Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dear (Extroverted) Ministers and Future Ministers: (Or Why I Struggle with Going to Church)

Dear (extroverted) ministers and future ministers of the Word of our God and Savior Jesus Christ,

I have something that I need to tell you.

I need to tell you what going to church is like for an introvert.

Going to church is terrible.

I need to tell you this, (extroverted) ministers and future ministers, because of this state of affairs, I find you disastrously unaware.

I will now demonstrate this truth with an anecdote:

Last year, one of "your kind," with what I found to be utmost insensitivity, said to me: "Sara, it's not that hard to go to church."

I was appalled. APPALLED. "Has he ever been in a church parking lot?" I thought, indignantly. "Has he ever passed the peace?"

"Clearly this man (and of course he is a man) knows nothing of the extreme anguish that church attendance produces inside of me. And if he knows nothing of my acute distress, then he clearly knows nothing of the acute distress of the entire world. And if he knows not of the acute distress of the entire world, then he ought not be a minister of the Word of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. It is settled," I thought. "This man is not equipped for ministry."

Allow me to clarify for you, ministers and future ministers, what this extreme anguish is like. For ease of imagery, I will play the role of the distressed parishioner in the following scenarios:

Scenario #1: "The parking lot"

Perhaps unbeknownst to you, ministers and future ministers, navigating the church parking lot is one of the most harrowing experiences an introverted church visitor can have.

"What if I turn wrongly into the church parking lot, indicating to everyone that I am a visitor who knows nothing of the story of redemption?"

"How am I to greet the nice-looking couples I walk by in the parking lot? Am I to greet them with a holy kiss, as Paul instructed? Must I say something trite and bouncy, like: "Grace and peace, brothers and sisters!"? Do I shake hands? Hug? Elbow-bump? For the love of everything that is good and holy, can't I just pretend to text?!?"

"What door do I go in? Oh dear God, what door do I go in? God, show me the damn door that I'm supposed to go in!"

To be sure, a visiting introvert's experience in the church parking lot before the service has begun is 100x less distressing than her experience after the service.

After the service, otherwise reserved churchgoers spill into the parking lot, all jacked up on grace and Eucharistic elements, eager to pounce on any newcomer they see and force them to feel welcome.


Ministers and future ministers, I want you to know that introverts leave encounters such as these, panting and groaning anxiously, for a full 3-5 minutes. The experience alone is enough to prompt someone to order one of these:

Suffice it to say, the church parking lot is an introvert's hell. It is one of the foremost obstacles that introverts face in trying to get themselves to church. This is something that I want you to be aware of, ministers and future ministers, for your present or future ministry.

Scenario #2: "Pew selection"

Once the visiting introvert has braved the horrors of the parking lot, she then faces the equally horrifying horrors of the "greeters' spirit tunnel" and then, the horror of all horrors, the moment of pew selection.

Ministers and future ministers, I will have you know that walking through the tunnel of forced Christian hospitality upon entering the church doors is, emphatically, not a good time. This is especially true for young-looking female introverts who attend church without male companions. Truly, for the single introvert, church is inordinately harrowing because churchgoers, suffice it to say, have absolutely no idea how to talk to young, single females who are joining them for worship. Typically, their response it to think silently, "Hmmm, I wonder how this nice, 15-year old lesbian found our church?" The introvert finds this to be stressful. Ministers and future ministers, perhaps you could train your parishioners to accept and embrace singlehood in the church and to not assume that all single females are lesbians.

Having received her bulletin, the introvert is once more overcome with extreme anguish, because she now faces the horror of all horrors: pew selection.

I will demonstrate this extreme anguish with another anecdote:

Earlier this year, when attending a new church, I decided to make my pew selection choice with confidence. This, as it turned out, was a terrible decision. I had just sat down, confidently, and had just confidently given a faint-smiling-head-bob to the young, blonde woman next to me when she turned to her spouse and began frantically whispering. They deliberated--I could feel them deliberating--and then they pew-shuffled 6 feet away from me. "Oh God," I thought frantically, "am I supposed to pew-shuffle with them? Maybe they could tell that I couldn't really see over the head of that tall man ahead of me." It was the worst 5 seconds of my life. Upon confidently giving the woman the faint-smiling-head-bob, I had envisioned myself, 4 weeks later, sitting jubilantly on this beautiful couple's sofa, nursing a hot toddy and playing a rousing game of Cranium. Now, however, it couldn't be more clear that I was being rejected. Another adorable couple appeared at the side of the pew. They wanted to sit by the first adorable couple. I was in their spot. I had broken the rules of church visitor pew selection.

