I am writing in the middle of a book tour that takes me to seven cities in the U.S.  The tour actually started the day after we returned from a similar tour in South Korea and Taiwan.

book tour 1AI must say, there’s a major difference in the attention span of audiences in Asia and America.  In Asia, listeners sit for 90 minutes straight (I talk for 45 minutes and the interpretation takes equal time) without crossing and uncrossing their legs or moving their hands or shifting posture.  In the U.S. you better be quick, and spice up the talk with humor and PowerPoint images; video is even better.  The media has spoiled us.

Along the way I have had to learn the style differences between speaking and writing.  The speaker has many more tools at his or her disposal.  I can raise or lower my voice, wave my arms, pace the stage.  If all else fails I can show a clip from a movie.  In contrast, the writer can only manipulate black marks on a page, with no color, no sound, and only the subtlest variation in appearance.  The reader remains firmly in control at all times.  Sheer politeness keeps people from stomping out of a talk, whereas a bored reader thinks nothing of slamming shut a book or turning off a Kindle.

“Most writers don’t make good speakers,” I often hear, and I am grateful for those lowered expectations when I stand before an audience.  Although I find writing a much harder task, speaking does present unique challenges.  If I hit writer’s block, I open the door and go for a run or a bike ride to clear my head.  Onstage I have to keep talking and sweating through to the end, no matter how miserable I feel at the time.

_MG_1979Public speaking also involves the unpredictable.  Several times in India the electricity shut off in the middle of a meeting, leaving me standing on a platform in the dark with no microphone.  In the Philippines cell phones chirped and rang every few minutes.  One man said loudly, “Hello, Ma?  I’m in a meeting.  Just a minute and we can talk,” as he walked out the aisle.  At a charity golf tournament in France, a drunken woman stood up and shouted, “That’s me!  He’s talking about me!” as I mentioned the scene in John 8 of Jesus confronting an adulterous woman.

I have spoken through an old fashioned bullhorn on a beach in Myanmar, nearly fainting from the heat and an attack of diarrhea.  In Australia I spoke to a group that included aborigines, who had the disconcerting habit of giggling throughout my talk and heading out on walkabouts whenever they felt like it.

It constantly amazes me that my books can connect with someone in another culture since I write so specifically about the legalism, fundamentalism, and racism of the American South.  I have learned, though, that churches overseas may magnify the flaws and quirks of the U.S. church.  Missionaries, God bless them, may import a legalism that makes Southern Baptists look like liberals and church divisions that make U.S. denominations seem harmonious.  Sermons tend to fall into two types, either stiff and formulaic or a rollicking Prosperity Gospel message.  Few are addressing questions like Where Is God When It Hurts? and Disappointment with God in such places.

Often after speaking I invite questions.  Inevitably someone asks about U.S. policies and our recent wars.  The issue of homosexuality usually comes up.  I also hear touching stories from people struggling with faith in the midst of pain and poverty.  On a tour of the Middle East, I fielded these two questions back to back: 1) How can a loving God allow so much suffering in the world? and 2) What kind of shampoo do you use?

Korea Signing“We have an unequal relationship, you and I,” I used to joke before a book-signing.  “You know everything about me because anything I think or do or say ultimately ends up in a book.  But I know nothing about you.  So in the brief time we have together, tell me one of the deepest secrets of your life, something you’ve never told anyone.”  I stopped making that invitation because some people took me seriously and told me secrets I had no right to know.  In the process, I learned that a writer can develop a “virtual” intimacy with readers he or she has never met.

The highlight of all such trips takes place when I meet these readers of my books.  This book tour, introducing Vanishing Grace, gives me yet another opportunity to hear some of their personal stories.  Let me give you a few examples, some of the most moving moments of my life:

