Rachel Motte reviews Introverts in the Church

Over at Evangelical Outpost, Rachel Motte reviews a book called Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. Looks fascinating, and (in my humble opinion) it’s long overdue.

I probably don’t need to mention that this is an issue of considerable interest to me (though to call myself an introvert is a gross understatement). I’ve heard of churches where every single member is required, as a condition of membership, to do house-to-house visitation. It seems to me that that kind of one-size-fits-all Christianity is entirely false to the true nature of the church. As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20, “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body…. But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

A church, as I understand it, isn’t meant to look at its membership and say, “Where can we find people to do this and this and this?” It shouldn’t try to shoehorn members into pre-defined roles. Instead, the leadership ought to understand that God has already given them the parts He intends, for the sort of ministry He has in mind. They should get to know their fellow members, and prayerfully try to set each one to work doing what God has gifted him (or her) to do.

That’s not to say that a certain amount of personal growth isn’t necessary, or that people can’t learn to do things they’ve never thought of before. But I think many churches are in the position of the man who looks at himself in a mirror, decides he’s too short, and resolutely sets about finding a way to be taller. God (one assumes) made him the height he is for a reason.

As I mention in my comment to Rachel’s review, I attended a church years back (in Florida) whose pastor was also an introvert. He preached extremely well, and many people came to listen to him. But he himself admitted that he was poor at the one-on-one aspects of the ministry. He was blessed with an understanding board of elders, who were willing to back him up by finding others, both assistant pastors and laity, to take much of that burden off him. That church was dynamic and growing, one of the most exciting churches I’ve ever been involved in.

“The Poet’s Parnassus”

Among my Christmas gifts was a used volume called, Old Time Punishments, by William Andrews, a reprint of a book originally published in 1890.

In a chapter provocatively titled, “Punishing Authors,” I find this passage:

Authors and publishers were often nailed by the ears to the pillory, and when ready to be set at liberty the ears would frequently be cut off, and left on the post of the pillory. A farce called “The Patron,” by Foote, contains allusions to the practice. Puff advises Dactyl to write a satire. To the suggestion replies Dactyl: “Yes, and so get cropped for libel.” Puff answers him: “Cropped! aye, and the luckiest thing that could happen to you! Why, I would not give twopence for an author who is afraid of his ears! Writing — writing is, as I may say, Mr. Dactyl, a sort of warfare, and none can be victor that can be least afraid of a scar. Why, zooks, sir! I never got salt to my porridge till I was mounted at the Royal Exchange; and that was the making of me. Then my name made a noise in the world. Talk of forked hills and Helicon! Romance and fabulous stuff, the true Castalian stream is a shower of eggs, and a pillory the poet’s Parnassus.”

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon is a brilliant writer, and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a masterful, scintillating book. It’s lyrical as a poem, funny as a Shecky Greene monologue, and engaging as a crossword puzzle. It’s the kind of book that makes lesser authors (like me) want to throw their laptops through the window and take up careers in online marketing.

And yet I don’t recommend it.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a hard-boiled police novel, set in an alternate universe in which the state of Israel failed in 1948. The homeless Jews were (grudgingly) offered a home in the Alaska panhandle, around Sitka. There they have lived for almost 60 years (the book is set in 2007), but next year the mandate runs out, and the land is scheduled to be returned to the Tlinkit Indians (that’s pronounced “Clinkit,” by the way. You probably didn’t know that. I know it because I spent a summer in the Shumagin Islands, long ago).

It’s in this climate of insecurity and futility that police detective Meyer Landsman is taken to view the body of a gunshot victim in the seedy hotel where he’s lived since his divorce. The body turns out to be that of a once-famous young man, a chess prodigy, rabbi’s son and miracle worker who many thought would be the Messiah. Depressed, self-destructive, alcoholic, Det. Landsman sets about solving the mystery, sometimes helped and sometimes hindered by his half-Tlinkit partner and his ex-wife, who is now his boss.

Be warned—the rest of this review includes spoilers. Not spoilers about the plot, but about the meaning of the book. Of course, I may have misunderstood the meaning altogether, as ordinary chess players in this novel are baffled by the moves of the great masters. But I’ll tell you what I got out of it, for whatever that’s worth.

