Archive for August, 2009



13
Aug
09

you and me and the enneagram

When once again I brought the Enneagram into a conversation recently with my dear friend OM (as I am wont to do every now and again), I received a straightforward reply: “Despite that being the second most popular post on my blog, I still don’t really know anything about the enneagram. You’ll just have to tell me about myself.” Thank you dear friend for pushing that button. It is time for me to present this system that has been a major component of my intuitive knowing for many years.

The Enneagram is an ancient (Sufi) system of human development based on 9 personality types. Because the types are defined by a particular emotional passion, each one has its own fixation of attention or habitual internal bias. My study of this system began sometime in the 1980’s with Helen Palmer, one of the pioneering teachers of this intuitive system for understanding one self and others.

For the most part, psychology and spirituality are merged together for the purpose of identifying one’s particular style, thoughts and feelings associated with that style—one’s worldview, if you will. Once identified and acknowledged, movement in the direction of good health—emotionally, physically and spiritually can occur. The Enneagram is currently being taught in seminaries of various theological affiliations across the country, as well as through independent schools of spiritual formation.

Enneagram Circle_Colors 2x2

The system arranges itself in a circle with 9 universal traits that are found in each person: goodness, helpfulness, efficiency, uniqueness, wisdom, loyalty, joy, strength, and peace or in other terms: perfection, compassion, energy to succeed, beauty, quiet withdrawal, faithfulness, happiness, power and stability. The 9 are divided into 3 basic groups  containing a common predominant feature, e.g., the anger group is composed of 8-9-1; the emotion group is composed of 2-3-4; the fear group is composed of 5-6-7. Within this, there is a central, prototypical triad of 9-3-6 that touches into each of the three sections, as in the diagram to the left. Of course, anger, fear and emotion are felt by everyone, but are a predominant energy in these groups. In other words, these are baseline energies and can be thought of as lenses through which experience passes and out of which we greet the world.

Each of the nine has two sides, called “wings,” that lend aspects of their particularity to the center point. In other words, a person whose basic traits fall in 3 will have aspects of 2 and 4.

Enneagram Arrows 2x2Another interesting point to this system is that each of the nine will have a direction of integration and disintegration. When relaxed, the positive traits of the personality type the arrow points toward will be taken on, while under stress, the negative traits of the type whose arrow points away will be taken on.

Here are the 9 types in a nutshell:
1 – Perfectionist        2 – Giver                   3 – Performer           4 – Romantic
5 – Observer               6 – Loyal Skeptic     7 – Epicure               8 – Protector              9 – Mediator

The Enneagram is not an analytical system and cannot be compared to the Myers-Briggs typology system. It is my understanding that the basis of the 9 types are developed in the fetal brain and not purely a function of nurture. In other words: we are hard-wired  genetically toward our basic disposition.

I will give a very brief sketch of each of the 9 in coming blog posts, but this might be enough for now. Please remember that the purpose of this system is not to pigeon-hole your neighbor but to understand him/her and to grow and learn. For Christ followers, it is a tool for becoming acquainted with our shadow sides, so that light may dawn and faith deepen. The system is basically oral/narrative and has many proponents and approaches. Mine is based in Helen Palmer’s intuitive teaching.

More next time.

11
Aug
09

green shoots sequel: testing

Two days ago I received news that threw me painfully back to the green shoots post of Aug 8th. Wounds that had been healing were open once again and I was back to wrestling with hurt, and the anger that wants to cover it over and seal me in a tomb.

Although I have moved on to another congregation, this new and definitive bit of information concerning the membership debacle at my former church hit me right between the eyes and my heart was broken once again. I am basically an idealist in all of life—both sacred and secular. Despite my efforts to face life as it comes to me, I remain at the core, an idealist. This is especially so in my view of the Body of Christ as a covenanted community of believers. It was a difficult road…staying open to the smarting of a scab ripped off.

I can’t say that angels hovered over me or that I received a divine revelation from God, but I can say that I struggled with my demons for 24 hours wanting to be angry. I chose to feel the heartbreak instead and had lots of tears and palpable pain. My partner (Big Dawg), adopted daughter, and darling daughter were around and willing to listen and comfort. That was a great blessing.

