in the first place.

Some (Winnicott) say that we didn’t get a chance to let our “true self” really flourish as a child before the walls of reality came crashing down on our fantasy, egocentric ways of being: “no Mommy, I really AM Superman!!”. Yup, believe it or not, it really is important to indulge little kids’ notions of being powerful and the center of the universe (according to Winnicott, and I believe him). When we do that, we help establish a feeling of personal importance and personal meaning, which is embodied in our true self. Without this sense of meaning, we will be constrained in a false self, trying to meet the demands of the world but feeling empty inside: longing and desiring for something more.

I think these interpretations are great, and help give us a glimpse into the myriad of processes that are going on ever since we were born. However, there is one psychoanalyst who recently caught my attention, because I felt like he was describing the state of my soul. He’s French (harrharrharr, twirl your mustache), postmodernist, linguist, terribly confusing and complex and deep (good thing I just read summaries of his work in English). Jacque Lacan describes desire in this way (summarized by authors Mitchell and Black from Freud and Beyond):

“Desire, the wellspring of passion, is more encompassing than the pursuit of satisfaction and the quelling of need– it is ultimately necessarily ungratifiable. In desire, the child wishes to be totally captivating, to be everything for the (m)other. To truly be everything for the other would be to embody everything the other desires….
This [disconnection from the m(other)] gives rise to Desire… Desire is ultimately unsatiable, because desire is born of the longing to heal the gap…to attain an impossible (imaginary) recollection, to be at one with mother and nature again.”

You might have to read it a couple of times. But for whatever reason, this writing helped give words to a feeling, an idea, a longing, that before had just floated around in my soul.

It smacked me on the face because I realized: I WANT TO BE EVERYTHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE. My desire is to be all that you desire (you=my other). I want to somehow, magically, meet all your needs.

Lacan suggests this desire emerged as a baby, when in my self-centered world, I believed that I was the only thing my mother desired. And when that fantasy came crashing down, man, what a blow to the ego. It’s a painful gap that is formed… a chasm between my soul and the world that can feel interminable.

When I am all that you want, my desire is fulfilled. I am given meaning. I am worth something. Please do not suggest to me that it is not possible to be someone else’s everything, because it feels like you will destroy my sense of self. By being important – by being EVERYTHING- to you, I can believe that I AM important. To settle for less feels like settling for a cheap substitute.

Yet at the very same time, I also know that this desire is inherently unsatiable. I know that as a human, I cannot meet all of another human’s needs. I was not meant to. It’s just… part of being human. IT’S NOT MY FAULT.

(I have a tendency to self-blame and undervalue). (maybe you do too).

Well, what in the world do I do with this terrible endless not-quite-describable feeling of longing, of wishing to be something I cannot be, of trying to create meaning through what I can be for someone else?

I don’t know much about Lacan, so I don’t know if he resolved this. But for me- on my good days, when I can believe with all my heart- I know the answer.

I really, really, believe (and again, I’m not saying I feel this way all the time, but I have experienced it once and sometimes once is really enough) that we are NOT SEPARATED FROM GOD. God is not “out there” watching us, not really caring, not involved. I believe that God is inside every single one of us. Already. I don’t believe you have to ask God to come into your heart, or have a conversion experience, or be baptized. I believe God is already right here. God is part of us… but we are also part of God. What? Altogether. Collectively. God-in-us and we-in-God.

You see what happens to the gap, the chasm, the unspeakable longing?

BOOM. Gone.

God is here. God is with us. We are with God.

In the moments I know this, I don’t have to long anymore. You don’t long for something that you know you already have.

And how sweet it is.

Amen.

Abundance or scarcity?

Do you live like your resources are about to run out?

I do.

Doesn’t matter what kind of resource either; I’m not picky. There is money, of course: most of us are aware of the overall trajectory of our bank account, depending on our circumstances of the time. But I know that even in the times when I’m making more money than I’m spending, I still feel like my money is at risk for running out soon.

I may be generations away from the Great Depression, but I still want to save my baggies for my next sandwich. Why throw it out when you could just use it again?

I also believe in scarcity of food. I’m that kid (maybe you are too) who was always told the importance of finishing all the food on your plate at dinner, or you’d be eating it at the next meal. Now I just have a guilt complex about wasting food. I clean up the crumbs and spoon up the melted ice cream. My friends know I’m a master scraper of what you thought were empty peanut butter jars. (I’m perhaps telling you too much about my neuroses). I get physically uncomfortable when I see people throwing food away. What about the starving kids in Africa? And hey, I bet I could put that food to good use if you gave it to me!

You didn’t know this was possible, but I also try to hoard sunsets and mountains. They are some of my favorite things to look at. But I look at them like they were going to disappear tomorrow. I hunger for the beauty, with a feeling inside of knowing the peace I experience in this beauty will soon fade away. Sunsets quickly fade to darkness. I move from Colorado to Indianapolis, which has a distinctive lack of mountains.

Why do I act like this, when I shouldn’t seem to have a reason to?

I’m housed. I have enough food. I even found out that though Indianapolis has no mountains, they’ve got great trees, and the sun sets here on the flatland in ball-of-fire ways I’ve never seen before.

I know not everyone has these things. But what might change if I believed in abundance, not scarcity?

It’s the widow who puts her last coin in as her offering while I sit back and calculate how much I think it would be “prudent” to give.

Why is it that so often, those who have the least to give, give freely, while those of us with the most to give, hold back so tightly? What is it about the idea of having that is so addictive? That keeps you searching and searching for more of whatever it is that you have until you think you have enough- not realizing that you never will?

What must we have been separated from when we entered this world that makes us long for the day, the time, the feeling, when we will never be lacking??

I occasionally wonder what it would look like to live with abandon, childlike, not worrying about how I personally am going to make everything come to fruition. Being able to live exuberantly — not narcissistically or selfishly or spending all my money on myself, but realizing that money is just a thing. It’s not an ideal to be collected and saved, or contrarily, to spend on worldly treasures and experiences. It’s a tool. Helps us get around in this strange world we live in. It’s not a god.

What if we lived and moved in communities where we really loved one another as we loved ourselves, and if someone is hurting, down and out, and in financial distress, we didn’t bat an eye at helping them out. Who wouldn’t buy themselves food when they needed it- or their neighbor whom they love? Likewise, I could move securely in this community trusting that if I were in great need, someone – someone whom I loved deeply – would come to help me. I would also need humility to accept help like that.

What if I could act in faith believing that if I extend myself – perhaps in risky ways – to help another, somehow, that extension will not fall to the ground without bearing fruit. I will, somehow (here or after) be protected, while I do my part in protecting others. What if that little piece of good was like a seed, and the only way to get it to grow is to drop it, scatter it, send it out, even at the risk of being crushed or going unnoticed, because it’s not going to start growing while it’s clenched in my fist.

At the end of the day, I will never be lacking when I am acting in real, genuine love.

I know it’s risky to pray for crazy things like… the ability to take risks. To ask for challenges that require me to take action to meet the challenges. To ask who and how I may serve today.

Risky, but worth it. I’m not saying I’m going to be a rock-star success as I stumble on this trail, but I think I want to give it a shot. Who is with me?