{Just Like Me: Being Introverted in the Church}

Ok, I don’t often reblog things, but I read this yesterday and thought it added such a perfect complement to the Naughty Thoughts book review that I should put it here for people to find. The church issues raised in the book were important and fundamental, but I have to say that the culture of extroversion in the evangelical world was an extra dissonance for me – and probably the first and most immediately/urgently felt dissonance. I love my church friends, I just don’t enjoy seeing them at church – my personality feels assaulted by the format. Anyway. Melody Hanson is a lovely blogger.

Logic & Imagination

dylan 2If I could have demanded anything

for my shy and wary child,
would I have begged God

make him less cautious?

Would I have wasted
a wish, a prayer, even a thought
on that part of my personality that I hate

and have come to
tolerate.

Make him less afraid.

Make him less

like me: petrified, wooden, shaken, sick to my stomach
terrified.

Though I hate it about myself,

could I possibly hate this

in

my son?

How is this conceivable?
My baby, my flesh, my skin and bones
always crawling away from people

just like me.

I have learned, when the extroverted-overjoyed-inner-glowing-pastor says almost gleefully to
turn to our neighbor, I don’t immediately
run. I have learned.

Still, the bathroom is a cool, echoing, quiet and comforting place just then;
and I can hear
my heart exploding inside me.  Blood pumping, rushing to all extremities.
The fear rushes about me…

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “{Just Like Me: Being Introverted in the Church}

  1. Stephen River Smith

    Moving. Seriously moving. And for us extroverts, if we’re honest and real with our past, we have to admit how much our extroversion was honed to a T by years in church, all introvert tendencies crushed to a fine pulp by the reality of an organism, an institution, that required its leaders to be strong, supremely confident, fillers of empty-space, charismatic in word and deed, decently good-looking, joyously happy (unless stern sobriety is called for), and just generally all-around Lifes of the evangelical Party.

    When I think of all those quiet, cautious, unassuming, understating folk, especially those bearing the scars and weight of failure or loss or rejection, who have no desire to fill the air with praise, quote a verse for effect, pray the corporate, public prayer of faith with the voice of one prepared to die, I am sick with what I think it really means–that the church has made them into eternal followers, penned sheep with no hope but what is offered from the pulpit or the boardroom. It’s taken two-thousand years to build what we call the Church. If we allowed the weak to lead us, if we called on our weakest members to speak for us, lay their hands on us, the walls would come tumbling down. These are wall built by strength, FOR strength. Whatever happens inside them will be led by those equal to their size. Sorry Jesus. But that’s just the way it is.

    I would love to meet Melody’s son. Just to tell him I’m sorry…”but this aint Jesus’ fault”.

    • You know, I never thought about the effects of an extroversion culture on extroverts – I guess that would be confining and contorting in the same way that patriarchy confines and contorts men as well as women. And just to be clear, I’m very grateful for the gifts and abilities of extroverts, just as I’m grateful for some of the things that a large, organized church can accomplish that a small, informal house church might not be able to (like my old church’s free medical clinic). But I do think that the culture has leaned so far to one extreme that it is effectively leaving out the native relational gifts of a sizable percentage of its population. The format just isn’t built for us to participate in a way that feels life-giving to us – as she says in the post, sometimes just showing up is a win. What does it say about the church culture when a large portion of its participants feel that “just showing up” is as much participation as they can muster? What would the church look like if we could structure it to be more inviting to people inclined toward more intimate environments, so that they had energy left over to share their real gifts, rather than expending all their energy every week “just showing up”? And I don’t even think I’m nearly as pained about it as Melody Hansen – I’m introverted, but not particularly shy; I find the morning greeting and long-form small talk very fatiguing, but I wouldn’t say it was terrifying or overly anxiety-producing. And even so, I was very grateful that one of the perks of doing dance worship every week was that I had a solid gold excuse to be in the bathroom “cooling down” during the morning greeting.

  2. Stephen River Smith

    In my own writing and blogging, especially in the past, I’ve seldom directly addressed or exposed my distinct and very personal arguments with the institutional Church. I’ve let my stories do “their own talking”; allegories and any other means of indirectly addressing an ‘issue’. We’re all so different, our own life stories and world-views so unique, that making the bold statements like I’ve made in your blog leave me feeling vulnerable and out-of-step with my own belief that there is no room for judging an individual, for ever truly understanding their reasons for belief or unbelief, actions or inactions. I guess, though, that I’ve been able to separate somehow the institution and its mechanical realities from the individuals operating them. How? I don’t know. I hope it’s not some self-deception, because, if it is, I’m getting damn good at it. 🙂 But how else could Jesus say “They don’t know what they’re doing”? So, here in your wonderful blog, I have been doing something I’ve seldom done over the last twenty years; I’ve belched out opinions like Vesuvius as if the world depended on it. (God help it if it does!) I love your own reactions and refreshingly honest “belchings” because it’s obvious you have a gift for it :)–one that far exceeds my own. I shall remain the ‘storyteller’, thank you very much, leaving this thing that you do so well, whatever it’s called (ha), to people just like you.

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