Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak, Ready to Act

Labor Day Weekend is the powerhouse long weekend. It looms large on our calendars and in our imaginations – no other national holiday transitions us so completely. Summer fun is almost over, to be replaced with September’s seriousness: School back in session, sand blowing across the deserted beaches, the sounds of children’s laughter replaced by accusation and outrage in wave after wave of political attack ads. Oh. After Labor Day, we sober up, we’re not allowed to wear white anymore, the carousels and the ice cream stands pull down their shutters.

God’s vacation is over. She’ll be back on the job soon! We realize we can’t get away with slacking off anymore – at least not until after Christmas. We come back to church en masse and we are ready. Ready for what?

James in our scripture reading this evening wants us to be ready to DO. Be doers of the Word, he says. Throughout the summer, I’ve been putting together a Leadership Development Program for the fall here at Broadway UCC. You’ll be hearing more about it through September, but the program will be there to organize us, train us, and get us to work together on current and new initiatives. In short, I hope that this fall we are ready to DO, to act, to grow in our capacity to ENACT the life and the values of our church for one another, for the world, and for the new people who aren’t here yet but who are surely coming – whether they’re folks who want to join the church, or folks who want to partner with us in justice initiatives, or the person who is coming to us to be the next settled pastor.

As I’ve reflected on leadership and our development as individual leaders and our development as a stronger and healthier church, I’ve found myself drawn back to the writings of analytical psychologist Carl Jung. Jung coined the term “individuation” as the development of an individual person toward their true self, their true potential. He believed that the instinct toward individuation was within all of us, but we frequently need help getting in touch with it and learning to listen to it. What’s important about individuation – and obvious based on the term itself – is that we are not all developing toward one common personality – one kind of ideal leader. Each of us – as a unique individual, as a unique self, with unique gifts and experiences – must grow according to our own process into a uniquely fulfilling destiny.

Rereading Jung this summer reminded me that we cannot force ourselves to become the kind of leaders we are not destined to become. WE cannot force ourselves to become a church that we are not destined to become. We can only offer ourselves opportunities to develop ourselves into the kind of leaders and the kind of community that we are uniquely called to be. When I put Jung into conversation with James, James says, “you must be Doers of the Word,” and Jung says, “Yes, be Doers of the Word, but make sure you do YOU, that you do the Word as the Word has made you to be.”

Jung was also the first person to articulate for us the now universally recognized personality types of introvert and extravert. These aren’t the only personality characteristics, of course, but they are big ones – and they have an affect on every other aspect of who we are and how we interact with the world.

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that we live an extraverted culture that values the traits of extraversion – especially in social situations and in leadership – and so we frequently misunderstand the personalities of introverts and we undervalue their unique gifts. In American culture people are rewarded for being gregarious, bold, loud, high energy, constantly posting and updating, forever on the front lines. We like people who are “out there,” “up there,” “in the spotlight.” But that’s not the way most of us introverts work. At least not for long bursts.

If you’re not familiar with the characteristics of introverts and extraverts, we can sum it up by saying that it’s a spectrum but by and large extraverts are energized by social situations while introverts are energized by alone time, extraverts process their thoughts and feelings out loud stream-of-consciousness style while introverts process their thoughts and feeling internally in their own heads, and extraverts crave more sensory stimulation while introverts crave less.

And, of course, if you’re an introvert, like me, you know that introverts are better. I’m just kidding. Introverts aren’t better, but it sure is nice sometimes to hang out with other introverts – people who know how to share a little peace and quiet together.

But I am serious about being an introvert. This often surprises people because there are so many negative stereotypes about introverts – that we’re all shy, awkward, anxious wall flowers hiding in a dark corner somewhere reading a book and hoping that no one will notice us. But that doesn’t describe most of us.

