The Purpose of the Enneagram

enneagrem_numbersI have always been fascinated by personality tests. From Tim LaHaye’s Spirit-Controlled Temperament in my early years to the Enneagram in my professional years, I have never ceased to be amazed how these contrived tests seem to pin me down so well. Being a Type 1 (with elements of Type 4) on the Enneagram, I am well aware of my strengths and weaknesses and, as is the usual use, have used these results to pigeonhole my character and fine-tune my strengths.

But this may not be a good purpose for the Enneagram, as Richard Rohr explains:

The purpose of the Enneagram is not self-improvement, which would be our ego’s goal. Rather, it is the transformation of consciousness so that we can realize our essence, our True Self. Personality development and character building will happen on the side as a corollary, but this is not its primary goal. The primary goal of any spiritual tool is union with God/Truth, and then we get united with ourselves in the process!

The Enneagram reveals that we are often destroyed by our gift! We overidentify with our strengths and they become their own set of blinders. This allows real misperception, and allows our own “root sin” to remain mostly hidden from us. We cannot see the air we are breathing all the time. Our “sins” are the other side of our gift. They are, in fact, the way we get our energy. They “work” for us (at least we think they do). The Enneagram uncovers this false energy source for us and enables us to look our real dilemma in the eye. It confronts us with the compulsions and laws under which we live—usually without awareness—and it invites us to go beyond them and take steps into a real domain of freedom—freedom from our foundational addiction to our self.

enneaw-namescolorPeople who know the Enneagram in a superficial way, or who are just beginning to work with it, may think it puts people into boxes. But in fact, one of the great graces is that they find themselves coming out of their own self-created box because they recognize their box is far too limiting. Also, as they continue to work with the Enneagram, they will see its brilliance and that there is always another level of discovery—and then another level that comes as a surprise and usually a humiliation too. That tells them they are in the realm of soul and mystery, if mystery means something that is eternally knowable and soul is their very connection to God.

The Enneagram, like the Spirit of Truth itself, will always set us free, but first it will make us miserable! Working with the Enneagram is intentionally humiliating. We need to feel, acknowledge, and see how exaggerated, excessive, and absurd our false energy source really is. If we own and take responsibility for our darkness, if we feel how it has wounded us and others, how it has allowed us not to love and not to be loved—if we do that, I promise that we will become alert to the other side, to our greater gifts, and even the actual depth of our gift. Our gift is amazingly our sin sublimated and transformed by grace. What a surprise this is for most people!

Adapted from The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, pp. 4-5, 25-27

The ‘Best God Damned Version’ of the Bible? Really?

BGDVWhat one comes across online when one is casually browsing Amazon!

Steve Ebling is writing a version of the Holy Bible specifically aimed at atheists, agnostics and sceptics and has chosen to call his book Holy Bible: Best God Damned Version. While only one book has so far been released, its intent is clear: debunk and make fun of the Bible and those whose faith is in its authority and truth.

Out of curiosity, I had a look at this short volume and found it to be full of snark, ridicule, foul language and outright disdain for anyone who places the smallest amount of trust in the sacred text. It is not a translation. The author makes no apology for the fact that it is based on The Jerusalem Bible, simply because he thought the wording in Genesis was more akin to his interpretation of–or the way in which he wished to interpret–the Bible. I got through the first 4 chapters and realised that I was, in fact, wasting my time. While there is a place for sarcasm, criticism and frivolity, I don’t think I can take 66 books-worth of this type of ‘humour’ (although, from reading the introduction, I would dare say that the author had anything in mind but comedy.

I have to admit, I am surprised it took so long to attempt such a project and I admire Steve’s perseverance (assuming he does, in fact, finish this work.) I would doubt, however, that even the most ardent atheist would be able to endure several thousand pages of this type of writing. Perhaps a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the BGDV would be a less-tedious piece to endure. That said, this is clearly NOT the ‘Best God Damned Version’ out there.

There is an alternative (if you are an atheist, agnostic, sceptic, or just curious): The Skeptics Annotated Bible.SAB

This is authored by Steve Wells and is based on the King James Version which, as one reviewer calls it, is ‘The only Bible recognised by True Christianity(TM).’ (Personally, I would have liked to see a NRSV edition, but I’m sure copyright permission may be difficult to obtain given the proposed content and use of this book.)

This book is a serious and critical attempt to draw attention to discrepancies, contradictions, unscientific claims, incorrect information, and alleged character flaws of God and comes complete with a coded system in the notes to mark each category of claim. It also contains a detailed appendix containing cross-references based on themes found through the text (and hyperlinked, if you buy the Kindle version.) You can read more about this book and see some examples taken from the print version here.

