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The Book That Convinced Me to Give the Enneagram a Chance

The first time I heard about the Enneagram, I was fresh out of seminary in 2005 and blogging with a full head of steam almost every week day. Several popular progressive bloggers had listed in their sidebars, among other badges that we would now deem tacky and unsightly, these little illustrations that demonstrated their enneagram numbers.

Most of these bloggers were “8’s” and it happened that I thought most of these guys were jerks, which isn’t too shocking if you know about an 8’s dark side, so that did it for me. I had no need for the enneagram.

Years passed. Others mentioned the enneagram to me, including my friends Leigh Kramer and Anne Bogel, both of whom I trust as level-headed and well-read people with excellent judgment. At first I flipped through a few type descriptions and took a few online tests, and nothing really checked out. Oddly enough, it’s difficult to know ourselves!

Then, one day, Anne wrote to me that she had a book idea. I read through the first few chapters of her book, which showed how we can use the various personality tests to know ourselves, while also soberly considering their limits.

I loved her sample chapters so much that I was disappointed that I would have to wait a few years before it would be published, but I had no doubt that a publisher would pick it up. In the meantime, Anne gave me a gift, helping me see the ways that my personality impacts my choices and my interactions.

Through her own vulnerable stories about herself and her family’s interactions, I saw how knowing your personality type can prove immensely useful in relationships. Anne provided a helpful thumbnail of the enneagram’s use and limitations, changing my perception of it in a matter of a few pages.

Thanks to Anne and several other enneagram-loving friends, I launched a period of research into the enneagram online, via a few books, and podcasts. Some sites and books and podcasts were more helpful than others, but over time, I finally nailed down that I’m a 9 with a 1 wing. This has become one of the most significant discoveries in my life. Here are a few ways that this has helped me.

For starters, the 9 is a peacemaker who wants to preserve harmony, sometimes at all costs. So I need to be aware of the need to face conflict or discomfort without resorting to passive aggressive responses.

A 9 needs lots of recharging time after being around people a lot or facing a lot of conflict, and this may have been one of two most helpful lessons for myself in my daily interactions with my family. For instance, when my kids are ignoring me and acting out over and over again, it’s not just the kids who need a time out. I need a time out! I need to recharge after facing conflict.

If we’ve had a busy morning helping out at church or we’ve been at a lot of social events, I need to recharge for a bit before I’m able to interact with people. The times when I’ve been at loud parties and just wanted to hide in a dark room by myself isn’t a bad, anti-social behavior. That’s just my inner survival mechanism kicking in.

The other important lesson for my family besides the need to recharge is my response to conflict. I call this, “going turtle.” I have struggled to face conflict over the years, shutting down internally and finding it hard to think clearly. This has often exacerbated conflict, as my inability to speak in the midst of conflict can appear as indifference. As I recognized this tendency in myself, I worked on pushing through my initial fears of speaking up when in conflict. This isn’t true in every situation, but I have learned that speaking up can help diffuse conflict, and that gives me courage I didn’t always have to face it.

I can’t emphasize enough that the enneagram is just a glimpse into who we are and how we function. It’s a very fluid and flexible way of looking at personality, since it reveals how we respond to stress or how we act in health. For instance, a nine reacts to stress with sloth or acedia, and that has proven so helpful when I am going through a stressful time. Rather than beating myself up with guilt over my lack of motivation, I can look into the root cause of the stress. That is far more effective in the long run than just trying to be more motivated!

If you’re a personality test skeptic, Anne’s book is for you. If you’re curious about which tests could actually help you and your family, Anne can help.

The good news is that the wait is just about over. As of September 19, 2017, Reading People will be released into the world. I couldn’t be happier for Anne because I know she put years of research and personal experience into this book. I’m excited on your behalf to read it.

Pick up your copy today. (It’s about $8 on Kindle right now!)

If you want to nerd out on the enneagram a bit, this episode of the Liturgists is amazing.

Can We Offer Hope to a Chaotic World by Withdrawing? A Parable

Imagine a deep rushing stream that flows in between mountains.

People from every background are floating down the stream together, some in kayaks and canoes, others in tubes.

The rushing water is swift and occasionally dangerous, but the majority of people pass by safely, even if they have plenty of anxiety about what’s coming around the next bend.

Some have lashed themselves to each other. Others float in small clusters. Whether in large groups or small groups, everyone is talking, always talking.

When the stream settles to a tranquil flow and the boats and tubes barely move along, the talking grows louder and louder. It echoes off the rock walls lining the stream. The only relief to the talking is the rushing water that sends everyone zipping downstream and prompts them to consider what awaits them around the next bend.

At a particularly quiet stretch of the river the stream splits to go around an island. The island is large for a river of this size. A woman of indeterminate age stands on the shore waving to all who pass by.