Before I went to sleep, I read through the history of the church in the city where we are now happy to attend. When I woke this morning, I felt relieved and refreshed. Was it an angel in the night? I doubt it. I think recovery had something to do with having read about this little congregation and its struggle to be open to God’s life within it no matter what.

I saw God Spirit nestled right inside Community Spirit all along the rocky path of a good portion of this congregation’s history. Big Dawg and I had come from intentional Christian community 30 years ago. We’d become Christians in Discipleship there and although there was much about it that was wonderful, there was also much about it that was hurtful. We left there because we could not fit as a couple. In all those 30 years that followed, we never found a spiritual home and soon stopped even looking. We wandered in the desert for a very long time. The congregation that we left in June of this year could not fit us in as a couple either. It was not much of a community, but we didn’t know there was such a thing outside of the communal setting, so we accepted it as it was. They, however did not accept us as we were and now it was quite clear that the person who could start the engine going in the compassion and forgiveness direction claimed difference of opinion as to what happened and how, was not going to come through. Yes, it threw me because I had left the door wide open for this to happen. Confession and forgiveness: two of the big ones that underlie repentance—turning around.

So what happened? Did God take pity on me and lift my burden quickly or was it just luck? I don’t know the mind of God, but I do know when I am being lifted onto my feet by mother/father God. Feet of clay is what I had seen at the trusted level of leadership, which I thought would eventually come through to do the right thing. Now I see that self interest comes in many shapes and sizes and I must see it in myself as well.

Please, God, let me never be so self protected that I inflict serious harm to those I claim to honor. And when I do, may I come around quickly enough to keep myself from causing undo harm and heartache. Amen.

YHWH 1x3.5

08
Aug
09

mince meat or death?

There are times in one’s life when deciding what is most important, then triaging or shelving the rest, is important business. In times of crisis this is a relatively simple matter. After all which is most to be savored, life or death? Then there are times when even  eating, sleeping and bathroom business are beyond one’s control. Of course, some would say that we humans don’t really have control over anything at all. As a Christ-centered person, I live in a state of grace 24/7. Many of the things I think I have control over are really things in which I merely have investment and/or influence. Control? No, my house is still unsold; I cannot fix the cracks in the congregation I had to leave; nor can I fix the broken heart my partner has because of this, as well as a few additional afflictions.

We are both maxed out in those areas of life that are beyond control. That is why I chose to take  the anger that under laid my depression and digestive unrest to God, where it exploded like a Roman Candle, and then fizzled out from lack of currency. There was no point. I knew that, so I let go of what I was holding and chose to go forward into the days I am given. Does the anger come back? Yes, it tries to, but I am triaging for life now. See, I spent the summer 3 years ago, dying from advanced, stage 4, non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I also watched my sister die of this disease last year. I am not afraid to die, but I don’t want to do it before I’ve had time to complete the task God and I are collaborating on: Making my life of many errors meaningful for others.

I receive maintenance Rituxan treatments on a 12 week cycle. These prolong the most dangerous part of my remission, but they also lower my immune system and generally leave me in a state of malaise for anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks afterward. Not fun! I complained to my primary care doctor that oncology was making mince meat out of me—a 92 lb,  golden years lady. His response to me was something like this: Yes, the way they look at things…it’s either mince meat or death! Because stress has a deleterious effect on the immune system (mine is not that great) I am using this as a rule of thumb. Is the expensive grill out on the deck that we can’t get the company to take care of worth my life? No is the obvious answer, right? Of course! So it’s mince meat or death. I’m going for mince meat!

Ginko leaves

05
Aug
09

green shoots

I have several dear friends. This was not always the case. I have become lucky in this way and I intend to hang on to them. One particular friend has gone through the whole same-gender-covenanted-couple-seeking-membership debacle of 2008/09 with me in a very deliberate way. We talked every day and walked together, whether here or there. Our friendship had always been centered around a sense of spirituality that we carried in common. We had many dreams and plans for doing things at the church we both attended. After the roof fell in there on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, and the dust settled (as slowly and alarmingly as it did after the World Trade Center collapsed), we tried to pick up and dust off whatever pieces remained. We hope to still be able to work together even though we are now at very different congregations, very different settings, and in very different places.

