Saturday, October 29, 2011

Introvert Saturday: The World-Traveling Introvert

About the author: Kati Woronka defines herself as a world-traveler, an academic, a woman who loves Jesus, and an introvert who loves people. You can follow her at her blog CultureTwined and on Twitter.

I don't know how an introvert like me ever came to be a world traveler, moving to a new country every couple of months. Every move means meeting a new set of people, making new friends, going to a huge number of social events in the hopes of finding a few people to connect with. That was a fun adventure the first time, still rather exciting the second and third times. After half a decade, though, it's come to feel a little pointless. I love people and I want friends, but it costs so much energy to go out and find them.

As a Christian, I wrestle with my introversion. Part of why I took a job that sends me all around the world is to be a blessing to the people I meet and to learn from different cultures, to build bridges of respect and understanding and love in parts of the world where, sadly, those attributes have fizzled away under burdens of war and repression. So for a while I kept trying to get out and meet new people, but found myself increasingly playing the role of the freak at the party who stands at a corner and stares at everyone else, or the shy girl at the dinner table who everyone's worried about because she doesn't say a word.

More recently, I've withdrawn into a social scene that includes lots of skype, facebook, and blogging - relationships that do not depend on my geography. It sometimes feels a bit pointless, because how am I being a bridge of faith in a place where I have not one single friend?

A few things I've learned about moving to new places as an introvert who is passionate about Jesus:

- I've re-learned a lifelong lesson: I am never actually, truly alone. My relationship with Jesus is the most important one to invest in, and contrary to some misguided idea I learned somewhere along my journey through Christian communities, time spent with no one other than Jesus is not wasted.

- Online community is real. I take issue with those who scorn facebook for moving people into a virtual world rather than face-to-face interaction. Facebook and skype are how I keep in touch with friends of many years, and while it's not as fulfilling as sharing a cup of coffee with someone, they can be great tools for long-term investment in people. I joined a blogging community, Imperfect Prose (http://canvaschild.blogspot.com/), and the other writers I've met in that space have become a church in its own right.

- Never underestimate the ministry that is relationships with colleagues. When I've had a strong church community, it's been easy to focus on friendships at church and maintain superficial-at-best connections with co-workers. But while I rarely stay somewhere long enough to build inroads at a local church, I go to an office every day that I'm posted somewhere. Colleagues become friends. I've worked with some amazing people who I would never have met if not for being thrown into an office together, and I try to love them as Jesus loves them.

- I can't keep up this job forever. Moving around has become an excuse to avoid anything that is socially uncomfortable (that's a lot for an introvert like me!). So it's time for me to plop myself down somewhere for as long as it takes to make some face-to-face long-term friends, while hopefully still finding the energy to spend time online with friends around the world.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Why I wrote Introverts in the Church

If you are new to the blog, and are just hearing about my book, Saddleback Church's leadership website, Pastors.com, has revisited an article of mine that explains why I wrote Introverts in the Church. It really comes down to one story from my pastoral ministry at a Presbyterian church in Orange County. It involves a scowling old man who wasn't exactly enamored with the "friendliness" of our church.

Here's the link to the story on Pastors.com:

Introverts in the Church

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What is Your Church's Personality?

Over the last 5 years I have focused on one aspect of the Meyers-Briggs Inventory - introversion - but there are obviously many different categories the MBTI employs to evaluate a person's personality. If we spend too much time focusing on just one or two letters, we can miss the forest for the (introverted) trees. I continue to find the MBTI to be a very helpful resource in describing what people are like, what tendencies they have, and what ways they can stretch. Admittedly, sometimes we can get carried away with personality categorization and reduce people to a few capital letters, and we need to remind ourselves that human beings are infinitely complex and only truly comprehended as beings made in the image of God.

That said, I also enjoy trying to diagnose the personality of a group or body. That raises today's question: What is the personality type of your church?

Of course this will require some generalizing and speculation, and it would be interesting to have several people from the same church diagnose the personality type of the congregation.

In addition to answering the first question, I wonder if some of you could also mention how you arrived at your conclusion? Did you base it on the personality of the senior pastor? How much of a role do you think the leadership of a church has in shaping the personality of the church, or drawing people that already share the leaders' personality traits? 

