This is the book I’ve been wanting and waiting for since January, 2014, when I spent five days on a cruise ship with co-author Suzanne Stabile and 39 of my best friends, learning about the Enneagram. Today is the launch for The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (InterVarsity Press, 2016). Suzanne and Ian Morgan Cron have created an elegant and informative primer perfect for the beginner, but also helpful for those who have studied this ancient system, the aim of which is the care of our souls.
Dubious about systems that compartmentalize humankind? Wondering how anything could be better than good old Myers-Briggs?
The Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box. It shows you the box you’re already in and how to get out of it.
The book begins with an overview of the system and the nine numbers, or types, and the “sins” (the Seven Deadly Plus Two) that illustrate the challenge for each type. The truth is that most people recognize their type when they hear or read a description that makes them cringe. I know I did.
(There is one exception, and while I will let you figure that out for yourselves, I will say I’m married to that number.)
Each chapter begins with twenty statements identifying what it’s like to be that number. For my own I found many of the twenty rang true, although some are characteristics I see in the rear view mirror. It’s good to recognize that many years of spiritual and psychological work can shift things that came naturally to us either via genetic predisposition or the effects of early nurture. Here are the first two “what it’s likes” for #2, the Helper, which is my number.
When it comes to taking care of others, I don’t know how or when to say no.
I am a great listener, and I remember the stories that make up people’s lives.
I identify strongly with the second, and, well, I’m always at work on the first. I do better with it in my professional life than my personal life. It’s accurate to say I’m a work-in-progress. And the Enneagram would say that about all of us. Each chapter describes the number at its best, as well as in average and unhealthy psychological and spiritual condition. (While each number has a pathological expression, that’s not a focus of this book.) Each chapter includes a story about a person of that type, often a little funny, unless you can see yourself in the tale, to your chagrin. You will also find sections about the numbers as seen in children, in relationships, and in the workplace.
There is a brief explanation of wings (the number found on either side of yours; we all lean toward one or the other) and the way we move in times of stress or when we feel secure.
Finally, each chapter brings us back to the purpose of the Enneagram, which goes beyond defining personality to lead its students to a deeper spiritual understanding. The chapter on 2s offered an exegesis of Luke 10:38-42, the story of the sisters, Martha and Mary. Each chapter concludes with “Ten Paths to Transformation.” They are a helpful reminder that in addition to contemplative practices, there are practical actions (see? practical/practices) that help us go deeper, too. Here’s a great one for me.
When the urge to rescue or help overwhelms you, ask yourself, Is this mine to do? If you’re not sure, talk it over with a trusted friend.
Whether you are a spouse or parent or friend, in a struggle with a co-worker or trying to understand a relationship’s dynamics, a seeker or a longtime churchgoer, Stabile and Cron and the Enneagram have something for you. Their work is rooted in their Christian faith. Ian is an Episcopal priest; Suzanne is married to the great teacher of Centering Prayer, Rev. Joe Stabile, a United Methodist pastor.
Every number on the Enneagram teaches us something about the nature and character of the God who made us. Inside each number is a hidden gift that reveals something about God’s heart.
The only critique I can offer is that having heard Suzanne teach both in 2014 and again last month, I was sorry that her contributions might be assessed by readers who don’t know her as asides. Much more of the book comes from her teaching than the mentions of “Suzanne tells this story” you will see along the way might suggest.
I highly recommend this book, which launches today. It is a great introduction or refresher on the Enneagram. I received an advance digital copy for review with no obligation. (I pre-ordered a copy months ago and will be watching eagerly for the UPS driver!)
If you want to know more about the Enneagram, you can listen to the podcast Ian and Suzanne are hosting, in which they talk to some great representatives of the 9 numbers. It’s also called The Road Back to You.
As a pastor and mother of three, I spent a lot of time talking to them semi-awkwardly during their adolescence about sex, and when to have it and when it might be better to wait, and how to value themselves and how to value others, and attempting to put common sense safer sex practices into a context that reflected my, and I hoped their, faith stance. We are Christians of the liberal/progressive-ish flavor, and they grew up in a small New England city where church-going was on the downturn, so their classmates and friends were mostly not having this conversation through the filter of their faith, and the few who were came to it from the conservative end of the spectrum. I like to think I got my point across, that the idea of employing a love ethic based on the Great Commandment would go a long way toward ensuring good intimate relationships. I wrote in my 2009 blog post, “It’s about a sense that your existence matters deeply to the other person and your coming together is holy because of it.” Bromleigh McCleneghan commented on that post and quoted the line back to me with appreciation. Now she has written a great book expanding on the topic, Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option — and Other Things the Bible Says About Sex (2016: HarperOne).