My compassionate friend is working on reconciliation in her congregation and I am working on starting over in my new congregation. I don’t know if reconciliation can happen without truth-telling and transparency. I had not seen very much of that when I worshiped there, but my friend cannot help but try. I will help, I will hope, and I will pray, but I don’t see the rainbow. That’s why I have left and gone on, quite tearfully, to a congregation where I do not have to walk Job’s road anymore. I did that for a long time in the congregation where my friend remains. I did that because I felt that God had assigned me the task of being front and center for this issue. Sometime in the week between May 31 and June 7, I distinctly felt released from that assignment, but it wasn’t an easy road to walk. There were so many people I’d come to love in one way or the other, and didn’t want to leave. The sense of loss for this and my visual art ministry to the people, was a constant companion in my heart and soul. Depression and tears took over my days, most especially at night when I was alone with God.

My friend talks about green shoots. I talk about phoenix rising from the ashes because fire is how it felt—burning to nothingness. It’s been two months since that decisive last  day in May. I shed many tears for the enormous losses I was experiencing. And I was angry—angry with the specific persons who failed to lead the congregational majority in the direction it wanted to go. My partner, Big Dawg and I were charred in the fire that burned in the church that day, and the following days. But we were not the only ones damaged. Everyone, except for those whose wishes remained intact was affected—collateral damage. The congregation is wandering in the desert, desperate for leadership. I don’t know where it will come from. So much damage all around. Green shoots. How does that happen without water and rain, sunshine, humility and truth?Green Shoots

I have been blessed. I am free to walk on…to follow on in the Way without hindrance. I am grateful. And I am no longer angry at anyone. The last bit of anger I had was finally toward God many days ago and, I gave that up too. No point in it, I realized because I can’t really hear God calling my name when my head is filled with the noise of hurt and anger. So now, my friend and I will pick up whatever pieces still glisten in the sun and we will see if between us, we can encourage green shoots in the corner where we are.

03
Aug
09

one more for cats

While I am yet in a cheery mood, let me post another little kitty story for your feline pleasure:

Toulouse the Tabby Cat Saves Christmas, by Darling Daughter

Brown TabbyOnce upon a time there was a brown striped tabby cat named Toulouse.  Toulouse lived in a big old house in Chicago with his person, a nice girl who fed him well, and a big yard full of birds and leaves to chase, and if he was very lucky, and very quiet, a mouse or two at night.

Toulouse was happy in his house and yard.  His life was well ordered in cat-like fashion:  meals twice a day, sleep as needed – most of the day, in the spring and summer he hunted, in the fall he chased dried leaves and in the winter he curled up contentedly on the soft red couch in the living room and watched snowflakes fall or the flames lap up the fireplace walls.  “Birds, mice, squirrels, food, bed, what a nice life,” Toulouse thought as he purred himself to sleep.

Then one day, Toulouse’s world was turned upside down in a most uncat-like way: his person got a new cat.  The new cat was gray and white with silver tips where the sun hit the edges of his fur.  The new cat had long elegant whiskers and a way of striding around the house that gave no indication that he was going to be the second place cat.  The new cat was soon named Pablo and just as soon tried to take over.  “Yes, I’ll be king of this house,” he thought firmly.  “What a perfect setting the girl gave me to rule.”
Toulouse was focused on his orderly pursuits – hunting, sleeping, eating.

******

It was that time of year again, the time when the house began to smell of warm, nutty baked goods, when the snow began to pile up against the cat door and when the girl began to spend lots of time with the shiny strings and paper that Toulouse loved to play with.  “All those good smells, Pablo,” said Toulouse, “you know it means we’ll be getting salmon and turkey ourselves.”

“Yeah, especially when we steal them off the counter when the girl gets careless,” purred Pablo.”

All was cozy and content in the big house in Chicago until one day the girl and her friend brought home a fir tree.  Pablo and Toulouse stared wide eyed as the two humans lugged it in and set it up in the living room.  “A tree, a real live tree, just like the ones the birds live in!” thought Toulouse to himself.  “Maybe, if I’m real quiet and stay hidden under the couch I’ll catch one.”  But Pablo had other thoughts.

