36 Times We Are Told to What?! {Book Club}

I don’t know about you, but at almost every chapter in  An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor I think, “Oh Barbara, we cross-cultural living people don’t need this practice in the way YOU need it. We understand the importance.”

And then pride smacks me down.

From the idea of self-sufficiency, to introverts, to attracting like-minded people, and circling back to being in charge, encountering people looks a lot more humble and a lot less grand than I make it out to be.

Care for the nations? Check and check. Care for the turkey sitting behind me on the plane? Not the encounters I want to have.

I think that may be the main point of this practice, as long as I keep it lofty, I can lull myself into thinking I’m someone I’m not. Or at least someone more patient, kind, and Maria Von Trapp like (complete with the ability to turn curtains into clothing and charm folks with songs.). But God isn’t after my idealized version of myself and if he’d have wanted me to make clothing out of curtains I wouldn’t have so many venetian blinds in my life. Amen?!

No, God is after genuine encounters with real people. I appreciated Barbara’s repeated reference to making characters out of people we come in contact with. OK, maybe “appreciated” it not the right word for being called out on a bad habit. But it was one I need every so often as I found myself recently having this very conversation with myself.


In reference to the Desert Fathers, “The reason they needed one another was to save them from the temptation of believing in their own self-sufficiency.”

Who is more self-sufficient than a single women who has lived for years cross-culturally? Oh, that’s right, Momma’s living cross-culturally,  women without kiddo’s, empty-nesters, grandmas on the field.

I know I was already prone to self-sufficiency as a young adult, but twenty years of having to fend for myself overseas has strengthened those muscles. And this is good. I know not all of us are part of an organization and no judgment from me! But part of the reason I’ve been with organizations is for this very reason. I need to regularly encounter others who are doing what I’m doing lest I drift to one extreme or the other.


I would love to hear from you strong introverts — or those raising strong introverts — on the field. How has being an introvert been a blessing to cross-cultural living? How has it been a challenge?

Attracting Like-Minded People

“The only problem with these kind of groups [book clubs, rotary groups, quilting circles], as far as I can tell, is that they tend to attract like-minded people, the same way most churches do…. At its most basic level, the everyday practice of being with other people is the practice of loving the neighbor as the self. More intricately, it is the practice of coming face-to-face with another human being, preferably someone different enough to quality as a capital ‘O’ Other — and at least entertaining the possibility that this is one of the faces of God.”

Where do you encounter the Other? Those who might disagree with your beliefs or parenting decision or food choices or financial beliefs or types of books you are drawn to? This is a small and stupid example, but I once had a teammate who read cat mysteries. A genre I never knew existed. (This is where the sarcastic part of encountering others wants to say,”for a reason!”) I read one to see how an author could pull off having a cat help solve a mystery. I have to admit, I still roll my eyes at it, but were it not for the teammate, I never would have read it.

Encountering the Stranger

“According to Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of Great Britain, ‘the Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” but in no fewer than 36 places commend us to “love the stranger.”‘

“Why should we do that? Because we have been strangers ourself, the Bible says. Because if we have never been strangers, then that is because we have never left home.”

I had not realized that ratio before. Wow.

Over to you :). How have you encountered others? What thoughts stirred in you as you read, underlined, and starred. Any points you disagree with? You know my mantra, disagreements welcome too! This book is a place to start the discussion, not to end it.


P.S. Next week we’ll looking at the Practice of Living with Purpose

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Photo Credit : Gratisography


  1. Elizabeth November 18, 2014

    “It can be difficult to be an introvert in church, especially if you happen to be the pastor.” YES. Oh goodness it’s hard. I am constantly fighting to retain enough mental, emotional, and time space for myself, my marriage, and my family. It’s a battle I have to fight for health within my own home, because if I’m too worn out from social time, then I’m useless for my husband and children, and they are supposed to be my first priorities! In another way, though, being an introvert is good for my writing. Susan Cain says in “Quiet” that introversion is good for writers, because they need the time to mull and reflect, and in the end that makes their work better. I find this especially on difficult pieces that take a lot of time and energy, that giving myself the time to let an experience “set” helps me to make more sense of it later. So in that way it’s good, but in most other ways, introversion is a challenge!

    Even though I’m an introvert, I love the part where she says “The deeper reason they needed one another was to save them from the temptation of believing in their own self-sufficiency.” Self-sufficiency is different from introversion. I know I need people, and I have some very precious people in my life, people upon whom I depend for prayer, advice, and a listening ear. I just have to be very picky about the size of groups I engage, how well I know the people already there, and how many events I’ve attended in the recent months. (Large groups and groups of people I don’t know are especially draining, as are several events in a row.)

