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?

License to interpret: the Bible and same-sex relationships

It will be four years this June since the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in the United States. This post might feel a little behind the times given all the societal changes going on already. But as many of you know all too well, the church often drags its feet when it comes to change, coming kicking and screaming into relevance — if it isn’t already too late when it gets there.

Today’s post is a follow-up to the one entitled “Why I specify LGBT friendly on my counseling profile.” It will go through some of the passages used to condemn same-sex relations and talk about why we have the freedom to interpret them in a new way.

Just a little dose of humor… “Bible-thumper,” get it??
From http://www.brainlesstales.com/2012-03-16/bible-thumper

There are 6-7 main verses that are used in support of “traditional marriage” and against homosexuality. And for perspective: When we compare that to the amount of verses that talk about the poor, wealth / poverty, and economic justice issues: well, it’s miniscule. Jim Wallis and his peers created a “holey” (haha) Bible when they cut out all verses about the poor: 2000 verses on poverty and justice as opposed to just a handful about same-sex relations. (I got some great info from a guy who already wrote this post I’m writing: here’s his link if you’d like to check it out!). I won’t go through all the verses on same-sex relations – just read his article, after you get through reading mine!

The Old Testament

The first stop on our tour is the Old Testament Levitical laws. Some Christians use verses from the Old Testament to support their traditional marriage approach, such as Leviticus 18:22 (“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”). Levitical prohibitions are included as part of “purity code” law. These codes are intended to set the Israelites apart from other people groups, to preserve their identity. Most Christians today don’t have any issues mixing their fabrics (Deut. 22:11, Lev. 19:19, etc), and unless allergic or vegetarian, are willing to eat shellfish (Lev. 11:10); we no longer refer to women’s menstrual cycles as their “sickness” (Lev 20:18, NRSV), and except for in the Handmaid’s Tale, don’t stone both parties when a man rapes a woman who is engaged to (and thus the property of) someone else.

Please, no. Gilead is not a society I want to exist in!
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Stewart Cook/REX/Shutterstock (9637472bd) Handmaids ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ TV show premiere, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA – 19 Apr 2018

Okay, fair enough. Sounding a little antiquated already. Later on in the New Testament, Peter has a vision where all the animals are spread out on a sheet together, and he hears that all is allowable for eating. The old Levitical laws don’t seem to matter so much when all they cause is discord between Jews and Gentiles. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15) is what the passage says.

This is an important idea. We will come back to it later: and not just in regards to food and Levitical laws.

One last stop in the Old Testament: Sodom and Gomorrah. Modern-day fundamentalists worry America is turning into a modern-day equivalent, with moral licentiousness, depravity, and excess. I mean, I might agree with them on some points – but not quite the way they are thinking, and probably closer to the real meaning of the story.

A rather dismal situation, right? Glad I wasn’t there…
(retrieved from here)

Honestly, when I read the Sodom and Gomorrah passage just now in my NRSV (Genesis chapter 19), I had to go consult the internet for why this is used as an anti-homosexuality prooftext (prooftext = passage, often taken out of context, to support a belief the reader holds). In the story, Abraham is basically talking God down from utterly destroying the city of Sodom. First, if you believe in a God who is all-knowing and unchangeable, realize you are also probably not reading this passage “literally” as Abraham appears to literally be negotiating with God. But I digress.

So what is the point of the story? Scholars say the story is about God testing Abraham (making sure he’s the guy he’s cracked up to be) and finding him to be noble, ethical, and worthy. God is able to be argued out of wholesale destroying the city and agrees to save it (temporarily) for the sake of ten good people.

The next part of the story is really disturbing. Lot is now the main character, and he is hosting some angels in his home (like you do) when some evil men (from S & G) come to his door sounding like they are demanding sexual relations – aka RAPE – of the male angels in the home. Instead of his guests being dishonored in such a terrible way, Lot offers his virgin female daughters for the men to rape. WHOA! Call the cops!! And I’m sorry: did you want to make the main point of this story that being gay is wrong? It seems to me the obvious message has more to do with sexual violence, lust and power, and inhumane treatment of others, far more than the particular genders of who is mistreating whom.

So when you hear the story, what part of the passage do you give the most weight to?

