Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Churchgoers: Good News?

Turns out I had one more post in me for 2010.  A study released last week showed that the happiest churchgoers are those that have lots of friends within their congregations, irrespective of individual devotional life and sense of connection to God.  I found myself troubled by these findings, and I have written a response that was picked up by The Washington Post.

Are Happy Churchgoers Good News? by Adam McHugh, Washington Post's On Faith

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mary or Martha during Advent?

This is most likely my last post of the year, so I'll try to make it a good one.  You may have read my article, "A Counter-Cultural Quiet in Advent" a couple of weeks ago, in which I confess my spiritual struggles during this beautiful season on the church calendar.  I propose that we simplify our celebrations and devote time to quiet and solitude as well as to corporate celebration.

My suggestions are not uncommon among Christians who feel a little disillusioned with our cultural celebrations, but if we're honest, reshaping the nature of the season presents some significant social problems.  I was reading through the Advent section of Living the Christian Year a few days ago, in which the author, Bobby Gross makes some similar suggestions as I do. He then recounts a conversation he had with a friend over this issue:

"My struggle boils down to this," bemoaned my friend Courtney. "You can't be Mary and Martha at the same time; someone has to do the cooking!" She vented this frustration after a dinner party where the conversation had turned to the tension between Advent as a spiritual season and December as a month of cultural craziness. "Your description of Advent requires Mary time," she said in a later email,

yet of all the times of the year - especially for a woman with children and a conscience - Advent is the most impossible to be Mary-like. The Christmas machine (church, school, family, neighborhood, office, charitable activities) is so giant that it would require radical steps to extricate oneself. Steps that could send a message to one's community of being uncharitable and that could feed resentment in one's own family." Living the Christian Year, p. 45

That's a really provocative statement, right?  So, my question is, if you were respond to Courtney over email, what would you say to her?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Phases of Writing

I'm delighted that my article, "The Writer as Madman and Mystic," is the headline article on Crosswalk.com today.

That article was actually inspired by the blog post below, which I wrote a couple of years ago while in the midst of writing my book.

Phases of Writing

Writing a book is like giving birth to a snarling 8 headed monster. It's so much more than sitting down in front of your laptop and typing. It's more like a war, as your own words and ideas battle you and each other. In writing your hopes, dreams, fears and inadequacies are exposed. You learn what it is you most want in life and how incompetent you are to actually achieve it.

I've written seven and a half chapters in Introverts in the Church now, and I've identified some patterns in the process, some phases that I invariably go through:

1. The "Aha" phase. This is the phase of researching, thinking, and interviewing. This is the phase of discovery, as I begin to see things I had not seen before. I have great synergistic moments as I talk with others and we find that we share thoughts, experiences, and hopes. I'll be reading a book and a sentence or a concept will practically shout out to me. I'll begin to believe that I have valuable things to say and that others will be interested.

2. The "Pulitzer Prize" phase. This is the phase of conceptualizing, organizing, and outlining. Inevitably I get here and my ego tries to leap out of my body and make itself known. Here I become convinced that my ideas are brilliant and my writing is profound. No one has ever written a book this sublime. Stephen Hawking will read my book and say "Why didn't I think of that?!"

3. The "Total Incompetence" phase. This one follows about ten minutes on the heels of the Pulitzer Prize phase. I'll encounter the first obstacle in writing my chapter and my ego will not only find its way back into my body but shrink to 1/8th its normal size. This is where I will question everything I've ever known about the world and myself, including why in the world I thought I could write a book. This is where the dark scenarios creep in and I'll imagine my manuscript sitting in my editor's trash can, the smoke still floating off the singed pages. Or someone going to review my book and being unable to do so because the astonished tears of laughter keep him from being able to see straight.

4. The "Complete Disorientation" phase. Once I power through stage 3 and finish a draft of my chapter, I go to read it over and immediately move into this phase. My first draft tends to be very rough and practically stream of consciousness writing. If I don't know where something should go, I'll just write it anyway. So it feels like a bunch of random paragraphs that have no organic relationship to anything that comes before them or after. My head will be spinning as I try to read it over. This is the phase where I find myself cleaning my apartment a lot - my manuscript may be a mess, but dammit, my writing space will be clean!

5. The "It doesn't totally suck" phase. After rewriting several times, I get to a point where I think that maybe there are a few nuggets of insight in here and maybe a few people will actually want to read it. There is a small measure of contentment and sense of accomplishment here. Then, it's back to step one.

On that note, I'm entertaining this book title:

It Doesn't Totally Suck
by Adam S. McHugh

Friday, December 10, 2010

Are writers crazy? Maybe.

What do C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ernest Hemingway, Philip Yancey, and Stephen King have in common?  Two things: 1. They're all writers and 2. They're all featured in my new article about the madness of the writing life on Crosswalk

I spend a lot of time reading what other writers say about writing. It's an excellent way to procrastinate from actually writing. In reading the words of seasoned authors, who themselves are usually writing about writing in order to avoid other projects, I have discovered two recurring themes. The process of writing may very well make you crazy. And it may also make you a mystic.

To read the rest of the article, entitled "The Writer as Madman and Mystic," click here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Church Calendar

I'm a big fan of the church calendar. Growing up in evangelical circles, I hadn't even heard of the church calendar until seminary.  But since then I find the idea of matching our rhythms with the rhythms of the Church - both contemporary and ancient - deeply meaningful.  The church calendar constantly brings us back to the story of Jesus - rejoicing at his birth and anticipating his return during Advent, preparing for his death during Lent, celebrating his resurrection during Easter, and obeying his commission during Pentecost. And there is Ordinary Time, which is actually far from ordinary, because it reminds us that God is always inbreakingly present, in every circumstance of our lives, even when it seems monotonous. 

Advent is the beginning of the new church year, so if you are not familiar with the church calendar, now is a great time to consider it.  Here are a few pieces to read to get you started:

My friend Mark Roberts is in the middle of an introductory series on the liturgical year 

I love this Advent reflection by Rob Bell at RELEVANT

I've been using Bobby Gross' book Living the Christian Year for the past few months and I absolutely love it.  I'm going to post a quote from this book sometime during the Advent season.

Also check out The Circle of Seasons by Kimberlee Ireton

What's your experience of the church calendar? Do you have other resources you recommend?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent for Introverts

(12/5 Update - Scholar and blogger Scot McKnight has re-posted this article on his blog, and it's a great chance to participate in the conversation!)

A Counter-Cultural Quiet in Advent
Adam McHugh

For some people, the Advent season on the church calendar is one of the most anticipated times of the year. For some, there is no other time in which their love of God is stronger, there is no other time in which they are more aware of God's mercy in their lives and in the world, there is no other time in which their hearts go out to others with such affection, and there is no other time in which their joy is more profound.

I am not one of those people.

Read the rest of this article at Patheos by clicking here

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving: Meals that change your life

I thought I would move this post up to the top, since my article touches on Thanksgiving and centers on an unforgettable meal I ate 15 years ago.  The article has made its way to the "most read" articles at RELEVANT Magazine online. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Meals that Change Your Life - by Adam McHugh. RELEVANT Magazine

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Most Extroverted Time of Year

Do you hear what I hear?  It's the holiday season, calling for all your energy and free time.  It's your relatives, whom you love, asking for your attention. It's your friends and co-workers, inviting you to myriads of parties and get-togethers. To borrow a line from Sophia Dembling, it's the most extroverted time of the year.

This post is an Introverted Church tradition, four year running.  There is much I love about the holiday season - the chill in the air, the music, the lights, the food, the people - but it's exhausting for me and sometimes difficult for my spiritual life.  

First, to remind you that there will be rest in your future, January 2nd is Happy Introverts Day.


Second, the Introverts Corner has a new post with some survival strategies: The Most Extroverted Time of the Year - Psychology Today

Third, some of my suggestions for navigating the season:


1. Take time for your inner life.  The holiday season in the US is notoriously outward focused, which may be one of the reasons a lot of people lament the loss of meaning.  I find Advent liturgies, candles, and the prophecies foretelling the advent of the Messiah, and the birth narratives of Jesus, to be particularly poignant.  Take time to read, pray, and reflect.