“Wow, my own climber!  How nice of them to get a tall one for me.  I’ll just wait ‘til the girl goes into the other room to try it.”  And when evening came, the tree glowed with lights and jangly, bobbly, twizly toys that cats love and the girl soon went to bed.  Pablo crouched low at the living room door, “a running start, that’s what I need,” he plotted.

“No!” Toulouse shouted, “you must not, Pablo.  You’ll ruin Christmas for the girl.”

“Out of my way, Toulouse,” Pablo growled, “try and stop me!”  And Toulouse did just that.  From under the couch he shot, tackling Pablo full on.  The two cats tousled, brown and gray balls of fur rolling and flopping and spitting at each other.  Until finally, Toulouse backed Pablo into a corner “say you won’t do it, say it!” he hissed at Pablo.  “No!” A quick swat of a brown paw and Pablo conceded, “I didn’t want to climb that stupid tree anyway,” he said licking himself.

And so it was that the next day the girl and her friend woke to a perfect Christmas morning and enjoyed a happy Christmas with Pablo and Toulouse, who got their extra turkey, plus what they managed to steal off the counters.

Finis

01
Aug
09

the gift of the magae

In my last post I told you all about Bennie and Bella and the joy they are to me and my family. As a child I loved cats, but my mother was frightened of all four-legged creatures. Despite that, my father brought one home once, when I was about 7 or 8. I had her for about a month, all the while knowing how much my mother actively hated her. One day, when I came home from school for lunch I couldn’t find her. My mother had given the kitty away, but claimed that she had run away. I was heart-sick about it—heart broken. I think it might have been my first such experience of loss. I knew my mother was not being truthful and the relationship between us suffered ever after because I could not trust her. I don’t think I could have responded any differently than I did as a child. The kitten had been my solace in a lonely world of blond, blue-eyed Americans. Once grown up, I filled my life with cats, to be sure, and even had a talk with my mother about the incident. She was sorry, I forgave her but we could not go backward in time. We both missed out on a trusting relationship between us.

When I learned that my friend’s family was going to welcome a cat into their home…an orange tabby no less…I was overjoyed for the children, especially the middle daughter who seems to yearn for her own place in the sun. (It’s hard to be a middle child.) I asked and received permission to post a drawing she had done of Jack the cat and he is below, at the very end of this post, watching over us all with grace and peace.

Also posted here is a little story called The Gift of the Magae, that my daughter wrote for me about 10 years ago.  She changed my childhood story to one with a happy ending. Although it is not quite biographical, it is a sweet little story and a sweet thing to do.

The Gift of the Magae, by Darling Daughter

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Merry, who grew up in Chicago during World War II. She lived in an old house with her parents, her two older sisters and a brother. During the summer, Merry and her family went to Lake Michigan to swim.  They took vacations in St. Joe Michigan and went to Armenian picnics in the park. Merry and her friends had lemonade stands and held scrap metal drives to raise money for the war effort. (Merry’s family were not Mennonites!) In the winter, she and her sisters listened to radio shows after school and went to the Saturday cinemas. But Christmas was the most magical time of all; Merry and her family would take the trolley downtown to see the decorations in the big department store windows, shop and have lunch in the Walnut Room at Marshall Field’s. She always looked forward to getting a new doll for Christmas. Sometimes, Merry and her sisters got to decorate the Armenian Christmas tree at the Museum of Science and Industry, or even see the toy train set in the there.

Merry was happy except for one thing: she dearly wanted a pet, a warm, furry creature all her own to love and hug. Many times Merry had asked her mother for a cat, but she had said no each time. “Oh, Merry, what do you want that for? It’s dirty, it will scratch the furniture and scratch you too.”

“Please Ma I really want a kitty,” she said.

But the answer was always no. Merry tried her father, who looked at her as if she had lost her mind: “A WHAT! A cat, are you crazy? An animal in the house, no! Go do your homework,” he said.

“But Maureen Finley has a cat,” Merry begged her father. He gave her an annoyed look and sent her off to do her homework.