Some have paddled over to her island to speak with her as they float past.  She is a curiosity. Perhaps she has gained some wisdom by stepping out of the stream, but who can possibly step away from the stream for so long? Who has the time? There is so much more of the river to explore.

Others dig their paddles and hands into the water, splashing water furiously to avoid her at all costs.

A few have left the stream to spend a longer time on her island.

The woman leaves the water’s edge frequently to rest in the shade of the pine trees. She had once traveled on this river. The rush of the river still whispers to her. The movement had been addicting. It took a supernatural willpower to take those first steps out of the stream so many sunsets ago.

Day after day, she stands by the water’s edge to speak with the people floating by, rests in the shade of the trees, and then emerges when she has been restored.

A few stay on her island, learning from her. They spend long days imitating her until the days no stop appearing long. Eventually, they become themselves. It is a moment without fanfare or epiphanies. No one taught them how to be who they are because they had always been themselves. The river kept them from seeing it. There had been so much to talk about and to anticipate. The silence of the island taught them.

Over time, those who have learned from the woman venture into the center of the island where they had stowed away their boats long ago. They do this reluctantly and with a measure of trepidation. But they have a renewed sense of mission. They have faced who they are, and over time they have enlarged their compassion for those who have been floating down the stream. Do they know who they are? Do they know why they are on this stream?

Some will float down to another island to speak with the people just as the woman has done. Others will hop from shoreline to shoreline, floating and speaking before withdrawing to become grounded in who they are, lest the stream sweep them away with the talking and worrying about what is around the next bend.

As they paddle away from the woman’s island, she welcomes a man who has paddled over reluctantly. Perhaps a little rest on this island could help ease his mind. Perhaps this woman can answer some of the questions he’s been unable to ask when so many people are talking on the river.

He stumbles over the slippery rocks along the shore as he pulls his kayak over. His paddle falls into the water and he stubs his toe as he snatches it out of the water. Nothing is graceful about this exit from the water.

Finally, he crunches onto the solid gravel beach of the island where the woman is waiting. After he drags his boat onto the shore, he realizes that the woman has been speaking to him all of this time. When did she start speaking to him? It’s as if she’d been giving him this message for all of eternity, before he was born and it will continue long after he is gone.

Spinning around, he faces her, but he can’t hear her over the stream.

He steps closer, and she smiles, raising her arms to embrace him.

“Welcome. You are loved.”

When Will Conservative Christians Address Racism and Climate Change the Way They Address Same Sex Marriage?

With only a self-imposed deadline to release a statement on human sexuality that surprised exactly no one, the Council of “Biblical” Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) has demonstrated just how disconnected many conservative Christians have become from the issues that are actually impacting people today. Here’s a little round up of the news from this month:

White supremacists marched through Charlottesville with clubs, shields, and body armor, beating people up, threatening the black people, and chanting Nazi slogans.

Climate change has brought yet another devastating hurricane to the American mainland, leaving a major city under water, and dozens dead (including a brave police officer assisting with rescues). Extreme floods are devastating sections of southeast Asia as well, leaving over a 1,000 dead.

The DACA act that created the Dreamer program for immigrant children has kept families together, but the Trump administration is poised to end it, ripping children and parents away from each other (Dreamers are already being deported by the way).

The folks who agree with CBMW can believe whatever they want about LGBT issues and same sex marriage. It’s a free country. I’m going to charitably disagree with them and reject their misguided attempts to turn the Bible’s teachings on sexuality into a black and white issue. I’ve already addressed where I think the Bible leaves us on LGBT issues and same sex marriage.

My main concern here is the way this “Nashville Statement” illustrates the dramatic disconnect of these Christians from the urgent issues of our day for the sake of pressuring religious leaders to sign on to a document while also further entrenching themselves into a defensive position where dialogue has been ruled out.

I’m not the first person to notice that the same energy, effort, and influence could have been used to address climate change, sexual assault, racism and white supremacy, or the suffering of the poor in the midst of climate change. While churches open their doors in Houston to flood victims and clergy reckon with the violence in Charlottesville, a group of Christians decided this was the time for their big PR push for their statement on human sexuality. I want to take these statements one step further by noticing how these leaders have allocated their time in order to issue it.

Some of these people were also involved in the SBC resolution against the “Alt-right” white supremacist groups that nearly failed to pass due to concerns about the language. Many have remarked that any resolution against LGBT folks would have sailed through the SBC voting process regardless of the language. Mind you, an LGBT resolution would have had many people working around the clock ahead of time to make sure it was worded perfectly.