  • A young woman named Sarah told me she had spent two months working in Mother Teresa’s home for the dying in Calcutta.  Each day she read to dying patients portions from my book What’s So Amazing About Grace.  She told me they were thrilled to hear that God already loved them and they didn’t have to earn God’s favor, as they had been taught in Hinduism.
  • I hear many stories of tragedy.  In California, I met a man, age 45, whose older brother had just shown symptoms of Huntington’s Chorea, a devastating genetic disorder that leads to paralysis and death.  As his brother, he now stands a 50 percent chance of facing the same plight—as will his teenage kids.  In addition, he has two “healthy” siblings with mental disabilities who live in state-run homes.  “I keep re-reading the Book of Job,” he said.
  • At a book signing in Michigan I met a delightful young woman with Down syndrome, who introduced me to her gap-toothed, sunburned father, a farmer.  “He needs your books!” the young woman said with the simplicity of a child.  “He gets angry, and he gets depressed.  My mom died four months ago.  I like God.  I go to church every Sunday.  I like your books too.  But he really needs them!”
  • After I spoke in a neighboring state, a teenage girl said that now she has to pray for her sister.  “Why?” I asked.  “Because you said we must pray for our enemies!”
  • At an outdoor conference in Sweden, I met a beautiful-but-hardened young woman who came riding up on a Harley, decked out in leather.  I had just spoken on Grace.  “Thank you,” she said.  “I’m the woman at the well.”
  • Once a muscular young man told me that he had got locked in a bathroom with a defective latch, its only window covered by burglar bars.  One of my books was in there, and he read the whole thing in six hours until help arrived.

book tour 3

Writers live lonely lives, and contacts with readers remind us that what we do in isolation may indeed touch people at a deep level.  In my travels I learn that I am not alone in struggling with the issues I write about.  One reader said to me, “You keep insisting you’re not a pastor, but I think you’re pastoral, a pastor for those who don’t fit.”  I can almost accept that title.

After each of these tours I return to my basement office humbled and also uplifted by my encounters with readers.  Just last week I met a man who runs a ministry for pedophiles.  “They receive less grace than any group in our country,” he said.  “Imagine having to register publicly as a criminal, with a poster announcing that on your lawn, unable to live within a thousand feet of schools, playgrounds, and other facilities.  Yes, they did something terrible.  But are they beyond God’s grace and forgiveness?”

Close behind him, a woman told me of losing her 17-year-old daughter to a brain hemorrhage.

Yes, book tours are exhausting, logistically frustrating, and challenging for an introvert.  But when I return to my basement office in Colorado, I have renewed hope that what I will write tomorrow will somehow connect with another reader—someone I may one day meet on another such tour.

 

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38 responses to “Escape of the Introvert”

  1. vernon says:

    Philip,

    If you ever come through Oklahoma City for a book tour or any other reason, please consider stopping and having a meal with us. We would love to show you around. And we promise not to sign you up to preach, teach or anything else you would rather not do!

  2. Andrea says:

    Philip,

    Sometimes my husband and I get so sad by the direction of “the church.” It can make us angry and (me) depressed. “The church” seems to be hibernating and not wanting to extend the Gospel message beyond their families.

    But when I hear voices like yours I am encouraged! There are Christians out there who do not think that Jesus came to free us from the “Romans” of our time. Instead, He came to forgive us of our sins, to bring healing to our hurts, and let us know we aren’t orphaned – and neither are the kids who don’t go to church and are hurting.

    My hard thing is finding other Christians who want to reach the lost in a non-political way. I am a leader in Young Life, but so few other Christian parents can see beyond their own kids and want to invest their lives in kids who do not yet know Jesus.

    I came from a broken family, and if it weren’t for the Christians who weren’t afraid to share the Gospel with the “girl from the broken family,” I would not have found healing.

    Most Christian families want to home school or send their kids to Christian school. I’m not necessarily opposed to that, but sometimes it’s lonely feeling like so few Christians want to be “in the world.”

    So, thank you again for showing me, that I am not alone in my desire to be “in the world” and thank you for reaching people, like me, who were once fatherless but now have a Heavenly Father.

    Andrea

  3. Ria Rebolledo says:

    It is precisely because you do not fit that’s why I like your writing very much, Phil.

  4. Jon Kurnik says:

    Hi Dr. Yancey,

    Thanks for your contributions to Our Daily Bread. I can always tell it’s yours before I get to the bottom!
    I am puzzled about your Nov. 29, 2014 contribution, though. You mention “Heaven is not an afterthought or an optional belief. It is the final justification of all creation.” and “…heaven promises a timeless future of health and wholeness and pleasure and peace.”
    I’m puzzled by the context of Rev. 21. Briefly, chapter 19 shows Jesus returning from heaven to the earth (continuing into his kingdom in chapter 20), then chapter 21 shows the Holy City coming down OUT OF heaven to have God dwell with us here. This is the time of the “NEW EARTH”, so how do you presume our eternity in heaven? Thanks.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Excellent point. The Bible speaks of a “new heaven and earth” and I do see eternity as a restored creation. Do you know the British author N.T. Wright? He’s very helpful and clear on this topic. –Philip

  5. Joel Goldberg says:

    I am a 61 Jewish believer in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I have read all of your books and find them to be well written, thoughtful, and most of all relevant to our times.