One day in the late fall, Merry’s sister came home with a small bundle for Merry. “Look what I found, Merry. It begged me to bring it home to you.”

“What is it…a kitten? Oh, thank you, thank you Faith,” Merry cried. “Ma, please can I keep it, please?” begged Merry, as the small bundle of brown tabby stripes nestled into her arms.

Merry’s parents grudgingly allowed her to keep the kitten. Merry was overjoyed with her kitty, which she named Mittens. She fed it every morning before school and in the afternoons when she came home. She brushed Mittens and played with her, and at night, the cat slept on her bed in a tight curl of fur. Merry and her kitty were very happy.

A few weeks later, Merry came home from school to find her tabby cat was gone. She called and called for it, she  looked in every nook and cranny but still could not find the cat. “Ma.,” she asked, “where’s my kitty? Have you seen her?”

“Oh, she ran away,” replied her mother casually.

“What, that’s not possible! You took her, you got rid of her, you know where  she is, you never wanted me to have it,” Merry wailed in helpless fury at her mother. She was inconsolable over the loss of  her furry friend and cried for days, but there was nothing she could do.

Christmas Eve came and the family prepared to decorate the tree and bake the paklava and lamb for the night’s dinner. Merry was helping her sister cut out paper chains for the tree garland when she heard a faint scratching noise at the  back door. She ignored it and bent her head back over the red paper, but…”scritch, scratch” there it was again. “I wonder what that is,” she thought and got up to look outside. At first, she saw nothing in the fading afternoon light and was  about to close the door again when she heard a tiny mew from behind the door. Merry stooped down and saw a cat. “No it couldn’t be,” she though… her kitty cat? She held out her hand and the kitten came close and rubbed against her hand. It was…it was her tabby cat! She had miraculously found her old home and came back from where ever she had been.

Merry picked up Mittens and brought her inside. She showed the cat to Faith who promised she would talk to their mom. Merry gave Mittens some food and she was soon purring happily in Merry’s arms again.

Faith was true to her word and convinced her parents to let Merry keep the cat. Her mother kept her promise and made Merry’s favorite desert to make up for the loss of her cat. Mittens lived with Merry and her family for many years, bringing warmth and fun into the old house. Merry grew up and had more cats in her life but she nevver forgot the wonderful Christmas and the cat who came to stay. The End.

This is Jack the cat, a lovely drawing by my dear friend’s middle daughter.  I think he is quite grand and will soon come out to play.

Jack by JillHe hopes middle daughter will understand his shyness and wait for him to get used to his new house and his new people.

01
Aug
09

the joy of four orange feet

My first year of cancer remission was not filled with joy and gladness. I had an oncologist without any bedside manner whatsoever and referrals to doctors whose characters resembled his own. In short, while the side effects lingered and I had no where to turn for help, I became very depressed. One day my partner (Big Dawg) and I drove by a Homes for Endangered and Lost Pets mobile and we decided to stop in for a breath of fresh joy. Well, how can you resist two darling little kitties with perfect markings and teeny, tiny meows, not to mention sweet tempers and loving dispositions? We couldn’t and I couldn’t and they brought me joy, plain and simple. They still bring me joy, especially the little girl kitty who is beautifully orange with pink paws and such, just like an orange Creamsicle?

I believed then, and I believe now that both kitties—Ben and Bella—were gifts of God for the Journey before me. No one who lays eyes on Bella can deny her charm. She brings out the idiot voice in me and my family. Bennie is a bit different…busy with his cat career of eating, sleeping and waiting for the day when he can get out and catch a bird or chipmunk. He is the one who walks across my desk with total assurance that he may. Bella jumps up with total expectation that I have been waiting and hoping she would do just that. And how can I say no? No one in this house says no. If Bella wants to lie across the keyboard, we just type with one finger until she decides her nap is over. We are blessed to have her warm, furry body close, warming the very cockles of our hearts.

Is this insane? To some it would be, but to me—an orange, four footed, gift of God is a gift to treasure. The memory of those dismal days, without adequate medical help is stored in my left brain, along with the more recent oppressive church events, and you already know that joy resides in the moment. Kitties are of the moment. We love them.

Ben&Bella Oct. 07




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