And last, how much of a role does the personality of a congregation (or a person's perception of that congregation) play in a person's decision to attend?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's a Confusing Time to be a Man

I find it a very confusing time to be a man.

I have an amazing group of guy friends from college, all of whom very much fit into the "Renaissance Man" category. They are kind, compassionate, gentle, creative, and sensitive, and those that are married are very supportive of their wives' careers. Most all of them not only know how to cook but are incredible chefs. Four of them are fathers, or on their way to being fathers, and some of those fathers will be the ones to stay-at-home, doing their jobs remotely, while their wives are out in the workforce. My friends are going to be ridiculously good fathers.

Every time we all get together we eat copious amounts of red meat. I realized this recently, and I can't escape the suspicion that there is something very primal about this - the 21st century version of men on the hunt, gathered around a fire telling inflated stories of heroism and laughing loudly. Honestly, it's glorious. The highlights of my year. Kings discussing their exploits while ripping meat off the bone with jagged incisors and  yelling at chariot races.

Yet I have no problem writing that first paragraph, but the second paragraph makes me feel guilty, self-conscious, and chauvinistic. That's because I live in a culture that exalts the first definition of manhood, but is highly suspicious or critical of the second definition. Or at least that is the culture that I have internalized.

What happens when a generation of men have been raised to view the first definition as true masculinity and the second definition as a distortion, a cultural display of sexism? The women's liberation movement of the 60's was responding, among other things, to a kind of masculinity that oppressed women, that subordinated them both in value and role, a kind of masculinity that overpowered and stereotyped. And we celebrate that there has been much progress in that movement, even if there is more work to be done. But what if we are now living in a culture (okay, this is probably white, upper-middle class culture I'm talking about) in which "sensitive" and "feminist" and "in touch with their feelings" have become the norms of masculinity?

Many men in late Generation-X and the millenial generation have all been raised to believe that that is who they are supposed to be. That is what the men in their lives have modeled and the women in their lives have praised. What happens when the "traditional" understandings of masculinity have been lost? And the big and probably unanswerable question, is this: is there something about the traditional understanding of masculinity that transcends culture, that can be preserved while shedding the sexism that so often accompanies it?   

I'm just gonna say it. I think a lot of men deny parts of themselves because they are are afraid of their wives. They may not label it as fear, or admit it, but I think it's true. They let themselves be controlled because they are afraid of standing up for themselves. They spend too many hours at the office, they lie, they hide things, they get into pornography because it's a fantasy that they control - all because they are afraid. They act like boys before their mothers rather than men before their wives.

Unfortunately, when some men realize this fear they react badly. They get angry and they try to seize what they feel like they have lost by overpowering women or blaming them. Is there a way for men to name the fear and confront the fear without resorting to destructive, sexist tactics? Can we change some of the gender dynamics in our culture without just oscillating back to the gender roles of another era?

I don't have a lot of answers at this point, which only adds to the tension. And the tension that I'm most feeling at this point boils down to this:  I want to support my wife's career and her leadership abilities and yet I want to feel strong and powerful. I am happy to play the stereotypically feminine role of cook but I call my grill "PROMETHEUS GOD OF THE FIREBOX!!!" I eat wine and cheese at home and beer and ribs with my friends. I want to be sensitive and compassionate and yet I want everyone to know that if they threaten my wife they will have to answer to me.

My best Sunday school answer at this point is....Jesus. We must find our definitions of masculinity not first in what our culture dictates but in who Jesus is. The man who wept at Lazarus' grave and showed incredible compassion on people that others cast out, and the man who tied up a whip of cords and turned over tables in his Father's house, because you don't mess with the worship of God. 

It's a confusing time to be a man. Who's with me?

