Tag Archives: Theory

7 – 3 – 1: My Journey Through the Enneagram

 “One of the great dangers of transformational work is that the ego attempts to sidestep deep psychological work by leaping into the transcendent too soon. This is because the ego always fancies itself much more ‘advanced’ than it actually is.”

The quote above has become one of the defining quotes of my year. To me, it means it’s not enough to talk about practices for healthy life, you have to be willing to submit yourself to a process. You actually have to do the work.

This idea comes from a book about a system of personality types that has, in some ways, become my current practice of self-knowledge and discovery. For those of you who may be worried, it’s more psychological work than spiritual practice. The Enneagram has in no way usurped my Christian faith, but, to the contrary, has led me to a deeper understanding of my personal brand of depravity (in other words, how I personally manifest brokenness) and given me a vocabulary for understanding myself and my behavior. Also, when I talk about the Enneagram, it is through the lens of one book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram. To my knowledge, it’s the most thorough one of its kind.

I almost can’t imagine my life before the Enneagram, the book, and the quote.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Enneagram, it is a vastly complex system for understanding different personalities. Unlike the Myers-Briggs and others, it does not prescribe static labels or obscure beaver-otter-retriever metaphors. It contains nine personality types that have somewhat recently been placed on the ancient nine-point symbol of the Enneagram.

Beyond the nine main types, each type has “wing” personality types of the immediate numbers (e.g. “9 with a 1 or 8 wing”) which does not define their dominant motivators, but is still highly influential in their way of life. Furthermore, each personality type assumes the negative or positive qualities of another personality type when the person is unhealthy or healthy respectively. Thus, a domineering eight becomes more helpful like a two when healthy and more controlling and secretive like a five when unhealthy. So there are nine types, 18 sub-types, and the ability to “catch” you at any stage of development along the way to maturity.

Now, take a deep breath.

When I first learned about the Enneagram I was surrounded by two good friends who also happen to identify as sevens. That’s me! I thought, as one friend read the description of the “busy, fun-loving” personality type I so longed to embody. This seemed to explain why I was always distracting myself by looking for cool articles about my passions, stop motion videos and infographics on the internet and sharing them with my friends. I’m just a scattered seven, afraid of my past and searching for newer, more exciting experiences to assuage my pain.

But then people were like, hold up. I sort of act like my friends that are sevens in social settings, but there are some aspects of my life that don’t match up: My car is organized and vacuumed, I have a LinkedIn, and I talk about adventures way more than I actually go on them. And then it all made sense, you’re a three! With a two wing! You’re “the charmer,” always looking for another way to help someone and improve your image. And at the time this seemed to really fit.

As I started to look at my life, I became painfully aware of the fact that I have spent countless hours crafting an image for myself whether on social network sites, through this blog and in my personal relationships with others. I hated myself because I began to perceive all my pursuits (my hobbies and jobs) as mere image maintenance for my troubled ego. I started beating myself up for caring so much about what other people thought about me and this made me care even more about what other people thought than I had before. All about image and success? I wondered to myself if all my work were just to create a name and a desirable image as the three is prone to do.

Then all the sudden I had this realization: Work? Beating myself up? Passions? None of these tendencies fit either of the two personalities that I had previously considered for myself. Sevens are way too carefree to think that what they’re doing is work (“life’s an adventure!”) and threes are too busy fitting in and receiving awards (of the traditional sort) to really beat themselves up for failing to meet personal standards. Besides, if my desire were to have a good image, I wouldn’t type blog posts longer than 1400 words!

At long last, after about eight months of wrestling with this whole Enneagram idea, I found a personality type that describes me so well it hurts: I am a one.

My girlfriend (also, almost definitely a one) and I laughed our way through the entire section on this type, its tendencies, and our own stories from the past. We would read the first sentence of a paragraph, have an entire conversation, then realize that our conversation was almost identical to the rest of the paragraph we were on. The one is the personality that is essentially trying to prove its worth, its reason for existing. One’s are also impatient, think they know the right way things should be done, and, when healthy, champion reform throughout society.

