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Who are the most valuable people in your church?
The senior pastor? The elders? The biggest givers? The talented worship leader? The worship band? The hip youth pastor? The youth? The coordinator for all your volunteers? The volunteers? The visitors?
How about the weak?
Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities (the worldwide network of communities for people with disabilities), picks up on Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 12 and answers the question this way:
Jesus came to change a world in which those at the top have privilege, power, prestige and money while those at the bottom are seen as useless. Jesus came to create a body. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, compares the human body to the body of Christ, and he says that those parts of the body that are the weakest and the least presentable are indispensable to the body. In other words, people who are the weakest and least presentable are indispensable to the church. I have never seen this as the first line of a book on [the church]. Who really believes it? But this is the heart of faith, of what it means to be the church. Do we really believe that the weakest, the least presentable, those we hide away—that they are indispensable? If that was our vision of the church, it would change many things (Living Gently in a Violent World, 74).
We are terrified of our weakness. So we hide it, and are thus incapable of moving toward God and others as we actually are: weak and ultimately dependent creatures who flourish in relationship with God and others. We’d rather pretend we’re strong. We’d rather avoid facing our weakness.
But as we live among those whose weaknesses are more apparent, more public than our own—particularly those with disabilities but also the poor—then we are confronted not just with their reality but with our reality.
We would rather avoid all that. We’d rather present ourselves as strong, capable, in control, thank you very much. Don’t get me—or Vanier—wrong, for we certainly are amazing beings, all of us, even those whose weaknesses are most apparent. As Gilbert Meilaender says, we are beautiful juxtapositions of freedom and finitude. It’s our finitude we fear, so we hide it. But when the finitude (weakness) of another confronts us, we are reminded of our own. We are reminded who we really are.
That’s why those whose weaknesses are most apparent are in fact the most valuable in the church. Those who are least presentable. Those we hide away. From Vanier’s standpoint, their weakness helps us face our own weakness and to move toward God and others as we really are.
It makes you think about your church, doesn’t it? Who are the ones hidden away? Who are the least presentable? Who are those whose weakness makes the rest of us uncomfortable? Who are those who confront us with ourselves?
I turn 44 this year, and, despite my best efforts, I’m still a mystery to myself in many ways. A younger version of me imagined that I’d hit some milestone of adulthood and be settled about all that. False.
The longer I live, the farther into my marriage I reach, the deeper into myself I’m taken by my role as father, the more intently I pursue a truer relationship with God—through all of this I keep discovering that I don’t know myself as well as I’d like. Frustrating.
Cue the Enneagram. Over the last several years it’s been immensely helpful as a tool for naming the persistent motivations and default reactions that I experience but struggle to quantify, much less do anything redemptive about. (If you feel lost in the Enneagram conversation, read Allie Brown’s brilliantly clear introduction here). For instance: why do I wake at 4am worrying about a book manuscript that isn’t due for years – why the tight stomach now of all times? Why do I buy 10 books about any new thing I’d like to engage – why is intellectual understanding my default for the unknown? Why do I always migrate to the perimeter of social gatherings – not at all unhappy, but content and comfortable along the edge? And why do I retreat to my “mind castle” when things go wonky in relationships? On and on I could go. My mysterious self.
Before my introduction to the Enneagram, I never had a useful personality tool for processing these questions, much less move toward wholeness in Christ. I found other personality tools entirely unsatisfying. They closed me down rather than opened me up; making me feel like a smaller, shrunk, oversimplified version of me. The Enneagram, however, helped me see how my deep motivations and default reactions come together within a particular kind of complex person. Me.
But where do I go from here? Even after reading several books about it (yes, my approach) and using it in relationships with close friends, my nagging question concerned life with Christ. How do I apply Enneagram wisdom for life with God? How could knowing my number (5 with a 4 wing) help me partner with the Holy Spirit as I seek to live into my true, Christ-like self? More specifically still, what spiritual practices are best suited for my unique wiring as a 5? How can I live toward integration as a whole, complex, often mysterious self with the help of Enneagram wisdom? Where do I go from here?
So I was thrilled to discover IVP’s most recent book on the Enneagram, Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram: A Handbook for Harmony and Transformation, coauthored by Adele and Dough Calhoun and Clare and Scott Loughrige.
