What’s In A Number, Anyway?

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“Ohmygosh what number on the Enneagram are you?”

One of my dear friends was messaging me; her ears were burning after listening to one of the hip, podcasts-of-the-moment where the hosts had introduced the concept of “Enneagram,” a really, really ancient way of understanding our personalities and tendencies.

She was illuminated and enlightened (understandably so), and now she was curious to know where I fell on the 9-number “wheel” of the scheme.

“I bet you’re a FIVE,” she declared.

Fortunately, since the enneagram seems to be hot stuff right now, a guy named Ian Morgan Crone had recently written a book that addresses it, and very helpfully developed an online test to recommend a number for everyone. So I went and took the test, and shared my results with her.

I was just getting ready for my annual silence and solitude retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit outside of Atlanta, so on the spur of the moment, I threw my copy of The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective (by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert) in my bag, thinking, “Maybe I’ll skim this while I’m away.” I’d read probably 60% of the book 2-3 years ago, and while I found it interesting, I got bogged down in the descriptions of each number, and eventually abandoned the book.

After I’d arrived and got settled in at the monastery, I still had a couple hours before Vespers (think, “dinner time prayer”), so I decided to sit down on a patio and do some reading and journaling. Call it intuition or the Holy Spirit, either way I picked up the Rohr book and started reading. I wanted to revisit the history and context of the enneagram before I reviewed my results, so I actually went back to the beginning and started reading.

Before I got to the descriptions, Rohr took me back (as he so often does) with this statement:

“In recent years a series of questionnaires has been drawn up so that people can discover to which Enneagram pattern they belong. Nevertheless, we recommend that readers take another approach first: *it makes sense to begin by reading through all nine descriptions. To some it will immediately be clear where they are ‘at home.’ … A good criteria is the following: if in reading the description of a type I get uneasy or am even humiliated, it could be that I’m on home ground.”

<sigh>

So, even though I had my pattern “in hand”, Rohr recommends that I read the whole book and come to conclusions more “organically.” (Part of this is because, according to the authors, the Enneagram is historically related to the seven capital, or “deadly” sins, so rather than *celebrate* my particular pattern, we are on more solid ground when we soberly look at the brokenness of each particular type first.)

So that’s what I did. The good news is that the type that I was drawn to actually reinforced the online questionnaire that I’d taken.

I was a “Nine”. 

Now, this actually shocked my friend because she was convinced that I was a “Five” (go and look these up for yourself if you’d like), but as I read the descriptions I knew without a doubt that I lacked the intellectual detachment that Fives had. I was a visceral, gut reactor to life (not always for the best), and could only detach myself through discipline and prayer.

But that was just the good news; there was some challenging information as well.

According to Rohr, while Nines are peacemakers and good at accepting other people, we (read: “I”) suffer from some critical deficiencies, or brokenness: we lack courage, we lack focus, we prefer the path of least resistance, it takes a long time for us to identify and name (and therefore own) our feelings, we withdraw.

Am I feeling good about myself yet?

What may have hit me the most was that Nines also have a tendency to be lazy and to avoid conflict.

Without going into too much of the detail, let’s just say that (a) I completely identify with these tendencies, (b) they are actually humiliating.

I’ve taken so many personality profiles: I’m mostly an INFP, my strengths are Contextualization, Indvididualization, Intellection, etc., etc.

This seemed somehow different; it hit me harder, where I’ve been “living” for a few years now.

For instance, because of my natural curiosity, I am fairly persistent about sniffing out the “next thing” theologically and/or spiritually (note: a lot of this is also driven by very personal needs and spiritual ambitions).

To be blunt, I’m typically pretty far ahead of the curve when it comes to spiritual trends, whether it’s liturgy, spiritual disciplines, or mindfulness…

… BUT NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT IT. 

My laziness, apathy, cynicism (“nobody will read this anyway”) and introverted nature all combine to make a stew and a gumbo that produces… at times very little.