    I love how she says “most of us need someone to help us forget ourselves, a little or a lot.”  So true! To laugh at myself or something else, to play a game and lift my focus from myself, to hear about God working in their life, and get excited. “The main impediment to living a life of meaning is being self-absorbed.” Eek. But also true. I can really let myself get self-absorbed if I’m not careful to focus on others! “The assignment is to get over yourself.” Still working on that assignment . . .

    I did LOVE her focus on the stranger, and how we should love the stranger because GOD loves the stranger. I love taking the focus back to God’s heart. We expats do know what it’s like to be the stranger, so we should be the first people to welcome strangers. And I think expats do know how to do that well, much of the time. But in general, yes, people of the human variety struggle with breaking out of like-minded groups. We struggle with seeing “God’s image in one who is not in our image” (as Rabbi Sacks said) and with having “just enough religion to make us hate one another, but not enough to make us love one another” (as Jonathan Swift said). And by “we,” I also mean “I.”

    1. Amy Young November 18, 2014

      Elizabeth, I’m impressed you read “Quiet!” I read about half of it and felt like I’d gotten the gist. Maybe because I’m borderline introvert/extrovert (people often think I’m much more extroverted than I am — I find it invigorating to SPEAK to 100 people and draining to BE in a room with them. I enjoy being with people, but it drains me). Have you read “Introverts in the Church: finding our place in an Extroverted Culture” by Adam S. McHugh? I haven’t — anyone, anyone? read it? Thoughts? That might be a good one for us to read some day 🙂

      1. Elizabeth November 19, 2014

        No, I haven’t read McHugh’s book, though it looks interesting. The Quiet book looked much longer than it actually was because of all the sources and appendices at the back. 🙂 Ironically, I borrowed it from our summer intern, who was living with us, and who was also an introvert. A single, independent young lady who is introverted, living with a loud, rowdy family of 4 kids can be quite overwhelmed. A mommy who is also introverted means that living with someone who’s not your family member can also be quite overwhelmed. I think we were both overwhelmed by our situation! Of course, that’s a tangent 🙂

        I am a very social introvert, meaning I really like people, and I enjoy my time with them, I am just EXHAUSTED afterwards. It also means the getting to know you stage can be awkward. Small talk is just so difficult (and sometimes boring) for me! I actually still enjoy large gatherings for worship and teaching, because then I am lost in the crowd and don’t have to put forth energy to interact with people I don’t know. I can just soak everything up. And gatherings with people I know are usually enjoyable, just draining.

        But it’s when I’m in a medium-size group of people I don’t know that I am totally stressed out. I learned this my 2nd year overseas. I went to a ladies night. It was supposed to be fun. It was not. Everyone tells their own story, and as you have probably experienced before, the story everyone tells in public is the shiny whitewashed version of themselves and their work, which only makes me feel insignificant in comparison, especially since at that time I was having a hard time personally. Also it’s so hard to get to know that many people all at once, because in a group that size (12-20) it seems intimate enough that you really are expected to get to know each person. That’s too many people all at once! I’ve learned to politely decline most invites like that, where I don’t know the people. I can act like an extrovert if I have to, but it’s not good for me. On the bright side though, I’m really good one on one 😉

        So that was long and rambling. But in response to your other statement, I admit I have never thought about needing to greet men before. Almost like they slip under the radar. (I’m always greeting the women, especially women with babies and young children.) But now that I think about it, it seems like yes, that could be very lonely experience for a man.

        1. Amy Young November 20, 2014

          Since he said it, I’ve noticed men who do things by themselves more and thought, “wow how brave.” As a woman who often does things alone, I can say people will often come up and greet me (I also understand I have a lot going for me — I don’t look homeless, I have all my teeth, I bath and don’t smell too much (wink!), and I’m socially appropriate (for the most part! Ha!).

    2. Amy Young November 18, 2014

      Your comment about the size of gatherings and pacing has me thinking … how many of you are parts of organization that hold, for lack of a better word, “large gatherings?” How often do they meet? Annually? Every two years, every three years? I know extroverts tend to look forward to them, and it’s not that introverts don’t look forward to them — I guess my question is, if your org has a “large gathering,” introverts, what would help it be “better” for you? What changes might you suggest?

      1. Elizabeth November 19, 2014

        This comment made me laugh, remembering last year when I was helping at our org’s booth at a conference. We were supposed to greet people happily and answer questions etc etc. And I did ok for awhile but there was this moment, where I thought I was going to lose my mind. I disappeared into our org’s draped closet-y thing, with the extra tech stuff and people’s bags and coats. And I stuffed something in my mouth, b/c all that extrovert-ing had made me hungry. And I just stayed there a little while, dazed, not doing or thinking anything. My husband then informed me that I have to pay attention to how I’m feeling and take enough bathroom- and closet- breaks, in prevention!! Haha!

