02.27.15

the ENFP in a non-ENFP world

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:19 pm by Administrator

we were grabbing dinner with one of my wife’s friends the other night when the topic of conversation came around to spiritual community and the experience of loneliness. i talked about how i feel in my community, and she talked about how she feels in hers. over the course of our conversation, i realized that my personality, as odd and perhaps ill-fitting as it is in my church, would likely fit in very easily at hers. and that’s when she said the thing that brought it home for me: “our pastor calls us a church of ENFPs”.

myers-briggs has always been useful to me, even when other typological systems have given me deeper insights into certain aspects of my life. but particularly over the past few years, my experiences in community have highlighted the unique role i tend to have as an ENFP. no single characteristic of that type can be broken out as my most important determinant. it’s the mix of those characteristics that places me in a consistently unique place in relation to teams and other groups of people. i refuse to conform. i insist on “thinking outside the box”. i get very frustrated with routine tasks and routine-driven people. i resist rules, and i dismiss data that doesn’t resonate with me. i enjoy driving change and self-reflection, and i’m good at it. on the other hand, i frequently feel disconnected, misunderstood, and altogether alone. and i’m always looking for “my kind of people”. i rarely find them.

my idea of like-minded people isn’t necessarily defined by myers-briggs, and it’s certainly not limited to ENFPs. but i feel a need to be with people who “get it”—the macro, the patterns, the feelings i feel. i can look at a political crisis and intuit an approach to solving it; i can meet a person in crisis and understand how to be present with him; i can observe a dysfunctional team and immediately sense where the obstacles lie. it is fun for me to dialogue with people who feel problems and solutions the way that i do. but very oddly, i invariably end up sharing responsibility and community with people who are so different from me in these respects. they need data; they don’t move without proof; and even when they move, they must proceed slowly and with rigorous planning. i am ten steps ahead of them, champing at the bit and virtually imploding. i am ever the ENFP in a non-ENFP world.

it’s not always bad. in fact, in my various environments, my intuition is highly valued. my feelings and passions can be contagious. my need to talk things out and to learn through the free exchange of ideas is often welcome and refreshing. i could even say that my ENFP personality is my calling card and my primary competency; it’s the reason i lead.

perhaps where i struggle the most as an ENFP is in spiritual community. the first church i ever loved was led by an ENFP head pastor, and i found his personality and his personal journey every bit as compelling to me as the words he preached. but most other churches i’ve attended have been dominated by thinking/judging types, and i’ve generally found that this type tends to be highly represented in conservative Reformed settings. i have a really hard time doing church with those folks. they are dogmatic, ritualistic, and socially awkward people. they practice a religion of sacraments and principles which absolutely clashes with my experiential spirituality. one would think that i’d be a great fit in a charismatic setting, but i think my feeling/perceiving side strongly resists the standardized responses encouraged in highly charismatic environments. church can be tough for anyone, but i think it’s particularly tough for ENFPs, who are notoriously picky about whom they share life with.

i try to stay in a constructive state of mind by focusing on my role rather than on my feelings. i’m at my best when i’m listening, learning, and experiencing people. as the enneagram implies, an 8 like me is best when i’m veering toward 2—a giving, generous persona. when i obsess over my differences with others, i go toward 5 (isolation and study), which i’ve personally experienced as a path of disintegration for me. my feelings aren’t always wrong, but they frequently lead me down wrong paths when i don’t put them in their proper place. focusing on my role is one way i do that. i tell myself that my feelings are the property of my people; and it’s my job to channel those feelings into something that builds rather than destroys.