Who would have guessed it? Probably all of my friends, family, and acquaintances. It’s so obvious now looking back on my time in college. If I wasn’t ranting about the administration I was organizing to get sidewalks built or developing plans for the student composting system. Always. Always. Always looking at what could be fixed/changed rather than what was going well. I also realized that I was sometimes so perfectionistic in my work that if I couldn’t do it perfectly, I would give up and do it poorly last minute. Then, I would beat myself up for not living up to my expectations of myself and fall into an emotional tailspin (ones move to fours under stress) and feel like I had lost myself entirely.

Conversely, some of the most difficult moments of growth in my life continue to be the times when I realize I am impatient with someone else’s way of doing things. I also realize now that my personality is to feel self-righteous and to orient myself away from other people in an attempt to feel personally just and good. That is, after all, what my personality is striving to be: good. But since no human can reach their personal standards of perfection, as I gradually mature I find more value in other people’s standards and processes while also transitioning from judgement to discernment. Rather than rely on a good-bad dichotomy to deceive my guilty ego, I develop more internal self-confidence and open myself up to more external disorder. I learn to embrace the grey of life.

Why have I put myself through this process? Because the Enneagram has forced me to examine my behaviors, thoughts and instincts in way that I would have never done otherwise. Furthermore, what I have learned has also been supported by other books I’m reading, most specifically Integrity by Henry Cloud and The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. One of Cloud’s quotes in particular seemed to encapsulate this realization:

“This process is called assimilation and accommodation. Which means someone has graduated past childhood levels of information processing and can adapt to reality and make external reality their own. I will repeat that for emphasis: it is the ability to make external reality one’s own reality.”

This sort of maturity does not come easily. We all have delusions, but it is knowing our delusions that will allow us to operate in the complex world effectively and honestly. Also, it is only “deep psychological work” that will force us to remember the parts of our lives that we desire to forget (our weakness and shortcoming) and integrate these into our more realistic and honest identity.

Thanks for making it to the end! You deserve a prize. And that prize should be a copy of the Enneagram book … and friends to share the journey.

As always, and most definitely, more to come.

Opening quote: Don Riso and Russ Hudson. The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 10.
Second quote: Dallas Willard. Integrity, 135.

From Drinking Songs to Pet Theories

I recently felt convicted on behalf of the individualistic, intellectual, global community. Didn’t we used to sing drinking songs together? It seems like these days we spend our time talking and debating rather than getting lost in something greater … something that unites.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between beer and coffee. In 2010, Stephen Johnson gave a TED talk titled, “Where good ideas come from.” I highly recommend it. In his presentation, he argues that the advent of the English coffeehouse played a significant role in the development of ideas during the English enlightenment. With the coffee house, Johnson states, the English people moved from a perpetually drunk society to a stimulated community of thought and collaboration. The ideas that transformed society emerged, at least in part, from within the incubator of the coffeehouse. So I originally saw this as a good thing. Don’t we need good ideas to progress? Well, yes, but I think we’ve lost something in the process of becoming enlightened and thoughtful. In short, we’ve lost drinking songs. We’ve lost this social tradition that connected us to each other and our sense of belonging and place.

I see the effects of this coffeehouse culture on my own upbringing in Tyler, TX. My friends and I would often meet for coffee at the “local” Starbucks and talk about life. These were great times we spent laughing and solving the world’s problems. But they didn’t unite us or connect us to our city in a meaningful. We never spontaneously burst into song with steins of beer sloshing around as we sang, “Tyler, oh Tyler! Da-dum de-dum de-dum …” Or anything of the sort.

In addition, the people that did drink together in high school did not usually do so with members of the older generations because they were partaking in something that many consider immoral. Thus, if there were a drinking song for Tyler, they wouldn’t be singing it. Instead, they would still be stuck in the teenage ghetto while their parents either condoned or condemned from afar. It really is a tragedy. When it came time for me to look for colleges, I felt no remorse leaving that city in the dust. I had clearly not connected to it’s people or culture in such a way that made me feel like I belonged. I had not yet come of age.

Here’s the deal: It’s not about beer and it’s not exactly about drinking songs. It’s about the cultural traditions that unite people.

