Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I am X-trovert

I recently moved to a new home in a new town where I am serving a new congregation.  While in the process of interviewing for the position of Senior Pastor of this congregation I received or downloaded many documents to help me familiarize myself with them. Among those papers was a list of attributes the congregation desired in their new pastor. 

As I looked over the list, nodding my head at most of the items it contained, I suddenly stopped at one word in particular - extrovert.  "Oops." I said to myself. "This could be interesting."

I am not an extrovert.  I am X-trovert.   

Most people who know me a little think I am an extrovert.  But my truly extroverted friends know that at any high energy event that lasts more a day, at some point I am going to wander off to re-charge in solitude.  On the other hand, my truly introverted friends have observed that although I can happily spend hours in silent contemplation I am also energized by social interaction, so I am not really one of them either. 

The Meyers Briggs Personality Type Indicator is perhaps the best known test of its kind.  An individual answers a long list of questions and is rewarded with an assessment of their personality type divided into four categories. One of those categories is I/E or Introvert/Extrovert. Most people fall pretty clearly into one or the other. Some few folks, however, don't.  I am one of those. 

My I/E score the last time I took it fell squarely in the middle between the two personality traits. Prior to that I usually scored barely 1 point into the Extrovert side. This means that I seem to be pretty well balanced between those two poles.  I am neither “I” nor “E”.  

I am X-trovert.  This is a good thing. 

 It means I keep my office door open. I’m happy to drop whatever I’m doing to talk to you when you wander through.  It means I will show up for your play, football game, Rotary luncheon, concert or whatever and I will enjoy myself thoroughly.   I will join groups, volunteer to do a prayer in the Community Thanksgiving Dinner and make sure everyone in town knows I am part of this particular congregation.

It also means that I exhibit some symptoms of shyness.  I have a hard time making a phone call to someone I haven’t met. I really, really can’t “just drop in anytime.”  Really.  I get that “deer in the headlights” look when I’m asked to do something unexpectedly.  I’ll do it, but I’ll freeze for a minute.  I often just sit back and listen quietly in a group of folks who all know each other well.   I treasure the quiet afternoon hours in the church office.  If you want to sit quietly, I can do that with you for as long as you like.

I am X-trovert.  I will fit right in.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,  
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
Simple Gifts - Elder Joseph Brackett - 1848

About two years ago I realized that I was not happy with my life, and I realized that one thing complicating my life was stuff. . . the acquisition and keeping of stuff.  I had way too many clothes I didn’t wear, and kitchen gadgets I never used, and dozens of dust catchers I’d been given as gifts, and sets of linens for beds I no longer owned and so on.  There was always one more thing I thought I needed. I was never satisfied with what I had.  

I looked around at people I knew who seemed calm and serene, satisfied with their lives, and I realized that those were almost all people who had made a conscious decision to live simply - mainly Quakers and Buddhists.  I grew up with Quakers and I had studied Buddhism.  I understood the concept of simplicity. It had just never occurred to me to try to live that way.  

So I started simplifying my life. I spent months going through every thing I owned, keeping only those things that either enhanced my life and brought me joy or that I absolutely had to have in order to function.  A number of things went back and forth between the  keep and give away piles, but finally I was happy with all my decisions.  Then I moved into a much smaller home, just 500 square feet, where there is more than enough room for all the things I kept.

And I was satisfied.  Every time I walked through my home I sighed in satisfaction, and told everyone who would listen how much I love my little Elf House.

Soon I will be moving into a much larger space, a space that will just beg me to fill it up with stuff.  I will be tempted.  My challenge will be to continue to live simply while still having a comfortable, hospitable space into which I can invite guests.  I will have to make decisions about things I can bring into the space - not because they fill it, but because I love them and they enhance my life.  Hopefully the choices I make will also bring joy into the lives of those who come into my new home.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Metaphorical Hair Cut

For the last few years I have been in the process of simplifying my life - discarding anything that I do not need and/or which does not enhance my life in some way.  I struggled with some items, putting them first in one pile, then the other before I could finally decide one way or the other.

Now I am moving.  I am clearing out my church office and preparing to move into a new one.  Like many before me, I have saved print copies of every sermon I ever preached in 3 ring binders, not one of which has been re-opened once the last sermon for the year has been snapped in place.

