A Six on the Enneagram
It is safe to say that America is obsessed with personality types. This isn’t a new phenomenon but it has changed over time. Thirty years ago, a common pick-up line was “what’s your sign?” referring to zodiac astrology. Today, you’re more likely to hear “what’s your Myers-Briggs type?” Or, if you visit the office at Christ Church, “what’s your Enneagram number?” We love talking about the Enneagram - almost as much as we love iced sugar cookies and testing Carol Lou’s knowledge of the 1982 hymnal.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Enneagram, it is a set of personality types labeled 1 through 9, often depicted in a circle, indicating that everyone has a little bit of all the qualities, but each of us has a dominant trait that most widely expresses our habits and values. If you were to visit the Enneagram Institute’s website, you would find information such as the basic fears and motivations for each type, what each type values most, and the way each type communicates, responds to stress, and matures emotionally. For instance, my Enneagram number is 5. The basic desire of Enneagram 5’s is to be capable and competent. This is regularly affirmed for me when my dad jokes that my first words as an infant were “no Dad, I wanna do it myself.”
But today I’d like to talk to you about Enneagram 6’s. Sixes are “committed, security-oriented, engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.” Some well-known Enneagram 6’s include Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings, “Seinfeld’s" George Constanza, and, in my personal-though-heavily-researched opinion, the apostle Thomas. The basic desire for Enneagram 6’s is to have security, support, and guidance, so it’s no surprise that after the crucifixion of his leader, we find Thomas’ whole world upended. His worst fear has come true, and his ability to function has been sorely impaired.
And then, like rubbing salt in a wound, his friends tease him that their teacher has come back from the dead. “It’s too soon!” Thomas says, “that’s not funny!” Thomas craves certitude, and one thing he knows for certain is that people don’t come back from the dead. He refuses to be shamed into abandoning his principles. Now, we might be tempted to admire these qualities in Thomas, although we usually consider him to be in the wrong in this story. But I don’t think we’re totally off base for feeling drawn to Thomas.
America’s obsession with taking online quizzes to find out who we are may be slightly unhealthy, but I don’t think the motivation behind researching our personalities is all bad. Christine Whelan, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin told NBCNews in 2014 that while craving attention and manipulating our self-image are certainly factors in our love of typology, we also simply desire accurate self-knowledge, validation, and the ability to communicate about these concepts with a common language. Essentially, we want to know and understand ourselves and our neighbors. From a Christian standpoint, we can’t argue with that.
Plus, a positive impact of being saturated with typology is the growing sentiment that for the most part, there is no “bad” personality type. No one is inherently wrong in their approach to the world, just different. Just ask the millions of Harry Potter fans who identify as belonging to the house of Slytherin. Although the arch-villain of the famous book and film series may have belonged to this house, its core values of cunning, ambition, creativity, and resourcefulness are sources of pride for its affiliates. Surely in our divided social and political climate, embracing differences without dishonoring or refuting them is a welcome trend.
So how does Christ embrace Thomas, and how can we do the same? What we tend to remember most about this passage is the line, "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” We take it as an admonition against any kind of doubt. But before all that, Jesus is quite gentle with Thomas. He offers him precisely what he asked for, to touch the wounds from the crucifixion. Christ becomes risen to Thomas in a way that speaks to his particular faith. Christ does not punish Thomas’ doubt by withholding his life or his love. He gives himself freely, as he always does, no strings attached.
John’s Gospel is full of examples of Christ being gentle with folks who hesitate to abandon their old principles for the new way of life God offers - the apostle Nathanael, the woman at the well, and Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, just to name a few. It seems that while we are quick to condemn people who’s faith we judge as poor, Christ is able to meet anyone and everyone, exactly where they are. In the lily-scented, post-Easter haze, it’s easy to get swept up in the celebration, and wonder how anyone could not believe in bodily resurrection when our church is so beautiful, our music so triumphant, our joy so pervasive? As if we ourselves are the epitome of perfect faith, especially when our own worlds are upended. Luckily, Christ is more gracious with us than we are with one another, and with ourselves. Jesus’ resurrection is the greatest mystery of all, and he will to do whatever each of us needs, in order to help us trust in it.
Today we will baptize sweet Marlo into Christ’s death and resurrection. We will all promise to be part of her life and formation here at Christ Church. We don’t yet know what personality type Marlo will have, although I’m sure her parents could give us some clues. She may be introverted or extroverted. She could become artistic or spontaneous. Maybe she’ll be a critical thinker. Perhaps, like Thomas, she’ll be loyal and committed, responsible, and hesitant to abandon her principles. Regardless, Christ will meet her in that space and create a relationship with her that is unique, just like he does for all of us. She will be loved by God exactly as she is, simply because she exists. And in her moments of doubt, Christ will come to her precisely as she needs him to. Thanks to the apostle Thomas, and Enneagram 6’s everywhere, for this Good News. Amen.