the alethiometer

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:54 pm by Administrator

in book 3 of the Golden Compass series (”The Amber Spyglass”), young Lyra saves the world from the tyranny of the global church while preserving the delicate balance between all interconnected universes. but the price she has to pay is two-fold: she must forsake the love of her life, and she must lose her intuitive connection to everything true. it’s the latter that i think about from time to time. thinking of her alone in her universe looking upon the alethiometer—once her truth-teller, now just a cold, indecipherable object in her hands—once made me feel very sad. but now, i wonder if this was philip pullman’s real insight into how children come of age. we lose that magically spontaneous quality of living; we spend the rest of our lives trying to rediscover it.

since i discovered the enneagram, a process has begun in me, working its way through my being. it began as something conscious, a self-suggestion of sorts. but it seems to have become unconscious now. where i was once exquisitely responsive and reflexively feeling, i am now deliberately and insistently subdued. it is as if i have grown weary of my strong feelings. it is as if i have broken the switch inside of me, the master switch that could turn all the lights on at once. now, i must turn on each lamp one at a time; and when i leave one room for another, it all goes dark behind me.

once upon a time, my feelings were sharp as blades. they were my subtle knife, cutting through my reality and connecting me with paragons and fantasies just beyond reach. like the alethiometer, my emotional compass probed and pressed at my insides, leading me down uncertain paths but with such conviction that i thought all of life was delineated with such clarity. in any argument, i felt truth—my truth—and it was enough to sustain me, through trouble, through heartache, and through any doubt.

now, i am like the one in adrienne rich’s poem, staring at the embers that were once a fire, gripped by the possibility that the warmth which once compelled me has truly gone cold, for good. here i am at last, a man in all solitary ways, with no defense against doubt, against inner failings, against the insensible ways that determine the comings and goings of man. bereft of my childhood imaginations, and barren of the sensibilities that once made me immune to the possibility of meaninglessness, i hear my barber poke fun at all the white hairs sprouting from my head, and i realize that i feel not the terror of my ending nor the desperate longing for something greater but rather just the dull simplicity of a fact that requires no meditation.

this is my life. we do not live long enough for riches to matter; we do not live long enough for success to be of significance. birth and death are neither fortunate nor unforeseen. and i… i have this thing in my hands which i once called my heart, and it once commanded me. now, it is a foreign thing, and i handle it gingerly between my fingers, and when i whisper to it, as if it were just a child, i tell it to be calm and not to cry, and i don’t know why


coffee, equanimity/objectivity, and the LGBTQ “issue”

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:33 pm by Administrator

i didn’t have my first full cup of coffee until i was 24. isn’t that crazy? it’s our national addiction, the most effective legal performance enhancing drug out there, and i managed to avoid it entirely for decades.

after years of daily coffee consumption, i’ve now had an inadvertent caffeine fast for the past nine days, and like i mentioned in my last entry, the effect on me has been considerable. most notable has been the change in my affect. i take longer to arrive at feelings; and when they come to me, they’re softer, more vague, and quicker to fade.

while some people get addicted to caffeine for the energy it gives them, i think that the subconscious appeal of coffee for me is the way it brings life into crystal clear focus. there’s a certain sharpness to what i experience when i’m caffeinated; my feelings have obvious texture, my perceptions seem less ambiguous, and my responses to people come faster and more articulately. i always self-caffeinate before speeches, for example, and i find that i can “get in the zone” and connect with my audience more quickly. it’s my “certitude” drug, in that manner, and it’s also a potent emotional stimulant for me. it helps me dig up my latent, even indiscernible feelings on a moment’s notice, so that i can use those feelings to fuel me through the dozens of interpersonal interactions i have every day.