The New Testament

Moving on to the New Testament, which Christians generally give more credence to and really have to consider the weight and meaning of passages. We’re going to spend some time with our dear friend Paul. Paul is so formative for Christianity as a whole. Could it have spread as well as it did without his influence? It seems unlikely. But he can be quite challenging to many progressive-leaning Christians, because he says some pretty uncomfortable, seemingly intolerant things.

The passages often used as prooftexts against homosexuality are Romans 1, 1st Corinthians 6, and 1st Timothy 1. We’ll look at Romans 1:26-27:
“For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.”
The context of this passage is that Paul is writing a letter to the Christians in Rome arguing that the Jews and Gentiles all need to be reconciled together under one identity of being in Christ. They are needlessly divided. Part of his argument is pointing out that both groups do the same things, including the above references.

Some people argue that since unity is Paul’s point here (throughout the first couple of chapters of Romans), we can smooth over the rest. I do find that important, but also think we can acknowledge safely that Paul appears to be anti-homosexual here. Some people work through interpretative issues by saying Paul is only talking about uneven power balances of men with young boys. I wouldn’t say that doesn’t influence him and how he views homosexual relations, but I don’t think it’s the full story.

So come on, Paul. Why do you make things hard on your modern-day readers?? I wonder if the answer might be surprising.

Ohhh man.
(Reference: “Cain” by Henri Vidal, 1896.)

For those in the “oh my gawwwd Paul, cut me a break!” crowd because of passages like this and why women should be silent in church, etc, ponder this. Imagine ancient Rome and ancient Jewish culture, round about, oh, 60 CE. Women do not belong to themselves, but are the property either of their male relative, or their husband. They have no rights. The society is very patriarchal, and there is a strong power dynamic of how people relate to one another. And especially in Jewish culture, the shame/honor dynamic is especially prevalent. Presenting the right image to others, and not bringing shame upon oneself or the family, is of ultimate importance. A man had to preserve the image of virility and power, honor and status. Women were protected only by the men in their lives. In their society, a man with a man means one of them is dishonored (in the weaker, un-masculine position). A woman with a woman means no one is protecting them.

And aside from all that, Paul seems to be making an argument for the “natural” way of things to take their course, which to him seems obvious that male and female genitals only belong to each other. I wonder if Paul’s mind might be changed if he knew that the “passions” each sex can experience for its own kind (i.e., same-sex attraction) can be as ingrained as eye color, skin color, temperament. He didn’t have the science we have today. He didn’t have the culture of legal equality among sexes and sexual orientation (equality we’re working on, at least). But you know what? I think Paul would be open to changing his viewpoint if he only knew more. Just think about his conversion experience where his whole life turned upside down.

Let’s go back to the passage where Peter hears, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Peter having his vision.
Retrieved from http://weareisrael.org/clean-foods/peters-dream-in-acts-10/

In our culture today, I think that on the whole Christians get more of a bad rap for narrow views on sexuality (and here I include both sexual orientation and abortion issues). Except, of course, from within certain folds, where those same Christians feel self-righteous for upholding the faith and moral conduct. But society is changing. Gay marriage is becoming more and more normal, and we see these couples living everyday lives like the rest of folks, falling in love, committing to each other in sickness and health, buying homes, having kids.

Do not call impure anything that God has made clean.” Do we not know that God has called all of God’s children clean, and loves them ferociously? Do we not know that when we can live free of shame and guilt and oppression, we are that much more capable of producing goodness, grace, justice, kindness, faithfulness in our world?

It is high time we stop allowing a narrow reading of the Bible to dictate policy, whether in our country or in individual churches. I can’t force change, but my hope is that with some education and the softening of hearts, people will change. With that change, we can look at our lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, transgender, and queer siblings in the eyes and say “you are one of us. You belong here. I belong to you. We all belong to each other.” And then they may at last feel the love, and with a love like that, then might you find the answer is “YES.”

Why I specify LGBT friendly on my counseling profile

Once I knew I would be working as a counselor in a Christian counseling center at my pastor husband’s new church, in a new town where we knew no one, I immediately started crafting an online counseling profile in my head. What identity did I want to present to others? And how would I make clear to prospective clients who I am and what I stand for?

