Today, Jen and Cathleen were guests on Dr. Alvin Jones’ podcast where the trio discussed Disquiet Time.
Have a listen by clicking on the audio link below.
Visit and listen to the interview on Dr. Alvin’s website HERE.
Today, Jen and Cathleen were guests on Dr. Alvin Jones’ podcast where the trio discussed Disquiet Time.
Have a listen by clicking on the audio link below.
Visit and listen to the interview on Dr. Alvin’s website HERE.
It’s my turn to host the blog tour for the fantastic new book, Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. I’m so pleased and proud to have a chapter in the book.
The diverse cast of voices delves into a broad range of thorny biblical passages – often the sort of passages people prefer to avoid. While the contributors are clearly smart people who know their way around a biblical concordance, I love that the anthology isn’t academic in nature. Rather, the essays grapple with the profound impact the Bible can have on individual lives — for good and for ill.
Disquiet Time reveals how biblical interpretation — and misinterpretation, as the case may be — is formative in a world in which more than 100 million bibles are sold or otherwise distributed each year. The biblical text isn’t dishonored with this book, but is rather given the honor of being taken seriously enough to be spoken of with unsparing honesty.
One of the things that is most striking to me is that it lives up to its grand promise of truly divergent perspectives. It’s not merely the skeptical and the faithful sharing the same binding; Christians of both conservative and liberal hermeneutics are present and accounted for. You just don’t see that happen very often.
Last night, I gathered with seven other contributors – including Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant, our fearless editors – in a packed room at Prairie Path Books in Wheaton to celebrate the book’s release. It was a delightful evening – funny, poignant, irreverent, meaningful. When it was my turn to talk I said a few things about my chapter – which, in a nutshell, is about how “apocalyptic gospel” is not an oxymoron – and then made the people sing the refrain to REM’s “End of the World as we Know It.” Such fun.
So, all of that is to say that you should totally read this book. Good luck getting it at Amazon, because Jericho Books is an imprint of Hachette. But Barnes and Noble, Hearts and Minds, and your local book shop are all great options.
But the other thing I’d like to do with this blog post is draw your attention to the author and blogger Ellen Painter Dollar. There are two main reasons for this.
The first is that I wouldn’t have been invited to contribute to Disquiet Time if Ellen hadn’t introduced me to Jennifer Grant and the other gifted members of the Ink Collective. Ellen approaches social networking with a spirit of generosity, mutual respect, and collaboration. I try to follow her lead.
The second reason I’m singing the praises of Ellen Painter Dollar is that I just read her chapter in Disquiet Time, “Broken and Bent.” It’s a three-tissue essay, full of wisdom, beauty, and pain – like much of Ellen’s work. When you’re done with Disquiet Time, check out Ellen’s first book, No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith in an Age of Advanced Reproduction.
“Religion is an agreement between a group of people about what G-d is.
Spirituality is a one-on-one relationship.”
~ Conscious Way Magazine
It was the 1960’s and I went to the right rather than to the left.
Someone gave me a copy of Atlas Shrugged and I swallowed it whole. Especially the part about altruism and religion being irrational and atheism being the only intellectual alternative.
As a follower of Ayn Rand and Objectivism and a Republican-for-Goldwater, I rejected my Jewish heritage and announced that I had become an atheist at a family dinner.
My mother cringed and asked, “What about the children?” (I had sons ages four and six at the time.)
My father looked at my mother and said, “She’ll get over it.”
He was right.
But the reason I returned to Judaism was not a deep-seated belief in G-d. It was Judaism’s conviction that being Jewish could not be denied. No matter what, I could not be excommunicated. I could question whatever I wanted and still be “kosher.” Denying G-d in front of the altar in the synagogue, blaspheming the Torah, refusing to have my boys circumcised, would not release me.
I was Jewish, and once a Jew, always a Jew.
Why? Because now and forever Jews have had to adapt to change. As we moved from society to society, the community integrated some customs in their new home and rejected others. Certainly the Spanish Inquisition is the prefect example. Jews had to choose between being burned at the stake or converting to Catholicism, so they became secret Jews, lighting the Sabbath candles in wine cellars and basements and praying secretly on the holidays. Called Maranos or Crypto Jews, they developed their own hidden culture. Like their ancestors, they re-adapted to Spanish society where acceptance was conditional at best.
