Extravagant grace

Just when you think the old religious metaphors don’t work for you anymore, they slap you upside the head on a quiet Sunday morning in Quaker meeting.

It’s just the story of the prodigal son, returned home to his father who welcomes him in with a new robe and a feast. The father, full of extravagant grace, never questions a bit of why he was estranged for so long or what in the world he did with his entire inheritance.

It’s just the story of the woman and the alabaster jar, who cracks open a jar of the most expensive perfume and pours it over Jesus’ feet in front of his disciples, seemingly no rhyme or reason for doing so until Jesus explains it.

It’s just the phrase, “God wants to give us extravagant grace.” The word echoes. Extravagant. Extravagant.

The word itself is extravagant, parading itself across the tongue with its arms flung wide open, tangoing its way solo across the stage. Look at me. I’m almost too much to handle!

Extravagant makes me uncomfortable with how out of proportion it seems, how nonsensical, how wasteful; how it throws care to the wind while making decisions; how it lives in the moment, in the right-now, not a care for judgment of the past or future.

Nothing was extravagant in my family growing up. We are serious, German folk; hardworking, penny-pinchers, you-get-what-you-deserve type of people. We are individualistic; we emphasize justice more than mercy. As children, we got water and a burger at Burger King going out to eat. French fries were extravagant. You don’t get things for free; you work for what you get.

It seems ironic that it was a German, Martin Luther, who helped turn the wheel of religious history toward a period where grace was no longer supposed to be earned, worked for, or paid for, but was God’s free gift to give out. Maybe my German side needs to reach far, far back to tap back into this notion of an unmerited free gift, and apply it not just to God’s love and grace for us and our wrongdoings (which can remain in the realm of the intellectual), but to all of life (which must somehow be lived, embodied, experienced). How do I experience extravagant grace in my real life?

It is very difficult to leave my anti-extravagant mindset once it has been ingrained into me. On my conscious level, I am trying to change my beliefs about humanity, about worth, about what life is all about. Consciously, I believe that every life has value, regardless of what it can contribute. Consciously, I believe we are more than human “doings”; I believe we do not have to justify our existence by what we can do or produce. Consciously, I believe that being is enough; that maybe learning how to simply be in this exact moment is everything.

Unconsciously, though, I am still captive to the cultural beliefs I grew up in. I too often measure out love and respect by what I see produced. I work hard and stay busy (or if not legitimately “busy,” at least occupied) because it is the way I know to feel good about myself. I don’t really believe in punishment, but it’s still my first inclination when someone has harmed me or another. I live in a world of proving myself, and I am afraid I judge others by what they can prove, as well.

But while this has been a secure place for me to reside in for much of my life, it does not provide ultimate satisfaction. It does not truly allow me to love: neither myself nor other people. I can say I believe in forgiveness, but until I experience the letting-go of the need to prove and diving in to all that is unmerited, I don’t think I really know forgiveness.

So like I heard a friend express recently, there are phrases and concepts in Christianity that continue to draw me in, even as I push other aspects away. Extravagant grace is a cup of water in a desert, giving me life, challenging me to walk just another mile and trust that more water might be waiting at the end. It feeds my thirsty soul and my inherent need to know that there might be more to all of this than what I can see. That there is more meaning to life than the purpose given by my cultural conditioning. I am challenged to embody just a little bit of extravagant grace, even when it feels impossible and nonsensical and maybe even risky.

cup runneth over

I’m tired of living in my merit-based world. I want to step into a world of extravagant grace, even when I am afraid to do so. And I might not know how to live this way, but I want to learn along the way.

Is anybody with me?

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!