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Friday, November 16, 2012

Introversion, Anxiety and Collaborating in Northampton.

In 2010, I wrote a blog asserting that introverts can plant churches. I still stick by that assertion. Here we are four and a half years into this and we are planted; we're still small, but planted nonetheless. We have life and a purpose.We're heading somewhere and have braved the spiritual "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," plus our own greenhornness. It's been a ride and not for the faint of heart, at least in New England.

I got to thinking about my introversion after having experienced almost 2 weeks of agita over making contacts with folks who might serve as collaborators with our effort to launch imagine's first OPEN TABLE in Northampton. Trey McCain and I took on the task of compiling a list of folks who might be interested, or direct us to others who would. From there we searched the Internet, gathered email addresses and made the first contact. So far so good. The next step was to call them. Oh-oh...

That's when the irrational procrastination really settled into me.

In my head began a noxious monologue like this: "I'm going to have to talk to strangers. Rats! They don't want to talk to me. Anyway, I'll garble it all up when I try to articulate the Open Table concept. That's if I even get a chance to explain it. They're veterans in the effort to help people find shelter and meals, overcome addiction, get off the street and out of poverty, get help for their children," and on and on. We're at the most "new kids on the block," with a great idea sure, but nothing to back it up with yet! You know what, I'll call tomorrow. Yeah, that's it. I don't have to call today ..." Tomorrow became a week of tomorrows and growing pressure. I gotta get this done!

You can get a sense of the anxious blather working to hamstring me.

But yesterday I took the plunge. I decided I'm going be a big boy and tackle this thing. Just work through the list and let the chips fall where they may. The first number I called was a young man working for a prominent service organization in town. I introduced who I was and why I was calling and away we went. He was gracious, intrigued and supportive. He did what you hope for and told me there was someone I really needed to talk with who would be very helpful. As my first call, I felt a little stumbly, but it didn't seem to impede our conversation.

Bolstered by my initial connection I kept on and each person I talked to was open and affirming as they say in another context here. In fact, one person was quite excited by the Open Table idea and the fact we wanted to launch one in Northampton (the first in New England I understand). She inquired about the church (others did as well), and affirmed our desire to help in this. It sounded innovative to her. She also gave me a contact of someone who gathers all the service people once a month to share ideas and resources to help the homeless and working poor recover.

After I was done with those and other phone calls, plus setting up some meetings for next week with folks, I felt excited that perhaps we were on the path to being a real contributor to the well-being of our neighbors well-beyond the ways we'd been helping. We'd have a place at the table for the Kingdom as we've wanted to. We had something of value to offer in this war on poverty. The Open Table idea is not ours, but the work in Northampton will be. Also, we'll get to build relationships with folks and they with us. That's the point in all of this: building relationships and breaking down walls so we can offer the hope in Christ we have to them as friends and collaborators in something we both care about. And we can help make life better for everyone.

I also learned something about the deceit of anxiety as it's expressed through introversion. It takes a temperament for self-containment and self-fulfillment (as in: I'm most comfortable pursuing what is intriguing, or fascinating by myself), and exaggerates the weight of feeling exposed or incapable in front of others, especially when having to engage someone new with something important to one's self .The fear of the interaction is grossly overblown; because the person on the other end of the exchange now has a say in what is being offered, it can be perceived as threatening even if mildly so.

The thing is, I actually felt great pleasure after the phone calls and not merely because I 'd been successful at plowing through the list. Rather, I'd connected with folks about something I care a great deal about and see great potential in, and they resonated with me. It feels good and it felt right as if the Kingdom had an opening that was not there before. We'll see, but something good was established yesterday. I know it. I sense it.

I'll always be an introvert, but what I experienced yesterday only affirms I can break new ground in engaging folks for the Kingdom by ways and means initially uncomfortable to me but useful to Christ. I also get to meet some lovely people as well! Worth the doing, I think, no matter the anxiety.

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