2. Learn how to say "no."  Some of us are naturally "yes" people - our default response when given an invitation - but that can be particularly damaging to us when the invitations are furious and constant.  When we learn how to say no we say yes to God who created us as introverts and to our true selves.  I usually say "no" to parties that are loaded with strangers, unless I have a real purpose for being there. When my closest friends call, though, I'm there. 

3. When you attend a party, find one or two people that you know or want to know, and see if you can engage them in conversation.  Listen.  Ask questions.  Try to concentrate your energies there instead of being distracted by all the other action in the room (I read recently that introverts actually take in too much of their environment, whereas extroverts let most of it wash over them). 

4. When you need a break, try one or more of these ideas: Peruse a person's bookshelf. Take a walk outside. Wander the house like you're just taking a tour. Hang out in the bathroom for a while.  Sit on the side and watch.

Next week I will post an article I've written on Advent for introverts.  Until then, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hospitality

I'm writing an article this week about hospitality, that centers around an experience I had of receiving radical hospitality a few years ago.  Hospitality is an important theme and quality in the scriptures.  I have even heard one theologian say that the story of the scriptures is God extending hospitality to us and us learning how to receive it and extend it to others.

One of the things I say in Introverts in the Church is that introverts have a tendency to treat their homes as their sanctuaries, as a place of respite from a tiring world.  And that's not a bad thing.  But it does make me wonder how introverts can extend welcome to other people. Obviously, there is much more to it than just allowing people into our homes, and we can practice hospitality in many different settings and on many different ways.  Listening, for example, is a profound act of hospitality.

What do you think?  How do you practice the welcome of Christ to others?  Do you enjoy opening your homes to others?  How are you growing in becoming a more hospitable person?

If for no other reason, I think this is an important topic to consider because the holidays are only a couple of weeks away!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Philip Yancey

Here's a short interview with Philip Yancey, author of several bestselling books including What's So Amazing about Grace? and his new one What Good is God?

He talks about being an "extreme introvert" but says that far harder than the public speaking role are the "30 second conversations with strangers."

Also, he has awesome hair.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Speaking Freely

How ironic is this?  I went to an event called "Permission to Speak Freely" last night.  No one else seems to find that as funny as I do. 

It was an evening with my friends Anne Jackson, author of Permission to Speak Freely, and Susan Isaacs, author of Angry Conversations with God, and also musician I'm not acquainted with named Solveig.  It brings up again the issue of "sharing" that we have addressed on this blog- a sharing which is both freeing and terrifying.  Many introverts I know are turned off by the expectations that some churches have that you will share the details of your life with others, especially those you don't know.  And I appreciate and emphasize with that, but I also get concerned that the resistance to sharing things with people is a result of fear or past bad experiences, not a natural personality trait. 

Now, who you choose to share with is the critical issue.  There has to be a level of trust present before most people will feel comfortable opening up their lives.  But I was reminded again that even the most introverted person needs one or two people in their lives who they can be truly vulnerable with. Hearing someone else say "me too" when we confess something really difficult is one of the most powerful and freeing experiences that we can have.

What are your thoughts about "sharing" in churches?  What are bad examples you have seen?  What are good examples you have experienced?   

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One Year

It's hard to believe that it has been one year since I opened a box of books with my name on it. I called it "Adam S. McHugh" Christmas. I waited at the door for 2 days until the UPS guy finally showed up. It has to rank as the 3rd best moment of my life, after my wedding and ordination.

One year. My baby is all grown up! I feel profoundly grateful. Introverts in the Church is approaching its 6th printing, the reviews have been highly positive, and the attention is has received has exceeded my expectations.

I knew there were a lot more introverts in churches than people thought, but meeting some of you, and getting emails from you, has been a wonderful experience. You have confirmed all the things that I said in my book about the gifts that we bring to our communities. Please continue to email me and stop me at conferences to say hello. Thank you for buying the book and recommending it to others. I hope that this will be my first of many books and I look forward to continuing the conversation.

I would love it if you would write comments on this post about how the book has helped you - personally, in your relationships with others, and in your churches. 


To review the last year, I thought I would re-post some of my favorite links to interviews, article, and book reviews.

Book Reviews
Ministering to People who Hate Parties - Evangelical Outpost 
Introverts in the Church - Reformation 21
You Need to Read Introverts in the Church - In the Coracle (new today!)
Introverts in the Church - Kruse Kronicle

Interviews
Psychology Today - The Introverts Corner
Interview/Review with Mark D. Roberts
Interview with Rhett Smith
Interview with Christianity.com

Articles
The Christian Century: Can Introverts Lead? Breaking Down Stereotypes, by Adam McHugh. 
The Washington Post: Introverts in Evangelical America, by Adam McHugh. 
USA Today: Are Social Media Changing Religion? by Henry Brinton
The Huffington Post: For Shy Worshipers, Church Can Be Overwhelming, by Lilly Fowler

MP3s
The Goals and Perils of Community Life, by Adam McHugh
Mars Hill Audio Journal, Interview with Ken Myers and Adam McHugh (for purchase)

What a year it's been.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A nice recommendation

John Ortberg's tweet from last night:
  
If u r an introvert, or u kno one, read Adam McHugh's Introverts In The Church. It's enuf to make u want to talk to someone.  http://twitter.com/johnortberg

If you're on Twitter, please retweet!  John admitted to me a while back that he falls on the introverted side of the scale.  Another pastor of a large church who is an introvert.

And returning the favor, since he clearly needs my help, I'm just starting his book, The Me I Want to Be

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Little Help

I've been talking for a while about a second book proposal, but it's getting pretty legitimate now.  Sorry that I'm not releasing the full topic, but I will tell you the proposed title:

Quick to Listen: Listening as a Way of Life

There's more to it than you think - it's about much more than spirituality and our relationship with God.  I have an introduction and about 2 pages of chapter one so far, along with another dozen pages of other personal and promotional information.  I am sending it in to my agent on Halloween (it's scary!).  It's a tough market out there though, and I could use some help.  Here are a few ways that you can help me get a second book contract:

1. Buy Introverts in the Church.  In this industry, and in this economy, it's all about numbers.  Publishers are turning down great book proposals because they don't think they can sell the books.  Introverts is doing pretty well, for a first-time author that no one has ever heard of, but the numbers still won't impress you all that much.  If you are thinking about buying the book, whether for yourself or for someone else, would you consider buying it in the next week?  If you are thinking about Christmas presents, could you buy it a couple of months in advance?  This will be the number one criterion that a publisher looks at when considering whether to publish my next book.

2. Subscribe to this blog.  The proposal template asks how many subscribers my blog has.

3. Join the Introverts in the Church Facebook page.  This is becoming a great community, with lots of comments and discussion.  And I'm much better about quickly responding to comments there than I am on the blog.

4. Recommend Introverts in the Church to others.  Tweets and Facebook links and blog reviews/mentions are great places to start, as well as, of course, telling people in person (gasp!).  You could link to my Washington Post article for starters, or send them to the blog.

5. Follow me on Twitter

I really appreciate all your help over the last year!  Even introverts can't do these things alone. And I truly love hearing from you.

Adam

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

African introverts

My wife is currently winging her way to Kenya for a 10 day conference with World Vision International.  I gave her 2 copies of Introverts in the Church to give to any influential church leaders that she comes across. I'm really curious to hear what reaction it receives.  I don't know how popular personality inventories like the MBTI are in Africa and I don't know how introversion might manifest in more communal cultures.  Does anyone have experience with African culture who might be able to comment on this? 

Also, if I don't finish this new book proposal by the time she gets back, may I be trampled by a herd of wildebeest.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Loneliness

I'm just starting a book by Ronald Rolheiser called The Restless Heart: Finding Our Spiritual Home in Times of Loneliness and I'm eager to find out what he does with loneliness.  I actually don't experience much loneliness but when I do it's usually after spending time with a lot of people.  I can write by myself for a week and feel pretty good but if I spend a day engaged in intense social interaction, that's when the emptiness can set in. 