02.20.15

don’t give it up

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:45 pm by Administrator

“don’t give it up” is what i heard Him tell me. i waited on Him all weekend, and it’s the only thing i heard Him say.

when the earth is unyielding for long enough, a man’s heart has to harden. the shovel must crush the rock, after all; the man who will not surrender must become strong enough to overcome. to me, this is the process by which we leave childhood behind us forever. when the world is set against him for long enough, the soft things of the mind—the imaginings and meanderings that portend renewal and change—settle and solidify into rules and resolutions. he becomes one who is set in his ways; he becomes as unforgiving as the soil that has frustrated him through the years.

i thought He was speaking of my career, but the more i think about it the more i recognize that this is about people in my life. it is about the church that i wrestle with—the young men with their angst, the parents with their preoccupations, the idle worshipers transfixed and even paralyzed by their ubiquitous idols. it is about my patients—that endless procession of broken young gay men with their distrust, hostilities, and unceasing self-abuse. it is about people that i must remain in relationship with, though i dislike them and what they demand of me. i call them my friends, but they are not my friends.

and to this, God tells me that He will grant my heart’s desire. if i am finished with them, these people that i have been given, then i can be done with them. i can strike the rock with my staff; i can declare myself exhausted of His work and unwilling to continue. and God will listen. my life with the people of God can end at any time, whether in isolation or in separation, if this is what i wish.

it is not what i wish. but neither do i understand how to continue. the deeper i go in relationship with these people, the more frustrated i become. i begin to see in my thoughts the very reflection of my father, who loathed people for their betrayals and cruelties. i fear that i will become like him, a man beset by grudges and hard memories. and i find myself wishing that i could see things differently, that i could feel things as i once did as a child. but then i remember that this is contrary to my design. He told me once that i must be sharp where i am wielded against the world; i must be sharp against the world, though it pits me against my enemy. and, on the other hand, i must be soft where i am held by the one who loves me. i must be two things to the world i live in; and i must be both things, always.

i tell this to my God, that i cannot stand to have Him pass over me. i wish to persevere with my people, for two reasons: that i may delight in my purpose, and that i may see my hopes for myself and for my people fulfilled. i could never claim to have the heart of Christ, who could declare in His last days that He had lost no one who was given to Him. i am ever at risk of losing even myself, this fickle and cowardly man that i am! but i rest in two certainties that i remember like my own name—that the Lord favors me and that His pleasure is my greatest pleasure. and in this faith, i preach a truth to myself, that these people whom i in truth do not loathe were meant to be glorious, and His gift to me is to see them come into that glory, if i am willing.

i am willing, oh Lord my God, i am willing! don’t give up on me, and let me not give up on them. give me the mind and the heart to forget what i am in the pursuit of your glory. give me another try. give my people another chance. we live and breathe for that opportunity, however fleeting it might be, to see you demonstrate the magnitude of your power through the smallness of what we are. it is the only reason that we live. be merciful, oh God, and make your place with us here and now, where we languish and struggle in a bitterness and a loneliness that have no relief except in the hope of your kingdom

02.12.15

prayer

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:58 pm by Administrator

on days like today, i recognize that i cannot understand the reason for prayer. what you have decided to do, you will do. and what you do not enable me to do, i will never accomplish. i cannot change you, oh God, nor would i wish to. you can change me, and i wish it! but even in this, i cannot discern the thousand things in me that can stand to be changed, nor could i ever properly understand what things about me must not change, as terrible as they may seem to me.

i pray because i must, because i eat out of your hand and live for our moments together. i pray because i am pressed to depart from what i am, in order to come nearer to that which i desire. and i pray, because i need you to be what you are. you will be what you are, regardless; but i pray for you to be you, because my very survival depends on your promises to me. my heart anguishes to be reassured, time and time again, of your mercies. prayer is the fabric of my being pressed upon the shape of your purposes. without you, i am exposed for my futility; and were you to turn your face from me, even for a moment, i would come apart, like a cry in the darkness cut short and without echo.

remember your people, in these times. we are a people who die slowly, not for persecution but for lack of hope. the world dictates our ways and our thoughts, and we acquiesce. nowhere do we see the demonstration of your power, nor do we hear your voice. someone will say that you have a wish. what is your wish, among our wishes? you have a hope for your people. what is your hope, among all hopes? you have a place for us in this world. have we not already been to all places? and have we not been waiting for you to claim us, for two thousand years? now all of our great ambitions have dried up and become brittle for all of the waiting, for all of our wasting. the civilizations of the world grow great and powerful in their eyes, and in the face of their heroic histories and their brash claims, we have nothing. have you abandoned us, your people?