The lesson of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is that the real danger in the world comes from the devout, whatever their religion. Chabon has cleverly, in his alternate universe, created a world without Islamic terrorism (because we all know there’d be no Islamic terrorism if there were no Israel). But there is terrorism nevertheless, coming out of those famously vicious groups, orthodox Jews and Christian evangelicals.

This book, it appears to me, is the heart-cry of the assimilated, secular, self-hating Jew. When the Muslim terrorist says it’s all the Jews’ fault, Chabon (it would appear) hangs his head and says, “It’s true. But it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of those black hats. They’re just crazy.”

So the book saddened me. I should also mention that I read it to the end, though—something which I rarely do with books that offend me deeply. This one was just too good to put down, even when I thought it morally perverse and dangerous.

Cautions for language apply—not only obscenity and cursing, but actual blasphemy. Also a lot of jokes about Jews that no Gentile could get away with.

Read at your own risk.

“Why Faith Is Not a Private Matter”

Brit Hume suggested on air that Tiger Woods seek the Lord Jesus Christ for answers to his current problems, and people started talking. Selwyn Duke says the religious and the political are closely tied and always have been, so certain folk can reevaluate their offense to religious or specifically Christian evangelism when political evangelism goes on all the time. He writes, “I mean, could you imagine, let’s say, Jay Bookman stating, ‘You know, I like universal health care, but, hey, dude, whatever works for you’?”

Popular Plays

Terry Teachout links to lists of plays produced across America compiled by American Theatre. To Kill a Mockingbird is very popular, and Terry will have more analysis tomorrow in the Wall Street Journal. (via Books, Inq.)

Tomorrow: Terry’s article in the WSJ is here. Despite my comment made from a quick scan, To Kill a Mockingbird did not make the top 11 most produced plays list. He notes: “It suggests to me that American theaters have a pronounced bias in favor of new and newish plays by American authors, especially ones that have high public profiles. (Six of the top 11 plays of the past decade have been produced on Broadway, while five of them won Pulitzer Prizes.) Up to a point, that’s good news.”

Made in the Image of

Obama, Congressional Leaders Honor Former Senator Edward William Brooke

Chad Pergram of Fox News has an interesting post on the artwork in the Capitol Rotunda. I’m sure I saw what he describes here, but I don’t remember thinking much about it. Of course, I didn’t have a tour guide.

Plastered against the arched ceiling above the Rotunda floor is a gigantic canvas called “The Apotheosis.” It shows George Washington, accompanied by thirteen maidens, rising into the heavens.

Some tour guides and Congressional staff try to downplay the meaning of the word “apotheosis.” But in its official literature about the fresco, even the Architect of the Capitol’s office says that apotheosis “means literally the raising of a person to the rank of a god.”

There’s always chatter about the U.S. being a Christian nation and holding Judeo-Christian values. But in the most-hallowed temple of American democracy, at the top of one of the most recognized pinnacles on the planet, there’s a fresco of the first American president, ascending into the heavens as a god. Alongside 13 women.

And it takes the health care bill to stir people into a tizzy?

Building a Better Citizen

With unemployment holding at a little over 10%, Sol Stern points out E. D. Hirsch’s Curriculum for Democracy. Hirsch observed that students need to have a core of knowledge in order to read well, despite being versed in reading skills. Skills alone are not the sum of learning.

Stern gives an illustration of the problem facing many American students.

My children were students at P.S. 87 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, also known as the William Tecumseh Sherman School. Our school enjoyed a reputation as one of the city’s education jewels, and parents clamored to get their kids in. But most of the teachers and principals had trained at Columbia University’s Teachers College, a bastion of so-called progressive education, and militantly defended the progressive-ed doctrine that facts were pedagogically unimportant. I once asked my younger son and some of his classmates, all top fifth-grade students, whether they knew anything about the historical figure after whom their school was named. Not only were they clueless about the military leader who delivered the final blow that brought down America’s slave empire; they hardly knew anything about the Civil War, either. When I complained to the school’s principal, he reassured me: “Our kids don’t need to learn about the Civil War. What they are learning at P.S. 87 is how to learn about the Civil War.”