I am reminded of Anne Jackson's review of my book:

"For the longest time, I've considered my wiring as an introvert a thorn in my side. After spending time engaging with others, I felt so empty and overwhelmed . . . and lonely. With my calling as an author and pastor requiring me to publicly speak and consult, I wondered if I misunderstood my place in this world...."

Anne has since decided that she is pretty close to the line on the extrovert/introvert continuum but we can forgive her for that.

What's your experience of loneliness?  When and why does it happen for you?  How do you respond?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Inner Voice of Love

I've been reading a page out of Henri Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love every morning recently.  It's a public record of the journal he kept while dealing with depression and abandonment issues.  It's pretty intense. Here are some words that struck me last week, words that seem to fly in the face of our culture that invites us to "share" so much of ourselves:

Do not tell everyone your story. You will only end up feeling more rejected. People cannot give you what you long for in your heart. The more you expect from people's response to your experience of abandonment, the more you will feel exposed to ridicule. You have to close yourself to the outside world so you can enter your own heart and the heart of God through your pain. God will send to you the people with whom you can share your anguish, who can lead you closer to the true source of love.

I think what he means by "close yourself to the outside world" (a phrase which I don't really like) is not to rely on other people to take away your pain, because they don't have the power to do so.  Only God can do that. But God will give us one or two trusted people who will sit with us in our pain and remind us that only God can fully heal.

What's your response to that quote?  Is there an invitation for you in it?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Small churches vs. big churches

For the last few years my wife and I have been attending a small church with no more than 200 members. I've been a big advocate of small churches for a quite a while.  I find it so easy for people (especially introverts) to get lost in big churches and sometimes I get concerned that people choose big churches because they wish to stay anonymous. I understand that desire and anonymity may be a good thing when checking out a new church, but only for a little while.  In the Christian life we celebrate that we are known and loved, and I believe our experience in Christian community should reflect that.  In small churches you can bump up against the same people week after week and that familiarity can spur friendship. 

For reasons other than temperament, we have recently moved to a fairly big church, of about 1400 members.  That's big for Presbyterians anyway.  And I have to say it's quite a breath of fresh air.  It's nice to attend a worship service and not feel so conspicuous.  Plus, there are so many resources at a big church and I feel like I have the freedom to choose what activities will really be good for me and enable me to give to others according to my interests and gifts.  While I appreciated the slower pace and fewer programs of the small church, I felt a little hemmed in when it came to choosing how to participate.  

So what about you?  Do you attend a small church or large church, and which do you prefer?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Transitions

It's hard to believe I've been blogging at Introverted Church for 3 1/2 years, especially considering that 98% of my posts are about introversion and the experience of introverts in the Christian life. Without this blog I doubt that Introverts in the Church would have been published, since that was a major part of my "platform" in my proposal to IVP. And the book certainly wouldn't be selling as well as it is.

(By the way, you can buy a copy of my book directly from me by going to this Paypal link, and I will sign and personalize it for you. I enjoy doing this.)

I'm going to keep posting here about introversion and the Christian life, but I'm also going to expand my repertoire over the next few months. I'm working on a new book now (actually 3 new books) and while I think most of you will resonate with the topic, it's still a little different and will apply equally to extroverts.  If I get a book contract then I will be posting regularly about that topic. I keep threatening to write book reviews as well, though I just haven't found the motivation to do that much. 

As always I remain grateful for all of you and the comments and emails you write.  I'm better at responding to emails (and Facebook posts - here's my Introverts in the Church page) than I am responding to comments, but I read and consider every comment.  As far as the blogging world goes, you are very civil group of people and I very much appreciate the tone that has been set here. 

So this feels like a bit of a climactic moment at Introverted Church and so, for those of you who are deeply invested in the issue of introversion, I will give you two significant articles:

1. The cover story of the September issue of Psychology Today is called "Revenge of the Introvert" and it's written by Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power

2. Many of you read my article, "Introverts in Evangelical America" that I wrote for the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago.  Below is the text of that article in full:

Introverts in Evangelical America
The Washington Post
Adam S. McHugh

The scowling old man nearly bumped into me as he fled the sanctuary.

As I turned to watch him stomp out to the parking lot, I asked a friend if she knew why he'd left before the service started. She replied, "You know how in your sermon last week you encouraged all of us to be more welcoming to newcomers? Well, after five people came up to him to introduce themselves, he blurted "Can a guy just be anonymous when he checks out a new place? I want to be left alone!" And thus concluded his seven minute survey of our church.

It's not only cantankerous old men with a flair for storm-off exits who are turned off by hyper-friendly churches, however. As I reflected on that event, I realized that I too would be intimidated and overwhelmed by that many strangers approaching me, no matter how genuine and kind they were. As it turns out, our churches are actually teeming with this species of people called "introverts." I am one of them, as is 50% of the American population, according to our best and latest research.

Unfortunately, owing to a few antisocial types as well as to a general extroverted bias in our culture, introverts get a bad rap. Mainstream American culture values gregarious, aggressive people who are skilled in networking and who can quickly turn strangers into friends. Often we identify leaders as those people who speak up the most and the fastest, whether or not their ideas are the best.

As a result, introverts are often defined by what we're not rather than by what we are. We're labeled as standoffish or misanthropic or timid or passive. But the truth is that we are people who are energized in solitude, rather than among people. We may be comfortable and articulate in social situations and we may enjoy people, but our time in the outer worlds drains us and we must retreat into solitude to be recharged. We also process silently before we speak, rather than speaking in order to think, as extroverts do. We generally listen a little more than we talk, observe for a while before we engage, and have a rich inner life that brings us great stimulation and satisfaction. Neurological studies have demonstrated that our brains naturally have more activity and blood flow, and thus we need less external stimulation in order to thrive.

I saw the need for a book on this topic when I realized that our cultural slant had infiltrated some wings of the church, especially mainstream evangelicalism. As I say in Introverts in the Church, entering your average evangelical worship service feels like walking into a non-alcoholic cocktail party. Evangelicalism has a chatty, mingling informality about it, and no matter how well-intentioned that atmosphere is, it can be a difficult environment for those of us who are overwhelmed by large quantities of social interaction and who may connect best with God in silence. Sometimes our communities talk so much that we are not able to express the gifts that we bring to others. If we are given the space, we bring gifts of listening, insight, creativity, compassion, and a calming presence, things that our churches desperately need.

Even more dangerous is the tendency of evangelical churches to unintentionally exalt extroverted qualities as the "ideals" of faithfulness. Too often "ideal" Christians are social and gregarious, with an overt passion and enthusiasm. They find it easy to share the gospel with strangers, eagerly invite people into their homes, participate in a wide variety of activities, and quickly assume leadership responsibilities. Those are wonderful qualities, and our churches suffer when we don't have those sorts of people, but if these qualities epitomize the Christian life, many of us introverts are left feeling excluded and spiritually inadequate. Or we wear ourselves out from constantly masquerading as extroverts.

Though I empathize with that old man, I wish he had endured the overwhelming hospitality of our community that day. He would have learned that the Christian life is not about anonymity, and we would have gained another introverted member who contributed valuable gifts to our community and ministry. Both he and our church would have been better for it.

Adam S. McHugh is an ordained Presbyterian minister, a spiritual director, and an introvert. He is the author of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. He blogs at www.introvertedchurch.com and tweets at @adamsmchugh. He lives with his wife in Claremont, California. See his expert page at Patheos for more information on Adam McHugh and his publications.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Grey Street

At the beginning of each chapter of Introverts in the Church, I include quotations that I consider relevant to the subject matter.  At the beginning of chapter 3 - Finding Healing -  I quote an African proverb: "Let the guest comes so that the host may be healed."  I love that proverb and I think it fits perfectly with my assertion that, even for the most introverted person, healing will come through hospitality, specifically our welcoming of the person of Jesus into our lives and hearts.