The book is structured around an approach to the Enneagram called the “Harmony Enneagram.” In this model, the authors link Enneagram numbers together in a novel, triangular way to show how a person draws upon their gut, head, and heart intelligences. Continue reading
Steve Duby is a contributor to this blog and recently published his second book, God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology (IVPAcademic, 2019). I was asked several months ago to endorse the book, and without a moment’s hesitation I agreed. But, alas, the manuscript languished in my inbox until the semester wrapped up and I could clear some time.
Having now read it, and happily written my endorsement, I struggle to express the impression the book made upon me. It is stunning. Here is what I wrote.
This rich and rewarding study demonstrates how the contemplation of God himself, theologia, is not some idle speculation—a distraction from the Christian life or descent into abstraction—but is in fact a spiritual exercise that fuels our communion with God and affirms the shocking nearness of God to us in Jesus Christ. God in Himself is a courageously scriptural work of theology, for Steve Duby dares to let Scripture lead where some have supposed that only metaphysics will take us: to gaze upon the resplendently complete life of the triune God.
God in Himself is at once beautiful and rigorous (in the best sense). Beautiful in the sense that Steve is a great writer. His prose carries you along as the argument unfolds through his intuitive structure and organization. It is rigorous in the sense that Steve fulfills the very difficult task of doing Christian theology in the classic tradition. By “classic tradition” I mean this: Steve is attentive to the life of faith, centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ, trained on Scripture, and he situates his theological work squarely within the Great Tradition of orthodox Christian reflection about the life of God. Beautiful and rigorous.
Let me say one last thing before I interview Steve. God in Himself is dedicated to a region of Christian theology we have far too little being written about today: God. Yes, I mean that. I don’t believe enough theology trains itself specifically on God. Continue reading
The text message from my wife made me sweat with embarrassment. “This doesn’t look like a book you would read,” she wrote, with a picture of the book in her hands. She was home when it arrived. What should I do? “I know,” I hurriedly replied. “Let me explain!”Continue reading
Susanne Stabile’s The Path Between Us is a wonderfully readable application of Enneagram wisdom for relationships. Taking the reader gently by the hand, she leads from one Enneagram type to the next, showing how each particular way of being in the world shapes relationship.
The Enneagram teaches us that there are nine different ways of experiencing the world and nine different ways of answering these basic questions about life: Who am I? Why am I here? and Why do I do the things I do? How we build and maintain relationships varies significantly from one number to another. Looking through the lens of the Enneagram makes it possible to better understand ourselves and others, increase our acceptance and compassion, and navigate the paths between us.
This book will help in understanding how each of the nine Enneagram numbers sees the world, how they make sense of what they see, how they decide what to do, and how all of that affects how they relate to others (4).
This is Stabile’s second book on the Enneagram with InterVarsity Press. The Road Back to You, coauthored with Ian Morgan Cron, is more like a broad entryway into the Enneagram, while the The Path Between Us is tighter, more condensed, more focused on relationships. Her aim is less grasping the Enneagram as a whole and discovering your type, than it is applying Enneagram wisdom specifically to relationships.
Using myself (Kent) as an example, I’ll overview the chapter on my Enneagram type so you can see how the book operates. I’ve learned over the years that I identify most readily with Type 5 (what Stabile calls the Investigator). In day to day life, my 4 wing expresses itself in terms of creativity, a love for beauty, and the desire for authentic, deep relationships, though the loyalty dimension of my 6 wing is ever-present (if you know me, then you’re saying to yourself, “Ah, yes. That makes total sense!”).
The chapter devoted to Fives is aptly titled, “My fences have gates.” Continue reading
“Look and look again. / This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes. / It’s more than bones. / It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse. / It’s more than the beating of a single heart. / It’s praising. / It’s giving until it feels like receiving. / You have a life—just imagine that! / You have this and, and maybe another, and maybe still another.” – Mary Oliver, “To Begin With, the Sweet Grass”
“If anyone is in Christ–new creation!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17 (a “very literal” translation mentioned by R. Hays in Moral Vision, p. 20).
Poets have long seen the world with clearer, brighter vision. I suppose because they’ve taken the time to do so. When I began reading Mary Oliver on my sabbath at the beginning of the year, I struggled to describe the grandeur of her description. It’s not overbearingly symbolic, so far as I can tell. All I could say, to my sister who gifted me the book, was that Oliver was able better than anyone to capture the brilliance of the world in the simplest of terms.
Not long ago I revised this poem into a prayer for the congregation’s invocation. Here’s the prayer in full: Continue reading