    Your books on grace touch my heart as I too am a sinner and know what God’s grace has done for me.

    Moreover, your books on God’s grace need to be read by all clergy, as God’s grace is God’s love on full display.

    Thank you for enlightened prose on the plan of salvation.

    Joel Goldberg

  6. Leslie Morgan says:

    Dear Mr. Yancey,
    Your books (Where Is God When it Hurts, Disappointment With God, Reaching for the Invisible God, The Gift of Pain & others) have helped me come to terms with the sudden deaths of my only sister & brother.
    She was 18 yr of age & killed by a drunk driver- he received no punishment thanks to his political connections. My brother was killed 6 yrs later by a poacher, the sheriffs son in law, who also received no punishment. My niece was born 2 weeks later. What a gift to us.
    I was so angry at God for letting these tragedies happen that I left the church. I had the usual “why” questions.
    Your books help me see God’s character & this world more as they are.
    Thank you for helping me come to a faith where all my questions aren’t answered & that’s ok. As well as, it being ok to question God.
    You’ve helped me support other people dealing with tragic losses too.
    Thank you, Leslie

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Oh, Leslie, you have been through the fire. I’m sorry but do to some computer problems I am just now seeing this comment. It humbles me to hear that my books helped you as you went through such unbearable suffering. Bless you as you carry on, love your niece, and continue to trust a God who leaves us with mystery and unanswered questions. –Philip

  7. Alison Robinson says:

    Last night I had the privilege of meeting you while you spoke at 1st Baptist Church Opelika, AL. I drove a few hours from Birmingham with my husband who is a local pastor in our city. Due to time constraints and my own shyness I did not get the opportunity to properly thank you for this book you’ve recently written, and for the grace you emanated as you spoke to those of us gathered. My heart has often pondered this subject matter of how to graciously do life amongst people with whom I disagree. I am both a therapist and pastor’s wife. Managing how I portray my thoughts, beliefs, and life to others is constantly on my mind. I am often asking, will this direct someone away from or towards Christ? The lines of grace, truth, and mystery often become blurred in this process and I have felt overwhelmed often.
    Recently I was invited by some Christian friends to join them as they picketed a Planned Parenthood facility in an attempt to “take a stand against abortion” (as they put it). I was, and currently am still, perplexed why Christians often use political-mainstream methods to convey Christian ideals. I’m not sure if I could ever picture the Jesus of the scriptures holding a picket sign in his hand, chanting anti-anything messages with a throng of people. A few weeks later a young woman came to my office for counseling. Just weeks before she had an abortion and was reeling with an unexpected emotional aftermath. The woman said she had no one to turn to hence why she came for counseling. She recounted her experience, mentioning the words local evangelical protesters threw at her as she walked into the building. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the group of my friends, the one’s I had been invited to join. For several weeks I worked with this young woman who tearfully recounted an upbringing in a strict Catholic household, and how she has kept her abortion secret from everyone in her life out of fear and shame. In the same breath she noted how these same motivations of fear and shame led her to the decision of abortion as well, how could she make public her unexpected pregnancy?! Her relationships with various Christians helped motivate her to make such a deathly decision as well as why to keep it secret. Christianity, for her, was a source of guilt and terror. I couldn’t help but cry when she left my office after that first session.
    I know the hearts of my friends who protested. They were doing the best they knew how and standing up for a noble cause. But I’m not sure idea-to-idea is the way to win hearts. I often wonder if our work should be done face to face, in relationship. Like how Jesus works with us. I tell this story as a way of saying thank you. We need this book, this message of grace. I hope your work helps to change the church. I hope we become more like Christ.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      I remember meeting you, Alison, and marveling that you drove so far. You pinpoint the most difficult balance for us: how best to represent what we believe in a society that sometimes moves in a different direction. Your illustration reminds me of the “Jane Roe” story I mentioned in the book. Truly, you are dispensing grace in that intimate one-on-one way through your therapy. Keep showing us the way. –Philip

  8. Lorena says:

    “I think you’re pastoral, a pastor for those who don’t fit.” Yes, and one for jaded Christians, who ask hard questions, don’t want to give in to cynicism, and are tired of getting trite or no answers. I want to ask the pastor of the church where I attend if he would consider allowing a group Bible study to discuss some of these types of questions. Can you recommend a book for us to use?