However, my original quote was a lengthy one from the song "Grey Street" by Dave Matthews Band. I was unable to obtain permission to reproduce those lyrics in my book (a common thing, I hear) but I can post them on my blog, as long as I say it's copyrighted by Dave Matthews Band and for educational purpose only!  So here are the lyrics that originally prefaced chapter 3, from Grey Street:


Oh look at how she listens
She says nothing of what she thinks
She just goes stumbling through her memories
Staring out on to Grey Street

She thinks, “Hey,
How did I come to this?
I dream myself a thousand times around the world,
But I can’t get out of this place”

There’s an emptiness inside her
And she’d do anything to fill it in
But all the colors mix together - to grey
And it breaks her heart

How she wishes it was different
She prays to God most every night
And though she swears it doesn’t listen
There’s still a hope in her it might

She says, “I pray
But they fall on deaf ears,
Am I supposed to take it on myself?
To get out of this place”

There’s loneliness inside her
And she’d do anything to fill it in

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Irony and Mp3

I preached at Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, CA last weekend.  I preached my very first sermon there back in the summer of 1999 (I tried to listen to it recently...it was AWFUL).  The direct link to the Mp3 of the sermon is below.  The sermon is called The Goals and Perils of Community Life and those of you who have been following this blog before might have already listened to a previous version of it.  It's about participation in community life and what our motivations are for doing so.  I define introversion and also talk about why being an introvert can sometimes be difficult in church life.  I also talk about the value of saying "no".

I've commented before on the irony of promoting my book as an introvert, and the irony was pretty thick this weekend, especially given my topic. Look at how my morning went:

1. Preach at the 9AM service, followed by 20 minutes of greeting time on the patio
2. Preach 10:40-11:10 at the 2nd service. Then, immediately walk out of that room and walk over to the other service happening simultaneously, and preach 11:12-11:40.
3. 45 minutes of greeting time and book signing afterwards.

Plus, the second service is primarily for youth and young adults, and so it is a completely different cultural dynamic than the other services.  Preaching a sermon back to back was exhausting, because during the course of a sermon you ride quite a roller coaster of emotion and you almost never end in the same place emotionally as you began.  But then I had to turn around, try to get back to the emotional starting place, and start all over again, with an audience middle-aged and older.  It was pretty incredible.  Fortunately, the adrenaline was enough to keep me going. When you have a big social task ahead of you, never underestimate the power of adrenaline and caffeine.  

I love Irvine Pres and it's always a joy to go back, however.  Some of my favorite people in the world.  Here is the direct link to the Mp3:

The Goals and Perils of Community Life.  Irvine Presbyterian, 9/19/10

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Washington Post

As an introvert, I will do my best to contain my excitement about this, but it might not work.  I have been published in The Washington Post, as a guest voice for the "On Faith" column.  It's a summary of the need for my book, and as a bonus, you can meet the cantakerous old man who inspired Introverts in the Church.  Please pass this link around on as many venues as possible!

Introverts in Evangelical America - Adam S. McHugh for the Washington Post's  "On Faith"



Thursday, September 16, 2010

Further Partnership with Patheos

If you haven't heard of Patheos.com yet, you will.  Or really, you are right now. I've written a couple of articles for them about spiritual direction and listening, and I've now joined them more formally as an "expert" (yes, I think it sounds pretentious too).  Patheos is a site that encourages genuine, constructive dialogue between people of different religious convictions.  They have a very cool feature on their front page in which you can enter two different religions and see them compared side by side.  They also do a book club which I'm hoping will feature my book in the near future. 

With all the polemics and trolling out there on religious websites, I really appreciate the tone and mission of Patheos.  The Evangelical Portal, which I'm affiliated with, is a venue for sharp Christian thinkers to share their thoughts about the gospel, culture, academia, politics, and a variety of other topics.  The lineup of people they get to write for them is very impressive.  

I'm hoping my expert page will raise my profile as I get ready to send in a book proposal (actually, three of them) next month and as I continue to get my thoughts out there through writing and speaking.  My page includes a bio, some audio files, links to my published works, and a couple of blog posts.  Introverted Church is still my primary blog but I will reprint some of my favorite posts over at Patheos.

Here is my Patheos page: Adam S. McHugh

Thanks for all your support and your encouraging emails!  I love receiving them.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Old Interview Revisited

A few months ago I did an interview with Christianity.com which has recently had another surge in popularity.  It's been reprinted on Crosswalk.com and you can follow the link below. It's the most extensive interview I have done on the struggles and gifts of introverts in Christian community.  My favorite question they ask is "What qualities of introverts are prone to be overlooked?"

Introvert?  No apology required

Also, I wrote an article for the "On Faith" section of the Washington Post that will be up next week, so stay tuned.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mars Hill Audio

I have been listening to Ken Myers and his Mars Hill Audio Journal for years.  It's a brilliant commentary on the intersection of culture and faith, that features interviews with some of the top thinkers.  How I made it onto the program I'll never know.  But I did, and my interview with Ken about introverts in the church and in the culture is now available on MP3 or CD.

Ken Myers and Adam McHugh - Mars Hill Audio Journal - May/June 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Leadership Lessons from Top Chef

"Leadership doesn't mean that you're the loudest chef in the kitchen."  ~Kevin from Top Chef

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Survival Guide

For those of you who are new to the blog, I have linked to a lot of great articles on introversion, spirituality, and the church on the "Favorite Introverted Articles" section on the sidebar.  Here's another link to one of them, called Survival Guide for the Quieter Species. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Spiritual Direction, Introversion, and Listening

I wrote this article for Patheos.com back in June and I thought I would reprint it in full here.  Some of you know that in addition to being a Presbyterian minister and writer, I am also a certified spiritual director. In this article I discuss the parallels between spiritual direction and the qualities that introverts bring to the Church.

The Ancient Art of Listening

"Oh, so you're like an astrologer?"

I had just informed a youth pastor at an evangelical conference that I was a certified spiritual director, and he, in a disarmingly curious way, linked me with people who look to the stars for mystical guidance and dating advice. In that moment, I realized I had another presentation problem.

Let me explain. It seems that I have stumbled into a less-than-dazzling vocation of label resurrection, of breathing life into once-vital terms that have in recent decades, especially in evangelical circles, turned cold and blue. I spent the last three years trying to restore the word "introvert" into the evangelical consciousness as something other than a shy misanthrope who resists community life and sharing the gospel. I even penned a book in which I attempted to correct misunderstandings about introverts and to demonstrate the gifts that introverts bring to their communities. And now it seems that my newest debate with evangelicalism's etymological coroners is over the term spiritual direction.

The conversation about introversion and the conversation about spiritual direction have some interesting points of intersection. In my book Introverts in the Church, I make the link between the two, saying that while many of our church leadership models are highly extroverted, the practice of spiritual direction may be tailor-made for introverts. Because of that, some of the misunderstandings evangelicals have toward introversion are parallel to their confusions over spiritual direction.

David Benner aptly defines spiritual direction as "a prayer process in which a person seeking help in cultivating a deeper personal relationship with God meets with another for prayer and conversation that is focused on increasing awareness of God in the midst of life experiences and facilitating surrender to God's will."

Though a new concept to many evangelicals, spiritual direction is an ancient discipline, practiced in various ways throughout the history of the church. Since its roots are in past centuries, many of its features feel unfamiliar to us.

First, spiritual direction is a slow ministry. Few spiritual directors will be described in words like "energetic" and "charismatic." It involves an almost plodding relationship between two people who are utterly devoted to paying attention to the Spirit's movements in one person's ordinary life. One of the attractions of spiritual direction is that it forces believers to slow down, to remove themselves from the frenetic activity of our culture, and to pay attention to what surfaces in the quiet. It requires a patient relationship that examines behaviors, motivations, relationships, and emotions, in the context of an individual's relationship with God and in response to God's presence.

