“Enneagram: Reformer”

July 8, 2018


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
July 8, 2018

Enneagram: Reformer
I John 4:18

Today we start a new journey together – learning about the enneagram. It is an aid for self-knowledge and spiritual guidance which comes from Sufism (the mystical tradition within Islam), Judaism, and Christianity. The desert mothers and fathers of the fourth century used it for spiritual counseling. If is full of wisdom for people who want to get out of their own way and become who they were created to be.

John Calvin is quoted to say “without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.” The Enneagram takes its name from the Greek words for nine (ennea) and figure (gram). It is a nine-pointed geometric figure that illustrates nine different but interconnected personality types. There is a fascinating progression of mathematical thought over the centuries that helped to create this figure – but that is outside my scope today. If you are a math nerd, you may want to explore the number system behind the enneagram. Many psychologists and theologians believe that the Enneagram is an excellent tool for helping people on their way to intellectual and spiritual growth.

Of course, there are other great personality typing systems like the Myers-Briggs or the Five Factor test. These are psychological in orientation. Unlike these, the Enneagram combines theological, spiritual, and psychological understandings. The true purpose of the Enneagram, according to author Ian Crone, “is to reveal … your shadow side and offer spiritual counsel on how to open it to the transformative light of grace.” In fact, the Enneagram is concerned with change and making a turn-around. It confronts us with the compulsions and self-imposed laws under which we live (even though we may not be aware of it) and invites us to go beyond them into freedom.

I am following three books to prepare for this sermon series. Richard Rohr’s “Discovering the Enneagram” is the principal source. In fact, on our church Facebook post this week, Rohr’s niece wrote in that she lives in our neighborhood, saw our sign, and is very excited about coming to some of the services! In addition, I’m using “The Road Back to You” by Cron & Stabile. And “The Sacred Enneagram” by Heuertz.

If you look at the front of your bulletin, you will see one version of the Enneagram. The Sufi called this the “face of God” because in the nine points of energy they saw nine refractions of the one divine love.

Each week, we will look at a different type. I would encourage you to take the Enneagram test (referenced on the back of the bulletin). This week, we are looking at Number Ones – sometimes referred to as the perfectionist or the reformer. Ones are idealist, driven by a deep longing for a world of truth, justice, and moral order. They are honest and fair. They are often gifted leaders, but they have a hard time accepting their own and other people’s imperfections. These are people who lose their mind when there is a typo on something published or public. They are people who will straighten a picture that is slightly askew – even if it is in someone else’s home. And – this is a telltale sign – they will re-load the dishes if someone loaded the dishwasher incorrectly!

When our daughter, Erin, was about 7 years old, she said something one day when we were in the car. I don’t remember what it was that she said, but it was incorrect. It wasn’t a moral issue or an opinion. It was something benign – but she had her facts wrong. I corrected her just so she would know. That’s when the trouble began. She was absolutely furious that I corrected her. She yelled at me and threw a big fit. I could not imagine why this was such a big deal, and I tried to reassure her that it wasn’t anything important – that I just wanted her to know the truth. When we got home, she was still so angry that I sent her to her room. I was very specific that she wasn’t being punished for saying something incorrect… that she was in trouble for being so angry about it. I told her she could come out of her room when she had calmed down.

Time passed. ½ hour. 1 hour. I kept waiting for her to come downstairs. I wanted the whole thing to be over. Finally, I figured she had fallen asleep because more than 2 hours had passed and she hadn’t made a peep. I knocked on her door and went in quietly. She was sitting on her bed and I could tell from her face that she was just as angry as she had been in the car. I sat down beside her. “What in the world has gotten into you?” I asked. “It’s really not a big deal Erin… you didn’t make a mistake on purpose and there’s no way you could have known the fact. I don’t understand why you’re so mad.”

“Mom,” she said as if it was completely ridiculous and my fault, “If I made a mistake it was only because you had never told me about this. I am 7 years old and you never told me. This is all your fault that I was wrong. Parents are supposed to teach their kids these things.”

