Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Road Back to You

Today is launch day for a very exciting book, a collaboration of author Ian Cron and Enneagram expert Suzanne Stabile.  “The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery” explains this ancient personality typing system and how using the Enneagram can help you to understand yourself and others better, leading to greater compassion and empathy, and deeper, healthier relationships.  In addition, understanding yourself better is key to growing in relationship with God.

A big part of my life is listening to podcasts, as I work alone and enjoy having “adult conversations” to keep me company.  I started listening to Luke Norsworthy’s podcast last year.  He interviews fascinating Christian authors, pastors, activists and theologians.  In one of his conversations with Richard Rohr, they chatted about the Enneagram and later that night, I Googled “Enneagram” and read through The Enneagram Institute’s site.  Then this summer, he did a podcast with Suzanne Stabile and Ian Cron about their upcoming book and podcast.  I have since been listening each week as they interview guests about their Enneagram number.  I jumped at the opportunity to read an advance copy of their book and share this review with you.

In the first chapter, Ian Cron describes his introduction to the Enneagram in seminary when he came across a Richard Rohr book, and his professor’s adamant rejection of its credibility.  Later on, after burning out in pastoral ministry and finding a spiritual director, Brother Dave, to help put the pieces of his life back together, they discussed using the Enneagram together.

“It’s too bad your professor discouraged you from learning the Enneagram,” Br. Dave told me. “It’s full of wisdom for people who want to get out of their own way and become who they were created to be.” “What does ‘getting out of your own way’ entail?” I asked, knowing how many times I’d wanted to do just that in my life but didn’t know how. “It has to do with self-knowledge. Most folks assume they understand who they are when they don’t,” Br. Dave explained. “They don’t question the lens through which they see the world—where it came from, how it’s shaped their lives, or even if the vision of reality it gives them is distorted or true. Even more troubling, most people aren’t aware of how things that helped them survive as kids are now holding them back as adults. They’re asleep.”

“What we don’t know about ourselves can and will hurt us, not to mention others,” he said, pointing his finger at me and then at himself. “As long as we stay in the dark about how we see the world and the wounds and beliefs that have shaped who we are, we’re prisoners of our history. We’ll continue going through life on autopilot doing things that hurt and confuse ourselves and everyone around us. Eventually we become so accustomed to making the same mistakes over and over in our lives that they lull us to sleep. We need to wake up.”

“Working with the Enneagram helps people develop the kind of self-knowledge they need to understand who they are and why they see and relate to the world the way they do,” Br. Dave continued. “When that happens you can start to get out of your own way and become more of the person God created you to be.”

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I wrote a post in March of 2015 about my journey to finding healing from codependcy.  I experienced church and family trauma and I was in a similar broken place that Ian Cron describes.  I didn’t have a spiritual director like Br. Dave to guide me, but God did provide spiritual guides both in the flesh and in books and on the interwebs that helped me find my footing again.  I share that story and links that were helpful in the post.  If I had read “The Road Back to You” at that time, I would have included this resource.  I have personally experienced the change in my relationship with God as I understand myself and others better.  I feel unconditional love and acceptance from God.  In reading my old post, I see how my personality has always been an Enneagram 9, but I was unhealthy and now I am more self-aware.  I have a deeper understanding of my healing.

I believe that churches would be healthy and productive and safe if only there was more self-awareness in parishioners.  Ian and Suzanne always repeat on their podcasts that their passion for sharing the Enneagram is in seeing compassion grow. In reading the chapters explaining the nine types, I was blown away as I recognized myself, my husband, my children, my relatives and friends.  I see clearly where my work needs to be done to be a healthier, safer person.  I see where the behavior of others stems from, which gives me a greater ability to be gracious and forgiving and also to communicate with them in a meaningful way.

I don’t want to give away too much about this book.  I just want to urge you to buy a copy or request that your church or library purchase a copy.  Pass along “The Road Back to You” website to your pastor and friends.  Listen to Ian and Suzanne’s podcast on your commute or while you work.  This is an important resource for spiritual development and will bear much good fruit in your life if you use it as a spiritual discipline.

Here are the links one more time:

To purchase a copy: https://smile.amazon.com/Road-Back-You-Enneagram-Self-Discovery/ (using Smile.Amazon.com gives you an opportunity to give back to a cause that is important to you.  If you’d like, you can choose “North Harbor Community Church” – my church in Maine).