All of those words, all of those hours of study and prayer and research, all of that struggle with the Gospel as it was presented to me in light of whatever was going on in the world, in the community, in the congregation and in myself - each and every one of those messages was intended to be spoken just once.  Each was intended to address a specific audience on a specific day.  There were times when I tried to make one over, or re-use it in a different place later in the same day.  That sort of worked, sometimes.  But not well.

Discarding the paper copies of all those sermons feels a little like discarding pieces of myself.  It feels  like those times when my hair was really long and I decided to cut it short.  It felt strange at first to see all those years of growth laying on the floor at my feet, but the freedom I felt with the first toss of my head was exhilarating.  I knew my hair would grow again, but for that moment everything felt new.

I know that the same Spirit who helped me find the words contained in that row of binders filled with messages from some 600 Sundays will give me new words for my new congregation.   And those old words, even though they may have been the right words at the time they were spoken, will be left behind like my long hair on the floor of the beauty shop, leaving me free to grow in a new place.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Of sheep and cattle . . .

I’ve been reflecting lately on what it means to be a pastor.  The word pastor means “shepherd,” so first and foremost, a pastor is a shepherd.  According to a shepherd is “a person who herds, tends, and guards sheep.”  That seems simple enough.    

The Bible says:  
The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.


Jesus tells us that a really good shepherd will leave his flock of ninety-nine sheep to go off in search of one who has become lost.  I always hope he’s leaving them inside a pen or enclosure, or at least with a well trained dog to keep them safe while he’s gone, although it is a fact that each flock has a lead sheep they are accustomed to following.

I’ve been reflecting on this because I heard someone wonder recently, “What if that pastor we’re thinking about calling is too liberal for us?”  They’re a bit nervous, and I understand that.  What if they get a shepherd who wants to take them in some weird, unknown direction?  What if the new shepherd is going to force them to go someplace they really do not want to go?  

I’ve had sheep.  I know that there is no way in the known universe I’m going to get a bunch of sheep to head off in a direction that they know isn’t the right way, and I don’t care how great my dog is.  They might be convinced to take a slight detour in their usual routine of pasture to field and back again, especially if there is something especially tasty within smelling range.  But if they don’t want to be someplace, there is nothing that shepherd can do to change their mind.  And don’t ever let anyone tell you that sheep are stupid, because that’s simply not true.  At least, not in my experience of sheep.

Case in point.  Baby and Flower were used to being in the same field together.  One day my father thought it would be better to have Baby grazing on one side of the pond and Flower on the other.  So he attached each one to a tire by a chain around their necks and set the tires where he wanted them to stay.  They could easily move around - the tire was only intended to slow them down a bit.  A little while after he set them out we looked over toward the pond and discovered that Baby was swimming across the pond, dragging her tire behind her!  We did’t even know sheep could swim!  She refused to be separated from her friend.  She was going to go where she wanted, no matter what the shepherd wanted.  My father never tried to separate them again, and we all learned an important lesson about sheep and shepherds.

A shepherd is not like a cowboy driving cattle to market.  The cowboy’s primary objective is to get the cattle to the market by the road he chooses.  He wants to get them there as quickly and safely as possible.  And he wants them to be as heavy and strong as they can possibly be so as many as possible survive the trip.  He will look out for them, make sure they are fed, protect them from predators.  But his primary goal is to get as many of them to their destination as he reasonably can, as quickly and as profitably as possible.

The shepherd is in no hurry.  The sheep will get where they are going at their own pace.  All the shepherd is concerned with is making certain they are nourished and refreshed with good food and water, so that they will all be as healthy as possible all the time.  If one is ailing, he’ll spend extra time with that one.  If one is lost, he’ll worry and search until that one is returned.  He will always guard them from danger and share their every circumstance, enjoying the sun and enduring the storm right along with them. He will give them what they need, what they are accustomed to, and only slowly will he introduce them to a new field or take them in a new direction.  

A pastor is a shepherd, not a cattle driver.  A pastor is in no rush to bring the congregation to a particular destination.  Rather, a pastor is there to guide them along the path that Jesus has already set out for us all to follow.  A pastor has one concern only - to see that the flock thrives and grows, nourished by the Word and Living Water.