Yet Judaism grew in each new circumstance. The most sacred music was created during the Inquisition. Once a year on Yom Kippur, Kol Nidre – All Vows – sings the musical withdrawal of the covenant that forced them to become Christian. Their individual survival demanded that the vow be made, but the survival of Judaism accommodated this necessity with a heroic statement that is now sung in every synagogue in the world to reaffirm commitment to Judaism—no matter what.
Once a Jew, always a Jew.
So what became of my vow to become an atheist? I found that, where Judaism obligated me to ask questions and discover my own brand of spirituality, Objectivism did not. It was rigid, dictatorial, defined on only one level of human experience. It failed to support curious minds, human kindness, and intellectual growth.
In Judaism I found ways to explore everything from orthodoxy to Humanistic Judaism in which G-d plays no part.
Where did I land? I’m still in process. But my connection with G-d is clear. I feel it every time I meditate, every time I pray, in every walk in the woods and in the eyes of each person I meet. G-d’s energy is with me and with all creation. I feel it, experience it and have no doubt that it exists.
The new book Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels, to which I contributed a chapter, offered us authors the opportunity to explore our beliefs out loud. And to listen louder to each other. It explores the essence of religious freedom that allows us to express our spirituality as a one-on-one relationship without boundaries or restrictions.
Disquiet Time has created a sacred space between all of its contributors and you, our readers.
Thanks for listening.
Ina Albert is co-author of Write Your Self Well…Journal Your Self to Health, finds that listening is her most valuable quality as she grows older. Her new children’s book, Granny Greeny Says…Listen Louder, tells us how it’s done.
During my senior year of high school I began to lose faith in Scripture.
Then my freshman year of college, I read the entire Bible — cover to cover — and that pretty much destroyed whatever confidence I had left.
The Bible, I had discovered, was full of polygamy, incest, murder, rape, genocide, adulterers, inconsistencies, impossibilities and a whole bunch of screwed-up people who never seemed to get anything right.
The more I studied the “perfect” word of God, the more I expected that doctrine would become clear and consistent, the authors exemplary and the stories contain distinct and readily discernible meanings.
When I read, I found I had more questions than answers, concerns than affirmations and was more likely to feel disrupted than tranquil.
I almost gave up entirely.
But with the help of some good teachers, I soon realized that since the Bible was full of polygamy, rape, genocide, adulterers, inconsistencies, impossibilities and a whole bunch of screwed up people who never seemed to get anything right, it was also fascinating.
I discovered that even though it seemed the doctrine wasn’t always clear and consistent, the authors weren’t exemplary and the stories didn’t always contain a distinct and easily discernible meanings, that is exactly what makes it such a rich foundational text for faith.
I found I had more questions than answers, concerns than affirmations and disruptions than tranquility and this was a good thing.
The same things that had caused my faith in scripture to crumble helped rebuild it.
I had taken an icon intended to point to the Creator and turned it into an idol that fed back to me only what I expected to see, I had mistaken the indicator for the indicated and a divinely inspired document for the Divine itself.
What I had started to see as fatal flaws and defects became the most compelling, intriguing and beautiful parts.
Here are three reasons I didn’t give up on the Good Book.
First, the character of the Divine is revealed throughout the entirety of scripture. If one verse, or story seems off, that doesn’t mean it’s ruined the whole picture. Spots that are confusing, inconsistent or impossible are transformed when read with an understanding of the rest scripture, placed within its historical context and understood in conversation with 2,000 years of tradition. Some of the most troubling passages are now some of my favorites as they illuminate deeper themes, draw us into a mystery or beautifully paint a picture of paradox.
Second, I started looking for companions in failure rather than just exemplars of success. The very real imperfections and doubts of the heroes of the Bible became a source of comfort and encouragement. Scripture doesn’t hide that many of the people lifted up in Hebrews 11 as examples of faith doubted, wrestled and screwed up regularly. Their lives were considered faithful in their entirety but if you stopped and took a point in time analysis for any of them it might not look the same. I love T.S. Elliot’s words in the Four Quartets:
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”
There is always more to learn from scholars who have devoted their lives to understanding the book. It takes some humility to acknowledge that their always might be more for us to learn or understand that could change the way we understand God and the world around us. And in another sense, it also takes humility to still come to the Scriptures with the curiosity of a child and allow familiar texts to surprise us over and over.
