Thoughts on the New Zealand massacre from a counselor

Obviously you know the news by now from New Zealand: 50 people killed. Muslim worshippers at two different mosques. Suspected gunman with white supremacist, anti-Muslim beliefs with 5 legally purchased weapons, two of which were semi-automatic assault rifles. Hopefully, regardless of your own religious affiliation, your heart is broken and you are outraged.

I remember how shaken I felt after the Las Vegas massacre in 2017. The death count of this new massacre is nearly as high, but this time it is on the opposite side of the world and against people of a religion most of us do not identify with. What impact does this have on our concern? Our compassion? Or the ever-timely question of what we can do to make change?

I recall to mind exchanges I used to have with a counseling client, a boy nearing adolescence who was quite small for his age but quite big for his britches. Now, typically my approach is very client-centered and client-led, and I create a lot of space for the person’s beliefs and working out issues at their own pace, not the pace I wish they would go at. I was very challenged by this with this client.

One day my client came in complaining about, and even mocking, some of the new neighbors on his street and the kids in his class. He hated their accents. He hated how they weren’t up to speed on the American things he found important. My client (who was, by the way, a quarter black and I wondered about the internalized racism he must experience) lived in a very white suburb and to the best of my knowledge, it seemed this suburb was suddenly and uncomfortably diversifying particularly with a population of immigrants who also happened to be Muslim. My client’s family did not like this.

Sounds like New Zealand. Sounds like America.

My client would sometimes tell me about the things he was learning from his stepgrandma and how he was learning to distrust all the things he was learning in his public school. She told him the textbooks he studied were wrong. She told him that Democrats were actually the party of racists. She told him that the Qu’ran was filled with commandments to kill the infidel and about jihad and that Muslims were dangerous, bad people.

I remember the first time I met a Muslim and actually got to know her. I was raised on the same rhetoric that my client was hearing, and I learned a very one-sided view of Islam. I also came of age around the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which shaped my understanding of who Muslims were. In college, I was befriended by a sweet Muslim girl, because she happened to be the dorm neighbor of my best friend. She wore a head scarf almost all the time but would sometimes take it off in the safety of the all-female dorm hall. She had a smile to melt your heart, a warm and kind spirit, and a disarming tendency that drew you in. At the age of 18, my encounters with her were my first step toward a radical change in my exclusivistic Christian views and toward interfaith thinking.

Meanwhile, these recent encounters with my client became blood pressure-raising, cheeks-flushing 45 minute sessions. As I said, I typically interfere little with belief systems of clients, but I could not stay silent while he spouted off the rhetoric – propaganda – that he was picking up from a parental figure who was probably getting her own news from extraordinarily biased sources. I tried to challenge him on his notions of Islam, explaining what else Islam stood for: peace, respecting others, loving God. I even reminded him that his own Bible held some pretty ugly passages, but we generally choose to not focus on them. I questioned him on the blatant prejudice of categorizing “all” people of a certain group because he had a negative interaction with one of them.

I couldn’t not speak. I questioned whether it was okay to insert myself in such ways, but I also recalled the values I have promised to live by as a counselor to be culturally sensitive and stand up for the oppressed.

I don’t know if what I said in our conversations made any impact on him. I don’t know if the color of his own skin or his remarkable intelligence might one day have him think twice about people he perceives as outsiders or different, or if he will adopt defense mechanisms of paranoia and projection and view the “other” as evil and dangerous. But I knew then as well as I know now that the line of thinking he was following was not just discriminatory, not just hateful, but has the potential to be incredibly dangerous.

So how will we respond to this latest tragedy? Can our country self-examine and quit deceiving ourselves that policies like an attempted “Muslim ban” and broadly referring to neighbors across the southern border as “bad hombres,” gang members, rapists, and murderers might actually be part and parcel of the very same fabric from which this mass murderer arose? Might we admit that “nationalism,” as we understand it today, is perhaps not all it’s cracked up to be? Can we understand that when a significant portion of our country thinks the Qu’ran is only filled with hate for the infidel and assumes that to be Muslim is equivalent to being a terrorist, that we are all in danger and the worse off for it? Both because of people like this recent shooter and because actual terrorist organizations thrive off of angry, skewed views of Muslims?

Can our churches respond and say “We stand with Muslims”? Can we boldly proclaim that we are all God’s children and the heart of God and our own heart breaks with the loss of life and the proliferation of hate?

We are not left with our hands tied, regardless of how many time zones away this tragedy is this time. The problem is in our own backyards as well. What are we willing to risk to send the message that love – love of the neighbor, love of the stranger, love of the immigrant, love of the Muslim – is stronger than the hate that constantly threatens to divide and even kill us?

