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Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt Paperback – February 25, 2012
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'I did not intend to read this book--but then I started and couldn't stop. What a relief: a young adult faith memoir for people I actually know. Andrea Palpant Dilley is refreshingly, winsomely straight-up without being angsty or impossibly pious. She has questions about God, real questions, bottom line questions, and at the end of the day she leaves room for a faith where everything doesn't have to be tied together with a neat Jesus-y bow. Instead, Dilley raises the possibility--the hope--that honest Christian faith has loose ends, and that God is fine with that. By the end of the book, I wanted more of both God and Andrea Dilley.' -- Kenda Creasy Dean, Professor of youth, church, and culture, Princeton Theological Seminary, Author of Almost Christian
'Truth. Reality. Meaning. Where do we find these elusive treasures in a skewed, surreal, and often seemingly meaningless world of unspeakable suffering? In this story of her young life, Andrea Palpant Dilley, missionary child and modern woman, struggles with these great life questions in such an honest, literate, and engaging way that the reader is swept into her story as a fellow searcher for truth. Like all of us, she still struggles to find all the answers. But she has learned where 'tires are fixed' on the journey. I believe that in this book we are witnessing the birth of a major contemporary writer.' -- Frederick Dale Bruner, Wasson Professor of Theology Emeritus, Whitworth University. Author of commentaries on The Gospel
“Andrea Dilley’s literary stroll down her own particular path of faith reminds us that while that way is narrow, it is also, at times, rather curvy and fraught with obstacles. Her winsome recollections are a balm for anyone walking a similar journey.” -- Tracy Balzer, author of Thin Places: An Evangelical Journey Into Celtic Christianity and A Listening Life.
'Andrea compellingly writes a contemporary conversion narrative mixed with a cultural travelogue, as a representative of a generation that grew up in and struggled with one corner of the Christian landscape. It is written with a story-teller's ear and an English major's eye. For those who work around the church this is a must-read, to see the generation we long to reach.” -- Jim Singleton, Senior Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Colorado Springs, CO
'With honesty and candor, Andrea Palpant shares her sense of displacement, as a 'third-culture kid' finding her way in America and as a once confident Christian beset with doubt and confusion in a postmodern world. I suspect many readers will find themselves in the questions that drive her away from faith. I also pray that, in her story, they will also see a pathway back. At this time in our culture, and in the church, we are in need of people like Andrea, who do not shy away from their questions and doubts, who do not fear bearing their souls, and who show us a way through to the other side of faith.' -- Dr. Steve Sherwood, Asst. Professor of Christian Ministry, George Fox University and Young Life Regional Trainer.
“Andrea Palpant Dilley’s bracingly honest memoir serves as an antidote both to the negative view of missionary families popularized by such books as The Poisonwood Bible, and to simplified stories of Christian conversion. Her unconventional story of reconversion, mapped against key events of Pilgrim’s Progress, argues for both the unique trajectory of each individual experience and for shared themes in the long process of transformation. Her own rediscovery and embrace of her identity and community is shown, wisely, to be the starting point for what is “yet a long road in front of [her].” We hope that this fine and passionate young writer will take us along on her journey as it unfolds.” -- Maxine Hancock, Ph.D, Professor Emerita of Interdisciplinary Studies, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., Canada; Author, Gol
“After summiting Mt. Rainier, John Muir wrote to his wife, ‘I did not mean to climb it, but got excited and soon was on top.’ That's how I felt when I finished reading Faith and Other Flat Tires during a very busy week. Seldom have I been so touched by the truth and ache of a spiritual memoir. Andrea Palpant Dilley's writing is fresh and clean and direct---you will examine your own soul through hers.” -- Paul J. Willis, author of Bright Shoots of Everlastingness: Essays on Faith and the American Wild
About the Author
Andrea Palpant Dilley grew up in Kenya as the daughter of Quaker missionaries and spent the rest of her childhood in the Pacific Northwest. Her work as a documentary producer has aired nationally on American Public Television. Her work as a writer has been published in Geez, Utne Reader and the anthology Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical, as well as online with CNN, The Huffington Post, and Christianity Today. Her memoir, Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt, tells the story of her faith journey. Andrea lives with her husband and their two daughters in Austin, Texas. For more information, visit www.andreapalpantdilley.com
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Andrea's first memories are flashes back to her life in the mission field with her parents. As a young child, Andrea experienced the hardships and difficulties facing those in extreme poverty in a foreign land. It's no small surprise, how those experiences she had during her formative years have impacted her life-and ultimately on her faith journey.
After witnessing her father bury a young African child who died in the field where her family served, Andrea faced down the hard question many people ask, which is what kind of God allows this? Andrea says:
" Right then, all I knew was that a little boy had died and that i felt upset by it in a strange, inarticulate way....I carried it around for years before I felt i's full weight and before it gave heft to my struggle with the so-called problem of evil. Something was profoundly wrong with the world. God allowed suffering. God let a good kid die."
Andrea's memoir describes her wrestling over three main (and not uncommon) questions: "Why does God seem distant? Why do people suffer? Why does the church seem dysfunctional?"
These questions are generic enough to most seekers and even, believers. I don't know anyone including myself who has't wrestled a bit with one or all of these at some point.
Andrea's frustration and hunger for truth comes through her writing. Her philosophy background clearly effects her method of questioning and searching. And while her search was genuine, I couldn't help but feel she missed the bigger point. On Pg. 55 she says, "And how else do you talk about faith but in terms of doubt and disappointment".
Really? This statement saddened me. My faith is not confined solely by doubt and disappointment, but more by hope. Andrea describes her various encounters with suffering as stones in her heart. She says, "collectively, they became the burden I hauled around in my growing disappointment with God". (pg. 57) I appreciated the imagery of this thought, and in some ways, I identified with the sentiment. But, we are not meant to carry the burdens of the world. Apart from Christ we easily stumble and lose hope under the weight of such despair.
Near the end of the book, Andrea recalls when she realized that she would have to commit- the truth is, faith is more than just the search for truth.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 (A verse I site, but she does not, in her book)
When I closed the book, the first thought I had was, this story talks a lot about God and very little about the person of Jesus. This point is important to me, because it seems to me, when you really struggle with who God is, and whether or not you will believe in Him, the person of Jesus must be investigated. Without Christ, we're left with an Old Testament God and a bunch of references to a saviour we dont know. How can we make sense of a God who allows this broken world to spin on and have any hope? We can because God didn't just allow us to suffer without hope until oblivion. He sent His son, who came not only for the 99 but for the one who is lost. Jesus is the hope.
**I recieved this book for free for the purpose of my review. The oppinions expressed here are my own.
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.