I do play therapy; I got my degree from a seminary; I’m psychodynamically trained; I have a heart for the spiritually wounded, questioners, and leavers of the faith. These are all true. But there was something else I needed to convey.

The line that kept standing out in my mind was LGBT friendly. This was a message I felt passionate about.

Now, this may not seem very significant. I’m licensed by the state of Ohio and I follow the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, which specifies I cannot discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc etc. I was educated in the importance of this. But a counselor being obligated to not discriminate is a far cry from a counselor being comfortable with and even welcoming diversity across the sexuality spectrum. Furthermore, I know that people too often associate Christianity across the board with a very narrow (and often judgmental) view of what is acceptable sexual practice. Many Christians still think you cannot be a Christian if you accept gay people being gay.

I know this all too well. You see, I grew up in a tradition that believes same-sex relations are an absolute sin. My evangelical / fundamentalist (I differ from Merriam-Webster in describing the jump to fundamentalism as not only interpreting your holy book in a strict, literal way, but actively denouncing and viewing with fear and suspicion the outside world. But that’s a post for another day!) upbringing taught me that the Bible (and therefore God) viewed homosexuality as an abomination. It even went so far as to believe that there is such thing as “the gay agenda” whose sole quest is to bring the world down into debauchery and moral decay. “Conversion therapy” was viewed as a legitimate and effective treatment for gay people to help guide them into a heterosexual way of life.

Of course, for people who find themselves experiencing same-sex attractions, whether in small degrees or in totality, this can lead to buckets of guilt, shame, and even self-loathing or self-hatred. That, or they have to find a way to make a quick exit from this theology, but it’s hard to leave such baggage behind. 

The path I took to get to where I am from where I was is far too long for this post (but stay tuned for another post in the future, about how to honor Christianity, the Bible, and non-heterosexual relationships at the same time). I have moved so far from that now that it might be easy to think such views are fading from society. In many ways, they are, if we look at the media and newly elected representatives as measuring sticks. But we all know those are far from genuine representations of the beliefs many people across the country hold. The Liturgists gathering that I just attended this month reminds me that there are still so many people – especially Christians – who are wrestling with the question of sexuality and God’s view on their own or others’ sexual orientations.

I was always aware that specifying “LBGT friendly” (and I could have added other letters) is a calculated risk. The pro obviously being that I am being true to myself and my practice, and communicating what may be desperately needed information to people who want a safe place to explore questions around sexuality, or who just want to be accepted for who they are already comfortable being.

The risk being that I am writing my statement on a website I am making for the whole counseling center, not just my own web page. I hope the others are comfortable with it, but I didn’t ask. I also might scare off some people who read the website and decide it’s not “Christian enough” for them (even though I am the only who specifies this). Or, perhaps a parent of a questioning, curious, or just open youth will not allow their child to see a counselor who might affirm their stance. (This, by the way, is not merely a hypothetical situation; it’s just not everyone reads our website thoroughly).

Some of you who come from traditions like mine understand the tension of such an action. I am sure there is at least one church in our small town alone that is being actively divided over the issue of sexuality and what is “acceptable” in Christian doctrine. I love our church’s website and how it describes doctrinal stances, but I am also keenly aware there is nothing on there about sexual orientation. It’s a big, divisive issue to take on, especially in a public setting. It’s easier to not talk about. Many Christians who would be affirming are quiet about it. I think this is even more the case in small towns, though I am still trying to figure this whole small town culture thing out. 🙂

So, I have decided to not be a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” but rather to be out of the closet about what I stand for. This is especially important in the context of a Christian counseling practice, where others might easily assume things about my beliefs. I have decided if I have the welcoming light of love, acceptance, grace, and affirmation to share, then I should not hide it under any bushels, but let it shine so all can see. One little way I can do this, in my little role as one of the counselors at a Christian counseling center, is to specify “LGBT friendly.” Because I want everyone to know there is more than one way to be a Christian. And that God’s love is already for everyone and God loves us exactly the way we were made.

Just to be clear: All are welcome. 
https://goo.gl/images/G658Fd

omygourd… SCIENCE!! (why Genesis and science are not enemies)

Omygourd… SCIENCE!!

