IN 2011, I took a course at my Christian college about the personality type system known as the Enneagram.
The Enneagram is a system built around nine personality types, with each type providing a unique perspective on how we navigate our relationships, emotions, and the world around us. The Enneagram draws on both spirituality and psychology, which distinguishes it from many other personality indicators.
A primary question that emerged for me from that college class: Does the inner work that the Enneagram encourages manifest itself in the outer world through justice work, or is the Enneagram primarily a tool meant to encourage people to focus on individual healing, career, and spirituality?
Throughout history, questions about how and why each human has a unique set of behaviors, motivations, emotions, and cognitions have preoccupied philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, religious thinkers, and Buzzfeed quiz creators alike. Indeed, in the 21st century, “know thyself” is less of a thought-provoking ancient Greek aphorism and more of a cultural imperative lauded by the self-help industrial complex and career coaches. We are assured that by unlocking our “true selves,” we will ultimately be unlocking our true potential, which will drastically improve our fortunes.
But the Enneagram was never meant to simply measure our potential or provide a definitive answer to the question of human personality. This is contrary to some of the most popular personality indicators such as Myers-Briggs or CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder), which became popular because they promised to help employers tap into human potential and productivity. The Enneagram originated as a tool for contemplation but has come to emphasize how self-growth and inner work prepare us for the outer work of building community.
In their book The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, Catholic priest Richard Rohr and Lutheran minister Andreas Ebert point to a 4th-century Christian Desert Father, Evagrius Ponticus, as the first to use, loosely, the nine-pointed symbol to highlight vices that he believed interrupted one’s inner peace and relationship with God. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, inspired by a theory originated by Bolivian philosopher Oscar Ichazo, used modern psychology to develop a theory of nine distinct personalities — or “enneatypes” — that highlighted the vices, virtues, and core motivations of each type.
The Enneagram is sometimes treated as just another personality test that can help us purchase the things that “match” our personalities, find romance, or unlock our “true potential” so we can make more money — part of our culture’s obsessive focus on self-improvement. But at its best, the Enneagram not only emphasizes making peace with yourself and a higher power, it also offers tools for learning how to be in community and build a more just society.
To help me sort through my questions, I interviewed three Enneagram experts: Chichi Agorom, an associate faculty member with The Narrative Enneagram and author of The Enneagram for Black Liberation; Jessica Denise Dickson, a life empowerment coach and Enneagram guide who uses the Enneagram in anti-racist workshops; and Abi Robins, a queer, trans Enneagram teacher, coach, and author of The Conscious Enneagram. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity. — Josiah R. Daniels
IN 1991, FOUR Los Angeles police officers beat Rodney King, a 25-year-old African American man, nearly to death. It was caught on video. All the officers were acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon. The acquittals were followed by six days of rebellion with more than 50 associated deaths. At that time, I and many other white Christians fixated on our desire to see “peace” restored. Even in the face of graphic police brutality, I was unable to see the pernicious racial injustice that created the context for the riots. The white Christianity of my upbringing did not equip me with a biblical lens through which to discern the truth about racial injustice in the U.S. It would be nearly a full decade before I could finally begin to perceive it.
Nevertheless, in light of the role white Christian nationalists played in the Jan.6 riot, the number of pastors who preach against Black Lives Matter and critical race theory, and the deafening silence and stubborn inaction of many white Christians in the face of explicit cries for racial justice, I have to ask: Will this generation of white American Christians be just another in the long line to embolden racial injustice?
Where do we turn to find hope, inspiration, and guidance to help white Christians finally commit to our God-given vocation to do justice instead of holding tightly to our idolatrous commitment to white supremacy? I look to the little-known biblical prophet Zechariah and how he called a generation returned from exile to live out God’s call to do justice.
During his recent visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, President Joe Biden announced changes to border enforcement and the asylum process — the legal process that allows people fleeing danger to seek safety in the U.S. One of the most concerning changes was an expansion of Title 42, a public health policy invoked by former President Donald Trump that weaponized the pandemic to turn away many Black and brown migrants looking for asylum.