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Quiet Advent

(Addition, 1PM - Given the eagerness people are already showing, I will extend the offer to multiple bloggers for each week of Advent)
 
Sorry to displace you out of fall into Advent for a moment, but I am searching for guest bloggers for a series I'm calling "A Quiet Advent." The holidays seem to belong to the extroverts out there, but I've always considered Advent a quiet season. So here is my proposal - for the four Sundays of Advent I would love to have 4 people write up reflections on the theme of their Sunday of choice. So it would go:

November 27 - A Quiet Hope
December 4 - A Quiet Love
December 11 - A Quiet Joy
December 18 - A Quiet Peace

You don't have to be an introvert to write one of these reflections, but it should be a reflection on the quieter side of Advent and the Christmas season. And while biblical, theological, and spiritual reflection is welcome, the more personal you can go with these, the better. Imagine that you are sitting with your family and friends on a cold night in December around a firepit, talking about what the season means to you.

If you are interested, email me with your idea at adamsmchugh at gmail dot com. I would need your reflection a week before the Sunday it posts and it can't be more than 750 words.

And now you may return to autumn.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Introvert Saturday: The Size of the Soul

About the author: Jim Miller is the Pastor of Glenkirk Church, author of the book God Scent and blogger at http://pastorjamesmiller.com/. He and his wife Yolanda have 2 children.

The Medieval soul was cavernous. Free from the diluting forces of media and mobility, the great voices of the Middle Ages produced works of contemplation that are unparalleled in the modern Church. It was said of Bernard of Clairvaux that he once traveled around Lake Geneva and didn’t notice that it was there, lost in reflection as he was. After four years in his monastery, Bernard could not account for whether or not the ceiling in the dining hall was vaulted, which it is, or how many windows were in the chapel (there are three). Lives such as Bernard's were made possible by the new alliance that the church had with the political systems of the day, which ended persecution. Zealots who had once declared their loyalty through martyrdom turned to the monasteries to martyr themselves inwardly rather than physically. And from the monasteries we discovered how deep the soul goes.

If the Medieval soul is a Hummer, the modern American soul is a Yaris. Let's be honest: a lot of this has to do with money. In the book-publishing industry, publishers want to bank on a winner, so they look for popular voices who have built-in audiences. This usually mean speakers who have a large following already, and speakers with large followings tend to be self-publicists. They tend to know how other people are thinking and pay close attention to what people are thinking of them. And they tend to be extroverts. The management of a large fan base takes time, and many celebrity Christians who are maintaining fan clubs don't have much time to retire to the cloisters. So publishers are unfortunately, by necessity, after authors who don't have much time, or motivation, for reflection.

The reality is that social media, modern publishing, and even many churches will be unlikely to reward the fruits of introversion. There will be few pats on the back, and probably fewer and smaller paychecks, for those whose greatest contributions are made through months of introspection. 

Yet, I would argue that introversion is what the modern Church needs more than anything else. GK Chesterton once observed that the saints are the ones who offer the age its opposite. St. Francis offered asceticism to a culture of burgeoning materialism. Martin Luther offered passion and individualism to a culture of formality and hierarchy.  The modern soul, more than anything else, needs quieted meditation without a 2 o’clock appointment to get to on the other side of town.  It needs day retreats rather than day planners.  It needs to say “no” when everyone else is saying “yes.” And the church-going introvert has the makings of a modern saint.

If you want to read more about introversion, spirituality, and the history of the church, check out Adam's book, Introverts in the Church.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Care about what you care about

The Internet is at its best when it brings together like-minded people who can combine forces and create something great. I don't know about you, but I never want to live in a world where flash mobs don't exist again. The downside is when like-minded people become parrots, echoing the thoughts and concerns of a few leaders of their tribes. Still, this is understandable and on some level, unavoidable.  It seems like the way that people express their sense of belonging to a particular community, in an internet age, is by tweeting and updating and blogging their responses to whatever topic or event or controversy that has controlled the day's news cycle.

Think, as a broad example, about Osama bin Laden's death. When he died just about everyone in America with a Facebook account felt the need to comment, which was our way of participating in a significant world event, but unfortunately it came across to other parts of the world as triumphalistic and bloodthirsty.

So in the Christian world, in North America anyway, when Rob Bell or John Piper or Mark Driscoll or Brian McLaren says something, people in their tribes or people who define themselves as the anti-tribe of that particular person, feel like they need to express their thoughts in as many social media forums as possible.

Here's my thought. The reason that those people have the media power that they have is twofold: 1. They have followers, and enemies, who hang on their words and comment on whatever they say, and second and more importantly for this post: 2. Those leaders are out there pursuing their own callings and caring about what they care about, rather than mostly commenting on what other people care about.

