You zig while I zag – reflecting on some Myers-Briggs training


The way we make decisions and solve problems was described in terms of a zigzag by Isabel Briggs-Myers. Friend and colleague Julia McGuinness walked a group of us through the zigzag and highlighted how the hierarchy of what Myers-Briggs refers to as our “mental functions” affects the way we make decisions. Typically decisions flow from sensing (defining the problem) to intuition (considering possibilities) to thinking (weighing consequences) to feeling (weighing alternatives). This process reflects the pastoral cycle used for theological reflection (with the process often described as experience > exploration > reflection > response) and Kolb’s Learning Cycle (with accompanying learning styles inventory).


Each of us has a hierarchy of mental functions. There are two pairs of functions. The first pair is about how we perceive, and they are sensing (S) and intuition (N). The second pair is about how we judge, and they are thinking (T) and feeling (F). Each of us has a preference one of those functions in each pair – they become the middle two letters in a Myers-Briggs profile. One is known as the “dominant” function, and the other is the “auxiliary”. Anyone who knows their MB profile can work out which is dominant depending on whether they are “judging” (J) or “perceiving” (P) types and whether they are extravert (E) or introvert (I). For example, someone who is ESTJ has thinking as their dominant function, sensing as their auxiliary, intuition as their “tertiary”. The hierarchy for an ESTJ is thus:

  1. thinking
  2. sensing
  3. intuition
  4. feeling

Elise Enriques Touchette at Shine a Light Coaching identifies them as driver, passenger, disengaged child in the back and baby rather than dominant, auxiliary etc, making the point that we have to make an effort to engage the disengaged child (the one less inclined to function). She uses a square to describe the ideal decision making process from sensing to feeling via intuition and thinking. The process is squared and divided into equal quarters.


But life is not like that. We start our own decision making processes from out positions of strength. We have a mental function that drives us, that gets us going. The driver for the ENFJ and the INFP is pictured at the top of the right hand diagram, and the shape within the triangle is the measure of the time, ability/inclination/preference the driver brings to the process. Thinking is the baby in the car – there is little ability, inclination or preference to “apply logic”. (I know – I am an INFP!)

The hierarchy of mental functions demonstrates that we find some things easier than others (as if we need to be told that). It reinforces the fact that we need each other to complement one another – that we do need to collaborate in ministry, learning, everything. It reminds me that I need to stretch myself in some directions I find difficult and that I need the help of others for what I find well-nigh impossible.

What is true for us as individuals is also true for any group. The hospital chaplains I mentioned above are not the only group in which the mental functions aren’t equally shared. Any congregation, family, business organisation has its strengths and has its weaknesses which they will need to address either by finding help from the right sources or by making the effort of stretching out from my comfort zone. For me that will be concentrating more on the larger picture (N) and learning to look more at the facts (S). The “T” I might have to leave for another life.

The gateway where hope and history rhyme

Migrant Mother - Dorothea Lange 1936
Migrant Mother – Dorothea Lange 1936

In her beautiful blog, Maria Popova describes Reverend Victoria Stafford’s meditation in The Small Work in the Great Work (in the collection The Impossible Will Take a Little While: Perseverance and Hope in Troubled Times) as “gorgeous”. Stafford is “interested in what Seamus Heaney calls the meeting point of hope and history, where what has happened is met by what we make of it. What has happened is met midstream by people who are … spiritual beings and all that implies from creativity, imagination, crazy wisdom, passionate compassion, selfless courage, and radical reverence for life.” Here is how Heaney puts it in The Cure at Troy where hope and history rhyme:

Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Popova frames her post with Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph of Migrant Mother. The woman moved by Lange is possibly a Californian pea picker in the Great Depression. Perhaps Popova has been prompted to turn to this photo by Stafford’s anecdote:

“I have a friend who traffics in words. She is not a minister, but a psychiatrist in the health clinic at a prestigious women’s college. We were sitting once not long after a student she had known and counselled,  had committed suicide… My friend, the doctor, the healer, held the loss very closely in those first few days, not unprofessionally, but deeply, fully – as you or I would have, had this been someone in our care.