CLARENCE L. JORDAN died on Oct. 29, 1969, at 57 years old. The radical Southerner who dedicated his life to farming, sharing the gospel, and imploring his neighbors to actually follow Jesus is not widely remembered. Jordan died as simply as he lived — buried in a wooden box used to ship coffins, in an unmarked grave, and wearing his overalls. In early 2020, a little more than 50 years after Jordan (pronounced “Jurden”) died, I came across his work and was enamored. I began reading anything from or about him I could find. Jordan’s Georgia roots and love for the South mirrored my own. His charm and cutting humor were irresistible. Most appealing was Jordan’s stubborn commitment to radically following Christ, which led him to reject and rebuke the practices of racism, capitalism, and militarism in the U.S.
On the podcast Pass the Mic, writer Danté Stewart put a name to what I found in Jordan. “The reason why white [siblings] are struggling in this moment is because most of their models have been violent white supremacists,” Stewart said. “White [siblings], they don’t have models of liberation and love, so therefore they’re struggling in this moment.” Clarence Jordan was a “model of love and liberation” that we can learn from now. The dehumanizing forces of racial capitalism and militarism are no weaker in the U.S. today than in his lifetime, and many white Christians are avid proponents of both. Jordan’s resistance and radical theology did not die with him; instead, they can evolve and grow with the times. We should engage Jordan without idolizing him and advance his core commitments with a critical eye, honestly appropriating them for our modern struggles.
A judge sentenced Travis McMichael to life in prison on Aug. 8 for committing federal hate crimes in the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man shot while jogging through a mostly white Georgia neighborhood in a case that probed issues of racist violence and vigilantism in the United States.
Rohrer’s resignation as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Sierra Pacific Synod, followed months of conflicts that destroyed reputations and livelihoods, permanently severed relationships, and left a church worshipping in a rainy parking lot. Sources within the ELCA told Sojourners that Rohrer’s resignation prompted sadness and denial, anger and celebration.
While reducing the prevalence of guns in our society is essential, I am wary of religious gun control efforts that focus primarily on federal gun legislation because laws ultimately rely on frameworks of punitive justice, criminalizing anyone who breaks the law. A holistic approach to gun violence should imagine new alternatives for a safer society — alternatives that go beyond the criminal legal system and gun control laws. To imagine these alternatives, we can turn to the lessons of the transformative justice movement, which seeks to address violence without relying on state violence, police, or prisons.
Before the public outcry dies down — and isn’t sad that we all know it will? — we must boldly and unequivocally denounce the great replacement theory and instead live out the great commandment. The great replacement theory draws on the worst of our nation’s history, falsely implying that nonwhite people are threats to our nation’s future. But the great commandment offers the best of our civic and religious values, reminding us that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves; it lends itself to a moral vision of multi-racial democracy in which everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, and religion, is equally valued.
“That was an evil, racist, white supremacist,” Reverend Darius Pridgen said from the pulpit at True Bethel Baptist Church on Sunday. “He literally looked for a zip code that had the highest concentration of African Americans.”
Wipf and Stock Publishers confirmed today that it has initiated the removal and ceased distribution of Jennifer M. Buck’s book, Bad and Boujee: Toward a Trap Feminist Theology, after days of criticism directed at the book.
Hawley's accusation that Jackson is soft on crime reveals a troubling perspective on people who enact harm. Hawley is one of several Republican senators who sorts the world into two types of people: People who are evil and, if given the chance, will commit horrific, reprehensible crimes over and over again, and people like the rest of us, people who need to be protected from the evil people. According to this line of thinking, ensuring this protection shouldn’t rule out the harshest measures of isolation and punishment the state can enact. We separate “them” from “us” by forever marking them as dangerous.
As Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann has reflected, the imprecatory psalms put words to our thirst for vengeance. In praying these psalms, we process our rage and give our violent impulses over to God. “O God, break the teeth in their mouths,” one psalmist prays; “let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime” (Psalm 58:6, 8). I’m all for this kind of prayer. I’m all for praying the entire range of the psalms — even the ones that sometimes make us uncomfortable or aren’t necessarily welcome in church. And if there is any occasion for an imprecatory psalm, certainly Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in all of its brutality and sheer horror, is one of those occasions.