alcohol does the same thing for me, and the parallel effects of coffee and alcohol are rather illuminating for me. i recognize that i rarely take a 2nd or 3rd cup of coffee for the same reason that i almost never drink to drunkenness: a little bit helps me access my feelings, but a little too much makes those same feelings become diffuse and unfocused. i hate the “hyper” or charged feeling of over-caffeination, just as i dislike that blurry and dizzying sense of inebriation.

there’s also another parallel between my experiences of coffee and alcohol. because my attractions to alcohol and coffee are functional, not aesthetic, i like them as uncomplicated as possible. i take my coffee black with no sweetener, and i really don’t care about the quality of the bean. i like my alcohol stiff and unmixed; a straight shot of vodka (or with a little tonic) is ideal, but i’ll take a brandy or a Scotch without much regard for the brand.

in any case, i’m not drinking coffee these days because i’m not feeling a need to wake up fast. and as a result, i’m not as sharp, and i’m not as emotionally in tune with myself. i’m experiencing “equanimity” of a kind. it’s a different way of life, and it’s somewhat closer to what i’ve always viewed as my ideal self—wise, composed, and measured.

the enneagram though would suggest that equanimity (or composure) isn’t necessarily what i demonstrate as i move toward integration. rather, it’s objectivity that best informs the 4. and while equanimity and objectivity can be related, and while both of them might be very good for me, the difference between them is critical for me to discern. my goal should not be to eliminate or to suppress my feelings; rather the challenge for me is to feel purposefully, so that my point of view can be genuinely balanced. the challenge for me is to not simply arrive at a feeling and land there, to my self-satisfaction, but rather to move through my feelings to arrive at perspective.

i’ll never be a passive person, in other words. the fundamental agreeability of the 9 is not my gift. i will always be focused, interested, and deeply engaged, in a manner that will press for synthesis and singularity. but if i can strive for what is wise, even if that means sacrificing the convenience of my natural and deep-seated inclinations, then i might find something that is true for both myself and for others.

on this note, several months ago a guest speaker spoke at my church and said something in his sermon that deeply angered me. he defined the supreme court ruling on gay marriage as something inherently “frightening” for the church, directly comparing the ruling to acts of terrorist violence. he went on to suggest that the supreme court ruling represents a wave of societal persecution directed against the church of our times. it was an appalling sermon, and it drove me into a fit of rage. i asked my pastor to publicly address the ideas of the guest speaker and to separate himself from the prejudicial and persecutory overtones of the message. i brought up the sermon with my fellow deacons and pushed them to express their reactions. i talked with other congregants and made my feelings about the matter very clear. and yet, i still remained unsatisfied. i felt that my sanctuary had been violated by a minister with dangerous beliefs.

so, three weeks later when it was my turn to preside over the congregation, i welcomed the congregation with very specific words. “Regardless of your race, gender, where you are at in your faith journey, or your sexual orientation, you are welcome,” I said. “In fact, on account of your specific design, you bring something of value to us, and I’m glad that you are here.”

it took two weeks for anyone to talk to me about it. “you know, a lot of people have been coming to me to talk about what you said,” my friend finally told me. “they’re wondering what right you had to say what you did… is this the church’s official position now? they’re wondering why you specifically talked about sexual orientation… do you realize that this kind of thing can divide a church?” and i, being the man i am, told him how happy i was to learn that people had actually expressed a reaction to my words. and then i told him that this was the kind of issue i was willing to lose people over. because when it comes to the dignity of a human being, i want to know where people stand, so that i can show the bigots the door.

when it comes to the LGBTQ “issue” in the church, i know that i’m right. and i know that anyone who disagrees with me is wrong. not just ideologically wrong. they’re theologically wrong. and the matter is important enough to me that i’m willing to throw down and have it out, and i’m willing to get mad about it. because it’s not just a moral matter, and it’s certainly much more than a political matter. it’s a personal matter; it’s a personal issue for each and every person who’s been made to feel deviant or like an outsider on account of an arbitrary and errant interpretation of the scripture. yes, i’m willing to even have a physical fight with someone about this issue, that’s how strongly i feel about it. and oh how i love the passion that i feel when i get to rip someone a new asshole as i dismantle their logical and biblical arguments against gay marriage!