I don’t know how much time and money was expended for the CBMW Nashville statement, but let’s imagine that perhaps it was a six-month process:

  • Theologians and “experts” were surely consulted.
  • There were meetings, theological debates, and committees who worked on drafting the precise language.
  • A website design company was hired and consulted throughout the process.
  • Signers were contacted.
  • Public relations details were managed.
  • Meetings were no doubt conducted in order to manage all of this.

There was a significant investment of time into this project. It didn’t pop up over night. These aren’t the sort of people who would release a theologically sloppy statement. They surely parsed every single word with care.

Like I said, they can believe what they like and release statements about those beliefs, but the particular timing of this is devastating.

At the very least, they could have delayed it so that their congregations could focus on sending relief to the flood victims in Houston, let alone to assure the victims in Houston that they are the focus of Christians across America.

I’m not sure what the scope of CBMW is beyond keeping women from teaching the Bible, protecting patriarchy, and denying rights to LGBT folks, but at very least the influential people who signed this document could have worked toward equally strong statements on truly black and white issues that impact people in America.

They could have issued a clear condemnation of white supremacy and racism.

They could have issued a theological statement about the urgency of climate change and its impact on major weather events.

They could have issued a statement about caring for immigrants and the importance of the Dreamer program.

The hard truth of this statement is that many of these conservative Christians, who are overwhelmingly white, are willing to invest time in the condemnation of LGBT people but they failed to use their time to advocate for people of color when it was urgently needed this month.

I have heard over and again from supporters of the Nashville Statement that no one should be shocked. This is what these people believe. What’s the big deal?

This only drives home the insult of this statement and its horrible timing.

A group of Christians spent significant time drafting an unnecessary statement defining what everyone already knows they believe while the nation is waiting for them to adequately address racism, climate change, and immigration.

Can you imagine if these same people issued a statement saying that there is no room for disagreement on white supremacy, since the Gospel makes us all equal under Christ?

Can you imagine if these same people issued a statement saying that there is no room for disagreement on immigration, since the Bible teaches us to welcome the alien and foreigner?

Can you imagine if these same people issued a statement saying that there is no room for disagreement on climate change, we have failed to be stewards of God’s creation?

These are statements that can be made based on clear biblical teaching. They could address issues that directly impact life and death issues today. They could take a step toward bringing healing and unity to our land.

Instead, they have chosen to further marginalize a group that has already been kicked out of their churches on multiple occasions and in multiple ways. They have proven just how completely tone deaf they are to the issues of today and just how incapacitated their obsession with denying LGBT rights has made them.

We now have undisputed evidence about the priorities of these Christians.

When America was being torn apart by racial violence, the Christians affiliated with CBMW were most likely putting the finishing touches on their statement on human sexuality and contacting influential leaders.

When the people of Houston were wading through flood waters and waiting for rescue on their roofs, the Christians affiliated with CBMW deemed it was time to draw attention to their statement on human sexuality.

 

I Understand Why the Evangelical Subculture Supports Trump

Growing up in evangelical Christianity, I was steeped in the alternative Christian media that included radio stations and eventually websites that peddled current events with a generally conservative spin.

I attended seminary, and I worked in a church affiliated with the Willow Creek Association, a large network of churches that receive resources and discounts at conferences hosted by Willow Creek, a Chicago megachurch. I was deeply embedded in the evangelical subculture for about ten years as a participant, and then, following seminary, I took a more critical stance while still writing within the evangelical world.

Seeing the unwavering (primarily white) evangelical support of Donald Trump has offended my commitment to the life and teachings of Jesus, but it also makes a measure of cultural sense. White evangelical culture has been prepared for a leader like Trump. Here’s why:

The Flaws of Evangelical Leaders Are Tolerated for Higher Goals

The goal of just about every evangelical pastor is to preach the Gospel and to grow the church. Evangelicals believe that failing to grow the church means that you’re not preaching the Gospel.

As long as a church is growing, then a leader is more or less safe. It takes a significant moral failure, typically an affair, for a church to get rid of a pastor. Mark Driscoll was emotionally abusing and bullying the leaders and members of his church, but it took a misuse of church finances on his book’s marketing campaign to prompt enough people to remove him. As long as his church was growing, he could lead as he saw fit.

In the evangelical world, if a leader can deliver something defined as a higher moral good, then that leader can use borderline, if not outright sinful means to accomplish it.

Dissent of Evangelical Leaders Is Considered Divisive

It doesn’t matter how mean, divisive, or problematic a leader may be in many cases. If a church member or outsider dares to challenge an evangelical leader, the dissenter will be criticized as divisive. I have heard this all of the time for years. The people who blow the whistle or support the whistle blower are ALWAYS considered trouble makers who rock the boat.

The anger many evangelicals feel about this is fully warranted.

