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.