That’s why both contributing a chapter for the new book Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels and now reading it has been a breath of fresh air. The wide variety of takes, stories and interpretations spark your imagination as to all that is in the Bible. You don’t need to agree with every reading of scripture that I or the other authors propose for Disquiet Time to renew your sense of curiosity, wonder and humility about everything that is in that good, good book.
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with a stranger about God? It’s not really supposed to be done. Or so we’ve been told and so a lot a lot of thoughts—some dark, some brilliant, some silly, some scary—go unspoken and (perhaps more importantly) unheard.
Even among family and friends it’s too often considered impolite to talk about religion or politics, especially how we feel about God; or about what convictions we hold or no longer hold. At the deepest core of ourselves we have doubts or quandaries we find hard to express. We hedge our bet. We play it safe. We avoid stirring the pot.
Then there’s our tendency to wall ourselves into rooms of like-minded folks who see most everything the way we do, piling the stonework so high we no longer hear or see the people who differ from us.
Nowhere are these differences sharper than in our reading of Holy Scripture. Sometimes within our walled-off compounds the disagreements are yet more pronounced, battle lines are drawn and there are casualties.
Now imagine there’s a well-lit comfortable room with large armchairs, couches and rugs where all of the walled off people are now together and they’re talking, saying whatever they like about God, wrestling with the hard stuff, and at the center of their conversation is…incredibly…the Bible.
True believers and fierce doubters, honest sinners and disappointed saints, are gathered around a fire. And they’re doing something so rare in our culture it’s almost heroic: they’re actually listening to one another’s stories about what the Bible means to them or no longer means, or what they hope it might come to mean if they just keep at reading it.
The stories are by turns funny, sad, real, inspiring, tough, straight, courageous, encouraging, cutting, bright, and beautiful, and it’s at once both hard and enjoyable to listen.
Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani brought this room of storytellers and stories together in their new book, Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Faithful, the Skeptical, and a Few Scoundrels.
There’s a conviction that undergirds the book and it’s that God can handle our questions, our feelings, our honesty, our shouting, and our doubts about the Scriptures because he is that big.
There are 46 contributors. Some known (Brian McLaren, Susan Isaacs, Ian Cron) and all admired within their circle but all of them—all of them—get a grip on your heart and you don’t want to let go until they bless you.
Eugene Peterson (who penned the introduction) says the contributors have at least two things in common: they don’t have an enemy they’re writing in response to (refreshing!) and they aren’t trying to fit God into their story but seeking to discover how they and their lives fit into God’s good story.
I am grateful to have an essay in this conversation about an icon that means a great deal to me.
I hope you will take a chance on this lovely, fierce, entertaining book. With 46 voices you really do get your money’s worth.
You’ll find Disquiet Time as challenging and strangely edifying as anything you’ve read in a long time. My wide network of friends are loving it.
I’m buying a copy for the first reader who correctly identifies the writer of the following verse and the street he grew up on:
“Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady.”
I was asked to contribute a chapter to a new book called “Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels.” The volume, an edited compilation put together by Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant, takes on many of the weird texts in scripture that we either gloss over or completely ignore because they’re just too…well, weird.
Of course there are plenty of spiritual oddballs to choose from, but as soon as I got the invite, I knew I wanted to write about the book of Revelation (note that there is not “S” at the end; there is no such book as Revelationsssssssss in the Bible). Suffice it to say that my relationship with the last book in the bible is a little bit complicated. In fact, it ruined my potential career as a lifetime Baptist. A number of you may have heard bits or pieces of the story about how I got kicked out of church as a teenager, but may not know all the details.
Well kids, you can blame it all on one freaky Bible book, one intransigent teenager and a floppy-Bible-wielding youth minister. But although the experience pushed me out of church for a solid decade, it didn’t forever ruin my search for the divine. But this particular story isn’t about that. It’s about how I got one particular youth minister so red-faced and flustered that he cussed me out and almost hit me square in the noggin with the Good Book.
* * *
The book of Revelation and I have a complicated relationship. We flirted a little bit, back in high school, at least until it got me kicked out of church. I suppose I had a little something to do with it, given that I was an uppity teenager, full of questions and doubts in — of all places — a Baptist church in Texas. But mostly, it was Revelation’s fault. That’s how I remember it, anyway.
