Friday, 16 May 2014

Maybe Introverted Christians Do Not Need Liberating

Earlier this week I had the painful experience of being unfriended on Facebook by a fellow Christian. I had asked him whether he had managed to get the caterers sorted out for his wedding - as the last I'd seen the caterers had pulled out; if he hadn't then I would have put something on Facebook to see if anyone could help.

His response was to unfriend me. So, I decided to ask why.

"You keep messaging me".

Hmm, so in the past year, there was me inviting him in August to my birthday meal, followed by a quick message - like to others I had not heard from - to remind. This had led to a brief discussion about how things were going. Over Hogmanay, invitation to a get-together. Then there was my question about the caterers.

After chewing on this, I decided to make a response, outlining these, and noting how my aim had been to include and help him. And with that out the way, came the response.

He is introverted, and finds keeping in contact with loads of people exhausting. He had assumed he was just on a list of people I invited to things (and I guess he would have found being in a large group problematic). He felt being asked about the catering came across as nosey.

That is one of those things - it is so easy to misread people's intentions. He had misread me, and I had misread him.

I decided to pen a reply (and was up to 1/2 past 1 in the morning going through it). I outlined that I too am introverted. There are Sundays when it is a struggle to go to church - no I haven't lost my faith, but the experience of being in a crowd scene fills me with dread. I am socially awkward. I went to the Northern Men's Convention last Saturday, and spent about 15 minutes on the path to the Armitage Centre trying to decide whether to go in or not.

But once I decide, my survival technique kicks in. And that is to play the role of the extrovert. His survival technique is to put up shields, go to red alert and man the battle stations. That is OK. That is how God had made him.

There was one thing I wanted to draw attention to in my message to him. And that is the pressure to often conform to the "standard evangelical personality". Bonnielangfordism is the tenth fruit of the Holy Spirit. I know that pressure. The way that joy is misunderstood to mean permanently bubbly (and, sadly, this can coincide with not treating other people's bad news with the seriousness it deserves - we are called to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15.)). The way that it is sometimes assumed that there is something, well, wrong, with introverted Christians, as if they are a problem for pastors to tackle, rather than part of the rich tapestry of the Body of Christ (and a tapestry is only worth looking at if bits of it are different).

True liberation in Christ means being liberated to being who we have been made to be - not to be moulded into someone else's image.

One thing I dislike is hearing about being liberated in worship - basically, that when we are truly liberated, we will be dancing, clapping etc..

I was once part of a Baptist church which had two morning services. The first was the more traditional - older hymns with an organ. The second was more modern - choruses, guitars etc.. The problem was that there was a vocal second service lobby who objected to the first service's existence. Get rid of it, and those who attend will then be liberated to worship with clapping, choruses, guitar-led music.

Maybe the first service people didn't want to be liberated. Maybe they wouldn't feel liberated with modern-style worship.

I will admit that I am a "lightbulb changer" in worship - although out of respect to others I refrain from this when I've forgotten to use deodorant. Now, it is up to each person whether they do or don't. Don't come out with rubbish like "opening our hands in prayer and worship shows we are willing to receive from God." Don't make judgments about people's relationship with God because they sing with hands by side, or pray with the classic hands together pose.

And if you drag out I Tim. 2:8 as the proof-text of why we should all be raising hands in worship, and to beat the less liberated people with, don't take the approach that the Apostle Paul moves from something binding on the church for all time there, but four verses later gives a command which apparently was just a temporary, localised one with no relevance to today.

If you have a problem with people worshipping God in a different style to you, then that is your problem and you need to lighten up a bit.

The other thing that I guess would be difficult for some people is "The Peace". I am not its biggest fan, especially when it's used as the bit of the service where people can tick off the "being friendly" from the checklist. I can think of times where non-churchgoers making a rare visit were put off by this. Yet on the inside we look at it as being welcoming, ignoring that there are people (no doubt less liberated) who would prefer a smile and a "hello" when they arrive, and to be chatted to over coffee after the service, to an overenthusiastic bearhug from a complete stranger during "The Peace".

Sometimes the person sitting alone after the service doesn't need to be brought out of their shell - they may be perfectly happy. There's nothing wrong with them if they're not chatty.

I have touched (pun intended) briefly on one aspect of "The Peace". Bear in mind that not everyone is comfortable with physical contact. I find that in all-male Christian situations, an attitude of "hey, we're all brothers" can appear. Now, I am fairly tactile, and when it comes to close friends greeting and farewells will normally involve hugging, but it depends. There are friends whose approach is that men don't hug other men, and you simply respect that. Don't assume that a Christian man you hardly know is going to be fine with certain amounts of physical contact. You might think you're being friendly and welcoming, but you could be making him feel quite uncomfortable.

Just accept that introverts are how God made them. There is no need to liberate them from anything - by dying on the Cross, Jesus has liberated them from all they need liberating from.

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