but here, i recognize that this is the 4 being the classic 4. and there is that voice in me saying that even in this, objectivity is better than passion. objectivity is better than the knowledge that i’m right and someone else is wrong. i can hate the people who disagree with me, i can disdain the way that simpletons in my world read the Bible, and i can revile those of the Reformed biblical tradition who turn Christianity into an intellectual exercise. still, and even then, my feelings are insufficient to guide me to truth. they are my starting point; but where i must go is to objectivity.

objectivity isn’t simply an unemotional state of mind, a logical appreciation of the facts. objectivity is an approach to conflict, incompatibility, and even hatred. objectivity is what tells me i am just one person in a larger community; i am just one perspective among many. when i seek to be objective, what i’m seeking to do is to submit myself not for reconciliation (which is lesser) but for the truth (which is best). and i don’t mean to imply that truth is always better than reconciliation. what i mean to emphasize is that for a 4 like me, there is no reconciliation without truth. and when all other people are unwilling to understand its multiple facets, its hidden faces, i must be the one to move past my initial feelings to the feelings about those feelings; i must be the one to find a way to the truth that speaks to us all.

i’ve not apologized for what i said, nor will i ever apologize for my position. i will always force others to reckon with my beliefs, and i will express my point of view. that’s okay, i recognize. as long as i’m capable of creating real two-way conversation and being transformed by it, i can change. and my journey, in this regard, can be the journey of my people. if i can put myself in my place, then i can transcend what i am; and if i can come closer to objectivity, then i might just bring myself and those i love closer to what is genuinely, profoundly, and enduringly true


running, emotionality, parenting

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:29 pm by Administrator

for the past five years, i don’t think i’ve gone more than two days without taking a run. but since i sprained my ankle eight days ago, i haven’t so much as taken an extended walk. the swelling has mostly gone down, but there’s still a lot of blood pooled around the foot, and all in all i’m recognizing that i just don’t heal like i did when i was eighteen.

i expected that these eight days with basically no exercise would have a dramatic effect on my body. specifically, i figured that my lower back would be worse than usual, and i imagined that my energy level would be a lot lower as well. paradoxically, i’ve discovered the opposite to be true on both accounts. my chronic lower back stiffness has completely resolved, to the point that i can actually jump out of bed and touch my toes (which i don’t think i’ve been able to do for at least five years). because my lower back doesn’t hurt, my upper back and neck have loosened as well. i’m waking up fully awake with no tension in my body to work out, which means that i don’t feel the need to drink coffee. as a result, my energy level through the day is more consistent, with none of those late afternoon dips that i’ve grown so accustomed to. and because i’m not caffeinating, i’m falling asleep pretty fast.

put it all together, and i’m wondering if my approach to exercise has actually been putting unnecessary stress on my body. for sure, i think that running has been a great situational stress-reliever for me in tense times, but i’m not sure that it’s been altogether good for me as a daily discipline. living without aches and pains is an experience i never thought i’d be able to enjoy again until i had these eight days off, and waking up feeling good is now making me rethink why i push myself so hard and to what end.

another thing i’ve noticed is that with better sleep and less caffeine i’ve become a less emotional person. that, i’ve decided, is a very good thing. my enneagram insights have helped me to pay a bit more attention to feedback i’ve gotten over the years, and if there’s a common theme to that feedback, it’s my passion. i used to think of my “passion” as a good thing. now i recognize that when people note my passion, what they’re actually reacting to is my overt emotionality. i wear my emotions on my sleeve. i dig into my emotions in order to feel meaning in my work. i provoke feelings in other people so that i can connect with them. a “4″ is not an easy person to live with and work with, and i’m beginning to realize why. most people in the world don’t want to navigate through or manage other people’s emotions at work or even in the home. we’re socialized to manage our feelings alone and internally; it’s the nature of our Western/Puritanical/rational society.