I am sorry to be crass here, but I have zero fucks to give about this. ZERO. It’s an epidemic, and I’m done with it. I’ve read Christian news for one of my clients for over five years, and I’ve seen this play out enough that I have no problem being viewed as the “asshole” in a church if there’s a safety issue or a leader is abusing power. I will be kind and constructive, but I will not be silent about the heaping piles of bullshit that evangelical leaders pile on their church members who try to hold them accountable.

For too many evangelical leaders, accountability flows from the leaders down to the congregation, but God help anyone who dares to speak up about their hypocrisy or abuses. Sorry folks, zero fucks given here.

Bible Stories about Leadership Are Applied Loosely (Read: BADLY)

In college, I attended a church that challenged a leader’s plan to build a giant new facility. The pastor prepared a sermon the following Sunday where he equated himself with Moses and the congregation with the people of Israel who opposed their “God-given” leadership. When the people refused to obey Moses, the ground swallowed them up.

An evangelical pastor in a seemingly otherwise normal church of 300-400 people preached this sermon. We should have all gotten up and walked out then and there. It was a ghastly and manipulative interpretation of scripture. He turned a historical account in the nation of Israel into a kind of object lesson to impose onto his congregation.

Evangelical pastors tend to avoid the teachings of the prophets or the Pentateuch about justice or caring for the poor. You won’t hear much about the Year of Jubilee or the types of sacrifices that God finds acceptable in evangelical churches. You will hear plenty of stories about good kings and bad kings. That isn’t a mistake. Just like the people at the time of Samuel, evangelicals love having a “king” (i.e. CEO) like the other groups in America. They’ll bend over backwards to defend the authority of the American government by citing Romans 13.

Evangelicals Nurture a Persecution Complex

I’ve read many different explanations about this, tracing our persecution complex back to either a poor reading of scripture when Christians were actually persecuted (as in, killed) for their faith or a smoke screen perpetuated by Christian media outlets. Every slight, insult, or lawsuit that can in any way be twisted into a persecution narrative is exploited to the hilt.

For instance, I used to attend a church that met in a high school in Ohio. It wasn’t an issue at all for us to rent a public space, but in Hawaii and New York City there have been debates about the tax issues related to the rental of a public school by a nonprofit church. Both states had different nuances to the issue, but at the heart of the matter, no one was trying to keep Christians from gathering for church. The concerns were about special tax preferences for churches.

None of this mattered for Christian media, where each case was stirred up into a seething froth of fear and anger over the persecution of Christians. This story just reinforced a narrative that, for some evangelicals, has been part of a lifelong siege mentality.

Traitors Are Dehumanized and Dismissed by Evangelicals

For many evangelicals, there is a fine line between the truth that saves and the error that condemns. Those living in error who aren’t saved are condemned to hell. While many evangelicals will tell you, and demonstrate on paper, that they care very much for the people who are going to hell within their theological framework, the reality is much more complex.

Yes, there missionaries and evangelists who may have a very compassionate and personal approach to those viewed as outside their camp. However, for many evangelicals already living in fear of persecution and believing that their theology is under siege from liberal Christians and atheists, it’s very easy to begin dehumanizing or at least dismissing those who differ from them.

To dialogue with those outside the camp invites the danger of changing theology and falling into error. “Compromise” is a dirty word in evangelicalism. There is no room for tolerance and political correctness when you believe your religion could be outlawed or your movement’s beliefs could fall apart at any moment.  This leads to a rigid dogmatism that refuses to see the thoughtfulness and, at times, humanity of those who disagree.

Connect the Dots Between Evangelicals and Trump Supporters

If you want to understand why 81% of white evangelicals supported Trump, this list provides some ways to connect the dots between a Trump supporter and an evangelical. The tolerance of flawed leaders alone explains why evangelicals, who have been obsessed with pro-life Supreme Court justices, will tolerate anything else Trump has done.

I wish I had a clear call to action for how to address this problem, but I don’t. I do have a few suggestions for evangelicals who see Trump and our movement for what they are:

  • Practice quiet contemplation to center yourself in God’s love for you and compassion for others.
  • Assure your evangelical friends who support Trump that you love them, but you disagree with their political views.
  • Point your evangelical friends to news that is supported by multiple, credible sources.
  • Remember that it’s not your job to change people, but it is your job to love them.
  • Spend more time asking how you can love and serve those impacted by Trump’s destructive policies.

 

I’m Inviting You to Hold Trump’s Evangelical Supporters Accountable

american flag

At the request of evangelical activist and author Deidra Riggs, I’m asking my evangelical friends and readers, especially the white evangelicals, to join me in holding the pastors on Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory council accountable. 

Trump failed to immediately condemn the hate speech and violence of nazi, racist, and white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, VA. When he did eventually criticize the nazi and racist groups, he inserted caveats and false equivalencies that helped assure their support.