Recently I heard a brief presentation from a lovely, caring, passionate woman who was speaking about providing Christian religious education to elementary school children. I was on board with what she was talking about (sharing about the love of God to kids whose parents opt in to the program), but then she said something that made my heart sink. A boy informed her that he couldn’t believe in the 6-day Genesis creation because his dad told him the universe started with a big bang. She expressed to us her sense of sadness for him and asked that we pray for his mind to be open to change.

*Deep sigh*

First, let me say that I get it. I come from the tradition where believing in a literal 6-day creation is one of the litmus tests of faith. I felt like my 7th-grade science teacher was personally attacking my faith when she introduced our class to the concept of evolution. The process of trying to figure out how to incorporate modern science into my religion was terrifying, and there is a real sense that “those scientists” are just godless people who are out to destroy Christianity.

I’m on the other side of this divide now. But what I’m becoming increasingly aware of is that even today, the divide is still quite real. I wonder how often people still feel like they have to choose between believing mainstream scientific research versus believing in the religion they hold dear, which they also believe holds eternal implications for their soul.

My concern for the little boy, and the woman teaching large numbers of the kids, is that they will think you have to pick one side or the other. The little boy has clearly been introduced to mainstream science from his dad. The likelihood that he will change his mind about this and believe young-earth theory in the long run (not just for his 3rd and 4th grade years) seems like a long shot, when his family upbringing teaches him differently. What if he thinks Christianity is sold wholesale with believing in young earth, without any big bangs, without any evolution? That someone cannot believe in Christianity, evolution, and the big bang, all at the same time? And then he throws out the whole thing?

There is a third way. The choice is not either / or. The choice can be a resounding “YES!!”

It takes a different way of reading the Bible. There’s so much to say that I can’t even start to cover it in one blog post, but reading Genesis without needing it to square with a literalist view of how creation came to be can be so exciting and inspiring.

Here’s the thing. Genesis was never meant to be a factual record of how the universe, earth, and all the living species came into existence. Ancient peoples just didn’t have that concern. They told stories as representations of how things came to be. Stories that demonstrated values they had and beliefs about where they saw themselves in the universe, what they thought about good and evil, and what it means to be human. The Genesis creation story, when compared with other creation stories written in ancient Mesopotamia, stands out due to its belief in the goodness of creation and the lack of violence with which God creates the world (we just don’t realize that because we are not exposed to other creation myths of the time). That is a beautiful, inspiring thing! Just think about what insights the ancestors of your religion had about the nature of a loving God! It’s enough to make me use too many exclamation points in this one paragraph!

If we can shift our framework for Genesis from literal, factual story to a beautiful, poetic story about how life came into being and what God is like, the whole thing changes. I would say it opens right up. No longer are we trying to figure out how long a “day” in Genesis is, and why Genesis 1 and 2 seem to be describing the same situation but differently, and how both scenes can be literal (huh?? Yes, read Genesis 1 & 2 for yourself and look closely). No longer are we trying to force the Genesis story into a box it was never meant to be in. It is finally allowed to speak for itself as the artful masterpiece it is.

I know that jumping from a poetic reading of Genesis to believing in the big bang and evolution (however we think of it… intelligent design included) may just be too much. Or maybe you’re disinterested in the whole thing, or maybe none of these questions have ever bothered you. And that’s okay. No one needs to or should deconstruct their faith in a day. Many people never feel the need to.

But in my own experience, I find a much more vibrant, alive, and – dare I say – evolving faith when I trust that God is not confined by our personal interpretation of text on a page, and trust that God is also actively present in science (which is just systematic inquiry into the reality we find ourselves in). When I am open to the mystery of what is and how things happen, my heart quickens and I am moved deep in my being. God will always show up, even if it does not look like how we thought it would.

Amen!

Omygourd! Because gourds are funny. Photo cred Mallory Woodard

Jihad of Jesus book review

 

Dave Andrews’ The Jihad of Jesus hooks the reader with a seeming paradox, as he suggests you cannot have neither Jesus without jihad, or jihad without Jesus. If you are open enough to not write him off immediately, you can quickly discover that after Andrews finishes walking us through a very sobering journey of all the terrible violence that Christians and Muslims have done to each other in the name of their religion, he is mostly playing with words and ideas to make this title feasible.