    • Philip Yancey says:

      I just wrote a blog on a video curriculum due out this spring based on C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity.” I’d highly recommend it. –Philip

  9. Maggie Morgan says:

    I enjoyed reading this blog post so much. Some soul-stretching encounters on the road. I hope you come to Egypt again…it’s far away, I know, but we Egyptian readers would love to see you again. I just bought Vanishing Grace in Chicago 4 days ago–and I’ve started reading it but I am trying to pace myself and not to read it all at once. I want it to last as long as possible. So I am savouring it–the treat at the end of my day. Thank you for writing 🙂

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Hi, Maggie–I just came across this. You Egyptians live in interesting times! And your nation needs an extra dose of grace these days. Christians are such an important voice there. –Philip

  10. David Such says:

    Thank you for being the humble and level-headed pastor to those of us who do not fit into the typical American Christian culture, whether the self-righteous church arena or the self-seeking “Christian” political machine. We appreciate your words of wisdom.

  11. Rogéria Letícia says:

    I am a language school teacher and , most important for me, a teenagers’ sunday school teacher. I would like to say that your book The Jesus I Never Knew changed my perspective on the gospels in an amazing way. Ever since I have been praying for the opportunity to watch a sunday school class of yours. I usually give your book Fearfully & Wonderfully Made to all my students about to start a doctor’s carreer. I pray that God keeps using you to reach the hearts of many people all over the world. God bless you!

  12. Chit says:

    mr. yancey you are one of God’s great gift to this world! May you live long to write more books that finds a place a many hungry souls!

  13. Vicki says:

    That’s how I’m going to die; of a brain hemorrhage that was made worse by repeated abusive head trauma done on purpose.
    I shouldn’t complain; I got an answer to my prayer. I was terrified I’d die like my daughter’s dad did, in a fire that he felt as he was dying but never understanding exactly why or what was causing it.
    I prayed I wouldn’t die that way and I probably won’t.

  14. Mary says:

    Thank you for sharing more of your journey!

    As one who has a special love for Australia, I would suggest that you discover the preferred term of “Aboriginal” instead of “aborigine”…..also, a walkabout is not just getting up and roaming around during a talk and would hardly be begun in the middle of one.

    G’Day!

  15. Lori Jackson says:

    Philip, I have not been familiar with your writing before and was intrigued with the title of your book. I looked you up, looked up your other books and read your bio. I also am a survivor from out of the church — I don’t mean the Church (the Christ centered body of believers that is supposed to be the Church) — I have survived the organized church: several denominations and a few Bible churches — all held out the promise of answering MY question about God, but failed miserably and left me disappointed. I even tried Bible college as a 21 year old brand new Christian. I responded to the gospel because an acquaintance told me that I could have a personal relationship with Christ. That was the point of my hungering and thirsting, I had been searching for such a thing. So I entered hopefully, expectantly into the life of the church. After 10 years I was still asking “Where do I go to find out about and enter into the personal relationship with Christ?” I found the answer — not in the organized church (part one of the answer) — because they lead you AWAY from personal relationship with Christ. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “the medium is the message” then you know what I’m talking about (f you’ve not heard it before you can google it). Part two of the answer (where did I go to find what I was seeking?) is that I found it between the pages of Scripture, learning from men who had Godly lives and who wrote down their teaching (most of them did not write to sell books). I speak of pastors and teachers who lived in the 19th century. Does that sound stuffy? Well most of them are guys you’ve probably never heard of because they are not Reformed (not saying you’re Reformed, but that’s the root of most theology in teachers today). I think it would be interesting to have a sit down talk with you sometime — but I’m not a famous person, an educated Bible scholar, or anything like that. I’m a woman who has tenaciously pursued the knowledge of God for 46 years and now enjoy a deep personal relationship with His most beloved Son (and still pursing His depths). My life is not easy, I have issues like everyone else in this miserable fallen world — but I think we could talk about some things I don’t see addressed in your writings. I’m a recent Colorado transplant in the Denver area.

