Seeking advice

I need advice from those of you who are writers (maybe from those of you who are readers too). I’m five thousand words into a story that’s been dwelling in my mind for months if not years. I very carefully chose names for the main characters: Frank, Laura, and Charlie. Yet as I’m pausing to think of the next line before I type it, I frequently think of Frank as Larry, and I frequently think of Laura as Carol. Should I stay with the names I chose, or should I change Frank to Larry, change Laura to Carol, and maybe change Charlie to Wally or something like that?

Your opinion matters. J.

President Trump?

I have not posted much about the current election cycle in the United States. However, my most-read post in the first year of this blog asked and answered the question, “Is Donald Trump the Antichrist?” My statement that Trump is not the Antichrist is probably the nicest thing I have said about him this year. I do not want Donald Trump to be Commander in Chief of the nation’s armed forces. I do not want him to represent the American people in the eyes of the rest of the world. I do not want him to have one more success for which he can boast.

But I can imagine worse things happening than Donald Trump being elected President this November. If Trump wins enough delegates in primary elections to be nominated by the Republican Party, but then is denied the nomination through legal procedures by the party’s leaders, the Republicans will bring severe trouble upon themselves. Whether Trump runs as a third-party candidate or not, the people who have voted for Trump in the primaries are unlikely to support the Republicans in the general election. Some of them might not vote at all in November, but others are likely to vote—and probably not for Republicans, especially not for incumbent Republicans. Even if Trump falls slightly short of the necessary 1,237 delegates in Cleveland, his failure to win the nomination will confirm the beliefs of those who voted for him—and beliefs of many who did not vote for him—that American democracy is a sham and that the American government is no longer (in the words of Abraham Lincoln), “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”

I do not want Donald Trump to be the next President, but I would prefer him in the White House over the disillusionment and anger of his supporters should he lose the nomination. Indeed, if Donald Trump is nominated by the convention delegates, supporters of Trump are more likely to vote for other Republicans, granting the party control of the Senate and the House of Representatives as well as the White House. Control of Congress for the next several years might be worth the headache of President Trump.

I do not fear a President Trump because I still believe in the Constitution of the United States. Its system of checks and balances can prevent a bad President from causing much harm to the country. The President cannot create legislation (except when his proposals are adopted and proposed by members of Congress). The President can only approve or veto legislation, and a supermajority of Congress can override the President’s veto. Even the officers appointed by the President to serve in his Cabinet of advisors must be approved by Congress. Only Congress can declare war, and treaties made by the executive branch of government must be approved by the Senate. If the President tries to use his authority to work against the will of the Congress, the court system exists to correct the imbalance. Perhaps because of Donald Trump the practice of issuing executive orders that counter legislation passed by Congress will finally be challenged; then this aspect of executive authority will be clarified for present and future leaders.

Past Presidents have learned that they cannot even control their own branch of government. Thousands of career government workers fill offices in the executive branch; they continue doing what they believe is best no matter who sits in the Oval Office. Cabinet secretaries and sub-secretaries change, but the department workers continue in their jobs, often doing the same things no matter who is supposed to be in charge. The inertia of bureaucracy will stifle any President’s efforts to make large changes to government—even if that President is named Donald Trump.

Of course Christians do not put their trust in kings and princes. No President can save the world, and no President can destroy the world, no matter what is said in political debates. All authority comes from Above, and all who gain power must ultimately answer to the Source of their power. Meanwhile, godly people respect those with authority in this world because of the Source of their power; we respect them even when we disagree with their opinions, and we respect them even when we dislike their personalities.

We live in interesting times. I realized this weekend that, when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debate one another this fall, they are likely to sound like a political debate between Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd in an early episode of Saturday Night Live. Perhaps the prayer of every American Christian needs to be: “May God not grant our land the leaders we deserve.” J.

Crawling in the fast lane

My drive home from work was a microcosm of the last three or four days in my life.