        1. Elizabeth November 19, 2014

          And now I’m laughing at myself b/c I’m sort of like, “Hi, Amy, I’m all over your page today.” !!!! I’m cracking myself up here.

          1. Amy Young November 20, 2014

            This isn’t my page 🙂 ,… it’s OUR page and I love us being all over it :).

      2. T November 19, 2014

        oh, oh, oh!!!  so, this summer, at our big gathering of our area/region/whatever…around 500, including kids.  the BEST thing for me was that the lunchtime was very long.  we almost always had appts with people for lunch, but we could do that while we ate, and then i went back to our room (actually a trailer) and hand-washed laundry and hung it out and cleaned for 45 minutes before the next session would start.  it was life-saving for me!!!

        1. Amy Young November 20, 2014

          T you make such a helpful point … small things can be more restorative than we give them credit :). If I can go on a short walk or read a little bit by myself, it’s amazing how that fills my tank.

    3. Amy Young November 18, 2014

      Thanks for the additional thoughts on being a stranger, Elizabeth. As i was reading this, I recalled a sermon I heard where the pastor asked us all to be more sensitive about greeting men who sit by themselves. He said the church knew how to reach out and be inviting to women who come in alone, but we (in general) stink at acknowledging or reaching out to men. Since then, I’ve tried to make an effort to at least say “hi” and be on the look out for “strangers” (in this case men who might be overlooked). Funny how the “stranger” can take on many forms!

  2. Jenny November 18, 2014

    I’d love to read the Adam McHugh book, have enjoyed his stuff I’ve read online.

    Elizabeth, I appreciate the way you articulated the difference between introversion and self sufficiency.  In my own journey, the line between those two things has often been blurred.  For many years we lived in a very remote part of India, often as the only foreigners.  I am a pretty strong introvert and I believe that God made me as I am to allow me to survive a very lonely time living in that place to start something before others joined us (and now there is a team established there–we are now living in the US).  But I often wrestled with being an introvert because I wanted to have more time, energy, and natural drive to spend with my local neighbors.  Even after developing fluency in language I found myself often quiet with local friends…as I am in English 🙂 I realized that knowing another language didn’t change my wirings or natural bent and I was a bit disappointed.

    Isolated from believers and foreigners, God also brought me to the end of my self sufficiency and it was that desperate loneliness that brought me to a new place of recognizing my need for the Body.  Not only do I need Jesus every day, I need the Body, and I had lived for many years like I didn’t.

    I never found a positive slot in Indian culture for introverts.  One of my children is a strong introvert and without a lot of time by himself he tends to have a lot of meltdowns, is rude to others, and eventually shuts down.  So in our daily life I tried to help him find niches of time and space to honor how God has made him, but there were certainly times when that just was not feasible…2 days in the car to travel to our location, all 6 of us in one small hotel room or visiting a friend’s small home in the village did not allow it and local friends had trouble understanding his visible stress.  It was an ongoing struggle for me to discern how to accept and honor his wiring without it becoming the standard by which we lived and made choices.

    Personally I found the tale about the two monks who were ‘incapable’ of fighting a bit contrived, and no amount of time by myself has solved my sin problem.  🙂

    I was challenged by the truth that there are people all around with whom I may not have any shared interest or opinion, and I feel inept at relationships even with common interests, how much more without them.  Even as I am newly living in the US, and have many good friends here I don’t know how to go deeper with them in the ways I have connected with colleagues overseas.

    It was freeing to me to read about Jesus loving the stranger without having the complications of hospitality in his own home.  I loved Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine and usually enjoy showing hospitality in our home, but as I am recovering from illness my logistical abilities are really limited this is a good heart to pray for, that even when I cannot plan a lovely menu and have a tidy, organized space for people I can still hope that His heart for the stranger will be birthed in me.

    1. Elizabeth November 18, 2014

      “No amount of time alone has solved my sin problem.” True. So, so true.

    2. Elizabeth November 19, 2014

      Jenny, I also want to say I am sure your love for people is shining through even as you recover from your illness. People can feel when you enjoy them. In fact, one of my close friends back in the States had a rather untidy house and kitchen, but I never felt it when I was there, because of how welcoming she was, and the wonderful conversations we always had. She opened her home to people, and that was all that mattered. And I usually never wanted to leave. People won’t care about your mess or your cooking skills when they feel you care for them 🙂

      And I hope your recovery continues, and continues well.