Meanwhile, I watch people—some of them my friends—who are decidedly NOT NINES (LOL) write, publish, and broadcast much of the same information that I’d processed sometimes years before. I sit and I watch/listen/read, thinking… “Wow… uh. This is actually old news to me. If someone would just ask me, I could have told everybody this stuff two years ago…”

(typical NINE stuff…)

By the way, honest: This is not about how great I am, or how smart I am.

It’s actually kind of humiliating, and I’m also just trying to be honest.

Part of my spiritual journey means that I’m trying to work on accepting myself, in all my glorious limitations and strengths. Also, let me be clear, when Rohr also writes that “in a certain way NINE represents the original and unspoiled human essence,” I have to acknowledge that it’s not all bad to, well, be me.

But since the Enneagram is related to my brokenness, I need to acknowledge that there are still issues I need to work through. I need to get better at productive, redemptive conflict. I need to learn to give to the world what God is giving me. I need to steward my journey, both for myself and for the world.

It’s about giving, not promoting.

As I was thinking about writing this, I was thinking about some of the most powerful words that people can speak about me. My spirit rises within me (even at 48) when I hear people say about me, “Oh man, you really need to meet Eric Case; if you’re interested in (Subject X), he’s someone you have to know.”

Vanity, I know.

So there you go: I’m a NINE. Prone to laziness, conflict avoidance, and cynicism.

But if you’re exploring spirituality, productivity, creativity, or even the Enneagram, I’ve probably been there, and I *do* want to help.

 

Links:

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert on Amazon.com

The Monastery of the Holy Spirit

Enneagram Test (related to Ian Morgan Crone’s book The Road Back to You)

Blogs related to my monastery trip.

 

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Why I Might Not Attend “The Biggest Tour of the Summer”

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Surely this is the big one.

(Always interesting when a music tour is announced in Forbes.)

Many of my friends already have their tickets, and I’m excited for them.

However, I’m pretty reticent about going, and mostly because (ironically enough) of the very words Mr. Bono wrote on a song that came out soon after the Joshua Tree. 

They went something like this:

“I don’t believe in the 60s // the golden age of pop
You glorify the past // when the future dries up
– “God Pt 2” from Rattle and Hum

I loved that sentiment, and the fierce, forward-looking creativity it represented. Achtung Baby came from that attitude, and so did Zoo TV, Zooropa, and even Pop and All That You Can’t Leave Behind. 

Somewhere along the way, however, endorsements started, and tours started to resemble product placements for Motorola and Apple. It was all tolerable and even understandable as long as the music was still reaching for something: something spiritual, as well as musical.

However, I feel like the boys from Dublin have wondered as of late. Songs of Innocence is the only U2 record I’ve ever listened to once and deemed it irrelevant and unnecessary for even a second listen. Lately, I’ve preferred the urgency of October or the explorations of The Unforgettable Fire and No Line on the Horizon.

I get it: I’m just a dude. Just a fan. Nobody cares what I think.

That being said, I don’t want to see my heroes do a 30th anniversary tour for a record that changed music (and life?) for me in a dozen different ways.

Even the Stones didn’t go out and play Exile on Main Street.

(I’ll give you The Who and Tommy.)

Will they just play the record and some other “greatest hits”?

Will they add in some demos and obscure “B Sides”?

(“Everlasting Love” is pure, ecstatic gold.)

I don’t know. What I really want, more than anything, is new, vital music from 4 guys that have carried the torch for so many.

And buried in that is another question: can/would music superstars ever trade tour/financial success for artistic exploration? How about making the music, the merchandising, the shows smaller for once?

How about an unexpected release with no fan fare? Didn’t Beyoncé just try that and hit it out of the park?

I am waiting in the wings for my heroes to drink deeply from the future, to be watered by the wells of artistic freedom.

And who knows? Maybe we’ll all be surprised before the kickoff in the spring?

I can only hope.

 

I Sit

I sit.

It is cold.

I sit.