Jihad and Jesus, you say? Many Judeo-Christian Westerners are under the impression that it is inherently violent, a holy war, terrorism, killings in the name of Allah. However, Andrews re-examines the meaning of jihad and gives us another – truer – definition: jihad means “struggle” in Arabic, and has two components, the inner and outer struggle. The inner struggle is the greater jihad, and is the struggle to fulfill one’s religious duties. The outer struggle is the lesser jihad, which is a physical struggle against opponents. Some, but not all, Muslims would interpret this as “holy war,” but Andrews takes care to emphasize that there are nonviolent ways to interpret both the lesser and greater jihads.

Ah. Well, with this new definition of jihad, you can probably guess how the rest of the book goes, and if you are willing to go with this definition (as I and probably a good number of you readers are), Andrews is preaching to the interfaith choir.

I am tempted to sum up the rest of the premise of this book with two quick sentences. First, he asks if the construction of these religions is not just an excuse for the terrible violence, but the actual cause of it, a question he daringly answers with yes. Gasp! How can you say that? Well, like his reconstruction of jihad, he defines two “constructions” of religion, the word around which that first sentence pivots. My second summary sentence: One must distinguish between “closed-set” religion, which is boundaried, black-white, insiders-outsiders, right-wrong, and “open-set” religion, which is (as you could guess) open to all, seeking the heart of God and encouraging others to do so as well, instead of defining itself by rules, beliefs, and dogma.

With this wordplay, with new definitions for ideas we had preconceived notions of, jihad and Jesus can fit together much better. Jesus, through his words and actions, took on the struggle (jihad) to fulfill his religious duties, and likewise we need to, or at least can, embody the spirit of Jesus in order to fulfill our own religious duties and quest for nonviolence.

There are other interesting tidbits in this book, including some really fascinating studies about violence and the human capabilities for evil, but the main points of the book are above. I found that Andrews seemed repetitive, which grated on me by the end of the book, but his message is especially important for those not in the interfaith choir… if they are willing to pick up this book and give it some real consideration before throwing it out of their closed-set circle.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Enneagram Type 1 and Atonement Theory

Welcome back to my stalled series on the Enneagram and religious denominations! I wrote a post some 10 months ago about Type 9 and Quakers, which you can take a look at here. That link also offers a “crash course” on all the Enneagram types, if you are not familiar with them. Today, however, we’re going to look at Type One and the great gifts and burdens they carry with them in the religious world. Because Christianity is the context out of which I come, I will look at Ones and Christianity in particular.

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. However, these needs drive them to be reformers, striving for justice and what is right, with a sense of mission to improve the world.

In Ennea-speak, their root passion is Anger, and their ego-fixation is Resentment. What does that mean in, you know, normal people language? Essentially, Ones have a deep sense that once upon a time, things were perfect. You can think of the Garden of Eden, for instance. But things are messed up now, and everything is not perfect. Because of their deeply ingrained awareness that this is not how it should be, along with their belief that they DO know how things should be, they end up getting angry. However: to actually BE angry is rather intolerable to Ones, as they are known for their self-control. So the anger is repressed and instead bubbles under the surface, and it’s not hard for that bubbling anger to turn into resentment.

Now, for my caveat: I am going to describe a certain set of beliefs within Christianity that to me, seem fitting to the beliefs and needs of the One. I am certainly not trying to say that all Ones believe this, nor that all who believe this are Ones. And in truth, we all have a little bit of every Enneagram number in us. So take what you find helpful, and argue with me about the rest! 🙂

The Christian tradition that I was raised in was big on atonement theory. (There are many sub-theories of this, but I will use the following as my working definition). Essentially, I learned about original sin, the idea that we are all inherently corrupt and sinful (at least since Adam and Eve ate that fruit). Now, we still can’t get away from it, and the only solution is to have God come down and pay the penalty for our sins through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. Atonement simply refers to Jesus’s substitutionary death on the cross, offering his perfect life in exchange for the lives of all of us sinners, thereby satisfying God’s need for justice.