Like I said, the topic of this issue was absolutely of non-importance. I later quipped, “Oh yes, by the age of 7 everything I had to teach my child should already have been imparted!” Erin’s picture is in the Enneagram book as the quintessential type One. They see the possibility for perfection in themselves, in others, and in the system and structures they part of. They make great leaders.

However, the spiritual issue for type Ones is that they often struggle with anger or resentment. Ones believe the world judges people who don’t follow the rules, control their emotions, behave appropriately and keep their basic animal instincts in check. For Ones, anger tops the list of feelings “good” people shouldn’t express, so they bury the anger they feel until it expresses itself to everyone as smoldering resentment.

Ones are hard on themselves and others. They don’t necessarily think they are being critical – they think in their own minds that they are trying to help. That’s because they believe they occupy the superior moral, ethical and spiritual high ground. They have a merciless inner critic and it never goes away. In addition, they keep a mental list of all the things that need to be done.

An illustration from Ian Cron about a type One made me laugh out loud! He says that Ones believe every task should be done in a systematic and correct fashion. When they read the directions to assemble a recently purchased grill, for example, and those directions say not to do anything until you make sure you have all the necessary parts… Ones actually set out all the screws, nuts and bolts and count them. And they won’t put the grill together if so much as a bolt is missing.

I’m glad there are Ones in our lives. I want them to design the brake system on my car, fill my prescriptions correctly, fly the airplane I’m on, design the programs and systems I use. Ones make great attorneys, politicians, military personnel, and teachers.

The idea of the Enneagram is not to change any person from one type to another. It is to celebrate the gifts of each person and then to recognize the traps that person can fall into. It is to help each of us learn and grow into healthier spiritual lives and patterns.

Ones have to learn that there isn’t just one right way. They also have to learn how to manage their anger without passing such severe judgment on themselves and others. They need to work on not taking themselves too seriously and even learn to play. These are their spiritual challenges – to forgive themselves and others; to control their anger and learn to accept criticism. It is a lifetime task for a One to learn to occasionally ignore duty, order, and the improvement of the world so that they can just play, celebrate, and enjoy life. Finally, Ones need to remember that they are beloved children of God. They don’t have to earn God’s love. As Anna Quindlen said, “The thing that is really hard and really amazing is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”

Some famous Ones are: Jerry Seinfeld, Nelson Mandela, Hillary Clinton, and Steve Jobs. You’ll find a list in your bulletin of what it is like to be a One. My guess is that we have a good representation of Ones in our congregation… and some of you are married to them or work with them or have them as close friends. If you do – or you are – the best thing you can do for a One is to show them God’s unconditional love. Without doing anything to earn it or prove it or make it happen God’s unconditional love is present in our lives. It is a lesson we all need and a practice that we can all embrace. 1 John 4:18 reminds us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

The message for all of us is this: you are enough. God made you and said (as God says for all of creation), it is good. This is a deep and seldom fully understood theological concept – God loves and accepts you as you are. You are enough.

Remember the movie The Wizard of Oz? Dorothy and Toto are swept up by a Kansas tornado and they end up on the yellow brick road. The tin man, the lion and the scarecrow join them on the journey to Oz. Each of the characters is looking for something – a brain, a heart, courage. What they learn is that they had all of these things the whole time. The wizard couldn’t create what they were looking for and give it to them. He simply reminded them that they already had what they needed. They were enough. They were whole. They were not perfect, but they were whole.

May it be for all of us too.

Resources Used:
Cron, Ian Morgan and Stabile, Suzanne. “The Road Back to You; An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovey.” InterVarsity Press. 2016.
Heuertz, Christopher L. “The Sacred Enneagram; Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth.” Zondervan. 2017
Rohr, Richard. “Discovering the Enneagram; An Ancient Tool for a New Spiritual Journey.” Crossroad. 1992.