Ironically, my youth leaders at the time had invited us to pick our next Bible study topic, and I was the one who requested revelation. At the time, I was into heavy metal and horror movies, and it seemed like Revelation was the closest thing to a visual complement to the soundtrack of my life. I mean, what’s not to like? Fire, destruction, dragons… all the good stuff without any of those rules about being kind or giving all your stuff away. So I was in.
The problem was, it didn’t take long before we got into the long and growing list of all the folks in my life who were headed south for a permanent vacation, if you know what I mean. The list included all of my Jewish friends from school, who were among the most faithful and kind people I’d ever met. They invited me in to take part in their Passover Seders, their Bar Mitzvahs and their Hanukkah celebrations. They seemed to live the way their faith directed them to live, and many of them believed that Jesus was a great prophet. Heck, maybe even with a little divinity sprinkled on top.
The thing is, they hadn’t been baptized or made a (translated: the one and only) public confession of faith, so they were screwed. The whole lot of them. And then we moved on to my dad, who wasn’t a church-going kind of guy. But to me, he was my dad, my hero. So to have someone so easily write off his immortal soul was more than a little bit of a shock. When I asked what they suggested I do about it, they told me to go home and tell him to invite Jesus into his heart.
Then there was the matter of biblical interpretation. I had always taken the fantastical stories in Revelation — among many others in the Bible — to be just that: stories. I figured they had some truth or greater wisdom to offer, but I didn’t every really think they were meant to be taken literally. Of course, I hadn’t shared this little secret with my youth leaders, but this particular day, my sense of discretion was fairly clouded by my distress about the fate of most of the earth’s population, including most of my friends and loved ones. So, I figured, what did I have to lose.
“Seriously, guys,” I finally said, “you’re telling me that actual dragons are going to fly down from the sky…”
“And rivers will literally be turned to blood, complete with plasma and corpuscles and stuff?”
“How does it keep from clotting?”
“These rivers of blood. I mean they’re exposed to air, right? So how do they keep them from scabbing over?”
This went on for a good 15 or 20 minutes, by which time we had laid out on the table a number of revelations of my own, including that:
You could have heard a gnat fart by the time I was done. But damn, it sure felt good to get it all out, all the stuff I’d been sitting on for years. I’d go to this school five days a week where they challenged me to think critically and ask questions, and then I’d come to church, where I was expected to absorb and assimilate without question. For the first time, I recognized the ideological line in the proverbial sand, and not unlike Adam and Eve in the metaphorical garden, I realized I was over here, and the rest of my church folks were somewhere waaaaay over there.
“If you can’t believe every word in this book, exactly the way it’s written,” said my youth leader, his face turning six shades of crimson as he wielded his floppy King James Bible over his head, “then it doesn’t mean shit!”
And then he threw it at me. Yes, he threw the Bible and nearly hit me in the head with it. Soon thereafter, we both agreed it was probably best if I found another place to frequent on Sundays, as it was clear the whole “Christian” thing just wasn’t taking.
Thanks a lot, Revelation.
I came of age in my Christian faith during the 1980s. I grew up with faith, but in college and beyond I made it personal and active. And formulaic. Like the way everyone wore “Miami Vice” colors in the 1980s, every Christian college-age kid was encouraged to join a bible study, a church, learn how to do “friendship evangelism” and — this is the big one — have a “quiet time.”
“Quiet time” sounds kinda Quakerish, which has a hipster-antediluvian appeal, like beards and home-brewed beer and mason jars.
If only it were so.
I’m not trashing the idea itself. Having a time to be quiet is a great thing, especially when Twitter and Facebook clamor at us from our first waking moment. Just about every religious tradition has some form of getting the mind to shut the h-e-doubletoothpicks up and focus on the Almighty. Muslims kneel on their prayer mats. Hindus and yogis chant “om.” Buddhists do their (what sounds like) om-nom-nom rom-com Seiko.
Settling down is such a great idea. It truly is. Now, I was given a form to follow. Not a bad thing when you’re first starting out; you need guidance. Whatever guidance I was given, I took it and ran it into the end zone: Do the PRAY acronym: Praise, Repent, Ask Yield. Read a portion of scripture and ask what God is saying to you. Pray for the lost souls in China, Russia and New York City. I also got into the habit of journaling.
It was all good. But after a few years, I started to resent it—not only because the form became a burden, but also because all those problems of living in an imperfect world were not being solved. As young adults, we think we are going to conquer the world, solve every problem, achieve our dreams, marry our dream spouse, etc.