Review: The Disfiguration of Nature: Why Caring for the Environment is Inherently Conservative

In his provocative, controversial-at-times book, James Krueger makes his case why environmentalism is inherently a conservative cause. He prefers the term “conservation” to make clear the word’s ties to conserving and conservatism. This book is of supreme relevance in a time when political divisions are becoming starker, nuance feels like a relic, and we seem to have forgotten how to submit to one another for the good of the whole. At times his rhetoric is abrasive and grating, especially when he adds in inflammatory topics of LGBTQ and abortion rights. But don’t give up and throw the book aside. We already do too much of that in our inabilities to truly dialogue anymore. Krueger has much of value to say and it is important to at least be open to his challenges, lest we only wall ourselves into echo chambers of those who think and believe just like we do.

Krueger’s main premise is that our political identities have strayed far from their origins, and both sides now believe in the goodness of progress (however that is defined) regardless of cost (e.g., neoliberalism), and very often to the detriment of the very earth we live on. He re-defines (or rather hearkens back to) definitions of conservative and liberal. “Conservatives” were once defined as those who use tradition as a guide for the future, who strongly value family life and other social organizing systems that keep us beholden to one another, and who prioritize morality and personal integrity (p. 6). “Liberalism,” as he defines it, prioritizes progress for the sake of progress, supports technological advances, and a market- and profit-driven system that is given free reign by a limited government (p. 7). Clearly, our conservative and liberal political parties have moved a tad from such origins. Today’s Republican party has much more of a libertarian instead of a conservative ideology, and both parties swim somewhere in the soup of classical liberalism. Because of this, classical conservatism has been lost.

A conservative by his new / old definition, Krueger is not against a government with authority to set limits on businesses and provide social safety nets for the vulnerable in society. He acknowledges that big business is very poor at self-regulation and believes it is the role of government to set the needed limits that then benefit all instead of the few. What is important to him is respecting the laws and limits of nature and being humble about our own place in the world.

Krueger brings in LGBTQ and abortion issues because these are often, for Republican voters, issues that keep them away from a pro-environment vote (which is now solely the realm of Democrats). He does not support governmental promotion of LGBTQ or abortion rights, because he believes that both of these issues go against laws of nature and traditional moral principles. In some ways, especially with LGBTQ rights, I feel he is setting up a straw man argument (though it may appeal to today’s conservatives) about what the LGBTQ population wants: the destruction of the marriage institution, sex and sexuality becoming un-sacred and used solely for one’s personal pleasure, without concern to how we are responsible to one another in relationship. Perhaps it is my own personal experience of knowing so many married or monogamously committed, and very often Christian, LGBTQ couples that this argument barely makes sense to me. He also assumes there is no biological basis to homosexuality, whereas I do not think you can make such an argument based on what we witness even in the rest of the animal kingdom. On the issue of abortion, I give him credit that he supports much more social, governmental support for single mothers who keep the babies they are not ready for. I too wish for this and wish the Republicans could take this up as a pro-life issue.

Krueger’s book is a thin volume but very densely and academically written. It is not for the faint of heart if you fear being challenged, inspired, and even angered all in the same chapter. I do not agree with all of what he has written, yet I still want to shout the underlying message from the rooftops: Conservation is not an inherently liberal issue! Conservatives need to take up the issue of conservation! We have no time (or land, or water, or air) to waste!

Those of us who live in small towns, who naturally have more connection to the land and may either farm or know farmers nearby, easily understand this. My own town of Bellefontaine, Ohio has a free recycling program, has reduced their trash waste by 24% just this last year, and many people compost in their own backyards. They also tend to vote Republican. Conserving and being a conservative are not mutually exclusive.

So what is it we must do? In my opinion, people on both sides of the aisle must stop monolithic thinking and bring some humility to the table. Democrats, especially big-city Democrats, must gain respect for the giant red swath of America in the heartland, the people who are often much more intimately connected with the land and submission to the cycles of earth. Republicans need to recall their roots and end the unhealthy marriage to big-business interests and false individual autonomy (e.g. through lowering taxes no matter the cost) that has somehow come to define them.

Additionally, I appreciate Krueger’s bold yet hard-to-swallow stance that we cannot continue our technological race forward that serves to consume more and more resources, even when we try and commit to using renewable resources in our gluttonous consumption. A lesson that seems most difficult for Americans to learn is that we cannot have it all, we should not have it all, and we must stop thinking we can have it all instantly. I’m only a fish swimming in this same water yet I know this greedy desire is one of our great moral downfalls. Are we willing to give up our pride, our greed, and be willing to submit to each other and to the earth in time to rescue our planet from destruction?

