Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Reflection: Introverts in the Church

In college I took my first Meyers/Briggs test, and came out a high E for Extroversion.
Every few years I would take the Meyers/Briggs for a leadership position or for a seminary class, and my E score kept getting lower and lower. Now I score a clean “I” for Introversion.

In regards to my introversion, for years I felt like I was walking around in the dark with a dim flashlight whose batteries were 90% depleted. Reading Introverts in the Church was like dropping new Duracells into that flashlight. Here are a few of the main things I gleaned:

Evangelical Christian Churches are Geared Towards Extroverts
In his book, Adam McHugh describes the extroverted environment that evangelical Christian churches cultivate. Evangelical churches are all about relationships—relationship with God, and relationship with each other. If you walk into an evangelical church on a Sunday morning, the ushers will warmly greet you, church members will bombard you with small talk because they want you to feel welcome and noticed there, and you will observe a lot of hugging and laughing and interacting among the members. Once the service starts the leader may ask everyone to stand up and greet each other (especially visitors!), and there is always something happening, such as a sermon to listen to, music to sing, offerings to give, prayers to recite, scriptures to read, and announcements to take note of. Stillness and pregnant pauses are rare.

It being an evangelical church, the focus is on evangelism, or sharing the “good news” with others—which includes initiating relationships (with hidden agendas), helping “seekers” feel comfortable, and encouraging people to participate in smaller groups where they can know and be known. At all points and time someone is up in your face.

The whole set-up is geared towards extroverts—not introverts. I grew up in an evangelical church setting, and until about 5 years ago have been actively involved-- with mixed results-- in approximately 5 or 6 churches.

As an introvert, my processing is best done internally rather than through interactions with others. In churches, people are encouraged to participate in small groups and verbally share with others.

As an introvert, I crave silence and contemplation. Most churches are a hub of stimuli and activity with “church socials” in their “fellowship halls.”

As an introvert, I feel most alive when I am alone. But “as followers of Jesus, even introverted ones, our ultimate identity is never found in aloneness, but it is found in relationship with another.” (page 56) Which is why, as an introvert, Christian community exhausts me. My personal spirituality leans towards silence, prayer, journaling, taking a Sabbath to unplug, writing, and reading.

But on the other hand, I recognize the truth of my identity being found in relationship with God and others. So I do what McHugh describes as a “spiral”. I take “steps into a community, but then spiral out of it in order to regain energy, to reflect on [my] experiences and to determine if [I] am comfortable in that community”. So there is this rhythm of engaging and retreating that is the story of my life. I was so glad to learn that introverts do this spiraling thing, because previously I just thought I was a anti-social, self-indulgent jerk.

Some Good Things About Being Introverted
My current faith community is ReIMAGINE, which is an amazing bunch of young people in their 20’s and 30’s, whom as far as I can tell, are mostly extroverted—like I was in my 20’s. They are charismatic, energetic men and women, attracted to the prospect of following the teachings of Jesus in ways that may be different than how a traditional church goes about it.

And in this community of extroverts, according to McHugh I have these introverted gifts to offer: compassion, service, loyalty, insight, listening, creativity, calming presence—which are things that I have been pretty much affirmed about in the past.

Some Down Sides of Introversion
But on the down side, “in an extroverted culture, introverts can become the silent screens onto which others project their insecurities. Others may regard our quietness as arrogance, or they may interpret our tendency to observe in social situations as condescension.” I don’t know if people have thought I am arrogant, but I do know that my introversion makes some people uneasy, and they wonder what the heck I am thinking about when I am quiet in a group setting. Loads of people have communicated this information to me in loving and not-so-loving ways.

Introverts in a Christian community also have to be vigilantly on the watch for burnout and depression. I have been incredibly susceptible to those for the past several years. I wonder if they are unavoidable conditions for those of us who are emotionally depleted by interaction? I’d like to think that just because I lose energy doing something doesn’t mean that I’m not supposed to do it.

It’s Not Just About Churches
While this book is written about introversion within the context of the church, most of what it says applies to the nonprofit work environments I have been involved with. Any nonprofit organization worth its salt exists because they have a vision and mission to love people and serve them. Nonprofit work attracts a certain personality type—the extroverted, people-loving type. Meetings are preceded by personal “check in’s”, staff members tend to know what is going on with each other and hang out together outside of work hours, and the “save the world” mentality often translates into overwork and extended time spent working with one another.