Problems don’t go away; they get worse. Our careers falter, we get dumped. The problems we thought faith would solve remain unsolved. So what happens if our faith is linked to those insoluble problems? We might think it was all a lie. Baby with the bathwater.
The truth I learned much later, was that the Bible is full of tragedy and insoluble problems. God did not intend us to wrap everything up with a bow, but rather dig deeper into a greater depth and reality that sings, “Even so, it is well with my soul.”
Nevertheless, one of the casualties of that hard-won realization (aside from hating to journal) was that I came to dread the Quiet Time. I had so clearly associated it with old formulas and busted expectations. How easy, then, to rush to Facebook, twitter or Buzzfeed first thing in the morning. The terrorists won.
A year ago, authors Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant told me they were putting together a book called “Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, The Faithful, and a Few Soundrels.”
They wanted anti-quiet time essays, something that wouldn’t go into a typical devotional. Would I like to contribute? I said, “H-E-Doubletoothpicks yeah!”
Being a comedienne, I always looked for humor in things. I hadn’t found humor in the bible until very recently. So the essay I contributed to the book is called “The Bible: Full of Sound, Fury, Sarcasm and Poop Jokes.” It was a lot of fun to uncover all the sarcasm and irony spoken by the Lord’s anointed.
The book is packed with intriguing essays. Here are a selection I can’t wait to read: A High Tolerance For Ambiguity, Scriptural Cherry-Picking, SLUT!, Apocalypse Later, and Why Isn’t the Link to the Divine Salvific Download Working? Contributors include Grant and Falsani of course; also Brian McLaren, Margot Starbuck, Karen Swallow Prior, Anna Broadway, Gareth Higgins, and one of my favorite humans, Steve Brown.
If you have been disquieted by the task of having a quiet time; if you’ve been disillusioned by the failure of formulas you were fed in your earlier years, guess what? You’re not alone. You’re not wrong. God didn’t intend for you to settle for the shallows. You’re invited to go deeper, find terrible and wonderful gifts, and come to that place where you can say, “even so it is well with my soul.”
Not to brag, but Disquiet Time may help you get there.
The book is available in stores, online at Barnes & Noble, Indiebound and yeah, even Amazon (Amazon is in a very public war with DQ’s publisher, Hachette, so I say fooey to Amazon). And visit the DQ website to learn more about the faithful, skeptical and scoundrel contributors.
By the Rev. Sarah Heath
I have a confession to make: the closest thing I have to a daily devotional is the a flip calendar in the staff bathroom at my office.
Yup, it is true. I am horrible at doing a daily “quiet time.” For those of you not familiar with the term “quiet time,” it is a time each day that a Christian takes to study scripture, pray, and reflect. People often use a devotional book as a tool for guiding their daily discipline.
Despite my own lackluster devotional discipline, I’m a contributing author for the just released Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels–a book of reflections on scripture. Seem crazy? I won’t after some background context…
When I was in college, several of my friends were really consistent at doing a daily “quiet time.” One friend carried around a tattered copy of The Upper Room (a daily devotional with scripture and encouragement). I would see her reading it whenever we had a bit of free time. We didn’t go to a Christian college so, you can imagine her sitting on a bench bible in one hand tattered devotional in the other was an unusual site. She was just such a “good” Christian.
I always wondered if I was even a real Christian because I never seemed to stick with a devotional past the first couple of chapters. Our college pastors would emphasize the value of having a daily devotional, but I never could do it. I even wrote in a devotional magazine for teens a couple of times. But when they sent me the free subscription for being a contributing author I couldn’t seem to make myself read it daily instead I would sit down and read it all at once.
I remember trying to make a habit of waking up early in the morning and reading a daily bit of scripture and a lesson. I would sit down to read and either nod off or find myself daydreaming. To beat this bad habit I started doing a quiet time with a journal in hand. I would end up drawing and although the time was spent with God it never fit the mold of an official “quiet time.”
One year I decided to use the book Co-dependent No More as my daily devotional, and for once it stuck. Anyone who works in the helping professions can tell you there is a certain personality that often goes along with the job. We tend to allow ourselves to become so other focused we truly become co-dependent. I found the devotional at a library’s free give away table. It seemed so enticing, a daily look at the ways we can release the need to control our lives and the lives of others. I loved that the book invited me to wrestle daily with how we are to walk with God. The daily readings, that sometimes included scripture, would give me inspiration without giving me the answers.
