9 Reasons I can’t buy into the Enneagram.

I first heard about the Enneagram several years ago and was reminded of it again a few years later when I heard Ian Morgan Cron, the author of a popular Enneagram book, The Road Back to You, speak at a conference. His talk was fun, winsome, and I wanted to like the concepts he espoused. I had taken an Enneagram test online many years before and I had gotten a 5. But in talking to many of my closest friends at that time many of them labeled me a 7. However, talking to work colleagues who only know me in that context, it seems they think I’m a 4 and one at the time said that I’m definitely not a 7. I’ve taken five tests in all and gotten 5, 4, 7, 3, and 6. That’s right, I’ve never gotten the same result twice.

I’m aware that Enneagram enthusiasts will all say that either that’s because tests aren’t really accurate, or it just means I don’t actually know myself, or I haven’t studied it enough, or I haven’t read the right book or taken the right test, or I need to spend more time with it all so I can really understand what I am. I’ve heard it all. So I have spent a long time – years in fact – evaluating the Enneagram and I want to share my conclusions. This blog entry has taken me four years to write, so please believe me when I say I don’t say this lightly, but first let me address those Enneagram adherents.

If you looove the Enneagram, please don’t @ Me

Look, I’m not telling you not to like it, but I am asking you to question it. If you love it passionately then you’re probably not going to love this blog entry. So let me start off by saying this: If you truly, deeply find it helpful I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong for that. I most likely won’t convince you of anything, but before you go, I would ask you to please consider one thing: Is it possible that there are more than these 9 personalities? And for the Christians, is it ok that other Christians don’t want to be defined by something non-Biblical, even if you do? I’m just asking you to consider these things. If that’s all you do then feel free to stop reading here. Again, I’m not trying to convince you that you shouldn’t like the enneagram if you do.

I only ask that if you continue reading that you afford the same respect to me that I will try to do to you. I do realize that #NotAllEnneagramLovers applies here. I might also ask the courtesy of turning off your brain’s Enneagram typing system. I know you’ll try to put me in a box the longer your read this (you may have just decided that I’m a 4 because I said ‘put me in a box’ for example, or maybe I’m a 5 because of how verbose and cerebral my wording may seem.) I’m asking you nicely, please assume for a moment that I’m just a human and not a number.

Also keep in mind that I’m explaining why I don’t like the Enneagram, not why the Enneagram is “wrong.” If you read it as me saying “the Enneagram is wrong/bad/stupid for these reasons then you’re not reading it the spirit that I’m trying to write it. I might say I believe it can be “hurtful,” for example. I am not saying it always is. If you stick around for the whole entry I promise I will talk about a few things that I do find appealing about the Enneagram, so maybe that will motivate you to get to the end.

1) There is no credible psychological research that supports the Enneagram

When I first decided to write this entry I knew it would ruffle some feathers because I have many friends who love the Enneagram. And I debated starting with this objection because it’s a very harsh reality, but I feel that it must be said up front.

There is no sound psychological evidence that backs up the Enneagram. In my experience of reading about and discussing the Enneagram, when adherents refer to “researching” the Enneagram they’re talking about reading books by Enneagram proponents and not conducting actual psychological research to try to determine the scientific validity of the typing system.

I will hasten to say that the same could be said for the MBTI, however the difference there is I actually like the MBTI (wink)… no ok, I will have more to say about the MBTI in relation to all this further down, just stick with me for now.

I actually did search a few academic databases and found startlingly few works in peer-reviewed journals that seem to offer any real validation to the nine types, let alone the idea that they are either mutually exclusive or collectively exhaustive. What research has been done is either inconclusive (one Canadian study claims to affirm the enneagram, for example, but actually only affirms that the people in the study believed in personality types) or too small, outdated, and questionable in their methods. The only real study of any size is almost 40 years old and seems to only be seen as being valid by enneagram proponents, not the academic psychology community.

What I did find was many social science researchers questioning the enneagram, if not out right dismissing it. Perhaps the best summary of this when encapsulated when Rebecca A. Newgent wrote her Ph.D. thesis entitled “An investigation of the reliability and validity of the Riso-Hudson enneagram type indicator.” In the abstract she states “While some research on these enneagram systems has been conducted, [she lists the studies] limited empirical validation has occurred.” And even her own study is largely inconclusive, only had a small sampling, and was weakened by its reliance on self-report and lack of diversity of its volunteers.

In her discussion she writes “It is generally undesirable to have ipsative scales because the scale affects the psychometrics estimated” and continues to expound upon why this weakness lead to her results. In other words: when personality assessments require you to choose between multiple desirable options regrading yourself (IE: am I more spontaneous or reliable?) they’re largely seen as unhelpful assessment tools as they fail to capture the complexity of humanity because people are more likely to select what they see as the better trait. I might feel spontaneous at that moment, or I might want to be spontaneous, or I might’ve been recently told by someone who doesn’t know me well that I am spontaneous, and I might undervalue being reliable while still actually being reliable, I might center my identity around being reliable but I might still berate myself for not being reliable enough when I make one small slip up. And this is just one of dozens of questions that are asked in these kinds of assessments.

I asked a clinical psychologist and a licensed counselor about their opinion on the Enneagram and neither of them had ever even heard of it. Both of them said approximately the same thing, however: these tests can be useful for a person to think about their personality and get to know themselves, but they shouldn’t be taken as hard and fast rules of nature.

The discussion in the aforementioned study also points out another weakness of the Enneagram. You have to pick a dominant type – you can’t mix and match things from across the circle – which leads me to my next objection-

2) It feels less like “typing” and more like stereotyping

The premise of the Enneagram is that a person has a “dominate type” which should become apparent as you “research” the Enneagram. Yes, you can have “wings” (albeit only the numbers to your left and right) and you might have slightly different healthy and unhealthy behaviors based on which number is across the circle from you (which might be the most wildly arbitrary thing in the whole typing system; more on that later) But you can’t say that I’m a 1/8 even split. Or a 4/7. So instead of seeing the broad spectrum of your various traits and comparing to others you’re lumped into a stereotypical group and are assigned several arbitrary behaviors that make you “healthy” or “unhealthy.”

If you say to a Enneagram adherent that you don’t at all feel like you fit in with the description you’re given, save for a couple of descriptors, you’ll be told that not everyone fits every part of their description. So what if you don’t fit more than 30% of any of the traits of any number? What if you’re exactly 50/50 of two different numbers that have no relationship?

They’re not mutually exclusive They’re not collectively exhaustive

Types that have no official relationship can have a huge amount of overlap. 1’s are perfectionists – well often perfectionism goes hand-in-hand with being achievement driven and vice versa, but those two types have no relationship in the Enneagram. Every type has another type in a another part of the circle that could be coupled with it if cross-typing were allowed, but instead most Enneagram authors espouse that people only have one dominant type.

I’ve found other people like me who, despite being introspective, emotionally healthy people who have done a great deal of self assessment, don’t identify with any of the types – or might equally identify with several. Despite this there’s no “spectrum” on which these types exist (unlike MBTI or the DISC assessment) which doesn’t give the wiggle room for the many complexities in human personalities.

3) The types are often used as either a bludgeon or an excuse

While I’m not saying there is no appropriate use of the Enneagram I can say for certain it has many improper uses – though this is definitely true of all other personality assessments as well. I personally have seen more of the system’s abuse than good use.

A bludgeon:

“You’re not a 2! You’re a 9!” or “You’re not a 7, you’re not that fun.” or “Well you just don’t know yourself, that’s why you haven’t figured out your type.” or “With as much as she argues? Definitely an 8” or “Have you really researched it? because I think it applies to everyone.” or “Ignore him, he’s just being a 1.” or “Sometimes it just takes a really long time for you to accept your type.”

To the people who say these things: Do you realize that every time you assign a type or tell someone they’re not a type that you’re subtly insulting them? Each type have some positive characteristics and some really negative characteristics (except 6, which might be why the study I mentioned in point one found it to be the least valid type in self-assessments due to its vague-ness) and in declaring someone’s type you’re insinuating some pretty strong intimate knowledge of that person – depending on which book you read. Also if you say that because someone doesn’t feel they fit into one of the categories that means that they don’t know themselves (and indicating that you clearly know them better) is not only insulting, it’s pretty arrogant. These uses of the enneagram aren’t helpful, they’re hurtful. Implying that because someone doesn’t identify with your system of categorizing people that they are either ignorant, deluded or in denial is not edifying in any circumstance.

An excuse

“You know that because I’m a 4 I’m not going to react well when you say that kind of thing to me” or “you have to forgive her for being a jerk, she’s an 8” or “you can’t expect any different from him, he’s a 9 and they’re kind of lazy” or “Look you just have to get out of his way, he’s a 3 and he has to do it his way.” or “I know the only thing I mentioned was the spelling error, but I’m a 1, I only see your mistakes.”

part of this is because Enneagram really drives home the belief that personality is static. To be fair, most type indicators seem to adhere to this. There was one book of those I read that tried to say personality is what you build to protect yourself like a cast around a broken bone – that was a very different take that totally clashed with the other books I’d read. Either approach doesn’t really get at the complexities of personality. If you believe that your personality is only a result of your victimhood then you’re going to lean into the victim mentality. And if you believe that your personality is static then it makes it easy for you to rest on your laurels and just say “it’s who I am” and you often either become a victim of your own traits or others do.

If your goal in taking a personality assessment is to be able to say that you’re never going to change, then you’re doing it wrong. Yes, we all have quirks that aren’t likely to change, but that doesn’t mean that we do nothing to mitigate them. Real maturity is just as much about doing things that don’t come natural to you as it is about accepting who you are. Just because it’s your natural response, doesn’t mean it was the right response. And just because you have a particular number assigned to you by some guys who made a up an assessment in the 60s doesn’t mean that you can’t do things differently! Which leads me to my next issue…

4) The “ancient” origins enneagram are false

If you’re an Enneagram apologist and you’re still reading you’re probably wondering if I’d read all the same books you have. If you’re like most I’ve encountered then you have a specific one you want me to read that you think will change my mind on this. Up to this point, the more I read the less I’m convinced and so far I’ve read three different books on the topic. It’s amazing how they somehow manage to both say the same things while still contradicting one another, but one thing all of them claim is that the Enneagram is an ancient typing system. This is easily debunked.