This volume does make for interesting reading, though any person with a background in Bible-centric Evangelicalism will be easily able to dismiss a reasonable amount of what is said based on what is taught in most Bible-believing churches. It comes as no surprise that much of what is said challenges conventional Evangelical thought, especially if it is coupled with the double-punch belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and literal interpretation of the text.

Many in the Christian community would see such a book as a threat or a challenge to their faith and mission. I view it as a means to understanding more clearly the core purposes of our sacred text and how God’s people through the ages have understood God’s story. Those who share my perspective value the biblical text as not only a time-capsule of culture, law and divine revelation, but as a vessel for the message of God to be carried into this and future generations, albeit flawed by human agents and misunderstandings.

I am amused somewhat that so many of those who don’t believe in God seem to lump all Christians together as being literalists, naïve, and an having absolute faith in whatever their church expects them to accept. While there are many ‘brands’ of Christianity that make my skin crawl or seriously cause me to wish I could run as far away from them as possible, I still see Christianity as a multi-layered and multi-coloured faith tradition that allows room for dialogue and disagreement amongst theologians and the laity alike. It is to me a fluid and evolving understanding of faith and practice, and. generally, has a high regard for tradition, including the sacred text and the varied interpretations of that text through the millennia. This kind of faith won’t shrink from the hard questions nor the skeptic’s commentary, but will seek to respond in an informed and civil manner within the context of humility, grace and love. We are all imperfect and all have our areas of ignorance. We would do well to listen to and learn from each other, especially as we who claim the name of Christ seek to be true to what we understand to be God’s word.

What Grace Does

This meditation came in today from Richard Rohr and I felt I must share it:

A friend of mine shared this story with me. An angel was walking down the street carrying a torch in one hand and a pail of water in the other. A woman asked the angel, “What are you going to do with the torch and with the pail?” The angel said, “With the torch, I am going to burn down the mansions of heaven, and with the pail, I’m going to put out the fires of hell. Then we shall see who really loves God.”

That’s what grace does; it empowers those who really love and trust God, and frankly leaves all others in the realm of missed opportunity. Our image for that missed opportunity has been hell later, but it is primarily and clearly emptiness now. In that deepest sense, there are indeed many people in hell right now, and there are also many people tasting heaven in this world. But Divine Love never relents, and never stops urging, expanding, and appealing. Why would it stop after our death?

Only the theme of grace is prepared to move religion beyond the bad and tired story line of reward and punishment. Up to now, we have largely mirrored ego-based culture instead of transforming it. We need grace to reform religion and to recapture the gospel. Only the theme of grace can move us from a religion of mere requirements (that is all about counting and measuring) to a religion of Divine Abundance which deeply transforms human consciousness (Ephesians 4:23-24).

As long as we remain inside of a win-lose script, Christianity will continue to appeal to low-level and self-interested morality and never rise to the mystical banquet that Jesus offers us. It will be duty instead of delight, “jars of purification” (John 2:6) instead of 150 gallons of intoxicating wine at the end of the party (John 2:7-10)!

- Richard Rohr, adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, pp. 158-159

Yes, God Can! (Questions that shouldn’t need to be asked)

We say “God can do anything.”
But God doesn’t do all the good we expect: planes crash, ferries capsize, people die of common illnesses, resources aren’t made available for our neighbours outdoors, and refugees are imprisoned.
We say “With God nothing is impossible.”
But then put limits on God’s power and ability. After all, how could God forgive Hitler? How could God love that rapist-murderer? And how could God save anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus or who was born into the wrong religion?
We say “God is king over all creation.”
imageBut then we assign ourselves the task to make the rules other people must keep in order to please God: “You mustn’t swear. You must attend Church. You must read your Bible. You must not think about sex. You must disapprove of gays, abortionists, socialists, Catholics, liberal politicians, or (insert profession, people-group or minority here).”
Pope Francis says that Jesus saves all, even if they don’t seek him.
Can God do that?
Rob Bell seems to believe there will be millions more in God’s kingdom than we would ever suspect–that we will be surprised at the reach of God’s love.
Can this be true?
Can God move in ways we cannot imagine? Yes! Yes! Hallelujah, YES!
Can God save anyone simply because of God’s instinct of love? Yes! (I believe this is called “grace.”)
Can God refuse to be limited by our human understanding of Divinity or our interpretations of revelation? Yes!
Could Pope Francis, Gandhi, the Buddha, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and St Paul all have a similar underlying understanding of God that ruthlessly opposes any attempt at figuring God out or assigning a role statement to the One-who-cannot-be-contained?
Yes!
Could it be that now we see as in a mirror, dimly? Could it be that worship of the Bible or our group’s way of seeing it is more important to us than letting God be God? Could it be possible that one day we will look back and be astounded by how small our imagined God was?
Would it be too far-fetched to assume that, when all the dust settles after all the wars are fought, that, in the end, love really is the highest aspiration of all creation and this love indeed has won?
I dare you to believe that this is the way it could be.

