and Jesus was moved by her faith

There’s no way around it. I am a pastor’s wife. (I suppose I might also say that I have a pastor husband, but either way, my life is becoming deeply intertwined with the church). We have moved from the big city to a small town, to be an integral part of the life of the church. I’ve never lived in a small town. I’ve never been a pastor’s wife in this way. I am finding myself drawn more deeply toward spirituality in general, and Christianity in particular, in this new life phase. (If this seems obvious of a pastor’s wife, read early blog posts and note that I’ve had a long period of deconstruction of faith and have been to many a locale on the theological map). Christianity is calling me, perhaps necessarily (what can one do in a small town besides attend and participate in the life of your husband’s church?); perhaps because it is, itself, compelling.

***

The story of the Syrophoenician, or Canannite, woman is calling to me in particular. Coincidentally, Kevin preached on this very passage (Mark 7:24-30) the same morning I encountered it in the memoir I am reading. My mind continues to mull over it days later. In the story, the woman begs Jesus on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter to heal the child. Jesus is not from the same social group as this woman. His people conquered her people (the Canaanites) long, long ago, and they still look down on the Syrophoenicians with disgust. Jesus – son of God, right? – goes so far as to call this begging woman a “dog.” You filthy, disgusting, scavenging creature. Try to allow yourself to ponder that, Christians. It’s right there in the Bible. The woman is undeterred, however. “Even the dogs eat the children’s crumbs,” she retorts. Andrea Lingle points out, “The Canaanite woman claimed her place at the table or under it.” And Jesus is moved by this. The woman’s child is healed by her faith.

Jesus is moved by the woman’s faith. Jesus actually moves his position, his beliefs, because of this woman who refused to back down and be seen as undeserving of the graces and healing he had to offer. Christians who need to see Jesus as always, only fully divine, never saying or doing anything questionable, will see this differently. They likely see Jesus as purposely testing the woman to get her to demonstrate her faith. They might downplay the fact that Jesus actually gave this woman a terrible insult. To me, this seems to be a case of making the story fit the pre-existing theology.

But let’s not sugarcoat things. Let the text speak. If we read the story and interpret it based on the context and what it actually seems to be saying – not interpreting it to try and squeeze a particular meaning out of it – Jesus seems to be prejudiced against this woman initially, but is moved by her insistence that she, too, belongs in the realm of grace. It seems that Jesus, a Jewish teacher, believed initially that he was here to minister to the Jews. He is here for the children of Israel. And then the beliefs he thought were certain shift. This woman will settle for crumbs, but she will not settle for less than that. And then Jesus’ eyes are opened and he sees that she too belongs. She receives full healing for her daughter because of her faithful insistence that healing is for her, for them, for everyone.

It is a significant divide we walk here. I am well aware of that. I acknowledge there are multiple ways to interpret this story. You may disagree with how I read it. It is an interpretation that is compelling to me. 

If Jesus is only, fully divine, then he’s either “just testing” her, or he’s not really insulting her, or God thinks it’s okay to insult people like that. A solely divine Jesus would not need to be moved by this woman to give justice to all, would he?

A Jesus who is, who needs to be, moved by others is a Jesus who is also fully human. Catch your theological breath and just play with ideas here. As my pastor husband quoted in his sermon, Karl Barth says we need not try to reconcile two beliefs seemingly at odds to try and make one cohesive belief system. We can just hold them both up together and let the rest be a mystery. Jesus Christ, divine. Jesus Christ, fully human. Jesus, God’s agent, divine, full of mercy and grace. Jesus, human, forgetting sometimes that all meant all. Jesus discovering through an encounter with the “other” that he is here not just for some – for his own people – but to heal and reconcile the whole world together.

I find this to be deeply moving. I generally do not feel full of grace, though I believe grace profoundly belongs to all. I go to the sheriff’s office to get fingerprinted so I can minister and be a counselor to those who are hurting. A man walks in and willingly cuts in front of me and another woman who have been waiting for a ridiculously long time in an empty waiting area so he can get fingerprinted for his concealed carry permit. He reinforces stereotypes I have of people like him. He feels entitled to get what he wants despite the needs or rights of others, and he does not even know it. And I confess: I have some hate for him in my heart.