    3. Amy Young November 20, 2014

      Jenny, your insights on introverts and India has me thinking about China — I’ve often felt for introverts in these very populated countries. For college students there are 6 to 8 people in a small room. It’s so hard to get space by themselves. And yet I believe (as I think you all do too), being made in the image of God, he is both introvert and extrovert. So, how can introverts get their needs met in really crowded environments. Will need to think on this more. Maybe all the use of headphones on public transportation is a small way of trying to isolate from the herd 🙂

      1. Shelly November 21, 2014

        Amy, I think you have identified one of those ways of “being alone” in a crowded place.  I think university libraries are another place – though full, they are quiet and people work on their own. But I wonder how much stress true introverts feel in such a place and how that manifests itself. I’m thinking of Chinese people. Hm? Is there a Myers-Briggs for Chinese (or other) cultures? You can’t just plop a Western-designed assessment in front of an Asian and have it give you “accurate” results. (That’s another topic altogether.)

        I wonder if some people are more able to “turn off” the external world. I am not. Though I am not a strong introvert, I cherish time alone in a quiet place. I am too easily distracted. But when I want a small dose of society (in general), a coffee shop works because I can have the hum of life without anyone asking anything from me.  Maybe the subway is like a quiet coffee shop – there is the comfort of not being alone without the demand of interaction.

  3. T November 19, 2014

    hey, and last week, i read–maybe someone wants to check this for us, so that it is solid research–that there are 2 greek words used for hospitality in the NT.  One of them means something like “bringing the outsider in” and another was something about loving on strangers.  So, if that is really true, then it ties it all together nicely about  greeting the strangers and getting to know them.   and i wrote a comment on incourage.me blog somewhere last week that these greek meanings free me from having to have perfect food and decor and clutter all picked up!  and also, can allow us introverts to maybe be Connectors…people who introduce the new folks into community where they can find a mix of folks to love and be loved by.

    1. Amy Young November 20, 2014

      T, you had me at “greek” 🙂 — and I love the idea of introverts as connectors.

  4. Jenny November 20, 2014

    Amy, one solution my introverted child found for pseudo alone time was wearing a hooded sweatshirt he could cinch tight to nearly cover his face and/or wearing headphones like you suggested.  Sometimes he was listening to music or an audiobook, other times just had them on his ears for the DO NOT DISTURB message.  🙂

    T, I agree with your idea of introverts being Connectors, and felt like that was part of my role in our life in India and developing our team there.

    1. T November 20, 2014

      I need to make the headphones more of an option in our lives for at least 2 of my kids!  Storing that away for future use.  Thanks!

  5. Stacey November 20, 2014

    Amy, a few of the things you brought up tie together really intimately for me. Like a few of you, I am an introvert who can get over-stimulated/exhausted from certain interpersonal interactions, but I still really need/desire/enjoy relationships on all sorts of levels. I find Other-and-yet-the-Same people nearly everywhere, which is probably why social encounters can be so exhausting and fulfilling all at once.

    In particular, here’s an area that has been getting to me lately. I feel like a failure when it comes to language learning. Well, I feel like a failure when that’s what I’m narrowing in on. I’ve lived here a long time, I’ve studied it, I’ve practiced it, but I haven’t done enough to become fluent. That really frustrates me and sometimes I really beat myself up about it. When I step back… or I should say, when my husband calls for a halt on my self-critique, I recognize that I’ve made the decisions I’ve made for reasons that matter to me. Such as, I’ve been raising small children, a couple of those years pregnant and mostly sick, in a life that exhausts me. For everything I pour into, something else is left dry. So I have consciously, though not flippantly, decided to set language learning lower on my list of priorities so that I will have energy for the things (aka little people and husband) for which I will never have another “someday” to care the way I want to care for them today. I know that I simply cannot accomplish what I feel like I “should” have accomplished by now. Ok, so fine – I can live with the fact that this is a broken world and I’m not superwoman, so I haven’t become the woman I envisioned being on the field.

    The thing is, when I’m having a conversation with an acquaintance, with whom I’d like to go deeper to that much more rewarding status of friend, and that conversation is in English, I squirm, I sweat, I wonder what to say, there are often awkward silences, I wonder where that “key” is that’s going to unlock the treasure chest of this person so I can really get to know them. Those key-groping conversations are draining. Add in the fact that in Burmese, I still don’t understand everything our neighbors (who change every year when we move) are saying, and that I am still communicating at an elementary/intermediate, choppy, not-quite-the-right-word but close-ish sort of way, and yikes. About 3 minutes in and I’m really wanting to get a phone call or remember that I need to go hang out the washing.