The reason that the other devotionals didn’t work for me was that they tried to tie up all the loose ends of the scripture passage in about a ten minute block of reading. I don’t like that in sitcoms and I definitely don’t like that when it comes to the bible. Not everything can be answered so quickly and when I read scripture I find so many more questions than answers. As I read scripture it comes alive and I end up with a page of questions.
Perhaps that is why I love reading scripture for sermon preparation. I have a chance to look through commentaries and really question why scripture says certain things, leaves out others, and is sometimes the most confusing piece of literature ever written. When I would read devotionals I always felt like I had just skimmed the surface.
So you can imagine my hesitance when a good friend Cathleen asked me to be part of her book devotional book project. She was getting a bunch of authors and generally curious humans together to write a new devotional. What hooked me was when she shared that the title would be “Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels.” That was a devotional I could get behind!
I imagine I am often walking between faithful and scoundrel. The editors, Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant, invited us to share the part of scripture that bothered us most. I wrote about a part of scripture that has always bothered me: the idea that women are to be silent. I remember the first time I read it. It didn’t make sense to me.
I knew amazing women who had so much to offer the church. Why would God silence them? Now I have spent a good amount of time in seminary wrestling with that scripture and I have come to a nice understanding of why it is there, and how it has been misused, but as a college student that would have thrown me. If that bit of scripture had popped up while I was reading my daily devotional, I would have been left with more questions than answers.
As an adult I have learned that God is often worshiped by those questions we ask. When something doesn’t sit right with us we really look into it and it causes us to become single minded and focused as we investigate a passage. I think that is why I am so excited that I was part of the Disquiet Time team. It is a book full of ideas that continue to challenge us as we look at scripture. It causes us to pause and look deeper. It doesn’t promise a nice tidy wrap up but it does promise us that we will be challenged and through that challenge we will grow.
So, I hope you will read it and that it will be the kind of devotional you are excited to engage. Considering it asks the questions of why there are so many passages about poop, angelic netherbits, and what the end times is really all about I can’t see how it wouldn’t be something that would cause you to come back again and again.
Read more here: http://revsarahheath.com/disquiet-time/
What is the best perk of blogging (besides being occasionally accused of heresy by mean people hiding behind computer keyboards and sighing heavily whenever I click over to see what Google analytics has to say about my “traffic,” that is)? Getting free books in the mail. I always love free books. A few weeks ago, I especially loved getting a big fat package with several hardcover copies of Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels (Jericho).
I turned first to my own chapter in Disquiet Time. Titled “Broken and Bent,” it is a reflection on that fact that, despite all those healings he did, Jesus never actually has a conversation unrelated to the healing that is about to or just did take place (at least not one that was recorded) with someone whose body is failing, limited, or in pain due to illness or disability. And we never see Jesus experience sickness or pain firsthand, except at the crucifixion, when his pain is significant but doesn’t happen in the context of his daily life as it does for so many of us. This absence of direct Jesus-talk to my daily experience frustrates me. It frustrates a lot of Christians I think, who go on to make up silly wise-sounding but ultimately ridiculous little theologies of suffering. You know the ones: “Everything happens for a reason,” and “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” and “God gives special children to special parents,” blah blah blah. I don’t accept such easy (or warped) theology. But I do believe Jesus has been present to me in some of the worst moments of living with my particular genetic condition. My chapter is the story of my frustration and my faith in spite of it.
After I read my own chapter, I read some others. And I was completely, utterly smitten.
I read Ian Morgan Cron’s chapter “Wherever Two or Three are Gathered,” about his uphill battle to foster an evangelical church in staid, mainline Connecticut, where I grew up and now am raising a family. I laughed with recognition upon reading this:
Affluent New Englanders classify religious enthusiasm as a social disease. They’d rather be trapped in a corner at a cocktail party with someone who wants to talk about their battle with involuntary flatulence than in the same room with a Christian talking about Jesus
By the time Cron got to how he sees the Bible—“As an artist who was raised and educated by Roman Catholics, I viewed the Scriptures more sacramentally than dialogically. For me, the Bible was the story that explained the way the world is, not the “manufacturer’s operating instructions for living,” as my [seminary] classmates called it”—I was hooked.