Ministers and future ministers, pew selection is right up there with the parking lot in terms of fostering anguish. The introvert must decide not only where she is allowed to sit, but she must also apply great strategy to her decision so that she will have easy access to the sanctuary doors, come the moment of the benediction (more on this next week). The anguish of pew selection is one more obstacle introverts face in trying to get themselves to church. I think it necessary for you to know this for your ministry, ministers and future ministers.

Going to church is ridiculously hard for introverts, and I haven't even begun to describe what happens when the service actually begins and when it ends. Next week, ministers and future ministers, I will take up Scenario #3: Passing the Peace and Scenario #4: The Fellowship Hall. Sweet Jesus, the horrors of the fellowship hall...

I am glad we have begun to communicate about this, extroverted ministers and future ministers, and I hope to find you next week to be more sensitive to this state of affairs.

An Introverted Churchgoer

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Dear friends,

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you ate lots of mayonnaise and cream cheese-based foods.

I had a good day. I ate Thanksgiving foods and smiled Thanksgiving smiles and wore a Thanksgiving blazer. All in all, what a success.

Last year at this time, though, was quite different. Last year at this time included no Thanksgiving foods, smiles, or blazers. Last year at this time was, in fact, an abysmal sort of day.

I guess I'd say that drinking blueberry lager on the floor of my closet, alone, was the low point of Thanksgiving last year. Or maybe it was when I studied Church History notes in the mall parking garage in between the two movies that I went to see by myself. Or maybe it was when I went home and saw all the gladware containers stuffed with delicious turkey and potatoes and gravy that I could not eat. Suffice it to say, I would be unable to point to one of these events as the worst part of the day.

You see, my roommate had wanted me to be in attendance for a Thanksgiving meal in our house attended by her, her military boyfriend whom I once caught cleaning a gun in the room just opposite mine, and our older, hippie neighbor who had promised to bring a free-range turkey and to abstain from the bad energy contained within carbs.

"Hellz no," I said.

She cried, or at least got excessively weepy, and I retreated stubbornly to my bedroom. "I do not do things out of a sense of obligation," I thought. "Her excessive weepiness makes me feel obligated to change my mind, and thus I will not."

"I refuse to attend your Thanksgiving," I told her.

She looked at me like I had just taken an electric carving knife to one of the neighborhood cats.

"For the love of God, come to my Thanksgiving!" she exclaimed.

"I will not come to your Thanksgiving," I proclaimed.

It was not until later that I realized that not only did I now have nowhere to go for Thanksgiving, but I would also be unable to stay in my own house.


I wanted to take it back. I so badly wanted to take it back. I could not take it back.

So I decided to go to movies about oppressed, black teenagers.

I got the large popcorn with extra butter. I trust you will understand.

The man taking my ticket judged me, of course, when I presented my ticket for The Blind Side, but I have to imagine he judged me even more when I presented my ticket three hours later for Precious. (I told this story to a friend the other day, and she exclaimed, "You saw Precious alone on Thanksgiving?!? That's like watching Schindler's List!") This is what the ticket-taking man thought as well. I knew this to be true when he coughed "Loser" into his hand and then pushed me into a wall.

All in all, though, it wasn't a terrible experience. I mean, besides the fact that I was horribly depressed. I actually found going to the movies alone to be kind of empowering. Plus, I was able to spend quality time in the parking garage, coming to terms with the intricacies of a Trinitarian God.

And yet, it was also not the greatest day I have ever had. When I felt as though I had waited an appropriate amount of time, I returned home. My roommate cheerfully asked me where I had been, to which I replied, "Out."

"Did you have a great Thanksgiving?"

"I reckon so."

Well, I reckon that I had a greater one this year. Probably because I had the Trinity all figured out this go-around. Oh, and like I said, I was wearing a Thanksgiving blazer.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"There are no words"

Dear friends,

I have had some loud roommates before, but their level of obtrusion is never so apparent to me as when I am involuntarily waking from a nap:

The sound of her heels crashing upon the hardwood floor is as loud as a mother antelope rushing home to get the KFC on the table for the kids.

The sound of her voice is as if an aproned housewife is standing at the threshold, screen door half open, yelling "HERE KITTY, KITTY, KITTY, KITTY."