Generally, on a four-lane two-way road, I stay to the right, driving at the speed limit or as close to it as conditions allow. Those who want to exceed the speed limit can pass me on the left. The road between my workplace and my home goes past a lot of stores, restaurants, banks, a high school, and side streets into residential neighborhoods. With all the traffic entering and leaving the highway, it’s hard to make progress in the right-hand lane, so I like to drive home in the fast lane.

Today the fast lane was not very fast. A lot of people were turning left out of the fast lane, and a lot of cars were passing me on the right this afternoon.

All weekend my life has been unpredictable, filled with the unexpected, and for the most part unsettling. I don’t even know why it was that way. My big fight with Mrs. Dim was a week ago; I should be over that by now. Nothing unusually stressful has been happening to me or to the rest of my family lately. I don’t think that I’m fighting a virus: I have no fever, no headache or sore muscles, and no more congestion than is to be expected with seasonal allergies.

Yet since Friday night I’ve experienced waves of anxiety, some so strong that my handles tremble, making it hard to type. I have a constant sense of abdominal tension, like a tennis ball pressing on the back of my sternum. I go from place to place with a feeling of dread, as if I didn’t want to go there, or as if I thought something bad was going to happen there.

Through it all I’ve done my job, I made it to church Sunday morning, and I’ve been careful not to lose patience with people. I remind myself to breathe, and I focus attention on my breathing. I set aside time to read and to relax.

Then I go on the internet and read that some of my friends there are feeling discouraged and overwhelmed as well. Maybe they aren’t as prone to anxiety as I am, but they express feelings that match the way I’m feeling. Now, instead of wondering why I feel as badly as I do, I ask myself what I can say to them to help them feel better.

We need each other. We are sinners living in a sinful world, and sometimes our lives become chipped and cracked through contact with other fragile people. God could take away our problems, and sometimes he does, but other times he answers, “My grace is sufficient for you.” When we bear our burdens, and when we help one another bear these burdens, we grow in Christ-like mercy and compassion.

When the fast lane is crawling, other drivers are stuck in traffic too. We’re all in this traffic together. The best we can do is drive with patience and compassion, and eventually we will all make it home. J.

 

God has two plans

Salvageable

The key to understanding the Bible is realizing that God has two plans. A reader who does not know those two plans or who mixes them together is sure to misunderstand the Bible. A reader who knows the two plans of God will understand far more of what the Bible says.

One key passage that describes both plans is Ephesians 2:8-10—For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (NIV). In the life of the Church these two plans have been given many names, but I call them the plan of creation and the plan of salvation.

God created people to do good works. Men and women are…

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Road trip mindfulness

This month I needed to take a road trip that had me driving six hours a day four days in a five day period. Once, years ago, that would not have been a problem for me, but after a particularly trying time in the fall of 2012, driving has triggered some of my worst anxiety attacks. Several automobile breakdowns in a short amount of time (leading to credit card bills for repairs, bills that are still not fully paid), along with other emotional losses at the same time, have made time behind the wheel somewhat of a nightmare for me.

Last year I learned about “mindfulness,” an effort to deal with anxiety and stress by living in the moment, observing and experiencing what is happening without allowing it to become a burden. I decided, therefore, to try to make this road trip an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Combined with prayer—asking for help along the way, and expressing thanks for each successful segment of the journey—mindfulness (I hoped) would overcome the anxiety attached to this necessary driving.

Part of mindfulness is awareness of breathing. Whenever I felt tension welling from within, I made sure that I was taking slow deep breaths. Surprisingly, that helped.

Part of mindfulness is noticing things as they happen. From experience over the past several years, I know that one portion of the trip is particularly stressful. The pavement is in bad condition, and a stiff wind prevails from the west. The car always feels out of control on that section of the road, as if a tire is going flat or the car’s steering is malfunctioning. Usually I grit my teeth and bear with the rough section, but this time I paid more attention to the actual symptoms of wind and pavement that made the car feel out of order. That also helped.

I also remained aware of the physical sensations of my body. When possible, I used cruise control so my right leg did not have to remain in the same position for hours at a time. I scheduled stops midway through each day’s driving where I could walk around for a few minutes to relieve the pain of sitting in the driver’s seat. Merely concentrating attention on pain in my knees and lower back helped me to remain more calm, not allowing that pain to travel through my body and tighten other muscles.