Evangelicals who preach a message that is “good news for all people,” cannot fail to critique those who would marginalize any group or remain associated with any leader who fails to unequivocally condemn their messages. Keep in mind, assuming Trump is allowed to keep his phone, he can contact these people any time, whether or not they are officially on this council if he legitimately needed to pray with a pastor.

Below I’m providing social media and email messaging templates for contacting pastors on Trump’s evangelical advisory council, and then I’ll list public contact information for each pastor as well as additional steps.

Here are three guiding principles for this action:

  1. I am prioritizing pastors who have remained silent or openly supported Trump. This is based on Zack Hunt’s list of the responses from evangelical advisory board members. Feel free to use Zack’s list to urge other members to resign as well.
  2. I am asking for a condemnation of racist groups/ideology and of Donald Trump.
  3. Our messages must be gracious in order to maintain the moral high ground so that these leaders cannot dismiss our reasonable calls to action. Please do not mock or harass these pastors.

 

Here is a message for Twitter or Facebook:

Please: 1. Address Trump’s failure to unequivocally condemn racist groups. 2. Personally condemn white supremacy.

 

Here is an email message:

Subject Line: Please Condemn Racism and White Supremacy

In the spirit of the apostle Paul, who said there is “no longer Jew or Greek… in Christ Jesus,” I am asking you to do the following immediately:

  1. Unequivocally and publically condemn the hate speech and violence committed by racist and white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, VA.
  2. Directly condemn the inadequate remarks of Donald Trump that minimized the hate speech and violence of these groups.
  3. Resign from Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory council, which only serves as a public relations prop for this administration that has empowered hate groups.

As an evangelical pastor, your continued association with Donald Trump and failure to address his tolerance, if not encouragement, of racism betrays the Gospel message that is Good News for all people and deepens the wounds of those targeted by hate groups.

Thank you for your consideration.

 

Public Contact Information for Pastors

I will be updating this list with contact information as I track it down. All of the information below is available on public websites or public social media pages.

 

Robert Morris of Gateway Church

https://twitter.com/PsRobertMorris @PsRobertMorris

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/PsRobertMorris

Staff Email: robert@gatewaypeople.com.

http://gatewaypeople.com/profiles/robert-morris

seniorpastors@gatewaypeople.com

 

Mark Burns

Twitter: @pastormarkburns

https://www.facebook.com/pastormarkburns

Email: pastormarkburns@gmail.com (found on his public Facebook page)

 

Tom Mullins

Twitter: @coachtommullins

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Coach-Tom-Mullins-688759251208453/

Church Website: Church of the Highlands

Church Office: info@churchofthehighlands.com

 

James Robinson

Twitter: @RevJamesRobinson

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/revjamesrobison/

Ministry Email: feedback@lifetoday.org (via Facebook page)

Personal Contact Page: http://www.jamesrobison.net/contact/ 

 

 

Paula White

Twitter: @paula_white

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/realpaulawhite

Facebook Contact: facebook@paulawhite.org

Website: Contact Page (You can report “fraud” on this page. Ha. Ha.)

“Customer Service” Form: https://paulawhite.org/email-customer-service/

 

Additional Action

Many pastors and other advisory council members made weak condemnations of racism or a Trump, offering false equivalencies. Others made condemnations of racism but said nothing about Trump, refused to resign, or, like Johnnie Moore, offered so many unhelpful caveats about the media that his critique was largely counterproductive. Visit Zack’s post to find their social media accounts in order to respond to their posts as well.

 

 

Can Contemplative Prayer Help Address Racism, White Supremacy, and Hate?

What good is sitting in silence for 30 minutes of contemplative prayer every day going to do when there are racist groups in our communities?

It’s a fair question that I have pondered very often. I have a few responses:

Contemplation changes us into compassionate people.

Contemplation can help those in the grip of hate face their false selves—the false selves that drive so much of their hatred.

Contemplation re-centers us in God’s generative love for us and for other people.

Mind you, I’m saying that contemplation can “help” as one part of a larger action plan. I don’t want to oversell this here. Meditation and prayer have long been viewed as integral parts of Christian social justice work. Some groups make them essential aspects that members agree to incorporate into their daily lives.

When I have encountered hate speech or hateful events in the news, they can fuel a rage that goes beyond a productive righteous anger. As this burning rage takes hold, contemplative prayer provides a place to release my thoughts to God. Action is needed, but I won’t act from a productive perspective without a chance to disconnect from my anger and rage.

From a scientific perspective, mindfulness practices, which resemble contemplative prayer in many ways, help decrease our tendency to pursue conflict:

“Mindfulness studies show that practicing mindfulness for 8 to10 weeks changes the brain’s emotion regulation areas. The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped part of the midbrain that hijacks the brain into “fight, flight, freeze” mode in which we start to see our partners as threats to our wellbeing or autonomy and automatically shut down emotionally or start to attack them with angry words and deeds.”