(If you want to get a bit nerdy, here’s a chart on various atonement theories… in this example, I am thinking of the emphasis in the Crucifixion illustrated below)

varieties.of_.atonement

It’s a belief system that seems to be created for these Ones… or was it the Ones who really molded this particular tradition?? In a One worldview, justice, righteousness, and fairness are key words. The need for perfection is important. God is perfect. God is righteous. God is just. In many people’s eyes, God cannot just forgive a sinner with no exchange being made. I think the One strives so hard for perfection because they are deeply aware that they are never quite perfect enough. They, more than the rest of us, bear in mind that there is always more to be done, always more perfection to be had. Hence: the need for a perfect moral sacrifice to come and rescue us all — especially Ones and their abiding need to be perfect — from the ever-present threat of being not perfect enough. 

Not all Ones are legalistic, of course, but Ones can make really great legalistic Christians. They have a knack for self-discipline and control, and they thrive on the sense of mission and self-sacrifice for the sake of a higher calling. Which leads me to the other side of the One, the activist / moral duty side. I love this quote from the Enneagram Institute website:

Ones often persuade themselves that they are “head” types, rationalists who proceed only on logic and objective truth. But, the real picture is somewhat different: Ones are actually activists who are searching for an acceptable rationale for what they feel they must do.

Religion can provide a useful rationale for doing what they feel they must do, whether you are conservative or liberal, Christian or not. You can be a One and advocate passionately for either side: pro-life, pro-choice; gay rights, “traditional” family; anti-war, protecting people in other countries through military intervention. The One is driven by a feeling that they must do something, that they must help bring the world back to a place of righteousness. As we know, religious people of all stripes can find religious rationales for what they do.

Imagine with me for a moment the church-as-a-collective (or a part of it) as a One, striving for perfection, afraid of their imperfections, angry and resentful that things are not perfect. There is a deep thirst for a Redeemer to come and make things perfect. For this branch of Christianity, it would naturally be an essential part of the narrative to have a story that involves a central role of sin and grace. Ones know deep in their being that they are sinful, and they need more than anything to be told that they are okay. 

 

 Meet Mr. Martin Luther!

martin luther

I have heard (from Richard Rohr, in The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective) that Martin Luther is a classic example of a One. Martin Luther was a monk who wrestled over and over with this need to be perfect and righteous, never feeling worthy to stand before God. He knew what he had to do to keep the law of God, yet he always failed. One night, on his conversion experience, he realized that righteousness was a free gift given by God. Martin Luther was only released from his curse of perfectionism and quest for his own righteousness by the realization that there was nothing he could do to truly be perfect. Likewise with our Ones. They can only be released from burden of never feeling okay, never feeling good enough, by realizing that it is okay, that they don’t have to strive anymore, that their imperfections are enough for God’s love.

Paul and Jesus Paul and Jesus, having a heart-to-heart…

Paul, the writer of a good chunk of the New Testament, could also be characterized as a One (see here for a fun chart). Paul is a you-love-him-or-you-hate-him kind of guy, aggravating many with what sounds like arrogant speech to our modern ears, yet inspiring many with his poetic and passionate speech about grace and freedom. Pre-conversion, he was a Pharisee, a stickler for the law, and seemingly quite obsessed with perfection and legalistic details. Then, according to his story, he had a transforming moment with the Risen Christ that turned his whole life around. This Reformer, perfection-seeking One suddenly understood grace, that there was nothing he could possibly do to earn the love of God. The reforming One was redeemed.

To understand grace, freedom, and perfection in not being perfect releases Ones from anger and from resentment. When they can come to a place of peace and acceptance about things being the way they are, they find Holy Perfection.

 

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Areas of disagreement? I’d love to hear it!

“Who do you say I am?” Summary of five scholars’ views

Summary of The Historical Jesus: Five Views, edited by James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy

Much as it would be convenient, history is not something that we can go back and neatly uncover, as if it were a very dusty shelf or a frog’s insides. Rather, history can perhaps be approximated using the best data we have available, and interpreted based on the various viewpoints presented from the data that we can gather. The same goes for “uncovering” Jesus. There has long been a so-called “quest for the historical Jesus,” in which scholars use information from sources like the Gospels, the other letters of the New Testament, non-canonical gospels, and the rare non-Christian source available to make their best guess about who Jesus was and what he did. However, scholars ought not to be the only ones on this quest. It is vital that people of faith with a desire to be intellectually honest also engage in this pursuit. One’s notions about Jesus may necessarily change in this process, but if the end result is being more informed and hopefully closer to the truth, it is a good change. I also believe that Jesus will not disappear as a result of this study, but that the student may come to a deeper and more complex appreciation of the man and his works on earth.

