on February 22, 2012
So many memoirs about faith are surprisingly materialistic. Author is raised as a believer; X happens; author looses faith and plunges into horrible life of secularism. Y happens and author regains faith and becomes fully functioning member of society. She rides off into a doubtless sunset. In those memoirs, there is no room given to the gray area between faith and secularism, no mention to how the author dealt with doubts in the mind and griefs of the heart.
If those books are external memoirs (everything is on the surface), then Faith and Other Flat Tires is an internal memoir. It is a book by a bright, introspective woman who finds problems with religion in all manner of ways. An Eric Clapton concert is as likely to raise tough theological questions as does having to bury a childhood friend. Dilley's memoirs outline how she grew up a missionary kid and then became a 'melancholy Christian' before leaving the church. She eventually found that the same questions that drove her away from God ended up driving her back to faith once again. She returns to God hesitantly, with battle wounds and hope and also - get this - without all the answers.
As a memoir, this book is funny and honest. Dilley doesn't paint herself as a victim or a saint. She's awkward at times, painfully aware of her flaws and she bravely lays her selfish moments and bad choices along with her honesty and courage. She acknowledges that her tale is not a 'my life was the worst life ever' story. Rather, it's a tale of how a person can loose faith while still maintaining a 4.0 - how even the seemingly 'good' kids can find themselves stomping out of the church and slamming the doors behind them (literally) because their questions are not being answered.
As a spiritual book, Faith and other Flat Tires walks a very different line than others spiritual books I've read. (Thank God.) For one thing, it's not at all preachy. For another, it's wicked smart. Dilley knows her stuff - her theology, her church history, her convictions about social justice. When she takes a swing at the church, she's got the intellectual and emotional equivalent of a heavyweight behind her fists. This is a woman who has heard all the "good Christian answers" and yet can't reconcile that with the suffering she's seen in the world and the loneliness she's felt in her own heart. Dilley paints a clear picture of loss and bewilderment, of standing inside a church and a faith that feels like it's crumbling.
Christians who don't want to ask hard questions about their faith will likely be troubled by this book. It doesn't hold back. So also, people who want to walk away from the church forever may take issue with Dilley's refusal to settle for easy secular answers as well as easy religious ones. But for folks who are seeking for Truth with a capital 'T,' yet feel like they're out of place among the doughnuts-and-coffee-and-small-talk-after-church crowd, this book will come as a welcome read. I kept thinking, 'Man, I wish I'd been able to read this as a teenager.' At that time, the dichotomy of perfect Christian girl and 'other' seemed so stark in my mind.
Finally, as a work of non-fiction, this book is a delight to read. Dilley is a fantastic writer, and her flowing, conversational style deftly draws the reader from one striking metaphor to a vivid scene from her unusual life to a heady theological point, and then back again. The writing is funny, earthy, and philosophical in turn - sometimes all at the same time. The only complaint I could level at the book is that the references to Pilgrim's Progress that cropped up now and again felt strained to me. Maybe that's because I was forced to read that book as a kid and hated it. Dilley's simple, honest style sometimes seemed like it broke stride to side-step Bunyan's overwrought metaphors. This was a small enough thing not to detract from the point of the book, but I didn't care to hear about Bunyan's fictional journey when Dilley's real journey was going on.
SUMMARY: To keep with the car metaphor laid out in the book, Faith and Other Flat Tires is not a religious tract you found stuck under your windshield. Instead, it is like sitting in the passenger seat with a dear friend, driving through her life, discussing questions about God as you head down the road together.
on February 20, 2012
Andrea Dilley gives a rich, honest and often funny account of her personal and spiritual journey. It is not a simple story of leaving and returning to faith, and as read I wondered what would have happened if the Prodigal Son had stayed home. There never would have been broken relationship with the father or the baggage of his life of sin, but he could have stayed and ended up worse than a starving pig farmer. He could have ended up even worse than his older brother. He could have simply gone into his room and tuned out.