I also made sure to pay attention to the scenery—the flowers along the road, the leaves emerging on the trees, and the birds circling in the air. Traveling north and south was like time travel, seeing different stages of springtime changes in different parts of the country.

Naturally I paid attention to the other vehicles on the road. For a while on the first day, I made predictions about what I would see. (“I will see a bright blue car at the next rest stop.” Well, there were no blue cars there, but a truck cab at that stop was bright blue.) By the last day, my game had become hopelessly complicated. During the last three hours, I kept a countdown of twenty-five different vehicles according to color—sixteen colors of cars, and nine colors of truck cabs. At the same time, I kept track of the yellow cars I saw, aiming for twenty-five of them as well. (They had to be private vehicles—no taxis, school buses, or delivery trucks. Generally, I counted them as private if they had no words printed on the sides of the vehicles. Yellow pick-up trucks only counted if they were solid yellow with no words.) Surprisingly, I saw all twenty-five colors in those three hours, and I saw my twenty-fifth yellow car just a few blocks away from home.

With mindfulness and thankfulness, I was able to endure a trip that was relatively calm and stress-free. I would not want to try it again any time soon, but at least I made it there and back again without a total emotional breakdown. J.

Why nobody likes me

Mrs. Dim and I had a disagreement this weekend. I described it to Dwayne at City Hall as a difference of opinion; it could easily have been called a shouting match. I did not intend to shout at Mrs. Dim. In fact, I had not planned on speaking to her at all. When she began shouting insults at me, though, I found myself raising my voice to be heard.

This year Mrs. Dim is paying a young man to mow her yard (giving her more time, I guess, to play with her leaf blower). He had already mowed twice this year when I was not at home, and his mowing had taken him far across the property line into my bed of wildflowers. I was glad to be at home this time as he was working, so when he was ready to mow outside Mrs. Dim’s fence, I went over and introduced myself. “I’m J.,” I said, and “I’m Scott,” he answered, and we shook hands. I showed him where the corner of my property is—the surveyor’s stake is still there, pushed deep into the ground—and indicated the landmarks to follow that line to the other corner of Mrs. Dim’s yard. Scott was very attentive, and even after I went back inside he was careful to mow only to the line and not as far as he had mowed earlier this year.

Poor Scott, though, found himself in the middle of neighborly squabbling. Even before I had the chance to introduce myself, Mrs. Dim was already shouting, “Go back in your house, J.,” and, “A real Christian wouldn’t do what you’re doing, J.” She also shouted, “This is why nobody likes you, J.” She openly acknowledged that she had instructed Scott to cut my weeds. I tried to get Mrs. Dim to tell me what the word weed means—I was hoping to establish that a weed is an unwanted plant, so I could say that native wildflowers are not unwanted in my lawn, even if they are unwanted in hers. Instead, she only pointed at my wildflowers and shouted, “That’s a weed,” leading me to handle the daisy-like bloom gently and answer (in as loud a voice as hers, I regret to say), “This… is a flower.”

Scott handled the situation well, mowing along the property line and then over to Mrs. Dim’s fence. I went inside, hoping the problem was over for the time being. After Scott left, Mrs. Dim played her radio in her garage at top volume for about half an hour to show her displeasure—surprisingly childish behavior for a woman who is nearing seventy years old. I put on a Schubert CD and kept the windows closed and was able to survive her tantrum unharmed.

This morning I called City Hall to verify that I have the right to raise wildflowers on my property. I indicated that they are the same kind of wildflowers that the state’s highway department encourages along the highways. Dwayne said that, of course, I’m allowed to grow native wildflowers on my own property, although he was unwilling to put that statement into writing for me. Instead, he said that if my neighbor is coming onto my property and cutting down my plants, I should either call the police or hire an attorney.