So when will they actually learn details of the Civil War? When they’re trying to relax in front of the History Channel between specials on UFOs and Nostradamus?

Blow me down!

I object.

One of the things you learn living in these Hyperborean climes, after a few winters, is that (most of the time) there is no double jeopardy.

By which I mean that, looking at winter’s two Great Evils—bitter cold, and snow—you generally get one or the other, but not both. If it’s snowing, the temperature is probably fairly mild, because extremely cold air is dry. If it’s very cold, it probably won’t snow.

The terms of that armistice were treacherously breached today. We only got a couple inches here, but it blew hard, and was enough to put me behind the snow blower after work tonight.

(Oh, that’s right. I didn’t tell you about my snow blower. We had several inches of heavy, wet snow on Christmas eve, and my neighbor who generally blows out our shared driveway was out of town [as he tends to be, suspiciously often, when this sort of thing happens]. The weather forecast called for more of the same on Christmas day. I stood in the driveway, leaning on my shovel, trying hard to breathe [I’m fighting bronchitis], and thought, “A snow blower of my own isn’t in my budget. But you know what? Having a heart attack isn’t in my budget either.” So when the driveway was clear, I employed it to drive away to K Mart to buy an 8 horsepower Craftsman snow blower. I knew I’d get a better price if I waited till after Christmas, but that would mean another day’s shoveling.

The Christmas day snow wasn’t primo stuff for blowing. Very heavy and wet (what some of us [or me, anyway] call “coronary snow” in these parts). But tonight’s snow (where was my neighbor? Probably someplace warm, I’m guessing) was as granular as Sahara sand, and fine as mummy dust.

I expect it’ll all blow back in, with the strong winds expected tonight. But I made the effort. My dad would have been proud with me.

Except that he’d have said, “You missed a spot. Over there.”

Stocking books and setting stages

A sure sign of Epiphany around my office is the ceremonial ordering of the spring textbooks for the Bible school and seminary. In spite of one accommodating instructor, who told me he made a point of ordering mostly books he’d determined to be already in stock, this batch is proving more difficult than usual. A surprising number of the books on the list are out of print, which means ordering them through Amazon. One thing I don’t like about Amazon’s system is that, when they tell you a book is available from an affiliated bookseller, there’s no information as to whether that seller has one copy or many. So I end up buying one copy each from a long list of vendors, and that drives the shipping/handling costs up.

Our buddy Loren Eaton, over at I Saw Lightning Fall, links today to a fascinating piece at Tor.com by author Mary Pearson, about the importance of setting in fiction. An excellent essay, well worth reading.

I think sometimes setting is almost relegated to the grab bag of afterthoughts when it comes to describing it, but setting is what makes the characters and plot come alive. It creates atmosphere that the reader can share. It reveals who the character is and how they came to be that person. It supports and pushes events so things happen. It is metaphor and motivation, and often even the janitor too, swishing its mop across the stage long after the performance has ended and you are still in your seat and don’t want to leave. The setting is the last to leave your memory.

I’ve never thought about setting much, because in my own stories setting usually comes pre-packaged with the story. When I write about Vikings, the locale is fairly limited (though the Vikings swung a pretty wide cat, as my latest book shows). And if I’m not writing about Vikings as such, I write Viking-themed modern stories set in the country where I grew up and live. To be honest, I hate trying to write about places I’ve never visited. I figure that, as oblivious as I am to my own home town, parading my ignorance about an exotic place would be overreaching.

But that still determines what kind of stories I can write, whether I like it or not. Or, as Loren says,

Consider how a simple tale of cunning detective thwarts career thief changes when moved from New York to Botswana or to one of Jupiter’s Galilean moons. Despite sharing similar plot arcs, Neuromancer feels worlds away from any of Richard Stark’s Parker novels. That’s because setting is more than color or icing, more than a chance for an author to wax poetic. It sets boundaries, draws lines, holds the course. It says, “You go this far — but no farther.”

Book Reviews, Creative Culture