Speaking in terms of what we hope for in the longer term, my pastor challenged us to think about conversion—we need members of these racist groups to be freed from their hateful ideology. It’s often true that the leaders of these hate groups are too far gone in many cases. However, a former hate group member turned advocate believes those who join these hate groups as the rank and file “foot soldiers” are often joining for reasons that are more complex than adopting a hateful ideology.

Christian Picciolini shared in an NPR interview:

“I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose… because there are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope, they tend to search for very simple black and white answers.”

Contemplation can’t answer all of that, but it can become a tool to escape the endless loop of anger and resentment that helps fuel the hatred of others.

Contemplation can provide a new identity as God’s beloved child.

Contemplation can provide a new mission to tell others about the love of God.

Keep in mind that Paul was a violent extremist who was killing and imprisoning Christians. After his conversion, he penned letters where he wished that his readers could experience the height, depth, and breadth of God’s love.

Those who are nurturing their anger and fabricated resentment of immigrants and ethnic minorities are going to need a new community to offer them hope and a path forward. It would be tragic if white supremacists and racists only redirected their anger into a bitter and defensive fundamentalism. Many evangelical churches can provide activity to redirect them, but they tend to lack the spiritual resources and direction for those who need to directly encounter God’s loving presence. Contemplative prayer within a church community setting can offer the inner spiritual experience of transformation that is often so badly needed.

We need churches that speak of God as a loving father/parent and emphasize the loving relationship of the trinity in their belief statements. I participated in prison ministry off and on before we moved and had kids, and I was always struck by how the men were impacted by an encounter with God as a loving father.

I will always defer to experts like Christian Picciolini to offer a path forward amid white supremacy. Contemplation is no substitute for direct action, holding racists accountable, legal advocacy, and other measures that will stop their agenda. It wouldn’t hurt if police departments like the one in Charlottesville, VA were a little more proactive when racist groups start beating people up.

Again, I can’t emphasize enough that contemplation is but one part of a larger action plan. I also haven’t addressed the vital work of learning about our history of racism and white supremacy in America or amplifying and joining the activists who are doing the hard work on the ground each day.

Those targeted by racism and working to eradicate it need our prayers and support now more than ever. However, as a white man, I am also very aware that I have a role to play in offering racists an off ramp away from radicalization. I hope and pray that contemplation can offer them a path away from the fear and hatred that drives their movements.

Resting Takes a Lot of Work?

Blue-Sky-finding center

A month ago I set off on an 11-hour drive to speak at a Writing Retreat that my friend Andi hosts each year. The prior three weeks had been an all-out sprint to keep up with client projects while my wife was on a research trip, release a book, prepare for the retreat, and catch up on client work a little more.

This was the final stretch of a month-long sprint, and my mind and body were BUZZING.

Energy, stress, anxiety, and who knows what else left me feeling desperate, sad, and a bit unhinged. How in the world could I speak about writing without crushing your soul at this retreat in a state like this?

I needed silence: a lot of it.

I breathed deeply. I centered on a prayer word. I let go of any thought that wasn’t related to avoiding trucks and finding Dunkin Donuts coffee.

Starting north of Nashville, I sat in silence for long stretches all the way across I-40.

When I reached Knoxville, I had listened to a few short podcasts (thanks to Anne Bogel’s “What Should I Read Next”!), but the unsettled buzzing in my mind continued.

Over the rolling hills and mountains of Virginia I continued to breathe deeply for the entire stretch of I-81.

Finally, turning toward Charlottesville, I sensed something settle.

Since I was arriving about an hour later than I had intended, I passed up a scenic overlook along the highway. I immediately regretted this. The mountains were spectacular at this pass. Why was I so determined to pass up beauty for the sake of a clock?

I just about jumped out of my seat when another scenic overlook showed up five miles later. I pulled into the lonely rest area and just about fell over with the silent majesty of these mountains.

The words of Jacob came to mind: “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’”

This thin moment before the mountains was its own gate of heaven, delighting in creation. Nothing particularly spectacular or spiritual happened. I had found my center, a place of rest in God that wasn’t at the mercy of my circumstances so that I could enjoy what was before me.

How many times in the past have I been running on empty or burned out, but I’ve pushed on, believing that I just needed to get through it?

How many times have I passed up beauty, rest, and restoration because I didn’t understand the value of silence or finding my center?

How often have I missed the silent beauty of God because I didn’t know how much work it is to be still and know that he is God?

Contemplative prayer has taught me about the paradox of resting in God. I don’t naturally choose rest, and I honestly need to work at resting. I have to fight for my rest by choosing silence when everything in my body craved distraction and noise.  Resting in God takes practice and intention.