These books make vague references to ancient writings, which, when researched, bear no resemblance to the Enneagram of today. The only idea most of these “sources” had in common with the modern Enneagram is the concept of a limited number of types of people – meaning that these same ancient roots have equal in common with every other personality assessment in use today. And usually the “types” in question aren’t personality types, but were more abstract ideas about the soul, spirits, or facets of culture.

The word “enneagram” wasn’t even really popularized until the 20th century by George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, an Armenian new-age spiritualist, but his talk of it still didn’t look much like the Enneagram we know today. It wasn’t until Óscar Ichazo invented the first modern take on the Enneagram in the 1960s that we get writings that look like what you’d read about in contemporary Enneagram literature. He had a student, Claudio Naranjo, who broke with him and started teaching the Enneagram himself in the 70s – Ichazo said that Naranjo’s Enneagram wasn’t legit, that he – Ichazo – was the only one who taught the real Enneagram, because he wanted people to come to his school and pay him to teach them about it, but he couldn’t claim a copyright on it without admitting that it was not ancient knowledge – which was a big part of his sales pitch. It’s Naranjo’s teachings that all the books, tests, and seminars about Enneagram are based on. What’s more is Naranjo actually is on video saying that the Enneagram was dreamed up by Ichazo.

One of Naranjo’s earlier set of students were Jesuit priests who integrated Christian beliefs into the Enneagram, such as associating the nine types with the seven deadly sins, which later prompted some Christian authors erroneously claim that the seven deadly sins are a potential source of the “ancient” Enneagram. In reality there is no hard historical evidence of any concrete link between the Enneagram and Christian teachings before 1970.

So no, this specific typing system isn’t ancient at all. In fact it’s predated by Pepsi cola. That alone doesn’t invalidate it, but it does call into question the wisdom of some of the authors who continue to espouse its ancient origins despite the lack of any real evidence that there is any true connection between the Enneagram invented in the 20th century and any ancient writings.

And while I don’t like to be an alarmist about these kinds of things, I do feel that we should all consider the claims of former-Occultist-turned-Christian, Marcia Montenegro who has been interviewed on several podcasts regarding the ties that the Enneagram has to new age spiritualism and the occult. Here’s an interview with her on Cultish.

5) It’s a poor typing tool

When I take the DISC assessment I get similar results to the first time I took it. When I take MBTI variants I get similar results. But when I take an assessment for the Enneagram I’ve never gotten the same result twice.

Those in favor of the Enneagram have told me that this could be because I’m not taking the correct test, or because I don’t know myself well, or even because tests don’t work at all for typing the Enneagram and the only way to discover your type is by reading more books about it until you accept the category you fit into.

Regardless of which is true – all of these statements mean that Enneagram systems aren’t very good at fitting people into its various types. Because there is no definitive test, there really isn’t a definitive understanding of each type. While there are a handful of traits that most authors agree on, most authors have pretty different nuances in their understanding of the types. Reading the description of a 6 in one book can be pretty different from the description of a 6 in another book.

Of course, the basic descriptions remain the same across books. For example, type 2 is a helper who can tend toward matyrdom – this seems widely agreed upon. At that level those descriptions feel less like types and more like horoscopes since they’re so general, but they’re hard to argue with. However, the types really start to break down when each author does their own take on what specific secondary traits are manifested in a “healthy” and “unhealthy” 2 – often getting so caught up in the minutiae of the type that it decreases the number of people who will read and say “oh that is me.” Continuing with the 2 as an example. Most of us know someone who extremely helpful, but can tend toward martyrdom – those two characteristics often go hand in hand. In The Road Back to you Ian Morgan Cron tells a story about a supposed 2 who bought a car for a family without asking them – this is an example of a 2 who often is helpful, but only in the ways that they want. Well I know some helpful people who still struggle with a martyr complex who have that characteristic, yes. I also know others who don’t. “Ah yes,” adherents will say, “that just means they are healthy.” Well, yes and no. They still might have a big struggle with anxiety – which is a chief characteristic of a 6. “Well not every characteristic fits every person of that type” adherents will suggest, but this occurs to the point that I don’t feel comfortable saying – or even thinking that the people close to me fall into these types as I find most people might have 2-3 characteristics of any given one of these types at most.

In addition, the fact that they can be frustratingly rigid, the arbitrary relationships between these different types makes them confusingly fluid at times, but I’ll get to that in the next section.

Most typing systems have some level of flexibility in them, but the required flexibility to accept the types in the Enneagram strains credulity to me. I had a person I worked with tell me he thought I might be a 4 – I read the description of the 4 and found part of it to be somewhat like me – or at least I could see why he would think it was like me – and the rest to not only be unlike me, but rather repellent to me. I won’t get into those specifics as I don’t want to insult people who feel they have those characteristics. I don’t see how I could claim to identify with a type where half the description I can kind of see, but the other half I not only don’t identify with, but I actually don’t really even like. I also don’t see how I can identify as a type when the person hearing said Identification might be thinking of a different set of characteristics depending upon what book they’ve read, or what experience they’ve had with other people who identify as that type – that, in my opinion, makes it a very poor typing system.

6) The relationship between types is arbitrary

Ah, but Will, you might say, there are “wings” and also possibilities that people’s relative stress or emotional health might cause them to act differently – that explains why people have all these different characteristics which may seem inconsistent at first to the less trained eye.

In the Enneagram there are relationships between the different types that add to the tangled web of complexity – such that while they can be frustratingly austere (there’s no room for a person to be an even mix of two types) they can also be staggeringly fluid. For example, a 7, if “healthy” can take on the good characteristics of a 5, but if unhealthy OR stressed out (depends on who you ask, and no admission that these are two are wildly different things) they can take on the negative characteristics of a 1. A 1, if healthy can take on the positive characteristics or a 7, but if stressed/unhealthy can take on the characteristics of an unhealthy 4. Why? Because that’s the way they fall around the circle. Seriously. That’s the only reason for these relationships.

I haven’t heard a logical reason for these relationships between the types. In all three of the books I read, as well as the materials provided by the Enneagram Institute, there is absolutely no explanation given for why these supposed relationships exist. They just are. What’s more – these explanations make typing nearly impossible, but provide Enneagram adherents with a bevy of tools to keep the ball in the air when discussing the types with skeptics.

I know a person (really well) who fits a lot of the description of a 9 but occasionally acts like a 6. So an Enneagram proponent might say well he’s an unhealthy/stressed 9 because an unhealthy 9 takes on the characteristics of a 6 – but I can tell you that this is one of the healthiest people I know and, if anything when stressed he takes on the characteristics of a 2 – not the unhealthy characteristics of a 2, mind you, in fact he would never act like a martyr, but instead would just get to work being helpful. Maybe he’s a healthy 2 then – except the 2 characteristics are largely a result of stress in his case. Maybe he’s a healthy 8 who is taking on the characteristics of a 2! Nope, he hates conflict – really runs away from it. Maybe he’s just a six who is healthy and therefore taking on the healthy characteristics of a 9 – well no, because he doesn’t take on the characteristics of a 3 at all, but especially not when stressed.

Do you see why I’m having trouble buying this typing system? All of these relationships are arbitrary and they make it so that when you try to explain why you aren’t a type then you get questioned as to whether you’re healthy or unhealthy/stressed. In reality most of us have both healthy and unhealthy parts of our thought processes – making it nearly impossible to determine whether a person is a “healthy” 6 or an “unhealthy” 9.

I also want to address the confusion between “stressed” and “unhealthy.” The Enneagram institute actually uses the words “integrated” and “dis-integrated” which are terms taken directly from new-age-spiritualist roots of the Enneagram – Christian Enneagram writers have shied away from these terms and instead have chosen to use the words “stressed” or “unhealthy.” The problem is these are totally different things. As I said above, most of us have healthy and unhealthy aspects of our lives and to different degrees, but health is something that ebbs and flows – often taking hits quickly, but healing more slowly. Stress can set on very quickly or slowly and it can ease up quickly or slowly. Also stress isn’t bad. Stress is like friction – it isn’t comfortable, but it gets the gears moving. People’s response to stress is also largely dependent on how healthy they are, and there are such things as healthy coping mechanisms. Stress is to weather as health is to climate. And while they are two very different things they’re often used interchangeably in discussions about the Enneagram which makes it even more difficult to determine what a type is. Are they stressed? Are they unhealthy? Are they dis-integrated? Who knows?

7) It is a perfect example of the Barnum/Forer effect.

The Forer effect, also known as the Barnum effect is a psychological principle wherein people rate various personality assessments as highly accurate to themselves specifically, despite the types being general. This is the same basic principle that leads people to treat astrological signs as legitimate personality types.

This is also the same trick that con-artists use to convince marks that they have supernatural powers. A “psychic” with a room full of people can say something like “someone here has lost someone close to them.” That is general enough that it probably applies to half the room. From there things might get a little more specific, but only enough to allow the people who are engaged to become more certain that they’re the intended person. By the time it does get specific, the mark is willing to dismiss anything that doesn’t seem to fit because they’re hooked.

The issue is that even if you examine these individual types, they’re simplified. Someone says “perfectionist” and instantly all the perfectionists say “that’s me” without considering that there are many degrees and kinds of perfectionism motivated by different things and manifesting different ways. I’m not just making this up; depending on who you ask there might be three, four, or even five different kinds of perfectionism (click those links if you don’t believe me) – are they all 1’s? Or you say “creative” regarding 4’s and guess what? Once again – as I believe most people recognize – there could be three, four, or five different kinds of creativity. As a personal side note here, this also bothers me because it further denotes “creativity” as equivalent to “artistic.” Not everyone is artistic but everyone has some form a creativity since we’re made in the image of a creator.