Spiritual direction is also a quiet ministry. It centers around deep listening, prayer, and waiting on God. "Direction" is really a misnomer, as it rarely involves one person telling another what to do. It doesn't replace teaching, discipleship, or pastoral counseling, but is for the purpose of helping a person hear and respond to God's voice in his or her life. The director isn't trying to make anything happen or to elicit a particular response in the directee. The role of the director is to ask questions and to listen on multiple levels: to the directee, to God, and to what's happening inside him or herself. It's a ministry that eliminates small talk, except where that small talk relates to God's movements in the mundane, and is sparing of words in general, injecting enough space into conversations to attune people to God's subtle wavelengths.

Spiritual direction is also a small ministry. It usually involves a mere two people in an ongoing, developing, deepening relationship. Sometimes it involves a small group of people who seek to listen to God both for themselves and on behalf of the other members. It is not glamorous, and has no production value. It takes place away from the limelight and behind the scenes. Since very few churches offer spiritual direction as a part of their official services, spiritual direction tends to happen outside of the building: in retreat centers and coffee shops, or even email. Most spiritual directors work pro bono or for very modest honoraria.

Slow. Quiet. Small. Not exactly evangelical buzzwords. Yet those words describe the practice of spiritual direction -- and also the contexts in which many introverts thrive. We introverts often move a little slower, listen a little more than we speak, and tend toward deeper relationships with fewer people.

Over the past few years, as I have become more comfortable with my introverted preferences, I have found myself withdrawing from some aspects of evangelical culture -- especially where it tends toward hyperactivity and an unhealthy restlessness -- and I have discovered a quiet passion for spiritual direction. I have had a spiritual director for five years and I just completed a three-year training program to become a certified director. Of course, extroverts can be excellent spiritual directors as well, but I consider the gifts that many introverts have -- a readiness to listen, a rich interior life, and deep compassion -- to be wonderful assets of spiritual directors.

I am grateful that evangelicals in recent decades have rediscovered the benefits of spiritual disciplines, though it seems that many still conceive of those disciplines as largely individualistic. Spiritual direction combines the cultivation of the interior life with the formation of a partnership with another person who can provide an alternative voice to our own, who can help us pay attention to the Voice that continues to speak, not through the wheeling stars but through his Son and his Word.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book Giveaway

Pastor, popular blogger, and introvert Ron Edmondson is giving away three copies of Introverts in the Church on his blog today.  He's also written some helpful posts about thriving in ministry as an introvert, which he links to on the giveaway post.  Check it out!

Introverts in the Church Giveaway

Monday, August 23, 2010

Top 10 Rejected Titles

Continuing my re-posting of my favorite blogs from the last couple of years...

Top 10 Rejected Titles for Introverts in the Church:

10. The Purpose Driven Introvert
9. Introverts in the Shack
8. Girl Meets Introvert, and Keeps Looking
7. Eat Pray Introvert
6. I Kissed Introverts Goodbye
5. Good to Introvert
4. Blue Like Introverts
3. Three Cups of Tea...By Myself
2. The Life You've Never Wanted
1. We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow You Will be Killed with the Rest of the Introverts

Some Alternates:
The Secret of Introverts
If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Step on an Introvert
One commentor's suggestion: Left Behind...And Happy About It

Monday, August 16, 2010

Phases of Writing Redux

This month I'm re-posting some of my favorite blogs from the last couple of years.  Here's one that gives a glimpse into the mind of a writer (it's a scary place), posted originally in July 2008:


Phases of Writing

Writing a book is like giving birth to a snarling 8 headed monster. It's so much more than sitting down in front of your laptop and typing. It's more like a war, as your own words and ideas battle you and each other. In writing your hopes, dreams, fears and inadequacies are exposed. You learn what it is you most want in life and how incompetent you are to actually achieve it.
 
I've written seven and a half chapters in Introverts in the Church now, and I've identified some patterns in the process, some phases that I invariably go through:
 
1. The "Aha" phase. This is the phase of researching, thinking, and interviewing. This is the phase of discovery, as I begin to see things I had not seen before. I have great synergistic moments as I talk with others and we find that we share thoughts, experiences, and hopes. I'll be reading a book and a sentence or a concept will practically shout out to me. I'll begin to believe that I have valuable things to say and that others will be interested.
 
2. The "Pulitzer Prize" phase. This is the phase of conceptualizing, organizing, and outlining. Inevitably I get here and my ego tries to leap out of my body and make itself known. Here I become convinced that my ideas are brilliant and my writing is profound. No one has ever written a book this sublime. Stephen Hawking will read my book and say "Why didn't I think of that?!"
 
3. The "Total Incompetence" phase. This one follows about ten minutes on the heels of the Pulitzer Prize phase. I'll encounter the first obstacle in writing my chapter and my ego will not only find its way back into my body but shrink to 1/8th its normal size. This is where I will question everything I've ever known about the world and myself, including why in the world I thought I could write a book. This is where the dark scenarios creep in and I'll imagine my manuscript sitting in my editor's trash can, the smoke still floating off the singed pages. Or someone going to review my book and being unable to do so because the astonished tears of laughter keep him from being able to see straight.
 
4. The "Complete Disorientation" phase. Once I power through stage 3 and finish a draft of my chapter, I go to read it over and immediately move into this phase. My first draft tends to be very rough and practically stream of consciousness writing. If I don't know where something should go, I'll just write it anyway. So it feels like a bunch of random paragraphs that have no organic relationship to anything that comes before them or after. My head will be spinning as I try to read it over. This is the phase where I find myself cleaning my apartment a lot - my manuscript may be a mess, but dammit, my writing space will be clean!
 
5. The "It doesn't totally suck" phase. After rewriting several times, I get to a point where I think that maybe there are a few nuggets of insight in here and maybe a few people will actually want to read it. There is a small measure of contentment and sense of accomplishment here. Then, it's back to step one.

On that note, I'm entertaining this book title:


It Doesn't Totally Suck

by Adam S. McHugh

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Matter of Motivation Redux

I'm working on a few projects right now - an article for Relevant Magazine, a book proposal, a retreat I'm leading - and so for the rest of August I'm going to be re-posting some of my favorite blogs from the past.

I'm going to start with the post that has received more hits than any other.


A Matter of Motivation

The defining feature of introversion is where you find your energy; introverts, even though we may enjoy social interaction, even though we may really like people and be socially confident and skilled, lose energy in the outside world. We retreat into solitude in order to be restored.

But as I have continued to learn more about introversion, I have also come to see that there is a motivation factor for many of us. Introverts have rich inner lives and we can spend hours in our worlds of impressions, thoughts, reflections, and in the other dimensions of our inner life. From a neurological point of view, introverts have more brain activity and brain blood flow than extroverts, and we have less tolerance for the dopamine that is released from social interactions and activity. So in many cases it actually may be more pleasurable - in terms of the good feelings released in the brain - for us to be alone or at home than it is for us to be at a party or a church activity. In other words, we are more motivated to be alone than to be in a crowd. It's not that we don't like people or are anti-social or standoffish, it's that it actually feels better for us to be alone sometimes.  Reading a book on a Friday night may feel better than a night out with friends, especially when we have spent the week in a socially charged atmosphere at work. In that case, it's not that we are choosing out of something, it's that we are choosing, joyfully and purposely, another activity. 

Often, in Christian circles, we idealize those people that have a "passion" for community.  Those people who constantly want to be around other people and who love organizing and mobilizing social events are often considered those people who have the most "love" for people, and by derivation, God.  And, let's be clear, those people are absolutely indispensable for the formation of relationships in a community.  Those churches that don't have those people suffer because of it.  At the same time, let's also acknowledge that there is more than "love for people" that is happening here. For those social galvanizers, it feels good to be around people and to see people connect with one another. They are thriving on the dopamine that is released in their brain from those experiences.  And that's how God intended it for them.

Love for God's people does not have to look for everyone like an overt, uncontainable passion for being with others. Love, as we know from the scriptures, is self-sacrificial, in which we lay down our rights and place the good of others ahead of our own. Thus, it can be a great display of love for those of us who relish our inner worlds, to lay those things down sometimes and be present with others, when we might otherwise prefer to be alone.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Conversations with the Saints

I thought I would re-print my article for Patheos.com's "Future of Evangelicalism" series.  The title is "Conversations with the Saints."

