Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh

Adam McHugh, on first impression, appears to be just my sort of writer. He's quite literary in style. His vivid vocabulary makes him a delight to read, his quotes from Sherlock Holmes at the start of chapter 2 were right up my alley, and the attention grabbing beginning to the book - the story of 'to post or not to post....' all connected with me immediately. The first sentence of chapter 2 is priceless: 'We all have two dead European psychologists dueling in our heads.' Clever! .... and so I settled back for an enjoyable read.

I was curious about the topic, the exercise set for me of writing about a book on introversion from the perspective of an extrovert was a good one. What an opportunity for walking in someone else's shoes!  I was hoping that it would help me to see how I could allow the introverts in my church to feel more comfortable and to serve more appropriately.

Unfortunately the further I read the more irritated I am becoming by the author. Is it because I'm an extrovert that I'm finding it hard to cope with the high level of introspection? And the more he cites examples of insights from his female friends who are priests, the helpfulness of Catholic retreats and various miraculous experiences (what on earth was his vision of the little boy on page 58 all about?), the more I realise that Adam and I are not exactly on the same page about all sorts of things, not just our personality types. 

I'm trying really hard to read with an open mind, but the sense in the first few chapters that introversion is an ailment requiring a cure has made me somewhat impatient with the whole enterprise. I hope I don't perpetuate the pain of introverts reading this reflection by doubting the reality of their struggles - chapter 3 has examples of damage done by misunderstanding family members and their sad stories - but I wonder was it introversion or general insensitivity and lack of trust that was at the heart of some of those scenarios? I don't want to be insensitive, but I have to confess to some scepticism as to whether introversion leads to true pain or merely discomfort. Claims such as (page 50) '.... ours is the aching loneliness of not being known or understood' make me sympathise with the situation, but it's not the plight of the true sufferer from a chronic illness or disability. Maybe it's McHugh's literary bent that builds the impression of a tragic situation? Introverts, is it really that great a burden? Perhaps so, and I should try harder in my role as a church worker to alleviate the situation. But I'm currently thinking that if God has created so many of us as introverts, then maybe it's a condition that is a bit more bearable than that?

Thanks to this book I have been reflecting on the pitfalls of both personality types. Perhaps introverts need to guard against self-absorption and extroverts self-promotion? McHugh certainly acknowledges that sin affects our thinking (pg 54), and on page 59 he himself raises the issue of self-preoccupation as a danger for introverts. He advocates the practice of directing our gaze to God and away from ourselves (pg 55), and on page 56 he acknowledges that our identity is ultimately found in our relationship with Christ. Ephesians 4 speaks of how, as Christians, we are works in progress with a new self being shaped in Christ's image. Verse 24 exhorts us to: "..... put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." It really does help if we spend more of our energies reflecting on Christ and not so much time on who we are in our natural state. We certainly need a certain level of self-understanding, but only so we can make progress in becoming who God would have us to be, relying on his transforming power to overcome our limitations in order to serve him in the world in all sorts of ways that we'd not naturally be able to do in our own strength. 

Again, I do hope that this reflection is not just the writings of an unsympathetic extrovert. These are just my thoughts on the first 3 chapters of the book. I have not yet drawn my final conclusion, as I have not yet read McHugh's. Feel free also to share your thoughts and experiences - both on the book and on my reflections too.

Other thoughts on history and culture:
* What is it about the character analysis of Jesus in chapter 1 that makes me nervous? Is it an anachronism to characterise Jesus, as well as the Apostle Peter, the patriarch Jacob, Mary and Zacchaeus (see the end of ch 2) as introverts or extroverts if it wasn't really a category of thought in Bible times?

* I also wonder how much of these introverted/extroverted personality divisions are a 'Western' way of viewing ourselves, born of our individualistic culture. Otherwise, how do introverts cope in the communal cultures of the great majority of the world? Possibly even in the West we were all communal up until recent eras? 

About this month's contributor, Alison Napier
Alison has been working in full-time ministry for a decade now, serving firstly with City Bible Forum, and then at St Andrew’s Cathedral. She has just started in a new role at the University of New South Wales serving with overseas students as part of the chaplaincy team, while also working as a consultant with Two Ways Ministries. Her favorite thing to do in ministry is to read the Bible with women who've never read it before, it's just so exciting to see them discover the wonderful things it says. Her current new interest is learning the joy of cycling to work - the combination of commuting and exercise appeals to her love of multi-tasking. 

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