Lincoln’s Dilemma, released this month on Apple TV+, presents a complicated version of the 16th president. The four-part series portrays Lincoln as a man of his time and place, wrestling with the culture war of his day: slavery.
KELLY BROWN DOUGLAS (The Black Christ) is known for widening the circle for disinherited people to identify with the Black Jesus of her mentor, James H. Cone. In Resurrection Hope, Douglas wrestles with how ongoing Black suffering challenges her faith, sparked by questions her adult son asks when yet another Black person is murdered by police or violently assaulted. “How long do we have to wait for the justice of God?” Douglas’ son asks. “I get it, that Christ is Black, but that doesn’t seem to be helping us right now.”
Her son’s visceral theodicy questions cause Douglas to wonder if her Christology of a Black Jesus who identifies with those experiencing “crucifying realities” is enough.
Douglas digs into history and details anti-Black narratives and white supremacy in the very architecture of Christian theology. She traces the development of what W.E.B. Du Bois called “the white gaze.” This white way of knowing “fosters death for Black bodies” by both overt means and the insidious silence of “good white people.”
“NOTHING EVER HAPPEN under ground in Louisiana / Cause they ain’t no under ground in Louisiana. / There is only / under water.” With these words, playwright Tony Kushner draws us into the conundrum at the heart of the musical Caroline, or Change: How do you swim when you’re already so far below sea level? Caroline Thibodeaux (played by Sharon D Clarke in Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway revival production) is our eponymous anti-heroine, a 39-year-old maid and divorced mother of four, trying desperately to answer this question in every area of her life.
Based in part on Kushner’s own childhood, Caroline, or Change speaks through the sounds of Motown, gospel, klezmer, and blues—handily packaged by composer Jeanine Tesori—to tell the story of an uneasy friendship between Caroline and her employer’s son, 8-year-old Noah Gellman. The Gellman home becomes a larger metaphor for a country stratified by a brutal socioeconomic caste system, emphasized in the staging by a multilevel set. The structure of 1960s America is made visible, placing each character in predetermined roles, and thus unable to truly see each other.
My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers. If we’re being honest, most of the food tastes better the day after the feast. Cranberry sauce becomes a sandwich spread, ham goes into a breakfast taco, bones go into a pot to make enough broth for several weeks of soup. Some happenings are so big that there’s always much leftover.
But not all leftovers are good. Trauma, for instance, can linger for months or years after the initial act of violence.
Earlier this month, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg made headlines by announcing that the recently-passed $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill will be used in part to address racial inequities in U.S. highway design. “If a highway was built for the purpose of dividing a white and a Black neighborhood, or if an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach … in New York was designed too low for it to pass by, that obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices,” he said.
A number of Americans were confused — how can concrete and paint be racist? But Buttigieg is correct: Highways and bridges are examples of structural racism literally built into the American cityscape. Reconstructing more equitable cities will require prophetic imagination and real, political solutions. They will vary from city to city. From suburb to suburb. So if you’re looking for a place to start, look in your own neighborhood.
A federal jury in Charlottesville, Va., looking into the “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in 2017 found defendants liable in four out of six counts and awarded $25 million in damages, according to media reports on Tuesday.
The jury awarded the money to nine people who suffered injuries, the New York Times and the Associated Press reported.
The United States, regrettably, is still struggling to right the longstanding racial bias in our courts and policing. But one area we have entirely failed to examine is who gets labeled as a “gang” and what gets labeled as “gang activity.”
DESPITE THE FACT that critical race theory (CRT) is a complicated academic theory that some scholars use to examine disproportionate outcomes in the criminal justice system, school board meetings across the U.S. have erupted in passionate debates with parents demanding it be banned.
Ironically, CRT cannot be taught to children because it is not age appropriate for K-12—just as we would not teach advanced nuclear physics to schoolchildren. Yet the strategic placement by far-right activists of a narrative that CRT has crept into K-12 education is causing dramatic outbursts of racial anxiety. All this passion could be rerouted to address an important question that everyone cares about: What should children be taught about race and racism in the United States? This conversation, if done well, could actually move our society toward much-needed racial healing.