Sabbatical, Day 16

We thought Mark was getting better. He wasn’t. A persistent tummyache, followed by spectacular vomiting this afternoon has proved he still has a long way to go. So much for a twenty-four-hour bug.

Rebekah has also been struggling on and off with a headache over the weekend and today. Thankfully, it had disappeared by bedtime. Hopefully she is on the way up, and Mark will be before too long. It isn’t how they’d want to spend half term.

All of which means I haven’t done that much today. However, one theme of my sabbatical is meant to be about faith and technology. Really it’s bottom of the list, ‘do something on this if I have time’. Yet I’ve found more than one blogger (Brother Maynard was one of the most recent) point to an interesting article by Kevin Kelly called Amish Hackers. This is fascinating. Kelly debunks the popular image of the Amish as hostile to technology. The Old Order Amish may fit that image to a large degree, but it isn’t true of all Amish streams, he says. What does he say? Here are some important themes.

Firstly, the Amish tend to use technology without owning it. Someone who is part of the Amish community but who works outside (there isn’t enough work on all the farms for them all) may well hire a car or a taxi to get to and from work. There are even Amish websites, often put together in local libraries.

When I first read this, I thought it was a hypocritical stance: we don’t want to own something, but we want to get all the benefits. However, on reflection, I think they are trying to enshrine an important point. It’s the problem of possessions and idolatry. That which we possess often ends up possessing us. Have they found a way to guard against temptations to idolatry? Someone somewhere still has to own the car or computer, but they do seem to be onto something important. 

Secondly, their attitude to technology is not so much negative as cautious. They do not assume that new inventions are automatically bad. Instead, some Amish who are excited by an invention will go to their bishops and ask for permission to trial it. The bishops will often let them in order that the technology may be evaluated to see whether it would benefit the community. They have been trialling mobile phones since 1999, and the bishops could still say ‘no’. If the bishops do decide something would be harmful, the early adopters have to relinquish it.

What’s important about this? It’s the emphasis upon community, that much-overused-yet-sucked-of-its-meaning word in other Christian circles. The well-being (shalom?) of the community is paramount. Individual preferenes have to be subsumed to the church. The initial objection to cars a hundred years ago was about the danger of unbridled mobility in taking people away from enriching the local community: they would not shop locally or visit the sick on Sunday. I don’t think this is the way Marxism despises the individual in favour of the society to the point that people are but cogs in the machine, but it is a profound sense that we are not merely redeemed individuals, we are called into a redeemed community. 

As Kelly observes, we haven’t seen any evidence of widespread social relinquishment in broader society. He realises it isn’t simply about a mass boycott (we’ve seen them, albeit not generally permanent), but also mutual support. The Amish have a closeness of relationship in order to provide that, too. Social relinquishment is very difficult in a technological-consumerist society as ours, even in a recession. 

Not only that, there is a process of discernment going on here that goes beyond the wooden application of texts by some fundamentalists. You can query how long the bishops take to evaluate not only the usefulness but also the goodness of an invention, and it does – according to Kelly – put the Amish about fifty years behind the rest of society. However, this is a serious attempt to find the mind of Christ.

Have a look at the article for yourself. Do offer your comments here. I think it’s intriguing. Naturally, as a lover of technology, I think the Amish are too cautious, but my image of them has changed radically and I have to admire their profoundly Christian values that they bring to the subject. 

One last thing before signing off. Next week is my second trip as part of the sabbatical, when I shall be visiting Trinity College, Bristol to study ministry and personality type. I began dipping into one book I already have that touches on the subject, Knowing Me Knowing You by Malcolm Goldsmith and Martin Wharton. At the end of the introduction, they mention two books that have shaped their thinking: Prayer and Temperament by Chester P Michael and Marie C Norrisey and Personality Type And Religious Leadership by Roy M Oswald and Otto Kroeger. Goldsmith and Wharton’s book was published in 1993, so these other two titles will be older. Does anybody know them and are they any good? Michael and Norrisey’s book has two good reviews on Amazon, and seems to be written from a Catholic perspective. Likewise, Oswald and Kroeger get one five-star review. 

Does anyone know any other decent works in this field? Searching on Amazon uncovered Who We are is How We Pray: Matching Personality and Spirituality by Charles J Keating. It also found Prayer Life: How Your Personality Affects the Way You Pray by Pablo Martinez. However, while personality type and prayer is helpful and interesting, my primary focus is about ministry and leadership issues in relation to personality type. 

The course at Trinity uses the Myers Briggs Type Indicator as its basis, so work connected to that approach would be especially helpful. However, if you know material that comes from other approaches, particularly that of Hans Eysenck, I’d be quite interested, too.

I mentioned this theme before on Day 5 of the sabbatical, but didn’t make any particular appeal regarding literature, and it provoked some helpful comments, and Tess Giles recommended some reading on the Enneagram. However, this time I want to appeal a little more specifically regarding literature on the ministry and personality issue, especially looking at Myers Briggs, whether favourable or critical. Thanks for any help you can offer.


  1. You might be interested in the brain profiles which are done (mostly as a business) by a member of my church. She did this recently for a group of church members including me. This analyses how people think, supposedly at a higher level than MBTI, and is certainly helpful for finding how people fit together into different jobs in the church. See here for more on this. If you mention that you know Mones and me you may well get special attention.


  2. In response to Andy, given that the blog mentioned is about to disappear, the book in question is Spiritual Life: Foundation for Preaching and Teaching by John H Westerhoff III. According to a review of the book on Amazon, Westerhoff seeks to match certain spiritual practices to particular personality types, albeit without being prescriptive.

    Andy’s blog post explores prayer with and without words, and he provides a quiz based on the following rationale (Andy, I hope you don’t mind me quoting a paragraph or two from the post.):

    This is based on my amended version of the typology in John Westerhoff’s Spiritual Life (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994). The idea is that all of us have a ‘home base’ spirituality which can be plotted along too axes: one goes from affective to reflective/active (pretty much the same distinction as ‘F’ and ‘T’ on Myers-Briggs; and the other from verbal to beyond words (or if you prefer kataphatic to apophatic, non-mystical to mystical, a mediated knowing God to a direct knowing God, etc).

    Active; Active/reflective,
    prayer beyond words verbal

    Beyond words Verbal

    Affective; Affective,
    prayer beyond words verbal


    In addition, it’s Westerhoff’s contention (and it makes sense in my experience) that we tend to be fascinated by the diagonally opposite ‘school’ of spirituality as well. So for example my natural territory is highly emotional and wordy, but I feel a need to balance that with some active ‘beyond words’ prayer. Anyway, try it. See if it’s fun. See if it helps.


  3. Peter,

    I hadn’t heard of the Neethling Brain Instrument, so thank you. It’s hard to know which profile would best fit the ministry situation. Perhaps the general ‘adult’ one or the ‘leadership’ instrument (although I’m cautious about how far you can translate models from companies to the church). Which one did your group take at church?


  4. Dave, I thought there was only one profile, and different sets of notes to go with it. We had a talk from Heather which was I think a composite of the various notes. But you would need to contact Heather first anyway and get her advice. I think it’s only the notes, not the actual instruments, which you can download for free without talking to her.

    Andy, thanks for the link to your blog post, and for the quiz. I remember that tragedy, which had a deep effect on some young people I know who were school friends of the lad who died. On your quiz I come out as “an affective pray-er beyond words”, which makes sense although the thinking, left-brained side of me sometimes wonder if it is a bit of a cop-out for not bothering to put my prayers into words. Or perhaps that’s the opposite pole I am supposed to be fascinated by.


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