It is cold and dark.

I sit;

it is cold and dark and quiet.

I pick up two “devotional” books, little nuggets of thoughts to “prime the pump.” Reading the daily thoughts would take about 45 seconds (a bit more, if I’m really tired, for re-reading). Living out the thoughts there would take a lifetime.

But that’s what I’m here for.

I put the two books aside, and take a sip of the still-too-hot coffee.

I check my phone timer, and set it to 20 minutes.

A deep breath, a whispered prayer:

“God, I am here, speak to me.”

Then a slow descent into the silence.

My first thoughts are slowly nudged away, using the imagery of a slow lazy river. I know that if I allow them to drift away, they will leave me. More will follow them, but they, too, will leave if I just release, surrender them to the flow of the river.

My mind is active—I have still-officially-undiagnosed ADD—but I slowly and gently introduce the word that I use to signify my intention and willingness to both myself and to God.

“Grace.”

This gentle back and forth will continue for the next 18 minutes or so: my mind will drift, and I will gently nudge it back by a combination of my will and a surrender to God’s work and presence.

I continue to sit.

Thoughts come: some of them “To Do” items that will wait.

I release them.

Thoughts come: amazing ministry ideas, an angle on a conversation I need to have.

I release them too. I trust that they will either be there waiting for me when the time is over, or that they were not important enough for me to retain in the first place.

Either way, there will be time for them later.

“Grace”.

Redirect my mind back.

I sit.

I wonder how much time have I been sitting?

Out of weakness and a deeply ingrained humanity, I steal a peak at my timer.

I sit some more.

The darkness is spacious, inviting, and eternal.

(Much like God.)

I sink deeper and deeper into this place that requires nothing of me but to be still, to simply, well, be. 

I sit some  more.

Occasionally, I touch something, something that is way beyond my human experience, a wonder and a peace and a grace that is simply overwhelming; it’s amazing how uncomfortable it can be to truly confront the wonder.

I’m thankful that God makes allowances for my human limitations.

But even those transcendent experiences need to be released; I am after something different here. I am after the deep mystery and darkness of God, and so I trade the known for the unknown, the trumpet for the silence, the sight for the blindness.

In other words, I’m seeking pure faith. 

I sit.

The timer goes off on my phone.

(Blessedly).

Who knew 20 minutes could feel so long?

Regardless of my experience in prayer, I thank God. This is an important discipline for me, because one of the central truths of my humanity is that I cannot wholly trust my human experience to evaluate and determine the spiritual “success” of an activity. I simply have no way of knowing what God has truly done in my life; I only trust that He is working.

“Trust in the slow work of God,” indeed.

I rise.

A Message From the Middle

I feel like I’m in the middle.

It’s not the most comfortable place to be.

I feel like I’m in the middle, looking at two sometimes divergent groups, and there’s something I want to say to both of them.

I’ve worked at churches now for about 20 years. I’ve written about it here, but I’ve worked at mega churches and church plants. I’ve worked for “post modern” ministries and for charismatic worship conferences.

I’ve surely not seen everything there is out there to see, but I’ve seen a lot.

All along, I’ve also been “out there”, in the world. I’ve played countless gigs in countless bands in countless bars. I’ve played for weddings, on cruise ships, and on tours.

I’ve tried to think deeply about the world, and tried to follow Christ through the ins and outs and ups and downs of my life.

Over the past few years, I’ve been observing something curious about my world of “ministry” and following Jesus. Basically, it seems as if there are two rising “camps” in regards to spirituality. On the one hand, I increasingly see people who have big hearts and great intentions to reach the world and to show them the love and heart of Jesus. These people are musicians, writers, teachers, and so on. All walks of life.

And on the other hand, there is the church, in particular the pastors and clergy. Good men and women who have spent years and thousands and thousands of dollars to be trained for ministry: to learn how to handle Biblical texts and human lives with (hopefully) equal dexterity and care, as well as to learn how run a sometimes highly complex organization and to lead staffs as best they can.