Yet, the Forer effect shows that someone who has identified themselves as a perfectionist will look at the rest of the description and rate it as accurate. Especially after given a handful of other general traits with which they agree. So a person who calls themselves a 4 might be told “creative, sensitive, introverted” – three common traits that often go together – and then rate the rest as accurate because they so heavily identify with those first three.

It doesn’t fit perfectly? We’ve got wings and healthy/unhealthy relationships to explain that. – why you ask? Because that’s where they are around the circle. And soon your thinking becomes patterned around it and you start to see it everywhere thanks to the Tetris effect (the effect that causes us to make things fit together even if they really don’t) and the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (the effect that makes us ignore details until we relate them to ourselves; the way you start to see your car everywhere after you buy it). These are also common psychological effects found in believers of pseudo-science and conspiracy theories. Read up on them – they’re pretty intriguing.

8) It neglects the many basic realities about people and personality

The idea that personality is static is suspect at best. In my humble opinion, it’s just demonstratively false. Physical changes in the body can drastically effect personality. Anyone who has been close to someone who has gone through heart surgery would probably tell you that they saw some personality changes in that person. I knew a woman who didn’t know she had an ovarian cyst – she slowly became a different person for a while, and once it was removed, returned to her old self. I knew a guy who I thought was the most care-free person I’d ever met. He went through a series of traumatic events and quickly became a pretty different person. I’ve had friends to whom I was very close, who changed quite suddenly and radically for reasons I still don’t understand.

Changes to personality can happen because of hormonal changes, changes in medication, trauma, age, and new studies have suggested that even gut flora plays a big role in personality changes. Often these changes are temporary and small, but sometimes they can be large and sometimes they seem to be life-long.

But perhaps my biggest issue with this belief is that it turns us or others into victims of our personality. I know personally that I have chosen to make changes in my life that have fundamentally altered who I am over the years, but more importantly I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in me, maturing me, and transforming me every single day.

When I was in high school I was fundamentally not a good listener. My youth pastor and I honestly only had an “ok” relationship at the time. We were pretty different and while he was a great guy, I probably wasn’t mature enough to appreciate him at the time. One day he straight up told me that if I could just learn to listen it would be really good for me. I actually don’t remember the last part of what he said; I doubt I was listening. But enough got through to me that between that – and my dad talking about one of the great pastors he respected only lacking the ability to listen – I decided at the age of 15 that I was going to be a better listener. A large part of my job now is interviewing people on video – often about sensitive, life-changing things, and I’ve been told repeatedly that I’m really good at making people feel comfortable and listened to.

Here’s the thing. I wasn’t unhealthy as a teenager. I was immature. I had some people I respected point out how I was immature. Instead of saying “this is just part of my personality, I’m not the best listener. That’s just not going to be a skill I have.” I decided to go against what was natural for me and instead make a concerted effort to change that part of me. I’m not perfect at it. I can still get distracted when I’m talking with someone, but the key here is that I didn’t say “that’s not me – that’s not my gifting – that’s no who I am.” I saw a clear way that I needed to improve and I went after it. Now it is much more natural for me to sit and listen to someone else tell their story.

In the Christian faith there is a fundamental doctrine that we are all born sinful. Because of Original Sin, the world we live in is cursed and so are we. As such we have a sin nature. depending upon which theological camp you belong to you may or may not believe that your sin nature can be overcome in this lifetime, but either way it is there. This idea isn’t present at all in any discussion on the Enneagram – even the Christian discussions on it. In fact it’s almost the opposite – the concept is often presented in a way that says our personalities cannot be sinful – that it can only be “unhealthy.” Therefore there is no need for repentance and sanctification, there is only need for “growth.”

I, for one, believe that there are personality traits that are sinful – we all have them – and that the process of sanctification is a supernatural course that goes far beyond character growth. This by the way is not just my opinion.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here”

2 Corinthians 5:17

I have definitely seen people’s personality radically changed by the presence of God in their life and that leads me to my final thought…

9) It asks me to define myself – at the core of my personality – using something other than Jesus or scripture.

Both of the Christian books I read about the Enneagram mention the root for the word personality coming from the word persona – which is true, but I was surprised none of them talked about the fact that the concept of a “person” as we think of it today; largely came to being during the 13th century thanks in no small part to relating this word to the Trinity and discussing the three persons of God. It was odd to me that in a Christian discussion on personality this was not mentioned.

I want to again emphasize here that introspection is important to the Christian walk – self reflection, seeking counsel, having honest conversations – these are important components to growing as a disciple of Jesus. So don’t hear me saying that there is no value in taking this or any other personality test. Don’t hear me saying that there is no value to seeing what non-christian assessments can teach us about ourselves and the way the world sees us.

This is, however, where the rubber meets the road for me when it comes to total acceptance of this or any other typing system – the Myers-Briggs included. As believers in Christ we can learn about ourselves from anything, but we can only be defined by Jesus.

Submitting to God is a difficult but necessary daily component of Christian growth. What I dislike the most about the Enneagram is it asks me to submit my identity to something other than He who is revealed in scripture.

Yes, there is a ton of truth to be learned outside the bounds of the Bible. However, there can only be one place where Christians find their identity. Yes, we can learn much about ourselves, but there can only be one person who can tell us who we are.

There is only one love language. Die. to. self.

Christine Caine

I was at a conference years ago when I heard Christine Caine explain that it bothered her when people said “I can’t do that because it’s not my love language” she really challenged my thinking because I like the idea of love languages, I like the idea of personality types, and gifts assessments because they let me say “no, you should’ve approached me like this…” or it gives me that smug sense of superiority when I can guess a person’s MBTI or DISC type.

When she finished her thought she said “there is only one love language. Die. To. Self.” The last three words she emphasized as if each were it’s own sentence. I was, as the kids say, “shook.” Because she’s right. The christian life is a continual death-to-self. There is no room for us to submit to any label, name, or identity that Christ himself hasn’t bestowed on us.

Ok, but what about the MBTI?

For me personally the Enneagram has provided what all personality assessments try to and that is an opportunity to look at myself – which isn’t a bad thing. One thing that it taught me is to stop relying on personality types to define who I am. As I said at the start, I am a fan of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I used to make a practice of trying to guess people’s types and if someone wanted to talk about the MBTI, I would gladly oblige ad nauseum. What I realized from looking into the Enneagram (and talking with people who love it) is that I was allowing the MBTI to be a hitching post instead of a guide post in my life. Sure, I’ve got personality traits that I like about myself, but that shouldn’t stop me from dying to self as I am called to in scripture.

Honestly I’m grateful for the Enneagram rubbing me the wrong way because it revealed to me how much I’d come to see the MBTI as a defining factor in who I am. And while I do think it is better (and far more flexible) than the Enneagram – many of the same arguments I make here against the Enneagram could be said of the MBTI. Assessing the Enneagram has forced me to reassess the MBTI and as a result I’ve become more cautious of what I anchor my identity to.

After all that, what can possibly be good about the Enneagram?

Having said all this, fair is fair and I promised I’d tell you some of the good things I can see about the enneagram:

  • It gives me a mirror, even if an imperfect one. And this list of traits can be used as a guide of things that I need to put in check, rather than things I’m just supposed to accept about myself
  • It does emphasize “growth” and “health” even if these terms are often used in vague, new-age ways – they’re still components to the Christian faith and important to reflect on.
  • Obviously some people do find it helpful in seeing themselves and becoming more self-aware – both are important first steps in any journey toward maturity.
  • The fact that different friends of mine would each label me as different parts of the personality actually shows me what parts of my personality I’m showing to others and it makes me ask myself what does that mean – I don’t think I’m being disingenuous, but I’d like to believe that I’m becoming better at being content in any circumstance and recognizing what is needed for the moment rather than being reactionary based on my whims.
  • For many people I’ve encountered, the Enneagram seems to have been their first foray into this kind of introspection and self-assessment – it’s not a bad place to start that process.
  • It gets us all to look at other personality types and encourages us to think bout the vivid complexities of others’ thought-processes and how they might actually be totally different from our own.

I will be a little surprised if anyone who is passionate about the Enneagram has actually read this whole thing, but I do want to thank you if you have. I know back when I was a big-time MBTI evangelist that I didn’t take it well any time someone mentioned these kinds of criticisms. Because of course I wouldn’t take kindly to people criticizing the thing I’d used to define myself. I often say that what angers me reveals what my idols are.

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended…”

If you’re upset with me or my tone or something I’ve said or implied here then I want you to know that I’m well aware that I’m a sinner saved by grace and I do humbly ask for God’s grace to be at work as these words are read and considered. I probably haven’t convinced any Enneagram adherents to change their minds, but that wasn’t really why I wrote this. I wrote this largely for other people like me who found the Enneagram to be lacking. I wanted you to know that you’re not alone. And for any people who truly love the Enneagram I hope maybe you’ve come to understand those of us who don’t. Thanks for reading.

There are no after photos in the Christian Faith

You ever see those commercials for workout programs and equipment? I always find it so amazing to look at the before and after photos on these things. Men and women, many of whom are my age, who may have struggled with their weight for years and just decided that they were tired of it. They then worked hard for months, sometimes years to develop healthier habits. They asked for help from friends and family and made alterations to their lifestyle to reinforce these changes and after lots of hard work they finally arrived at their goal weight and were able to take the victory lap of weight loss: the “after” photo.

funny-before-and-after-photos-73948
Some of these transformations are pretty extreme…

Before and after photos are often really cool to see – the first image looks like a totally different, but similar person from the second, as if they might’ve been related – perhaps siblings. I like seeing these because they’re a physical and visible example of life transformation. The problem is that they don’t tell the whole story. Not only do they not tell you about the struggle in-between the “before” and the “after” even more importantly they don’t tell you the story of what happened after the “after” photo was taken. Did they stay on track? Did they backslide a little? Were they carried into heaven by a flaming chariot now that they reached physical perfection?