The doors slam. All of them in the house at once. How does this even happen? It's as if our house has become the set of that last scene in Grease, where Danny and Sandy prance around the "Shake Shack" singing to one another, "You're the one that I want." The only difference is that if my roommate had on black leather and was singing seductively, I would not dance lustily after her but would rather fashion a bayonet out of my possessions and yield it against her. Several times.

Stomping. Slamming. Smashing. Crashing. How could one human being be so impossibly loud? It's as if SNL is filming a comedy sketch, EXCEPT IT IS REAL LIFE, AND I AM THE ONE LIVING IT.

The only way one can defend oneself against the galloping antelopes and screaming housewives is to grumble. Cuss unabashedly. Listen to Sigur Ros on pandora as loudly as possible. Tell God you'll stop sinning if he'll just make the antelope-footed roommate wear slippers.

God doesn't usually answer curse filled prayers with a pair of slippers, though, which is probably an indication that it's time to get up from my nap.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Because Saying No to Neuroticism Was a Lie"

Dear friends,

Two years ago, when I was the TA for the biblical Greek class at Northwestern, the professor began class on the first day by reciting a passage in Greek, flawlessly and ominously. Although he did not translate the Greek for the class, he set the stage for fear (and later revealed to me that the passage was about death and the coming day of doom). Then, he asked the students what they had heard from others about the reputation of the class.

Without hesitation, a student spoke up: "I heard that at the beginning of the year, you put our soul in a jar, and if we fail the class, you smash the jar."

Hilarity ensued. Are you kidding me, student? Please say that at the beginning of every class for the rest of your life.

All laughter aside, though, this student's comment was exactly the way I had approached the Greek class. I had spent every day of my sophomore year, whilst taking Greek, studying desperately so that my soul-in-the-jar-that-is-Greek-class would not be smashed because of my failure. I printed off my quiz and test grades and hung them next to my pillow so that I could measure my success and/or failure every day before sleeping and upon waking. I stopped looking at the sky while walking, as my flashcards were ever before me. I woke up thinking about Greek. I went to bed thinking about Greek. I was obsessed. I was obsessed because the language was something that I could control and master, and I would control it and I would master it. I told my friends that if I did not get an A on the final, I would be so humiliated that I would just start walking to Mexico, scattering my flashcards in the wind as I went.

I was neurotic. I mean, a really, seriously crazy person. I had to be the best in the class. If I missed the extra credit points on the quizzes, then I had failed. My friend made me a sign to hang in my room that read: "I must beat Ben! Ben is weak! I will be first!" I thought Ben to be my competition in the class. I eyed him warily during class. I had to beat him.

I did not want to disappoint my professor with my failure. I did not want him to smash my soul. Missed points on quizzes would be a personal affront to him. He would lose all respect for me as a human being.

I get the hint, though, that not everyone approaches their academic endeavors in this way.

I still do, though.

Looking an instructor or professor of mine in the eye is ultimately a bad idea. This means that I am bound to him or her. With eye contact comes the need to impress. After eye contact, carelessness is egregious. Perfection is encouraged. After eye contact, poorly constructed sentences and leaps in logic and missed vocabulary words are a personal affront to my instructors. They no longer care for me as a person. I am nothing in their eyes.

Anxiety, not hilarity, ensues.

My tutor in Oxford, Albus Andrew, wrote in his comments on my transcript: "Sara makes very high demands of herself, but has achieved much more than she gives herself credit for." (Ha, Albus Andrew ended a sentence with a preposition).

How, though, does one give herself credit for the work she does? How does one evaluate the presentation that he gave without wanting to jump through the 3rd floor classroom windows? When is a paper something that she can be proud of writing?

As a student, I put my soul in a jar and wait for it to be smashed. Expect it to be smashed. Envision it being smashed.

The truth of the matter, though, is that I am the one smashing it.

If I had my way, I'd stop smashing my soul-jar and instead live my life being the person in this quote by Mary Oliver: "Every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight."

This is my hope. To be sure, I think that I will never be the person in this quote, but that is because of my still persistent smashing.

The prophets, Isaiah and Micah point to a vision of justice in which the world's people "will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (2:4 and 4:3, respectively).

May this vision extend also to those who take up their swords and their spears and yield them daily against themselves. May this vision extend to those for whom daily anxiety ensues. May this vision extend to those who put their souls in a jar and wait expectantly for them to be smashed.

Take your soul out of the jar. Love your soul. Love yourself.