This is no ordinary Prodigal Son story, and apathy towards God was never an option for Andrea. She was a missionary kid who grew up in a loving home and church community, and yet from her early teens she was deeply disturbed with the brokenness of the world, the relevance of church, and the seeming absence of God in the midst of the mess. Of course, taking God and the mess seriously should ideally happen within the church community, but he often allows us to leave home without letting us get too far away from him. We discover that our answers can only be found at home, as we see our Father there from a distance, holding the robe, ring and pair of shoes.
on August 17, 2012
Andrea Palpant's Faith and Other Flat Tires is a personal memoir about the doubts about God she developed as a missionary child in Africa. There were a lot of things I liked about this book. For example the writing was incredible. Being a writing instructor myself, I always get a little giddy when I come across a Christian book that actually shows some knowledge of the craft. Palpant's background in Communications definitely shines in this book and makes it an enjoyable read.
Her story is also fairly typical of God's grandchildren, a.k.a. kids who grew up with true believing parents that wanted nothing more than to serve God with all their heart. These kids usually don't really get their parents or the God they serve but have a hard time finding any contentment in the world. Until they really give their lives to God and have their own relationship with them, they also can't find contentment in the church, so they end up thrown all over the place in their beliefs.
Been there, done that.
The major drawback of the book is that she structures it around John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and the journey that Christian takes, but she definitely focuses more on Christian's pratfalls, then on some of the elements of Bunyan's metaphor that exemplify God's part in our walk like Help, Goodwill, Faithful, Hopeful, The Shining Ones, the Lord of the Hill, etc.
The lack of these characters' traits shows through in Palpant's memoir as well. Even in the grand climax where she returns to church, she doesn't necessarily do it because she finds much hope there, but just because it's better than the other options. There's no relationship with Jesus, no revelation of God in her life, just a meandering fall back into church community. It's a lot like Ignorance stumbling up to the City on the Hill in Pilgrim's Progress. It doesn't go well for him.
So I'm torn. I really liked the book, but in the end I'm not sure where Palpant stands when it comes to faith. Did she decide to follow Jesus or not? I hope that I'm just missing something and the answer to that question is "yes". But I certainly wouldn't recommend the book to anyone struggling with their faith. It's just as likely to turn them away from God, as turn them back to Him. On the other hand, she paints a really good picture of the struggle of faith that every child who grows up in it will undoubtedly walk.
And it's well-written. Let's not forget that.
Ultimately, I'm on the fence with this one. I liked it, and I didn't like. I'd recommend it, but I'd also not recommend it. I guess you could say that Palpant's confusion about how she feels about faith has left me feeling confused about how I feel about her book, which I'm sure leaves the reader confused about this review. And if you're wondering if this is the book for you, all I can say is `maybe'.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own. This review was originally published on Manifest Blog.
on March 18, 2012
Faith and Other Flat Tires is exactly the kind of book Christians and ex-Christians should read. Andrea Palpant Dilley tells the personal story of overcoming the secular/sacred divide and learning to live her faith without hiding her doubts. One of the earlier reviews on this site decried this book as a "downer" and that Dilley is "stuck...just treading water." Nothing could be further from the truth! Dilley refuses to give the triumphalist ending that so many Christian books demand, yet there is a solidity to her commitment that shows her desire to honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity. For the Christian, Dilley asks for an honesty and shows a path to belief that does not paper-over problems or resort to simple answers. For the ex-Christian, she shows a way back to faith that does not ask someone to pretend they are something they are not. This is what grace is all about, and this book shows it clearly.
One of the paradoxes about a book like this is that in telling a story that is very specific and very personal, Dilley has actually made it more inviting and universal. There were so many places where I thought "oh, I have felt that exact same thing!" even though my college and post-college experience was decades ago and miles away. Dilley has managed to write something that is both very personal yet speaks to a common experience that most Christians (at least if they are honest with themselves) have also faced. One of the things I especially appreciated is that she never put down or demeaned what she was or what other people are...the sort of "I used to think this way, but now I am so much more enlightened" that one frequently finds in this genre. Instead, Dilley tells her story as one pilgrim who has gone along a path and wants to share it with others who may cover some of the same landscape. An amazing first book...I hope there are many more to come!
