Guest Post: Rachel Marie Stone’s “Don’t Bother Me Kids, I’m Having My Disquiet Time”

I was nurtured in a Christian tradition that encouraged the daily practice of what was called a “quiet time.” This involved sitting down — preferably early in the morning — reading some of the Bible, reflecting on it, and praying.

All good things, all good things.

For me, the experience of “the quiet time” was wrapped in conflict and confusion for some simple reasons.

You were supposed to get spiritual inspiration from whatever it was you were reading.

And because I was a devotee of those One Year Bibles — where you read a section of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, a selection from either Psalms or Proverbs, and a section of the New Testament every day, so that every year you read through the whole Bible — it was really quite often a stretch to find something spiritual and ‘inspirational,’ especially when I had no idea what I was reading or why, for that matter, it was even in the Bible. Such as the Song of Songs. Or the slaughter of the Canaanites. Or those interminable lists of who does what and who carries what and what seemingly arbitrary thing renders a person unclean for however long a period of time.

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Don’t read me wrong: I think there was something of value in all of that. 

Even today, when I read the Bible, there is a lot I don’t understand and that doesn’t seem particularly edifying or inspirational or whatever. But it seems valuable to wrestle with what is actually in there, even if the result is less “quiet time” and more, well, disquiet time. The Bible is an ancient text, a demanding text. It is not so easily condensed into uniformly palatable, reassuring thoughts to make your day happier.

Guest Post: Amy Julia Becker

Released in late October, Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels is the brainchild of Jennifer Grant (a fellow contributor to her.meneutics) and Cathleen Falsani (an award-winning religion writer and journalist) who co-edited the book.

Between them, they have written several books, and the two are close friends. They asked their pastors, friends, and colleagues to write about the verse in the Bible they find most confounding, or most entertaining, or most comforting and to explore the ways they continue to wrangle with, or connect to, a part of Scripture. I was grateful for the opportunity to contribute to Disquiet Time and grateful for the chance to ask Jen and Cathleen some questions about this project:

AJ: Disquiet Time is a collection of essays by more than forty writers. What was it like to curate these chapters?

JG: Humbling, really. We were both surprised by how vulnerable our contributors were. Many of them, even though several are Biblical scholars and others are members of the clergy, have never been asked what part of Scripture has most affected them personally—either in their early formation as children or as adults. Reading their heartfelt and candid chapters was a privilege.

AJ: Eugene Peterson wrote the foreword to the book. Did it take any persuading for him to contribute to this decidedly not PG-rated compilation?

CF: No, not at all.

He begins the foreword quoting something he wrote years ago. “Stories are verbal acts of hospitality,” he said. We both love that, and we both feel very grateful to our generous writers.

In his foreword, Peterson goes on:

This gathering of stories…is fresh confirmation of that notion. The stories all have two things in common. They 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.

Read the interview in its entirety on AJ’s blog, Thin Spaces, HERE.

Guest Post: Anna Broadway’s Company for the Desert

Anna Broadway

Anna Broadway

When my biggest crisis of faith (to date) began, it felt like I had not just lost the main road, but gotten so lost I wasn’t even standing on a trail of any kind — just marooned somewhere in an unknown, unmapped, sprawling stretch of wilderness.

Where was civilization? How could I get back?

At 21, I still thought that most of life’s disasters could be prevented by forming adequate plans in advance. On account of this, I’d begun making up and refining my future courtship story in childhood, whispering new installments to myself in the dark until my parents finally shushed me for the night. (I didn’t know all that rehearsing would leave me still single at 36.)

Disquiet Time event in Berkeley, Nov. 8! Join me, the editors and other contributors Nov. 8 at the American Baptist Seminary of the West, 7 to 9 p.m. Learn more

Disquiet Time event in Berkeley, Nov. 8! Join me, the editors and other contributors Nov. 8 at the American Baptist Seminary of the West, 7 to 9 p.m. Learn more

By comparison, I spent far less time imagining the future state of my relationship with God, but I had vague expectations that things with God would gradually but steadily improve as life continued.

When big, honest, questions about God, the Bible and Christian faith began to surface — and refused to subside either quickly or without answer — I freaked out. Was this the start of my spiritual divorce, a rift that would not just sever me from God, but deeply disappoint all the loved ones who had helped rear me in faith?

CONTINUE READING ANNA’S POST HERE.

Guest Post: Gareth Higgins’ (Dis)Quiet Time

Gareth Higgins

Gareth Higgins

My glorious friend Cathleen Falsani has just co-edited a collection of writing by folk who might identify or be identified by others as ‘misfits,’ reflecting on their relationship with the Bible, a text that I was immersed in, growing up in northern Ireland, got so used to that I can’t imagine a time when I wasn’t thinking about, and for me defines the challenge of having to wrestle as human beings with the fact that most glasses are both half empty and half full, life is lived in the in-between spaces, and the point is learning to love it.

I love the poetic explorations of Scripture, and I sometimes feel threatened by what some of us have done with it. The book is called DISQUIET TIME: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels, and you can find out more about its mystery and wonder HERE.

I’m happy to be counted among its wandering contributors, and here’s the opening of my essay in the book, which is about how my passport was stolen when I visited Golgotha.

My earliest memories are colonized by celluloid dreams – flying over spectacular lit-up Manhattan with that guy who wore red briefs over his blue tights, or with Mickey Mouse magicking an accidental flood into an angry sorceror’s parlor, or bicycling over the moon.  We experience movies the way we remember things – Norman Mailer once wrote that the resemblance of cinema to the memory of death is one of the least theorized yet most obvious perspectives through which to view the art.  Our memories of the dead are pictures we keep in the paradoxically ever-deepening tunnel, yet ever-expanding kaleidoscope of our minds; there’s not much difference between a photograph of Harrison Ford holding a sword on a rope bridge in India and a memory of a person we love whose body is now mingling with the dust of earth.  So when I’m remembering my childhood, I’m remembering something that is, in one very real sense, dead.  When I’m remembering movies, I’m remembering something that in a very real sense died when the final print emerged from the dark room.  When I’m remembering dead people, I feel like I’m at the movies.

