Jesus: Introvert, Part 1

The job applicant, K., came in and made such a tepid impression on me that I assumed we were wasting our time listening to her for the next hour. By the time she finished a teaching demonstration and answers to our questions, she’d moved to the top of my list.

K., you see, is an introvert, doing her best work inside her own head, relating to the world in quiet but profound ways. The glad-handing and networking necessary to get a good academic job are things that she simply has to grit her teeth and struggle through. She’s far too smart not to do that, but it does not come easily.

8520610I’m an introvert as well, although you wouldn’t know it from my teaching. When I walk into the classroom, I bring the bells and whistles, but that is a studied act. I, like K., do my best work inside my own head. It was this aspect of my personality that drew me to Susan Cain’s book Quiet when a friend mentioned it. Cain discusses the powers of introverts and the way that they are misperceived in (especially American) culture.

As I read the book, a question bounced around my mind. Was Jesus an introvert? I almost feel heretical suggesting such a question, but that feeling gets to some of the thoughts that Cain explores in Quiet. We have a tendency to assume that Jesus was an extrovert and to think that introversion is somehow problematic, even pathological. So maybe we can sneak up on the question by rephrasing it: Did Jesus have introvert tendencies or behaviors?

To begin to answer that question, let’s all agree that Simon Peter is definitely an extrovert. Peter is the guy who, on the Day of Pentecost, does not seem to hesitate a moment before jumping up and launching into his famous impromptu sermon beginning at Acts 2:14. I can imagine the other eleven standing there and looking at each other, knowing that somebody had to say something. I can also imagine the introverts among the eleven being greatly relieved when Peter opened his mouth.

Peter is the guy who, as a former pastor of mine said, “Only took his foot out of his mouth long enough to put the other one in.” Peter’s motto seemed to be “Speak first; think later.” He’s the one who tries to lop off a guy’s head in Gethsemane. It’s Peter who wants to step out of the boat in Matthew 14:28-30:

 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter answered him, “command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.

No introvert would have done that. They might have thought it. They might have even envied Peter his boldness, but they wouldn’t have done it.

So yes, Peter was an extrovert, and I believe that Jesus chose him for those qualities, but that really does not answer the question suggested in the title. Before we do that, we’ll need to look at another disciple who, I’d suggest, shows more introversion. But that’s tomorrow.

Cheat Days?

Pile of Junk FoodI weigh in on Fridays, so, after tipping the scale and recording my weight, I often look at Friday as a day on which not to get too worked up about my food intake. This can range from a day on which I simply don’t record all of my food to a full-blown cheat day.

A few years ago, I planned a Friday cheat day into my schedule. Called “Lousy Eating Day,” those Fridays often saw me at the school’s food court sliding a tray with both a double cheeseburger and cheese fries toward the cash register.

These days, I usually reserve my “lousy eating” until I’m home from work. Then I can take Penny out somewhere indulgent. Last night, after eating a very sensible dinner at home, we splurged on Sheridan’s Frozen Custard, me opting for my favorite, E.T.’s Charming Cheesecake Concrete (with Heath bar chunks). The only thing bad about that confection is when you eat the last bite.

If that concrete had been my own dietary transgression, then I wouldn’t feel any qualms this morning, but I also snacked a bit too much as I watched the Royals win a ballgame that evening.

The idea of cheat days is well established in at least popular diet and weight loss writing. Google the term and you’ll find all sorts of opinions ranging from the psychological to the physiological. I’d like to take up the question of cheat days from a theological perspective. As a Christian, is it acceptable for me to cheat on my diet now and again?

I used the word “transgression” earlier on purpose. Sin is a serious thing in our worldview, so we wouldn’t entertain the notion of a cheat day for adultery or murder or idolatry or stealing. “I just punched out my spouse, but that’s okay. After all, it’s Tuesday!” No, that would be ridiculous.

We have been forgiven all of our sins, past, present, and future, yet Paul makes it clear that this does not mean we should take a casual view of sin. In Romans 6:1-2, he quickly shoots down the notion of sinning more so that grace can abound. This would seem to suggest that cheat days are as inimical to the Christian life as “Buddha Days.”

But is “cheating” on your diet really the same as cheating on your marriage vows or bowing down to an idol? I’m going to argue that the answer to that is “no” for a trio of reasons.

First, your diet need not be a day-by-day thing or a meal-by-meal thing. I frequently keep my food intake low at breakfast and lunch so that I can indulge a bit more at dinner. Similarly, if I balance things out so that one cheat day is offset by six “faithful” days, am I really cheating at all?

Second, didn’t Jesus condone, or at least enable, a cheat day? The only miracle to appear in all four gospels is the feeding of the 5,000. In Matthew 14:20 we learn that the people there that day all “ate and were satisfied.” I take that to mean that they ate as much as they wanted to. I can’t really see these Galilean peasants pushing aside plentiful, free food and saying, “Oh no, I really shouldn’t. I’m trying to cut down.”

Finally, the particulars of your diet are not points of obedience to God. We are called to be a stewards over our bodies, but God leaves the details up to us. I believe that the putting aside of the Jewish dietary laws illustrate this aspect of Christian liberty. If I “cheat” today by eating a cheesecake concrete without putting my body back on the course to obesity, then I am still being true to my obligations.

Cheating on a diet is not the same as cheating in a relationship. In fact, “cheat day” is probably an unfortunate term for a Christian. That’s why I intend to reintroduce the much more acceptable name, “Lousy Eating Day.”

Enjoy your indulgences so long as they do not prevent you from maintaining what God has provided you.