I Used to Pray to a Passive-Aggressive God

church-prayer

The Psalms tell us to wait patiently on the Lord. I used to read that as a kind of passive-aggressive move on God’s part. Here I was, desperate for God, waiting and praying with all of my heart. Would it kill him to show up when I pray?

After learning about and practicing contemplative prayer, I realized I had everything completely backwards. God has been waiting for us all along, but we are often too distracted, impatient, or fearful to be present for him. In addition, a “present God” may not bring about the emotions and experiences we expect.

God’s love is here and constant, and there is nothing I can do or feel to change that reality. I can ignore it or obstruct it, but I can’t stop it.

Learning to pray isn’t about turning on the tap of God’s love. Rather, learning to pray is about training ourselves to be present for the love of God that is already at work in our lives.

Evangelical anxiety tells us that prayer isn’t working because there must be something wrong with us.

Evangelical anxiety focuses on results and progress, but God is more concerned about loving presence.

Contemplative prayer has taught me that God’s love is present and that I need only seek God in order to pray. I may have an epiphany, but I most likely will not. God’s love is steady and constant, and many days I have to settle for taking that on faith.

Focusing on my feelings and experiences have been my greatest barriers to contemplative prayer. I have had to completely shut down my anxious evangelical tendency toward measuring and proving my spiritual vitality and worth.

François Fénelon wrote, “How will you go on to maturity if you are always seeking the consolation of feeling the presence of God with you? To seek pleasure and to ignore the cross will not get you very far. You will soon be trapped in the pursuit of spiritual pleasures” (100 Days in the Secret Place, 11).

The journey into contemplative prayer calls on us to think differently of God and of ourselves. Very little depends on us. The spiritual “work” we do in contemplative prayer is very different from the spirituality of many evangelicals who are bogged down with lists of beliefs, practices, and activities that we must do to pursue holiness or the presence of God.

We’re never doing enough to win God’s love or to achieve any kind of lasting life transformation. How could we? God’s love is already ours, and until we learn how to simply receive it, we’ll get stuck in an anxious rut of performance, failure, and struggle.

The first step in many spiritual practices such as the Examen and centering prayer is a simple acknowledgement that God is present. That is so very different from my assumptions as an evangelical Christian who used phrases like, “I’m waiting for God to show up.” Theologically I could explain divine omnipotence, but practically, I struggled to believe that God was truly present with me and, most importantly, loving me right in that moment without preconditions.

This is the true prayer of a little child in the Kingdom. If you can only call out, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” in faith and reliance, then you can pray. My own pride and hopes for spiritual advancement kept me from seeing how badly I needed to become like a little child in prayer.

 

This post is taken from my book

Flee, Be Silent, Pray:
An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer

Read more by downloading it for $2.99 today

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What Would God Shout at You from a Cloud?

In the Gospel of Matthew, there are two instances where a cloud appears over Jesus and God shouts two brief, identical messages. I have often wondered what God would shout at me in a similar situation.

Honestly, I tend to think God would shout negative things at me. I imagine God telling me to stop doing something or to do more of something. In either case, the message would focus on the ways I’m falling short and have been inadequate.

I have struggled to imagine a loving and merciful God. It’s much easier to imagine a God who is either disappointed or really, really angry.

Bringing up this disappointed/angry image of God with people tends to strike a nerve.

What would God shout at you?  

volunteer more!

spend less money!

stop obsessing about your body image!

share the Gospel more!

stop lusting!

help more people in need!

read the Bible more!

pray more!

go to a different church!

spend less time on social media!

We can’t imagine that God the Father is for us and loves us. We can only imagine God showing up in a cloud and telling us to get our acts together, to start doing something different.

God the Father isn’t typically imagined as being on our side. God the Father is somehow joined with Jesus in the Trinity but remains disappointed in us and in need of a blood sacrifice to make us acceptable in his sight, working out a loophole in his infinite holiness and justice.

Before Jesus launched his ministry and before Jesus ventured to Jerusalem where he would be killed and then rise from the dead, God the Father spoke the same message over Jesus:

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17

 “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Matthew 17:5

On both occasions, God the Father affirmed the Son. On the first occasion Jesus had not even started his ministry.

I have tended to write off the significance of these moments between the Father and the Son. However, I now think that this was a big mistake on my part.

Jesus came to unite us with God, adopting us in God’s family. Paul writes that our identity is hidden away in Christ. In the midst of this union with Christ, we dare not overlook the love of God for us that goes beyond our comprehension:

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19

Through the ministry of Jesus and our union with him, we have a new way of thinking about God. If God is our Father through our union with the Son, then it isn’t far-fetched to say that God’s first thought of us is love and a desire for deeper union with us. God desires to heal, redeem, and restore his children.