here and there, i wonder if others’ perceptions of my emotionality actually undercut my effectiveness as a leader. i can see how my feelings might be the ultimate trump card in any vigorous dialogue. if i go quickly and easily to a deep personal feeling of resistance or negativity, and if i can articulate that feeling well enough to redirect a conversation, then what path of dialogue is left to those who are in the room with me? the only way that they can disagree with me is to invalidate my feelings… it’s a conversation-stopper. and even when i feel like i want more honesty and transparency from others, my emotionality, as threatening as it is, might very well provoke the opposite response—passiveness and caution.

so here it is, perhaps the biggest lesson that i feel that God is pressing me to learn as i approach my milestone birthday. my feelings are my gift; but i must manage them wisely. i can apply my feelings to inspire others, but i can just as easily express them in a manner that threatens or violates others. i don’t need to stretch my imagination much to understand what this might look like. i work closely with a 4. it’s a thoroughly unpleasant experience for me.

in any case, i was trying to explain to my son how my recent insights have made me aware of how difficult of a presence i can be in his life. “it seems that when i’m in a good mood, i might be willing to pay attention to you,” i explained to him. “but because of what i am, i might not give you the attention you need when i’m in a bad mood—which is fairly often.” i grimaced in shame, and that’s when my son came over and gave me a hug.

“you’re the best 4 i know,” he said.


to think of it

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:49 am by Administrator

the “Quotable Osler’, signed by my residency director and the chair of Medicine, sports this winning quote from our regaled hero William Osler: “Mastery of self, devotion to duty, deep human interest in human beings—these best of all lessons you must learn now or never.”

i have never learned this. this “mastery of self”. this “devotion to duty”. what are these things? because i did not learn them now, i shall never learn them? but i’ve resigned myself to this. i might offer this counter-quote of pithy wisdom:

“Submission of self, to the quandary of responsibility, for the uncertitude and even plaguing doubt that resides in our humanity—these inevitable of all lessons you will learn sooner or later.”

today, i reflect on this thing: that there is a certain poetry about our incessant, complex, and nostalgic longing for home. the world is a bunch of futile, self-loving 3’s talking down to the 4’s, invariably dispossessed and wise. i do despise this world of progress-obsessed, self-loving frauds.

my art, to think of it, resides in this odd paradox. i ought to cherish the company of the likes of William Osler. instead, i find him to be as foolish as everyone else i have ever been instructed to admire. they all had one thing in common; they believed they had found it—a meaning of life worth imposing on others


4 versus 7, King David, and reading between the lines

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:36 pm by Administrator

during my week away, i thought a lot about why i misclassified myself within the enneagram system. here are the reasons i came up with:

1. a “sexual” 4w3 and a 7w8 are both strong, forceful personalities.
2. 4’s and 7’s both run from pain and desolation, though the natures of what they’re fleeing are actually distinct.
3. 4’s and 7’s both exhibit an outward restlessness and a common craving for the new.
4. 4’s and 7’s both move through relationships as they pursue their goals… the relationships themselves are not their goals.

i would summarize their differences as follows. while the 7 seeks freedom to pursue new experiences in order to remain interested in life, the 4 seeks the intensity of new relationships in order to remain interested in himself. the 7 craves stimulation; the 4 craves integration. the 7 fears boredom; and the 4 fears the destitution of his solitary, useless, and broken self.