I think I handled the situation as well as was possible for me. With my battles with anxiety, confrontations are difficult for me. Although she has not taken the time to get to know me, Mrs. Dim knew how to make her insults stick in my head. I have had to remind myself repeatedly that people do like me—at work, at church, where I teach, and lots of places. It’s only Mrs. Dim who doesn’t like me.

 

People have asked me why I don’t just talk to Mrs. Dim when I have a problem with her—when her prolonged leaf-blowing is getting on my nerves, for example. This episode, I think, verifies what I already suspected. Mrs. Dim cannot be approached calmly and reasonably. The better approach for both of us is for me to maintain a healthy distance. With any luck, someday soon she will relocate to a retirement community where they will let her play with the leaf blower as much as she wants, and I won’t know anything about it. J.

 

Compact Communities–a better way

The automobile killed the small town and the city neighborhood. Small local stores closed when people chose to driver farther so they could shop in bigger stores. Zoning laws effectively prohibited businesses from being interspersed with housing. I know of one medium-sized city where it seems that all the churches were built in a row along the highway, each with its own parking lot. New schools tend to be built out of town, while the old school buildings crumble. People drive for an hour to go to work and for an hour to drive home, even at the cost of ten hours a week spent in traffic and not with their families.
To reduce our dependence on cars, we need to change our way of living. We need to return to urban neighborhoods and small towns with homes and schools and stores and churches gathered together rather than widely distributed. This might sound like a program that only a large government department could initiate, regulate, and finance, but it is not. Aside from possible tax relief on the part of local governments, no government agency needs to be part of this change. In fact, some compact communities have already been established in the United States.
Begin with a few dozen families who want to exist and thrive without owning and operating automobiles. Find a company or two that needs a new facility—light manufacturing, perhaps, or administration of an on-line business. Find a town or an urban neighborhood needing to be revitalized. Some construction may be necessary to have the school and the stores and the churches centrally located. Most families would have an electric cart, like a golf cart, for times when walking is inconvenient (such as a shopping trip in town). Many families would own bicycles. The main employer might operate a small fleet of vans—either electric or run on natural gas—to bring workers to work and back home again. Many more jobs would be created in the school, in the stores, and in other public services.
Instead of a new and used car lot, a car rental agency or two could operate on the edge of town. When a family needed a car for a trip out of town, they would rent the car they needed. The rental agency would maintain the cars, providing a few more jobs. The town might need a few vehicles—a police car, a fire engine, an ambulance, a garbage truck—but the streets generally would be quiet. People walking or bicycling from place to place would greet each other, not with angry diatribes about the traffic but with pleasant exchanges.
I’m not suggesting that this town would become a utopia. Crime would still exist, and people would still do bad things to each other. Employment would not be guaranteed. Prices would fluctuate according to the national economy. Without the burden of cars and all their expenses, people would have more money to handle the hard times. They would also have more time to do what they wanted to do, without having to factor in a long drive to and from work.
In the twentieth century, retirement villages were designed and built with similar ideas of a compact community. Developers found investors who expected a return on their initial outlay. They would select a piece of land, build a model home or two, and invite potential customers to inspect the property. Those who were interested would buy a share in the company, and gradually the villages arose. Amenities were added as the population grew, because businesses want to be located where customers can find them.
The same kind of compact communities for working families can be funded in this way. It will not require government investment to make these towns happen; it will only require developers and investors who understand the dream and approve of it. Some corporations may take an interest in helping to get these towns built. WalMart probably would not be interested*, but Walgreens is known for its neighborhood stores. Lowes and Home Depot may not care about such towns, but Ace Hardware might want to be involved. Surely some restaurant chains would be interested in designing a store without a drive-through window or a parking lot. Urban hospitals might provide branch clinics for such compact towns and neighborhoods. I can imagine a large school district with elementary and high schools in each compact town or neighborhood, using twenty-first century technology to provide the kind of advanced and diverse classes that smaller school districts cannot afford.
These carless communities are not impossible, nor are they overly expensive to achieve. The result would be attractive, friendly communities, free from the cost and nuisance of cars. Let the investors know: “If you build it, they will come.” J.
* I have reconsidered WalMart. Since customers already order from WalMart online and pick up their deliveries at the nearest store, WalMart might consider sub-stores in compact communities, dedicated only to distribution of items ordered online.