I have read three books in the past year about a person raised a Christian, who then began asking tough questions and doubting their faith. All 3 books have been wrote by young women. The first two, "Evolving in Monkey Town" and "Raised Right" were excellent but this third one "Faith and other flat tires" may be the most satisfying of all as the author comes full circle. Andrea not only begins to have doubts, she actually drifts quite a long ways from her Christianity. There are many moments in the her journey that became symbolic. When she scraps off the Ichthus fish off her bumper sticker, she writes that she was not rejecting Jesus but the sort of Christianity that produced things like wearing your faith on a bumper sticker. That thinking really impressed me. Her journey was not only about asking tough questions but being weary and embarassed of some of the people who share the same beliefs as ourselves. If you are the kind of person like Andrea and me who cringe when at a restaurant with Christians, someone says a long winded prayer over the meal while the poor waitress stands awkwardly by waiting to deliver the ketchup bottle, then her book is for you.
I am neither a Christian nor a person in a religious crisis, but I found this to be a honest, thought provoking memoir that anyone can relate to. The part about growing up in Kenya and transitioning to the USA was interesting on a cultural level. I thought the incident of having a religious crisis initiated by watching a concert on tv was very real. I liked that it never felt preachy. I think there is a lot of room here for a seeker to ask questions, accept or reject the authors conclusions and come away with different opinions than he or she started with. It's hard to write a book about the search for truth, God or meaning without ending in a position where the author is exalted and the reader is just a peon who could only wish for such wisdom, but this book succeeds. It's human, and I find that very attractive.
on May 2, 2012
Ms. Dilley provides what I would describe as an honest assessment of her experiences with faith. As the daughter of Christian missionary parents, she wrestles with life, faith, and meaning in a grounded way. She asks the questions many Christ-followers have thought but were afraid to ask. I found myself laughing out loud at the clarity with which she put my questions on paper and nodding my head in solidarity with her search. If you want a good read that is not beyond the reach of anyone because of hermaneutics or doctrine, this is the perfect choice.
on April 26, 2012
If you are going to spend time reading a book this week, read this one. As a skeptic and a non-christian who's all too familiar with the stereotypical faith memoir format , I was initially very hesitant to crack this book open. It was nothing like I expected- in the best possible way.
Faith and Other Flat Tires serves not as a series of quick answers to hard questions or a touchy-feely argument for blind faith, but as a memoir to offer solidarity in the ongoing struggle of the human condition. Andrea Palpant Dilley's struggle is written with brutal honesty without ever seeming caricature or distanced. Reading this book felt like sitting and hashing out the meaning of life with a close friend. She's hilarious, vulnerable and fearless in her questioning. From the first chapter, it's obvious that this is a real person, with a real struggle who's not trying to sell you a sugar coated worldview.
With memoirs I often feel like the degree of resonance between my personality and the author's determines how much I will like the book, but the force of the story was in the resonating description of her internal struggles. I've recommended this book to a handful of friends with varying philosophical and religious backgrounds, but so many have finished having found solace in its description of the search, the longing for God, and the feeling of space left by doubt.
While reading, I kept waiting for the decisive "ah hah" event that would usher the author back into the church or the easy-way-out decision to wholly embrace God and be peachy keen afterwards. I can't tell you how relieved (and moved) I was when that moment never came. Like talking with a friend, the subtle grace of this book really lies the honesty of the exchange and the power of questions unanswered. After reading so much and searching so hard, talking to so many people and thinking myself in circles about faith, experiencing someone else's struggle and knowing that they continue to grapple with the same questions gave me peace in a significant way.
Dilley manages to treat some of our most painful, complicated human emotions with clarity and fairness. The journey is straightforward and gritty, but beautifully written. Parts of this story wore me out, others reminded me to breathe. Overall, the book reinforced the fact that I have a lot of growing to do and more ground to stand on than I think. I can stand a little taller knowing that there are other pilgrims straddling the line between faith and disbelief and that their doubt and searching, as well as my own, can have significance in and of themselves. A profoundly good read that will definitely stick with you. I recommend it to anyone!
on August 24, 2014
Reviewing "Faith & Other Flat Tires" in 2014, I won't try to add much more commentary on Andrea Palpont Dilley's very readable, attention-holding, spiritual journey. Rather, I will comment on the implications of her trek -- a faith-in, faith-out, faith-reborn-to-a-higher-level ambulation through a young and hip Pacific Northwest/West Coast milieu at the turn of the millennium.