Losing Faith: Resurrection

EEmpty tomb aster has come and gone. Chocolate eggs have been found and (almost) all eaten. Easter services have been experienced around the globe, marking the amazing claim: Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed.

Part of the pain of losing faith is the journey. It’s never an instantaneous event where one wakes up simply to find no trace of belief left. It is a process.

Likewise, rediscovering faith is also a journey. It may happen over months or years. And it may result in a totally different faith–or radically changed perspective on truth–than previously held.

For those on this journey, Easter is a difficult time. It is a time of reflecting, mourning what is lost, “seeking the living among the dead,” wondering, hoping, praying (if one still believes enough to indulge in prayer).

Like facing down someone with a mental illness, well-meaning folks will say things like, “Jesus is risen! Just believe.”

This is like telling a manic depressive to “just get over it” or a crack addict to “just say ‘No’.”

The truth is those who doubt haven’t necessarily turned their back on faith. Most of them truly want to believe–they just can’t see their way clear to honestly do so at the present time. Talk of resurrection may bring hope that perhaps, just maybe, there is some truth to Jesus coming alive out of the garden tomb. Emotions may rise on singing the glorious Resurrection anthems, Christ The Lord is Risen Today, or Thine Be the Glory. Yet, to believe in what they sing is too far out of their reach.

Thats why the story of Thomas is so close to my heart. Thomas was a man like me who wouldn’t take things on board simply because someone told him they were true. He had to test the facts, run the experiments, document the evidence, check the science. . . .

And when he finally saw Jesus, alive, face-to-face, I don’t get the impression that his heart was amazingly and miraculously filled with faith. I take from his statement that there was something deep in the back of his mind that he still couldn’t shake, a distrust, an “I need more proof” space that was still open for other answers, other more reasonable claims.

And so he proclaimed, maybe timidly and maybe with some wonderment, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Maybe you are praying that prayer today. Perhaps the answer is on its way, but possibly it will take some time. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of faith, no matter where you came from or where you are headed, God offers you the gift of resurrection. You don’t need to believe it right now. You don’t even need to want to believe in the resurrected Christ.

Honestly, you may never come to a place where you can believe in this Biblical claim of resurrection–be it the account of Jesus coming back to life or any faith in life beyond the grave.

But you need to know there is one thing that no depths of doubt, no amount of unbelief can take away from you, and that is the gift of God that we see in the resurrection story:

The gift of Hope.

Losing Faith

I don’t know about you, but I have a faith problem. My faith problem is simply that I often lose my faith. It’s not a matter of maintaining appearances–I can do that awesomely; after all, I am a pastor’s son. I can look happy and spirit-filled at the drop of a hat.

No, this is far deeper, raw and honest; it’s a place where I find myself all too often.

Maybe it’s the books I read. People have said stuff to me like, “Don’t read (insert name here)’s books. Your faith can’t last if you expose yourself to such dangerous ideas.” Maybe its the blogs I visit and the topics they discuss like post-evangelicalism, post-modernism, post-Darwinian thought, post-Christian, post-colonialism, etc. Maybe its the stuff I put in my ears–words that tell me I need to think freely, have an open mind, be more inclusive, love more/hate less. . . .

Regardless, apart from the fact that there are certainly elements of danger every time I open my mind to entertain a new thought, I would say the greater danger remains in trying to maintain a status quo, an attachment to a system that just doesn’t work and is losing its credibility more each day. I can’t buy into the Evangelical culture any more than I can buy into consumerism, wanton capitalism, or corporate warmongering.

Ideals aside, it’s still Good Friday (and I digress).

Today we remember the cross, the sacrifice of Jesus, the rigged execution of the God-man who came to be revered as Lord,  King and Saviour.

It is a dark day and, perhaps, “Good” Friday is too sanitised a version of this story. This particular day was horrible, terrible, dark, depressing. It was a  time of pain, of loss, of an end to a promise. . . .

The disciples fled.

The women wept.

The soldiers mocked.

The earth kept spinning into night and the one who promised it all had died.

God had left the building.

There was no more promise, no more hope, no more kingdom.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living that day.

Sometimes my faith gives way to anger, pain, regret. Too often God is distant,  silent, unknowing and uncaring. This is my own personal Good Friday . . . or Monday,  or Thursday, or Sunday. . . .

How about you?

(To be continued)