The bane of civilization

Civilization has taken two wrong turns which are difficult to reverse. Gasoline-powered automobiles and purely residential land developments are so common in the United States that they are taken for granted. A world without these two features seems like science fiction or fantasy, but such a world would be better than our present condition in many ways.

Nineteenth century inventors in Europe and in North America experimented with several ways to improve transportation. Steam power was favored at first, but electric cars were also tried. By the end of the century, gasoline-powered internal combustion engines had prevailed over other kinds of powered vehicles. Gasoline seemed to be a more efficient energy source, requiring less time to refuel and more travel between refueling stops than electric vehicles. Gasoline was also less expensive, being a byproduct of the production of other petroleum-based chemicals such as kerosene. Electric starters and the use of lead in gasoline to prevent engine knock made gasoline-powered cars the prevailing choice of consumers in the twentieth century.

What’s wrong with gasoline-powered cars? Problem one is air pollution. Some air pollution comes from wildfires, dust storms, volcanoes, and cattle; some comes from factories, power plants, and landfills. A great deal of air pollution comes from transportation. Sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other dangerous chemicals are produced by burning gasoline. Expensive fuel additives and automobile components try to reduce air pollution from automobiles, but the benefit is insufficient. Problem two is expense. Every generation of cars is more complicated than the previous generation because of safety devices, anti-pollution technology, computer-operated components, and conveniences. What once was a helpful tool that cost a few hundred dollars and was easily maintained and repaired by the typical owner has become an investment of thousands of dollars that requires maintenance and repairs by trained professionals. Problem three is volume. Every day the roads are packed with cars (as well as trucks, buses, and motorcycles) carrying people to and from work, school, stores, social events, and other destinations. People arrive in bad moods because of the traffic. Road rage is increasingly common. Problem four is the constant construction, widening, and repair of roads, making them less usable for months, sometimes years, before the project is completed. The benefit of automobiles is largely offset by the burden these tools have become.

Around the middle of the twentieth century, the convenience of automobiles led to a change in housing patterns. At first, the United States had imitated Europe with several urban centers separated by vast regions of farmland. Small towns along transportation corridors met the needs of farmers and travelers, but most non-farmers lived in cities. They did not really need cars: they could walk to school, to work, to church, and to neighborhood stores, or they could ride a bus or a trolley to get where they wanted to go. Churches and stores did not need parking lots. People knew their neighbors because they passed each other on the streets and sidewalks and alleys. After World War II, new housing developments began to be built in the suburbs. Each house had a carport or a garage, because the only buildings in walking distance from each home were the homes of neighbors. Stores and churches built in the suburbs now needed parking lots. People did not need to meet their neighbors—they went from their houses to their cars and drove wherever they were going—to work, to church, to shop, or to the gym to exercise, since they were doing much less walking than before.
Several factors led to this new way of living. A strong economy allowed families to live further away from the cities and to drive their cars wherever they wanted to go. Attempts to end segregated education through busing persuaded a lot of families to move farther away from urban areas. Simple stubborn individuality and independence made American workers decide to live where they wanted in spite of inconvenient distances to work and shopping and church. Land developers persuaded Americans we wanted to live this way, with big housing developments and big shopping malls and superstores and everything else that goes along with these changes.

I grew up in the suburbs. I don’t hate them unconditionally. But for nine years, living in the suburbs, I was still able to walk to school; and, when we wished, my parents and I could walk to church. My father rode the train to work for several years, until the company built a new office structure in the suburbs; after that, he had to drive to work. My mother drove to the grocery store every Friday; most weeks she carpooled with my grandmother and my aunt. Occasionally the family would drive to a shopping mall to buy clothing or Christmas presents.

Now it’s a rare day when I do not drive a car. I drive to work and back. I drive to church and back. Usually I drive to the store and back—the nearest grocery store is about a mile from my house, so if I have enough time and little enough to carry home, I sometimes walk there. I drive to the bank, to the doctor’s office, and to the mall. I drive to the mechanic, or on occasion I have to pay to have the car towed there.