Enneagram, Election-Style

I listened to a great podcast about the Enneagram recently (it’s 2 hours long, but if you’re driving from Chicago to Indy, it really helps the time pass!). Click here: Liturgist Podcast

Then I chatted with my ever-insightful mother about the Enneagram and the presidential candidates, and was inspired to write a post about what Enneagram types I think Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are.But I gotta give credit to my momma for helping me think about what they are. Thanks, Mom! ;D

Generally, Hillary is commonly typed as a ONE (Reforming / Perfectionistic), and Donald as a type EIGHT (the Asserter / Controller). I’m going to disagree with both of those. (Daring, I know!). Some other random folks on the internet are in my camp, but I’ll lay out some reasoning.

Punchline first: My hypothesis is that Donald Trump is a THREE, and that Hillary Clinton is an EIGHT.

Let’s start with Mr. Trump since he’s more entertaining. In my opinion, lots of Enneagram people automatically type him as an EIGHT because he’s noisy, belligerent, insistent on his own way, and many people don’t like him. (Unfortunately, poor 8s have gotten a bad rap for being dominating / controlling / forceful people, and lots of people who aren’t 8s, or don’t know 8s, don’t like 8s). Many Enneatypers lump Trump in with 8s without thinking too much about what’s behind an 8.
Luckily, both my mom and my boyfriend are, I suspect, 8w9s, so I have more reason to ponder 8s and think kindly of them.
What is behind an 8’s forcefulness is a need to not be controlled. They want to be independent, and fear being dominated. They secretly are quite tender on the inside, if you can get past the brusque exterior. 8s also often have a passion for justice and tend to root for the underdog.
Mom (who understandably does not want to be associated with Trump) made me recognize that doesn’t seem to be Trump’s motives.

No, what seems to motivate Trump is his image, or how he is perceived by others. This screams THREE on the Enneagram.

THREEs on the Enneagram have a lot of underlying motives related to image (how they are perceived to others) and feelings related to shame. They are generally very successful, accomplished, and driven, doing what others only dream of having the energy for. 3s need to look good to others. Because of this need, they can be charming and popular but can also be shape-shifters, changing their persona to match what the crowd/person they are working with wants to see.
At healthy levels, 3s use their energy and drive for accomplishment for good, and they inspire the rest of us. At unhealthy levels, they can demonstrate psychopathic behavior and narcissistic personality.

You may be putting the puzzle pieces together yourself, but it seems clear to me that what drives Trump is how he appears to others. Whether he’s in real estate, firing people on The Apprentice, or, say, running for president, he’s in it because of what it does for him and what it does for his image. We can imagine the thought process leading up to his run for president. What else is there for me to do? Running a country is something I haven’t done. Imagine how that would make me look!
3s at their unhealthy levels (which I would posit, Trump is at) can be grandiose, narcissistic, exploitative, and might sabotage others to preserve themselves.

I was already thinking he was a 3 when I came across this article that was the clincher for me, called “Donald Trump’s Sad, Lonely Life.” The article speaks of Trump’s lack of an emotional life or any kind of reflection capacities. 3s can become so fixated on doing and achieving that they discount emotions – emotions just get in the way of accomplishing. The article also talks about how the worst thing possible to Trump is the feeling of humiliation – and he strongly judges others when something bad happens to their image.

Enough about Trump. On to Mrs. Clinton.

Many people think of her as a ONE, the reforming, perfectionistic type. I’m not in total disagreement, but I’ve been reading a book about the Clinton marriage (Bill and Hillary: The Marriage, by Christopher Anderson) that has me thinking she is more of an 8. 8s, to remind you, are motivated by a need to not be controlled. They want to leave their mark on the world. They are often decisive, full of common sense but also vision. They fear being hurt, so they often close themselves off emotionally to others.

From an early age, her mother taught her to not show emotion, to always maintain a sense of emotional equilibrium and not let her feathers be ruffled. She intimidated the boys growing up (and in college too). She was really a force to be reckoned with, taking part in so many groups in college and law school that I get tired just thinking about it.
(She also is reminiscent of an achieving 3 in many ways, but I would say her husband embodies that more than her). She practiced law and worked for organizations defending children’s rights – that 8 passion for the vulnerable, the underdog. She was so proud to marry Bill, whom she declared to people even before he was governor of Arkansas, “He’s going to be president someday.” She believed the best way to effect change was to go big – small-time community organizing was not enough for her; politics and law were more effective. Being married to the future president of the U.S. would probably work, too.

The danger of power is that it can become corrupting. When you are willing to bend rules to achieve your own means. “Crooked Hillary” is, I think, not unfounded – I just think Donald is even more crooked and dangerous. In the dualistic world of politics, we have to pick a side or not play. Good luck for the next 4 years, ‘Murica.

 

Of course, no outsider can ever decisively “type” another person on the Enneagram. These are just my ponderings and my best guesses. Thinking about the Enneagram is my form of mental play. I invite dialogue!