I don't know about you, but I want to be the person that is trying to find what it is that I truly care about, rather than borrowing from the passions of others or worse, trying to discredit their passions because I haven't found my own. 

And here is my encouragement to all of you (and myself): care about what you care about. And if you deeply care about the issues that are being raised by the power-players out there, then give it all you've got. But if you don't, and you find yourself commenting on those topics mostly because you feel like you should, then think about letting them go. It doesn't make you less of a person; it's actually make you a unique person, trying to pursue what God has put in front of you. That's the beautiful nature of God's diverse kingdom.

Pay attention to the "shoulds" that keep sounding in your brain, because odds are, they're not authentic. Gordon Smith in a terrific book called Courage and Calling talks about those instances when we "overhear" the calling of another person. It's when you come across someone who is passionate about something - whether it's urban ministry or church planting or the local food movement or preaching or music - and you feel like it should be something you are devoting your life to. Those are all noble callings, all reflections of the glory of God, but it might not be your calling.

I think this happens for a lot of people when they spend time with pastors. A pastor is out there teaching the Word and caring for those in pain and gathering a missional community, and people feel like if they're not passionate about those things then they are not truly passionate about the gospel. But that is the pastor's calling and it may not be yours. And that's okay. Could you imagine a church that was full of pastors? It would be skewed, narrow, and well, weird. And that's why our churches must encourage all  the gifts of the Spirit and not just a few.

Care about what you care about friends. For all our sakes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Leadership, by Dead Poets Society

Every October I re-visit my all time favorite movie, Dead Poets Society. In part, my annual fall viewing is a trip down memory lane. In October 1997 my college friend Sean and I were thinking about calling it a night when we remembered that the next day was daylight savings. Clearly, we couldn't waste the extra hour by sleeping, so we broke out the movie he was borrowing from a friend. Even though DPS had released in the 80s, I had never seen it.

The movie first gripped me because it depicted a group of friends that reminded me of my own group of college friends. The boys in the movie, inspired by their English teacher, were trying to live counter-culturally, rebelling against the rigid conformity preached in their conservative private school. My group of friends in college had formed in large part as a reaction against our college's prevailing ambitions toward wealth and status.

In the end what has stuck with me, year after year, is a profound picture of leadership. In the movie's climactic scene, the students, reeling from a tragedy that has divided both the school in two and the boys themselves in two, make a decision between the man who is the leader in the room and the man who is a leader in their hearts.

And here's the lesson* that I have taken with me: A true leader is not someone who is appointed by the powers-that-be; a true leader is always given authority by the community that follows him. You do not become a leader just by assuming a position or by being offered a job. You can call yourself a leader, you can read all the leadership books and use all the leadership jargon, but you are not a leader until you have won the hearts of people who would follow you.

A fake leader can even get people to call him "boss" and do what he tells them to do. The tactics of the fake leader are fear, intimidation, and manipulation. If I fear losing my job or being publicly humiliated, I will do what I am told to do, for a while and to a point. But the tactics of the true leader are inspiration, compassion, and self-giving service. A true leader listens to his followers, so that he knows how he can serve them and treat them as individuals. A fake leader does not because he would risk losing his position over a person, and that status relationship is the only leverage that he has.

Leadership is not something that you can seize. You can't grab the crown and call yourself king. Even if people conform or relent at first, eventually they will see through you. But once someone had demonstrated, over time, that they are trustworthy, reliable, and out for my good, then I will call them their leader. And then I will do pretty much anything for them. 

 Leadership is always a gift that is given

*Hat tip to Kenda Dean, Princeton Seminary professor for helping me clarify these leadership lessons from DPS.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Introvert Saturday: Abba Father

About the author: Dan Cruver is the primary author of Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living Through the Rediscovery of Abba Father and the director of Together for Adoption, an organization that provides gospel-centered resources to mobilize the church for global orphan care.