I've threatened to quit evangelicalism a lot. Over the years I have stood in the evangelical unemployment line on many occasions, but somehow I have never made it to the front to pick up my heretic's severance pay.

Every time I have resolved to leave, I have encountered other evangelicals who are asking the same questions that I am. Well, to be more honest, my disenchantment and my questions haven't always been thoroughly formed. I have experienced a groaning in my soul that something isn't quite right, that some significant piece is missing, and others have helped me put words and questions to those rumblings.

In the past, teachers have helped me express my frustration over the often overly-narrow and party-specific political agenda of evangelicalism. At other times, people have helped me understand that to follow Jesus is not just to save souls but to participate in God's ongoing redemption of all creation and all relationships.

Most recently, I have been disillusioned with the hyperactive and overtly extroverted climate of many pockets of American evangelicalism. This time I have tried to be a voice from within the movement, publishing Introverts in the Church and dialoguing with many others who have similar questions.
In my research for my book, I had the opportunity to spend time with some remarkable figures of the past -- the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Saint Benedict, and Saint Patrick in the early centuries all the way to John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards and Mother Teresa in more recent history. I was reminded that, in contrast to our present age, for much of church history many who have had an introverted bent have been numbered among the greatest heroes of the faith.

It's been these conversations, both with colleagues and with brilliant figures of past centuries, that have kept me in the evangelical fold. These dialogues have not drawn me out of evangelicalism but have pushed me toward a deeper and richer form of evangelical thought and practice. Thus, when I ponder the future of evangelicalism, I consider it essential that we continue to expand the breadth of our conversation partners.

It's not a secret that the tides of evangelical influence in our culture are waning. I see two possible responses to such a trend: first, we back into a corner, throw rocks, and shout louder and louder as we lapse into obscurity. This is a victim mentality, in which we close ourselves off and blame others for our fate. Or, second, we use our loss of power as an opportunity to begin listening to others and to draw together as a family of faith.

In recent decades, many churches have noticed that their cultural power is diminished, and they often have gone in one of these two directions. Some have tried to regain their power by lobbying harder, shouting louder, and trying to buy more political currency. They have become dogmatic and polemical, attempting to speak over their detractors. Other churches, however, have tried to pay attention to the vast changes that have occurred in the culture. They have listened to the people in their local communities, and to broader cultural trends, and have embraced the adventure of ministry in a post-Christian culture.

A key question for the future of evangelicalism is this: Will our loss of power pull us apart or draw us together? Will churches and denominations insulate themselves, or will we open ourselves to other believers from different traditions and ages? Will we use this as an opportunity to humble ourselves, listen to others, and repent of our thinking that our tradition is the true and perfect expression of the gospel of Jesus? Will we dare to learn from Catholics and Anglicans, from Christians in Africa and South America and Asia, from believers of past centuries and cultures, from Calvinists or Arminians or even, dare-I-say-it, from mainline Protestants?

My hope is that our loss of cultural power will provide an occasion for us to lay down our arms. The world is tired of Christian in-fighting, and so are a lot of us. I am encouraged that some evangelical scholars and writers have begun to emphasize what unites us with other Christian traditions over what divides us. They are doing so by listening to the voices of the past and unearthing the historic creeds that comprise the "Great Tradition" of the church, shared by Christians across all times and places. 

To listen to others in our Great Tradition does not mean that we will agree with everything we hear, nor that we will lose our distinctive tradition. But it does mean that evangelicalism will change. I think in many cases we refuse to listen to others because we fear we will be persuaded by their position and will have to surrender our own. In other words, we are human and we fear change. But vast changes have already taken place in our culture, and in order to continue to have a voice, we simply cannot let our fear prevent us from the transformation we so desperately need.

An example of the good that can come from interaction with other traditions is the increasing depth of evangelical spirituality. In the last two decades evangelicals have embraced the spiritual disciplines, means for cultivating our personal lives of faith that have traditionally been practiced by non-evangelicals. We have taken the mystical and sacramental elements of other Christian traditions and incorporated them into our Word-centered spirituality to create a richness that did not exist before. Individual lives and churches are being transformed because a few people with a vague sense of dissatisfaction decided to read the thoughts of forgotten saints.

No one can fully know what will result from a renewed evangelical commitment to listen to and learn from other Christian traditions. What I do know is that as evangelical influence continues to be pushed to the margins of our culture, we can't afford not to listen.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Interview with an Introverted Therapist

One of the things I say in Introverts in the Church is that introverts often make good therapists and counselors. I wanted to explore that in more detail and to do so, I sought out an introverted therapist. Kristi Cash White is a licensed therapist in the Portland area, where she has a private practice and also teaches Human Development at Warner Pacific College. I have never met Kristi, but we have interacted in the introvert way - through social media. When I saw that she included "introvert" as part of her Twitter profile, I knew that she was the right person to interview. And she even has a question for all of of you at the bottom.


Adam: I think a lot of people might assume that therapist is an ideal vocation for an introvert. Lots of one-on-one interaction, lots of listening and deep conversation. Why are those people who assume that right? Why are those people wrong?

Kristi: I have more often had the opposite assumption stated to me -- how can an introvert be in a job that requires talking to people all day? This kind of statement comes from misunderstanding, both of the role of a counselor and, more importantly to this blog, the traits of an introvert.

A counselor does spend the day with people, but it is so much more than just talking --or just listening either, even if that aspect is a more comfortable role for the introvert. It is a relationship -- a relationship built on trust. If I were to look at my day in view of the number of words I would have to speak or the number of minutes I would have to be listening, it would be daunting, no doubt about it! But I am spending time with people for whom I have genuine concern and empathy. I desire to see each more healthy and am honored to be a part of the process.

As an introvert, counseling is not just "spending all day with people" either. That statement is based in the faulty, but all too prevalent, thought that introverts do not like people! On the contrary, introverts love to really know people, to get past the surface and build true, genuine relationship.

Adam: What strengths do introverts bring into a therapeutic setting? How does your introversion help you with your clients?

Kristi:There are so many aspects that go into the choice to become a counselor that whether one draws energy from crowds or prefers solitude may play a small role in the overall picture. There are some great advantages that an introvert brings to the table, though. Introverts are generally good listeners. We talk less and listen more. It is quite natural for us to be the ones who ask questions and deeply and intently listen to the answers. Although I know many great extroverted counselors, there has been times that I have wondered how they keep their talkative natures in check!

Introverts are processors. We often are able to take what is said and thoughtfully summarize or clarify. We take time with the topics at hand and feel no compulsion to rush ahead. This can be very helpful when working with a hesitant client.

The pace of counseling is generally a good fit for introverts. It is a quiet, relaxed atmosphere, free from sensory assaults which can overload an introvert. There is space to think, even in the way that there are days inbetween sessions in which the introverted counselor can continue to process client discussions. Unlike my job as a professor,which, although I greatly enjoy, thoroughly drains me, I am energized after I have spent time with clients.

Introverts often exude a calm steadiness, which is extremely beneficial to clients who are feeling anything but calm and steady. There is a consistency in tone and manner.

Adam: What is the hardest part about being an introverted therapist? Are there times you have been misinterpreted because of your introverted tendencies?

Kristi: Marketing seems to lend itself more to the extroverted personality. It is very challenging is an introverted counselor to "sell myself", to make the calls, face-to-face contacts, and all that is necessary to keep a practice running strong. Frankly, I loathe this part of my career!

I am not aware of how my introvertedness has impacted clients in any negative way. The times that my introverted nature has been misinterpreted has generally involved group settings, such as graduate school and, a big surprise for you, Adam, church!

Adam: What are the secrets you've learned in order to thrive as an introverted therapist?