What, you may ask, and I wouldn’t blame you, has this to do with the collection of writings, authorship or coauthorship uncertain (and depending on the tradition, we don’t even agree on what those writings are), that we who may be a little lower than the angels usually simplify to being called ‘the Bible’?  Well, it’s like that too.  My youth was formed in the crucible of northern Irish civil strife and angry, divisive religion; whose light side included more than a healthy dose of possibly randomly selected (certainly not all) and selectively interpreted biblical stories as the only foundation for living. I heard Daniel in the Lions’ Den and David & Goliath and No Room at the Inn and Jesus on a Donkey and Crucify him! Crucify him! so often that it was hard to distinguish between those tales and those of Elliott & ET, the Goonies & the treasure map, or Marty McFly & the DeLorean.  So while there’s a lot of beef to be had with the way scripture has been used to divide and conquer, or how religious institutions have corroded the difference between the spirit and the law to the point where both are emptied of meaning, or of how my  – and your – very personhood has been subject to death-dealing social practices justified by an appeal to either testament, and entrenched by the unarguable-with ‘all scripture is God-breathed’, such analysis or angst or alternativizing is not my focus here.  What I want – or sometimes think I want – is to be able to return to a time when I didn’t ‘know’ what the Bible said.  I’d like to experience it as if it wasn’t the undergirding text of the imperialistic culture into which I was born, whose privileges I inherit, and whose sins I cannot deny.  I wish bad interpretations of the text had not been woven into a discordant symphony of autobiographical background music.  I’d like some distance.  In short, I’d like to remember the Bible as if it were not a movie.

If you’d like to read the rest of this, I encourage you to support the independent writing found in DISQUIET TIME.  Thanks!

Read Gareth’s original post HERE.

Guest Post: Steve Beard on Wrestling Disquietly with the Bible

Steve Beard of Thunderstruck

Steve Beard of Thunderstruck

Over at Thuderstruck.org, Steve Beard writes a compelling review of Disquiet Time, one that we wanted to share with you.

Beard writes in part:

With nearly 50 different contributors, this isn’t an authoritative text on biblical interpretation. Instead, it is more like a funky theological jam session – no sheet music, brother riffing off of sister, guitar solos, tooting of the horns, banging of the drums, thumping of the bass – testifying about both estrangement and enduring love for the Bible.

As I delved into the book, faces popped into my mind of people in my life who could relate to certain chapters. My son and nephews would howl at the offbeat but serious treatment of the use of “dung” in the Scripture. My mom would probably choose to skip over that chapter.

In all honesty, there is much beauty and brokenness and vulnerability in Disquiet Time. The easy endeavor would be to collect testimonies of those who’ve left the faith because of disillusionment with the Bible, hypocrisy at church, and unanswered prayers from an invisible God who is often difficult to understand. Instead, Disquiet Time lassoed up writers in the throes of wrestling with the challenges that thoughtful faith provokes. Many of them lay out their struggles with great honesty.

Read the full text of Beard’s review HERE.

Guest Post: Katherine Willis Pershey on Celebrating Disquiet Time (and Ellen Painter Dollar)

Katherine Willis Pershey

Katherine Willis Pershey

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.

Disquiet Time contributing authors at Prairie Path Books in Wheaton, Ill., Monday Oct. 27, 2014. Front row (L-R): Tracey Bianchi, Caryn Rivadeneira, Katherine Willis Pershey, Prof. David Fletcher, Anthony Platipodis. Back row (L-R): Kenneth Tanner, Cathleen Falsani, and Jennifer Grant.

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.

Read Katherine’s original post and learn more about her writing HERE.

Guest Post: Tim King on Curiosity, Humility, and Disquiet Time

Tim King. Photo via Sojo.net

Tim King. Photo via Sojo.net

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.

Third, I learned some more humility. That verse from T.S. Elliot ends,cover

“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.

Guest Post: The Rev. Kenneth “Kenny Wayne” Tanner Asks, Have You Had Your Disquiet Time With The Lord Today?

Christ Pantocrator - ancient icon of Jesus Christ from the Monastery of St Catherine, Sinai.

Christ Pantocrator – ancient icon of Jesus Christ from the Monastery of St Catherine, Sinai.

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.

coverJennifer 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.

The book can be ordered at Barnes & Noble and many other online retailers and independent booksellers. (Visit IndieBound.org to find the independent bookstore nearest you.)

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.”

Read more HERE

Guest Post: Christian Piatt on How Revelation Ruined (And Saved) His Life

PIATT

Christian Piatt

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.

Read on…

* * *

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.

Ummm, yeah.

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…”

“Yes.”

“And rivers will literally be turned to blood, complete with plasma and corpuscles and stuff?”

“Yep.”

“How does it keep from clotting?”

“Excuse me?”

“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:

  • I didn’t believe the earth was 5,000 years old;
  • I didn’t buy the conspiracy theory that scientists secretly manufactured the fossil record to accommodate their nefarious anti-God agenda;
  • I thought their God was a real jerk, and I wasn’t particularly interested in spending eternity with a brazen sadist;
  • Nonetheless, I thought they were wrong, and that God’s love was likely big enough to offer grace to (gasp) Jews and (what?!?!) maybe even atheists, and;
  • Any God who would set his son up to be slaughtered to satisfy some contract with the same people who killed him was a pretty crappy dad, by all accounts.

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.

Read Christian’s original post on his Patheos blog or on Huffington Post