” . . . when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” ~Galatians 4:4-6

I both love and hate being alone. As an introvert, I need and enjoy time alone everyday. Along with sleep, of course, it’s what I need to recover, recoup, and recharge each day. But as an introvert, I also hate being alone . . . too much, that is. My inner voice can knock me around pretty hard. The voice inside my head can easily forget to remind me of the good news of the Gospel. Instead of encouraging me by repeatedly reminding me that I am God’s beloved son in the Beloved Son, it can discourage me by relentlessly rehearsing all the ways that I have failed to love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength and with all my mind, and my neighbor as myself. Rehearsing failure without remembering Jesus’ success on my behalf does not lead to confession and the pursuit of holiness. It leads to more failure.

Recently, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the word our in Galatians 4:4-6. I think it is critical that we modern-day Bible readers don’t allow our individualistic mindset to cloud our understanding of what Paul is doing in these verses. He’s writing “to the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2). Yes, these churches in Galatia were full of individuals, but Paul was not so much addressing individuals (though he was) as he was addressing the corporate bodies of believers that were living in Galatia. ”So,” you may be asking, “how should the corporate focus of Paul’s words guide how we understand and apply Galatians 4:4-6?”

My tendency is to read and understand these verses primarily with reference to myself personally. For example, when meditating on Galatians 4:6, I naturally remind myself, “Because I am a son, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into my heart, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’.” Although this truth is certainly true of me (and you), Paul is not so much addressing me as an individual as he is addressing the corporate body of believers with whom I am united (and the corporate body with whom you are united): “And because you [plural] are sons [plural], God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts [plural], crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” When my focus is primarily me and not our, I lose one of the major benefits of these verses.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the downsides of my introverted tendencies is that my inner voice can relentlessly rehearse all the ways that I have failed God and my neighbor. Often, even when I realize what I’m doing and begin to remind myself that I am God’s child, it’s not enough to pull me out of my downward spiral. I need other voices speaking the truth of what Jesus has done into my head—and I suspect you do, too (whether you’re an introvert or extrovert). One reason Paul tells us that we are God’s children and that God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts is so that we realize that we need each other to remember the good news of the Gospel. As Sinclair Ferguson has written:

Despite assumptions to the contrary—the reality of the love of God for us is often the last thing in the world to dawn upon us. As we fix our eyes upon ourselves, our past failures, our present guilt, it seems impossible to us that the Father could love us. Many Christians go through much of their life with the prodigal’s suspicion. Their concentration is upon their sin and failure; all their thoughts are introspective (Children of the Living God, p 27).

When I’m spiraling downward, I tend not to believe the good news I’m telling myself. But I do tend to believe others when they remind me of the good news of the Gospel. That’s why, even as an introvert, I treasure being with the people of God.

Yes, I still enjoy and need my alone time. But what I have found is that I need other believers regularly reminding me of the Gospel more than I need to be alone. After all, Jesus lived and died for both for me and you. For us.

 If you want to read more about introverts and their inner lives, check out Adam's book, Introverts in the Church. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why You Can't Express the Most Important Things

Have you ever been deeply moved by a sermon or talk and then tried to explain it to someone who wasn't in attendance? Did you find yourself stumbling for words and even struggling to remember the content, much to your embarrassment? Were you only able to summon pedestrian, cliched words like "wow!", "amazing!" or "awesome!" Did you face and your eyes say so much more than your mouth?

I want you to know that your response actually confirmed how deeply the message hit you. 

A few years ago, after I told my wife I loved her, she asked "what do you love about me?" I paused. It was more than the introvert pause before speaking. It was long enough of a pause to transform a positive interaction into an uncomfortable one.  

If that has ever happened to you, I want you to know that your lack of a response actually indicates how deeply you love.

I recently watched a profound TED talk by Simon Sinek, called "How Great Leaders Inspire Action" and even though my first responses to watching it were "Amazing!" and "Wow!" I have had time to reflect and think on it further so I sound a little smarter.

I highly recommend his entire talk, but the point that I want to emphasize is what he does with neurology. I find neurological studies fascinating, even though I generally understand about 5% of what is conveyed about the human brain. What Sinek said is that the human brain is broken up into three sections, and one section, the neo-cortex, controls language and reason and logic. This part of the brain is unique to humans. But the other two parts of the brains, called the limbic brain, is responsible for emotions and motivations.The limbic brain controls human behavior and choices but it has no language capacity. We speak from from neo-cortex but we decide from the limbic brain.