4w3’s don’t like to admit that they are 4’s, because 4’s are well known for wallowing in depression, experiencing jealousy of others’ success, and being self-involved to the point of narcissism. 4w3’s more often like to think of themselves as forward-thinking, enterprising, and positive people (like 7’s). it’s a self-deception though, as 4’s are all too adept at deceiving themselves. there is a certain and profound inner darkness that every 4 must admit to in the end, that place of inner brokenness that utterly refuses to heal. it is a persistent vortex within them, continually threatening an implosion of identity, and all that keeps the 4 from getting sucked into that vortex is a connection with others—intense, absorbing, and profound connection. the tragedy for 4’s is that they are not designed to maintain these intense connections with other people. they are, in fact, designed to question, weary of, and ultimately sabotage those connections time and time again. 4’s are some of the unhappiest people in the world. and i am among them…

as troubling as it is to encounter my inherent design in this manner, my 3 wing compels me to understand the hopeful (and even transformative) trajectory i can have over the course of my life. and my model in this is King David, the quintessential 4 and not coincidentally the single most visible and dominant personality in the Bible.

it strikes me that the scriptural historian who wrote about David in the biblical chronicles knew very little about David the man. this is not altogether surprising, as the biblical writers did not seek to write a biographical text, nor did they have much interest or insight into human psychology. to the men who chronicled David’s life and deeds, he was a hero, albeit a flawed one. he was a passionate man, a man of blood, a man devoted unto the Lord. but i’d like to offer a different hypothesis about David, the turbulent man who authored the Psalms, who vengefully killed, who took for himself what belonged to others. David, like every 4, was a man driven by envy. he was a man who sought for his whole life to be a different kind of man; and he was a man who never stopped grieving what he was: depressed, alienated from others, and incapable of experiencing transcending peace. if he was a hero, he was a hero not for his great confidence and love for others but rather on account of his ability to express his passions in a manner that illuminated something far greater than himself.

young David’s inchoate envy was directed in a very specific way during his childhood. the anointing of the prophet Samuel must have been a profound experience for him, as he was led to believe that he might be king someday. even when the rest of his family undoubtedly came to forget or dismiss the experience, David internalized it; it became a fixation for him. and for David, the identity of a king came to be symbolized by the feats of kingly men. the deeds of Saul, for instance. but perhaps even more powerfully, the triumphs of the king’s son Jonathan. undoubtedly it was the story of Jonathan’s single-handed victory over dozens of Philistines that revealed to David his great potential as a warrior king. it is not surprising then that even as an untested young boy, David was more than willing to go against the Philistine warrior Goliath despite the odds. the 4 is nothing if not a romantic; the 4 seeks to be revealed in his coveted identity at all costs. and so David, emulating his role model and idealized archetype in Jonathan, went out against Goliath, convinced that fate would award him both victory and validation.

the intimate relationship that developed between David and Jonathan has been conjectured by some to have been a sexual relationship; but understanding David’s true nature makes this particular interpretation wholly unnecessary. a 4 creates profound relationships with those that he admires; he can manifest an almost worshipful adoration of a person that he idealizes. as Jonathan represented everything which David sought to become—royal, fearless, and esteemed—so did David devote himself to Jonathan as both friend and follower. the shadow of the 4’s intense focus on those he admires is his near dismissal (if not spite) for anyone that bores him. i am sure that King Saul saw David’s heart for what it was—enamored with Jonathan and dismissive (if not somewhat pitying) of Saul. the disregard of a 4 is a uniquely off-putting experience, particularly given the 4’s remarkably contrasting ability to idolize his heroes. when Saul threw his spear at David, his was a murderous passion for obvious reasons. when one is in relationship with a 4, one will either love him or hate him. as particular, self-involved, and intense as they are, 4’s leave no room for anything in between.