And I think many of us at Broadway may be introverts too. How many of you self-identify as introverts? The statistics on the percentage of introverts in the general population aren’t conclusive, but generally it’s something like 25%. My back of the envelope calculation for us here at Broadway is that we’re at least 60% introverts, maybe 75%. And our extraverts are fairly middle of the road – closer to the center of the spectrum than the extreme end of extraversion. What do you think? Would you agree that we tend towards the introversion end of the spectrum as a community?

I think we do. And that’s OK! It doesn’t mean we don’t like socializing, it just means we need some down time after socializing and we prefer to socialize with close friends – like at community hour – rather than with a bunch of strangers. It doesn’t mean we don’t like to talk, it just means that when we talk we prefer discussions of Aristotle, the Me Too Movement, Martin Luther, or our favorite summer reading, rather than just opening mouths and saying whatever pops into our heads. It doesn’t mean we’re not friendly, it just means we’re not going to jump up on new people and lick their faces like bad dogs! And all of that is good!

In fact, I think that James proves himself to be an introvert in our reading this evening. Just listen to some of these recommendations:

“Let everyone… be slow to speak.” We introverts couldn’t agree more. And we wouldn’t mind if some of the extraverts bridled their tongues a little better! Meekness – no big deal for us, we’ll just retire to our rooms until the Pushy People Party is over. Let us know when it’s safe to come back out. And we introverts are in touch with that implanted – the internal, deeply spiritual – Word that James writes about that defines who we are from the inside out.

It’s when James reminds us that we need to be Doers of our religion that we all get a little nervous. We imagine that James wants us to be out in public all the time, on the front line, in the spotlight, acting like extraverts 24-7, and that’s not where we thrive. That’s not necessarily the leadership that we are being called to. So, what kind of leadership are we ready for? Let’s develop that leadership.

One problem is that even I – an out spoken, out-of-the-closet, proud introvert can sometimes feel guilty or ashamed about my need for alone time and my gifts for introspection and imagination. But deep down I know there’s nothing shameful about being an introverted person, minister, leader, or congregation. But we do need to be aware of our strengths and we need to consider our holistic personality as we think about how we want to grow as a congregation and how we want to develop ourselves as leaders.

And we can grow and we can be great leaders. In fact, a lot of really wonderful and creative people are introverts – Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Einstein, Dr. Seuss, Mr. Rogers, Carl Jung, J.K. Rowling, Barak Obama. There’s no reason for us to hold ourselves back from dreaming about who we are uniquely called to become. This is the spiritual journey – it’s the journey towards wholeness, towards really seeing and honoring ourselves, towards offering ourselves the opportunities that will make our quiet hearts sing. So, what kind of leadership might we be ready for? What kind of religion doing are we ready to do?

We also need to consider the extraverts. Because they are here among us. And most people outside those doors, out in our big bad city, are extraverts too. And even the most introverted person among us, has extraverted needs and desires – to be with friends, to tell someone about the very bad or very good day you had, to go out on the town and celebrate the joy of being alive and embodied.

I know I joked that introverts know that introverts and better, but we have to remember we can be real enigmas for the poor extraverts. It’s very hard for them to see through our skulls and understanding what’s going on in there. My wife, Bonnie Mohan, is an extravert and, man, do I ever put her test on occasion. Bonnie will sometimes ask me a question. Two minutes of complete silence later she has had to learn to say, “I assume that you’ve heard me and that you just need more time to process my question, but it would be really nice if you let me know you’re paying attention.” She’s a saint.

I think part of our leadership development here at Broadway – as Doers of the Word – will have to be considering our extraverts – the extraverted individuals among us and the extraverted pieces in all of us – and thinking strategically about how to use their seemingly boundless energy, their excitement about meeting new people, their love of talking, and, of course, thinking about how best to help newbie extraverts feel like their emotional needs and social needs are being met and honored here so they don’t feel like they’re just being met with silence when we are in fact deeply pondering their questions.

I look forward to leadership development activities with all of you this fall, so that we can hear and DO, together, as the unique people we were made by God to be. Amen.