The thing about these traditions is that they have to be taught. This teaching process requires close, intergenerational relationships. Drinking songs clearly had an incredible ability to galvanize that “togetherness” of community because they eventually became Baptist hymns and even the national anthem of the USA. The difficult question for me is whether this generations is producing material that could be redeemed in the same way. Does our philosophizing  bring us together? As I sit here at my computer developing this theory I wonder if instead I could be singing a drinking song (or any song) with a group of people. Granted, it’s 10 a.m. on a Thursday, but my point is this: I don’t want to care more about my pet theories than our collective humanity.

I think it’s time to start singing.

Performing the Vantage

My last post described the classroom as a vantage from which we learn about the world. Tonight, I don’t think I’ll be able to go to sleep if I don’t write about my next thought: Performing the Vantage. I want to talk about how we can perform this theoretical space and what that might mean for my work.

First of all, I have to admit that some days I feel a little crazy. At first this was a little unsettling, but now I’m totally comfortable with the fact that some days I learn more than I teach. These are the days that I feel like Ben Stiller as Tony in the legendary movie “Heavyweights.” To the right is a scene from this movie where Stiller is certainly “performing the vantage.” but it doesn’t help the fact that he’s emotionally unstable. His character understands the idea of the mountaintop experience, but doesn’t realize that it takes more than just a mountaintop to inspire change. It’s not what happens on the mountaintop, it’s how life on the ground is transformed as a result. So performing the vantage can’t become more important than building relationships with the people in our lives. Then, when the moment is right, speak as if you are looking out over the vast open spaces and share your wonder and amazement with the people around you.

I actually believe that if I pretended that I was on a mountain these moments would be more significant. In some ways, this is how I trick myself into believing that I’m not just in any other room … that this room is somehow more conducive to learning. Of course, every class will require a different level of discipline and correction. Some will never reach the moment of wonder when the mountaintop can be reached, but I have been thankful for these moments in the past two weeks and I look forward to improving my ability to notice them in the future. The more I notice these moments, the more I will be able to capitalize on their emotional impact.

What are some potential shortfalls to this perspective? In my post, “A Vantage,” I compared teaching to Mufasa showing Simba his kingdom. This metaphor helps me to further explain the potential shortfalls of performing this vantage in the classroom:

Mountaintop Shortfall #1: Basically, they might not believe that you’re Mufasa. They might not believe that you have any right to show them the kingdom. They might believe that you don’t have anything of worth to give them. They might not appreciate you. They might forsake their inheritance.

Mountaintop Shortfall #2: You might not believe that they are Simba. You might not truly believe that they deserve to inherit the kingdom that you have seen. You might hope they drop out so you don’t have to put up with them any longer. You might forget that you were once Simba.

Mountaintop Shortfall #3: The classroom lingers on the mountaintop for too long. We were not meant to settle into our vantage. Instead, it is meant to be the underlying goal that we reach it every day in order to remind ourselves why we’re there. From the ground we learn how to work; from the vantage we are reminded of its ultimate purpose.

I have experienced all of these shortfalls in just two weeks of class … and I’ve also seen the positive results of the vantage. I suppose those are the moments that I “live for.” I am a beginner to this whole teaching thing so I’m just trying to understand what its all about. As I read in Teaching with Love and Logic, “Great teachers are experimenters.”

Base camp here we come.

Singing from Whiteness

*Warning, this post is about race … including white people.

The other day I was driving through Tyler listening to some country music on a local station tryna get in touch with my white roots. As I listened, Eric Church’s incredibly catchy song, “Homeboy,”  came on. If you haven’t heard it, the first verse of the song reads,

“You were too bad for a little square town
with your hip-hop hat and your pants on the ground
Heard you cussed out momma, pushed daddy around
You tore off in his car
Here you are runnin’ these dirty old streets
Tattoo on your neck, fake gold on your teeth
Got the hood here snow, but you cant fool me, we both know who you are”

“Hip-hop hat?” “Pants on the ground”? “Fake gold on your teeth?” As I tapped my thumbs on my steering wheel, I wondered to myself, “What is he even talking about?” And the the name of the song is “Homeboy”? Anyone who’s seen Antoine Dodson’s intruder speech (and the requisite autotuned followup) doesn’t have to check Urban Dictionary to know that “homeboy” isn’t really the most white thing you could call someone. So I started thinking about race and how people of different races refer to the other. In other words, how do white people say “stuff Black people do” without really having to say it for fear of sounding racist.