we live and breathe for the demonstration of your power. it is true that nothing we think of or build will last very long, among these nations destined to crumble and be forgotten. but were we not meant to build in every generation a thing that will live forever, in your memory and in ours, as the evidence of our covenant with you? we could be a great people; and in fact, we are still mighty, as you are limitlessly mighty. but we have forgotten what we are, and we have forgotten the thing we once were. we were once the people that shaped the world and put the rulers in their places. we were once the people upon whom the eyes of all mankind were entrained; and in turn, we were the people whose gaze continually rested upon your glory. all the universe looked to you, and they envied us, the apple of your eye, the glory of your creation. we live and breathe for the demonstration of your power because it defines what we are, and we are nothing without it.

where are you, oh God, in these times? where is your passion for your people? where is your voice, your single voice, that silences all voices and settles all quarrels? indeed your people do not know who they are any longer; they cannot discern those called from those who deceive themselves. each man has his god, but together they cannot see anything more than a vague form of religion when they piece together all that they have seen. you, oh God, are not an idea to be considered. you are a person. amidst history and the future, amidst prophecy and the law, amidst all the things that we know about ourselves, you are a person, and you look into our lives, and you alone know the name of what lives within us. i say, finish the work that you have begun. take the deathly things out of our lives, those deathly things that strangle the precious thing struggling to bear its fruit. in this time, and in this place, demonstrate your power, that your people might be revealed, and that they might become the only thing worth desiring and living for—your glory

02.10.15

a good death

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:58 pm by Administrator

i was fairly dissatisfied with my prior entry, which really didn’t get to the essence of what i wanted to say. so here is my second attempt, and this is my thesis: Pauline theology, like the bushido code, revolves around the concept of a good death. the apostle Paul’s idea of Christianity cannot be properly understood unless we understand it as a theology of death. and in this respect, it might be helpful to approach New Testament theology as an Eastern philosophy.

it goes without saying that our hermaneutic is overwhelmingly determined by our culture of origin. in the church of 21st century America, we are veritably defined by our biases toward individualism, pragmatism, free market economics, and puritanical mores. our praxis revolves around sexual shame, a longing for personal purity, and a rejection of authoritarianism. we are a people who look at the bible as the definitive manual on vigorous and healthy self-maximization. within this cultural parameter, we fail to recognize and properly contextualize many things that Paul (and Christ for that matter) repeatedly emphasize in their teachings. i believe that one of these blind spots is with regard to the central importance of covenantal identity, on which i’ve previously written and with regard to the insights of NT Wright. but for certain, the other blind spot is with regard to the theological importance of death. i find it impossible to ignore the many teachings in the NT that revolve around the passing of the present world, the vanity of earthly endeavors, and the meaning of the present life as a prelude to the next. i think that it was not Paul’s aim to teach the church how to make the most of their earthly lives; rather, it was his hope that they would live as people utterly given over to death in the hope of their resurrection. the 21st century church often labels this errant eschatology. i beg to differ; i call it Paul’s theology of death.

the 16th century samurai lived his whole life in the fear of dying a bad death. the life that flowed from this fear was one defined by principle, discipline, and self-control, all intended to protect the warrior from the weaknesses that could lead to betrayal, cowardice, and an ignominious end. one might look at the rigid discipline of the samurai and legitimately accuse him of a legalistic morality; but the samurai might respond that it is his fear of his weakness and its consequences that so drive him to structure his life and his ways. in the same way, the apostle Paul was fixated on finishing his race. in his last letters, it is obsession with his ending that so compels him to prepare himself and others through prayer, an engagement with the Word, and the edification of his legacy—the communal body of Christ. Paul connects to the purpose of Christ by joining Him in His death; and as Christ views Himself as a drink offering to be poured out to the Lord, so does Paul view himself as a martyr. to die is gain, Paul says. to me, this is the central theological thrust of Paul, around which his other sensations and observations revolve and take meaning.

all of this rumination of course has led me to wrestle with the very personal question of how i look at my death—and whether i am actively seeking a good death. i was listening to an NPR segment this morning on how doctors train one another to have the “difficult conversation” with the patient regarding a terminal diagnosis. it was an intense segment, on the one hand; but on the other hand, i regarded my own reaction with a measure of perplexity. we are all bound to die, every one of us. every single one of us carries the terminal diagnosis of mortality in our genes. the reality of our deaths is nevertheless surprising and almost crippling to us. how can it not be? we live and grow within a culture that marginalizes the experience of death. as a church, we engage the Bible with an almost total unwillingness to reckon with its explicit call to death and self-abnegation.