But I know Jesus’s gospel isn’t just for people like me, the kind do-gooders of the world (who still have secret hate in their hearts). His gospel is for gun-toting Make America Great Again hats, for bleeding heart liberals, for desperate immigrants crossing borders and crossing deserts under cover of night, for families with loved ones killed by illegal immigrant gang members. His gospel of reconciliation and grace is for Jews, Canaanites, and even Romans. His gospel is for Israel, Native Americans, and even the United States. And in this story of the Canaanite / Syrophoenician woman, I see Jesus making the profound discovery of this as well. Perhaps there is hope for all of us.

 

Featured image credit goes to the Junia Project: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwifiZmYtMXdAhUvUt8KHcF-CdcQjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Fjuniaproject.com%2Fcaring-marginalized-jesus-canaanite-woman%2F&psig=AOvVaw22ej_O-oyaCQ6iAu80yQKJ&ust=1537389314168444 

“Credulous” is worth the read

Andrea Lingle – mother, writer, lay theologian – has written the book I hoped to write. (Also that I still hope to write). It is a memoir of faith, filled  with personal stories as well as her own theological ponderings that meander through quantum physics as easily as they do the Bible. She believes in expansive, abundant grace. She has managed to hang on to Christianity in a deep way even through her grief, challenges with the church, and faith deconstruction. My favorite parts of the book were her honest and raw descriptions of being human and a mom, particularly around the tensions between our dreams and ambitions versus how our lives end up looking — but how grace and peace are found even in that. I also enjoyed her creative renditions of gospel stories with Jesus interacting with his disciples. Those well-known stories suddenly leapt off the page for me as she imaginatively described the very human interactions among Jesus, Peter, the people begging him for healing. I was so inspired, actually, that I wrote a separate post about it here.
The book is organized along the lines of a church bulletin, as she dives into a different life or theology area with each section of a church bulletin (anthem, children’s moment, sermon, etc). Even though I sometimes found myself annoyed at the theological meanderings and the occasional far-fetched attempts to tie her thoughts in to the chapter she was supposed to be writing about (perhaps that tendency hits too close to home!), I also couldn’t stop reading the book. It was relatable because it was not perfect. Because of that, I also secretly want to be friends with her and “do life” together. I recommend checking it out yourself – you won’t be disappointed you did!

Find it on Amazon here
Learn about Andrea on her website

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.

From Genocide to Generosity

Sometimes books about issues halfway around the world have a remarkable ability to speak to us just how we need to hear it. From Genocide to Generosity is a well-written, moving book about the reconciliation efforts happening in post-genocide Rwanda. Author John Steward (who holds a PhD in soil science, of all things) goes on a mission to interview Rwandans, both Tutsi and Hutu, and try to understand how they are able to bear and process through the traumas they endured in 1994. The whole book is full of their powerful stories.

The messages we can gain from the stories and experiences are so important – especially in times like this. I can relate it to my work as a therapist, in my interactions with kids who struggle to verbalize or think about the traumas they have endured, but who need to find ways to cope with what has happened to them.

But I also relate it to issues happening in our ever-more-divided country. The distance between “sides” usually feels like it only grows bigger, and nobody is interested in really listening to the other. How can you have compassion for… them, and the vile things they believe? But as I heard on a podcast today (“We live here” is awesome btw; thanks NPR St. Louis!), racial justice advocate Amy Hunter had compassionate words for people like racists / white nationalists — they are living a broken, fragmented view of the world, and they didn’t choose this for themselves (presumably) but were formed that way from how they grew up. Oh… and Amy herself is African-American. Not afraid to call people out, but also incredibly compassionate about it.

Back to Rwanda. The book weaves tales through the complexities of trauma (especially when it is not only on an individual level, but nation-wide trauma) and the importance of actually facing one’s trauma. And it also takes a close look at some of the steps of reconciliation – how hard it is, how important it is, how complex it is.

