Jesus: Introvert, Part 4

And your point is . . . ? I saw somebody recently wearing a hat that carried that snarky question. Tuesday night, as I sat in a meeting and listened to a member of our group rambling on about things that almost made sense, I wished that I had 25 such hats for everyone in the room, on signal, to put on.

People do tend to go on and on. In fact, you might be thinking that I have gone on and on about this whole Jesus as an introvert thing. So far I’ve tried to convince you that Peter was an extrovert (easy), that John tended toward the introvert side (a bit less easy), and then that Jesus himself was an introvert (harder yet). But let’s imagine that you agree with me on all of these previous claims. You might find yourself asking, “And your point is . . . ?”

To answer that, let’s first consider what Jesus as an introvert does not mean. It does not mean that he had some debilitating social anxiety, that every encounter with people beyond his inner circle was endlessly painful. Introversion is not a sickness, although, as Susan Cain, in Quiet, argues forcefully, it is sometimes treated that way by many in American society. We sometimes hear people worrying about their child who won’t “come out of her shell,” but we never hear about kids who won’t go into their shells.

The introvert tends to need alone time and tends to value time with a close circle of trusted friends. The introvert tends to spend more time in his or her own head, working out complex ideas. The introvert is more apt to listen to opposing ideas and to make those holding such ideas feel valued. Contrary to popular opinion, introverts can take bold and decisive action, but they’re more apt to have thoroughly evaluated the situation before charging into action. Introverts can be terrific leaders.

Extroverts can do many things well also. It’s not as if Jesus didn’t know what He was doing when He selected Peter as a key apostle. Without those extrovert qualities, the church probably would not have exploded onto the scene as it did. Yes, I know that the Holy Spirit had a little bit to do with that early success, but God nearly always works through people.

If American culture placed a high value on introspection and reserve, then I’m not sure I would have much of a point in saying the Jesus was an introvert. But we place great value on the person of action. And we tend to discount the value of the person of thought. If Jesus was an introvert or, perhaps a more palatable formulation, he possessed the best qualities of both introverts and extroverts, then shouldn’t we, as the body of Christ, take efforts to value both tendencies?

If I’m right, then without valuing introverts we wouldn’t have these words from John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him,and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.–John 1:1-5

Can you imagine Apostle Foot-in-Mouth Peter sitting still long enough to frame these words? But can you imagine the contemplative John stepping up to preach on Pentecost? We need our introverts and extroverts together.

What’s my point? That’s my point.

Say the Word

“I’m busy in footwear with an athlete.” That’s what I heard the employee at Dick’s Sporting Goods say into a walkie-talkie. Athlete–she meant me. I chuckled at being called an athlete. Yes, I once ran a half marathon in less than two hours. Does that qualify me as an athlete?

“We call everyone an athlete,” she confided, smiling.

Isn’t that special? Somebody at Dick’s Sporting Goods decided it would be a great idea for their employees to refer to what any sensible person would call a “customer” as an “athlete.”

This isn’t unique to Dick’s of course. Any number of businesses refer to their customers as “guests.” Uber calls their drivers “partners.” Partners? Really? Isn’t a partner somebody who has a partial ownership in the company? Don’t they get to help make day-to-day decisions? And most partnerships cannot be unilaterally terminated with no recourse or compensation. They’re independent contractor drivers, not partners.

At Disney theme parks and even in the stores, the employees are called “Cast Members.” That young woman who rings up your Little Mermaid-themed party supplies at the mall is actually a cast member. All the world, apparently, is a Disney stage and all the men and women merely players.

There’s a reason, of course, why all these companies slap ridiculous names on customers and employees. The idea is that by controlling the vocabulary, we control the way we think about and act upon reality. And when we do that, perhaps we begin to control and create reality. Think of yourself as a “cast member,” and you might remember to remain in character more consistently, you might view your hours as show time. Refer to a driver as a “partner” and she might believe that she has a stake in the success of the company. Call me an “athlete” often enough and maybe I’ll start to take my physical prowess more seriously–and consequently buy more and better athlete stuff.

Words, while significant, do not carry the power to create reality. Despite all our talk of a magic word, there are no magic words. Look at what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. –Matthew 7:21

We can refer to Jesus as “Lord” a million times a day. We can declare ourselves “Christian” with every breath. That doesn’t make those things true. The odious Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps declared himself a “Baptist,” but that sign on Westboro Baptist Church didn’t illuminate the dark hatred that flows from the place.

Call me an athlete if you like, but until I get back into the habit of running, I won’t be one. Call me a follower of Christ, but if I’m actually following my own drumbeat, then it’s just words.

Words do not form reality, but the Word did:

All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.–John 1:3

The Game Changer of Flesh–John 1:14

John gospel iconThe Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.—John 1:14
Recently, I went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with my 1st-grade grandson Uri’s class field trip. Although I really didn’t see that experience coming, you have not lived until you’ve tried to shepherd a bunch of 1st-grade boys through a museum. Early in our visit, we found ourselves in a room full of Baroque paintings, many of them portraying Biblical subject matter. I tried and failed to get the boys interested in a rather lurid image of the beheading of John the Baptist.
Then I heard a voice ring out at a level decidedly above that appropriate for an art museum. “Hey, that’s God!”
I looked to my left and saw a painting that portrayed a group of soldiers and henchmen crowning Jesus with thorns. “That’s Jesus,” I pointed out, not exactly correcting the boy.
“Yes, that’s God. Jesus is God.”
This boy’s mother happened to be the other adult in our group of six energetic boys. She found herself caught in the same slightly awkward spot as I did. Apparently she agreed with her son’s identification, but the matter was slightly more complex than he was making it. On the other hand, she recognized that this room at the art museum was not the place for an in-depth exploration of the theology of incarnation.
The idea of a deity taking on human flesh is not completely unique to Christianity. In Greek myth, gods and goddesses were constantly popping up in human form attempting to seduce a genuine human or to impart some bit of knowledge. The distance between Greek god and man, however, was not all that immense. Zeus, after all, was not the creator of the universe. He didn’t even create the world.
When the Word takes on flesh, things are different. Jesus suffered through 33 years of human life, 33 years of smelly, petty, stupid, selfish people. Long before a few hours of arrest and trial, beating and crucifixion, Jesus suffered in the flesh in ways that make my field trip with Uri seem trivial.
I have written elsewhere that Easter and the resurrection of Jesus changed everything. That’s true, but in reality, the first game changer came when the Word became flesh, when God wrote Himself into the drama of human existence