Limping through ScriptureAn interview with Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani about Disquiet Time
Limping through Scripture
Image: Patrick Feller/flickr

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.

AJ: In what ways do you feel like you are “limping” after engaging with Scripture?

JG: Well, in my chapter, I wrote about the passage in Scripture that has most haunted me, especially when I was a child and adolescent. These are the verses in Exodus (and elsewhere) that declare that the “sins of the fathers will be passed down on the children for generations.” That troubled me, seemed so fatalistic, as I was growing up. I definitely limped through those words for many years.

The Bible leaves me limping in other ways, too—when I come into real awareness of my own fallenness and of God’s call to love my neighbor as myself. How many times a day do I fail to do that, whether locally or globally? It’s an impossible task, but obviously a mandate.

CF: It’s important to note that not all of the chapters are about Biblical passages that leave readers limping. A number of our writers delved into the joy, peace, and meaning they find in Holy Writ.

AJ: Did you learn anything new about the Bible by working on this book?

CF: We both feel like we dug into the Bible in new ways. We saw, firsthand, how the same verses that some people might use as “clobber Scriptures” to throw at others in an argument can have very different meaning and uses for other readers.

JG: Right. To one person, a verse can be a weapon for casting judgment on another person. To another, the very same verse can be a balm.

AJ: Tell me, both of you, what is your favorite chapter (other than mine or your own)?

JG: It’s hard to choose a favorite, of course. What first comes to mind is either Karen Swallow Prior’s “The Bible: It’s Full of Crap,” a chapter that has nothing to do with her view on inerrancy, but everything to do with the sheer amount of instructions and mentions of fecal matter that show up in the Scriptures. Another one I love is Father Victor Conrado’s “The Good Shepherd.” Fr. Victor is one of the priests at my church. He writes,

When you think about it, our whole lives are based on the idea that there is an acceptable percentage of failure. We send our young people to war knowing that not all of them will come back home. We’re happy when the employment rate is below 5 percent. We don’t expect everyone to be able to keep a job. Marriages begin, but we know some will end. There is a percentage of failure. We accept it. So as far as we’re concerned, losing only one sheep out of a hundred is not so bad. You might even say it’s impressive. But with God, every sheep counts.

AJ: What about you Cathleen?

CF: I’m with Jen—there is no way to choose one over the others. Still, one that first came to mind is Jack Heaslip’s chapter. His is such a joyful, grace-filled contribution. Near the end, he writes,

Grace allows one to welcome and interact with, rather than confront, difference, variety, surprise.

Grace allows us to welcome surprise! Isn’t that brilliant?

JG/CF: We have a question for you: What was it like to write your chapter? Had you ever felt invited to interact with Scripture in that way?

AJ: Honestly, I usually don’t enjoy writing for compilations, but this chapter was a gift to write. I felt such freedom to express my own concerns about how I read Scripture, the ping-ponging I’ve done between more “conservative” and “liberal” approaches to it, and the beginnings of a resolution in receiving the Word as a blessing and source of conviction and guide in my everyday life.

AJ: On a lighter note, do you keep a secret spreadsheet that reveals which contributors are skeptical, which faithful, and who are the scoundrels?

JG: No! But that’s part of the fun of the book. Readers can try to decide for themselves. No, actually, the truth is that at different moments in our faith journeys, every believer we know has fallen squarely and comfortably into all three of these spots.

CF: But that’s what Disquiet Time is about – the fact that we can raise questions, point out discrepancies or talk about what confounds us – and God can take it.

Read more about Disquiet Time at disquiettime.com.

Find Jennifer Grant online at jennifergrant.com.

Find Cathleen Falsani online at cathleenfalsani.com.

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