I think that because the church is so aware of how much everyone needs Jesus and the dramatic transformation he brings about in peoples lives we tend to think of people in one of two ways: they’re either a before or an after; meaning that either they haven’t surrendered their life to Christ (and therefore are a terrible mess) or they have surrendered their life to Christ (and therefore have things totally figured out.) But we know that there are usually many more steps in Christian maturity and growth beyond salvation.

Obviously the importance of the first step of accepting Christ cannot be overvalued, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only step. Yet the church often seems to believe that the people outside of the church are the only ones who need the church. As if to say that once you’re in the church you no longer need teaching, guidance, financial assistance, community, or counseling. That’s what everyone outside the church needs, but now that you’re in the church you no longer need it. This breeds the idea that when we, as Christians, do have issues, we’re the only ones. If you struggle with depression, marital issues, addictions, or meeting your family’s basic needs – it can seem like the church isn’t the place for you, because the people of the Christian church have it all figured out, right? The resulting effect is either that people either try to hide those issues or they don’t engage with the church because they feel like they don’t belong. Either way the very thing they need; the church isn’t able to help them.

Meanwhile, the truth is that there are no “after” photos in the Christian faith. There are only “during” photos. The Christian life doesn’t end with Jesus, it begins with it. We don’t believe that Salvation is the only work of grace. There’s sanctifying grace that continues to work in a person’s life until they go to be with Jesus at which point I fully expect they’ll take an “after” photo of you upon your arrival in paradise.

Yes there is a definite before and after in the Christian faith. Jesus’ impact on a person’s life should create a transformation that may be dramatic. This can be a very clear “before” and “after,” but the reality is there is more to it. To be accurate the after photo would have to be a video time lapse of a person as they continue to live their life. The time-lapse might have moments of pure happiness; where joy seems obvious on their face. Then they might have moments of frustration and doubt, where they’re angry with God. There might be moments of obedience where they trusted and God were faithful, despite their feelings. Then they might have moments where they feel like they’ve messed up again and aren’t deserving of forgiveness. They’ll have moments of assurance, and moments of despair. Hopefully they have moments where they grow closer to God and find that it’s easier to resist temptation as they know him more. That would be quite a long “after photo,”  but it would be more accurate then a single-frame snapshot of a person’s life depicting them at one high moment.

it might look kinda like this.

I think I too often appear to people who see me from afar as an “after” photo when I’m really a “during.” While I don’t think it’s wise to broadcast every struggle – after all it’s not about me – I do think there is some merit to admitting that we all have them and that I am a part of “we all.” So let me proclaim: any snapshot you see of my life is a “during” photo. I have moments of joy, moments of obedience, and moments of growth, but I also have moments of despair and moments of embarrassment. While I’m growing closer to God and learning to follow him better, it is an ongoing process. I do not say this to excuse my shortcomings, I say this to acknowledge them and declare that my hope and righteousness is in Christ.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 8.19.41 AM

This is especially tough to keep in mind in today’s social media- driven world. You see a friend post about their marriage, or the birth of a child, or the fact that they just got another degree, bought a house, got a promotion, or are on an expensive vacation. Or maybe it’s not material success; they post photos of their family in worship, or the scripture they read this morning, or the theologian they’re reading. You look at this and think they have it all together; that they’ve arrived. In reality, they don’t post about the fight they had with their kids before getting to worship. They don’t tell about the fact that they lost their temper with a co-worker and they got reprimanded at work. They don’t explain that they’re struggling financially because they’re in a huge amount of debt due to the new house, expensive degree, and crazy vacations they’re taking. Those “after” pictures, don’t show the whole picture.

Also – don’t be afraid to unfollow those people that are only posting things that make you jealous or angry. You’re not obligated to keep up with them. I’m sure you realize all of this, because you’re smart, but I’m amazed at the number of people who complain about the kind of things they see on social media – which is a totally customizable medium; tailored to the way you make it. You don’t have to unfriend those people, but you don’t have to follow them either. If seeing those things aren’t edifying to you, then why choose to continue to see them? And while we’re on the topic – don’t contribute to the noise by being dishonest about your situation. You don’t have to broadcast every high and don’t be afraid to ask for prayer as a way of letting your friends know that you’re human. Otherwise your highlights might be someone else’s struggle.

 

To sum it up simply: The Christian walk isn’t a sprint wherein you might run hard for a few hundred feet, but then once you reach the end you get to soak in the hot tub for the rest of your life. It’s an ultra marathon that lasts for days and nights and is longer than anything else you encounter. Some days it’s uphill. Some day’s it’s flat and boring, if you’re fortunate, you’ll have a few days wherein you’ll run through a stretch where the crowds are lining the road, cheering you on. There are no “after” photos in the Christian life, so enjoy the during – it’s the during, the journey wherein we grow closer to Christ as we constantly rely on him in our struggles.

 

Seeing Dad’s Hands

[parallax_quote animation=”fadeInUp” author=”From How Beautiful by Twila Paris”]How beautiful the hands that served the wine and the bread and the sons of the earth. How beautiful the feet that walked the long dusty roads and the hill to the cross.[/parallax_quote]

 

Yesterday in worship we played a video that had a shot of Matthew Gamble, a Frazer Staff Member, filling out our new connect card. Matt happened to be walking by when I was shooting the video and I asked if he could be my hand model. We got the footage and I threw it in the video.

As I was leaving church of the day after service, I saw Matt and his family heading out. Matt’s oldest was saying to him that she recognized his hands in the video and it occurred to me, that’s exactly what children of God do: we recognize our dad’s hands.

[parallax_quote animation=”fadeInUp” author=”Psalm 104:24 NLT”]O Lord, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions. [/parallax_quote]

I’ve been known to indulge in a disagreement with an atheist from time to time. I was in one a while back in which we very quickly reached a premise upon which we could not agree. He clearly believed that the good that the church does is in no way an evidence of anything greater, but simply something it does on its own without any outside help. I’m sure he would say the same about the cosmological argument of God, that all the beauty of creation manifested entirely on its own.

I realize now that to someone who doesn’t know the father, he just sees a generic pair of hands; it could science, it could be man, it could be luck. But when we see it, we recognize our father’s hands. We know what his hands look like. We know the way they look. We know they can look like regular people’s hands. We know that his hands often look like happenstance. But we know the difference between mere chance and our father’s hands at work. After all, when the disciples didn’t believe Jesus when they saw his face, they believed when he showed them his hands.

[home_circle_callout animation=”fadeInUp”]
[home_circle_callout_line]After he said this,he showed them [/home_circle_callout_line]
[home_circle_callout_line highlight=”true”] his hands and side.[/home_circle_callout_line]
[home_circle_callout_line]The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. [/home_circle_callout_line]
[home_circle_callout_line]John 20:20 NIV[/home_circle_callout_line]
[/home_circle_callout]

So, in what unexpected places have you recognized the father’s hands?

My last day in my 20s: What I’d wish I’d known then, and what I hope to do next.

This entry is more to express my feelings, goals, and blessings at this point in my life.  As well as maybe to offer some thoughts on what I’d wish I’d known when I was 20, so that anyone who’s younger than me might could benefit from my ignorance.

When I turned 20

I remember having a moment on September 17th, 2005 – it was my sophomore year of college. That evening was Asbury’s Fall Variety show which always came together last minute and seemed to be comprised of a lot of duct-tape and chewing gum to keep the wheels from coming off the bus. Dodderidge Holland, a gymnasium with a stage at one end that was itself held together by duct-tape and prayer, was the location of these events and, showing no regard for fire code, it was totally packed that evening. The act I was a part of, a dance-heavy rendition of Tunak Tunak Tan, an Indian pop song sung by the incomparable Dahler Mendi, was to be last act of the evening and the show was already half-way through. Between the staggeringly poor acoustics and the total lack of air-conditioning, all compounded by a room crammed full of college students sitting on the floor, the show was neither particularly audible nor was it comfortable to watch.  I’ve never been too good at sitting down within a couple of hours of a performance. As such I sneaked out the back and sat on the steps next to reasoner green, across from the old library (that would eventually become the new student center.) I remember this moment because that was when it hit me: I was no longer a teenager.

One of the characteristics that really makes me a Millennial is the fact that I never enjoyed growing up. Some call us the “Peter Pan” generation. Because there were many who put off getting their license and other rights of passage that would push us toward independence. But unlike my parents’ generation, we Millennials never said anything like “don’t trust anyone over 30” – to the contrary ours was the first generation to respond to the US high school exit survey by saying that our heroes were more likely to be Mom and Dad than a young, hip celebrity or athlete. So while I wasn’t looking forward to leaving my childhood behind, I remain hopeful that future generations will continue the trend back to respecting and seeing the value of the generations who have come before them, because after all it’s like Christine Cain said, If you live as if there aren’t generations that have come before you, you’ll be in danger of forgetting that there will be generations after you.

To people in their teens and early 20s, here’s what I’ve learned

So, here’s what I wish I’d known that night in September of 2005.

A coworker of mine printed a dozen of these out today and posted them all over the break room
A coworker of mine printed a dozen of these out today and posted them all over the break room

  • You don’t have to get it all right over the next ten years – I knew that my 20’s weren’t a throw away decade, as talked about in this great TED talk, but I was more convinced of the opposite; that because I was given so much in my childhood, that I was going to be expected to save the world by the time I was 29. If you wonder why this is, just look at the Millennials. We’re a generation full of people many of whom simply invented an app, launched a website, or started a non-profit and seem to have experienced instant success. We celebrate those successes, but often we don’t realize that there are many people who don’t experience that kind of success until they’re in their 40s or 50s and not only is that ok, it might actually be preferable. Mark Zuckerberg may be my age, but far more common is the story of those who climbed the ladder of success over years of diligent and hard work to receive a well-deserved place in their career, family life, and community. Yes we can all name a dozen people who, “by the time they were my age” had already accomplished unprecedented things. There are also thousands of other successful people who weren’t over-night successes. And how many of those meteoric rises ended up being a flash in the pan? A relative blip on the radar? When you’re put into a position of influence, wouldn’t you rather be aided by a decade or two of wisdom and experience? Take advantage of this time to soak it up. Don’t just sit back, but don’t feel rushed to have accomplished a certain amount before any age milestone – take this time to focus on learning and putting in several good years of solid work that you can be proud of, even if it doesn’t look like the most impressive thing on a resume. The point is you’re getting better at being who you’re called to be so that when the opportunity arises you’ll be ready for what’s next.

