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I love personality tests. They provide me the tools to know more about me, those around me, and help us understand why we do what we do. Of all the personality assessments that are out there I am most fond of the enneagram. Ennea what? Glad you asked. The enneagram is a nine pointed geometric figure that represents nine basic personality types and shows the interconnectedness of each type. While the enneagram has more recently been popularized by Don Risso and Russ Hudson in the RHETI personality assessment the origins of the enneagram goes back much farther. The Christian mystic, Evagrius Ponticus, wrote about the ideas of the enneagram in his 4th century writings.
I am an eight on the enneagram which means that I generally like to be in control and mostly have no problem at asserting my truth. Those of us who are eight-types are sometimes named “the challengers” because we are the people that like to challenge ourselves and those around us. Put another way, I remember coming home from college and in a moment of nostalgia went into the basement to explore boxes from my childhood. One box I opened up was full of books with titles like How to Rear the Strong-Willed Child, What to do When Your Child has No Problem Saying No, and the blessed Dr. James Dobson’s book The Strong-Willed Child. I asked my mom why she had these books and she just looked at me and laughed. Strong-willed to the core since I was young (maybe some of you are raising children who were like me…it gets better, promise). But when eights are unaware we do a great job at dominating people, controlling others, and sometimes making people feel like crap (guilty of all of this!). All this to say it comes very natural for me to be against people and ideas that don’t fit into my values. But I’m afraid when I stand in the energy of against I lose the power of truly being an influential disciple of Jesus.
Brian McLaren + Diana Butler Bass
Two weeks ago I was in Marco Island with my peer learning group facilitated by Wes Granberg-Michaelson. The nine of us hung out at Brian McLaren’s house all day and welcomed Diana Butler Bass to join us in the afternoon as we hung out by the pool talking about the future of the church and issues of social justice. For this church geek it was magical. I have had the opportunity to be with Brian over meals before and every time I am with him I am utterly impressed by his graciousness and his ability to hear, listen, and respond (not react). I think I hold him up as one of the most enlightened church people I know. When I hear him talk I know I want to talk like him. I’m not saying I want to replicate his message (though I resonate with his message) I want to instead emulate his method. The way he chooses to talk with people is the message.
Belhar Confession – Unity
Everything about the Belhar Confession resounds as truth in my flesh. I have particularly been meditating on this line for the past six months, “Unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain”. When I read this and reflect upon the current climate in the Reformed Church in America I wonder what the heck unity means? What in the world does it mean to incarnate the truth of the unity of the body of Christ? Is it possible for us to be so moved by the Scripture we love and have such vastly different opinions on issues that matter? I brought this question up to Brian and asked him if he thinks it’s possible for unity. I asked him how do we enflesh unity when we can’t even name certain topics, some want to break away, and mistrust seems pretty apparent. Brian’s words to me were “move towards”. He went on and this is how it landed on my ears, “move towards those who hold different opinions on topics that are passionately important to you…, move towards those who want to condemn you…, move towards those who curse you…, and move towards those who crawl under your skin.” Ummm…thanks Brian but don’t you remember I’m an eight and I like being against? Yet he was speaking truth and in my body I knew it. The way to unity, not a watered down unity, but true unity is the movement towards people and bringing your needs in that movement towards.
I’ve been reflecting on this “moving toward” theology and realizing that this has echoes of Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount. So let me offer two personal reflections on what moving towards means for me.
- As a board member on Room for All I am aware there are those in the denomination who curse me/us because they believe we are being unbiblical for advocating for LGBT inclusion. Incarnating a moving towards theology means I do not curse back, I seek to befriend the one cursing me, and I affirm the image of God and fight hard to love those who think differently than me. I offer empathy to hear the need behind the one throwing the curse. I stay in the conversation even when the conversation is delicate and thin.
- In my family we talk about the two things all the time: religion and politics. Trust me; we all have very different and vibrant opinions. A moving toward theology then demands of me that I must not curse the candidates my family are rooting for and instead seek to understand what’s at stake for them. I also have the responsibility to offer why I posture myself the way I do and what’s at stake for me.
As an eight-type enneagram I am finding this moving toward theology is a very powerful way of navigating conflict (and eight-types like power so this is a win!). In moving-toward people grace is apparent as incarnated exemplary in Brian McLaren and the love of neighbor is incarnated. Isn’t this what this Jesus business is about?
TEDxMactawa – Ann McKnight
Recently my friend (and a fellow eight-type) Ann McKnight spoke at TEDxMactawa on the topic of turning toward conflict. She is brilliant, gracious, strong, and just as sassy as every other eight I know…I love her. She is someone else I look to who has it a bit more figured out than I do in this moving toward theology. She incarnates the graciousness of God, not in a watered down cheesy VBS way, but truly in a powerful expansive Gospel presence. In conclusion I offer her TED talk to you as another medium to engage what moving toward might mean for you.
Thanks for this, Jes. I found out about the Enneagram about eight years ago, and it has been very important to me, too. (I'm a classic 3, just as plain as day.) I appreciate that the Enneagram is a dynamic personality tool focused on spiritual growth. It's not just about who you are, but who you could become. For each type there are particular spiritual issues to work on, strengths to develop and dangers to avoid. Nine paths to redemption and nine paths to madness. Depends on where you want to go, which is why it's cool.
I live with one 8 (my daughter) and work with a couple more, and have observed that 8s are drawn to conflict. Do you think that's true? They may not like it, exactly, but they need it somehow, and even seek it out or–if they're not very self-aware–create it out of nowhere on purpose. I wonder if the more self-aware 8s are especially "gifted" at helping the rest of us conflict-averse people be brave and do the hard work of unity that you write about here. Could conflict resolution be a spiritual gift, one that 8s have the special potential to develop?
The Enneagram quick survey was fun and probably on track.
I'm a little confused by the healthy levels being the low ones. I guess it defines you by your unhealthiest outliers.
I scored 0 on 7 so not sure what that means.
5's on 1,4 and 5
I was tied with 6's on 6 Loyalist and 9 Peacemaker and they both point to 3 but I scored a 2 on that.
My interpretation: Apparently I like to set things right and I get upset and frustrated when people won't make peace on my terms. LOL YUP! Not sure what the rest means.
Debra and Eileen,
Makes my heart happy to see conversations about the enneagram on this blog!!
Eileen — welcome to the 3,6,9 triad! Richard Rohr has a wonderful book out on the enneagram from a Christian perspective. If you don't know that name I would encourage you to read any of his stuff actually.
Debra — YES, 8's are drawn to conflict. But whether we can vocalize this or not (I couldn't when I was a teenager) the fact is that conflict is a means of intimacy. The reason why we (8's) like conflict is because it produces intimacy and connection with the world around us. 8's tend to be very drawn to intense situations because in those situations we feel close to the people we are in conflict with. So maybe 8's do have an intuitive sense that conflict can produce unity?! I do think that 8's, when we are healthy, have the ability to welcome people into bravery or as I like to say "courageous compassion". Your thoughts are energizing to me and I would like to think about them more…
I remember Ron telling me that your daughter was an 8 during one of my classes and my first response was "Oh how I love other 8's!" (that was the narcissistic response) and then I said "But truly I pray for the people who are the guardians/bosses/teachers of 8's — it can be difficult to parent an 8". I also remember Ron saying he is a 7 (which my spouse happens to be a 7 too).
You know what else I like to do? I like to enneagram cities and I also like to enneagram denominations. This has helped me understand why the RCA does what we do and why I am drawn to certain places instead of other places. Fascinating really!