Embracing My Inner Reformer

The Lord has led me into a new season and has begun a deeper work in me. He has placed me in a context which suits me. He has been clear on His call to this particular place at this particular time. Daily life is no longer such a battle and my sense of vocation is being affirmed by most. All of this has given me freedom from fear of local, daily external threat of abandonment and critique and given a capacity and strength to turn to the internal critique of my own broken psychology.

A few friends have asked me about the Enneagram recently, which, in the past, I have been apathetic about. I have been more suspicious of any personality testing before because of my deep concern of our increasingly individualised identity obsessed culture but I now can better distinguish between a cultural use of a tool and the tool itself. In the Myers-Briggs schema I generally fit into the INTJ type, which generally means I tend to build an internal world which I judge my external world by, I process conceptually first, I value thought and reason above feelings and I seek out workable outcomes and results rather than leave stuff in indecision. I approach this ‘insight’ not as an identity marker but as a pattern of behaviour that I revert to. I try to maintain an openness to it in order that it does not act as a justification for harmful (re)actions in daily life. As usual I want to remain aware of my freedom of choice in it so I don’t enslave myself to the comforting lie of ‘destiny’/’Fate’!

As part of my move into this new season I have, due to geographical circumstance, had to change my Spiritual Accompanier. My previous Spiritual Accompanier I met with for five years and we built up a good relationship which helped me immensely to traverse the season I was in at the time. He was a mentor, who shared a lot of similar experiences to me, e.g. caring for a spouse who struggled with physical pain and restriction, being ordained, having some ‘monastic’ vocation. Our relationship was that of an elder sharing their experience and knowledge as way of guiding a younger through well walked territories avoiding pitfalls and preventable pain. Primarily, though, he was able to affirm me and counteract my internal critic who, at the time was being bolstered by perceived multiple external critics. I needed, in that season, someone I trusted and who knew me and my context to challenge the lies I told myself and my internal distortion of external criticism. my Spiritual Accompanier, therefore, never felt he needed to give me ‘work’ to do because he knew that I already demanded so much ‘work’ myself. He just needed to allow me to be and to externally process my internal battles and to shine a light on it and to send me home having released the ‘demons’ and blessed me.

As I said, since moving contexts and the Lord leading me into a new season, I have been forced (by my geographical circumstance) to change my Spiritual Accompanier and opted to be open and obedient to a Diocesan process of matching. My new Spiritual Accompanier is very different to me, holds very different views to me on many issues but we share enough interests (poetry and monastic spirituality amongst other things) that we can begin conversation. My new Spiritual Accompanier is a teacher on the Enneagram; a fact that, when I first learnt of it, I had a strange internal baulk at. I took note of that response and investigated further.

When friends began asking about the Enneagram and then others asking me about my approach to Spiritual Accompaniment I felt God was trying to lead me to spend my time with my new Spiritual Accompanier to use the Enneagram as a tool to begin to acknowledge some reality to response to the world around me.

I have said before that I have a reoccurring dream that wakes me feeling rigid with frustration, anger and anxiety. In this dream I find myself in a situation where I am being asked to speak to or lead/manage a group of people but no one will listen to my instructions. No matter how much a shout and scream no words come out of my mouth. This fear transforms, very quickly into violence as I battle to take control and stop the chaos. My need to impose some order is met with no change to the situation. I start to shake people who refuse to do what I want. I feel impotent and unable to make an impact on my environment and this expresses itself in a deep anger. It often climaxes on me biting or punching particular people who, in my mind, I see as personifying a lifestyle of carefree, consequence free selfishness who refuse to behave in a way I see as helpful. These people are people from my real life who I hold great frustration that they don’t play by the rules and don’t care about what other’s think. They are people who I now hold as totem for unbridled chaos!

For those of you who know something of the Enneagram, you will already be beginning to see which ‘type” a tend to exist within; Type 1.

If you click on this link you will find a general picture of Type 1s.

I brought this ‘insight’ to my Spiritual Accompanier along with my reoccurring dream and asked him, with his understanding of the theories behind the Enneagram to unpack what might be going on for me. This ‘insight’ does suggest some understandable reasons why I see the world in the way I do and why I respond to certain things so strongly and destructively. It explains my struggles and what makes me stressed/anxious and it certainly explains this vivid dream I continually have.