I’m worried about a gulf that might be growing up between them.

Broadly put, sometimes it can appear as if this new wave of evangelists do not want to be “encumbered” with concepts like long-term community, or church membership, or tithing to a ministry, or even to a sense of orthodoxy.

On the other hand, it can sometimes appear as if the vocational clergy are too concerned with exclusivity, a spirituality that looks more like good USAmerican business practice than it does the fluid faith of Jesus, and keeping things neat and tidy.

I’d like to write a little message to both of you.

TO MY FELLOW CLERGY:

As much as it may hurt to even acknowledge this, we need these men and women who are ruffling our feathers. They are doing good work, seeking to invite outsiders to the party that God is throwing. For better or for worse, it seems as if we don’t have the trust we once had, and now our “Good News” pronouncements are falling mostly on deaf ears.

(Truth be told, it’s mostly our own doing: years and years of assuming a privileged place in society, allying ourselves to deeply with the values of Empire, and spending too much time preaching against things rather than for them have created a pretty toxic bed in which we lie in. The result is that people no longer trust our Good News… it’s sounded so much like Bad News for so long that the people who need to hear it most are most resistant to it.)

So these men and women—unencumbered by the baggage of a church paycheck or an intimidating title—are out cultivating Good News (“Gospel”) seeds in bars and bookstores, ultimate frisbee fields and cooking schools, in poetry and music. The are doing the work that Jesus called his disciples (and therefore US) to in Mark 6: to go out and preach and heal.

It’s sad but true, but people are no longer automatically seeking to darken our doors in order to seek the healing that they so desperately need, so it’s up to these pioneers, entrepreneurs and artists to go out and find these people where they are at and invite them to the feast.

It’s Jesus work, through and through, even though it may look different than what we have been trained to recognize and appreciate. We cannot measure it easily, and they talk about things like art, quantum physics, culture and economics as much as they talk about faith (though any of those fields are not nearly as walled off from spirituality as you might think).

Simply put, they are reaching people that we can’t reach… or really won’t reach… or have given up on trying to reach.

It’s easy to write them off as rebels, or as taking the “easy way out”, but we need to be there for them, because they will need us. First of all, the work they do is difficult: they are interacting sometimes with levels of pain that we don’t see, because many people still try to sanitize their pain for the church. They are also traveling, out there without a net, and making it up as they go along, sometimes without healthcare or a steady paycheck (much less a pension).

Nevertheless, even when they don’t always recognize it, they need us in their corner. At our best, we are repositories of centuries of received wisdom and theology and “God-talk.” We can be deep wells for them: not just of knowledge and wisdom, but of comfort and healing and conversation.

TO THE NEW EVANGELISTS…

Or “renegades”, or entrepreneurs, or simply authors, musicians, and speakers…

You need us.

I know you don’t always like us, or appreciate the work that we do. I know it seems as if we are more into building stable kingdoms of church membership and worship spaces and rules, but we are doing our best to live out our call to be consistent and reliable places for the People of God to meet with each other and with the Father.

An overwhelming majority of us believe desperately in what we do, and so very much want to make a difference in the world in which we live. We wake up and go to work—often not paid all that well—and try to balance the needs of an organization with the needs of an organism, and it’s not very easy to do that.

But we do our best.

We do our best to balance bureaucracy and beauty, ministry and “paying the bills.”

The truth is, we partly envy your work: the ability to create and to interact with people who have shown up to hear you speak, or play, or buy your book. Intentionally or not, we have engaged in a life of stability of place, of “rootedness,” of dealing with the same people with the same problems in the same place over a long period of time.

It’s, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “A long obedience in the same direction.”

But we have things to offer you.

You see, most of us have studied. A lot. We have (hopefully) learned to handle the Bible, our Book, responsibly, and we have also hopefully learned to discern the ways of God in the world.

This is important because—and I know you won’t like to hear this—most of the time songwriters are not theologians. Poets are not scholars.