I can’t do it justice to summarize the book, so I’ll just say… go and read it yourself!

website for From Genocide to Generosity: http://2live4give.org/

genocide to generosity

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, 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!

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.

12-25-15, Gethsemani

Full moon rising (3)

There are no words… I just turned around, and there it was. Hullo, moon. 

*****

Now for the things that strain towards words…

12-25-15 ~ Merry Christmas

Today is a good day for hiking. But a year and half ago I hiked this same trail and fled down this hill in tears and terror when the spider webs became too numerous to avoid any longer. I felt ashamed then, my stepbrother’s voice ringing in my head, instructing my ten-year-old self to touch a fish. “Don’t be afraid; it’s part of God’s creation!” I couldn’t do it and felt so bad I was letting God down. I’m so sorry, God. I love your creation, just not with the all the critters.
Today I am not afraid. It is winter and the spiders and snakes are all gone. I am happy and at peace, yet I worry that my inner peace is only present because my outer circumstances have changed. But, I am out here on a rainy morning that floods streams and turns paths to mud, and some people would be afraid of that. And I am not.
I have to believe that each little revolution we make, each turn around the sun, also moves us forward.

Come on now, wouldn’t you be afraid of spiders if you knew ones like that might be hanging around? (Spider from Aug 2014; Muddy hill from Dec 2015)

*****

I want to experience freedom, so I give myself three hours to get lost in the woods on Christmas morning. No one else is out here and I commune with wet leaves, dripping rain, fallen logs. I make it to a marked destination and turn off the path, wondering where I might go. I imagine I am making a very large counter-clockwise loop, and walk for a long time. Two deer bound across my path; Hello, friends! It smells like horse. Is that what deer smell like? I start to think I will never emerge from the woods – at least not in time for lunch – when I see an open field. It might be familiar. Not that way, this way, Spirit urges me. I comply and ascend a small hill. I laugh in surprise to find I am on the other side of a lake I was at two hours ago. It seems I wandered clockwise to get here. What do I know, anyway? Spirit led me home, and all I had to do was follow. It is like learning to listen to the true I, not the ego-self but the one who always is present and guiding if only we can drop our other pretenses. Spirit lead me home. Home is right here.

Curious about Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Me too.

What follows is a blog post / book review I’ve written for Speakeasy, a cool book review group that I recently joined. I’ve been curious about Dietrich Bonhoeffer for a long time so I jumped at the chance to review a biography about him, called Strange Glory, by Charles Marsh. It was a great read! If you don’t have time for the book, try the blog post. 🙂

Strange Glory cover

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As almost a total newcomer to Bonhoeffer, knowing little more than a few of his book titles and that he was part of an assassination attempt for Hitler, I was hoping that Strange Glory would help elucidate this famous yet mysterious theologian’s life for me. The book more than delivered. Marsh did an incredible amount of research – the notes and index take up 1/5 of the volume of the book! It seems that no piece of material was left uncovered, as Marsh begins with Bonhoeffer’s childhood, spent in idyllic German countrysides, and ends with his tragic early death in the Flossenburg concentration camp.

Bonhoeffer is not presented in a shallow idealized way; Marsh is straightforward and thorough in his presentation. He is known for his books like Cost of Discipleship and his Letters from Prison, but Marsh also introduces us to the lesser-known sides of Bonhoeffer. He enjoyed the finer things in life and seemed to have a measure of entitlement to such things. I found it humorous he would still mail his laundry home for his mother to wash when he was well into his adult years (296)! He believed in the importance of play, relaxation, and leisure, and was a great lover of music. However, he didn’t shelter himself from the world; he seemed to enjoy learning about other cultures, even traveling to America and experiencing black Southern churches and adventuring down to Mexico. Marsh wryly notes, “as usual, he attributed to his [American / Mexican] escape high-minded purpose” (127), that is, to engage in some ethnographic study and learn about the churches.