In the book Historical Jesus: Five Views, five biblical scholars present their diverse viewpoints, ranging from the claim that Jesus never existed at all to an evangelical who reads the Gospels as though they had unique access into the inner workings of Jesus’ mind. While these five do not represent the full possibilities of theories about Jesus, and none of them, in my opinion, present a completely satisfactory option, they at least serve to expand our thinking about Jesus.

Robert Price writes the first essay (Jesus at the Vanishing Point), holding the view that Jesus is not a historical figure but that he was invented as a mythic hero, similar to Greek and Roman gods of the time. He claims that there is no real historical support outside of Christian sources for Jesus’ existence, and describes how Jesus’ characteristics (e.g., born of a virgin, reputed to be the son of a god, goes to a future kingdom) fit the mythic-hero archetype. Thankfully, for all of those who were worried that maybe Jesus was going to disappear as a result of this study, the other contributors dismiss Price’s ideas fairly easily, as this is quite a fringe idea even in scholar-land. The first-century writer of Jewish Antiquities, Josephus, is regarded by scholars to be a legitimate non-Christian source that mentions a Jesus who performed “unusual” (miraculous?) deeds. Also, one cannot ignore the enormous effects of Jesus’ legacy, quite a feat for someone who would have supposedly never existed. The strongest part of Price’s essay, I found, was how thoroughly he combed through the Gospel of Mark and demonstrated how much of the book is a midrash (that is, written interpretation of Hebrew scriptures) on the Old Testament, like Joshua and Psalms. It is fascinating to see how passages we might just skim over as being original Markan echo passages that we, as New Testament-focused Christians, may have never even read in the Old Testament.

John Dominic Crossan, a co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, writes the second essay (Jesus and the Challenge of Collaborative Eschatology). The Jesus Seminar is essentially a group of scholars who gather together and vote on which sayings of Jesus are historically true. They often use the “criterion of dissimilarity” to determine this. This means that among other things, the Seminar is looking for sayings that do not just reflect the “post-Easter” Jesus or the “Christ of faith” (they believe that ideas about Jesus changed after the church experienced him after his resurrection. They would say the church essentially made up a bunch of events and sayings about Jesus before his death to suit their post-resurrection theology). Bear Crossan’s setting in mind is light of what he writes. In his essay, Crossan emphasizes that we must understand Jesus in his setting: a Jewish peasant living in Galilee under the rule of the Roman Empire, which profoundly impacted Jesus’ mission. He theorizes that Jesus started out as a follower of John the Baptist, who preached that the Kingdom of God was coming but not here yet (“imminent”), but that Jesus split off from John and began preaching that the Kingdom of God was actually here, right now. The kingdom simply requires us to bring it in (hence the term collaborative or participatory). Crossan summarizes Jesus’ main program points as: healing the sick, eating with those whom he healed, and announcing the presence of God’s kingdom through doing both of those things. However, Crossan seemed to say that Jesus’ healings were more of the spiritual or emotional variety (not miraculous or physical), which I have a hard time buying based on how well Jesus was known for his healings and exorcisms. Crossan believes Jesus was trying to demonstrate that this world was owned by God, not the Roman empire, and that much of Jesus’ actions were non-violently anti-imperial in this way. He cites Pilate’s killing of Jesus, but not Jesus’ followers, as proof that Jesus was rebellious enough to be considered a threat, but that his non-violence made it unnecessary to put his followers to death as well. I appreciated his inspiring take on a Jesus who was bold enough to challenge the ruling empire of his day all while remaining peaceful and even sacrificing himself for this cause. The weakest part of his arguments is what we can humorously think of as crafting a “Jesus in our own image,” that is, we modern-day folks love the idea of a liberal Jesus standing up to the powers that be, defending the poor, and attempting to subvert the oppressive systems of his day. Crossan acts as though he has privileged insights into Jesus’ motives, thinking, and how he perceived himself compared to other messiah-types of his day.