i don’t want to be that man that death catches unwilling and unaware. i want to be that man so convinced of the meaning of my life that i approach my death with intentionality and steadfast purpose.

i think that a good death for me is the end of a journey. for me to have that good death, i have to understand what my journey is—and where it ought to end. this is beyond ordinary human comprehension, but i am convinced that the Lord intends for me to see the narrative of my life in His terms. this is not to say that my life ought to consist in a supreme task or a responsibility to be fulfilled. but i want to be able to sense the arc; and even if i cannot discern its path, i’d like to rest assured in its purposeful finitude. already, i can acknowledge that my self is a burden i wish to carry for only so long; my reprieve consists in a new and everlasting identity. but i must move beyond a passive sense of self-loathing. the call to death and resurrection demands an absolute commitment to relinquishing this life, in all of its trappings and confinements; it demands an obstinate and relentless desire to pass on, beyond death and into the true inheritance of the next life. a good death, i believe, is Christ’s one assurance to all of His own. it is a good death because it is the consummation of everything we are called to believe, unto salvation itself

02.09.15

serenity

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:17 pm by Administrator

over the past week, i’ve torn through James Clavell’s “Shogun” with a relentless devotion. what began as a fascinating exploration gradually shifted over 980 pages into an exercise in disciplined and frequently tedious study. at the end of the story, i found myself quite exhausted from all the layers of intrigue upon intrigue, from chapters devoted to the reinterpretation of all prior chapters, all comprising an incremental narrative process of whittlings and retellings. the end result was a very straightforward story about a political coup, but the substance of the storytelling lay in its agonizing circuitousness, born of inevitable indirections and misdirections. in “Shogun”, every narrator is profoundly unreliable—Clavell’s way of suggesting that the very essence of Tokugawan society was deception.

if i could distill the central point of the whole tome, i’d describe it as a Westerner’s effort to understand the idea of “shigata ga nai”, the passive acceptance of karma. and this to me was the most interesting aspect of Clavell’s very detailed assessment of bushido society. the Westerner imposes himself upon his circumstances, in an endeavor to master his fate; the samurai seeks his place in the order of things, so as to properly submit himself to the forces of destiny. one wars against his world; the other wars against his nature within. their approaches to life are so vastly different because their attitudes toward death are utterly contrasting.

one of the very central storylines of “Shogun” is the transformation of the Englishman Blackthorne from mercenary seaman to hatamoto samurai. this transformation almost entirely hinges on one moment in his story—a near-death experience as a result of his attempted seppuku. the brush with death permanently alters his psyche and immediately endows him a transcendent perspective on matters of honor, propriety, and death compatible with that of his samurai peers. whether this pivotal moment in Blackthorne’s character arc is is sufficiently compelling is certainly contestable; but the more fundamental question is whether Clavell is legitimate in his hypothesis that the Westerner’s obsession with survival is his prime obstacle to comprehending the bushido code of samurai honor.

i’m going to step back at this point and reframe Clavell’s question so as to wrestle with a broader matter that my reading of “Shogun” compelled me to revisit. in these postmodern times, is our collective lack of reflection on death our prime obstacle to comprehending Christ, in His uncompromising call to death and resurrection? and do i fail to grasp a certain and transcendent experience of life because i refuse to seriously contemplate the inevitability and even necessity of my own imminent demise?

the older i grow and the more trouble i see, the more i sense that the Bible’s call to action is one layer of its truth; but there is, beneath its prescriptions, a deeper and nearly paralyzing sense of awe. for every insistence on good action and exemplary behavior, there is an equal acknowledgement of man’s powerlessness—his fundamental inability to choose his fate, alter the course of history, or redeem his corrupted and fading world. there is an ideal of biblical faith that wholly exists in a trusting of the divine, to the point of profound surrender. to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed seems not so different from the karmic ideal. it is “shigata ga nai”, in the end. it cannot be helped.