The grace of being seen and known, of holy attentiveness to a partner, is possible, I’d argue, in any just and loving action toward another, and it’s part of what makes sexual encounters — or good ones, anyway — so pleasurable. (pp. 51-52)
McCleneghan uses her own admittedly privileged experiences as a conversation partner with modern scholars, voices from the Christian tradition, and scripture as she explores pleasure, desire, ethics, waiting, vulnerability, intimacy, fidelity, and the past we carry with us. By making herself vulnerable, she invites readers to lower their defenses. Her personal stories are matter-of-fact without feeling exhibitionist, one of the challenges of writing about sex. She writes about God as the deity well-known to progressive Christians but also intuited by pragmatic believers at many points on the theological spectrum. Somehow there has to be more to the complicated feelings of love and desire than a list of rules; if we reject old-school norms that advantaged men and straight people, we need an ethic for this time and a way to hold ourselves accountable.
Her writing voice is intelligent, pragmatic, humorous, and authentic. Her chapter about fidelity explores what “counts” as lust; in a world in which women who have been assaulted are blamed for tempting men in their weakness, I agree we need some new understandings. McCleneghan wrestles with the admonitions of Jesus, engages the work of Margaret Farley on Just Sex, and considers the philosopher Simon Blackburn. She lands in a place that, I believe, makes Good Christian Sense.
If love is about valuing another and honoring God’s image within her, lust is less concerned with the good of the other than with the meeting of a desire for union. It’s not that no affection for the object exists, just that his needs and wants are not the priority. (p. 191)
I must say, and this in no way diminishes my overall appreciation for the book, that although some of the people she surveyed were LGBTQ, this is a very straight book. It’s not that queer people cannot get something from her narrative or her theology, but they will see very little of their story represented. It’s a relatively young and mostly able-bodied book, but I appreciated the mentions of older couples who cannot marry for economic reasons and the recounting of a story of disability and the challenge it poses for intimacy. It’s also the story of a person who has been, as she names, fortunate in her relationships, her fertility, even her mistakes.
Yet, as a person who married as a young virgin and came out to myself relatively late in life (even after that blog post quoted above), I found that McCleneghan effectively captured something crucial about desire that played a part in my story.
Many women had sex for the first time for love, or because their partner wanted it, or because they had made up their minds that they were old enough and ready — in a rite of passage sort of way — but not because they desired it for themselves. Not because their partner had awakened the desire to share this powerful experience of vulnerability and grace. (p. 57)
McCleneghan is getting pushback from the conservative wing of the mainline church for being forthright. That’s exactly what I love about her writing, even in the passages where I disagree with her conclusions. This is a great book for people who live in the real world, where pastors most often marry couples who already live together, where parents want to guide their teenaged and 20-something offspring, but don’t want to be the hypocrites who say, “Do as I say but not as I did.” This is a great book for anyone trying to put words on a responsible sexual ethic for the 21st century, when we reach physical maturity early and marry late. This is a great book for young people who are trying to figure out how to be real, how to be kind, how to be loving and lovable and loved. I highly recommend it.
I received a free copy of the book after agreeing to participate in a Book Tour, with no promises made in exchange.
I hold an ideal for
Saturday night sleep
a complete sort of rest
that will deliver me
to Sunday, your day,
ready to represent,
to speak clearly
to listen carefully
to teach wisely
I hold an ideal
that does not account
for Saturday evening news
that has me
refreshing news sites
journalists who clocked out
for the weekend, or
at least, the evening.
I meant to clock out.
Instead, I woke
rubbing eyes still tired,
nodding over my phone
to start the day
just as I ended the last.
Through bleary eyes,
I read bad news;
I prepare to bring
the Good News.
Wake me up!
Wake our hearts to you.
O God, we ask your blessing
on the tools we use for ministry
and the carryalls that hold them:
the computer bags from Best Buy
and the graduation gift briefcases,
the monogrammed LLBean totes,
and patterned Vera Bradley backpacks,
and the worn-out shoulder bags.
Bless the worn-out shoulders, too,
Lord, and the eager straight backs
of the enthusiastic and the athletic,
and the heavy hearts and weary minds
of those whose summer has been more
stressful than restful.
Bless us all, Holy One,
and the work we do for you,
and all the hopes and histories
we carry. Amen.