Born between Generation X and Generation Y (1978), Dilley today is 36, the mother of two young children. She is the wife of Stephen Dilley, a rising professor of philosophy whose teaching and publications challenge the implications of neo-Darwinian evolutionary worldviews. Dilley's brother Nathan J. Palpant, PhD, is also part of the mix; he is a research scientist specializing in stem cell and regenerative medicine, and has collaborated with Dilley's husband, Stephen, in a book on bioethics and Christianity. Dilley herself recently reviewed Megan Hustad's 2014 "More Than Conquerors: A Memoir of Lost Arguments" in the Christianity Today's Books & Culture, a leading conservative Evangelical journal. Aptly matched to MTC, she judiciously took the measure of Hustad, her fellow "3rd culture" (the vexed identity realm of missionary children who return to the US from extended stays in the field) refugee with an insightful analyses that for me exceeded those found in F&OFT. In her critique of MTC, it appears Dilley has transcended her melancholic diminishment-of-faith-years as a 20-something.
F&OFT joins the current "re-finding God" genre in which the memoirist takes some lonely sojourns down the alleys of spiritual darkness and malaise, and then undergoes insight/enlightenment/repentance, re-connecting with God in a graced conclusion. (Reflecting a postmodern sensibility, the more recent examples of this genre tend to be cautiously graced; so is Dilley's "conclusion" in F&OFT.) "Re-finding God" is a recurring staple within Evangelicalism, a sort of reliving of the parable of the Prodigal Son. In F&OFT, Mrs. Dilley's "bad girl" cred had its "baptism" when she was an English major who in earnest pushes against the confines of Evangelical culture. In her breakout she is encouraged by the hipster rebel "Damon Lucas" (acting as Dilley's Virgil in touring her through secular culture). Typically, the "re-finding God" genre wraps up with the errant sojourner becoming wiser and ready for spiritual renewal, the soul-corroding behaviors put solidly in the rear view mirror. In Dilley's case, the melancholic interregnum was interrupted when she met an exceptional Christian man (with a challenging intellect), fell in love, got married, moved to Texas and had kids. Such experiences force the transition to Christian adulthood.
For me, F&OFT, in addition to chronicling Dilley's spiritual struggles and judiciously veiled youthful misadventures, revealed the contradictions and simplistic assumptions of late 20th century evangelicalism. The earnest faith legacy of her parents (who as medical missionaries truly "walked the walk") as portrayed by Dilley seemed unequal to a rising and erosive secularism and the seductions of a media-oriented youth culture at the millennium, the time of her malaise. The propositional faith of the momentary accepting Jesus as your Savior (as she did as a child in the African mission field) -- without some years of hard reckoning with WHO Jesus is for YOU, WHAT he is accomplishing in this world and WHAT he wants of YOU -- makes that childhood decision an abstraction. And it becomes a dimming abstraction as one enters early adulthood where the questions about God's goodness inevitably arise. Meanwhile, the culture around you is a real experience -- for good and ill. (Further, secular culture has no interest in encouraging a spiritual wrestling that may result in a challenge to the individualistic assumptions of that culture. Mirroring this, Dilley asks on p. 107, "what did Jesus have to do with literature, film and Friday?" Note the past tense "DID" instead of the present DOES.) The frequent conclusion is that your grade school faith decision is no longer abreast of your present life, leading to a spiritual crisis.
So what were the whip-smart, inquisitive Andrea Palpont's God issues? It turns out they were no different from those of any thoughtful Christian - mine or yours, young or old: "Why does God seem so distant? Why do people suffer? Why does the church appear dysfunctional," etc.?
These are of course the queries of a young person whose ideals are out of alignment with her perceived reality. And recalling a period of "spiritual individuation," she was prompted to rhetorically reflect: "And how else do you talk about faith but in terms of doubt and disappointment?" Was that ALL there was to Dilley's faith?