At one point (with tears streaming down her face), she looked up in defiance (this is the only word for it) and spoke explicitly of her vocation, as if out of the ashes of that day she were renewing a vow or making a new covenant (and I think she was). She spoke explicitly of her vocation, and of yours and mine. She said, “You know I cannot save them. I am not here to save anybody or to save the world. All I can do – what I am called to do – is to plant myself at the gates of Hope. Sometimes they come in; sometimes they walk by. But I stand there every day and I call out till my lungs are sore with calling, and beckon and urge them toward beautiful life and love.”

Michael Sadgrove also claims the “gate” as the standpoint for Christian ministry. Considering Job in his book Wisdom and Ministry, Sadgrove asks about the piety required of those who are called to be friends and comforters to those who have to endure pain, and says that we don’t stand apart from suffering humanity, but face the world as it is. “We must often sit among the ahses where Job is, and must always go outside the gate to the place of the skull, where Jesus is.”

Opening the gate of Hope at the meeting point of  hope and history begins with holding a moment (as in Lange’s photo) closely and deeply, and meeting that with all that we are. For me, this is a passionate rendition of all the pastoral cycle seeks to do in theological reflection and pastoral practice. The final word goes to Victoria Stafford: “Whatever our vocation, we stand, beckoning and calling, singing and shouting, planted at the gates of Hope.” There we see the world “as it is and as it could be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle” Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother is in the public domain.

>Pardon me

>How do we hear confession these days?
The answer is that we increasingly hear them with banners of publicity (tabloid headlines) and humiliation. Everything seems to be so terribly public these days with the interesting excuse for broadcasting our sins being “it’s in the reader’s/hearer’s interest”. I don’t call it confession when someone has been hounded and a “confession” wrung out of them. That’s like a someone being wrestled to the canvas to find out who ate the last Rolo. That’s not confession but submission. The person confessing has to be in control of the conversation – not the other way round.
Confessions are normally heard by friends (including our confessions of not being a good friend for them). They are people we can confide in. We choose the confessor/friend to fit the confession and it’s someone whose judgement we can trust and whose love we can trust will not be shaken by the disclosure that “here’s a bit of myself you may or may not know that I don’t like and find difficult to live with” – or “here’s something I’ve done (or do) of which I am greatly ashamed. The confidence is that the confessor and the confession is going to help me to reshape how I view myself and amend what I do, and is going to keep the confession to the privacy of the confessional.
Sometimes a confession is out of the reach of friends – beyond their power to comprehend when they have to honestly say they cannot help us on this one. They might need the help of a counsellor – someone with the knowledge and the experience that is needed. I wonder whether something similar was going on in the story from the gospels of the those who bring their friend to Jesus and lower him through the roof so that he can hear Jesus’s good news that his sins are forgiven.
When we hear confession we normally hear something with which we are very familiar that all sorts of bells ring in our own hearts. Sometimes though we hear of something which is so beyond our own experience and understanding that we don’t know what to make of it. We have to cope with our shock, nausea and sometimes even revulsion. Thinking this through I have come to realise how important what we (in the trade) call theological reflection. Theological reflection is a process we can go through involving exploration and reflection to help us to the best possible response. We have to remember that the person confessing has also gone through that process of theological reflection to be at the point of confession. S/he will have had countless replays and sleepless nights weighing offences and options before coming to the conclusion that the best way forward on this or that is to confide in another.
Confessors should love them for that moral courage alone. They should be sure that God does. Then a smile, a touch, an “it’s OK” (genuinely, not cheaply, given)is sometimes all that is needed for someone to know that their sins are forgiven.
As Christians we need to celebrate these sacramental moments of reconciliation and healing. Perhaps we need to confess to our monopolising and over-institutionalising confession. We tend to focus in our worship on confessing our sins to God. Perhaps at the back of our minds is the question posed by the Pharisees – “Who can forgive sins – surely only God can forgive sins?” But Jesus did teach us to forgive one another, so let’s hope we respond well when someone has the confidence in us to say “pardon me”.

“How are we going to cope with this?” or “What on earth can we do about that?” is so often the starting point for a relevant and exciting piece of theological work, even though it begins on a negative and worrying note….. It is a fact that good theology is more likely to derive from a problem rather than a statement, more likely to arise in a prison than a palace.
Laurie Green