The third essay (Learning the Human Jesus), is by Luke Johnson. He holds that historiography (trying to understand events in the context of changing interpretations about them) leaves us limited in what we can know. He suggests that we try reading the Gospels literarily instead, with an eye to what the literary elements that have been included can tell us about how the writers interpreted Jesus. He acknowledges that Mark, Matthew, and Luke are dependent sources (general consensus is that Matthew and Luke used Mark when they set out to write their own gospels), but then he asks what, considering all the points at which these writings diverge, the points of convergence can tell us about Jesus. Based on this, he gives a modest list of what we can be pretty sure we know about Jesus: he proclaimed God’s rule as connected to his own words and deeds, he performed healings, he taught in parables and interpreted Torah, he associated with the marginalized in Jewish society, and he chose 12 followers. Johnson also says Jesus probably was baptized by John, performed some kind of prophetic act in the Temple, and perhaps interpreted a final meal with his followers in light of his coming death. Johnson was my favorite contributor, because of his moderate approach to the Jesus inquiry and the accessibility of his approach to the layperson: all you need to do is open a Bible and read and compare the gospels. I was inclined to do that before I ever read Johnson’s essay, and it has been a fruitful endeavor even with limited background information. The weakest part of his essay, I found, was that he did not acknowledge enough the literary dependence of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and so may have made more of the significance of the “convergences” than he really has liberty to do. Given the evolution of theology and emphases even within those three gospels, and especially between John (generally thought to be written later) and those three, how much may theology have been shaped in the period between Jesus’ life and when Mark was written?

James Dunn is the fourth contributor (Remembering Jesus), writing about how he thinks the current quest for the historical Jesus has lost its way. His three main points of contention about the quest are: they assume that faith clouds judgment and historical reliability; that they focus almost entirely on the literary dependence of the gospels, disregarding the oral tradition; and that the “criterion of dissimilarity” is greatly overused. I agree with him that Jesus somehow evoked faith from his followers and that this is a genuine point of evidence that we must take into account when trying to uncover the historical Jesus. Somehow, as well, a quester of faith will perceive different things about the Jesus tradition than one without, but having faith does not make you wrong about your findings. I also agree that the criterion of dissimilarity is given too much emphasis, in that scholars are trying to find a Jesus who is different from his contemporary messiah-type figures and the Christ of faith, as if the real Jesus couldn’t possibly be similar to either of those. However, I did not find his argument about the oral tradition to be particularly strong. Indeed, it was an oral culture and very few people were literate then, but if, as he pointed out, you can account for nearly every variation in the gospels through literary editing, then why spend so much time trying to defend why an oral tradition accounts for these variations? Even if there was a strong oral tradition, it seems more logical to me that the written tradition of the gospels was passed down in just that stream: literarily.

The final contributor is Darrell Bock, who presents an evangelical view on the historical Jesus. He argues that the historical Jesus study can only give us a “gist” of Jesus, but that this gist sketches the same person that the gospels outline. Most of his essay is spent outlining themes of Jesus’ ministry and the vindicating events showing that Jesus was who he (or the Gospels) claimed to be. However, although he carefully outlines a Jesus well-supported with details from the Gospels, it is not done in a historically critical way. He seems to have the assumption that the Gospel writers had privileged access into Jesus’ thoughts and intentions, instead of reading the books neutrally and carefully, with an eye to what might be historically accurate and what might be a literary modification. Thus, it is hard to read his essay with much academic respect. In the field of biblical scholarship, one must honestly engage the Gospels in a historically critical way and let the chips fall where they may, requiring faith on the part of the Christian that there is still a Jesus to believe in and follow once the dust settles.

Glossary:

Canonical/non-canonical gospels: Canonical gospels include Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The church was in agreement about which books were canonical, or belonged as Scripture in the New Testament, by/in about the 4th century. Non-canonical gospels include the Gospels of Peter, of Judas, and of Thomas, among others.

Midrash: commentary on the Scriptures. Often a Jewish method of interpreting and rewriting scriptures with modified or added theological meaning.

Eschatology: Having to do with the end times: regarding death, judgment, and what happens to the world/souls.

Historiography: The study of how history has been written (leaving room for changing interpretations of history).

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