    I don’t like that I feel like I can’t love our neighbors (who are Other-yet-the-Same) better, because for me loving is all about knowing and understanding (did someone mention self-sufficiency?). For me, right now, encountering others isn’t the issue. It’s engaging with them that has me flustered, mostly because of my lack of skill. Yet, I hope, and I think, there is space here for me to lean into the Father and trust that He can love through me, even when the words are literally escaping me. My choice to love sometimes feels more like a choice to put my neighbor through torture as I respond to the 80% of what I understood and hope that the 20% I missed wasn’t changing the gist of the meaning too much, or as they endure my lack of tonal accuracy and vocabulary. I really do feel like a burden and I often want to run from engagement. But, as this discussion and chapter have pointed out, I need them because through them I see a more complete picture of His image. And perhaps they need me too. My deepest, deepest hope and prayer is that they’ll see, supernaturally, something Other — that they intuitively know can’t possibly be coming organically from this bumbling American who lets her kids wander around with wet hair at all of the wrong times of the day. That they would see that I’ve been given something beautiful and worthwhile and Holy and Glorious despite myself, something that makes me whole and makes me who I was meant to be, because I have been set free. And that somehow, miraculously, He will make Himself known to them, even with the absence my eloquent language or understanding heart. Ha! Of course He can. And so, of course, this shows how much I need to encounter others to take my eyes off of myself – and to just look around and love, look around and see His, look around and love Him, look around and Know more of Him by getting to know more of His creation who were woven together beautifully as unique representations of His image.



  6. T November 20, 2014

    Hey, Stacey!  I just read your heart there, and don’t exactly know what to say right off (I personally am not good at responding to important things quickly), but I wanted to say thanks for sharing, and I’m sure that lots of people are glad to be reading it as well, and are feeling a kinship with you for sure.  (now will hopefully follow someone writing something insightful and encouraging…)

  7. Shelly November 21, 2014

    Stacey, thank you for sharing so openly about this frustration. Your heart’s desire that by some miracle Others would encounter Him through you is one I’m sure we can all resonate with. And I “Amen” your ending list of “look arounds”. He can work in those miraculous ways your heart hopes for.

    I feel your frustration about language as I have had more than 10 years in a country and have not become fluent in the language. I don’t have a family to be my priority, but I have had longish hiatuses back in the US dividing up those 10+ years, and positions in the org that left little time for dedicated language study. But I still look back and think that I SHOULD have been able to make time for more tutoring and practice because I have had encounters with people when I wished I could say … more.

    But, could I DO something different to SHOW them my heart since words fail me? Then I worry about being culturally appropriate.  So as I think about that and the worlds I walk through in Asia, I wonder if my actions speak loud enough to make up for what I think is lacking in my words. Do I acknowledge people in culturally appropriate ways? (Barbara says to have eye-to-eye connection, but that might not be best in some cultures, but surely there is a way to let others know “I see you.”)

    Do I give way to others on the subway? Do I treat my students as image-bearers (whether they know it or not) and not just as bodies, 45 of them, filling the classroom? Do I demonstrate love to my teammates that might be seen as evidence of that which your heart hopes those Others would see in you without the gift of fluent language?

    What this has me thinking at this moment is whether our choppy and incomplete language encounters are openings for those local-Others to meet a foreign-Other in all her foreignness, to see her trying to be hospitable to the best of her ability, to sense being “seen” by this foreign-Other, and subsequently the local-Other is more open to the next foreign-Other, who just might have better language abilities that make her able to speak words to that heart that has been softened by previous wordless (or word-jumbled) encounters.

    Stacey, I don’t know if you should pursue language. But I am encouraged by those “look arounds” at the end of your comment; reminders that we can’t go wrong when our eyes are squarely on Him, desiring for Others what His heart desires for them.

    Whether it’s language or some other “skill” we think we need to be “better” at to really share Him with Others, you have reminded us that what really matters is the direction of our attention – fixed on Jesus just as His attention (and affection) was fixed on the Father.  May we go and do likewise, in His power and in His name.

  8. Jenny November 21, 2014


    Thanks for sharing so deeply your thoughts and perspective.  I can well relate to being the odd or delinquent mother in a foreign land, allowing my children to do risky things like jump in puddles and bathe in the evening (instead of morning)  and hesitating to do normal things like send my toddlers off with strangers for a while.  And from what you shared it seems like God is inviting you in a beautiful way to know His sufficiency when yours (true or assigned by others) is lacking.  Now that we have returned to the US I am still not sure that my weakness was the place His strength was made perfect for my lost neighbors who I love and miss, but He really did begin that work in me in a new way…

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