The Road Back to You website: http://theroadbacktoyou.com/


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Book Review: Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar

Oh man, oh man, do I love me some Kathy Escobar!Faith-Shift

I started reading Kathy’s blog a couple years ago, and I was hooked.  I don’t have too many blogs that I read EVERY.POST.THEY.EVER.POST.  But I wouldn’t miss anything from Kathy!  Her stuff is pure gold.

In late 2014, she published a book, “Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart”.  I had it on my wish list for a long time, finally purchased it with birthday money in September, and FINALLY had a chance to read it a couple weeks ago.  I devoured it.

“Faith Shift” is a book of hope for “spiritual refugees, church burnouts, and freedom seekers.”  In it, Kathy maps out stages of a faith shift, giving language to the painful experience of fundamentally changing from a faith that is certain and features strong affiliation and conformity with your faith community, to a faith that is freer, more mysterious and diverse.

Kathy’s stages, Fusing-Shifting-Returning or Unraveling-Severing-Rebuilding, resonated deeply with my own experiences over the past several years, as well as my long-time love of stage theory and psychology.  In Evangelical Christianity, there is a skepticism with secular fields of psychology, sociology, etc.  There is a push towards Biblical Counseling rather than listening to liberal, humanistic psychobabble.  I made sure to read the two negative reviews of “Faith Shift” on Amazon to see what concerns others may have with this book, and they were primarily along those lines.

If I hadn’t been so focused on becoming a missionary or church musician when I went to college, I probably would have studied psychology.  In hindsight, I realize I hadn’t even considered other pathways to ministry because of the complementarian church culture that I was raised in.  Deep down, I wanted to do Kingdom work.  The only women I had seen doing Kingdom work (that was OK and celebrated in my tradition) were missionaries, musicians, and Women’s Bible Study authors and speakers.  Oh, and let’s not forget mothers, the hands that rock the cradles.

During my freshman year at Gordon College, I took Psych 101 as an elective and loved it.  A lot of my college education is a blur now, but I remember what I learned in that entry-level Psychology class.  So I made sure to take the Psychology elective offered when I was in seminary.  We read a book by James Fowler, “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning“.  This is one of my favorite books from my seminary education.  Fowler maps faith development in similar ways as Kathy, from assimilation and certainty to “the wall” to a more open, gracious, loving perspective on faith and others.  In a similar vein, I often send an article to friends by Rich Vincent, “Stages of Faith: A Map for the Spiritual Journey“, when I feel they are struggling and need some perspective that they are in process, that it will all turn out OK.  Shorter and easier to read than a book!

As much as I have appreciated Stage Theory and how Christian authors have related this theory to faith development, I could never personally relate to the middle stage, “the journey inward,” or “the wall,” the season of doubt.  My faith had been strong and sure most of my life.  My Fusing stage lasted about 28 years, I would say, and Affiliation, Certainty and Conformity describe those years beautifully.  There were bumps in the road, like when I was afraid that my faith would not mature if I continued to have a “perfect” life, so I prayed for hardship.  Soon one of my best friends died at age 21 and I felt responsible and walked through a deep depression.

Then some more bumps came.  Pretty traumatic ones.  My home church chewed my family up and spit us out (at least that’s what it felt like).  I was rejected by the people who were so much a part of my identity.  My “perfect” family was imploding. God called me (a complementarian!) to pastoral ministry.  I began reading about women in ministry and was warned about the “slippery slope” that I was on.  My affiliation, certainty and conformity were being compromised!

I was Shifting and I didn’t know it.  I wanted people to be real (Authentic), I was baffled to learn that my favorite theologians had said misogynistic, sexist things while I was beginning to see God’s vision for equality and partnership between the sexes, which led me to be uncomfortable with authority figures (Autonomy), and I felt like I needed to study EVERYTHING.FOR.MYSELF (Uncertainty), while again, being real about my struggles and weaknesses–no more projection of perfection.  I became an Ex-Good-Christian-Woman (my FAVORITE Kathy Escobar post!!!).

The way that Kathy writes is utterly gracious.  She never categorizes any part of a faith journey as bad, or better than, or wrong, or anything.  She just lays it out.

Are you experiencing this?  Here is some language to help you understand.
You are not going crazy and you are not alone.   

There was a profound change in the way that I saw God a few years ago while I was watching Brennan Manning preach on YouTube.  I wept as he poured out God’s love and grace in his message that God loves us just as we are, not as we should be.  I have always believed that God is love.  But I think Affiliation, Certainty and Conformity were chains that kept me from experiencing God as love.  There were always rules and expectations and pressures and systems that kept me in check, that made God’s love seem conditional.