Sinek explains that when we talk about "deciding from the gut" or "choosing with the heart" we are actually referring to the limbic brain, that center of emotion and choice. And so, returning to my earlier points, when a talk or a sermon strikes us deeply it lands in the limbic parts of the brain, which has no power to speak. That's why we fall back on simple, demonstrative words or facial expressions. Rather than demonstrating that we weren't very good listeners, our inability to articulate what the talk was about actually might indicate how fully we actually listened. And by that logic (using my neo-cortex now), a person that can very clearly delineate the points of a sermon, may not have actually fully listened. It may have stayed on the surface and thus has no power to change a person.

And, when your wife asks you what you love about her, and you can't answer well, that means (well, in most cases) that you love her in the limbic part of your brain, the center of emotion and choice and behavior. Your limbic brain has no ability to express what you love about her. That's why you show your love best through action and why even the most beautiful words can fall flat.

Still, it wouldn't hurt to do some preparation for when she asks you that in the future.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nightstand Theology

I have dreamed of starting a new genre of Christian literature for a while, and even if I don't have the writing talent for it, I'm hoping I can inspire some of you who do. I know many people decry the state of Christian literature in our country, and when they do they usually describe it as light or insubstantial or touchy-feely. Christian cotton candy.

When I get frustrated with the Christian books I read, I use another word: boring. Too often I find myself reading a book - about what should be an utterly fascinating, life-changing topic - and it feels like chopping wood. Sometimes it's because authors spend too much time exegeting scripture and the book reads more like a commentary. Sometimes it's too research-heavy, or too academic, or too complex. The best writers, and listeners, are people who can take a complex topic and see the simplicity through the complexity, rather than highlight the complexity.

I dream of pioneering a genre that I am calling "nightstand theology." You know that feeling you get when you're reading in bed and you just can't put a book down? You look ahead a few pages, determine to put the book down and go to sleep at the end of the chapter, but when you reach it your eyes involuntarily move to the next chapter? Do you think it's possible to write a book that's both strong on theology and the beauty of the spiritual life and impossible to put down?

I'm not talking about a systematic theology book written for laypeople - Jesus for dummies - I'm talking about a book that has the pace of a narrative, with the characters and plot developments and twists that keep you reading and foregoing sleep. A book with a biblical backbone, an intoxicating presence of God, a sense of humor, and a page-turning story?  

Have you ever read a theology book like that? Is nightstand theology possible?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Introvert Saturday: Conflicted at Catalyst

About the author:
Dr. Guy Chmieleski is the University Minister at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. He blogs regularly at FaithONCampus.com. You can also connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

It's Friday evening and I have a headache. I'm pretty sure that it's a people-induced headache... If that's possible. You see, I've spent the last 3 days at the Catalyst conference in Atlanta.

With 12,999 other people.

And I don't think that number includes the dozens, if not hundreds, of volunteers that it took to pull off this grand event. Nor does it account for the dozens of vendors that lined the hallways, on both levels of the arena, and in tents out on the grounds.

I'm peopled-out. And I hope that's not an offensive thing to say...so I apologize if it is. But it's how I feel right now.

For the past three days I have had the privilege of getting to hear from some great leaders, thinkers, authors and activists. And it’s been great. It really has. I’ve been inspired, challenged, convicted, encouraged, blessed… and worn out. No, I didn’t have any leadership obligations, speaking requirements or even any students to keep up with. I simply got to be “present” and participate in the conference. But that grew increasingly difficult as each day passed.

The first day wasn’t so bad. The morning pre-lab sessions were attended by roughly 400 to 500 people. A large group by some standards… but it was doable. There was room to move and to breathe.

But by the afternoon that number had increased by approximately 1500. And it was as almost as if – like Superman coming into closer proximity to kryptonite – I sensed my strength starting to fade. And truth be told, I had expected something like that to happen, but I chose to attend Catalyst anyway. The opportunity to hear from so many leading thinkers and ministry practioners was too attractive to pass-up.