Bonhoeffer’s commitment to truth and learning (especially while enjoying oneself along the way) is a repeated theme in his life. He gained his doctorate early on and dialogued with famous theologians of his day, including the older Karl Barth, whom he considered his intellectual equal. This sort of confidence in himself and his thinking also seems to characterize Bonhoeffer. It is likely this trait that gave him the insight to see what was really going on with the state-enforced German church, where Hitler eventually replaced Christ, and to be a founding member of what came to be known as the Confessing Church. Interestingly, Bonhoeffer originally supported the connection between religion and Germanic pride, even promoting war and killing as appropriate for a nationalistic Christian. However, he became a committed pacifist in 1934, stating strongly that “any military service except in the ambulance corps, and any preparation for war, is forbidden” (214). He was also outspoken against the Nazi religion, able to see what disastrous consequences awaited far before many of his peers and fellow citizens.

The relationship between Bonhoeffer and his once-student, Eberhard Bethge, is well-documented but not overdramatized. Bonhoeffer and Bethge shared a special bond, even owning a joint bank account and sending Christmas letters signed together. We see from Bethge that Bonhoeffer was not always easy to be with, and in fact had an explosive temper that may have only been witnessed by Bethge. Bonhoeffer’s emotional devotion to Bethge was quite profound, and perhaps it was the passion of those emotions that carried him through many dark days that lay waiting in his future.

Learning all kinds of facets of Bonhoeffer’s life engenders an even deeper appreciation of his war- and Nazi-resistance efforts. He is not a saint or someone endowed with special abilities to suffer; Marsh creates a very human portrait of a man who had incredible courage to stand for what was right – and wrestle with the ethical dimensions of how to best do that – in a time of terror. The end of the book becomes increasingly somber as Bonhoeffer continues his resistance efforts as a double agent, is put into prison, and is eventually murdered in a concentration camp.

Something I particularly appreciated about this book was witnessing the descent of Germany into rule by Hitler. A peculiar collective consciousness takes over when nation’s fall into thinking that seems so absurd (and tragic) as an outsider, but this has incredibly important lessons for us today and with our American political climate. We can’t assume that this will never happen to us, because this thinking can be so insidious that logic, rationality, and human decency get thrown out the window in exchange for a frightening sort of group-think. Marsh does an excellent job outlining not just Bonhoeffer’s life, but the political and theological climate he was a part of.

If I have one complaint, it would be that Marsh includes seemingly every detail about Bonhoeffer’s life (okay, small exaggeration), so this book is not a quick read, though it is gripping. It helps to have something of a theological background as Marsh takes us through Bonhoeffer’s and others’ theological positions. And hey, if you don’t have the time or interest to make it through the whole book, I hope this review gives you a little taste of what you’re missing!

 

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.

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!

homelessness, political action, and prayer

This morning, I just wrote emails to about 25 council members on Indy’s city council to ask them to support Prop 291 and 41. The proposals are intended to help protect the rights of homeless individuals. You might think of it as a parallel to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — even if they are “supposed” to have the same rights, sometimes they need special protection to ACTUALLY be protected. The proposals are also supposed to provide support / wraparound services when they are moved from encampments (generally due to private business owners wanted to build and make some $$$).

I was doing this sort of hurriedly, copy-paste-copy-paste and change a name, trying to get through the list. Then I thought of what I was doing, and all the people behind this. Afterward, I slowed back down and went to the list of email addresses, reading each of their names and trying to spend just a moment on them.

This was harder than copy-paste-copy-paste.

And I thought of how we’re each just trying to do our best, and our firmly held political beliefs are held for a reason. I tried to be compassionate even for the people who don’t think like me (who could be anyone or no one, as I do change my mind often!). And I admit I wanted to rush through this, too.

I wondered which was more important: taking the action or taking the moment to pause, to hover mentally, maybe even prayerfully, over each name. I wondered if the question mattered.

My wish is for the best possible thing to happen, though I don’t know how it may come about. And it’s heartbreaking that people freeze and die in the meantime, and it is perplexing why it is that way, and I hope that I will do my part. I hope we will all do our parts.

Amen.