Failing to believe that I am a child of God is the most important obstacle for prayer. Once I believe that God loves and accepts me like Jesus is loved and accepted, prayer becomes a moment to rest in God’s love rather than a game of hide and go seek with God or a proving ground for my spirituality.

For years, I doubted God’s love for me, and my struggles with prayer served as validation for those doubts.

Beginning with the foundational teaching of God’s love and acceptance for his children made it possible to rest in God’s presence and to trust in his love for me. I was finally able to participate in the silence of contemplative prayer that seeks to lovingly gaze at and adore God the Father.

Contemplative prayer relies on resting in this love as the first step in prayer, letting all other distractions fall away in order to be still in God’s presence.

Imagining a God who calls down to us with loving messages before we’ve done a single thing can revolutionize how we pray. This was the God that Jesus wanted to reveal to us, and this is the God that we can pray to when we turn to him in silent adoration.

Take a First Step in Contemplative Prayer

Based on my own experiences with contemplative prayer, I’ve written an introduction to this practice. I tend to tell people that this is the book you give someone before passing along a book by Richard Rohr or Thomas Merton. The book is titled:

 

Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer

On sale for $2.99

Amazon Kindle | Amazon print | Kobo | B&N | iBooks

 

Is There Hope for Anxious, Doubting, and Burned Out Christians?

If you’re a Christian who is burned out, falling flat, discouraged, struggling, or doubtful, I have a suggestion based on my own experiences. This suggestion may or may not help, but just consider it for a moment.

What if Christianity is bound to fail you no matter how often you say sincere prayers, no matter how hard you study the Bible, no matter what theology you adopt, no matter how often you attend church, and no matter how sincerely you commit to follow Jesus?

What if your faith can only survive if you approach God in a different way?

I don’t necessarily want to undermine practices such as Bible study, attending church, or praying sincerely. These are all good things in their place. However, one can lean too heavily on these practices, expecting them to provide what they cannot, and then burning out as you continue to come up empty.

That’s where I found myself when I first attended a church service during my seminary days that introduced contemplative prayer, sitting in silent adoration of God. I struggled to sit in silence, I recited the prayers, nothing seemed to happen, and so I gave in to despair for a season.

It wasn’t until years later that I began to see the rich contemplative tradition of the church that teaches the practice of daily silence in order to rest in God, trusting God to work in us. The contemplative tradition of the church teaches that we cannot earn God’s favor or make God love us more. God has already sent Jesus to us out of his deep love for us, and in Jesus we become his sons and daughters.

The foundation of Christianity is God’s love for us. If we miss that, everything else will be a chore, struggle, or burden.

Contemplative prayer doesn’t seek to prove anything or to produce a particular emotion or experience. By sitting in silence and reciting a simple word like “mercy” or “beloved,” we step away from any other thought or conception of ourselves so that we may be present for God.

Over time, contemplative prayer can shift our understandings of ourselves, seeing ourselves as we are as God’s beloved children. We can also develop a greater capacity of love for other people as we learn to see them as God sees them.

There is an effort to remove distractions in contemplative prayer, but it’s not up to me to produce a spiritual transformation. I can’t save my soul or make myself more loving. I can only rest in God and enter God’s presence with faith that he is faithful in caring for his children.

When the love of God comes first, I no longer have to prove myself or work to find God’s love. God’s love is something to rest in and to gradually experience over time, rather than something I have to frantically or anxiously work for.

Out of a foundation of God’s love, the Christian faith becomes restorative and regenerative. We all come to God with our struggles, baggage, and religious backgrounds that can complicate matters.

There aren’t simple formulas and I never want to suggest that contemplative prayer is a quick fix. Rather, this is a lifelong practice that is challenging to learn and requires a significant commitment. Monks would devote their entire lives to this practice of contemplation, so one can hardly jump into it after a kind of short term boot camp.

I can’t speak for every person or situation, but I do know that the people who have passed through similar seasons as my own share similar experiences of God’s love and presence. Contemplative prayer isn’t the only way to make ourselves aware of God’s love, but it has a strong tradition that is rooted in the history of the church. This is hardly a gimmick or a “culturally relevant trend.”

If everything else in Christianity has left you uncertain, anxious, or struggling to believe in God, you may not have anything to lose.

What if God loved you deeply and completely as a beloved child?

What if you only need to take that love on faith and rest in it?

 

Learn More about Contemplative Prayer

Based on my own experiences with contemplative prayer, I’ve written an introduction to this practice. I tend to tell people that this is the book you give someone before passing along a book by Richard Rohr or Thomas Merton. The book is titled:

Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer

On sale for $2.99

Amazon Kindle | Amazon print | Kobo | B&N | iBooks