However, by the start of Day 2, and the addition of 11,000 more people to our gathering, I was starting to wonder if I had made the right choice. The speakers were no less fantastic than they were on Day 1, but it seemed that with each passing hour I was being zapped of more and more of my strength. Each long line, inadvertent brush or bump, awkward attempt at small talk, verbal chase-down (by well-intentioned vendors) and human traffic-jam (that could be found around just about every corner) wore me down.

By Day 3 I was content to arrive a little late to the opening session (late enough to miss the morning crowds), sit in the upper-level – behind the lighting racks and main stage back drop (where I could still see and hear; but where open seats and room to move more freely was more easy to find), and then leave a little before sessions were over (as it meant avoiding the masses).

Some may call me a Catalyst party-pooper.

I guess I’d prefer to be understood as an introvert, who doesn’t care for big crowds (let alone multiple days within them), but was willing to put myself in a less than comfortable position for the sake of taking in some great wisdom and encouragement – and even meeting some new friends. I don’t doubt that I have learned a lot over my past few days at Catalyst… and will continue to do so as I slowly regain mental strength and capacities.

For now, however, I will soak in the silence and solitude of my hotel room. I will trust the Lord, and my 5-hour drive back to Nashville tomorrow, to renew and refresh me.


If you want to read more about introversion, leadership, and church life, check out Adam's book, Introverts in the Church.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Too Deep For Words

There are some couples out there who can articulate all their successes and failures and habits. They have all kinds of insight into the dynamics of their relationship. When you ask them how their relationship is going they have a thoughtful answer prepared, and they will make you think about your relationship too. They can impress individual and couples counselors with their ability to describe their marriage.

But there is little joy in their relationship.

And that's because they haven't learned how to just be together. They can sit and have a well-articulated conversation about the intricacies of the budget or the tendencies that the other person has that frustrates the other, but they can't take a walk and hold hands and simply enjoy one another. Their eloquence belies an emotional distance between the two of them.

There is recent evidence that the people who are least "successful" as therapy patients are the most articulate about their lives and therapy experiences. They can tell a therapist all their problems and describe their childhoods and family of origins with accuracy and insight, and yet they are destined for a life of sitting on a therapist's couch because they're not actually getting any better. But the people who are most successful actually over time become less articulate about their experiences in therapy. Healing for them takes place on a deep level, on a level too deep for sounds except for the Spirit's groan, and though they don't necessarily understand what is happening for them, they know that they are changing.

In his new book Sanctuary of the Soul, on the value and experiences of meditative prayer, Richard Foster counsels people who have sat in silence beholding the Lord not to share much of their experiences with others. He explains that hearing the whispers of the Lord is an intensely personal experience, and that if you try to express too much, you will first have a hard time putting your experiences into words, and second, sharing these things has a tendency to trivialize them.

I wonder if sometimes those of us who can talk articulately about our relationships - our marriages, our experiences in therapy and spiritual direction, our life in the Spirit - are distancing ourselves from what we really want?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Open

I took the month of September off from all social media and blogging, from all writing of any kind, from reading any non-fiction, from even thinking about my writing projects, and from participating in any theological and intellectual conversations. The first week was confusing, as I struggled to know what to do with my brain. It was like completely changing your diet, say from going from carnivore to vegetarian. But at some point in the second week of my brain fast, I started to like the taste of vegetables.

I started getting up in the morning with a glorious feeling of emptiness, like I had freed parts of my life to see, taste, hear, and experience different things. The word "open" kept recurring, but instead of thinking about what openness is, I let my body and my heart feel open. Just saying the word open would cause me to breathe a deep sigh, to let the tension fall out of my neck and shoulders, and to almost feel like a hole had opened inside of my stomach. But it wasn't the feeling of lack, it was a feeling of presence. It was a presence that didn't require complex theological thought or even many words. I began to realize how much my constantly pounding brain can cause me to be closed to what is right in my midst. How I can have an experience or a "sense" of something true and then immediately shelter myself off from it by analyzing it and dissecting it and theologizing it.