I’m not picking on churches or nonprofit organizations, and I’m not griping about people either. But in general, American culture values extroversion over introversion. But not as much as some other countries I’ve been to—like Thailand, or the Philippines, where I would go absolutely crazy as an introvert. Years ago, I remember telling a Filipino friend of mine that I was going to travel solo for a year around the world. She thoughtfully absorbed that outrageous information, tilted her head and wistfully asked “But won’t you miss people?”

Well…. no, actually.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sacred Space- Josephine's Retreat

In 1924, wealthy Palo Altons Frank and Josephine Duveneck steered their Model T Ford towards the mountains and discovered a magical valley called Hidden Villa. Understandably enchanted with the place they purchased it and raised their family on the land where children could climb trees, race leafy boats in the creek, and chase chickens, goats, and pigs around the pasture. The valley looks like this:
With so many children, farm hands, house helpers and endless projects afloat, Josephine—a contemplative like myself- needed a place to hear herself think. So her ever loving husband Frank built her a small cabin on a hill overlooking the valley and dubbed it “Josephine’s Retreat”. It looks like this:
After decades of raising children, founding a school, and running summer camps at Hidden Villa, the Duvenecks donated the land to a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about environmental issues and sustainable living. The space is now a 1,000 acre organic farm, outdoor education program, hostel, and summer camp.

Most months Josephine’s Retreat can be rented by the public. It’s a 10x12 foot one-room cabin with a comfortable bed, a kitchenette, and a deck with spectacular views of the valley and surrounding mountains. This is the view:
Near the cabin there are heavy oak trees, fragrant bay trees, Adobe Creek, lupines, bunnies and deer, and occasionally an illusive bobcat and fox can be sighted.

At dusk, all the day-trippers go home and the only sounds are the rushing stream, hungry goats bleating their demand for dinner, and uncountable birds singing their unique tunes. And the frogs, oh the frogs… at night the frogs start up a blaring symphony chorus of “ribbits” and then inexplicably they all stop as if instructed by a mysterious froggy chorus conductor. They observe a multi-measure rest note, then resume.
In the cabin there are three guest books dating from 1995 onward, which is when the cabin was remodeled and opened to the public. Reading the guest book is like reading a novel full of comedy, tragedy, and fairy tale. People write of returning to Hidden Villa in middle-age after spending the summers of their youth there as campers or camp counselors. Couples write of meeting as staff at Hidden Villa and renting Josephine’s Retreat on their anniversary to reconnect and make love on hallowed ground. Women write about being in remission after a difficult battle with breast cancer. Writers and artists write of coming there for inspiration.

Hidden Villa and Josephine’s Retreat are sacred space for me. I’ve stayed at Josephine’s Retreat four times and the solitude, natural beauty, and peaceful spirit of the place is always the perfect setting for praying, recalibrating my priorities, and daring to dream about what I want my life to look like.

I envy Frank and Josephine for all they accomplished, as well as the legacy of Hidden Villa that carries on long after they have died. When I was there last weekend I found the remains of a blue robin’s egg on the deck, which I took as Josephine’s assurance that all of my ideas, desires, and dreams will also be hatched in their time.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Third Time’s a Charm

There is something about the number 3 that is special. As children we hear stories about the three little pigs and the three bears, and we sing repetitive songs about three blind mice, and pretty soon we start to catch on that the number 3 stands out.

As we mature, we expand our knowledge of three to include three branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial), three dimensions to a human (body, mind, spirit), and the monumental importance of three day weekends.

In America we have the saying “third time’s charm” and in Britain they say “third time lucky.” The idea behind those sayings is that hey, if things didn’t work out for whatever reason the first two times (e.g. a disappointing marriage, plastic surgery run amuck) all we have to do is persevere and everything will turn out all right the third time. The third time holds the promises of hope and faith.

The number 3 really has its’ hey day in the Christian bible. Starting with the obvious trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, from there we move on to three wise men, Peter denying Jesus three times, Jonah hanging out in the belly of whale for three days, three apostles with Jesus at his transfiguration, and to commemorate Easter, Jesus was three days in the tomb. The number three in the bible is said to symbolize divine completion.

In October 2010 my planned trip to Haiti was canceled because there weren’t enough people signed up for the trip. In November 2010 my trip to Haiti was canceled (the night before departure) due to the cholera epidemic that infected 80,000 people, and killed 1,800.

My trip to Haiti has been re-scheduled for May 30th.
I’m going.
Third time’s a charm.