Allow me to respond: Early on, Christian parents and Christian educators need to be forthright and proactive with their children about God's sacrificial love for us in Jesus (hey, HE knew disappointment!!), and that this vulnerable yet "perfect love" is WHAT we are called to increasingly give ourselves to (act on) throughout the stages of our lives. Further, we do this in a world that is shot through with evil, injustice and violence. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, Jesus knew how to live in the presence of his enemies and stay faithful. Committed Christians in Africa know this well.
Continuing, Christians need to get that "accepting Jesus" at one moment in time is NOT a commitment to be a disciple to Jesus. It is a good intentioned proposition that you claim, and at best it only stands you on the threshold of the life of faith ahead of you; and THAT life Jesus defines as loving the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul and mind, i.e. giving everything of yourself to God. It is nothing else.
For the saving of His beloved humanity, God asked everything of Jesus in Gesthemene, and Jesus was obedient. To be a disciple of Jesus - endeavoring to change and "conquer the world" with profound agape love - means our own deepening obedience, which grows our Christ-likeness over the years. This also means whether in happiness or suffering - and stages in between, we gradually come to know joy (contentment) because we have "put on Christ" (per St. Paul --- and have NOT "taken him off" Monday thru Saturday!). As Irenaeus of Lyons rightly opined: "Christians are made, not born." As we are daily being made, we EXPERIENCE Christianity as life itself, in its abasements and aboundings; its joys and sorrows. This means that when doubt comes, we have already built a spiritual framework for engaging it. (Dilley is on the cusp of belatedly discovering this at the close of F&OFT, but with a thin framework to aid her.)
With Jesus-obedience and -commitment as the faith norm, I wonder if Dilley's parents helped form the faith of her and her siblings in just such a manner. Did the family's church, Spokane's Knox Presbyterian, ask and aid this kind of commitment from its members? Does Dilley's alma mater, Whitworth University, offer a challenging "Christian Formation" program in its liberal arts curriculum? Rhetorical questions, I admit.
I found the greatest omission in "F&OFT" is any real engagement with Jesus. The second omission is like the first: no chewing on, meditating or dueling with Scripture. Dilley's NIV mostly stayed shelved and shut during her disillusionment with Christianity. Despite this, it seems that God somehow met her in her growing disappointment with her secular culture realm of alternative rockers, literature and art films. They didn't fulfill, and timorously Dilley seeks again to find God in the church and its people, where she also meets her future husband Stephen Dilley.
Andrea Palpont Dilley must surely realize that her memoir-based arrival in the Evangelical limelight in 2012 will be short-lived. She'll be 40 before she knows it. So this gifted writer will need to find new turf to stake out if she wants to fulfill her promising yet fraught authorial debut in F&OFT. One suspects she'd be an inspiring creative writing instructor. Meanwhile, as a faculty wife with two young children, it won't be an easy task to find time to write or teach. But there are already promising authorial accomplishments as indicators of things to come: the aforementioned review of Hustad's MTC; a cover story in Christianity Today on the democratizing benefits of missionary work in Africa; and a reflective piece on why she and her husband are financially sacrificing to send their children to a liturgically-oriented Christian school whose mission is based upon - are you ready? - FAITH FORMATION of its young students.
I predict this increasingly accomplished writer will have an important presence among the next generation of evangelical Christian movers and shakers. And more power to her.
on November 6, 2013
Frankly, I rarely crack open chris-lit stuff, but glad I took a chance on this book. I'm into biographies and non-fiction, and the description of her struggle with certain issues mirrored things with which I could relate...so why not? Plus, the title pulled me in. I appreciated her straightforward and non-apologetic writing, the way she tied events in the past with the present, and leaving the final verdict of her spiritual walk up to the reader. Doesn't force feed Jesus down your throat, but presents her walk in such a way that challenges the reader to review their own personal journey. If your a seeker, doubter or struggle with the usual age-old questions, I recommend you give this book a shot. I'm glad I took a chance on this enjoyable read. The only reason I didn't give it five stars is because I'm more of an outdoor biking, hiking, slogged through the jungle, type of reader and because her 'road of doubt' was pretty short compared to the decades of doubt some of us go through. Malgre these differences, it is a very good read.