A new tagline; a clarified mission

My best friend and her wife were in town this weekend when we had the happy coincidence of a big, gnarly snowstorm holding us all hostage in our house. This meant we were trapped inside with them, forced to play multiple games of Carcassone and Sequence, eat copious amounts of cookies, cook hearty Southern food, and talk shop about the Enneagram. I know. Rough times, right?

Having them around gives me the chance to have long conversations about topics of interest to me (I love my husband dearly, but he’s more of a doer, not much of a conversationalist…). One realization I had (am having) is the surprisingly little amount of insight I sometimes feel I have into myself. For instance, although I know the Enneagram pretty well, I have the worst time knowing (or staying on) what type I am. I’ve been very good at persuading my listener that I am really a certain type, only to change my mind a couple months later. What that means to me is that sometimes I identify so strongly with an idea of what/who I am, that it is hard to step back and see the stable, unchanging Self that lies underneath all the preconceptions I hold about myself.

In that same vein, this weekend I realized that the tagline I had for my blog is misleading. Not intentionally, of course, but rather because I thought it was what I was about – or what I was supposed to be about. My tagline was “thoughtful explorations of spirituality, psychology, and their intersections,” as you may recall. After all, I’m a counselor, and I feel myself to be spiritually inclined and want to write about it. So that’s what I do, right?

Actually, no. When I take a cursory look at the podcasts I listen to, the books I gravitate to (currently just dived in to Karen Armstrong’s A History of God), and the things I often write about on here, I have a different inclination. I unabashedly enjoy writing about theological issues. I particularly enjoy looking at those issues through a lens of culture: both our modern culture, and the culture in which ancient texts were written.

I have a passion that cannot be extinguished (at least it hasn’t been, yet) for the urgency of not letting constricting theologies and religious views lead society around like a bull on a nose ring. My heart quickens when I think about helping free an enslaved Christendom from its patriarchal, colonial, xenophobic, unbridled capitalistic chains, and help restore it to the justice-for-the-oppressed, freedom-for-the-enslaved, dividing-walls-broken-down, grace-filled emancipator that Christianity was meant to be.

Retrieved from Stock Photos

That is what I feel called to write about here. Sure, I might say things that some perceive as polarizing, or too political, in ways that writing about psychology would not have me do. But look at our world around us. Is the time not an urgent now?

What about you, dear reader? Have you ever felt you were “supposed” to do one thing but realized your heart was drawn toward another? Have you ever realized your conceptions of yourself were really misconceptions – and humbly chose your new way? Have you ever felt you must speak, but were afraid to, but maybe you did it anyway? My heart extends toward you, anonymous you, because I know your struggles to do so are probably greater than mine. This is no easy work. My hope is we push toward truth and emancipation together.

May we courageously step out into the unknown.

A relational and reflective new year resolution

It’s now 2019, and many people have written sweet, thoughtful posts on Facebook or other social media and blog accounts reflecting on the old year and sharing hopes for the upcoming one. I like reading the reflections, but admittedly, I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions. Besides, the only times I managed to temporarily conquer my sugar problem were for a couple of Lents in years past. Apparently religiosity is sometimes more motivating to me than the time of year when you keep writing the wrong date on things…

Reluctance to resolve aside, I was inspired by (naturally) a podcast from Homebrewed Christianity, interviewing Gareth Higgins, that talked about a way to gather in community and reflect on the directions our lives are going. I love reflecting, but being in a routine about it is tough, and even tougher is being in regular relationship with people I would be this vulnerable with. I want to share about the practice with you here, in hopes that I will also find a way to birth this practice into my life.

First: gather a small group of people. At least three, up to 8 or 10, to form a community (as two is just a friendship). This will be something like an accountability group (call it something else if that feels to evangelical-y for you). Gather regularly and ask each other the following four questions:

  1. What’s coming alive to you? What is life-giving to you right now?
  2. What is challenging you, draining you or taking your life away?
  3. How is your purpose for the common good showing up? (What am I here for, what is my vocation, what gift do I have and how can I use it to help heal the community? Your gift is often where your wound was. How am I leaning into this and how am I running away from it?)
  4. Having heard what we’ve heard, how can we help each other? (whether practical or existential; economical or spiritual)

Even just writing out these questions, I feel compelled to start mulling them over. Here are where my answers are leading me this week. What about for you?

  1. What is life-giving to me is my vacation home to Colorado for the holidays, full of abundant sunshine, friends and family, and my beloved mountains (see below!). I am continuing my never-ending Enneagram exploration (currently listening to The Road Back to You), which is fun for me. I am excited for friend and family gatherings coming up in the near/near-ish future, like my brother’s wedding!
  2. What is/was challenging me recently was the feeling I have when I am not my whole self, either because I am not seen for who I am or because I refuse to bring my whole self to the table (for various reasons). I also realized how much I can daydream and tune people out when I am in the presence of others, which was rather startling when my family started pointing this out to me.
  3. My purpose for the common good is showing up when I still make time for my counseling clients this week after getting back home early Friday morning, and then when 100% of them show up, which feels validating! But using my job as a therapist also feels like a cop-out, so I’m going to add that when I do things like write or make some kind of connection with others (which for me, takes intentional effort), I am also showing up for the common good. There are so many doubts and reluctances in play that keep me from writing or believing my words or my presence really matters much at all. Sometimes it takes a lot to show up.
  4. How can you help me? By reaching out and letting me know something I said or wrote mattered. By sharing your own experiences and stories – I try and let you know when I “hear” or “see” you (online) or I try to give you my full presence when we are in person (see my struggles in #2; it is easier with friends than with family). If you feel curious and maybe a little compelled to give a group like this a shot… well, it would mean a lot if you let me know!

My beloved Colorado mountains: definitely life-giving.

Making art: Also life-giving! Especially when combined with the beloved mountains.

Do you guys have any inspiring (or just regular) New Year’s resolutions? Do groups like this sound intriguing, boring, or terrifying to you? What is giving you life and how is your purpose showing up in your life today?

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!

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!