257418-5

  • Learn from the mistakes you make, and take note of the lessons others are learning – You’re going to have some of your biggest screw ups before you reach 40. (I say 40 because I want to make it clear that I don’t think I’m out of the woods yet) and while you’re never going to be perfect, young adulthood is the period wherein you’ll be making some big life choices and you’re probably going to get a few of them totally wrong. You’re going to also get lots of little things wrong as well. THAT IS OK. DON’T FREAK OUT. Ok, the reality is you will freak out, because you’re young and you don’t know better. But take comfort in the fact that we’ve all done it and will do it and that it’s how we learn. Failure is OK. Not learning from failure is not OK! If you experience something that isn’t pleasant in your life and you never take the time to ask the question “what was my role in that, and how can I improve next time?” Then you’ll smuggle your baggage into the next job, relationship, project, or season of your life. Also, as a bonus during your 20s you’re probably going to see a few friends go through some rough times – maybe they’ll be their fault, maybe they’ll just be the harsh reality of life, but don’t miss an opportunity to learn from their circumstances – oh and don’t miss an opportunity to be there for a friend, aside from that fact that you will probably need them to help you out later, it’s just the right thing to do.

funny-life-goals-internet

  • Set goals that are solid, but don’t limit what God wants to do with you – When I was 20 I was convinced that it wasn’t a good idea to have really solid and specific goals. I still believe that to a large degree, but I wish I’d realized more that often times God works in our goals and, as long as we’re willing to change course, having even a somewhat vague ambition can be the primary way God accomplishes his goals through you. When I was in high school I had lots of specific ideas of what I wanted to do. Then I realized the foolishness of having your life planned out. We’ve all seen people who either didn’t get what they wanted in life and couldn’t handle it, or tried to force their goals to come to fruition through some tragic means. At the same time, having absolutely no idea of what God’s calling looks like can result in a life without intention. I was so focused on being available for what God called me to do, that I didn’t realize that I was using that as an excuse not to set the God-sized goals he was calling me towards. While I had some general ideas of what I wanted to do, you have to take intentional steps to accomplish God’s calling, it’s not as if filmmakers typically get handed the reigns to direct a feature film without having first directed a short film. I’ve heard it said like this: God can’t drive a parked car. While I knew this on one level, I wish I had been more intentional about setting some of those Goals and following through with them regardless of where I was, not goals that are so specific that they put God in a box, but goals that gave God an opportunity to work out his calling in my life. As such you may have some hard primary goals that are more abstract. And some secondary goals that are more concrete, though they may change as life happens.

  • Focus on the problem not the solution – I know, this sounds like the opposite of what you normally hear, but hear me out. I have to give total credit to Ken Roach for this wording, but he identified something that I’ve learned recently. I think part of the way that we can set Goals that are being obedient to God is by making them Goals that are based around attacking a problem rather than making them Goals about enacting a specific solution. For example you may be called to help impoverished children and you have a really creative plan for doing work with inner city kids, but when you try it, your funding runs out and you have to drop it to start a new job somewhere so you can support yourself.  You didn’t fail at fixing the problem, you just failed at enacting a specific solution. When you’re first starting off in a career, ministry, family, non-proft, or any other group, job, calling or community, you’re going to come up with an idea that is the obvious solution. It’s 100% for sure the right solution. It’s the plan that clearly everyone will see needs to be enacted to fix the problem. Only they don’t see it that way. And not only are you ignored, but the window closes on the opportunity for you to execute your perfect solution. This may have been because you were wrong, or it may have been because they were wrong, but now it doesn’t matter. You need to be willing to let go of your ‘solution’ and be willing to come at the problem from a different angle. We see this all the time when people change careers because they realize they want to attack the problem at it’s root. I’ve known of an insurance salesmen who became a nurse, a prison guard who became an educator, and a advertising executive who became a pastor.  These people were willing to change careers because they had a clear focus on the problem they were supposed to be attacking, and realized that they needed to change the solution. It may not be as extreme as changing career paths, it may be simply changing goals within your career, but rarely does someone’s first plan end up being the plan that they get to carry out, so don’t get upset when your first solution doesn’t work right away. Be willing to come up with a new one. Keep in mind that if you are a hammer, the whole world might appear to be a nail, but don’t be disappointed when you realize that there aren’t any nails around. God will use you somehow, don’t limit him by saying it only has to be in this one way.

keep-calm-you-re-only-30-10

  • In short, even when you reach 30 your life is still very much ahead of you – one of my favorite talks that I’ve heard at Catalyst, my favorite leadership conference, was given by Craig Groeschel in which he talked about the relationship between the younger and older generations in the church. While addressing the younger leaders he said “Don’t over estimate what God wants to do with you in the short-run and don’t underestimate what God wants to do with you in the long run.” In a culture obsessed with youth, it’s hard to keep in mind that your life doesn’t have to end at 30 or 35, or 40 or 50. Sometimes I feel a little disappointed when I compare myself to my friends who are married and starting to have kids. But then I think about the fact that when my parents were both 30 I was still seven years down the road for them and nowhere on their life’s roadmap. In your 20s when things aren’t going the way you think that should’ve gone, or when something happens and it feels like your dreams have been crushed, or when you start dealing with a new challenge that makes you wonder “is this the new normal?” just know that it doesn’t have to be the end of your dreams. You may just need to attack the problem from a different angle, or you may need to get to work and gain some more wisdom and experience, or you made need to set some new God-sized goals and run after them. No, you won’t live forever, but you still have plenty of time to leave a legacy.

Counting my Blessings

It is easy for me to take stock of the things that I had hoped to accomplished at this point in my life and simply wallow in my disappointment. Being totally single at 30 is a bit of a let down, but if I’m honest I’m actually more happy about being single now than I was a few years ago. (before responding to that statement be sure that you’ve read my blog entry on how to encourage single people) I have had a number of huge blessings over the past ten years and I want to celebrate them, I really am just thanking God for these things, but if you think you’ll be tempted to compare your accomplishments to mine, skip this. I won’t hit everything, but here are a few things that stick out to me, at least today.

I thank God for:

  • The birth of more nephews and nieces, bringing the total to 5 nephews and 4 nieces.
  • A Loving Family that has offered support to me in many different ways, even when I wasn’t very lovable.
  • The rest of my time at Asbury, some of the most fun, fulfilling, meaningful years of my life so far.
  • Going to the 2008 Olympics to be part of the Broadcasting in Beijing will remain one of the high points of my life.
  • More recently going to Israel Greece and Rome with NT Wright.
  • Getting a play produced here at the church, and seeing the surprising ways God used it.
  • Never having been in a messy relationship that ended poorly. I probably don’t praise God for this enough.
  • My house. This is one I can easily take for granted, but the fact that I’m a home owner is pretty amazing when I think about it.
  • My many friends, new and old, near and far. In my 20s I’ve lost a few and gained others. The friendships I have now are stronger than ever.
  • My dog Zeus, I’ve only had him for a year and a half, but he’s been the cutest means of grace God’s given me yet.
  • My small group – it’s been through many iterations, and God has been at work in and through it all the way.
  • Reawakening my passion for writing; something that I loved as a child, and realized is a means of Grace for me as an adult.
  • Jujitsu, Ultimate Frisbee, and jogs around my neighborhood – I’m grateful God’s given me ways to keep from being a total couch potato
  • Getting half way through Grad school – my midpoint review will be next month, there’s no way I could’ve done it without God’s help, especially through family and friends.
  • God’s continued daily provision for my life.
  • A (mostly) able body, a (relatively) sound mind (I mean, it could be worse, right?)
  • Hard experiences that taught me important lessons.
  • Dark times that drew me closer to God.

My goals for the next ten years.

In the interest of practicing what I blog, I want to have a few abstract Goals that are primary, that I can use as the “problem” so that if these others don’t work out, I can change course knowing that the ultimate goals remain intact, but also have a few specific, secondary goals that are opportunities for me to trust God with my talents:

Primary/abstract goals: (the what)

  1. Find new ways to reach my generation (the millennial generation) for Christ
  2. tell stories that are truthful and make people laugh
  3. Advance (however that might look) in my field (whatever that may be)
  4. encourage and teach other Christians

Secondary/ Specific goals: (the how)

  1. Finish grad school, earning my MFA
  2. Direct my first feature film
  3. Get a book published
  4. Do more teaching at the college level

As I said, I think that while I’ve hid behind the guise of “being available” for God’s calling, much of why I’ve resisted too-specific goals in the past has to do with a fear that I’m not actually capable of accomplishing them. The funny thing is that I haven’t become more brave, in fact I’ve probably become more convinced than ever that I cannot accomplish these goals. I do believe, however, that I’ve grown in my faith such that I now realize that I was never supposed to chase after these for my sake, and therefore I shouldn’t be depending on my own strength to accomplish them. I’m looking forward to the next ten years. I know they’ll be challenging, and know God will work in every part. My prayer is that the next ten years will be dedicated to Christ and that he’d bless my creativity more this decade than he has ever before. I pray that his had will be upon me and that he’ll give me peace.