Civilization has spent centuries building these problems. They cannot be fixed overnight. But, in the words of Bill McCay, “There has to be a better way.” Tomorrow I will describe a better way. J.

The Grand Conspiracy of All Evil

From time to time, I cross paths with people who believe in a Grand Conspiracy of All Evil. They sincerely believe that a network of sinister organizations is behind everything wrong with society today, from the assassination of President Kennedy to the latest viral epidemic in Africa or South America.

Candidates for members of this conspiracy include (but are not limited to) the following: the Illuminati, the Masonic Lodge, the Roman Catholic Church, the Tri-Lateral Commission, the Girl Scouts of America, Donald Trump, Jews, Communists, Hollywood, big business (or some select corporations), Mormons, Satanists, the liberal media, certain federal agencies (particularly the CIA), and organized crime. Often selections from the list include pairings that are unlikely bedfellows—Jews and Communists, for example. (Jewish people did not fare well under the Soviet government.)The response to any suggestion that two such groups would never work together is that the two groups only pretend to be enemies; they want to throw the rest of us off the scent of their cooperation in the service of evil.

A few powerful people are thought to make all the decisions that guide the modern world. Elections are a fraud; they only produce predetermined results of the powerful ones. News and entertainment exist only to distract people from the truth, or perhaps even to brainwash people into believing lies. Those in power want the citizens of the world to be oblivious to their existence, and they want the few who discover their existence to be too frightened to resist them. They want a world of sheep, people blindly following one another without asking questions, without searching for truth, and without challenging the way things are being done.

In much fantasy literature, a group of good characters must gather to resist and overthrow a powerful evil foe. The good guys generally win after great struggle and mighty adventures. Often their victory is assured by the nature of evil—the bad guys are too selfish and chaotic to work together, so the cooperation of the good characters is stronger than the massed but ineffective evil. I believe there is truth in this theme. I believe that evil conspiracies are unlikely, if not impossible, because those who are evil will be too selfish to share their power and their wealth with peers.

Powerful people want more power, but they fight other powerful people to get it. Corporations, including the news industry and the entertainment industries, want to make money, so they offer the public what the public appears to want. Each group of people that gathers with a common interest pursues that interest, whether it is religious, charitable, educational, or political. They do not lie to the public about their interest, though, because they want to draw more people into their group.

One current issue which concerns many people is the trend of Satanist groups to demand the right to place statues depicting their beliefs alongside other artwork on public property that reflects a Christian view. If the Capitol grounds or courthouse has a manger scene at Christmas or a monument containing the Ten Commandments, the Satanist group wants equal representation. While I understand why this trend concerns people, I cannot consider it part of a conspiracy. Those who call themselves Satanists do not take their religion seriously. Like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Church of the Sub-Genius, Satanists practice a parody religion. Their intention is not to claim supernatural power; their intention is to bother people who take religion seriously.

Since the 1970s, groups of young people have dabbled in the occult without taking it seriously. Although a few continued to study ancient pagan teachings, the majority merely played at being partners with evil. They conducted secret ceremonies to frighten their parents and their neighbors, and they were delighted when local authorities took note of their actions and feared what they were doing. Books and movies—all works of fiction—enhanced their reputation. The truth is that they have no magical power. They consider what they are doing to be a joke, and they are increasingly amused when other people take them seriously.

The government of the United States endorses no religion. Many places in the United States have allowed religious displays on government property because those displays represented the beliefs of most citizens in that area. Other groups have sought and received permission to have their symbols added to the religious displays. Now, groups that mock and scorn religion are demanding equal representation. In my opinion, the best response would be to follow the intent of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution and remove all religious displays from government property. In response to this action, every church and every Christian should show signs of their faith on their own property. When the city of Zion, Illinois, painted over the cross on its water tower, hundreds of Christians began displaying the cross on their homes. The loss of one cross led to the appearance of many crosses.

