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: 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: 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

Guest Post: Susan Isaacs’ Disquiet Time

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.

qt

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.

Funny-men-laughing-cartoon-you-want-it-when

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.

DQ

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.

 Read Susan’s original post on her blog HERE.