Thoughts on getting my play produced

I recently had the honor of having a play that I wrote produced as a part of the Frazer’s annual musical drama production. It was a story of a family that is dealing with their Grandfather’s dementia, and each other, during the Holidays. While I did base certain quirks within my family on certain family members, It is a fiction story. The characters are mostly made up, and this family, though it has some similarities, is far more interesting than my family.

I have to say a huge thanks to Wayne Sigler, who directed the whole thing and did a great job (as usual). I also want to thank the cast who did a great job and make the script look better than I remember it being when it was just on paper. I also have to give a big credit to Ken roach who was one of my early critical readers and who basically wrote the whole sermon in the “Christmas Eve” scene. He also made suggestions that turned into some of the best jokes in the play.

If you haven’t had a chance to look at it you can check it out right here:

I can’t say why my play was chosen, but I can say why I wrote it. In the south where most people have grown up in church, people all think they know the Christmas story. People believe they know everything there is to know about it. So instead of telling them the story they think they know, I like to tell them the same story, but in a different context. The Christmas story is that of Christ humbling himself and coming to the world. This is the story of Christ coming into the life of a family. That way there is just more of a chance for those people who think they know the story of Christ to see it through a new lens.

My family is far more boring

Most people have assumed that the story is at least semi-autobiographical. The only Characters that I’d say are truly based off real people in my life are my grandparents. My grandmother is a spunky, caring woman, who speaks her mind. My grandfather, who we have been slowly losing to dementia, was a great preacher and man of God.

The truth is that my family isn’t quite as exciting as the people you see in the play. We don’t have any food fights at our table. We never had anyone yell at the family and storm out. No one in my family frequents bars, is loose with their dating life, or has ever owned a pink gorilla costume. Despite this we do have our differences, we do have our fights, and we do have bizarre and funny eccentricities that make us, well, us.

The one thing that is 100% factual is regarding the poem in the play. I wrote a blog entry a few years ago about my grandfather and what I’ve learned from him. You can read it here. In it I talked about the Sydney Lanier poem that is featured in the story. Until recently my Granddad would repeat the poem every time that we got together. This past week when we were together for Christmas, my dad suggested that we all say it aloud, (as in the play we’d heard it so much that we all have it memorized) and my Granddad, even in his current state, joined in and said it along with us. It was very meaningful.

The character(s) based on me

Perhaps the thing that people have been saying most often to me is that the character of uncle Charlie must be based on me. I can honestly say that I didn’t write it with that in mind. I think they would be pretty surprised to find that Charlie is not that character with whom I identify the most.

I suppose there is a sense in which I’m Charlie on my best days. But the person with whom I most identify is actually the character of Anne. No, I’ve never been that ostracized from my family nor have I behaved quite as callously or unscrupulously as Anne, but the thing that I really understand in her is the feeling of not being good enough. I am the youngest in my family and as Anne said when you’re the youngest you never stop being the baby even when you’re almost 30. In addition, I’ve lived most of my life feeling like I’m not good enough, that I’m not doing enough. Some might call this an “inferiority complex” I think that inadequacy is a better word.

It’s been curious to me to find out that this is a trait of many great performers and creative people. Comedians especially talk about how they’re driven by a desire to make people like them. The late Johnny Carson, the “king of late night,” was driven mostly by a desire to prove himself to his mother, who never told him that she was proud of him. My parents were very generous with encouragement and I’m not (nor will I ever be) anything close to Johnny Carson’s level of commercial success or fame.

What this tells me is this: no amount of success (including getting your play produced for a few thousand people) will make you feel adequate, only God can do that. Resting in Christ’s “enough” is far more than the worlds best “just a little more.” Because as Pascal first said, there is a God-shaped hole in all of us. And as Andy Stanley recently said, we all have an appetite to be known and the only one that can satisfy that need to be known is God.

Enough is enough

So, I got it half right; I’m not good enough and I never will be. Neither will you. Scripture tells us that we can do all things through Christ. We usually read that scripture as if “all things” means “great things.” What if it just means “all the things we face” Apart from him we can do nothing including waking up, breathing, and interacting with the world around us. I think it’s healthier to have a perspective that reminds us of how we can’t do anything without God, this kind of inadequacy can lead to a healthy sense of dependance on him. That is the best place to live: in Christ.

At this point I’ve come to see this feeling of inadequacy as a great blessing, as I realize that it’s the truth: I’m not enough, but God’s grace is enough for me. Because I realize that day-to-day, I’ll never be without a feeling for a need with God. I now see it as a loving way that God has drawn me closer to him.

In the wake of my play being produced I’ve heard story after story of people who identify with the family in the play. They see themselves as one character or another. Many people have gone as far as to make contact with their parents or siblings from whom that had been estranged. It’s been really cool to see what God has done with this play. I’ve heard it said that if you take credit for your failures that you’re going to be tempted to take credit for your successes when you need to be willing to Give both over to God. I really feel like that this play has been a means of grace for me, as it’s given me an opportunity see God at work in and through my life, so that he can show me that I don’t have to be good enough, I just have to rely on him.

What I want to hear God say.

I always enjoyed watching Inside the Actors Studio when I was in high school. My mom being a theatre teacher, we always listened to actors pretentiously explain their craft while they were adored by the majestic James Lipton. I especially liked the length of the interview which allowed the actor to cover more ground than they might in a normal talk show. As much as I made fun of it, I did enjoy the show and I really appreciated Lipton’s love of performers of any genre and background. Every episode, no matter if he was interviewing Ian McKellen or Desmond Diamond, Mr Lipton ends with the Pivot Questionnaire. The last question on the survey was, “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”

james lipton

I hadn’t thought too hard about this because I basically knew the answer and I think many Christians would say the same thing: “Well done my good and faithful servant.” I’ve always identified with the idea of servanthood to a worthy King. I’ve rarely had trouble finding myself aligning with that metaphor for our role in Christ’s kingdom. But recently it came alive for me in a new way.

What’s Tom Hiddleston doing on my blog?

 

 I was recently listening episode of a podcast that featured an interview with Tom Hiddleston. If you know of Tom Hiddleston, it’s probably from his role as Loki in the Avengers movies. If you’re not a Marvel fan, you may know him from his role in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. In this interview Tom talked about what it was like to work with Spielberg. The interviewer compared it to the scene at the end of Amadeus in which Mozart is dictating his final piece to Salieri. Salieri says that it was as if Mozart was receiving the music directly from heaven. Hiddleston said that watching Spielberg set up a shot was amazing. He said that he was a true master, but that the most amazing thing about him wasn’t his talent, his knowledge, or his creativity. The first thing about Spielberg that impressed Tom was how humble the great director was. Specifically, Tom recalled one scene in which his character was alone on camera. It was a scene that was especially difficult, emotional, and intimate. Spielberg dismissed the camera crew and asked Tom if it was alright if he operated camera. Hiddleston agreed of course. After the first take Spielberg had a few notes for him.  And Tom agreed and they moved onto take two. After take two Spielberg lit up and said that it was perfect and he started to move on. Hiddleston stopped him and asked if he could do a third take. Spielberg told him he didn’t need to, that the second take was good, but Tom pleaded with him and said that he could do it even better now that he knew what Spielberg was looking for.

 

They shot the third take and when it was done Spielberg just said, “Take two was pretty good.” He seemed pretty unconvinced. When they wrapped for the day Spielberg told Tom that he would be reviewing the footage this weekend and that he would let him know what he went with. The next Monday when Tom came to set, he saw Spielberg who simply said, “Tom, take three’s in the movie.” He proceeded to emphasize what an honor it was to have contributed even in a small way to the master’s work.tumblr_mjrgajYUcx1rqiulxo8_250

Everyone is Creative…yes really

I’m a strong believer that “uncreative people” simply do not exist. There are only people who haven’t discovered their brand of creativity. Some people are creative in their hospitality, other people are creative with financial management. Some people are creative with physics and chemistry, other people are creative in their encouragement. Not everyone is artistically creative, but everyone is creative in some way. How you choose to use that creativity will determine the focus of your life.

So my question is: are you settling for take 2 – just doing whatever is the “right thing” to do – or are you asking for take 3? Take 3 looks like a group of medical professionals donating their time to people in their community who can’t afford healthcare. Take 3 looks like men who choose to spend their retirement building wheelchair ramps for people with disabilities. Take 3 looks like  a successful TV director going to work at a Christian school so he can ensure there are skilled Christ-followers in the entertainment industry. Take 3 looks like a college student who spent his saturdays teaching impoverished children how to sing Christ’s praises. Take 3 looks like a husband who doesn’t hesitate to give his wife a kidney. Take 3 looks like a family adopting a child when they already had two, three, or four children. Take 3 looks like empty nesters making themselves available for foster and respite care. Take 3 looks like a teenager taking his free time to lead a small group of his peers. Take 3 looks like a young man who starts a non-profit to support an orphanage in africa. Take 3 looks like a church that starts a free clinic in their community. Take 3 looks like people who take a day off to help build a house for people who need a fresh start. Take 3 looks like a father picking up the pieces of a shattered life and doing the hard work of teaching his daughter what he was never taught by his parents.

What I want to hear God say.

So for me, as one of these creative people, I just want to know that I’ve been able to contribute to the master’s work. I want to hear God say, “Will, take 3’s in the movie.”

 Thanks for reading. Please like and share. 

Do you want to get well? Trapped: A Victim Mentality

Introduction from May 2014

This past week at Frazer UMC, where I work here in Montgoemry, Levi Garnder, our minister of outreach, brought a great message from the text of John 5. This year we’re going verse-by-verse through the book of John and this past week we talked about Jesus healing the man by the pool. Here’s some of the Scripture from John 5:

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

John 5:1-15

This scripture is so poignant to me because of the seemingly silly question Jesus asks in verse six: “Do you want to be made well?” You’d think that would be a no brainer, that anyone would see this man and know that just by looking at him that he would desire nothing more than to be made well. Jesus knew enough to know that it wasn’t the case. I think the detail of that question and the answer are in scripture intentionally to teach us about being victims of our circumstances, because even more interesting is the man’s answer. He doesn’t say “yes. of course. duh. what kind of question is that?” He makes an excuse as to why he can’t be made well. He says “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up and while I’m making my way someone else steps down ahead of me.” In this answer is his honest answer: “what I really want is for you to feel bad for me.” Because this man had a hard life. He had been sitting by this pool begging for 38 years. It’s quite likely that he survived on hand outs from the others who came by to step into the pool. It was likely that the people walking by felt bad for him and he realized that if he actually were to be healed that as wonderful as it might be, then he might have to do real work. So did he want to be healed? Deep down, of course. But the false-self that he had created depended upon his sickness to maintain his way of life.