  16. Judy Berna says:

    I miss seeing you here, in our lovely Colorado town! I love this post though. These are questions I have been wanting to ask you…’what’s it like talking to so many different people, all over the world, for just one minute each?’

    This post says it well. I suspect you could write a book about the interactions and adventures you’ve had on book tours.

    Travel safely. We miss you back home but are so in awe of the work you and Janet put in to change people’s lives. One signed book at a time.

    Judy

  17. Bob Smallman says:

    Truly lovely, Philip! Your books have been such a blessing to me and the congregation I serve. I don’t know how many copies of “Where Is God?” that I’ve loaned out or given away.

  18. Titi says:

    Dear Mr. Yancey,

    You go around the globe, but you miss one place. It’s my country: Indonesia. I envy of those people in many countries had the special occasion to do communication with you face to face. I did ask why don’t you go to Jakarta? And you replied that there’s no scheduled yet. Would you put my country in your next journey? What makes you decide to go to a country?

    For your overview, may you have to read Christian in Indonesia. We are a minority in the biggest country with the biggest Moslem in the world. We have been in many types of persecutions and it always strengthens our faith. And even Christianitytoday.com wrote some reports about Christianity in Indonesia. I hope you will consider Jakarta for your next schedule to meet your readers. Thank you.

  19. Horace says:

    What an exciting quick trip around the world of real people facing life with the love of God in diverse settings.

    Thank you!

  20. Ruth Yeaton says:

    At least the question about the shampoo was easy to answer.

  21. Katie Andraski says:

    Wow, what a great description of what your book tours are like. You show how they are both rich and soul filling but also exhausting. The Lord be very with you as you travel. I’m very much enjoying your book too. I’ve wondered where grace went off to as well.

  22. Linkathon | PhoenixPreacher says:

    […] Phillip Yancey on the escape of the introvert… […]

  23. Tecca Auxt says:

    I’m shocked about the racism in the south statement. It appears you have bought into the Lefts rhetoric. I didn’t even read beyond that comment since it broke my train of thought.
    I have lived in Louisiana for 37 years and that may have been true when I first moved here but is far from true now. We’ve had a woman Govenor and presently an Indian Governor. Our Senator for the past dozen years has been a woman. My brother-in-law is black and I have two biracial nieces.
    You’ve been my top author for many years….since What’s so Amazing About Grace and The Jesus I Never Knew…..which resounded within me since I was raised in a church in Ohio that sounded very similar to your church and felt exactly the same as you did. You spoke my heart!
    Please be aptly chastised…..lol. I forgive you….now that I’ve vented.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Remember, I haven’t lived in the South for 40 years, so I’m writing about the ancient history of my childhood… I hope you’re right. –Philip

      • Andrew says:

        Philip unfortunately makes the same generalisations about South Africans and racism in many of his books (cheap shots really). Unless you haven’t noticed, racism is everywhere, not just in South Africa (or the South of the US for that matter). These are convenient whipping boys designed to make other people feel righteous. For example, how many black people have been shot and killed by white policemen in the northern/mid western states in the USA over the last few years for simply being black? How many Aboriginal people die in custody each year in Australia? Why don’t you talk about the endemic racism in places like India and China, or England for that matter? Answer, convenience. I have stopped reading your books Phil, because they are so filled with hate for certain groups of people. The Lord has away of ‘showing up’ one’s hypocrisies.

  24. ADEBAYO SAMUEL says:

    Philip, please come to Nigeria. You have a number of fans here and i am one of them. I have read PRAYER, WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS AND THE JESUS I NEVER KNEW.

  25. Brenda says:

    Wow! I don’t have a dramatic story like some of your readers share, but I can say your books have changed me. I’m halfway through Vanishing Grace and it’s wonderful! I can hardly bear to put it down! At times I have literally thanked God for yor writing. I find it to be so encouraging and uplifting, and with some of the discouragement I feel regarding the Church at large in this country, I find your perspective to be right on target.

  26. Miche says:

    Wow, that’s quite the roller-coaster ride, all of that comedy and tragedy! It must require some quiet time to recharge especially for a self-professed introvert. Amazing, none the less!

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