Since I usually write about actual spaces, in honor of Church’s song, I want to get a little more academic and talk about rhetorical spaces. The song constructs two spaces in particular: White (rural) spaces and Black (urban) spaces.

First, I want to talk about the rhetorical space of whiteness as the location from which Church is singing.  Basically, Whiteness is the space from which white people often (albeit unknowingly) speak and operate. Whiteness is often compared to a black hole in the sense that you can feel the power of its influence on society, but cannot often determine its characteristics. The blog, “Stuff White People Like” is important regardless of it’s limitations because of its noteworthy purpose: To essentialize Whiteness. When I first saw the blog four years ago it was the first of its kind. Honestly, I don’t think I had even heard the phrase, “White people _____,” in any context. Lots of white people object to the blog (i.e. “I’m not like that” or “That’s just hipsters, not white people!”), but I think that’s partially the point: There are no essential characteristics to a race. It’s also just plain funny.

The objections from white people are interesting because it seems the majority is uncomfortable being “pinned down.” Of course, this is minor in comparison to the experience of African Americans as essentialized minorities. In this world, there are a multitude of examples of Blackness: Stereotypes associated with the black race. These represent the rhetorical space of Blackness. In his song, Church is pretty blunt about his references to Blackness. The song is just full of references such as the ones listed above. As far as I can tell, the song is written about a white guy performing Blackness … basically some guy’s younger brother gets too good for the comfortable, white country lifestyle. Then he starts to cuss, become more physically violent, rebel, become more likely to be thrown in jail, feel entitled, and waste money.

But isn’t that a strange leap? What is it about a tattoo and gold on someone’s teeth that makes them more violent? The reason is this: Blackness, in contrast to Whiteness, is a very defined rhetorical construct.

As a the minority population, black people have often been associated with each other by members of the majority.  In other words, for centuries members of the Black Diaspora have been saying, “Hey, I’m not really like that” or “I’ve never seen a black person that actually actually acts like that.” But many white people don’t usually get the chance to feel “called out” for their Whiteness in the same way. If you are white and you’ve been called out for, say, drinking so much milk, you may feel angry thinking about the experience. I usually just laugh. Unlike Blackness, Whiteness is relatively undefined and uninterrogated AND it isn’t historically associated with political oppression. Blackness, in stark contrast, has been constructed over the years with clear political and economic motivations.

The best description I ever heard basically said that Whiteness is an elusive center. It’s relatively undefined and often subtly powerful. In operating from the elusive position of Whiteness, Eric Church seems to be making two statements at the same time. The explicit statement is that there is value in the country life and honoring your family. It’s true: We shouldn’t mock our families or disobey our parents. The implicit statement, however, is that city life is morally inferior and that urban culture or Blackness will lead you down a self-destructive path. There’s a few problems. The first is that rural life is not a white experience. The second is that the WSJ recently reported that city life is in many ways healthier.

As a fan of flat-brim hats, Mike Jordans and doing “The Jerk,” I happen to disagree with the notion that urban culture instills rage or disrespect. In fact, I’ve seen people do some pretty dumb things in Topsiders. Maybe I’ll write an autobiographical counter to Church’s song titled, “Frat boy.” That way, I could engage the ethos of the song which is “Family first” without falling into the pitfalls of race. At this point, I think it’s always important to ask yourself, “What are we trying to say?” As a member of the majority, I think a new kind of thoughtfulness (not merely political correctness) would be appreciated.

Works (loosely) cited:
McKerrow, Raymie E. “Critical Rhetoric: Theory and Praxis.”
Nakayama, Thomas K. and Robert L. Krizek. “Whiteness: A Strategic Rhetoric.”
Also, if you’re interested, here is a link the lyrics to the song I referenced

On Space and Place: Terms Defined

Over the course of this blog, I will often write about space and place. This post is my attempt to clarify these two terms because they are ultimately the two underlying concepts of each post. While I draw from theorists such as Foucault and Said, I have eventually developed my own way of thinking about life through these lenses.

The two words, in my opinion, are completely distinct from each other. Space is the void. Space is the physical, tangible built environment in which we live. Space is buildings, roads, houses, parks, landscapes. Space is the void. Place is the life. Place is the culture that is created within a space.  Place is what makes a house a home. Place is created when people congregate, communicate, experience each other. Place is a conversation in a coffee shop or a fight outside your house. Place is the life.