Satanists mock religion; they do not practice it seriously. I consider religion a very serious matter. Satanists do not regard evil as powerful. I do regard evil as powerful, but I see evil in greed, selfishness, cold-heartedness, envy, hatred, and crime. A statue that portrays Satan may be ugly and disturbing, but it is not the tool or symbol of some vast evil conspiracy. It is nothing more than a macabre joke. Rather than fighting the joke—which only reinforces the point of the joke—Christians can best respond to such mockery with kindness, compassion, helpfulness to others, and respect for others. When we succeed in a vast conspiracy to imitate Jesus, we can be sure that we will prevail against the enemies of Jesus. After all, Jesus has already won the war against evil. We are secure in his victory, today and always. J.

 

Introvert talking here

Arthur Dent never got the hang of Thursdays. For me, Saturday is the hardest day of the week. I don’t know why. Last fall I tried going to work on Saturday mornings to make the day seem normal, but even at work I still felt unsettled, shaky, and apprehensive.

One morning last week I woke up with that Saturday feeling, even though it wasn’t Saturday. This time I had a reason to feel unsettled: several weeks earlier I had promised to speak to a group of people that morning. It seemed like a good idea when I made the promise, but somehow that morning I didn’t feel ready. My sudden case of stage fright felt just like an anxiety attack, only one with a cause.

I took speech classes in high school and in college. Working for churches, I have had to stand in front of groups of people and talk. Generally I’m fine in the classroom teaching a group of students. I have no idea why this week’s scheduled session should have seemed different to my inner self.

For between four and five years, I was fortunate enough to work alongside the world’s best communications/public relations professional. When this person asked me to speak to a group of people on behalf of our employer, I wanted to say no, but I allowed myself to be persuaded. (For one thing, this speech gave me a chance to promote a book I had just written.) Figuratively speaking, my co-worker held my hand through the preparation and the presentation, and it went fine. When other speaking opportunities arose, I always turned to my co-worker and always got the assurance and encouragement I needed. Alas, we no longer work for the same company, but this same person still comes to mind when I need to summon the courage to give another speech or presentation.

I drove to work that morning, and the traffic put me in my usual bad mood. I went straight to my desk at work without saying a word to anyone. When the time came, I left to give my presentation. Again, I was shaky and nervous while driving. It didn’t help that gusts of wind were pushing at the car. When I arrived and was greeted, a couple people asked me how I was doing. “I’m trembling in my boots,” I told them honestly. They laughed as if I was joking. The time came, I was introduced, and I began speaking. The first two or three sentences had trouble getting out of my mouth in good order, but after that I was in control of the material, and the remaining fifty minutes flew.

Someone commented to me that day that introverts should not be required to speak in public. Both of us knew that this comment was a joke. Many introverts are quite comfortable in public speaking. Introverts make good teachers, preachers, and lecturers, so long as they are speaking on a subject they know and love. We might be more focused on our material because of our personality, and we are less likely than extraverts to be distracted by the people in front of us. When we are nervous, we have learned to use that energy to keep ourselves interesting as we speak.

The defining mark of an introvert, though, is that we expend energy dealing with other people. We gain energy when we are alone. Truthfully, the half dozen one-on-one conversations I had after my presentation were more draining than the fifty minutes spent speaking to the group, even though the conversations all consisted of positive and complimentary remarks. I’ve watched celebrities walk into a room, attract a crowd, interact enthusiastically with each person in that crowd, and bask in their admiration. I might be able to fake the same response, but from me it’s not genuine. I’d far rather stay home and write and send out my words to speak for me.

In public, introverts are actors. We have to be actors. We must appear calm and confident, even when we are trembling in our boots. I expect that some of the finest actors of stage and screen are secretly introverts, hiding their fears and channeling them into convincing performances. I know this is true of several famous comedians, including Johnny Carson and Robin Williams. Their charm and their energy in front of an audience was compensation for being afraid of other people.

Last week’s presentation was the first of a series of eight talks to the same group. I hope that I won’t be so nervous this week, but I offer no guarantees. More likely than not, I will once again be trembling in my boots. It’s no joke to me, but it will make the other people smile. J.