I remember the first time I read through the nine types of the Enneagram five or six years ago. I naively decided I wasn’t any of the types, but I did pick out my favorite qualities from each. Oh how that disillusion has long faded as I have come to know more intimately my greatest sin(s). On that journey I am assisted most recently by the clear writing and gentle yet astute analysis of Richard Rohr and Adreas Ebert.
Engagement with this work must necessarily be at least partly personal, because first and foremost, “the Enneagram uncovers the games we find ourselves tangled in” (24). It draws on deep patterns of the human psyche to point each of us toward our own gifts and our own flaws. The Enneagram is not merely a personality assessment, a system to shape beliefs, or a way to analyze and categorize people. It is rooted in deeply spiritual impulses that help to unmask the falsehoods that shape human life and community.
Rohr and Ebert describe it this way: “The Enneagram is much more demanding and much more dangerous than believing things. It is more about ‘unbelieving’ the disguise that we all are” (xix). In keeping with the Christian tradition, Rohr and Ebert call the disguises our sins. Over and over we as readers are reminded of the deep, paradoxical connection between our gifts and the ways we miss the mark.
For each of the nine types, the authors identify a fundamental need. Type One is the need to be perfect; two is the need to be needed; three is the need to succeed and so on. They describe motivations, fears, hopes and representative symbols for each type, thus giving the reader multiple entry points for engaging even those types to which one does not naturally relate.
The book includes a brief history and dash of numerology that begin part one and will fascinate some readers. Others will connect more readily with the detailed descriptions of each type, and still others will be most intrigued by the way the types relate to one another as wings and sources of integration. Other helpful features of this volume include a detailed index and charts that summarize each type in easily referenced form. This text has a little bit for everyone who would venture inside.
I have but a few small criticisms: The saintly examples of each type are disproportionately male as are the biblical characters used to highlight each one (though this points to a deeper flaw with the biblical sources). Also, while the authors did caution against misusing the Enneagram to categorize and critique other people, they did not take time to explore any external criticisms of the system itself.
All in all, I commend this book, not to those who want to just explore personal problems or analyze other people but to those who desire to go into the depths of self. It promises to be a difficult and yet rewarding journey: “The Enneagram can help us to purify our self-perception, to become unsparingly honest toward ourselves, and to discern better and better when we are hearing only our own inner voices and impressions and are prisoners of our prejudices – and when we are capable of being open to what is new” (21).
I find my work with myself (and hopefully my work with others) has already been enriched by reading this text, yet I can’t help but think I’ve only scratched the surface. If the Enneagram is truly for the second half of life, as Richard Rohr says, then I have only just begun my work.
insidious: operating or proceeding in an inconspicuous or seemingly harmless way but actually with a grave effect
I’ve been thinking lately about insidiousness.
I talk to a community colleague, a straight, white, man who has recently adopted. I know he goes to an Acts 29 church in town, the kind where only men can preach (and don’t we know what that implies). He listens politely as I talk about how we found an agency that doesn’t discriminate against same-sex couples. Now we’re just waiting to be picked. He politely tells his family’s story. Is it just me, or is he a little too polite?
I’m at a training for progressive community leaders and a minister is speaking. Things are going well. We’re talking economic justice, mostly, and voting rights and Medicaid Expansion, and then he mentions the LGBT issue. He urges everyone to put our differences on this matter aside, so that we can come together as a coalition to make an impact on our state. I turn a little red. I feel a little embarrassed.
The pastor of a local megachurch links to an article entitled “Showing how it’s done.” I think he wants to show how evangelicals aren’t what most people think they are. A sports columnist has written a rave review of young adults who stood up to Westboro Baptist’s overtly hateful message against our hometown football hero Michael Sam who recently came out as gay. The organizers were Christians who said, “We know that’s not God. God is love.” I was skeptical. I read the rest of the article. The columnist wondered how Christians could reconcile their faith with their actions. Their reply? “Yes, practicing homosexuality is a sin. But so is lying, so is cheating, so is coveting. I sin every day. God hates the sin, not the sinner.” I knew that was coming.
I’m a Christian too, by the way. So are all the people who’ve written here about why LGBT people actually belong in the church (according to scripture) as full participants with their partners and families. And I’m a sinner like everyone else, but my relationship is not a sin, and that’s not something I should have to explain or justify to anyone who asks.
Homophobia and heterosexism are everywhere, often bound up in polite language and increasingly civil Christian discourse. They continue to shift from the realm of overt prejudice into the more insidious realm of the covert, which is still mostly acceptable. But that doesn’t make it less harmful.
Consider these words from Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern: “To believe someone’s identity is inherently sinful is, to my mind, to be bigoted against them. If you believe black people are sinful and deserve fewer rights, you are racist. If you believe Jews are sinful and deserve fewer rights, you are anti-Semitic. I simply cannot see why those who believe gays are sinful and deserve fewer rights should be held to a different standard.”
Even if it is couched in unexamined Christian language and bad exegesis. Even if people are polite. The insidiousness is everywhere.
Stern also reminds us that prejudice doesn’t loudly announce itself when it walks into a room: “In reality it thrives in the cracks between superficially civil conversation.”
This is where the harm happens: those little looks of confusion or (heaven forbid) disgust that people get when they realize we’re not roommates. The internal judgment that we still silently feel. The unceasing opinions and measured dialogue that is respectful in tone (but violent in content). The sweeping theological statements about sin that render my personhood less than yours. I’m sorry, but polite as it may be, loving the sinner isn’t enough. It does too much damage of its own.