1d4d5f9f87d6b0c527e5ff55dcf1592d0c82d9639438a72081b4d6a1dfd65cad If we’re honest, we like to use their painful history as a tool, or worse, a weapon. We lord it over people or try to use it to further our careers and social standing. In reality this kind of use of our pain is almost always toxic and usually won’t create any sustaining foundations on which these structures can last. This is why many popular musicians have such tragic lives. They often start off with the usual issues we all have: issues with their family, faith, & finances. Once they’ve worked out their finances they have a choice to move onto their family and faith or they can start inventing new problems. They don’t want to be made well.

One of my family’s favorite movies is film based on a book by the same name Cold Comfort Farm. It’s rich comedic satire of Jane Austin’s writings – and it cleverly lampoons many of the common plot devices she and other similar authors use. In the story a young woman goes to live with her strange relatives. Her great aunt is up in her room all the time and never leaves. When asked she says “I saw something nasty in the woodshed.” And as comical as this might sound it’s become a reference that my whole family understands. If one of us refers to someone who “saw something nasty in the woodshed.” It means they’re hanging onto something unfortunate in their past. They don’t want to be made well.

Ken Roach and Jerrod Dorminey Captured it well in their original Blues Song “the Bethesda Blues.” Featured in this past week’s worship service.

The rest of this post I wrote three years ago. It was one that got several comments on my old blog, including one asking me how someone can get out of the victim mentality. I was surprised at the question but also frustrated that I don’t have a good answer that would fit every situation. The best thing I can offer is this: If someone wants to get better, they can get better. That’s why I believe the man by the pool truly wanted to get better, even if he was playing the victim. But there are those who want to be victims their whole lives. I really believe that prayer is the only thing that can help someone who doesn’t want to be made well. Divine intervention then counseling either from a professional or a wise mentor. Some people just want to cling to their sickness and make excuses when they should cling to Christ and defy everyone’s expectations.

Original Post from June 2011

A great way to stay trapped Perhaps the greatest lesson that my father taught me about life from a early age is that a victim mentality gets you nowhere. Likely everyone that regularly reads my blog would agree with me, but recently I saw some posts on Facebook that reminded me that some people earnestly believe that it is perfectly acceptable for individuals to rest on the excuses generated out of whatever unfortunate circumstances their life has given them. To those people I’d like to say: that’s perfectly fine. From a secular point of view it is totally acceptable for you to use your past as an excuse for your current behavior, if you wish to stay trapped your whole life. That’s perfectly ok, no one will force you out of captivity. A person in a victim mentality is much like a person who has been beaten, bruised and forced into a cage. Later, whether days or years, the bruises heal and someone will come to them with the key to their escape. Most will not use the key, however. Why? Because once you’re free you no longer have the excuse, you have to take full responsibility for yourself. Most people would rather be able to lean on the excuse of what has been done to them; garnering sympathy and demanding that people be sensitive to what has happened to them.

Before I continue, I should specify that I do believe that there are many reasons for a person to be a victim that they truly cannot help. Mental Illness or chemical imbalances caused by genetics are among them. But just as those people must choose to submit to therapy and/or medication; those who have chosen to be defined by their most tragic and painful moments, they need to eventually lay it all down to be truly free.

I also should say that I do believe in being as sensitive to people as is reasonable in every situation. I can’t begin to imagine the tragedy through which some people have lived and I would never deny them grief, anger, or mourning; all three of which are holy emotions expressed by Jesus himself. However, there is a massive difference between feeling and expressing a holy emotion and allowing yourself to fall victim to your emotions. The difference is in this phrase: “Because ______ happened to me I must always react by ______” When you say that you are becoming victim whether in a small or large way. By contrast each time you say “Despite the fact that ______ happened to me, I will choose to ______” you are choosing to not be victimized.

The Bible tells me so

Please understand that I’m not so arrogant as to say that people shouldn’t be affected by the tragedies of life. I don’t pretend to understand all of the different causes of strife in the world or the pain that people have experienced, but I do know that from a scriptural worldview its impossible to say that a victim mentality is acceptable.

I think you ought to know, dear brothers, about the hard time that we went through in Asia. We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us, for he can even raise the dead. And he did help us, and he saved us from a terrible death; yes, and we expect him to do it again and again. 2 Cor 1:8-10 Living Bible

Or, Perhaps more to the point. . .

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake Col. 1:24a

There are many many more scriptures about rejoicing in suffering. So from a scriptural standpoint, we see Paul – beaten, tortured ‘doomed to die’ and what does he say? “That was good.” Wait, what? “Powerless to help ourselves” “that was good” “overwhelmed” “that was good.” “crushed” “that was good.” seriously. It’s only been in the last several years that I’ve come to realize this. Christians are blessed with the hope in Christ and the ability to say that our suffering only brings us closer to Him and by suffering for Him, we take part in the fellowship of His suffering. We go from “that was bad” to “that was hard” to “that was good.”

Is this some kind of sickness? Perhaps masochism? By no means! Looking back and saying something was ‘good’ is far different then deriving pleasure from it. Again, there is nothing wrong with anger and mourning. The only reason why Paul is able to look back at the bad times and call them good is because he realizes they brought him closer to Christ. He realizes that Christ’s resurrection power is at work in our lives, but to access that power we have to die. Think about that for a minute. Its easy for us to think of Christ’s death on the cross as the great tragedy of history and his resurrection as the restoration of that tragedy. Christ’s resurrection wouldn’t have been possible without His death. A Christian view of suffering is simply realizing that without death there can be no resurrection.

On the practical end of things…

Even if you’re not looking at this from a scriptural perspective, say you’re an agnostic or a secular humanist, then look at it from the purely practical end of things. If we decide that there are some things in life that a person cannot be expected to recover from, some wounds that cannot be healed; that’s fine, but do you really want to work with someone who’s single greatest aim in life is to make sure everyone is sensitive to their life’s tragedies? After a while there must be a reasonable expectation of growing from your past, and becoming responsible for your present. I don’t say ‘moving on’ because I think that insinuates that you must ignore your past, not at all, instead you grow from it and become stronger than ever.

Steven Covey, the writer of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about this in the first Habit. Which is “Be Proactive.” He simply states that a part of being proactive is taking responsibility for yourself and your behavior. He suggests that the main meaning of being responsible is being able to choose your response.

Most people who have a victim mentality get angry at the insinuation that they are somehow to blame for their attitude. They act as if that’s tantamount to being told that they are to blame for the tragedy in their life or their genetic make up. That’s a huge leap in logic.  Between stimulus and response there is a narrow space where you can choose. You’re not Pavlov’s dog, forced to salivate by every bell that rings. You’re not a programmed machine, who’s brain will always produce the same reaction given the same set of circumstances.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by Ben Carson. Dr. Carson is the preeminent pediatric neurosurgeon active today. He’s participated in several firsts in his field including the first separation of siamese twins that were conjoined at the head. This is featured in a movie called “Gifted Hands” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Dr. Carson. In 2008 Dr. Carson was awarded the presidential medal of freedom, the highest civilian honor in our nation.  That’s impressive, but what’s more impressive is that Dr. Carson came from a low-income single parent household in Detroit. At a young age his parents divorced and his mother struggled to find employment as she couldn’t read – the only work she could maintain was that of a house keeper where Ben would later say “She observed that successful people spent a lot more time reading than they did watching television.” And she implemented a rule that her two sons would read two books a week from the library. You can read more about 
Ben Carson’s upbringing on NPR’s website
.

The reason why the victim mentality is so pervasive is because there is only one alternative: work. It takes work to overcome the setbacks, the emotional stresses, the tragedies of life. No one would’ve blamed Ben Carson for being a  below average student, he had a number of things against him. But his mother chose to fight that and later he chose to fight that as well, working hard to get into med school and then working hard to become the best doctor he could be. That’s because they chose not to be victims of their circumstances. Most people can’t even admit that they’re choosing to be victimized because If you admit that you can do something about it and choose not to do something about it, it becomes your fault. I wouldn’t be writing about this if it weren’t a struggle for me also, but one thing I’ve realized is that once you are real with yourself about where you are choosing to be victimized then you can start to allow the solution permeate throughout your life.

Personally…

I’ve struggled with having a victim mentality about many different things. There are some ways in which I continue to deal with it. One small example is the fact that I’m not an athletic person and most of my growing up years I allowed myself to be victimized by that, but as I grew up, I began to fight the impulse to feel victimized and I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried new activities. Now I have a whole list of sports and activities that I really enjoy, even if I’m not the best at them. Stepping out in this manner has opened so many opportunities to me that I would have never had if I had rested on the laurels of victimization. I think the message paraphrase of the Bible phrases paul’s words in Philippians well:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. Phil 3:12-14

I think one of the mistakes we make when trying to overcome our victim mentality is the idea that we need to have it all figured out, that we need to somehow be totally fixed before we relinquish our victim status. In reality, we just have to admit that we don’t always know exactly what the path to healing is going to look like and we need to trust that it ends at the feet of Jesus. Whatever your excuse is for not living a full and healthy life, that’s not God’s will for you. I can tell you he wants you to take hold of you inheritance now. Yes you have eternal life in terms of length, but you also have abundant life in terms of height and depth, so stop making excuses and grab hold of the abundance that Christ has given you.

Five popular sayings that are total Crap.