Cron goes on to tell a story about hope and love and new life being made real—really real—right in his fledgling little church that met in a smelly middle school auditorium with various drama sets as backdrop. What Cron knows in light of this experience is that “the entire Bible could be reduced to one idea: God is in the resurrection business…[I]f you don’t know that we live in a multichance universe created by a God who loves us, who weeps for us, and who uses his people to call each other out from their tombs, then you don’t know anything about the Bible.”
There is tremendous relief in finding people who speak one’s own language, especially when it’s the language of something as deep and difficult and potentially life changing as faith.
I haven’t read all of the Disquiet Time chapters yet (I had to force myself to put it down to finish this post). But every chapter I’ve read thus far, by people who approach faith from all sorts of backgrounds and with all sorts of questions, has left me with that sense of fresh understanding—of revelation, really—that I usually get from reading literature, not theology.
Karen Swallow Prior writes about how often poop shows up in the Bible (really, there’s a lot of poop!), and what this tells us about ourselves and God.
Katherine Willis Pershey writes about how all those horrific visions of the end times that Jesus trots out now and then, just when we’re tempted to see him solely as a mild-mannered nice guy, aren’t really about fear. They’re about hope. When the end comes, whatever that is and whatever it means, “the pain of the past can be released…we ourselves will be released.”
David Vanderveen writes about meeting God’s spirit “hovering over the waters,” (Genesis 1:2). Or rather, he meets God in the water, specifically by taking his surfboard and giving himself over to the awesome, mighty, potentially destructive power of big waves. He tells stories about surfing and sailboarding with his brothers as a teenager. And as he tells these stories, amid all that quivering teenage-boy energy, muscle, and daring, Vanderveen talks of the God he wrestles with in the waters as “she.”
Dale Hanson Bourke writes about how a limited understanding of what it means that the Bible is “inspired” was broken open by, of all things, her obsessive concern with proper punctuation.
Rachel Stone digs into the many birth metaphors in the Bible, taking those metaphors back from centuries of male-dominated theology that is so squeamish about the bloody, groaning reality of human birth that Jesus’s birth was once described as a bloodless blinding light, which disappeared to reveal—voila!—a newborn baby! The memory of childbirth pain, she writes, “forces me to remember the hopeful promise that even the profoundest suffering can somehow bring forth something new, something unexpected, something glorious.”
I could go on.
The Bible is not a tool to bring others around to our way of seeing things, or a weapon with which to accuse others of heresy. The Bible is not a history book, nor does it tell us everything there is to know about God. The creator of the universe cannot be contained in a book, even a holy, inspired book. The Bible, at least as this little band of skeptical, faithful, scoundrel-ish souls sees it, is an invitation. An invitation to contemplate who we are, as individuals, communities, and as a species. An invitation to contemplate and encounter what is holy and sacred, which is found smack in the middle of the mundane, the ordinary, and the difficult as often (even more often, I think) as it is found in the strange, the extraordinary, and the transcendent.
In the foreword to Disquiet Time, Eugene Peterson says that, “Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.” Again, invitations. To come as we are. To dig and question and ponder without fear of rebuke or punishment from those who believe they know better than anyone else what, exactly, the Bible means to say in every instance. Peterson writes, “The stories [in Disquiet Time] all take the Bible seriously, and, like Jacob at the river Jabbok, they take it seriously enough to wrestle with its meaning in the context of their own lives. More often than not, also like Jacob, they leave the river alive and safe, but “limping.”
As someone who walks through life with a literal limp, I loved Peterson’s analogy. I have learned through my own struggles with physical pain and limitation that when we are unafraid to ask the questions that arise from life’s hardest moments—moments well represented in the Bible—we find companionship and grace, even if we don’t always find the ultimate relief, healing, and complete answers we seek, even if we are still left limping after encountering something holy, wise, and good. The encounter in itself is a good thing. As the Disquiet Time editors, Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani, assert in their introduction (and in the short video I’ve posted below), “When it comes to the greatest concerns, biggest questions, and gravest doubts about the Bible, you have the right and the freedom to voice them. God can take it. Really. We promise.”
I hope you’ll take up the invitation issued by the stories and reflections in Disquiet Time, which each, in their own way, reflect the Bible’s invitation to seek wisdom and understanding in its pages, even knowing that we won’t always find clear answers to the conundrums, confusions, and catastrophes of human life.