Kristi:I think of people as having batteries. Some people have naturally full batteries; they are able to jump into a party or go for a hike or dance the night away at the slightestinvitation. I have always considered myself, as I think might be the case with many introverts, to have a battery that generally hovers around half full. I can charge that battery, but it will not ever make me a bundle of bubbling energy -- that's just not how I'm wired. On the other hand, it is easy for my energy to be sapped. More often than not I feel tired. As an introverted therapist, I have to be very aware of my energy level so that I am able to give my clients the full attention they deserve.

As an introverted therapist, it is vital that I closely monitor my schedule. Where and when am I going to need breaks? How many clients can I see in a day and still fully give my attention and energy? Is there a time of day when I have more mental and physical strength? Do I have something scheduled outside of my practice that is going to potentially drain me the evening before or something for which I need to reserve my energy - meetings, parties, teaching, or other group events?

Adam: Totally unrelated question: My blog readers and I have kicked around the idea that the farther north you go, the more introverts you get by percentage of the population. I grew up in Seattle and I'm convinced there are many more introverts there than there are in Southern California, where I live now. You live in Portland - what do you think of my geotemperamental theory?

Kristi: Geography definitely plays into personality type, as different cultures value particular traits over others. The Scottish culture (my familial heritage) honors strength,independence, and the honor of the clan. The Japanese culture embraces peace, quiet,respect. America values youth, beauty, energy. I had not previously considered how it may break down further within the subcultures or geographical boundaries within our country, but it seems entirely plausible that it would.

I wonder if it is not so much that there are actually more introverts in the North, but rather the cultures of the North may tend to accept introverted tendencies more than Southern cultures (although I definitely feel that I live in an extroverted world, even here.

One of the reasons I LOVE the Northwest is the cloudy, rainy weather. The grey coverage feels like a giant comforter nestling over our great city. This weather works for an introvert.

I do have a solid number of introverted friends and acquaintances; we embrace our personality type! After last year's Super Bowls parties, when many of the overloaded introverts left before the end of the game, I suggested that this next year we have an introvert-only party! What do your readers suggest would be the perfect introvert party?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Trailer

I'm thinking about filming a "book trailer" for Introverts in the Church. Think movie preview but for a book. If any of you have creative and/or funny ideas, I would love to hear them!

Friday, July 30, 2010

The death of the phone call

This week I've been working on a proposal for a second book (I'll tell you what it's about if I get a book contract) and an article for a Patheos.com series on "The Future of Evangelicalism." I'm the only person on the list of contributors to that series that I haven't heard of.

A while back I linked to Sophia Dembling's post at the Introvert Corner about her hatred of the telephone: Don't Call Us, We'll Call You, Well No Actually We Probably Won't

Today on Wired Magazine's website, Clive Thompson has an article called "The Death of Phone Call." Here's an excerpt that I resonate with:
Consider: If I suddenly decide I want to dial you up, I have no way of knowing whether you’re busy, and you have no idea why I’m calling. We have to open Schrödinger’s box every time, having a conversation to figure out whether it’s OK to have a conversation. Plus, voice calls are emotionally high-bandwidth, which is why it’s so weirdly exhausting to be interrupted by one. (We apparently find voicemail even more excruciating: Studies show that more than a fifth of all voice messages are never listened to.)

What are your thoughts? Is the phone call dead? Are introverts particularly averse to unexpected phone calls?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Living a Better Story

I am submitting this blog post to hopefully win a trip to Portland to the Living a Better Story seminar that Don Miller is hosting. You can learn more about the conference here: www.donmilleris.com/conference and there is a video at the bottom of the entry.

I said in my book Introverts in the Church that if someone were to write me into a story, they wouldn't make me the protagonist or the antagonist or even a major character; they would make me the narrator. My introverted tendencies often locate me at the side of a room, on the fringes of the action. The disadvantage of this is that some consider me standoffish or antisocial, but the advantage is that I get a wide-angle view of the action. In many stories the narrator is omniscient, knowing more than the players do about the plot, their relationships, and even the inner workings of their minds. While omniscient might be a stretch, I think that my tendency to observe before I engage gives me some insight into situations and cultures and people that those who are in the center of the action might not have.

It's not a coincidence that I have become a writer. There's a reason why so many writers are introverts. From our little corners we see things that others don't, and we have just enough physical and emotional distance in those situations to look on with a little objectivity. We can watch it all and make the connections that others cannot see, reading people in ways that others can't. Then we can tell the wide-angle story, which we often prefer to do in writing rather than in speaking.

But seriously, who really wants to be narrator?? Would you prefer to be the hero of the story, who saves the town, defeats the villain, and gets the beautiful girl, or the old guy who sums up the exploits of the hero as the sun sets? When little kids watch the Super Bowl, do they dream of growing up to be Peyton Manning or do they fantasize about being Jim Nantz?

I had a conversation with a fellow writer recently about the insecurities we deal with in our callings. We compare ourselves to others - generally more extroverted types - who are out leading the charge and mobilizing people and planting churches and generally getting their grooves on, and it's hard not to feel inadequate. We're the ones who watch the movers and shakers and then narrate their movings and shakings. We know that we're necessary parts of the whole process, because often the movers and shakers can't write worth a damn, but it's a fine line between doing the essential work of a narrator, telling the story to inspire others, and watching life pass us by from our room-corner view.

One solution I've heard for this tension is that writers need to do more than just write. Sometimes we need to immerse ourselves in the action and we need to go out and buy ourselves some experiences. Take risks. Travel to exotic locations. Make more friends who are different from ourselves. If we don't, we risk becoming flat characters, two-dimensional people who are as thin as the pages we tell our stories on.

And no doubt there is truth in this. But I don't think there should be a dichotomy between "writing" and "living." Maybe I'm naive, but I'd like to think that writers don't need to go elsewhere to find a good story to live but that the writing life is a good story in itself.

In A Million Miles Donald Miller says that a story involves a person who wants something and who overcomes conflict in order to get it. Two years ago I was laid off from my rewarding but exhausting job as a hospice chaplain, and I was spent. I had emptied my emotional reserves praying with those who were dying and comforting their grieving spouses and relatives who were watching them die. I just had nothing to give people for several months. My book manuscript was due in 3 months and so I took this unexpected turn and devoted that summer to writing.

It was the best summer of my life. For the first time in my career I found a lifestyle and a personal rhythm that fit who I was, and it was exhilarating. I was peaceful and joyful and had emotional energy to give to my wife and my friends and my other interests. I knew, when that summer was done, that the writing life was what I wanted. God was in those pages.

But since those initial months of my writing awakening, the conflict has set in. My book is selling very well for a first time author, but hardly enough to sustain my livelihood. I make less money than a front-yard lemonade stand. On top of that, the publishing industry has fallen harder than President Obama's approval ratings. I imagined that when my first book was published, all the doors would be open to me, and I would just have to choose which one to take. Instead, the things that looks like doors are just rectangular shaped gobs of paint on a brick wall. People tell me to give it up and get a real job.

But I can't stop dreaming of the writing life. I want to know how I can center my professional life around writing and what practical steps are required to thrive in this dangerous calling. Not just for my personal job satisfaction but because I know my potential to do the greatest good for the most number of people includes a corner view and a laptop. And I know that God is in the pages.

Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What I'm Reading

The Divine Commodity by Skye Jethani. This is a brilliant book by the managing editor of Leadership Journal, who proposes that consumerism is the biggest problem in the church today. By consumerism he doesn't mean "consumption" but rather the assumptions and the promises of a consumeristic society. This is a beautifully written book that interweaves the work and life of Vincent Van Gogh with a loving and hopeful critique of the American church. Highly, highly recommended.

Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin. If you want a book that will shake you up, no matter what side you're on in the debate, this is the one. Andrew lives in Boystown, a gay neighborhood in Chicago, and calls himself a "bridgebuilder" between the gay community and evangelical Christian community. This is a unique book, spending less time laying out all the arguments pro or against, and refraining from entering into the political conversations, and more time telling the stories of the people he meets and encouraging Christians to enter into their world. Andrew has been attacked by both sides, so he must be doing something right!