These concepts of space and place are often used in casual conversation. Consider the phrase, “I’m just not in the right place to make that sort of decision.” This common refusal is usually considered metaphorical as in an emotional state or a level of maturity. But, what if the person is thinking of actual places where they have experienced significant emotional attachment to other people and are not prepared to enter those places again. Or what if the person has a close tie to a person that lives in another space and they aren’t willing to leave? These are the memory places that are informing the person as they make the decision to move forward or remain.

We all know spaces such as these where we have invested time, emotion and energy to create place with another. We have struggled to be accepted into the group of people that make up these places or we have revelled in our influence over them. It is in these places of human interaction that we struggled through love, lust, pleasure, loss, enlightenment, rejection and friendship to eventually reach some sort of comfort. No matter how frightening these places are, what is more frightening is the thought of leaving them. In these places we become ourselves, we find our identities and we are unsure how that will change when we leave.

Pardon the long quote below … I think it helps me to understand what I am saying:

In his book Repairing the American Metropolis, Douglas Kelbaugh writes, “As others have pointed out, spatial boundaries demarcate the beginning of a place as much as the ending of a place and its power. Boundless architectural and urban space has less nearness, less presence. Limits are what differentiate place from raw space,  whether they separate sacred from profane space or one secular space from another.”

The “spatial boundaries” which demarcate place are the physical boundaries which affect the human interaction within that space. These are often used to enhance the experience of existing in a certain space, but they cannot alone create space. Without humans a space is meaningless. In the same way, it is humans that give space meaning regardless of the intent of the design of the place. All throughout history there have theories about cities which attempt to create the perfect society with the perfect spaces. Le Corbusier’s La Ville radieuse is a common example of this delusional habit. But we have learned time and time again that you can’t solve problems with new space: Housing projects and suburbs are two great examples. They were both dreams for a better life, but both inhabit miserable and satisfied people alike.

It is places that people crave. To me, it is not easy to create place with another. To be honest, many people don’t create place because they don’t linger in a space for long enough. Think about a highway. It is the space par excellence. There is only movement and stigma on the highway — no life, no place. It is one, uniform, vacuous space. And how many of us spend hours each day in these spaces? In contrast, a place can be anywhere. I remember four friends and I had an impromptu gathering in a chapel recently that created the most beautiful place of fellowship. I recently wrote that graduation was an instantly nostalgic place where people gathered from all over the world. It was not “The University of Richmond” that weekend, but instead it was transformed by the presence of a multitude of people that had gathered for the same purpose.

I don’t want to limit myself with these terms, but I sincerely believe they illuminate my perspective on the city and society. I will likely link back to this post many times in the future for reference … they’re my words, but the concepts belong to many people. I’m excited to see how far I can take them.

*Repairing the American Metropolis: Common Place Revisited.  Douglas S. Kelbaugh


Supplice (sou-pleas) and the Body of Christ

One of my friends once visited a Christian mega-church where they were hosting a huge college A cappella conference. In describing the conference, she explained to me that the church was, “…one of those churches that had paintings with hands and nails in them and blood gushing out” … or something like that. As a product of the Christian subculture, I laughed at her candor and perspective on the representation of Christ’s body. To me, this sort of painting had become commonplace, but I gradually began to realize that there is nothing “normal” about the bleeding body of Christ.

Can you imagine what it would be like for one of the apostles to see one of these paintings so common in Christian spaces today? Then it would have been a powerful image, but Christians have referenced the body of Christ so many times over the past two thousand years that it seems it may have lost much of its significance. A simple Google images search for “Jesus hands nails blood” reveals an amazing set of images such as the one below. Of course, we know that this isn’t exactly what Jesus’s hands 

looked like, but it’s close enough that it serves it’s purpose. What is the purpose? I believe that the purpose of all of these images is to further a successful reappropriation of what was once considered a public and humiliating death.