In September, when I had moments of illumination or the warmth of the heart touched by the Holy Spirit, I would open myself fully to it and bask in it. I relished it and wouldn't let it go until it decided to go. And it stayed a lot longer than I thought it would.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Introvert Saturday: On Bellies, Babies, and Unwanted Attention

About the author: Laura Ziesel is a seminary student at Azusa Pacific University and a freelance writer and editor living in southern California with her husband. She blogs on matters of faith, gender, church culture and more at LauraZiesel.com. She is also a contributing writer for The Redemptive Pursuit, a weekly devotional for women. She and her husband attend Glenkirk Church in Glendora. You can find her on Twitter @lziesel.

This year my husband and I embarked on a new adventure: trying to create new life. We are pursuing parenthood because we believe that children are blessings, gifts from God worth every hardship. But to be realistic, a lot of negative baggage comes with this journey toward parenthood, some of which is heartbreaking and some of which is just annoying.

As I'm not currently pregnant, I tend to focus on the hardships of trying to get pregnant. But I know that becoming pregnant and carrying a baby to term will only be the beginning of a new set of challenges. Among all of the changes that might come into my life once I do become pregnant, do you know which one stresses me out an inordinate amount? Suddenly attracting a lot of attention in public.

You see, I'm an introvert. I'm an INTJ to be exact. Being an INTJ, I dislike attention, sentimentality, and unnecessary drama. I remember feeling very frustrated as a bride because I became the center of sentimental drama. But bridal attention was only paid by the people who knew I was a bride. Being a pregnant woman, new mom with a cute baby, or less-than-new mom with four kids in tow? All of these things bring loads of attention, even from strangers.

I'm easy to miss in public and I like it that way. My hair has never been dyed and my clothes are from Old Navy. When I go to the grocery store or to church, I don't want to stand out. The relative solitude I have in public spaces brings me a lot of joy.

Once I become noticeably pregnant, I fear I will lose the solitude I am able to experience in public places for a long, long time.

I'm the first to admit that I am more likely to look at a pregnant woman (and her belly) than the average person I pass in town. I can't help it sometimes. Pregnant women are quite beautiful. But once I become that pregnant woman, I know I am going to hate the extra eyes, hands, and unsolicited advice directed at me and my belly. And it won't get better once I give birth; I've heard that walking around town with a baby is just as bad, if not worse. Lord have mercy on my introverted soul!

In all honesty, I think there should be a t-shirt line for those of us who want to keep the prodding questions at bay:




In all seriousness, I am a bit overwhelmed thinking about this aspect of my future. I could blame the very existence of the problem on well-meaning strangers and acquaintances, but I think that would be unfair. Most people are simply excited and want to connect on a basic human level. I don't think that's inherently bad. Sure, people could be more thoughtful with their words toward mothers, but I can't do much to change that. What I can change is my attitude.

Just before I was married I shared a bedroom with a major extravert, an ESFJ. She and I are friendly now, but at the time we had some serious conflict. Not only did we live in the same bedroom, but we worked together. It was a recipe for disaster. I was completely overwhelmed and did not know how to love her well. I pretty much failed entirely at it. One day I was meeting with my mentor, a fellow INTJ who is a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. I was talking about how difficult it was to love my roommate and my mentor said, "You know what? One day your children might be extraverts who drive you crazy, so you should probably learn to deal with this in a better way."

My world exploded a little bit at that moment. I realized that as much as I dream about children who are either like me or my husband (he is extraverted, but he is introvert-safe), I have no control over their little personalities. I can shape them, but I must love and accept them even if they aren't exactly who I have in mind, even if they are the exact opposite of who I have in mind.

So perhaps I should view this loss of peace and quiet in public as a training ground for motherhood. Perhaps I can view the annoying, repetitive questions of "How far along are you?" or "Boy or girl?" as a practice-run for the even more repetitive verbal barrages I will receive in the future: "No, Mom!"; "But why Mom?"; "Mom, I promise (yawn) I'm not tired." And perhaps the strange hands that suddenly touch my growing belly in public are training me to give me body away freely to the little hands of needy babes.

I know it won't be easy to be patient and kind toward strangers who rob me of my precious solitude in public, but neither will being a mother. While having snarky t-shirts might help in the short-term, learning to be loving and kind when I am tired and irritated is a better long-term solution.

If you want to read more about introverts, their quirks, and their relationships, check out Adam's book, Introverts in the Church.