Some of us are those things, and we can help.

I think N.T. Wright said something about how artists create awareness of spiritual needs and hunger. They help people identify their desire.

Art isn’t always called to tie things up in a bow. You can’t always solve peoples’ problems in a 90 minute seminar, and while theology shouldn’t necessarily (ever?) tie things up in a bow either, we vocational pastors and “church people”, can be there for the long haul, guiding the hurting into little house churches or small groups where they can unburden their lives (and share other peoples’ burdens as well).

We can help massage points or concepts as well, and drive others deeper.

We can be resources for you, both in your messages and in your ministry.
I have been in both of these places. I have sung the Gospel in bars, and I’ve pronounced it from a platform on Sunday morning. The best theology isn’t always found in song lyrics or a painting, but it’s also not always found on Sunday mornings.

We need each other.

Let’s talk.

Born at the Right Time

Almost every morning, I wake up hearing music.

Not from an iPhone or an alarm clock, but in my head. I’m sure that this isn’t rare, so surely someone out there knows exactly what I’m talking about: as I begin to stir and feel the pull towards the time to wake up, the strains of a song, or sometimes just a part of a song, begins to cycle in my head, over and over again. In addition, I suspect because I spent so many years of my life as an active musician, these songs aren’t just background music to my yawns and stretches and the daily battle to get up and get going. Nope, not at all. These songs take center stage; they play in the center of my mind, edging everything else out as I greet the day.

It’s entertaining, occasionally, to try and figure out why a particular song comes to me: sometimes it’s more obvious, like when I’ve been listening to something in particular, or when I was anticipating listening (or playing) to an artist or song that day. Those are the easy ones.

Other times, however, the songs are obviously coming from a deeper place, messages from the deeper levels of my soul and consciousness. They may trigger an unresolved conflict, or be a vehicle to express joy and contentment (something with which I’m still struggling).

So this morning, I woke up to the sound of “Born at the Right Time,” which is the 7th track off of his Rhythm of the Saints record (released after Graceland). 

This morning, I also woke up to my 48th birthday.

As I “treated myself” to a four-mile run, I let the record play in the background (it’s really amazing, and I actually prefer it to Graceland, but that’s another story), and tried to figure out what the universe may have been trying to tell me this morning.

Now (a) I can’t pretend to know exactly what the lyric is about, and (b) I can’t pretend to completely understand the depths of my soul, but here’s what came to me…

“Ever been lonely, ever been lied to?
Ever had to scuffle in fear, nothing denied to?
Born at the instant the church bells chimed,
The whold world whispering, ‘Born at the right time…'”

For some of us, the older we get, the easier it is for us to see our brokenness and cracks and failures. Sometimes, it’s also easier for us to see how the world has contributed to that brokenness. Some of us were loved badly; some of us weren’t loved at all. Some of us should have been protected and sheltered at a young age from the darkness of the world. When we become aware of these injuries, great or small, it’s tempting to overly focus on what was done to us, or what was lacking in our past. This is a healthy part of growing and maturing, but this isn’t where the process ends… 

I have come to believe that the point of life is to come to terms with our past, however painful it may be, and then to learn from it. (Easier said sometimes than done, I know.) A huge part of my own life has been a journey to stop pointing the finger at my past to justify “why Eric is the way he is,” and start to focus on just what Eric can learn from it. In this way, I know that what I am called to is to accept my past and my existence and the whole of my journey and to bring it into the protective umbrella of grace and trust that God can teach me something from it, however rough or even malignant it can appear.

Anger, resentment, and even sadness and mourning can only carry me so far in my journey. Eventually, I know that the universe is calling me to declare that there were no “accidents”—though there may have been some bad or ill-equipped people—and accept that the past cannot be changed, only learned from. I cannot go back, I only have this moment, this day, this time to throw myself into the arms of grace and “present-risenness” to say, “I am here, and I am living in hope.”