To describe a death such as the Jesus’ death on the cross, Foucault uses the French word “supplice” which refers specifically to public torture and the spectacle of punishing the accused. This torture inflicted on the body of the accused was used by leaders to make a statement of their power and to reinstate order in the realm (Discipline and Punish, editor’s note, 16-18). This statement of power was more likely the original purpose of the cross. The body itself was seen as rebellious and was thus used by earthly kings to maintain control. Foucault writes that all sorts of rituals were used to make these statements of power, but most often these referenced the king directly such as public coronations and parades. In contrast, the public death of the condemned is a statement of the opposite end of the king’s power being used to destroy rather than to ennoble. He writes, “In the darkest region of the political field the condemned man represents the symmetrical, inverted figure of the king” (D & P, 29). The accused seems completely helpless as the power of the king binds the body and destroys the life within.

This death was designed to be dramatic: The public setting, the long walk to Golgotha, the location of a hill for all to see, the pain, the blood. It was a physical punishment very unlike the more common “mental” punishments we see in our incarcerated population today. Christ’s execution on the cross would have been humiliating to his honor and devastating to his followers. The power of the Caesar was proven more powerful than the magic tricks of a man from Nazareth. Order had been restored and the earth was once again Caesar’s realm. It seems that the image of Christ’s hand with a nail in it should be a symbol of triumph over religion or a statement of the former power of the Roman empire to suppress all who undermined the reach of Caesar’s influence.

But somehow this powerful statement was reappropriated by Christians over the past two thousand years … somehow it has become a statement that we seem proud to interpret and display in churches and make in to necklaces. Somehow the effect of the memory has also diminished over time. I believe that is because the death of Jesus was not the conclusion of the story. The Christian story continues to say that Jesus did not remain dead, but was resurrected. This proves to many that his death was not the will of a king, but the will of God.

This perspective completely inverts Foucault’s “king-accused” dichotomy as the king on the cross looks to the accused on the throne. The purpose of the supplice then becomes an invitation of self-sacrifice to all who watch. Rather than reinstate the power, tradition and civilization of man, the cross invites humans to relinquish their ties to the earth for a higher calling. The accused is invited to confess, but not under the weight of torture as in the earthly supplice. Rather, the sight of the king on a cross moves one to reconsider their own lives and their own ambition.

From the earthly, political perspective, leaders have to continually kill and suppress others in order to maintain power. The more public the death, the more widespread the influence (think of Osama Bin Laden and JFK) . Each death lends legitimacy to the source of power be it a president or rebel. From the Jewish perspective, the sacrifice for atonement had to be repeated regularly in order to continually state one’s repentance and submission to God. In both of these readings, Christ’s death is not enough to have any sort of lasting effect. It would still need to be repeated later with another man who had another claim on the throne or another animal to be a ransom for one’s transgressions. The Christian interpretation goes against both of these perspectives to say that the death was a conclusive sacrifice for the sins of humanity and also that the death was not an inconclusive statement of earthly power, but the definitive statement of selfless sacrifice.

I hope that as Christians we will begin to think more deeply about the meaning of the cross because from outside our faith it seems a little strange to wear an image of suffering and torture as a necklace. Perhaps as we seek a deeper understanding of the image of the body of Christ we will have a deeper understanding of the power of this moment in history. Perhaps the sacrifice won’t seem as trivial as any painting on the wall.

“Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year … for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world” (Heb. 9:25-26, ESV).
Here’s a link to Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: http://www.scribd.com/doc/26150474/Foucault-M-Discipline-Punish-The-Birth-of-the-Prison-Tr-Sheridan-NY-Vintage-1977-1995.


Movement and Waste

This gallery contains 1 photos.

Americans waste a lot: Food, toys, paper cups. If we’re not wasting something (e.g. a power tool) we’re usually storing it which is really just a prolonged and more passive form of waste. We know we waste. It’s something we hear … Continue reading


The City in my Mind

In her preface to The Sheltered Life, Ellen Glasgow describes the development of a character named Little Willie. She writes, “Far back in my childhood, before I had learned the letters of the alphabet, a character named Little Willie wandered into the … Continue reading


Biopower, repentance and traffic court

“[T]he judicial institution is increasingly incorporated into a continuum of apparatuses (medical, administrative, and so on) whose functions are for the most part regulatory” (Foucault, The Will to Knowledge, 1976, 144, Found in “Sovereign Power and Biopower“). Today I went … Continue reading