A 30 Day Retreat: A Personal Guide to Spiritual Renewal by William Mills. William is an acquaintance of mine who is an Orthodox priest (and I'm obligated to say I received a free copy from his publisher), who introduces the practice of lectio divina (slow, contemplative readings of the scriptures) in a way that feels accessible and palatable for newcomers to the discipline. I'm just starting this, so I can't comment too much on it, but if you are interested in learning more about lectio divina and making it part of your devotional life, this looks like a great introduction.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pastoral ministry IS a job

I think this is a very helpful and thoughtful article from Bob Hyatt on the Out of Ur website. It's right along the lines of points I made in my book about the need for pastors to have firm boundaries between work and family, to rest and care for their souls, and to find their core identity in the Lord, not in their work.

"Brothers and Sisters, We Kinda Sort Are Professionals"
Bob Hyatt
Out of Ur

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Introverted Athletes Reprise

My worlds have collided today.  Since I grew up in Seattle, I'm a big fan of the Seattle Mariners (spare me the pity), and I regularly read a fan blog called USS Mariner.  Today they posted a blog entitled "The Man Who Wasn't There," cross-referencing a Coen Brothers' movie and one of the Mariners' pitchers, Erik Bedard.

On that post, the author says "Running a Google search for "erik bedard introvert” returns more hits that one could very probably expect for most other ballplayers."  You can bet that people reading that post today are googling that very search, and guess what?  They're ending up over here!

The reason for that is that I posted about Bedard 2 years ago, when the Mariners traded for him.  I've re-posted what I said below.  But here's the line that gave me some pause from the post on USS Mariner: "(Bedard)'s quiet and does little to construct anything of a persona....As a result, that persona has been constructed for him, more often than not to his detriment."

How true.  We introverts, because we're a little more reserved and a little more reluctant to open up with others, often have our personas constructed for us.  We don't give people as much to work with, so they insert their assumptions, which are usually negative.  And Bedard gets them all: standoffish, arrogant, unlikable, misanthropic, apathetic, or worse.

That's all I'm going to say about that today, since I've addressed these things multiple times before.  But I'd love to hear your thoughts.  And here is the post about Bedard and other introverted athletes (including Tiger Woods, who has become just a little bit less sympathetic in recent months. :)  Oh, and Ty Willingham was fired by the University of Washington (because he was terrible, not because he was an introvert) and they hired a very charismatic, extroverted replacement, Steve Sarkisian. 

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Introverted Athletes

This post is a slight departure from the topic of introverts in the church, but it's not far off. Any of you who follow my other blog know that I am a big sports fan, especially of teams from Seattle. It's always interesting to me to see how the introvert/extrovert dynamic plays out in sports. From what I can tell, it has the greatest impact on the relationship between introverted players and coaches and the media. My Seattle Mariners traded for an ace pitcher in the offseason, named Erik Bedard, and this guy is probably most notorious now for practically ignoring the media. During spring training he would go to a press conference and say "You've got three questions." And then he would answer exactly three questions, each response being one or two sentences. He has a reputation of being aloof and cold, though honestly, if he gets 18 wins this season, no one will care.

The head coach of the Washington Huskies football team, Ty Willingham, is also very clearly an introvert. And again, in the Seattle area, he is reputed for not handling the media very well. He is quite reticent, speaks in monotone, and withholds information and emotions that other coaches express more. A previous head coach Rick Neuheisel ("Slick Rick" - how long until UCLA goes on probation?!) was very extroverted and had far more lively exchanges with the media.

Of course there are other factors involved in how players and coaches handle the media - some have been burned by people prying into their private lives and they are understandably coy in public settings. And Bedard and Willingham are not representative of all introverts. Certainly there are other introverted athletes who have a more playful relationship with the media, because introverts aren't necessarily quiet or reticent. But it does feel like most of the most beloved athletes these days are extroverts whose outgoing personalities match their amazing abilities - think Payton Manning, for example.

However, some of the greatest athletes of our day are introverts. Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan are all introverts. They have incredible focus, perseverance, and seem unrattled by pressure. But all three of them have tenuous relationships with the media - Jordan always seemed distant, Kobe seems arrogant, and Tiger (though after getting married and having a kid has become much more sympathetic) receives criticism for not speaking out about racial and social issues.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Introverted Traveling

Travel guru Rick Steves has a mantra for travelers: "Extroverts have more fun."

Steves' philosophy of traveling is that the more widely you explore, and the more you talk to people, the more you'll learn about the culture, and the more embraced you'll be as a "temporary local."  To that end, he encourages Americans, when they visit Europe, to stay away from high-rise hotels and touristy restaurants and destinations, and to walk the back streets, stay in the smaller, family-owned inns, and try to learn some key phrases if the language isn't your native tongue.

Despite the extroverted bias, I admire a lot about his traveling philosophy, and when my wife and I went to France for 2 weeks last month, we rented a flat in Paris rather than staying in a hotel and stayed in a small inn in Avignon, in the south of France.  We sat in sidewalk cafes, often inside where it's cheaper, walked lots of back streets, and *tried* to speak the language.

My wife is an extrovert, but we didn't experience the tension about how to do the trip that I thought we might. She had been to Paris before and thus didn't feel the need to explore as widely as she has in the past.  I think if we'd been in a place that was new to both of us we might have had more disagreement.  I much prefer to have a home base and to spend a lot of time in that neighborhood, to take longer breaks in the afternoon, and to move slower throughout the day.  I have no innate need to "see everything" when I'm traveling, and we didn't even go to the Louvre because of the crowds (the Orsay is smaller, more intimate, has fewer people, and well, impressionism is awesome).

Here are a few observations from the trip:

1. French culture, on the surface, seems very extroverted, but I think it is actually more introverted. There are probably 10,000 cafes in Paris (NOT exaggerating) and they are always filled.  Seriously, I don't know how people make enough money to pay for all the meals they eat out.  The interesting thing is that though the sidewalk tables are always filled, there is very little interaction across tables.  In Paris people sit at meal tables with friends for hours but they don't talk to strangers.  People are engrossed in their conversations, but I almost never saw anyone from one table talking to someone at another table.  This is very different from American culture, where it is much more common to interact with new people, and it's not that unusual to see people striking up conversations with people they don't know.  What I experienced of French culture was very relational, but not very friendly or sociable.

2. The language barrier was both a curse and a blessing.  I had been led to believe that most people in France knew enough English to have a conversation, but that was not what I experienced.  The waiters knew enough English to understand what I was ordering, but that was about it.  I did my best to learn enough French phrases to get things started (my pronunciation is horrible) but conversations, I quickly learned, were out of the question.  My wife knows French pretty well, so she did most of the talking.  Truthfully, not being able to communicate was pretty frustrating at times, especially for someone who takes a lot of pride in my communication abilities.  The language barrier was nice, however, in that I just didn't talk that much to anyone other than my wife for 2 weeks.  As an introvert, this was a nice change of pace.

3. I don't find the idea of traveling alone very appealing.  I've read some things about introverts who love to travel internationally by themselves, but I don't think I'm one of them.  Especially in a culture where I don't speak the language.  Being in France for 2 weeks by myself, not being able to talk to people, would have been pretty lonely for me, even though I'm very introverted.  I actually really enjoy talking to strangers - when they're good conversation partners and when we have things in common - so perhaps if I were to travel alone, I would need to be in an English-speaking country.  But to share the experience with someone else - especially my wife - was really special and full of memories.  Memories are just better, I think, when they're shared.

4. I needed to insert a day of rest about every 5 days.  These were the days that we sat in cafes reading and took walks along the Seine and the Rhone.   I think some people might consider a day that doesn't include major monuments and sightseeing a waste, but for me, these were among my favorite days on the trip.

In the end, I think introverts and extroverts both can have plenty of fun when they travel, but it's just different sorts of fun. Some of us don't feel the need to search out every nook and cranny of a city and talk with scores of locals in order to have fun. So Rick Steves, if you're reading this, re-write your mantra!

If you want to read more about traveling as an introvert, Sophia Dembling at the Introverts Corner has written this article - Confessions of an Introverted Traveler -  and she's also writing a book on the topic.