Because God’s love is unconditional, I can ask questions without fear or guilt.  I utterly Severed from my Fused faith as I let Brennan Manning confer a God of grace and freedom to me.  I am Rebuilding my faith around this new understanding and am seeing things through this new lens.  I expect to make mistakes and to be a work in progress.  I am full of gratitude to God for being bigger than any box that I had ever put Him in, for loving me and pursuing me and holding me safe.

And I am thankful for Kathy Escobar’s writing and this book in particular, that has helped me to understand my faith development and trust that change is a natural part of being in relationship with God.  Kathy closes “Faith Shift” by saying,

Trust the path ahead, even though you aren’t sure exactly where it will take you.  You’re not lost.  In fact, you’re on a road toward a bigger, better relationship with God, others, and yourself that will continue to develop.

The world doesn’t need more fear-filled, insecure Jesus followers.  It needs more peace-filled, secure ones.  It doesn’t need more people deciding who’s in and who’s out on earth and in eternity.  It needs more men and women who are passionate about drawing everyone toward the love of God.

Throughout the years, I have seen over and over again how this path leads to new beginnings, not endings, if we just keep walking.

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The Ragamuffin Gospel: Chapter 1 – Something is Radically Wrong

As I promised on our Facebook page, we will blog ragamuffin gospelalong with our small group discussions of Brennan Manning’s book, “The Ragamuffin Gospel,” Amazon’s number one best-seller under the category of Christian Discipleship.  Now is the perfect time to pick up a copy – it is on sale!  Last April, I blogged about listening to Brennan Manning’s sermons during Lent and how I was impacted by his message of God’s unconditional love.  You can read that post here.  Our group is meeting the first and third Fridays of the month, slowly discussing “The Ragamuffin Gospel” chapter by chapter.  So April 3rd we talked about chapter 1, “Something is Radically Wrong.”

This chapter in a nutshell is talking about American Christianity’s tendency to talk grace but walk works.  We preach a Gospel of grace – “the total sufficiency of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on Calvary” (pg. 15) – but our lives tell a different story.  We have “twisted the gospel of grace into religious bondage and distorted the image of God into an eternal, small-minded bookkeeper” (pg. 16).  We are all striving, striving, striving for approval from God and from our faith communities, emphasizing personal effort over grace.  There are different classes of Christians, where some are given special status because of their works and charisma while others are ignored altogether for their ordinariness.  We hide our darker side from each other and live in a constant state of “existential guilt…[and] Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency.  Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut” (pg. 17).

GUILTragamuffin guilt 1

This was the word that we danced around the most in our conversation, and I have been keenly aware of its presence in conversations with others over the past week.  Guilt is a huge issue for men and women alike, but from a woman’s perspective, I see how guilt has become a perpetual state of being for many of us.  Yet our feeling of guilt–that we are not doing enough as Christians, as parents, as spouses, as family members, as employees, as citizens of the world–is a blatant rejection of the gospel of grace.  The solution is to admit our “shadow side” and accept that there is nothing we can earn by works.  All is a gift.  We must find our identity in our acceptance and love from God and not in how we perform.  Manning expresses this beautifully in this quote from page 25:

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes.  I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty.  I am trusting and suspicious.  I am honest and I still play games.  Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark.  In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.  As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes.  It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches.  For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift.  All that is good is ours, not by right, but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God.  While there is much we may have earned–our degree, our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite, and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love.  We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh.  We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt.  This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer.  Even our fidelity is a gift.  “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.”  My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.

ragamuffin guilt 2

Let me leave this post with a few more quotes:

“Justification by grace through faith” is the theologian’s learned phrase for what Chesterton once called “the furious love of God.”  He is not moody or capricious; He knows no seasons of change.  He has a single relentless stance toward us: He loves us.  He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners.  False gods–the gods of human manufacturing–despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do” (pg. 20).

The kingdom is not an exclusive, well-trimmed suburb with snobbish rules about who can live there.  No, it is for a larger, homelier, less self-conscious caste of people who understand they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle (pg. 23).

As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me.  When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed.  God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am.  Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him.  I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness (pg. 23).

Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted (pg. 28).

Often I have been asked, “Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?”  It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure; because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus.  Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel.  Because  justification by grace through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table” (pgs. 30-31).