I’m mostly neutral toward Pintrest. It seems like a good place for people (mostly women) to get ideas (mostly crafts and recipes.) One thing I cannot stand is these cutesy photos with some popular cliché – that get repinned to my facebook feed. Most of the time these sayings are false, even if they sound nice.

I Heart Accuracy

1) “Follow your heart” –

OMGoodness. This is a slightly more appealing way of saying “If it feels good, do it.” That simply is not a good life plan. People who “follow their heart” will wind up disappointed with life because they lived it entirely for themselves. Don’t follow your heart, follow the heart of Jesus.

image

2) “Life/The Universe Works in Mysterious Ways” –

Life doesn’t WORK. Neither life nor the Universe are sentient entities. Life is a gift given by our Creator who does work in mysterious ways. The Universe is the place that He created. This is a bastardized scripture verse and aside from the fact that it doesn’t make sense; it’s like saying “cheese” or “the table”  works in mysterious ways. People say this when they’re afraid of sounding crazy for saying “God.” If you believe God is doing something, say so, but the universe isn’t working for or against you.

1924257280_funny_everything_happens_for_a_reason_answer_2_xlarge

3) “Everything Happens for a Reason” –

no where in scripture are we told that everything happens for a specific spiritual reason. We are told that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord – but that isn’t the same thing. Don’t kid yourself by trying to assign transcendental meaning to every little thing that happens. Sure, maybe you missed that plane because God didn’t want you to make it to your brother’s wedding – or maybe you missed it because you were irresponsible.

181178_492391070804322_241520585_n

4) “God made you perfect” –

again, this is one of those hallmark-type sayings that people use to excuse shortcomings. God did make you the way he intended, but you were conceived in a world that is fallen. That means from the moment God began to knit you together, there began a war in your life. God is on one side and the forces of darkness in this world are all on the other. Because of this war, you’re going to have challenges, some won’t be your fault and you can choose whether you’re going to be a victim about it or whether you can overcome it. God loves you just the way you are, but that doesn’t mean he want’s you to be satisfied with the way you are. The Christian life is about constant growth. Growth is change.

fair warning this video has some salty language

http://www.hulu.com/watch/319318

5) “You can do anything” –

I have railed against this saying in previous posts because I believe that it results in an entitled attitude. I don’t care what your parents, teachers, professors, youth pastors or preachers told you. On your own you can’t do just anything. You CAN do anything THROUGH CHRIST – who isn’t a genie, but a reigning King in our lives. If he commands it and it seems impossible, then remember that through him you can do anything. If your plans are for you, however, there are no guarantees.

Drop and give me 50 – minutes in prayer.

Lord, please give me something that I’ve never worked for or deserve even though I had ample resources and opportunity to obtain it for myself.

People don’t actually pray like that do they?

Oh, but we do.

If I were to pray to God that I suddenly gain physical strength, I wouldn’t expect him to grant me my request. First off that’s not the purpose of prayer and God doesn’t work like a genie, but mainly because that’s ridiculous. I have access to three different gyms that have both free weights and other exercise machines. And though I have seasons where I don’t have free time during the day, most days I have at least a spare hour.

God has provided me with the opportunity to exercise, if I choose not to take advantage of those opportunities – that is my fault.

If I were to pray that God gift me with knowledge when I haven’t studied, I wouldn’t expect him to fulfill that prayer either. Say I chose to fall behind on researching in one of the areas in my field, say broadcast engineering. Suppose I decided to not bother researching it for months – then when a problem arose I asked God to just show me how to fix the issue – why would he want to grant my request? I had the opportunity along and along to do the research and I chose not to. I should pay the consequences.

“But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” Luke 12:48

In spite of the fact that it’s crazy to ask God to give us something we haven’t worked for in the physical or mental realm, we do it all the time when it comes to spiritual discipline. We pray for patience, peace, and knowledge of God’s will. Yet we don’t want to exercise patience. We don’t want to practice peace. We don’t want to study scripture and gain knowledge of God’s will.

Spiritual disciplines are just like other disciplines. It’s absurd for me to walk into a difficult situation asking for God’s will when I haven’t spent time in prayer and time studying scripture, discerning God’s will. It’s foolish for me to ask for God to give me patience in an especially difficult situation when I haven’t practiced patience in the easy situations. God gives us time and opportunities to exercise, it’s up to us to take advantage of the grace he’s given us.

Scripture promises us mercy and grace for sin. We’re not told, however, that we’ll receive more grace when we’re irresponsible with the grace we’ve already been given. In fact we’re told the opposite. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the parable of the talent which contains one of the most ungracious sounding quotes from our savior.

“So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” Matthew 25:28-29

To me it’s clear – the amount of grace that God will bless us with in the future is directly contingent upon whether we’re responsible with that we’ve already been given.

This is what I hear from this scripture:

Don’t squander grace. Be students of scripture and prayer warriors. Be exercising patience and practicing peace. These are things that take hard work to develop. If you don’t invest time in these practices, you’ll never be all that your father wants you to be. Don’t squander grace, exercise it.

A life without God

Westboro baptist church is, as you may know, an organization that claims to be a Christian church located in Topeka Kansas. I say ‘claims’ because their actions clearly show that there are large portions of the Bible that they ignore. WBC is best known for picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers and people who were openly gay. They often sport extremely hateful slogans that have no Biblical foundation and they teach their children to do the same. In the past ten years I’ve seen this church shown on national TV at least four times and I don’t even watch the news very much. It’s likely that they’ve shown up on TV much much more.

What is the significance of this? Westboro Baptist Church reports its membership at 40. The church that has probably appeared on national news more than any other single church has just 40 members.

I work at a church with seven thousand members. In my four years here we’ve made national news zero times. We’ve helped hundreds, if not thousands of people in need and we’ve seen people being healed of addictions and marriages being saved. We’ve seen people called to go work in other countries and poor neighborhoods. We’ve seen miracles take place and yet we haven’t made national news mainly because it’s not as interesting as hearing about a group of 40 really hateful people. But also because that’s not the way Christianity is depicted in the media.

In TV, film, news, books and popular music Christians are almost always shown to be ‘fundamentalists,’ ‘bigots,’ and ‘extremists.’ When statistically the average church-goer is more likely to be a nominal Christian who doesn’t know enough about their own faith to have strong thoughts on any controversial subject. That’s a problem unto itself, but it is not the one being depicted – instead we’re shown as unstable and hateful.

I haven’t heard any news stories about Mama Maggie Gobran who is living in the slums of Cairo, Egypt and working with the children there. Even Bono’s foundation to feed helpless children has gotten far less press than Sean Penn’s humanitarian efforts – the main difference between to two is their worldview. (It certainly isn’t their ability to get drunk and start fights, as they are both equally talented in that measure.) I haven’t heard a news story about Katie Davis who graduated from high school and immediately went to africa to work with diseased, disabled and otherwise less fortunate children. I don’t hear about the fact that Christianity is being persecuted more violently around the world than any other religion and that every day Christians in countries like Iran, Ethiopia and China put their lives on the line by witnessing to the truth of the Gospel. Because it’s more convenient and easy to place us all in the same box – along with these 40 hateful people.

It’s easy to take a cheap shot at Atheism and point out that almost all of the most terrible dictators have been proud Atheists. Joseph Stalin wanted to get rid of religion in the Soviet Union. Mussolini and Mao Tse-Tung wanted the same for their countries. All three were genuine monsters – killing their own people and anyone who would oppose them. At the same time one can bring up the crusades and the inquisition in relation to Christianity. So instead of basing an argument on unbalanced political leadership I’d like to look at more contemporary leadership right here in the old US of A.

In 1963 Madalyn Murray O’Hair won the landmark court case that removed prayer from public schools. It’s pretty interesting to look at the state of the public education system since then, but that’s another blog entry. O’Hair fought for her son’s right to not have the Bible read nor prayers prayed around him. Her son’s name is William Murray and he’s written a book about his life. You see, he’s a Baptist pastor now and his book entitled My life without God is all about the way his mother tried to raise her children to hate God. Aside from seeing that prayer was removed from schools Madalyn Murray O’Hair is perhaps best known as the founder of American Atheists – an organization that seeks to advance the cause of Atheism – rallying people to the cause of believing in – well, nothing.

O’Hair stole, she cheated, she lied. She broke the law on numerous occasions. She never paid taxes. She abused her children emotionally, manipulating them into unhealthy lifestyles. She and her children (and later grand children) were all morbidly obese. She believed in living ‘high off the hog.’ There wasn’t a charitable bone in her body. Before they were killed, O’Hair, Her Son Jon and William’s Daughter Robin (her granddaughter) all lived together and never separated. Jon never married – he never left his mother’s side. Robin, like her grandmother took to a decadent lifestyle and became severely overweight. None of them ever spoke to William who had become a Christian. When he first told them, they ridiculed him and called him a traitor.

O’Hair was proud of her lawless lifestyle and said she believed that the only law should be ‘do what thou will.’ She hired unrepentant convicted felons who were known for their violent crimes. She claimed that she supported their lifestyle. Ultimately this is what led to her death. A former employee kidnapped her, her son and granddaughter. All three of them were brutally murdered by one of her fellow Atheists.

William Murray said

My mother was an evil person … Not for removing prayer from America’s schools … No … She was just evil. She stole huge amounts of money. She misused the trust of people. She cheated children out of their parents’ inheritance. She cheated on her taxes and even stole from her own organizations. She once printed up phony stock certificates on her own printing press to try to take over another atheist publishing company.

This happened all within my lifetime and yet I don’t remember hearing about it. Maybe you did, but I didn’t.

I say all this because these aren’t some obscure people on the outskirts of the Atheist movement. These were the leaders – and yet it is the Christians that are depicted as foolish and hate filled. When I encounter this kind of hate I get angry. Then I get sad. Then I get energized to show the world the love of Christ.

In reality the difference between the Christian life and a life without God is quite simple.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:18-23