Each ‘type’, so Christian practitioners of the Enneagram suggest, have an innate truth about the world that is their gift to others. With the Fall and sin this truth has been distorted and now manifests in a twisted version of it. For Type 1s this truth is that God created the world and it was good. The Fall/sin has distorted this gift by persuading Type 1s that it was good but it no longer is and they are being asked to return it to perfection. This gives them a profound drive to perfection and improvement and is why they are characterised as ‘reformers’. This deeply held conviction that it is their job to fix the world and create systems that will lead people to perfection means that they can easily become hyper-judgemental on themselves primarily and then on others around them. They are naturally seeking out the broken parts of the system of the world and tinkering with them.

Type 1s have high sensitivity to right and wrong. They are hungry to know what is good and what is bad. This means that Type 1s struggle with postmodern thought which states that there is no universal system to judge right and wrong. That, in its extreme articulation, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and it is wrong to judge so. It is this reason which opened my eyes to why I feel so out of place in postmodern liberalism. I have been wired, through experience and circumstance to crave order and clear rules. As these rules are questioned and put in flux I get severely anxious and my response is to push harder to return to structure and order. I become more judgemental and my inner critic goes into overdrive causing me deep and painful tension and causing physiological symptoms such as I.B.S., headaches, panic attacks, etc. It is why I get so deeply frustrated and anxious with ignorance, particularly in people of power. It is why I see something of myself in the Mitchell and Webb’s ‘bad vicar’ (click here to watch.)

So where is the hope?

The Enneagram also reveals how ‘types’ ‘disintergrate’ (respond to stress) and ‘integrate’ (grow). Type 1s disintegrate into introspection and anxiety, they become moody and self detructive and finally aggressively dogmatic and angry. When they are encouraged to integrate, however, they can become spontaneous and creative high achievers. As I reflected on this I suddenly realised the reason why I respond so strongly to the fabled Pablo Picasso’s quote,

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist. (citation not found)

When Type 1s feel free to grow, they can move from being systematic learners and judgers to being creative reformers. It is Type 1s, when they are integrating healthily, that can do the work of genuine ‘social improvement’; they creatively and systematically review the structures and legislation, deeply understand how things work and why and then innovate by reformation rather than revolution. Type 1s struggle with ‘revolution’ because they perceive revolutionaries as being too driven by fallible feelings which are too subjective. Revolutionaries reject the rules thus creating chaos in the world of Type 1s. Type 1s agree with the assertion of Jean-Francois Lyotard that,

if there are no rules, there is no game. (Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge (Minnesota, The University of Minnesota Press, 1984) p.10)

They reason why Type 1s feel they can change the rules is because they have learnt them to tested them like an expert and can then, without lived insight make specific changes. I am deeply troubled when rules are changed by people who have not learnt how and why the rules were there in the first place. It is blind folly, in my mind, to change things on knee jerk response rather than properly testing and exploring the brokenness in a system.

I have spoken before about a profound moment in my life at Soul Survivor camp listening to Mark Russell speak on bringing change in the Church. He asked whether some of us are called to top down change (reformation) whilst others are called to bottom up (revolution). At that moment I seemed to feel a physical finger poke me in the shoulder. I was being called to sit on committees, boards and governing bodies to do the slow, careful and deliberate work of reformation not ‘reckless’ reactive revolution!

I have, as we approach the 500th anniversary of the protestant Reformation, been reflecting deeply on the person of Martin Luther. I connect deeply with him (he too can be seen as a Type 1 INTJ!) particularly with his motivation and then with his personal, inner struggles. Luther deeply desired unity and was moved profoundly when people took his thoughts and ideas and used them to enact violent revolution. His heart desired a correction of damaging ideology that had distorted the Christian faith and experienced deep tearing within him as he was judged as wrong despite his conviction of ‘rightness’. He could not match up his internal conviction with the external world and this was the source of great anxiety.

As I begin this journey in this new season I am learning to better acknowledge the distortions of the person that God desires me to be but not in undue judgement but safe in the knowledge that God alone can transform me to perfection. He requires only that I stay still and allow Him to do His work in me and the world he loves. There will be times when He will call on me to work with Him in the reformation of His creation but I must be wise to ensure it is His voice I’m following and not my twisted internal drivers.

I have also been encouraged by my new Spiritual Accompanier to embrace my spontaneous, poetic, fun and creative side… so I’m going to go and play lots of games and perform some improvised comedy (safe within the rules!)