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.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Summer Time

Happy 4th of July weekend everyone.  I've always been a big fan of the 4th, not because I'm hyper-patriotic, but because it seems to mandate that everyone slow down for a day.  There's not a lot of preparation for it and it's not a high-paced, high-stress holiday like some of the others.  It's understood that you relax, barbeque, watch baseball (I think baseball may be the ultimate introverted spectator sport), hang out with family and good friends (but not necessarily at a huge party) and watch fireworks. What's not to love for an introvert?

I've been also thinking recently about how many churches change their rhythms during the summer.  Most have a "summer schedule" which involves fewer programs, less movement and activity, and in general a more laid back ethos.  I've never heard a theory for this other than a pragmatic one: people go on vacation during the summer and there isn't as much demands for church programs.  But it occurred to me, what if we had "summer schedule" all year round?  What if we could learn from the pace of the summer that churches do just fine without all the hyper-activity?  I've never heard of a Christian abandoning the faith because there wasn't enough church programming during July and August.  In fact, I know a lot of people who absolutely love the church rhythms of summer.  Something to reflect on, I think.

I did an interview with InterFaith Voices that will be broadcasting this weekend and is also now up online. The show plays on 70 different stations in the US and Canada and you can find the schedule here: http://interfaithradio.org/tunein

Or you can listen to it, or download it, here: http://interfaithradio.org/node/1401

My interview starts at the 38 min 46 sec point of the show.

Raising a toast to the slow introverted pace of summer...