FEAR: THE OTHER FLAG WE NEED TO ADDRESS
On June 17th 9 people were shot and killed in my home state of South Carolina at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston while attending a Wednesday night Bible study. Among those killed were SC State Senator the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney and the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr., both graduates of the of the same Lutheran seminary I attended, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. The shooter himself is a member of a Lutheran Church in Columbia, SC and so as the Bishop of my denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Church In America), the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, stated in a letter to other Lutherans, all of a sudden this is an intensely personal tragedy.
And so, it has prompted me to write this blog entry. Investigating officials have said the shooting was racially motivated. In a statement Bishop Eaton calls for each of us and all of us to examine ourselves, our church and our communities, saying, “We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us.” I do not disagree. In my work with the enneagram, I would add, however, that we need to examine and be honest with not only the reality of brokenness within and around us but also we need to examine and be honest about the specific concrete nature of that brokenness.
The enneagram (symbol itself) is not only useful as a map of personality (the enneagram of personality). It also has been used to map human brokenness. The enneagram of vices and virtues is a spiritual tool which, I believe, God can use to help us be honest with the specific, concrete ways that we are broken and break our relationship with God, self and others (see http://www.personalityportfolios.com/spiritual-but-not-religious.html
). The enneagram of vices and virtues maps what early Christian monastics referred to as the seven deadly sins.
Early monastics, particularly Evagrius Ponticus, understood what the Apostle Paul was wrestling with when he said, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” They understood it (as Paul goes on to say he understood it) to be a law of human nature related to specific patterns of human thinking, feeling and behaving that get in the way of or distort our relationship with God, self and others (see in context at Romans 7:15-25). One need only consider the “The Parson’s Tale” in Chaucer’s The Cantebury Tales, the Purgatorio section of Dante’s Divine Comedy or Homer’s Odyssey (see Bea Chestnut’s book The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge) to note that the human struggle between vice and virtue can be seen throughout history. And, one only need listen to the song “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic to note that it is a struggle understood even today (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hT_nvWreIhg
Basically, what gets in the way of our relationship with God, self and others is us. I believe it’s time for us to take a deeper look at ourselves. It troubles me that the Charleston shooter was a Lutheran, because Lutherans ARE honest about their brokenness. Lutherans confess each Sunday in worship that the state of the human condition is one of being in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves. So honesty is not the problem. It is honesty about the concrete particular nature of our sin / brokenness. I was proud that my Bishop named the sin in terms of the concrete particular sin of racism. But racism I believe, is the “fruit” of another sin, one we don’t often think of as being a sin, that being fear.
As the early monastics looked at the “seven deadly sins” (eight in some lists, 9 + in others) what they were on to was the fact that there are specific concrete ways that we can look at human brokenness (http://www.personalityportfolios.com/spiritual-but-not-religious.html
). I think it is helpful to note that the word for sin that the Apostle Paul uses is an archery term for “missing the mark.” If you think about it, it makes sense. If you give the arrow too much energy or too little you will “miss the mark”. We get into a lot of trouble by giving something too much energy or too little. So we come back to phrases like, “Everything in moderation.” Or caution one another not to “over do it.” And we know, do we not, what happens when we give too little time to our relationships?
The nine vices / sins of the enneagram point to nine ways that we miss the mark by giving too much or too little energy to a particular area. Fear in and of itself is not all bad. It’s downright good for us. But fear when it is given too much energy…especially mental energy…now that’s another thing. Too little fear leaves us undefended. Too much leaves us over defended. Too much fear causes separation and suspicion that can tear relationships and communities apart. I think racism is a sin motivated by fear. It and others come from fear.
It causes walls and not walkways to be built. Globally we seem to understand this as we tell ourselves that if we give into our fears the terrorists have won. But what do we mean by that? How do we live that out? How do we encourage our children to live that out? How do we strike a balance? Does it always have to be an either or proposition? Is there not a middle way? A way to respect walls (boundaries….differences…diversity) and yet meet each other on the walkways? Can we not understand that our existence is dependent upon our finding unity in our diversity? That the Somali Bantu expression “Umbuntu” (I am because you are…”) is crucial to our survival?
For the protestant reformers it became important simply to say that we are all sinful or “broken” and simply speak of Sin as the human condition. Father Richard Rohr and German Lutheran Pastor Andreas Ebert in their book The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, say that the Protestant Reformers were justified in pointing out that an over focus on individual sins detracts from the main problem, that being that human beings are by nature sinful and in need of God’s saving grace. However, they also point out that, “This justified criticism of the Roman Catholic understanding of sin had an unhappy consequence in Protestant practice: Protestants understood themselves quite generally as “sinners,” but this term lost all concrete content.” (See The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, pg. 33-34).
Again, it troubles me greatly that the young man who took the lives of nine fellow human beings in Charleston was a Lutheran who had confessed many a Sunday that he was in bondage to sin and could not free himself and so needed Jesus. But somewhere along the way, the “generalized” need of Jesus did not translate into the specific and concrete. He did not acknowledge or was not called to examine the specific concrete need we all have for Jesus to move us out of our fear of “those people” so that we might love ALL people. It has me thinking about whether or not we “settle”. We speak of sin in broad sweeping terms. Are we as specific and as direct as we need to be?
When your fears get a hold of you and cause you to think, support or do things that rob others of life and human dignity, you don’t only need to be honest about that in a general way. You need to examine that in a concrete and specific way. At the root of racism and all other isms is fear. What kind of people could have done this to other human beings? See what Former Nuremberg trials prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz has to say from the 34:33 mark to the 35:44 mark of the following https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skmQgtaFjRM
and again at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8f5nhPrSCso
. An “honest” examination leads to the realization that we all come from “those kind of people.” See Maya Angelou’s reference to Terrance at the 1:25 mark of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePodNjrVSsk
May the Creator of all that is grant us the courage to live in and out of faith, not fear.