i’ve always found David’s tendency toward imprecation in the Psalms rather funny (if not inappropriate in a biblical sense), but truly one cannot underestimate the cathartic purpose of the Psalms. make no mistake: the Psalms were as much David’s effort to wrestle with the intensity of his own feelings as they were his endeavor to wrestle with the inscrutable purposes of God. David was a man constantly pressed to deal with the turbulent, melancholic, and intense world of his inner feelings. we hesitate to label the Psalms as histrionic, but i think it is useful to see them as such. he was an emotionally intense, openly communicative, and often histrionic man, given to public displays of emotion (i.e. dancing half-naked as the Ark was being carried into Jerusalem) and occasional and inexplicably cruel moments of vengeful violence (i.e. killing the messenger after hearing of Absalom’s death). when it suited him, he took what he wanted (Bathsheba) and silenced any who might protest (Uriah). in all the classic ways of the 4, David was a selfish and self-absorbed man, and his sins were sins of self-indulgence that caused immense suffering for the people he disregarded.

while many 4’s will not choose to lead, 4 leaders are frequently very distinct leaders in history. like King David, they have a unique ability to connect with the common man and inspire people to great feats, in the mold of the poet-king. other inglorious examples include Adolf Hitler and Napoleon Bonaparte.

as cruel and selfish as charismatic 4 leaders may prove to be, there is a quality about them that is uniquely virtuous. the 4 is uniquely capable of experiencing other people in the fullest possible manner. anyone who has been loved or known by a 4 can attest to this. the 4 fully attends to the object of his love. he is more emotionally intelligent and insightful than any other enneatype; he is more probing and empathetic than his peers. while a 2 (the “giver”) can appear devoted to others, the 4 exemplifies devotion of a vastly more profound variety. while a 5 may learn all the finer points of a person’s life, it is the 4 that synthesizes everything he observes so as to understand someone’s essence. it is this aspect of the 4—all-encompassing and profound devotion—that God so loved in his servant David. it was for this quality that God forgave David’s narcissism and self-indulgence, as egregious as these were.

i don’t mean to imply that the 4 is the true archetype of a spiritual leader in godly community. but i think it is important to highlight that for all of the 4’s very evident weaknesses (and they are rarely subtle), the 4’s strengths are salient strengths. they are qualities powerful enough and profound enough to shape the histories of peoples, and they are qualities that foster the creation of the very greatest of civilization’s art. it is no accident that the 4’s are so frequently artists. it is their transformative personal experience of everything sublime that enables them to create things of such remarkable beauty.

reading between the lines is so essential for me as i come to understand myself through the lives of my spiritual predecessors. though the scriptures do not make it explicitly clear, it seems evident to me that David was a man who had to experience God through the wisdom and words of others. the 4 is always full of his own voice, colored and influenced by his own feelings, thus hopelessly self-absorbed. though the 4 may strike others as mystical, the experience of God is actually impossible for a 4 outside of meaningful connections with others. the powerful delusions and self-deceptions inherent to his own turbulent subjectivities require that the 4 attend to truth as relayed by more reliable sources. it is instructive to see that David (at least in the manner he is described in the scriptures) never heard the voice of God directly. it was through the prophet Samuel that he received his calling to be king; it was through Jonathan that he heard of the threat posed by Saul; it was through the prophet Nathan that he experienced God’s righteous judgment after his acts of adultery and murder. as consuming as his devotion to the Lord was, David’s experience of God was distinctly indirect. he loved a god whom he could only experience through intermediaries.

as i’ve surveyed my life to understand what i am, i’ve blogged over the years about my need for steadying voices. i’ve even gone as far as to suggest that my purpose in life is to be the mouthpiece for better men. what i’ve intuitively understood, now confirmed through the lessons of King David’s life, is that i require the voices of others in my life in order to properly hear the voice of God. in fact, much of what i experience internally is not necessarily the voice of God but rather the meme that i instinctively ascribe to God, given the intensity of my craving for Him. the truth is that i am only as connected to God as i am to His people. and as much as the 4 cannot stand remaining in a community of “lesser men”, i must adhere to my people if i am to remain connected to God. and this too is something i have learned. He told me once that i will not experience blessing unless my people are blessed. and so i, like David, need my Samuel, my Jonathan, and my Nathan. apart from these people, i am lost, and i am destined to go my own way to certain destruction