God, grant us the courage.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Gender Battles on the Sidewalk"


Sara is walking carefully on the right side of the sidewalk, keeping to herself and showing (outward) respect for humanity. All of a sudden, she spots a Duke undergraduate walking in the opposite direction as her, walking very carefully on the left side of the sidewalk. [This means that Sara and the man were heading directly toward one another and would soon dramatically collide.] The undergraduate is wearing hip shades and a t-shirt that bears the word "Capital" with an arrow pointing to his penis. Sara walks dramatically on. Capital-penis undergraduate walks dramatically on. Tension grew. WHO WAS GOING TO MOVE? It was becoming a serious issue. Sara and the undergraduate were just very much about to dramatically collide. 5 steps away from collision. 4 steps away from collision. 3 steps. Sara thinks to herself calmly, but with increasing concern: "Why is he not moving? It strikes me that if I am walking on the right side of the sidewalk, then I should not have to move." 2 steps. The undergraduate with the offensive t-shirt will not budge. He will win this battle. He will not lose. Sara will lose. Dramatic collision only seconds away, Sara makes a tricky little turn with the direction of her body and heads toward the left side of the sidewalk. She has lost the battle. He has won the battle. As the undergraduate's t-shirt had made known, it was he who had the biggest penis. Sara thinks: "I hate you penis-man. I hate you. I hate every man. I hate every person. God, please forgive me for hating that man and for hating every person." End scene.

Later, Sara had a chance to interview the undergraduate about this experience that they had shared; their conversation is recorded here:

Sara: "I'm glad we are able to come together for a time of reconciliation. I'm sorry, though, I don't know your name. What is your name?"

Undergraduate: "You have not earned the right to know my name. You are wearing a hoodie and jeans, and as such, I neither want to sleep with you nor tell you my name. What I will tell you is that I am entitled to a lot, and I don't respect you."

Sara: "Very well, then. Can you talk for awhile about the significance of your t-shirt? Why is it that your shirt has the word 'capital' and an arrow pointing to your penis?"

Undergraduate: "I don't know why I'm talking to you. I am very powerful, you see. Largely, my t-shirt is an indicator that you have no right to speak with me. If I choose to walk on a particular side of the sidewalk, then you should no longer find yourself welcome on that side. I am powerful and rich. Why are you commenting on my t-shirt and not my sunglasses? My sunglasses were very expensive, and you should know many things about me just by looking at them."

Sara: "That is my mistake. I am incorrigible, am I not? Is there anything else you would like to say?"

Undergraduate: "Yes, I am a Son of Entitlement, and I do not understand why you feel like you deserve a place on the sidewalk. You think that you deserve to at least be walking on the right side because it is proper to do so, but let me tell you that if I decide that women do not belong on the sidewalk, then they don't belong."

Sara: "Truly, your logic is impeccable. Anything else?"

Undergraduate: "Yes, you are the inferior gender, and my penis is still very large."

Sara: "Thank you. May the road rise to meet you and the sun be always at your back."

Acknowledgements: To the young man who would not allow me to keep my place on the sidewalk, many thanks.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Saying No to Neuroticism"

Saying no to neuroticism is not something that I do frequently.

For instance, back in the day when I was either more crazy or less crazy (it's hard to tell), I so badly wanted to be a TA for the Greek class at Northwestern that I composed a list of all the people the professor might pick for the job instead of me, and I gave reasons for why he should not pick any of those persons and should instead pick me.

His emailed response read as follows:

"Yes, your unbridled neuroticism and raving paranoia make it very clear that you are truly the SENSIBLE choice."

I will have you know that he did, in fact, pick me.

However, his description of my neuroticism as "unbridled" often tends to be more true than not.

It is for this reason that I do not belong in the academy.

It is for this reason that I want to instead do the following:

I want to live in a house that is accessed by means of a gravel road.
I want to hang my clothes on a clothesline and attend to the water level in the bird bath.
I want to become really, really good at folding sheets.
I want to cook things in a slow cooker.
I want to buy suet from a butcher and hang it from a tree branch.
I want to spend full weeks vigorously canning pickles and dilly beans.
I want to play gin rummy while drinking gin and rum.
I want to eat oatmeal for breakfast; I want to eat breakfast, period.
I want to keep the Sabbath.
I want to read a novel.
I want to make cookies and watch Love Actually and Titanic.
I want someone to care for me.
I want a backyard,
and I want to belong.
I want life to be the best thing ever.

The heart wants what it wants. At least, that's what I told myself when I just went and bought a diet mountain dew.