My life is not a mistake, and everything can be redeemed. There is nothing that the Light cannot penetrate and heal and redeem. I was not born at an inopportune time; my life is happening now, which means there is always hope to grow and change and lean into the Universe that is here, right now.

Yep: forty-eight years ago I was born at the right time, and everything that happened since then, both good and bad, is my teacher, to help me be available to this time today.

Here’s the track:

And this time, live (with shoulder pads):

 

+e

 

The Hard Edge of Grace

Grace makes me uncomfortable sometimes.

There, I said it.

Rare coming from a “believer,” rarer still coming from a pastor.

But when I really boil it down to the essentials, grace hits me hard, and challenges me.

Obviously, I don’t mind grace at all when I need it, when I call out to God and acknowledge my brokenness and shortcomings to Him or to other people. At that point, I’m truly grateful for free forgiveness.

But when I think about the ramifications of a truly loving, forgiving God, of what grace truly IS, it hits me hard, basically because it makes me think of those people that I tend to judge, those people that I try to “cut off” from grace.

It’s one thing when all the “good people” (and believe I know: who is really “good”, after all) get grace, but as my 12-step sponsor likes to remind me, “either it’s grace or it’s not,” and if it IS grace, then that means an awful lot of people get grace that simply don’t fit into my “good” category. These are the people that *I* like to judge, the people who aren’t spiritually curious, who are content in their anger and apathy, who are consumed by revenge and who would choose to remain small-minded and fearful about the universe.

Even they get grace.

It’s similar to the old adage, “Justice or mercy? Mercy for myself, justice for everyone else.”

My own mind doesn’t like that. I’d much prefer a hoop to jump through, or some kind of judgment first.

But then that’s not “grace” is it?

Grace is free. FREE. And WE don’t get to determine who gets it, and frankly the more I learn about this God in whom I live and move and have my being, the more I learn that He tends to be a lavish giver, and He will not be restrained.

I actually think He’s harder to avoid and reject than to discover. He’s sort of relentless that way.

I think when I see the Kingdom fully-realized, there will be so many there… Not just the drug dealers and gay people and transsexuals and church people, but also people from the right and the left, people who have THOSE bumper stickers… The list goes on and on.

Why?

Because GRACE, that’s why.

Morning.

I woke up this morning at… well, 3:15.

I tried to go back to sleep, but by 3:45, I realized it was pointless, and I went ahead and woke up. One of my mentors has always maintained that we should assume that when we wake up, God wants us awake and we should respond accordingly.

They probably never saw me as a teenager when my parents tried to wake me up.

God may have wanted me awake, but that didn’t necessarily mean I had to be thrilled about it.

MOST of the time, in fact, I am able to stave off God, and you know what? He actually respects that. It’s as if He’s like a child: He pokes and prods me like a 5 year old on Christmas morning. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon get up, it’s happening! It’s here!” Except “It” is simply just another day, and not the once-a-year mad festival of gifts.

But the metaphor breaks down, because for me most of the time if I simply ignore him once or twice, he leaves me alone and I go back to sleep. If he was truly a child he’d bug me unceasingly until I woke up and got the coffee brewing. But as a spiritual master once said, “God is a perfect gentleman,” and so when he occasionally whispers, “Psssst. Hey: why don’t you wake up? I have some amazing things to talk to you about!” And I respond with disinterested grunts, and then roll over to squeeze another 45 minutes of time out of my night, he actually says (with really no disappointment, but with an amazing, unending disinterested love, “Okay… Maybe next time!”

That’s pretty much God. Always there. Always wanting to meet with me. Always willing. Never disappointed. Never shaming. Never quilting.

Just wants to know that he wants to meet with me. Pretty much any old time.

And then again, that’s pretty much me. Frumpy. Slightly lazy. REALLY, REALLY into what I’m doing at the moment, rather than looking up from my work (or my pillow) to see this bright-eyed child who just wants to sit with me, who really just wants me to know that, “Hey, I love you.”